By Chelsea Brown
I was in the middle of unpacking when I became aware of a commotion in the corridor outside. Not that I had much to unpack. Normally, an occasion like this would have warranted at least two cases, a suit carrier and several other boxes of indeterminate sizes. But today, I had traveled with my trusty old tuxedo and a change of underwear, and that was about it.
I stuck my head out the door. Being a Brit, I recognized her immediately. It's not often you see a Royal personage -- even a minor royal -- galloping down a California hotel corridor, the hems of her skirts in her hands. I wondered who she was fleeing from. Paparazzi? Secret service agents? Psychotic gunmen? With great presence of mind, I flung my hotel door open and called out "In here, Ma'am!"
Centuries of inbreeding notwithstanding, she grasped my meaning immediately and careened into my room, slamming the door shut behind her. She raised a single finger to her lips. We listened. Within seconds, the sound of several heavy-footed persons approached us, passed, and faded into the distance. She let out a deep breath and the color in her cheeks started fading from a deep red to its more usual peaches and cream. She took a look around. I threw a pair of boxer shorts into a drawer and motioned for her to sit down. She did so, placing her handbag beside her.
"Thenk yew so very much." she said. "One gets so fed up of f***ing reporters!" Having never knowingly f***ed a reporter, I just nodded. "Dew yew have the correct time?" she asked. I checked my watch, suddenly wishing that I had packed my fake Rolex rather than my real Timex.
"Almost 6:30, Ma'am."
"Demn. We really do have to be at the British Embassy by half-past nine, and this hotel is simply crawling with reporters. Not to mention a rather strange group of yoiks in the lobby."
I regarded my guest with interest. I'd had a wicked idea. "Do you trust me?" I asked.
She looked around her. "It appears that we have limited options." she acknowledged.
I walked over to the door. "Stay here." I told her. "Lock the door and don't open it to anyone but me."
"How shall we know it is yew?" she asked. "We know! Yew shall have to have a pessword!"
"Password?" Now wasn't the time to be playing James Bond. Anyway, I hadn't changed into my tux yet.
She smiled. I reckoned she should smile more often. It really lit up her face. Softened it, somehow. She leant forward. "Your pessword is 'Bugger the Firm'." she said.
I snorted. You had to be a Brit to appreciate the joke. "Okay. I'll be as quick as I can." I slid the door back and peeked into the corridor. It was empty. I slid through, closing the door behind me. I could hear the latch being turned.
I half ran to the elevator shaft, and pressed the down button. Fortunately, I didn't have long to wait. The elevator was rather full of women, most of them towering over me in their heels, but I squeezed myself in, to their obvious delight. The doors closed and the smell of hairspray assaulted my nostrils. I leant forward, to press the button for the Mezzanine, and found my nose buried in a rather impressive cleavage. "Sorry about that", I apologized
The owner of the cleavage, a statuesque blonde in a red beaded evening frock, laid her hand on my arm, allowing her improbably long red fingernails to dig into my skin through my tee-shirt. "Any time," she purred. Her voice was treacle. The door opened and I backed out, hurriedly, grinning like an idiot. To my right was one of those banqueting room directories that hotels post at strategic positions. I gave it a quick glance and headed towards the Windsor Room, which, given the circumstances, was rather apt.
The Windsor Room was full of vendors' tables. Graham had an entire corner, at the other end of the room. I pushed through the throng of potential shoppers and made my way over. He was busy with a client, as I knew he would be, but I tapped him on a shoulder. He spun round, upset at being interrupted, but grinned as soon as he recognized me. "Nicky, darling!" he gushed. "Isn't all this fun? How have you been? When did you arrive? We're not seeing Chelsea this time, are we?"
"It's wonderful, not bad, about half an hour ago and Chris asked me to leave her behind because I'm one of the judges", I replied.
"That's what I thought. Look, I'd love to chat, but you see how it is." He started turning back towards his client.
I pulled him back towards me. "Graham? I need a favor."
"Sure thing, sweetie. You know I owe you one. But not just now."
I leant forward and whispered in his ear. He interrupted once. "Jeezus! You're joking, right?" I shook my head and carried on talking into his ear. When I'd finished, he called over to one of his assistants. "Patrick? When you've finished with Monique, finish off Suzi for me. I'm going to be gone for a while." He turned back to me. "Now then. Tell me about her."
Graham has a unique talent. He turns men into women. No, he's not a doctor. He's a makeup artist. Actually, makeup artist is just the latest in a long line of professions. I've listened to his stories many times, over glasses of Chardonnay, in his Hollywood salon, once the Saturday night rush has eased off. If you believe him, he's been a wrangler, roustabout, bareback rider and stunt double. He's been a personal hairdresser to the stars, and has turned many an aspiring model into a Revlon cover girl. But for the last 7 or 8 years, he's applied his talents solely within the transvestite community. And it was those talents that I wanted to use tonight.
"She's about 5'8". I told him. "Brunette, hazel eyes. I'd say a size 12 or 14. Probably an 8 shoe."
"Damn. The smallest I've got with me is a size 20. No time to nip back to my shop?"
"Sorry, Graham. The lady needs your help now."
"Hmmm..... let me see." He started rummaging through a rack of dresses. He pulled out a green velvet one, shaked his head at it, and replaced it. Then he spotted an electric blue number with rhinestones. He grabbed it, along with a frosted blonde wig, a pair of 6" cfm pumps and what looked like a Playmates lunch box. He grinned. "Let's see what we can do with this lot." On an impulse, I grabbed a paisley Hermeges scarf and added it to his stash.
Three minutes later, we were back outside my room. I rapped on the door with my knuckles. "Bugger the Firm", I called out. Graham looked at me with amazement. "Don't even ask!" I told him. The door opened on the chain and a Royal Head peeped out. When she saw that it was me, she closed the door, slipped the chain and opened it again. I pushed Graham through and followed him, closing the door behind us.
I introduced Graham and told my guest what we had planned. "How jolly!" she exclaimed.
I had been worried how Graham might react to being in the same room as a member of the British Royal family, but I needn't have bothered. Graham simply grabbed one of the terry-cloth robes thoughtfully provided by the hotel and told his new client to "Pop into the bathroom, strip down to your underwear, put this on and lets be at you!" I guess that when you've spent an entire season on the road with Bananorama, a minor royalty is no great shakes.
Once the lady was properly attired, Graham sat her down in front of my dresser and started weaving his magic. I left them to it, and took my tuxedo into the bathroom. I had a quick shower and a shave, climbed into my trousers, shoes and dress shirt, fumbled with my studs, and attempted to knot my tie. I know you can buy the pre-knotted kind of bow tie, but my father always told me that a real gentleman always ties his own. And this was the first time I had attended one of these conventions as a real gentleman. After the fourth attempt, I decided I needed help. I walked back into the bedroom.
If I haven't said it before, let me do so now. Graham is an artist. If he had to make up someone like ... oh, say, Hulk Hogan or Lou Ferrigno, he might run into problems but, usually, given a half-decent canvas to start with, by the time he's finished, he has performed miracles. Even the clients' mothers wouldn't recognize them. Many a time I've brought some young guy to Graham's salon for his first transformation. Towards the end of the process, Graham covers up the mirrors so the client can't see the final steps. After the wig is in place, earrings and necklace applied, and lips given a final coat of gloss, Graham will make his new client shut his eyes while he adjusts the lighting to match that of a nightclub, and uncover the mirror again. Then Graham swings the client round to face the mirror and let him open his eyes, to see what Graham fondly refers to as his "inner slut" for the first time. Normally, he sits there forever, jaw slowly lengthening as he realizes that the gorgeous creature reflected in the mirror is really himself. It never fails to bring a lump to my throat. And other places.
But tonight, Graham had done something far more difficult. He had made an extremely feminine lady look like a man trying to look like a woman. All smoke and mirrors, of course. Her chin looked bluer than a genetic female's chin should. Her jaw-line was squarer that it had been an hour ago, her nose longer, her eyebrows bushier, her lips smaller, her shoulders squarer and her hips narrower. But she didn't look like a parody of a woman. Rather than Uncle Miltie in drag, what I was seeing was Flip Wilson's Geraldine, or Patrick Swayze's character in "To Wong Foo". A blonde bimbo transvestite, rather than umpteenth in line for the British Throne.
What do you think?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Amazing!" I said. "I knew you could do it.
"The dress is a bit large, but it just makes her look chunkier, which is good. The shoes are also too big, but I've padded them with newspaper. She might totter a bit, but that all adds to the illusion, doesn't it?"
"Graham", I said, "You've done wonders. I really think we can get away with it." I turned to my guest, who was chuckling at her reflection in the mirror. "Now, Ma'am, could you please walk across the room?" She stood up and glided over to the window, despite the oversized shoes. I turned to Graham. "That will never do. She needs to walk like a man."
Graham grinned at me, "Don't look at me, love" he trilled, putting on the camp act he normally reserves for the tourists. "And sit down", he added, "and let me fix that tie."
I sat down, and Graham's hands came round my neck, knotting my tie like an expert. I thought furiously. "Er, Ma'am? Could you walk as if you had something between your legs?" She giggled when she realized what I meant. Her first attempt was pure John Wayne, but after a few tries, she had toned it down to something quite believable. She picked up her handbag and held it down by her side. "No," I told her, and bent her elbow so that her hand was at her waist. "Hold it there. Like you're uncomfortable with it."
While she practiced, I grabbed a laundry bag from the closet. I went into the bathroom and stuffed it full of her own clothes. I went back into the bedroom, dropped the scarf into the bag and put it down on the bed. I checked my watch. 8:15. We needed to be going, and I told her so.
She turned to Graham. "We would like to thenk yew for all the work yew have done for us. How much do we owe yew?"
Graham looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. "Go on then." I said. When I first met Graham, he used to add up a client's bill on a pocket calculator. But Graham and electronic gadgets don't go together well. Graham soon learnt that Chelsea could add up all the items in her head and apply Los Angeles County sales tax before Graham had even figured out how to switch the calculator on. We all have our talents. Graham's is makeup. Mine is mental arithmetic.
Graham started singing a litany. "Dress ... $140, wig ... $85, shoes ... $200, scarf ... $50, breast forms ... $35 ... "
"I used them as shoulder pads." He shrugged. "It's all I had."
"Okay, breast forms ... $35. Next?"
"Er , that's it, I think."
I was figuring out the sales tax, when our guest interrupted. "We're certain that yew normally charge for your services." she said. "Please figure that in, as well."
Graham frowned. "I normally charge $100 for a tv and $80 for a gg--"
"Genetic girl, Ma'am." I explained. "A 'g.g.'."
"Oh! Jolly good! G.G. We must remember thet one."
I turned back to Graham. "So? $100 or $80?"
"Well, I charge less for a gg, because they're easier. But what I did tonight was more complicated than I normally do for a tv. And I had less time to do it in."
"Then how about $120? Raise your normal charge by $20 instead of dropping it by $20."
Graham brightened. "Yes, I think that's fair. Of course, I'd have done it for free. I'll have so much fun telling people. Er, I can tell people, can't I?"
I grinned at him. "Do you think they'll believe you?"
His expression dropped. "Jeezus. Well, in that case, add in the $120, then."
I closed my eyes and did some quick figuring. "$630 plus sales tax ...$682, give or take a few cents."
Our guest snapped open her purse, and extracted a wad of bills. She counted out seven C notes and handed them to Graham, telling him to keep the change. And there was me thinking that Royals never carried money!
I slipped into my tuxedo jacket, and draped my trench coat over my arm. I stuffed the laundry bag with wet-wipes which I liberated from Graham's makeup box. I quickly transferred my wallet, car keys, cigarettes, lighter, and room key into my tux pockets, and unlocked the door. The three of us walked down the corridor, heads up, not a care in the world.
By now, most of the 'girls' were downstairs, showing off to the other girls, so the ride down in the elevator was quiet and uneventful. However, when the doors opened at the ground floor, it was bedlam. There, in front of us, were about 120 transvestites, 20 or 30 reporters, and 15 or 16 press photographers. The one thing a transvestite loves more than looking at herself in the mirror is having her picture taken. This lot were vying for position, certain that the only reason most of the major newspapers in the world had sent representatives to the hotel was to take pictures of a convention of cross-dressers.
We left Graham in the elevator, on his way down to the Windsor room, and headed off across the lobby. About half way to the doors, I felt a tug on my shoulder. Turning, I recognized Christine, one of the convention organizers.
"Hi Chris." I realized she was viewing my guest, waiting for an introduction. "This is, er, Brenda." Wrong era, I thought, and wrong Royal, too. But it was the first name I could think of. 'Brenda' giggled, and I could tell she had got the joke.
"You know you're judging the competition at 10 pm?" Chris asked.
The image of a statuesque blonde in a red beaded evening frock swam in front of my eyes, and I knew who was going to win it, too. I checked my watch. 8:40. "Yes, Chris. Brenda and I are just going for a quick dinner, and I'll be back in plenty of time."
"Good." Christine spotted someone else in the distance, excused herself and glided across the floor.
'Brenda' whispered in my ear. "Was thet a man?"
"Evenings and weekends excepted," I grinned. "Come on. We're going to have to head right through that crowd of reporters to get to the front door. Just remember how to walk, don't talk, and don't make eye contact."
She slipped her arm through mine. With my heart pounding, we set off. As it turned out, strolling through the throng of reporters was the easiest thing in the world. They'd already figured out that the crowd of girls in front of them weren't, and had tuned out all the posing and come ons. To them, 'Brenda' and I were just another transvestite and her date. But, as we left them behind us, we hit another problem. Guarding the front door were a bunch of men in black, all earnestly talking into their cuff links. 'Brenda' recognized them as British Security, and started pulling me over to them. I pulled back.
"No!" I whispered.
"No. Trust me." She sighed, and let me steer her to one side. I spotted a door with a notice that said "Staff only", and made directly for it. Fortunately, it was unlocked, and opened onto a corridor, which seemed to have offices on both sides. At the end of the corridor was an "Exit" sign, and I headed towards it. We were halfway down the corridor when a guy walked out of one of the offices. He had a badge that marked him as hotel staff, and was carrying a walkie-talkie. He blocked the corridor.
"We're the entertainment", I told him, improvising madly.
"You know where to go?"
He shrugged and retreated back into his office. At the end of the corridor, I pushed the exit door slightly. I couldn't hear any alarms going off, so I pushed it further open and we stepped out into the California dusk. I checked my bearings. We were at the back of the hotel, so my car should be somewhere over to the left. I steered 'Brenda' in the correct direction. We rounded a corner, and I could see my car in the distance. Between the car and the front door of the hotel were more reporters and more Security staff, studiously ignoring each other. Our footsteps echoed in the still air and I held my breath, waiting for someone to recognize my companion. Although we attracted some stares, we made it to my car without being challenged. I slipped my free hand into my pocket, and activated the remote door-lock. I opened the passenger door and 'Brenda' slipped inside. Closing it again, I walked round to the driver's side.
"Excuse me!" I looked up and noticed that a reporter had peeled off from his colleagues and was walking towards me. I contemplated jumping into the car and gunning it, but my legs wouldn't cooperate.
He fumbled in his pocket and withdrew a pack of Marlboro. "Do you have a light?", he asked.
I got my lighter out and handed it to him, not trusting my shaking hands. He lit his cigarette, and handed the lighter back to me. "Thanks, mate" he said, and started walking towards the other reporters. I opened the car door, and slid into my seat, throwing the laundry bag and trench coat into the back. I started up the engine, and slowly drove out of the parking lot. Once I was out of sight of the hotel, I began to breathe again.
'Brenda' looked at me. "Well, thet was fun", she said. Fun? This must be a new definition of the word 'fun' I hadn't come across before. "But tell us," she continued, "why wouldn't yew let us talk to our Security staff?"
"Quite simple, Ma'am," I replied. "As soon as the reporters saw your Security staff take an interest in 'Brenda', the game would have been up."
"Oh." She thought for a bit. "How clever you are."
I blushed. It's not often I get complemented by Royalty.
"Anyway, what now?" she asked.
"Don't worry, Ma'am," I assured her. "I've got it covered."
The "Traveler's Rest" is one of those sleazy motels that make Motel 6 look posh by comparison. But it had four things going for it. It's cheap. It's on the way to the British Embassy. Being a motel, you can park right outside your room. And the night clerk has selective blindness. I've stayed there before and he's often seen Nick drive in and Chelsea drive out, or Chelsea drive in and Nick drive out. He's probably seen a lot stranger things, too.
I paid for the room by cash and drove up to cabin 260. We got out of the car and I rescued the stuff off the back seat. I unlocked the door, switched on the light, and stood back for 'Brenda' to go ahead of me. As she entered, she wrinkled her nose. "Ugh" she said.
"We won't be here long." I handed her the laundry bag. "Use the wet-wipes to get that makeup off, and change back into your own clothes."
In record time, 'Brenda' the blonde bimbo transvestite was gone, and in her place stood the Royal personage again. Not only had she removed Graham's handiwork, she had re-applied her own makeup, presumably from things out of her handbag. I handed her the scarf and the trench coat. "Just an added precaution." I told her. I went into the bathroom, and stuffed frock, shoes and wig into the laundry bag. When I returned, she was ready, and we went back out into the parking lot, locking the door behind us. As I drove past the office, I stopped briefly to return the key. The night clerk made some comment about 'no refunds', which I ignored, and I got back in the car and headed towards the Embassy.
It was about 9:20 when we arrived, and there was a line of limousines ahead of us, waiting to be valet parked. As we edged forwards, I could see that there was a throng of reporters here, too. I pulled back into the road, turned the next corner, and parked in a tow-away zone. I unclipped the car phone, and dialed 411. When the mobile operator answered, I asked to be put through to the British Embassy. The girl who answered was either tired, or bored, or both.
"British Embassy," she said in a nasal twang. "Can I help you?"
"I need you to send some agents to collect the Duchess of ...."
"Our office hours are between 9 am and 5pm. If you are experiencing problems with your Visa, our Consular Section is open between the hours of ..."
"Look lady," I snarled. "Listen to me carefully. I'm parked in Arundal Street, around the corner from your main entrance. I'm in a yellow sports car, and I have with me ... " I told her exactly who my passenger was. There was silence on the line, then she asked me to repeat myself. So I did. And added, "I need an alternative entrance to the Embassy to avoid the press."
"Hold on, please" she said, and there were clicks on the line, which was replaced by a male voice.
"Gregory Wilmington-Smythe here," he said. "I am Under Vice Consul. How can I help?"
Oh but how I wanted to tell him to get out from under the Vice Consul! All in all, I think I did very well.
"Are you missing a Royal?" I asked him.
At this point, my passenger grabbed the phone off me. "Hello?" she cooed into the phone. "Do yew recognize our voice?" Presumably Gregory Double-Barrel did recognize her voice because she continued. "We're sitting around the corner from your main entrance, in a yellow sports car, with a very nice young man. We desire to avoid all the tiresome photographers camped on your doorstep." She listened for a few seconds. "Just a moment, we'll put him on." She passed the phone back to me and sat back.
"Hello?" I said into the phone.
"Where exactly are you?"
"In Arundal Street, just around the corner from your main entrance."
"Do you see a green door, ahead of you on your right?"
I looked. In the gloom I could make out said green door. "Yes."
"Pull up to it. I'll be down instanter."
"Right." I switched off the phone and slid the car forward until I was as close to the door as I could get. The door opened and a man dressed in a tuxedo stepped through it. Presumably Gregory Wilmington-Smythe. He opened my passenger door and gave his hand to help my guest to her feet. Once she had got out of the car, he shut the door, ready to escort her into the Embassy, but she turned round and rapped on my passenger side window. I wound it down.
She removed my trench coat and handed it to me. "We would like to thenk yew for your assistance, gallentry and quick thinking during this troublesome time." she said.
"It's been my pleasure, ma'am." I replied. As I leant to put my trench coat on the back seat, I noticed the laundry bag. "Er ... what about your purchases?" I asked.
"Oh yew keep them," she replied. And, with a twinkle in her eyes, she added, "We are sure they will suit yew better then they suit us."
And, with Gregory Wilmington-Smythe on her arm, she stepped through the green door, and out of my life forever.
Last Christmas, among all the cards from relatives and friends in England, was one that I found a little worrying. It was addressed to my correct name (which isn't, never has been, and never will be 'Nick') and my correct address, and bore a British stamp. On the outside of the card was a photograph of a Scottish moor covered in snow, a lone stag in the foreground. Inside was the simple, handwritten message "Warmest Regards, Brenda"