Mike could laugh about the whole thing, but Jose couldn't let it rest. He had no patience with gays. God, what if this meant he was gay, too? Seeing Jose's discomfort, Mike couldn't resist needling him, rattling off all the reasons it seemed like Lida was a guy.
"You don't know for sure," Jaron pointed out.
But Jose was getting worked up. He glared at Mike. "Do you want to be gay?" he asked.
It was like a schoolyard taunt, daring Jose to do something. "The question becomes: How do you prove you're straight?" says Thorne. "One way is to take action your friends can see. You get a kind of catharsis through violence against the person who's caused your masculinity to be called into question."
Between drags, Jaron was giving the matter some serious thought. They all agreed that if someone did this to a killer, that person would "get smoked." Jaron was always talking like that, trying to sound like a mobster instead of an econ major. But later, recounting the conversation in a letter to his girlfriend, Jaron reported that the guys knew what they were going to do if Lida turned out to be a guy. "We went off on a Tony Soprano-type plan to kill the bitch and get rid of the body," Jaron wrote.
* * * *
It was still on their minds when they got together again a few nights later, on the first Thursday in October. As usual, the guys spent bar night cruising the local clubs, getting shitfaced. Jay and Jose started out by shooting pool and downing a twelve-pack. Then they picked up Mike and Jaron and headed to the Elephant Bar, an upscale joint with a jungle decor. Then came Club Mangos, a down-and-dirty dance joint in a run-down strip mall where they knew the bartenders. After they closed the place down at 2 a.m., they headed back to the Merel house to wind down with a couple more beers, a joint or two -- and maybe Lida. Jose said she'd called the house earlier and would probably be over. "Good," Mike said. "We can finally ask her about it. We won't have to guess anymore."
When they drove up to the Merel house, Lida was standing out front under a eucalyptus tree, smoking a cigarette with Nicole, high as a kite. Earlier that day, after doing some crystal meth and downing a couple of forty-ounce beers, she had decided to cut loose. In the past, to avoid detection, she had duct-taped her underwear to conceal her anatomy when she hit the party circuit. But that night was Gwen Stefani's birthday, so she decided to celebrate by squeezing into a revealing denim miniskirt and heading for the faded yellow house on Saint Matthew Drive.
The guys swaggered inside, cracked open some beers and sat down to dominoes in the cramped dining room. Lida pulled up a chair, squeezed in between Mike and Jose and started giving them the usual grief: "Are you playing dominoes again? Why can't I ever play?"
All of a sudden, Jose pushed back his chair, stood up behind her and felt the front of her neck.
"What the hell are you doing?" Lida asked.
"We want to know why you want everybody to fuck you in the ass," Jose said, already starting to seethe.
She looked up at him, startled. "Jose, how can you ask me that?"
According to Jaron, who would recall the night in vivid detail, the other guys jumped in. "Just answer the question," they advised Lida. "You're cool to have around, and we just want to know."
They had never seen Lida at a loss for words. She stared into space for several long moments before she finally protested, "No, no, no, no, no -- I'm not."
By then, Mike had slid his hand between her legs, saying, "Just let me feel it and everything will be chill." But Lida clamped both her hands down on her lap. "No," she said. "I'm not going to let you molest me."
Mike pulled back. "Look," he suggested. "Let's go in the bathroom and you can show me." OK, Lida said. But she made a break for the front door, saying she needed a cigarette first. Jaron blocked her way. "You've got to do this first," he instructed her.
Mike took Lida into the little guest bathroom near the front door. After the lock clicked, the rest of the guys sat around the table, talking about how this might be a dude after all. A real girl would have answered the question quick and easy, right? Why had Lida hesitated so long?
"I swear, if it's a man, I'll kill him," Jose hissed. "If it's a dude, she's not leaving -- he's not leaving."
Finally Mike emerged. "Same old shit," he reported. "She won't let me feel." The guys decided that Nicole might have more luck, being a woman, so she and Mike went back in the bathroom. Jose stalked outside to take a piss. A minute later, Mike came out again. "I didn't feel balls," he said, "but I felt two pairs of underwear. That's a man. That's got to be a man. I don't know what I'm going to do."
"Just be calm and think clear," Jaron told him. "Whatever you do, don't make a mess." Mike got behind him and put a chokehold on Jaron's skinny neck. "What about this?" he asked. "Can you breathe?" Jaron could only shake his head no.
Suddenly, they heard a scream. Nicole came busting out of the bathroom, yelling, "This is a fucking man!"
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