by Stephen Measure
Sara and Sally looked up from behind the receptionist desk as the
door opened, and a middle-aged man entered the front lobby backwards,
dragging a metal cart through the door, followed by a much younger
redheaded woman, who was pushing the cart from behind.
redheaded woman let the door close, and the middle-aged man turned to
Sally and Sara as if to speak but froze when he saw them. Identical
twins, Sara and Sally had the same lightly-tanned skin and blonde
hair, although Sara wore it short and Sally wore it long. One wore
blue and the other green, and the two women were both smiling at him
with the kind of innocent expression that makes a good man feel
guilty when he’s attracted and a wise man remind himself to
redhead scowled and shoved the metal cart into the man’s side.
“Oof,” he said. “Watch where you’re going.”
was,” the redhead said. Pale caucasian skin, cheeks covered in
freckles, her red hair drawn back in a lazy ponytail, she wore an
oversized button-up shirt and jeans and looked to be in her
to Femina Laboratories,” Sara said to the pair.
we’re closing,” Sally said.
close at six,” Sara said.
that’s in ten minutes,” Sally said.
redhead looked down at her watch and grunted in frustration. “I
told you we were late, Geoffrey,” she said.
the middle-aged man, waved her objections away. “And I told you it
would be fine, Veronica.” Geoffrey wore a plain t-shirt which hung
loosely over dark jeans. He strode to the front desk and rested his
hands on top of it. “I’d like to arrange third-party validation
for an invention,” he told the blonde receptionists.
Sally said, “Unfortunately our Project Manager already left for the
had to pick up her kids,” Sara said. “She always leaves early.”
if you come back tomorrow morning, you could talk to her,” Sally
Geoffrey said. “You don’t want me to come back tomorrow. You’re
going to want to see my invention right away. This is going to make
Femina Laboratories famous!”
and Sara rose in unison from their chairs and leaned forward to get a
better look at the bulky contraption that lay atop the metal cart. It
looked like an oddly shaped projector, with a glass lens on the
front, a power cord and an on/off switch in the back. The only thing
remarkable about it was that, because the middle was open, you could
see a large red crystal that had been placed in the path of the
is it?” Sara asked.
walked back and rested a hand on top of the machine proudly. “This,”
he said, “is proof of the unprovable.”
and Sally’s eyes grew wide. “What can it prove?”
smiled at the twins, pausing for dramatic effect. “It can prove
and Sara sat down and looked up at Geoffrey expectantly.
know what gender identity is, don’t you?” Geoffrey asked after an
and Sally kept looking at him.
identity is where someone’s gender is different from their
biological sex. It’s like where a man is a man physically, but he
identifies as a woman, so he’s actually a woman. That’s what
gender identity is.”
turned to Sally. “See, that’s what Justine means when she talks
nodded. Then she said to Geoffrey, “Justine is our boss. She hates
when men mansplain.”
talk,” Sara said.
breathe,” Sally said.
hates pretty much everything about men,” Sara said.
two smiled sweetly up at Geoffrey again. “We know what gender
identity is,” Sara said. “One of our researchers is a man who
identifies as a woman.”
is a woman,” Sally said to Sara.
course she is,” Sara replied, her right eyebrow betraying a slight
appeared flustered. He looked to Veronica, who placed her hand on the
machine beside his. “If you know what gender identity is, then you
know it has no actual proof. Someone says they are a gender, and you
are expected to just take their word for it. Until now.” She patted
the machine lightly. “This machine can show someone’s gender
and Sara’s eyes widened again. “How?” Sally asked.
gestured at the opening on the side of the machine. “When you shine
a light through the crimson crystal and illuminate someone, their
gender identity becomes visible behind them.”
and Sally looked at each other, their mouths dropped open.
is so awesome!” Sara said.
we see? Can we see?” Sally said, practically bouncing in her seat.
spread his hands in front of him. “That’s what we’re here for!”
looked at Sara. “We just cleared Lab C. Let’s hook it up in
will be mad,” Sara said. “It’s almost 6 o’clock. We’re
supposed to be closing.”
we can see someone’s gender identity!” Sally said.
smiled and nodded. The two stood and waved for Geoffrey and Veronica
to follow them through the door behind the receptionist desk, which
led into a long hallway. There was a room marked “Lab C”, a few
doors down. Geoffrey and Veronica wheeled the metal cart behind the
twin blondes into Lab C, placed the machine in the center of the
room, and then unwound the long extension cord and plugged it into an
outlet on the wall.
Geoffrey said. “Which one of you wants to go first?”
and Sara looked at each other and they both shook their heads. They
turned to Geoffrey.
don’t want to go first,” Sara said.
might fry our brains,” Sally said.
snorted and rolled her eyes. “Would it make a difference?” she
said softly to herself.
and Sally both looked at Veronica.
heard that,” Sally said.
have really pretty freckles,” Sara said.
They smiled sweetly at her.
flushed bright red and dropped her eyes to study the floor.
a soft squeal of wheels, a man wearing a blue jumpsuit walked past in
the hallway pushing a mop and bucket.
and Sara looked from each other to the hallway and then back at each
elbowed Sally. “You ask him,” she said. “He likes you.”
elbowed Sara back. “No, you ask him,” she said. “He likes you
true,” Sara said. Then she called out into the hallway. “Frantz,
can you come in here for a second?”
squeal of wheels in the hallway stopped, and a moment later the man
in the blue jumpsuit appeared in the doorway. He was small, very
small for a man, and half-bald, with deep-brown skin and tired eyes.
A flashy crucifix dangled from his neck. “Yes?” he said to Sara
in a thick accent, smiling wearily at her.
could you be a dear and go stand by that wall?” Sara said, pointing
at the wall in front of the machine.
wall?” Frantz asked, confused.
dear,” Sally said. She walked over to Frantz and touched him
lightly on the shoulder and then pointed with her other hand at the
wall. “Over there, please.”
please,” Sara added, her smile bright.
nodded slowly and trooped over to the wall. Then he turned around and
looked back at the blonde twins as if to ask, “What now?”
it on,” Sally, standing beside Sara once more, said to Geoffrey.
turn it on,” Sara said.
what on?” Frantz asked. But Geoffrey had already flipped the switch
and light burst out of the machine. Frantz slammed his eyes shut and
raised a hand to block the light, uttering a shocked curse.
rest of the room was silent.
you see it?” Geoffrey whispered in excitement. He turned back to
Sara and Sally and spoke in a normal tone. “Do you see it?”
and Sara’s mouths hung open as they stared at Frantz. They turned
to each other slowly and then exploded in unison.
is so awesome!” Sara said.
so awesome!” Sally said.
twins bounced up and down, hugging each other.
his gender identity,” Veronica said. Her blush was gone now and she
spoke in an authoritative tone. “Do you see the light shade of
blue? That means his gender identity is male.”
see it,” Sara said.
see it too,” Sally said. “It’s blue!” She smiled at Frantz
across the room. “It’s blue, Frantz!” she said. “That means
you’re a man!”
still had his hand raised in front of his face to block the light
from the machine, but he peered from below his hand, looking from
Sara to Sally in confusion. Geoffrey caught his eye and raised a
finger, pointing behind him. Frantz slowly turned around and then
jumped into the air, letting out a surprised squeak.
the grayish-blue form behind Frantz leaped as well, matching his
movement like a shadow—a three-dimensional shadow—cast from the
machine. Frantz stared for a moment. Then he raised his hand, and the
grayish-blue figure facing him raised a feature-less hand as well.
Frantz looked back over his shoulder at Sara and Sally. He pointed at
the grayish-blue figure. “It’s my soul!” he said.
it’s your gender identity,” Geoffrey said. “You can see that
it’s blue, which proves you’re a man.”
a man, Frantz! You’re a man!” Sally said. “It’s that
wonderful to know?”
does a woman’s gender identity look like?” Sara asked Veronica
pink,” Veronica said.
how do you know it’s actually Frantz’s gender identity we’re
seeing?” Sara asked. “Frantz is a man anyway. What if we’re
just seeing his body?”
tested it dozens of times on self-described transgenders,” Geoffrey
said. He flipped the switch and the machine’s light turned off, the
grayish-blue proof of Frantz’s gender identity vanishing from the
room. “The pink and blue follows their gender identity, not their
biological sex,” Geoffrey said. “It’s 100% accurate. Never a
single false result yet.”
series of sharp clicks began to sound down the hall, growing louder
with each click. Sally and Sara looked at each other in excitement.
know who that is,” Sara said.
only one researcher who wears stiletto heels everyday to work.”
the two turned toward the hall, smiling in unison. “Brooke!” they
clicking came quicker, growing louder and louder until a large
brunette appeared in the doorway. Wearing stilettos that showed off
long shaved legs and a white lab coat that couldn’t hide large
shoulders and a prominent Adam’s apple, Brooke smiled at the blonde
twins. “Yes, sweeties? Did you need something? I was just fixing to
leave. I gotta catch my train.”
hurried over to Brooke. “Come stand here for a moment,” she said,
dragging Brooke to the wall while Sally dragged Frantz back toward
Frantz,” Sally said as he left the room. “Isn’t it nice to know
you’re a man?”
are y’all talking about?” Brooke asked. “Of course Frantz is a
man. He’s the only man that works here!”
stand there,” Sara said. Then she walked back to stand beside Sally
behind the machine.
alright, sweetie,” Brooke said, putting a hand on a hip and
striking a pose. “How’s this?”
it on!” Sally said, and Geoffrey flipped the switch.
burst from the machine once more. “Good heavens!” Brooke said,
raising a manicured hand to block the light. “What are y’all
trying to do? Blind me?”
behind you!” Sara yelled. “Look behind you!”
turned to look and then almost tripped. “Oh my! What’s that?”
like with Frantz, the light of the machine caused a grayish
three-dimensional shadow to appear behind Brooke. But this one had a
slight hint of pink to it.
your gender identity,” Veronica explained.
pink,” Brooke said.
you’re a woman!” Sara yelled.
a woman?” Brooke said, almost to herself. Then her voice rose in
excitement. “Well, of course I’m a woman! That’s what I’ve
been telling y’all all this time. I’m a woman. I’m a woman!”
She clapped her hands and hugged herself.
biological sex is male, but your gender identity is female. And this
proves it,” Geoffrey said. “This is real, reproducible proof of
your gender identity.”
Brooke asked. “I always told people I was a woman, but they always
had to just take my word for it. You mean I can actually prove it
proof is right there,” Veronica said. “Empirical evidence. It
proves you’re a woman. Really, a woman.”
Brooke said to herself. “Proof,” Then she squealed in delight and
ran to Geoffrey, coming dangerously close to falling over her heels
on the way. “You’re keeping this machine here, aren’t you?”
she asked. “It’ll still be here tomorrow?”
hiring your company to do third-party validation,” Geoffrey said.
He turned off the machine and then shook her offered hand. “We’ll
be here as long as it takes.”
this is so wonderful!” Brooke said. “I can’t wait to show
everyone. We can call the news. We can show the world!”
the world what?” a feminine voice said from the doorway.
turned to the source of the voice: a slender woman with short
raven-black hair, caucasian skin, ruby lips, and sapphire eyes who
was leaning suggestively against the doorframe.
Sara said. “Did you see it? We saw Brooke’s gender identity. It’s
pink! She’s a woman after all!”
saw something,” Justine said. She turned to Veronica. “What did I
stood up straight and began to launch into an explanation, but
Justine cut him off.
can speak, can’t she?” Justine said, nodding toward Veronica.
of course she can,” Geoffrey said.
let’s let her,” Justine said, returning her full attention to
Veronica. “I repeat: What did I just see?”
eyed Geoffrey nervously. He muttered something under his breath but
nodded at her to go ahead. She turned to Justine and answered: “I
believe you saw what the rest of us saw: Brooke’s gender identity.
The pink color proves she’s a woman.”
looked at the machine, lowering her precisely-plucked eyebrows.
“Prove gender identity? That’s impossible.”
anymore,” Geoffrey said, thrusting his chest out. “My invention
has turned the impossible into the possible. You saw the results
yourself. Proof, real proof, of gender identity.”
continued to stare at the machine. “Gender identity doesn’t
require proof,” she said. “Someone tells you what gender they
identity as, and you believe them. That’s gender identity. Their
word is all the proof you need.”
now we can prove it scientifically!” Geoffrey said. “We’re
scientists! We don’t just accept what someone says. We prove it.
That’s what science does. And that’s what my machine can do. It
can prove someone’s gender identity!”
turned an icy glare to Geoffrey. “Someone’s gender identity is
their personal truth,” she said. “Their personal truth. It
doesn’t require proof.”
now it can become objective truth,” Geoffrey said. “Scientific
truth.” He folded his arms defensively. “Not just personal.”
walked to Justine and laid a large hand on her arm. “Don’t you
see, Justine?” Brooke pleaded. “I’m tired of relying on my
personal truth. This gives me a chance to objectively prove I am what
I say I am. Isn’t that wonderful?”
sighed and her icy glare disappeared. “I understand your interest,”
she told Brooke. Then she addressed Veronica once more: “I assume
you’ve done the necessary preliminary tests already? Both with
those who identity as their biological sex and those who identity as
a different gender?”
tested over three dozen, I think,” Veronica said, looking at
Geoffrey for confirmation. “In every case, the machine accurately
showed their gender identity.”
they tell you their gender identity,” Justine said, “and then
your machine shows you the exact same thing?”
what I don’t understand,” Justine said. “With respect, Brooke”,
she nodded at the other woman and then she continued speaking to
Veronica. “Your machine sounds completely unnecessary. All it does
is confirm what someone told you themselves. Why not just take their
word for it and not insult them by asking them to prove their identity? This
is their identity. Why aren’t their words good enough?”
what other topic would words be good enough?” Geoffrey said. “With
what other topic would we not ask for actual, objective, proof rather
than just take someone’s word for it?”
but this is their identity we’re talking about,” Justine
and now we can prove their gender identity is a real, literal thing,”
Geoffrey said. “Without proof, how can you know it isn’t just a
turned to Brooke. “You’re not insulted by this?”
shook her head. “Proof would be wonderful,” she said.
think of the benefits to your company,” Geoffrey said. “Millions
will jump at the chance to actually prove their identity, and every
time someone questions the efficacy of my machine, they will be told
how it was extensively tested at Femina Laboratories, putting your
company’s name out there, free advertising that the entire world
shook her head. “It’s always about money with you men, isn’t
it? Fine,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “I see your
point. Even if I think the machine is completely unnecessary, the
world is full of idiots. Many would be interested, and the free
publicity would be welcome.”
can get the test report published for sure,” Brooke said. “The
publicity is guaranteed.”
already agreed to it,” Justine said. “There’s no need to push
me anymore.” She looked at the machine again. “How does it work
before, she had pointedly addressed this question to Veronica, but
Geoffrey answered anyway. “It’s this crimson crystal,” he said,
pointing at the red crystal in the middle of the machine. “When you
shine a light through it and you direct that light on someone, their
gender identity is visible behind them.”
behaves like a shadow, I think,” Veronica added.
but how does it work?” Justine asked impatiently.
… we don’t know,” Veronica said.
that doesn’t matter,” Geoffrey interjected. “There are lots of
things in science we don’t fully understand yet. What matters is
that it’s accurate. 100% accurate! In every case, it has given the
correct result. Each and every time it shows a person’s gender
identity, clear as day.”
Justine said, still addressing Veronica. “But if you don’t know
how the crimson crystal works, how did you know how to make it?”
looked at Geoffrey.
do know how to make it, don’t you?” Justine asked.
laughed. “Are you telling me that's the only crimson crystal you
have? What? Did you just find it somewhere?”
sputtered. “It doesn’t matter where I found it. It works! 100%!
That’s what matters!”
raised her hands in exasperation. “Forget what I said earlier. We
do science here, not magic shows!”
now we can prove I’m a woman!” Brooke said, pleading to Justine.
“Don’t you understand how important that is to me?”
rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine,” she said. Then she raised a finger
at Brooke. “This is your project then, and I don’t want to hear
anything about it. Magic rocks …” she scoffed. She looked over at
Sara and Sally. “Has she filled out the paperwork yet?”
Sara asked. “Brooke?”
course not Brooke,” Justine said impatiently. She pointed at
Veronica. “This one.”
…” Sally said.
rolled her eyes again. “You two,” she said to Sally and Sara.
“Take them to the front and have them fill out the project
paperwork. If we’re going to be involved in this farce, I want to
make sure we’re going to get paid. And you,” she said, pointing
at Brooke. “Don’t you have a train to catch? Do you want to be
stuck taking a taxi all the way home again?”
looked at her watch. “Oh dear!” she said, and she hurried out the
door, her stiletto heels clicking down the hall. Justine vanished
into the hallway as well.
better get your paperwork done,” Sara said to Geoffrey.
at the front desk,” Sally said.
nodded. “Can we lock the lab when we leave?” he asked.
key to the room is back at the front desk,” Sara said. “We can
get it with the paperwork.”
turned to Veronica. “You pack things up here and wait until we get
back to lock the door.” He followed Sara and Sally toward the
hallway, but then stopped and turned back to Veronica. Reaching
behind his back, he pulled out a small revolver that had been
concealed underneath his shirt. He held it out for Veronica.
don’t need your gun,” Veronica said, grimacing at it. “You’ll
be less than a minute away.”
take it,” Geoffrey said. “Just until we secure the room. Don’t
you realize how much money this invention is worth?”
smiled at Geoffrey. “We’re going to be rich,” she said.
offered the gun to her again.
it on the cart if that makes you feel better,” Veronica said. She
unplugged the power cord from the wall and started rolling it
laid his revolver on the cart next to the machine and then followed
Sally and Sara back to the front desk, where they handed him a
clipboard with the needed paperwork. The blonde twins sat in their
receptionist chairs while he stood in front of their desk filling out
the receptionist desk, the wall was filled with pictures of women,
each labeled with the designation “Researcher of the Month” and a
glanced up at the pictures. “You have a lot of women researchers
here,” he said.
only have women researchers here,” Sara said.
only hires women,” Sally said.
doesn’t like men,” Sara said.
paused with his paperwork and peered down at the twins. “Isn’t
one cares if you discriminate as long as you only discriminate
against the right people,” Sally said.
what about Frantz?” Geoffrey asked. “She hired him didn’t she?”
Justine doesn’t mind hiring men to be janitors or other menial jobs
like that,” Sara said.
thinks all men belong in menial jobs,” Sally added. “She says
that’s why ‘menial’ starts with ‘men’.”
set down his pen. “I thought your boss was acting strange back
there. Am I making a mistake bringing my business here? Will she even
accept business from men?”
she accepts business from men as long as they pay her. She wants
their money,” Sara said.
thinks it’s poetic justice to use money from men to fund her
off-the-books project to create a virus that will eradicate you all,”
twins smiled at Geoffrey sweetly.
looked from one twin to the other. “You’re joking, right?”
twins kept smiling. Sara’s right eyebrow twitched. “Yes?” she
shook his head. “I’m going to be rich, so who cares.” Picking
up the pen, he returned to the paperwork.
a moment of silence, Sara turned to Sally. “This is so awesome,”
know,” Sally said. “And you know what’s the most awesome of
finally get to prove if people really are gender-fluid!” Sally
do you mean?” Sara asked.
someone says they’re gender-fluid and we all just take their word
for it. Doesn’t that seem strange to you?” Sally said. “It
always seemed strange to me.”
nodded in agreement. “Like, imagine if a man showed up and claimed
to be from the gas company, and he said he was there to check for a
gas leak, but he didn’t have a badge or credentials or anything,
and we just believed him without asking for proof, and we let him
wander around the office by himself.”
get fired for that,” Sally said.
you’d get fired,” Sara said, “but I’d have to go home too.”
true,” Sally said. Then she lowered her voice. “You know what I
always wanted to do? Whenever someone claims to be gender-fluid, I
always wanted to look them in the eyes and say, ‘Prove it!’”
giggled. “You’d get in so much trouble for that!”
giggled as well.
now you’re allowed to ask that question,” Geoffrey said. He set
the pen down and handed Sally his completed paperwork. “Because now
they can answer it with my machine.”
eyes grew wide. “You can prove that someone is gender-fluid?”
smiled at the women. “Their gender identity shows as purple,” he
is so awesome!” Sally said.
can prove if people really are gender-fluid!” Sara said.
you show us?” they asked in unison, giant smiles on their faces.
laughed. “I’ve done tests with three separate people who identity
as gender-fluid. I’ll see if one or two of them can drop by the lab
over the next few days.”
is so awesome!” Sally said again.
sharp crack of a gunshot halted their conversation, the bang echoing
back and forth in the lobby for what seemed like an eternity. All
three of their faces drained of color as they stared at each other
and then stared at the open door to the hallway.
was the sound of running feet and then something heavy struck the
floor and a woman yelled, “Help!”
and Sally sprang to their feet, following after Geoffrey, who was
already to the hallway doorway. The hallway was deserted, the only
light coming from the open door to Lab C and a side corridor further
away. Sally and Sara followed after Geoffrey, who sprinted into Lab
they heard him yell. “No … no … no …” They hurried through
the door and found him kneeling in a circle of red dust.
crimson crystal had been smashed.
looked behind the machine and gave a startled shout. Geoffrey looked
over and sprang to his feet. “No!” he screamed. He ran to
Veronica’s body, which lay motionless behind the machine. “No!”
He hugged her close. “No!”
me!” a woman yelled again from the hallway. “I got him!” she
yelled. “Help me!”
Justine!” Sara said to Sally, who nodded. They both ran out into
the hallway, where they heard a commotion coming from the lighted
side corridor. Following the noise, they turned to find Justine
wrestling with Frantz, who was struggling to get away.
the police!” Justine said. “I got him! Call the police!”
looked at Sally and both of their mouths dropped open.
* * *
Sturn held the door for Detective Ortez and then entered the front
lobby of Femina Laboratories behind her. A large man with caucasian
skin and gray-streaked brown hair, Detective Sturn towered over
Detective Ortez, a short woman with light-brown skin and curly brown
hair that flowed slightly past her shoulders. Detective Ortez fell in
behind Detective Sturn as soon as they had both entered the room. The
two detectives studied the room, but Detective Ortez divided her
attention between studying the room and studying how Detective Sturn
was studying it.
pretty blondes sat in chairs behind the receptionist desk. They were
resting their chins in their hands, the same shell-shocked look on
their faces. In one of the lounge chairs, a middle-aged man sat, his
face buried in his hands and his shoulders shaking slightly. A police
officer stood discretely nearby. Detective Sturn caught the officer’s
eye and signaled him over.
we got, Berryfield?” Sturn asked.
girl in one of the back rooms,” Officer Berryfield said. “Single
gunshot to the chest.”
these three?” Sturn said, gesturing at them. “They witnesses?”
to each other’s alibis,” Berryfield said. “They were all here
together in the lobby when it went down.”
else in the building?”
nodded. “Just two: the janitor and the owner. We’ve swept the
rest of the building. Doors are locked. No sign that anyone left.”
a good chance it was one of them?” Ortez said.
that way,” Berryfield said. He smiled at her. “Long time no see,
smiled back. “Three days as a detective and you act like it’s
been forever.” She hugged him.
like we’ve got security cameras?” Sturn said, nodding at a small
black camera in the corner of the lobby ceiling.
a few sprinkled through the hallways as well. Problem is, they’re
all fake,” Berryfield said.
apparently the owner of the place is rather tightfisted with money.
That’s the way the receptionists put it, in so many words.”
us the scene,” Sturn said.
nodded and led them back into the hallway and then into Lab C. The
detectives spread out as they entered the room, both of them noting
the details of the scene, although Ortez kept paying equal attention
to Sturn and what he was paying attention to.
goons haven’t got here yet,” Berryfield said.
worry, we won’t touch anything,” Ortez said. She pointed at the
revolver lying on the floor. “I assume this is the weapon?”
seems that way,” Berryfield said. “Lab goons will confirm later.”
owner?” Sturn asked.
says it’s his,” Berryfield said. “He said he left it here for
the girl’s protection when he went into the lobby with the blonde
chicks to fill out the paperwork.”
shrugged. “That’s what he is.” He pointed at the machine in the
middle of the lab. “Whoever shot the girl broke his machine.”
gathered around the young woman’s body. Sturn bent to one knee to
get a closer look. “Who is she?”
Timmer,” Berryfield said. “Assistant to inventor-dude … and
looked up at Berryfield and raised an eyebrow.
me about it,” Berryfield said. “I’m in the wrong profession.”
snorted. “And about thirty pounds too heavy.”
Berryfield said. “This isn’t fat. It’s backup muscle!” He
patted his prominent gut.
stood and looked around the room again.
you think we’ll get prints from the gun?” Ortez asked Berryfield.
doubt it,” Sturn answered. He pointed at a yellow rubber glove that
lay discarded against the wall by the doorway.
didn’t see that,” Ortez said. She looked embarrassed by the
any DNA from the glove will be useless,” Berryfield said.
probably from the supply closet. One of the possibles is the janitor.
Every glove in the supply closet has his DNA on it. And apparently a
lot of gloves in the supply closet have the owner’s DNA on them as
well. She’s a little bit of a neat freak and often redoes jobs
who?” Ortez asked.
A and Barbie B,” Berryfield replied.
me yet, Karla?” Berryfield asked, but Ortez just waved him off.
was looking from the gun to the glove to the body and back again.
know what you’re thinking,” Berryfield said. “But gunshot
residue won’t be any good either.”
not?” Sturn asked.
the first officers arrived at the scene, the janitor and the owner
had been going at it for ten minutes. They were tearing into each
other worse than two college juniors fighting over who is more woke.
If either of them had gunshot residue on them, now both of them do.”
helpful,” Sturn said.
is what it is,” Berryfield replied.
looked back at the machine. “So either the janitor or the owner
came into the lab after the three left, shot the woman and broke the
shrugged. “I guess they didn’t like the machine.”
it do?” Ortez asked.
raised his eyebrows. “This is where it gets weird.”
nodded for him to go on.
claims his machine could show someone’s gender identity. Barbie A
and Barbie B corroborated that. They saw two people’s gender
can’t see someone’s gender identity,” Ortez said. “People
just expect you to take their word for it.”
they did with the machine,” Berryfield said. “And inventor-dude
claims he has tested it with dozens of people who can verify they
have seen their identities as well. He says he has videos back at his
this red dust on the ground?” Sturn asked.
how the machine was broken,” Berryfield said. “It had a red glass
inside, some kind of gem. You shine a light through it and point that
light at someone and their gender identity shows up behind them.”
more like magic than science to me,” Ortez said.
potahto,” Berryfield said.
would say that,” Ortez said. “You can’t even work a
bent over to get a closer look at the red dust on the ground. Then he
stood and said to Berryfield, “Let’s have a chat with the
thought you’d never ask,” Berryfield said.
rolled her eyes.
Sara and Sally had explained everything they had seen, the detectives
dove into their opinions about the two suspects.
us about Frantz,” Sturn said.
really nice,” Sara said.
cleans the floors really well,” Sally added helpfully.
about his background?” Ortez said. “What can you tell us about
an immigrant from Haiti,” Sally said.
he’s not one of those undocumented immigrants,” Sara said, her
no,” Sally added. “Definitely not. He’s very documented. We
have all his documents.” She paused. “… somewhere else.”
we totally pay him with checks and stuff,” Sally continued.
checks,” Sara said, with a twitch of her eyebrow. “Lots of
checks. Definitely not cash under the table.”
you keep those check stubs …” Ortez began.
else,” Sally said, smiling up at her.
snorted in amusement.
he ever been violent before?” Sturn asked.
Sara said. “Oh no. Nothing like that.”
has a family,” Sally said.
never met them,” Sara said.
we’re sure they’re nice,” Sally said.
you think Frantz would have a reason to break Geoffrey’s machine?”
would he do that?” Sara asked. “That’s just more work for him.
Who do you think will be cleaning up all that red dust?”
the blood,” Sally said.
both smiled at the detectives sweetly.
machine supposedly proved gender identity. Would that upset Frantz?”
would that upset Frantz?” Sally said. “The machine proved he’s
right. We saw it. He’s a man. We’re witnesses,” Sara said.
glanced at Ortez and then looked back at the twins. “And Justine?”
our boss,” Sally said.
your boss,” Sara corrected Sally.
right,” Sally said. “Sara doesn’t work here.”
whoa, whoa,” Berryfield said. “No one said anything about you not
working here. If you don’t work here, why are you here?”
shrugged. “I come here because I’m bored. Justine doesn’t care
as long as she doesn’t have to pay me.”
thinks we share the same brain,” Sally said.
doesn’t know we heard her say that,” Sara said.
looked utterly confused, but Sturn just shrugged. “Has Justine ever
been violent?” he asked.
No,” Sara said.
not until she was wrestling in the hall with Frantz,” Sally said.
“That was pretty violent.”
that’s because she thought Frantz was the murderer,” Sara said.
“So that’s pretty normal.”
you think Justine could have killed Veronica?” Ortez asked.
kill a woman?” Sally said. “Justine would never kill a woman.”
if it was Geoffrey that had been murdered on the other hand …”
twins glanced at each other. Then they turned and smiled at the
she’s a feminist?” Ortez asked.
that Justine is a feminist is like saying the sun is kind of
lukewarm,” Sara said.
means yes,” Sally said. “Really, really, yes.”
feminists are not fans of transgenders,” Ortez continued.
right,” Berryfield said. “I’ve heard that before. What are they
called? Turds or something?”
called Terfs,” Sally said. “Trans-exclusionary radical
smiled at Officer Berryfield. “You’re not very good at
mansplaining,” she said.
isn’t a Terf,” Sally said.
do you know?” Sturn asked.
twins swiveled their chairs in unison to face the wall behind them.
Sara pointed at a picture of Brooke.
this woman?” Sally asked.
detectives and Officer Berryfield all leaned closer to look at the
picture of Brooke. “Researcher of the Month, March 2019,” was
written in the plaque below.
no woman,” Berryfield said.
twins spun their chairs around to face him. “Yes, she is,” Sara
saw her gender identity.” Sally said. “Her body is male, but her
gender identity is female. The machine proved it.”
machine which was broken,” Ortez said. “Is there a reason why
Justine wouldn’t want Brooke to have proof she is a woman? Some
sort of compensation issue?”
shook his head. “I don’t see how. Maybe something personal
the pictures,” Sara said to the detectives.
the number of times Justine picked Brooke as researcher of the
month,” Sally said.
detectives studied the pictures. There were a few dozen, all women,
with at least a dozen different women appearing at least once, and
Brooke’s picture was there at least a third of the time.
loves Brooke,” Sara said.
Brooke is a good researcher,” Sally said.
because she cut off her male parts,” Sara said.
nodded. “Mainly because she cut off her male parts.”
Berryfield exclaimed, his eyes wide.
doesn’t like men,” Sara said. “And Brooke didn’t want to be a
man so bad she cut off her male parts.”
snip!” Sally said.
twins smiled innocently.
face turned green and he hurried outside.
for your time,” Sturn said to the twins.
we go home now?” Sara asked. “The Bachelorette is on.”
yet,” Sturn said. “We might have more questions.”
wasn’t any more helpful than the twins had been.
do you mean you just found the crimson crystal? Where did you find
it? At a garage sale?” Ortez asked in exasperation.
avoided her gaze. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
us,” Sturn said.
was silent for a moment. Then he gave himself a brief nod and started
talking. “There was a bright light and then a loud boom. I thought
… I don’t know what I thought … but I went outside to
investigate and that’s when I found it. A meteorite had fallen into
my yard. I’m not sure how big it had been originally because I
don’t know what it was made of, but it left a three-feet-wide
crater on impact.”
do you not know what it was made of? Didn’t you have it tested?”
disintegrated,” Geoffrey said. “I touched it gently with a stick
and it just fell apart and blew away. The only thing left was the
gem just fell out of the sky that let you see people’s gender
identity?” Ortez said.
don’t understand,” Geoffrey said. “I could have made millions,
millions! But now it’s gone. There was only one crimson crystal
like that. Now it’s gone, gone!”
Veronica is dead,” Sturn said.
Geoffrey said softly. He buried his face in his hands and refused to
answer any more questions.
returned a few minutes later, looking less green. He prepped the
detectives on their talk with the two suspects. Standing in front of
Justine’s closed office door, Berryfield said, “This one is
handle a woman?” Ortez said. “You’re getting soft.”
shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,”
he said. “We don’t have any female officers on patrol around here
tonight. Everyone that reported to the scene was a man, and I kid you
not, every second sentence out of this one was some complaint about
our ‘male gaze’ or our ‘male privilege’. You have no idea how
long she droned on about the patriarchy and how horrible it is.”
Berryfield turned to Sturn. “Did you know you’re part of the
patriarchy, Sturn?” Berryfield asked. “Apparently all men are.
Somehow, someone forgot to send my membership card in the mail.
Anyway, you’d think that when someone was murdered in her building
that she’d be a little more cooperative, but apparently that’s
asking for too much from Ms Ice Queen.”
just full of nicknames tonight,” Ortez said.
what I do,” Berryfield said. “But just wait. You’ll see.”
glanced at Ortez. “I guess you’ll be doing the talking,” he
grunted. “Sure, give me the easy one.”
sat behind a large carved wooden desk. She leaned back in a tall
leather chair that likely would have cost the detectives a week’s
salary. She was pressing an ice pack against her forehead, and her
shirt was wrinkled, its top buttons broken off and exposing a
considerable amount of cleavage, but all things considered she looked
remarkably good for someone who had been wrestling so intensely
was a dangerously attractive woman, and Detective Sturn felt
immediately drawn to her on a primal level, but he was no fool. She
was incredibly alluring yes: her athletic build, her makeup composed
just so, seemingly undisturbed by the wrestling match; but her allure
was the allure of a praying mantis. She was the kind of woman who
didn’t doll herself up to attract men, she dolled herself up to
taunt them. Any man who fell for her lures would likely end up the
same way as the male praying mantis: missing his head.
simple really,” Justine said after Ortez asked her to tell what
happened. “I was in my office, preparing to head home for the day,
when I heard the gunshot. Now, I know what I should have done: I
should have hidden under my desk and called the police. I don’t
know what I was thinking, but this is my lab. Someone was shooting a
gun in my lab. And I guess part of me just wasn’t going to
let that happen, and before I knew it, I was out in the hallway, and
that’s when I saw him.”
burst out of the lab, and right then we met eyes, and I saw something
wild there, something mad. I’ve never seen that before,” Justine
said. “Not in him. Not in anyone else.”
did you chase him?” Ortez asked.
I couldn’t just let him get away, could I?” Justine said. “He
shot someone in my lab. In my lab!”
did you know he shot someone?” Ortez asked.
didn’t see the look in his eyes,” Justine said. “It was like he
was a wild beast at the moment, and I just knew, I just knew. And I
knew I couldn’t let him get away with it.”
you tackled him and held him until the police arrived?”
would Frantz do something like this?”
was quiet for a moment. “I’ve been thinking it over since it
happened,” she said. Then she lowered her voice. “You know he’s
…” Ortez said slowly.
are such violent people, the Haitians,” Justine said. “The crime
in their country, you know, it’s horrible.”
he’s a violent person because he’s a Haitian?” Ortez said. Her
voice had taken on a dangerous tone. Sturn grunted a warning at her.
I’m not saying anything racial,” Justine said. “I’m talking
culturally. He was raised with violence like it was mother’s milk.
How could I not have expected him to snap in that way? I really
should have seen it coming. I almost feel guilty about it.”
then how could you have hired a janitor on subsistence wages and paid
him under the table?” Ortez said. Sturn grunted another warning.
eyes narrowed. “Who told you that?” she asked.
could check your books if you like,” Ortez said.
was quiet for a moment. “I have disagreements with our immigration
laws,” she said. “And at times I choose to act in civil
disobedience to those laws. People are not illegal,” she said.
“It’s wrong for our country to treat them that way. As a
privileged individual, it's my responsibility to help the
marginalized, so I try to help where I can, but sometimes my judgment
is faulty and I help the wrong person, as in this case.”
you did it out of the goodness of your heart?” Ortez said. She was
about to say something else but Sturn, tired of his grunts being
ignored, put a heavy hand on her shoulder. Ortez flinched slightly
under the weight. She took a deep breath and continued in a more
level voice. “So you claim his background makes him prone to
violence,” she said, “but why would he attack Veronica? What is
his motive? And why would he want to destroy the machine? Why
wouldn’t he want people to be able to prove their gender identity
thought about that as well,” Justine said. “He’s Catholic, you
know. Have you seen that gaudy crucifix he wears around his neck?
Now, I’m not positive about this—it’s just a theory—but as
I’ve been sitting here trying to think why he would do it, a
question occurred to me: What would the Pope think if a Catholic let
gender identity be proven? That would practically prove Catholicism
raised an eyebrow skeptically. “I don’t know about that.”
continued: “And, I don’t know if I should mention this or not,
but last Pride Month he was the only employee who didn’t wear a
rainbow ribbon to work.”
require your employees to wear rainbow ribbons?” Ortez asked.
don’t explicitly require them to, no,” Justine said. “But why
wouldn’t he choose to? What does that say about him?”
how about you?” Ortez asked. “What do you think about gender
raised her eyebrows, “I don’t understand what you mean,” she
said. “That’s like asking what I think about photosynthesis.
Gender identity simply is. What am I supposed to think about it?”
do you think about Geoffrey’s machine?” Ortez asked. “What do
you think about being able to prove that gender identity is real?”
waved her hand. “Oh, that. I thought the whole idea was silly.
Gender identity is how you identify yourself. Proof isn’t
necessary. People declare what gender they identity as, and then we
affirm their identity. I see no reason why some machine should be
brought into the picture. It seems completely superfluous to me.”
you have no problem with gender identity?” Ortez asked.
not. That’s like having a problem with thermodynamics. It simply
you have no problem with proving someone’s gender identity?”
shrugged. “It’s always interesting to prove things, but frankly I
find the whole idea a little insulting, don’t you? It’s like
carding a seventy-year-old woman when she wants to buy wine. You
already know the answer because they already told you the answer, and
that should be good enough. Why insult them by demanding proof? It’s
their identity we’re talking about. You got all the proof you
needed when they told you what gender they identified as.”
someone might not believe them,” Ortez said. “Someone might want
suppose that’s true. Some people can be so cynical and untrusting,
that’s unfortunately true. And there’s always the financial angle
too, although I’m almost ashamed to admit it. Being the lab that
tested the machine would have been very lucrative. It’s a pity that
Frantz destroyed it. There was only one crimson crystal, you know.
Without that, the machine doesn’t work.”
a pity,” Ortez said.
with Ms Ice Queen, the detectives turned their attention to the other
suspect. Frantz had been placed into a large supply closet, which had
been emptied of supplies. After the detectives entered the large
closet, they asked the officer standing guard to step outside. Then
they watched as Frantz paced back and forth on the other side of the
closet, rubbing his crucifix while he muttered something to himself.
He didn’t seem to have noticed they were there.
he saying?” Sturn asked Ortez.
speaking in French, not Spanish,” Ortez said.
can’t you get the gist of it?” Sturn asked.
sighed and concentrated on Frantz’s words.
think he’s saying the Lord’s Prayer,” she said.
nodded. Then he spoke loudly, “Frantz, we’d like to speak with
froze, raising wild eyes to look at them. Suddenly he darted for the
door, as if he could get past a man twice his size. Detective Sturn
raised his left hand and grabbed the smaller man, holding him gently.
“Let’s just have a chat,” he said.
can’t go,” Frantz said, struggling against Sturn’s grip. “I
can’t go where?” Ortez asked.
have a family!” Frantz said. “I can’t go!”
nodded in understanding. “We’re not immigration, Frantz.”
paused in his struggling and looked at the two of them, but
apparently he didn’t like what he saw because he muttered something
under his breath and tried to wiggle out of Detective Sturn’s grip
again. Sturn pushed him gently back to the other side of the large
can’t go! I can’t go!” Frantz wailed.
if you did nothing wrong, there’s no reason for immigration to be
involved, do you understand me?” Ortez said. “Isn’t that right,
shrugged. Then he nodded. “Why would we need immigration? We’re
just chatting here.”
don’t you tell us what happened?” Ortez said.
looked from one detective to the other, visible shaking, but he
didn’t try to make a run for it again. Holding his crucifix for
support, Franz answered in a thick accent: “I was mopping when I
heard the gun. I wanted to run, but my legs wouldn’t move. When
they started moving, the boss tackled me. She wouldn’t let me go.
Then I got put in here.”
leaned forward. “Did you shoot Veronica?”
eyes grew wide. “Who is Veronica?”
redheaded woman,” Sturn said.
no, no. Why would I shoot anyone?” Frantz said.
about the machine?” Ortez asked.
machine in Lab C,” Sturn said.
nodded in recognition. “It showed my soul,” he said.
it showed your gender identity,” Ortez said.
nodded again. “I have a man’s soul,” he said with satisfaction
in his voice.
right,” Ortez said. “Does it bother you when someone has a
different gender identity than their body? Would it have bothered you
if the machine showed that you, a man, had a female gender identity?”
frowned. “Why would the machine show me with a woman’s soul? I
have a man’s soul.”
looked at Sturn and gave a slight shrug.
you want to destroy the machine?” Sturn asked.
would I want to destroy the machine?” Frantz said. “It showed my
speaking with Frantz, the detectives huddled in the hallway with
Officer Berryfield. “So what’s the plan, boss?” Berryfield said
to Detective Sturn. “We’re already pushing it as it is. Anything
else and we really should be bringing them in, otherwise we’ve got
to let them go.”
three paused as Veronica’s body was wheeled out of the lab and then
down the hall to the backdoor, avoiding the lobby where Geoffrey
turned to Ortez. “What do you think?”
shrugged. “Justine is a piece of work, but I don’t see a motive
there. The problem is I don’t see a motive for Frantz either.”
sure does seem excited about something though,” Berryfield said.
good reason,” Ortez said. “How would you like to be deported even
though you did nothing wrong?”
he came here illegally then he came here illegally,” Berryfield
said. “That’s something wrong.”
held up a large hand to stop the argument.
about you,” Ortez said to Sturn. “Do you have any ideas?”
one,” Sturn said. “A bit crazy,” he said, “but it’s been a
crazy night.” He leaned toward Ortez and whispered something in her
ear. Her eyes brightened and she gave a small smile. “Do you really
think?” she asked.
see,” Sturn said. Then he turned to Berryfield. “Tell Justine she
can go home, but ask her to come by Lab C first. We have one last
Sturn was facing the far wall of Lab C when Justine entered the room.
She scowled when she saw Detective Ortez wasn’t there, but
apparently the prospect of going home was sufficiently enticing that
she deemed to address a male.
was told you had a final question before I could go home?” Justine
waved her over. “Come over here and take a look at this.”
hesitated for a moment, glancing at the red dust and blood that still
lay on the floor, but then she walked over beside him and looked at
the wall. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”
then, Detective Ortez entered the room with Geoffrey.
you get it from him?” Sturn asked Ortez.
raised her hand quickly, something red in her hand flashing briefly
before she closed it again.
stood up straight. “What is that?” she asked.
the backup crimson crystal,” Sturn said. “Geoffrey kept it in his
car. It turns out the machine isn’t broken after all.”
looked up sharply at Sturn, but thankfully he remained quiet.
don’t understand,” Justine said.
ahead and install it,” Sturn said to Ortez.
walked to the machine and then turned her back to Sturn and Justine
as she fiddled with its insides. Then she dragged the cord to the
wall and plugged it in before turning back to Detective Sturn and
nodding her head.
can turn it on now, Geoffrey,” Sturn said.
going on?” Justine said, her hands now clenched into fists. “You
said there was only one crimson crystal!” she said to Geoffrey.
looked from the machine to Detective Sturn and back again.
stepped away from Justine, leaving her standing alone in front of the
told me there was only one crimson crystal!” she said again. “There
wasn’t supposed to be a backup one! You weren’t supposed to know
how to make more!”
looked at Justine. Then he looked at Detective Sturn. Detective Sturn
nodded. Geoffrey’s eyes narrowed and he walked toward the machine.
are you doing?” Justine said. She was shaking now. “The machine
was supposed to be broken!”
reached the machine. He raised his hand to flip the switch.
Justine screamed, and Geoffrey froze. The whole room stared at her.
stop,” she whispered, looking down at the ground, her raven-black
hair falling in front of her face.
winked at Ortez and she smiled. “What’s wrong, Justine?” Ortez
asked. “Why shouldn’t we turn on the machine? What are you afraid
to see? What are you afraid we’ll see?”
spoke so softly it was almost as if she were speaking to only
herself. “It’s my gender identity,” she said. “My
gender identity. I get to choose it. You don’t get to force one on
me. It’s my choice. It’s my gender identity.”
everyone should just take your word for it?” Ortez asked.
course they should. Who could be a better judge of my gender identity
than myself?” Justine said. “It's my gender identity.”
fine if gender identity is just a wish or a fantasy,” Ortez said.
“If that's all gender identity is, then it's fine to just take your
word for it. But if gender identity is something that actually exists
in the real world, then why should we assume your judgment is
accurate? Sometimes people are wrong.”
sometimes people lie,” Sturn said.
am a woman,” Justine said.
yes,” Sturn said. “But what about your gender identity?”
gender identity is female!” Justine said. “I choose my gender
identity! It's up to me!”
you choose your height?” Sturn asked. “Do you choose your age?
No. They are part of reality.”
followed Sturn's lead. “And some people aren't happy with their
height or their age, are they?” she said. “Some want to be
taller, some want to be shorter, some want to be older, some want to
be younger—some want reality to be different than it is. If gender
identity isn't just a wish or a fantasy, if it isn't just a deep
desire of your heart, if gender identity actually is part of reality,
then why should we expect anything different?”
proof makes it reality,” Sturn said.
nodded in agreement. “If we just take your word for it, then it's
nothing but a fantasy,” she said, “but if there is real, actual
proof, then gender identity ceases to be a fantasy and it becomes
reality instead. Now, with proof, your gender identity isn't female
just because you tell us it’s female. Now your gender identity is
female only if you can prove it’s female. And that's not what the
machine is going to show us, is it, Justine?”
a woman!” Justine wailed, dropping to her knees. “Look at me!”
She tore at her shirt, popping more buttons and exposing a
utilitarian bra. “Test my blood! I'm a woman!"
your biological sex was never the issue, your gender identity was,”
Ortez said. “And you don't get to claim your gender identity is
female and expect us to just take your word for it anymore, not now
that there's proof. It's science now, not fantasy. Your gender
identity isn't what you claim it to be anymore. It isn't what you
choose it to be. Your gender identity is whatever the proof proves it
to be. And what will Geoffrey's machine prove your gender identity to
be? What have you always known proof, actual scientific proof, would
prove your gender identity to be?”
the machine is broken! It's not supposed to work anymore!” Justine
pointed at Geoffrey. “You lied to me! There wasn't supposed to be
another crimson crystal! Breaking the one was supposed to have been
enough. Otherwise I wouldn't have …”
have what?” Sturn asked. “Wouldn't have killed Veronica?”
didn't want to,” Justine whispered, raven-black hair falling again
over her downcast eyes. “But she wouldn't let me—“
Geoffrey yelled. He started toward her, rage in his eyes, but
Detective Sturn raised a large hand signaling him to stop and that
simple act of resistance was all it took. Geoffrey crumbled to the
floor in a ball, weeping. Detective Sturn had Officer Berryfield
escort Geoffrey out of the room.
isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” Justine said, looking down at
the ground. “Gender identity isn’t supposed to be real. It’s
supposed to be a fantasy. It’s supposed to be my fantasy. It
isn’t supposed to be something that can be proven to be different
than what I want it to be.”
Geoffrey's machine changed all that,” Ortez said. “It provided
proof. It changed gender identity from fantasy to reality.”
sat in silence.
reality isn’t always fair,” Sturn said. “It isn't always what
we want it to be. So if gender identity is reality …”
then some of us will be genders we don’t want to be,” Ortez
not a man,” Justine wailed. “I'm not! I’m a woman!”
glanced at Sturn, who nodded. “I have good news, Justine,” Ortez
said. “You’re right. You are a woman. Geoffrey's machine
was destroyed, so gender identity is just the fantasy it always was.
The only proof that exists, the only actual evidence, is your
physical body. You are a woman and no one can prove otherwise—you
saw to that. Was it worth it?”
Sturn signaled to Officer Berryfield, who took out his handcuffs.
don’t understand,” Justine said. “What about the backup crimson
you mean this?” Ortez asked. She held up the red object she had
briefly flashed in her hand before: the red cover of a brake light.
“Just because someone tells you something, doesn’t mean it's
actually true. You shouldn’t have taken our word for it.”
gave a soft laugh. “Tricky girl,” she said.
Berryfield lifted Justine to her feet. He pulled her hands behind her
back and cuffed them.
lifted her head proudly, shaking her hair out of her face as she
addressed Detective Ortez one last time. “At least it was a woman
that outsmarted me.”
this?” Ortez said, holding up the brake light cover. She pointed at
Sturn. “That was his idea.”
howled and howled.
* * *
and Sara watched as Officer Berryfield dragged a cursing Justine out
of the building.
sucks,” Sara said.
totally sucks,” Sally agreed. “Now we’ll never have proof if
people really are gender-fluid or not.”
sighed. “I guess we’ll just have to take their word for it.”
Update 09/06/2023: Fixed typos.