June 27, 1969
It had been hot in the city for three nights running, and the Stonewall smelled of stale beer and sweat.
There'd been a group in the back at the start of the night all mourning the death of Judy Garland, getting drunk on just one pitcher of beer and breaking out in bits of song. They'd left before midnight, for which Alexa was grateful. She wasn't much of a Broadway queer herself -- besides, what would some rich bitch like Garland, even with all her problems, know about what life was really like?
Now the place was just the regulars: some students, some businessmen, a few drag queens like her, a few older men sitting in pairs, and a butch-looking dyke and her girlfriend at the end of the bar. The bearded man behind the bar was mixing martinis -- just a little too strong, the way she liked them -- and she gave him her best alluring expression.
"You're saving one of those for me, aren't you?" she said.
The man shook his head. "Shouldn'ta given you what I done already, with that tab you got."
"Dom. It's almost the first. You know I'm good for it." Alexa's mother had died when Alexa was still in her teens, leaving her a small trust fund, so now at the start of every month, she got a nice little deposit in her bank account. As soon as the will was read, Alexa had been on the very first bus out of Kansas, and never answered to the name Alexander again. The money wasn't enough to live on in New York, not quite, but close enough that all she needed was the occasional odd job or a couple of dates with a sweet sugar daddy to make up for it. But the college kids did all the odd jobs over the summer and as to dates -- well, Alexa hadn't had any deposits in her accounts for far too long.
Dom grunted and put a full glass on the coaster in front of her. "If Mr. Gambino comes in, you paid for that drink in cash, got it?"
Alexa leaned over the bar and smiled. "I promise. It'll just be between us girls."
Dom shook his head and walked over to another customer. Alexa just curled her perfectly painted fingers around her glass and took a long slow sip of her drink, savoring the slight burn as it traveled down her throat.
The jukebox was playing some slow number and there were a few couples on the small scuffed-up dance floor, dancing close, moving into one another. Alexa took a long swallow of her drink, then turned her attention to the man sitting in the nearest barstool. "Don't you think Chet Baker did this one better?" she asked.
"What?" Marty had come to the bar with a book again. He taught history up at one of the CUNY schools, and he always looked sad. Like knowing all the mistakes people had made was weighing down on him.
"Marty. Put the book away and give a girl a dance."
She held out her hand and for a moment he just started at her, uncertain. Then he grinned and jumped to his feet. "OK."
He wasn't a bad-looking guy when he smiled; it made his eyes not look so far apart. He didn't have two cents to rub together, but July first was just around the corner and she mostly just wanted a dance anyhow. A touch. He didn't hold her as close as some of the other couples were dancing, but he ran a gentle hand in circles on her back like he understood, and he let her rest her head on his shoulder.
She could have stayed like that forever, or at least for a few more songs. But the singer had just reached the bridge when the lights flashed on and off twice, quickly, and then stayed on. A raid. Marty jumped back nervously, pulling out of the embrace and looking towards the door.
There were two men in black suits, a blond one and a dark-haired one, with a couple of beat cops behind them. "NYPD," the blond announced, showing his badge. "This is a raid."
"These fucks were just here two weeks ago," someone behind Alexa muttered. "Don't they have hobbies? Or wives?"
"Maybe they like it here better," someone else responded, and a few people snickered. One of the cops glared over at them, and Marty swallowed hard and took a step away.
"Mr. Gambino's not gonna be happy when he hears about this," Dom warned from behind the bar.
"You tell your boss that he can take it up with my captain," said the blond man. "I just go where I'm told." He turned to face the bar's patrons again. "Now, ladies, you all know the drill. Anyone not involved in any disorderly conduct is free to leave as soon as my partner here verifies your ID." He pointed at the dark-haired man, who was still lurking on the edge of the room in what little shadow the dingy bar still provided. "Everyone else, you'll be riding down to the station with the boys in blue. Form an orderly line to the right."
Marty looked nervously over at Alexa. The drag queens and the sex-changers always got pulled in on these raids. And Marty had a city job he couldn't lose. "Go," she said, making a little shooing motion with her hands. "It's just business as usual."
He smiled gratefully at her and joined the line to be allowed out. The blond man, meanwhile, was walking through the room, stopping some people as they headed towards the door and sending them back, and examining everyone he passed. He came to the dykes at the end of the bar, a couple who'd been coming to the Stonewall for close to a year without Alexa learning either of their names. Neither of them had moved from their seats since the raid began.
"Now," said the blonde man, leaning over the slighter of the two women, a dark-haired girl with almond eyes. "What's a nice girl like you doing spending time in a dive like this?"
"Keeping guys like you out of her hair," shot back her girlfriend.
"Temper," said the cop. "I'm just trying to make friends." His hand slid possessively over the smaller woman's shoulder. She looked up at him, mute with anger and fear.
"Leave her alone," said the girlfriend. She reminded Alexa a little of her one disastrous foray into dating women, something to keep her mother from worrying as she lay dying at home in bed. Alexa's girlfriend hadn't looked anything like this girl, with her short spiky blonde hair and her black men's suit, but the fire in their eyes was the same.
"Chloe..." the dark girl managed, and Alexa couldn't tell if she was trying to warn her girlfriend off or ask for more help.
"Fordman," came a quiet voice from across the bar, "lay off her." It was the dark-haired cop, who was already letting some of the straighter-looking guys go.
"What's the matter, Kent? The lady and me, we're just talking." Fordman cast an appraising glance at the girlfriend, Chloe, who was pushing up the sleeves of her jacket like there was going to be a fight. "Why don't you come talk to her friend? She seems like she'd be right up your alley."
One of the beat cops snickered, and Kent reddened furiously. "Meet girls on your own time, not the job's," he said. "If they're not disorderly, they can go."
"We'll see," Fordman said. "We'll see." He trailed his hand down the dark girl's face and smiled at her before turning away.
Fordman kept walking around the bar, examining the couples at the tables in the corners, checking the small second bar in the back, casting careful glances at everyone who hadn't been brave enough to head for the door immediately. Up front, Kent was checking drivers licenses, stammering apologies as he fumbled with people's papers, sending a few of the younger boys off with a black beat cop to what was, in colder months, the coat-check room.
"You," Fordman said when he eventually got to Alexa, "you're coming in."
She'd been through this a dozen times before, maybe more, but the thought of doing it again, of putting on a dress shirt and a tie and going down to Centre Street to have them snicker at her in the hallways and call her by a name that didn't fit, made her angrier than she could say. She'd just wanted to get by till the first of the month, and now this. It wasn't right. She'd had enough.
"Why?" she asked, doing her best to manage a ladylike smile. "Is there a problem, officer?
He looked amused. "Don't tell me you don't know a disorderly bust when you see one, sister."
"Disorderly?" she said. "I'm just here having a martini at my local bar. What's disorderly about that?"
People were turning to watch them now, and Alexa felt a surge of new confidence.
"You're a faggot. That's disorderly enough for the State Liquor Authority."
"As it happens, Detective, I am the most orderly faggot you will ever meet. And I'm not going anywhere with you."
"A man who treats a woman like that," Alexa continued, nodding towards the dykes still sitting at the bar, "isn't someone a lady would go anywhere with voluntarily."
Chloe and her girlfriend both grinned at this, and someone near the back let out a whoop.
"Shut up!" Fordman shouted. Turning back to Alexa, he said, "I guess you think you're pretty funny."
"It's no joke, Detective."
"Keep it up, and you'll see exactly how funny I can be. You want that?"
"Leave her alone," someone called from the back.
"Her?" said Fordman. "This is no girl." He reached up and grabbed Alexa's wig right off her head. The two-sided tape tore off skin as it came loose, but she tried not to flinch. "See?" he said, holding the wig up and pointing at her. "He's a man. Maybe if you pansies could learn to tell the difference you could be normal again."
Everyone was staring openly now, and she struggled to keep her expression impassive. Without her perfect blond wig on over her shaved-smooth head, she felt as exposed as she would have if he'd torn off her clothes. Maybe even more.
"Put this one in the coat room too," Fordman commanded. "I'm done here." He turned to face the rest of the crowd. "Anyone else?"
"I'm not going either," Regina said. Alexa was shocked. Regina was short and slight, and she'd never had more than a few words for Alexa or anyone else who wasn't a potential trick. But even though she was shaking with fear, her arms were crossed against her chest and her chin pointed up defiantly.
"Me either," said another queen.
"Ross!" Fordman shouted, his face red. "Get this fag in the coat room like I told you to! And somebody call for backup: we're gonna need a paddywagon."
As the young black man and another uniformed cop pulled Alexa off to the coat room, she saw Marty watching her from the line of people waiting to get let out, a look on his face of stunned surprise and something like awe.
Just a basic bust, Fordman had said. Something to break up the monotony of a hot Friday night at the house, no big deal, and when Clark had suggested that maybe it wasn't the world's best idea to go arresting people just because they were bored, Fordman had insinuated that maybe Clark was soft on queers, and he wasn't going to have anyone saying that about him. And now this. Clark sighed deeply as he looked around the bar.
Some sort of crowd was gathering outside by the park across the street. Every time they let another guy out of the bar, the crowd cheered for him, which just brought more people over to watch. They'd sent Officer Marcus out to tell them to disperse, but it was a park; they didn't have to go if they weren't causing trouble, and they knew it. Meanwhile, inside the bar, the bartenders were hinting darkly about their boss's Mafia connections and the way he'd express his displeasure at the raid to their C.O. And there was that pansy who'd started all the trouble.
Clark had done more than his fair share of gay bar busts since his transfer downtown when he made detective, and they never went down like that. Sometimes you'd get someone who freaked out and ran, or tried to. Sometimes you'd get someone who got a little crazy and fought with the beat cops, though no one yet had been a match for Ross and Marcus. But the way that guy had just stood there and refused to even accept that he was under arrest at all? That was new, and it looked like it was going to be trouble. Clark could still see him standing on the bar's sad little dance floor, ridiculous in that little blue sequin dress. Anyone could tell he was a man just from looking at him: those hips were just way too slim to be a girl's, and you could see the bicep muscles flex beneath the smooth white skin of his arms.
Clark shook his head to clear out the image. Something else to tell his psychoanalyst next Wednesday. "Fordman?" he called. "We're done with the releases."
Fordman had been talking something over with the bearded bartender, who seemed to be the guy in charge when the owner wasn't around. He looked over at Clark with a distracted frown. "What? OK. Then let's get the wagon loaded."
Maybe a dozen guys all told were waiting in the coat check room. Most of them worked at the bar, and four or five were pansies, all in women's clothing. The one who'd caused the trouble was leaning against the back wall, smoking a cigarette. "I'm just going to say this once," Fordman said. "Anyone who gives us shit coming out of this bar goes down for resisting arrest and attacking an officer, and is spending the next couple of days on Rikers. If you don't cause trouble, you'll get a desk ticket at the station and you're free to go till your hearing. Got it? Now, everyone line up single file, and you'll be escorted out of the bar. Mr. Senatori, you too," he added, nodding towards the bar. "And the girl, she's gonna have to ride in the car with me."
Chloe glared across the room at him. Clark had let her girlfriend go, told the girl to get out when Fordman was in the back examining the storeroom for signs of illegal activities, but Chloe'd had to stay.
"You, cueball," Fordman continued, "you stay right where you are." The pansy who'd started the trouble hadn't moved anyway, but he shrugged and took another drag off his cigarette. "Kent, you stay here and keep an eye on him."
"What?" Clark was used to the short end of the stick -- he was the junior partner, after all -- but this was just ridiculous. "We should just take him in too."
"We will," Fordman said. "But I've got plans for him first."
Ross and Marcus had their nightsticks out, and they managed to get everyone out without using them too much -- it seemed like the wait had taken the fight out of most of the men. Chloe'd struggled when Fordman grabbed her by the arm, but he had a good foot on her, easy, so it wasn't too hard for him to pull her out the door.
When they were gone, Clark could finally use his x-ray vision to really watch what was happening on the other side of the Stonewall Inn's blacked-out windows. The sight of the cops and the line of arrestees was really getting the crowd riled up: they were shouting and throwing bottles and cans and stones at the paddywagon. Fordman was still clutching Chloe's arm. Clark could've told him that was a mistake: the sight of him muscling her into the car just made the crowd angrier. One bottle flew right at the Stonewall's windows. They didn't shatter, but the starburst pattern of the break cast spiderweb shadows on the bar floor. Clark breathed in sharply. This was going to get bad.
He had his gun with him, and Fordman had said there was a back exit through the storeroom, so he'd probably be OK without having to risk using his gifts. He hated the idea of running away from a fight, though -- it was his job to uphold the laws of the city of New York, and he took the job seriously. Still, he knew he had to take his own safety seriously too, and there was no point in risking his whole life to defend a Mafia bar and a pansy in a dress.
Shit. The pansy. Clark had forgotten about him already. He checked through the door; the guy was still where he'd been, leaning up against the far wall with a determined look on his face. Clark sighed again. The guy's wig was still over on the dance floor, where Fordman had dropped it; Clark picked it up and walked into the coat check room.
"Thanks," the pansy said. He took the wig in his right hand and almost absently combed it smooth again with his left.
"There's some sort of commotion outside," Clark said. "We should probably stay in here until it's over."
"Right. Wouldn't want anybody getting hurt."
Clark was stung by the scathing tone of the other man's voice, but as much as he hated to admit it, the pansy had a point. "My partner takes the job seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes. I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it, Mr...."
"Miss Luthor. Alexandra Luthor," he said, putting the wig back on his head. "My friends call me Alexa."
"Clark Kent," he replied automatically. Putting the wig back on transformed Alexa's face: the eyeshadow that had looked ridiculous now flattered his grey-blue eyes, and the red lipstick that had seemed garish now just looked right. Alexa looked up at him from under long false eyelashes, and Clark felt awkward, as though his body was somehow too big, his shoulders too wide. "Why..." he began, and his voice sounded scratchy and deep.
"Why do you do that? Dress... like that."
Alexa shrugged. "It feels right. I think it makes me look pretty. Don't you?"
Clark could feel the blush burning his face. "I... I..."
Alexa looked at him intently. "You know, they all know, Clark. They all know your big secret."
The noise of the crowd in the street was gone and all he could hear was his own heart pounding. "What?"
"You get sent on a lot of these bar raids, don't you? And you wonder if it's a coincidence. And what the others say about you when your back is turned. They want you to wonder. But they know that you're gay."
"What?" The sense of relief was so powerful that it took him a couple of seconds to make sense of what he'd heard. "What? N-no. I'm not."
His smile wasn't a happy one. "You can lie to yourself, honey, but you can't lie to me. I saw the way you were looking at me. Not that I mind. You're a pretty thing yourself."
"I'm not." Clark swallowed hard. "I mean, I'm not gay."
"You see one of those headshrinkers? Tells you to think about girls?" Alexa stepped a little closer. "Does it work?"
His eyes glittered with something dangerous. "Do you have a girlfriend, Clark?"
Clark managed to shake his head no.
"Do you want one?"
Before Clark could even begin to think about how to answer that question, Alexa had dropped to his knees in front of him and was pulling down the zipper of Clark's pants. Clark wanted to run, to push him away and get the hell out of there, but he couldn't bring himself to move, and when Alexa's hand wrapped around his cock, he stopped wanting to.
He was hard faster than he'd been since he was a kid, and when Alexa's hand started moving, those long fingers stroking and squeezing, he couldn't stop a deep grunt from escaping his throat. The sound of it, harsh and needy, shocked him back to himself, and he started to pull away again, but Alexa put his other hand against Clark's hip to stay him.
"Shh," Alexa said. "We don't have much time." And then his mouth was on Clark, and everything else disappeared.
His hips were moving, thrusting instinctively, and Alexa's fingers curled against his leg. He was always so careful because of his strength, his gifts, but he wasn't holding back now, couldn't hold back, and it was OK, Alexa wasn't hurt, was holding him tighter, and there was a heat coursing through his veins, and Alexa was humming against his cock, and a window shattered in the bar outside, and he came with a strangled shout.
When his vision came back into focus, Alexa was standing back up, an odd little smile on his face, and Clark leaned over and kissed him. Alexa's mouth tasted strange, bitter and salty, and when he realized it was his own come he was tasting, Clark's knees buckled. Alexa pulled out of the kiss and braced Clark against his own body until he got his feet beneath him again.
"Easy there," Alexa said, and there was a smirk beneath his tone.
Clark blushed and got himself back into his pants. The noise from the street was louder now: people shouting "gay power!" and "we want freedom!" "It's a mess out there," Clark mumbled. "I don't know what Fordman's going to say."
"Do you care?"
"It's my job."
"Not much of a job for a faggot."
"I'm not a faggot!" Alexa just stared at him until he turned red again. "I don't want to be."
"It doesn't seem like you have much choice in the matter."
Clark winced. At adolescence his body had betrayed him, made sure that he would never have even a taste of the normalcy everybody else could take for granted. This one thing, he'd thought, he could push away, or even change. But his body was humming and he could still taste Alexa's mouth, and he knew he'd been lying to himself all along.
Another crash of glass, and it was almost a relief. "I should go check on what's going on out there," he said. He walked out into the empty bar; it looked haunted with the light from the streetlamps pouring in. The crowd had blocked off Christopher Street and was spilling over onto Seventh Avenue. They were dancing on cars and throwing rocks at the windows on the second floor, and cheering when glass showered the street. In the distance, he could hear more police cars coming.
"You should go," he told Alexa. "Take the back door. I'll tell them you got away when I was protecting the bar."
Alexa's eyebrows shot up. "You're going out there? Why?"
"I told you," he said. "It's my job."
"Do you really want to stop that?"
"It's just a street fight."
"Maybe this time," he said. "But not next time. Or the time after that."
Clark frowned. "What do you mean?"
"What I mean," Alexa said, "is I'm not the only pansy in town who's tired of getting busted by the cops. And I'm not the only one who's willing to do something about it, either. The Village is ready to explode, Clark; I've felt it for a while, like there's something in the air. Do you really want to be on the other side of that?"
"You shouldn't call yourself a pansy. It's not... it's not a nice name."
Alexa gave him a long considering stare. "I know who I am. Do you?"
But Clark couldn't answer that question, not even on the nights when he sat on the roof of his apartment building and scanned the skies for something that looked familiar. He could only swallow hard and try to meet Alexa's eyes. And maybe Alexa thought he understood, because he straightened his wig again and looked almost sympathetic.
"You can look me up when you figure it out," he said. "You'll know where to find me."
He winked, and then he smoothed down his dress and was gone. On Seventh, drivers were honking irritatedly at the protesters, and the police cars were still a few blocks away. Clark took a deep breath and headed outside to see what he could do.