Exclusive Excerpt – Lambda Award Finalist – Jameson Currier’s “A Gathering Storm”

May 9th, 2015

An excerpt from A Gathering Storm, a novel by Jameson Currier, published by Chelsea Station Editions.

Chapter 54

Thursday

The room is four walls, white, plaster flaking where moisture has invaded, warmed, and dried. The floor is beige linoleum tiles full of scuff marks, black and brown from boots, wooden chairs, the metal legs of the table in the room. It is chilly, a musty smell hangs in the air. The lighting is fluorescent, artificial, heartless. On the table top sits a microphone, wires that lead to a tape recorder, and an ash tray.

“We went to Joe’s first,” he says. “Sloppy Joe’s. That’s the place on Market.” He doesn’t attempt to lean into the microphone. The orange jumpsuit he wears is the brightest thing in the room. It highlights the redness in his eyes, only half-open because he feels heavy, tired. “We had a pitcher of beer there, then Rick said he wanted to go somewhere else.”

“The beer was all you had?” Teddy asks. He sits across the table from the suspect. His hands rest on the table top. A pencil and a notepad are in front of him but he doesn’t write anything down. A lawyer sits next to his client. Kurt Vong. He is in a dark suit, hair slicked back. There is a sharpness to him that his client does not have. Another man stands watching at the door. The town prosecutor. Cal. Cal Marram. Like Teddy, there is a lumpiness to him. Bald, mustache, something of a gut. Wears a jacket, tie.

“To drink, yeah,” A.J. answers. “We ran out of crank that morning.”

“Crank?” Teddy asks.

“Yeah,” A.J. answers. “We used up a bag the day before. Toked it.”

“So you had nothing other than the beers that night?” Teddy asks.

“Yeah,” A.J. answers. “We had a pitcher at the Starlite, too.”

“So you weren’t looking for any drugs?” Teddy asks.

“Sure, we were looking,” A.J. says. His eyes swivel, then steady. “We’re always looking. But we were both broke. Rick had spent what he had at Joe’s. We barely had enough money to get the pitcher at the Starlite.”

“What time did you arrive at the Starlite?” Teddy asks.

“It was about 11:30,” the suspect answers. “I didn’t have any money on me except some change. We paid for the pitcher with change. Rick did.”

“So you walked into the Starlite. Got a pitcher. Saw you didn’t have any money. And decided to rob someone.” Teddy says. “Because you needed some money?”

The lawyer does not offer an objection. His expression is tense. Wavy lines in forehead. Flat lips. A meeting before this one he agreed to let his client talk. Confess. Tell his side of the story.

“No. Not at first,” he says.

“What happened first?”

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“We played a game of pool,” A.J. says. “We didn’t even know anything about the guy. We were just shootin’. Rick wanted a cigarette so he asked a couple of guys at the bar. The queer dude had one. They talked a bit before I came over.”

“So he introduced himself to you?” Teddy asks.

“I got his name,” A.J. replies.

“Did the college boy—did Danny offer you any drugs?”

“Nope,” A.J. answers. “If he’d had anything like that we’d probably wouldn’t be here.”

“Here,” Teddy says. “In this room.”

“Yeah,” A.J. answers. “We were strung out because we were coming down from the crank. From the night before.”

“So all you had were the beers. A pitcher at Joe’s. A pitcher at the Starlite.”

“That’s it,” A.J. says. “That’s what I said before.”

“So you had a lot to drink. Two pitchers. You were drunk then?”

“On a pitcher?” A.J. laughs. “Don’t think so.”

“So you wanted some more,” Teddy says. “So you and your friend, Rick, decide to hit on someone to get some more beer.”

“No,” A.J. answers. “Not beer. We wanted the money.”

“You wanted money,” Teddy says. “But not for beer. Drugs, maybe? So you could score some drugs?”

“Maybe,” A.J. says. “Or maybe another pitcher. We weren’t sure. We’d been cranked up since Friday night. We sorta wanted to come down a bit.”

“So when you met Danny at the bar,” Teddy says. “Did he identify himself as homosexual to you?”

“Well, he looked like fag to me,” he answers. “From the way he was talking and stuff.”

“What do you mean?” Teddy asks. “That he looked feminine?”

“Yeah,” he answers. “He looked like a sissy boy.”

“And that’s when you decided to rob him,” Teddy asks.

“No,” he answers. “We went to the head. Rick said we could give him a ride home and jack him then.”

“So it was Rick’s idea to rob him?”

“That’s what I said.”

“And he left the bar with you because you were giving him a ride home?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Did you give him any indication that you were homosexual?” Teddy asks him.

“I ain’t queer,” he answers quickly, an edge in his voice. His eyes are wider now, a blackness to the pupils, as if it is drawing in anger. “You know that.”

“But did he think you were?”

His eyes shift a bit uneasy. He looks for something to alight on, to deflect his expression, but there is nothing in the room except the suit by the door, staring down at him. He casts his eyes uneasily at the table. “He might have. Rick was being flirty.”

“Flirty?”

“Dancing a bit,” he says. “The music was playing. Rick was sort of dancing as he smoked. Like he was showing off for the guy or something.”

“And it was sexual?”

“Depends on how you look at it?”

“So he thought you were a homosexual?”

“He was askin’ Rick if he’d been to a place in Richmond,” he says. “Said he’d gone there over the weekend. He said it was a place for queers.”

“He used that word—queer?” Teddy asks.

“No, he said ‘gay.’ He said it was a gay club. He started talking about the music they played there.”

“And your friend, how did he respond?”

“He played it real cool,” he says. “Said he wanted to go there sometime and check it out. The queer guy said he’d go with him, if Rick wanted.”

“And did he?” Teddy continues.

“He was being friendly with him,” A.J. answers. “He was leading the guy on. That’s when he asked the faggot if he wanted a ride home.”

“Danny?”

“Him.”

“And then what happened?” Teddy asks.

“We left together,” he says. “Walked out to the car.”

“And where were you headed?”

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“Rick was driving,” he answers. “I let Rick pick the spot.”

“So Rick was driving your uncle’s truck?”

“That’s the way it was,” he answers. His voice is again steady, unrattled, sleepy.

“And that left you free to beat the guy?” Teddy asks.

There is a pause, as if A.J. is aware that he is offering a confession. He tilts his head toward his lawyer, then back. “I didn’t do anything to him till he grabbed me.”

“He grabbed you?”

“That’s right,” A.J. answers.

“Where did he grab you?”

“He sort of ran his hand along my thigh,” he says. “And he was close to my crotch.”

Teddy is surprised by the answer, but tries not to show it. He thinks the suspect is taunting him, mocking him. That this part was rehearsed with the lawyer. “And this was when you hit him?”

“He was coming on to me,” he answers. “I let him know I wasn’t that way.”

“And then what happened?”

“He tried it again. Said ‘please.’ I gave him a good punch. That’s when I took his wallet.”

“And Rick was driving during this.”

“That’s right,” he answers. “He was sort of laughing. That’s when we pulled over and drug him out of the car.”

“Did he try to defend himself?”

“Well, yeah,” A.J. says, as if it is the dumbest question he has been asked all day. “But he won’t much of a fighter. Too much a girl. He kept saying ‘please, please,’ real soft like. Like a sissy would.”

“And that made you angry?”

“He was coming on to me,” A.J. says, his voice rising. “He was all over me.”

“I think my client has established that he panicked,” the lawyer says. It is the first thing he has said, except for clearing his throat when he arrived to the room. He folds his hands across the table, an edge of a lip pulled up into a smile.

Teddy returns to A.J. “And your friend, what was his reaction?”

“He was laughing at first,” A.J. says.

Teddy looks down at the pad, thinks a moment, then asks, “How long were you out there—at the fence?”

“Maybe ten minutes,” A.J. says. “Seems like longer.”

“Did he ask you to stop?”

“Well, yeah, he was getting the shit beat of him,” he answers. He gives a little laugh. Then decides it is the wrong thing to do, turns his head toward his lawyer, then back. “I wanted to take him home but Rick got a rope from the truck and said to tie him up to the fence and leave him there.” He thinks some more about his story, then continues. “It was like someone else was doing it. I don’t know what was going on with me.” He looks over at the detective, searching out his eyes for the first time since he entered the room. “He’s bad off, isn’t he, Mr. DeWitt? Is he gonna die for sure?”

“I think so,” Teddy answers. He doesn’t give A.J. the satisfaction of returning his gaze.

A.J.’s expression changes. His cheeks flush, then the corner of his lip turns downward, into a pout, like a bad boy mad that he got caught. “I didn’t mean to kill him. I can’t believe it happened. I just blacked out. I felt possessed. You know, he was coming on to me.”

“Is that why you were afraid of him, A.J.? Because he made you think you were gay?”

“I ain’t gay.”

“You beat him and took his money and his coat,” Teddy says. “Because he made you scared about yourself. Is that why you took his shoes? Because he scared you?” Teddy asks.

“His shoes?” he answers. His voice is rusty. Like it is a stupid question. “Don’t know. When is this ending? This is making my head hurt, you know. I don’t know why we took the shoes. You should ask Rick. Rick was behind all this. Why haven’t you asked Rick all these questions?”

____________

Jameson Currier is the author of ten works of fiction. In 2010 he established Chelsea Station Editions, an independent press devoted to gay literature (located on the Web at www.chelseastationeditions.com). Books published by the press have been honored by the Lambda Literary Foundation, the American Library Association GLBTRT Roundtable, the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards Foundation, and the Rainbow Book Awards.

 

Excerpt: Lambda Award Finalist – Lesbian Mystery – The Old Deep And Dark

May 2nd, 2015

The Old Deep and Dark

By

Ellen Hart

Chapter Two

“The old deep and…what?” said Cordelia, tossing her rhinestone-encrusted reading glasses on the restored Chippendale card table she used as a desk.  A giant woman and a giant desk, one with huge claw feet, were meant for each other.   At least, that’s how the antique dealer had sold it to her.  As the part-owner and artistic director of the newest theater in Minneapolis–The Thorn Lester Playhouse–Cordelia required an office that reflected her personality and status.  Gilded Age, while not a reflection of her bank account, seemed the perfect fit.  It was also the general era in which the theater–originally an opera house–had been built.

Across from her sat the University of Minnesota’s preeminent Minnesota historian, Archibald Van Arnam, a friend and avid theater goer.  He had, on his own time and at his own expense, offered to look into the history of the theater for her.  He’d come to her office at the crack of dawn this morning–nearly ten A.M.–to give her his initial findings.

“Yes, yes,” he said eagerly.  “That’s what they used to call this place.  The Old Deep and Dark.  Fascinating, isn’t it?  Fascinating.”

Archibald, when excited, tended to repeat himself.  He was a naturally pedantic man, used to speaking in front of large crowds of disinterested college kids, and thus primed to talk more loudly than was strictly necessary.  He was in his early fifties, with the face of an embittered Roman emperor–or a hired thug–the body of a wrestler gone to seed, and a combover that was so pathetic, Cordelia couldn’t imagine how he could look at himself in the mirror every morning and not dissolve in a fit of hysterics.  In her opinion, he was the perfect dinner guest, always arriving with several bottles of excellent wine, ever willing to entertain.

“Yes, it’s interesting,” she said, picking up her reading glasses and settling them back on her nose, “but even you have to admit, it’s not exactly good news.  ‘Let’s get tickets to The Old Deep and Dark for a show tonight, Sweetums.’  Virtually every staff meeting I’ve had this week has devolved into a conversation about branding and positioning our new theater.  Do we really want to be The Old Deep and Dark?”

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“Don’t you want to know why it’s called that?”

“I don’t know,” she said, one eyebrow arching.  “Do I?”

“The original owner, Elijah Samuelson, the man who built the place in 1903, sold it in 1923.  The new owners, Gilbert and Hilda King, intended to turn it into a vaudeville stage, but because of mismanagement, and some say Gilbert’s gambling problems, they couldn’t make a go of it.  Remember, this was right around the beginning of Prohibition.  Apparently, as the theater was on its way toward insolvency, Gilbert got involved with some unsavory types.”

“Gangsters?”

“Bootleggers, though you’re probably right.  They were likely connected.  Lots of mob activity in the Twin Cities back then, you know.  Anyway, Gilbert King–he started calling himself King Gilbert–only ran shows on weekends and spent the rest of his time developing a speakeasy.  That’s what kept him and Hilda afloat until the early-thirties.”

“Where was the speakeasy?”

“In the basement.  People came in through a door along 5th.  They were hustled down a narrow back stairs.”

The comment jogged Cordelia’s memory.  The basement of the theater was essentially unexplored territory.  She’d been down there a few times with her sister to check out the rooms, many of them stuffed with old theater paraphernalia.  Beyond heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical concerns, and because extra storage space wasn’t needed at the moment, she’d decreed that the basement renovation could wait until the upper floors had been completed.  As she thought about it, she did recall seeing a rather beautiful Art Deco bar somewhere in the bowels of the building, but had assumed it was a shell, a prop created in a scene shop for a specific play.

The proscenium stage was located on the third floor of the main building.  The costume shop, scene shop, electrical shop, and prop and costume storage rooms fit reasonably well on second.  The main floor served as a small lobby, with elevators at the edges, and a ticket booth out front under a large marque.  A two-story addition had been added on to the east side of the building during the late forties.  The first level contained two rental spaces, already taken by an independent general bookstore and an Italian Deli.  Theater offices were on second.

“Where exactly was the speakeasy?” asked Cordelia, removing a nail file from her sack purse.

“The southwest corner of the main building.  King Gilbert had it walled off from the rest of the basement. That is, except for a small door, which, at the moment, is unlocked.”

“You’ve been down there?”

“I’ve been searching for old theater records.  I assume you don’t mind.”

She waved the comment away.  “And thus, because of the illegal nature of the speakeasy, the theater became known as The Old Deep and Dark?”

“No, the building wasn’t called that until Gilbert and Hilda were murdered.”

Her eyes widened.  “Murdered?”

“It was 1933, the year Prohibition ended.  Supposedly, King Gilbert got in over his head with the wrong guys.  Those guys cornered him and Hilda behind the bar one night and blew them away.  According to eyewitness accounts, it was a fairly typical gangland shooting.  One goon stood upstairs outside the door on 5th, while two more crept down the stairs and opened fire with Thompson submachine guns.  A couple of bystanders were wounded.  Thankfully, both survived.”

“Wonderful.  Just…exactly what I wanted to hear.”

“I believe Gilbert was hit with at least fifteen rounds.  Seven slugs passed through Hilda.  What was left of them was buried at Lakewood a few days later.”  He adjusted his bifocals.  “I’m afraid there’s more.”

“Of course there is.”

“The building’s haunted.  For the past eighty years, folks have seen faint images of Gilbert and Hilda on the stairs, in the elevators, on stage during shows.  They’ve heard voices and footsteps, creaking floorboards when nobody is around.  Windows in the offices are found open in the middle of winter.”  Leaning closer to her, he dropped his voice.  “Apparently, they don’t get along.”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s a lot of bickering.  You’ve got a ghost light on the stage, right?”

“Of course.  It’s an actor’s equity thing, a safety feature.  It’s not supposed to work for actual ghosts.”

“Why are you smiling?” asked Archibald.

“Every theater should have a ghost,” declared Cordelia.  “It’s tradition.”

“Yes, well,” he said, clearing his throat.  “If you believe in that sort of thing.”

“You don’t?”

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“I believe in the romance of any given theater being haunted, but no, I don’t believe in actual ghosts.”  Flipping past a couple of pages, he continued.  “To move on with our mini-history tutorial.  After Gilbert and Hilda died, the theater sat empty for many years.  It was the Great Depression and nobody had the money to restart it.  Eventually, two Chicago-based entrepreneurs bought the property for a song and turned it into a movie theater.  They slapped a neon marquee on the front, added elevators in the front lobby, built the addition, and operated it until 1959, calling it The Downtowner.  It was sold again in 1967.  The third floor movie theater was dismantled and the space was used as a general auditorium.  It continued to deteriorate.  A couple theater groups rented it after that.  One from 1975 to 1987.  One from 1998 to 2006.  It sat empty for the rest of the time.”

“And then my sister and I bought it,” said Cordelia, trying to hurry him along.  She had another meeting scheduled for eleven and wanted to get some breakfast before it began.

“Speaking of your sister, where is Octavia?” asked Archibald, closing the folder.  “I was hoping she might sit in on our discussion this morning.”

“Italy,” said Cordelia, repositioning her turquoise necklace across her impressive décolletage.  She knew the necklace was gaudy, which was why she liked it.  “She’s trying to disentangle herself from husband number fifteen.”

“Fifteen?” he repeated, looking shocked.  “So many?”

“Well, eight?  Twelve?  I can’t keep track.  This one’s a real bloodsucker, that’s all I know.”

“When will she be back?”

“Next month.  Next week.  Tomorrow.  She is a willow-the-wisp until we start rehearsals.”

“With a name like hers–so famous on the New York stage, in movies–”

“She obviously has the lead in our first production.”

“And you’ll direct.”

It gave Cordelia a bad case of indigestion to even think about directing her sister.  Not only was Octavia a black hole when it came to emotional hand holding, she didn’t take direction well.  Since the renovations and the need to get the theater organization on firm footing had run into a few snags, the opening production couldn’t be mounted until spring.

Rising from her chair, Cordelia hoped that Archibald would get the message and do the same.

“Am I being dismissed?”

In high heels, at nearly six-foot three, she towered over him, though she wasn’t interested in intimidation–at least, not this morning.

“One more question before I go,” he said, shuffling papers back into the folder.  “You’re giving me full access to all areas of the building, right?”

She saw no reason to deny the request.  “Everything but our current office space.”

He smiled, tucked the folder under his arm.  “I’d like to continue our little meetings, just to keep you abreast of what I’m learning.”

Cordelia walked him to the door.  “Just so that we’re clear.  You intend to write the text for the pamphlet we intend to use for publicity purposes, yes?”

“As long or short as you’d like.”

“You’ll need to talk with our marketing director, Marcus Yeboah.”

“I have a meeting scheduled with him later today.”

“Good man.  I owe you.”

His smile broadened.  “I’m easily bought off with comps.”

“Consider that a given.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt: Lambda Literary Finalist in Gay Mystery: Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

April 25th, 2015

Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

Excerpt:

Elliot was still brooding—and increasingly annoyed with himself for doing so—as his car topped the pine-tree-lined drive and his headlights illuminated the dark cabin.

The porch light was out again.

Maybe there was a short in the wiring on the front of the house. The cabin wasn’t new. Or maybe he’d forgotten to turn the light on when he’d left that morning. He couldn’t specifically recall doing so, but leaving the light on was automatic by now.

There was nothing concrete, but he felt uneasy.

He pulled into the garage, turned off the engine and removed his pistol and flashlight from the glove compartment. He racked the Glock’s slide and slipped out of the car, leaving the door open.

The garage was nearly pitch-black and Elliot spared a grateful thought that he hadn’t lived in the cabin long enough to accumulate much junk. He edged past the cabinets and tool bench, crossed behind the Nissan, and made his way as noiselessly as possible to the side door. He unlocked it, eased it open and stepped out into the crisp, cold night.

Above the serrated silhouettes of the pines he could see the moon sailing serenely through the silver edged clouds. The spicy scent of pine mingled with the faint tang of the sound.

The rough wooden logs caught at his jacket as he inched down the length of the cabin. He held his pistol at low ready. When he came to the sunroom, he craned his head and stole a quick look. The room was in darkness. He could make out the shape of furniture in the gloom. Nothing moved.

The only sound was the wind soughing through the tree tops.

Moving across that wall of windows would be a mistake if someone was waiting for him inside, and though his knee was better than it had been on Saturday, the days when he could crawl along the ground commando style were gone.

He thought it over and then went back the other way along the side of the house, pausing by the side door to the garage and listening intently.

Nothing.

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He peered inside. No light shone from under the kitchen door. Not the faintest glimmer.

Continuing along the wall of the cabin, Elliot climbed with some difficulty onto the side of the shadowy porch, and ducked past the nearest window. He pushed gently against the front door. It didn’t budge.

He touched the handle.

Locked.

Was he overreacting? If he really believed there was a threat he needed to get down to Steven’s cabin and summon the Pierce County Sheriff Department.

Stubbornly, he resisted the idea of not being able to deal with this, not being capable of handling his own problems—assuming his problem was anything more than too much imagination.

If someone was in the cabin they would be expecting him to enter through the kitchen door leading onto the garage. Second best guess would be the mud porch entrance which he might use if he had gone around to the back to get firewood or dump something in the trash cans. He used his keys to quietly unlock the front door. He pushed it wide.

It swung open with a yawning sound.

Elliot stayed well to the side to present the smallest possible target and avoid being backlit by the bright moon behind him. A quick scan showed the front room bathed in quicksilver: furniture, rugs, fireplace. All looked perfectly, reassuringly normal.

He pulled the flashlight from his waist belt and advanced into the room, using the hands-apart technique: his gun hand extended, his left holding the flashlight at random heights. He intermittently pressed the tailcap sending short bursts of radiance bouncing across the room. It was a long time since he’d done this and it felt awkward—not to mention silly—but the advantage was it made it difficult for his possible quarry to mark his position. It there was someone waiting for him, the moving light would theoretically draw fire away from his center-of-mass.

The flashlight beam caught and spotlighted the empty rocking chair, the face of the grandfather clock, the painting over the fireplace of the Johnson Farm, the black oblong of the hall entrance.

He proceeded to the hallway. The light illuminated family photos and the staircase at the far end.

Elliot turned the opposite direction and walked toward the kitchen. His empty water glass sat on the counter, a copy of William L. Shea’s Fields of Blood rested on the table where he’d left it that morning before leaving to catch the ferry for the mainland.

No sign of any disturbance. No sign of any intruder.

But Elliot’s unease, his sense of something wrong, was mounting. His scalp crawled with tension, his back and underarms grew damp.

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He stepped into the sunroom, still pressing the flashlight button at irregular intervals and alternating the light position.

At first quick glance the sunroom seemed just as he’d left it. But the next instant the flashlight beam highlighted the half-full crystal wineglass balanced on the edge of the diorama.

Elliot’s heart stopped and then his pulse went into overdrive. He flashed the light around the room, finger quivering on the Glock’s trigger.

No one was there, but an open bottle of Lopez Island merlot sat on the fireplace mantle. It gleamed dully in the overbright glare of the flashlight.

Was anything else was out of place? No. Or was it? He stepped forward, shining the flashlight on the diorama. The diminutive hand painted houses and trees, the miniature gardens and roads popped up in the spotlight. Something was wrong…

JEB Stuart’s entire cavalry unit was gone.

Vanished.

He checked the diorama to see if they had been moved. They had not. The flashlight beam finally picked out what was left of the resin and alloy men and horses crushed and broken in the fireplace grate. Stuart’s small plumed hat winked like a jewel in the ashes.

The mudroom door slammed shut, the bang reverberating through the dark cabin. Elliot spun, the incautious move sending pain flashing through the damaged nerves and muscles of his knee. He ignored it and sprinted for the back of the cabin.

 

EXCERPT: Lambda Literary Award Finalist – DeadFall by David Lennon

April 11th, 2015

Chapter 4

He’d spent the afternoon cleaning and vacuuming. Other than a different floral wallpaper and “brick” linoleum in the kitchen, and shortened drapes in the living room and study, the house hadn’t changed in the thirteen years since he’d been there. He opened a window over the kitchen sink and pressed his right hand against the screen, savoring the feel of the cool evening air against his skin for a moment.

A knock startled him and he spun around. Through the screen door he could see the shoulder of a dark blue shirt and a badge. His heart did an unexpected quickstep as he moved cautiously to the door.

The officer looked to be in his late thirties, though the soft belly swallowing the top of his belt buckle suggested older. His face was unremarkable, his receding hair faded blond. Only his eyes were interesting. They were pale green, watchful.

“Can I help you?” Danny asked.

The officer just stared back. Danny licked his lips and stole a quick glance at the silver nameplate pinned above the right breast pocket: Holtz. An image of mirrored sunglasses and a thick blond mustache flashed in his mind. “Dick Hole,” he whispered involuntarily, then tried to cover it with a cough.

“Nice to see you, too, Danny,” Weston Police Lieutenant Rick Holtz said dryly, then gave a tight smile. “Or is it Dan now?”

“Danny’s fine,” Danny replied. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” Holtz said. “As I recall, I may have earned the name a few times. I heard you were back in town and just wanted to stop by to say hello. All right if I come in for a minute?”

Danny immediately felt wary, but pushed the door open. Holtz stepped stiffly past him into the hallway, then turned right into the kitchen. He took a look around before turning back to Danny. Danny leaned against the door frame, cradling his left arm across his stomach with his right hand.

“Settling in okay?” Holtz asked.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Danny’s mouth suddenly felt dry. “You want something to drink?”

“Do you have any coffee?”

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Danny shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t drink it.” He felt oddly embarrassed. “I guess I just never acquired the taste.”

“Mommy has a headache. Make mommy some coffee, just the way I showed you.”

“Probably just as well,” Holtz said. “Stains your teeth and rots your gut.” He nodded toward the family room. “Shall we?”

“Yeah, sure,” Danny said uneasily.

Holtz sat on the plaid couch, while Danny took the orange twill recliner by the fireplace. He shook a Marlboro from a pack on the side table, then looked up. “You mind?”

“It’s your house,” Holtz shrugged.

Danny clamped the cigarette between his lips and lit it.

“So is your left arm paralyzed?” Holtz asked. It came across as detached curiosity rather than intrusive.

“No,” Danny replied. “The nerves are okay, but it got busted up pretty badly and the bones fused in this position. By the time I was stable enough for surgery, they would have had to re-break them all. Didn’t seem worth it since no one expected me to wake up.” He looked down and wiggled his fingers. “Maybe some day I’ll get it fixed, but right now I don’t want to see the inside of another hospital for a long time.”

“I’m sure,” Holtz nodded. “So are you planning to stick around for a while?”

“Yeah. Seems like a good place for me right now.”

“Emotionally comfortable,” Holtz offered.

Danny considered it, smirked. “Well, let’s just leave it at emotionally familiar. Plus my mom’s going to need me to cart her around for six months until she gets her license back.”

“When does she get out?”

“Monday.”

Holtz nodded. “I’m sure it’ll be good for her to have you here. I think she got lonely out here by herself.”

The words hung there for a moment, and Danny wondered if he’d imagined a note of blame. He decided to change the subject. “So how long has the Gardners’ house been empty?”

“It’s not,” Holtz said. “Joey lives there.”

Danny blinked back. “It looked abandoned when I drove by.”

“Yeah, he hasn’t exactly kept the place up. I don’t know if anyone told you, but his mother committed suicide a few months after Bryce was killed. Pills. His father has some sort of degenerative brain disease. Joey moved back to take care of him about five years ago but had to put him into a home last year.”

Danny nodded, only half-listening. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might see Joey again, at least not so soon. “Is he married?” he asked. “Any kids?”

Holtz frowned. “I don’t think he’s exactly the marrying kind. He pretty much stays to himself at the house. We see him in town once in a while, though never for long.”

So he’s some kind of freaky homo hermit now?

The neurologist had told Danny “the voice” was just unconscious thought bubbling up from a part of his brain that hadn’t reintegrated with the whole yet. He preferred to think of it as a remnant of his fifteen-year-old self, lurking in some corner of his brain. He found the idea comforting.

“You should stop by and visit,” Holtz said. “I’m sure Joey would appreciate seeing you. And it might be good for both of you.” He looked at a grouping of family photos on the wall above the mantel for a moment, then pushed to his feet with a grunt. “I should get going. I’m sure you still have a lot of unpacking to do, and my wife’s holding dinner for me. Like I said, I just wanted to stop by to say hi.” He paused for a half-second before adding, “Though I would like to sit down and talk with you at some point.”

Danny’s stomach clenched. “Why?”

“I’d like to hear what happened the night you and Bryce were attacked.”

Danny considered just telling the truth—that he didn’t remember anything from that night or the weeks leading up to it—but something in Holtz’s tone struck him as odd. “Why? What does it matter?” he asked. “Tim Walczak’s already in jail.”

Holtz shrugged casually. “You never know. You might remember something that didn’t come out during the original investigation.”

“Like what?” Danny pressed, beginning to feel annoyed.

Holtz smiled as though he’d just discovered Danny was slow. “If I already knew, then there wouldn’t be any reason to talk to you, would there?” Before Danny could reply, Holtz took out his wallet, removed a card, and handed it to him. “Give me a call when you have some time. I’m not on patrol anymore, so I’m usually at the station.” He patted his stomach and offered up a grin that seemed intended as self-effacing. “Or grabbing a bite at Ye Olde Cottage.”

Danny felt the old dislike come rushing back.

Chapter 5

Danny watched the taillights disappear down Cherry Brook, then went back inside and locked the door. He grabbed a Coke from the fridge and lit a cigarette.

He wasn’t sure what to make of Holtz’s visit. Clearly it had been more than just a social call. How had Holtz even known he was back? He’d been in town for less than nine hours and had made only a quick stop at the boutique grocery store that replaced the Triple A Market.

The Holtz he remembered had been petty, insecure, and desperate to have his authority respected. He’d been like the substitute teacher who starts class by warning the kids not to test him or they’ll be sorry. It might have made him dangerous if he hadn’t also been predictable. Danny had always gotten off with a slap on the wrist because it had been so easy to push Holtz’s buttons and get him to undermine his own credibility.

This Holtz seemed outwardly different. More direct, at ease with himself, maybe even thoughtful. Yet Danny had still sensed the old Holtz lurking behind the not-so-shiny new facade, and the visit had definitely felt like a warning shot.

But for what, and why did he need to stop by so soon? It’s been thirteen years. What difference would another few days make?

His thoughts began to move faster.

Or another few years? Walczak’s already in jail, so what does it matter? Why does he want to talk with me at all? I don’t know anything. I didn’t have anything to do with the murders. I was almost killed. But what if he doesn’t believe that? What if he’s been waiting all this time to prove that I was the killer, and…

Danny caught himself and laughed. He took a drag on the cigarette to slow his racing pulse, and shook his head. Or maybe he’s just missed me because he hasn’t had anyone to hassle since I’ve been gone. He cracked the tab on the Coke, took a sip, and headed upstairs.

*****

Though he’d expected to be immersed in his past when he moved back, he hadn’t realized it would be quite so literal. His room was a virtual time capsule. Marantz receiver and Technics turntable still on a low stand under one window, albums neatly arranged beneath. Bookshelves lined with classic adventure and mass market paperbacks. Walls a who’s who of stoner rock—Pink Floyd, Hendrix, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers, Cream, Skynyrd, Marley. Paint and a new mattress were definitely in the near future, he decided.

He looked at the lone poster over the bed, a stark black and white shot of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page from a 1973 show at the Boston Garden. Plant’s shirt was open, his hips thrust forward, his cock and balls gaudily outlined against his upper thigh. Danny smiled, remembering Caroline staring at the poster with a combination of disapproval and curiosity. How did she not know? he wondered. I hardly ever listened to Led Zeppelin.

She was married to Jerry for seventeen years.

He knelt in front of the stereo and pressed the ON button. After a few seconds the tuner glowed blue. He set the function to FM and slowly turned up the volume. A station promo—“WBCN Boston. The more you listen, the longer it gets.”—segued into the frenetic marimba organ loop of Baba O’Riley.

Guess that hasn’t changed either, he thought. He opened a box and began sorting clothes into the dresser.

The idea of seeing Joey scared him. It wasn’t just the disturbing picture Holtz had painted. What if things between them were too different? Though he knew it would be ridiculous to assume they could pick up like no time had passed, what if there was no connection at all?

He pushed the drawer shut, opened another, and began filling it with socks and underwear. He had a vision of Karl giving him an exasperated look and straightened up the underwear.

He’d never been one of the popular kids or even part of a clique, but he’d always felt like he belonged. It wasn’t just pieces of his memory that were missing. He’d lost that sense of belonging. The world he’d been part of had moved on without him, but he didn’t feel part of this one yet either. Something was missing. He’d hoped he could find it by coming home. Maybe Joey would be part of that.

He pushed the drawer shut and reached into the bottom of the box for the porn magazines Abby had slipped into his bag as a going-away present from Shady Meadows. He already had them pretty much memorized, but couldn’t bear to part with them. He crossed to the nightstand and opened the top drawer. All thoughts of Joey faded.

The drawer was empty save for an oversized white book with horizontal bands of both bright and dark green above blocky hand-drawn type: WESTON 78. It was the yearbook of what should have been his graduating class.

He laid the magazines on the nightstand, sat on the edge of the bed, and took the book out, resting it on his lap. He stared at it for a moment, then ran his fingers over the cover. He felt a tingle run through his body, raising the hair on his arms. He took a deep breath and flipped it open.

The inside cover and fly leaf were covered top to bottom with scrawls of blue and black ink. Danny leaned closer and studied them. There were a few short notes, but mostly signatures. He recognized nearly all the names, and felt a lump form in his throat. He looked self-consciously into the hallway as though Caroline might be watching.

He turned the page. On the right was a photo from his last Christmas morning, proudly modeling the fleece-collared Levi jacket Caroline had gotten him. His long sandy hair was disheveled and his eyes still a little puffy with sleep, but he looked genuinely happy. He was sure it was the only choice Caroline had given the yearbook committee. She’d told him it was her favorite photo of him because he was always sweetest in the morning, before he remembered to be a teenage boy.

Across the top of the page it read DEDICATION, and just above the photo, To Our Friend Danny Tyler. Below it, We Miss You. Love, The Class of 1978.

Danny began to cry.

 

Excerpt: Lambda Finalist in Lesbian Mystery: The Acquittal by Anne Laughlin

April 4th, 2015

THE ACQUITTAL

  • 1 •

CHAPTER ONE

Friday, February 15

Lauren flipped on the kitchen lights and saw the body of her lover sprawled at her feet, a bullet hole centered on her forehead. She knelt and felt for Kelly’s pulse. There was no need, really, since half of her head appeared to be stuck to the breakfast room wall. The body was still warm, the smell of the gunshot still fresh in the air. Kelly’s glorious hair was fanned out and drenched in blood. Her arms and legs were shooting out at curious angles, so at odds with the graceful woman she’d been. Lauren had to turn away. She saw her own revolver on the floor a few feet from the body. When she touched it she could feel it was still warm as well.

A tremendous clatter came from the hallway behind her, booming in the dead quiet. Lauren grabbed the revolver and shot blindly, splintering a kitchen cabinet. All was quiet for a moment before her cat came rocketing out of the doorway, galloped across the family room, and flew onto the fireplace mantel. She licked herself furiously. Lauren dropped the gun where she found it.

She sat next to the body and watched a small rivulet of blood make its way toward her, heedless of the ridiculously expensive business suit she wore. Kelly had given it to her as a gift. She was quite generous that way, as long as she was using Lauren’s credit card. She felt guilty thinking ill of Kelly. The things she complained about were the very things she’d found charming about her when they first got together.

The gift buying, the elaborate care she took of herself, the relentless cheerfulness morphed over time into reckless spending, shallowness, and inability to take anything seriously. They’d had a bad fight about her spending that morning.

But Lauren felt real sorrow. They’d been together a number of years. There’d been many good times. She stood and reached into her bag for her phone. She dialed 911 and then went to see if the cat was okay.

 CHAPTER TWO

Friday, September 6

The paint was barely dry on the walls when Josie Harper’s first client walked through her office door. Josie sat cross-legged on the floor of the reception room, trying to put together an Ikea chair. She hadn’t expected any business her first day, but now an exceedingly tall woman was standing with one hand on her door, reading the words stenciled on the glass—Josie Harper, Private Investigations.

Josie got up from the floor. She was shoeless and wore a tattered Led Zeppelin T-shirt and blue jeans. She was dressed for back-room assembly, not front-room sales.

“Can I help you?” Josie said. She could feel a flush of color move up her face.

“I’m Sarah DeAngeles. I have an appointment with Stan Waterman. I think his office is past yours.”

Sarah appeared to be in her thirties, good-looking, if your preferences ran to cheerleader faces and ponytails. Josie’s did not. She watched Sarah’s eyes as they traveled from her ancient ball cap, past her old 501s, down to her polka-dot socks. They might as well have been different species.

“Sure, I know Stan,” Josie said. He ran Shield Detectives down the hall.

“When I saw your name on the door I decided to come in,” Sarah said. “I’d much rather work with a woman on this matter.”

“Naturally,” Josie said. She had no idea what the matter was, but was happy to take advantage over a PI with more experience than her—a group that included every PI in Chicago.

“Is this a good time to talk?” Sarah said.

“Of course. Let’s go into my office.”

Sarah took a minute to cancel her appointment with Stan Waterman before following Josie through the Ikea detritus and into her office.

The window faced east toward Lake Michigan. The light streamed over the desk and visitor chairs that were fortunately assembled and ready for business. The rest of the room was a mess. Josie’s laminated wood desk would be peeling in a year’s time. It was littered with office supplies still in shrink wrap. Josie could see the wary look in Sarah’s eye as she took the chair in front of her desk.

“I’m sorry things are such a mess. Setting up an office is a real pain,” Josie said.

“But you’ve been in business for a while?”

“I was a cop for over ten years. I’ve been doing investigations for a long time.” Josie felt that was true, depending on what definition of “long” was being used. Or “investigations,” for that matter. She’d been a property crimes detective for a couple of years before leaving the department. “Why don’t you tell me what brings you here?”

“I’m a member of the board of directors for Wade-Fellows Publishing. Our president and editor-in-chief was recently acquitted of murdering her partner. We need help clearing her name and I’ve been put in charge of that effort,” Sarah said.

It took a moment for the words to sink in and Josie felt a twinge of panic. Murder? It didn’t seem possible her first case would involve murder. And Sarah hadn’t delivered the statement with the right amount of gravitas. She sounded like she was inquiring about getting new carpet for her home.

The Acqittal 300 DPI

“What did you say?” Josie said. She’d placed her hands flat on her desk and leaned slightly forward.

“You sound surprised. Haven’t you handled murder cases before?” Sarah said.

“Not as a private investigator. You won’t find many of us who have.” Josie didn’t want to tell Sarah that Stan Waterman was one of the few PIs with actual homicide experience. Hell, he was a former homicide detective.

“Then you have at least two things in your favor,” Sarah said. “You’re female and you have police experience. Should I tell you the story now?”

“Please.”

Sarah got herself settled in her chair. Apparently she was one of those women who constantly drink water. She’d already taken several long pulls from the bottle she’d walked in with. She dropped her bag to the floor and took another swig before shrugging out of an expensive high-tech climbing jacket Josie doubted would ever brush up against a mountain.

“Are you familiar with the Lauren Wade case?” she began.

“Not really. I’ve heard her name on the news once or twice.”

“It’s unusual for a woman to be accused of murdering her female lover. I’d have thought it would grab your attention.”

“Why would you say that?” Josie asked.

Sarah cocked her head to one side. “Am I getting this wrong? I read you as lesbian. I was thinking that I’d gotten very lucky when I walked through your door.”

Was she that obvious? Josie thought of herself as average. Average height and weight, average face. Not average lesbian. Simply average.

“For the record,” Sarah said. “I am too. But you probably guessed that.”

No, she hadn’t. She would have lost a lot of money on that bet.

“So your company is concerned?” Josie prompted.

“Yes, of course. Having our top executive arrested for anything would be of concern to the board, especially a murder charge. But Wades have always been at the head of the company; Lauren Wade is naturally given a lot of leeway before action would be taken against her by the board.”

“But she was acquitted,” Josie said.

“The board thinks that still leaves the question of whether she committed the murder hanging in the air. There was no evidence that she didn’t do it. The jury simply felt the prosecution didn’t meet their burden of proof. There are plenty of people in the business world who think she may be guilty.” Sarah looked hurt at that opinion, as if it reflected on her personally.

“Why is that a concern?” Josie asked. “The system says she’s not guilty.”

Sarah looked at Josie as if she’d just said something odd. Or stupid. “Obviously there are authors and companies who will refuse to do business with us.”

Josie shrugged. “What about the police? Won’t they be trying to catch the real killer?” Josie knew that was unlikely. Once someone’s acquitted, the file’s unofficially closed. The police always think they got it right the first time.

“I’m sure they think they already have. We’re not counting on further action from the police. We want you to identify the killer.”

Josie pulled a notebook out of her bag and wrote Lauren Wade’s name on a fresh page. The pages before it were filled with notes from when she was a police detective. “What’s your relationship with Lauren Wade?”

She’d been reading books on how to be a private investigator. One stressed the importance of knowing your client’s true motivation.

Sarah, however, seemed taken aback by the question. “Why do you need to know that?”

“It’s pretty basic information. Is there some reason you don’t want to tell me?” Josie said.

Out came the bottle of water again. Sarah appeared to be buying some time by taking a long drink. Finally she capped the bottle.

“Initially, Lauren and I had a strictly business relationship, which goes back a few years now. In addition to sitting on the board, I also publish books with Wade-Fellows. We’re not best friends or anything, but we’ve had enough meals together to say the relationship goes beyond business.”

“Did you urge the board to fund this investigation?” Josie said.

“I don’t know why you’re questioning my motives,” Sarah said, sounding a little annoyed. “I’m trying to help her, not harm her.”

Josie didn’t want to lose her first client before she even got started, so she backed off. “Why don’t you tell me the story and we can figure out where to go from there.”

Sarah relaxed and sat back in her chair. “I know a little about Lauren’s relationship with Kelly. They’d been together for five years when Kelly was murdered, and from what Lauren told me they were happy.”

“When did she tell you this?” Josie had zero experience in happy relationships.

“It was several weeks before Kelly was killed. They’d just finished redoing their house. I don’t think you do a renovation when your relationship’s on the rocks.”

“Why not?” Josie said. “People have babies to try to save relationships.”

“True, but Lauren seemed genuinely excited. I got the impression they were a pretty solid couple. It turns out there was trouble. But I’ll get to that.”

She didn’t think Sarah had been unhappy to hear Lauren and Kelly’s relationship was shaky.

“Tell me about the murder,” Josie said.

“You’ll find all this in the trial transcript, which I’ll give you, but the bare facts are Lauren came home around eight thirty on February fifteenth and found Kelly dead on the kitchen floor. She’d been shot through the head. When the police arrived they discovered Lauren’s own revolver next to the body and no sign of forced entry anywhere in the house. The gun had been recently fired and they found powder residue on Lauren’s hands. They took her in for questioning and then charged her with the murder.”

“How did Lauren explain the gun and the residue?”

Sarah leaned forward. “That’s what’s so weird about this whole thing. Lauren wouldn’t say anything at all to the police.”

“You mean she requested a lawyer?”

“No, she refused a lawyer. She wouldn’t say anything to defend herself. The detectives and their lieutenant took her refusal to answer questions as tantamount to a confession. They felt they had enough to charge her.”

Josie was drawing question marks in her notebook. “Tell me more about Lauren’s work.”

“Wade-Fellowes Publishing is an old family company. They produce hobby and lifestyle books,” Sarah said. She sounded very formal. “I write crafts books and publish with them, which is how I first knew Lauren. I joined the board only recently. I was scheduled to have a business lunch with her the day after her arrest and I had to call her office several times to find out why it was canceled. None of her staff would say anything, but one referred me to the Tribune’s website, where the story was breaking. Everyone was stunned, of course,” Sarah made this sound like she spoke for the nation.

“I left Lauren’s assistant a message with the name of the criminal defense attorney recommended by our general counsel, but I didn’t know at the time she was refusing counsel. Lauren eventually ended up using that lawyer. I was touched she took my advice.”

Josie looked up from her notebook. She saw Sarah had a little color on her cheeks. Even a PI with Josie’s limited experience could see she had a thing for Lauren, and the crush, or whatever it was, was probably enough to convince Sarah of Lauren’s innocence.

“The trial only took a few days,” Sarah continued, “and most of that was jury selection. Lauren didn’t take the stand. All her lawyer could do was argue the evidence was insufficient to meet the beyond-a reasonable-doubt standard.”

“Why do you think Lauren didn’t testify?” Josie found Lauren’s silence the most disturbing thing about the story. How could she help someone who didn’t want to be helped?

“I really don’t know,” Sarah said. “I haven’t had any contact with her other than sending her the attorney’s name. She refused to see me when I went to Cook County Jail for a visit.”

“So far I don’t see how Lauren got acquitted.”

“I think it was due to Nancy Prewitt, Lauren’s lawyer, who gave an amazing closing. She pointed out what I think the jury already thought—the prosecution had done a half-assed job and the police investigation may have been worse. The jury couldn’t see past the fact Lauren was unlikely to be stupid enough to shoot Kelly with her own gun and then leave it next to the body before calling the police.”

“The prosecution didn’t offer anything else at trial?”

Sarah looked uncomfortable. “The only other thing that came out was Kelly was having an affair with another woman and Lauren had recently found out about it. That’s what I meant about Kelly and Lauren not being as happy as I thought they were.”

It also gave Lauren a whopping motive. Josie contemplated what to say next. The case seemed tremendously fucked up and probably nothing but trouble. But it was a paying case—if she could manage to get hired.

“Have you considered the possibility my investigation may prove Lauren did murder Kelly?” Josie asked.

Sarah looked unconcerned. “There’s no downside. Lauren can’t be retried for the same crime. And after all, that’s the information the company wants an investigator to find.”

“True, but perhaps it’s something you’d rather not know.”

Sarah waved that away. “I’m not worried about it. I don’t believe for a minute she’d hurt anyone. But you can see how murky the whole thing is and why it’s important to remove that doubt.”

Josie couldn’t, really. She’d think Sarah would thank her lucky stars for the acquittal and leave it at that. It seemed Lauren had.

“I can check on the status of the police investigation,” Josie said. “I have contacts in homicide.” She thought that should impress Sarah.

“What does Lauren think of this effort of yours? She doesn’t seem very interested in keeping her name untarnished.”

Sarah fiddled with her water bottle. “She doesn’t know anything about it.”

Josie stopped writing and looked up, careful to take the sarcasm out of her voice. “You want me to find the person who killed Lauren’s girlfriend, presuming it’s not Lauren herself, without her knowledge? Won’t she know the board hired an investigator?”

“We’re not volunteering the information, but we’re aware she’ll find out as soon as the investigator starts interviewing people.” She paused. “You sound like you may believe she’s guilty. I need you to be on board.”

Josie didn’t believe in causes. She believed in paychecks and getting the job done. She stole a look at her watch. She was going to be late for her therapy appointment.

“I have an appointment I need to get to, so we’ll have to stop here. I have to think about this before I can agree to take your case.”

“Of course. And I’ve not yet decided whether to hire you,” Sarah said. She pulled a thick file out of her bag and pushed it across the desk. “You’d find most of this on the Internet, I imagine, but I’ll save you the time of looking it up. These are the media reports and trial transcript. Maybe you could read them and we’ll meet again tomorrow morning.”

Josie looked at the file skeptically. She wasn’t a particularly fast reader. She’d just finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy and that took forever. This was a very thick file. “I could meet you back here at four tomorrow afternoon. That’ll have to do.”

Sarah rose and put on her jacket. “Fine. I assume all this will remain confidential?”

“Of course.”

There was a hint of a smile on Sarah’s lips as she turned away and left the office. Josie took a moment to whisper a thank-you for the possibility of a paycheck and another thank-you for all the medications that made it possible for her to take on this case. She grabbed the Lauren Wade file, found her shoes, and hurried to her fifty minutes of torture.

The Three Faces of James: Interviewing the ever talented, James Lear

March 28th, 2015

James, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.  

JamesLear

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

London. I’ve lived here since I was 18, and I’ve been in this particular bit of south London since the 80s. I’ve thought about leaving a million times but I just can’t seem to tear myself away.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I’m married with one child, whom we adopted a couple of years ago. I’ve been with my husband for over 20 years, we became ‘civil partners’ in 2009 and are about to convert that into marriage; we’re kind of riding the crest of a lot of legislative change in the UK. That includes changes to adoption law, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I was a journalist for over 20 years, and before that an academic, so I’ve always been writing for a living. I started writing fiction properly in the late 90s, and my first novel was published in 1998. I’ve lost count of how many novels I’ve written since then. Over twenty.

I understand from reading your bio there was a time when you were frustrated with your writing career, a friend suggested you try writing erotica, hence the birth of James Lear. Was switching gears really that simple?

James Lear_The Hardest Thing

Yes, absolutely. I was having trouble getting my literary fiction published, and a friend told me that he knew an editor who was looking for gay porn. My fiction always had a fair bit of sex in it, I like writing about sex, and so it was just a question of foregrounding the sex and making it the main event. While there are certain key differences between erotic fiction and literary fiction, you still have the same basic duty to tell a good story, well structured, with lots of drama. It’s not actually that different, there’s just a lot more penis.

Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

They’re all based on people I know. Most of the guys in the erotic novels are based on men I’ve known or seen at the gym. I can’t actually have sex with them in real life, so this is a good way of getting all that lust out of my system. Sometimes I see men I’ve just been writing about and I think ‘you have no idea what you are getting up to in my new book…’. Some of the protagonists of my novels represent aspects of me – usually nerdy, bookish young men who get involved in doomed relationships with straight guys. That was the story of my young adulthood and it’s a theme to which I seem to return a lot.

What was your inspiration creating the salaciously hunky-hunk, Mitch Mitchell, in the spectacular Mitch Mitchell Mysteries trilogy featuring the sexually charged detective?  

I wanted to create a character who was cheerfully, shamelessly horny, but who also had sufficient brain power to sort out a few mysteries. Mitch uses sex as a way of investigating his cases – he’s always ready to delve into areas that others won’t go. He manages to have sex three or four times a day, but hey, this is fiction. The actual physical character was based on a very sexy American jock who used to go to my gym; he had that cocky confidence that just made me want to fuck his brains out. Mitch is about to return, actually: I’m currently writing a new story for him.

I was excited as hell to come across your latest novel, The Hardest Thing, to discover what I feel is a gay “Jack Reacher” or “John Rain”. There are simply too few gay hard-boiled, rough and tough, ex-military bass-ass thrillers in my opinion? What influenced you to create Dan Stagg?    

I was reading Lee Child, simple as that. I think his books are absolutely saturated with homo-erotic potential – not sure whether he’d see it that way, mind you. All the Lear novels take a solid literary model and then fill it with gay sex. Agatha Christie inspired the Mitch Mitchell novels, and Lee Child inspired the Dan Staggs. I wanted to create quite a dark, miserable character, like Jack Reacher, who has difficulty distinguishing between love and sex.

Have you received criticism from readers and/or reviewers for showcasing Dan Stagg’s active libido?

Straightup2

Criticism of the Lear novels falls into two categories. A) ‘This is a great thriller spoiled by too much sex’ and B) ‘This is a porn novel spoiled by too much plot’. You can’t please everyone, can you? I try to get the balance right, but make no mistake, these are erotic novels and their main purpose is to get the reader off. It always makes me laugh when people complain about the amount of sex. It’s like people buying a porn video and complaining that the dialogue isn’t good enough. I try to keep the literary standards high, because that enhances the reading experience, but really I want people to get turned on and have a wank. That’s the kind of ‘review’ I’m looking for.

Will readers get more of (my favorite) former US Army Major, Dan Stagg, in future mystery/thriller novels?

He rides again in a new novel entitled Straight Up, which comes out in the summer. As usual he’s made a complete hash of his private life and is trying to forget about it by having as much sex as possible, while getting into a very dangerous plot involving ex-members of a USMC black ops team.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

As Rupert Smith, my latest release is Interlude, a story about a young woman who discovers a massive gay secret in her family history. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. As James Lear, there’s Straight Up in the summer, and I’m currently writing a new Mitch Mitchell mystery, which is set on a Mediterranean island. It’s my tribute to Evil Under the Sun and so on.

Interlude

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

 

Find James Lear/Rupert Smith on the web:

Website:

http://www.rupertsmith.org.uk/

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/James-Lear/e/B001JS0DBS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1425949423&sr=1-2-ent

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/38335.James_Lear

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Lambda Award Finalist, The Next, by Rafe Haze

March 20th, 2015

Exclusive Excerpt:

The Next

by

Rafe Haze

Chapter Eight

My own piano sat against the wall, buried in debris. I began to remove the shit off it—the moldy sweater, the electronic power supply cords whose recipients had jumped ship years ago, thumbed paperbacks, discarded Starbucks cups. I lifted the keyboard cover.

TheNext_cvr (5)

My fingers drifted over the keys without pressing down. They hovered over F sharp two octaves above middle C. If I pressed down, the commitment to that one tone would cement the path that leads to the next, leading to the cementing of the next, and then the next. What if, at the end of the path, I churned out some uninspired, pedestrian, shitty song, reinforcing what a failure I’d become in a brand new way? That first note bore the weight of forty years of largely unsuccessful attempts at a career, the loss and disdain of a woman most men in Manhattan would give their left nut to hold at night, and the responsibility of finding out if the future had even the slightest bit of light in it.

My finger remained suspended above the keyboard, unable to commit.

Andrea Bocelli echoed through the window from the courtyard, mourning epically with exquisite tragedy. A fuck-lovely perfection I may never know. I turned to the window to identify which neighbor was responsible for this random choice of entertainment.

Mr. and Mrs. Perfect’s apartment was empty…oh wait…no. Mr. Perfect emerged from the kitchen dressed in a suit, his head cocked to one side as he propped an iPhone against his ear. He spoke in an assured and patient manner, casually glancing out the window, then sauntering toward the other side of the house. His undirected stride was paced to the rhythm of his conversation. He was alone. I guess the family went to play in the snow in the country without him this weekend. But Bocelli was not coming from his apartment. But then, from where was it emanating? I lowered my eyes…

The Princess.

She sat at her dressing table, fussing with the seams of her sleeves. She was dressed in a gauzy navy-blue dress interwoven with silver threads, her hair up in a tight bun. When I’d last seen The Princess, she wore no more than jeans and an American Apparel stretch t-shirt. Unless she got a significant six-figure bump in her salary, I had no idea how she afforded an exquisitely tailored couture dress as a single girl in her twenties living in the heart of Manhattan in a small studio apartment. Did she have a sugar daddy? Did a parent die? Did she catch the boss cheating?

The romantic vocal strains wafted lushly from a CD player near her bed, accompanying her application of makeup to her cheeks, her lips, and her eyelashes as she carefully contoured herself to the ideal of ladyhood, obscuring every blemish, covering any millifraction of imperfection. She finally reached up to her bun and removed a pin. Her long dark locks fell down past her shoulders. She proceeded to run her fingers through them, smoothing every last strand with her fingers, a concerned look on her face.

How could anyone live with that much pressure to be perfect every second of every hour of every day? What was at risk for her if she weren’t perfect? She was young—barely drinking age—so she still had lots of time. What was so imperfect about her interior that required that much overcompensating on the outside, right down to the final dab of perfume on her neck from the lid of the tiny ornate pink glass bottle?

Rafe Haze wants you to check this out

When I was completing a song, staying up for forty-eight hours in a row perfecting every last cadence, every last sixteenth note, every last pianissimo or crescendo expression, I was the Princess. She used makeup, I used treble and bass clefs. She used a silver ribbon in her hair, I used crisp, perfectly un-smudged laser copy paper to print the score. She needed validation from the man she was about to meet, and I needed validation from any ear my music would meet. I understood the Princess’s need, and a particularly petty part of me loathed her for reflecting my folly.

Errrrrg.

I lifted my hand. I closed the keyboard lid and piled the books and crap back on top of it.

Not ready.

Suddenly I became aware of a figure standing against the window above the Princess’s apartment facing my apartment square on. My heart skipped a beat, and I automatically ducked to the right behind the curtain. It was perfectly unnecessary to hide. All the lights were out in my apartment, and the curtain wasn’t open wide enough to see in. As far as anyone was concerned, nobody was home here on the third floor. Then why was someone facing my apartment with such direct attentiveness?

I slowly peeked around the curtain until I spied the figure again. To my surprise, Mr. Perfect stood at the window of his bedroom, facing my building. As always, he was wearing a suit, looking the picture of professionalism, dignity, power, and success. His hair was salt and pepper, feathered back to display the rugged handsomeness of his face.

This was a man to whom entire floors of employees in Manhattan glass high-rises might kowtow when he stepped off the elevator. This was a man university libraries might be named after. This was a man who might advise Atlas to shrug.

And this was a man standing at the window facing my apartment groping his dick through his pants.

What the hell?

I traced his hand to his arm, to his broad shoulders, to his white collared neck, to his defined jawline, and then to his deep set dark eyes. They were directed not at my window, but at the window of the floor above mine.

Holy shit!

Ruben just moved in and was already putting on a show for the neighbors. What kind of professionalism did they teach those lovelies at Juilliard, anyway? But I thought Mr. Perfect was straight. He had a family who had only just exited the door to go play in the snow for the weekend.

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A closeted faggot in Manhattan? That’d be an anomaly.

Marzoli’s sarcasm rebounded in my brain. Yes, but in all the time I’d lived here and observed Mr. and Mrs. Perfect, I never once saw anything to indicate the husband would do what he was now doing.

He pulled down his fly and burrowed through the dark pants to retrieve his pole. He dangled his fleshy white dick in front of his dark charcoal trousers. The white meat bobbed up and down at first. Mr. Perfect put his arms up above his shoulders and braced his hands against the window, providing Ruben upstairs with a perfectly unobstructed view of his dick. His trousers inched their way down his thick hairy thighs, then dropped past his knees to his ankles.

Ruben must have been putting on some kind of performance, because Mr. Perfect’s pole pulsated from a southward pointing direction to a northward pointing direction without any assistance from his hands. Mr. Perfect bit his lower lip with his perfect teeth, indicating a desire that came directly from his groin. I could almost hear a guttural rasping moan pushing its way through his esophagus and past his moist lips. His dick thrust slightly forward, hardening and reddening at the head.

It occurred to me just then that if I could observe this, others could too. But that was not possible. Perfect’s bedroom window was recessed and flanked by three, tall, fortunately positioned trees. The retail level of my building had no courtyard windows, and the floor above Ruben had a wide, unused balcony that prevented any direct views down. I’d never realized until that moment that Ruben and I had the only clear view of Mr. and Mrs. Perfect’s bedroom window.

Mr. Perfect wrapped the fingers of his right hand around his hard shaft, pumping it slowly. He moistened his lips with his tongue, his gaze directed to Ruben’s window. His eyelids settled halfway down as he indulged in the pleasure of his fist reaching the tenderness of his rod’s head and then retracted on a slow tight descent to the base.

I felt my own dick hardening. Was it the sight of a man that caused this reaction? Or was it the illicitness of the situation that caused it? Or was it a malicious enjoyment of something more sickly subversive? Was it the successful and powerful leveled to depravity by the need for something no position at the head of a board meeting table could provide? That no conformity to family virtues could provide? That no trip to the weekend house with the wife and kids could provide? That no jump in the market could provide? The king jacking off for the hot pawn across the court meant the king could be had for the price of a pound of twinkie flesh, and this satisfaction shot my rod to a smug erection.

Wrapping my lips around her nipple and tracing it with my tongue, causing her low moan.

Thoughts of Johanna’s body flashed into my brain as I watched Mr. Perfect’s stroking increase in intensity.

The warm flesh between Johanna’s vagina and her hole.

Mr. Perfect flung off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. His chest was solid and hairy, and his ripped abdomen contracted and expanded as he jacked his rod up and down.

Was the thing that turned me on the most about Johanna the same leveling of status? The queen leveled by the tonguing of one of her subjects? Was that all it had been? Surely more…

Mr. Perfect’s fisting had reached a frenzy. He had to be close now. Through the ceiling, I heard a faint moan. Ruben had reached his climax. Mr. Perfect responded by suspending the stroking and holding a tight vice grip on the head of his dick. With the wrenching of his abdomen, his cum splattered against the window glass. Thick strands of semen followed the initial onslaught in short firings, striping the window in white gelatinous lines which immediately oozed down the pane.

You bad, nasty, naughty King!

Mr. Perfect once again let his meat dangle as he lifted his arms and braced himself against the window with his hands, recovering his breath. He lowered his head. I could tell by his energy that he would not acknowledge Ruben again tonight. Shame? Or the inordinate adeptness to compartmentalize? I did not know, but Mr. Perfect did not lift his eyes again. Rather, he turned away from the window and went toward the bathroom, turning the lights off and plunging the room into darkness. The show was over. Get your purse from under the seat and go home.

My rod had already softened, having made no stops of pleasure along tonight’s train ride. When was the last time I’d had an orgasm? Couldn’t remember.

Marzoli’s full lips. His neck. His voice. His gentle dark eyes.

What the fuck!

No!

What the hell was I thinking about a dude like Marzoli for? I’d fantasized sparingly through my life about man-on-man blow jobs, but only with some larger-than-life slab of muscle I’d absolutely no personal connection with. I’d justified those rare fantasies by the need for novelty and too much wine. There was no pining involved, no more emotional attachment than one has for bacon.

But now…with Marzoli…

He’d touched my shoulder. He’d looked into my eyes. He was so much more than bacon. I’d be an idiot to think about…about his lips…his chest…his jawline…

Ughh.

Why the fuck would I choose to entertain the hope for something I may never get? Why? One more new disappointment…one more new failure…one more new reason to despise myself…and I just might…who the fuck knows?

If I could, I would re-center by surfing for some straight porn and try to normalize. Try to let fly some of this frustration. If I had internet connectivity.

If I could connect.

I swallowed hard, shoved my dick back into safety, and zipped up my pants.

Andrea Bocelli’s heartbreak was reaching an epic climax.

Jesus fucking Christ! Turn that shit off!

As if hearing and taking pity, the Princess took one more look at her doll face in the mirror, tousled her hair one last time, clicked off the CD player, and departed down the hall. The lights flicked off.

Have a good date, Princess. I hope he appreciates your perfection. He probably won’t, but he should. I do.

 

A Conversation with Multi-Genre Author & two time Lammy Finalist, Steve Neil Johnson

March 14th, 2015

Steve, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

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Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in the perfect neighborhood for a mystery writer, Brentwood in Los Angeles; my home is almost literally in the shadow of the O.J. Simpson murder scene, and just a block down the mean streets from where Raymond Chandler once lived.  The gangster Mickey Cohen’s house, which was bombed by gang rivals, is nearby too.  The great thing about L.A. is that under the sunny sky there is always a dark side if you know where to look for it.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I’m actually a newlywed.  My husband Lloyd and I just got married this fall on the edge of a cliff (hopefully not a metaphor for nuptials in general) overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve been together since before most people on this planet were even born, our wedding day taking place a few days after our twenty-five year anniversary.  You’ve asked me not to get too personal, so I won’t go into whether married sex is better.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I’ve always been interested in telling stories, in fact, books and movies were all I could think about growing up.  I wrote a couple of books that didn’t sell before I wrote my first published work, FINAL ATONEMENT, in my early thirties.  It was released by Penguin in 1992.

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In the early ‘90s you released the Homicide Detective Doug Orlando mystery series – recently re-released for a new generation – which include Final Atonement, a Lambda Literary Award finalist for gay mystery, and False Confessions, with Det. Orlando tracking a serial killer “who leaves his victims naked but for dozens of long, murderous needles”: Any plans in the future to revisit Doug Orlando?

Re-released for a new generation?  Jon, you’re making me feel old!  But yes, I get a huge kick out of the fact that people who were toddlers when the books originally came out are reading them now.  I don’t know if I could write any more Doug Orlando novels because the books are quintessential New York political novels, and I haven’t lived there since the late 1980s.  I don’t know if I could capture the nuances of N.Y. political life today without living there.

Two of your mystery novels were finalists for the Lambda Literary Award; Final Atonement and The Yellow Canary: What was it like to get such recognition for your writing? 

I have to say I crave accolades as much as the next guy, and I noticed my most recent nomination gave me a bit of a bump in sales, which is always nice.  The Lammies were still in their infancy, over twenty years ago, when I was nominated the first time, and it was pretty cool because I got the nom for my first book.  The second time I was nominated, they had the ceremony in New York at Cooper Union, which is a great hall with an illustrious history, including the fact that Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the theater’s stage, so if you win you’re actually giving your acceptance speech on a spot where Lincoln once stood.  I thought the year THE YELLOW CANARY was nominated was especially exciting because the books in the mystery category came from all over the world… there was a British author, a couple of Canadians, and an American or two.  It just showed that really interesting work in the gay mystery genre is happening all over the planet.

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I’ve read your most recent novel, The Black Cat, the second novel in your planned L.A. After Midnight Quartet–spanning four generations from the ‘50s to the 80s (Excellent, btw!). How did you go about researching the gay experience for the decades covered in each novel of the quartet?  

It all started back in the 1970s when I came across a book called GAY AMERICAN HISTORY by Jonathan Ned Katz and started fantasizing about the lives of gay people in history.  Every time I read a nonfiction book on the history of the gay community my imagination would go into overdrive.  Other books that especially influenced me were John D’Emilio’s masterpiece, SEXUAL POLITICS, SEXUAL COMMUNITIES and later, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’ GAY L.A.  I also participated in an oral history project interviewing gay elders some time ago.  That was really important to me, because I was able to see how gays with a little power (one man I interviewed was a closeted psychiatrist for the military during WWII) were able to help other gays during really oppressive times.  That moved me, and helped to inform the characters and plots of THE YELLOW CANARY and THE BLACK CAT.

Several years filled the time between the original release of the Doug Orlando mystery novels, and your most recent gay mystery quartet. What were you doing during this time? 

A whole lotta stuff.  I received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from UCLA, wrote twenty-five telenovela scripts, was Elton John’s massage therapist for a while, and worked in various aspects of hospital administration.  But honestly, every moment I wasn’t writing was like a dagger in my heart.  Sometimes you have to make a living doing work that really doesn’t interest you, and that’s especially hard for people in the arts because you see the years slipping away and you just don’t have the time to do the work you feel you were meant to do.  But my story has a happy ending:  now I write full-time, which is an incredible gift, and even though I sometimes grouse about spending the day staring at a blank page on a computer screen when I could be outside enjoying the California sunshine, I really am grateful.

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Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

Many of my characters are inspired by real people, and a lot of the events in my books are true.  I basically pluck people from their lives and from history and stick them into my stories.  As far as characters representing me…when my husband read the Doug Orlando books when they originally came out, the first thing he said was “the Stewart character (Doug Orlando’s English professor partner of ten years) is based on you.”  Basically, whenever the lead character has a Jewish boyfriend, that character’s personality is probably inspired by me, even though I’m not Jewish.  I also identify strongly with the wisecracking crow who thinks he’s a raven in my children’s book, EVERYBODY HATES EDGAR ALLAN POE!

Do you have a timeline – blurb or plot – for the next novel in the L.A. After Midnight Quartet novel?

I’m hoping to have the third L.A. After Midnight book, THE BLUE PARROT, out sometime this summer.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

THE BLUE PARROT takes place in 1975, and my characters inhabit a very different world than in the previous two books which focused on 1956 and 1966…the Stonewall riots have changed the political landscape in ways that are almost unimaginable in the earlier books…it’s a time in which the bathhouses are packed, Gay is Good, and everything seems possible, but my characters are still fighting for their basic rights.  This book details the battle to repeal California’s lifetime prison sentence for sodomy, the tensions between radical and more conservative gay activists for control of the movement, and the pervasive legacy of psychiatric abuse.

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On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

Thank you!

Find Steve Neil Johnson on the web:

Website:

http://www.steveneiljohnson.com/#!books/cnec

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Steve-Neil-Johnson/e/B00JWX83VY/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425165765&sr=1-1

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5307361.Steve_Neil_Johnson

Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 7: Bloodlines by the multi-Lammy nominated Marshall Thornton

March 7th, 2015

Boystown 7: Bloodlines by Marshall Thornton

Blurb

In the latest book in the Boystown Mystery series, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself simultaneously working two cases for his new client, law firm Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. A suburban dentist has just been convicted of murdering her adulterous husband, Nick is asked to interview witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial—and possibly find the dead man’s mistress. At the same time, he’s becoming involved in protecting Outfit bigwig Jimmy English from a task force out to prosecute him for a crime he may not have committed.

 

Tax day fell on a Monday that year, the sixteenth. The sky was full of gray clouds and peoples’ moods were just as colorless. For a change, it wasn’t a bad day for me. In fact, I was in something resembling a good mood. I’d spent most of the year before bartending and having taxes withheld so I didn’t have to struggle through the normally complicated question of whether I’d made a profit from my private investigation business. In fact, I was expecting a small tax refund. Money in the mail was always worth being happy about. But more than that, I was working again, and while that would complicate my 1984 taxes, I was making good money and it was more interesting than pouring flat beer and sour wine.

Around two o’clock, there was a knock on my office door and, before I could yell “Come in,” Owen Lovejoy, Esquire whooshed in. He was a friend, a fuck buddy, occasionally my attorney, and, at that particular moment, my boss. I tended to think of him as Owen Lovejoy, Esquire because that’s the way he first introduced himself. A good-looking guy, he’s on the taller side of short, thick-bodied and brown-haired. He favors tortoise-shell glasses with lenses that cover most of his face, and well-tailored suits that cost twice what I make in a good week. He sat down on the two cardboard boxes full of paperwork that I’d stacked in front of my desk as a temporary guest chair.

“I have a job I need you to do,” he said.

That confused me. I was already doing a job for him. Quite a complicated job, in fact. I began to reply but all I got out was the word, “But—” before he raised his hand to silence me. I stared at him, trying to think the situation through.

Late in February of that year I’d begun working for Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. Every week I sent them an invoice for seven hundred dollars. Under services rendered I typed RETAINER. At Owen’s request, I never sent an itemized bill. I also never sent a single report describing what I’d found. My reports were given verbally on windy street corners, busy diners, even once in bed. After Owen and I fucked, he’d turned the radio on loud and I whispered what I’d learned. The case was important. It had to do with Jimmy English.

A menagerie of Federal, State and City agencies had formed a task force and were months or maybe even weeks away from indicting Jimmy on a host of charges. At the top of the stack were a couple of murders. Owen assured me that Jimmy hadn’t had anything to do with the murders under investigation, while at the same time never claiming that Jimmy hadn’t been involved in at least a couple other murders along the way. I knew Jimmy, had done a little work for him, and probably owed my current position to his good graces. If Jimmy said he didn’t kill someone he probably didn’t. More importantly, he was too smart a guy to waste time lying to his own attorney.

Now, why the task force wanted to get him for two murders he didn’t commit was something of a question. They either mistakenly believed he’d been involved in the murders, or, knowing he been involved in other murders, decided it didn’t matter much what murder they nabbed him for as long as he went to prison. My job was to learn everything the task force had. That might sound challenging, but as it turned out it wasn’t especially hard.

On the second day of my employment with Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby, Owen had shown up at my office with a moving man. My office is above a copy place on Clark and on that particular February morning it was what I’d politely call a mess. Much of the furniture from my abandoned apartment was still being stored there. I’d gotten rid of a few things; the bed for instance, which in my last days with Harker had developed a dip in the middle. The dip was fine if I planned to be constantly sliding into it to meet someone I loved, but sooner or later I’d be living on my own again and I couldn’t face sliding into the dip alone. So I’d let it go.

The moving guy brought fifteen cardboard boxes into my office in two trips. He was heavily-muscled, tall, just a little over thirty, and had barely broken a sweat bouncing all those boxes around. I had a sneaking suspicion that Owen would try to seduce him the minute they were done with me. That thought created some pretty pictures in my head, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention when Owen asked the moving guy to step out into the hall.

“Was he bad? Are you punishing him?”

“Sweetheart, you need to remember something very important.” He leaned in and spoke very clearly, “We were never here.”

“Okay.”

“And if anyone ever asks, you did not get these boxes from us.”

“Where did I get them?”

“Yard sale? No, I’m joking. You don’t need to worry your pretty head about that. If push comes to shove, we’ll make sure you’re never asked.”

“What’s in them?”

“Everything the task force has on Jimmy English.”

“How did you get all this?”

He smiled. “I didn’t get it. I was never here. Remember?”

“What am I supposed to do with these boxes that fell out of the sky?”

“For now? Read everything. Learn everything. Know it all backwards and forwards.”

I nodded. Eventually, if there were a trial, all of this information would come to the defense as part of discovery. Well, most of it anyway. I was going to be responsible for making sure nothing got conveniently dropped by the government. Particularly if that something was favorable to Jimmy. Of course, I also saw exactly why Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby didn’t want to be connected to the materials until they received them directly from the State’s Attorney’s office. At that moment, there was no indictment, so it wasn’t exactly legal for anyone to have them. Dropping the files on me allowed them to have them and not have them.

“This is the last time we can talk in your office. We’ll make other arrangements.”

“You think my office is bugged?”

“Not yet, dear. This is your second day. It will be by the end of the week, though.”

“If I’m working for you then they can’t bug my office. Doesn’t privilege extend—”

“Privilege depends on the situation, on the judge who’s ruling, on which way the wind is blowing off Lake Michigan. Look, if I explain anymore than that we’ll both fall asleep. Trust me, your office will be bugged. And soon.”

“Can you fight it? Go to the judge—”

“There is no judge. It’s not legal surveillance.”

In Chicago legal niceties were sometimes skipped. They couldn’t present an illegal wiretap in court but they could act on information they gleaned by creating other routes to discover whatever they’d learned. Treasure hunts are always easier if you already know where the treasure is.

Still, my sense of justice was a tad outraged. “Let’s catch them at it. Let’s take them down.”

“They’ve been caught before. Had their hands slapped. The only lesson they learned was to be more careful. There will be several impenetrable layers between the task force and the bug. Anything they hear that they want to use, they’ll feed to an informant.”

“They can’t create their own testimony.”

“Darling you watch too much TV. The law is not about right and wrong. It’s about what you can get away with on a given day.”

After he left, I got down to business with the boxes and almost immediately started having a good time. They were full of interviews, witness statements, crime reports, depositions, transcripts from wiretaps (legal ones), and transcripts from a few peripherally related trials. Over the next few weeks I’d mentally cross-referenced everything. I knew where it all was and I knew what it all meant. I had two very important things I needed to discuss with Owen, so I wasn’t especially happy that he was trying to give me another job.

“All right. Tell me about this job,” I said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Madeline Levine-Berkson?”

“Yes and no,” I said. Madeline Levine-Berkson was a dentist whose husband, Wes Berkson, made the mistake of telling her about an affair he was having while she was making dinner. Dr. Levine-Berkson stopped chopping vegetables and stuck the rather large knife she’d been using into her husband’s chest. At first the case garnered a lot of press, and it was obvious the reporters were dying to get their hands on the mistress; an interview with her would have sold papers hand over greedy fist. But, they couldn’t find her. And, worse, Dr. Levine-Berkson refused to claim any justification other than the unproven infidelity, so the case was quietly relegated to the back section of most papers.

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“Wasn’t she convicted?” I asked.

“Yes. But it was still a victory.”

“It was?”

“They charged her with first-degree murder and second-degree murder. The jury got to choose which they thought she was guilty of. They went with second degree.”

“Okay, I still don’t know what you want me to do.”

“We have a two-week continuance to prepare for sentencing. The minimum the jury is allowed to impose is four years probation. That’s our best hope. Worst case scenario she’ll be sentenced to twenty years. If it’s twenty years she’ll serve ten or twelve, possibly more. She’ll be lucky to get out in time to see her children graduate high school. Not to mention she’ll be a confirmed lesbo by then.”

That jogged my memory. The high school part, not the lesbo part. There were two small children involved, which could work in her favor. Children do need their mothers. Though, when you kill a child’s father you’re unlikely to win an award for good parenting.

“How many women on the jury? That should work in her favor.”

Most women would not stab a cheating spouse; most did understand the impulse.

“Seven,” Owen said. But then a cloud passed over his face. “The state made a big to-do about an insurance policy during the trial. Trying to make a case for first degree. I’m not sure one or two didn’t believe that.”

“Refresh my memory. What was their case?”

“The Berksons had taken out million dollar policies on each other.”

“She was a dentist and he was…”

“Frequently unemployed.”

“But she admits stabbing him so she’ll never collect. How could that be first degree?”

“The ASA tried to make it sound like she didn’t understand the fine print.”

“She’s smart enough to plot a murder but too stupid to understand an insurance policy?”

“He spent a lot of time reading the policy into the record. Claimed even he had trouble understanding it.”

“She’s a dentist. She has an education.”

“She went to dental school in the Caribbean. Wasn’t at the top of her class.”

“Still. No offense, but I think law school is a lot easier.” Science had never been a strong suit of mine.

Owen shrugged. “I thought it was crap, too. I’m absolutely certain she did not kill her husband for any insurance money she thought she’d get. She’s very bright, and quite nice for a murderess. Fortunately, the jury agreed and threw out the first-degree charges.”

“So what do you want me to do? Find the mistress?”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“I work for you, you can ask—”

“Madeline doesn’t want her found. We do have to respect the client’s wishes.”

That struck me as odd. The mistress would have bolstered her story and created sympathy.

“Is there even a mistress?” I wondered.

“The newspapers tried awfully hard to find her,” he said absently. “But then…journalists, they don’t always have the right skills.”

He wanted me to find the mistress. I hadn’t spent much time working for him, but I had the feeling we’d be having a lot of conversations that were not directly about what they were about.

“Isn’t it kind of pointless to find her now? Your client still won’t appreciate it.”

“No, she won’t. But…” I could see the wheels turning. “If someone found her by accident it could be helpful.”

“If she exists.”

“Yes, if she exists. I wouldn’t want her in court but…someone could get her interviewed by the Daily Herald or The Tribune.”

“How would that help?”

“The jury. They’re not supposed to read the newspaper during the trial. Most of them take that very seriously. But she’s been convicted. At least a couple of them will have jumped the gun and be back to reading the newspaper or watching the nightly news. Not to mention discussing it with their families. If the woman were to do an interview, the jury would know it.”

“So I need to accidentally find her.”

Owen’s lips were sealed. In fact, he kept them tightly closed. Instead, he picked up his briefcase, chocolate brown leather with his initials engraved in gold leaf. O.W.L. I wondered what the “W” was for. Or even if it was for anything. It might just be that he liked to think of himself as an owl. Owls were wise. He pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it onto my desk. On it was a column of names; six of the names were typewritten, seven were added by hand.

“The names on the top are the witnesses who’ve agreed to testify on Madeline’s behalf. The names on the bottom are those who’ve refused. Start with the ones who’ve refused. If nothing else, try to get them to come in and speak on Madeline’s behalf. A couple of them might really help her.”

The list didn’t mean much at the moment. I decided to figure it out later. I really needed to talk to him about Jimmy English. “Um, why don’t I walk you out?”

“Yes, why don’t you.”

I really didn’t think my office was bugged. I’d been sticking the cover from a matchbook in between the door and the jamb just below the hinge whenever I left the office. If someone picked the lock and entered my office the little square of cardboard would have fallen to the floor. So far, it had stayed just where I’d left it.

Silently, we walked out of my office and down the narrow stairs to Clark Street. As soon as we were out the door, I said, “Look, I’ve got to tell—” He raised his hand to silence me again. It all seemed a bit ridiculous. He stepped out into the street and hailed a cab. We climbed in, and before giving the driver an address Owen took a twenty out of his pocket and waved it in the front seat. “We’re just going around the block a few times. So, the rest is for you.” He dropped the twenty on the seat and then closed the plexiglass partition between us.

Turning to me, he said, “All right, what’s the problem?”

“I’ve figured out a couple of things about Operation Tea and Crumpets.” Operation Tea and Crumpets was the cutesy name the task force had given the investigation into Jimmy’s activities. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to step away right now.”

“Then don’t. Do both.” I started to say that I wasn’t sure it would be fair to either client but he stopped me by adding, “Keep billing us the retainer for Jimmy. And also whatever work you do for the Levine case.” What that meant was that my invoicing could easily go over a thousand dollars a week. For about two weeks. That made the whole thing more appealing. I might need to work night and day, but it was just for a while. Part of me still wanted to say no to the lady dentist, but I was fresh out of good reasons.

“What did you find out on Jimmy?” Owen asked.

“The most damaging information comes from a single source. A confidential informant they call Prince Charles. There’s no information in the files about who Prince Charles is. Not even a hint. Which makes me think that they know you have the files. That they wanted you to have them.”

“They’ll have to expose him eventually.”

“So why go to the trouble of hiding him unless they know we’re likely to get our hands on the files now?”

“You think it’s a haystack with no needle.”

“It might be. According to the transcripts, Jimmy told Prince Charles stories. Almost as though he was bragging, which seems out of character.”

“I agree.”

“And there’s another thing. There’s a book or a diary somewhere.”

“Somewhere? But it’s not in the boxes I gave you?”

“No. But a lot of the files have notations. Page numbers and dates.”

“Something like that would be a terrific piece of evidence. Especially if it corroborates Prince Charles’ testimony.”

“But Jimmy’s too smart for all of this.” I resisted the temptation to say, “Something’s fishy.”

“I hope so,” Owen said before he told the cab driver to pull over. We were at the corner of Belmont and Clark for the second time. Just as he got out the door, Owen said, “We need to know who’s talking. And we need that book.”

It was a tall order. A very tall order.

 

Haven’t started the Boystown series yet? Check out the Little Boy Dead: A Boystowns Prequel – currently free at Amazon.

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Exclusive Excerpt: From author Jessie Chandler’s “Operation Stop Hate”

February 28th, 2015

Exclusive Excerpt

Operation Stop Hate

by Jessie Chandler

 

Prologue

The second gunshot came less than a minute after the first. The sharp report faded, replaced by the frenetic sound of music drumming through Sony headphones. They covered the ears of a young man who moved with slow, deliberate steps down an empty hall. Blond curls brushed the collar of a black Carhartt jacket, and worn jeans hung loosely on his thin frame.

He peered carefully through the narrow, rectangular windows on each classroom door. Inside, students cowered alongside terrified teachers. As he systematically checked one room after another, he tonelessly hummed to the thumping rhythm in his ears. Halfway down the hall, he froze in front of one of the windows. After a moment, he raised a hand and tried the doorknob.

School protocol dictated that in the event of a threat involving potential or realized violence, the teacher’s task was to lock down their classroom. The teacher within had followed directions.

The boy wrenched violently at the knob. The door shuddered under the onslaught.

He stepped back, aimed a black handgun between the knob and the doorjamb and pulled the trigger. The deafening report of the gunshot sent the still classroom into a blur of movement. Kids screamed, scrambling for cover. The teacher charged toward the now-splintered entry at the same time the shooter slammed the sole of his scuffed boot in the center of the door. It swung violently inward, into the woman. She bounced off the door and skidded across the floor.

The boy calmly stepped over the motionless teacher and scanned the room. He reached up and tugged his headphones off, leaving them slung around his neck, the pounding bass now clearly audible.

The shooter focused on a thin teen in jeans and an untucked, green flannel shirt. “Hunter.”

A wide-eyed, longhaired girl who’d been standing near Hunter backed slowly away.

Hunter made a choking sound and his face blanched. He raised his hands. “No, Mike, please. What’s—”

The gunshot shattered the air. Hunter spun as if a hand reached down from the ceiling and twirled him like a top. He crashed into the girl. Both went down in a flurry of arms and legs. The panicked shrieks of thirty terrified students reverberated through the classroom.

Mike exited without a backward glance, humming once again. Three doors down, he paused and tried the doorknob. This one turned. He pushed the door open.

A chubby man with a fringe of white hair stretched his arms protectively in front of a number of students who huddled like lambs behind him.

Mike looked past the teacher and locked eyes with another student with a buzz cut and an athlete’s physique.

“Billy.” Mike’s voice was glacier cold. “Mr. H., please move.”

“Mike,” Mr. H. said, “this isn’t what you—”

“Please, just move.”

“You don’t have to—”

“Move it!”

Mr. H. lunged toward Mike. Blood spewed as the report of the shot hammered through the room, the concussion almost a physical force in the enclosed space.

Kids yowled. They scrambled over desks and each other in an effort at self-preservation.

Mike calmly skirted the fallen Mr. H. He stopped in front of Billy, who was backed up against the windows that overlooked the parking lot.

“What are you doing?” Billy’s voice sounded like someone had kneed him in the nuts.

“What am I doing?” Mike echoed faintly. He raised the gun. “You know what.” Mike’s body quaked and he shouted, “No more!”

“Please—”

“Shut up.” Mike stepped closer. He pressed the barrel of the gun into Billy’s sternum.

“Mike!” a voice shouted from the doorway. “Please, please don’t.”

He cast a glance back at a tall, plump girl who stood on the threshold. She breathed heavily, eyes wide. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, kids squeezed past her and ran down the hall. Mike let them go.

“No, Livy, not this time.” Mike refocused on Billy. Over his shoulder he said, “Get out of here. You don’t want to see this.”

“Dude, come on.” Olivia took a couple of steps inside the classroom. “It doesn’t have to be like this. They’re not worth it.”

“Olivia, go!”

Billy’s eyes flicked between Mike and Olivia. “Yeah, Mike, come on—”

Mike dug the barrel harder into his chest, and Billy grunted in pain.

Mike’s voice dropped, hardened. “Hunter and this asshole did something to Otis. To my goddamned dog. We had to put him to sleep last night.”

“Oh, God,” Olivia whispered on an exhale.

Billy said, “Come on, man. I swear I didn’t—”

“Shut up, fucker. Paybacks are a bitch.” More gently, he said, “Get out of here, Livy. Do it now.”

Olivia backed away, stumbling over an upended desk. A thunderous blast chased her out the door. Glass shattered, the sound almost lost in the din of screams echoing in the hallway.

At last, nothing remained but the tinny beat of heavy metal rock music.

Cover Final Stop Hate JPG

Chapter 1

Raindrops pounded the ground. I forcefully shook my head before stepping through the back door into my apartment, which was half of an ancient, two-story Northeast Minneapolis duplex. Built railroad-style, the apartments had a long hall that ran along the outermost wall, going through the unit from the front door straight to the back door. The kitchen, the living room, and a half-bath opened off the hallway. On the second floor, two bedrooms and a full bath were situated off of a duplicate hall.

I shrugged out of my wet jacket and hung it up. April showers might bring May flowers, but they didn’t do much more than make me cranky. The week had been grueling, and I looked forward to an unexpected weekend off.

Mail injected through a slot in the door by the postal carrier was strewn haphazardly across the foyer. I scooped up the envelopes and brought them into the kitchen.

At the table I flipped through the mail. Two credit card applications landed in a shred pile. A Target bill and a reminder that my teeth were overdue for cleaning went into another.

A pink envelope had the return address of one E. Knight. Eli was a redheaded Tasmanian devil, an ex who’d recently decided she no longer wished to hold that status. After what the tramp had pulled on me, that status wasn’t about to change. Ever.

In the midst of an intense four-year relationship, I’d come home unexpectedly early one afternoon and walked into our bedroom to the shock of a lifetime.

Eli and a woman she worked with were sprawled in our bed, between our sheets, doing the horizontal mambo. After my brain caught up, I flashed the gun in my shoulder holster and sent them both packing, dressed in nothing but their birthday suits.

As they scrammed down the stairs and out the front door, I picked up the clothing they’d dropped and threw it out the bedroom window. The neighborhood gossiped for the next month about the two naked chicks scrambling around my front yard attempting to cover themselves while trying to gather their stuff.

That was nearly two years ago. Eventually, for whatever reason, Eli decided she wanted another go. Ever since I’d come home from an assignment in New Jersey last winter, she had been a pain in my ass. I figured sooner or later she’d knock it off, but five months had passed, and she hadn’t let up. She’d recently taken over the helm of the advertising agency she worked for when we were together. The little womanizer had the gall to claim she’d slept up the ladder for me. For me? Yeah. Whatever. She was a certified nut job wrapped inside a power-hungry barracuda.

I gazed at the stack of pink envelopes on the table and then at four empty vases—vases that had held red roses before I pitched them directly into the trash—sitting on the kitchen counter between the refrigerator and the microwave. All the flowers had come in the last week. Maybe it was time to admit my ex had lost her mind.

I ripped the newest missive open and pulled out a single sheet of scented stationery. The smell brought unbidden memories of times best forgotten.

Cailin,

Why are you shutting me out? I’m finally at the top, and you’re meant to be here with me. I’m the only one who knows how to love you, and you know it. Let me give you all of me. I love you, Cailin. I know you love me too.

Eli

I tucked the note back into the envelope and tossed it onto the growing pile of undying love. It was past time to call her on her bullshit, but I’d put off a confrontation hoping she would pull her own head out of her ass without help.

I threw the rest of the junk mail in the recycling bin and dialed Northstar Gallery.

“Northstar,” a distracted-sounding voice answered. My heart thumped, like it did whenever I heard Alejandra—Alex to those she knew and loved—Rodriguez speak. My girl was always quick to make it clear she wasn’t to be confused with the ex-Yankee baseball player. While she had bigger figurative balls than half the Yankees put together, she came by her strength naturally. Every night, when I lay down and held Alex to me, I thanked the gods and goddesses for bringing her to me.

My responsibilities as a special agent for a small branch of the Department of Homeland Security called the National Protection and Investigation Unit took up the majority of my life. The Federal Government wasn’t creative enough to come up with a new set of job titles for the NPIU, so we were stuck with the same ones the Feebs used. Beyond that, though, were some major differences. The NPIU had three main goals. The first was to assess, track, and stop homegrown terror plots by analyzing and acting on information gathered by a number of agencies at all levels of government. Information collection proved exceptionally tricky. Just ask those folks at the National Security Agency.

Currently, the NSA was under fire for overreach in their efforts to collect international intelligence. I didn’t know how the mess would end, but no matter which way it went, the reputation of the United States had taken a serious hit. I was glad I worked mainly on this side of the pond.

The second mandate was to be available to any agency who requested our assistance, terror-related or not, so long as imminent danger to the American public was established.

The last, and in my opinion, most critical mandate was to improve cooperation—sharing of vital information between city, state, and the federal agencies in an attempt to bridge the negative attitudes departments often held against each other.

The pervasive cooperation problem reminded me of a pack of dogs fighting to mark their territory by seeing who could lift their leg higher. The truth of the matter was, all too often, no one was getting any relief.

I’d been caught in one of those leg-lifting battles last September. Two of us had been sent to New Jersey to help the ever-shorthanded East Coast Bureau investigate a threat involving the Holland tunnel. The bright spot out of that mess was Alex. We’d begun dating, and she allowed herself to be dragged to Minneapolis when the assignment ended. I was still shocked she was here.

Alex cleared her throat and repeated, “Northstar.”

“Hey.”

“Hey, yourself.” I heard the smile in her smoky voice. “What’s up?”

“Aside from being whiny from loneliness, I figured you’d like to know I got another letter.”

Alex let out an exasperated sigh. “What did it say this time?”

“Same shit, different day.”

“Jesus Christ. What’ll it take for her to get the hint? Get a restraining order. Shoot her. Something.”

Alex was only half-kidding. Eli had been incessant since we’d come home. She had an obsessive streak, but in the past she eventually grew bored with whatever her current obsession was and would fixate on a new one. Why she wasn’t doing that this time was beyond me.

In the deepest recesses of my gut, a part of me felt wholly inadequate because I couldn’t find a way to successfully rein in my ex-lover. The chats I’d already had with her had no impact. Maybe a restraining order wasn’t a terrible plan, but the idea that someone who worked in law enforcement couldn’t take care of their own shit was pathetic. I needed to be firmer. On occasion, my pride did have a nasty habit of getting in the way of common sense.

“Shooting Eli sounds like a splendid idea,” I said. “I don’t get it. She should’ve moved onto something else months ago. This is excessive, even for her.”

A buzz in the background became a jumble of loud voices. “It’s because you’re irresistible. On that note, I gotta run. Some briefcase-toting chicks in designer power suits just walked in. See you tonight.” Alex disconnected and almost immediately another call lit up my phone screen. Bad sign—my workplace was on the line. I had a hunch my weekend was about to go up in flames.

“Sorry for the call, McKenna,” my direct boss, Supervisory Special Agent Allen Weatherspoon said without preamble. Weatherspoon was a decent guy and still remembered what it was like to run hot in the trenches. When his agents had a rare weekend off, he was loath to interrupt. He had a wife and three kids and liked to keep to a regular schedule himself. If the SSA was expressing an apology to me on a Friday evening, something very bad must have happened.

“There’s been another school shooting.”

“Oh, shit, no.” I wasn’t sure if I said that out loud or if the words only echoed in my head.

The previous week a shooting occurred at Steven’s High School in Minneapolis, and we’d been called in to assist. Minnesota hadn’t seen a school shooting since the Rocori High shooting in Cold Spring in 2003 and the Red Lake massacre in 2005.

The Steven’s High shooter had killed himself after dropping four students and the vice principal. The investigation into the incident was ongoing. There didn’t seem to be any effective federal solutions, thanks in part to a government that couldn’t agree on anything and a noisy portion of the public terrified of losing their right to bear arms.

“Where?” I asked.

“Gray Academy Charter. Minneapolis has asked us in, and Nakamura’s on her way. Coordinate with the responding agencies and the locals. You know the location?”

“The alternative school? 31st and Nicollet?”

“That’s the one.”

“Is it secured, or is the shooter still on the loose?”

“Secured. The shooter took out two kids, a security guard, and at least one teacher. Funny thing, he was waiting on the front steps of the school when the cavalry arrived. He stood up, hands in the air, and turned himself in.”

“Weird. I’m on my way, sir.”

I texted Alex that I’d been called out and that she was on her own for the evening. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be home anytime soon.

***

Twenty minutes later I parked near the entrance to Gray Academy. The structure was imposing—the early twentieth-century brick building had housed the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company, and many of the city’s streetcars had been built there in an era long since gone.

The wind had picked up, and I shivered with an inner chill the warmest heater wouldn’t chase away. Dusk was eerie, far earlier than usual at this time of year thanks to low-lying, battleship-gray clouds and the nonstop rain. Mother Nature seemed to be weeping for what had taken place.

Squads and ambulances, their red and blue lights flashing, were parked within the cordoned-off parking lot. Across the lot, on the sidewalk next to the street, three dozen gawkers had gathered. Reporters crowded together in a designated area, their bright lights shining and cameras ready to roll.

Yellow crime scene tape wound from tree to signpost to garbage can around the school. A number of crime scene guys hovered over something on the ground to the right of the front doors. Intensely bright police spotlights flooded the area.

I caught the attention of one of the officers valiantly engaged in staving off the morbidly nosy. When I flashed my NPIU credentials, he said, “It’s an ugly one, McKenna.”

“They all are.” I ducked under the crime scene tape. Trampled brown grass ended at a sidewalk leading to a flight of ten stairs and the wide, double doors of the school’s entrance.

Five people had gathered halfway up the stairway. I recognized my NPIU counterpart, Agent Rosie Nakamura, by her short, angular profile. Beside her stood the Minneapolis Chief of Police, Howard Helling, along with MPD Officers Manuel Martinez and Bryan Peterson who were a couple of Minneapolis Homicide guys I’d worked with in the past. They moonlighted on the MPD’s Special Response Team. I didn’t know the fifth man.

Peterson and Martinez reminded me of a mixed up Laurel and Hardy. Martinez was laid back, rotund, and balding. A thick, black moustache hovered over his upper lip. Bryan Peterson’s thin, six-foot-tall frame was topped by a mop of straw-colored hair.

Martinez said, “Would be nice to see you, McKenna, if we were at the bar.”

All business, Peterson said, “Let’s get the intros out of the way. Agent Cailin McKenna, Principal Nyland Nash.”

He jerked his head toward a solidly built man with salt-and-pepper hair. I reached for Nash’s hand and gave it a quick shake. His paisley tie had been loosened, and the knot sat crookedly at the base of his throat. Sweating and shaky, he looked like he might lose his marbles any moment.

“Miles Johnson,” Peterson continued, “is running the scene along with MPD’s crime lab. Here he comes now.”

Johnson took the steps two at a time. “Hey.” A man of few words, he was the head of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Forensic Crime Scene Team. I’d worked with Johnson a couple of times. He was a decent guy and had a great nose for finding shit that was often overlooked.

I gave him a nod and turned to Helling. “Chief.”

Every time I saw Chief Helling, he reminded me of Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad—minus the terminal cancer diagnosis. His face vacillated between bluish-gray and reddish-green in the reflection of the flashing lights. The stress of dealing with a cancer of a different kind that encompassed our entire city had to be monumental.

Might as well get on with it and maybe we could get out of the drizzle. I asked, “What have we got?”

Principal Nash found his voice. “A little after three this afternoon, one of our students opened fire.”

In report mode, Miles Johnson picked up the narrative. “We have two dead.”

Chief Helling crossed his arms, his face anguished. I would not want to be in his shoes.

“Three wounded,” Johnson continued, “including the security guard at the front door who was shot in the upper thigh, one teacher who was knocked unconscious by a door the shooter kicked in, and another teacher who was shot in the abdomen. The dead are two seventeen-year-old male students. The injured have been transported to Hennepin County Medical Center, and the deceased are still in place. The shooter has been taken to the Juvenile Detention Center.”

Helling said, “Students awaiting pick up are in the library, along with a few kids who came forward wanting to talk to us about the shooter. We need to find out what they know. One fortunate turn of events is one of the kids is the shooter’s best friend, and she’s willing to talk.”

Rosie asked, “Do we have an ID on the shooter?”

Peterson flipped open a notepad. “Michael John Lorenzo, age sixteen.”

The air suddenly thickened. I felt like I was choking in a vacuum of disbelief. “Michael Lorenzo?” Cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck. For a second I thought I might go toes up in front of everyone.

“Cailin?” Rosie asked. “What’s wrong? You know him?”

It would be easier to think if the roaring in my ears subsided. “I know a kid, a teen, with the same name.”

Off-duty, I occasionally picked up off-the-record cases, cases typically outside the scope of my job. Behind closed doors, I admitted to sometimes wielding the power of my badge in ways my bosses might not approve of. Most of those cases involved trying to pull runaways and homeless kids off the streets and get them somewhere safe. Provide them resources they might not know were available. The MPD had a small unit assigned to do just that, but they were often swamped. I was more than happy to lend a hand when I could. The intent was noble enough in my eyes, and that made it easy to rationalize away my legal indiscretions. How many Michael John Lorenzos could there be attending this particular high school?

I snapped my mouth shut. “I pulled a Mike Lorenzo off the streets and helped him get placed in foster care. He attends Gray Academy.”

“McKenna.” The chief faced me. He pensively tapped his chin with a finger. “Since you might know this boy, maybe you should be the one to talk to this friend of his.”

“Who is it?” My voice still sounded thin.

Martinez consulted his notebook again. “Olivia Chapman.”

“Goddamn it.” The words were out of my mouth before I could censor myself. I tilted my head back to the dark sky. “The shooter is my Mike.” A second later I returned my gaze to Helling’s. “A year or so ago he told me he’d actually made a friend. Her name was Olivia. Yeah, I’ll talk to her.”

“Where are the teachers?” Rosie asked. She was one of the NPIU’s high tech, detail-oriented computer magicians, and she approached life like she did her work, with a single-minded focus.

Chief Helling said, “Teachers are in the gym. Martinez, head downtown. Make sure the foster parents are notified.” He pointed at Rosie and Peterson. “You two go with McKenna. Johnson, get back in there and make damn sure no one is contaminating the crime scene. I’ll have enough people crawling all over me without having to deal with that problem.”

“Sure thing, Chief.” Miles Johnson made for the front door of the school, the big yellow “CST” on his burly back reflecting the sweep of the emergency lights.

Helling rubbed his hands together briskly and attempted a smile that came across as a tired grimace. “Mr. Nash, if you’ll come with me, I’d appreciate it. Time for us to face the cameras.”

The two men moved down the stairs, Martinez following in their wake.

Martinez stopped after he’d descended a couple of steps. “Jesus, McKenna. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

Rosie nudged me. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

 

Jessie Chandler
Author of the award-winning Shay O’Hanlon Caper Series.