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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still, I want to be respectful.”

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

“You don’t have to remind me.”

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” she said, sounding disappointed.

“It’s good,” Deborah said.

“Is it? All right.”

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

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

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

“So he’s not moving out here?”

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

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

“And what do you do there?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Still sleeping.”

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

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

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

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

“Oh my God. What happened to him?”

“Probably an overdose,” I said.

“These raviolis are great,” Rob said.

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

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

“I met her in a bar at O’Hare.”

“Oh. I see.”

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

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

“Wait until you meet Joanne.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, the flight was lovely.”

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

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

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

I glanced at my mother. “Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He called earlier,” Marc explained.

“So, was he murdered?” Leon asked.

“Oh my God, no.” I said.

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

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

“What was that about?” Deborah asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indigo Girls.”

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

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

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

“It’s only been twenty minutes.”

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

“Stop saying that.”

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

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

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

“Mag— Noah, what does he mean?”

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

“Well, he means something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?” I asked.

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

“But work is paying for it.”

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

“How much of that four hundred was personal?”

“All of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Her son overdosed,” I said firmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not murder,” I said, flatly.

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

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

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

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

“And Marc, what about his family?”

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

“They don’t like that he’s gay?”

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

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

“You stole my U of M sweatshirt.”

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

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

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

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

My mother ignored the slight to our hometown.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh Rob, please stop.”

“She asked a question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now what is this?” Tina asked.

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

“Oh, it looks wonderful.

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

Blurb:

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

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

Exclusive Excerpt:

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

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

Somers.

Oh fuck.

Somers was faster than Hazard.

Oh fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somers.

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

Somers.

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

Somers smiling at him in the park.

Six yards.

Somers swinging Evie and laughing.

Five.

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

Three yards. Three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRIMINAL PAST Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

Check out his website:

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Available Again – Prince of the Sea by Jon Michaelsen

A gay paranormal mystery/suspense novella

2017 BEST GAY MEN’S FICTION AWARDG/G Goodreads’ Reading Group

EXCERPT:

Chapter Two

A lone gnat buzzed about Jonathan’s face. He swiped the air in frustration, more at Paul than with irritation at the pest. He had agitated the insect, which fought to escape and yet managed to fly up his nostril. He plugged the side of his nose and tried to flush the pest without success. Finally, and with apprehension, he swallowed to clear his throat.

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Driven by need deeper than thirst, Jonathan ducked inside through the doorway of the single-story cottage and crossed the threshold to the parlor of the west wing, filled with nautical trimmings and reproduced coastal collections. He tore past the cold fireplace and a sofa draped with an old patchwork quilt. The antique double-door bar cabinet nestled in the far corner reminded him of the days his mother had carted him through the vintage shops peppering the Southeastern Coast. In spite of his mood, he smiled at the memories. He snatched a fresh bottle of booze from the shelf below, tossed a couple cubes of ice into his glass, and filled it half-full of scotch.

Jonathan slugged the beverage, refilled his glass, and then shuffled to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing inland. He thought about being stood up by Paul, the knot in his chest traveling up his neck like a hand closing around his throat. Typical. Paul had become more distant of late and the excuses he tried to pass off seemed contrived at best. They were nearing the end of the relationship, perhaps. Jonathan didn’t know anymore, and it drove him crazy.

Stop with the melodramatics, Jonathan chided himself as he sipped his drink and stepped out onto the porch again. He set his cocktail on the railing, reached high above his head, and stretched his arms before crossing them over his chest and gripping his shoulders. The ocean breeze caressed him as he watched the waves rolling in, whitecaps bustling with the fury of stampeding cattle before crashing headlong into shore. Why did it bother him this much? Should he be surprised Paul chose career goals over their relationship yet again? Jonathan should have seen it coming months ago, but he’d ignored the signs, desperate to rekindle the passion slipping away after years of happiness.

A large cargo ship sailed in line of the horizon. Seagulls and pelicans floated along the shoreline searching for food. Jonathan dreamed of a relationship devoid of friction and financial strain, absent of business dinners filled with false hope and weekend interruptions. He savored his career as a successful scriptwriter, but he abhorred the Hollywood lifestyle.

His drink empty, Jonathan began to turn when something caught his eye. Glancing beyond the beach, he scanned the ocean’s surface searching the whitecaps. Someone was bobbing and swirling about in wide circular motions, dipping beneath the waves and resurfacing. Jonathan observed the head and shoulders of a man who seemed to be struggling to remain above the surface. Adrenaline shot through him like a bullet and panic clutched his chest.

He’s in trouble!

Jonathan scanned the beach for help. A few beachcombers walked in either direction along the sand, some strolling hand in hand, as others huddled in groups with a child or two darting out from the pack to race toward the water’s edge. No one seemed to notice the swimmer in distress. Most followed their downcast eyes, searching the beach for the ocean’s treasures washed up in the tide.

“Hey…hey!

Jonathan raced toward the water’s edge and kicked off his loafers, flailing his arms and screaming trying to attract attention. He ripped off his shirt as he ran, the fabric falling behind in the sand. Pausing to strip off his slacks, he trudged into the sea.

Waves battered him in violent succession, pushing him back, forcing him to lift his knees high to stab his feet into the water to stay righted. When the water reached his hips, Jonathan dove headlong into the churning surf. The smack of cold water against his face and chest sobered him as he pinwheeled his arms through the strong current toward the struggling swimmer.

Where did he go? Jonathan eased up to get his bearings, dogpaddling around and looking for the man. He called out, “Can you hear me? I’m here to help.” He swiveled his head back and forth, searching for the swimmer.

I’ve gone too far, he thought. Jonathan whipped around, turning back toward the beach. The cottage stood farther up the beach than his current position. Fearing the swimmer had disappeared beneath the surface, Jonathan ducked below the water and aimed his body deep, opening his eyes to take a quick peek. The sting of the saltwater forced his lids shut and he retreated.

Jonathan angled his body upward and kicked his feet hard against the strong current. Reaching the surface proved elusive, as the undertow sucked him down. Disoriented and terrified, his lungs begging for air, Jonathan clawed at the wall of seawater to no avail. No matter where he aimed, he couldn’t find the surface. The harder he fought the farther down he sank. Desperate for oxygen, his heart pounding, Jonathan’s life flashed before him.

Is this it? Am I doomed to be another tragic drowning?

Jonathan drifted into a quiet calm from lack of air, his thoughts a random jumble. Why had he charged forth in the first place, foolish considering all the alcohol? What about Paul? Would he be stunned to learn of his death, perhaps feel guilty about refusing to join him sooner? Would his family ever forgive his carelessness?

His chest compressed, expressing the last bit of air from his lungs. He wrestled an onslaught of convulsions as brackish seawater invaded his nose and mouth, his lungs. Arms and legs became lead. He lashed out, each stroke pulling him down until he finally hit the ocean floor.

The undertow snatched him away as his awareness waned. He lashed out in a futile attempt to right himself but grasped onto something slick and supple instead. His fingers slid over the soft object.

Huh?

Something large and powerful slammed into him from behind. He felt an incredible tug against his body, a whoosh that snapped him back like a bungee cord before he blacked out.

Blurb:

Island myth, or guarded secret…destiny lures Jonathan home.

Jonathan’s ten-year relationship with Paul has lost its spark, so in a last-ditch effort to rekindle the passion they once shared, Jonathan rents a seaside cottage in his boyhood hometown; Tybee Island, Georgia, a quaint, tiny coastal islet he abandoned more than a decade or so ago.
But, the romantic surprise backfires royally when his partner rushes off to woo a high-profile client in Chicago, leaving Jonathan alone and broken-hearted. While killing his pain with loads of alcohol the afternoon of his arrival on the beach, nothing seems to ease the gut-wrenching pain.
That’s when Jonathan notices a swimmer caught in a riptide, desperate to stay afloat. Without hesitation, the west coast transplant races to the water’s edge, trudging through seawater before diving headlong into the raucous surf. Soon, he too, falls victim to the fierce undertow, struggling to reach the surface and fearing the worst.
Then a mighty force slams into him from behind, causing him to blackout. When he regains consciousness, Jonathan realizes he is surrounded by horrified beachcombers, all staring at his half-naked body.
How did Jonathan get to shore?
What happened to the drowning man?
And, who is the mysterious old woman gaping at him from afar?

Buy Links: 

Amazon: Prince of the Sea in ebook and Kindle Unlimited

Amazon: Prince of the Sea in print

Audible: Prince of the Sea in audiobook

Smashwords: Prince of the Sea in e-book

About Jon Michaelsen

Jon Michaelsen is a writer of fiction in the mystery, suspense and thriller genres. 
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A born southerner born near the Chattahoochee River, his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when he was a young boy; where he remains today. His debut mystery novel, Pretty Boy Dead, was selected as a Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Mystery. He is currently writing the second Kendall Parker Mystery, The Deadwood Murders, expected in early 2019.
He lives with his husband of 32 years and two monstrous terriers.

Contact him: Michaelsen.jon@gmail.com

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Exclusive Excerpt: Touch (The Blake Harte Mysteries Book 8) by Robert Innes

Excerpt:

The house, according to the idle tongues of the locals, had stood there for as long as anybody could remember. It was an old and rickety building, rotting wooden beams festooned around the odd-looking structure that looked very much out of place amongst the considerably more modern and sleek buildings around it. Nobody ever entered it, in fact nearly everyone walked past the house on a day to day basis and completely ignored it. It was, to all intents and purposes, a historic defect in the otherwise tidy street that nobody could be bothered to remove.
And yet, tonight, a ten-year-old boy found himself standing at the front door of the building. Blake Harte had an irresistible urge to explore the unknown coasting through his veins.

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He glanced up at the huge yellow sign, almost as old and out of place as the house itself, warning of the building being unsafe to enter and found himself smiling excitedly. What was being hidden here? What did the people who had put the sign there want to keep secret? Rumours around the classroom varied. Some whispers suggested the possibility that a witch lived there, who only came out when there was nobody to see her, before she set off on her broomstick to cast spells around the neighbourhood. A few of Blake’s classmates were convinced that the house was an entrance to another dimension, and that setting foot inside it would transport the intruder to a world very different to ours. The main form of consensus though was that the house was haunted by the spirits of all who had lived there and there were various murmurings of a headless man prowling the building, looking for his missing head that had been lost in a terrible accident, though Blake did not believe that for a second.
He glanced around as the cold wind whipped up around him. It whistled through the trees, creating the only sound in the otherwise silent street. Blake quickly leaned back and stared down the street in the direction of his house. The lights were all off, his parents fast asleep. The only movement he could see was from the open window of his bedroom on the ground floor, the curtains flapping in the wind, dragged out from where he had climbed out of the window. He had been planning this night all week.
Blake took a deep breath and put his hand on the door handle, then groaned in disappointment. The door was locked.
He stepped back and examined the building, his imagination trying to fathom a way in which he could gain access. As he stared up at the top of the house, a car suddenly roared around the corner of the street, its headlights illuminating him. He froze as the car drew nearer. If somebody he knew saw him sneaking around in the middle of the night, then his parents would soon find out about it and the last thing he wanted was one of his mum’s telling offs.
He leapt around the side of the house just before the driver of the car would have been able to see him and pressed his back against the wall, breathing heavily. Suddenly, the impact of what he was doing threatened to overcome him. He shuddered, half from the cold, half from the thought of what his parents would say if they knew what he was doing, but as the words of his best friend, Tommy Davis, crept into his head, calling him a chicken and daring him to find out what the house was hiding, determination flooded through him again. He had come this far, there was no going back now. He had to get into the house.
He crept around the side of the old building, searching for a way in. He climbed over a small wall and found himself in the garden, or rather, what presumably used to be the garden. Now, it was extremely overgrown and unsightly. Nettle beds were lit ominously by the street lights, surrounded by nests of dock leaves and tall dandelions. As he scrambled through the weeds, trying his best not to get stung, he spotted a small window on the other side of the yard. It was slightly ajar, though as Blake looked closer, he realised that the glass had come loose from the rotting wooden frames. He stood and stared at it for a few moments, debating whether he was really brave enough to try and crawl through. He thought about his other classmates who would give their right arm to be where he was now, then realised that very few of them would have been able to squeeze through the tiny window. Blake had always been teased about how skinny he was, but now, he was starting to see the advantages.
He took a deep breath and hauled himself up to the window. Thin as he was, it was still a struggle to get through the tiny gap. At one point, he stuck fast, his front half suddenly enveloped in darkness as his legs dangled helplessly behind him. He struggled, suddenly too scared to go any further, but by now it was too late to change direction. Even if he wanted to run home and forget all about this crazy idea, he would have to get into the house then climb back out again.
Blake put his hands on the wall and with a huge effort pushed himself through the rest of the window, landing on the floor in a heap, the sound of his body hitting the ground echoing slightly around the pitch-black house.
Blake lay on the floor for a few moments to check that he was the only noise in the house. The dust from the floor tickled his nose and as he stood up, he became aware of the musty smell that reminded him of the local church that his mum sometimes dragged him to on Sundays. His eyes slowly adjusted to the gloominess of the room, not that it gave him much more of a clue what was around him.
He slowly moved across the room, attempting not to trip over anything. As his hands blindly waved about, trying to find the wall, he became aware that he was walking through a puddle of something on the floor. At last, his hands clasped onto a small box protruding from the wall and what was unmistakably a button. He felt more scared now, almost hoping that the light would not work and that he would be left in the darkness, clueless about his surroundings. Then, he could go home, knowing that he had at least tried, but the task had been impossible due to the fact that he could not see anything. Maybe he would come back in the daylight. He could even bring Tommy with him then.
He pressed the light and was immediately blinded by the surprisingly bright light that suddenly flooded the room. Then, he opened his eyes. He immediately wished he had kept them closed.
He was standing in what looked to be a living room, but he was distracted from taking into much of his surroundings when he saw what the puddle on the ground actually was. It was a dark red colour beneath an old rocking chair in the centre of the room. Seated in the chair was an old woman, her face white and her eyes and mouth wide open as if in a silent scream. She was dressed in old, dirty looking clothing and sticking out her back was a large knife. Blake’s breath caught in his throat as he stared at the horrifying sight before him. The pool of blood on the floor glistened in the light beneath the body of the woman. Blake could not move, too terrified to try and force his legs to work.
Then, she cried out his name, her face remaining in her ghastly expression of terror.
“Blake.”
Blake continued staring at her. He tried to run, but the floor seemed to be now gripping over his feet. The carpet swamped around his legs, holding him in place as the name rang out again.
“Blake!”
Then, as the floor tightened its grip around his bottom half, the woman stood up, her face still contorted in a silence scream. She reached towards him, her mouth seeming to open even wider.
Blake!”
“No!” screamed Blake and put his arms up over his head as the woman leaned closer towards him, her hands flying forwards to grab him.
Then, just as she was about to grab hold of him, Blake Harte opened his eyes with a jolt.

BLURB:

Football fever has Harmschapel in its grip. After decades of failure, Harmschapel F.C has made it to the County Cup final. All hopes are resting on the team’s talented new striker Scott Jennings bringing victory to the village, but the match threatens to bring deep-rooted rivalries to the surface.

Detective Sergeant Blake Harte finds himself forced to sit through the tense final in case of any trouble. Though the last thing he expects is to be thrown into the midst of another impossible crime, he and the rest of Harmschapel Police are left baffled when Scott is murdered in the middle of the match.

With none of the other players anywhere near him at the time of his death, and a stadium full of witnesses that all seem as clueless as each other, Blake is left with very little to go on as to how a killer could have left Scott with a deep wound in his side without being seen.

As the suspect list grows, Blake discovers dark secrets that are desperate to remain hidden. And someone is watching him. Someone who knows Blake Harte and everything he holds dear. They have their own score to settle, and they are about to make the first move in a game that they intend for Blake to lose…

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Learn more about author, Robert Innes:

Robert Innes is the author of The Blake Harte Mysteries – a series of head scratching and impossible crimes.
When he’s not trying to work out how to commit seemingly perfect murders and building up a worrying Google search history, Robert can be found at his local slimming group, wondering why eating three pizzas in the space of a week hasn’t resulted in a weight loss.
Since the creation of the Blake Harte mystery series in November 2016, each book has become a best seller in LGBT mystery both in the USA and the UK.

Exclusive Excerpt: Flesh and Gold (a Cantor Gold Crime – Book 4) by Ann Aptaker

Excerpt:

I’m no saint. I’m certainly no prude. I’ve been visiting cat houses—what the old timers call notch joints back in the States—since I was a teenager and Sig owned a few houses back in our Coney Island days. The professional ladies of pleasure know what they’re doing, and sometimes, on my loneliest nights in my dangerous life, when I miss Sophie so much I’m dizzy with longing, it takes a professional to do what needs doing. And I have a soft spot for the ladies. They and I have something in common: we make our living outside the Law, because the Law dealt both of us rigged hands. The Law says I’m a criminal just because I romance women. And the Law says it’s a crime for the ladies to decide what to do with their own flesh and bones.

I can’t kid myself, though. I know that “the life” can be risky. It’s not unusual for a Lady of Pleasure to have the “pleasure” beaten out of her by rough trade or a vicious pimp who gets his kicks by using her as a slave. The only freedom she can hope for is to grow old, discarded, and die. The idea that Sophie, my Sophie, is caught in such a life scares me to death.

And then there’s the filthy horror that sends its stench through all those other horrors, a scenario twisting me up so bad I can barely breathe: the thought of Sophie pawed over by sweaty tourists and needy locals not only breaks my heart, it makes me sick.

Sure, add hypocrite to my list of sins.

I soothe myself a little by believing that whoever took her would realize Sophie is a class act and would stow her in one of the town’s fancier, ultra-discreet joints catering to the island’s secretive aristocrats and moneyed clientele, the kind of places where the women aren’t batted around, and even protected from violent clients.

It’s been a long time since I was last in Havana and availed myself of its erotic pleasures. Considering the current power shifts in the local underworld, and those gang wars Lansky and Nilo talked about, the Who’s Who of the cat houses is probably not the same Who’s Who I dealt with ten years ago. As far as I know, nobody in the fancier fleshpots owes me any favors, and without an invitation from a regular client or someone else well connected, I can’t get into those joints, and I don’t even know where they are. I can’t get information about those places without help. But until that help comes, I’m on my own, with nowhere to look but the back rooms of bars, the fleabag hotels, and the streets.

Blurb:

Havana, 1952, a city throbbing with pleasure and danger, where the Mob peddles glamor to the tourists and there’s plenty of sex for sale. In the swanky hotels and casinos, and the steamy, secretive Red Light district of the Colón, Cantor Gold, dapper art thief and smuggler, searches the streets and brothels for her kidnapped love, Sophie de la Luna y Sol. Cantor races against time while trying to out run the deadly schemes of American mobsters and the gunsights of murderous local gangs.

Learn more about award-winning author, Ann Aptaker:

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Native New Yorker Ann Aptaker has earned a reputation as a respected if cheeky exhibition designer and curator of art during her career in museums and galleries. Taking the approach that what art authorities find uncomfortable the public would likely enjoy, exhibitions Ann has curated have garnered favorable reviews in the New York Times, Art in America, American Art Review, and other publications.

She brings the same attitude and philosophy to her first love: writing, especially a tangy variety of historical crime fiction. Ann’s short stories have appeared in two editions (2003 and 2004) of the noir crime anthology Fedora. Her flash fiction story, “A Night In Town,” appeared in the online zine Punk Soul Poet. In addition to curating and designing art exhibitions and writing crime stories, Ann is also an art writer and an adjunct professor of art history at the New York Institute of Technology. (Publisher).

Exclusive Excerpt: Order and Anarchy (The Thin Blue Line series Book 2) by Patricia Logan

Excerpt:

Felix caught up to Pope when he had to stop to unlock the door. He stepped inside and stopped, turning back to Felix, still frowning.

“What? Go back to the gym and hit Doctor Brian Swenson up for a date, Felix. It’s clear the man is insanely in love with you. He wants you big time. We can be partners at work but dating you was a mistake. I see that now. What could you ever have seen in me if you were dating guys like that before meeting me?” Without waiting for an answer, he started to close the front door.

Felix did the only thing he could do and stuck out his foot to stop it. “Wait, idiot! I told you I needed to talk to you so why won’t you let me say anything?”

Pope yanked the door back open and stared at him, his face a mask of utter misery. “Sorry. What?”

“Let me in.”

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Pope dropped his gym bag and crossed his arms, blocking the door with his body and staring at him. “Say what you have to say from there. I’m not letting you in.”

Felix ground his teeth. He wanted to punch Pope right in the nose but he couldn’t get his point across if his lover was unconscious.

“You are the man I want, Pope. I’ve told you that before. I want you to live with me. If I wanted Brian Swenson, I would have Brian Swenson, but the man isn’t the kind of guy I want.”

Pope sneered. “Ha! That’s a laugh. Who doesn’t want a brilliant millionaire with a rockin’ body and brain? Huh?”

“Me. It seems I want a grouchy, infuriating, sharp-tonged idiot who doesn’t have a clue how beautiful or sexy he is.”

Pope’s gaze flicked over Felix’s form and then returned to his eyes.

“I’m old and broken and…”

“Asshole!” Felix shoved his way into the apartment, cutting Pope off as he stepped into his personal space and slammed the door behind him. Pope stumbled backward, hitting the wall dividing the entry and the living room. Felix watched him reach back to plant the palms of his hands on either side of himself to stay standing. He braced himself as Felix advanced on him.

“What are you doing?” Pope growled as Felix grabbed the hem of his white T-shirt and ripped it open in one long tear all the way to the neckline. When Pope’s defined six-pack abs were revealed, Felix instantly slid the palms of both hands up the expanse of his stomach and chest.

“If you have to ask that, I’m doing this all wrong.” He bent his head and immediately took one of his nipples into his mouth, biting the nub.

“Jesus!” Pope exclaimed, instantly sinking the fingers of both hands into his hair as he held Felix’s head to his chest. The groan that rumbled out of him vibrated against Felix’s lips as he sucked and laved the hard nub was sexy as hell. He moved to Pope’s second nipple and gave it the same treatment as Pope moaned. He looked up and the sight of Pope’s head thrown back to lean against the wall, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, and his mouth open as his breath came in gasps was a sight to see. He pulled his mouth away and slid down to his knees, reaching for the elastic waistband of Pope’s shorts and pulling them down along with him.

Blurb:

Homeland Security investigators Felix Jbarra and Pope Dades are about to work their first big case as partners. Someone is creating counterfeit government documents and selling them through a site similar to the old Silk Road which was shut down years ago. As they dive into the case with the help of their friends at the FBI and LAPD, Felix and Pope realize the Dark Web site is selling more than documents. It’s selling death.

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When a man connected with the website turns up murdered, it’s all hands on deck and with so many letter agencies involved in this case, coordinating all parties is bound to be a challenge. When yet another agency unexpectedly gets involved, their bosses would find it laughable if it wasn’t so damned dangerous.

Felix and Pope are getting used to being partners but they are well-trained professionals who must learn to trust each other at work as well as at home. When a bomb almost kills them, they have no choice but to shorten that learning curve. From the mean streets of Hollywood to unfamiliar places on the Dark Net, our heroes put themselves in danger every moment, trying their best to protect innocents while keeping each other alive.

International bestselling author Patricia Logan, resides in Los Angeles, California. The author of several #1 bestselling erotic romances in English, Italian, French, and Spanish lives in a small house with a large family. When she’s not writing her next thriller romance, she’s watching her grandchildren grow up way too soon, and raising kids who make her proud every day. One of her favorite tasks is coaxing nose kisses from cats who insist on flopping on her keyboard while she types. Married to a wonderful gentleman for 30 years, she counts herself lucky to be surrounded by people who love her and give her stories to tell every day.