Exclusive Excerpt: A Cradle Song by Mark Zubro

Part One

Chapter One

Erik

The loneliest little harmonica sniffled. As best he could, he ignored all the distraction and noise from the store.

His name was Erik. Especially on a Christmas Eve like today, he tried to shut the world out. Then in his heart, he would listen to a cradle song for harmonica and orchestra, the most beautiful and soothing music he’d ever heard.

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Deep inside of him, Erik had several secret wishes. The most important was that he wanted to be chosen by a good and caring child, and for that child he wanted to play a cradle song.

Long, long ago back to a time he could barely remember, Erik had heard cradle songs for harmonica and orchestra, a beautiful lullaby music. Only a few of those tunes existed. He wanted to make more. New ones. If not that, he wanted to make music with one little boy or girl, for one little boy or girl, music that would soar to the heavens in purity and grace. Music that would change the world, or at the least, heal a child’s tired and broken heart.

He wanted to play a song like that, be part of a song like that. To play for a child with or without an orchestra, to play a lullaby as the child fell asleep on Christmas Eve, all this in Erik’s forever home, nestled in the child’s hands. That was his deepest dream.

But he’d been stuck back here for years, longer than Erik could remember. He’d never been chosen, not even close; picked up and put back only once.

Erik wore a coating of dust most of the year. Maybe in the big cleaning before Christmas, he was noticed in his quiet refuge and someone wiped away the year’s dirt. Most times, they skipped him because they didn’t see him.

Erik was far, far back on his shelf. The dim light rarely reached as far back as he was. He was a little rusty and dinged up. All the bright, shiny trumpets, French horns, tubas, flugelhorns, coronets, and so many more were out in front on the big shelves throughout the store; ready to blare and blast at the slightest sign of interest. The kids who wandered this far back rarely even saw, much less put a hand out toward him.

Erik wasn’t as frightened as he had been in the beginning. He was used to feeling alone. He liked being so far back because he refused to ever show anyone that he was close to sniffling, or worse, crying.

Every Christmas Eve was the worst. Most days, the store thronged with children who all passed him by. He didn’t blame them. They couldn’t even see him all tucked away. Christmas Eve was the busiest day of the year, with the poor and dispossessed kids admitted to the Isle of Misfit Toys to pick and choose among them, and then take away a free toy. On that day, the crowds were the biggest of the year. To be bypassed by so many, added an extra drop to his despair.

On Erik’s own shelf, a cluster of knocked-around but shiny trumpets lounged way out front, followed by the battered but preening flutes and then, way far in the corner, him.

Erik was an oddity, a little baby harmonica. He hadn’t grown. He always thought this was because he’d been snatched from the factory too soon. The truth was, he’d been made that way, but he didn’t know that, and really, it didn’t make any difference to him. He was happy being the smallest possible harmonica. He just wished with all his heart to make music.

Today, Erik tried to be brave for the tiny little race car who had been thrust onto his shelf a month or so ago. The little car had been shoved way back, by a boy who was being mean to his younger brother.

Reginald was the little car’s name. It was his first Christmas Eve not being in someone’s home, without being cherished by a child. That woe-filled first day, he’d told Erik his story between stifled sobs and snorted sniffles.

Reginald was barely bigger than a Monopoly token and must originally have been bright yellow. He’d been loved and held and played with until he was worn to a dull sheen. Now, Reginald was all dinged, rusted, and seedy-mustard yellow. He had lost his left front tire. In his home, he hadn’t cared because he’d known he was loved.

Erik thought one of the worst parts of Reginald’s story was that, years before, the poor little car had lost his mom and dad to a crazed parent who was determined to throw away all her son’s so-called childish junk. Then disaster had struck on that recent fateful day just after Thanksgiving. That had been Reginald’s very worst moment.

The little car had talked between his tears about his home and the boy, Daniel, who loved him. How he always stayed in a special place in the boy’s bottom drawer. He had always been safe in that one tiny snugglement.

Daniel cared for Reginald, treasured him, and was very kind, and always protected him. On that horrible day, Daniel’s older brother, Harold, had waited in ambush to snatch the car out of Daniel’s hand. The little boy couldn’t get Reginald back.

Daniel got very angry and cried. His big brother dashed away and laughed at him. Daniel ran after his brother. He even chased him down the street, but the older boy danced and skipped away always an inch out of his brother’s reach. All that time, Harold waved the weeping little car above his head.

The little boy told his parents. His daddy was harsh, said he needed to get tough and not be a baby. His mother kept silent because she was afraid of her husband and also fed up with hearing the boys argue. Then later that day, in this store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, when no one was looking, Harold had thrust Reginald as far back on this shelf as he could. Daniel didn’t see him do it. No one did.

Their parents had been tired and shushed the squabbling boys, then rushed them out of the store so their fighting and wailing wouldn’t embarrass the adults.

Erik felt sorry for the little car who had no one and nothing in common with anyone on his shelf. After he’d been crying, Reginald tended to hiccup in the night. Erik comforted the little car as best he could.

As for himself, Erik had been passed around for years in many homes. In each one, he’d tried to be cheerful and make friends, but so many of the other musical instruments were indifferent or cared only about themselves. Plus, he was so tiny, it was easy to ignore or overlook him.

In one home, he’d met some snotty violins. One time when he’d thought they were feeling mellow, he’d explained to one of them about music for harmonica and orchestra, cradle songs, the kind he loved. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he’d picked the most wrong one to confide in.

Agnes, the meanest violin, had snipped at him, “Well, even if that kind of music does exist, and I doubt it, you’re not a real harmonica, are you? You’re a little baby harmonica, hardly worth the few notes you can play.”

Agnes had liked to make the other toys feel bad. She tried to lord it over everyone, but Erik knew her secret. First, he’d noticed how she took to heart slights from the two closest other instruments, an oboe and a bassoon. He also saw that the bigger instruments and even other kinds of toys picked on Agnes. It was only when all of her tormentors weren’t around that Agnes attacked and berated the ones smaller than herself.

The little harmonica felt sorry for Agnes, but his every kind word to her always fell flat. She was always meaner faster than any other toy he’d ever met.

Erik knew he didn’t make as many notes as other instruments. Once, he’d met a huge grand piano. He’d lived in its bench for the longest time. The little boy of the house was made to take lessons on an instrument that seemed to be a bazillion times bigger and have a million more notes than the harmonica.

After his interminable session every day, the little boy would sneak Erik out of the great bench. The boy would hide in a vast closet in one of the elegant rooms, and he’d play and play. Erik did his best to help the little boy feel better.

His second favorite times at that house were when the mom or dad would read out loud with the boy. Erik would be all nestled in the boy’s shirt pocket, or if it was at night, in the pocket on his pajama tops, and Erik would feel the words wash over both of them as if they were part of a long flowing stream of stories stretching on endlessly into magic.

Then one day, the boy had taken him outside to a park. He had swung and twirled on a round-a-bout tilt-a-whirl. The boy had gotten dizzy and sick and forgot the little harmonica on the edge of the sandbox.

While climbing over the edge of the sandbox, a three-year-old girl with angelic blond locks had accidentally knocked Erik off the edge and down into the sand. The next day, the little boy had come to search for him. Everyone looked and hunted, and the little boy had cried. But Erik had landed under a small drift of sand that only got bigger as hands reached and searched for him.

Erik stayed buried in the sandbox for the longest time. It had rained and gotten very cold. Many nights, the harmonica shivered and shook.

Then one sunny spring day, another little girl had found him. She’d cleaned him up almost as good as new. Try as she might, she couldn’t get every bit of the rust off, but she got most of it. Her fingers weren’t skilled enough to fix the dents.

Erik lived for a while on a shelf with her dolls. They were friendly in a stand-offish way. They didn’t like to talk to him because he wasn’t one of them.

Later, Erik had been thrown into a box of junk, which made its way through garage sales and rummage sales and finally giveaways in church basements.

Erik survived the drops, dings, and dents as best he could. He was seldom played with during all his jostlings and journeys. These days, the noise he made wasn’t as true as it had once been.

In this store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, when he was brought in, they’d cleaned him up as new as he’d felt in years.

Even here with its kindly proprietor, the clarinets, flutes, and oboes farther along the shelves could be mean and snotty, most often in a snide way, whispering in their high or low-pitched whines.

The little harmonica knew he’d been here for years. No one had picked him. He’d barely ever been touched. He longed for one set of hands and one set of lips to bring him to life.

On his first Christmas Eve in this store, he was at one of his lowest points. At that moment, Erik had made the mistake of telling one of the other musical instruments his dream of playing a gentle cradle song for a child. He’d forgotten the lesson he’d learned from Agnes. He’d hoped her attitude wasn’t shared by anyone else. Surely, no one could be as cruel as that violin? Alas, he was wrong.

Mildred was a brass trumpet who’d lost one of her shiny knobs and had a couple of big dents. At that time, Erik was closer to the front of the shelf, before he got shoved so far back out of the light and had begun to lose hope.

Blurb:

This is the story of a Christmas Eve and the travails of a tiny harmonica alone and lost in the deep dark on the back of his shelf in a store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, and about a little boy frightened, alone, and lost from his family on Christmas Eve. It is a story of warmth, compassion, and joy to be read by the whole family.

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Want to know more about Mark Zubro? 

Click on the author’s photo to the left to be taken to his website: 

Exclusive Excerpt: Gay Noir (three noir mysteries with a gay twist) by Olivier Bosman

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT:

Mrs Skinner rushed into my office in her hat and furs, pulled up a chair and sat down at my desk. “Have you got the pictures?” she said.

“Well, good morning to you, Mrs Skinner,” I responded.

“Never mind all that!” she snapped back. “Have you got the pictures?” She took off her hat and fur and slammed them on my desk.

“Have you got the money?”

“Pictures first!”

I shook my head. “I need to know that you have the money before I show you the pictures.”

She looked at me and frowned. She grabbed her handbag and rummaged in it for her chequebook.

“How much was it again?” she asked, opening her chequebook and taking a pen out of her bag.

“Four hundred pounds,” I said. “And I want cash.”

She looked up, surprised. “You said three hundred and fifty.”

“The price has gone up.”

“Why?”

“Turns out there’s a bit more to your husband’s affair than meets the eye.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you have the cash or not?”

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Mrs Skinner replaced her chequebook and pen in her bag, took out her purse and started counting the money in it. “I have three hundred and fifty pounds,” she said, “as that’s what we agreed on. I can owe you the rest.”

“Show me.”

She rolled her eyes in irritation, but she eventually took the notes out of her purse and laid them on the desk.

“Are you happy now, Mr Stone?” she said. “Do you think you can show me the pictures now?”

“I am, and I can.”  I opened the desk drawer and retrieve the pictures. “I’ll show you the pictures now,” I said, opening the brown envelope, “but I should warn you, it’s not a pretty sight.”

“Just get on with it.”

I placed the pictures on the desk one by one and closely watched her face as I did so. It was rigid and emotionless.

“What’s this?” she said after I had placed the final picture on the desk. She was looking at me, frowning with confusion.

“That’s your husband,” I said.

“Who is that other person with him?”

“That is the man he’s been having an affair with.”

“That is not a man!”

“I think you’ll find he is.” I pointed at a certain part of Lenny’s anatomy.

“What are you suggesting?”

“I’m not suggesting anything.”

“Are you suggesting that my husband is a homosexual?”

“I’m not suggesting anything, Mrs Skinner. I let the pictures do the speaking.” I picked up the photo of Skinner eagerly swallowing Lenny’s cock and placed it on top of the other ones.

“My husband is not a homosexual!” she said, jumping up from her chair. “He is the son of an Anglican priest! That picture is a fake! Where is the man’s head?”

“I cut his head off, Mrs Skinner. There’s no need for you to know who the man is.”

“I’m not paying for those pictures! They are not what I asked for!”

“That’s fine. Then I won’t give them to you.” I picked up the photos, slipped them back in the envelope and locked the envelope in my drawer.

Mrs Skinner remained standing over my desk. Her body trembled with rage and her face began to contort. Finally, the emotion became too much for her and she burst into tears. She sat back down and buried her head in her hands. I admit I did feel a tinge of pity for her. I pulled the handkerchief out of my breast pocket and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” she said softly and began drying her tears. “This is so humiliating! I should never have married him. My father warned me not to marry outside my faith. We’re Catholics. This would never have happened if I had married a Catholic.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You will have to burn the pictures,” she said. “No one must see what I’ve seen.”

“You can burn them yourself if you pay for them.”

“There!” She threw the bank notes at me. “There’s your cursed money!”

“What about the other fifty pounds you still owe me?”

“I’ll come back with it another day.”

“How can I be sure?”

She looked at me indignantly. “I think you can trust me, Mr Stone.”

“I don’t trust anyone.”

“Well, what do you want me to do?”

I looked at her earrings. “Are those real pearls?”

“My pearls?” She put her hands to her earrings and stared at me with shock. “Are you serious? You want my pearls? Don’t you think I’ve been humiliated enough?”

“Hey, lady, I’ve got a business to run here.”

She took off her earrings and flung them at me. “Have the blessed pearls, you hard-hearted swine!”

I picked up the earrings and put them in my pocket. Then I opened the drawer, took out the envelope and handed it to her. She yanked it out of my hands, picked up her hat and fur and jumped out of her chair. “I hope I never see you again!” She marched out of the office.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you, Mrs Skinner,” I called after her, but she didn’t hear me.

BLURB:
Inspired by the pulp fiction novels of the 1940’s and 50’s, the novellas in this anthology emulate the dark, thrilling, sensational and taboo breaking stories of the post war era and gives them a gay twist.
The Honeytrap

1950’s London. Felix Stone is an openly gay P.I. He is approached by a mysterious woman who pays him to shadow her husband. What at first seems to be a run of the mill adultery case, soon turns out to be much more serious. When the people involved in the case suddenly start dying around him, Felix finds himself embroiled in the world of cold war espionage and his own life is put in danger.

The Deluded

1949. The East End of London is still recovering from the blitz. Fitzgerald O’Sullivan is a young man with romantic notions of living like an impoverished writer. In an attempt to escape his past, he abandons his life of privilege and rents a room in the East End. There he meets Roy Parker, a chirpy Cockney with a working-class charm. Roy asks Fitz to write a story about how he saved the lives of two Jewish ladies during the war. What follows is a far-fetched tale filled with lies and exaggerations. This is is a noir thriller where nothing is what it seems. A dark tale of love, bitterness and vengeance set in the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War

Estranged

1950´s L.A. Sixteen year old Henry Blomqvist is the son of an aspiring actress and stepson of a millionaire businessman. He is an embarrasement to his parents, a useless layabout who is constantly getting arrested for cruising the parks. But his vices pale in comparison with the dark secrets in his parents´ lives. The kidnapping of Henry´s stepfather triggers a series of events which expose the skeletons in his parents´ closets and which finally give Henry the chance to step up to the mark and show what he´s really made of.

ebook link: (Releasing December 4th, 2018 via Amazon & FREE via Kindle Unlimited)

Paperback link: (Currently Available)

Olivier Bosman’s Bio: 

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Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I’ve spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have every confidence that I will now finally be able to settle down among the olive groves of Andalucia.

I am an avid reader and film fan (in fact, my study is overflowing with my various dvd collections!)

I did an MA in creative writing for film and television at the University of Sheffield.  After a failed attempt at making a carreer as a screenwriter, I turned to the theater and wrote and produced a play called ´Death Takes a Lover´ (which has since been turned into the first D.S.Billings Victorian Mystery). The play was performed on the London Fringe to great critical acclaim.

​Currently living in Spain where I make ends meet by teaching English .

Exclusive Excerpt: The Lawyer Who Leapt (Daytona Beach Book 2) by Frank W. Butterfield

Excerpt:

“Do you have any idea where the place is?” asked Ronnie as he worked at keeping the car on the road. As if from out of nowhere, the wind had kicked up and was blowing Tom’s Buick around the road a bit.

“The judge said they moved the law school out to the airport. I don’t know where, exactly, but it shouldn’t be that hard to find.” He paused and then added, “Howie sent a telegram this morning from Savannah.”

Ronnie whistled. “That was fast. Everything OK?”

“Sounded like it. He mentioned he was keeping his promise to send us one every day.”

Ronnie nodded. “He’s a good kid.”

“He sure is,” said Tom.

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Ronnie burped. “Sorry ’bout that. I shouldn’t have had onions on my burger back at lunch. They always repeat on me.” He burped again.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tom look over at him and smile. “You know, you always say that every time you have onions on anything. But you always have onions.”

Ronnie grinned. He wanted to reach over and put his hand on Tom’s face and pull his pal in close, but he had to keep both hands on the wheel to make sure they stayed on the road. He glanced over and quickly winked at Tom, who blushed.

Neither man said anything for a moment. Then Ronnie asked, “Is that why you love me?”

Tom stiffened, or so Ronnie thought.

. . .

“Is that why you love me?”

Tom could barely believe what he was hearing. How could Ronnie ask him a question like that at a time like this? Tom was doing the best he could to hold his reputation together. Witness tampering was a serious offense and he was looking at serious prison time if he was convicted on the hearsay rumors floating around town that he’d sent Inez Johnson back to New York by bribing her, or whatever they were saying.

He had enough to think about without worrying what Ronnie was going to do next. His friend had always been impulsive. That was what made him so attractive, besides the fact that he was handsome, in an odd sort of way, and was thickly built with plenty of muscles popping out everywhere, something Tom always found attractive in a man.

Staring out at the ribbon of highway that was passing below them in the wind-blown car, Tom thought about their time together the night before and how passionate things had been. That was another thing that attracted him to Ronnie. The man was relaxed when it came to carnal matters. He was friendly and passionate and gentle, while also being driven and almost single-minded in his desire to know that Tom was enjoying himself. It had always been that way.

In the few encounters of a similar nature that Tom had during his time in the Army, he’d been shocked at how selfish other men could be. They seemed to want to be satisfied but had no interest in the sort of quiet conversation intermingled with passionate lovemaking that Tom had always loved having with Ronnie and Sarah, both.

Sarah.

What would she think if she knew what they got up to in the bed she had slept in before she died? Would she be repelled? Disgusted?

Ronnie claimed that she had given her blessing to their fooling around. And, on those nights when she wasn’t home, having taken Missy over to the Gulf Coast to spend a few days with relatives who didn’t like Tom, he and Ronnie would fool around in that bed. But they had never slept together. And Tom had always made sure to change the sheets before Sarah got home.

He couldn’t really imagine the conversation she had with Ronnie about all that. He’d claimed that she’d invited him over for dinner and, while drinking beer, had admitted she knew all about how they felt about each other. He even claimed, Ronnie had, that she had blessed their fooling around.

Tom sighed. He wavered back and forth about whether to believe Ronnie on that score. It seemed both highly unlikely and exactly what Sarah would have done. There had been a number of occasions, during their marriage, when she had kindly sat down with him and told him she knew what he was up to and it didn’t bother her at all. He couldn’t remember the specific things—they had all been small, household sorts of things—but he could easily picture her open and frank expression as she looked right at Ronnie and said something like, “I know you’re in love with Tom as much as I am.”

The sudden intensity of that thought shocked him. Of course she had said that to Ronnie. He didn’t know how he knew, but he did. He could feel in it his bones. Over the sound of the tires on the road and the slight moaning of the wind as it buffeted the car around, he could hear her next sentence, “And I know Tom loves you in a way he could never love me.”

That thought made him jump in his seat.

“You OK, buddy?”

Blurb:

It’s Wednesday morning, September 24th to be precise, and Tom Jarrell is in love. He’s walking through the tree-covered streets of Daytona Beach, on his way to work, and thinking about the wonderful night he just spent. But, when he gets to the office, he realizes he has a few things that need to be done. For one, he needs to file an affidavit in a murder trial, but he’s never done any such thing, so he heads off to his old law school to meet with his favorite professor from before the war to get some much-needed advice. And, while there, he gets much more than he was expecting. Meanwhile, Ronnie Grisham is in trouble with his landlady. He hasn’t slept in his boarding house bed for two nights and she just read her cards last night. Change is coming. Could the cards be pointing to Ronnie? As for Marveen Dodge, her suspicions about what is really going on at the law office of Tom Jarrell, Esquire, is like a simmering pot that could boil over at any moment. And, Alice Watson is doing just fine, thank you very much, and looking forward to a nice Saturday at the beach with her girl. But, none of them expects what happens next as two mysterious girls arrive in town, suitcases in hand… And an unexpected trial gets underway… Read about all of this, and more, in the case of THE LAWYER WHO LEAPT.

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Author Frank W. Butterfield:

Frank W. Butterfield is the Amazon best-selling author of over 20 books and counting in the Nick Williams Mystery series, stories about Nick & Carter, a private dick and a fireman who live and love in San Francisco.

Beginning in 1953, the series follows their adventures as they deal with the wide-ranging consequences of publicly outing themselves long before the term existed.

Refusing to back down, Nick & Carter begin to build a life where they use their resources to help their family as much as they possibly can.

For Nick & Carter, family is a broad term that includes the ones they were both born into as well as the one they choose: the men and women they know, meet, and grow closer to along the way.

Their stories range from the deeply intimate to the broadly political as they move through the changes in American and global culture from the stultifying sameness of the 50s through the tumultuous transformation of the 60s and the chaotic confusion of the 70s.

As time rolls by and their love deepens, they eventually find themselves able to legally marry in the summer of 2008 at the ages of 84 and 86, respectively.

No one will be as surprised as Nick & Carter when that amazing day finally arrives.

To learn more about Frank W. Butterfield’s novels, Nick & Carter and their ongoing adventures, please click the link before for his website.

https://www.frankwbutterfield.com/

Exclusive Excerpt: The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 2 by Nicole Kimberling

Excerpt:

To Peter, Samuel Powers was an excellent example of how weird New York style looks on people who are not physically in New York at the time. He wore a V-neck tee with a too-small blazer, cropped chinos, and polished brown loafers with no socks. His bare, tanned ankles dared the world to question his well-examined casualness. He would have looked amazing if he’d been walking through Central Park, holding some kind of whey-enriched smoothie. But sitting in the main offices of the Hamster, surrounded by mismatched office furniture, he just looked like he’d been beamed there from a cooler future—the victim of a science-fiction transporter accident.

At the same time, he looked vaguely familiar. But that might have been because he looked like every other handsome, stylish guy from New York.

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“I’m sorry I kept you waiting.” Peter extended his hand, and Sam shook it with exactly the right amount of manly pressure and eye contact familiar enough that Peter felt certain that this couldn’t be their first meeting. He considered attempting to fake it—go in for a hug, or air-kiss even, just to take it to the next level—but decided against it. It was far too hot to hug, and he’d never been a kissy guy. “I’m sorry, but have we met before?”

Sam pulled a wide, perfectly toothed smile and said, “I came to your wedding three years ago.”

Now it all fell into place. Sam had attended their wedding as Nick’s agent, Donna’s, date.

The wedding itself had been such a blur—not just because he’d been excited and stressed by the first mingling of his and Nick’s respective families but because one of their guests had attempted to murder Nick. Lesser details of the occasion, like the names of their non-murdering guests, had largely slipped through the cracks of Peter’s memory.

“I’m so sorry.” Peter felt a line of red creeping up the back of his neck. “Please sit down.”

“It’s all right. I don’t think we spoke much beyond the congratulations.” Sam seated himself and then leaned in, elbows on Peter’s none-too-clean desk. “So the reason I’m here is that I’m working on a book and I was hoping I might convince you to help me. It’s about the Werks Collective.”

Peter ran down a list of every collective, commune, and co-op he could recall operating in greater Whatcom County, but nothing rang a bell and he said so.

“It’s the artists’ collective that Walter de Kamp was part of in New York.”
At the mention of that name Peter’s naturally ebullient heart cooled to a dull simmer.
Of course Sam wanted to talk about Walter de Kamp, Nick’s first lover—the ghost who just

wouldn’t stay down. Every time Peter thought he and Nick had finally broken free of the specter, he rose up to complicate their lives, bringing with him secrets and lies and old history.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Peter said. “I never met the man. And before you even ask, Nick won’t be interviewed about him at all. Ever. Period.”

“Oh, I wasn’t hoping to interview Mr. Olson.” Sam held up his hands as if to show himself innocent of such notions. “I only hoped to have a closer look at a few of the paintings that you two have at your house. I’m specifically interested in the blue landscape in the dining room. It is such an amazing piece. Ever since I saw it three years ago it’s been on my mind.”

“Haunting you?” Peter asked. He couldn’t help it.

“In a way yes,” Sam said, apparently in complete seriousness. “I would be so grateful if you would just let me have another look at it.”

Peter weighed the request. Although it would annoy Nick to have someone in the house, maybe if Sam could publicize the painting, there might be enough interest in it that Nick would finally auction the thing off. After that last piece of Walter’s art had gone, Peter could hire an exorcist, and the spirit of Walter could be laid to rest. He could just picture it: a tall, thin man in a priest’s collar standing before his house, the Castle at Wildcat Cove, eyes pressed closed, whispering in Latin… For an instant, Peter nearly succumbed to his long-standing bad habit of writing the scene out in his head, but Sam had already gathered up his things and started for the door.

“Is it all right if we take my car?” he was saying. That took a moment for Peter to process. Finally, feeling stupid, he said, “You want to go now?”
“If you’re free,” Sam returned. Peter glanced across the office at Doug, who had been

observing the entire exchange. Doug gave a silent shrug, which Peter interpreted as a go-ahead. “Let me just take a leak before we head out,” Peter said. Sam magnanimously agreed to wait in the car while Peter took the opportunity of the lone stall in the men’s room to fact-check

Sam’s story.
Years ago, before he’d met Nick and taken up amateur sleuthing, Peter would have gotten

into Sam’s car on the strength of his handshake alone. But experience had made him wary of riding in cars with random strangers, well-dressed or not.

Sam Powers’ web page was everything Peter would have wanted for his own. Clear, organized, full of stylish fonts and praise about his writing from the New York Times and the Guardian. It also contained a full bibliography of Sam’s previously published book titles, three of which involved crimes that were related to the art world.

That hurt most of all.

Though Peter had written thousands of articles and even won a national award for journalism, he didn’t have even a single book with his name on the spine. He’d started numerous times, attempting to cobble together a concept that would hold his interest long enough to pitch it to an editor, but after a couple of days’ research into this or that subject he’d lose interest, get depressed, and eventually degenerate into writing fiction.

Bad fiction.

Peter’s narratives brimmed with irrelevant commentary on modern life and lacked in any sort of dramatic tension. He’d even attempted to write pornography, then given up, realizing how hard it was to be shocking in a world where a book about the gay X-rated exploits of were- dinosaurs who strove to control the Freemasons could actually get good reviews.

Now here came Sam Powers, flaunting his ability to stave off boredom by writing incisive long-form prose. Peter had half a mind to crawl out the window but turned instead to Sam’s social media pages, where he found, to his delight, that Sam did have some detractors after all.

Several citizen reviewers called him pretentious and unprincipled. Others disliked his tendency toward wild speculation.

In fact, a brief perusal of Sam’s bio led Peter to believe that Sam was some kind of alternate version of himself—the self that made different choices. Sam’s natal city was the unfortunately named Boring, Oregon—a city whose main claims to fame were having an accidentally funny name and a series of unsolved serial rapes in the late nineties. Whereas in comparison, Peter’s hometown of Bellingham had hosted a great number of actual serial killers in addition to a funny unofficial town motto: City of Subdued Excitement.

Though they both originated in small towns in the Pacific Northwest, Sam had lit out for the Big Apple immediately, whereas Peter had attended the local state university. Where Peter had traveled on his own and taken a long time to settle into writing, Sam landed a magazine gig straight out of private college.

Last, Sam’s Facebook page showed him to be almost relentlessly single up to the point that he started dating Donna, opposite of serial monogamist Peter. Yet the subjects they wrote about and even their writing style seemed eerily similar, like a literary doppelgänger or…evil twin.

So Sam checked out as a legit writer, not a serial killer, hired assassin, or art thief.

And despite the mad jealousy he might feel at Sam’s various awesome book deals, the classy thing to do would be to help him out with his research.

Purchase The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 2 here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J1J49JB/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i5

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Learn more about author, Nicole Kimberling: 

click photo for Nicole Kingerling’s websiteNicole Kimberling is a novelist and the editor at Blind Eye Books. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award. Other works include the Bellingham Mystery Series, set in the Washington town where she resides with her wife of thirty years and an ongoing cooking column for Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. She is also the creator and writer of “Lauren Proves Magic is Real!” a serial fiction podcast, which explores the day-to-day case files of Special Agent Keith Curry, supernatural food inspector.

Exclusive Excerpt: Late Fees (Pinx Video Mysteries Book 3) by Marshall Thornton

Excerpt:

My mother and I stopped at the top of the stairs. The courtyard below us had been transformed. The metal table we sat around so often had been pushed up against a card table and the two were covered in a festive orange plaid table cloth, set with white dishes and silverware, butterscotch napkins and giant wine glasses. The table, the chairs, and even the ground were covered in brown, yellow, orange and red leaves cut from construction paper. Lights were strung from the bottom of the balcony to the bird of paradise. Marc had brought out their compact stereo outside and a CD was playing, Carly Simon’s My Romance. It felt a little like being in a movie.

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“Oh my goodness, I just thought of something,” my mother said. “We should have brought wine.”

“We’ve had a hectic day. I’m sure they’ll understand.”

The sky was cloudy and there was an occasional gust of wind. Standing in the center of the courtyard were Marc’s friends Deborah and Rob. Marc worked with Deborah at the studio where they did something with numbers. Rob was her husband. I didn’t know them well. She was short and little wide, while he was tall and pale.

Before we started down the stairs, my mother licked her fingers and smoothed down my hair over my right ear.

“There, that’s better,” she said. I felt about eight years old.

We went down the stairs. My mother wore a simple, brown sheath-like dress with low, conservative pumps. When she’d come out of the bathroom she’d whispered, “I have a nicer outfit, but it’s pink and that just seemed wrong.”

“I don’t think we’re expected to grieve for someone we’ve never met.”

“Still, I want to be respectful.”

“We don’t have to whisper. Remember? You drugged her.”

“You don’t have to remind me.”

I introduced my mother to Deborah and Rob. Then Rob pointed out a bottle of wine in a standing ice bucket—which made me wonder, Where do Marc and Louis get these things? Followed immediately by And where do they keep them?

“What kind of wine is it?” my mother asked.

“I don’t know,” Deborah said. “Something from Trader Joe’s.”

“It’s a pinot grigio,” I said, reading the label.

“Oh,” she said, sounding disappointed.

“It’s good,” Deborah said.

“Is it? All right.”

I poured out two glasses, and handed one to my mother. My anemia pill had had a little time to work, so I felt a bit perkier. Or maybe it was just the prospect of dinner.

“How’s your brother, Deborah?” I asked, having met him the past spring.

“Oh, Jamie is great. Loving St. Louis.”

“So he’s not moving out here?”

“No. He’s talking about moving to New York City, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere. He’s really a hometown boy.”

When he visited I got the distinct impression he didn’t much like St. Louis. My guess was he’d be in New York by the end of the year. We talked about northern Michigan for a while after Deborah asked where my mother had come in from. Then my mother asked how they knew Marc and Louis, and was told that he and Deborah worked together at a studio.

“And what do you do there?”

“Ultimates. My department estimates how much a film will make in every market and then we keep track of whether it does or not.”

“Well, that sounds important. And you do that for every movie?”

“All six thousand six hundred and thirty seven. Most of them no one cares about anymore, but the numbers still have to go somewhere.”

Marc came out of the kitchen. He wore a Hawaiian shirt he got at a thrift store over a white tee, khakis and a pair of mahogany Docs. In one hand he held a large plate topped by a folded cloth napkin, an orange and green floral that matched the table. On top of it were nearly a dozen tri-colored raviolis that had been fried in oil. A bowl of mayonnaise-based dip sat next to them.

“I’ve got nibbles,” he said. “Fried ravioli with aioli. How is Joanne?”

“Still sleeping.”

“That’s probably the best thing for her.”

“I think so, too,” my mother said, avoiding my look.

“Who’s Joanne?” Deborah wanted to know. An increasingly complicated question.

“A friend. Her son died last night. She just found out,” my mother explained, impressing me with her brevity.

“Oh my God. What happened to him?”

“Probably an overdose,” I said.

“These raviolis are great,” Rob said.

“Aren’t they?” Marc agreed. “I love when Louis makes them.”

“Is Joanne a friend from Michigan? Or someone you went to school with?” Deborah wondered.

“I met her in a bar at O’Hare.”

“Oh. I see.”

“About eighteen hours ago, give or take,” she admitted.

“Really? Noah, your mother is so much more interesting than mine.”

“Wait until you meet Joanne.”

My mother poked me in the side, the way she had when I was a teenager. Just then, Tina arrived. She wore a baby doll dress in a black-and-white print, a pair of worn yellow cowboy boots and about twenty Bakelite bracelets on one wrist. Her blond hair was caught up in a giant clip at the back of her head.

Greetings were exchanged, Tina knew Deborah and Rob from previous dinners and she’d met my mother on a previous visit.

“It’s nice to see you again, Angie,” she said, giving my mother a Hollywood air-kiss, which she somehow managed to make sincere. Then she dropped her large leather tote onto the ground.

“You don’t have scripts in there?” Marc asked.

“Just two. I may need to sneak off and do a little reading.” She lit a cigarette. “How was your flight, Angie?”

“Oh, the flight was lovely.”

Marc got Tina a glass of wine while we caught her up on the Joanne situation. When we finished, Tina said, “How uncomfortable.”

And, of course it was, particularly now that my mother had basically overdosed our guest on sleeping pills. Well, not overdosed exactly, but it was still unfortunate. Marc drifted off to get another plate of hors d’œuvres.

“So, she’s been sleeping all day?” Tina asked.

I glanced at my mother. “Yes.”

“I suppose that’s a defense,” Deborah said. “Against the grief.”

“That’s true,” Rob agreed. “The mind works things out while we sleep.”

Marc was back, saying, “These are miniature blue corn pancakes with caviar, sour cream and a bit of lemon zest. Just pop the whole thing in your mouth.”

My mother took one, eyeing it curiously. Then, over my shoulder, Marc said, “There you are.”

I turned and saw that our friend Leon had arrived. He was near forty, had dyed his hair platinum blond, and had a face that always looked a tiny bit pinched in judgment. He wore a lose rayon shirt with a black T-shirt underneath, jeans and heavy black work boots. I guessed that he planned to throw the rayon shirt into his car, strap on a leather wrist band, and spend the later part of the evening at The Gauntlet.

“Oh those look lovely,” Leon said, making a beeline for the nibbles.

“We were just talking about the woman who’s sleeping upstairs—” Deborah started.

“The one whose son died?” Leon said. “I know all about it.”

“He called earlier,” Marc explained.

“So, was he murdered?” Leon asked.

“Oh my God, no.” I said.

“Why would you say such a thing?” my mother asked.

Just then Louis ran out of his apartment, oven mitts on both hands, and zipped up the stairs to mine. I was pretty sure I heard him say, “Almost forgot.”

“What was that about?” Deborah asked.

“He put a couple of casseroles into my oven. An hour ago. Maybe more. Tell us more about what you do,” I said, trying to avoid what I knew was coming next.

“Oh no you don’t,” Leon said. “Noah, why don’t you think this woman’s son was murdered?”

“Because it’s much more common to overdose than it is to be murdered.”

“His mother doesn’t think that’s what happened, though, does she?”

Wow, I thought, Marc fit in a lot of detail.

My mother took over. “She says he stopped taking drugs, except for marijuana and alcohol, and she believes him.”

“A mother would, though, wouldn’t she?” I pointed out.

“Well, yes,” she admitted. “I imagine it’s the kind of thing an addict would tell his mother.”

“Lying well is a God-given talent,” Leon said.

My mother put a hand over her mouth while she giggled at that.

“Just because his mother doesn’t think he overdosed doesn’t mean he was murdered,” I said.

Louis came out of my apartment holding the baking tray between oven mitts and balancing the casseroles. Carefully, he descended the stairs.

“Oh dear, that could go terribly wrong,” said Tina. Since she spent her time reading movie scripts, I could see how she was trained to assume that a man carrying a tray of hot food while walking down a flight of stairs was inevitably going to tumble down into a comic heap at the bottom. But Louis made it to the bottom without incident and our dinner was undisturbed. We all breathed a sigh of relief and returned to our fitful conversation.

“I read in the paper today that they’ve had some luck treating AIDS with gene therapy,” Leon said. “They think they may be able to give you a virus that will insert a defective gene into HIV cells.”

“Give a virus to cure a virus?” Marc said skeptically. He switched from passing tiny pancakes to refilling wine glasses.

Leon shrugged. “It does sound a little far-fetched.”

“They might as well inject you with the spaceship from Fantastic Voyage,” I mock suggested. “Raquel Welch could cure AIDS with a miniature stun gun.”

“If only it were that easy,” my mother said quietly.

Leon wandered off toward the stereo. I sipped my wine , it was cool and crisp. “Do you like the wine?” I asked my mother.

“Oh, it’s lovely. Very tart.” I think that meant she didn’t. She preferred sweeter wines.

“Are we going to see Louis at all?” I asked Marc.

“Is there anything we can do to help?” my mother asked.

“Yes, we should help,” Tina said—the woman who’d brought something to read while someone else cleaned up.

“There’s not enough room in the kitchen,” Marc said. “Louis will be out once dinner is served. Don’t worry.”

“Really  Marc?” Leon said, coming back from the stereo. “Five CDs and not one of them Barbra or Madonna? Sometimes I wonder if the two of you are homosexual at all.”

“Who is this singing, by the way?” Deborah asked.

“Indigo Girls.”

“Lesbian music,” Leon said, dismissively. “All flannel and strumming guitars.”

“Oh, I have to go,” Marc said , he’d just seen Louis waving him over to the apartment.

“I wish they’d let us help,” my mother said. Determined to mother someone, she asked, “Do you think I should check on Joanne?”

“It’s only been twenty minutes.”

She frowned. “I’m sorry if I’ve ruined your Thanksgiving.”

“Stop saying that.”

“How did you ruin his Thanksgiving?” Leon asked. “Look at him, he’s got a glass of wine in his hand and he’s about to have a wonderful dinner—”

“I know but—if it weren’t for me we wouldn’t have Joanne on our hands and we wouldn’t be talking about that poor dead boy.”

“It’s not your fault, Angie,” Leon said. “Your son is the one who’s a magnet for dead bodies.”

“Mag— Noah, what does he mean?”

“Nothing,” I said pointedly. I gave Leon a searing look.

“Well, he means something.”

I sighed. “During the riots there was a body left in the dumpster behind my store.”

“Oh dear. You never told me. Why didn’t you—”

“And…” Leon said, annoying the heck out of me.

“And another time there was a dead body left here on this table.”

“This table?” My mother pointed at the table we were about to sit down at.

“The round part, not the folding part,” Leon said, getting unnecessarily specific.

“Why didn’t anyone mention that?” Deborah asked.

“They did mention it, honey. They told us all about it, in September I think.”

“What? Wait, no, that was a movie they were talking about. Wasn’t it? You mean it actually happened? Like, right there?”

Marc came out of the house with a small tray holding four soup bowls. “All right everyone, take a seat. We’re going to start with soup. Carrot, apple, and ginger.”

There were three chairs around the folding table and five around the round table. Everyone gravitated toward the folding table except Leon and me.

“Really guys?” I said. “It was months ago and all the dead body cooties have washed off.”

My mother came down and sat next to me in the round portion. “You have a lot to explain,” she said, under her breath.

As we sat down, Leon took a small, black mobile phone out of his pocket and set it on the table next to his setting.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Mobile phone. It’s for work. Insanely expensive. Four hundred dollars last month.”

“But work is paying for it.”

“Well, they pay for the phone itself and all my business calls.”

“How much of that four hundred was personal?”

“All of it.”

My rent was only five-fifty. The phone at the store with three lines only cost a hundred and twenty-five.

“I’m going to be a lot more careful this month,” Leon said, as though we’d all just scolded him. “Cross my heart.”

Marc began placing soups; Louis was right behind him with another tray. As briefly as possible I told my mother the story of Wilma Wanderly and the blue-spangled dresses. When I was done, Marc and Louis were seated in front of their soup.

“See, that still sounds like a movie to me,” Deborah said.

“It sounds dangerous,” my mother said. “You have no plans to ever get involved with anything like that again, I hope.”

“Not unless Joanne’s son turns out to be murdered,” Leon said.

“Even then. We shouldn’t get involved.”

“I agree,” I said. “I’ve had enough of murder.”

“Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little speculation,” my mother said, making me uncomfortable. It always started with speculation—and then it didn’t end well.

“Her son overdosed,” I said firmly.

“In that case, the question is was it accidental or did he do it on purpose?” Leon asked.

“Did he have a reason to kill himself?” Rob asked, then added, “By the way, the soup is wonderful.”

“Oh, it is. Delicious,” my mother said.

“Nothing Joanne said would lead me to believe he had a reason to kill himself,” I told them.

“But then is suicide a reasonable thing?” Tina asked. “I know we try to make it seem reasonable, but I think it’s usually anything but. Did she say he was troubled?”

“She implied that he used to do drugs, heavier drugs than marijuana,” I told the table.

“I don’t think doing a little of this and a little of that means you’re likely to kill yourself,” Leon said, taking a spoonful of soup.

“If your mother knows about it, then it’s probably not a little of this and a little of that,” Louis pointed out.

“So he had a problem with drugs,” I said. My soup was half gone. It was delicious, sweet and savory at the same time. “Louis, what is in this soup?”

“Oh yes, I’d like to know too,” my mother said.

“Carrots, apples, onions, garlic and chicken stock.”

“If he had a problem with drugs, then I guess he was troubled,” Deborah assumed. “Which means he could have killed himself.”

“But right before his mother arrived? That seems awfully cold,” my mother pointed out. “If it was deliberate, I think he’d have done it after her visit, not before he even got to see her.”

That left us quiet for a moment. It did seem awfully inconsiderate if he’d killed himself before his mother’s visit, but then suicide was not a considerate act, or least not usually.

“And as far as we know there was no note,” I said. “I think the police would have told Joanne if there was.”

“Well, I’m voting for accidental,” Leon said. “As long as we’re sure it’s not murder.”

“It’s not murder,” I said, flatly.

We were done with the soup. Marc got up and began to clear the bowls. Louis started to rise and Marc said, “Sit down. I can do the salad on my own. You need a break before you carve the turkey.”

Louis sat back and took a big gulp of wine, “Okay.” Then to us he said, “I love it when he gets all dominant-like.”

“Why aren’t you with your family, Louis?” my mother asked, ignoring his risqué comment. I was thankful we’d moved on from suicide.

“My sister is in Texas,” Louis said. “My mother takes turns. We’ll have her at Christmas and then next year at Thanksgiving.”

“And Marc, what about his family?”

“They’re in Brentwood. Not on speaking terms.”

“They don’t like that he’s gay?”

“No, they stole most of the money he made as an actor. Marc’s touchy about things like that.”

“As well he should be,” my mother said. “I could never steal from Noah.”

“You stole my U of M sweatshirt.”

“You left it behind. And you never wore it.”

“Well,” Tina said, “my sister is livid that I’m here and not with her. But every time I go to her house she’s livid about something anyway and then we fight the whole time. If she’s going to be mad at me I’d just as soon not be there.”

“Oh my you all have such complicated relationships. Not at all like Grand Rapids.”

“That’s not true, Mom,” I pointed out. “The only difference is that in Grand Rapids everyone pretends to get along. They don’t really know they have a choice.”

My mother ignored the slight to our hometown.

“I saw something interesting in the news today,” Rob said out of nowhere. “A panel the Republicans set up to investigate whether the Reagan campaign worked with the Iranians to steal the presidency from Carter—”

“Oh honey, let’s not talk about this.” Then Debra explained, “He gets this way with a little wine.”

“But it was in the newspaper just yesterday. The same people who committed the crime cleared themselves.”

“But wasn’t Mr. Carter terribly unpopular?” my mother asked.

“He was unpopular because he couldn’t get the hostages out of Iran. During the campaign he was negotiating to get them released, but Reagan sent people over to make sure it didn’t happen. That’s why they wouldn’t release them until after the inauguration. It’s also why the whole Iran-Contra thing happened. Reagan had to pay them back by selling them arms.”

“Oh Rob, please stop.”

“She asked a question.”

Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to politics. I had no reason to believe that Bill Clinton was going to be much different than George Bush. Leon came to the rescue by saying, “Do you know you can buy your own copy machine for a thousand dollars?”

“What do you want with a copy machine?” Louis asked.

“I don’t know. I could xerox my junk and hand it out at the bars as a calling card. That’s what the mail boys do at work.”

“Other people talk about things they read in the newspaper,” Rob said, before going into a major pout.

“Not everyone enjoys conspiracy theories,” Deborah whispered to her husband. “They’re an acquired taste.”

Marc came out with a tray and began handing us our salads.

“Now what is this?” Tina asked.

“Field greens with blue cheese, bacon and cherry tomatoes, with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing,” Louis said.

“Oh, it looks wonderful.

Marc set the plates down and zipped back into the kitchen for more. Then my mother said, “If Joanne comes down, don’t anyone say anything about suicide. And definitely don’t say anything about murder.”

Blurb:

It’s Thanksgiving, 1992 and Noah Valentine is late picking his mother up from the airport. When he arrives he discovers that she’s made a friend on the flight whose also waiting for her son. When the woman’s son doesn’t show up, they eventually take her home for breakfast with neighbor’s Marc and Louis. Soon after, they learn that her son has overdosed—or has he? Noah and his motley crew investigate over the holiday weekend; which includes a fabulous dinner, a chat with a male stripper, a tiny little burglary and some help from Detective Tall, Dark, and Delicious.

Find more titles by Multi-Lambda Literary Award Winner, Marshall Thornton:
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Criminal Past (Hazard and Somerset Book 6) by Gregory Ashe

Exclusive Excerpt:

Hazard ran. His left arm flopped painfully at his side, phone in his fingers, and his right hand held the .38. He tried to dial, but those fingers were slow and less responsive, and even when Somers’s name came on the screen, the signal was too weak, and the call wouldn’t go through. Swearing, Hazard dove into the darkness. That was what it was like: diving. He would reach the edge of the light, granular, sabulous, like land meeting water, and then he was beyond it, in the darkness, his legs churning to carry him towards that next buoy of light.

Where would the cops drop their guard? Where would they feel a renewed spurt of energy and determination? At the end of the building. At the exit. Where the shooter would linger just long enough to be spotted.

Somers.

Oh fuck.

Somers was faster than Hazard.

Oh fuck.

At the end of the corridor, Hazard was running too fast. He tried to slide into the turn, taking the corner as fast as he could, but he was moving too damn fast. He didn’t fall, and his brain whispered a brief thank you to fate, but he crashed into the far wall, his full weight pinning his bad arm against the drywall. Pain went up like a signal flare. Gasping, Hazard pushed himself off the wall and down the hall.

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He could see the exit ahead. The door was propped open, and silver daylight framed the opening. In front of that illuminated backdrop, a silhouette moved, fumbling with the door. That was part of the act; an unspoken justification, in case the cops wondered how they’d been lucky enough to catch up with the shooter. Here was the answer, being pantomimed for them: the idiot got stuck at the door.

Only he wasn’t stuck. He was stalling. And as he caught sight of Hazard, he pushed the door open.

Another figure came around the corner at the far end of the hall. He was running. He was moving at full speed. He had the perfect, loping grace that Hazard would recognize anywhere. He had memorized every inch of this man, pieced him together in his mind a thousand times, ten thousand times, over the last twenty years.

“Somers,” Hazard screamed, barely recognizing his own voice. “Stop!”

After that, everything happened at once. A muzzle flashed. The light painted Somers in a hundred different shades of red. It picked out every detail, splashing light and shadow, highlighting the perfect lines of his face, the confusion, the surprise, and underneath it all, etching itself into the skin, fear. A boom echoed down the corridor. Somers tumbled over sideways.

Somers.

Then the shooter shoved open the emergency exit door, and summer light flooded into the Haverford’s fetid darkness, and Hazard could pick out the gleam of that sunlight on the tension wire running six inches in front of his own shin.

Somers.

Hazard cleared the wire. Ten yards to Somers. Eight.

Somers smiling at him in the park.

Six yards.

Somers swinging Evie and laughing.

Five.

Somers naked on the bed, one hand tracing the dark calligraphy across his chest, and wearing that damn smirk he always wore when he knew he was about to get what he wanted.

Three yards. Three.

And then, to Hazard’s surprise, he heard Somers voice. “Go get him. Go get him, Ree. I’m fine. Go after him.”

Again, intuition and instinct took over when emotion fried the rational centers of Hazard’s brain. He swerved towards the exit door, caught it on his bad shoulder, and howled. He didn’t care about the noise at this point. All he cared about was catching this bastard.

The shooter was twenty yards ahead, sprinting full speed down the alley behind the Haverford. In full daylight, seen directly instead of at a distance through a windshield, the man looked different than what Hazard had expected. In spite of the heat, he wore a balaclava, gloves and long-sleeved pants and a shirt. Hazard had already seen in him all that gear, but still, something was different. The difference wasn’t anything Hazard could put his finger on, but he was suddenly less certain about his earlier guess. Was the man older? Younger? Was he not even a man at all? The eyes—from this distance, Hazard could make them out more clearly. Electric green. Like cat eyes.

Hazard put on speed. A fresh wave of adrenaline burned through him, incinerating every thought, and the last one, the one that floated up like a cinder caught on a draft of emotion, was simply: Somers is all right. And then Hazard was moving like a truck.

He hit the shooter at full speed. Hazard meant it to be a tackle, but his bad arm refused to respond, and when they hit the ground, the shooter rolled free instead of staying trapped by Hazard’s mass. Hazard scrambled after the man. He caught an ankle, dragging the shooter back, and the shooter’s other foot shot out and caught Hazard in the chin. Hazard’s head snapped back. Black stars spun in his vision.

But he hadn’t let go, and he hauled on the ankle again. A second kick connected with his head, but this time, Hazard had been expecting it, and he turned so that the blow glanced along the contour of his skull instead of meeting straight on. With as much strength as he could muster, Hazard hauled, and the shooter skidded three feet back over the gravel. Hazard reared back, trying to get enough weight on the bastard to pin him until Somers got there.

This time, though, the shooter reared back and twisted into a punch. Hazard took it as best he could, ducking, but it landed solidly above his ear, and Hazard saw those black stars again. Could feel them, even, prickly against his face. He took another punch, and the third one he managed to knock aside, batting it out of the air like he was Babe fucking Ruth. He just had to hold on. Twenty seconds. Thirty. Somers would be here. Somers was coming.

The next punch was strange; even addled by the blows to the head, Hazard knew something was wrong because the shooter telegraphed the punch loud and clear, and it was obvious that he had changed his target. Instead of throwing another fist or elbow at Hazard’s head, the shooter was aiming down.

At his arm, Hazard realized a moment too late. At his bad arm. The punch was clear as newsprint. If he’d been thinking clearly, if he’d had even an extra second, Hazard could have avoided it. But he was rattled from the earlier blows, and waves of adrenaline battered him, and he hated that arm, that was the bottom of it, he hated that fucking arm because it was useless, and so he didn’t think about it.

The punch landed perfectly, right where a long, jagged cut was still healing, and Hazard’s world went white.

CRIMINAL PAST Blurb:

It all starts to go wrong at the shooting gallery. Emery Hazard and his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset, just want to enjoy the day at the Dore County Independence Fair. At the shooting gallery, though, Hazard comes face to face with one of his old bullies: Mikey Grames. Even as a drugged-out wreck, Mikey is a reminder of all the ugliness in Hazard’s past. Worse, Mikey seems to know something Hazard doesn’t—something about the fresh tension brewing in town.

When the Chief of Police interrupts Hazard’s day at the fair, she has a strange request. She doesn’t want Hazard and Somers to solve a murder. She wants them to prevent one. The future victim? Mayor Sherman Newton—a man who has tried to have Hazard and Somers killed at least once.

Hazard and Somers try to work out the motive of the man threatening Newton, and the trail leads them into a conspiracy of corrupt law enforcement, white supremacists, and local politicians. As Hazard and Somers dig into the case, their search takes them into the past, where secrets have lain buried for twenty years.

Determined to get to the truth, Hazard finds himself racing for answers, but he discovers that sometimes the past isn’t buried very deep. Sometimes, it isn’t dead. Sometimes, it isn’t even past. And almost always, it’s better left alone.

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Want to know more about author Gregory Ashe and his novels?

Check out his website:

https://www.gregoryashe.com