Guest Blogger: Pink Lemonade by multi-talented author, Jon Wilson



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A five-part series wherein I examine the pitfalls—both real and imagined—and difficulties—both encountered or merely anticipated—to being a gay author in the 21st Century, and attempt to discuss how said pitfalls and difficulties can be used to our advantage, thereby employing the old adage “Making lemons into lemonade.” (And, in advance of the inevitable inquiry, allow me to retreat into the naivete allowed one of my advanced years and answer simply: “What’s a Beyonce?”)




Part 5:
Gay Villainy

or

“But I Don’t Wanna Play a Cop, Momma”



The January 1955 issue of ONE magazine featured an essay by Norman Mailer entitled “The Homosexual Villain”. Yeah, written by the very same guy who infamously proclaimed “homosexual potentiality” was something true men overcame. According to John Loughery, in The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives & Gay Identities – A Twentieth-Century History:


“Though [Mailer] later repudiated “The Homosexual Villain” as a lapse on his part into liberal sentimentality, gay readers were impressed at the time by the novelist’s admission of his own homophobia and use of gay men as cardboard bad guys in his fiction…”



Sadly I can’t find Mailer’s essay archived online. Proof of its existence, like the existence of the Colossus of Rhodes or the Babylonian Hanging Gardens, lies only in other’s retellings of it. (Really we need an online LGBT archive people!) Or you can buy Mailer’s book. He’s been dead almost ten years but I’m sure where ever that’s left him, he’s still gleefully counting sales.


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It’s actually probably worth at least checking out from your local library for “The Homosexual Villain” and “The White Negro” alone.



I discussed masculinity and the gay perspective in Thursday’s Pink Lemonade Part 3 (or, alternately, HERE). Today I want to talk about Gay Villainy and whether or not we’re now living in a post-GayLib world.



Last year, the Advocate offered a list of the 21 Best and Worst Queer Movie Villains (watch out, there are ads galore on that website). Five years ago, Salon took a more focused look at the topic (an even worse site as far as intrusive ads are concerned), wondering whether Javier Bardem’s Bond villain should be seen as progress or relapse. ..Though they, too, couldn’t resist the clickbait that are listicles.



I do appreciate that there isn’t complete overlap in the lists. For instance, Salon includes Baron Harkonnen (from Dune) and Frank Fitts (American Beauty), both of whom I’ll talk about a little more later, and the Advocate lists Joel Cairo (The Maltese Falcon), the Leopold and Loeb clones in Hitchcock’s Rope, and Dr. Elliot (Dressed to Kill). There is of course cross-over and its about what you’d expect: Ripley, Tramell and Buffalo Bill, among others. Both also include Miriam Blaylock (The Hunger) which left me scratching my head. Maybe it was where I was at at the time, but I never saw her as a villain.



Interestingly, the lesser-known (to me) website NewNowNext compiled the best list maybe because they came at it with a more decidedly gay sensibility and realized “Embarrassing” was the appropriate way to describe some of these characters. I loved the inclusion of Praetorius (The Bride of Frankenstein) because he looms so large in my childhood memories.


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Ernest Thesiger, as Praetorius, also looms large over John Carradine in director James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein.



None of the lists mention Sebastian Venable, maybe because he’s already dead at the start of Suddenly Last Summer. I discussed that play/film in yesterday’s Pink Lemonade, along with my thoughts on Tennessee Williams. I claimed Venable was the prototype of the evil homosexual perceived by America in the post WW2 years: manipulative (he employs his mother and cousin as bait) and predatory (he does something never-quite-made-explicit to young men).



For me, the various gay villains listed fall into a few discreet categories. There are those who’s evil seems to stem solely from their queerness. I’m looking at you boys from Rope, and you Frank Fitts and, yes, even you my beloved Praetorius. Praetorius also falls into another category, which is ‘he’s gay (or a pansy, which is what it usually means) because then the audience/reader will immediately know he’s up to no good’. Other examples from that category include Waldo Lydecker (Laura), Joel Cairo and even Scar from the Lion King. Scar crosses over into a separate subset, ‘pansy royalty’, rubbing his leonine shoulders and pedicured claws with the Princes John and Edward, (The Adventures of Robin Hood and, everyone’s favorite film, Braveheart, respectively). And then there are those who’s gayness is a sort of character enhancement. This category would include Ripley (can I just say how much I hated that Matt Damon movie?), Baron Harkonnen, and Bond’s Raoul Silva. (It’s maybe Bardem himself, but that character really creeped me out.)




About five years ago, The Wrap, also ran a story about gay villainy, this time “applauding” the arrival of what they called the new gay villain. These were examples from my last category above. Those who’s gayness seems to have been added as a character enhancement.


“Once, branding a villain as homosexual was dehumanizing. Today, a villain’s homosexuality is often the most humanizing thing about him.


“The arrival of more nuanced, less stereotypical gay villains comes as gay characters receive more realistic portrayals on shows like ABC’s hit “Modern Family.” Rather than remaining relegated to the rom-com role of gay best friend, gay characters are finally moving the action. ”




Okay, first, I object to Cam and Ginger’s characters being called more realistic. They ARE NOT routinely humiliated for the sole fact of their sexuality. but they spend a lot of time being “gay” (as a tv character trope) as opposed to “gay” (as a real life phenomenon).



The Wrap article goes on to say this, without any apparent irony:


“[A]t least Bond has a worthy gay adversary.


“In the bad old days, films and movies gave their villains mincing walks, frilly outfits, flowery language, fussy cats and all sorts of other supposedly effeminate accessories to tip off viewers that they were homosexual – as if homosexuality were synonymous with weakness.”



Now watch that scene again. Yeah.



John Waters, appearing on the now-defunct Craig Ferguson show said this: ”I sometimes argue with some of the gay militant groups because, why do we have to be ‘good’ all of sudden? I’m for the rights of bad lesbian mothers. I think that I’m for gay villains. I don’t think suddenly we have to be good all the time.”



I agree with Waters generally. I haven’t yet featured a gay villain in any of my books. (It’s been suggested that Liam O’Mara and Sam Mackey may have had a homosexual past, but, for me, the closest thing to a villain I have in A Hundred Little Lies is the protagonist, Jack Tully.) But I’m not adverse to it. There is the shady character of Hobie Wainwright in the Declan Colette books, but nothing much is known about him at this point and whether or not he emerges as a good guy or a bad’un remains to be seen.


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The Author’s Westerns (yeah, I keep pimping them)

Available from Lethe Press!



I do worry about putting in a gay villain who’s villainy stems from his or her homosexuality. And I fret when I read current gay mysteries that seem to fall back, at least in part, on that trope. I can happily say that the most distressing formula that still regularly recurs is the murder (or suicide) as a result of gay blackmail, which I hope to address (and hopefully subvert) in a Colette story soon. I’m also not pleased that so many gay mysteries still involve, to varying degrees, male prostitution. I’ve never known a male prostitute, in RL, except the one I hired one time so that I could say I did, but as they are more often victims than villains, that’s a topic for another time.



I don’t worry about writing a gay villain who’s gayness is merely character enhancement. I’m not sure I’d be able to do that. Nor do I worry about creating a character who’s gayness is merely a symptom of his deviance. At the very least, I’d hope such a signal would be misread by my readers! No, both of those seem like pitfalls straight writers need to keep an eye out for.



So, writing this, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a gay villain I “liked”. The Wrap article identifies Omar (HBO’s The Wire) as a “model for the modern-day gay villains…” But, like Catherine Deneuve’s vampiress in The Hunger, I never thought of Omar as a villain. He’s an anti-hero, which is a VERY different character type.



The best I could come up with were Joel Cairo (in the book, The Maltese Falcon, more than the movie) and Praetorius, even though both of them were tagged as “weak” (or sissified) by their deviant natures. And then I remembered Doctor Smith from Lost in Space, who typifies every bad stereotype a gay character can embody (though more so as the series progressed, early on he was quite evil). But, y’know, even as a kid I felt I knew where he was coming from and always found myself secretly rooting for him…


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Jon Wilson is the author of Cheap as Beasts, a current finalist for the Lambda Literary Award Best Gay Mystery of 2015. He’s also written a follow-up volume, Every Unworthy Thing, as well as two westerns. He lives and works in Northern California, where he worries that all that bleach may have done irreparable harm to Javier Bardem’s hair.





The Pink Lemonade Blog Tour concludes tomorrow at Charlie Cochrane’s Blog, and, if you missed any previous entries, you can find them HERE (Part 1), HERE (Part 2), HERE (Part 3), and HERE (Part 4).

I’m giving away a signed copy of both the Declan Colette books at the end of this blog tour. Just leave a semi-cogent comment (which, I suppose, means I’ll have to allow “YOU SUCK!”) to any of the five parts in the Pink Lemonade Blog Tour to enter (if you leave multiple comments or comment each day, you get entered for each comment)!


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Interviewing Meg Perry, Author of the Jamie Brodie Mysteries

Interview by Matthew G Moore

On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre really want to know.

Thank you for inviting me!

Can you share where do you live?

I live in Daytona Beach, Florida, on a barrier island that we call “the beachside,” two blocks from the ocean.

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

There’s not much to tell! I’m contentedly single. I live with Wesley and Ace, two 17-pound boy cats, and I have a small vegetable garden.

Writers rarely like to toot their own horns; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

A friend, who is himself a librarian and gay, said to me (after reading Psyched to Death), “How did you get into my head?” I’m delighted to know that Jamie is resonating with his real-life counterparts.

What inspires and challenges you most in writing? And can you describe your writing process?

Inspiration comes from my job. Most of Jamie’s experiences as a librarian have happened to me and my co-workers. My primary challenge is writing the mystery aspect of the books. Finding the right blend of believability and surprise is tricky. In terms of my writing process – each book begins with an idea. Sometimes it’s my idea, sometimes someone else suggests something. My archaeologist friend, Mary, said, “You should write a mystery about bog bodies.” That became Stoned to Death. I was watching Ancient Aliens one night, laughing hysterically, and thought, “I have to put this in a book.” That became Encountered to Death. Once I have the idea, I start figuring out the plot. Sometimes I know how I want that to unfold; sometimes I need to brainstorm with my writing group. Once I have the plot figured out and write the first draft, I present it in segments to the group and hammer out the changes that need to be made. I couldn’t do what I do without my group.

You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge our readers (and fellow writers): Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?

I’m a seat-of-the-pantser. Sometimes I know how the book will end when I start writing, but more often I don’t. There are times – especially for the longer books – when I get deep into a story then have to create a timeline for myself, to make sure I don’t lose any threads along the way.

You currently have The Jamie Brodie mysteries that you’ve been writing since Cited to Death in 2012 and you’re about to release book twelve. That’s a lot of books within four years; how do you sustain serialized, continuing characters?

The story of Jamie’s life has unfolded organically over the time I’ve been writing the books. He’s done things that I never expected him to do, and he’s changed by each of the experiences he’s had. It sounds a little crazy to say that Jamie tells me where he’s going, but that’s the way it feels sometimes.

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What was your inspiration for the incredible Jamie Brodie?

Jamie and his family developed out of characters that I’d created in my head as a kid, when I amused myself by making up my own stories. (Some children have imaginary friends. I had a whole town.) When I decided to start writing about “a librarian who solves crimes using research,” Jamie was a good fit. He’s the librarian I’d like to be.

I’m also incredibly interested to know why you gave him such acute asthma? His co-workers and his boss are very understanding and agreeable when he seems to keep being rushed to the hospital. Books always paint academics as backstabbing, jealous, drama queens that always attempt to one up one another. Your characters seem to be nice and supportive of each other. Are people that understanding and as nice as you write them in your field?  

Every hero needs a vulnerability. Jamie is an outstanding athlete, so I wanted to give him something that could bring him to full stop physically. His asthma is an aggravation that he can’t ignore, but it doesn’t hinder him when it’s not acute. It also helps to define his ambivalent relationship with Los Angeles, a place he never intended to live and which has made his asthma much worse. As far as backstabbing, drama queenish academics – that’s sometimes true for university professors, but not librarians! Academic librarians are the most congenial, collegiate group of people you’ll ever meet.

One of my favorite scenes from the books was when Jamie and Liz are at the Library conference and they begin to name off what kind of librarian people are based on their body type and clothing. How accurate is that?

That’s as accurate as a generalization ever gets. 😀 Talked to Death and the characters therein were totally inspired by the multiple Florida Library Association conferences I’ve attended over the years. The librarian hierarchy is a real thing, too.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia when it comes to your books, and if so, what form has it taken?

No, other than from one reviewer who was shocked – shocked – that there was discussion of gay sex in that particular book. (Did she not read the blurb?) However, my right-wing relatives do not know what I do in my spare time, and would not be pleased if they did. (None of them are on Facebook.)

 

And a follow up, as a female writer writing a protagonist that is a gay man have you ever dealt with discrimination from the gay community for writing a gay protagonist?

No – although I’m not sure how much of a following I have within the gay community. My friends who are gay tell me that I’m getting it right, so I hope that helps.

What got you into reading and writing gay mysteries?

Initially, it was thanks to following Amazon’s recommendations. I’d been reading a lot of urban fantasy, and J.L. Langley’s With or Without books appeared on my recommendation list. Gay werewolves? Whaaaaat? 😀 But once I started buying those, gay mystery began popping up on my rec list. The first I ever read was The Hell You Say, the third of Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series. I was hooked. In terms of writing – when I began the Jamie Brodie books, I already knew Jamie was gay, in the same way I already knew exactly what he looked like and that he was raised by his dad and grandfather.

Who have your role models as an author been? And what books are currently on your reading list?

One role model is Anthony Bidulka. I’m re-reading his Russell Quant mysteries now. Jamie’s large, close group of friends and family that grow and change along with him over the course of the series is similar to Russell’s. Another role model is Neil Plakcy, who showed me that it was possible to live in Florida but set your books in an exotic location thousands of miles away and make it work! (As he does SO well.) I also admire Richard Stevenson’s Donald Strachey series. Donald and Timmy’s long, happy relationship gives me hope for Pete and Jamie. 😀 Next on my TBR pile is Cheap as Beasts by Jon Wilson. He’ll be guest posting on my blog in May.

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Last two questions; can you share with us a little about your current release, Filmed to Death, and/or Work In Progress?

Filmed to Death, which was released April 29, finds Jamie getting tangled up with Hollywood. A has-been actor, working on a TV pilot meant to be his big comeback, is found dead in his pool by Abby Glenn, Kevin Brodie’s ex-girlfriend. Kevin can’t work the case because Abby is involved, so Jon Eckhoff asks Jamie to help him sort out the motive, which may be related to the script of the TV pilot.

The work in progress is tentatively titled Landscaped to Death, although that might change. Jamie and Pete’s next-door neighbors haven’t been heard from in several weeks – then a body turns up in their house, sniffed out by Jamie and Pete’s dog. It’s hard to say more without giving too much away. This book will be released in November.

And where can readers buy your books?

Here, at my Amazon author page: http://goo.gl/D9VjhT

Here, at my Smashwords page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/MegPerry2

Here, at the Createspace store (print books): https://www.createspace.com/

I also post free short stories on my blog: http://megperrybooks.wordpress.com/

And I create “soundtracks” for each book, imagining what songs would play in a particular scene if the book ever became a movie. The soundtracks appear on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/JamieBrodieMysteries

Excerpt: Lambda Literary Award Finalist – Lesbian Mystery – Relatively Rainey by R.E. Bradshaw

Relatively Rainey

By R. E. Bradshaw

(This excerpt is from Part I, PRELUDE TO A NIGHTMARE.)

CHAPTER TWO

6:30 AM, Sunday, December 14, 2014

Residence of Glena Sweet

Madras Lane, Orange County, NC

“The pace of his escalating violence is nearly unprecedented. I’ve not personally dealt with an offender like this,” Rainey said, as she removed latex gloves from her hands, “but I’ve read about them, studied them. This is going to end very badly for a lot more women if he isn’t stopped. He’s just reaching his full potential.”

Detective Sheila Robertson followed Rainey down the front steps of the two-story colonial revival home, after examining another in a series of crime scenes in perfectly manicured suburban neighborhoods.

“She should have been safe here,” Sheila commented aloud what she was thinking.

“No one is safe, not from a predator like this. I would bring the BAU in if it were up to me.”

Sheila, while crossing her arms in a defensive posture, responded, “That call is above either of our pay grades. The BAU is aware of the case and has thus far agreed with everything you’ve said. The task force saw no need to request BAU presence on the case just to reassure you that you are correct in your analysis. We are doing exactly what should be done.”

“And yet, here we are on a Sunday morning, attending to another woman’s broken life. Maybe I’ve missed something. More eyes and ears would be better.”

Sheila dropped her crossed arms and led Rainey a bit further away from the law enforcement personnel swarming the scene and the gathering nosey neighbors. Once a safe distance from prying ears, she began to chastise Rainey for the display of insecurity.

“Self-doubt is not attractive on you, so don’t start wearing a hair shirt yet. I don’t think you’ve missed anything. The departments have all consulted their individual experts. There have been a ton of eyes on this material. They all say the same thing. He’s escalating and we need to catch him, but no one seems to know how to do that.”

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Sheila paused to gain control of surfacing emotions. Rainey knew it for what it was. Seeing the depths of human depravity took its toll. The stress of being unable to solve a case could break the most seasoned of investigators, catching them unaware. Rainey was well aware of the pressure they were both under to solve this case. She waited for the deep breath Sheila needed to take hold. Once accomplished, Detective Robertson was ready to go back to work.

“So, our eyes and ears are going to have to be enough at the moment,” she said. “Now, what went on in this house? That woman took one hell of a beating. From the looks of things, she fought hard for her life. Professor Sweet is lucky to be alive.”

“Have you spoken to her?” Rainey asked.

“I stopped by the emergency room, but she’s too injured to interview right now. They have to wire her jaw back together first.”

“Did you see her, or has anyone noted her injuries for you?”

Sheila pulled out her phone and opened the photo file before handing it to Rainey.

“I took a few pictures in the exam room. The sexual assault nurse examiner will be more thorough.”

Rainey used her fingers on the phone screen to manipulate the pictures until she was satisfied she’d seen enough.

“The pictures don’t show it, but the doctor said the sexual assault was violent. She’ll need some reparative surgery for those injuries,” Sheila said in disgust.

Rainey returned the borrowed phone, saying, “He completed his transformation from power reassurance rapist to sadist pretty quickly. The first one, the assault on Mary Tweedy, showed inexperience with a live victim. He surprised her in her sleep and overpowered her almost immediately using only his size and strength. He hit her only once with his fist to quiet her. She stopped resisting. He showed concern for her comfort, tried to initiate personal conversations, and reassured her that she was pretty. He promised not to penetrate her, and he didn’t, although he did please himself in other ways. He was not brutal, but he paralyzed her with fear so severely that she waited to call the police for a half an hour, as he had instructed.”

“The second assault victim, Arianna Wilde—” Sheila began.

Rainey interrupted, “How’s she doing, by the way?”

“She got her stitches out, put the farm up for sale, and bought a ticket to ‘someplace warmer.’ She left her ex-husband’s phone number for contact information and said to call only if we caught the son of a bitch.”

“I can’t much blame her,” Rainey commented. “She had a security system, just like the professor here, and he still got in. How safe could she ever feel in that house? The lingering effects of trauma cling to things and places as well as people. Recovery is different for every victim, if it happens at all.”

Sheila turned her head to look at Rainey, a questioning look on her face, but she only said, “I hope she finds some peace.”

Rainey agreed, “Me, too,” before continuing the analysis. “He blitz-attacked Arianna. Hit her with a flashlight while she slept. That’s immediate application of excessive force. Although his first assault had all the elements of a power reassurance rapist, there were anger indicators—the binding, the picture taking, the degrading posing. Mary Tweedy described his repeated ramping up of her fear only to return to casual conversation about the Halloween decorations in her yard. It’s all about controlling her fear, when she shows it and how much. The anger behaviors indicated evolution to a truer sadistic nature was inevitable.”

“With Arianna,” Sheila began, “he followed the blitz attack with forcefully binding her while she was still dazed. He cut her tee shirt and panties off with a knife. He teased it across her skin and slapped her when she screamed. He had no inflection during the assaults, she said. He calmly told her what to do and when to do it. But then he would speak to her as if they were old friends. That ‘I love what you’ve done with the place’ line was just creepy as hell.”

“That was the sadist assuming his role as the torturer, whether in person or within the victim’s mind. Mary Tweedy will never decorate for Halloween again. Arianna is selling the family home where she always dreamed she’d grow old. It’s taunting with residual effects. He wants them to know he was watching and they never knew.

“He plants the seed of doubt. The one that whispers, ‘You will never be safe again. I will be watching.’ Then he sits back and lets it take root. With or without return visits to his victims, he knows the mental terror he inflicted will stay with them long after he has gone. Again, that’s about control and fear. Remember how Arianna said when she went limp, focused her mind elsewhere, he stopped raping her and put the knife to her throat again. He needed her terrified to complete his fantasy. That’s the sadist, too.”

Sheila paced the ground in front of Rainey, while the crowd of neighbors grew outside the crime scene tape. She stopped to ask a question.

“But, remember, Arianna said when she fought him again, after the attack had been going on for some time, he hit her with the flashlight, knocked her out, and she awoke to him raping her again. She wasn’t showing terror then. What does that tell you?”

“When she just checked out, she was ignoring him. That was unacceptable. An incapacitated victim, that’s a whole other ballgame. Unconscious victims can represent to the offender the complete domination and subjugation, particularly one wrapped in sexual bindings unnecessary to prevent escape. It’s part of his visual fantasy of the perfect victim. This guy is finding his sadist groove.”

“So, what looks like Glena Sweet fighting for her life is him ramping up the violence.”

Rainey nodded her head in agreement. “That’s my assessment. I’d say with her slight stature and what the other two victims have said, he easily could have overpowered her and prevented much of the struggle. Look how this house sits further back in the woods than the others. At the end of the cul-de-sac and with this much spacing between houses, no one would have noticed her screams before he gagged her. That’s another change to his methods with this one. He did not wait for her to go to sleep. He was probably in the house when she came home. For the first time, his victim saw him coming. He took her while the neighbors’ houses were filled with the noise of family activities.”

“That’s what I can’t figure out,” Sheila said, shaking her head. “Why come when she’s still awake? Why change what has been working?”

“He’s hunting the rush. This behavior is more psychologically motivated than practical, making it part of his signature. Standing over them while they slept was thrilling. Seeing her fear when he surprised her in the basement laundry, that was orgasmic to this guy. He enjoyed the fight inside this house. The blood evidence shows he pummeled her repeatedly as he drove her up to the second-floor bedroom. I’m not so sure he meant to leave her alive. Her binding bruises looked the same as the others, but she’s the first with finger marks on her throat. He probably tried manually strangling her and thought she was dead. It takes a long time to strangle someone to death with just your hands, about three minutes.”

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Sheila interjected, “So, maybe he doesn’t know how to take a pulse. That rules out medical personnel.”

“More than likely he blew his wad and lost his composure. This is just a guess, and I’ll be interested to know what Professor Sweet has to say, but I’d be willing to bet he was assaulting her while attempting to squeeze the life out of her. He was seeking the ultimate act of domination, made even more sexually satisfying because of the death struggle of his victim. His timing was off on his first attempt, but he learned something.”

Rainey looked back at the second story window where Glena Sweet had fought for her life.

“He didn’t kill this one, but he’ll kill the next one, and he’ll do it soon. He’ll bring something else to strangle her with—extra rope, a garrote, something to give him more control and leverage. He’s an emerging sexual sadist serial killer. And we have a front row seat to his edification.”

#

Monday, December 15, 2014

Press Release

Durham County Sheriff’s Office

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division and a Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force involving Wake, Chatham, Durham and Orange Counties are investigating a series of burglaries and sexual assaults, the majority of which have occurred within three miles on either side of a section of Highway 751 running south from I-40 in Durham County to the spillway bridge at Jordan Lake in Chatham County. These attacks appear to be connected to a series of voyeur reports and fetish thefts occurring in this area, as well as burglaries and a sexual assault that occurred in lower Chatham County, near Brickhaven. These crimes span from a burglary on September 2, 2013, to a violent sexual assault on December 13, 2014.

Early in the investigation, the majority of these crimes occurred inside single-family homes while the residents were away. Articles of clothing belonging to the female residents were taken. The suspect then began entering the homes of women living alone, while the women were at home and without their knowledge. On October 24, November 22, and December 13, 2014, the suspect escalated to violent sexual assault. In each of the assault cases, the female victim lived alone. The suspect enters through locked or unlocked doors and windows and has used a device to disrupt wireless security systems in some cases.

The suspect is described as a white male, 35-45 years old, 6’ to 6’3”, well spoken, extremely strong, and physically fit. He may be an avid photographer. He is probably a runner and uses the greenways and running trails in the area for access to the crime scenes.

We are cautioning all single females living alone in the area to take extra measures for their safety. It may be wise to have a male friend or family member stay at the home. Other security measures include replacing outdoor lights with bright lamps and leaving them on. If possible install motion detector activated lighting at the back of property near any wooded areas, vary routines, place a stick in windows to prevent opening or install locks that bolt to the frame, install chain or swing-bar locks on entry doors.

Any female resident living in proximity to these crimes that believes she may have been a victim of a fetish burglary in the last two years is urged to come forward. The suspect has been known to return to scenes of his previous crimes. Persons with any information on these crimes should contact Detective Sheila Robertson, Durham County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigations Division.

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9:00 AM, Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hardware Builder’s Supply

Durham, NC

“Send me everything you have in stock and find more.”

Harold Sparks listened to the warehouse manager’s surprised response and didn’t care how many swing-bar locks and window frame locking bolts he was ordering. It wouldn’t be enough.

“Yes, everything. Send everything on the truck this afternoon. I can’t keep the stuff on the shelves. People are scared.”

Harold looked down the door and window hardware aisle of his store filled with frightened women.

“Hang on. Don’t put the stuff on the truck. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Just have it ready to load.”

A young woman in a State College hoodie stood in the aisle staring up at a wall of door locks while a single tear rolled down her cheek.

Her voice shook as she said into the phone at her ear, “No, Mom. They don’t have any left, either.”

“God, help us,” Harold said, “God, help us all.”

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4:45 PM, Monday, January 19, 2015

Cookie Kutter Crime Beat Recording Studio

Durham, NC

“Good evening. I’m Cookie Kutter. CKCB. See a crime, come see me.”

A formerly respected news reporter, gone the way of Nancy Grace sensationalism, Cookie Kutter began the recording of her nightly cable crime beat newscast, ready to explain to the masses why she was the only person watching their backs. She shook her judgmental bottle-blonde head from side to side and smirked for the camera before launching into tonight’s rant.

“S. M. H. For those of you not text savvy, that means I’m shaking my head.” She pointed at her head. “See? Shakin’ it. Shakin’ it.”

Her smirk turned into an exaggerated frown.

“Another woman is dead at the hands of the Triangle Terror, and the multi-jurisdictional task force is no closer to catching this guy than they were when he started pulling panties off clotheslines two years ago.”

More head shaking followed.

“A thirty-five-year-old woman was brutally attacked and murdered in her home on Glen Road in Chatham County. The name of the victim has not been released, nor has law enforcement divulged any details, but sources say it is the Triangle Terror’s work. The attack occurred sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning. This follows only twenty-two days after the shocking murder of twenty-six-year-old Tiegen Davis, less than four miles from the latest crime scene.”

Cookie stared into the camera, as it moved in for a close-up.

“After fourteen fetish burglaries, three rapes, and now two ghastly murders, what are the police doing to catch this guy? All law enforcement can do is tell women living alone to watch out for a thirty-five to forty-five-year-old physically fit white guy, move a man onto our couches, lock the doors, and hope for the best. Is that acceptable, ladies and gentlemen?”

Cookie raised one eyebrow and sneered at the camera. “I think not.”

She dropped her elbow to the desktop and pointed at the camera.

“You, multi-jurisdictional task force, can do better. Why do you depend on former FBI agent Rainey Bell as a consultant, considering her inability to identify her own rapist, letting him close enough to try again? And what about the fact she hired a killer and let her into her own home without realizing it? She’s lucky all she lost were her signature long curly locks.”

The pointing finger came down, but the character assassination of Rainey Bell continued.

“Last February, former agent Bell went to a funeral and ended up kidnapped by a psychopath. Really, is that the best we can do folks, a tragically flawed behavioral analyst? Why not contact the Behavioral Analysis Unit and bring in actual FBI agents? Don’t the women of the Triangle area deserve an official state and federal investigation? This is obviously over the heads of local law enforcement and the apparently clueless has-been analyst with issues.”

The camera pulled back as Cookie stacked and straightened papers on the desk in front of her while giving a sideways glance to her audience. Having given ample time for her disdain to sink in, she slapped the papers on the desk for emphasis and asked, “Are you kidding me?”

Another pause followed, a short one to rearrange her features in an alternative display of condescension and scorn.

“Speaking of Rainey Bell, she is in the crime news today on another matter. The three bodies pulled from the drainage pond near an airport long-term parking lot last month have been identified. DNA was determined to match two teenage boys reported to be runaways and missing since October of 2014. The names have not been released. The two were thought to have taken up homosexual prostitution as a way to survive on the street—which is another show altogether—and were last seen getting into a black sedan with darkly tinted windows. The deaths were determined to be homicides, and there are no suspects.”

Cookie tilted her head to one side, gave the camera lens her best gloating sneer, and chided, “Imagine that.”

She shifted positions, leaning in on her elbows to pull the audience in further.

“Now here’s where the Rainey Bell connection comes in. The third body is that of Dr. John P. Taylor, a local veterinarian missing since July of 2010. He is thought to be the last victim of the Y-Man serial killer, who turned out to be former State Representative JW Wilson. If you’ll remember, Wilson is also the man who kidnapped and raped the then Agent Bell, scarring her for life with a Y-incision on her torso. Wilson was killed by his wife, Katherine Anne Meyers, after he attacked Agent Bell and Ms. Meyers in their love nest on Lake Jordan. Oh yes, Rainey Bell is now raising triplets with and is married to the former Mrs. Wilson, whom we all remember from her drunken attack on moi.”

The batting eyelashes were meant to draw sympathy from her supporters. After the short pause for effect, she moved on.

“The teenagers’ and Dr. Taylor’s deaths do not appear to be related, according to the medical examiner’s reports. Sources tell us the bindings were still attached to the teenagers’ remains, suggesting another type of killer is also on the loose in the triangle, one targeting teenage male prostitutes.”

Cookie formed an impish grin for her fans.

“How long do you think it will be before Rainey Bell is somehow mixed up in these teenagers’ murders? We’ll see. Trouble seems to find Ms. Bell on a regular basis. Maybe she should try gardening and leave the crime fighting to those who don’t end up in the middle of their own investigations?”

Her raised eyebrows were meant to give emphasis and credence to Cookie’s assessment of Rainey Bell’s investigative talents.

“We’ll be back after the break to talk to Dr. Edward Teague, a forensic psychologist and research fellow at State College. He’s going to tell us about sexual paraphilia and why the Triangle Terror is driven by these needs. We’ll be right back with more on the Cookie Kutter Crime Beat Show.”

“And cut,” a voice said from the darkness in the studio. “Okay, Cookie. We’ll have the doc set up with a microphone in two minutes.”

Without an audience to charm, Cookie reverted to her off-camera persona.

“Why don’t I have video of Rainey Bell at one of these crime scenes? Why don’t I have an interview with one of the surviving victims? What the fuck am I paying you little weasels for? And, Dirk, yes you, Dirk, the one with the headset in the booth, the one that’s supposed to edit this shit into something worthy of a number one local cable news show—make sure you run that clip in the background of precious little Katie Meyers punching me in the face.”

She chuckled and shook her head from side to side, as she started editing the questions for her upcoming guest.

Under her breath, but easily heard by others, she chuckled and said, “I’ve gotten more mileage out of that fifteen seconds of video than should be legal. Love it, just love it.”

#

Later that same evening…

Somewhere in the Raleigh-Durham Area

“Thank you, Doctor Teague. I don’t know about you ladies,” Cookie said into the camera lens, “but I think I’m headed to the dollar store for some big ol’ granny panties.”

Dr. Teague’s voice could be heard off-camera, trying to explain, “Well, the style might not be a factor in this offend—”

Cookie’s glare, focused on someone beyond the camera, had the desired effect. The doctor’s microphone was cut, silencing him from stepping on her clever line.

“That’s it for the show, ladies and gentlemen. Stay safe, and remember, CKCB. See a crime, come see me.”

He clicked on “save as” in the file menu, labeled the file, “CKCB, January 19, 2015,” and saved it to his special external hard drive. The files on that particular device represented his best work to date. He safely ejected and disconnected the slender, black drive, returning it to its hiding place inside the false panel of his home office desk.

The secrets it held were the reason he insisted on the heavy piece of furniture his wife disliked. She only agreed to his choice because he was so accommodating on the rest of the decisions made for the new house. He was like that, obliging to his wife’s wishes most of the time. She thought him the perfect husband, as she should, because he invested a lot of effort in fulfilling the image she had of him.

He actually loved her and wanted her to be happy. She was fun and outgoing. Their sex life wasn’t half bad, probably better than most with their longevity. It would be twenty years in May since he walked her down the aisle. He thought her pretty damn perfect, too. Her job took her away for days at a time. She took a sleeping aid that knocked her out cold for hours when she was at home. Bouncing around through time zones wore on her, she said. He remained the perfect long-suffering, lonely husband, home alone while she flew around the world.

It would never cross her mind that he was anything but loyal, and he was—except for one thing. He was now a murderer, a full-on sadistic serial killer. He had spent years repressing his darker thoughts. An occasional dalliance, some panties here, a camisole there, was all he would allow himself. He focused on his work and creating the picture-perfect life with his wife. He ran mile after mile, worked out obsessively, fulfilled his wife’s every sexual fantasy, trying anything to silence the demon in the night. He plunged into his work with vigor, becoming well respected in his field. No one would ever suspect he harbored sadistic sexual desires.

He could control it back then. He could turn it off, lock it back down, but that all changed with the move to Durham. His wife was overjoyed to be back near family. He was offered a coveted position and a chance to make a name for himself among his colleagues. His wife accepted the job offer she’d refused multiple times after he told her she should live the dream, follow her heart, see the world and take it by storm.

Once she was launched on her travels, the demon had no reason to stay hidden. Though he had fooled himself into thinking he had controlled his dark desires, he never did. On his own for days, sometimes weeks, the demon could no longer be silenced. He began to watch them, his girls, initiating the collection of victims and trophies. At first, it was just what he could pinch from clotheslines, gyms, and unattended washers at public laundries.

His fantasies grew violent. The desires overwhelmed him until he no longer tried to quell them. That first time, walking into that basement, finding a treasure trove of one of his girls’ underwear in a pile of laundry, that was the first needle in the vein. Once he crossed that line, entered a home undetected, he was an addict with a growing habit. He was smart enough to know the demon’s hunger for the drug it craved would only increase in frequency and dosage. He was also smart enough to know, if he did not stop, he would go the way of many an addict. Was the crash and burn worth the ride?

He picked up Shayna Carson’s blood spattered thong from his desk. It was the last thing in which he posed her before he tightened the zip tie around her neck. He watched the petechial hemorrhaging appear on her cheeks and in the whites of her terror-stricken eyes.

His wife’s flight wouldn’t land for another hour. He unzipped his jeans and slipped the thong over his already hardening penis. Shayna’s last breath had excited him like no other experience in his admittedly deviant hunt for the ultimate sexual high. He closed his eyes so he could see her again. He didn’t need the pictures he took to relive the time he spent with her. She nearly fulfilled the fantasy to a tee. While he replayed her pleas for her life in his mind, he determined then that the next time he would cut the zip tie off and let the target catch her breath before slipping on a new one. He would repeat this reviving strategy until she did not recover. If he practiced on the next couple of targets, he was sure he could perfect the glorious ending to the fantasy.

He slid Shayna’s thong along the length of his now rock-hard penis. The mental movie of her last hours began to meld with his fantasies.

“Shayna,” he whispered, “you were definitely worth the ride.”

#

11:22 PM, Saturday, January 31, 2015

Falcon Ridge Subdivision, Durham, NC

“9-1-1. What is your emergency?”

“He’s going to kill us this time.”

“Who, ma’am? Is someone in your home trying to hurt you?”

The bedroom door splintered, but the dresser and chest of drawers she managed to topple in front of it held fast, for the moment.

“Oh, my god. He’s going to get in here.”

“Who, ma’am? I have your address and a patrol car just down the street coming your way. Tell me who is trying to hurt you.”

“My husband, Aaron Engel. Tell them he’s armed. He’s ex-FBI. He runs a security company. He’s drunk and he will not go down without a fi— Oh, my god,” she screamed as he moved the makeshift barrier a few inches with the superhuman strength of a raging drunk. “He’s crazy. My kids are in here with me.”

“Stay calm. They are almost there. Stay with me. What’s your name?”

“Amy, Amy Engel.”

He hit the door again, roaring her name, “Aaaammmmyyyyy!”

“He’s going to kill me this time. Please don’t let him hurt my kids.”

“How many children, and are they with you?”

“Two, and they are here with me.”

Amy turned to see her two young children wild-eyed and terrified. Too frightened to cry anymore, they made not a sound. The phone nearly slipped from her hand, as blood from the gash above her ear oozed out of her hair. She listened to a supervisor in the background, calling out to the responding patrol car.

“Unit 27, be advised, the suspect male is ex-federal law enforcement, armed, and intoxicated. Proceed with caution. Unit 42, Unit 53, assist Unit 27, domestic assault in progress. Wife and two children in the house. Suspect armed.”

“Where are you in the house, Amy?”

“We’re in the master suite, upstairs, in the bathroom. He’s at the top of the stairs on the landing.”

Crraack! The door splintered again, leaving a gap. He pressed his enraged face into the void. Amy closed the bathroom door and locked it.

“Oh dear God, hurry up,” she whispered into the phone.

“Amy,” he called, his voice flat with anger. “Hang up the goddamn phone and come out here. You think you can take my kids, bitch? You have no idea who you are dealing with.”

“How old are the children, ma’am?”

The operator was back, asking questions of her. She didn’t answer but instead said, “Please, God, don’t make me shoot this man in front of his kids.”

“Are you armed, ma’am?”

“You bet your sweet ass I’m armed,” Amy Engel replied. It was not weapon-holding false bravado, but an accurate assessment of the danger she was in. “I know exactly who I’m dealing with.”

The supervisor was obviously listening. She began calling to the patrol officers immediately. “Unit 27, be advised, the caller is also armed and located in the upstairs master suite bathroom with two children.”

Aaron stopped slamming into the door. Terror permeated the silence with a threat worse than him entering the room. Amy could hear the children whimper, as the fear of the unknown replaced their father’s pointed rage. All the moment lacked was a high-pitched violin note to heighten the tension before the climax of the scene.

“10-4, 27. Suspect in custody.” Suddenly the supervisor’s voice was louder and directed at Amy. “Ma’am, officers are at your front door with your husband. I need you to put the weapon in a safe place away from the children and come out of the bathroom. An officer is waiting in the hall.”

“Oh, thank God. Thank you, thank you,” Amy gushed into the phone.

“You’re welcome, ma’am. Please assist the officer in securing your safety.”

The children cried softly, holding tight to each other. Relief freeing them to express the emotions no child should have to feel. Amy knew this was the last time she’d see her kids cower in fear in their own home.

The operator prodded her once more. “Ma’am, can you let the officer in the room?”

“Oh—yes. Thank you for everything. Bye.”

Amy hung up the phone and opened a cabinet door too high for her eight and seven-year-olds to reach, but she warned them anyway.

“This isn’t staying here, but still, no touching.”

“Ma’am, this is Officer King with the Durham Police Department,” a female voice called out. “Would you mind moving some of that furniture so we can get you out of there? Your husband is in custody.”

Amy pushed the dresser over and out of the way with the added strength of the adrenaline pumping through her veins. Two of its wooden legs broke off, and the contents of drawers cascaded onto the floor. She didn’t care, because as of that moment Amy Engel didn’t live there anymore.

#

He’d been inside the target’s residence less than a minute, long enough to check the dryer by the back door for trophies, when he heard the sirens coming. He ran, leaving the back door open, too afraid he’d be seen if he stopped to close it. They were near. Screeching tires and the blue flashing lights reflected in the treetops drove him further into the darkness. He pushed through the darkness too fast and regrettably forgot about that little drainage ditch near the running trail.

His ankle gave way. He lay crumpled in a heap on the forest floor; sure men with flashlights and guns would be coming soon. He had quite a crime spree under his belt, but it would soon be over. He left enough DNA and behavioral evidence to be tied to multiple felonies, including capital murder. The Triangle Terror induced panic would come to an end, and women could sleep in peace once again. He was destined for the needle, or at best, dying an old man on death row while the public debated the humane way to put him down—an indulgence he found ironic since there was nothing humane about his murder victims’ last moments.

He had noticed the added law enforcement presence in his hunting grounds, part of the prevention measures employed by the task force formed to take down the Triangle Terror. It was an attempt to quell the public’s fears. It only made his game of cat and mouse with the cops more fun to play. Even with the additional patrol units, he had entered homes in search of trophies while the cops circled the neighborhood. His confidence grew with each outing—enough so, that tonight he brought his rape kit and planned to pay a visit to one of his girls. She must have heard him downstairs and called the cops.

He peered through the woods toward the sound of voices and the source of the blue flashing lights. That’s when he started to laugh, not loud, but a low chuckle from his chest. The police were two doors down from his girl’s house. They had not been coming for him. The chuckle ceased when the lost opportunity to take his victim with the cops right outside crossed his mind.

“That would have been mind-blowing,” he whispered.

He pulled himself up slowly, using a tree for balance. He tentatively put weight on his ankle. The pain was almost unbearable, but bear it he must. Although the cops might not have initially been looking for him, it seemed his entrance to his girl’s house had been discovered. Flashlights bobbed in the distance, coming toward the woods. He turned, took a deep breath, and disappeared into the night, hobbled but not defeated, at least not yet.

As he ran, he took the pain, burying it beneath the new fantasy he’d been working on. The planning and prep-work were half the fun. He was ready for the next step and only continued the burglaries to stay his boredom while he waited for the perfect opportunity to put his preparation to good use. Tonight’s planned rape was just foreplay for his ultimate desire. He wanted to spend more time with his next girl. He had a couple of candidates already picked out. He knew the one he wanted, but he’d have to break the golden rule. His girls could never be someone he knew in his other life, the one where he was the loving husband and consummate professional. But when he closed his eyes, forming his ultimate fantasies, it was her face he saw.

She would be his end, he knew, but still he limped through the darkness while the fantasy of her bound at his feet pushed back the pain and kept him moving.

#

8:00 AM, Friday, February 6, 2015

Sarah Harris’s Second Chance House

Battered Women’s Center

Big Woods Road, Chatham County, NC

“What’s your badge number? What’s your name,” the man growled.

“Officer Wendy King, sir. We met before, Mr. Engel, at your home, the night you broke a wine bottle over your wife’s head.”

“Oh, you’re that bitch,” Engel snarled.

Officer King’s patrol car was parked at an angle, blocking the entrance to the women’s center. She had volunteered to bring a witness to court in Durham, one seeking a protective order against none other than Mr. Aaron Engel.  Several security officers stood on the other side of the gate, further preventing the infuriated man access to his wife and children, which was why he was in a screaming rage in the middle of the road.

Buying time for backup from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department because she was out of her jurisdiction, the young officer stood her ground and kept him talking.

“I guess you don’t remember much from that night, do you, Mr. Engel? You were pretty drunk and worked up. I seem to have found you in that state again today, but I don’t smell alcohol. I’m afraid that ‘I was drunk, forgive me’ defense is going to look kind of lame now. It appears you can be a raging ass without substance abuse.”

“Do you have any idea who I am? I’ll crush you. You won’t be able to sleep at night. I can make you disappear without a trace.”

“Threats to an officer. Wow, you really do want to go to prison. You were FBI. How can you not know that you are digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole?”

“I want to talk to my wife. I want my kids out of this lesbo camp, you fucking dyke.”

Officer King smiled. “No, that would be my sister. I’m the straight girl in the family photos, but they treat me just like everyone else. I think that’s very nice of them, celebrating diversity like that.”

“My kids are not going to be subject to this lifestyle.”

“What lifestyle would that be? Are you referring to my sister and her beautiful wife and kids? They love each other, and their children are healthy and happy. I don’t know if I’d call that a lifestyle though. I’d probably just say that’s the way it should be. A home that focuses on love without fear and violence, where no one is worried about what will set Dad off in a rage.”

Aaron Engel took two steps forward, ready to pummel Wendy King. Her hand slipped to her weapon.

It didn’t deter his rage. “I’m going to take that pistol from you and teach you some goddam respect, you smart mouthed bitc—”

The derogatory term he was about to use caught in his cheeks when a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.

“I wouldn’t do that, mister,” a booming bass voice said.

Aaron took one look over his shoulder at the mountain of a man and deflated.

Officer King smiled. “Mr. Engel, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Mackie.”

“Hands on the car,” Mackie instructed.

Aaron Engel complied. He was still angry but evidently not in the mood for an ass whippin’.

“Looks like you’re only aggressive toward women, Aaron. That’s the second time I’ve seen your raging bull act come to an abrupt halt when a bigger man stepped in to take the upper-hand,” Officer King taunted.

Miles McKinney, Rainey Bell’s business partner and the guardian angel to those she loved—six feet six inches of solid muscle since his heart attack and newfound love of the gym—handcuffed his prisoner.

“Lil’ sis, the man is in custody. No need to rub his face in it.”

“He’s a jackass and an abusive one at that,” Wendy said, bolstered by youthful arrogance.

“I knew a girl like you once,” Mackie replied while putting the handcuffed man in the backseat of Wendy’s patrol car. “She paid an awful price to gain some humility. You might learn from that experience without it costing you, as well.”

“I just want to talk to my wife,” Aaron called out from inside the car. “If she hadn’t brought her here,” referring to Officer King, “she would have been home by now. She brainwashed her against me. I know they text all the time. I can see her phone activity. I know that bitch right there is unduly influencing Amy. I have to get her out of here.”

“See? I told you he was a prick. Who spies on a spouse like that? Your wife is lucky she is rid of you.”

Aaron made a show of coming out of the car before a large palm hit his forehead, sending him backward onto the car seat. Mackie, who had been dealing with men like Engel much longer than his badge-wearing young friend, leaned down and spoke softly to the fuming man.

“Mr. Engel, you’re going to be arrested. Be good and you’ll probably be out in twenty-four hours. Get a lawyer and listen to him. My best advice is throw yourself on the mercy of the court and get some help. But this behavior here, that’s going to cost you if you keep it up. It’s already cost you your career. Don’t let it cost you everything else.”

Mackie turned to Officer Wendy King with a sage piece of advice, “And you, don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t pay for.”

#

11:59 PM, Thursday, February 12, 2015

Colfax Park Drive, Chatham County, NC

He had to stay off his wrenched ankle for a week. He’d been bearing his full weight again for only a few days, but he could wait no longer. His wife was coming back Saturday morning for a Valentine’s visit. She would be home for a week this time. He needed a fix, and he needed it now. With his injury, he couldn’t chance an encounter with one of his girls, but Paige would be off to the school dance Friday night. Her parents would go to their usual date night dinner and a movie. Her room would be free, and he could spend a few hours working off some steam.

He was watching Paige’s house, fantasizing from the bushes of the time he would come to take her away. Until then, he came and went in her world without notice. However, he planned to leave a message this visit. It was time to let Paige know he was coming. He reached under his waistband, about to pleasure himself while he thought of her when he saw the silhouette against the side of the house two doors down. He removed his hand from his penis and began slowly moving toward the intruder in his territory.

Another predator was in his hunting grounds. A tall, well-built, young man peeped into the window of two adolescent sisters. This was unacceptable. These were his streets, his girls. They were not to be used by some young developing pedophile with a hard-on. He thought about calling the police. Wouldn’t that be ironic? But, he’d hate to be caught up in the arrest. His cell phone number would show up on the emergency operator’s screen. How would he explain his presence? It would lead to his name on a report, and linkage was everything. Stay off the radar, he decided.

Instead, he followed the young man back to his home. He read the name on the return address labels neatly stickered to the mail the young man had already put out for morning pickup.

“Ummm, interesting. Good to know.”

He would keep an eye on this peeper from a distance. He’d learn his habits and the houses he hit, and if need be, pin his crimes on this budding sicko. He could drop a few dozen pairs of stolen underwear in this guy’s garage, slip a hard drive with incriminating images in the heater vent, and watch the cops eat him alive before they figured out his DNA didn’t match the evidence. Even then, the prosecution could claim contamination at the lab, throw out the DNA, and convict on the possession of the stolen items and pictures. That would be fun. The future looked bright as he wandered back home through the woods. Yeah, that would be fun.

#

7:15 AM, Saturday, February 14, 2015

Colfax Park Drive, Chatham County, NC

“Holy shit, Sheila. My house is less than three-quarters of a mile from here.” Rainey pointed over her shoulder.

“I know,” Sheila said. “I’m sure it’s disconcerting.”

“Disconcerting? I’ve never been so glad to live in a fortress with redundant security systems in my life.”

Sheila laughed. “I thought you pretty much lived in a state of euphoria over that virtually impenetrable wall you’ve built around your family.”

“It’s the virtually part that keeps me vigilant,” Rainey said in all seriousness.

“So let’s catch this creep.”

“That’s not going to be so easy.”

Sheila looked around the latest victim’s room. Paige Jeanerette was an eighteen-year-old high school senior. Her room reflected her bookish, introverted personality, and she seemed to have dedicated her life and much of her wall space to the Hunger Games.

“What’s he doing, Rainey? Why is he back to fetish crimes? And what the hell is this all about?”

Sheila pointed at Paige’s laptop on the desk in the corner. A word document left open on the screen contained a message to the young woman who occupied this room.

The note read, “I seen you at school in class. I think your pretty. I’m scared to talk to you. I hope you don’t be mad I took the panties. Its cause I like you.”

“He’s just playing with us and terrorizing her. Bad grammar and spelling—he’s trying to mimic a teenager, make her look over her shoulder.”

Sheila slapped the laptop closed with her latex-gloved hand. “I hate this guy. I mean I really, really hate this guy. I want his balls on a plaque in my office.”

“Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen,” Rainey said, looking out the window to the woods behind the house.

“You don’t think we’ll catch him?” Sheila questioned, incredulously.

“We’ll catch him, but you won’t get his balls. When he’s cornered, he’ll come peacefully. He’s too smart to go out in a blaze of glory. No, the guys at the BAU will be talking to him for years to come, albeit from death row.”

“Maybe he’ll hit the wrong woman, someone like you who’ll put a bullet in his ass, save the state some money.”

“You do know I’ve never actually killed anyone. I’ve had opportunities, but nope, not a one. I’m not the ‘out of control badass’ Cookie Kutter would have people believe.”

“You watch that show?”

Rainey laughed and fibbed a little. “No, but Katie does. She says she likes to know what the enemy is up to. I can always tell when Cookie uses that clip of Katie punching her. That pisses her off, but between you and me, I think Katie’s glad she did it.”

Sheila chuckled. “I can’t help it. I love that clip. I saved it to my computer for days when I’d like to do something similar to Ms. Kutter.”

Rainey smiled at her friend. “Me, too, but Katie doesn’t know.”

“Well, let’s get you back home to your Valentine’s weekend. I know last year’s plans were a bust.”

“I made no plans this year. I didn’t want to jinx it. Katie is in charge, and I am blissfully ignorant of what lies in store.”

“Just remember to take your weapon. You, of all people, can never be too prepared.”

“Always,” Rainey answered absently, refocused on the room. “Okay, back to business. This is a straight up fetish burglary with sadistic tones. The note is meant to extend his terror. But there is nothing new here, nothing to learn, other than he’s treading water.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s bored. The patrols slowed him down but haven’t stopped him. I don’t think this is regression, though. I think he’s planning his next step up the sadistic ladder. This guy is a thinker. He has a fantasy—he fulfills it. He moves on to the next fantasy, seeking a higher high each time. It took him two years to build up to what he did to Shayna Carson. He spent more time with her than the others, extending her suffering as long as possible. He appears to be going through sexual sadist school, but if you look at the last four months, he leapt from middle school to college. Postgraduate work is next. Keep an eye out for missing women.”

“He’s not a kidnapper,” Sheila countered.

“He wants more time. He needs more time, more privacy, a chance to focus only on his victim without fear of interruption. He has a private place. I bet it’s near those Chatham County scenes down by the river. That’s how you’ll find him. Locate the lair. I’d deploy deputies in that area, account for all the residents. You’re looking for a man who visits but doesn’t live there. Locate the owners of vacated structures and seasonally occupied homes, hunting cabins, fish camps, anywhere a lone man would go unnoticed.”

“Women go missing all the time. How will we know he took her?”

“Victimology should at least give you a clue. She’ll be white, twenty-five to forty-five, live alone on a property near the woods, and if he is the planner I believe him to be, she will have no close relatives or friends that would notice her weekend absence.”

Rainey pulled the latex gloves from her hands and locked eyes with Sheila.

“Realistically? You will know when you find the body.”

#

8:15 PM, Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Place For Us Charity Ball

Feme Sole Nightclub, Durham, NC

Rainey leaned against the wall near the entrance as the woman she adored stepped into the center stage spotlight.  The large women’s bar inside a former tobacco warehouse was decorated to fit the refinement of the evening. Diamonds and jewels glinted at every table in the dimly lit hall. Hundreds of haute couture-wearing guests with exceedingly deep pockets sat at elegantly decorated tables. The bar owner, Phyllis, stood nearby, grinning at the stage. She, too, had been placed under the spell of the beautiful blonde at the microphone.

Katie had called out the country club set and the left-leaning movers and shakers in the Triangle area. They were there to raise money for homeless LGBTQ youth. Kids were on the street because parents threw them out or made life a living hell from which escape was the only means of survival. Molly Kincaid, Rainey’s friend, lawyer, and sometime employer recruited Katie to head the fundraising campaign knowing Ms. Bell-Meyers could bring a crowd, and that she did.

Rainey’s infatuation with Katie had never worn thin in the nearly five years they had been together. It seemed to grow stronger every day. The red dress Katie wore was stunning, but Rainey thought her wife more attractive with pancake batter on her cheek and triplets at her feet, just a few hours ago. The three-year-olds were fussy and wanted breakfast for supper. Katie, the triplet whisperer, went to dress for the ball after she fed and washed them, leaving Rainey to wrestle the hyper trio into pajamas and bed. The children noted Katie’s transformation into the sexiest mom in the room when she came in to kiss them goodnight.

“Mommy is pretty,” Mack said.

“Mommy is pretty,” Timothy echoed.

Weather, the only girl and lover of all things shiny and expensive, pointed at the diamond necklace around Katie’s neck.

“Mommy is sparkly.”

Rainey’s mother, Constance, the evening’s overnight babysitter, took over the kid watch because they had to be supervised. They were into everything, constantly on the move. Katie was the only person they didn’t try to outmaneuver. She never raised her voice and rarely lost patience with the children, yet they obeyed Katie without question. Rainey figured it was because they recognized Katie as their main food source. They pulled most of their worst stunts when Rainey was watching them. Their latest escapade involved stealing Katie’s makeup bag from the master suite, decorating the nursery and each other while they were supposed to be napping.

Rainey dressed under Katie’s watchful eye. She had refused to wear a man’s tuxedo, and an evening gown was simply out of the question—not convenient for hiding her weapon—but the fundraiser was a black tie affair. Katie found a tailor who could recreate the look of the 1966 Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking tuxedo for women and presented it to Rainey as a gift. The tailor had required a final fitting, which included Rainey wearing her sidearm. He wanted to make sure she didn’t mess up the lines with a bulge in the wrong place. The Glock was a no-go with the tailor. They compromised on a smaller weapon and a holster close to her ribcage. Katie had not seen the finished product.

When Rainey stepped out of the walk-in closet dressing area still working on a cuff link, she said, “Thank you, honey. This is the most comfortable suit I’ve ever worn.”

Katie smiled and winked, saying, “Oh, no. Thank you.”

Now Rainey leaned on the wall and smiled at the pretty mommy on stage, listening as Katie wrapped up her short speech.

“Forty percent of the homeless youth in America are from the LGBTQ community. The Internet provides exposure to worldviews, opening minds and presenting opportunities.  Along with this newfound awareness, the strides forward in social acceptance have given many young men and women the knowledge that they are not alone and the strength to be themselves. They are now revealing hidden truths to family and friends at earlier ages than ever before. These children are still dependent on the adults in their lives for food, shelter, and financial support. While many families are embracing and loving, others use archaic belief systems to justify throwing a child out into the street. These children need our help, and that is why we are here tonight.

“Thank you all for coming and for the expression of care and concern you have shown our youth. I don’t like to use words like ‘straight ally,’ which some would use to describe those of you in this room who are heterosexual. The only label necessary to comprehend that we are all equal is ‘human.’ We are all human beings deserving of respect and the right to be our unique selves, loving whom we choose. Thank you again for being compassionate souls caring for all of us. Have a wonderful evening.”

Katie began making her way from the stage to the back of the room, stopping to speak to guests. Molly walked over to Rainey, accompanied by her girlfriend, Leslie. Leslie had become Katie’s closest friend. The four of them spent many social evenings together.

“Is your babysitter spending the night?” Molly asked.

“Yes,” Rainey answered. “Why?”

“Because if the way you’re looking at your wife is an indication of your intentions, you two are going to need some alone time.”

Katie arrived and stood on her tiptoes to give Rainey a quick kiss on the lips. “Hey, good lookin’. How’d I do?”

“You were perfect,” Rainey said, beaming back at her.

Molly and Leslie gave Katie hugs and congratulations on the event’s success. Wendy joined them. She was twenty-four years old and the mirror image of her older sister at that age. Wendy’s evening gown was exquisite, matching the green of her eyes. The dress was the direct result of a shopping spree with Leslie and Katie, who were determined to dress Wendy properly because Rainey was a lost cause.

“Katie, that was a great speech, and you look fantastic,” Wendy said, hugging her. She waved over Katie’s shoulder at Rainey. “Hi, sis.”

Rainey waved her fingers back at Wendy, realizing she was mimicking behavior she used with her kids. Life changed for her every day, even as some things remained the same. Rainey didn’t want to think about nightmares and past mistakes tonight. Katie was dazzling, the night out with good friends was just beginning, and they had a babysitter. Life was good at the moment.

As Wendy introduced her date, Rainey noticed Molly glaring at him. The date was a casual one. Two young professionals attending an event, Wendy explained earlier. With no steady boyfriend, she was focused on her career, as Rainey had been once.

“Rainey, Katie, I’d like to introduce you to Nick Prentiss. Nick, this is my sister, Rainey Bell-Meyers, and her wife, Katie Bell-Meyers.”

Rainey and Katie shook Nick’s hand and exchanged greetings. He was starkly handsome. His dark hair and tanned skin contrasted with his hazel eyes and playfully pouty pink lips. His tuxedo was not a rental, but a tailored fit worthy of his model good looks. He was also charming.

“I can see the family resemblance,” Nick said. “It’s a compliment to both you and Wendy.”

Rainey took note that Molly still glared at Nick. She wanted to know what was up, so she sped things along.

“Nick, these are our friends, Molly Kincaid and Leslie Walker.”

Leslie stuck her hand out first and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Nick.”

Molly never lifted a finger. Instead, she said, “Sleeping with the enemy, Wendy? Hello, Nick. Aren’t you just a little too Fox News for this crowd?”

Rainey grinned. She loved to watch Molly take somebody on, even if it was her sister’s date. Molly was usually the last one to show her colors. She must have had an intense dislike for this young man. It was sure to be entertaining.

Nick came back with, “Ms. Kincaid, you’ll find I’m a man of many passions. It’s good to see you again.”

“Your passions are for sale, I take it,” Molly quipped.

“Of course,” Nick answered honestly. “A good lobbyist can be passionate about anything if the price is right. I’m paid to sway people to my clients’ position, much like you make a living swaying juries on your clients’ behalf. It’s not my fault the system is broken. I’m merely making money until they fix it. It isn’t any more of a crime than representing a murderer in court.”

“At least if one of my clients claims God made him do it, I can plead insanity,” Molly countered.

Everyone in the social circle had been following the conversation like a tennis match. So far, the score was fairly even. However, Rainey counted on Molly to have the last word.

Undaunted, Nick said, “It’s politics. It’s not personal.” He offered his hand to Molly again. “Truce.”

“Oh, but it is personal, Nick. If I recall, and I do recall quite clearly, you were on the front lines protesting funding for the women’s center named after my mother with that asinine Jedidiah Lilly horde. What was it they were shouting? ‘God hates dykes,’ and my personal favorite, ‘Sarah Harris was a white-trash drug addict.’ I understand you were responsible for that little ditty.” Molly raised the Champaign glass in her hand in salute to Wendy. “You look ravishing, Miss King, but I’d work on the arm candy. This one won’t taste as good as he looks. As my mother used to say, sugar coated crap is still crap. Well, actually, she would have said, ‘shit’, but as I’ve left my white-trash roots behind, I thought I’d clean it up a bit.”

Most women would have delivered that line, followed by a quick turn of the heel and a sachet away, but not Molly. She sipped from her glass, handed it off to Rainey, and slipped her arm around Leslie’s waist.

“Let’s dance, honey,” Molly said. “They’re playing my song.”

Rainey started laughing when she realized the band was playing “Devil With The Blue Dress On.” It was indeed, Molly Kincaid’s theme song.

To Wendy’s credit, she turned to Nick. “Did you actually make that sign?”

Nick blushed red, losing some of his charming composure. “No, I didn’t make it. I just did the research on Sarah Harris and forwarded the information.”

“But you did work for Lilly?”

“Hey, Molly Kincaid’s mother’s history is public knowledge,” Nick argued.

Rainey narrowed her eyes at Nick. “I’m quite sure you have no idea what the real history involves in Molly’s mother’s case. That part of the story is not public knowledge.”

“If she doesn’t want it to be a political football, she should not have put the name on the building and then asked for public funding. It’s the reality of politics today.”

Katie had been uncharacteristically quiet, but that was about to change. The Sarah Harris Battered Women’s Shelter was her baby.

“No, Nick, the reality of politics today is that a few rich men have bought some elections, using lobbyists such as yourself for the dirty work. Playing political football with the lives of women and children is shameful. Claiming it’s God’s work is despicable. Come on, honey,” Katie said, grabbing Rainey’s free hand. “Let’s dance.”

Rainey tipped up Molly’s glass and finished the contents. She was being pulled toward the dance floor when she handed the glass to her sister.

She winked and said, “Choose wisely, young one. If you need a ride home, I got you covered.”

Wendy handed the glass to her date. “Catch you later, Nick. You look good in that tux, but my mother agrees with Molly’s—you can’t polish a turd.” That said, and in typical little sister form, she called out, “Hey, Rainey, wait for me.”

#

Later that night.

The Bell-Meyers Residence

Chatham County, NC

Rainey stood outside the nursery doorway hugging Katie close, watching their children sleep. They were both a bit tipsy. Rainey was glad Molly had arranged a car for them. They dropped off her slightly more inebriated sister at her little home in a nearby neighborhood, at Wendy’s insistence. Her house was smack in the middle of the Triangle Terror’s hunting grounds, which made Rainey nervous. But Wendy was a grown woman, and she was determined to sleep in her bed. Rainey made the car wait while she checked all the doors and windows before leaving Wendy tucked in bed, a trashcan by her head and the alarm system on.

Now she watched her children sleeping while holding the woman she loved, truly at peace for the moment.

Rainey whispered, “They always look like angels when they sleep.”

Katie tilted her head back to look up at Rainey. “Well, those little angels will be awake in a few hours, and if you want some of your slightly sloshed wife, we best get at it.”

Rainey began leading Katie toward the master suite without further delay.

She chuckled while saying, “I love that our foreplay has become ‘we best get at it.’ ”

Katie spun away from her. “You want foreplay?” she asked playfully.

She then reached for the bottom of her long red dress, shimmied it over her head, threw it on the floor, and started dancing down the hall with her back turned to Rainey. She peeled the remaining layers from her body and tossed them over her shoulder. Rainey stood frozen in place. Katie disappeared into the bedroom and crooked a finger out the door, beckoning Rainey to come hither. A few seconds had passed before Katie stuck her head out the door to see why her invitation was being ignored.

“Oh, hi, Constance,” Katie said to Rainey’s mother, who was standing next to her daughter. “Sorry about that.”

“Oh, no, nothing to be sorry about. I heard noise on the baby monitor. I just came to make sure they were still asleep. Sorry to interrupt. Good night.” Constance elbowed Rainey as she turned to leave, trying desperately not to burst out laughing. “If I looked like that, I’d dance naked in the hall for John, too.”

Rainey didn’t speak or move until she heard the door close on the guest bedroom her mother occupied. Katie leaned on the bedroom doorframe giggling.

Rainey sighed heavily. “That’s going to take a while to forget. I may never have sex again.”

#

10:35 AM, Monday, February 23, 2015

Durham County Sheriff’s Office

Criminal Investigations Division

Interview Room

The soldier stood when she entered the room.

“Good afternoon. I’m Detective Robertson.”

“Good afternoon, ma’am. Staff Sergeant Russell Whitaker,” he said, shaking her extended hand.

Sizing up the young soldier, a living recruitment poster for the armed services, Sheila commented, “You’re mighty young for a staff sergeant.”

Russell Whitaker smiled. “I just received the promotion. The Army has an up or out policy. I like to keep the Army happy, ma’am.”

“Please, have a seat.” Sheila gestured to his chair. She took the one opposite and continued, “A career man, I take it—‘Be all you can be.’ ”

“Hooah, ma’am.”

“I understand you think something may have happened to your sister.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ve been to her house. Drove up from Bragg this morning. I got worried when Kaitlyn didn’t check in this weekend.”

“You and your sister, you stay in touch regularly?”

“Yes, ma’am. We have a standing appointment to check with each other on Friday nights. Our parents are abusive alcoholics. Me and sis, we fought our way out of that life. She’s four years younger, so when I was eighteen and joined the Army, I came back to get her after I got out of basic. I got custody of her from the state. While I was deployed she stayed with my colonel’s family. She went through high school pretty much on her own.”

He became emotional but smiled through the welling tears.

“She made straight As. Got a four-year scholarship, graduated magna cum laude from State College last spring.  She started graduate school and working at the research library on campus in the fall. She loves books and—” His voice cracked with emotion, saying, “Oh, God,” before he broke into sobs.

Russell Whitaker was scared and helpless. A big tough soldier, straight and tall, who was realizing that even with all his warrior skills, he could not protect his baby sister.

Sheila gave him the time he needed to recompose before seeking more information.

“So, am I to understand your sister missed a standing check-in time on Friday?”

Russell’s breathing calmed. He wiped the tears from his cheeks before visibly resuming a soldier’s posture, eyes forward.

“Yes, ma’am, but that was prearranged. Kaitlyn had dinner plans with colleagues after work before attending a lecture she had been looking forward to Friday evening. We agreed to speak on Saturday morning. She did not respond to my calls, texts, or emails. That is very out of character, ma’am.”

Sheila smiled, trying to ease the impact of the next few questions.

“Has Kaitlyn ever ignored your communications before? Maybe you sometimes disagreed. Is she a bit rebellious, a little resentful of having to check in with her big brother? Does she have a boyfriend?”

“I understand why you are asking these questions, ma’am, but if you will permit me to tell you what I discovered at her home, I think we might be able to speed the process up a bit.”

Sheila sat back in her chair. A seasoned investigator, she could read people and knew when to be quiet and listen. This young man was bursting to have his story heard.

“Okay, Staff Sergeant, tell me why I should be looking for your sister.”

“When Kaitlyn didn’t respond to anything by Sunday morning, I went to my CO, explained the situation, and caught the next transport back to Carolina. I can’t tell you where I was unless you get some clearance from someone above my pay grade.”

“That probably will not be necessary, but why didn’t you just call the police and ask for a welfare check.”

“I did, ma’am. They went by the house. Her car is still there. They found a note taped to the inside of the front storm door. It’s addressed to someone I don’t know, but it says Kaitlyn was sorry she missed them and would see them soon. She wouldn’t do that, ma’am—just leave without telling me. I knew something was off.”

“Not to mention, who leaves notes on doors these days? You say Kaitlyn texts and emails, has a phone. Do you have this note?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Russell reached into his chest pocket, but before he handed over the note enclosed in a plastic bag, he finished his story. “When I got to her house, I used my key to get in. The minute I walked in, I knew something was wrong. Her purse and keys were on the table by the door. I found her phone on the bedside table in her bedroom, resting on top of the program from the lecture Friday night. It looked like she came home, went to bed, and then just vanished into thin air. I came straight down here to report her missing.”

He handed over the bag.

Sheila read the handwritten note through the bag. She hoped the gasp that left her throat had not been too noticeable, but when she looked up to see the expression on the staff sergeant’s face, she knew he heard it.

The note read:

Rainey,

Sorry, I missed you. See you soon.

Kaitlyn

#

A few minutes later…

The Bell-Meyers Residence

Chatham County, NC

“No, I don’t know her. I’ve never heard that name to my knowledge,” Rainey said into the phone, one whimpering child on her hip and two all out bawlers wrapped around each knee.

“Then it’s him, toying with you—us.”

“Ya’ think, Sheila?” The sarcasm indicated the mood she was in.

“Don’t be a smartass. Why are those babies crying like that?”

“Because they picked up a stomach virus at the women’s center day care and have been spewing from both ends since 2:30 this morning. I’m not sick, but I’ve spewed a few times myself from the smell. I may not survive this.”

“Oh, my,” Sheila said. “Where’s Katie?”

“Katie and her mom are cleaning the nursery and I’m really glad I am not involved. This is— Oh, crap— Hey, I’m going to have to call you back. No, no, no, don’t puke in the vent. Hey, hey, hey. Oh, god—”

 

Exclusive Excerpt: No Good Deed by Michael Rupured

No Good Deed by Michael Rupured

A Philip Potter Story

On Christmas Eve in 1966, Philip Potter, a kind-hearted Smithsonian curator, wraps up his last-minute shopping. Meanwhile, James, his lover of several years, takes his own life back in their home. Unaware of what awaits him, Philip drops off gifts at a homeless shelter, an act of generosity that will later make him a suspect in the murder of a male prostitute.

Following James’s shocking death, two men enter Philip’s life—and both drive yellow Continentals. One of them, though, is a killer, with the blood of at least six hustlers on his hands. And both are hiding something.

As Philip is about to discover, no good deed goes unpunished.

Rupured

Excerpt: 

Chapter 3

Philip glanced at his watch and wondered where the time had gone. After dropping off all but the radio for James at the shelter, he’d popped into the toy department at the Sears & Roebuck store to see about last-minute gifts for Thad. Checking out took longer than he’d expected, but he didn’t want to be rude to the helpful clerk. The glares of the shoppers who waited behind him hadn’t dampened his holiday spirit.

As snow crunched beneath his black rubbers, Philip contemplated what awaited him at home. James was… excitable. No matter how his father had responded, his lover’s reaction would be extreme. If the old man had written James a check, he’d be dancing on the ceiling. If not, well…. If not, then Philip would do what he could to cheer him up.

From the day they’d met, Philip had been driven by a desire to guide and protect this rare and beautiful gift to the human race. How someone could cast such an exquisite creature into the streets baffled him. The boy’s father committing such a heinous and disloyal act infuriated him. Philip had been only nine when his own dad had died. He had few memories of him, but those he had were wonderful—so much so he wasn’t sure which were real and which were only figments of his imagination.

In addition to his dancing ability, James possessed a superlative gift for embellishment and a knack for making ordinary events sound either much better or worse than they were. Although entertaining at parties, living with the drama was sometimes a challenge. Tomorrow would either be the absolute best Christmas James had ever had… or the worst. If only Philip could influence the outcome. Knowing it all came down to James’s father—a man not known for doing the right thing—made Philip uneasy.

NoGoodDeed-Preview

Streets that were overflowing with traffic and last-minute shoppers earlier were now almost deserted. Progress was slow thanks to packed snow on the sidewalks. Whether James was jubilant or sorrowful, Philip didn’t want him to be alone on Christmas Eve any longer than he had to be. Solitude and James didn’t mix well.

When Philip got to the apartment, he’d listen to what James had to say about the meeting with his father. He suspected he already knew, but he pushed that thought from his mind, hoping he hadn’t nurtured it into being. Think positive.

Step by careful step, he made his way down Twenty-First Street toward G Street. He winced as the scream of a siren from a passing ambulance filled his head. More sirens wailed in the distance. The hair on his neck prickled. Though he hadn’t been to Mass since second grade and had never considered himself a religious man, he crossed himself and said a quick prayer for the unfortunate victim’s family and friends as the sirens converged at a location a few blocks ahead of him.

He rounded the corner onto G Street and saw that the uproar revolved around his apartment building. Anxiety about James hardened into a knot of tension that made breathing difficult. The icy sidewalk prevented him from running, but he picked up his pace as best he could and hurried to the building.

An ambulance and half a dozen police cars blocked the street. The red, amber, and blue flashing lights on the snow-covered evergreens reminded him of the flocked Christmas tree he’d seen at the shelter. Bystanders huddled together in small groups, talking amongst themselves.

As he passed the first group, he heard a woman say, “We were watching television when I heard a gunshot right outside our door.”

Another faceless voice reached his ear. “…took his own life, and here on Christmas Eve….”

Philip stopped on the sidewalk, three steps below the landing. A uniformed officer blocked the entrance to his apartment building. “Excuse me, sir. I live here. May I come in?”

The officer gave him a quick once-over and asked, “Which apartment?” Darkness and the flashing lights made it hard to see his face. A single bushy eyebrow extended almost from ear to ear beneath the visor of his hat. Philip wanted to ask if he’d ever heard of tweezers.

“I live in apartment 203 with my roommate.”

“Roommate?” The giant brow furrowed, the officer’s expression changing. Philip detected derision in his voice.

“Yes, my roommate, James Walker. Have you seen him?”

The bushy fringe arched as the officer’s lips curled into a sneer. “Yeah, I’ve seen him. He’s laying up in that hallway with a bullet in his head.”

Philip heard the words but couldn’t quite glean the meaning. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said your faggot boyfriend blew his brains out.”

Understanding struck Philip as the officer disappeared up the stairs. His knees buckled and the snow-covered sidewalk rushed toward him. The last thing he saw was the box containing the fire engine red transistor radio he’d purchased for James tumbling down the sidewalk and into the street.

 

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Dying for a Thrill (a Mike King Mystery) by Mark Zubro

Exerpt:

Wednesday 7:21 P.M.

The door to the outer office burst open. The man’s eyes danced from me to Duncan to Georgia. The stranger’s overcoat flapped open revealing red smears on a bright yellow hooded sweatshirt. The man swayed, clutched the edge of the door, gasped, pulled in a huge breath, and shrieked, “They’re trying to kill me!”

He collapsed.

Not the usual way clients introduced themselves at the Mike King Detective Agency. When they get to my office, they usually aren’t hysterical. Maybe frustrated, often put out, likely annoyed, even all the way up the scale to totally pissed off and willing to do anything or almost anything to get even. Private detectives deal with a whole lot more pissed off than panic-stricken.

He was the first client who thrust himself through the door and then passed out.

The three of us were working late, finishing notes on a case involving blackmail among some super rich gay men with summer cottages in the Hamptons and winter homes in the south of France. We’d hoped that blackmailing gay people, for whatever reason, had become passé. We were wrong, but we’d solved the case and some bad guys were in jail.

The three of us rushed forward. I grabbed a cushion from the couch for his head. Georgia took a carafe of water from the tea tray, and hunkered down next to me on the floor. Duncan joined us and helped cradle the man’s head.

We leaned over the new guy. He was breathing, and my fingertips on his carotid artery confirmed that his pulse was pulsing. The left lens of his black, horn-rimmed glasses was cracked. Duncan lifted the man’s head far enough so I could place the cushion under it.

Duncan pointed to the smears on the yellow hoody. “Blood?”

I nodded. “Most likely.”

The hood of the stranger’s sweatshirt had twisted and hid half his face. I pushed it back and then removed his hat. I realized the dark smears on his gloves and coat were blood just like that which showed on his sweatshirt. No blood on or around his head. A cursory feel over his brush-cut blond hair gave no indication of out-of-the ordinary bumps.

Dying for a Thrill Front Cover 2 14 2016 b

His head lolled. I unwrapped the scarf from around his heavily muffled neck to be sure he wasn’t inadvertently strangling himself and to check for other injuries.

He looked bedraggled, wet, and exhausted, as if someone had ripped and torn his Army war surplus clothes then washed and dried them a thousand times without using fabric softener. Then the clothes would be stored in a heap on someone’s floor until picked up to be worn. He smelled like he’d been putting on extra deodorant to cover not having bathed in a several days, not the most pleasant combination. Georgia asked, “Is this another one of your cataclysmic corpse contacts biting the dust?”

I said, “I’ve never met him.”

Georgia said, “Wouldn’t be the first one.” Georgia De’Jungle was one of my top operatives. “That’s Georgia De’Jungle with an E,” she always added. Georgia was the most accomplished drag queen on the North American continent. She was my disguise expert. Her ability to disguise herself was unknown. That’s how good she was. If she was legendary or unrivaled, that would mean people would know what she was up to. I paid her handsomely to take care of some of the most delicate work for the firm. At the moment she wore an evening gown designed by Pasta Fagioli, the pseudonym of an ethnically challenged Chicago designer she favored. The designer was so exclusive, he didn’t do fashion shows. Just designed for select clients.

Besides helping us finish our end-of-case details, Georgia had been preparing to go out for her evening’s work.

Duncan asked me, “Didn’t you have a conquest who keeled over? In Berlin I think it was. Last year? When that gay ambassador from Lichtenberg was kidnapped and the relatives who didn’t trust the government wanted you to save him? You seduced one of the kidnappers in the back room of some leather museum in Berlin, wasn’t it? And that guy keeled over?”

“He didn’t ‘keel over’. He wanted to be in that position. He kept repeating, ‘please, daddy’. And there is no Lichtenberg.” I leaned back. “And that’s not important at the moment.” While I continued to monitor this guy’s pulse, I added, “They don’t keel over. They just don’t work out.” I examined the man’s face and then repeated. “I don’t know this guy.”

Georgia gave me her best smirk. “Dead’s a pretty for sure sign they didn’t work out.”

I said, “This one is breathing.”

Georgia said, “You’re sure he’s not another one of your conquests gone bad?”

I said, “I’m sure.”

Even in the most outré circumstances, they often teased me about my lack of success at dating. This qualified maybe among the top five in outré comment moments. And they didn’t all die.

Seldom, in fact.

The prostrate man continued to breathe. I could smell the slightest whiff of Georgia’s subtle perfume. I cradled the guy’s head and upper torso. Bits of melting snow dripped onto the floor from his bulky overcoat.

Next, I eased off the heavy outer garments. As I undid each item, Georgia and Duncan helped me rearrange his body. Then Georgia took each item and stretched it out to dry on the couch.

The guy’s skin-tight jeans had no smears. The logo on the longsleeve

T-shirt taut on his gaunt frame read “Frodo Lives” in

fourteen point type. Hard to see at almost any distance. I liked

him for the message.

His running shoes were inappropriate for the weather and

were soaked through to his sodden socks. Georgia placed these

four items close to a heating vent.

I lifted the T-shirt from his emaciated and inert frame. No wounds on his torso. After examining him I said, “No obvious wounds. The blood must be somebody else’s.”

Duncan asked, “Heart attack, stroke, plain old faint?”

I took out my cell phone, punched in 9-1-1.

Duncan checked the guy’s coat pockets. He muttered, “No weapons.” No need to take chances about a possibly armed intruder even though he was incapacitated at the moment. Duncan pulled out a wallet from the left back pocket of the man’s skinny jeans, keys and a phone from his right front pocket.

I told the emergency operator where I was. She said with the rising storm and all the accidents in the city, it might be a while before anyone could respond.

“No,” I said in answer to her question, “there doesn’t seem to be any immediate danger.” She suggested I try to get him to the nearest hospital a few blocks north and a block or two east. I hung up.

Duncan handed me the wallet, a tattered black billfold with five crisp one hundred dollar bills and a couple ones.

His Illinois driver’s license said his name was Jamie Vincek.

The man’s eyelids fluttered then opened. “Who? What?”

He snatched his wallet from me, and his keys and phone from Duncan’s hands. He shoved the accoutrements back into his pockets and then tried to stand, but he faltered and fell back. I caught him before his head thunked onto the floor. He shook his head but forbore to rise and stayed in my arms.

He saw my phone which was still in my hand. He swatted at it. I kept it up and out of his reach.

“No calls.” His voice was just short of another shriek.

I held him in my arms and tried to be soothing. “Shush. Hush. We need to get you help.”

His second attempt to scramble to his feet succeeded. The three of us stood up as well. He gazed down at his unshod feet, then caught sight of his shoes and socks drying next to the air vent. I held out an arm toward Vincek. He staggered two steps to the wall and propped himself against it with his left hand. He was managing on his own for the moment.

Between great panting gasps for breath, he said, “Please, no phone calls. Please stop!” His shrieking had changed to pleading. I put my phone away.

I asked, “Who’s trying to kill you?”

He glanced wildly around the room. His eyes came to rest on “You’re Mike King?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Jamie Vincek.”

Beyond what I’d seen on his driver’s license, the name meant nothing to me. He looked at me as if I should recognize it. With the index finger on his trembling right hand, he pointed at the New York Times on top of Duncan’s desk. “It’s in there already!”

I kept my voice low and soothing. “Why don’t we step into my office where you can tell me how I can help you?”

“Is it safe here?” he demanded.

I said, “It’s as safe as anywhere, I suppose.”

I placed a hand on his elbow and steered him toward the inner office.

Georgia said, “I’m late for this evening’s gig.” She was performing undercover as a torch singer. She did a pretty good Bessie Smith. I didn’t think there’d be much of crowd in this weather, but she was a trouper. She left.

Vincek responded to the slight pressure on his elbow by moving forward. I picked up the copy of the Times as I helped propel him toward my office.

Wednesday 7:28 P.M.

I got him settled in a comfy client chair. Duncan placed a glass and a bottle of water next to him on the end table. He helped Vincek off with his T-shirt. It had a few red smears of it on the end of each sleeve. Duncan said, “I’ll get you a replacement for that.” Duncan put the T-shirt on a towel on the couch on the right side of the room. He left and closed the door.

I settled behind my old teacher’s desk that I got at a sale at a failed university.

I said, “You have blood on your clothes, and it doesn’t seem to be yours.”

“I’m in trouble.”

“The bleeding person would seem to be in more trouble.”

Tears sprang to his eyes. “He’s dead. I held my friend in my arms as he died. Blake is dead. I loved him. I could never tell him that when he was alive. Now I never will.” His blank stare settled into the middle distance like a character in a nineteenth century British novel. Tears leaked down his cheeks. I took a box of tissues out of the top drawer of the desk and held it out to him. He took several and wiped his cheeks.

“What happened?” I asked.

He picked up the newspaper and pointed to a front page

article above the fold. The headline read, Spies Convicted. “It’s this.”

I hadn’t read the article, hadn’t followed the case. I glanced at

the first few paragraphs and got the who, what, why, and when

on a conviction in a New York courtroom of an international

spy ring.

He said, “They’ve been pressuring the defendants to name

names to get themselves lighter sentences. See.” He turned the

paper to the full-page spread on page eighteen. At the bottom

was a list of people the government was looking for. He pointed

to the final paragraph. “I’m on that list.”

He tossed the paper on the desk top, pointed to the relevant

paragraph, then leaned his head back in the chair. He thrust his

legs wide apart revealing a bulge of some heft in his tight jeans.

He might or might not work out, but his muscles were taut. As

for his crotch, either he was a shower or something about the

situation turned him on. Other than that, he didn’t look sexually

stimulated, more like he might pass out again any second. He

wiped his hands across his face as if trying to waken himself. He

said, “I haven’t slept in forty-one hours.”

“Why not?”

“I’m scared. I’m frightened out of my mind.”

While I scanned the rest of the article, he looked at me and

drew several deep breaths.

When I finished, I said, “The trial was in New York. This is

today’s paper so the conviction must have happened yesterday.

You have blood on you, and you’re here in Chicago which has a

building blizzard. Are you an international spy?”

“No.”

“Why do they want to talk to you?”

“They think I’m a spy. They have no proof I’m a spy.”

I asked, “How did the investigators in New York get your

name?”

“I’m not sure. There’s no way they could have. That’s what

scares me.” He pointed at the paper. “My name in that article is

the first I’ve heard about it.”

“As far as I can tell from the article, it looks like states attorneys

and police, probably the FBI and Homeland Security and maybe

even the CIA as well would all want to talk to you. Shouldn’t you

be consulting an attorney?”

“They don’t want to talk to me. They want me dead. This

whole trial was a sham to get me.”

I couldn’t tell if he was paranoid, crazy, or frightened out of

his mind, or in what combination all of those feelings might be

coursing through his brain. Nor could I tell how close he was to

dealing rationally with reality. Maybe he was lying through his

teeth. Or telling the truth.

I didn’t even have proof he was the guy who the paper

said officials wanted to talk to. The driver’s license had looked

real, but I like to confirm things. On my second case, I hadn’t

confirmed some basic information, and an emaciated fourteenyear-

old orphan boy in Budapest came within an inch of slitting

my throat.

The blood on Vincek’s clothes was fairly convincing as

proof that he was in some kind of trouble. Why go through

the elaborate ruse of smearing his own clothes with, presumably,

someone else’s blood? Unless something truly out of the ordinary

was happening.

“If this was the first you’ve heard of it, how do you know

they were out to get you?”

“I’m a leader of an all-powerful group of secret gay hackers.”

“How does being all-powerful work?”

He gazed at me. “Huh?”

“Well, if you’re all-powerful, I can’t imagine you’d be passing

out on my carpet.” I pointed at the paper. “Or be in trouble

with the law or at least be someone the law wants to talk to. If

they don’t think you’re guilty of something yourself, they must

think you know something that would help them. What is it you

know?”

Duncan knocked and came in with a sweatshirt I recognized

from his gym bag. It had the name of Mokena University on the

front. He handed it to Vincek who fumbled with it and dropped

it.

“You’re sure you’re not hurt?” Duncan asked as he picked

up the sweatshirt. Vincek stood up, and Duncan helped him

shrug into the sweatshirt. It hung to mid-thigh, six inches below

Vincek’s fingertips. In it he looked fifteen.

Vincek reiterated, “The blood isn’t mine, but my muscles hurt

like hell.” Vincek had winced as he lifted his arms.

Vincek was skinny, maybe five seven, and maybe all of

a hundred pounds, if he kept his heavy overcoat on. Duncan

gave him a washcloth to wipe remnants of blood off. Vincek

was perhaps the hairiest ginger I’d ever seen with a thick mat

of reddish-brown fur from his neck to the ribbon of Andrew

Christian underwear sticking up from his jeans. While his T-shirt

was off, I also saw dark purple bruises that spread from an inch

above his left nipple to his shoulder.

Vincek plopped back into the client chair. Duncan left.

I asked, “Who was your friend that died in your arms?”

“I am in so much trouble. You’ve got to help me.”

“I’ve pretty much got that part. In trouble with whom?”

Sometimes with new clients I use the correct interrogative

pronoun. Doesn’t impress as many of them as much as I’d like.

I try my best.

Duncan returned with hot chocolate and then left again

closing the door after himself.

Duncan is a treasure. He used to play basketball for Mokena

University. Still played pick-up games at the local gym. He’s

now a grad student at the University of Chicago who should be

indulging in nuclear physics, not keeping my filing and accounts

in order. He says he likes the work. He’s been with me five years.

Vincek sipped then answered my question. “Everybody.”

His body began to tremble. As he put the cup of hot chocolate

down on the end table, he almost sloshed the contents onto the

antimacassar Duncan keeps on the arm of the chair.

Vincek clutched his arms around his torso and breathed

deeply for a few moments then he took off his glasses and

wiped his face again. He tapped on the lens that was broken

and then muttered, “I’ve got another pair in my backpack.” His

head swiveled around the room, his eyes coming to rest on mine.

“Where’s my backpack?”

“There was no backpack. Was there something in it that you

didn’t want to lose?”

He breathed deeply for several moments then said, “Nothing

that can’t be replaced.” He gave me a suspicious look. “You didn’t

root through it and take it?”

I said, “I looked through your wallet, got your ID.”

“You looked in my wallet!”

“You passed out on my floor.”

“We have lots of IDs, but that one is real.”

“You and this gay geek group were meeting in Chicago. Why?”

“We meet all around the world. We even have a few safe havens

on ships outside the territorial waters near various countries. We

don’t stay in one place.”

“And why did you come to me?”

“I don’t know which of my friends I can trust. We know

you’re a private eye and you’re gay. A combination of both is rare.

You’ve been in the papers. We follow all the gay news. Google

gay private eye, real ones, not the ones from literature, and your

name comes out at the top of the page. At least among the set

that might need protection or a private eye, your name always

comes up first.”

I guess I didn’t need to advertise. I said, “I get the gay stuff.

What do you need with a private eye?”

“We’re nerds, computer geeks. You’re an action guy. We need

that.”

Even with him swimming in Duncan’s sweatshirt, I could see

small patches of damp from sweat beginning to leak at various

folds in the cloth. He put his broken glasses back on and peered

at me. It was a sad face, with long eyelashes, and dark brown eyes,

but kind of handsome in an off-beat way, and skewed as I tried

to catch a left eye that was made off kilter by the broken lens.

He stared at me a few moments, despair in his slumped

shoulders and down-turned mouth. I glanced back at the article

for a moment then asked again, “Why didn’t you stay with Blake?”

“I don’t have much time. The ones who killed him were after

me as well. He died, and then I ran. They may have followed me.

I don’t feel safe here. Is there somewhere safe we can go?”

“Where would you feel safe?”

“I’ve got no time for this. We have to get out of here.” He

leapt back to his feet and swayed. “Nowhere is safe.” He was

back to just short of shriek level. He switched from looking near

passing out to raging paranoia in an instant. Maybe he was just a

nut job with someone else’s blood on him. Or a better actor than

I’d ever seen.

Or did he kill someone?

I said, “If nowhere is safe, why do we have to get out of

here? If your reasoning is correct, here would be as unsafe as

anywhere.”

He stared at me with his mouth agape as if logic were not his

strong suit.

“Is there somewhere we can go?”

I was suspicious. Was all this an act and he was simply trying

to get me out of the office? To what purpose? In the first stages

of the predicted blizzard?

His voice was back to pleading. “I can pay your fee. A retainer.

I know you’re expensive. On the Internet I saw what you charge.

Money is not a problem. I can transfer money to your account.”

He named an amount Bill Gates and Warren Buffet together

could afford. I glanced at the Picasso on the wall. The amount he

mentioned wouldn’t be enough for a down payment to pick up

something which matched that but close.

Vincek noted my glance at the painting. He said, “You should

get something to complement that for the wall directly opposite.

It looks kind of forlorn there by itself. Maybe a Matisse with lots

of vibrant colors.”

Great to know I had an interior design critic as well as a

potential client.

I told him a figure double what he’d offered. He didn’t blink,

which made me more suspicious than ever that something was

very amiss, but I didn’t feel threatened by him, or at least felt

no immediate threat from him. As Humphrey Bogart told Mary

Astor in the movie of The Maltese Falcon, “We didn’t exactly believe

your story… we believed your two hundred dollars.”

My fee was considerably beyond two hundred by several

places to the left of the decimal point. He was offering to pay

too much. More suspicion.

I escorted him to the outer office. I instructed Duncan to make

the transfer from Vincek’s accounts to the agency’s. Vincek took

off the sweatshirt Duncan had given him, then put his hooded

sweatshirt back on, buttoned his overcoat and then unbuttoned

  1. At one point Vincek offered to type in the information for the

transfer. He even reached to work the keys, but Duncan’s calm

demeanor combined with a severe glare, kept Vincek at bay.

Taps on phone faces and clicks on keyboards and a few

moments later, money moved.

Vincek sat down for a moment and pulled his not-yet-dry

shoes and socks back on. We didn’t have extra shoes or boots in

his size. When he stood up, Vincek swayed from foot to foot. His

hands trembled. He put on his hat and tied his scarf under his

chin. I thought the guy might jump out of his skin.

I took two burner phones from the file cabinet. I keep a stack

of them on hand. I gave him one. Then I grabbed my hat, coat,

and gloves, and said, “Let’s go.”

 

UPDATE: Working Through a Personal Crisis

April 17, 2016 – By now most of you know my husband and I came home to a flooded house Monday afternoon. I’ve received so many PMs of condolences, questions, offers of help, etc., and I thought the best way to update everyone is to share what happened and next steps for us and our four terriers.

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FIRST and FOREMOST, we and the dogs are fine; Rick and I were not home at the time of the flood and our dogs were on the top floor sleeping in their beds when a water supply line beneath the master bath sink ruptured. Water flowed rapidly for approximately three hours. We were out with a client and got a call from our alarm security company advising that our basement level motion detector had been tripped, setting off the alarm. Arriving home (same time as police), we opened the front door and immediately knew something had happened because water was overflowing the upper floor balcony onto the hardwoods of the living room. Rick rushed to the main water cut-off to stop the flow.

DSCF7006We had our upper floor remodeled 11 months ago; apparently there was either a faulty water supply line connection beneath one of the master bath sinks, or the contractor installed the connection improperly; either way, our home was damaged on three levels; the main level kitchen, pantry, breakfast room, dining room, part of the living room, upstairs master bedroom, master closet one guest bedroom, upper floor hallway, and our finished basement where there is a family den and our home-office space where Rick and I run our business. All electronics, computers, laser printers, color printer, fax/scanner, large partner desk set up with two opposite work surfaces and bookcases (where all my most precious clothbound, print books were kept), matching wood filing cabinets and bookcases were ruined. Part of the den was destroyed. We’ve lost so much furniture it would be easier to list what didn’t get destroyed than what got ruined!

We have insurance, so no worries there. Adjuster already visited and set our minds at ease. Basically, our plans to remodel the main level of our home to create an open floor-plan this summer, is suddenly upon us!

PrettyBoyDead_cvrFINAL_FINAL

As you can image, we’re exhausted from walking, climbing, tip-toeing, and stepping over all the water remediation dryers and dehumidifiers that by the time our heads hit the pillows, its lights out! I’m a little OCD (okay, more than a little) and can’t stand a dirty room, much less an entire house as the result of demolition dust, flying pieces of insulation and carpeting fibers. We literally are now living in two rooms; a small bedroom with full bath on the upper most level where the water didn’t reach, and most of the main level living room; in the kitchen, we have use/access to the refrigerator, dishwasher and sink. All kitchen cabinets were destroyed. Our possessions were either destroyed or got packed by movers Thursday and taken to dry storage. Rick located temporary office space and we’re setting up our business there and have purchased two laptops, multi-function print, router, server and modem to at least allow us to run our property management business.

We have decided to remain in our home verses relocating to temporary housing because of our dogs. Those who are pet owners/lovers will understand completely when I say that we put our babies first. Their ages are 15, 13, 10 and 6. The older dogs are so set in their ways and routine that relocating them would cause more trauma than they have experienced thus far. We also want to be here with our remaining possessions and to oversee work the contractors will be performing. Everything we lost can be replaced excerpt perhaps some of my most treasured books, though I’ve already received multiple offers from the authors of said books, and others to help replace those ruined. I’ll be compiling an inventory shortly and will make it available to anyone who would like. We don’t need any funds. Rick and I have been debt-free for almost five years now (our main goal when I lost my job of almost 20 years with American Express during the great recession in 2009) and we have that rainy day fund you’ve always been advised to have.

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Thank you all so, so much for your thoughts, prayers, concerns and well-wishes.

For obvious reasons, my writing time has been suspended. I’ll not be able to get back to working on the second Kendall Parker Mystery until late spring or early summer. I am truly sorry that you will have to wait a little longer to find out why the FBI insists the only man qualified for a risky undercover assignment aimed at luring in the homicidal maniac of young men in Atlanta is Sgt. Kendall Parker, the disgraced detective recently branded a faggot by the APD and forced out of the department. In the meantime, the first mystery in the series, Pretty Boy Dead, is still available in e-book and print.