Exclusive Excerpt: Splintered by SJD Peterson – a terrific gay FBI mystery/thriller!

Splintered by SJD Peterson

Blurb:

Hunting Evil: Book One

A string of murders targeting effeminate gay men has the GLBTQ community of Chicago on alert, but budget cuts have left many precincts understaffed and overworked, and homophobia is alive and well within the law enforcement community so little has been done to solve the mystery. When the FBI calls in Special Agent Todd Hutchinson and his team, the locals are glad to hand the case off. But Hutch finds a bigger mystery than anyone originally realized—seventeen linked murders committed in several different jurisdictions. Hutch’s clues lead him to Noah Walker.

Working on his PhD in forensic psychology, Noah has been obsessed with serial murders since he was a child. Noah finds himself hunted, striking him off Hutch’s suspect list, but not off his radar. To catch the killer before anyone else falls victim, they’ll have to work together to bring him to justice.

Excerpt::

They pulled off the road near the ravine that Jared Martin—the first known victim—had been discarded in. Like all the other victims, except for the latest one, he’d been thrown to the ground without any kind of care to how he landed. Once dead, he was like yesterday’s garbage, dumped without worth or another thought.

Granite didn’t follow Hutch as he made his way to the exact spot Martin had been found. Instead, Granite leaned against the car with notebook in hand. Granite would take his own notes of the area but knew enough to give Hutch a minute alone at the scene. Hutch considered the area with a critical eye. There was nothing special about it, a wide open field with scattered trees and brush visible beneath the nearly full moon. It was doubtful it had changed much in the past three years. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes as he tried to think beyond his own definitions of right and wrong.

It’s isolated. I live close by. I’ve been here before. Don’t want to take a chance on getting lost with my prize. It’s deserted. The grass has grown up in the ruts of the makeshift road. No one comes here often. It’s a perfect place to leave my toy.

Hutch let the thoughts flow through him as he tried to get a mental picture of the man speaking to him in his head, but he always stood in shadow, never revealed too much about himself or showed his face. Hutch recalled from the notes that there had been no tire marks left, no other types of indentations suggesting he’d used a cart or any means to bring the body here except brute strength. The shadowy figure morphed into a larger man.

SplinteredFS

A glint of light off the smooth steel blade sliced through delicate skin. Metal shackles that immobilized straining limbs clanked. Anguished screams as fire met flesh echoed off the walls, took it in, relished in the sweet symphony.

As the images and sounds of torture and mutilation played out in Hutch’s mind, the edge of his lip curled into a sneer as exhilaration raced along his nerve endings. Blood. Pain. Screams. Power. Lust. His body heated, pulse racing as arousal surged through him, hardening his cock. Hutch stumbled back with a loud gasp as the intensity caused his body to spasm violently.

Strong arms snaked out and caught him around the waist before he could land on his ass, steadying him. “I got ya,” Granite murmured against Hutch’s ear as he was pulled tightly against Granite’s chest.

Hutch gasped harshly, trying to get air into his constricted lungs. His mouth watered and he swallowed several times as he fought to keep down the rising bile from spewing out. Hutch let Granite support his trembling weight as he worked to slow down his breathing and calm his rapidly beating heart. He hated this part of the job. But his uncanny ability to get into the mind of a killer was a necessary evil and part of what made his arrest record so stellar. Still, it scared the living shit out of him. The way his body reacted to the images of carnage and death disgusted him.

What the fuck is wrong with me? He was no longer sure if he was experiencing what the killer was feeling or his own reactions to the images, the lines having become blurred. Was it possible that on some level, he had the same penchant for suffering and murder? Was he just as sick as the bastard he was hunting?

Hutch pushed the disturbing thoughts down and locked them up tight. He didn’t dare look at them too deeply, question them, afraid of what the answer would be. He straightened and pulled away from Granite.

“I’m… I’m good,” he assured Granite as he threaded his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair.

Granite watched him carefully, worry and confusion evident in his tight features. He knew Hutch well enough, had witnessed his strangeness enough times not to push him at the moment. But Hutch knew they’d be talking about it later. At least by then, hopefully he’d have his shit under control and could tell Granite the same thing he always did. “Imagining how they die always gets to me.” Granite was smart enough to hear the lie for what it was, but he never demanded more. Hiding this dark, ugly part of himself was the only way Hutch could look anyone in the eye every day. Eventually, though, he knew the truth would come out. What then? Would he find himself with a one-way ticket to the asylum for the criminally insane before he could become what he sought?

Agent Hutchinson, you are one fucked-up man. “Yeah, tell me something I don’t know,” he muttered under his breath as he stomped back to the car.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Splintered-Hunting-Evil-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01HLYKIXQ/ref=sr_1_9_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468412390&sr=1-9&keywords=splintered

Exclusive Excerpt: The Dream Ender by Dorien Grey: A Dick Hardesty Mystery – Book 11

The Dream Ender by Dorien Grey – A Dick Hardesty Mystery Book 11

Blurb:

When rugged construction worker and biker Cal Hysong is killed, Dick knows the reason. Cal was widely suspected of deliberately spreading AIDS to other gay men. Like the rest of the gay community, Dick’s initial reaction is “good riddance.” But when Jake Jacobson and Jared Martinson, two of Dick’s closest friends, become suspects, the case turns personal, and Dick sets out to clear them and find the real killer. His search takes him into the unfamiliar world of gay bikers and leathermen, and through a labyrinth of suspects, motivations, blind alleys and memorable characters.

Excerpt:

Thursday passed without incident. I was, of course, curious about how the police investigation was going, but while under other circumstances I may have been tempted to call Marty Gresham to ask him, I didn’t want to even consider it now. The further I kept away from things, the better.

I was just getting ready to walk out the door for work on Friday when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Dick, it’s Jake. We’ve got a really big problem.”

Shit!

“What’s wrong?” Stupid question.

“The police just left. They showed up with a search warrant for my gun.”

I was a little surprised but tried to offer some reassurance. “I told you they might ask you if you had a hunting rifle. But that they’d have a search warrant is a little extreme, I’d think.”

“That’s not the problem! When I went to get it for them, it was gone!”

“Gone?” I echoed, immediately feeling stupid for doing so. “When’s the last time you saw it?” I also immediately thought of the meeting they’d had with the other guys from the Male Call.

“The last time I saw it was when I put it under the bed right after I bought it. I didn’t have any need to take it out until hunting season.” He paused, then, “I should have looked for it when you told me about it on the phone. I at least could have reported it stolen before the police showed up looking for it.

“And what’s worse, if that’s possible, is that the warrant wasn’t just for a Winchester hunting rifle. It was specifically for a Model 94 Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative. They’re a limited issue.”

dreamender

“Chief Crazy Horse?” I asked. “Why in the world would you want a Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative rifle?”

“Winchester does commemoratives all the time,” he explained. “When Stan and I were kids, we always played cowboys and Indians, and Stan always insisted on being Chief Crazy Horse and me being General Custer. I know they didn’t have anything to do with each other in fact, but you know how kids’ minds work.

“We had been talking about buying new rifles this year anyway, and when Stan heard about this particular commemorative, he insisted we get it. How could the police have known I even had one?”

Good question. Obviously the police had been doing their job.

“I’d imagine they tested the bullet taken from Hysong’s body and that it came from a Winchester 94,” I said. “You said it was a pretty new model—apparently, they were able to pin the spent bullet down to the exact model that fired it. They undoubtedly checked the gun shops and dealers for a list of people who’d recently bought one.

“They’ll undoubtedly be checking with Stan, too,” I added.

“Oh, that’ll go over big!” Jake said. “After all the battles Stan has had with the bureaucracy dragging their feet on the AIDS problem, he doesn’t look kindly on authority figures. But even so, with my gun missing, I’ve got a pretty good idea who the police will move up to the top of their suspect list.”

I did, too, but didn’t say so.

“Well, there’s no point wasting your time worrying about that right now,” I said. “Did you tell the police about the guys from the Male Call being over?”

“No. I couldn’t see any point to dragging them into it, since for all I know the gun might very well have been gone before they were even here. These guys talk tough, but I can’t imagine that any of them could actually steal the gun, let alone use it!”

“But they knew you had it,” I pointed out.

“Well, yeah. The weekend I got it, we were at the Male Call, and I know I was talking about it then. It’s sort of like getting a new car. Okay, so I was doing the old ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ thing. Hey, how many people do you know with a Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative Winchester 94?”

“And you never had any indication that someone had broken into your apartment?”

“Not a clue, but…” He paused, then, “Jeezus, how stupid can I be? I sometimes leave the kitchen window open a crack. Somebody could have gotten in that way—but there’s never been any trouble in my building, and I’ve never even heard of a break-in anywhere in the neighborhood.”

“Jared was there when the cops were?”

“Yeah, but he had to leave for Carrington in time to make it to school. They seemed a little reluctant to let him go, and they fingerprinted us both before he left, which I thought was kind of strange.”

I did, too, but again didn’t say anything.

“They didn’t say so,” Jake continued, “but I imagine they think Jared has the gun at his place, and I’ll bet the minute they left here they called the Carrington police to get a search warrant. They won’t find it, of course, but I guess I can understand their thinking. Of all the rotten luck!” He paused for a moment and then said, “I was wondering if maybe you could do us a huge favor and check with your police contacts to see what’s going on. We didn’t mention that we knew you, by the way.”

Well, now that the police were aware—and I was afraid that was a gross understatement—of Jake and Jared, I at least didn’t have to avoid using their names.

“I can do that,” I said. “But tell me what else they said or asked you.’

“They wanted to know if we knew Cal, and of course, we said yes. It would be stupid to deny it. Then they asked if either Jared or I had a grudge against him. I told them that, of course, we did—Cal was murdering gay men. They wanted to know if there might be any other reason, and I told them as far as I was concerned, the reason I gave them was reason enough.

“Then they asked if either one of us had AIDS. I told them to check with our doctor.

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind

By Marshall Thornton

 

Chapter One

Chicago is famous for its wind, its snow, its frigid, bone-cracking cold. It’s not as well known for the one or two weeks each summer when the heat hits the high nineties, and the humidity grips you by the throat and squeezes. For those dog days, which almost always happen in August, we sweat, we overheat, we get red-faced and as angry as cats in a bathtub. Our brief summer heat waves explain why it’s actually a pleasure to wear an overcoat most of the year.

I’d cranked open all the windows in my tenth floor apartment. Joseph and I lay naked on my bed trying not to touch each other, while at the same time trying to spread our limbs so we weren’t touching ourselves either. Joseph had gotten us a plastic spray bottle and filled it with chilled water. Every so often we woke up and sprayed ourselves so the water would evaporate on our skin and cool us down.

The phone rang around three that morning. My first inclination was to not answer as there was a fifty-fifty chance it was a wrong number. Curiosity got me on the sixth ring, though. I pushed myself out of bed and aimed toward the living room. I hoped I’d get lucky and hear a stranger ask for Mary or Bobo or José. But then I picked up the phone and wasn’t lucky.

“Nick? Nick, I need your help.”

I tried not to recognize his voice. I tried to think of a good reason to just hang up. The last person in the world I wanted to be having a conversation with in the middle of the night was Christian Baylor, intrepid journalist and all around pain in the ass.

“Why can’t you come to my office in the morning like a normal person?”

“I need help now. Can you come over?”

I hadn’t seen Christian since April. There was a chance he was calling about a detective named Devlin who had hassled us for a while over the death of the Bughouse Slasher. There was also a chance he was just trying to get me to come over and fuck him.

“I need you, Nick. You have to—” His voice was TV movie urgent.

“No, actually, I don’t have to.”

“There’s a dead man in my bathroom.”

That stopped me. I had no idea whether to believe him or not. I wanted to not believe him. I wanted to call him a liar. But he did strike me as exactly the kind of person who’d end up with a dead man lying around the house.

“Why do you have a dead man in your bathroom?”

“He’s one of my neighbors. Someone shot him and he ran to my apartment, so I let him in and tried to help him. But I couldn’t. It was too late.”

“And the someone with the gun?”

“Took off.”

“So you decided to call me…”

“Yes.”

“Instead of the police?”

“I’m going to call them. I just thought it would be good to have a friend here when I do.”

Friend was pushing it. Still, I said, “Call them now. And I’ll come.”

“You will?”

“Call them.”boystown8

Christian lived in the only contemporary building on that block of Belden. It was about eight stories, red brick, and as architecturally bland as a cheese sandwich. It was about a half hour walk from my place. At that time of the morning it could take fifteen or twenty-minutes to get a cab and even longer to find a parking place if I drove, so I went ahead and hoofed it. When I got there thirty-five minutes later, it was no surprise to find an empty blue-and-white squad car sitting in front of the building with its lights flashing, next to a white van from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Someone had been nice enough to jam a phone book in the lobby door, so I let myself up to Christian’s fifth floor studio—well, close to his studio. When I got off the elevator I was stopped by a wall-sized patrol.

“I’m sorry, this area is closed,” he said.

In the elevator I’d decided to start this off on the wrong foot and had my keys ready in my hand. “I live down there,” I said, pointing at the door across from Christian’s.

“Are you just getting home?”

“Bartender.” I tried to look exhausted which wasn’t much of a stretch.

“You know the guy across the hall?”

“Not well.”

In a lowered voice, he asked, “He a faggot?”

I ground my teeth a little. Then I said evasively, “I try to keep to myself.”

He got a worried look on his face and I thought he was trying to decide whether he should let me by. In my days on the job I wouldn’t have let someone walk through a crime scene. When I set a perimeter it stayed set. But that didn’t mean this guy wasn’t going to let me by.

“This job, man. It’s getting more dangerous every day.”

I stared at him. Other than the fact that it was muggy as a swamp, I didn’t see what was so dangerous about standing in a hallway.

Without being asked, he explained, “There’s blood everywhere in there. Faggot blood.”

Oh. That. His fear didn’t faze me. Panic about AIDS had begun to reach the general population and all the wrong people were freaked out over all the wrong things. Doorknobs, toothbrushes, movie seats. The world was a continuing round of famine, war and genocide, but it was doorknobs that scared the shit out of people.

“I’ll just stick to my side of the hallway.”

He looked around as though someone might give him a yay or nay. Begrudgingly, he said, “All right. Go directly to your apartment.”

I walked down the hallway and stood in front of the door across from Christian’s. I looked over my shoulder. What I saw was disturbing. The patrol was right. Blood was everywhere. The door to the apartment was covered in a big splash of it. Honestly, it looked like someone had thrown a water balloon at the door and it had exploded…except it wasn’t water, it was blood. There was blood on almost every other surface I could see, handprints, splashes, smears; it was everywhere on the butter-colored hardwood floor. I didn’t see the medical examiner anywhere. I guessed he was in the bathroom with the body.

Underneath all that blood, the studio was preciously decorated with a twin-sized daybed covered in too many pillows sitting in front of the one wide window, a mod blue desk and a little cafe table with two metal chairs. The miniscule kitchen sat to the right of the front door. The bathroom was in the back to the left of the living room area.

In the center of the living room, Christian stood talking to another patrol, a thick, tough-looking woman in her late twenties. Christian was slight and too pretty for his own good. He looked like he’d been clubbing; he wore a yellow mesh shirt and a tight pair of jeans with clean, white Chuck Taylors. There wasn’t a drop of blood on him. If he’d tried to help the dead guy like he’d said, his help must not have gone much beyond shouting encouragement. Clearly, he hadn’t been anywhere near the guy while he was bleeding to death.

“Just go into your apartment, sir,” the Wall said. His plastic nametag told me his name was some kind of Slavic, beginning with a V and ended with a -vich. There were ten or twelve letters in between. The Wall was easier to remember.

I turned, wondering exactly how I was going to worm my way out of this. Suddenly the door in front of me opened. A scrawny, fifty-year-old woman in a flowered housecoat stared at me as though I had the word RAPE tattooed on my forehead and then yelled, “GO AWAY!” Before I could, she slammed the door in my face.

Behind me, I heard Christian yell, “Nick! You came!”

I turned fully to look at him, ignoring the glare I was surely receiving from the Wall. Christian hurried out into the hallway, his patrol close behind.

“I can’t believe this happened! It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Who are you, sir?” the female officer asked, her nametag said McCready. “You a neighbor?”

“No. Christian called me. Asked me to come.”

Without turning, I could feel that the Wall had moved in and was now breathing down my neck. I’d lied to him and I could feel his anger floating my way.

“Name?” McCready asked.

“Nick Nowak.”

I decided not to mention my profession since no one was paying me. But Christian had other ideas and told them, “He’s a private investigator.”

McCready looked me up, down and around. “Nowak? You have family on the job?”’

“I do.”

“Bridgeport?”

“That would be them.”

“Then you know this isn’t a social occasion. It’s not a party. Your friend doesn’t get to send out invites. You don’t have any business at our crime scene.”

I tried not to smile at her possessiveness. Someone had been murdered and the crime scene belonged to her. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go stand down the hall.”

“I’d prefer you leave the building entirely,” she said. It really was preference. She didn’t have the right to ask me to leave the building completely. I would have happily gone home, though, except for the panic in Christian’s eyes.

“Do you want me to call a lawyer?” I asked him.

“I didn’t do anything.” Which was actually one of the better reasons to call a lawyer. I didn’t bother pointing it out, though. He was a big enough boy to make his own decisions.

“I’ll be right down here if you need me,” I told him pointing down the hallway

I turned to walk down the hall, and as I walked by the Wall he gave my shoulder a shove as though he didn’t think I’d be able to walk away from the scene on my own. I stumbled a few steps then righted myself. I took a position near the elevator and lit a cigarette. The Wall took a position in the middle of the hallway and puffed himself out in case I tried to slip by him again.

Belden was just over the line into the 18th police district. Harker’s district. Detective Bert Harker had been my lover from the spring of 1981 until he died in September 1982. Eighteen months. The two-year anniversary of his death was coming up in a month. He’d been gone longer than we’d been together. But I didn’t really have time to be thinking about that. I needed to be thinking about Christian Baylor, who Harker had brought into my life.

Since the apartment was in Harker’s old district, I held a faint hope that his former partner, Frank Connors, might be the detective showing up for this investigation. He wouldn’t be happy to see me, but he’d be likely to let me know what was going on.

Unfortunately, after I’d been standing in the hallway by the elevator for about three cigarettes—exchanging cold stares with the Wall—a black guy in his early forties got off the elevator. I could tell he was a detective right off. His ill-fitting, cheap suit and the mean glance he gave me were big clues.

One of the very few times I missed spending time with my family was the year before, when Harold Washington got elected mayor and appointed the first black police commissioner. I would have loved to see the looks on their faces. Having spent decades under the thumb of an Irish mayor and an Irish-dominated police force, I would have loved watching them get passed over for the blacks. Of course, in their view—and there was a bit of truth to it—they’d been getting passed over for the blacks since the seventies, when the department was put under court order to recruit and promote in a way that more accurately reflected the makeup of the city. In other words, more blacks. Whoever it was who’d just walked by me probably got his job due to the court order. I hoped he deserved it.

I decided to try conversation with the Wall. “Where are all the neighbors?”

“We told them to go back inside.”

“Anyone hear anything?”

“Most of them heard someone yell and then the gunshot. There was a lot of peephole peeping, but everyone stayed inside.”

“Just one gunshot?”

He got a look on his face, like he realized he’d already said too much. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a lot of difference to the dead guy.”

After that, the Wall clammed up. Even halfway down the hall, I could hear that people were talking in Christian’s apartment. I just couldn’t hear what they were saying. I did know that whatever Christian was telling them was a bald-faced lie. What I didn’t know was why he was lying. And why he thought he needed me there. He seemed to be doing a bang up job of lying to the police without my help.

Christian told me his neighbor had been shot and ran to his apartment for help. Of course, I thought it was ridiculous that anyone would run to Christian for help. But beyond that there wasn’t any blood in the hallway. Well, any blood other than the blood that had been tracked out of the apartment into the hallway, including a few bloody footprints on the low-pile, butterscotch-colored carpet in front of Christian’s door. I didn’t know whether they belonged to the killer or the patrol officers. As I stood there trying to work that out, I realized there was a faint set of footsteps that came away from the door and continued down the hallway toward me. The footprints were nearly undetectable, fading more with each step. But they continued toward me, then went by me and down the hallway becoming fainter and fainter with each step. I took a few steps down the hallway to find out where they went.

The Wall asked, “Where are you going?”

I pointed at the footprints in the carpet at my feet. The Wall squinted, but he saw what I was showing him. We followed the footprints, which disappeared as we turned the corner on the far side of the elevator. Halfway down a short hallway a garbage chute sat about four feet up the wall: a metal door, eighteen inches square with a handle smeared in blood.

The Wall reached out like he was going to open the chute and I instinctively said, “Don’t touch it.” He gave me a dirty look, mainly because I was right. There was blood, so there would be fingerprints. “Get the detective.”

“I’m not leaving you here.”

“Do you want me to go get the detective while you wait here?”

He pulled me by the arm back to where I’d been standing and then continued down the hall to the door of Christian’s apartment. He kept his eyes on me while speaking into the apartment. “Detective White? There’s something you need to see.”

The Wall kept looking at me and I managed to keep a straight face over the irony of a black detective being named White. The name was like the punch line to a joke that didn’t quite land. Detective White came out of the apartment and followed the Wall down the hallway. They breezed passed me and I followed them.

“Footprints,” the Wall said, pointing at the carpet, then at the garbage chute. “Smudge.”

“Go down to the basement and find out what this kid dropped into the chute,” White said.

The Wall gave him a concerned look. “Who’s gonna watch this guy?”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Unhappy, the Wall turned and went around the corner to the elevator. White looked me over and said, “Your friend is telling a bucket full of lies.”

“I’d offer to tell him to stop, but I have the feeling he lies to me, too.”

“Do you know why he’s lying?”

“Not a clue.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his suit. It was about two sizes too big. I wondered if he’d recently lost a lot of weight and hadn’t bothered with a new wardrobe just in case the diet didn’t stick.

“Officer McCready says you have family on the job.”

“I do. I was on the job myself in the mid-seventies.” I pulled one of my business cards out of a pocket; it wasn’t too badly crumpled so I gave it to him. “Nick Nowak.”

“Monroe White,” he said, shaking my hand. He glanced at my card, “You’re a private dick.”

Dick was an old-timey nickname for a private eye. I figure he used it since it was an opportunity to call me a dick to my face. “Investigator. Yes.”

“Why’d you leave the CPD?”

“Creative differences.”

I could tell he didn’t like my answer. His dark eyes got a shade darker. “What are you doing here?”

“Christian called me.”

“He your boyfriend?” That made me wonder if he already knew why I wasn’t on the job.

“No.”

“That offend you? Me thinking you’re a fag?”

“My boyfriend is an ex-priest. He’s teaching me forgiveness.”

“You fucking this one on the side, then?”

“No. I’m not.”

You would think that who’s fucking who was not the most important thing to figure out in a murder investigation, but you’d be wrong. It’s depressing how often love and death get tangled up together.

“What did Christian say to you on the phone?”

“That his neighbor got shot and ran to his apartment for help, and then died in his bathroom.”

White raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

“No. Someone came to the door, your victim answered and he was shot there at the door. He retreated into the apartment to get away or try to stop the bleeding. I’m only guessing, I haven’t been in there, but I doubt Christian was anywhere near here when it happened.”

“Unless he was the one with the gun.”

“The shooting took place in a closed space. He’d be covered in blood.”

“He took his time. Called you. Maybe he took a shower.”

“Isn’t the body in the bathroom?”

“There are a hundred showers in this building. He didn’t have to get cleaned up in there.”

“Can you prove he took a shower somewhere else?”

“We got time,” he said and walked away from me.

I went back to the spot where I’d been standing to smoke and swelter. I wore a pair of jeans and a blue Cubs T-shirt that Joseph bought me when we went to a game. It was too much clothing. If I thought stripping down to my BVDs would have helped the situation I’d have done it.

The elevator pinged and the door opened. The Wall came out delicately holding a snub-nosed 38 by the barrel with two fingers. He walked quickly down to the apartment. The whole thing was beginning to annoy me. White was already focused on Christian as the main suspect. That was a mistake. Or at least my gut said so. Christian wasn’t the type to murder.

But it was more than that. As I stood there, I began to see little things that didn’t add up. If Christian did shoot the dead guy why did he do it at the front door? Given the mess the blood made on the door—and not in the hallway—it made sense that the guy answered the door and someone shot him. Why would Christian come home and shoot someone in his own doorway?

And why was he so clean? If he did murder the guy and then went somewhere else for a shower, then why not tell the lie that he’d been out and just come home to find this dead guy in his apartment? That was a story that fit the way he looked. The story he told me, that he’d tried to help his neighbor, didn’t fit with the way he looked. If he had murdered the guy, the last thing in the world he should do was take a shower and say he tried to save him. He’d washed the proof of his story away.

Christian was annoying me as much as White. If he didn’t kill the guy, and I was pretty sure he didn’t, then why was he lying? Was there something bigger going on? Something scarier? Something worse than being suspected—

Officer McCready pulled Christian out of the apartment. He was handcuffed and his hands were covered by brown paper bags. The kind mothers pack with lunch for their kids. As they walked by, I said, “Christian, you need a lawyer. Tell them you want a lawyer.”

But he didn’t. He just gave me a confused look that said he didn’t understand what was happening.

Exclusive Excerpt: Prince of the Sea by Jon Michaelsen: Romance Mystery/Thriller from Lethe Press

Blurb:

Jonathan Lemke thought spending two weeks alone with his partner in a beachside cottage would help to rekindle the lost passion of their ten-year union. He’d chosen Tybee Island, a quiet seaside community on the Georgia coast east of Historic Savannah. Jonathan had spent his childhood growing up on the pristine shores of the barrier islet which continues to hold a special place in his heart.

The romantic surprise backfires when Paul, Jonathan’s partner, rushes off to Chicago for the chance to woo a high profile client, leaving Jonathan alone and brokenhearted until a chance meeting with a mysterious and seductive stranger linked to a beloved island legend provides a chance at discovering forever love.

But someone with strong familial ties to Tybee Island is desperate to expose its secrets and avenge a grudge decades in the making. An assailant so threatened by the forces of nature that defy explanation, he will stop at nothing to unmask ancient island lore…even if he must kill to prove it.

Excerpt:

Jonathan slipped on a pair of board shorts and headed out shirtless for a stroll beneath a clear night sky. The balminess skimming off the ocean reminded him of the nights as a boy he’d lain awake in his bed staring out the window at the stars. His window had faced east toward the sea, providing a stellar inky-black canvas for spotting the constellations his grandfather had pointed out to him. Jonathan smiled at the thought of his grandpa who had taught him more about the earth and its natural beauty than any textbook ever did.

Meandering down the beach about half a mile before walking to the water’s edge, Jonathan dug his toes into the sand and felt the granules beneath his feet erode with the retreating water. Moonlight bathed the beach in incandescence as the ocean lapped the shoreline, depositing tiny crabs and shells in the recoil of the waves. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the sky when he glanced up. He spotted Polaris, the North Star, right away, the first luminary he’d discovered with Grandpa; Ursa Major, more commonly known as the Big Dipper, opposite and more difficult to spot, Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. Snaking its way between the two was Draco, the dragon, Jonathan’s favorite constellation of them all. Every night before falling asleep, he used to fantasize about the mighty dragon racing across the inky blackness at lightning speed slaying Leo the lion and Taurus the bull. “Ever diligent,” his grandfather used to say, all those years ago. “Protector of the stars and planets.”

That feeling again. Goosebumps fanned out across Jonathan’s chest and snaked along his arms.

The stars shine bright tonight, no?

Startled by the deep, melodic voice, Jonathan jerked around, but the dunes stood alone. A sudden awareness, like a sense of déjà vu washed over him. The hair on his arms prickled. Seeing no one, he shrugged off the strange feeling as having had too much scotch. He turned around to head back toward the cottage.

Jonathan.

He spun around like a frightened animal. Syllables drifted through his mind, forming words into inner thoughts, the sound not his but a voice of long ago. Jonathan saw no one on the beach with him. “Who’s there?”

It is I, Jonathan. Your old friend.

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The voice caused his heart to skip, a warm flush to his cheeks as he stood frozen. “Lucius?” Jonathan said. “Where are you? I can hear your voice but I don’t see you.”

I am here, my friend. The familiar voice urged him forth. Near the palm.

Jonathan spotted a tree with its trunk jutting out of the sand like a giant rocket impaled in the sand. A large image emerged from the shadows. He saw it was the man he’d tangled with before, the same person he’d tried to rescue from drowning. Lucius wore white slacks and nothing else, the fabric fluttering in the breeze. His torso shimmered in the moonlight, the sheen highlighting the toned muscles of his chest and the tautness of his stomach. A simple leather cord hung around his neck, bearing a lustrous stone of intermediate shades of white, pink and brown that fell in the hollow of his throat.

A voice cooing in Jonathan’s head beckoned him closer. The moment seemed surreal, dreamlike. “Lucius, is that really you?” He took a few tentative steps forward. “It’s been so long.”

It is I, Jonathan. The voice wafted. I am here now.

“I don’t understand.” Jonathan stood, disbelieving the voice drifting in his head. “How is it possible I can hear your words, but your lips aren’t moving?”

Lucius chuckled, that same wonderful melodic echo that had warmed Jonathan’s heart all those years ago. I speak in your consciousness, my friend, as can you. I perceive your thoughts and you mine, but only if you allow. Lucius moved forward, his arms outstretched and welcoming. You feel the connection, do you not?

Jonathan stood still. Since returning to the island, he’d sensed something tugging at his psyche, an outpouring of passion eluding explanation, one he had chosen to ignore. Images of the two boys exploring the north shore flashed in his mind. Heat flowed through his body in a large burst, sparking awareness unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.

Seeing his childhood friend ignited a familiar fire within Jonathan. He moved forward like a kid again, the years melting away like ice cream on a beach.

“I think I do.” Jonathan closed the distance between them. He felt giddy and childish. “I feel you and sense your thoughts, yet I don’t understand how that’s even possible.”

“As do I, my dear friend.” Lucius moved his lips for the first time. “We share a mystical bond, you and I, unlike any other.”

Lucius stood well over six feet tall, blessed with wide shoulders and muscular arms, and a trim torso lined with ribbed abs. His brooding eyes caught the moonlight and sparkled like emerald fireflies.

“Was it always so?” Jonathan asked.

“Yes, since we were young pups. You don’t remember?” Lucius laughed and grinned at him. “Your return has brought me much joy, Jonathan. I have missed you terribly, my friend. I always knew you would return home one day.”

Jonathan felt dumbfounded. His family had worked hard to convince him Lucius did not exist all those years ago. They’d said he was Jonathan’s imagination. And now this.

He sensed the mutual attraction. Little had changed between them it seemed, save for their physical size. Lucius stood taller and more muscular, his face blunt and masculine, offset with a straight Nordic nose and razor-sharp jaw, no longer the boy with plump cheeks and a pudgy middle. Long dark hair wisped about his face in the breeze and shimmered in the bright moonlight.

“I trust your lungs have cleared since…”

“What…yes, thank you. It was stupid of me to have gone into the surf, much too rough. But I thought you were in trouble.”

“Jonathan, I meant you no harm. I admit I came inshore to gain a better view, to confirm my intuition that you had indeed returned.” He cast his eyes down. “I did not anticipate you would see me and enter the tide.”

“It’s okay,” Jonathan said. “If not for you, I might have drowned.” He smiled and faked a punch to the man’s right shoulder. “Enough of this. I’m just so damn glad to see you.” He wanted to pull the man into his arms, but sensibility won out.

Lucius offered his hand instead. “Walk with me.”

Jonathan took his friend’s outstretched palm and immediately sensed his incredible strength. The gesture was natural and innate, the act needing no words. He remembered when he and Lucius used to explore the rocks and dunes together for hours on end, forever seeking new adventures or sneaking into the island’s marine preserve to snorkel or skin-dive. Once, they had stowed away on a cargo ship docked in the Savannah harbor bound for China and jumped from the bow of the vessel before it sailed out to sea. He recalled their laughter, guiltless and blithe as they had howled all the way back to the island that day, oblivious to the dangers of their stunt. Thinking back, he cherished those days of naiveté, far from the expectations and responsibilities of adulthood.

They strolled hand in hand along the shoreline. Jonathan was transported back in time and immersed in the reminiscences of their childhood, running and laughing along the sand. He remembered swimming in the green water beneath the pier at Mid Beach and yanking on baited hooks, giggling at the surprised fishermen reeling in empty lines.

A keen perception passed between them after a time. Jonathan felt vibrant and alive, and light on his feet. He didn’t want this moment to end.

Is this happening? Am I actually walking hand-in-hand with the boy—now a man—who once stole my heart, my first crush?

He held the hand of the most beautiful man ever. The touch felt genuine and real, not obligatory or forced, like strolling along with Paul. Joy filled his heart as a sense of belonging that had eluded him of late rushed in like the coming tide. It felt right to be here with this man. Nothing else in the world mattered.

They came across the trail of a loggerhead sea turtle and followed the reptile’s tracks. Lucius spotted her a few feet up the beach and motioned Jonathan forward. She pushed at the thick sand using powerful back flippers to burrow a nest for her eggs. They observed in silence as she worked, witnessing the beauty of nature firsthand. Over the next hour, she spawned a hundred or more white oval shells before covering them with sand and crawling back into the sea, leaving a trail in her wake.

“Tell me something,” Jonathan said as they resumed walking along the beach, at times stopping to marvel at a shell or the shimmering of the moonbeam across the ocean. “Why did you stay? Most of us youngsters went off to universities or moved to bigger cities for better paying jobs, yet you chose to remain on the island.”

“This is my home.” Lucius gestured at the wide expanse before them, the tiny white lights of Little Tybee twinkling in the distance. “Generations of my clan have been reared here, and many more to come. I cannot imagine residing elsewhere. Why should I want to leave the home of my father, my ancestors?”

Jonathan nodded. “What do you do,” he asked. Lucius turned with furrowed eyebrows. “You know, for a career.”

“I am unsure what you mean.”

“You work, don’t you?”

Lucius stared at him, emanating a radiance that clutched Jonathan’s heart.

“Your livelihood. How do you earn a living, you know, pay the bills?”

“Ah, I understand now.” Amusement flashed in Lucius’s eyes, and he appeared coy. “I protect the ocean, its inhabitants and environment. My family has safeguarded the waters and the island for centuries.”

“Oceanography, how cool. It makes sense,” Jonathan said. “You always knew way more about the ocean than I ever did, and you always were an excellent swimmer. Are you affiliated with the Skidaway Institute over in Savannah?” Lucius nodded. “Wow, I’m impressed. That facility is world renowned for its marine research.”

“And you?” Lucius asked. “Did you discover your dreams inland?”

The question seemed odd, though sincere. Jonathan considered a moment before answering. “I suppose so,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an accomplished writer. I studied creative writing and dramatic arts at the University of Georgia. After graduation, I took out for L.A. after landing a job writing copy for an independent network. After a few years, I was awarded a gig as a screenwriter for Destiny Road. Have you heard of it? It’s this tawdry melodrama chronicling the lives of two feuding families with far too much money for their own good. The show runs on cable, not one of the major networks, but it pays well. We’ve been picked up for another two years, so not bad in a business where ninety-five percent of new pilots each season fail to impress the viewing audiences.”

They slowed and turned toward the sea. “In my spare time, I develop screenplays to pitch to the networks. I’ve got boxes full of rejections to prove it.” Jonathan snickered. “Oh, and there’s this great novel I’ve been working on for years that I’ve got saved on my computer’s hard drive.”

“What is a screenplay?” Lucius asked.

“You’re serious?” Jonathan hoped the shock on his face hadn’t offended his friend. “You know, movies, television, that sort of thing.”

Lucius smiled without a hint of understanding.

“I write stories which are then acted out on film.”

Recognition swept across his friend’s features. “Do you mean Hollywood?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Jonathan sensed fire below his navel. The man’s innocence was more than sexy, ridiculously tempting. Jonathan struggled to ignore his carnal desires. Lights on a cargo ship headed out to sea flickered on the darken horizon. “You don’t get out much do you?”

“Perhaps not,” said Lucius.

“Are you married now? Have a girlfriend?”

Jonathan actually surprised himself by venturing into personal territory so quick, unsure why he even broached the subject. The syllables crossing his lips sounded lame to his ears, very seventh grade. He wanted to take his words back. He had pried into the man’s love life as if testing the waters of possibility, looking to hook up. No longer available and off the market for a decade now, he wondered why the hell he felt the need to snoop into Lucius’s personal affairs at all.

“I have no one, Jonathan.” The sadness in the man’s words sounded heavy and ominous. “I am alone…except for my family.”

Jonathan fought the urge to pull his friend into an embrace, to reassure him. Lucius must have sensed his worry because he moved in closer so that their arms and hips touched. Jonathan’s stomach somersaulted. Tendrils of delight surged through his body and he turned to shield his flushing face.

A bright star shot across the horizon.

“Did you see that?” Jonathan asked. “The most beautiful sight in the world, isn’t it? My grandfather used to say when a star fell from the sky it meant someone had fallen in love.” He turned to Lucius, pulled in by his green eyes sparkling in the moonlight. “I never understood what he’d meant as a boy, but I do now.” The energy emanating between them grew intoxicating. Jonathan leaned into his friend and drank in the oceanic scent of his skin.

The snap of twigs distracted Jonathan. He glanced back, but saw nothing moving in the shadows. “It’s probably some small animal foraging in the dunes,” Jonathan said, offering a slight chuckle that sounded shallow and unsure. Turning back, he saw the distress in Lucius’s face.

“I should go,” Lucius said.

“Okay.” Jonathan’s mood fell faster than a barroom rejection.

Lucius flinched and stood rigid. He surveyed the dunes and the beach, searching the darkness and making Jonathan uncomfortable.

“Is something wrong? You seem…”

Lucius leaned into him with ease. Jonathan lost himself in the man’s lovely scent and parted his lips to receive a kiss, a stirring caress that left his head spinning and snatched his breath.

Jonathan pulled back, somewhat startled. “Lucius. I—”

What Jonathan wanted to say, what he needed to explain, was that he had a boyfriend, a partner of ten years. Someone he loved very much. But the sensation he’d had just now left him confused. No denying it. Touching Lucius’s lips was stunning, amazing even but… Jonathan yearned for more, holding steadfast in a delirious haze.

Lucius broke the embrace. “Meet me on the rocks at North Shore tomorrow at sunset,” he said. “I will present to you the most amazing view of the stars.”

Another snap of timber caused Jonathan to turn inland. A shadow moved beyond the seagrass lining the dunes. The hair on his arms prickled.

When he turned back, Lucius was gone.

Buy links: 

Prince of the Sea – Print – Amazon http://tinyurl.com/PrinceoftheSeainprint

Prince of the Sea – ebook – Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hxcfsml

Prince of the Sea – Discount for Print – Lethe Press: http://tinyurl.com/hw7pnlm

John Inman Discusses His Lammy Nominated Gay Horror novel, The Boys On The Mountain

Author John Inman answers a few questions about his gay horror, ghost story, The Boys On The Mountain
Blurb:

Jim Brandon has a new house, and boy, is it a pip. Built high on the side of the San Diego mountains by a legendary B-movie actor of the 1930s, Nigel Letters, the house is not only gorgeous, but supposedly haunted. As a writer of horror novels, Jim couldn’t be happier.

But after a string of ghostly events sets Jim’s teeth on edge and scares the bejesus out of his dog, Jim begins to dig into the house’s history. What he finds is enough to creep out anybody. Even Jim. It seems long dead Nigel Letters had a few nasty habits back in his day. And unhappily for Jim, the old bastard still has some tricks up his sleeve.

As Jim welcomes his ex, Michael, and a bevy of old friends for a two-week visit to help christen the new house, he soon realizes his old friends aren’t the only visitors who have come to call.

1.  How did you come up with the idea for THE BOYS ON THE MOUNTAIN?
I once rented a home in San Diego that was built by character actor Victor Buono.  He reportedly built it for his parents, but I can’t verify that.  Anyway, it was a great old house.  Beautiful.  Every closet was a walk-in.  The fireplace in the living room was gorgeous.  Rounded ceilings, the whole nine yards.  It even had a teeny tiny door in the back for the days when milk was delivered to the house by the neighborhood milkman. All the time I lived there I used to wonder about the many people who had lived in the house before me, whether they left traces of themselves behind.  While I never saw a ghost in the house, I did manage to creep myself out more than once.  Imagining sounds and all that.  It was during this time that I got the idea of writing a book about an actor who was also a serial killer, natch.  Living in a spooky old house built by an old-time actor, why wouldn’t I?  While I’m pretty sure Victor Buono never offed anybody, the simple fact that I was living in a place with ties to Hollywood, however tenuous, was enough to get the old creative juices flowing.
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 By the time I had finished writing the book, there was so much sex and violence in the story, I never really thought I would be able to find a publisher for it.  Of course, at that time in my life, I wasn’t having much luck finding a publisher for anything else I wrote either.  Then along came Dreamspinner Press.  While DSP bought this story almost five years ago, it was always made clear that they wouldn’t release it until the new imprint (which later became DSP Publications) came online, since BOYS isn’t actually a romance, as all DSP books are required to be.  And I have to say, they were right.  DSP Publications turned out to be a perfect home for it.  I couldn’t be happier.
2.  Were you surprised when BOYS was declared a finalist at the Lambda Literary Awards?
“Surprised” doesn’t quite cover it.  I was flabbergasted.  The fact that Elizabeth North had enough faith in the book to submit it to the Lammies at all was a gift I’ll never forget.  Then to actually come up a finalist — geez, I couldn’t believe it.  Out of almost a hundred books in my genre?  It was incredible.  My husband and I have our tickets by the way.  Airfare to NYC, hotel rooms booked, we’re ready to go. We wouldn’t miss the awards show for the world.  I know winning is a long shot, but I figure I have as much chance as anyone else.  And it really is true when people say they are just honored to be among the finalists.  That’s exactly how I feel.  I know what I’m up against.  I’ve read a couple of the books in my category of SciFi/Horror and they are damn good books.  It really is humbling to find BOYS standing there among them.
3.  Okay, I guess I have to ask this.  Do you believe in ghosts?
LOL.  I knew that was going to come up.  Okay, I’ll tell you the truth.  Uh…..yes.  I do.  When I was a kid I saw my grandfather, whom I was extremely close to, standing at the foot of my bed in the middle of the night a week after he passed away.  Later in my life, when I was in my early twenties, my brother was killed in a freak accident.  A horrible experience.  My mother had a nervous breakdown over it.  Anyway, one night I dreamed of him.  He was sitting on the bank of a lake fishing, just like we used to do when he was alive.  In the middle of the dream, he turned to me and said,  “Tell mom I’m happy.”  I still get goosebumps thinking about it.  So after I hemmed and hawed over it for a while, afraid maybe relaying my dream would make my mom suffer even more, I finally built up my courage and told her what my brother had said.  And you know what?  It helped her.  I know both those instances might have come about because of wishful thinking on my part.  Or simple imagination.  Or whatever.  But they still ring true in my mind.  So yes, I have to say I do believe in ghosts.

Exclusive Excerpt: Lambda Literary Award Winner – Tarnished Gold – Best Lesbian Mystery

Tarnished Gold by Ann Aptaker – Lambda Literary Award Winner – Lesbian Mystery 

AnnAptaker

A Cantor Gold Crime.

Blurb:

New York City, 1950. Cantor Gold, art smuggler and dapper dyke-about-town, hunts for a missing masterpiece she’s risked her life to bring through the port of New York. She must outsmart the Law that wants to jail her; outrun the dockside gangsters who would let her take the fall for murder; and outplay a shady art dealer, his lover, and a beautiful curator who toys with Cantor’s passion. Through it all, Cantor must stay out of the gunsights of a killer who’s knocking off rivals for the missing masterpiece—and stay alive to solve the mystery of her stolen love: Sophie de la Luna y Sol.

Excerpt:

TARNISHED GOLD – by Ann Aptaker

Time: 1950

Place: The office of NYPD Homicide Detective Norm Huber

Setup: Dapper dyke and art smuggler Cantor Gold is being interrogated for murder

 Chapter Seven

Barking dogs. Snapping alligators. Dirty brown clouds fat with storms. I see their shapes in the soot and tobacco stains on the window behind Lieutenant Huber’s desk. Picking out shapes on the glass is all that’s keeping me from going loopy from the drone of Huber’s tedious grilling, or howling like a banshee at the memory of Marcus Stern’s exploding head.

Marcus Stern, Hannah Jacobson: brother and sister whose family has suffered more death and destruction than heaven should allow. And Huber, for all his droning, all his grilling,  doesn’t know the half of it.

All he knows is that Mrs. J and Marcus Stern were murdered in the here and now and that I show up in both killings. Huber’s knocking himself out trying to attach their deaths to me, somehow find some scrap that will give him the satisfaction of sending me to prison, which seems to be every New York cop’s wet dream.

So I’m stuck here in Huber’s office, my face still sticky and stinging, and my coat still reeking with the bloody remnants of Marcus Stern’s skull and brains.

Huber’s had me going around and around about the Stern shooting for the better part of the afternoon, ever since he had me brought back to Manhattan for questioning after the Queens cops wasted about three hours of my time. The Queens boys weren’t happy about handing me over to their more well connected rivals in Skyscraper-ville, but their hurt feelings were nothing compared to how I felt about it. I wasn’t crazy about them taking my gun, either.

My annoyance collapsed into bone crushing tedium by the time Huber pumped me about the Stern shooting for the umpteenth time through that buzzy growl of his, though I’ve given him nothing new with each telling. He’s taking his frustration out on his unlit cigar, chewing the end like a dog working a piece of gristle.

He can gag on that cigar, for all I care. He’ll never hear it from me about the mysterious woman who scared the crap out of Stern at the cemetery. I don’t share anything with cops.

And I’m sick and tired of Huber’s company. It’s time to get the hell out of here.

So I reach for the phone on Huber’s desk.

His hand slams on the receiver. “And whaddya think you’re doing?” he says.

“Taking my rights as a citizen, Lieutenant. I’m entitled to a phone call.”

“You’re entitled to what I say you’re entitled to.” He pulls the phone away from me, parks it close to him.

“Sure, I forgot,” I say. “You’re Daddy Law. Mustn’t disobey Daddy.”

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He finds that funny; anyway, he’s laughing, sort of, if you can call that toothy rasp of his a laugh. “Daddy Law! Not bad, Gold. But I hope you don’t think it’ll make me like you any better.”

“You’ve got a right not to like me, Lieutenant, but I’ve got a right to use the phone.”

He’s not laughing anymore but he’s still enjoying himself, still playing petty with me. Maybe he can’t make me talk, but he can control my use of the phone.

He finally lights his cigar, takes his time about it, too, letting the match hover at the burning tip. Then he sucks two or three times on the damn thing, the flesh under his day-old stubble on his skinny face creasing like a dirty pillowcase. He finally tosses the match away, saying, “Okay, sure, go ahead, make your damn phone call. Calling your lawyer, I suppose?” He pushes the phone towards me like he’s offering candy.

“I guess you’re just too smart for me, Lieutenant.”

“Don’t get cute, Gold. Y’know, it could be a while ’til your lawyer gets here, and in the meantime you’re still mine.”

I do my best to ignore that stomach turning thought, just take the phone and dial the number. The whirr and click of the rotary almost masks the sloppy pop of Huber’s lips puffing the wet end of his cigar.

It’s not my lawyer I’m dialing, it’s my office. I get Judson on the line, but before I get a chance to say anything past “Hello,” Judson says, “Hey, where you been? Drogan called. He wants you to meet him at Smiley’s Bar. You know the place, across from Pier 18 near the fish market. He said he’ll wait.”

“Yeah, okay. Listen, I need you to spring my car from the police lot in Queens and get the busted window replaced and the interior cleaned up. And tell the repair guy he’ll see an extra fifty to get the job done this afternoon.”

“How the hell did the window get busted?”

“Tell you later. One more thing”—I look straight at Huber, who’s still puffing the cigar behind a cloud of smoke that can’t completely obscure his smug disgust with me—“call my lawyer. Send him to Lieutenant Huber’s office. Now.

”When I hang up, Huber’s grinning around that cigar. Then he talks around it, tobacco juice pooling between his teeth. “Y’know, Gold, for all your big money and flashy style, for all the fancy women in your life—yeah, sure, I know all about that. Sickening, if you ask me—for all that, you’re nothing but a no-good lowlife who keeps lousy company. Death squads seem to follow you around. You visit Hannah Jacobson and she gets cut to ribbons. Her brother Marcus Stern gets into your car, and, bang, he’s blown to Kingdom Come. And how many times do I have to ask you what the hell he was doing in your car anyway? Why wasn’t he with his family after the funeral?”

“You’re wasting your time, Lieutenant. My lawyer’s office isn’t far. He’ll be here pretty soon to spring me, since you have nothing to hold me except your deep dislike of me, my love life, and my tailoring. So why don’t you forget about all that and do something useful, like arrange police protection for Stern’s wife and daughter? Or are you using them as bait? I wouldn’t put it past you.

”You’d think I’d learn by now not to toy with cops, but it’s too much fun and I can never resist an opportunity to stick a pin in their puffed up chests, like calling Huber Daddy Law. But I’ve gone too far this time. I know it because I recognize what’s going on in Huber’s eyes and on his face—darkening, reddening—as he puts his cigar down, stands up so slowly and moves his stick of a body around his desk so calmly that the air around him won’t even ripple. I know what’s coming and there’s nothing I can do about it, because if I raise a hand to a cop in a police station I’ll wind up broken and bleeding on the floor of a holding cell, worked over by every cop in the building, even the traffic boys. So when Huber’s fist slams into the left side of my jaw I’m stung by the pain but not by surprise.
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He grabs the armrests on either side of me, pins me to the chair. His flushed face and cigar-stained teeth are a grotesque study in red and yellow. Stick a picture frame around his bony head and he’d pass for an Expressionist portrait of meanness. “You got your nerve, Gold,” he says through a predatory growl. “Everything about you is an insult to what’s good and decent in this country, you hear me? You think you know my job? Well I’m way ahead of you. I posted a patrol at the Stern house while you were on your way here from Queens. I was free to do that, Gold, while you were stuck in a paddy wagon. You get my drift?”

The temptation to rip his lips to shreds and get that smug ugly smile off his face is so strong I figure it might be worth the beating I’d take in the slammer, but I’m distracted—and Huber’s mouth saved from disfigurement—by the musky tang of expensive men’s cologne drifting into the room. Irwin Maximovic, my lawyer, is coming through the door, all three hundred elegantly fat pounds of him.

If you want a lesson in just how confident, quiet and polite pure power can be, all you have to do is listen to the refined patter of Winnie Maximovic. “Good afternoon, Lieutenant Huber. Always a pleasure to see you. I know a policeman’s lot is a busy one, so I wouldn’t dream of wasting your time. May I inquire on what charge you are holding my client?” The smile on Winnie’s fleshy face, like a fold in a satchel, would charm the stars out of the sky, and then he’d step on them.

Huber picks up his cigar again and chomps it between his teeth. “You can skip the theatrics, counselor. Just get lost and take your client with you. She’s stinkin’ up the joint, and so are you, if you want my opinion. The sooner the two of you get out of here the sooner my office can air out.”

Winnie, still smiling, says, “Well then, let’s go, Cantor,” but he immediately changes his mind and says, “Sit down again, Cantor.” He’s seen the bruise on my jaw, my split lip, the smears of Marcus Stern on my face. “Lieutenant? To what do we owe the injuries to my client’s face?”

“Haven’t you heard? She was behind the wheel when the passenger in her car was shot to death. Head blown to bits. Glass and flesh and pieces of the guy’s skull flew everywhere. She must’ve caught some. Isn’t that right, Gold?” It’s not a question. It’s a coded instruction not to make trouble for him. Ordinarily he wouldn’t care; cops slap people around every day and get away with it. But he knows that Winnie Maximovic has more lines into City Hall than the phone company. Huber may not care who digs around in his personal life, a fact he lorded over me last night, but no cop really wants their name dangled like fruit in front of the higher-ups, even if their name is clean. It annoys those higher-ups, makes extra paperwork for them, puts blisters on their fingers, and if that happens, Huber would take it out on me. Maybe not now, maybe not soon, but down the line, when the heat’s off him and no one’s looking.

Winnie, dry as toast, says, “Is the lieutenant’s account true, Cantor?”“True enough,” I say. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.” Getting rid of Huber feels as good as having a good shit.

Before Winnie and I leave the building I stop in a restroom to wash up. There’s nothing but cold water, and its chill stings the cuts on my face. Framed by the mirror, I look like a recruiting poster for one of those death squads Huber says follows me around. Last night’s gash to my chin has new company: the patch on my jaw where Huber walloped me is red as raw meat and already turning black and blue; there’s blood on my split lip and crusting remnants of Marcus Stern on my cap and overcoat. I wash the blood off, get rid of as much brain pulp and bone splinters as I can, but violence and death still cling to me like sweat.

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