Excerpt & FREE Drawing! The Androit Alien (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 18) by Frank W. Butterfield

Exclusive Excerpt:

“I bet you’re really proud of yourself, aren’t you?” That was Carter. We were huddled together in our new bed.
Antoine had found the shutters for our bedroom out by the stables. He had put them all in place, although, to open them the next morning, we would have to take them down by hand.
We’d all had dinner a few blocks away at the same place where we’d had lunch. It was good, solid fare, and they were willing to cook Carter’s steak to well-done. While we were eating, Jake had suddenly looked up from his plate and asked, “What about firewood?” Carter had groaned. We hadn’t bought any. Not that we knew where to get any.
On that note, the kids had decided to go back to the hotel for the night. They’d followed in a second cab when Antoine and Jake had taken off from the restaurant after we were finished eating.
For our part, Carter and I had walked back to the house. It was cold outside and, somehow, when we got home, it was even colder inside the house.
I’d been telling him about getting Jacques and Greg together when he’d made that comment. “Yeah. Can you believe it’s been seven years?”
Carter pulled me in closer. “You don’t seem to generate any body heat,” he grumbled. “And you smell.”
I put my lips on his and murmured, “This was your idea.”
He sighed. “I know.”
“Maybe if we fooled around a little?”
He began to run his hand up and down my back, but that was as far as he went. I tried to lift my hand up so I could hug his neck, but he kept me pinned in place. “Hey!”
“We need to talk about your matchmaking.”
“We do?”
“Yes. You can’t just move to Paris and start—”
“Why not?”
He sighed, blowing slightly sour air in my face. Neither of us had brushed. At least his breath was warm. “I don’t know. I thought I would feel better once we got here. But I’m more irritated than ever.” He stopped talking.
Feeling a knot forming in my stomach, I said, “And I’m irritating you, aren’t I?”
“Well—”
“Just tell me.”
“Yeah. You are. You left us here to do all the work while you ran around town spending money and flirting with chauffeurs and doing your matchmaking thing.”
I was quiet. He was being ridiculous. He’d wanted me to do all that, handsome chauffeurs notwithstanding. But I didn’t want to rub it in his face.
“Stop that, Nick.”
“What?”
“Being quiet.”
I had a sudden thought. “You know what?”
He squirmed on the bed. “What?”
“I think it’s been too long since we’ve, you know…”
Carter didn’t reply to that. I knew I was right. I let him stew for a little while in whatever thoughts he was having. Finally, I said, “We haven’t really been alone in a while. At least three weeks.” He started breathing a little heavier. I decided to push things a little further. “You like those boots Alexander was wearing as much as I do.”
He slapped me hard on the ass, which hurt but not much. “You’re right.”
“It really gets to you sometimes, doesn’t it?” I was teasing him and probably shouldn’t have.
He squeezed me as hard as he ever had. I had a mildly panicked thought that he was going to explode or crush me, one or the other. “I can’t talk about this, Nick.”
“Why not? We’re alone.”
He was still breathing hard. “I know, but my mind gets all jumbled when I get like this.”
“I know. That’s part of what I like about it when we do it.”
“I wish we could get warm and throw all these covers off the bed so I can…” He sighed. “You know.”
“I know.” I kissed him on the lips. In reply, he pushed his tongue into my mouth, hard.

Blurb:
Monday, January 2, 1956
Nick and Carter have arrived safely in Paris and were even greeted at the airport by a minor government official and a small detachment of the famous Republican Guard.

After taking a week to recover from their Christmas adventures in Vermont, they’re ready to move into their new house over in the 4th Arrondissement.

It takes three cabs to get the whole gang over there from their hotel and, as they stand on the sidewalk outside, none of them can quite believe what they find: a crumbling building, a trash-filled courtyard, several broken windows, and, as Nick tentatively pushes the front door open, the stench of a rotting corpse.

The police know that none of them could possibly have committed the crime but what about the mysterious Madame Marika, who has suddenly disappeared? Is she back behind the Iron Curtain? Or has she too been murdered?

The entire household gets involved in solving the mystery, dashing around the city that is their new home, and discovering, in the end, the bonds of love and friendship they have brought with them from San Francisco, across the Atlantic Ocean, and to La Ville-Lumière—Paris: The City of Light.

And that’s only the beginning…

Blurb:

Monday, January 2, 1956

Nick and Carter have arrived safely in Paris and were even greeted at the airport by a minor government official and a small detachment of the famous Republican Guard.

After taking a week to recover from their Christmas adventures in Vermont, they’re ready to move into their new house over in the 4th Arrondissement.

It takes three cabs to get the whole gang over there from their hotel and, as they stand on the sidewalk outside, none of them can quite believe what they find: a crumbling building, a trash-filled courtyard, several broken windows, and, as Nick tentatively pushes the front door open, the stench of a rotting corpse.

The police know that none of them could possibly have committed the crime but what about the mysterious Madame Marika, who has suddenly disappeared? Is she back behind the Iron Curtain? Or has she too been murdered?

The entire household gets involved in solving the mystery, dashing around the city that is their new home, and discovering, in the end, the bonds of love and friendship they have brought with them from San Francisco, across the Atlantic Ocean, and to La Ville-Lumière—Paris: The City of Light.

And that’s only the beginning…

Learn about Other Titles be Frank W. Butterfield:http://frankwbutterfield.com/books

Frank W Butterield – click for website

Exclusive Excerpt: A Whisper of Bones: A Jane Lawless Mystery by Ellen Hart

Excerpt:

That night, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped into the low thirties.  Jane was glad she’d thought to grab her peacoat before leaving the restaurant.  Early December in Minnesota was generally much colder, with several inches of snow on the ground.  This year, however, the the only thing covering the grass were dry leaves.  Unusual weather for Minnesota.  As she was about to open the door of her Mini, a car pulled up next to her and stopped, its engine idling.

Cordelia Thorn, Jane’s oldest and best friend, opened the passenger’s door window and called, “Leaving kind of early, aren’t we?”

“You checking up on me?”

“Get in.”

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Jane made herself comfortable in the front seat, glad for the warmth of Cordelia’s new black Subaru.

“I still can’t get used to your hair,” said Cordelia.  “Can’t believe that, after all these years, you cut it so short.”

“I needed a change.”

“The Rachael Maddow look”

“No, the Jane Lawless look.” If she’d realized how much attention she’d get because of a simple haircut, she never would have done it.

“I stand corrected,” said Cordelia, looking amused.

Cordelia’s entire life was a costume drama, a period piece, past or future.  At the moment, she was sporting a rose-colored wig.  Wigs were her new thing after finding a basket filled with them in her sister’s rarely-used office at the theater.

“Next,” said Cordelia, throwing the car in park, “we need to work on your old sweaters and jeans.”

“You mean get rid of my clothes?”

“I’m merely suggesting a wee upgrade.  I’m not talking Abercrombie & Fitch or Nordstrom, just something other than Old Navy.”

Glancing over at her giant friend wearing a heavy, bright red faux fir coat, Jane changed the subject, if only marginally.  “Kind of early in the season to bring out the big guns.”

“Without snow, it’s hard to get in the mood for Christmas.  One does what one can.”

“How come you’re not at the theater?”  Along with her younger sister, the Broadway and B-movie star, Octavia Thorn Lester, Cordelia was the owner of the Thorn Lester Playhouse, downtown Minneapolis’s newest antique gem.  She was also the artistic director, the resident mother superior, and, when necessary, brought the force of a five star Marine general to whatever situation might need attention.

“I have to pick up Hattie from a friend’s house.  Neither of them have school tomorrow, so I’m letting Hatts stay out late.  Together, she and Juan are discovering the wonders of Juan’s chemistry set.”

Cordelia’s had been granted legal custody of her ten-year-old niece many years ago.  They’d lived together ever since.  “Lucky Hattie,” said Jane.

Touching the tip of her finger to her darkly rouged lips, Cordelia continued,  “I was at a party last night.  I think I may have drummed up a new client for you.”  She explained about the woman she’d met—Britt something or other—who’d been asking around about local private investigators.  “I wondered if she was gay, but I didn’t get any vibes.”

“So that’s where she got my card,” said Jane.

“You’ve already talked to her?”

“This morning.  You must have done a good sales job.”

“I always do.  But back to my original question.  How come you’re leaving so early?  I thought we might share a quick nosh together.  One of your pub burgers sounds just about perfect.”

“Sorry.  Already eaten.”

“Then join me for a beer.”

“Can’t.  Not tonight.”

“You’ve been spending a lot of time at home lately, Janey.  One cannot help but wonder why.”

“Don’t start.”

“Look, no beating around the mulberry bush this time.  I’m worried.  That woman somehow conned her way into your home.  You need to look around for the coffin she sleeps in during the day.  If you can’t find it, call me.  I’m there for you, Janey.  If nothing else, we can burn your house down with her in it.”

Jane took a deep breath.  “There are times when I find your penchant for exaggeration funny.  This isn’t one of them.”

“I’m not exaggerating.”

”Julia’s my friend.  End of story.”

“Is it?”

“What else do you need to know?”

“Oh, come on.  Don’t be so coy.”

“You want to know if  I’m sleeping with her.”

“Give the woman a cigar.”

“Look, Cordelia.  I care about her.  I don’t love her, not in any romantic way.  Our relationship ended many years ago.”

“Did you ever wonder if this illness-thingie is just a ploy?”

Now she’d gone too far.  “Why don’t you come over for dinner.  I’ll text you with a couple of dates.  You can see for yourself how sick she is.  But you have to promise to be decent.  Friendly.”

“Leave my sarcasm at the door?” said Cordelia, feigning shock.  She flipped open the glove compartment and removed her stash of bubble gum.  “I’ll think about it.”

Many years ago, Jane and Dr. Julia Martinsen, an oncologist living, at the time, in Bethesda, Maryland, had fallen in love.  They’d been in a committed relationship for a couple of years, though Jane had finally ended it.  Julia had played fast and loose with the truth too many times.  Since then, she and Julia had continued to see each other very occasionally, although they were no longer close.  Last spring, Julia had confided to Jane that she’d been diagnosed with a serious illness.  Her greatest fear was dealing with it—and perhaps the end of her life—alone.  Meaning, without Jane.  While Jane had moved on, Julia hadn’t.

In a moment of weakness—which Cordelia likened to Armageddon—Jane had promised to be there for her.  Even though the love had died long ago, feelings, unlike faucets, couldn’t be turned off neatly and easily.  For a short time in early October, it appeared as if Julia might not have more than a few weeks to live.  Her failing eyesight had made it impossible for her to drive.  That’s when Jane had invited her to move into her house.  By late October, Julia had rallied and her health had stabilized.  And now Jane had a permanent house guest, which Cordelia maintained was Julia’s intention all along.

“I’m the clarion call of reason,” continued Cordelia, unwrapping a stick of gum.  “You need to listen to me.  You may think Julia is water under the bridge, but I’m telling you that unless you burn that bridge to a crisp, she’ll find a way to recross it.”

“I don’t need all the cliches.  The message was received.”

“She’s going to hurt you again, Jane.”

“How?  I already know she lies and that I can’t trust her.  Are you saying she’ll hurt me in some other way?  She has cancer, Cordelia, or something very close to it.  I know she’s not going to live long.”

Cordelia raised an eyebrow.  “Have you ever seen one scintilla of proof that Julia is ill?”

“I have.  I’ve even spoken to a couple of her doctors.”  Jane had no doubt that the tumor growing behind Julia’s optic nerve was real, or that the surgery necessary to remove it was not only a partial cure, but one fraught with danger.  Still, there were things she hadn’t told Cordelia, mostly because she wouldn’t understand.

“Janey, I say these things to you because I love you.”

“I know that.  And I’m grateful.  But don’t worry about me.  I’m fine.  Clear headed, feet on the ground.  Same old Jane you’ve always known and loved.”

“You’re impossible, you know that?  But okay, end of rant.  For now.  Call me when you know more about this Britt person’s investigative issue.  I expect a full report.”

Jane could have taken a few minutes to explain what she’d learned this morning, but she saw no point.  Britt hadn’t hired her.  More than anything, Jane wanted to get home.  “Yes, ma’am,” she said, saluting.  “Full briefing tomorrow at o-600.”

“I have no idea what that means.  Just don’t call before noon.”

[]

Shortly after ten, as she entered the front foyer of her home, Jane was greeted by two eager dogs vying for her attention.  Mouse, a chocolate lab, nosed her hand, his usual earnest self, his tail wagging so fast it was almost a blur.  Gimlet, a small black poodle, jumped up and down and twirled around, so excited she could barely keep her balance.  How could a person not love dogs?  Jane crouched down to give them each a hug and a scratch.  When she straightened up, she noticed logs burning in the living room fireplace.

Coming around the end of the couch, she found Julia sitting on the oriental rug with her back propped against the couch.  Next to her was a teapot and two cups.

“All the comforts of home,” said Jane, sitting down beside her.

Six months ago, Julia had been fit and working hard at a profession she loved.  The medication her doctors had prescribed to deal with the growing tumor had proved to be almost as bad as the disease.  She’d lost a good twenty pounds off an already lean frame, mostly because the meds didn’t mix well with food.

“The fire feels good,” said Jane.  “Chilly out there.”

“I know,” said Julia.  “I just got home myself.”

Julia had hired a personal assistant in mid-October.  Carol Westin was a retired RN who’d spent the last twenty years of her working life as a healthcare educator.  She and Julia had been friends and coworkers, and now Carol not only acted as chauffeur, but reader of reports and general secretary.  Beyond the driving and the reading, she was also helping Julia liaise with lawyers to set up the foundation that would bear Julia’s name, one that would continue the work she cared so much about:  Medical outreach and training in third world countries.  She worked Carol hard, but paid her well.

Gimlet pushed her way in between them, buried her nose under Julia’s leg and closed her eyes.  Mouse settled down next to Jane. “Have you eaten?”

Julia nodded to the teapot.

“That’s not food.  Let me make you something.”

“No. Don’t go.”

“But you need to eat.”

She poured the steaming liquid into each cup and handed one to Jane.  “Not now.”

“Soup.  There’s always room for homemade chicken soup.”

“Maybe later.”

Jane sipped her tea and gazed into the fire.  She didn’t want to think about her current situation too critically, but had to admit that it was nice having someone to come home to—someone who’d made a pot of tea and had built a fire.  “How was your day?”

“Good,” said Julia.  “For whatever reason, that awful low-grade headache evaporated.”  She glanced over at Jane and smiled.  “Now that you’re home, I’m even better.”  She slipped her hand over Jane’s, then leaned in for a kiss.

Instead of pushing her away, as Jane had for years, she let the kiss linger.  Was she playing with fire by sleeping with Julia, as Cordelia feared?  She didn’t think so.  What she’d told Cordelia was accurate.  She had no romantic feelings for Julia any longer.  This was just….what?  Affection, perhaps.  Whatever it was, Jane wasn’t about to end it.  It wasn’t hurting either of them.  If anything, coming together the way they had after Julia had moved in was good for both of them.  It would end one day, and Jane would have to deal with it, but until them, what was the harm?

They sat together quietly, the dogs resting contentedly next to them, and watched the fire.

“Want another cup?” asked Julia.

“No, I’m good.”

“Let’s go upstairs.”

“Aren’t you tired?”

“Not in the least.”

Jane tipped her head toward Julia.  “Why don’t you head up?  I’ll put the dogs out, make sure they have their bedtime treat, and then I’ll join you.”

After Julia was gone, Jane spent a couple more minutes looking into the dying embers, thinking about Julia and how life often took unexpected turns.  She kept repeating the thought, “What’s the harm?”  She’d said it to herself so often lately that it was beginning to feel like a mantra.  As she was about to get up, her cell phone rang.

“This is Jane,” she said after pulling it from her pocket.

“I want to hire you,” came a woman’s voice.

“Britt?”

“I found proof that Timmy did exist.  Can we get together tomorrow?”

“Sure,” said Jane.

“What if I meet you at your restaurant around twelve-thirty?  I don’t have anything on my schedule until mid afternoon.”

“Sounds good.  I can’t wait to hear what you discovered.”

“I’m still processing it, but I will say this much—it blows my mind.”

 

A Whisper of Bones – by Ellen Hart

 Blurb:

Fans of Jane Lawless new and old will be fascinated by newly minted Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Ellen Hart’s latest intricate puzzle in A Whisper of Bones.

Britt Ickles doesn’t remember much from her only visit to her mother’s childhood home when she was a kid, except for playing with her cousin Timmy and the eruption of a sudden family feud. That’s why, when she drops by unannounced after years of silence, she’s shocked when her aunts tell her Timmy never existed, that she must be confusing him with someone else. But Britt can’t shake the feeling that Timmy did exist…and that something horrible has happened to him. Something her aunts want to cover up.

Britt hires Jane Lawless, hoping the private investigator can figure out what really happened to her cousin. When a fire in the family’s garage leads to the discovery of buried bones and one of the aunts dies suddenly and suspiciously, Jane can’t help but be pulled into the case. Do the bones belong to Timmy? Was the aunt’s death an accident, suicide, or homicide? What dark secret has this family been hiding for decades? It all depends on Jane Lawless to unravel.

Ellen’ Hart’s Bio:

Ellen Hart is the author of thirty-two crime novels in two

click on image for Ellen’s website

different series. She is a six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, a three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award, a recipient of the Alice B Medal, and was made an official GLBT Literary Saint at th

e Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans in 2005. Entertainment Weekly named her one of the “101 Movers and Shakers in the Gay Entertainment Industry.” For the past sixteen years, Ellen has taught “An Introduction to Writing the Modern Mystery” through the The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation. Her newest Sophie Greenway mystery is No Reservations Required, (Ballantine, June 2005). Fever in the Dark, the newest Jane Lawless mystery, will be released by St. Martin’s/Minotaur in October 2016. Ellen lives in Minneapolis with her partner of 37 years.

Exclusive Excerpt: Transposition (Hazard and Somerset – Book 3) by Gregory Ashe

Chapter 8

December 22

Friday

8:45pm

Somers knelt over his father, trying to stop the bleeding. Santa Claus had shot Glenn Somerset in the stomach at least once, maybe twice. It was hard to tell because the lights were out and because there was blood. So much blood. Somers barely remembered crossing the room to where his father lay. He remembered glancing at the girl—Bing’s daughter—and knowing she was dead; a bullet had punched through her back, and she wasn’t breathing. He didn’t remember where he got the fabric that he now wadded up and held against his father’s stomach. All his attention now focused on this makeshift attempt to stop the bleeding. In the tips of his fingers, Somers felt a pulse. His own? Or was that his father’s heart pumping blood out of the gaping wound?

Somers could hear it—a soft, squelching noise as blood soaked through the improvised bandage. That was crazy. That was batshit. There was no way that Somers could hear, actually hear, blood pumping out. But he could. He could hear that squelching. His Great-aunt Elaine had a red rubber hot water bottle that she would put in her bed in the winter, and when she would carry the bottle to the sink and empty it, it sounded like this: fingers compressing the rubber until it squeaked against itself. God, this was insane, the whole thing was insane, and if his father—

—died—

—no, that wasn’t even a legitimate thought, that wasn’t something he could allow himself to consider.

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It was with something like surprise that Somers realized the lights had come back on. In the warm, yellow light, his fingers were so many colors: crimson, purple, blue, black. Somers forced his gaze up, towards his father’s face. The flesh was puffy, creamy except where the day’s growth of stubble gave everything an aquamarine cast. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing. Pretty strong breaths. Yes. Good breathing. The lungs hadn’t been damaged, thank God. Over the years, Glenn Somerset had put on weight, but he looked very small now laid out on the floor. It was like gravity had stretched him, stretched him like taffy, and Somers thought that liquids had constant volume but no definite shape. Like all that blood, spilling out thinly across Somers’s knuckles. Someone was talking to him, Somers realized, but he didn’t care. His father was oozing out across the floor, all that blood, what a joke, what a goddamn joke.

“—and if you touch him I’ll break your nose.” That part managed to penetrate Somers’s fog, and he realized it was Hazard speaking. He was using that low, deadly voice that made the hair on the back of Somers’s neck stand up, the voice like he’d do everything he said and it wouldn’t bother him a bit.

“We’ve got a job to do,” a snippy young man’s voice answered.

“Open your mouth again,” Hazard said. “Go ahead.”

If the snippy young man had more to say, he didn’t voice it.

A moment later, Hazard’s face swam into Somers’s line of sight. “Somers, the paramedics are here. You’ve got to get out of their way.”

Somers blinked. The words washed over him, past him, away.

“Come on,” Hazard said. His big hands, surprisingly delicate, prized Somers’s fingers off the makeshift bandage, and Hazard helped Somers to his feet.

“No,” Somers said, shaking his head and stretching back towards his father. “I’ve got to—”

“They’re going to take him to the hospital,” Hazard said, steering Somers a safe distance away. “That’s the only chance your father has.”

Somers stared as the paramedics went to work. Their movements were precise, efficient, and controlled. One was the young man that Somers had heard objecting; the other was a much older woman with leathery skin. The young man’s hands trembled, but he kept working. The woman—her hands looked like they could have held an ocean and not spilled a drop. Liquid—

—blood—

—had a constant volume but no definite shape.

Faster than Somers would have believed, they transferred his father to a gurney and wheeled him from the house. Somers glimpsed Sheriff Bingham embracing his son, both of them paralyzed by the death of Bing’s daughter. And Somers noticed his mother trailing after him, her movements stiff, as though she hadn’t walked in years. She glanced around, her blind gaze moving over Somers as though he weren’t even there, before settling on Jeremiah Walker. He crossed the room as though summoned by that gaze, settling an arm around Grace Elaine’s shoulders and urging her after the gurney.

“You need to go,” Hazard said, turning Somers towards the door. “Your mom is going to need you. We’ll take care of everything here.”

Everything here. Two words. Everything here meant bullet casing. It meant blood. It meant the gunpowder smell that had replaced everything else. It meant talking to drunken socialites. It meant facing a murderer. It meant a dead girl. Somers felt as though he were rising from deep waters—slow at first, and then faster and faster as the pressure shot him towards the surface. He saw, now, that Wahredua’s finest were already here. How much time had passed? Somers cast a quick glance. Where was Santa?

“Let’s go,” Hazard said, giving another push. “You can ride in the ambulance. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.”

Somers shook his head.

“Your mother—”

“Fuck no.” Somers lifted his hands, intending to press on his pounding head, but he saw the blood again. Already it had dried, turning sticky and crusty as it did. “I just—I need a minute—”

“You need to get your ass out of here.” Martha Cravens, Wahredua’s Chief of Police, marched towards them.

Cravens was a big woman with an hourglass shape; large without being fat, her hair stylishly gray, she somehow managed to give off the air of being someone’s grandmother. The reality was very different. Cravens had toughed it out as one of the only women on a small-town police force, and she had earned respect and trust while doing so. She had been talking, Somers noticed, with Mayor Newton, who was one of Cravens’s strongest supporters. The mayor folded his arms and studied Somers from across the room; there was something in the old man’s face that made Somers’s skin crawl.

“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” Hazard said. “Look, I’ll drive you there.”

“No way.” Somers raised his hands again, saw the blood again, stopped again. “No.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Cravens said. Her face was hard—lined with sympathy, yes, but still hard enough to crack a goddamn Rolex so it wouldn’t ever tick again. “You think you’re going to take matters into your own hands. You think I might be stupid enough to let you within ten miles of this business because it’s personal, because you’re a good detective, because you’ve put in your time.”

“Chief,” Somers said, his voice thick, so thick it barely escaped his throat. “You’re out of your goddamn mind if you think I’m not handling this.”

“What’s there to handle, Detective? Everybody saw the shooter come into the room with a gun. We don’t need to do a goddamn thing except wait. We’ll take statements, pick up the casings, and we’ll run ballistics, just to be sure, but that’s just to keep lawyers from crawling down our throats. There’s no case to work. This thing was shut almost before it opened.” Cravens’s face softened, the lines around her eyes and mouth deepening. “John-Henry, the best thing you can do is help your family right now.”

Somers shook his shoulders, as though trying to throw off an invisible hand.

“Come on,” Hazard said in a quiet voice. When Somers didn’t respond, he said, “John-Henry.”

The sound of that name on Hazard’s lips, a name Hazard hadn’t used since—

—the locker room, Somers’s heart thudding as he saw the desire in Hazard’s eyes—

—high school, made Somers blink. He nodded. Cravens grasped his hand, and Somers let Hazard hustle him out into the night. It was cold, much colder than Somers remembered. His breath misted, but it was so goddamn cold that the mist should have crystallized, fallen to the earth, and shattered. Spindrift glistened in the headlights of a dozen police cruisers. Pebbly snow chittered against the metal shells. Overhead, the stars looked close enough that Somers thought he could reach up and shove them around a little.

The stars. Somers shouldn’t have been able to see the stars. His father had lit up the house like the Bellagio, and the lights had blotted out the sky. But the exterior lights, the decorative lights, had not come back on.

“Keys,” Hazard said, still guiding Somers towards the Interceptor.

Somers fished them out of his pocket and pressed them into Hazard’s hand: the skin warm, callused, strong.

Why hadn’t the exterior lights come back on?

Hazard wasn’t acting like Hazard either. He was shivering, and for the first time, Somers noticed that Hazard wasn’t wearing his jacket. He also noticed that Hazard was holding the door open for him, waiting for Somers to climb into the car.

“Where’s your jacket?”

Shaking with the cold, Hazard jerked his head at the car. “Will you get in?”

“Did you leave it inside?”

“Yeah, sure. Before I freeze my fingers off if you don’t mind.”

Somers climbed into the seat, Hazard shut the door, and a moment later he climbed behind the steering wheel. The SUV roared to life, and warmth fluttered out of the vents.

“That was your jacket. I was using it to—my father’s stomach, the blood—” Somers cut off, unable to finish the statement.

Hazard shrugged.

“Jesus, if I’d just taken him to the station like my father asked.” Somers rocked forward. He lifted his hands to cover his face, but again the sight of blood stopped him. Scrubbing at his shirt, Somers tried to clean the tacky mess from his hands, but all he succeeded in doing was spread a rust-colored stain across the cloth. He scrubbed harder; the friction brought heat to his hands. If the goddamn blood would just come off—

Hazard’s hands closed around his wrists. “Breathe.”

Somers couldn’t breathe. He rocked forward again. “I should have just taken him to the fucking station. But I had to be an ass. I had to make a point. I had to—”

The sound of paper ripping filled the car, and Somers glanced over. Hazard had a packet of alcohol-cleanser towelettes, and he was working one of the cloths free. Without speaking, Hazard gripped Somers’s hand and began cleaning the dried blood from his fingers. Somers knew he should say something. Stop. That would be the smartest thing. Or, let me. Anything would be better than silence. Even crying, even sobbing would be better than the sick feeling in his stomach and the tightness in his throat.

But Somers didn’t say anything because right then, Hazard’s touch felt like the only thing keeping him from flying apart. Hazard cleaned with strong, firm movements, but again he showed that surprising gentleness as he manipulated Somers’s hands. When he had finished—and, in the process, used all of the towelettes—Hazard grabbed Somers’s chin. This grip was not gentle; it was painful, and it hurt more as Hazard forced Somers’s head so that their eyes met.

“You say one more time that you should have taken him into the station, and you’ll be shitting out your own teeth for the next year.”

Somers started to laugh. He wasn’t sure where the laughter came from—the sick feeling inside was still there, just pushed to the back a little—but the laughter felt real. He laughed until a hint of a smile cracked Hazard’s stern expression and Hazard’s fingers dropped away. Still laughing, Somers leaned back against the glass. Cold soaked through his jacket and shirt, and it felt clean against all that sickness inside him.

“That’s your idea of being comforting?” Somers said as his laughter faded. The tightness in his throat had eased. He still felt like shit, but he felt like shit with his eyes open.

“That’s my idea of keeping you from being an even bigger horse’s ass.”

“Can we—I mean, would you take me to the hospital?” Somers paused. “I can ask one of the uniforms to drive me if you need to get home.”

Hazard growled something under his throat and shifted the Interceptor into gear. Their tires stirred up tiny cyclones of snow as they pulled away from the Somerset home and headed into the city.

“What was that?”

“I said you really are a dipshit.”

“Hazard?”

Hazard didn’t respond.

“Ree?”

He grunted.

“Who turned the lights back on?”

“I don’t know. Somebody.”

“What happened?”

“The breakers tripped. All of them.”

“And somebody reset them?”

“Sure, somebody.”

“All of them?”

“Christ’s sake. Yes.”

So why hadn’t the outside lights come back on?

Before Somers could voice the question, Hazard’s phone buzzed. The dark-haired man answered, speaking in a low tone—grim monosyllabics punctured by a single, violent, “What?” After listening for another minute, Hazard threw the phone skidding across the dash.

“What?” Somers said. “Is it my—”

“No. Nothing about your dad, not yet. He’s still in surgery.”

“Then what?” Somers tried to think, but his reactions were dulled by emotion and exhaustion. “Nico?”

“Santa Claus is dead.”

Somers stared at Hazard. “That’s a joke.”

“He was shot while trying to escape arrest.”

 

Paternity Case Blurb:

It’s almost Christmas, and Emery Hazard finds himself face to face with his own personal nightmare: going on a double date with his partner—and boyhood crush—John-Henry Somerset. Hazard brings his boyfriend; Somers brings his estranged wife. Things aren’t going to end well.

When a strange call interrupts dinner, however, Hazard and his partner become witnesses to a shooting. The victims: Somers’s father, and the daughter of a high school friend. The crime is inexplicable. There is no apparent motive, no connection between the victims, and no explanation for how the shooter reached his targets.

Determined to get answers, Hazard and Somers move forward with their investigation in spite of mounting pressure to stop. Their search for the truth draws them into a dark web of conspiracy and into an even darker tangle of twisted love and illicit desire. And as the two men come face to face with the passions and madness behind the crime, they must confront their own feelings for each other—and the hard truths that neither man is ready to accept.

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Have you read Book 2 in this awesome series?

Click on the box below to read an exclusive excerpt of Transposition, by Gregory Ashe.

Exclusive Excerpt: Transposition (Hazard and Somerset – Book 2) by Gregory Ashe

 

“Whisper” by Tal Bauer – Exclusive Excerpt – Kris Caldera’s Story – Releasing Soon!

Exclusive Excerpt:

Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan

October 2001

CIA Forward Base

0200 hours

… Kris tried to breathe, tried to stop the shaking that came over him, crawling up from the bottom of his feet, all the way up his skin. He hadn’t felt this before, hadn’t yet run face-first into the same furious, crackling rage the rest of his team nurtured. He hadn’t joined in on the calls for revenge, the bloodthirsty hunger for retribution against al-Qaeda, against the Taliban. He’d kept the blame for himself.

“Kris?” David yawned as he slipped out from behind the curtain to their room. “You okay?”

Fury roared through him, blinding, aching fury. His bones seemed to scream, his skeleton shaking, aching to every last inch.

“Kris?” David was right there, reaching for him. His hands landed on Kris’s arms, gently.

Kris flew back, jerking free. “Stop!” he hissed. “Just stop!”

David stepped back, hands up, surrendering. His eyes glistened, pools of silver in the starlight and the flash of the radio lights. “I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t help me! You shouldn’t care about me! You shouldn’t do any of this!” Kris waved back to their room, to David, trying to wrap everything David had done, all that he was, up as one. “I am not worth anything!”

“What?”

“I am not worth one moment of what you’ve given me! Not a single moment! Your care, your concern, your coffee? Stop wasting your time on me!”

“Kris…” David slowly inched forward, his voice a whisper. “Why are you saying this?”

“Because—” His heart screamed, the same pitch, the same tone as the planes that flew over Manhattan, that slammed into the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. Ash coated his throat, and in his hands, he felt the dust of thousands upon thousands of bones sift through his fingers. “Because I am responsible for 9/11!”

David stopped, freezing. His eyes narrowed. “What?”

“My section, my unit! We were tracking Khalid al-Mihdhar and Marwan al-Shehhi. We had them on our radar. The FBI, earlier this year, they asked for what we had on them! We refused to share the intel. We knew they were al-Qaeda. We knew they were connected to the embassy bombings in Africa. We were tracing their connections, their meet-ups with al-Qaeda operatives. Money that was exchanged. But we wouldn’t share what we had! The higher-ups, they thought the FBI would fuck it up! And no one knew, no one fucking knew, when they needed to know!”

“Kris, what—”

“Their names were on my desk! Mine! If I had just passed those names along, if the FBI would have alerted someone, anyone, about those two… American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 175 wouldn’t have slammed into the Pentagon and the South Tower!”

“You don’t know that. You can’t say that—” David sputtered, shaking his head.

“They would have been detained when they entered the US! Questioned. They wouldn’t have been on those flights. Maybe al-Qaeda would have had to call the entire operation off! Maybe they would have had to cancel it! If they had to cancel it, then Ahmad Shah Massoud would still be alive. Bin Laden wouldn’t have had to murder him, on September ninth! Everything, all of this! It’s my fault! Because I didn’t—”

His voice cracked, and Kris collapsed, the bones in his body no longer able to hold him up, keep him standing under the weight of three thousand dead souls, under the years of unlived lives, under the shame that grated his heart to slivers, to sand, to dust. He fell to his knees, curled over, and pressed his forehead to the dirty floor, the threadbare carpet covering the cold concrete.

He couldn’t breathe. He gasped, his throat closed, choked off, like he was being strangled. Tears flowed, cascading down his cheeks, falling from his chin, his nose, into pools beneath his face. Snot and spit dribbled from his nose, his mouth. He was disgusting. A disgusting human being.

A hand rested on his back, gentle, warm. Another landed on his head, fingers sliding through his hair. The hand guided him up, cradled his head until he was sitting, staring into David’s stern face.

Kris waited for David to snap his neck, to rip him in half. To end everything.

“It was not your fault,” David breathed. His voice, a whisper, shook. His eyes burned, slamming into Kris like a brand. “It was not your fault. You did not hijack those planes. You did not fly them into the Towers, into the Pentagon. You did not do this.”

“I let it happen…”

David gripped his skull, pulled Kris closer. His hands shook, his arms, and Kris trembled with him. His teeth started to chatter. “Do not take on this blame, Kris. You are not them. You are not a murderer. You are not part of their conspiracy, their hate. You are not to blame.”

“I am…”

“You are not the beginning of this, Kris. You are not where all of this, all of the hatred, all of the fighting, comes from. Don’t do this to yourself.”

“All I can see, when I close my eyes,” Kris gasped, “are the Towers. The planes. And the hijackers’ faces, looking up at me from my desk.” He squeezed his eyes closed. Tears spilled from his eyes, raining from his eyelashes. “How can you even look at me?”

“Because I see what you don’t. I see the smartest man I’ve ever met. A man dedicated to the fight. To stopping the Taliban, to capturing Bin Laden. I see a man focused on doing the right thing. On being the best he can be. I see a hero, Kris.”

“No…” A sob built in his chest, and he tried to pull free of David’s hold. “No, I’m not.”

“I see a man who came to Afghanistan, and despite everyone’s judgments, everyone’s prejudice, did his job perfectly. You built an alliance with General Khan. You did that. You built that. The people of Afghanistan have hope, and a future, once we get rid of the Taliban. And we will, because of what you built with Khan. How is that not heroic?”

Kris shook his head. He couldn’t speak, again.

“I see a man I care about,” David whispered. “Someone I—” His lips clamped shut. His thumbs stroked over Kris’s cheekbones, wiping away tears. “I see you. I see someone exceptional.”

David pulled Kris in, slowly wrapping his arms around Kris until they were one, huddled on the floor and wrapped around each other, arms and chests pressed so tightly together, until there was no space between them. Kris trembled, shaking until he thought he’d fly apart. Until he thought his body would just fall to pieces. David held him, a fierce hold that surrounded Kris, enveloped him completely, and held him up. Held his bones and his soul in place.

He didn’t know how long they stayed there. It felt like an eternity, listening to Arabic whisper over the radio and Ryan and Jim snoring in counterpoint. Finally, David pulled him up, guided him back to their room. He unzipped his own sleeping bag and laid Kris inside, deep in the warm folds that smelled like David, that radiated his presence.

Hesitation. David stared into Kris’s eyes, deep into his gaze.

WHISPER blurb:

The truth is complicated.

On September 11th, 2001, Kris Caldera was a junior member of the CIA’s Alec Station, the unit dedicated to finding and stopping Osama Bin Laden. They failed.

Ten days later, he was on the ground in Afghanistan with a Special Forces team, driven to avenge the ghosts that haunted him and the nation he’d let down. On the battlefield, he meets Special Forces Sergeant David Haddad. David – Arab American, Muslim, and gay – becomes the man Kris loves, the man he lives for, and the man he kills for, through the long years of the raging wars.

David Haddad thought he’d be an outsider his whole life. Too American for the Middle East, too Arab for America, and too gay to be Muslim. It took Kris to bring the parts of himself together, to make him the man he’d always wanted to be. But the War on Terror wreaks havoc on David’s soul, threatening to shatter the fragile peace he’s finally found with Kris.

When a botched mission rips David from Kris’s life, Kris’s world falls into ruin and ash. A shell of the man who once loved with the strength to shake both the CIA and the world, he marks time on the edges of his life. The days bleed together, meaningless after losing the love of his life.

After being captured, tortured to the edge of his life, and left for dead by his comrades, David doesn’t know how much of himself is left. He vanished one day in the tribal belt of Pakistan, and the man who walks out almost a decade later is someone new: Al Dakhil Al-Khorasani.

But strange rumblings are whispering through the CIA. Intelligence from multiple sources overseas points to something new. Something deadly, and moving to strike the United States. Intercepts say an army from Khorasan, the land of the dead where the Apocalypse of Islam will rise, is coming.

And, at the head of this army, a shadowy figure the US hasn’t seen before: Al Dakhil Al-Khorasani.

David is coming home.

Want to know more about author, Tal Bauer?

Tal Bauer
Author & Publisher
www.talbauerwrites.com

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Exclusive Excerpt: Transposition (Hazard and Somerset – Book 2) by Gregory Ashe

Blurb: 

Emery Hazard and his partner, John-Henry Somerset, have solved their first case together. The brutal murders that rocked the quiet town of Wahredua have been put to rest. Hazard, however, finds his life has only grown more complicated as he adjusts to his new home. Living with Somers, whom he has been drawn to since high school, makes ‘complicated’ the understatement of the year.
The turmoil of living together spills over when Hazard and Somers find themselves trapped by the weather in an old mansion and, against Hazard’s better judgment, sharing a bed. Strictly as friends, of course. Just when things can’t get any more confusing, the next morning brings a worsening storm–and a murder.
Cut off from the outside world, Hazard and Somers must face a clever, determined killer who is hiding among the mansion’s guests. Without backup, they can only rely on their wits–and on each other–to survive. And as the snow falls and the mansion’s guests continue to die one by one, solving the string of murders becomes secondary. First, Hazard and Somers have to survive.

Chapter 5

November 21

Wednesday

6:02pm

Rain swept down from the sky in huge sheets, drops drumming against wood and metal and glass until Hazard could barely hear himself think. As he sprinted towards the Impala, with Somers at his side, rain stung his face. By the time they reached the car, only fifteen feet from the door, both men were soaked. Hazard could feel himself dripping as he sank into the passenger seat.

Hazard told himself it wasn’t Somers’s fault. Somers couldn’t control the weather. Somers couldn’t have known that the phone call would be about a shooting or that the visit to Mrs. Ferrell would require them to stop at Windsor. Somers couldn’t have done anything different, really. Except, of course, keep his goddamn mouth shut instead of volunteering them for holiday work.

As the Impala revved to life and the heaters cranked out humid warmth, rain glazed the windshield so thickly that Hazard could barely see beyond the hood. Somers, squinting and leaning over the steering wheel, looked like he was having the same problem. The Impala crawled forward, thumping once over the edge of the brick pavement before Somers adjusted their course.

And still the rain kept coming. It had been like this for a week. It felt like it had been an eternity. Rain, and then rain, and then more rain: so much rain that Hazard was surprised—and disappointed—that Wahredua hadn’t slid into the Grand Rivere. A slapping noise, too wet and brittle to be called drumming, filled the car as the rain hit the windshield, and the Impala’s heater circulated the smell of wet wool so that it was all Hazard could taste.

The Impala jerked to a halt so suddenly that Hazard rocked forward, his head narrowly missing the windshield. “What the hell—” Then Hazard saw what had caused Somers to stop: the Petty Philadelph had overrun its banks. The water surged up into the overgrown fields, trampling the tall grass before swirling around the Impala’s tires. Ahead of the car, water skated across the top of the bridge.

“How fast do you think it’s moving?” Somers shouted over the drumming rain.

“Too fast.”

“It’s just skimming the top of the bridge. We can still make it.”

“Like hell.”

Somers set his face in determination. “We’re getting you to Nico’s house. You’ll never forgive me if you don’t have a chance at going away sex.”

“You’re a complete and total idiot.” But Hazard didn’t object as Somers eased the car forward. Somers was right: the water did look like it was barely rushing over the top of the bridge. And the bridge wasn’t very long. They’d only have to drive carefully for ten or fifteen yards, and then they’d reach dry—well, relatively—land on the other side and be safely on their way back to Wahredua.

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As soon as the Impala’s tires touched the bridge, though, metal shrieked and groaned. Water shoved the Impala sideways, and the nose of the car hammered into the bridge’s support. Over the thrum of the rain, the shrill noise of twisting metal grew stronger, and a tremor ran through the bridge and up into the Impala.

“Get out,” Hazard said, fumbling with his seat belt.

Somers didn’t speak; his face had lost some color, but his features were still set in a kind of extreme focus. With two quick movements, he undid his seatbelt and then Hazard’s. Then he pulled the latch, and the door swung open, forced by the rising water.

“This way,” Somers said, grabbing Hazard’s jacket and tugging him across the center console. “The water’s blocking your door.”

Hazard crawled into the driver’s seat, ignoring the searing stab of pain in his shoulder, and splashed out into the water that was already hitting him mid-calf. He staggered under the rushing speed of the water, but Somers still had hold of his jacket, and he used it to steady the larger man. Supporting each other against the growing force of the flood, the two detectives stumbled towards higher ground.

The water was still ankle-deep when the bridge gave a last, pained squeal and tore free. The wood-and-steel frame whipped around once in the Petty Philadelph’s muddy waters, and then it crashed against the bank, bounced, crashed again, and drifted out of reach of the Impala’s headlights. The Impala, its front tires no longer supported by the bridge, sagged forward into the river. Inch by inch, the car slid away.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Somers said, wiping rain from his eyes as he stared at the sinking Impala. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Icy rain continued to pelt the men; Hazard shivered, and he was suddenly aware of the river water and the rain leaching heat from him. Somers still had hold of Hazard’s jacket, and Hazard pried him loose.

“Come on,” Hazard said. “Before we freeze to death.”

By the time they reached the house, Hazard’s shivering had become uncontrollable, and his teeth chattered so violently he was afraid of biting his tongue in two. Somers, who was smaller and carried substantially less body fat, looked blue. Hazard half-carried his partner up the steps to Windsor, propped Somers against the door, and started hammering on the wood.

What felt like an eternity passed before the door swung open, and Meryl, with her red hair shining like a welcome fire, stared at them. “What in the—”

Hazard pushed past her, dragging Somers into the entry hall. “Fireplace,” Hazard managed between bouts of chattering. “T-t-towels.”

“The dining room,” Meryl said. “You know the way. I’ll grab towels and blankets.”

Without waiting for an answer, she sprinted up the stairs, moving faster than Hazard expected a woman in a gown to move. Hazard, still carrying much of Somers’s weight, moved into the dining room. He was pleased to see that the other guests had abandoned the room, and even more pleased to see that platters of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes with congealed butter still sat on the table. A fire flickered in the chimney, and Hazard and Somers dragged chairs next to the flames. With the poker, Hazard stirred the logs and added more fuel. Heat poured over them, and, still shivering, Hazard sank back into the chair.

“Y-y-y-you’re going to s-s-set yourself on fire,” Somers managed.

Hazard blinked at the other man, too tired to respond, and settled lower towards the flames.

Somers tried to say something else, but he couldn’t get it out. Instead, he settled for leaning forward and swatting Hazard on the leg. Hard. The blow stung, and Hazard pulled his legs back. It was only then that he noticed the smoke curling up from his trousers. With a grudging nod, Hazard pulled his seat back from the flames—but only a little.

“What happened?” Meryl, clutching towels and blankets to her chest, watched them from the doorway.

“Bridge is out,” Hazard managed to say. The heat from the fire soaked into his chilled skin, and as numbness gave way, tingling prickles took its place. He shrugged out of his jacket, worked stiff fingers into the pocket, and found his phone.

“Who do I call?”

“S-s-swinney.”

Hazard dialed, and a familiar voice answered on the second ring. “Swinney.”

Elizabeth Swinney and her partner, Albert Lender, were the other two detectives on Wahredua’s police force. Both of them seemed decent types, but Swinney had struck a note of friendship with Hazard. More importantly, between Swinney and Lender, they knew Wahredua and the surrounding county better than almost anyone—they specialized in drug-related crime, which took them all over the area.

“Where are you?”

“Halfway to Nebraska. We’re spending Thanksgiving on the farm if you can believe that. Where are you?”

“Windsor.”

“What?”

“That big house near the Petty Philadelph.”

“I know what Windsor is. Why are you there?” Then Swinney groaned. “Lord, this doesn’t have to do with Mrs. Ferrell does it?”

“Pretty much. Bridge is out.”

“You all right?”

“We’re alive.”

“But you’re stuck at Windsor?”

“That’s why I’m calling.”

“Hold on.”

Swinney was silent for almost a full minute, and then Hazard heard the line ringing. For a moment, he thought the call had disconnected, and then a man’s voice picked up. “Swinney? What’s up?”

“Lender, I’ve got Hazard on the line. Bridge is out at Windsor, and he and Somers—that’s right, isn’t it, you’ve got Somers with you?”

Hazard grunted.

“He and Somers are stuck there. You know another way out? Backroads?”

“Geez, you guys picked a bad time to go to Windsor.”

Hazard didn’t bother to reply.

“Windsor’s land stretches a long way. There used to be a service road that met up with some of it.”

“Used to be?”

“Gone. It was a dirt road, and it washed out years ago.”

“Maybe we could still find it.”

On the other end of the line, Lender snorted. “Nothing left to find. You could walk right past it and see nothing but the last ten year’s growth.”

Hazard decided now wasn’t the best time to tell them about the car being lost to the Petty Philadelph. Instead, he said, “So we’re stuck here.”

“Until the rain dies down at least.”

No one spoke for a moment.

“That all? I’ve got to get back to my kids.”

“Thanks, Lender,” Swinney said.

“Happy Thanksgiving.” A click marked Lender’s disconnection.

“You’ve got somewhere you can hole up?” Swinney asked. “I can call the company that owns Windsor, see if they have a place you can stay.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“You want me to call Cravens?”

“No, I’ll do it.”

“You want me to drive back there and see what I can do?”

“Keep driving to Nebraska, Swinney. Somebody deserves a vacation.”

“Give me a call if I can help.”

“Bye, Swinney.”

Hazard disconnected the call. He was surprised that the pins-and-needles in his hands had faded and the terrible cold gripping him had eased. The smell of roast turkey made his stomach grumble, and Hazard dragged himself out of the chair and over to the table. Using a leftover dinner roll, he made a sandwich of turkey and stuffing. Meryl approached with the towels, but Hazard waved her away.

“Yeah?” Hazard asked, holding the sandwich towards Somers.

Somers nodded and took the sandwich, which he devoured in three bites. Hazard made a plateful of sandwiches, carried them back to the fire, and shared them with Somers.

“You don’t want to dry off?” Meryl asked as she hovered near the table, a towel outstretched.

“Not until I’m out of these clothes,” Hazard said. “Laundry?”

“They said—” Meryl gestured towards the back of the house. “In case we had an emergency, there’s a machine back there.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to do it,” Hazard said, fixing a glower on Somers.

Somers must have been feeling better because he managed a weak grin. “I’ll just hang everything up to dry.”

“Fucking barbarian,” Hazard said, stuffing the last of the sandwich in his mouth. He dialed his phone again, and this time, the call picked up on the first ring.

“Cravens.”

“We’ve got a problem, Chief.”

“What’s going on?”

Hazard told her everything, starting with Mrs. Ferrell and ending with Lender’s pronouncement that there was no way to leave Windsor. When he’d finished, he said, “You want to send a chopper for us?”

“I hope you’re joking, Detective.”

“Not really. I’m not planning on spending Thanksgiving at this place, and Somers and I are on duty tomorrow.”

“We’ll find someone to cover.”

“Swinney and Lender are—”

“I know where my detectives are, thank you very much. Let me think.” After a moment, Cravens said, “There’s nothing to do about it. You stay there until the weather clears up. I’ll start making phone calls about getting a temporary bridge; we’ll have to evacuate everyone as soon as it’s safe to do so. Are you and Detective Somerset all right?”

“We’re doing better than the department vehicle.”

“We’ll talk about that later. You’ve got food, you’ve got a roof, you’ve got heat. For now, plant yourselves and try not to cause any trouble. I don’t need you giving the mayor another reason to stretch my neck on the block.”

What did the mayor have to do with any of it? Before Hazard could ask, though, Cravens said goodbye and disconnected the call, and Hazard was left staring at the phone in his hand. Then, not quite ready to face Nico’s anger, Hazard sent a quick text: Grab the shuttle, we’re stuck. Call later.

“Well?” Somers said. The color had come back into his face, and aside from the occasional shiver, he looked like he could have splashed off the set for a commercial—cologne, maybe, or a fancy watch, something high-end and very expensive.

“We stay until they can put in a temporary bridge and evacuate us.”

“Evacuate us?” Meryl dropped into a chair at the table. “You’re kidding, right? We’re stuck here?”

“Sorry.”

“Boy, I have all the luck.” She blew out a breath, shaking back her fiery hair to expose a pale neck and an even paler decolletage. Somers was noticing that decolletage, and Hazard noticed him noticing, and he hated the fact that he was noticing Somers’s noticing.

“Extra toothbrush?” Hazard said abruptly, getting to his feet to break the moment. “Soap? Shampoo?”

“What? Oh, yes. It’s like a hotel, see? They have all of that in the bathrooms.”

“How about a place for us to stay?”

“Let me—Ran, don’t try to sneak away. I saw you.”

Ran, his acne shining in the firelight, slunk into the dining room. “I wasn’t sneaking,” he said in his high, whiny voice.

“The detectives need a place to stay.”

“Why?”

“Because they just do, all right?” Meryl got to her feet, still clutching the towels and blankets. “Do you still have that stupid map?”

“It’s not stupid.”

“Do you have it?”

“If it were stupid, you wouldn’t want it.” Ran gave a nasally giggle at this. “But you do want it.”

“Ran—” Meryl began.

“A room with two beds,” Hazard said. “Either take us there or give me the goddamn map, right now.”

Ran swallowed the rest of his giggle, wrapping his arms around his thin chest, his eyes sullen as he said, “There’s only one room left.”

“Then let’s see it.”

Hazard and Somers followed the acne-spattered young man through the entry hall and up to the second floor. Meryl trailed behind them. At the top of the landing, Hazard noticed the light shining under the door where Adaline had delivered Thomas Strong’s dinner. When Hazard looked up, Meryl was watching him.

“Working late,” Hazard said.

In a whisper, Meryl said, “He hasn’t come out all night, and you saw what happened to poor Adaline when she disturbed him. He’s all in a frenzy about the stock price. It went rock-bottom today, that’s what Benny says, and Thomas quite literally might go mad if he can’t get it back up.”

They continued down the hallway. Electric sconces were dimmed to provide only the faintest glow, and the wood paneling glimmered at odd angles. The air was colder here, Hazard noticed, and another shiver ran through him. Up here, the smell of wax polish and a dry, stone scent, which made Hazard think of a museum, filled the air. Ran led them past a series of doors, all closed and dark, and stopped at the bottom of a crooked, winding staircase. Cold air rushed down the stairs, and Hazard shivered again.

“It’s the only room left,” Ran said in his sniveling voice, but there was a look of dark satisfaction in his eyes, the look of a man who thinks he’s very clever and enjoys the last laugh.

“Fine,” Hazard said.

“And the bathroom?” Somers said.

“There’s one.”

“You’ll want these, I guess,” Meryl said, her voice still pitched low as she passed the bundled blankets to Hazard.

Ran didn’t wait to be dismissed; he scurried down the hallway and disappeared into one of the rooms they had passed. The sound of the lock turning echoed down the hallway.

Her extraordinary features set with grim amusement, Meryl said, “And then there was one. I suppose I’ll go to bed too. Benny was right, you know? The whole game was ruined. Everybody’s pitching a fit in their own way, and,” her voice dropped so low that Hazard could barely hear her, “Thomas is the worst of them, the old bully.” Without a goodbye, Meryl strode down the hallway, the hem of her gown sweeping the floor. In the wan light, with the opals of her dress glowing, she looked like royalty, like an ancient and eternal queen, and then she pressed a switch and the hall went dark.

“Upstairs, I guess,” Somers said, jostling Hazard as he mounted the steps. “They’re crazy. You get that, right?”

Hazard followed. “I don’t know. Meryl seems all right.”

“She’s the worst one.”

“What does that mean? She’s the only one that’s been decent.”

“I don’t know,” Somers said. “I’m too tired to care. It’s fucking freezing up here. Did they leave the window open? And look at the dust. Here we are, half-icicles, stuck in this house full of crazy people, and I don’t know how it could—”

“Don’t say it,” Hazard said.

“—get any worse.”

At that moment, Somers opened the door at the top of the stairs and flicked on the light. Hazard felt like the floor had opened up be

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neath him; his stomach dropped and just kept dropping, past his knees, past his ankles, and he doubted it would hit bottom for another mile or so.

There was just one bed.

 

Want to know more about author, Gregory Ashe? Follow him here:  https://www.gregoryashe.com/

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Have you read the first book in the series? Click on the link below to read an exclusive excerpt of Pretty Pretty Boys, by Gregory Ashe.

Exclusive Excerpt: Pretty Pretty Boys by Gregory Ashe (Hazard & Somerset #1)

 

Excerpts! Lammy Finalists: Boystown 10: Gifts Given & Night Drop, both by Marshall Thornton

Two Exclusive Excerpts from this year’s double Lammy Finalist (Gay Mystery)  – Lambda Literary Award winner (and multi-nominated), author, Marshall Thornton!

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Exclusive Excerpt #1 – Lambda Finalist – Boystown 10: Gifts Given

Given what I’ve seen, given what I’ve lived, it strikes me that love is a kind of madness. An insanity that poses as a necessity, tricking us into believing we need it as much as breath, as much as life itself. A sensible man would run from it, bar the doors, hide in a cupboard like a child, rifle through the kitchen drawers looking for a weapon to stave it off. A sensible man would have nothing to do with love. I am not a sensible man.

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A week before Christmas, a Tuesday, I asked my friend Brian to go shopping with me. I needed his help picking out a gift for my live-in boyfriend, Joseph Biernacki, which was how we ended up standing in a very long line, empty-handed, waiting to get into Marshall Field’s Walnut Room for lunch. We’d done exactly forty-five minutes of shopping, most of it spent looking at watches even though I knew that was the wrong gift for Joseph. He’d given me a Swatch for our six-month anniversary, so a watch felt wrong, repetitive and unoriginal. Besides, I’d accidentally thrown the Swatch he’d given me away—and I didn’t want to remind him. I was also a little afraid he’d buy me a new one for Christmas.

“You know, lunch is going to take two hours,” I pointed out. “Maybe we should go out to State Street and buy a slice of pizza.” There were greasy little pizza places roughly every two blocks.

“Isn’t this a Chicago tradition, though? A Christmas lunch at Field’s?” Brian asked. He’d grown up downstate. But he was right, lunch at Field’s was a Christmas tradition. Hence the line we were in.

It was something I’d done a dozen times as a child. My mother, like thousands of mothers, had brought my brothers and me each year for shopping and lunch. Unfortunately, whatever fond memories I had of that had been obliterated by the fact that the last time I was in Field’s I’d been shot at.

“It’s not a tradition I need to repeat,” I said.

He read the impatience on my face and said, “Hold on a second,” before walking up to the hostess stand. After a brief conversation he turned and waved at me to join him.

When I got there, the hostess smiled and said, “Right this way.”

As we walked through the atrium, passing the giant, three-story Christmas tree, I whispered into Brian’s ear. “How did you manage this?”

“You’ll see.”

The hostess led us across the wood-paneled dining room—presumably walnut given the name of the place—to a table that sat in the corner in front of two enormous windows looking out at a random collection of Loop office buildings. Sugar Pilson sat alone at a table for four. She was casual but elegant in a cabled cream-colored sweater and a pair of washed-out, high-waisted jeans. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she looked more like the cheerleader she was rumored to have once been than the socialite she actually was. I’d met her years before on a case, but she was now more Brian’s friend than mine. Not that I didn’t like her immensely, it’s just that she and Brian did charity work together for Howard Brown, creating a bond between them I wasn’t part of.

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Obviously, Brian had known Sugar was there, so why had we waited in line at all? Were they planning to pretend we were meeting accidentally?

As soon as the hostess walked away, I said, “This is a setup, isn’t it? What’s going on?”

“Of course it’s a set-up, darling. I need to have a professional conversation with you.”

I took off my trench coat and threw it over the fourth chair beside Sugar’s white fox car coat. Brian slipped his down jacket over the back of his chair.

“Why not just come to my office?” I asked as I sat down.

“I’ve driven by your office. Really Nick, how do you expect to attract clients? Your name isn’t on the door and it looks like the kind of place you’d go for a back alley abortion.”

She wasn’t wrong. My office was hardly appealing.

“Abortion is legal, Sugar, and you’re too young to know anything about back alley abortions.”

“I’m not, but it’s sweet of you to say so.”

“So, what exactly do you need?”

She didn’t answer, though, since a waitress showed up. “Can I get you something from the bar?”

“Yes, please. I’ll have one of those wonderful coffee drinks you make,” Sugar said, then she looked at Brian and me and said, “Perfect for a day like today.”

Outside, it was in the low twenties and threatening to snow. Though in all honesty, I doubted Sugar had experienced much of the weather walking from her front door to the limo and from the limo into Field’s. She’d probably been outside for a whole minute and a half.

“I’ll have the same,” I said.

“Can I have a diet Coke?” Brian asked.

When the waitress walked away, I asked Sugar again, “Why do you need my professional services?”

She took a moment, chewed some of the pink lipstick off her lower lip, and finally said, “I’ve fallen in love.”

“And like most women the first thing you thought about was hiring a private detective?”

“Nick, don’t tease her,” Brian said. “It’s not nice.”

“Sorry. I assume you think this gentleman is after your money.”

“Oh, I know he’s after my money,” Sugar said. “They always are. I need to know more about him so I can decide how much I want to spend on him.”

“That’s an interesting attitude,” I said.

“Well, it’s not like I can flip him over and check the price tag.”

Brian giggled at the image.

“All right. What’s his name?” I asked.

“There’s one more thing.”

“Okay.”

“I have the feeling I’m being watched,” Sugar said. “It’s a feeling I don’t like.”

“Why do you feel that way?”

“Things keep showing up in Gloria’s column. Things that shouldn’t be there.”

Gloria Silver wrote “The Silver Spoon” for the Daily Herald. We had a long, unpleasant association. She was the wife of the late Earl Silver, who originally wrote the column. He was also the lover of my friend (and onetime fuck buddy) Ross. I suppose that made us sexual relatives in a way. An extremely unpleasant thought.

I read her column every day, and Sugar was right, she’d been in the column a lot. Several of the mentions had to do with her drinking habits, the others weren’t much more flattering.

“And do you think your new beau is the source of Gloria’s information?”

“No, she’s written about things he couldn’t know.”

“So you think Gloria’s having you followed?”

“Oh God, that sounds so paranoid when you say it out loud.”

The waitress brought our drinks. I took a spoon and stirred mine up. It was topped with whipped cream. Whipped cream and mustaches don’t go well together in public. I took a sip; it was warm and sweet and very strong.

“You can help her, right Nick?” Brian asked.

I wasn’t exactly ready to commit. “Tell me about the man.”

“He’s an artist. I met him at a gallery about two months ago. He paints orchids and flamingos on gigantic canvases. I bought a flamingo for my dining room. That’s how we got to know each other.”

“It’s a great painting,” Brian said.

“Isn’t it?” Sugar said. “I think it just makes the room.”

“How much was this great painting?”

“Hardly anything.”

“Hardly anything in my world is twenty bucks,” I pointed out. “How much is it in yours?”

“Five thousand.”

“Are you his only client?”

“Goodness no. He sells all the time.”

“He’s very popular,” Brian added.

“How long does it take him to paint a picture?”

“A couple of weeks. It’s hard to tell. He works on more than one at a time.”

“So he makes roughly ten grand a month and you think he might be after your money?”

“Darling, I clip coupons. And I never touch my principal.” She also she lived lavishly and gave generously, meaning that her income was large enough to impress people who made ten grand a month.

“You clip coupons? I hope that’s just an expression. I don’t like to think of you having a lot of bearer bonds lying around the house.” Bearer bonds were not registered to their owner and therefore a very convenient thing to steal. They’d also gone out of fashion and, if I wasn’t mistaken, weren’t being issued anymore.

“Of course it’s an expression,” she said. “And I don’t keep anything valuable around the house.” Except the paintings on her walls, the furs in her closet and, I’d guess, a couple handfuls of diamonds lying about.

“We should get back on topic. We were talking about your painter. Michael France.”

“Oh Nick, you know his name! You’re psychic, aren’t you? That must be so useful in your line of work.”

“I read ‘The Silver Spoon.’ Gloria has been promoting him for a while now. A year? Longer?”

“How can you read that dreadful witch?” We’d both had run-ins with Gloria. It was something we had in common. Gloria hated both of us.

“I read her because I like to know what the witch is up to.” Of course, it was obvious that Sugar read the column every day herself. Then something occurred to me. Michael France was a sort of protégé of Gloria’s, or possibly…

“Sugar? Did you steal Gloria’s boyfriend?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it exactly like that.”

Brian, though, was furiously nodding his head.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Didn’t you tell me that Gloria was in love with some twenty-five-year-old who was robbing her blind?”

“He’s not twenty-five, he’s almost thirty. And apparently Gloria is doing just fine since she bought a condo on Lake Shore and Burton. Two bedrooms, three hundred thousand dollars.”

“A hundred and fifty thousand a bedroom?”

“Well, it is an entire floor. And it has more bathrooms than bedrooms.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I know her real-estate agent.”

“I guess the Daily Herald pays better than I thought.”

“It doesn’t. She acts like she comes from money, but I don’t think she does.”

“Did they give her a discount for publicity?”

“A steep discount, I imagine.”

Another waitress came and asked if we wanted to order lunch. There was wait staff everywhere running around and they didn’t seem too concerned with who did what. I ordered the Walnut Room’s famous chicken potpie, Sugar ordered a salad, and Brian ordered meatloaf.

When we were alone again, I said, “I’ll do a standard background check, but I’d also like to meet France—if you don’t think that would be too awkward.”

“There’s a holiday open house at his studio on Thursday. I’ve already invited Brian. Come as his guest. Don’t mention that I’ve hired you.”

“Of course not. Do you plan to tell him, though? At some point?”

“It depends on what you find.”

The conversation drifted to the AIDS test that was supposed to be coming out soon. The test was still being tested, and activists were already raising concerns about confidentiality and whether insurance companies or employers might be able to get hold of your results.

“I was having a conversation with a board member about creating a testing center where people could be tested for free on a strictly confidential basis,” Brian said.

“Does it really matter, though?” I asked. “There’s no cure. So what good is knowing?”

“I’ve heard that before. I think it’s better to know. So that people can take precautions.”

“People are already taking precautions.” Precautions that don’t always work, I did not add.

“Darling, it’s not just about individuals. The test is also important for research and helping doctors learn how to treat their patients.” That was annoyingly true.

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Exclusive Excerpt #2: Night Drop by Marshall Thornton

At times I felt like a ghost. I think I hadn’t had enough time to become myself before I met Jeffer, and then I was part of Noah and Jeffer, Jeffer and Noah. We went to a party once and I overheard someone saying about me, “It’s like he has no personality when Jeffer leaves the room.” It was a cruel thing to say, mostly because it felt true.

That’s what I was thinking about as I drove home in a riot. Strange, I thought. Very strange. But then I remembered it was almost the anniversary of Jeffer’s getting sick; the great unraveling of secrets and lies; the beginning of my floating away from him, ghostlike and empty.

My apartment was less than a mile from Pinx Video. Around the time Jeffers died, I’d moved to a small, one-bedroom apartment on a hill in Silver Lake. Not one of the better hills, a hill well below Sunset. The good part of Silver Lake was north of Sunset surrounding the actual lake, of course. Fanning out from there were some decent blocks, but then, when you crossed Sunset, you came to a hilly area where altitude and income fell into step. The wealthier people lived at the top of the hills, while the poor and desperate lived at the bottom.

Not that my apartment was the kind of place where rich people lived. The dishwater gray building was a small six-unit L wrapped around a shabby, old-growth courtyard. There were thick, shaggy palms, birds of paradise and a dribbling fountain, leaving only enough room for a single metal table and chairs. A cement stairway—painted rusty red—came up from the street and garages to the courtyard, then a wooden stairway led to the second floor. A red-tiled walkway with white railings ran across the entire second floor.

My place was on the second floor at the front giving me a southwest view of the basin. As I was unlocking my door that morning, I glanced out and saw plumes of smoke rising above the city in at least a dozen spots. I suppose most of them had been there when I’d left two hours before, but I hadn’t thought much about them, assuming they were left over from the night before. Now they seemed ominous; a hint of the future rather than a glimpse of the past.

I wasn’t sure if the apartment measured six hundred square feet, if it did it was just that. The living room was small, too small for a full sofa so I had a second-hand love seat that I’d wrapped in a crazy black and purple print I’d gotten at the new IKEA in Burbank. Beside that there wasn’t much other than a black leather chair with a bent-wood frame—also from IKEA, it was called POONG or something unpronounceable along those lines—a veneered armoire from the thirties which held my 13-inch TV/VCR combo, my video collection (or at least part of it), a compact stereo and a stack of CDs I’d gotten from a record club. On the wall over the POONG chair hung a Hockney poster that Jeffer had bought me at the LACMA retrospective in eighty-eight.

There was a faux Danish modern dinette set that I’d put in front of the window next to the dining area off the kitchen. That area was too small for the table, so I’d turned it into an office area by putting my sixties-style metal desk under the corner windows.

The minuscule, U-shaped kitchen had appliances that were brand new when I was in high school and very little counter space, most of which was taken up by my most important appliance, the microwave.

The bedroom had a wall of closets, and a wall of built-in cabinets and drawers, leaving exactly enough room for a queen-sized bed. I had set my bed in front of a do-it-yourself bookcase made of concrete blocks and planks of wood, using it as a kind of headboard. This eliminated the need for nightstands, which there wasn’t room for anyway. I’d painted the entire apartment dove gray and put in bright white miniblinds. I ignored the sculptured brown carpet as best I could.

I put on a Dionne Warwick CD and kicked off my shoes. I went into the bathroom to wash my face. I don’t think it was dirty, but just the idea of a riot made everything seem sooty and thick. I tried not to look at myself. If I had I would not have seen the ghost I felt like but instead a reasonably attractive young man of around twenty-eight. I had brown eyes and unremarkable but symmetrical features. The most noticeable thing about me was my hair. It was massively thick and stubborn. It did whatever it chose and I had little say in the matter. I’d tried every product out there and nothing tamed the beast on my head. At that particular moment it needed cutting, but I could hardly put out a bulletin to stop the riot so I could find a barber.

I tried even harder not to look at the rest of me. If you were being unkind you’d call me delicate, frail, skinny—I couldn’t for the life of me keep weight on—elf-like even. And if you were being kind, well, there were few kind words for a man of my stature.

Dionne was nearly finished loving Paris when the phone rang. I pressed pause on the CD player and picked up the cordless. It was Louis from downstairs.

“Marc is on his way home from the studio. They’re shutting down. Did you close the video store?”

“I did.”

“Good idea. I’m making lunch. Come down.”

I’d barely said yes when he hung up. Louis was partial to short telephone chats and long after-dinner conversations. I didn’t need to change my clothes; I dressed casually at Pinx—though not as casually as my employees. Still, I changed into a pair of khaki shorts, flip-flops, a mock turtleneck and an over-sized jean jacket. I ran a comb through my hair but quickly gave up trying to subdue it. Then went down to the courtyard about ten minutes later.

Louis had a glass of chardonnay already poured for me. The sky was thick with clouds—the marine layer—but that didn’t matter. There was an umbrella stuck into the center of the metal table in the extremely remote chance it rained.

Sitting on the ground next to the table was a high-end boom box tuned to KCRW. They were discussing whether the Federal government might now file charges against the LAPD officers accused of beating King. The guest was fairly certain they would.

“We live in strange times,” Louis said coming out of his apartment. He and Marc lived directly below in an apartment that was identically small. While I had a view, they’d claimed this end of the courtyard for themselves.

Wearing navy shorts, penny loafers, a light blue dress shirt and an apron that said “Finger Lickin’ Good,” Louis was tall, nearly forty and spreading in the middle. His eyes protruded a bit and his smile was wide, giving him the look of a jovial frog. I wasn’t the first to notice it; there was a collection of miniature frogs on his kitchen windowsill. In one hand he held a plate full of uncooked ribs.

“We live in strange times, so you thought you’d barbecue?” I asked.

“It was that or pack up the car and flee.”

He set the ribs on the table and bent over a small hibachi. In a short while, he had the coals lit and sat down with me at the table.

“So. Can you believe the verdict?” he asked.

“It was shocking.”

“I don’t see how they could come to that decision. Between the videotape and Gates himself saying it was…what was the word he used, an aberration?”

I sipped the wine. It was cold, sweet and tart at the same time, and warming as it went down. The glass had sprouted beads of water. I rubbed at them while I listened to the sirens in the distance.

“I don’t remember much about the beating. I wasn’t paying attention,” I admitted.

“Well, it wasn’t an aberration. I’ve seen the LAPD beat people like that before.”

“You have?”

“Absolutely. I mean, there was no video camera handy. And the person was white. But you have to know LAPD makes a habit of this.”

“So, it’s systemic?”

“Again, the video. Look at all those other cops standing around watching, doing nothing. That’s systemic.”

“What about people saying King was on PCP?”

“And it gives you superhuman strength?”

I shrugged. That’s what they said, but I had no idea.

“If that man had superhuman strength they left it out of the video,” Louis said.

Just then, Marc came up the stairs. He was smaller and wider than Louis, and about ten years younger. He wore gray wool slacks, a white shirt and a red tie. In one hand, he carried the jacket that went with the slacks, in the other a scuffed briefcase. His face was round and his lips were what my mother’s generation would have called bee-stung.

Not bothering to go inside, he flopped down in one chair and tossed his things in another, before he pulled out a pack of extra-long menthol cigarettes.

“Oh. My. God. I just drove through hell.” He lit his cigarette and inhaled. “I took Washington to Vermont, my normal route. Huge mistake. I had no idea that South Central was like a block away from there. A block! They started talking about it on the radio. Did you know that it goes all the way up to the 10? I certainly didn’t. And there I was, a block from the 10. And then, almost as soon as I realize that, I glance over and there are these guys trying to break into a liquor store on the other side of the street. I mean, the place had all these security bars and they’re just ripping them down like they’re curtains—Louis, why haven’t you gotten me a glass of wine?”

“Well dear, it seemed rude to walk away while you were talking.”

“Go get me wine. I’ll talk louder.” He inhaled deeply from his cigarette. “So, every few blocks there’s someone trying to break into a business and then…OH MY GOD!” he yelled so Louis could hear him inside. “I get to Washington and Vermont and there are two, not one but TWO GAS STATIONS ON FIRE!”

Louis came out of the apartment with a fresh glass of wine for himself and one for Marc. “You didn’t stop for any red lights, did you?”

“Are you crazy? Not after the things we saw on TV last night.” He took the glass of wine. “Oh thank God.” After a long sip, he continued. “I don’t know what happened. This morning—I mean, I drove the same route at eight-thirty—nothing was happening, nothing was being broken into, and nothing was on fire.”

“I guess rioters like to sleep in,” Louis suggested. “They were up late last night, after all.”

“Did you really run red lights?” I asked.

“Only the one at Washington and Vermont.”

“So, there were no fire engines at that intersection? No police?”

“No, the gas stations were just burning.”

“Well,” said Louis. “We’re glad you made it home safe.”

“Yes, my being dragged from the car and beaten would have ruined your appetite.”

“Well, it would have,” Louis said. “Though not as much as worrying about how I’d get the Infiniti back.” He looked at me and said, “It’s on a lease.”

I enjoyed Marc and Louis and their banter. I felt safe with them for some reason. I wondered what Jeffer would have thought of them. I doubt he’d have liked them. I remember the first time I brought Jeffer up, Marc said, “Good God, what kind of a name is Jeffer?”

“He was Jeff as a child. And then Jeffrey. But he liked Jeffer best.”

“Pretentious,” Marc said.

“Now, now,” Louis interrupted. “Don’t speak ill of the dead. Not when there are living people you can speak ill of.” And then he did just that, taking a few swipes at the president, who I found too bland to be worth insulting, or Pat Robertson or the mayor. It was fine with me, of course, since I preferred to talk about anything but Jeffer.

“Did you close the video store?” Marc asked.

“Of course, he closed the video store,” Louis replied for me. “He’s here isn’t he? He wouldn’t just leave his employees to fend for themselves.”

“Do you think it will be all right?” Marc asked, pointedly ignoring his lover.

“Well, they’re not sure it’s going to get this far,” I said. “I’ve heard most of it is still happening in South Central and Koreatown.”

“Yes, I imagine Koreatown’s getting slammed,” Louis said. “It’s one thing to murder a child. It’s another to get off scot-free.”

“It was involuntary manslaughter,” Marc corrected.

“You say potato I say murder.”

White flakes of ash began falling through the air. One or two at first, then more. The wind picked them up somewhere nearby. A somewhere nearby that was on fire.

“And Koreatown didn’t kill the girl, that cashier did. It’s not the neighborhood’s fault. It’s really the judge’s fault, she’s the one who reduced the sentence. They should go burn her house down and be done with it.”

“And the jury out in Simi Valley. They should get their houses burned down. Come to think of it, they can burn the whole Simi Valley.”

“I blame public transportation,” I said quietly.

“What?” Louis asked, and they both looked at me.

“Public transportation is terrible in L.A. The rioters can’t get to Simi Valley.”

Louis erupted into laughter. He put the ribs onto the hibachi, and when he stood up noticed the white flakes of ash floating in the air.

“Huh. Who says it never snows in Los Angeles.”