Here is how it starts:
Renfro Coulter struggled not to teeter on the four inch heels of the thigh-high, shiny black boots he wore. He settled the purple velvet cape evenly across his shoulders and tugged at the hampering folds of the unfamiliar ankle-length skirt. Damned thing seemed to cling to his legs despite the high slits in its flaring panels. I’d better be careful or I’ll fall on my ass.
He took a final look in the mirror. The flowing waist-length locks of his wig tickled where straying strands touched his skin while the fluid waves softened the angles of his narrow face. Damn, I actually make a good looking woman. He shook his head, making the dark auburn tresses slither against the purple velvet. Sparkling with fiery highlights when the bank of lights reflected off the silken cascade, each hair seemed to be alive and aflame.
I prob’ly should have been born female. Even though this get-up feels clumsy, I could get to like dressing up this way. He grinned. Beats being the skinny short kid everyone picked on, anyway. Not that anyone would dare pick on him any more. As an agent of the increasingly notorious Paranormal Operations Unit of the Border Patrol or POU, he’d been well trained in martial arts and encouraged to hone the unusual skills he’d been born with--in the male gender, wrong body or not.
The son of an avowed witch and a mysterious father, allegedly a druid, who he could only recall in a scatter of vague vignettes from childhood, he’d grown up in an environment where magic was considered normal. Despite that, his mother insisted he refrain from casting spells or using any unusual powers for defense while he went to school and grew to adulthood. Maybe fighting with normal skills had made him tough but it certainly hadn’t been fun. He had the scars to prove it, too.
As an adult, not quite either mage or druid, he had his own peculiar powers and ways of working magic. Those skills had led him to the notice of Clayton Chiles, head of the POU. He’d been a full fledged member of that elite cadre of guardians for several months now.
With a flourish of the cape, he turned toward the door. It was time to put his disguise to test. Playboy and reputed drug lord Enrique Mendoza was said to have an eye for striking women and striking young men, as well. Either way, Ren should catch his notice. Although not an invited guest for this particular one of Mendoza’s infamous parties, Ren did not expect to have any trouble crashing the night’s festivities. If it came to that, he’d just make himself invisible long enough to get past security.
Outside the hotel where he’d registered as Rena Murphy, he caught a cab across town to Mendoza’s hilltop estate. The Latino cabby shot him one slantwise look but did not comment and gave a small nod when Ren told him the destination.
“Ah so,” the man murmured. Though unspoken, I might have guessed, hung in the air.
Ren gave the driver a generous tip when he got out at the portico of the rambling house. A bored looking man in an operetta-grand uniform guarding the door hardly gave him a glance. Seemed Mendoza felt he had nothing to fear. No doubt he’d have security in the mansion. Still, it seemed bold to the point of foolishness to be so lax. Easier for me though. Ren gave a tight smile. I can save my spell energy for later. He walked through the double doors and paused in the foyer.
After taking a moment to get his bearings, he stepped down the three steps into the first room which seemed to hold the overflow from the party. The center of the festivities appeared to be though an arched opening beyond the first room if the noise was a clue. A rock band, a country western group and a mariachi ensemble vied for dominance. Although they might be playing in different areas of the huge house, the sounds alternately melded and clashed.
Before he’d crossed the first room, he’d been ogled by many and propositioned by several but he put them off. “I’m meeting someone,” he said, “and he tends to be possessive.” He’d perfected that low genderless purr of a voice, as ambiguous as his persona—but sexy, very sexy.
From all he’d heard of Mendoza, that was completely true. If the don took a shine to Ren, nobody else better make any moves on him. The trick was to get close enough, just not too close. He’d have to play coy and hard to get while still interested and flirtatious. Although Ren had once considered a career in the theater, this would be the most challenging role he’d attempted.
It took him almost an hour of wriggling through the costumed crowd, into one huge ballroom and out again, across a patio and a courtyard, and through more rooms before he finally located Mendoza. Once there, Ren halted in the doorway to study his prey. The Latino, apparently outfitted to look like Zorro in black enhanced with conchos, rhinestones and silver braid, sprawled in a huge gilded chair on a dais at one end of the room. A bevy of scantily dressed beauties clustered around him, seeming to vie for a few seconds of his total attention.
They were all drop dead gorgeous. Even if some of them might be in drag, Ren had to admit he couldn’t tell. He knew some female impersonators perfected their look until they could fool even the most discerning. By comparison his disguise was almost clumsy. Still he knew he presented a striking sight. He held a pose in the open doorway, waiting to see if Mendoza would notice him.
He didn’t have to wait long. Across the room he felt the searing impact of the Patron’s ebony eyes. The man had power; whether part of it was magic-based he could not yet tell but there was both magnetic and kinetic energy in that fierce gaze. Mendoza turned to speak to a man who hovered close behind the patron’s throne-like seat while staying clear of the shifting mass of luscious women. The man made a fast transit of the room, almost as if he teleported although Ren knew he did not. Still, in an instant, he appeared at Ren’s side.
“You’re new,” he said, speaking in a low monotone voice, one that would not carry far from their immediate location.
Ren nodded. “True. I haven’t been here before but I had assurance I’d be welcome.”
When he met the slender dark man’s gaze, he had to stifle the jolt that shot through him. This man had even more power in his eyes than Mendoza! Dressed in stark flat black like a ninja or an outlaw, the stranger was not big, barely as tall as Ren in his high-heeled boots, and lean of build. His wore his night-dark hair drawn back in a severe queue, so tight it almost slanted his eyes. They were gray eyes, a steely hard and cold hue like icy water, eyes both bottomless and strangely opaque.
“Come with me. El Patron wants to meet you. May I have a name so I can introduce you?”
The stranger arched one eyebrow and smiled, a mere twist of mobile lips that made his narrow moustache undulate. “Very good, Ms. Murphy. Follow me.”
“And you are?”
“Many of the folks here call me Dos Sombras –it seems to have some idiomatic meaning I’ve yet to sort out--or simply El Sombra. . If you have need of me, just ask for El Sombra.”
“Two shadows? That’s a curious appellation. And El Sombra is not correct; el is masculine and sombra feminine.”
The man darted a swift glance at Ren. “So you speak Spanish, Ms Murphy? That’s the idea, you see—a dichotomy, a conflict, even a mixture of both sexes embodied in one persona. A bit like yourself, perhaps?”
He smiled again, a smile which did not reach his eyes. They stayed as chill and flat as water on the verge of freezing. Ren restrained the reflexive shiver kindled by the icy glance. What did this stranger see when looking at him? This was a man to watch, perhaps one to fear or at least to handle with caution... A bad enemy and likely an equally dangerous friend. Unbidden, that assessment skittered through his mind, yet some intuition, told him they would be friends. He wasn’t sure if the notion comforted or disturbed him.
Walking steadily now that he’d come to a truce with his heels, he followed the lithe man, dodging through the crowd to cross the room. This transit seemed slower than the other man had made alone. Still they soon approached Mendoza.
The patron looked up at them. A leering smile painted itself across his broad face. “Aye, que bonita. You must be new for I surely would recall had I met you before, Senorita. How am I so blessed to have you grace my humble abode?”
Ren answered with a smile of his own, a toothy smile copied from the top models he’d observed in developing his disguise. “I’ve heard El Patron Mendoza throws wonderful parties, that the food and drink are unsurpassed, that any recreational drug one might desire can be had and that the company is always delightful. How could I stay away from such enticements?”
“Tell me your name, queridisima.”
“Rena Murphy, recently of California.”
“Ah, a model or a starlet perhaps?”
Ren shook his head making the long rippling waves of his wig shimmer. “Nothing so glamorous. Just a working girl, you might say. Sometimes in an office, a club, wherever… Right now I’m between jobs.”
“Then I’m sure I can find a place for you here. You’re overdressed, mi corazon. Underneath that cape I am sure you hide rare beauty and sexy attributes, no?”
Ren shrugged delicately, just a tiny twitch of one shoulder. “All of us have the same equipment, patron, two of this and one of that, you know.”
Mendoza laughed. “Gorgeous and a sly sense of humor as well. Yes, I’m sure I have a place for you here, Rena. I may call you Rena, may I not?”
Ren gave a gracious nod, not quite a bow. “Of course. I’m totally at your service.”