Lambda Literary Award Finalist stickerSomething evil is happening at Alma High School an evil so unthinkable that nothing in Brett Higgins criminal past could ever prepare her for it.

When a concerned teacher suspects that a drug ring is operating at her school, Brett Higgins and her lover Allie enroll at Alma High School disguised as a teenaged brother and sister. Against her better judgment, Brett soon finds herself returning the affections of luscious cheerleader, Kathy, while Allie is stuck fighting off the raging hormones of their number one suspect, Kathy’s boyfriend, Brian. Then one of their classmates turns up dead, propelling Brett on a nightmarish quest to stop the terror. And putting Allie and Kathy directly into the hands of a relentless predator.

Lambda Literary Award Finalist for
Best Lesbian Mystery!


© 2000
ISBN-10: 0967775337
ISBN-13: 978-0967775333


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He pulled his car up into the driveway. It was late and snow was beginning to lightly trickle down from the sky.

“That was one helluva party,” his friend said, climbing out of the back seat.

“Party,” she slurred, half-slumped in the front seat.

“C’mon babe,” he said, going around the car to help her out. His parents weren’t home so he planned on continuing the party at his place.

He knew she had to be cold—after all, she was only wearing the Tinkerbell costume he had talked her into donning for this Halloween party. He had liked how short the skirt was, how much of her incredible body the costume showed off. He didn’t mind others looking at her because he knew what was going to happen that night.

“You comin’?” his friend called from the front door.

“Yeah, ‘course.” He just about had to carry her to the house. “You think we gave her too much of that crap?”

“Nah, man, this is gonna be fuckin’ great! G rocks man!”

He laid her out on the couch while his friend found the video-camera and set it up on its tripod. He turned it on, focusing it so that it would pick up the entire couch area.

“Hey baby, I got somethin’ for you,” he said, placing her hands on his crotch. She slumped back on the couch so the two of them began undressing her.

“Oh fuckin’ A man, she’s got a body,” his friend said when she was naked. “Lookit these tits.”

She mumbled something, but he couldn’t make out what she said. He was hard and ready to go and she wouldn’t remember a damned thing about both of them doing her and that was all that mattered. He pulled down his zipper and stuck his dick into her.

“Ah, ah,” she mumbled in pain, pulling away.

He ignored her obvious pain and pulled in and out while his friend kept her nice and spread and fondled the smooth skin of her tits and her hardened nipples. It didn’t matter that they were hard and erect from the cold, they were still beautiful.

He knew he should’ve used lube ‘cause she was so not ready for him, and she made that quite obvious, but he also enjoyed the friction of it, of going into her dry. He never woulda gotten a chance to do this normally. Hell, she was so uptight she never would let him do anything fun, she wouldn’t even let him fuck her up the ass.

But he’d do it tonight. Both of ‘em would.

He was pumpin’ in and out of her and just thinkin’ about everythin’ was enough to just about make him come, so he did—all over her. It was a mess. He ignored the blood smeared over her thighs. She pulled away from him, rolling into a fetal position.

“Okay man, my turn,” his buddy said, pulling his zipper down and pulling himself out, rubbing himself in anticipation. “Lemme at that sweet pussy of hers.” He grabbed her leg, opening her up.

“No, no,” she mumbled, trying to pull away, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t even wipe herself off she was so outta it.

Chapter 1

“I’m home!” Brett Higgins called as she entered the hotel suite that was home while she and Allie house hunted in the Detroit Metro area. Her meeting with Frankie had lasted all afternoon and now she was so hungry even an all-you-can-eat buffet wouldn’t satisfy her, but she was still surprised when not only did she see Allie and Madeline, but also another woman in the sitting area of their suite.

“Hey honey,” Allie said, tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulder while a small seductive smile spreading across her aristocratic features. “I hope you don’t mind if a friend of Madeline’s joins us.”

Brett glanced at Madeline, who was watching intently. From another person, this might’ve perturbed Brett, but she was accustomed to such strange behavior from her old next-door neighbor. Before Brett could speculate further, the stranger stood and approached her.

“Hi, I’m Leisa Kraft,” the woman said with a slight smile. She was tall, a smidgen taller than Brett in fact—probably around 5’11”—with hair the color of molten gold. Although Brett normally preferred her women to be quite slender, like Allie, Leisa was still quite attractive even though she had a bit more of a build to her. An obvious added perk to this, even though Leisa tried to cover it with a rather loose, baby blue Polo shirt, was that she probably wore at least a D-cup.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Brett finally said, after running her eyes up and down Leisa’s body, but stopping before Leisa faltered too much from Brett’s assessment. Brett met her eyes and was immediately arrested by the most startling, intense green eyes she had ever seen. They were a shocking sea green. Leisa’s hand was warm in hers and Allie sat just a few feet away.

Brett dropped the hand. “Madeline, is there somethin’ you ain’t been tellin’ us?”

Madeline finally smiled. “Yes, but not what you are thinking.”

“I’m starving, let’s eat,” Allie said, standing.

Leisa and Madeline preceded Brett and Allie out the door and down the hall.

“What’s goin’ on?” Brett whispered as she locked the room.

“I don’t know,” Allie answered. “Madeline wanted to wait for both of us before she’d tell me anything. She got here earlier, we had brunch, looked at houses and came back here. Then Leisa showed up.” Allie shrugged to display her lack of knowledge in the matter. “She seems nice enough. I’m guessing she’s from Alma.”

Leisa and Madeline paused at the elevator, waiting for them.

• • • • •

In the restaurant, the waiter led them to their table. “Can I bring you anything to drink?”

“I would like a glass of white wine,” Madeline said, and Leisa and Allie ordered the same.

“I’ll take a Glenfiddich on the rocks,” Brett said, thinking she needed something stronger, considering Madeline’s secretive mood.

The waiter looked at Allie and Brett. “Can I see some ID?” he asked.

Allie smiled and handed it over, but Brett grimaced. Once the waiter had left, she looked across at Madeline and Leisa. “So what’s this about?”

Madeline turned to Leisa. “She is not known for outstanding patience or waiting until after a peaceful meal and conversation. You might as well tell them now.”

Leisa smiled slightly at Madeline before turning to face Brett and Allie. “I live in St. Louis, a small town near Alma, and I teach at Alma High School.” She paused, as if trying to find the right words. “And lately we’ve been having some problems there,” she continued with a sigh. Brett watched those amazing green eyes cloud over.

“What sort of problems?” Allie prompted.

“I’m not really sure. Some kids that have always been perfect are now late and absent a lot. Just acting up across the board. I don’t have any proof or anything, but I think maybe drugs are involved.”

“What sort of drugs?” Brett asked.

Leisa shrugged. “Marijuana. Cocaine. I don’t really know. I just don’t want it getting really out of hand. Nobody does.”

“Of course not,” Allie said. “Nobody ever does.”

“There’s just a few of us who suspect anything, and the police won’t get involved because we don’t have any hard evidence or anything.”

Brett took a sip of her drink, laid it on the table, lit a cigarette and sat back in the booth, studying the women across from her. There had to be a damn good reason why Madeline had brought Leisa all this way to tell them this rather mundane story—Madeline always had her reasons for everything she did, no matter how strange those reasons sometimes were. There was more to the story than kids being kids.

“I’ve lived in the area my entire life, and I’ve never witnessed anything like this before. I mean, I know there’ve been drugs—hell, no place is safe from them anymore, and we do have the college in town, but... I dunno. It upsets me. And I’m concerned about the kids. I don’t want whoever is causing this to get the idea to move onto bigger things.”

Madeline reached over and put a hand on Leisa’s shoulder. Leisa turned to her and slightly bowed her head.

The intensity of that private moment was broken when the waiter brought their food. He spent a few minutes arranging their plates in front of them, after which Brett cut up her steak, medium rare of course, and buttered, salted and cut up her baked potato as well. The steak practically melted in her mouth. She enjoyed good food like she enjoyed good women. She slipped her hand onto Allie’s slender, muscular thigh.

Leisa looked up from her chicken Kiev. “There’s just a few of us who feel this way—most of the teachers just think it’s a case of kids being kids, but three of us want to do something and we don’t know what we can do.”

Brett nodded. That was it then; they wanted to bring Allie in as a detective, which made perfect sense. After all, she had done that sort of thing for the police before.

“I care about these kids, and I don’t want happening in Alma what’s been happening all over the country.” The passion blazed in Leisa’s eyes.

“Do ya mean the drug abuse and crime, the way kids get started younger and younger,” Brett said harshly, “or the violence, the goin’ postal and shooting classmates down in the library?”

Leisa swallowed, staring at Brett over the table. There was a long pause, but Brett knew what they were thinking—Paduca, Jonesboro, Columbine. Six-year-old murderers.

Allie broke the silence. “Brett, I can tell when you’ve spent too much time with Frankie—you start talking like him.”

Brett suddenly realized what Allie said was true. She was an educated woman, yet she often changed her vocabulary, enunciation and sentence structure to whatever was appropriate for the situation. But obviously she hadn’t done so today. Why was that?

She affected the proper accent. “Please excuse me,” she said to Leisa. “I do often blend into my environment, play a role if you will, so I become part of that environment. However, in this instance, I have continued my prior role when another was suggested.”

Leisa paused, then broke into a smile. “Thanks, I needed that.”

“I told you that these two could do whatever is required,” Madeline said.

“‘These two?’” Brett said. “Hold on, I was thinking you wanted Allie to do something—”

“Brett, dear, lower your voice,” Allie prompted.

“We actually require both of your services,” Madeline said.

“Both of us?”

“Yes. That is the only way to sufficiently cover all the required areas.”

“What do you have in mind?” Allie asked.

Leisa and Madeline exchanged a glance. “Perhaps we should wait until after dinner to discuss that,” Madeline finally said.

“Oh, no, don’t go bringing up something like that and then try to drop it,” Brett said.

Leisa met her eyes over the table. “I’m desperate. I don’t want things to change, at least not like this. I love my kids and don’t want anything to happen. I’m already having trouble sleeping, I don’t know how I’ll ever sleep again if I find out that something’s happened that I could’ve helped avoid.”

Brett looked into her green eyes for a moment, then turned to the blue-eyed Allie and put an arm around her. “Damn you Madeline, you know my weak spot for blondes,” she said looking right at Leisa, then planted a brief kiss on Allie’s luscious lips and felt the silkiness of Allie’s long, blonde hair caress her fingers.

• • • • •

During the drive home, Allison Sullivan looked over at her very butch lover. When she had first come out, she never could’ve imagined that such a woman would do to her what Brett did. But then Brett came along and did it. Allie had started off preferring femmes, but now she realized that she relished Brett’s strength and power. That was Brett’s way—to do the unexpected, to be who she was no matter what. Allie loved that about her. The seventeen-year-old Allie had known that from the moment she met the tough twenty-three-year-old Brett. However, no matter what anybody ever thought about Brett Higgins, it was she, Allie, who had to first kiss Brett, who had to first seduce Brett.

Brett thought she was some sort of a big, bad ass butch, and she did fit that image physically with her imposingly tall 5’10”, well-muscled body; her head of thick, short hair black as night; and her wild, wicked past full of exotic dancers and illegal dealings that Allie knew she would probably never know the full extent of. Brett was like a big, dangerous, powerful black panther.

But Brett was charming, good-looking, and had the excitement Allie had always lacked in her own life. Brett would take Allie the way Allie always fantasized about. She knew exactly what Allie wanted and how far she could push her. Part of that was that Allie trusted her, but also she could tease Allie—hell, she could openly flirt with other women, like she had with Leisa tonight—but still make sure that Allie and everybody else around knew that Allie was the one she was going home with. It made Allie feel special, knowing she was always the winner every time. The others could hope Brett would follow through on her flirtations, but she never would.

Allie never understood why such a woman as Brett, who could obviously have her choice of a great many women, would want her. She knew she was good-looking, attractive, but Brett was so handsome and exciting, whereas she was what most people would probably call rather vanilla. Other than her parents, it was only with Brett that she felt special and wanted—but her parents weren’t around anymore. Hell, Allie’s first female lovers had all cheated on her—sometimes with each other—and even though Brett had done the same, she had dumped the other women for Allie.

Allie had to admit to herself, though she’d never tell anybody else, least of all Brett herself, that she enjoyed knowing that other women looked at her woman. But she knew Brett was hers, and knew it every time she looked into those exciting eyes that varied from almost brown to almost green, depending on Brett’s feelings and intentions. And it was only with Brett that Allie became aware that other women were looking at her, at Allie—because Brett would point it out. That was a part of Brett that most others had no idea about—how Brett would point out when other women were looking at Allie, how she’d make her feel even more special and wanted.

Of course, above and beyond all that, was the fact that while other women would make remarks about how much they loved their girlfriends, Brett had proven to Allie that she would quite literally die for her. That was one helluva thing to live up to.

Allie was especially excited once it became clear that Madeline and Leisa wanted her and Brett to work together on whatever scheme they had in mind. She wanted to work with her lover, wanted to show Brett her world, since she had already learned quite a bit about Brett’s world.

• • • • •

Throughout dinner and the drive home, Leisa and Madeline stubbornly refused to discuss their plan, but the minute they entered the hotel room, Brett shut the door and looked at them. “Okay, now what the fuck’s on your scheming little brains?”

“Alma, St. Louis—all of the towns near there—they are all small. All the residents know each other, or of each other,” Madeline began, sitting calmly on the sofa. “Whereas you two are not originally from that area, and only lived there a short time. Also, throughout your little adventures since you first moved there you have managed to remain anonymous.”

“Yeah, well, one does try to do that while on the lam, y’know,” Brett said, walking to the bar to pour herself a scotch.

“You better make me one too, hon,” Allie said, coming up behind her. “I have a feeling I’m going to need it.” She looked at Madeline and Leisa. “Anything for you two?”

“You know, neither of you really needs a drink, for what we are about to request is actually quite simple and will come naturally to both of you.”

“Then tell us what it is already!” Brett said, downing her scotch and pouring another.

“We want you two to come to the school and check things out,” Leisa finally blurted. She took Brett’s drink from her hand and claimed it as her own, downing half of it in a single gulp.

“Check things out?” Brett asked.

“Yes, we want you to investigate the situation, discover what is really going on,” Madeline said.

“And just how do you suggest we do that?” Brett wasn’t liking this one bit and definitely still needed that drink. So she poured herself another one that no one was about to take from her.

“We want you to go undercover as students,” Leisa answered. “As teenaged brother and sister.” Her eyes were wide, as if all of Madeline’s toying with them was driving her as nuts as it had Brett. It also made Brett think that this was about as much of a walk on the wild side as she had probably ever taken—asking someone to do something so underhanded and sneaky.

Then Leisa’s actual words hit Brett, even as she heard Allie say, “What? You’ve got to be kidding!”

“You want us to what?” Brett echoed.

“Pretend to be students so you can figure out exactly what’s going on,” Leisa said.

“It is the most sensible idea there is and makes perfect sense,” Madeline stated in her perfectly logical and sensible way.

“C’mon, for chrissake’s,” Brett protested, “there’s no way we can possibly pass as high school students.” She took off her jacket and loosened her tie.

“I hate to say it,” Allie said, “but Brett’s right, there’s no way this can work.”

“But it’s got to!” Leisa said.

“Brett, dear heart,” Madeline cajoled with a smile. “We’re hoping to settle this all peacefully before anything goes truly awry.”

“Maddy, honey,” Brett argued, running her hand through her short hair. “You see this gray in my hair? It’s caused by shit like this.”

“Some Grecian formula should take care of that,” Madeline replied, matter-of-factly. “Things are known to happen for a reason and I believe that this is one of those times. I think perhaps you two have some unresolved issues that such a task might help you to better face and thus deal with as you build your future together.”

Sometimes Madeline talked in a way that made it tough for Brett to keep up with her, and this was one of those times. “Yeah, right, in your dreams!” Brett barked, once she had worked her way through Madeline’s riddle and realized that she was insisting that not only should they do this, but they needed to. “There’s no way in hell I’m going back to high school!”

“Besides,” Allie added, laying a calming hand on Brett’s arm, “as I said, no one would ever believe we’re teenagers.”

“They don’t want to do it, Maddy,” Leisa said, slouching on the couch, her disappointment apparent.

“I disagree,” Madeline said. “As I said, with some Grecian formula and the appropriate crotch-scratching, Brett could quite easily pass as an adolescent male...”

“Madeline, I’m thirty-three and she’s twenty-seven,” Brett said, pointing to Allie. “Besides, we’ve got way too much to do—like house hunting.” She looked at Leisa, who looked forlorn. Lost. She really cared about those kids. Brett felt a pang of guilt.

“So you want us to be Narcs?” Allie questioned, apparently becoming intrigued with the idea. Their recent success at helping to apprehend several criminals was obviously bringing back her love of truth and justice. It was bringing back the woman who had grown up to be a cop. Brett wasn’t sure she liked that idea. After all, it was that same woman who shot at Brett and thought she had killed her.

“Narc,” Leisa replied as Brett refilled her glass. “It’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? Something I never thought I’d hear with relation to Alma.” Her eyes took on a glassy and faraway look. Brett had a sudden feeling that she was going to have to insist that Madeline and Leisa spend the night with them. Brett wasn’t sure what Leisa’s tolerance for alcohol was, but she was afraid she was already beyond that limit.

“But I do think that is what needs to be done,” Madeline replied. “It is the perfect way to get inside the circle—to find out what is really happening.”

“It’s probably just the same old crap,” Brett said, trying not to stare at Leisa. She was an attractive woman, and her glazed eyes made Brett think of the first startlingly attractive blonde in her life... Her cousin Marie, who was the first woman Brett had ever really loved.

• • • • •

Brett’s sweet Marie was her first cousin, and Brett’s own age. Brett remembered dear Merry with her long blonde hair and soft, loving touch. Although she always thought of herself as Marie’s evil twin, the exact opposite of her, Brett knew there was a great deal they had in common—like the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse they both shared at the hands of their families.

From their earliest days, the two had planned on eventually escaping together from their grim lives, but starting at the age of 15 Brett saw Marie slowly decline into a world of drugs and prostitution, a world of easy money and total escapism.

Brett remembered well Marie’s glazed eyes the last time they met. Brett had yearned for her, had looked forward to the meeting, but Marie wasn’t the same woman; she no longer really felt or heard anything.

Actually, she had seen Marie one more time after that, when her dear cousin had unknowingly gone looking for a job at the adult theatre Brett managed. Brett couldn’t stand seeing what had happened to the intelligent, beautiful and sweet young woman she had first fallen in love with. She was now unnaturally slender, emaciated even, and her gorgeous hair had lost its rich sheen and luster, hanging limply around her face.

Brett had found Storm and told her to take the young woman out for dinner, to make sure she ate a good, healthy meal. She also gave Storm money to give to Marie, and told Storm to try to talk Marie into using it for food and shelter instead of drugs.

She never saw Marie again after that.

She wondered if she was still even alive.

Actually, she did occasionally wonder if any of her family was still alive.

Brett had lost the first person she had ever loved to drugs, and drugs had always played a role in her life through others—for fuck’s sake, she had even sold them at one point!

• • • • •

Madeline apparently saw her opening and moved in for the kill. “This idea first started to form when I realized I had never seen either of your pictures in the news with regard to your recent escapades....”

“We like our privacy,” Brett said.

“Whatever,” Madeline replied with a wave of her hand. “I know you two have a lot of experience in these sorts of matters, which, with your relative anonymity, is exactly what we need in this matter.”

“It doesn’t matter, Maddy,” Brett said. “You see, I’m a bad guy—if I lived in the Old West I’d be riding around in a black hat. I am not a good guy, I don’t do good things, and I don’t help damsels in distress. I am a bad guy.”

Allie leveled an even glare at her lover. “So this is your penance for your years of trouble-making.”

“Are you telling me you want to go back to high school?”

“No, but I think we should at least listen to what Madeline has to say.” With that Allie turned back to Madeline. Brett glanced at Leisa, who now looked hopeful.

“I have it all figured out,” Madeline began. “You two will pose as brother and sister—fraternal twins. Your father, my brother, recently passed away. Your mother has sent you to live with me because you were getting into too much trouble in your Detroit neighborhood.”

“So we would have to live with you?” Brett asked. When Madeline nodded her head, she added “But we were living with you not too long ago—what if someone recognizes us?”

“They probably won’t—remember, now you will be teenaged brother and sister, my niece and nephew. They will see you as different people because they will see what we want them want to see, which is that which they are told. When you know someone as a boy, you see a boy. But if they do have some memories of you, we can say you had come out on vacation—and they will accept that. “

“And Brett,” Allie added, thinking out loud, “you can still be bad—you’ll be the bad boy and I’ll be the goody-two-shoes girl—that way we can fit into most of the school.”

“Wonderful idea, Allie!” Madeline exclaimed, while Brett shook her head.

Brett wrapped her arms around Allie. “Allison,” she whispered in her ear, “do you really want me to pose as your brother?”

“Think of it this way,” Allie whispered back. “The sooner we get to the bottom of things, the sooner we’ll be done.”

“But how do you know there’s a bottom to things—that it’s not just a case of kids acting up?”

“I have a feeling,” Madeline said.

Brett was beginning to hate Madeline’s feelings and the fact that she could overhear everything. “There’s no way I can pass as a teenaged boy.”

Allie looked at Brett, as if analyzing her appearance. “You’re tall, and if you were a boy, you’d be considered lanky. You’re not heavy enough to be a man.”

“What about these gray hairs?”

Leisa ran her hand through Brett’s hair. “Grecian formula or hair dye should take care of it.”

Thinking that Leisa’s fingers felt too good, Brett moved away. “It ain’t gonna work.”

“People have a tendency to see only what they want to see,” Madeline said. “The last thing they would be looking for in you is a thirty-three-year-old woman.”

Leisa was intently gazing at Brett. “How often do you get IDed for alcohol?”

Brett shook her head and turned away, but Allie chimed in. “A lot. And she gets called sir a lot as well.”

“People are idiots,” Brett said. “I think they mostly do it when they think...” she broke off, knowing what her line usually was.

But of course Allie knew it. “You think they do it when they think you’re a twelve-year-old boy.”

Leisa grinned. “I thought so.” Before Brett could voice another objection, she added, “And if you’re supposed to be the bad boy, you could have flunked a grade or two, so that you’re nineteen or twenty.”

“This ain’t gonna work.”

“It’s got to,” Leisa said firmly. “I can’t stand not doing anything while these kids destroy their lives.”

Brett thought about her cousin Marie, the only family member she had ever really cared about because she wanted to, not because she had to or was supposed to. At least Marie’s downfall hadn’t been directly about Brett, but about her own life. Brett could understand what happened to Marie even though she didn’t like it. She’d been a woman who really had not had a lot of choices about where to turn.

“I think we should do this, Brett,” Allie said, sitting next to her.

But Brett couldn’t understand other people, who had real choices and good lives, who turned to drugs. People like these kids, who probably really had pretty decent lives overall.

“You do?” Leisa asked Allie.

“I told you, my dear, these are two women who have the ability and morality to handle such an assignment,” Madeline said.

“What the hell’s going on?” Brett grumbled. “Are you guys just assuming I’m gonna do this?”

Allie grinned. “Y’know, Brett, you’re really not a very good butch.”

“Huh? What the hell do you mean by that?”

“I always thought the two most important phrases in any good butch’s vocabulary were ‘Yes dear,’ and ‘How high?’” Allie winked at her. She wished Madeline had let her know what she had in mind before dinner because she was the one who knew how to deal with Brett and her big, bad ass butch attitude. She had to think that things were her own idea.

“You guys are fuckin’ with me,” Brett said. “I don’t see how you can even expect such a stupid thing to work.”

“It will,” Madeline said, “because it will.” Madeline knew that these women would do what was required of them. They were each compelled by their own demons—they each had to prove themselves to themselves—the most compelling reason of all.

“Please, Brett, we’ve got to at least try,” Leisa said. “I don’t know what’ll happen if it doesn’t.”

“Why the hell do you even think I’ll know what the fuck to do?” Brett said.

“You will do what you need to do,” Madeline said.

“You definitely have the linguistics of the role down,” Leisa said.

“This won’t work,” Brett insisted.

“Yes, it will,” Allie said. “You want to do it and you know it.”

Leisa couldn’t believe she was asking these women to do this thing. She couldn’t believe she was involved in such a thing herself even. She had first told Madeline about the goings-on at the school because she knew Maddy would understand her feelings of impotence in the matter. She really hadn’t thought that Madeline would actually be able to help her—at least not in any tangible way. She thought the wise woman would simply be able to help settle her spirit and give her the strength and courage to do whatever needed to be done.

But when Leisa finally agreed to Maddy’s idea, she had been scared, and now she was nervous. Maddy had made it seem as if enlisting Brett and Allie’s help would be no problem, but now it seemed as if Brett didn’t want to do it. Leisa had always trusted Maddy because she was always right and she knew so much, but she was beginning to worry.

• • • • •

Elsewhere in town a man was speaking on the phone, ending an hour-long conversation.

“Okay, sis, we’re all set then?”

“Yeah, I’ll leave first thing Saturday morning.”

“Y’know, I really hate to ask you to do this on your vacation and all...”

“Listen—he’s my nephew. I don’t want him getting mixed up in any of this crap anymore than you do.”

“For all I know, I could just be imagining things...”

“Don’t worry about it. If you are, then I get a vacation, and, if you’re not...”

“I’ll see you in about a week, Randi.”

“Okay. Give my love to Pat and Jake,” Randi McMartin said as she hung up the phone with her brother, who lived about two and a half hours north of her in Alma.

Randi picked up the picture she kept near the phone. It was the last picture taken of the entire family before... before...

She wouldn’t think about it. She wouldn’t remember it. She couldn’t go back through that again.

Anyway, the picture included a young Jake of maybe two.

Randi McMartin stared at the photo for what seemed like an hour, remembering when her family was whole. She wouldn’t let another one get away from her.

Bella, a terrier, sits on the floor of a bookstore, mug of coffee at paw, manuscript "When Evil Changes Face" in front of her.
The manuscript in front of Bella, the terrier in the picture, is When Evil Changes Face. A picture really can say a thousand words, eh?

What the Critics Say

…Szymanski is a master at pacing… The sex scenes are very hot and believable… {Szymanski} knows how to hook her readers from almost the first page.

—Lambda Book Report, December 2000, by Greg Herren

• • • • • 

School drug ring is Motor City sleuth’s
latest puzzle

When Evil Changes Face
by Therese Szymanski
Bella Books

Reviewed by Anthony Glassman

Brett Higgins, Therese Szymanski’s tough-as-nails lesbian underworld outlaw and occasional, if reluctant, good Samaritan, is used to drugs in the big city. She grew up in Detroit, went to school there, became part of the mob there, and drugs were an everyday fact of life. She had seen one too many friends and loved ones get caught up in them to sell or use them herself, but they were a part of life in the big city.

Alma, Michigan, is not a big city. It’s a small town an hour or so northwest of Detroit, and it’s the last place you’d expect to find a drug ring operating. That’s why Brett and her girlfriend Allison are so surprised when their friends Leisa and Madeline come to them, asking Brett to use her criminal know-how and Allison to call on her former life as a police officer to go undercover in Alma and fight out who is peddling drugs.

There is a catch, one that could be potentially as dangerous as any drug: They have to go back to high school.

That is the plot of Szymanski’s latest Motor City thriller starring Brett Higgins. At the end of the last novel, When the Dancing Stops, Brett Higgins had saved the girl (Allison) and faked her own death to escape her life in organized crime, now, for all intents and purposes, a thing of the past.

As this novel opens, Brett and Allison are living in a hotel while looking for an apartment. Alma seems like a nice place to live. It’s out of the way, quiet, and somewhere Brett would be unlikely to meet anyone who might recognize her, since she is supposed to be dead.

However, Leisa, a teacher at Alma High School and a friend of a friend, has grave concerns about the school. The signs of a drug trade are popping up, and it seems like a teacher might be involved. Brett is reluctant to return to the scene of adolescent horrors that still haunt her nightmares, and the fact that she will masquerade as Allison’s twin brother doesn’t help.

And, of course, as Brett and Allison get closer to untangling the Gordian knot of crime in the school, death could be waiting in the next row of lockers for both of them.

Having moved to Ohio a year and a half ago from Detroit, where Therese Szymanski is a local dyke hero, I’m not too sure how popular she is here. Also, being from Detroit, the setting resonates for me. Places she mentions are the scenes of childhood exploration and adolescent exploitation. Some of that would be missing for readers unfamiliar with Detroit and the recent history of its gay community.

What would not be lost is Szymanski’s writing. The woman is damn good. In fact, she officially gets my Red Herring Award, for the best use of misplaced and misinterpreted clues. It always seems, in her books, like the reader has figured out the who and what halfway through, even if the where and why escape us.

The reader is, however, usually wrong. It’s not an Agatha Christie sort of thing, where Hercule Poirot doesn’t mention having found the mustache wax in the puddle of blood, leaving the reader unable to solve the mystery. No, Therese Szymanski simply shines a light into dark corners, falling invariably on those who are innocent, however unlikable they may be, before finally spotlighting the criminal behind the horrid events that fill the book.

Szymanski also likes playing with the butch/femme dichotomy, since Brett is the tough guy and Allison the glamour girl, even though Brett can be as insecure as any other character, and Allison is no shy flower after her years on the police force.

And Szymanski, just to test her protagonist’s mettle, throws in the one person who could unravel Brett’s plans to solve the case: Detroit homicide detective Randi McMartin, Brett’s old nemesis, who believes her dead. With every page, the plot thickens.

By the way, Szymanski gives good love scenes. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but she’s good.

This book is a good example of why Detroit gets a bum rap. People don’t realize how good the Detroit Institute of Arts is, how good the Eastern Market is, or how good the lesbian mystery writers are. If you read this book, you’ll want to pick up her others. It’s a good thing they’re still in print.

• • • • •

Midwest Book Review
Reviewed by Cheri Rosenberg

The fourth Brett Higgins' Motor City Thriller by Therese Szymanski, "When Evil Changes Face," is both gripping and sexy; Szymanski fans will be delighted to join Brett and Allie on yet another adventure. This time they are going back to high school. . . as students. The interwoven elements of the plot, a writing style that Szymanski is known for, keep the reader guessing, and glued to the pages. The main theme is evident, but there is much more to discover under the surface in this fast-paced, action-packed, high school sting.

Something sinister lurks in a small Michigan town outside St. Louis at Alma High School. A dedicated teacher at the school, Leisa Kraft, is duly worried about her students. Leisa hopes to find out what is going on before someone gets hurt. . . or worse. She enlists the help of her friend Madeline; together they come up with a brilliant plan. Leisa and Madeline ask Brett, who made her money in organized crime but is no longer in the biz, and Allison, a ex-cop who has experience as a detective, to pose as high school students in order to solve the mysterious change in the students. Brett and Allie are reluctant to get involved at first but they relent. Madeline and Leisa convince Brett and Allie to go undercover as brother and sister.

Brett does a very convincing imitation of a delinquent teenage boy and Allie joins the cheerleading squad. Once enrolled in the school Brett and Allie fit right in-but can a thirty-three year old and twenty-seven year old really pull off the charade and discover the truth about what is going down in Alma High?

Brett Higgins was twenty-three when she met her lover Allison Sullivan, who was seventeen at the time. Brett and Allie have a wonderful relationship. Allie has no problem when Brett flirts with other women since the bottom line is that Brett is hers-all hers. But for how long and under what circumstances can even Brett's resolve to be faithful withstand the test?

I highly recommend "When Evil Changes Face" to anyone who enjoys good mysteries, juicy love stories, and hot steamy sex. It is fun revisiting high school (from an adult's perspective) with all the raging hormones, turf battles, sports, dramas, and teenage angst. The story is more than just erotica with its multi-faceted plot and complex characters; it keeps the reader guessing all along. The author does an amazing job of tying up the loose ends while setting the stage for the fifth Brett Higgins' Motor City Thrillers, "When Good Girls Go Bad."

You will not want to miss all six books in the Motor City Thriller series. The sixth title, "When the Corpse Lies (2004)," is the latest addition to the collection. Check out Therese Szymanski's other selections as well including, "Once Upon a Dyke: New Exploits of Fairy Tale Lesbians (2004)," which has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2005. "When Evil Changes Face" is a worthwhile read and rates five stars.

Behind the Book

This book was supposed to be the third Brett Higgins, but Barbara Grier told me it was too controversial and she would never, ever publish it. She didn’t.

When she first told me she wouldn't publish it, she said no one would believe Brett could be mistaken for a teen boy.

She later said the controversy was why she'd never publish it. She told me that after a few of my debates with her, such as they were about it. I hesitate to use the word debate, since, like most Naiad writers, I was scared to heck of her, so mostly said, "Oh, yes, of course," to her.

In fact, the day she told me she wouldn't publish this book because of its possibly controlversial nature, I fled. As in, I ran from her.

It was the first time we’d met, and since her argument against this book was that folks wouldn’t believe Brett was a teenaged boy, I quoted the jacket copy from the first book, which wasn't quite out yet, to her. She then told me that one of the ideas behind the jacket copy for When the Dancing Stops was to get women to read the copy, see my picture, and imagine me climbing into the shower with them.

When she said that, I did the only thing I could: I turned 51 shades of red and fled.

(I'd like to say that even though I used to be absolutely scared to death by Barbara, I absolutely love, admire and adore her and Donna. Any Naiad author who doesn't feel the same is an idiot.)

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the controversy Barbara was referring to was that which surrounded the Brandon Teena issues.

But I didn't write this book because of Teena. I actually had my first thought for this book before I had any publishing contract at all. The article I read was about some other lesbian who was being charged for various things because she'd been impersonating a man while she was involved with a girl. Possibly an underaged girl.

Brandon Teena was only a sidebar in that article.

This book was originally supposed to be dedicated to women like Teena and the true subject of the article I read, but by the time I got it published, that was quite passé. Well, only insomuch as such terrible things can be passé. Regardless, I didn’t want to appear to be riding on things like Boys Don’t Cry, even though I'd written this book long before the movie.

So Grier turned it down, and I wrote When Some Body Disappears as the third Brett Higgins. And then Body got chopped up so that I could still fit this into the ongoing continuity and I realized that I had one more chance for it, and I took it. I rewrote it to refit into my time continuum.

When I was let go from Naiad—when Barbara and Donna started planning out their retirement—I offered any publishers I was querying both this book and the first Shawn Donnelly book. Bella obviously took this book,and it was a finalist for a Lammy.

This book was officially the first Motor City Thriller, since Bella decided not to box me into mysteries with this series any longer. After all, the series has always been all over the board—mystery, ghost story, thriller, romance, erotica... I'd often said that the real mystery about the first Brett Higgins mystery was "Where's the mystery?" (I laughed my butt off when one critic actually said that.)

So with Bella the series changed into the Motor City Thrillers Featuring Brett Higgins. The first design concept had a Model-T as the logo for the series, which I vetoed. I mean, really, Brett Higgins with a Model-T?

Oh, one other note is that, as I dove into rewriting this book, even as Brett got older, well… the day I started the rewrite I was IDed twice for alcohol (and one of the people who IDed me actually laughed in my face, something I took as total disbelief in the fact that I was a 30-year-old female). (At that time, I lived in a college town, and I figured folks accepted my ID, which they mostly asked for after I got a haircut, because they figured I was a teenaged boy, and what teen boy would even think about using his sister’s ID?)

Final note: I believe there’s an erotic lockpicking scene in this book that, well, erm, I didn’t write. Well, I rewrote it, but the first draft was done by my big brother, Mark, who was also my godfather. He and I were discussing writing one night and he suggested that he always found lockpicking to be very erotic and that it might fit in really well, so I said “Go for it! If it works, I’ll use it.” It did, so I did—with his full blessing and permission. (Yes, I have a weird family. And I refer to him in past tense since he passed away in 2007.)

Buy the Book

And you can buy the book from your local independent/feminist/LGBT or rockin' lesbian bookstore, or any really cool store that might sell books like mine.

Oh, and of course, you can buy it/find out about its availability and such from my terrific publisher, Bella Books.

Bella Logo that links to Bella's Web site.

My books are also available on a veritable plethora of online booksellers, including

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all the Amazons in the world:

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U.S. Canada United Kingdom Germany

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And a whole lot of other places.

Make sure to check out all of the heartpounding
Brett Higgins Motor City Thrillers!
When the Dancing Stops When the Dead Speak When Some Body Disappears When Evil Changes Face
When Good Girls Go Bad When the Corpse Lies When First We Practice Front cover of When It's All Relative