Gender Bending Entry #5 by S.A. Daniels

Some of you have questioned whether we (the authors) are deliberately trying to trick you, so for the record:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have something lying around, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

Untitled by S.A. Daniels

The woman in the doorway of the small grocery leveled an uncertain frown at us as we crossed the street. Brown hair heavily streaked with gray had been pulled back into a stubby ponytail. Her denim capris looked to be about a size too small, but her dark blue t-shirt—emblazoned with Mirelle’s Grocery on the upper left—was large enough to hang halfway down her thighs. “Sabina Moore?” I asked as soon as I was on the sidewalk.

“That’s me,” she replied. Sweat dotted her upper lip, and her complexion seemed pallid. Maybe what I’d taken earlier as a disapproving frown was more a grimace of anxiety and upset. “You wanna talk to me about the dead man?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’m Detective Alan Taylor, and this is Detective Rick O’Cull.”

A frown puckered her forehead. “I already told the other cops what I saw.” She lifted her chin toward St. Cyr and Simpson.

“We’d like to hear your account for ourselves,” O’Cull said, tone friendly and soothing. “We only need a few minutes of your time.”

She looked him over, seemed to be satisfied with what she saw. Clean cut, kind smile. Nice-looking with dark hair and blue eyes. O’Cull could be a tight-ass neat freak, but he knew how to charm a witness. “Sure, that’s fine,” she said then glanced over at me. “Sure,” she repeated, though this time she didn’t sound as if she was.

“Why don’t we go inside,” I suggested, partly because I didn’t want to conduct an interview out on the sidewalk, and mostly because I could feel the air-conditioned air flowing out around her, and I hated sweating this early in the morning.

She turned and entered the store, the denim between her thighs hissing with each step she took toward the front check-out stand. “There’s an office but there ain’t no room for all of us in there,” she said, looking back at us as we followed her in. “Barely enough room for me,” she added with a wheezing laugh. “I hope y’all are okay with standing out here.”

“That’s fine,” I replied. It wasn’t an issue since there was no one else in the store yet. “Can you tell us what happened this morning?”

She blew out her breath, crossed her meaty arms over her breasts as she leaned back against the counter. “I live about half a mile from here—walk here every day. No car,” she explained, looking to O’Cull. He gave her a sympathetic nod and she continued. “I always cut through the alley, but today I come out of there and the first thing I saw was that man lying sprawled on his back.” Her throat bobbed as she swallowed. “I didn’t touch him, ’cause I saw all the blood. I could see he was dead. I called nine one one and then came right over here.” She uncrossed her arms and spread her hands. “And that’s pretty much it.”

“Did you see anyone else in the alley or the parking lot?” O’Cull asked.

“No. Just me.”

“Have you ever seen that man before?”

Her lips pressed together as she considered. “No. Don’t think so. And I know that car wasn’t in the lot when I left last night.”

“And what time was that?” he asked.

“Nine o’clock.”

I looked toward the door, then back to her. “Ms. Moore, the hours on the door say that the grocery closes at ten.”

She swallowed, gave a jerky nod. “I wasn’t feeling too good, and there was no one here so I closed up early.”

“I see. The hours also say you open at five a.m. Yet you didn’t call nine one one until after six.”

A droplet of sweat snaked down her temple. “I was running late. I was still feeling bad. I ain’t been sleeping too good.” She gulped and hunched her shoulders. “I was running late,” she muttered.

I gave her a reassuring smile. She looked anything but reassured.

“One more question, Ms. Moore,” O’Cull said gently. She yanked her attention to him like a drowning man seizing a life buoy. “Do you always work from five a.m. until ten p.m. here?”

Some of the tension left her, and she shook her head. “No, the owner—Mirelle Jefferson—she works the mornings most of the time, but her daughter just had a baby, and she’s in Mississippi for a few days.”

“I see,” he said. He glanced my way, and I gave him a slight shake of my head to let him know I didn’t have any other questions. “Ms. Moore, we appreciate your time.” He pulled a business card from his notebook and handed it to her. “If you think of anything else that you think might aid our investigation, please give me a call.”

She took the card, gave him a weak smile. She didn’t look my way.

We left the grocery, closed the door behind us. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sabina Moore flip the sign over to Open. “You think she was telling the truth about why she didn’t call until after six?” O’Cull asked.

I nodded. “It would have still been dark at five a.m., and there aren’t any lights in that lot. I don’t think she’d have seen the body that early.”

He considered that for a few seconds. “That makes sense. Good thing she was feeling sick, I guess.”

I didn’t answer. Sabina Moore probably felt sick because she was going to have a fatal heart attack in the next couple of days. Sabina Moore needed to see a doctor as soon as possible, because if she did so, it would very likely save her life. But I didn’t turn around to tell her to go see her doctor. I didn’t go back and give her some story about how I had a aunt who’d had a heart attack and how she’d felt tired and sick too, how she’d had the same sallow expression and tremor in her hands.

I had rules about that sort of thing.

I continued across the street and didn’t look back at Sabina Moore. I knew she was still watching me—like the rabbit watches the coyote to make sure it’s really leaving, to be certain that it’s found other prey.

It was almost a relief to return to the comforting peace of the dead man.