This series is written by Leslie Moore and edited by Eric and Dee Sylvan. Graphics and formatting by Dawn Natelle
Lisa's cell phone buzzed in her back pocket. She pulled it out and slid the screen open. "Hey, mom. What's up?"
"Lisa, have you seen Terry? I just got off the phone with Grace Goldman and she said he didn't show for his eleven o'clock appointment with her. Do you have any idea where he is or why he missed it?"
"Well, he was still sacked out when I left around 8:30 this morning. I needed to meet with Richard to review some booking details for the April dates."
Amy sounded worried. "Well, I'm not thinking good thoughts. I haven't heard from him and if you haven't either, something's wrong. He wouldn't miss that appointment and I'm thinking he certainly would have called Grace or you."
"Maybe his phone battery's dead and he got stuck somewhere. He's resourceful and capable. I wouldn't worry, mom."
"Okay. Would you call me if you hear from him? I think I'm going to call Conor and then go on home. I can't concentrate and I'm no good at work if all I'm doing is worrying."
"Mom, don't worry. I should see him soon. We're all going to look at this rental house this afternoon that Gina's cousin found us. It comes furnished and everything."
After they hung up, Lisa texted all the Wildcats. She called to ask if anyone had seen Tasha and to touch base about this afternoon's meeting to see the rental house. No one had seen Tasha anywhere or heard from her. They agreed that Tasha disappearing was not a good thing and decided to meet back at the Nelson house before this afternoon's planned trip to meet with the realtor. Everyone hoped Tasha would just show up.
Twenty minutes later, four of the Wildcats gathered in the Nelson living room discussing the situation. It was just like old times when they were a simple garage band mooching off Amy's refrigerator.
Gina spoke up. "Tasha seemed fine last night. I mean, she didn't seem depressed or out of it. Sitting in the diner, I was thinking she just looked tired."
Lisa spoke. "And she was still in bed when I left this morning to meet with Richard. I've got all our April flight info and hotel arrangements to pass on to all of you, too. And "Jersey Girl" has a line of luggage they're monogramming and will give out to all of us. Naturally, the luggage will be filled with new outfits, too. Barbara Olsen and the designers will be calling each of you for feedback. Oh yeah, she said we've got to do a lot better with our constructive criticism than 'this all sucks'! Okay, Tiffany?"
There was a bit of laughter from Zoe and Gina.
Tiff crossed her arms across her chest. "Yeah, yeah. Well, if they stopped sending me fur trimmed pink outfits that make me look like Eskimo Barbie, they might get better feedback. And I've told them that."
Tiffany wasn't done. "Seriously, we need to find Tasha. All kidding aside. I know Little Shit wouldn't miss a show. I'm betting she'll be back before we rehearse tonight. But, is it too early to call the police?"
Zoe looked distressed. "I don't know about calling the police. If she doesn't show up, we really have a problem. It's not like we can call the authorities and start to tell them how Tasha is a not a real person, but it's Lisa's eighteen-year-old brother masquerading as a twenty-two-year-old woman. Her counterfeit ID wouldn't hold up to police inspection and a lot of questions would get asked. I mean, Tasha has a driver's license and a bank account and a Social Security number and it's all pretty thin ice here. It could easily come crashing down if they were to look too closely. We'd have a tough time explaining the whole Terry/Tasha thing."
Tiffany frowned. "I keep forgetting that Tasha isn't real. I've just come to think of her as being a little sister. I've never really got to know the real Terry except for that week when we practiced."
Lisa was anxious. "Well, the real Tasha is just kinda Terry. I'm feeling really helpless. I don't know how you get in touch with someone without a cell phone. I can't remember times when you couldn't just ring someone up. This is really a mess!"
"Yep," said Amy's voice as she walked into the house with Conor trailing behind. "It's certainly a mess. We can't report her as Terry and start a whole dialog with a policeman trying to explain all this."
Conor had a puzzled look on his face. Amy pulled him aside. She looked him in the eyes. "Tasha is my son, Terry. He's been Tasha since the band was offered a record contract. I know it seems strange but, well yes, Tasha is a boy."
All Conor could do was listen in amazement. The surprise showed on his face. The first words out of his mouth were, "I never would have guessed."
Amy had her hands on her hips. She looked distressed. "Well, we need to figure out what happened and why he never showed. That's not like him at all to miss that appointment."
Suddenly, Lisa hopped up out of her seat and ran to the front door. "I'll be right back," she called. She'd seen Mrs. Doodle and the Poodle through the window, out for a walk around the block. She ran out the front door and up to Mrs. Doodle, almost skidding into the small white poodle. "Hi, Mrs. Lupinski! How are you and Binkie today?"
Binkie immediately lunged at Lisa, trying to bite her ankle. Lisa deftly stepped aside and back, waiting for Mrs. Doodle to get the little yapper under control.
"Well hi, Lisa. It's a busy day for you. Boy, your house is really jumping this morning with all those cars and people coming and going. I saw everyone from your band go into your house, and then saw your mom and her new boyfriend come in, too."
OMG, Lisa thought. Nothing gets past this old busy-body. "Yep, Mrs. Lupinski, speaking of band members, I was wondering if you've seen my cousin, Tasha? She would have left the house this morning at around nine."
"Well, it was closer to ten when she left, dear. At first, I thought she was taking an Uber, but she knew the driver and greeted him warmly. I don't think you give your Uber driver a kiss on the cheek while he's holding the door."
"Yeah, no. I don't think you kiss your Uber driver. Can you describe the driver and what kind of car he had?"
"Oh, of course. I was sitting in the living room watching the whole thing. He's tall and well built, with dark hair. He's very good looking and I'd say around twenty something. He drives a black Cadillac sedan with all blacked out windows and black trim. Looked like the Bat Mobile. Speaking of cars, now that your band is so successful, are you going to replace your van with something a little nicer? You know, improve the neighborhood?"
"Mmm, thank you. I don't know about the van. Right now, I gotta go. Nice talking to you, Mrs. Lupinski. Please say hi to your husband for me. Bye." She ran back into the house and announced to the crowd. "Tasha left here in a blacked-out Cadillac with dark tinted windows around ten this morning."
Zoe snapped her fingers. "Bruno's brother has a Caddy. It's black, with tinted windows. A real Jersey macho machine."
Gina looked really upset. "Amos, shit! I should have known. He was perving all over Tasha last Thursday when she was leaving to go to lunch. I'll bet he was giving her a ride to Philly this morning for her appointment."
Lisa shook her head. "Last Thursday was the same day Tasha had to cancel her lunch date with Amos because her stomach was giving her fits. Fuck, I knew something was up when she admitted she wasn't feeling herself. She wouldn't go into details but I think she was acting a little fresh with Amos and some other guy she described as a sailor."
Zoe already had her phone in her hand. "I'm calling Bruno to get over here and see if he can locate his brother. Do you think this disappearance has something to do with Amos?"
Tiffany raised her hand to speak. "He might have just dropped her off for her appointment and driven away. The trouble could have started on the street around the train station. Someone could have jumped her and Tasha could have been grabbed between Amos's car and Grace's office. I don't know. We can't jump to conclusions and call the police about Amos."
Lisa shook her head. "Remember, we can't involve the police, period. We're not going to be able to explain how my brother is suddenly living his life as a twenty-something woman without a lot of holes in our story. I really don't know what to do. Mom, what do you think?
Amy shook her head. "The sooner we locate Bruno and he locates Amos, we can take him out from the situation. If she was taken off the street, there's probably witnesses and we would have heard from the police already, maybe." She turned to Conor who was holding her hand. "What do you think?"
Conor was slow to respond. "Well, there's always a workaround. We can do some things that don't need to involve the law."
He paused to let his statement sink in. Then he started holding up fingers to make his points. "The first thing we can do is simple. We can hire a private investigator. He'd be able to question all the merchants around and near the doctor's office and find out if anyone saw anything. The second thing is obvious. Philly is typical when it comes to downtown surveillance cameras; there's lots of them. We might be able to find an off-duty police detective who wouldn't mind helping, you know, off the books. I don't think we need to move to the next level. We're not really ready for that."
Tiffany blurted. "The next level? What's that mean?" She turned back towards everyone. "This is starting to sound like a ten o'clock TV crime show."
Conor turned to her, but didn't smile. "You're assuming a crime's been committed. This whole situation might have an innocent explanation. It's only been a few hours, one missed appointment, and a possible ride with a guy she knows. You never know. They could be somewhere having brunch and she accidentally turned off her phone."
Zoe turned to her father. "No, dad. I don't think so. She's not answering her phone and she's not the kind of person who would ignore her calls. She just wouldn't be irresponsible. She wouldn't miss an appointment. Tasha isn't that way at all."
Conor sighed. "Okay, if you feel that strongly, I'll make some calls." He got up and walked away with Amy following. As they both walked out of the room, he whispered to her. "Let's go in your room and talk."
After they went to the opposite end of the house and closed the bedroom door, Amy let tears slip out of her eyes and she moved towards Conor. "I'm worried. What do you think could have happened?"
Conor held her tightly and kissed away the tears streaming down her cheeks. He used his fingers to grip her chin and look her in the eye. "I don't know. It might be just an innocent situation or that boy Amos might have done something incredibly stupid. I know his brother, Bruno, and he's a great kid. He wants to marry Zoe. He's everything I could have hoped for in a son-in-law and he loves and respects Zoe. I can't believe that Amos is any different than Bruno. Hopefully this is just two kids playing hooky and a broken cell phone. I'm hoping this is all a false alarm and we're all getting wound up over nothing. Now, tell me. Why's your son Terry dressing up? Is he gay or transgendered? I've only met Tasha and would have never guessed that she wasn't a real young woman."
Amy shook her head and dried her tears. After she blew her nose, she started the story. "It started out pretty innocently. Terry's quite a musician. He's written a number of songs for the Wildcats. When they came to town at the beginning of March, he was having his spring break. Lisa thought it would be a good idea if he rehearsed with the band. He did for that whole week.
The week of rehearsals was a transformation for the Wildcats. And they sounded so much better with him practicing with them, we thought it would be fun for him to play at The Rendezvous over the weekend. Terry had never played before a live crowd or heard his songs done by a band before."
Amy started to pace around the room anxiously. "And to play in an all-girl band, we thought it would be cute to dress Terry up as a young woman. That way, he'd fit in and could play at the club with them. But it was supposed to be just for that weekend and it was just for fun."
As she continued the story, she looked up towards the ceiling as she remembered how it had happened. "It snowballed when this agent and producer from New York City were invited down to hear the band. They heard them and got excited about the five piece Wildcats. The next thing you know, they offered the kids a six-month contract to record a demo. They felt this would help them sign with a big record company that would include an album and a money-making tour.
It was everything the girls had ever wanted. They'd been working for years to get this break and suddenly it was there for them to take. But, the agents said that it had to be all five of them if they wanted the opportunity. I guess Terry felt he could help the band out by staying in the Tasha role. I guess he was enjoying playing in front of a crowd and being a rocker. So, Terry agreed to become Tasha for six months and they all signed the contract."
"Well, Terry agreed to make the big six-month commitment so the group would accomplish their goal. Terry loved playing with the band and the money was going to pay for his college tuition. Terry hadn't told me directly, but he didn't have any scholarship offers and we just didn't have the money for a big school. We could barely afford a community college and he didn't want that. Terry wanted to attend a music conservatory and study music theory and composition."
"I wish I knew you then. I'd have gladly sponsored him with his school dreams."
"Oh, you're so sweet. But, in the meantime, Terry's been Tasha full time for almost a month now. Saturday will be the end of March and the end of the Wildcats commitment at The Rendezvous."
Amy knew that she was more responsible for getting Terry into this compromising position than anyone else. How could she have been so naive and oblivious to the whole thing happening right before her eyes?
She realized that she was to blame. She'd suggested the tracheal shave and to tell the doctor that he was confused about his gender and encouraged him to lie. Terry only did what she suggested. Between his excitement of playing in the band and her mindless jabbering, Terry was stuck deep in this terrible situation.
The tears flowed from her eyes as Conor held her tightly. "It's all my fault. I didn't realize until now that I was having fun and manipulating my child into a compromising position. What have I done?"
"Well, maybe all this dressing and play acting has affected his head. Plus, I introduced him to the doctor I work for. I told Terry to tell the doctor he was gender confused and wanted to live as a woman. The doctors performed a surgery on his vocal cords and shaved his Adam's apple. And they started him on a really low dosage estrogen product to make him feel more feminine. It shouldn't have done much: it's one step above a placebo. But, it's all my doing. I have no one to blame but myself for this." She sobbed and fell into Conor's arms.
"It's okay. Is there anything permanent that can't be undone? Can Tasha become Terry again if he wants to?"
Amy composed herself. "Oh, yes. Very much, yes. He's not committed to becoming female and the tiny dose of hormones is almost imperceptible. He's still a young man. It's just that he's not finished puberty and is developing a lot slower than his peers. And now he's picked up the rhythm of being Tasha and it seems sometimes forgets that he's Terry. He's caught up in the glamor of the band and their sudden success."
Conor paid Terry a compliment. "Well, from what I've seen, he's a very good musician and his songs are pretty sophisticated for an eighteen-year-old high school senior."
Amy shook her head and smiled with pride. "Both my kids are gifted musically. I guess they get that from their father because I can't carry a tune in a bucket."
"Uh huh. You've never mentioned their father. Should we be calling him? Do you think he'd know where Tasha, I mean Terry, is?"
"No, Conor. There's no father to call or notify. I used the services of a sperm bank twenty-three years ago and then went back and used the same donor again for Terry. I don't even know who their father is."
Conor was quietly trying to digest all of the information. He was starting to wonder about the Nelson family. They seemed as crazy as his family. And yet appeared so normal, too. "Well, regardless of all of this, let's see what I can do using a few of my contacts to try to track her down. Would you mind leaving me alone in here to make a few calls? It would be better if you could deny knowing about who I talk to and what I say, okay?"
Amy nodded. "I don't care what you have to do to get my baby back." She kissed him and left, closing the door behind her.
When Amy entered the living room, she saw four very worried faces. They all looked shell-shocked, concerned, and confused. "C'mon, Lisa. Help me out. Who wants coffee and who wants tea? I've got some cookies in these cupboards somewhere."
Zoe looked around. "Where'd my dad go?"
Amy nodded back to the bedroom. "Making some phone calls."
Zoe looked angry and folded her arms across her chest. "Shit. That means he's doing something illegal. All his friends are crooks and gangsters." Zoe had a big frown on her face.
"C'mon, Zoe. You come help me in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, all of you come help me. I'll demonstrate how to be a homemaker to all of you." Amy put her arm around Zoe's shoulder and moved her along as she talked.
Tiffany laughed as she got up and followed. "Yeah, the only problem with being world class rock and rollers is that none of us know how to boil water."
Gina turned to Amy as she stood up. She had an iPhone in her hand. "Do you mind if Grace Goldman drives out here? She's really upset and wants to help out if she can."
"No, Gina. I don't mind. If it helps get Terry back, I'll do anything."
Zoe was nodding her head. "Yeah, good. Because I called Bruno and he's coming here after he calls his brother. At least that will eliminate the possibility that she went off with Amos."
Amy paused. "I haven't heard that name mentioned before, or maybe I forget. Amos is Bruno's brother?"
Zoe nodded her head. "He is. Amos lives across the Delaware River in Cherry Hill. He graduated law school and has a successful business and everything. He met Tasha, well, Terry at Bruno's party. I think he took a liking to Tasha."
Amy looked worried. "How'd Tasha respond to that attention?" She had problems calling her son Tasha.
Zoe shrugged. "I don't know. I only saw them together for a few minutes. He wandered off and away when we were around."
Gina chimed in. "That was the same night that Tasha didn't feel well. Remember, she got light headed and dizzy. I'll admit that Amos seemed to be concerned about her well-being."
Lisa interrupted. "No, I disagree. Tasha was fine on the way to the party. She thought she got light-headed because she hadn't eaten anything, but that's never happened to her before. And Amos appeared with a tray of food and a soda and then she comes close to passing out. And then last Thursday, she's supposed to have lunch with Amos after her first meeting with Grace. She ended up having stomach problems and took the train home. She also admitted that she was feeling out of it then, too."
Tiffany growled. "So, you're thinking that two and two equal Amos. Damn, if he's trying to slip her drugs, I'll rip his heart out. Or maybe just his balls."
Gina waved her hands to settle down. "Easy, girl. We don't know. We haven't really heard everything and jumping to conclusions is wrong. We can't condemn him just because he's got a thing for Tasha. Uh, sorry Mrs. Nelson, but you know that Tasha is pretty. And really, our honey-bunny has just come into this world and might be a little innocent and naive."
Suddenly, a new voice was heard in the living room. "Terry's no fool, but he hasn't walked in those high heels for very long."
Everyone turned around and there was Grace Goldman. She smiled and walked over to shake Amy's hand and give her a hug. "Hi. I'm Grace and you must be Terry's mom. Conor let me in the door. I hope you don't mind."
"Oh no, please come in. I'm just worried sick."
"I think all of us are. I wanted to come out here and see if I could help. I've only talked to Terry once and I could see that he needed more than one session to reach the end of this road. It's hard. It's hard for you, hard for everyone around him."
Conor appeared. "I made some calls and I think I have a solution on who to help us find Tasha. I got her name and number from a friend of a friend and made the call. I hope you don't mind but I gave her your address. She's in New York City and told me she'll be here in two hours. She said she'd start looking when she got here."
Lisa spoke first. "Who's this person? And how do we know she'll be able to keep all this on the down low? We can't start using some ex-cop or private investigator who might feel an obligation to testify in court or lose their license. We've got to find somebody good and trustworthy, but who can keep this all to themselves."
Conor turned to Lisa. "In my business, people know how to keep things quiet. She's trustworthy. She's known as a fixer. She takes care of things, solves problems. And she's on the right side of things with a strong moral code. But, she's not on the books, no ID, no license. She's so far off the grid that you couldn't even Google her. She's a professional cipher. And it took a couple of calls just to leave a message to call me back. It's all good now. Now that she says she's on her way, you can relax. She can take care of things. I've been told that she's really good, well, the best."
Tiffany looked shocked. "Whoa. This sounds like some story from a graphic novel or comic book somewhere. Who is she?"
"Her name is Jade. Jessica Jade. You'll meet her later. In the meantime, what are you going to do tonight about The Rendezvous?"
Lisa threw up her hands. It was an Amy gesture. "Oh shit. You're right. I completely forgot that we have to work tonight. That's the last thing I was thinking about."
Gina gave Lisa a hug. "It's okay. We'll manage. But, we've got to play. We can't be a no-show for Robert. We have no idea how long this whole situation might last. I mean, Tasha might end up showing up tonight and walking right up on stage."
Tiffany exploded. "Our little shit is missing and all you're thinking about is playing. Oh, man. This is all so screwy."
While the Wildcats were talking, they didn't notice Bruno standing outside the house talking on his phone. When he came in, he greeted everyone. He'd heard about Jessica Jade. He pulled Conor aside and the two men talked.
When Zoe saw Bruno with Conor, she came over and kissed her boyfriend. She looked him in the eyes. "What?"
Bruno and Conor pulled her aside and talked quietly.
With nothing more to do, the Wildcats decided that cookies were enough dinner. After their upset stomachs had been filled with Oreos, they headed to The Rendezvous with promises that someone would keep them updated if anything changed. The ride to the club was silent until Gina broke the tension.
"Jeez. Who would have thought a month ago that things would have changed so much? I mean, we've got Tasha and all this record crap and someone is trying to make me wear spandex. This shit's too much. I almost wish it was the beginning of March and none of this had ever happened."
Zoe spoke up quickly. "Yeah, but it has and Tasha's a Wildcat. We can't abandon her at the side of the road. It's got to be all or nothing. We've got to do everything to get her back."
Lisa sighed. "I've been the shit. All this time, I've been thinking about myself and what I want and never appreciating how much my little brother has done just to please me and all of us. He didn't ask for any of this and now we don't know what is going on. This sucks so big time, it's not even funny."
They arrived at the club and parked the van in the back lot. The sun had set and they ignored the marquee that announced it was the last week the Wildcats would be here. The place was cool and dark as they entered and started to set up. After opening the walk-in storage and removing the guitars, they climbed up on the stage.
Plugging into their amps, they automatically started their tune-up and tested out the equipment. After the sound engineer signaled a thumbs up, all eyes were on Lisa to call out a tune.
"I don't know if I can handle singing a Terry song."
"Fuck that." Gina shook her head. "Terry would be the first to say shut up and get it on."
Lisa wiped her eyes and nodded. 'Kiss Me' and 'Downward Spiral'.
Everyone turned to Gina and waited for her to start a countdown. She looked up and whispered a prayer. Then, holding her drumsticks over her head, counted backward from four. Zoe and Tiffany started the intro to 'Kiss Me'. Zoe was using the new feedback sound that Terry had taught her. When she finally learned to play 'Foxy Lady' Terry showed her how to take a variation of Jimi's notes and integrate them into their song's arrangement. Lisa was wearing her Les Paul because she'd be playing all the rhythm parts tonight. She grimaced as she started strumming and then turned to sing.
Oh baby, just kiss me,
numb my body, won't feel the pain.
Oh baby, just kiss me,
turn cryin' eyes up to the rain.
heartbreak into joy
you know I'll be your boy
nothing stands in my way
cause all I have to say is
Oh baby, just kiss me
Zoe's crashing guitar ripped through the vocal with a plaintive cry of pain. It was Terry's solo and Zoe drew it out as long as she could. What had taken her days to learn seemed to flow from her fingertips easily now. It was as if Terry's gift had been passed on to her.
When they finished the two songs, they stopped and put down their instruments. They came together and without a word held each other in a silent group hug. Terry's amp sat off by itself on the left-hand side of the stage. His mike stand and amp area were unlit.
They all trooped back and sat down in the break area. Then, almost as if by signal, everyone felt hungry and got up to eat whatever had been put out by the staff. No words were said as they munched on cold cuts and rolls, drinking soft drinks. Looking up at the clock, they all rose and trooped out on the stage. They stood in the darkness to face the crowds that had paid their cover and were already drinking at one of the bars in the back.
They'd come to see the Wildcats. They'd spent their money to hear the Wildcats play. It was Thursday night and the crowd was ready to party. As Robert Davis climbed up on stage, he saw the quiet, pained faces. He saw Tasha was missing and there were only four musicians standing up there waiting to be introduced. He signaled the booth and his mike was turned on.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's my pleasure tonight to bring some good news to our little club. Allentown's own ladies have signed a contract with Warner Bros music. That means we'll be listening to a Wildcats record in the near future and seeing their name in lights as they have a national tour. So how about a big cheer for our favorite band of all time, The Wildcats!"
Gina was already counting down as Robert finished. The band opened with Terry's best rocker, 'Run, Run, Gone' and on Zoe's signal switched over to 'You've Really Got Me' by The Kinks. Lisa had pulled her guitar behind her back and was banging out the rhythm on the keyboard as she sang lead, with Zoe and Tiffany singing back-up. The crowd might have sensed the thinner sound of just four musicians, but they were there to party, and party they did.
No one noticed Tiffany playing bass and singing facing Gina, turned away from the audience. No one could see her shoulders shake. Tiffany was looking back at Gina so no one could see the tears running down her face. She was feeling more pain than she'd felt in a year. "Could it get more fucked up?" she mouthed to Gina.
Did that mean yes?
This story will continue next Friday.
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