In the town of Blockerville, the local police force is often busy dealing with ‘important police business’, and some issues are deemed ‘not important enough’, or go under the radar completely.
Unfortunately crime rarely sleeps, and LGBTQ people and other visible minorities are more frequently the victims of local crime. What do you do when the police won’t help you? You call someone who will.
Enter Private Investigators Levi Parker and Marsha Tucker. Levi and Marsha are two smart, resourceful, and motivated detectives, who just so happen to both be transgender. When Blockerville PD won’t answer the call, Parker and Tucker do.
CHAPTER 01 –Ren
The lunch bell clanged and reverberated through the halls of Blockerville High School, signaling the end of second period. Students eagerly clamored out of their classrooms and surged toward the school cafeteria.
Mr. Montgomery’s gym class saw activities go right to the bell and suddenly cease, leaving a horde of panting and sweaty students.
Ren Rios — one of the school’s star athletes — wiped sweat from their face with the bottom edge of their gym shirt, and ruffled the tuft upon their head. Their hair would need a trim again soon.
“Great work today, Ren!” Mr. Montgomery said in a cheerful baritone as the other students filed out to the changing rooms.
“Thanks, Mr. Mo,” Ren smiled.
“If you keep it up, I have a great feeling about your chances to make the regional soccer team,” he said, patting them on the shoulder. “Now go enjoy your lunch, you’ve earned it!”
Ren turned to enter the locker room, their sneakers squeaking on the gym floor. Once inside, most of the other students had already grabbed their things and gone to the cafeteria. Having gym class right before lunch could certainly help work up a fierce appetite. As the last few classmates finished changing and headed out, Ren took a moment to catch their breath.
They opened their locker with one hand while taking their gym shirt off with the other. Inside the locker was Ren’s backpack, which held a very important item — one absolutely integral to their personal comfort, their biggest tool against gender dysphoria. They reached in to retrieve it, but did not feel it.
Ren had their shirt halfway off, just enough that their face was in the neck hole, and the bulk of the shirt slumped up on their shoulders. Now with a clear visual, they pried the mouth of the backpack open wider and looked inside.
They stared blankly for a moment, feeling like their eyes were lying to them. A flash of panic swept over them.
Where is it?!
The still sweaty student then frantically pulled the backpack out of the locker, a couple of pens and pencils falling out and clattering to the floor. Ren dropped the backpack down on the closest bench and rooted around in it anxiously.
It wasn’t there.
They turned around and looked back into the now empty void of the locker, their eyes wide. Where is my chest binder?! The sweat on Ren’s forehead was now more due to panic and anxiety than their recent exertion.
Ren pulled their gym shirt fully off, revealing a plain black and white sports bra underneath. They looked around the locker room at the many open and empty lockers, along the benches, and on the floor. No binder in sight.
I know I put it in here, Ren thought, dumbfounded.
They took their regular t-shirt out of their bag and put it on, parts of it sticking to their still sweaty torso. Then they zipped up their backpack and went back into the gym.
Mr. Montgomery was still in there, tidying up a bit. He was surprised to see Ren return. “Did you forget something?” he asked.
“No, Mr. Mo, I lost something.” Ren paused, “Or…”
“Or?” the teacher repeated in a quizzical tone.
“I think…” Ren paused again, staring down at the floor. The gym lights slightly buzzing overhead provided a soundtrack for their distracted mind. “I don’t know, but maybe someone might have stolen something out of my locker during class?”
“What do you mean?” Mr. Montgomery said, wheeling a rack of balls into the storage room.
“I put something in my locker before class, it’s definitely not there anymore.”
He studied the student carefully and slightly raised an eyebrow. “What’s missing?”
Ren’s heart rate had calmed from the earlier exertion and ensuing panic, but had not managed to reach resting rate just yet.
“Umm, it’s a special item that I need outside of gym class,” they said, awkwardly looking away from Mr. Montgomery.
The teacher thought for a moment, and apparently decided not to press for further details. “Well, I know nobody left during class, and no one came in late, so that is strange. I can’t recall a theft happening in my time at this school,” Mr. Montgomery brought a hand up to stroke his chin. “Let’s go to the office and inform Principal Yin.”
Ren twitched with panic and looked back at him.
The teacher noticed this. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. If it turns out you’re right, Principal Yin will be able to help.”
His explanation relieved some of Ren’s anxiety, and they followed Mr. Montgomery toward the doors to the hallway.
CHAPTER 02 — Jessika
The door to the girls’ washroom burst open, and a very loud voice invaded the formerly quiet space.
“She’s just such a loser, you know? Her family is poor, and she’s a weirdo — like, who even cuts their hair like that? She looks like a boy. It’s so stupid!”
Hannah Harper cringed at the familiar voice; it was Jessika Rowland. Like many other girls at school, Hannah tried to just stay out of her way.
She pulled up her legs so they wouldn’t be seen under the stall doors in the mirror. She knew Jessika had to be talking to another girl, but Hannah couldn’t confirm who without risking them knowing she was there.
“Like, seriously, I’m doing her a favor, right? Maybe now she’ll smarten up and stop being some kind of queerdo. Like, she’s not even pretty enough to pull off something like that. She’s totally going to need plastic surgery when she gets older. Not like she could ever afford it, ha! I can’t wait to see her dumb face next period, I’m sure she’ll be a mess. Like, even more than usual!” Jessika cackled.
The other girl seemed to just be nodding along, not actually saying anything.
Through the crack in the stall door, Hannah could see Jessika redoing her gloss and doing duck face in the mirror.
“Well, I’d better get back to class… the teacher totally loves me, but still. God, high school is so boring. Who even cares about math and history, right? Like, why can’t we learn about cool stuff like celebrities or something? Ugh, whatever. I just post on TapChat all during class anyway.”
Jessika and her companion departed the washroom, their voices fading away once the door shut behind them.
Hannah waited for what must have been at least thirty seconds before putting her legs back down and coming out of the stall. She quickly washed her hands and then popped her head out into the hallway to make sure Jessika was gone before speedwalking back to her own class.
CHAPTER 03 — The Offices of Parker and Tucker
It had been a calm morning thus far at the office of Parker and Tucker, Private Investigators. Even though their practice was only part-time, it could still get quite hectic.
Levi Parker stretched out in the chair behind his desk and cracked his knuckles. His shirt came slightly untucked from his slacks, so he carefully adjusted the fabric. “Bit of a slow one today, eh, Marsh?” he said, grinning at his partner.
Marsha Tucker grinned back without looking up at him. She paused from transcribing notes into her laptop and hit ctrl+s.
“Careful, Levi, you might jinx it,” she said sarcastically. She brushed a lock of hair back behind her ear, looked back at her notepad to find her place, and then continued to type.
“That’s a jinx I’m willing to risk!” he replied, resuming an upright position and returning his attention to the blueprints on his desk. “I’m glad we have main gigs that we both like, but it sure would be great if we could make a little more from this.”
His stomach gurgled, and he checked his watch. “Think we ought to head downstairs for some lunch?”
Tucker finished typing another line, saved her progress, and then looked at the clock in the bottom corner of the screen. Her face scrunched up in a mixture of surprise and annoyance.
It was almost 1:00 PM.
“I swear I looked a minute ago, and it was only 11:30 AM!” she said, finally looking up at Parker.
“Don’t act so surprised, Marsh, you know how hyper focused you can get. I think if I didn’t remind you, you’d forget to eat altogether!”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but lunch would be good.” She closed the laptop lid and shook her hands in the air to loosen up her fingers. Tucker was not a knuckle-cracker.
Marsha Tucker’s primary job was freelance I.T. consulting. Her analytical brain was right at home solving those tech problems, and the flexible schedule allowed her to work on cases with Levi at the same time. She had learned ethical hacking and could usually find and trace the digital tracks that perpetrators often didn’t even realize they were leaving behind.
Despite being very tech oriented, she hated touchscreens, so she kept analog notes in notebooks when possible, and transcribed them with a physical keyboard later. The side benefit of this method was that she didn’t have to stare at screens all day. Too much screen time sometimes gave her headaches.
Levi didn’t have to worry as much about screen time as his main jobs were in landscaping and fixture installation and repair. He liked to work through physical problems that let him use his hands. His schedule was almost more flexible than a typical nine-to-five job, allowing him to do case work around it.
Their office, formerly an apartment, was located above PJ’s Diner, where Tucker used to work part-time. It had been several years since she had worked for PJ, but they remained great friends. When Parker and Tucker began to do case work more steadily, the diner owner had converted the space above. PJ was a bit like an adopted aunt to Marsha and Levi.
With food on his mind, Parker stood up and put his phone in one pocket and his wallet in another. Pulling her brain out of hyperfocus mode, Tucker rose from her chair as well.
Parker called it things other than work exist mode, and he generally spent more time there than Tucker did. She hyperfocused a lot. He often wondered how she was not an insomniac.
Tucker’s cellphone rang, and she smirked at Parker as she reached for her purse. “Told you you’d jinx it.” She sighed, and then answered the call. “Parker and Tucker Private Investigators, Tucker speaking.”
Parker rested his fists on his hips and watched Tucker.
She nestled her phone between her shoulder and her ear, and grabbed her notepad. She flipped to a fresh page and jotted as she listened, nodding her head periodically.
“Yes, that is definitely something we can help with, we’ll head over right now.” She hung up.
“Possible theft down at the high school,” she told Parker, putting her notepad into her purse and her phone into her pocket.
“No police?” he asked.
“Principal Yin called them, but they blew her off, said it was small potatoes.”
“Too small to even send Junior Officer Bucket, eh?”
“Yeah, but hey, that’s why BTPI exists.”
This was quite a common occurrence, and a large part of why they even had cases in the first place. The local police were very choosy about who they bothered to help, and the trend wasn’t in favor of minorities.
“So, what got stolen?” Parker asked as he came out from behind his desk and grabbed his blazer off the coat rack by the door.
“You’re not going to like it, Levi.”
“Don’t play keep-away, Marsh, I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”
She stared at him in hesitation. “It was a chest binder,” she relented.
Most people probably wouldn’t have noticed, but Tucker knew him well enough to catch his micro-tells.
Parker turned and looked out the office’s front window, his posture rigid as he squeezed a balled fist. Finally, he turned back. “Alright, let’s go. Lunch can wait a little longer.”
He headed toward the stairs with Tucker following behind.
On the way down, his stomach gurgled again. Giving it a little slap, he muttered, “Shut up.”
CHAPTER 04 — Blockerville High School
Parker’s silver car pulled into the parking lot of the high school, the early afternoon sun flashing off the edge of the hood. He took good care of the vehicle and it definitely did not look its age.
Parker spotted an open space and pulled into it, shifting the car into park once it was at rest. The duo got out just as Principal Yin came out the front door to meet them. The bright sun highlighted a few silver strands atop her head. The hard plastic soles on her flats slapped gently against the walkway beneath her.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Parker and Ms. Tucker. Thank you for coming so quickly!” Yin smiled, highlighting a small mole as her cheeks were pushed up. She reached out to shake their hands. “Please, please. Come into the office.”
She turned and led the duo up the path of rectangular stone slabs leading to the green front doors, each with two square glass windows resembling a large, boxy number “8,” like you might see on a calculator screen. The handles were painted pink.
The three of them walked through the front doors into the lobby, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Tucker was glad to have earplugs, but such noises didn’t bother Parker. The walls around them were painted medium green, with a pink stripe horizontally bisecting the top and bottom half. The door frames were white. As they continued down the hallway, Tucker noticed a bulletin board with the school’s official mascot and team name was The Blockerville Bullfrogs.
Once around the corner, they arrived at the main office. Inside was a tan, wooden table with four chairs positioned around it. Tucker also noticed the office was painted entirely white, despite the halls being green and pink. She wondered what the classrooms looked like.
A student was sitting in one of the chairs, their back facing the school’s front window. The principal took a seat beside the student, and the duo of investigators sat opposite them.
Yin turned to face Ren.
“Would you like to introduce yourself?”
Ren was apprehensive, biting their lip.
“Hi, my name is Ren,” they started. “My pronouns are they and them.” Their voice trembled slightly, as this felt very serious; first, reporting to the principal, now some special detectives?
Tucker smiled gently, identifying Ren’s anxiety, and hoping to help the student feel more relaxed.
“Hi, Ren, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m detective Parker, my pronouns are he/him, and this is my associate,” he motioned with an open hand toward Tucker.
“Hi, Ren, I’m detective Tucker, and my pronouns are she and her.”
Ren remained apprehensive, but relaxed somewhat with the detectives accepting their pronouns so easily.
“These detectives are here to assist with the situation with your garment,” Yin said to Ren. “I contacted them because the police declined the matter, and I had heard about these two before. When I looked up their website earlier, they seemed like they could help.”
Ren’s face brightened with some fresh optimism, helping to melt away some of their tense reluctance. “You can help me?”
“Yes, we’re here to help how we can,” Parker replied.
“Ren seems to have had an item stolen this morning. I’ve conducted a very brief investigation, but I’ve not been able to come up with much.” Yin explained, “We don’t have many spare resources here at the school, but I certainly want to get to the bottom of the matter.”
“We enjoy solving mysteries, so we’re happy to take a crack at it,” Parker said enthusiastically.
Whenever he said something with gusto, the curly tuft atop his head would wiggle. It was similar to how Ren’s hair would move when it got too long.
Parker’ wiggling hair sometimes amused younger kids. Tucker’s luscious chestnut locks didn’t make anyone giggle, but she was proud of them. Her long hair also helped hide the earplugs she often wore. Other adults would sometimes stare less than politely at them.
“Can you walk us through what happened?” Tucker pulled out her notepad and prepared to take notes.
“Do you mind if I record this meeting? Parker asked, placing his phone on the table with an audio recording app open.
“Yeah, sure,” Ren replied. “So, I normally wear a chest binder, but for gym class, I change and put the binder in my locker. I had gym class before lunch today, and when I got back to my locker, my binder was gone. I definitely put it in there before class. I looked all over the locker room, but it was just gone.”
Parker nodded in acknowledgment, and Tucker looked up from her notepad to turn to Yin.
“You said you had already conducted a brief investigation, can you elaborate?” Tucker asked.
“Certainly. Ren suggested that someone might have entered the locker room during class and taken the garment. I checked with a couple of teachers, and they did not see anyone in the hallway during that time. Additionally, our gym teacher, Mr. Montgomery, confirmed that no student left class early or came in late.”
Parker nodded. “My first thought is to agree with Ren — perhaps another student could have taken it. As they said, someone would have had to go into the locker room while the class was in session. Whether that be another student, a teacher, a custodian…” he pondered, tilting his head. “But obviously, why would a teacher or other school staff member steal from a student?”
“We do have a custodian, Mr. Johnson, who normally cleans the gym during lunch, and the locker rooms either during lunch or after last period, but he’s not supposed to go in during class.”
“Could we speak to him?” Tucker asked.
“Unfortunately, he went home sick earlier, but he hadn’t left school grounds before the time of the incident,” Yin said, rubbing her forehead, as if beginning to develop a headache.
Parker and Tucker looked at each other, as they often did. They were not telepathic, but sometimes, they might fool you.
“That’s a curious coincidence, but it may be nothing,” Parker said, as Tucker jotted in her notepad.
Ren spoke up again. “I came out as non-binary last year, and my parents bought me that binder for my birthday. We’re not rich, and we had to special order it in the mail, so if I don’t get it back, that’s really going to suck, and my mom is going to be mad.” They shook their head and said somberly, “I just don’t feel right without it, even though some kids make fun of me for wearing it.”
That last piece of information caught Yin’s attention.
She snapped her gaze to the student. “Ren, you never reported that. You know you need to say something if your classmates bully you,” she scolded.
“Yes, Principal Yin. This is more outside of school, though,” they clarified. “Anyway, I don’t want to be a snitch, that just makes it worse.” They crossed their arms in front of their body, dejected and seeming to go into a protective stance.
Yin relaxed her posture, and her expression grew sympathetic. “I’m sorry, but we need all the relevant information to be able to help you. Since it might be one of the other students, can you please tell me who bullies you the most?” Yin poked her index finger down onto the table, still a bit terse.
Ren hesitated for a moment. Wincing, they admitted, “Jessika Rowland is pretty mean, but she’s like that with almost everybody.”
Yin shook her head, though it wasn’t immediately obvious that she was frustrated more by the name than how Ren had said it. Tucker took note.
“Ahh, yes, she has been on my radar. I will speak to her teachers.” The principal made a note of her own.
Tucker spoke up next. “Can you give us a description of your chest binder, so we will know what to look for in our investigation?”
Ren shifted in their chair, their arms remaining crossed in front of their torso. “The other kids call it a granny bra, but it’s not. The color is close to my skin tone, and it has my name written on the inside bottom edge. ‘Ren Rios, They/Them’.”
“Great, that should be very easy to identify,” Parker said happily, evoking a hopeful smile from Ren.
Tucker nodded and jotted.
“Okay, Ren,” Yin said politely. “Please head back to class. I will assist the detectives from here.”
Ren stood up, their shoulders still slumped, and their hair a bit of a mess.
Despite flashes of hope and optimism, they were still troubled by the situation.
They pursed their lips, scrunching them slightly to one side. “Thank you for trying to help,” they said to the detectives.
“You’re very welcome. Try to relax a bit, we’re good at what we do!” Parker encouraged.
Ren smiled slightly again, and then shuffled out into the hallway.
Ren was glad that someone was trying to help even though their face didn’t show it. Their family had not had good experiences with the local police. And at school, Ren had been framed by bullies a few times for misbehaving in class when substitute teachers were present. Jessika was a constant concern, and Ren had few allies; mostly just teachers trying to respect their pronouns and new name.
Tucker looked up from her notes, her analytical mind ticking through possibilities, as the sound of Ren’s sneakers traversing the hall faded into silence.
Parker asked, “Was there anyone here this morning who isn’t here normally, like parents or other non-staff?”
Yin paused, tilted her head to one side, and stared off into the distance from behind her glasses. “Let me think…”
For a moment, it went quiet enough for everyone to hear their own breathing and the gentle tick of the analog clock on the wall. The overhead light in the office did not buzz like the ones in the school’s main lobby.
Tucker thought she should ask Parker if they were different types of lights; she didn’t know.
After a couple of beats, Yin’s eyebrows popped up. “Actually yes, yes there was. One of the teachers in the staff lounge said a parent was here this morning,” she nodded as if confirming her own memory to herself.
Parker and Tucker exchanged a quick look out of the corner of their eyes. “Oh?” they replied in unison.
“We had parent-teacher meetings at the school yesterday, and Ms. Grayce said that a parent stopped by this morning to pick up something they said they’d accidentally left behind. She didn’t say whose parent, though.”
“Can we speak to her?” Parker inquired, leaning forward slightly.
“You may, though we do need to keep it brief, as third period is currently in session.” Yin stood and made her way around the table and toward the door.
The duo followed her out, each of them beginning to consider possibilities and trying to make connections based on what limited information they had.
Lacey Artemis is an author, artist, talk show host, and all around creative mad scientist. You can find more of her work at www.artemiscreates.com.