A pink-tinted finger-nailed yet extremely hairy hand slid the requested documentation across the table.
The guard looked up, squirming a little, as Eddie the Smuggler fluttered his ridiculous eyelashes. Small flecks of mascara remained on Eddie’s upper cheek, and both eye-shadow and lipstick matched the garish fingernails. Unshaven five-o’clock shadow completed the look.
Eddie possessed the first face on the ‘watch’ list, distributed every week to the officials. Number one, without a bullet.
However, Eddie always returned at the allotted time, never broke curfew and never carried anything on – or in – his person.
“Ah, Eddie the Smuggler.”
Despite himself, the border guard managed a wry smile.
“You’re a glutton for punishment.”
“I’m a fast healer, Sergeant Vigo,” shrugged Eddie, tucking his stamped documents back into his over-padded, lacy brassiere, employing a ridiculous falsetto. “Places to be, and people to see. How do I look?”
Eddie was a character, to be sure. Vigo directed him to a small booth where he would be fingerprinted and strip-searched by the least-senior officer available – Eddie always requested a male officer. As usual, that day he had been ‘randomly’ selected for additional ‘attention’.
Eddie was not your regular, run-of-the-mill transvestite. For the past four years, the petite man crossed the border more weekends than not. Impeccable in a current-season’s, fashionable women’s outfit. Matching handbag, hat, sometimes a veil, and teetering in tight new heels. The ensemble always looked expensive and clearly Eddie was too stubborn to change, no matter how many times he’d been beaten up.
Rumours went around.
Eddie was a rich businessman, with fetishes that couldn’t be sated without a price-tag too hefty in his own country. An incompetent hypnotist hexed Eddie and had been interrupted during the performance, never removing the curse.
Life across the border was difficult. With few exceptions, a barefoot and bedraggled Eddie staggered back to the border-crossing checkpoint in the wee small hours of Monday, timing the curfew to perfection.
Hat and bag having been stolen, he’d be bruised, breathless and bloody; his dress, muddied and torn. The guards would sit him down, bring him water or coffee, before a more-composed Eddie would thank them and scurry off.
Nobody ever followed Eddie – on either side of the border. He seemed harmless enough, albeit in that suspicious way. Most guards breathed a sigh of relief once he’d gone. No-one could discover a pattern to his comings and goings; he was always unaccompanied, nobody routinely crossed before or after him.
Despite his nickname and appearance, Eddie the Smuggler never carried contraband.
* * *
Months passed, and a corrupt and totalitarian government was finally overthrown. The border was going to be opened!
Guards who’d protected it with such vehement, enthusiastic vigilance would be the first to go.
That first morning, Sergeant Vigo’s final duty was to open the gate for that final time. The first of the now-free citizens, soon to pour through the gates – everyone awaited the official announcement.
Someone on his own ‘free’ side caught Vigo’s attention. Something in his eyes – or, rather, around his eyes. A set of long, curly eyelashes.
“Eddie the Smuggler!” Sergeant Vigo blurted, literally looking down his nose at the smaller man. “But… But…”
Eddie had ditched the female attire for business suit and tie; almost un-recognisable in his current guise. His naturally-long eyelashes were the sole giveaway.
“But what? You’ve only seen me on weekends,” snapped Eddie in his bass-baritone. “This is different; I wanted to dress up properly for my girlfriend. She’s coming across to be with me from today. We’ve been waiting for this for years.”
“Your girlfriend?” Vigo was shocked at the news. He realised that worse was to come, with several colleagues having bet him fifty on Eddie’s true status. “We all thought you were a bit of a whoopsy, you know.”
“Yeah, that was always my plan’s proper purpose,” said Eddie, dismissing the suggestion with a slightly effeminate wave. “I wanted to draw your attention to it. Make you focus on that.”
“Why? You never had anything on you. We checked… every time. It wasn’t in you?” The sergeant added, as an afterthought.
“No!” Laughed Eddie. “Of course not!”
“This has been killing us. I have to know. We didn’t call you ‘Eddie the Smuggler’ for nothing. What were you hiding?”
Eddie smiled slowly, avoiding the question.
“Look, here comes my girlfriend, Helena.” Amid the sea of drab-clothed humanity approaching the border, a bright brunette woman stood out, but not because of her beauty.
She was wearing one of Eddie’s dresses. Matching shoes, handbag, the whole ensemble. Carrying it off with more panache than Eddie ever could. A gleeful wave as Helena approached and Eddie returned it, with an enormous grin.
“Fine. I might as well tell you.” Eddie conceded to Vigo.
“Helena used to be the chief make-up artist for the National Theatre over there. She can make the most realistic-looking wounds you’ve ever seen. Blackened teeth, cuts, grazes, blood, bruises, pus, the lot.”
Sergeant Vigo cast his practiced eye across the border, with renewed insight. Dotted through the thousands of black, brown and grey suits – an occasional flash of colour. Every so often, a woman was decked out in one of this-season’s ‘Eddie the Smuggler’ designer outfits.
The penny dropped.
“But over the last few years, she’s been doing a roaring trade, selling women’s fashion and accessories on the black market,” smiled Eddie the Smuggler.