In the first chapter of Survival is a Dying Art, Angus Green’s friend Tom invites him to sit in on the meeting of a gay men’s book group.
“This is emblematic of the problems facing our generation,” another man said. He was a real estate agent with a big personality. “Many of us were shunned by our families when we came out. We didn’t have the opportunities younger people have to get educations and good-paying jobs, so we never made that much money while we worked. And then we lost so many of our friends and lovers to AIDS. Now we’re on our own without pensions or savings accounts or kids to look after us.”
There was a general assent among the men at the table, and I felt guilty about the opportunities my generation had because of the pioneering work these men, and others like them, had done.
“A lot has to do with how soon we came out,” another man said. He’d been introduced as Frank, and I had the sense that he and Tom were friends outside the book group. “I was too scared to come out when I was young, and I covered it up by working my ass off. I made money, yeah, but I never had the life I could have had.”
The doctor nodded. “I married my high school sweetheart because I couldn’t see any other path,” he said. “She worked to put me through college and medical school and gave me two wonderful children. For years I knew that I was gay, but I couldn’t abandon her after all she had done for me. It wasn’t until the kids were grown that I finally told her.”
I couldn’t imagine how painful that must have been for both him and his wife. “Fortunately, she understood, and I was able to keep my relationships with my sons, and now I’m loving being a grandfather. But I know a lot of other men in similar situations who’ve been shunned by their exes and their kids.”
The conversation wandered off onto tangents, and I was amazed at how many different paths these men had taken to get where they were. Tom insisted on paying for my meal, and then asked if I had a moment to speak with him and his friend Frank.
Frank ordered us glasses of Scotch from the bar, and the three of us moved over to stand at the railing overlooking the waterway. It had gotten dark by then, and the only boat moving was a small powerboat with Fort Lauderdale Police along the side and a big searchlight at the prow.
Frank was a couple of inches taller than I was, close to my boyfriend Lester’s height of six-foot-two but much skinnier. His gray hair was close-cropped and there were crow’s feet around his eyes, but I could see he’d been quite handsome when he was younger.
“I was surprised when Tom told me that you work for the FBI,” Frank began. “I wasn’t aware they’d lifted the rules against homosexuals in sensitive positions.”
“That happened long before I joined the Bureau,” I said. “Now there are gay men and women at the highest levels. Even so, I’m the only openly gay special agent in my office.” I took a sip of the Scotch, feeling the warmth on my tongue and the back of my palate. Smooth. “How can I help you?”
“I’m afraid someone might be trying to scam me, and while I don’t want to be taken advantage of, I do want to buy what he says he’s selling.”
“Slow down, Frank,” Tom said. “Go back to the beginning.”
Frank pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “Okay. My family are Italian Jews. Centuries in Venice. Did you know that the word ghetto originated there? It means foundry, and the Jews were segregated in the neighborhood where the iron works were located.”
“Not quite that far back,” Tom said. “Start with your father and his brother.”
“Sorry.” Frank grinned sheepishly. “I get distracted by all the history. My father and my uncle were born in Venice right after the turn of the century. When he was in his twenties, my father came to the United States, but my uncle Ugo stayed in Venice. He was gay, and he had a lively group of friends, so he had no desire to leave.”
“Until the Nazis came,” I said.
“Until the Nazis came. And by then it was too late.”
We were all quiet for a moment. I imagined that being both gay and Jewish had made Frank’s uncle a prime target.
“A few months ago, I started looking around online to see what might have happened to the painting. I discovered that it had been confiscated by the Nazis, but then it disappeared. I put up a bunch of posts on art and auction sites asking for information, and eventually a man contacted me, saying that he knew where the painting was, and he could get it to me – for a fee.”
I nodded. “And you’re afraid he’s scamming you.”
“Exactly. I did my own research on him and I discovered that he owns a pawn shop in Fort Lauderdale. That made me concerned. I don’t want to be involved in anything shady, and the very fact that he runs an operation like that makes me distrust him.”’
I agreed to help, and we finished our Scotch as people partied on that fancy yacht moored below us. When it came to say goodbye, I kissed Tom’s cheek and hugged him, then shook Frank’s hand, but the two of them seemed unsure what they were supposed to do. I wondered about their relationship – just friends? Or did one of them want something more?
Whatever Tom and Frank wanted from each other, I hoped they could get it. And maybe by helping Frank track down his uncle’s painting, I could pay back Tom for the favors he’d done for me in the past.
Neil Plakcy has written or edited over three dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. To research the Angus Green series, he participated in the FBI’s sixteen-week citizen’s academy, practiced at a shooting range, and visited numerous gay bars in Fort Lauderdale. (Seriously, it was research.)
He is an assistant professor of English at Broward College in South Florida, and has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction. His website is www.mahubooks.com.
Devastation was all he felt. Everything else within him, numb.
He knew he’d never belonged here, not at Hatcher’s, not in Cane’s Inlet and definitely not pretending to play host at the upscale Medusa Lounge. In way over his head, the people around him too forceful, too powerful and easily able to toy with his chance at happiness. It was like the truth had become his enemy, destined to keep him from uncovering what lay beneath hidden tendrils. Maybe he didn’t want to know. Maybe he shouldn’t know. In a single moment, he’d left betrayal in his wake. Yes, total devastation.
His last word reverberated in his mind, it’s cry awful as he was left alone in the stateroom. Both men gone, though seared into his mind like a bad memory. The pain he felt ate at his insides as he ran out of the stateroom, down the corridor, where he darted past the entrance to the lounge, where he could hear the joyous sounds of the party, laughter, celebration, the popping of a fresh bottle of champagne. He had nothing left in which to celebrate.
Again, the word…that name, hit him hard. Nearly toppling him to the ground when he ran off the gangway of the Medusa and onto the dirty footpath. The trees absorbed him, thankfully hid him.
He kept running, his suit still a tangled mess. Forced to throw on the ink-stained shirt which had been the catalyst for what had transpired. Buttoning it as he ran, the tie forgotten on the carpet of the stateroom, along with his dreams and probably a few drops of Parker St. John’s thick load. He reached the dock, breathing heavily, and thankfully saw the schooner, and in terms of people, only Willy. He wouldn’t be able to face anyone else.
“What are you doing here? Ain’t it your big night?”
Noah looked up. The glow from the full moon must have caught his tear-streaked face.
“Just take me back to the mainland,” Noah pleaded.
Willy silently welcomed him with a simple hand gesture.
Once on board the schooner, Noah tried his best to keep from gazing back, but as they sailed toward the peninsula, the billowing sails and towering masts of the Medusa peeked up over the trees, almost as if they were playing with him. Shooting him a reminder of what an outsider he was. He wiped a series of tears from reddened eyes. Hatcher’s Island was in his rearview mirror. So was the life he’d attempted to forge here. Noah was done. Finished.
Cane’s Inlet would fade into view, too. All that it represented would fade from his life.
He’d lost everything.
As he crouched near the stern of the boat, it was like he was willing himself to the shore faster, Willy left him alone with his thoughts. The old sailor knew when a man didn’t want to talk. What had happened during the last hour had seemed unreal, its events unfolding like in a movie, the pivotal scene down in cinematic slow motion. He was reliving it, vividly and relentlessly.
Parker’s threat, his manipulation. His undressing before him, exposing his muscular, thickly furred body, his powerful erection and asking, no—demanding–that if Noah desired to keep him from revealing to the Hatchers what he’d discovered, Noah agreed to have sex with him. Parker was sexy, sure, and Noah had always found himself jealous of the man’s easy confidence. Slightly attracted to the idea that Parker wanted him.
Noah had been weak, and afraid. Caught between a rock and hard cock.
He’d given in, had dropped to his knees. Taken the meat into his mouth.
Then just as Parker’s big cock was climaxing all over him, that’s when Demetri had arrived, finding them together. And this only hours after the two of them had declared their love for each other. What possible explanation could Noah have given? Not that Demetri remained for a half-assed explanation. He had run, disappeared. Would he have gone back to the party? Certainly, he hadn’t caught the boat, because Willy wouldn’t have had time enough to go and return given the time passed between then and now. Not even fifteen minutes.
Parker too had excused himself moments after Demetri had run off, his tone as cold as ever. His attitude self-satisfied. “Clean yourself up. I expect you back at your post.”
Fuck him was Noah’s thought as the boat reached the pier on the eastern edge of Cane’s Inlet. Willy was barely given the time to secure his boat before Noah was leaping off, running again. He’d have to offer his apologies later, but then again, that probably wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen.
He’d decided. Noah Sanders was leaving Cane’s Inlet, and he was leaving this minute. His car was parked in the lot, and thankfully the keys were secure in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He didn’t need any other thing, just keys, a car, and an open road. Zander’s Bridge awaited him, and then he’d be gone, never to be heard from again. All he’d sought, all he’d learned, none of it mattered anymore. His mind was a jumble of thoughts, his heart a mixture of emotions. His soul empty of everything but embarrassment.
He found his car in the crowded lot; so many guests still out at the Medusa had left their vehicles here. And why not, the night was young still, not even ten o’clock. Not one to believe in superstitions, Noah couldn’t help but think the full moon high in the black sky had something to do with the twist of events tonight. Or maybe it was fate finally intervening, telling him he’d been foolish to think he could outsmart the entire town. Find out his truth with most of the residents unaware of his reason for coming to town.
He’d trusted the Cane’s. And then gone and betrayed them. Or at least, one of them.
Trying his best to push the image of Demetri’s wounded expression from his mind, he got behind the wheel of his car, needing to focus. He gunned the engine, at last ready to disappear into the ether, just as his mother…no, not his mother, only the woman he’d thought for forever had been his mother, but really was just a woman who had stolen him. Could he do as she had done? Never to be heard from again. Was that the legacy he wanted for himself? To repeat the mistakes of the past, especially as he remained unaware of why it had all happened in the first place. Again, he fought against bitter tears, and he wiped them away with his hands, like wipers on a windshield.
“Shit,” he said aloud, the sound of his voice loud inside the confines of his car.
He couldn’t just run. He needed something vital—his laptop, back inside his room at the Ocean’s Breeze. No way could he leave that, because there was too much on it, website searches and notes about whom he talked to, what he’d learned, a full write-up of his luncheon with Stefan those couple of weeks ago. While it was password protected, Noah had little doubt someone would be able to get beyond his firewall, and then the Hatchers would learn everything.
Just run in, he told himself, pack his bags quickly, throw them in the car. And then he’d be gone. Which he tried to do, but after pulling into the lot and parking right up against the stairs that led to the porch, he noticed the Ocean’s Breeze was darkened; not even a porch light lit, much less one kept on in the lobby. Few people were staying here now, the season’s residents not yet in town. Which is why he’d been able to secure his room for cheap. But he’d never seen the old Victorian so black; it was almost like no one was there, no one even on duty.
He took the stairs, approached the front door. He tried the door and found it locked.
Where was Renny? Wasn’t he always on duty when Cilla was out?
Then he remembered what Cilla and Demetri had told him earlier tonight. Something had been off about Renny, he’d been upset and began throwing things. He’d calmed down, they’d said, but perhaps he’d experienced a relapse after they’d left. Noah peered through the small windows on the front door but again, all he saw was darkness. Should he knock? Or maybe call? Then he remembered yet another detail about Renny’s meltdown—he’d thrown a vase and in turn had broken a window. Demetri had needed to patch it up, making them late for the gala.
Moving along the darkened porch, his shadow barely visible from the moon’s glimmering light, Noah located the broken window. All the glass had been cleared out, the window secured by cardboard and tape around its perimeter. An idea formed in his mind, one he tried to dismiss. He couldn’t do such a thing as break-in. Could he? Turning his head, looking, listening, for signs of anyone lurking, he wiped sweaty palms on his suit pants, then began the process of removing strips of tape from the edges. Seemed Demetri had been thorough, taping the window from both inside and outside. Soon, though, the cardboard came free, leaving a gaping hole that gave Noah access to the lobby of the Ocean Breeze.
This was the moment of truth. Was this him breaking the law? Gaining illegal entry?
Except he was a legitimate tenant, he did pay rent on his room. He just didn’t have a key to the front door and had never needed one. Cilla or Renny had always been there, the door never locked. Again, a cursory look around him revealed no one watching him. So, he crouched down and stepped over the sill, seconds later finding himself inside the Ocean Breeze. As he made his way across the floor, stealth accompanying him, he listened for any sounds of life. But the place was deserted, the office door closed, no light coming from within. He reached around the check-in desk and retrieved his room key from the wooden slots. Nothing to stop him now.
Still, he felt he had to act fast. Up the stairs he went, dreading their creaking noise. But he made it to his room undetected and let himself in. He nearly turned the lamp on, a natural instinct. Except he had to think differently now, he was a cat burglar set upon stealing his own possessions. With his eyes adjusted to the darkness, seeing was surprisingly easy. He went over to his desk and took hold of his laptop, placing it under his arm. As he turned, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and saw what a mess he looked. Tear streaked cheeks, the black ink stain on his shirt, buttons uneven. With his attempt to run from Cane’s Inlet, anywhere he went he’d no doubt receive strange glances.
He made the decision right then to change. Off went the suit and he quickly donned a pair of comfortable jeans and casual shirt, his leather jacket the last piece. The rest of his clothes would just be forgotten. Like he hoped he was, once the residents here knew he was gone for good. It was his only option. Before leaving the room, he took one last look, at where he’d lived these past few months, his eyes landing on the discarded suit on the bed. He thought about what might have been. A new life, a glamorous one. So much potential. All of it destroyed.
Noah Sanders bid farewell to the Ocean Breeze, his room and the stairs, slipping out again through the window. Still not seeing a soul. Was everyone in town at the Medusa opening? And where had Renny gone running off too? None of this was Noah’s concern anymore, and so, with the laptop comfortably under his arm, he made his way back toward his car.
That’s when he heard the blaring of an alarm. Fear struck him as he stared back at the grand house he’d called home, wondering if he’d tripped a wire. But no, the sound wasn’t coming from here, but certainly nearby. He thought of the other times he’d heard sirens in Cane’s Inlet, both instances revealing the bodies of two slain women, their necks sliced. The killer still not caught to this day. My God, he thought, could there be another victim?
Yet the sound was different. Not police, not an ambulance. More like a security alarm.
Whatever the type, this was none of his business.
Noah dashed to his car, fearing discovery, as though the alarm was meant to alert the cops about his escape. Out of the parking lot he went, taking the side streets instead of the access road to the shore. He needed to get to the downtown area and ultimately find his way over Zander’s Bridge. As he drove past the Little Liffey, an establishment he’d miss, he thought he detected a shadow running on the sidewalk, a lone figure caught ever-so briefly under a streetlight before becoming absorbed in the black night. Noah then realized where the person—man or woman. he couldn’t be sure—had come from, the blaring alarm that much closer.
He noticed which building’s alarm had been activated.
“The Historical Society,” he said aloud.
For some reason, he pulled to the curb. He shouldn’t have, but he did. Cane’s Inlet still had a pull on him, most notably its connection to the long-ago past. Out of the car he went, dashing up the pathway to the porch. Unlike the Ocean’s Breeze, not only was there a light on beside the door, but the front door was wide open., shards of wood indicating a break-in. The alarm was deafening. Noah wondered if there was a switch he could find to shut it off. Then he would call anonymously call 911 before driving off again.
As he entered the museum, he realized he dare not touch anything. This was a crime scene. All he wanted was to turn the alarm off. But his efforts in the dark proved fruitless, the piercing sound penetrating his ears, seemingly growing louder with each step he took. A stream of light caught his attention, and so he moved further into the room, finding himself drawn to the Medusa Room. The door was ajar, the source of the light found inside. Another couple steps and he eased open the door, finding before him a mess of destruction. Shelves had been torn down, books lay on the floor, broken picture frames whose shards of glass had fallen to the dark carpet. But what he most noticed was he’d found the source of the alarm, the sound at his loudest inside this room.
The famed Star Diamond case had been smashed, no doubt such action tripping the alarm.
Noah breathed deeply, shock consuming him, as he realized that the diamond was gone.
“Who would have stolen it, and on a night like this?”
There was no answer, not from him, nor from the intruder he suddenly heard behind him. The footsteps startled him. He tried to spin around, but the alarm had aided in the person’s stealth-like approach. So, Noah never saw what happened, he only felt it.
A quick, hard blow to his head. And then came darkness. He never ever heard the thud of his body crumpling to the floor.
* * *
A beep. That’s what heard. Persistent, droning. He wanted to turn it off but he didn’t know how. Didn’t know where the sound was coming from.
Hell, his mind a jumbled mess, he didn’t know where he was.
Still just darkness, perhaps a slit of light giving him a sense of hope he didn’t know that he even needed.
Nothing made sense. Except that his head hurt. That much thundered inside him.
His eyes flickered but failed to fully open. The effort was painful, so he stopped.
At least his ears worked.
“Well, look who’s coming around.”
The voice was familiar to him, except his mind couldn’t process the face behind it.
Could he speak? He tried to move his mouth and even that hurt. His entire head felt like an anvil had fallen on it. His mind randomly inserted an image of the Road Runner cartoons, and even as tried to fight the laugh he felt inside, knowing it would be painful, he did anyway. A short, loud bark that sounded dreamlike to him.
“Ow,” he said, his first word. He tried to suck down air.
“That’s an appropriate one, I guess. Rest easy, you’re going to be fine.”
Again, that voice, soothing now, resetting his breath. Normal and easy, and his eyes closed. Gentle murmuring around him, lulling him to sleep, or perhaps a far worse place. Thoughts of his mother carried him down a path, dark, tree-covered, no sunshine and no warmth. He shivered and thought of snow, and then blackness found him. Again.
Then came that persistent beep once more, relentless in its efforts to annoy him.
“Can you turn that off?” he heard, and realized the words had somehow come from him.
“No, Noah, it’s monitoring your vital signs. Don’t think about it.”
“Thinking is the last thing I can do.”
He was speaking but still unable to open his eyes, still unable to decipher the source of the voice. It was female he’d figured out, his brain beginning the slow process of healing. Or cognitive function. What he most knew was that his head still hurt. Not an anvil hitting him, his head replaced by one.
He shifted his body, deciding he was lying on his back, slightly angled. One of his fingers felt funny, like a clamp was around it.
“Where am I?”
“Cane Medical Center. It’s nice to have you back among the living.”
So, he was still in Cane’s Inlet. Last he knew, he’d been running from it, his intent to never return. What had happened to make him stay? And who was this woman?
That was a good next question to ask. He formulated it first in his brain. He struggled before saying, “Who are you?”
“Noah, it’s Ginette Hatcher. Just go easy, don’t push yourself.”
He heard a slight laugh. “Good to know nothing has changed on that front. No killing your relentless politeness.”
He was processing what had happened to him by her choice of words. Killing, back among the living, relentless. Cane Medical Center. Just how close had he come to dying? Suddenly he wondered what time it was; he didn’t sense any light in the room, so it must still be dark, perhaps only an hour or so since…since…that part of his memory was blank. A good thing, he surmised.
He recalled the full moon. Shadows all around him. The thought of that piercing alarm worse than the beeping sound around him.
“What time is it?”
“It’s just after ten o’clock.”
He let that sink in, realizing she hadn’t said whether a.m. or p.m. It couldn’t have been p.m. because it had already been after ten when he’d made his escape from Hatcher’s Island. A chill hit his body courtesy of the onslaught of memory and the fact that he might have been unconscious for nearly twelve hours. He’d never been in a hospital before, at least not for himself. The antiseptic scent hit him like a brick just now, his mind taking him back to White Pine’s medical center, where his mother had endured poking, proding, so many tests that ultimately were unable to save her.
“Mom,” he said, softly, to himself.
That’s when his eyes flickered open, wide and questioning. The word a shock to his system. Like the fear washing over him had awakened him. His vision was blurry, the woman at his bedside more shape than human.
“Sshh, just rest. It’s too soon, don’t push yourself.”
He tried to shake his head, a gesture usually so effortless. He felt his brain rattle. He spoke. “Tired of rest. Ironic, right? I need to know, how long have I been asleep?”
“I’ll let the doctor know that you’re awake and talking. It’s more his job than mine anyway. He’s the professional.” He felt a gentle squeeze to his hand that bordered on the maternal. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. If you need anything, there’s a call button in your left hand. Just press your thumb down on it.”
His eyes closed without him trying, his hearing heightened. He heard the click of heels on hard tiles, the opening and subsequent closing of the door. He strange it was, he thought, the very woman he’d been running from, fearful of what Parker St. John might reveal to her, she was now at his side, none the wiser about who he was but behaving in a manner that could only be defined as maternal.
Resisting sleep was futile, so he gave in. Worry ceding to healing. When he woke up again, his eyes flickered open and this time he could see better. Ginette Hatcher looking as lovely as ever, her graying hair perfectly styled, her outfit a crisp blue. She appeared to be dressed in work clothes, as opposed to the glittering gown she’d worn just hours…no, not hours…could it have been days? Panic set in and his thumb found the call button and he began to press it.
“Noah, it’s okay…Dr. Delvecchio is here…right next to me.”
Blinking away a blur of fresh tears, he looked up and saw a kindly older gentlemen standing next to her. He wore a white coat, and a stethoscope hung around his neck. A thick white mustache highlighted his face, aided by kind eyes. But his physical details weren’t what piqued his curiosity, but rather…his name. There was something familiar about it.
“Do I know you?” Noah asked, his eyes trying to focus on the elderly man.
“Not unless you remember the events of Friday night, when you were brought in. I was on duty—and a rare night at that.”
“Dr. Delvechhio is mostly retired,” Ginette explained. “I asked him to consult.”
“Oh, uh, thanks,” Noah said, more confused than ever. Trying to decipher what he’d just heard. Still unsure what day it was. Surely wasn’t Friday, since he’d referenced it as the past. Also, that Ginette’s presence here wasn’t recent. It sounded like she’d been here for a while…which had him asking, internally, for how long had he been here, both her being here and himself. The words he thought became the words he said.
“It’s Sunday night,” Dr. Delvecchio said. “You’re been here for forty-eight hours.”
“I lost two days?”
“You rested for two days. Now, what do you say I run some tests and ask some questions, if you’re up for it?”
“Uh, sure.” All he’d wanted since coming to Cane’s Inlet had been answers.
Now it was just more questions.
“What year is it?”
“Are you unsure?”
“What’s your name?”
Now that was a complicated answer and he felt his brain swell again. “Noah.”
“How about a last name?”
“Sanders. My name is Noah Sanders.”
He looked at Ginette Hatcher as he spoke those words. She nodded.
“Do you know who the President of the United States is?”
Noah frowned. “Do I have to admit to that?”
Both Ginette and the doctor laughed. “Ok, we’ll keep things local. What town do you live in?”
“White Pine,” he said.
“Is that where we are?”
“Where are we, Noah?”
“Cane’s Inlet,” he said. Despite his efforts the other night to escape. He was still here, and the truth of the matter was he’d lost two days of his life. Had he just been laying in this bed? That awful beep the only sound, he unable to hear it until only recently. Thoughts of the beep brought it back to the forefront of his mind; he heard it again, loud and invasive.
“Well, why don’t we have a looksee at you,” Dr. Delvecchio said.
“Should I leave?” Ginette asked.
“She can stay,” Noah said. “I’d like her to stay.”
“That’s fine,” the doctor said. “Why not give us a little breathing room though.”
Noah watched as Ginette took a seat in the corner of the room, assuring Noah she’d be near if he needed anything, and he thanked her, his inner self feeling an unfamiliar warmth. She’d never been so friendly in all their dealings while at Hatcher’s. What had changed? His injury, or maybe Parker had told her what he’d learned? He forgot his questions as he felt a shock of cold against his skin. The doctor had begun his examination, placing the metal end of the stethoscope directly against his chest, Noah took a deep breath, tried to relax as his head fell back against the pillow. The doctor then checked his lungs, asking Noah to inhale, exhale, then repeat. A check of his blood pressure came next, then a pinpoint of light shining in his eyes. That hurt, making him blink, close them.
“It’s okay, Noah. Just open your eyes again. Just stare forward.”
Noah did, fighting against the light, knowing it was important to get an accurate diagnosis.
At last, Dr. Delvecchio was done, Noah thankful for his gentle bedside manner.
“Am I gonna live, doc?”
“Keeping a sense of humor does the mind wonders, but regardless, yes.”
“So, what happened to me?”
“Before you arrived, I don’t know? You were brought into the Center with a head wound, a bit of blood leaking. We sewed you up quickly. Nothing serious, but there was a slight gash. The stiches will dissolve on their own, doubt even your barber will notice a scar. What most concerns me is in your eyes; your pupils remain dilated, which is the sign of a concussion. You’ll need time to heal, but you’ll be fine in a few days. You may suffer blurriness, faintness, or nausea.”
“So I’m stuck here?” Noah asked.
“Hardly. We’ll keep you one more night for further observation, but you should be good to go in the morning, barring any overnight setbacks. I’ll check in on you again. Make sure you have someone to pick you up and take you home. You have a roommate, a wife? Someone to stay with you”
Noah tried to process all he’d just heard, but what most struck him was the fact that he was being released tomorrow. He decided not to answer any of the doctor’s questions, instead closing his eyes, faking sleep while his mind tried to ascertain just what the next day would hold for him. Sure, while only two days had passed since the party at the Medusa, so much had gone down, most of all his living arrangements. Demetri had asked him to move in, but that was no longer an option; betraying your lover had a way of killing a relationship. And Cilla, siding with her nephew, would surely kick him out of the Breeze.
He heard a scrape of a chair, the click of heels again.
“Thank you, Dr. Delveecchio. I knew I could count on you to help out.”
“Lucky for us all I was on duty that night. I may be retired, but I’ll tell you being home alone makes for long days.”
“I think I’ll retire when they carry me out,” Gineete said. “Thank you for always being there for our family.”
Then he heard the door close, leaving Noah wondering had both departed.
A creak of the chair next to him suggested otherwise. He fought against the pain by taking a chance of opening his eyes. He saw Ginette Hatcher again by his side, again questioning why she was being so caring. No boss showed this level of concern toward an employee.
“You don’t have to stay here,” he said. “I’ve got nurses. The call button.”
“Now is not the issue,” she said. “Tomorrow is.”
“We don’t even know that I’ll be released.”
“If it’s not tomorrow, it’ll be the next day. You’ll be leaving the hospital soon.”
He allowed a small laugh, feeling the pain rattle inside his brain. He reminded himself he’d have to avoid any emotion that produced a physical result. A laugh, a sneeze. They seemed to rattle him, and not just his brain. Because at the moment, even his heart hurt too, from all that he’d lost. Demetri, his residence, probably his job, too. He’d run out on the biggest party of the year, ditching his post on what was essentially his first night.
“I’ll figure something out,” he said, and then, unable to fight the tears inside him, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“In the Army, I believe they call it dereliction of duty. Being AWOL.”
“We’ll deal with all that later, Noah. For now, I have some arrangements to make.”
“No, your housing,” she said. “Because I’m guessing you need a place to stay.”
“Yeah, uh, sort of, I think.”
“The last thing you need when healing is further stress. You’ll stay at Hatchers.”
“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to give up a room, I mean, not with the season coming…”
“I don’t mean the resort, Noah. I’m referring to the house. We have many rooms.”
Her words couldn’t have surprised him more if she added the words “what else is a mother to do for her son?”, but those he failed to hear. Still, her invitation reverberated inside the echo chamber that was his hurt brain. He recalled Emerson’s words about mixing business and pleasure, a warning for him to maintain a fair distance between the resort and the house. This was dangerous territory, and all he wanted to do was say no.
Except he had no other option.
“I don’t want to intrude…Mr. Hatcher…”
“You leave him to me,” she said, “Besides, there’s someone I’d like for you to meet.”
“Who is that?”
“My son, Stefan.”
“I’ll think you’ll get along brilliantly. He’s quite a smart boy.”
This confused Noah even further. Had Parker not exposed him for the fraud he’d been all these months? Was Ginette Hatcher unaware that her son lay in this hospital bed, soon to rest his body inside the house which should have been his home all along?
Now his head truly hurt; in fact, it throbbed. So too did his heart.
Adam’s new Cane’s Inlet Mystery trilogy includes SCANDALOUS LIES, SINISTER MOTIVES, and the forthcoming SUSPICIOUS TRUTHS.
His acclaimed Jimmy McSwain detective series includes HIDDEN IDENTITY, CRIME WAVE, STAGE FRIGHT, GUARDIAN ANGEL. and FOREVER HAUNT, in eBook and print. The first two titles are available on audio as well. Jimmy will return in FRESH KILL.
To find out more about author Adam Carpenter’s books, click on his photo above!
The narrator is Brody Norris, a small-town architect who has stepped into the role of amateur sleuth in a local murder. He and his husband, Marson Miles, have invited an attractive new acquaintance, Dahr Ahmadi, to join them for dinner at their loft, hoping to get to know him better—and to sound him out as a possible suspect—but the evening ends with an unexpected development.
This scene is taken from the middle of the novel. Mister Puss, the cat in the series subtitle, winds his way in and out of the story—as cats are wont to do—but he does not appear in the following.
Excerpt from FlabberGassed:
Some three hours after Dahr arrived at the loft, our evening together came to a close. A wonderful time, as they say, was had by all. Marson had charmed Dahr with his cooking and his small talk and his considerable skills as a gracious host. Dahr had charmed both Marson and me with his stories and his magnetism and his winks. Or were they tics? And apparently, I, Brody Norris, had all but charmed the pants off Dahr Ahmadi. It was not my intent to create an atmosphere of flirtation—I had simply tried to be amiable and welcoming—but Dahr must have tuned in to a more primal vibe.
When he arrived that night, we had greeted each other with handshakes and tentative hugs. Upon parting, however, we had cemented our friendship, so we forwent the handshakes altogether and hugged in earnest. And then, after the thank-yous and good-nights, Dahr offered kisses.
“May I, Mr. Miles?” he asked Marson outside the front door, leaning near for a smooch.
“With pleasure,” said my husband, and they exchanged a chaste peck.
“And Mr. Norris?” he said to me.
“Of course, Dahr.” We pecked.
Marson said, “Hope to see you again soon, Dahr. Good night.” And he turned inside to begin cleanup. It was not in his nature to leave things till morning.
Dahr asked me, “Walk me to my car?”
First Avenue was dead quiet—Saturday night, and our tiny town had “rolled up the sidewalks” already. A bit of evening drizzle had left the street dark and shiny. Yellow leaves glistened and dripped in the warm glow of a streetlamp. The soles of our shoes kissed the damp pavement. Then the man in black turned, and once again, he kissed me.
This was no tic. This was no ritual observation of some ancient parting custom handed down by Dahr’s Persian forebears. No, this was a kiss that meant business. This was a kiss that shot through me, that left me speechless and woozy and open to the unknown.
But then, without a word, he turned and left.
Shambling back to the loft, I wondered, What the hell was that? Was he making a statement? Was he challenging me? Daring me to fall for him?
Or was Dahr just using his wiles—buttering me up for a good report to Sheriff Simms?
When I stepped inside and closed the door, Marson looked up from the kitchen sink, merrily rinsing his way through a stack of dishes. “He’s such a sweet guy—what a great evening.”
Still a bit dazed, I confessed, “He kissed me.”
“He kissed me, too, kiddo.”
“I mean, he kissed me again, outside.”
“I’ve said it before, Brody: you’re an attractive man, desired by many.”
I took my explanation a step further. “I mean, he really kissed me.”
Marson gave a playful growl. “Yikes. Was it good?”
“Marson”—I moved toward him in the kitchen—“aren’t you … jealous?”
He set down his sponge. “Jealous? I’m complimented! Besides—” And he broke into laughter.
Marson grinned. “He’s not old enough for you.”
“Or”—I grinned—“he could be just the exception that proves the rule.”
Truth is, there were no rules, etched in stone or otherwise.
True, when I was fourteen, I had developed an abiding attraction to older, creative men. True, my first marriage had been to an older, creative man, an architect in California named Lloyd Washington. True, my current marriage was to an older, creative man, a Wisconsin architect named Marson Miles. True, this seemed to denote a pattern. But there were no rules.
True, Dahr Ahmadi was perhaps two or three years older than I was, but this did not qualify him as an “older man.” In the generational scope of things, we were contemporaries. Dahr was a certified nurse practitioner, a respected professional with a noble and humane calling, but this did not qualify him as a “creative man.” He was a man of science. So it was easy to understand Marson’s confident assumption that, in my eyes, Dahr could never measure up. But there were no rules.
True, Marson and I were married. The conventions of marriage—of conventional, heterosexual marriage—demand a lifelong commitment of body, soul, and desire, frequently sworn in vows at the altar, which can lend poignancy to a fairytale ceremony. But even the most earnest exchange of vows offers no guarantee that reality will not evolve and intervene. And the truth is, for us—for any gay couple, married or not—there were no rules, other than those we were content to define for ourselves.
True, Marson and I had written “vows” and delivered them at our tidy civil ceremony, but they were sworn to no god. They focused on an abiding love, which sprang from friendship, and a commitment to “be there” for each other in a joining of forces till death do us part. But they made no reference to carnal fidelity, which struck us both as an irrelevant hangover from some medieval obsession with procreation. So for us, in the matter of Dahr Ahmadi, there were no rules.
True, we had a shadowy understanding that indiscretion could be hurtful to each other and therefore harmful to “us.” Did such an understanding therefore imply that any contemplated indiscretion should simply be replaced by discretion, by the venerable bromide that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that the memory of Dahr’s kiss—the second one, out on the street, under the drizzle in the yellow lamplight—vexed me and excited me and consumed my thoughts from the moment I stepped back into the loft on Saturday night. It followed me up the winding staircase as I prepared for bed. It stirred beneath the blankets as I cuddled with my husband, who drifted off, exhausted by his efforts to stage the perfect dinner party. It staved off my own sleep, and when at last I slumbered, the memory of the kiss peppered my dreams with possibilities. This was temptation, pure and raw and simple.
“Stop yelling, man. Calm down. We’ll talk about it, okay?”
The anger on the man’s face turned to rage and he stepped forward. Before Felix realized what was happening, the man had both hands twisted in his T-shirt and he was propelling Felix backward. When his back hit the side of his own truck, it nearly knocked the breath out of him.
“You’re crazy!” Felix yelled. Now he was getting angry and that was an almost foreign emotion for him. He was pretty sure he could have used his Marine Corps Krav Maga training to put the guy on the ground, but he really didn’t want to resort to hand-to-hand combat with an angry trick from a gay bar. Getting hauled off to jail until he had the opportunity to tell his side of the story wouldn’t exactly keep him off the radar, and getting arrested in West Hollywood with the smell of spunk all over him wasn’t his idea of fun.
He reached up and grabbed the guy’s forearms to try to pry them free of his shirt but he realized the attempt was futile. The muscles of the man’s forearms felt like solid steel bands under the long-sleeved Henley he wore. No matter how hard he tried to get him to release his shirt, he couldn’t move him. The detective pushed his enraged face closer to Felix and normally he would have been intimidated by the outrage painted all over his expression. Instead, he found himself growing impossibly hard as he stared at the beautiful full lips he’d been kissing only fifteen minutes before. Even though the man had worked himself into a rage, Felix found himself unbelievably attracted to him. He wished the guy would let go of his shirt and touch him in other places. Felix wanted the man’s hands all over him. He remembered how amazing it felt to have the detective buried inside his body and he wanted it all over again.
“I’m crazy? You told IA that I intended on shooting that suspect when I fired! Who the hell are you?” the man shouted.
So that’s what he’s pissed about? His face was now so close to Felix’s that he could feel the wash of hot breath which smelled of beer and something alluring that he just couldn’t put his finger on. Felix just wanted to cover his mouth again and draw his breath inside so he could taste it. But he couldn’t do that. The guy was obviously under the impression that Felix was some sort of spy for Internal Affairs and he had to dispel him of that notion right away. The very last thing he needed in the middle of a huge case for Homeland Security was to be at odds with an LAPD detective who could easily blow his cover or worse, compromise the case they were building against the filthy animals that trafficked kids across the US-Mexican border.
“This isn’t about your career,” Felix growled through clenched teeth. He was growing angry now that he thought about those kids.
The guy sneered. “So, you want me to believe that it’s mere coincidence that you just happened to be at the same club as me tonight? That you offered your ass to a guy whose career would end if caught in a public disgrace?” He bunched his fists in Felix’s shirt, pulling it even tighter across his back as he pulled him closer. He didn’t wait for Felix to answer before he let go and grabbed the edges of his T-shirt to lift it. “You wearing a wire? You get everything on tape?” He yanked at Felix’s clothes as he shouted. “Where is it?” His tortured gaze met Felix’s and a wave of such sadness washed over him that it blocked out the man’s words.
He stopped fighting even as his T-shirt was lifted up to reveal his chest. As the man’s gaze ran over the expanse of tattooed skin, he relaxed and let him look his fill. The detective finally lifted his gaze to meet Felix’s and Felix reached out, flattening the palms of both hands on the man’s chest. The thick bands of muscle felt solid under his shirt. He wanted to examine the cop’s chest and see his body. He imagined it was beautiful.
“Stop it. I’m not—I’m not doing that—I’m not working for anyone who wants to hurt you and I think you know I’m not wearing a wire. You had your hands under my shirt fifteen minutes ago.”
The man didn’t look convinced. Felix sighed.
“You have to believe me. I don’t even know your name,” he explained calmly. “I told the officers what I heard you say but you have to believe me that they didn’t even tell me your name. When I gave my statement at the scene out at the YMCA, I told them the truth. I certainly didn’t tell LAPD’s IA anything different when they came to go over my statement. They referred to you as ‘the detective involved in today’s incident near the YMCA’. You think I don’t know what Internal Affairs can do to a career? I worry every day that OPR is going to target me for some shit because I’m gay. I’m not a snitch or a rat and I understand what brotherhood means,” Felix said quietly. It took every bit of his strength to hold still. His hyperactive nature was almost always to be in motion but he wanted to get his point across. Wasn’t I dancing a half hour ago?
The man had been glaring at him, staring at him so hard that it threatened to burn him up but the moment Felix mentioned OPR, the acronym for the Office of Professional Responsibility, the truth seemed to finally hit him. He instantly stepped back.
“Wait a minute… OPR? You’re a Fed?” He looked Felix up and down. “You don’t work for IA?”
“No, I don’t work for IA.” Felix tried to keep the shakiness he was feeling out of his voice and he wasn’t so sure he succeeded. It wasn’t that he was really upset but he hadn’t expected to be threatened by the man who’d just kissed him and fucked him through the best orgasm he could remember. “I work for DHS and I was undercover when I saw your encounter with that punk.
Blurb: Thin Blue
Detective Pope Dades is a veteran police officer working in the Hollywood division, one of the busiest police precincts in the country. Dealing with drug dealers, hookers, and mentally ill suspects on a daily basis is his stock and trade. He once loved his job with the LAPD but three years ago, he put his trust in the wrong man and he’s been paying the price ever since. Refusing to work with a partner after the first one nearly killed him, Pope is jaded, still hurting, and hanging onto the career he once adored by a thread.
Homeland Security Investigator Felix Jbarra is a fresh-faced young agent with a bright future in the DHS ahead of him. Deeply closeted, Felix hides his sexual orientation from his huge Catholic family which brings him terrible guilt and grief. One night in a back-room nightclub encounter, he connects with a man who inexplicably makes him want to confess everything. Assigned to help shut down an elusive child sex trafficking ring, Felix instinctively knows he’ll need turn to the more experienced detective for help if he and his partner want to crack this case.
In the first book of the brand new Thin Blue Line series, join Felix and Pope in this exciting adventure as their worlds collide on the mean streets and in between the sheets…
Thin Blue contains a sneak peek at Order & Anarchy (The Thin Blue Line series Book 2)
** Please Note**
If you’ve read the Death and Destruction series, Lincoln Snow, McBride M. McCallahan, Jarrett Evans-Wolfe, and Thayne Evans-Wolfe also play ongoing roles in this new series. Never fear, Jarrett probably won’t be base jumping off any more buildings… probably.
Discover more about author, Patricial Logan, and her numerous novels below:
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.
I got up early the next morning and drove to Irene’s apartment, which was on Malden right above Gracie Cemetery. It was right on the edge of Uptown. Not a great neighborhood. I parked Harker’s car on the cemetery side of Montrose.
Gracie Cemetery wasn’t one of my favorite places; I’d killed a man there once. I told myself I wasn’t there for a trip down memory lane and, even if I were, that wasn’t a lane I should go down.
When I found Irene’s building, it was a grand old brick apartment house, three stories tall and covering all of the lot from Malden back to the alley. It had originally been six apartments, but I walked up to the front door and saw there were twelve names on the modern intercom. Using the key Irene had given me, I opened the door and stepped into the lobby. Beyond it was the stairwell. As soon as I stepped inside, I noticed there were four doors on the first floor, and presumably the same on the floors above. It looked like the building had been divided at some point.
Irene’s apartment was on the third floor. The railing was on the right, which lately hadn’t been much fun for me since it was my right arm in the sling. Slowly, I climbed the three flights of stairs. It was kind of stupid; I didn’t need to hold onto a railing. I wasn’t decrepit. It’s just one of those things you get used to, resting a hand on the railing as you climbed stairs. It was stabilizing—something most thirty-six-year-olds never had to think about.
On the third floor, I walked over to the door marked A. It was on the right at the front. Slipping the key into the deadbolt, I turned it and didn’t encounter any resistance. Normally, you could feel the bolt moving out of its slot, hear it if you listened. I reached down with my left hand and turned the doorknob. The door opened. It hadn’t been locked. I was sure of it.
I leaned in and said, “Hello?”
When no one replied with a friendly, “I’m burglarizing this apartment, just give me another few minutes,” I stepped inside. I was standing in a decent-sized room that had a sunporch to my left and a narrow room on my right, which was part kitchen, part dining room. I opened a door to what I thought might be a closet and found a cramped bathroom with a shower.
The place was messy, but I couldn’t tell if someone had been in there making a mess or if the mess was Irene’s. Given the shape of the apartment she was staying in at Two Towers, I’d say it was possible the mess was hers. The stale odor of cigarettes hung in the air, making me quiver as I longed to light up and contribute to the stink.
I stood there a minute and realized something I hadn’t been expecting to realize. My gut said Irene hadn’t seen anything real, that she’d imagined the whole thing. But the door hadn’t been locked. If someone had been in her apartment, that changed things. It could be a coincidence, but I doubted it. And I doubted it more as I looked around.
There were pocket doors between the sunporch and the living room. Irene had put a bed onto the porch and covered the windows with purple velvet drapes. The living room had a big mohair sofa that was probably fifty years old, a wooden rocking chair, a large table with just one chair, a portable record player and a stack of albums. There was no TV that I could see, which left out the possibility that the murder she’d witnessed had been on the Sunday Night Movie. I suppose the TV could have been stolen, but there was no TV Guide, no empty space where a TV might have sat, no antenna, no VCR, no rented movies, no tapes at all actually.
And the longer I stood there the more sense the mess made. It wasn’t the kind of mess made by a person looking for valuables. There were stacks of newspapers on the big table, for instance, but none on the floor. There was a dresser at the foot of the bed with an unopened jewelry box on top of it. The drawers weren’t even open; no one had rifled through them.
Plus, the answering machine was there. If you’re going to steal the TV, why not steal the answering machine? They were easy enough to sell; easier even. They were smaller. Retail was almost a hundred bucks for most answering machines. Street value had to be at least twenty.
The answering machine sat beneath a black desk phone. Both were on top of a spindly wire telephone stand from the fifties that sat next to the rocker. On a lower shelf, beneath the phone and answering machine, sat the Chicago-area phone book.
A red digital five on the front of the answering machine told me how many messages there were. I turned the dial so the messages would play. The first was nothing but a long pause followed by a scratching noise. Weird. The second was from a Dr. Vann’s office telling Irene she had an appointment at one-fifteen the previous Thursday. Then there was another blank message with some scratching, this time the scratching went on longer and got louder. It was disturbing. Creepy even. The caller hung up. Another message began and it was the same thing: a long pause with some breathing, followed by another round of scratching. It was beginning to make my skin crawl.
The final message was from a man:
“Hello dear, it’s your father. It’s time for our Saturday call. I hope you’re out and about having fun, and not angry with me. Call me back.”
I stood there piecing things together. Clementine said the murder had taken place almost a week ago. So not Saturday and possibly not Sunday. I’d have to pin down the exact time later. If the murder happened on Monday night, then the first message came sometime on Tuesday or early Wednesday. The call from the doctor’s office would have been sometime on Wednesday, since a doctor’s office would call to confirm an appointment the day before.
The second and third scratching messages happened between that Wednesday call and Irene’s father calling on Saturday. Possibly one on Thursday and another on Friday. Someone was calling Irene nearly every day leaving disturbing messages. Not even messages, just sounds. I wondered if that someone had been in the apartment. If so, they’d have to have had a key.
I opened the front door again and looked down at the welcome mat sitting on the wall-to-wall carpet in the hallway. Reaching down I flipped it over.
Underneath was a key. Anyone could have gotten into the apartment. All they had to do was get through the front door downstairs and then look in the most obvious place in the world to leave a spare key.
If the person leaving the scratching noises was the same person as the one who’d left the door open, they’d likely gotten in on Friday or Saturday, since that’s when the scratchers seemed to stop. What had they been looking for? And had they found it? I wondered if any of the neighbors had seen who’d been in the apartment.
Going back in, I spent a few more minutes looking around. The only thing I saw was evidence of an interrupted life. A few dishes in the sink, some unopened mail—I assumed there was more of that downstairs in her mailbox—dirty clothes ready to go to the laundry.
Stepping out of the apartment, I shut the door and locked it, pocketing both keys. There was no reason to leave strangers a way into the apartment. It was around eight-thirty on a Sunday morning. I decided to knock on a few doors. I didn’t think people would like it much, but that wasn’t really my problem.
First, I walked down to the door of the apartment that had originally been the rear half of Irene’s apartment. From the way things were configured, I wondered if this door hadn’t once been a service door. The original apartments might have been luxurious enough to merit maid service. The maids might have gone up and down the backstairs, but they could have also slipped in this way without disturbing their masters.
No one came to the door.
Next, I tried the door directly across from Irene’s. As soon as I knocked a dog began barking. I waited, expecting someone to open the door. Instead, I heard a thwack and the dog whimpered a couple of times and then stopped barking. Someone was in there, and they’d just hit their dog with a rolled-up newspaper. At least I hoped it was a newspaper and not something worse. They didn’t come to the door.
There was no answer at the final door on the floor. This time I knew what game I was playing, so I watched the peephole intently. Thirty seconds after I knocked a shadow seemed to pass over it, telling me there was someone on the other side of the door deliberately not opening it.
I went down the stairs but stopped on the landing. This would have been where Irene witnessed the murder before she turned and ran. Well, there was no blood and no signs of blood being cleaned up. At first glance there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about the wall. It was wall-papered, had probably been wall-papered several times. The pattern was striped in various colors and thicknesses.
After staring at the wall for a full minute or so, I noticed a spot where the stripes seemed to wobble. The spot was about eye level. I ran my left hand across it. Behind the wallpaper, the plaster was dented. The indentation felt circular, almost like a crater. I ran my good hand up and down the wall but didn’t find anything else. I squatted down as close as I could to the floor. I could have gotten on my hands and knees, but that was challenging since the sling meant I could only partially wear my trench coat. Between the loose coat and the sling, it was hard enough just to squat.
When I did, I immediately smelled urine. Urine that could easily belong to the dog I’d heard upstairs. I stood up and then pushed the toe of my boot around the carpet. I found a squishy spot. It was directly below the crater. The crater in the plaster might have been from a man’s head being slammed against the wall. And the urine, well, that can happen when you die. Your bladder lets go. Everyone knows that.
It’s February 1985. Nick struggles to recover from a gunshot wound, while taking on the case of a woman with a mental illness, who may or may not have witnessed a murder. As he attempts to determine exactly what the woman saw and how much danger she may be in, he juggles the approaching DeCarlo trial, an ill Mrs. Harker, and the sexually precocious Terry. Valentine’s Day with boyfriend Joseph produces some big changes in their relationship. Life is evolving, but there’s no guarantee it’s for the better.
Find out more about Lambda Literary Award Winner, Marshall Thornton:
In Chief Cravens’s office, Hazard held his hands firmly in his lap. If he unlaced his fingers, he was going to start hitting things, and if he started hitting things, he might not ever stop.
Cravens, for her part, had the same unruffled calm as always. She was older, with long, gray hair, and she was well on her way into middle-age spread. Something about her eyes and her smile made her look like she was just somebody’s grandmother; anyone who scratched the surface, though, just found old, rusted gunmetal all the way down.
“I’m sorry, there aren’t any other options,” she was saying. “Norine won’t be back until Tuesday, and the state won’t send somebody on the weekend.”
“So he’s going to sit in a jail cell.” Hazard caught his partner’s glance; Somers mouthed, Cool it, and Hazard added, “Chief.”
“I appreciate your concern, but he’ll be fine, Detective. He’s a minor; we can’t send him back to those people. We can’t turn him loose on his own. And we can’t put him in Social Services because everybody needs a weekend and we’re small-fry and can’t raise hell.”
“It’s a jail cell. He’s a kid.”
“We’re not going to cuff him, Detective. But he needs to be somewhere safe.”
Somers put a hand on Hazard’s shoulder. “What my partner is trying to say—”
Cravens spoke over him. “Do you want to take custody of him, Detective Hazard?” She tapped a pile of paperwork. “I’ll be happy to turn him over to you until Tuesday.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Hazard said.
“Then the discussion is finished. Go work your case, Detective. And keep me up to date.”
In the bullpen, Hazard stared at the computer. He wasn’t ready to type. Not yet. Last time he’d typed while he was angry, it had cost him a keyboard.
“You need food.”
“I need to get away from this shit.”
Somers nodded. “Let’s get away.”
“We’ve got work to do.”
“You need lunch. I need a partner who’s not going to rip my head off. Let’s get away. Half an hour. Then we’ll come back here and start fresh.”
“I don’t want to eat.”
Eyebrows raised, Somers put on a thoughtful expression. “Well, that’s a problem because you need to eat. But you’re also being obstinate.”
“What should we do about this?”
“You should fuck off, Somers. Right now.”
“I might be able to take you in a fight.”
“Not a chance.”
“Or I could try to use my dazzling charm.”
Hazard turned on the computer, shifting his attention away from Somers.
“But I think the most effective method with you is blackmail.”
“Then you don’t know me very fucking well, do you?”
“I know that you’re ticklish.”
Hands above the keyboard, Hazard froze. “You don’t have the balls.”
Somers frowned. “I mean, I know you’re ticklish, and it hasn’t changed how much I respect you. But I wonder how all these other guys would feel.”
“I don’t care how they feel.”
“So you wouldn’t mind if I—” Somers stood and circled the desk.
“Touch me, and I’ll break your hand.” Hazard shoved the keyboard away. “Fine. Let’s eat.”
Instead of driving, they walked to Saint Taffy’s, the cop bar on Market Street. It was April: sunny, warm, the sky just hinting at the deep blues of summer. Hazard walked fast until Somers took him by the hand, and then the day felt a little warmer, a little brighter, and the sky was a deeper blue. They had been together two months, and his touch still did that to Hazard. Two months, and they still got looks on the street, not that it mattered.
It was going to happen, Hazard knew. Any moment now, Somers was going to start asking questions. And then those questions would turn into more questions. They’d proliferate: questions upon questions until Hazard wanted somebody to drag him out back and put a bullet in his head. And the worst part is that it would all come from Somers’s genuine concern. So Hazard braced himself and waited.
They walked the two blocks to Saint Taffy’s. At noon, Market Street was busy, and people stared. One woman picked up her little girl and carried her across the street to avoid walking near them. For the most part, though, the stares weren’t hostile—simply curious. Even though Wahredua had a growing LGBT community, Hazard knew that he and Somers stood out for a number of reasons.
And still no questions. Somers had a furrow between his eyebrows, the kind of pondering look that made Hazard want to curl up next to him with a book and enjoy the silence. That little furrow took up a lot of Hazard’s thinking. It was damn sexy, that look on Somers.
Inside, Saint Taffy’s was cool and dark, with a polished concrete floor, a long bar, and a pool table mixed in among the seating. A few months ago, Somers had gotten drunk and laid waste to the bar; the old mirror that had hung there was gone, shattered and replaced with a 4k TV. But Somers had paid the damages, and Saint Taffy’s was a cop bar, so after a month they’d let Somers come back, and now they just charged him extra and tried to hide it when the bill came.
They sat, ordered a burger each, and even after the waitress had left, Somers still hadn’t asked any questions. The girl came back with soft drinks. The only sound in the bar were the conversations at the tables around them. Then the burgers arrived, and they ate. And still not a damn question. Not even a word. Just that very sexy furrow between his brows, while Somers stared off into space like he was doing calculus for fun.
“All right,” Hazard finally said, dropping the half-eaten burger on the plate. “Just ask me already.”
“Ask me whatever it is you want to ask me. Why I’m so pissy today. What’s going on with me. Whatever it is, just ask me so we can get it over with.”
“Somers—” Hazard swallowed and leaned closer. “John, you want to ask me, so just ask me.”
“Yeah, I want to ask you. But you don’t want me to ask you. Or you don’t want to tell me. I don’t know which one. So it’s fine; you’ll tell me when you want to tell me. Or not.”
And then he picked up his burger, took a bite, and grinned like he hadn’t said the most goddamn confusing thing in the entire universe.
“What does that mean?”
“What you just said. What does that mean?”
“I don’t get what’s happening.”
“You want to ask me, so ask me. There. I told you to. So do it.”
“I don’t really want to know.”
“You think that’s going to work? That reverse psychology bullshit?”
“I’m not doing anything. I told you that I wasn’t going to ask. You can tell me whatever you want. That’s it.”
Hazard took a bite of his burger, but he couldn’t taste it, and he had to chug cola to get it down his throat. He tossed the food back onto his plate. “Fine.”
Somers laughed. “You’re going to make my life really hard sometimes. That’s what this is about, right?”
“When I came out to my parents, you know what they did?”
That wiped the laughter from Somers’s face. “Ree—”
“They waited until the summer, and then my dad told me we were going on a family vacation, and he drove me to this shithole in Iowa and left me there for two months. He and my mom went on to Kansas City. That was the family vacation. I stayed at conversion therapy.”
Somers set down his burger. One of his hands came across to Hazard’s, and Hazard had to fight not to jerk away.
“Two months. Bible study, fasting, late nights, early mornings, hard work. We’d go to our sanctuaries. That’s what they called these little closets where they’d lock us up; we were supposed to spend the time in prayer, but mostly, it was to make us lonely, desperate for contact and approval. They’d put us in a room and show us porn. Straight porn, I mean. They hammered at us all day. Every day. There were no breaks, no changes to the routine. We were either isolated or immersed in a group where we couldn’t build relationships.” Hazard’s throat was tight, and he drank some of the cola, but that didn’t do a damn thing. “It’s all pretty standard brainwashing stuff. You get punished when you don’t do what they want. You get rewards when you do things right. Most of the time. Then, out of left field, you get punished anyway because they don’t want you getting comfortable. The whole thing is meant to break down your resistance, make you pliable, make it hard for you to think rationally or critically. Things just start to make sense. They get inside you and you can’t get them out.”
Somers didn’t say anything. His grip on Hazard’s fingers tightened, though. And his eyes—they were dark, the way even the deepest waters grow darker when clouds race over them.
“I came back pretty fucked up.” Then he had to take a drink again, and his throat was still dry, still so goddamn dry, and the cola didn’t help at all. “And maybe I would have stayed fucked up, but then I met Jeff, and—I don’t know.” He tried to laugh, and his chest moved, but no sound came out. “Like you said, I’m obstinate. My parents never talked to me about it. They never asked me about it. I brought Jeff home one time when I was feeling brave, and they didn’t say anything about that either. Maybe by then they couldn’t give any more fucks. Maybe they just couldn’t.”
Somers still hadn’t said anything. He got out of his seat, still holding Hazard’s hand, and he dragged the chair around so they were side by side. Then he sat again, looping one arm around Hazard’s neck and pulling him in for a kiss. It was long, tender, and surprisingly chaste.
Hot prickles traced Hazard’s neck. “We’re in public.”
“I love you.”
“Yeah, John. I know. But we’re at a restaurant and everyone’s staring—”
Somers kissed him again. This time, he added a little tongue.
“Any more objections?”
Everyone was still staring, but Hazard couldn’t think of a single damn thing.
Instead, Hazard turned his gaze to the window, where sunlight and shadow cut neat lines out of the sidewalk. “I just can’t think straight when I’m around that kind of stuff. God, Jesus, all that. I’m back in that shithole again. And I know, up here, that it isn’t all the same. I know about Mother Theresa and I know about people, good people, who are religious. But then someone opens their mouth and it doesn’t matter what my brain says.”
Somers nodded. Clouds were still racing over those eyes, turning their turquoise the color of stormwater. “Let’s get the check.”
Outside, the daylight was crisp, and from Market Street Hazard could outline the catkins on the riverbank, could count the silver scallops on the water, could see, on the far side, the grasses rustle as a hidden animal came down to the shore. He saw all that, and inside he was seeing north, to Iowa, and the closet they had called the sanctuary, and its scintillating white paint as the sun crawled in, and the way that cramped space had smelled of sweat and carpet padding and basement.
“I’m Methodist, I guess,” Somers said, taking Hazard’s hand as they started towards the precinct. “Do you want to break up?”
Hazard tried to laugh.
“I believe in God. Or I believe in something better than me. Bigger than me. I’ve felt that. When I hold Evie, I feel that sometimes.”
“You can be Methodist. You can be Buddhist. You can be a witch for all I care.”
“Good. That’s really good. I’m thinking of becoming a sexual wizard.”
“You pretty much already are.”
And this time they both laughed, and some of the wire around Hazard’s chest unspooled.
“But you don’t have faith in anything? That’s not an attack. Just a question.”
“No. Faith is irrational. I make decisions. I decide who to trust and what to trust based on reason. Once you get beyond that, people believe what they want to be true or what they’re afraid is true, and either way, they’re only justifying their own opinions. I’d rather not fall into that trap.”
Somers had that furrow between his eyes again, and Hazard imagined kissing it away. “That’s an oversimplification.”
“I’m not trying to pick a fight.”
“All right, let’s hear it.”
“I don’t know. Not yet. But that’s what my gut’s saying: there’s more to this.”
“When your gut has a thesis statement,” Hazard said, bending to kiss Somers on the cheek, “let me know.”
Reasonable Doubt (Hazard and Somerset Book 5) – Blurb
After almost twenty years, Emery Hazard finally has the man he loves. But things with his boyfriend and fellow detective, John-Henry Somerset, are never easy, and they’ve been more complicated lately for two reasons: Somers’s ex-wife and daughter. No matter what Hazard does, he can’t seem to get away from the most important women in his boyfriend’s life.
While Hazard struggles with his new reality (changing dirty diapers, just to start), a bizarre murder offers a distraction. John Oscar Walden, the leader of a local cult, is found dead by the police, and the case falls to Hazard and Somers. The investigation takes the two detectives into the cult’s twisted relationships and the unswerving demands of power and faith.
But the deeper Hazard looks into the cult, the deeper he must look into his own past, where belief and reason have already clashed once. And as Hazard struggles to protect the most vulnerable of Walden’s victims, he uncovers a deeper, more vicious plot behind Walden’s murder, and Hazard finds himself doing what he never expected: racing to save the killer.
Only, that is, if Somers doesn’t need him to babysit.
5-Year Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense – Anniversary Giveaway: Win a FREE audiobook copy of Pretty Pretty Boys (Hazard and Somerset Book 1).
Author Gregory Ashe has graciously offered a chance for two of our members to win a FREE audiobook copy of the first novel in the Hazard and Somerset mystery series!!
Look for the announcment to enter the FREE drawing via the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Facebook group, leave at least a one-word comment for your chance to win!
The Winners will be announced on Friday, August 10th @ 8pm EDT. Stay Tuned!
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