Exclusive Excerpt: The Hidden Law: A Henry Rios Novel (Henry Rios Mysteries Book 5) by Michael Nava

Excerpt:

It was nearly noon when I left City Hall. I found a phone, checked in with my secretary, and returned calls. When I finished, I still had an hour before a court appearance at the Criminal Courts Building, so I called home to invite Josh to lunch with me. All I got was his voice on our answering machine, urging me to leave a message. I hung up.

There had been a time when the course of his day was as familiar to me as mine. Now, I stood there for a moment, wondering where he might be. It was spring break at UCLA, so I knew he wasn’t in class, but beyond that, I could only guess. I headed to a sandwich shop in the Civic Center mall. It was warm and smoggy. The only sign of spring was the flowering jacarandas, bleeding purple blossoms onto the grimy sidewalks.

I passed a bookstore. Displayed in the windows was a book entitled Vows: How to Make Your Marriage Work. I stopped and read the book jacket, which promised new solutions to old marital problems like disputes over money, sex and child-rearing. What about when one of you has a terminal disease and the other doesn’t? What was the solution to that? Each time Josh’s T-cell count dropped, I felt him drift farther away from me, into his circle of Act Up friends, and his seropositive support group. He had become an AIDS guerrilla, impatient with my caution, contemptuous of my advice. Just that morning, bickering again over the wisdom of outing closeted politicians—he said we had to expose their hypocrisy, I said it would only drive others deeper into the closet—he’d snapped, “Spoken like a true neggie,” as if being negative for the virus was a defect of character.

Our arguments were no longer intellectual disagreements. He had adopted an “us vs. them” mentality over AIDS, and the more anxious he felt about his own health, the more strident he became. There might have been less ferocity in our quarrels if we had been able to talk about his anxiety, as we once had, but he had decided that even this, or perhaps especially this, was beyond my understanding. I reacted with my own anger at being treated like an enemy by the man with whom I’d shared the last five years of my life. I went into the bookstore and bought the book, suffering the sales clerk’s sympathetic glance as he stuffed it into a bag. Over a limp ham sandwich I flipped through the chapters. Finding nothing relevant, I buried it in my briefcase and set off to court, the one place where I knew the rules.

I arrived in court a few minutes late. The deputy district attorney, an amiable man named Kelly Miller, who had been chatting with the clerk, said to me, “Your kid’s a no-show, Henry.”

My ‘kid’ was a twenty-year-old gay man named Jimmy Dee, Deeds on the street, where his deeds were legion. He was a handsome black boy with a luminous smile, undeniable charm, a four-page rap sheet for hustling and theft, and a romantic attachment to heroin. His last boyfriend, a much older man, had had him arrested for stealing from him to support his habit. After grueling negotiations, I had persuaded the boyfriend, Miller, and the judge to let Deeds plead to trespass on condition that he enter a drug rehab. The purpose of this hearing was for him to submit proof that he’d found a bed somewhere. He was being given a break, a fact that I impressed upon him at every opportunity. When I did, he would turn his klieg light smile on me and say, “I know, Mr. Rios, I know. God put you in my life.”

“He’s not that late,” I said.

“Fifteen minutes late.” Judge Patricia Ryan strode out of her chambers, arranging the bow of her blouse over her judicial robe. She was a patrician black woman with an acute street sense. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this, Henry. I should have had your client dragged away in manacles when I had the chance.”

Although she was joking, I could tell she was irate.

“The case would have fallen apart without this deal,” I said. “The boyfriend is deeply in the closet. He wouldn’t have testified.”

Miller said, “Your kid copped. I could’ve convicted him on his statement.”

“Juries aren’t buying confessions from black defendants in L.A. these days,” I replied.

Judge Ryan said, “Save this, gentlemen. I’m going to issue an arrest warrant.”

“Wait, Judge, will you hold it one day? I’ll go out looking for him.”

She narrowed her eyes. “We’ve given him every opportunity.”

“So what’s one more, Your Honor?”

“Mr. Miller?” she asked.

Kelly shrugged, “Why not? I’m sure Henry’s not getting paid for this extra work.”

She took her seat on the bench. “OK. People versus Deeds. The defendant is not in court. I will issue an arrest warrant to be held until tomorrow morning. Good luck, Mr. Rios.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

I called Josh from a phone in the corridor and caught him at home. I explained that I was going in search of Deeds and might not be in until late.

“I won’t be here anyway. There’s an Act Up demo at Antonovich’s house,” he said, referring to a particularly reactionary county supervisor.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“I can’t tell you everything.”

That solved the mystery of where he had been when I’d called earlier.

“Is this a lawful demonstration, or am I going to be bailing you out of jail again?”

Coolly, he replied, “The worst that ever happens is that they hold us overnight.”

“It’s LAPD, Josh,” I said, annoyed at his nonchalance. “I’ve seen what they’re capable of with prisoners.”

“They’re not going to beat us up,” he said. “They won’t even touch us without gloves and masks.”

“What if you had a health crisis? Do you think the cops would rush to call for medical help?”

“I’m fine,” he snapped.

“I’d like you to stay that way by not putting yourself in dangerous situations.”

“You want me to stay home and let someone else do my fighting for me.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“This is my fight. This is my life. What do you not understand about that?”

I took a deep breath. “Fine, Josh. In that case, do whatever you want.”

“I will,” he said, and clanged the receiver down.

I hung up and immediately called back, but the line was busy, and stayed busy until I finally gave up.

Eight hours later, after searching for Deeds in his usual haunts I found myself pulling into the parking lot of the Santa Monica Motel in West Hollywood with my investigator, Freeman Vidor. It was a perfunctory, two-floor stucco building wedged on a small lot just off the boulevard within walking distance of the gay bars; the kind of place where the vacancy sign was perennially lit and rooms could be rented by the hour.

“This it?” Freeman asked. “A hot sheet hotel?”

“According to his dealer, Deeds turns tricks here sometimes.”

We got out of the car and went into the dimly lit office. An Asian woman stood behind the desk watching us apprehensively.

“Yes,” she said.

Freeman produced a mug shot of Deeds and his private investigator’s license. “We’re looking for this kid.”

“Police?” she inquired, holding up his license to the light.

“I’m a private cop,” he said. “This is Mr. Rios, the kid’s lawyer.”

She took stock of me in my sincere blue suit, trying to puzzle it out.

“We’re not here to make any trouble,” I told her. “The boy calls himself Deeds. He has to be in court tomorrow morning and I promised the judge he’d be there.”

We all stood there for a moment while she weighed her options. An air conditioner hummed loudly. Although glossy brochures advertised Gray Line tours and fun at Disneyland from a metal rack on a table in the corner, I doubted whether this place attracted that kind of trade.

“Twenty-three,” she said, wearily. “Don’t kick in the door.”

We found the room. I knocked a couple of times, then called him. I tried the door. Locked.

“We’ll have to ask her to let us in,” I said.

“Go admire the view,” Freeman said.

I walked over to the railing and watched the traffic stream up and down the boulevard. A blond in a Jeep cruised by slowly, his cassette player blaring a disco tune from the seventies. Ah, the hunt, I thought, remembering the nights I had stood in San Francisco bars listening to that same song while I ingested a little liquid courage. Or, rather, a lot of liquid courage. Most nights I would stagger out alone and take the train back to school. Once in a while someone would pick me up, or I would pick him up, and I would toil in a stranger’s bed for a few hours, trying to get out of my skin by going through his. I imagined that I was having fun, and sometimes I was, but not nearly often enough to justify the effort.

I watched the blond disappear into the night and thought, Josh is hooking up with someone. The thought had been in the back of my mind for months but only now, as I stood in the sexy airs of Boystown, did it all fall into place: the element of evasion in his behavior which had never been there before, the vagueness about where he was going, and when he would be coming back.

I knew he had occasionally slept with other men. He was thirteen years younger than me and while we’d been monogamous for the first two years, he got hit on all the time, and it wasn’t realistic for me to expect that he wouldn’t be tempted by at least some of the offers. Also, I suspected his HIV-status held him back, part of his shame at having been infected and I wanted him to overcome it, even if it meant he slept around a bit. So, we talked it out and came up with some rules—don’t bring anyone to the house, no staying out overnight and remember where home is. Josh was discreet, but this was different. This wasn’t being discreet, this was hiding something and I feared that what he was hiding wasn’t that he was having sex with another guy, but that he was in love with him.

“Henry.”

I glanced back at Freeman. He was holding the door open.

We stepped inside to a darkened room.

“Deeds,” I called. A sliver of light seeped out from beneath a door at the other end of the room. I went over and knocked. “Jimmy, are you in there?”

When there was no answer, I turned the knob and shoved the door open.

“Oh, shit,” Freeman muttered.

A naked Jimmy Dee sat sloppily on the toilet, his head tilted back at an angle that would have hurt had he been alive. A needle was still jammed into his arm. His mouth was open and he stared up at a water stain on the ceiling in the shape of Africa.

I closed the door and said to Freeman, “Go call 911.”

After he left, I switched on the light and looked around the room. Deeds’s clothes were in a pile at the foot of the unmade bed. There was a twenty on the nightstand, wages for his last trick, no doubt. On the dresser was a little pile of papers. I examined them and found my card, some phone numbers and an envelope addressed to Judge Ryan with the return address of SafeHouse, the same rehab that Gus Peña had been in. I tucked the envelope into my pocket.

Josh had left the kitchen window open and the room smelled faintly of the anise that grew wild down the side of the hill from our house. He wasn’t there. I poured myself a glass of water and sat down at the kitchen table with the envelope I’d taken from Deeds’s room. Inside was a letter from Edith Rosen, M.F.C.C., attesting to the fact that Deeds was scheduled to enter SafeHouse the following Monday, three days hence.

“You little shit,” I said aloud, more in grief than anger. In my work, I was used to losing, but I thought I’d staked out a tiny victory with Deeds.

But then, I’d had a weakness for junkies, for their defeated, helpless charm. Of course, I knew better. My own fight with the bottle had taught me intimately everything there was to know about addiction. Drunks and junkies all had a big hole in their gut that sucked in panic like Pandora’s box in reverse unless it was filled by booze or a fix. Eventually, that stopped working, and the panic went out of control until the only thing left was dying. Sometimes, like Deeds, death is what you got and some­times, like me, you were given a reprieve, but there was no logic about it. Even if you lived, the panic was still there. It only faded when you began to see it for what it was, the long drop from darkness to darkness, and you stopped fighting.

At that moment I could feel the panic elbowing me, tossing up the image of Deeds in that grisly motel bathroom, reminding me of every grisly room through which I had stumbled drunk, so close to dying myself. And when that didn’t get me going, the panic asked, “Where’s Josh?” a surefire tactic. I got up from the kitchen table and went into the bedroom, switching on the lamp and stretching out on the bed, still unmade from that morning. A book was half buried in the covers, the paperback edition of Borrowed Time, Paul Monette’s moving tale of his lover’s death of AIDS. Josh had been reading it.

It was after eleven. The demonstration was certainly over by now.

I sat up and fumbled for the TV remote control, flicking on the set at the foot of the bed. I switched channels until I found some local news, looking for a report about the Act Up demonstration. Instead, I found myself watching Gus Peña, standing against the backdrop of the city council chamber, his arm draped around his son. Peña was saying, “My kids have always made me proud, now I want them to be able to say the same thing about me.” Little Peña didn’t seem to be buying it.

Watching them, I thought of my father, and about pride and about betrayal. I shut off the TV, got undressed and into bed, ready for a long night.

“How was the demonstration?” I asked the next morning, pouring myself a cup of coffee as I waited for my bagel to toast. I had been asleep when Josh came in. Waking beside him, my face against his bare back, I had breathed another man’s smell on his body.

Shaggy-haired and heavy-lidded, he sat at the kitchen table in boxers, mixing an assortment of liquid vitamins into his organic cranberry juice.

He looked up at me. “It was great! The cops turned up in riot gear. You could tell they were terrified that one of us might bite them.”

“Anyone get arrested?”

He finished mixing his holistic cocktail. “No, the cops told us that Antonovich wasn’t even in town, so after an hour we split.”

The toaster oven clicked and I retrieved my bagel. Buttering it, I asked, as casually as I could manage, “What did you do then?”

“Drove Steven home,” he said, straining for equal nonchalance. “Sat and talked to him for a while. Did you find your client?”

I sat down at the table. “Yes, as a matter of fact. In a motel room in Boystown. He was dead.”

“Murdered?” he asked, putting his drink down.

“Overdose.”

“I’m sorry. I know how much you liked that kid.”

I crunched into the bagel. “Not as much as I like you.”

I watched him take a slug of juice, watched the muscles in his neck contract as he weighed a response. “What do you mean?”

“Who are you sleeping with?”

Without hesitation, he replied. “Steven.”

I thought back. Our house had become a kind of activists’ club­house and frequently I came home to find a meeting raging in the living room. Though Josh had introduced me to many of the men and women who attended these sessions, their faces blurred in my mind into a single youthful face flushed with excitement and anger. Steven?

Then I saw him. About my height, muscular, good-looking. Not one of the big talkers, but the others listened when he did speak. Josh had mentioned once that Steven was one of the oldest surviving PWAs in the group, having been diagnosed five years earlier.

Josh was speaking, “I kept meaning to tell you, but it seems like we never see each other anymore…”

“Are you saying this happened because I’ve neglected you?”

“No,” he said. “It happened because I fell in love with him.”

“Are you sure it’s not because you fell in love with his diagnosis?”

He stared at me in disbelief, and then fury.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean that.”

“You meant it all right,” he said, pushing his chair back from the table. He stalked out of the house. I heard his car start up. I didn’t think he would be coming back soon.

Blurb:

Winner of six Lambda Literary awards, the Henry Rios mystery series is iconic and Michael Nava has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of our best” writers. In The Hidden Law, Rios delves deeply into his Latino identity as he defends a young man charged with assassinating a prominent Los Angeles Latino politician. The San Francisco Chronicle hailed the novel and its author: “A beautifully conceived but gritty novel . . . . Nava writes the kind of small, clean, powerful novels that build in emotional power almost invisibly, leaving us breathless at the end.”

More about Michael Nava

Michael Nava

Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of eight novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios who The New Yorker,called “a detective unlike any previous protagonist in American noir.” The New York Times Book Reviewhas called Nava “one of our best” writers. He is also the author of an award-winning historical novel, TheCity of Palaces, set at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican revolution. In addition, he is the writer/producer of the Henry Rios Mysteries Podcastwhich adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head into an 18-episode audio drama. In 2019, he also founded Persigo Press, through which he hopes to publish LGBTQ writers and writers of color who write genre fiction that combines fidelity to the conventions of their genre with exceptional literary merit.

Exclusive Excerpt: FreeForm (Jas Anderson Book 1) by Jack Dickson

Excerpt:

“Mhairi? It’s DS Anderson …”

 “Ah dinney ken ony DS Anderson. Fuck aff!”

 Jas lowered his voice. “DS Anderson – London Road. Remember?” They’d been close, he and Mhairi … Jas smiled: the nearest thing he’d had to a friend in the days before Leigh.

“Fuck aff, polis!” A harsh laugh. “Ah’ve had enougha yous tae last me a lifetime.”

“Come on, Mhairi …” He kicked the bottom of the door. It didn’t give an inch. “… open up. It’s Jas – ah’ve bin talkin’ tae Ali.”

Silence. Then: “Ali? Ali who?”

 Jas laughed. “Ali-fuckin’ Baba! Ali Rehmandi – remember? Ali’s worried aboot ye, Mhairi. Ah wis worried aboot ye tae.”

Scrapings, bolts unbolted, chains unchained. Slowly, the door opened a crack. A jaundiced eye peered at him. “Jas? Big Jas?”

“Aye, Mhairi … can ah come in?”

The door burst open and a thin arm grabbed his. “Get inside, ya stupit fuck … whit ye dain’ roon here?” He was pulled into the flat.

In the unlit hall, Mhairi carefully re-did dead-bolts and the three-foot metal security bar which ran the breadth of the door.

Jas waited. She turned, pressing fingers into his chest.

“Go on through, man.”

Jas made his way through to the lounge. Mhairi followed. The walls were a lurid orange, the carpet new, a static-inducing brown nylon. There was no furniture to speak of. A couple of blankets lay in a corner, along with a blue sleeping-bag. Three large holdalls slouched in a corner, spilling what looked like black PVC. A small TV sat perkily on a cardboard box. The room was tidy and clean. Jas walked to the curtainless window, before turning. “It’s bin a while, Mhairi.”

Long, dark hair hung across her face. She wore red sweat-pants and a baggy white top. Large, black trainers housed small feet. She looked impossibly young. Smack … the fountain of youth. At 5′ 4″ Mhairi was smaller, thinner than Jas remembered …

She pushed back the hair.

… but the eyes were the same, just a little yellower. Blue pupils stared out of a Dresden face which was pale as the china, hard as the bombing-raids. The mouth was set in a red curl, mocked by the long crescent scar which linked right eye to a birthmark above top lip. Drawn by a crazed dot-to-dot fanatic whose hand had slipped, the wound glared defiantly at Jas.

She laughed. The scar twitched.

“Hid a good look, hiv ye?” Mhairi walked to the TV and lifted a packet of cigarettes.

Jas had heard about the attack, but not seen the result. Like Dali’s ‘St. John’, Mhairi had survived wanton vandalism, but apparently rejected any restoration attempts. She wore her damage like a badge, flaunting it.

She jiggled a cigarette in his direction.

He shook his head and moved closer. Gently, he traced the length of the scar-tissue with the back of a finger. It was knobbly, rough beneath his touch.

Remaining stationary, Mhairi grabbed his wrist. “Didney think you were intae wimmin … but that’ll be ten quid, onyway.” She grinned. The scar twitched again. “Ah’ll dae you a special rate. The punters pay fifteen tae touch it, twenty tae lick it.”

Jas laughed, enjoying the rapport. “Easy money, eh Mhairi?”

She let go his wrist and lit a cigarette. “Maybe the Johnstones did me a favour.” She exhaled noisily, blowing a smoke-ring. “Huvney opened ma legs in months. Nae need.” She fingered her means of production. “Maest’re happy jist lookin’, then ah toss them aff. A few are intae the rough stuff …” She pointed to the holdalls. “… but that’s nae hassle, eether.” She smiled. “Gies me a chance tae dress up!” Mhairi shook her head, disbelieving. “Corrective Services …” She pronounced the words awkwardly. “Never knew there wur so many weirdos …” She corrected herself. “… gentlemen of exotic tastes, in Glasgow …” She sat down.

Jas joined her on the floor. “Take aw’ sorts, Mhairi.”

An ironic smile. “You’d be the expert, man!” Sigh. “If ah’d kent that earlier, ah couldda retired by noo. As it is …” She looked down at her hands.

“Still oan the junk, ah hear.”

She nodded. “Aye …” She puffed on the cigarette. “… but at least ah’m aff the streets.” Pause. “’ Member Chrissy?”

Jas remembered. “Ah wis sorry tae hear aboot …”

“Jist a kid.” The voice was low, tinged with sadness. “Couldney get by on the social, no wi’ Tony’s habit an’ aw …”

At eighteen, Christine McGhee’s semi-cremated body had been discovered, naked, three months ago on waste ground. Stabbed twenty-five times. Her common-law husband was currently in custody, awaiting trial.

“Did it tae feed the kids, only the wance. Some psycho … no’ Tony.” Anger. “Doesney seem fair. At least ah kent whit ah wis dain’ …” She looked at Jas.

He nodded.

“The risks …” She pulled off a black trainer and rubbed a foot. Between toes red puncture marks dotted the white skin. “… we aw’ take risks, eh man? The risk ye take tae block-oot another risk can turn oan ye.”

Jas frowned. Life was full of risks … of one sort or another. Risks helped fill the emptiness. Mhairi laughed again. “Aw’ this, an’ ah’m still alive an’ clean as a whistle … ’part fae the hepatitis …”

“Lucka the draw, Mhairi. Ye must have a guardian angel up there, somewhere …” They sat silently together on the floor. Through the wall, from the next flat, an agonised moan.

Mhairi finished her cigarette, killed it in the ashtray. “So, Big Man – tae whit dae ah owe the pleasure?” She stood up almost jauntily.

“Ah had a word wi’ Jimmy Mygo.”

Nod. “So ah heard. Wish ah’d seen it. Whit that bastard did tae that wee boay …” Anger, then pity. “The polis chuck ye oot?”

 “Suspended, but that’s the leasta ma worries. Ali says the brothers Grimm ur efter me. Ah need tae git tae them first, Mhairi. Ye heard anythin’ else?”

Mhairi walked to the far side of the room, paused. “They’ll no’ be well pleased,” she murmured, “that’s fur sure. But ah’ve a feelin’ they’ll no’ dae much aboot it. Jimmy wiz an … embarrassment tae them.”

“They still nickin’ cors?”

 Headshake, then laugh. “Naw … almost legit, noo, the Johnstones. Big garage – ‘valeting’ they call it. Flash motors …”

Jas remembered the spinning wheels and screaming brakes of a white BMW.

“Still runnin’ the girls, on the side, though,” she continued. “Coupla boys too, nooadays, fae whit ah’ve bin telt … young boys.”

Jas frowned. “Diversification – the mark of the real entrepreneur!”

Mhairi looked puzzled. “Onyway,” she went on, “ah’d stay well oota their way, Jas.” Pause. “Hey … ye don’t want me tae start snoutin’ fur ye again, or anything?” She crouched down.

“Naw … you did yer bit.”

“’ Cos ah’ve goat a new guy …”

Jas rubbed the broken skin on his knuckles.

“Toap man.” Mhairi smiled. “Pays better than you ever did!”

“That’s between you an’ him, Mhairi … dae ah ken the guy?”

She shook her head. “Stewart Street … canny tell ye onything else.”

Jas understood. He got up. “Know where the Johnstones’re livin’ these days?”

“Movin’ aboot, fae whit ah hear. Nowhere near here, though – thank fuck!” Her voice leaked concern. “Don’t go lookin’ fur trouble, Jas … let it lie.”

BLURB:

A tough gay thriller set in the criminal underworld of Glasgow, Scotland.Set in the derelict inner-city of Glasgow’s Dennistoun, FreeForm introduces a tough new gay cop, Detective-Sergeant Jas Anderson. A violent anti-hero, suspended from duty for assault when the story opens, Jas is the natural suspect when Leigh, his lover and partner in a heavy S/M relationship, is found brutally murdered. Now on the run and struggling to clear his name, Jas uncovers Leigh’s involvement in a blackmail ring, and even his lover’s identity becomes confused. Film-noir in inspiration, vividly characterised, and authentically exposing the raw nerves of Thatcherite Britain, FreeForm is set to appeal to a wide readership.

This edition is accompanied by an exclusive 2019 foreword by Clive King.

More About Author Jack Dickson

Jack Dickson – former bass player with Gomorrah and the Sodomites, fashionisto and classically trained pianist (Grade VIII, distinction!) – works and lives in the east end of Glasgow with his partner and his Jack Russell, Dixie. A novelist, screenwriter and currently playwright, Jack continues to obsess over the damaged, charismatic mavericks who fill his novels. Shamelessly mining the world around him and beyond, he writes about junkies and babies, old ladies and ash trees, soldiers and Afghani dancing boys: ordinary people just trying to plough a furrow for themselves through difficult landscapes. When he’s not doing this, Jack himself enjoys a charmed life teaching T’ai Chi, baking his own bread and wandering the Easterhouse marshlands looking (these days!) for buzzards and water voles. He’s the world’s most productive layabout, who was always urged to get a proper job. And still hasn’t. Jack is super chuffed that ReQueered Tales are republishing the “Jas Anderson Investigates” series.

Buy Links:

US link:  https://www.amazon.com/FreeForm-Jas-Anderson-Book-1-ebook/dp/B07T2F8B96/
UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/FreeForm-Jas-Anderson-Book-1-ebook/dp/B07T2F8B96/
Canadian link: https://www.amazon.ca/FreeForm-Jas-Anderson-Book-1-ebook/dp/B07T2F8B96/

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Howtown: A Henry Rios Novel (The Henry Rios Mysteries Book 4) by Michael Nava

Excerpt:

The phone rang just as I’d finished lacing my brand-new Nikes. “Ben?”

“Yeah, I’m downstairs in the lobby.”

I glanced out the window. It was just getting to be dusk. “Still hot outside?” I asked.

“Not too bad. It’ll be nice and fresh by the river.”

“Give me five minutes.”

He was downstairs, looking nervously out of place in his black running shorts and Los Robles Police Department singlet. He smiled when I appeared, and I was again struck by the contrast between his heavily muscled body and round, little boy’s face—he looked like he’d stuck his head through one of those muscleman cardboard cutouts.

“You ready, Mr. Rios?”

“If we’re going to parade down River Parkway half-naked,” I said, “you’re going to have to stop calling me Mr. Rios. Try Henry.”

“Sure, Henry. Ready?”

It had been months since I’d run. “As ready as I’m going to get.”

We walked the few blocks from the Hyatt to the river’s edge.

“Where’s your friend?” Ben asked abruptly as we approached Old Towne.

I glanced at him, but he looked intently ahead. “Josh? He went back to LA.” I hesitated, then added, “Listen, about that crack he made, Ben. I’m sorry if it embarrassed you.”

“Different strokes for different folks,” he said, with forced nonchalance.

I couldn’t think of an appropriate platitude to answer him with and we walked on to the river in awkward silence.

A bike path went upriver from the newly renovated waterfront to a park about seven miles away. I figured I was good for three.

“I need to stretch,” I said. “You?”

“No, I’m good.”

While he stood watching, I went through my stretching routine waking slumbering joints and muscles. They weren’t gracious about being called back into service, but slowly, and sullenly, they responded.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready.”

We started at a slow warmup trot, passing the T-shirt shops and fast-food restaurants that now occupied the brick structures that had been the original city. It was warmish, still, and the air was thick with light the color of honey. Briefly, a motorboat shattered the green surface of the river. Soon we were out of Old Towne and into a wooded area between the river and a levee.

Away from the cars and businesses and people, the air was fresher, and the odor different, mixing the smell of the muddy earth and anise, and some underlying scent of vegetable decay I’d never smelled anywhere other than by the banks of this river and took me back, as if each step carried me into the past. Stands of bamboo obscured the river at points, but then we would pass an open space and it reappeared, leaves and spores of cottonwood glancing its surface. The sky was beginning to change, darken, and the sun was slipping out of view in a slow smoke of red and orange and violet.

Our pace had steadily increased and now, as we passed a wooden mile marker, I felt my breath deepen, my legs relax and my arms develop a rhythm instead of simply jerking at my sides. We’d been running abreast but I knew that if Ben increased the pace I’d have to drop behind. I found myself remembering my boyhood runs along the river with Mark Windsor.

Except for the methodical rasp of our breathing, Mark and I had run in silence. Occasionally one of us would see something at the side of the trail, a covey of quail or a skunk or some hippie’s marijuana patch, and would nudge the other to alert him to the sight. Mostly, though, we just ran, side by side as if yoked together, and I had the absolute certainty that everything I was seeing, Mark was seeing at the same moment with the same eyes. I’d never felt so much a part of another person as I did then; it was what sex was supposed to be like but, as I discovered soon enough, seldom was.

When we stopped one of us would say, “Good run,” or “Hard run,” and we’d strip off as much of our clothing as we thought we could get away with and dash into the river. There for the rest of the afternoon we’d swim and float, sit on the bank, again not saying much. In fact, I never knew what Mark was actually thinking or how he felt. I just assumed that he was as happy to be with me as I was to be with him. At twilight we’d get dressed and go to our respective houses for dinner and I wouldn’t see him until the next day. Sometimes it was only the thought of the next day’s run that got me through those tense meals with my volcanic, disapproving father.

Ben and I were coming up on two miles. I was still holding my own, but I could hear the rattle at the end of my exhalations. It seemed as good a time as any to get on with my purpose in having suggested this outing.

“What did you think about the prelim?” I asked.

Ben glanced over at me, sweat beading at his hairline. “It was real interesting. I never testified before except one time for drunk driving. How come you didn’t ask me any questions?”

“Were you disappointed?”

He managed a quick laugh. “Relieved. I saw how you went after Morrow.”

“There was nothing hinky about your testimony. Morrow, on the other hand.” I stopped talking to catch my breath before adding, “I didn’t expect those pictures, though. Had you seen them before?”

He worried his brow. “Should we be talking about this?”

“What’s the harm?” I panted. “Everything was laid out at the prelim.” I jogged a couple of steps before adding. “Wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, sure.” He speeded up a little, forcing me into overdrive.

“The pictures surprised me, that’s all. Makes me kind of wonder if the DA has anything else up his sleeve.”

“Don’t know,” he replied, uncomfortably. Eyes forward he added, “I don’t know much about the case. They just brought me in on the search.”

“I know,” I said. It was getting harder for me to keep up my end of the conversation as we passed the two-mile mark. “You know, Ben, getting a conviction’s not too hard in most criminal cases. The hard part is making it stick on appeal.”

He looked at me. “What do you mean?”

I slackened our pace. “The DA has to win fair,” I said, “or it’s no good. I figure I’ve already got three or four grounds to appeal if Paul gets convicted.”

We slowed even more. “Like what?” he asked, intently.

“There’s that bogus search warrant,” I replied, “and then the way the judge ran all over me at the prelim. But the biggest thing is those pictures. Paul says he didn’t take them. He says that roll of film had pictures of something else.” We were trotting now. “I have a witness who’ll back him up.”

“Uh-huh,” Ben said, and quickened the pace. “Who?”

“I’m afraid I can’t say. It gets into his alibi.” For a few minutes we ran in silence. My knees were complaining. To shut them up, I said, “I believe my witness. So, I also have to believe that someone switched the film you took from Paul’s car with the film those pictures at the prelim came from.”

“Uh-huh,” he repeated, increasing his speed again. Sweat ran down his face, and soaked his singlet.

“Can we slow down?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, but didn’t.

“Are we at three miles yet?”

“Just about.”

“Let’s turn around.”

“One more mile.”

“There’s still three miles back.”

“One more,” he said, and spurted off.

Watching his thick legs pumping, I muttered, “Jerk,” took as deep a breath as I could and pushed on, managing to stay a few draggy paces behind him. Now, though, it was painful to breathe and my legs were cramping. Meanwhile it was also getting dark and there were small eruptions of sound from the riverbank, crickets, frogs, muskrats slithering across the mud and into the water. We passed a lacy railroad bridge, unused for decades.

“I’m done,” I shouted, when we got to four miles. “I’m heading back.”

He looked at me over his shoulder. “Two miles to the park,” was all he said.

“Asshole,” I thought and prepared to turn around and start back. I figured this was his macho revenge for my having impugned the integrity of the cops. The sight of his broad back as he stripped off his singlet enraged me. I’d been running this trail when he was still in grade school and I was damned if I was going to give up. I pushed on, waiting for that moment when my body’d go into overdrive and break through the pain. It had been a long time since I’d called upon it to break that barrier and I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore. But I carried less bulk than he did and I’d been at this for a lot longer. Long enough to know that he had speed but no strategy for a long run. Strategy was all I had left.

At about four and a half miles, just when I seemed to be losing sight of him in the darkness and the distance, my breath evened itself out and the pain in my legs subsided. Up ahead, his pace slackened, all that muscle weighing him down. Resisting the impulse to spend everything in a sprint to overtake him, I increased my speed just to the edge of pain and kept it there, testing that limit, accustoming my body to it.

At five miles I was close enough to see that his running was getting sloppy and wayward. A moment later I was alongside of him, listening to his shaky breath. Glancing over I saw sweat pouring down his chest, the strain in his face. Although I knew that it must be almost chilly now, my skin was so hot that I dried up my own sweat.

And then the pain lifted and I saw with incredible clarity the pavement beneath my feet, the curl in Ben’s fingers, the dark leaves in the bushes along the trail, the moon rising above the levee. I felt myself smile and with a choppy breath surged forward a step, then two, then three, until I was running ahead of him, high on the euphoria of the effort. It no longer mattered whether he caught up or not, or how long I ran or that my body was knotted in pain just beneath the euphoria—I was ready to run until I dropped.

At mile six I turned around and could no longer see him. Ahead was the entrance to the park. I came in at a jog and then slowed to a walk. Tomorrow would be torture but at that moment I was sixteen again. A few minutes later, Ben shuffled in, veered off toward some bushes and threw up.

He came up to me, wiping his mouth on his singlet.

“Good run,” I said. “Are you ready to head back?”

“You’re shittin’ me, right? I can barely walk.”

“You’re the one who pushed it.”

“Let’s head up to the road and flag down a black-and-white. They patrol the park every half hour.”

When he’d recovered, we walked up the levee road and stood there shivering in the darkness. On the other side of the levee a field stretched away into the night beneath the moon. Although my knees ached and my chest was wracked with pain each time I drew a breath, I still felt wonderful.

“You okay?” I asked Ben. His face was tense.

“You run pretty good for an old man,” was all he said. A few minutes later, a black-and-white came down the road and he flagged it down. It took us back to the Hyatt.

Outside the hotel I asked, “Where did you park, Ben?”

“In the lot,” he said, “downstairs.”

“I’ll walk you to your car.”

We went into the lobby and took the elevator to the parking lot, saying nothing. I walked him to his car, an old Chevy lovingly cared for. He leaned against the driver’s door and grinned at me.

“Man, you’re a ringer.”

“Were you trying to kill me out there?”

“I guess I got kind of pissed off at you when you were talking about those pictures.” He wiped sweat from his forehead. “Anyway, it doesn’t make sense, about switching the film. Morrow booked it right away.”

“Two hours after the search,” I corrected him.

“It takes that long to do the paperwork.”

I didn’t want to admit that I’d also thought of this. A car skidded around the corner. “I just wanted to give you something to think about.”

“Why me?” he asked. “Morrow’s the one you should talk to.”

“I know. I was talking about Morrow.”

He frowned. “I told you, Morrow’s my compadre,” he said, using the Spanish expression that described a friend whom one thought of almost as kin.

I persisted. “Morrow was the investigator the last time Paul was arrested. You’re the one who told me he was pissed when Paul got off. Maybe he’s trying to make up for that.”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“Think about it,” I replied, shivering in the chilly subterranean air. “You know, we’re all ultimately on the same side, Ben. We all want to see that justice is done. People who commit crimes should be punished, but only for the crimes they actually commit.”

“The dirtbags get off all the time,” he said. “Thanks to guys like you.”

“Are you thinking of a particular dirtbag?”

“You’re cold,” he replied. He opened the door of his car, reached in and pulled out a sweatshirt and handed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, slipping it on.

He stood irresolutely for a moment. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Are you really like that?”

“Like what?” I asked, genuinely confused.

He looked at me. “You know, someone who likes guys.”

“Oh, that. Yeah, I’m gay.”

He turned his face away slightly not, it seemed to me, in disgust, but because he didn’t want me to see what was going on in his eyes.

“And the guy who came to the door in his skivvies, you were in bed with him?”

“Josh. Yeah. He’s my partner.”

“Why did he say that thing about me joining you guys?”

I studied his expression. He seemed neither particularly upset nor even especially embarrassed.

“He was joking, Ben.”

He considered this for a moment and in a low voice asked, “What if I had said yes?”

“Are you trying to tell me something?”

And then, as if awakening himself, he shook his head, opened the door of his car again and said, firmly, “I have to go.”

“Here,” I said, taking off the sweatshirt.

“You can give it back to me next time,” he said, getting into the car. He rolled down the window. “Thanks for the run.”

“See you, Ben.”

“Yeah, see you.”

I stood aside and let him back out. He waved and drove off. I waved back and headed up to my room, thinking I owed Josh an apology. Standing next to the car, talking about Josh and me, Ben had been getting a hard-on. Bl

Blurb:

Winner of six Lambda Literary awards, the Henry Rios mystery series is iconic and Michael Nava has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of our best” crime writers. Upon its original publication, the Los Angeles Times said of Howtown and its author: “ Nava’s mysteries are faithful to the conventions of the genre, but they are set apart by their insight, compassion and sense of social justice . . .. How Town is Nava’s bravest and most ambitious novel to date.”
This 2019 edition from Persigo Press has been revised and an author’s note added.
Howtown finds Rios back in his hometown of Los Robles, California defending Paul Windsor, a boyhood acquaintance accusing of murdering a pedophile. Windsor is himself a pedophile and the police believe the murder was the result of an extortion scheme gone wrong. It’s up to Rios to prove otherwise, if he can. To do that, he has to confront the ghosts of his past that still linger in the sleepy river town. Simultaneously, the novel explores Rios’s relationship with his HIV-positive lover, Josh Mandel. 
This is a revised edition with an author’s end-note.

More About Author Michael Nava

Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of eight novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios who The New Yorker,called “a detective unlike any previous protagonist in American noir.” The New York Times Book Review has called Nava “one of our best” writers. He is also the author of an award-winning historical novel, The City of Palaces, set at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican revolution. In addition, he is the writer/producer of the Henry Rios Mysteries Podcast which adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head into an 18-episode audio drama. In 2019, he also founded Persigo Press, through which he hopes to publish LGBTQ writers and writers of color who write genre fiction that combines fidelity to the conventions of their genre with exceptional literary merit.

Obsessed to Death: A Jamie Brodie Mystery (Jamie Brodie Mysteries Book 18) By Meg Perry

Excerpt

Christine was up before we finished eating and downed her own healthy serving of oatmeal. Once we were dressed and had packed food and water, we loaded Ammo into our Jeep – dogs were welcome on the trail, as long as they were leashed – and headed back to the mountains and the Mescalero reservation.

We checked in at the Inn of the Mountain Gods to inform them of our plans and were granted permission – a necessary formality, according to Meredith – then donned our backpacks and headed out. The lake was formed by the damming of Carrizo Creek. We circled it once then allowed Meredith to lead us away from the lake, on the service road that ran past the golf course. 

We were strolling along comfortably, chatting and laughing. Ammo was trotting along beside me, occasionally stopping to investigate a scent but generally staying right at my heel as he’d been trained. So it caught me off guard when he suddenly stopped, head up, sniffing the air, then took off up the mountain slope.

I yelped, “Ammo, stop!” But for the first time since we’d adopted him, he disobeyed. I had no choice but to follow. Chris and Meredith straggled behind.

Deep into a stand of trees, Ammo slowed. He was sniffing the air, adjusting his course accordingly. A tiny pool of disquiet began to settle in my chest… because Ammo, a certified cadaver dog, was certainly behaving as if he was scenting a corpse.

After another hundred yards or so, we came upon a campsite. Ammo stopped, then sat and woofed softly. In Ammo-speak, “There’s a body here.”

Indeed there was. The body – a heavyset man – was sitting in a low-slung folding chair by a defunct campfire. He was wearing outdoor-appropriate clothing, a knit cap, and boots. His head was hanging down, his chin drooping to his chest.

I said, “Hello? Sir?”

No response. I tiptoed closer. “Sir?” 

Nothing. I bent down to see his face. His eyes were half-open and clouded over, his lips and skin blue-white.

Chris and Meredith scrambled up to the site and stopped. Chris asked, “What’s… who’s that?”

“I don’t know, but he’s dead.”

Chris took an involuntary step back. Meredith asked, “Are you sure?”

I tugged off one glove and tentatively touched the man’s jawline. His skin was cold and felt stiff. I said, “I’m sure.”

Meredith had her phone out. “I’ll call 911.”

Chris and I spoke in stereo. “You have a signal?

“I have an Iridium Go device. I’m on the reservation for work often enough, I need to be able to call and text from anywhere in these mountains.” She dialed, then identified herself and described our findings and location.

Then we waited. 

Chris and Meredith went back down the hill to the service road we’d been on so they could guide the responders. I moved myself and Ammo away from the tent and looked around.

There was no sign of anyone else. A one-man tent was pitched a few feet away from where the man sat. A Thermos was on the ground beside his chair.

A lone camper who suffered a heart attack or stroke and died by his fire? 

Possible that he’d only been incapacitated by the precipitating event, then froze to death.

I shuddered. Then I remembered that I hadn’t praised Ammo for a job well done. I dug treats out of my backpack – “good boy, Ammo, way to go” – and hoped that would suffice. Our standard procedure to reward Ammo after a successful training session was to play tug of war with his favorite rope bone. I hadn’t brought it; I never considered that I might need it.

After about twenty minutes, I heard vehicles on the road below. A couple of paramedics came crashing up the hill, equipment in tow. They were followed by a cop, a young Native guy, who said, “Stay right there, if you would, sir.”

“Yes, sir.” I stayed.

The paramedics approached the body and shook his shoulder. “Sir?” They attempted to lift him from the chair and stopped. One of the paramedics said, “He’s either in full rigor or frozen.”

The cop said, “Shit. Is he native?”

“Nope. Appears to be Anglo.”

The cop turned to me. “Sir, stay put. I’ll be right back.”

I continued to stay put. The paramedics followed the cop back down the hill. A few minutes later, he returned, alone. “All right. I’m Officer Mike Chavez, Mescalero Police. You’re family of Ms. Lagai?”

“Yes, sir.” I explained.

“Tell me what happened.”

I told. Chavez eyed Ammo with interest. “Cadaver dog, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Cool.” Chavez scanned the area around the tent. “His fire went out.”

“Yeah.”

Chavez sighed. “Why the hell do people camp alone?”

“Um. Seeking solitude?”

He grunted. “Okay, Mr. Brodie, I have to wait here for a physician to declare the death. Give me your address and phone number in case I have any follow-up questions then you and the ladies are free to go.”

At the bottom of the hill, the paramedics were still there, sitting inside the cab of their ambulance. Meredith and Chris were pacing. When they saw me, Chris asked, “Do we have to stay?”

“No. Do you want to keep hiking or go home?”

Meredith and Chris exchanged a look. Meredith said, “I’d rather keep going.”

Chris nodded. “So would I.”

“Suits me.”

We headed further out the service road we’d been on. Meredith pointed out a few native plants along the way, and the dead guy slipped from the forefront of our minds.

When we reversed course and passed the point where Ammo had taken off, a battered four-wheel-drive pickup truck was parked at the side of the road. The ambulance was still there, but the paramedics weren’t. The back doors of the squad vehicle were open, and the stretcher was gone.

Back at the house, Pete had spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove. He boiled some linguine, and we dug in, ravenous, telling him of our adventures while we Hoovered our dinner. When we got to the part with the corpse, Pete whistled softly. “Wow. Ammo’s first real body.”

“I know, and I didn’t have his rope toy.”

Chris said, “With your habit of stumbling over bodies, you should probably carry one with you at all times.”

Pete and Meredith laughed. I spluttered. “Hey! At least this was a natural death, for once.”

I should have known better.

Blurb

When Jamie Brodie’s dog sniffs out a corpse at a campsite on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, Jamie thinks, “At least it’s a natural death this time.” Not so fast. The dead man is freelance investigative reporter Danny Norman, and he was on the trail of a major story. Who or what was Danny about to expose? Meanwhile, Jamie’s husband, Pete Ferguson, is behaving strangely: careening from one obsession to the next, neglecting the classes he’s teaching, and refusing to admit that there’s anything wrong. 
Jamie needs answers to two questions: What happened to Danny Norman? And, more importantly, what the heck is going on with his husband?

More About Author, Meg Perry

Learn more about author Meg Perry and her Jamie Brodie Mystery series via her website:

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From Meg’s website:

“I’ve been writing the Jamie Brodie Mysteries since June 2012. Hard to believe! Jamie is (like me) an academic librarian. Not like me, he’s a gay man, a Rhodes Scholar, a rugby player, a son, brother, uncle…and boyfriend (eventually, husband). Jamie’s boyfriend (eventual husband) is psychology professor Pete Ferguson, and they share a townhouse in Santa Monica, CA.”

Exclusive Excerpt: A Body To Dye For (Stan Kraychik Book 1) by Grant Michaels

Excerpt

I opened the door and he was there, all six feet of him. My senses switched to slow motion to take it all in. He stood with his weight shifted onto one of his long, muscular legs. His blue-gray eyes glittered.  Though recently shaven, his beard cast a bluish shadow against his satin olive complexion. He didn’t smile, but I knew when he did, it would be luminous. His curly dark hair was tousled. An aroma of balsam surrounded him. One second had passed. 

“You got trouble here?” he asked, restraining the natural power in his resonant voice. A clean white cotton shirt was slightly wrinkled; a striped necktie lay loosened at the collar; sleeves were rolled to expose powerful, hirsute forearms; gray pleated slacks tried in vain to conceal the assertive strength in his loins; shiny black loafers enveloped broad feet with high insteps. When my gaze returned to his face, I saw his eyes looking straight into my own, and felt a Mediterranean zephyr caress my face. Two seconds. 

“Who are you?” he asked curtly. 

“Stan Kraychik,” I answered. 

He pushed his way by me, and three other cops followed him. I heard him say, “Lieutenant Branco,” as he went by. Of the other three cops, one was a plainclothes officer in his late twenties. I sized up his compact body and styled blond hair. A fitting assistant, I thought, but maybe a little too cute and cool. The wedding band on his left hand relieved some of the mystique. 

Another of the three cops was a uniformed officer, a hefty woman almost as tall as Branco. Her arms and shoulders dwarfed mine. Her features were dark and rough, but I sensed a warmth in her. 

The last cop was the lab expert, a reedy black man slightly taller than me. His big bright teeth took up one-fourth of his face when he smiled, which he seemed to do easily. He seemed too gentle to be a cop. 

Branco looked around the room quickly, but I could see him register every detail in a computer-like mind. He scribbled words into a small black notebook while he surveyed the room— and me. “There’ll be more personnel arriving shortly. Now, what happened here?” 

I tried to answer coolly. “Someone’s not breathing in the bedroom. No pulse either.” My stomach lurched again and a tremor ran up and down my spine. Branco nodded to his assistant and the lab man to go check out the body. Suddenly we heard the frenzy of banging drawers and slamming closet doors, even the flushing of a toilet. Branco whirled at me. “Someone else here?” 

I rolled my eyes and nodded, as though letting him in on a secret. “You bet.” I began to explain, but was interrupted by Calvin’s arrival from the hallway. He’d put on a puffy salmon-colored cotton shirt and baggy white linen pants. The stuff was expensive, just the perfect togs for a Palm Beach reception, but it was out of season in Boston. I was surprised that Calvin could commit such a fashion blunder. He was under more stress than I thought. 

Calvin looked Branco up and down. “Well!” he exclaimed, “I thought that blond you sent to the bedroom was a nice piece, but the prize bull is definitely out here.” 

Branco ignored the comment. (Was he used to it?) Instead he spoke brusquely to Calvin. “Who are you?” 

“I live here. So the real question is, who are you?” His voice quivered with an artificially induced energy. 

Branco said evenly, “Lieutenant Branco, homicide.” 

“No uniform? How do I know you’re a cop?” Branco flashed his badge. Calvin looked at the badge, then at Branco. He said. “You seem quite real, Mr. Bronco.” I was certain Calvin had mispronounced the name intentionally. He continued, “I’m Calvin Redding and I own this flat. And some rather unpleasant events seem to have occurred this evening. I hope your men will able to set everything straight.” The female officer glared at Calvin and cleared her throat.

I said, “Something’s weird, Lieutenant. He wasn’t like this before.” I sounded defensive. 

Branco looked at me coldly. “Quiet, you!” Then to Calvin he said, “We’d appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Redding.” 

“You want me to cooperate? I’d be only too happy to help you, but I think Vannos here may be the one you want to talk to.” Branco turned on me. 

“Just what is your name?” 

His sudden vehemence startled me. “I, uh … it’s … Stan,” I said. “I mean, Stanley. Well, actually, Stanislav is the most correct. But in the shop it’s Vannos. But my grandmother used to call me Stani.” 

Branco shook his head and muttered, “Jesus!” 

Meanwhile, the blond assistant returned from the bedroom. He looked at Branco seriously and said, “You’d better have a look, Lieutenant.” 

Branco said, “Okay,” then left Calvin and me in the living room with the female officer while he and the blond cop went back to the bedroom.

Calvin whispered to me, “Some cop! No uniform, and he has hairy forearms.” He frowned in distaste. 

The female officer moved between us and grumbled to Calvin, “Anything you got to say mister, speak up!” 

When Branco and his assistant came back out, he sent me to the kitchen with the blond one while he interrogated Calvin in the living room. I told the assistant everything that had happened since I first arrived. Talking to him was easier than with Branco, and my fumbling defensive tone went away for a while. Branco took longer with Calvin, so I watched them both from the kitchen doorway. Calvin sank lower into the leather sofa as Branco pressed him for answers. He began to resemble a dog left outside a restaurant while his master went in for a steak dinner. He was quite a different Calvin from a few minutes ago, or even earlier that day. Branco finished and came into the kitchen. He sent the blond cop back out to question Calvin again. Then he sat down, opened his black leather note pad, and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s hear your side of it.” 

“Again?” 

“Just talk.”

I tried to tell him everything I’d told the other cop, but his physical presence unnerved me, and I lost track of exactly what had happened. To make things worse, Branco would jot things in his little black book, but it always seemed at the wrong time.When I’d say something I thought was important, he’d do nothing. Then, when I’d pause to remember a detail, he’d write like a demon, which made me wonder what kind of game he was playing. When I finally finished, he asked me without looking up, “You haven’t touched anything, have you?” 

“No, sir.” I lied calmly…

Blurb

Stan Kraychik is a hairdresser in Boston, leading a successful hairdresser’s life. Successful hairdressers’ lives vary widely but they usually have one thing in common – no dead bodies.

Not only does Stan find a dead body but the police suspect that he’s the killer. Stan, on the other hand, suspects his arrogant client, Calvin, who dragged him into his mess. Proving Calvin did it will clear Stan’s name. Proving it without landing into a different pool of trouble … well, that’s a problem Stan will have to solve.

Grant Michaels’ zany series of adventures starring Stan Kraychik garnered multiple Lambda Literary Awards including a 1991 nomination for Best Gay Mystery for A Body to Dye For. For this new edition, Carl Mesrobian reminisces about his brother Grant in an exclusive foreword, and Neil Placky provides an appreciation in a 2019 introduction.

Published by ReQueered Tales

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Boystown 12: Broken Cord (Boystown Mysteries) by Marshall Thornton

Excerpt

Freemont Tate lived in an exceptionally grand co-op on Lake Shore Drive a few blocks north of my apartment. While I lived in one of the cheapest apartments on the Drive, Tate lived in one of the most expensive. So expensive it had its own private elevator.

After calling up to announce me, the doorman got out a special key and then walked me over to the elevator. Next to the metal doors was a lock into which he put the key. A moment later the doors opened and he nodded his head toward them. I stepped in. There was an up button and a down button but nothing more. I pressed up.

At the top floor, sixteen floors later and the only possible stop, I stepped out into a foyer with a white marble floor, ghastly wallpaper and a real live butler. The butler was a dapper, middle-aged man dressed in a tuxedo—a bit much for mid-morning, I thought. 

He told me, “You’re Mr. Nowak.”

“I am.”

“Mr. Tate recognized your name and asks that you join him in the downstairs library.” 

Downstairs library? Did that mean there was an upstairs library? Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed when I followed the butler out of the foyer into a long hallway was a flight of stairs leading upstairs. It was the kind of hallway filled with comfortable chairs and small tables, as though the apartment was so large a guest might need to suddenly sit down and rest. 

We passed several open rooms, all to my right: a dining room set for ten, a sitting room, a living room three times as big as my entire apartment. Each room was finished with neatly painted floor boards, molding and cornices. The paintings on the walls looked collectible. There was a Michael France in the sitting room taking up most of a wall. Lilies, I think.

I felt grossly out of place in my faded jeans, Reeboks and dark blue alligator shirt—though, at least that had a collar. 

The downstairs library—which was directly across from the living room—was a deep forest green, including all the molding. The green was carefully chosen to set off an enormous gold-framed mirror that reflected the stunning view of the lake. There was a large mahogany desk and two comfy looking, leather chairs. Presumably Tate only did business here with people he liked. A lot.

A man in his early seventies sat behind the desk. He had a full head of white hair and skin the color of a brick. I suspected a vacation home in Arizona or somewhere else equally scorching. As it happened, I’d never seen him before in my life, which made it unlikely I’d be collecting the money I was owed.

Standing up to shake my hand, he said, “Mr. Nowak, I presume?”

“Mr. Tate.” I was tempted to ask if his friends called him Free, but then I’d thought the same thing when I met the phony Mr. Tate.

“So, we agree that we’ve never met?” His voice was loud.

“Yes. We do.”

“Pardon me?”

“I said, ‘Yes, we do.’” I raised my voice a bit. The old man didn’t seem to hear very well.

“Wonderful. So, who wrote the check that you attempted to cash?”

“A man came to my office. He introduced himself as Freemont Tate. He was around sixty, salt-and-pepper hair, thick in the middle, pasty complexion, shorter than you are.”

“What kind of work do you do at your office?”

“I’m a private detective.”

“What did you say?”

“A private detective.”

“Oh, I see,” he said, a doubtful tone in his voice. “And what did your Mr. Tate ask you to do?”

“I’m afraid that’s confidential.” It wasn’t exactly. Not after the check bounced—nonpayment tends to void most legal agreements. 

He—phony Mr. Tate—hired me to follow his much younger wife and discover whether she was having an affair. She was. The story he fed me was that they had a legal agreement guaranteeing her money if they divorced, but that agreement was void if she cheated. She had and so it was. In retrospect, it was possible none of that was true. 

Since I’d sat outside that very building waiting for the young woman—I assumed I’d followed the right woman. Glancing around, I found a photo of her on the bookshelf, so yeah, I’d followed the right woman. The question now was did Mr. Tate want to know about his wife’s dalliance. If he didn’t want to know, I certainly didn’t want to tell him. 

“Do you have a brother or cousin around your age?” I asked.

“Why would you want to know that?”

“The man I met was near your age. Roughly.” Though he had no issues with his hearing.

“How do you know my age? Why do people always think they know—”

I ignored him and asked again, “Relatives?” 

“Other than my children I have very few relatives. A maiden aunt in her nineties. A few second and third cousins out West.”

“How would someone have gotten ahold of one of your checks?”

“Checks? I keep my personal check register here on the desk most of the time and the extra checks in that cabinet right there.” He pointed at the cabinet that was the base of a built-in bookcase. “The check was taken from the cabinet. It was out of sequence.”

“So you wouldn’t notice right away it was missing. And they only took one check?”

“Yes.”

I stopped for a moment. That meant the entire point of stealing a check was to pay me. This wasn’t part of some bigger theft.

“Who has access to this room?”

“The staff. Teddy, whom you’ve met. Our cook, Midge. Three maids. They come and go so often I don’t learn their names.”

“You and your wife live here alone?”

“No. There are six bedrooms. My wife and I have adjoining rooms; each of my children has a bedroom. The last is a guest room. We often have guests.”

“How old are your children?”

“Forty, thirty-eight and sixteen—if I’m remembering correctly.” 

That told me that Mrs. Tate was a second or third wife. She was a woman in her thirties. Two of the children were older than she was. The sixteen-year-old might be hers. Hard to say. 

It also told me his two older children weren’t particularly ambitious. They were far too old to be living at home.

“So, the list of who had access to your checks includes any of your five servants, possibly more since you say there’s a lot of turnover among the maids, any of your three children, and any of the guests you had in say March, April or early May.”

“Also delivery men. We receive a lot of packages. The plumber, I think, has been here recently. Teddy would know for sure. I believe we had the filters on the air conditioners cleaned, which required letting someone in.”

“This is getting to be quite a list,” I pointed out. Going through it wasn’t going to be the best way to approach this. Of course, I shouldn’t bother. Even if I found the first Mr. Tate, it was unlikely he was going to pay me.

“And you, of course,” he said.

“Me? I’ve never been here before.”

“That is what you’d say, isn’t it, if you were involved.” He stared at me for a moment. “Though I must say, if you are involved it’s brazen of you to show up here asking to be paid. That is what you’re doing, isn’t it? Asking to be paid?”

“You don’t have to pay me. I didn’t work for you.”

“I assume if I pay your bill you’ll tell me why you were hired?”

“That’s not a good idea. This is a con job, don’t you think? The whole point of it is to get you the information I discovered. Someone wants you to know what I’ve learned. And I don’t think they’re doing you any favors.”

The logic in what I’d just said was probably leaping all over the place. But with or without leaps, I couldn’t think of any other reason for a fake Mr. Tate to hire me to uncover Mrs. Tate’s affair other than that he, or whoever hired him, wanted the real Mr. Tate to find out about it.

“Someone’s gone to a lot of effort to put me in this room with you,” I continued. “The best way to thwart them would be for me to remain silent.”

“Yes, but then I think knowing is better than not knowing. The things we don’t know end up hurting us much more than the things we do.” He took his check register out of the top drawer of his desk and began to write me a check. “I’m adding an extra five hundred. For the inconvenience.”

He held out the check and I had to decide whether to take it or not. He seemed like a pretty smart guy. Eventually, he’d realize I’d left his wife off the list of people who might have stolen the check used to pay me. That would tell him she was the subject of my investigation. Once he knew that, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of it to fall into place. I took the check.

“Your wife is much younger than you are.”

“What was that?”

I raised my voice and repeated, “Your wife is much younger than you are.”

“That’s nothing I didn’t already know.”

“She seems to be having an affair with someone name Edward Hurley.”

Tate’s face got tight. “Edward Hurley is my attorney. I think you’ve misunderstood.”

“Yes, that’s entirely possible.” I didn’t think it was.

He waited a moment. “What makes you think they might be having an affair?”

“I followed your wife to the Starlight Motel. She entered a room that had been registered to an Edward Smith. Mrs. Tate was there a little bit more than half an hour. She left the room with a man I later identified as Edward Hurley.”

The Starlight Motel was a seedy place way up on Lincoln Avenue along a stretch where there were a number of other seedy motels. At first, it seemed odd that Mrs. Tate and Hurley would go to such a place when the Drake was available. However, I suspect the Drake doesn’t allow fake names or rent by the hour.

After a moment, Tate cleared his throat and asked, “Did you take photos?”

“I did.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t been sent to me,” Tate said.

“I think they were for my benefit.”

“Your benefit? How so?”

“The, um, imposter told me you have some kind of agreement with your wife. If you divorce her because of infidelity she gets nothing. But he didn’t ask for pictures. I had to suggest them.”

“My wife and I don’t have any such agreement.”

I wondered if he was suddenly wishing they did.

He cleared his throat. “As you’ve pointed out, my wife is much younger than I am. In a marriage like ours certain accommodations need to be made. And that’s all I want to say about it.”

“You’re saying your wife did nothing wrong.”

“Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. I’d appreciate a little discretion.”

“So whoever wanted you to know—”

“Is a fool.

Blurb

In the latest installment of the Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries, it’s summer 1985.
As Nick’s personal life begins to unravel, Nick throws himself headlong into investigating the murder of a woman married to a much older, wealthy man. It appears that only her husband could have killed her, but Nick is sure that’s not what happened. Meanwhile, Rita Lundquist makes her presence known, posing a continuing threat to Nick and those around him. 

More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:

Marshall Thornton writes two popular mystery series, the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery twice, once for each series. His romantic comedy, Femme was also a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite Uncle, The Ghost Slept Over and Masc, the sequel to Femme. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America.

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