Lala Thankyou: Dark Homecoming. Coming June 18, 2018.
About the book:
MURDER IS A DRAG...
From the outside looking in, Lazarus Mercy has it all. He’s a fan favorite on a reality tv show, his career as drag queen Lala Thankyou has never been better, and he’s learned to hide his introversion from his adoring fans…until he’s framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
OUT OF TOWN, OUT OF LUCK, UNDER SUSPICION...
Desperate to prove his innocence, Lazarus turns to an old friend to help bring the true killer to justice. Knowing the police are on his tail, Lazarus must let his stage persona loan him the bravery he needs to solve the crime. ---can Lazarus must fight his inner demons...while fighting for his life?
"So...this brings us to the most important part of my talk, ladies: finishing powder. Why spend an hour contouring and shading if it’s just gonna fade away?" I asked. I grabbed a jar of powder and held it over my head as I glanced around the crowd.
"I use MAC, but lots of other companies make good ones," I placed the powder back on the table and pointed to the other makeup on the counter. "Tarte, Clinique, Chanel… any of these brands here at Jacksons work well."
I glanced at the store manager who watched my presentation from the sidelines. He nodded and gave a discreet thumbs-up. Always mention the product. Marketing people and managers love it when you do. Having me talk about makeup got them in the store, and I’d damn well better sell a few jars of night cream while I’m there. I'm not the best presenter in the world. In fact, I'm introverted and shy, but I’ve found that if I remember why people hired me in the first place, I can prepare my speech based on those goals. Lots of preparation with clear goals helps take away some nervousness. And nauseousness. I can’t forget that.
"But you know, you can own the best lip stain in the world, but that won't be enough to make you feel beautiful." I continued, "It takes effort, it takes planning. It takes slicking it on your lips with defiance. And a sprinkling of grit. I was a finalist on Drag Queen USA because I didn’t just put on lipstick or powder or blush. I put on a bright red armor. A thousand girls out their own this lipstick...this…," I looked down at the counter and picked up a tube. "...this...what’s it called? This tube of Ruby Kisses....owning this lipstick won’t make you a star."
I could feel the air suck out of the room. The energy level dropped to the floor, and I had to lean back onto the counter to stop myself from falling. The sour taste of the crowd’s disappointment made me want to throw up. It happened every time I got to this point of the speech, and I recognized that I had to power through to get to the showstopper. I took the top off the lipstick off with one hand and made a quick half turn to grab a makeup mirror with the other. I faced the standing room only crowd and slicked on a thick coat of Ruby Kisses as I looked into the mirror. I lowered the mirror to my side, jutted my chin up, and finished my speech. "It’s how you wear it that makes you shine." You could have heard a pin drop. I braced myself for what would happen next.
The applause sounded like an indoor rainstorm. The crowd’s happiness and euphoria washed over me and I felt my nausea slip away.
I paused for a few moments, giving me time to take a sip of water from a glass hidden behind some perfume on the counter in back of me. I took another second to tuck my hair behind my ears. The break gave me a moment to recharge. Too much excitement from people can cause me to feel like I’m drunk. Tucking my hair behind my ear is a subtle ‘settle down now’ to people around me. It’s like a period at the end of a sentence. Move along now. Gotta keep up. It gives me something to focus on so I can control all the emotions coming at me. And it's way better than yelling at people to keep their emotions in check. And I look cute when I play with my hair so that’s a bonus.
I made myself sweep my eyes along the back walls of the room, so it would seem like I'm engaging the crowd. Making eye contact with a person makes me nervous. I never know what emotion they’ll have until I feel it coming off of them in waves. I prefer to look at the floor in public, but I know that I couldn’t look at the floor during a presentation because I’d look ridiculous. But thank God, I’d finished the presentation without catching a roomful of strangers emotions. I winked at the crowd.
"So remember your armor and remember you are a star. Thank you for coming out tonight. I appreciate it." I said, ending the presentation. I’m horrible at ending speeches, so my final words felt short and abrupt. But it was over. I made an awkward curtsy. And then stood motionless, unsure of what to do with my hands.
A few people rushed to hug me and ask me questions about how to pick and apply makeup. I answered what I could, helping a few women choose eyeshadow and lip liner. A few others gave me pieces of paper with their blog or social media handles scribbled in eyeliner. I figured those people were just trying to be polite and make conversation so I would give them a shout out or recommend them to a show producer or event planner. As if I decided about that kind of stuff. But out of respect, kindness, and the willingness to get the heck out of there without starting an argument, I played along.
So, I guess I should back up. My name is Lazarus Mercy, but my stage name is Lala ThankYou. I'm the drag queen who won last season’s Drag USA. Ok. Well. First runner up is the same as winning. But not. I was Miss Congeniality. Which I think was a little sarcastic because I didn’t like anyone on my season. Because of the show, I’ve been able to travel around the world, doing little pop-up presentations during the day, and drag shows at night. A talent agency in New York handles a lot of the contestants from the show. The department store asked for someone from the show come to Indianapolis to give a demonstration on fall makeup trends. My agent knows I grew up around here so I got the assignment.
Ok. So that doesn’t help much; I should back up a little more. I grew up in Bloomington, graduated second in my class the local high school and went to Indiana University on a scholarship to study chemistry. To make extra money, I made homemade lip gloss and lotions and sold them on the way to class. Except one day, one of my customers asked me to put on a red lipstick and send her a selfie so she could see how the color looked. I slicked it on my lips, took one picture, then another. And about a hundred more. With different lipsticks and eye shadows, and a blue turban that did nothing for my eyes. That’s when I created Lala Thankyou. My customer didn’t get her lipstick, and I didn’t get my degree, but found Lala, and for that I’ll always be thankful. After a few years of drag shows, and working as a makeup artist to make ends meet, I went on an audition for Drag USA and the rest, as they say, was history.
Except for the parts where I almost died. I’m intuitive; I feel the emotion of people as if they were physical ailments. Happiness makes me drunk, sadness makes my bones ache, anger boils my blood. Fear makes me cold and dizzy. Too much emotion all at once makes me nauseous and unsteady. Reality tv show drama was almost too much. I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad it’s over.
And there it is: my life story in one paragraph. Enough time to take a sip of coffee. For a first runner-up drag queen, I'm not that complex of a person. I have done nothing amazing. I wear pretty clothes on stage, but jeans and a t-shirt everywhere else. I don't have a fan club. There will be no love songs written about me when I'm dead. When I die, my obituary will say "Lazarus grew up, went to college, dropped out of college, put on pretty dresses, wore some fabulous shoes, and then died." Nice, short, and simple.
As the crowd moved away, I gathered my bags and turned to leave. One of the makeup artists walked toward the deserted counter and waved to get my attention.
"Hey, umm...Lala? Ummm...we're having a staff party at the bar on the corner. Umm...so...if you want to come over and hang out for, you’re welcome to. Stop by, I mean." She peeked at me, then the floor, then up again. This time, she offered a smile. I couldn't tell if she was trying to angle her way into getting a free makeover or if she wanted to hang out with a visiting makeup artist. I had to remind myself that I was a celebrity in her eyes.
"Sorry, I have plans for tonight." I answered. My big 'plans' included heading back to my hotel, getting on my laptop and watching funny cat videos until I fell asleep. I'm not a social person. I stammer my way through parties. Not that I ever go to parties, but I've been through enough awkward situations that I knew how I would react. I'd have to deal with all the small talk, the forced conversation. I kept my mouth shut because I didn't want to come off the wrong way to someone.
I talk all the time, but it's as Lala. Not me. No one's interested in me. It's funny: something about putting on a sparkly dress makes me feel more...playful and interesting. Lala gets away with saying things I can't. The best thing about being Lala is that I turn her on whenever I need to.
As soon as the last person left the cosmetics department, I shoved my makeup and brushes into my leather satchel. I waved to the store manager as I left the department store and entered the mall. The smell of butter, cinnamon and frosting filled the air, mixing with the faint scent perfume from the nearby counter. I considered finding the food court and buying anything with carbs and sprinkled with salt or sugar, but headed back to the hotel instead.
As I walked to the parking garage, I took my phone out of my satchel and scrolled through my messages. Three messages; all from my mom, wanting to know how my speaking gig went.
Talking to my mother is the best part of an event. I dialed her number and held the phone to my ear, waiting for her to answer.
"Laz," Mom answered with my nickname instead of hello. "How was it? What did you wear?"
"The crowd loved me, Ma," I said. "I wore the pink suit."
"The pants or the skirt?"
"Not the skirt? You have good legs! I’d kill for your legs."
"Ma, it’s too cold for a skirt. I’d freeze."
"Honey," she began. "Sometimes you have to…"
"Suffer for fashion."
"Suffer for fashion."
We said it at the same time. I heard her muffled laugh.
"Ma, you’ve gotta stop moving the phone away from you when you laugh."
"I laugh like a car alarm...I don’t want to blast out your eardrums."
"Ok, Ok," she sighed. I heard her take a sip of a drink. Maybe iced tea, but probably pinot grigio, knowing her. "You going out with your friends tonight, Laz?"
"Ma, it was a signing."
"But you’re back in Indiana! You should catch up with your old classmates. Grab a drink or something."
"Nah, I’m headed back to the hotel."
"You’re not going to eat something?"
"I’ll order room service."
"You won’t order room service. You get too freaked out whenever they knock on the door."
"I don’t get freaked out! I don’t know how to respond."
"I said OK."
"You didn’t mean it," I laughed.
"I...kinda meant it," she answered before laughing. "You’re a little out of breath; where the hell did you park? Are you almost to your car?"
"Yes. P3. Yes."
"I answered your question. Yes, I’m out of breath. I parked in section P3. And I’m almost to my car. I’m almost there."
"Ok, I’ll let you go."
"Ok. Bye, Ma,"
"Your old roommate. From college. Olivia. You should call her. Maybe the two of you can grab dinner or drinks."
"Eh, I messaged her, but she didn't answer. Maybe next time."
"Yeah, maybe next time."
I slid the phone back into my satchel, looked around and sighed. I focused on the conversation with my mother, I’d walked right past my car. I turned on my heel to double back.
A white car backed up from a parking space, almost hitting me.
"Hey! Watch where you’re going!" I yelled, using my right hand to knock on the trunk. The brakes squealed as the car stopped.
The driver’s side window rolled down and a red haired man stuck his head out of the window.
"I’m backing up here, lady...what’s the problem?"
My heart pounded in my chest. This guy picked the wrong lady to mess with.
"Yeah there's a problem! You almost ran over me!" I yelled back, waving my arms and I pointing at the bumper.
"You moved into my blind spot. Maybe you ran into me. Maybe you’re trying to get a little insurance money."
"Are you kidding me? " I answered.
"Does it look like I’m kidding?"
"It looks like you’re an asshole," I said.
"What did you say?"
"I. Called. You. An. Asshole." I placed a hand on my hip and looked him in the eyes while I said it. Only I didn’t say it using my regular Lala voice. I let my voice get deep, really deep, as if the rumbly voice came from the ground beneath me.
The driver blinked and shook his head. He stared at me, unsure of what to do next. I crossed my arms in front of me and waved goodbye.
"Just move," the guy muttered as he rolled up the window.
I walked away, but not before I flipped my hair and smiled at him. I put as much wiggle in my walk as I could and while remaining upright.
I made it to my car with no more arguments, but I flipped my hair a few more times. In case anyone was looking. From the driver’s side, I threw my satchel in the passenger seat and started the car.
The hotel was a twenty minute drive from the mall, but I didn't mind. It gave me time to think. I loved driving around my old city. I liked looking at places I hadn’t seen in years. I liked the quiet. I only had quiet when I was on my way to somewhere else. Otherwise, I was putting on my fake eyelashes or adjusting someone else’s. With a sick techno beat in the background. I rarely sat in quiet and notice my surroundings.
As I drove through downtown Indy, I loved how the pink sunset washed over the neon signs. The world felt dipped in pink and edged in inky blue. Twilight drives are better than a yoga class. I passed the familiar buildings and ticked the box next to memory.
There’s the sandwich shop where I filled out the form for my first drag competition.
I learned how to walk in 5-inch heels in that shoe store.
I told Olivia I was moving out in that bowling alley.
Each pink gleam of light was beautiful. My career took me away from Indianapolis, but that sunset drive, made me miss the old days.
I rolled to a stop at a red light and glanced to my right as a van pulled up beside me. The parents looked bored as their teenage kids zoned out and scrolled through their phones in the backseat. The windows were down, but it didn’t matter; their car was as silent as mine. One kid, a girl with bright yellow headphones, turned and made eye contact with me. Her face was as expressionless as mine. She turned back to her phone; I turned my gaze back to the light and the street ahead. I remember that feeling when I was in high school - the feeling that no one understood me...so what was the point in trying?
I didn't hate my high school, but I wasn’t one of those kids who cried at graduation. Ok, I fake cried. But I didn’t want to stay in Bloomington. I wasn’t a popular kid; I wasn't the "cool gay teen" - the kind you see in sitcoms and romantic comedies. I read every fashion magazine I could get my hands on, watched a lot of television, and somehow made it through high school without ever setting foot at a basketball or football game. I didn’t need to be popular though. They say high school should to be the best four years of your life, but not for me. Popular isn’t easy. Expectations came with it, especially at my school. The whole social ecosystem was a delicate balance: buy the wrong shoes or talk to the wrong person and it was over.
I loved being alone. I still do. Most people don’t believe me, but it’s true. Alone means I count on myself. Alone means me. And I liked me back then. I like me even more now.
I didn't have a large group of friends; I wasn't a part of the school cliques. I liked being invisible. I could do anything I wanted, and no one cared. That’s how Lala Thankyou began. I could be whatever I wanted when I was Lala. When I needed to engage with the world, I could put on Lala on like a trench coat; when I’m finished, I take her off. As I drove home from a gig, Lala and Lazarus mixed for a little while. I was Lala, but I was alone. It felt like a kid on Christmas morning after opening his last present. Tired, overstimulated, but satisfied.
I know it sounds like I’m a weirdo loner freakboy in girl’s clothes, but this was my life. Every time I performed or did a client’s makeup, I looked forward to going back to my apartment, taking off my shoes, and watching TV. I needed quiet time to recharge.
Lost in my thoughts, I almost missed the turn to my hotel. I dropped my car at valet, slung my satchel over my shoulder and walked into the lobby. The Fern wasn't the nicest hotel I’d ever visited, but it had a cozy charm. I made my way through the small lobby, avoiding the oversized ferns in terracotta planters. Remembering the conversation with my mother, I stopped at the lobby restaurant and waved over the host. Somehow, the hotel squeezed in even more ferns between the tables and overstuffed leather booths. I moved a frond aside and cleared my throat.
"Does room service offer the full menu from the restaurant?" I asked.
"Not usually, but we can work something out for you, Lala," the host smiled and winked. It always confused me when a fan recognized me. He stood slightly taller than me, his blond hair almost covering his eyes. "You should have won, you know. I mean, you were the best diva on that sta-"
"Can I order here and have it sent to my room?" I interrupted, reaching for a menu from the stack piled on the hostess stand. If I didn’t stop the poor guy, we’d be there all night. I wanted my food, and I wanted quiet. In that order.
"Sure. But we’re running a little behind. It’ll take about 45 minutes...is that ok?"
I nodded as I thumbed through the menu. I scanned the pages of chicken, steak and shrimp entrees and settled on the healthiest option.
"I’ll take a turkey avocado Cobb salad, dressing on the side and a pitcher of ice water."
"Sure thing," the host said, writing my order down. "Room number?"
I hesitated. I didn’t know this guy, and I didn’t want to just tell him where I was staying. The host seemed to read my mind and leaned in to whisper.
"I’m not the person who delivers the food to your room," he looked around to see if anyone was listening. We were alone at the hostess stand, so he continued. "But I can be."
"Thanks, but I need my dinner. Room 250." I thought a moment before adding, "I’m expecting a friend, but thank you."
The lie rolled off my tongue. I didn’t need The Horny Host knocking on my door with a Cobb salad. Discouragement would make my night easier.
"Suit yourself," he shrugged. "That’ll be a turkey avocado Cobb salad, and a pitcher of ice water. Is that it?"
I nodded and paused. The smell of grilled chicken and rosemary filled the air, it sounded a lot more...fun than what I ordered. I held up a hand to object.
"Wait. Scratch that," I glanced a the menu and pointed at what I wanted. "Rosemary chicken with mashed potatoes, no gravy. With apple pie for dessert."
"That’s my girl," the host said, smiling as he drew a line through my previous order and wrote my new requests.
"I’m not your girl, but I will take the apple pie with me now. You know, as an appetizer."
Apple pie in hand, or on plate, I took the elevator to the fifth floor. The inside of the elevator crowded with other guests, to avoid chitchat or silly banter, I pretended to read the poster advertising the hotel’s free breakfast, pool and spa. The elevator stopped at the fifth floor. I rounded the corner to toward my room and walked down the hallway. As I walked, a dark figure, dressed in black turned the corner. I wasn’t in the mood to engage, so looked to the floor. As the person passed I noticed the shoes; blue penny loafers with quarters in the slots. Big coins must have been hard to wedge into the slots, I thought. I heard the door to the stairwell creak open and clodding footsteps as the person walked down the stairs. The doors to the stairs closed with a sharp click as I fumbled in my satchel for the room key.
Key in hand, and still staring down, I stopped at my room. The door was open. Not all the way, only an inch from being closed, but still...open. I knew I closed my door all the way before leaving, but I was in hurry to leave and could have forgotten.
No wait, I thought. I couldn't have forgotten. I never forget to close the hotel door. I watch too many episodes of Forensic Files and Law And Order. I take the time to lock up my living space.
I’m the "on time is 15 minutes late’ type of person. I don’t make these kinds of mistakes. When I’m doing a client’s makeup, I show up early and with extra supplies. I’m the one people stop to ask if I have extra finishing powder or if I brought brush cleaner or baby wipes. When I show up as Lala, I’m even more prepared. I know who’s in charge, why I’m there, and the street address so I can send a thank you card after I get home. I’m that girl. I lock the door and jiggle the handle to make sure it's locked, and then try to open the door to make sure no one can get inside. I locked that door. Which meant someone else had been inside, or maybe they were still there.
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down and remembered a conversation I’d had during the Empress of Drag contest. A visiting celebrity queen, Anita Kiss warned us all about the price of fame.
"I’ve had fans sneak into my car and my hotel; and once, into my bathroom stall," Anita explained. "Be careful, darlings."
I placed my key back into my satchel, shifted the bag behind me and used my toe to open the door a crack.
"Hello?" I said, trying to sound tough, but realizing my voice sounded scared.
Nothing. No answer.
I sighed and pushed the door open a little more. All the curtains were open, and the fading afternoon light surprised me. I remembered closing the curtains before I left; I needed the room to be like a cave when I returned. Seeing the now-purple sky threw me off.
Maybe the person left, I thought, stepping into the room.
Nothing prepared me for what I walked into.
My first glance into the room gave me a glimpse of a man’s back, face down on the floor. He was covered in blood and had what looked like bullet holes in his back. A dead man was in my room. What’s worse, he had been killed in my room. The bedsheets lay tucked and untouched, as was the desk near the window. The only thing abnormal was the body in front of me. I felt the room dip as I stumbled, trying to make sense of everything around me. I stood next to a dead man. Someone shot this person, which meant the killer could still be in the room. The bathroom. I tried to tiptoe backwards out of the room. I didn't want to bring attention to myself, in case the killer was hiding, waiting for the perfect moment to attack.
I shouldn’t have said ‘hello’, I thought, as my heart thumped inside my chest. I can’t stand here forever. What should I do?
Ok, I thought. Stay calm. You will step out into the hallway and you will call the police. I was unsure of what to do, but years of watching true crime shows told me not to touch anything and to call the police right away. I turned to leave. Before I could run to the door, the phone on the desk rang.
Who would call me? I don’t even know this number.
I debated about whether I should answer, but picked up the receiver. I walked to the desk, careful not to touch anything. I used the hem of my shirt to pick up the phone.
"Hello?" I whispered, keeping the phone away from my skin.
"Welcome home," said the person on the phone. And then a dial tone.
I blinked. Welcome home? What did that mean? Who called me? How did he even learn I was in the room? I walked in here, found the body I began to leave and...
The window. I hung up the phone and looked out the window. The room overlooked a busy downtown street. With the curtains open, anyone on the street below could see inside. Searching the other side of the street, I could see the shadow of someone as he turned the corner. I couldn't tell much in the glimpse I got before he left, but I swore I saw blue shoes.
I heard the door open behind me and I turned to find myself face to face with two police officers, guns drawn. They screamed at me to place my hands up and keep them there. I dropped my satchel and raised my hands in the air. My left hand covered in lipstick swatches, and my right hand still holding that damn apple pie.
Shit, I thought. This….would be hard to explain. I was the only person in the hotel room, with some dead guy. One of the other hotel guests heard the gunshots and called the cops. And now they think I killed him. The phone call meant someone planned this. But who. And why me?
"You have the right to remain silent..."