Exclusive Excerpt: Ghostly Investigations by Edward Kendrick

Excerpt:

“This is crazy,” Jon said. “How the hell many bars are there in the city?”

Brody laughed. “Too many, from a cop’s perspective. Let’s try this one and a couple more and call it a night.”

They took advantage of two men leaving Far Horizon to enter without having to go through the wall.

“I think… Yeah, I’ve been here before.”

“Last night?”

“You know I don’t remember yesterday. But…” Jon looked around. “This is the club I came to with Grant. Then a couple of times after, looking for him.” He smiled sourly. “I guess I was hoping to reconnect, since he hadn’t called me after the first time. Hope springs eternal and all that shit.”

Brody patted his back. “It happens. Is he here tonight?”

“Hard to tell from where we’re standing. Let’s wander.”

* * * *

Mike was halfway to the door when Sage grabbed his arm. “I saw the man in the picture,” he said excitedly. “But…”

“Not possible,” Mike replied shortly. “He’s dead. He was murdered last night.”

“You lied to me?” Sage said in dismay. “Not that it matters. I knew he was dead the second I saw him and his friend—who’s also dead. They’re here, and they’re ghosts.”

Mike rolled his eyes. “Look. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull…”

“I’m not lying,” Sage protested. “I can see—”

“Dead people? That worked in the movie, but not with me.” Mike looked pointedly at the drink Sage was holding. “Maybe it’s time to ease up on those.”

“Damn it! It’s the truth. I can see ghosts, and that’s what the guy is. A ghost.”

Figuring he’d play along to see what Sage would do next to try to convince him, Mike asked, “What’s he wearing?”

“Jeans, a blue work shirt, over a dark red T-shirt.”

Okay. He was here last night and saw Watts. But why the games?

“Am I right?” Sage asked.

“Yeah. Lucky guess. Half the guys here are in jeans and blue shirts.”

“Not work shirts.” Sage looked around, then pointed. “They’re right over there. Honest.”

* * * *

“The detective’s here,” Jon said, nodding toward him.

“Harris?” Brody looked. “Well, damn. I told you he was good.”

“Who’s he talking to?”

“You’re asking me?” Brody replied. “I never… What the hell?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Whoever the other guy is, he sees us. He’s looking right at us. I mean at us.”

“He can’t be.”

“Oh, yeah? Move away a bit, and watch his eyes.”

Jon did. The man’s gaze followed his movement. “Now what do we do? What if he tells Harris he sees us?”

“I think he already has, from the look of disbelief on Harris’ face.” Brody chortled. “I bet Harris is about to call the guys in the white coats. Come on.” He walked toward Harris and the other man.

“By all that’s holy, he’s here,” the man who’d seen them said to Harris. “In fact, he, they’re, coming over.”

“Sage…” Harris sighed. “I know you believe what you’re saying but it’s impossible. Dead people don’t come back, except in bad movies. If I were you, I’d go home and sleep it off. That’s what I’m going to do.” He smiled. “Well, not the sleeping off part. I haven’t been drinking.” He started toward the door, stopped, and asked Sage, “Were you here last night?”

Sage looked as if he wasn’t going to answer, then nodded. “I was. So was he. The guy in the picture. I was going to tell you that when you took off for the bar.”

“Alone?”

“He was when I saw him. Over there.” Sage pointed to a table in a dark corner of the room. “I didn’t stick around for very long so…” Sage shrugged.

“Okay. Thanks. That helps. Is there anyone else here now who was around last night?”

Sage looked around. “Him, I think, and that couple over there,” he replied, pointing out the men.

Harris thanked him before heading it their direction. As soon as he was gone, Sage looked directly at Jon. “He doesn’t believe me, but I do see you.”

“I know,” Jon replied. “What are you? I mean…”

“I think he’s a medium,” Brody said. “Right?”

“Yes,” Sage replied. “That’s the term for it.” He grimaced. “Unfortunately, when people hear it, they think of some woman dressed like a gypsy, working out of a tent in a carnival, or a sleazy storefront shop. I’d rather die than do something like that.”

“Dying’s not all it’s cracked up to be, so I’d pass if I were you. By the way, I’m Brody and you know he’s Jon.”

Sage started to hold out his hand, stopping with an embarrassed wince. “Can we go somewhere less public? People are beginning to look at me funny.”

Brody laughed. “Sure. Where?”

“My office isn’t far from here.”

“Lead the way.”

“Why are we going with him?” Jon whispered as they followed Sage out of the club.

“Because you can talk to him and he can tell Harris what you know that might be relevant to why you were killed.”

“I don’t think Harris would believe him.”

“Then we’ll have Sage set up a meeting.”

“Riiiiight.” Jon looked at Brody as if he was crazy.

“I could,” Sage said, obviously having overheard them, now that they were out on the street. “He lives in the same townhouse complex I do, so I see him on and off.”

“We’ll see,” Jon replied doubtfully.

They stopped talking as they walked the few blocks to Sage’s office. The sign on the door said ‘Sage Crewe – Landscape Architect’.

When they were inside, Jon immediately went over to one wall which was covered with sketches and photos of what he presumed were yards and parks Sage had created. “I could happily live next door to this,” he said, tapping one of the park pictures. “But then,” he sighed, “I would happily live anywhere, just to be alive again.”

* * * *

Sage smiled slightly when Brody put his arm around Jon’s shoulders and said, “It could be worse. At least you’ve got me hanging around to keep you company.”

“I’d be crazy by now if you weren’t,” Jon murmured. “How you managed to survive on your own…”

“I have a mission. Not that it’s done me much good. Five years and all I have to show for it is zilch.”

“How did you die?” Sage asked.

“Shot by someone who didn’t like that I was an undercover cop. They never found out who did it, so I’m stuck here. Once in a while I meet someone like Jon, but they’ve all moved on.”

Sage sat in one of the chairs along the wall under the sketches and photos, gesturing for the ghosts to take the other ones, “If you can.”

Brody snorted. “Of course we can. You think we’ll sink through a chair?”

“You probably wouldn’t,” Sage retorted. “But I met a ghost a while back who was newly dead. He had trouble staying materialized, to say the least of in one place if he wasn’t standing on the ground. I learned then that it takes a lot of willpower to stay visible and interact with the real world.”

“Not for me,” Jon protested. “I was there, watching, sitting on a retaining wall when the…when my body was found and the cops showed up.” He shivered. “I think I’d have passed on that, given the choice.”

“I take it you don’t know who killed you,” Sage replied in sympathy mixed with, he realized, a bit of ghoulish interest.

“I wouldn’t be here if I did,” Jon said scathingly.

“Not true, from what I understand,” Sage retorted. “Even if you did, you won’t be free until he’s caught.” He glanced at Brody. “Right?”

“Sometimes,” Brody replied. “I think it’s… Well, honestly I don’t know what makes the difference between getting closure when you find out who killed you and not being able to move on until the killer’s caught.”

Sage tapped his lip. “Maybe, it depends on whether the killer’s dead?”

Brody nodded. “Possibly. It would be hard to bring them to justice in that case.”

“Well, my killer’s still around,” Jon said. “I mean, it’s only been a day. I’m betting no one’s offed him in the last twenty-four hours.”

“Probably not,” Sage agreed. “I take it you don’t know who it was. All right. Stupid question. You wouldn’t be here if you did.”

Brody held up a finger. “Not logical. He could know, but with no way to tell anyone, there’s no resolution.”

“Which is where I come in,” Sage replied. “If you can figure it out, I can tell Mike Harris.”

“Uh-huh.” Brody snorted. “I got the feeling from listening to the two of you that he thinks you’re a few cards short of a full deck.”

Sage’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah. I’m afraid so.” His expression brightened. “But if we had proof, then he’d have to listen.”

“How are we going to get it?” Jon asked. “I don’t remember anything from yesterday. Zilch, to quote Brody.”

‘Shared pain is lessened,shared joy is increased, thus do we refute entropy.’ Spider Robinson

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Fever in the Dark: A Jane Lawless Mystery by Ellen Hart

In FEVER IN THE DARK by MWA Edgars Grand Master Ellen Hart, Fiona and Annie return home from their one year anniversary trip to discover that their poignant proposal video has been posted on YouTube and has garnered hundreds of thousands of hits. The video is on the verge of going viral, and there’s enormous media interest in Fiona and Annie, as their fame comes just on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the country. As some of the attention starts to turn vicious, Fiona pulls in an old friend, private investigator Jane Lawless, to help separate the harmless threats from the potentially harmful.

As the media storm continues to grow, Fiona revels in the attention, but Annie is furious. Fiona has always known that Annie has secrets, but her newfound notoriety threatens to bring Annie’s past straight to their door. And then, when a murder occurs and Annie and Fiona are both suspects, it’s up to Jane to prove their innocence…although the more she learns, the more she starts to wonder whether they actually are innocent.

Blurb:

Annie’s Notebook

Letter #2

Dearest Dirtbag:

A new year.  A new letter.  Lots to celebrate, right?  I’m sure Bridget and Noah are still the golden couple, and you still think I’m a despicable home-wrecker.  You’re glad I had to good sense to disappear.  Which means the new year changes nothing.

Wanna know a secret?  Bridget flew to Boston right after New Years.  I wondered when one of you would figure out where I was and come calling.  She came to Sharif’s apartment yesterday while I was here at the coffeeshop, demanded to know where I was.  Like a good soldier, he lied for me, said he had no idea what she was talking about.  But Bridget spotted my leather jacket tossed over one of the chairs in the living room, so he was busted and had to come clean.

You’re probably not interested, but I’ll give you the blow by blow.

Bridget found me sitting at “my” table in the coffeehouse.  At first, I couldn’t believe she was right there in front of me.  I was so excited I burst out of my chair and hugged her.  We held each other for a long time.  But then, she didn’t know I’m a home-wrecker.  She sat down, took off her gloves.  It was beastly cold and her clothes were way too Pasadena to keep her warm.  I offered to get her something hot to drink.  She seemed kind of nervous, so she got right to the point, like she always does.  (I’ll do this like I’m writing a novel.  Just so you know, it’s the complete truth.)

“Why did you leave school?” Bridget asked.  “Leave home?  Why did you run away and not tell anyone where you’d gone?  You never even said goodbye the night of the wedding.  I didn’t know you’d left until Noah and I got back from our honeymoon.”

I sidestepped the question.  “Did you have a wonderful time?  Santorini, right?  Are the sunsets as spectacular as they say?  Did you stay in one of those pristine, white-washed villas?”

Reluctantly, for it wasn’t what she’d come to discuss, she did give me a few details.  I could see she still glowed when she talked about her husband, her new life.  Eventually, she came back to her questions.

“I kind of got into it with Mom and Dad,” I said as an explanation.

“I figured as much.  But they wouldn’t tell me what it was about.”

“No?”

“And anyway, what’s that got to do with me?  I didn’t do anything to upset you, did I?  Why wouldn’t you let me know where you were?”

I gave her that tried-and-true cliche:  “It’s complicated.”

She took my hand.  “Please, Annie.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

It was such a broad question I almost laughed.  “I’m gay,” I said.  Her reaction was about what I had expected–like watching a rock hit a windshield in slow motion.

“Are you…sure?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said.  “I like to have sex with women, not men.  That’s pretty much the definition.”

Her lips formed an “O,” as if she might say something more, but she remained silent.  She began to fidget, releasing my hand and taking my napkin, wiping a coffee spill off the table.

“Are you surprised?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said.  “You’d think I’d know if my sister was gay.”

“Not necessarily.  You have no idea how blind straight people can be.”

That caused a frown, a moment of deep indignation.  “You don’t look like a lesbian.”

“What’s a lesbian look like?”

“You know.  I don’t have to spell it out.”

“Ugly?  Mannish?  Sad?  Hostile?  I can think of a lot of straight people who fit that definition.”

“Don’t be obnoxious.”

We were off on a tangent which had nothing to do with why I’d actually left.  I felt sorry for her because she was so completely in the dark.  That’s when I wondered if I should tell her the truth.  But no, you’ll be relieved to hear that I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

At some point in the conversation, Bridget covered her stomach with her hand.

Realizing what the gesture might mean, I asked, “Are you pregnant?”

“Three months.  I’m not showing yet.”

“Are you…happy about it?  Is Noah?”

Her eyes shimmered.  “Over the moon.  Both of us.”

That was the end of the conversation, as far as I was concerned.  But she wasn’t done.

“Do you have…a girlfriend?”  Saying the last word seemed to cause her actual pain.

“Several.”  I wasn’t seeing anyone.  I sure wasn’t going to tell her that it had taken me a year to work up the nerve to leave the apartment and walk to a coffeehouse a block away.

“Nobody special?”

“I like to keep my options open.”  Such a load of bull.

“You know, Annie, there are people who can help you…change…who you think you are.”

“I’m perfectly happy with who I am.”

“Then why leave home?  Why change your life so radically?”

“Because nobody in my family shares that opinion.  I choose to be around people who support me.  Think about it.  Would you want to spend your life with people who hate your husband, who say he’s the scum of the earth and you were a fool for marrying him?”

“Now you’re being ridiculous,” she said.   She asked about school.

I told her I was rethinking my decision to become a doctor.  That’s true.  I’ve got another profession in mind.  And no, I’m not planning on taking up stripping.

Oddly, after a few more minutes, we didn’t seem to have much to say to each other.

I told her to go home.  To have a safe journey.  She asked if she could tell you where I was living.  I told her no.  If I wanted to get in touch, I would.  By the end of the conversation, I was shivering inside.  I don’t think she saw it, or if she did, she didn’t say anything.  There was no way she could understand and no way for me to explain it.  Certainly not that day.  Probably never.

And so she left.

Are you happy?  Do you consider me a grownup now?  Did I pass your test?

Fuck you.

 

Exclusive Excerpt: The Mysteries of the Curiosities (Snow & Winter Book 2) by C.S. Poe

Excerpt:

I’m the first person to understand that murder isn’t great for business.

So the fact that, before I knew it, museum security had ushered patrons out, suspicious old me had been forbidden to leave, and the director had escorted Calvin and Quinn across the massive room, more or less imploring the NYPD to make it quick and get the hell out, was not any surprise to me.

No one wants a dead exotic dancer to outshine the newest dinosaur exhibit.

Bad for donations, I imagine.

Calvin stopped several feet away from me, put a hand on his hip, and ushered me over with one snap of his wrist.

I stepped away from the nearby display I had been planted at while waiting. “I only found her,” I said, reaching his side.

Calvin set both hands on his hips. “What did I tell you?” he whispered. “I told you to go to your father’s. This is not there. What the hell are you doing here?”

“I got another note after leaving the precinct,” I whispered back, rather loudly. “It had this address, so I decided to come. It’s a public place—what was going to happen to me?”

“The same thing that happened to this woman,” Calvin said.

“Well, it didn’t,” I answered stupidly, crossing my arms. “I’m fine.”

Calvin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sebastian, how did you not learn the first time? How many different ways to do I have to tell you how suspicious you look in these situations?”

“Oh, please,” I hissed. “She’s been dead at least twelve hours. I’ve got alibis for days.”

“And if you keep popping up every time a dead person does, sooner or later you will be seen as a convenient suspect.”

“I don’t even know these people. I have no motive,” I argued.

Calvin raised a finger to silence me. “Motive isn’t important. One person’s reason to kill may not be understood, but it was sound enough for them in the moment.”

I groaned and dropped my head down. “For fuck’s sake, Calvin. Fine. My bad, okay?”

“My bad?” he echoed, voice deep and very much not amused.

“Not the time or the place, gentlemen,” Quinn finally said. “Calvin caught me up on all this shit,” she continued, looking up at me. “What was this new note?”

I reached into my pocket and removed the paper. “I stopped on my street to see—everything. Someone threw a brick at me. And no, I didn’t see who.”

Quinn took the paper, and Calvin read it over her shoulder.

“With this address and the mention of the whale, I thought it must have been talking about that guy.” I motioned above us. “But obviously I got here and there was nothing. I almost left until I remembered this display here. It’s a sperm whale.”

“Yes, fascinating,” Quinn remarked.

“Sort of. Squids and sperm whales are—”

“Focus, Seb,” Calvin muttered.

I huffed and turned to point at the display. “So I came over here and found a newspaper clipping.” I held it up next. “It’s an original, I think. It’s one of P.T. Barnum’s ads for his Feejee Mermaid.”

“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Barnum,” Quinn said.

“Uh, I guess that’s true,” I said when I recalled my mention of the bricks and the story of Barnum’s unique advertising. “There’s another note on the back.” I turned it around for both detectives to see. “That’s when I saw Meredith.”

Calvin glanced up from the note, narrowing his eyes. “Meredith?”

“She goes by Crystal. A dancer, I think. I called the number on the business card in her purse.”

Calvin took a breath and raised his hands, sort of like he wanted to strangle me, but Quinn took his jacket sleeve and tugged him away to look at the body.

I pulled my phone out once I was alone again. I was supposed to solve the murder. Not that I wanted to win a prize, but anything learned could bring us one step closer to catching a mistake this maniac made and taking them down before another person could be hurt. I pulled up the web browser and briefly checked out Ricky’s online presence. Lots of scantily clad ladies and dubious use of Photoshop. It didn’t look like anything particularly special—one gentlemen’s club is like all the others.

I tried searching for any news related to the club. Maybe there was some dirt on the owner, or bad blood between rival businesses. If I lived anywhere else, I’d say that was ridiculous, that this poor woman just got jumped and the tragedy was that there was no reason for her death, but I live in New York City and last Christmas I was stalked by a guy who planted a heart under the floorboards of my store.

Anything is possible.

Nothing of any particular interest was showing up in Google’s news feed for Ricky’s, other than some sizzling winter ball they’d had in January.

I looked over at the group of police and a few museum personnel. Calvin had climbed into the display and was looking down at Meredith. I squinted—it was hard to see his expression from where I was. But Calvin had certain ticks I had begun picking up on in his posture that helped me understand his mood when it was difficult to read his face. And I think he was surprised just then, because he had a hand over his mouth, rubbing his jaw.

That was interesting to me.

Did Calvin know her?

Not personally, of course. He may have been in the closet until recently, but I knew Calvin wasn’t one for lap dances from ladies either. Now I would certainly sit on his lap and show him a good time, but I drew the line at putting on glitter.

“Fuck,” I murmured to myself, because now I had the image in my head of me naked, riding Calvin’s cock, and having the greatest of times, and that was so not what I should be thinking about at a murder scene. “Get it together,” I muttered.

I caught a uniformed officer glancing at me in confusion.

I squared my shoulders and took an extra second to look at Calvin as a professional, and not my unbelievably gorgeous boyfriend, which was admittedly a little hard to do. He was saying something to Quinn, who appeared to agree with him. Maybe Meredith had been on the wrong side of the law before. But if Calvin knew her, it had definitely been serious. A suspect in a murder case?

I looked down at my phone again and tried a few keywords that included Meredith, Ricky’s, and murder. I found exactly what I was hoping for, third link down on the list. NYC Exotic Dancer Suspect in Daughter’s Death. That didn’t paint Meredith in a particularly good light. I clicked the link and expanded the page to better read the text. It was a case from two years ago, led by the recently promoted Detective Calvin Winter. DNA evidence had been incorrectly handled at the scene and was unusable in laboratory testing. Meredith’s alibis had apparently been suspicious, but her boss had backed her statement, and Calvin had ultimately ended up with no legal way to prove she had bludgeoned her teen daughter to death.

“Calvin!” I called out, and when a few officers looked at me, I followed up with, “I mean, Detective Winter. Could you come here?”

Calvin got out of the display and walked toward me. “What?” he asked in a low tone.

I held out my phone. “This is the same lady, isn’t it?”

He looked at the article. “Yes. How did you find this?”

I shrugged. “Seemed like she was familiar to you.”

Calvin’s mouth formed a tight line and he gave my phone back. “It’s a cold case. Not enough evidence to convict her, but everyone knew she did it.”

“The note said I had to prove the murder.”

Calvin raised a hand to stop me. “No.”

“But—”

“No. Stop right now, Seb.”

“But what if it leads us one step closer to who did this? You’re going to ignore that chance to stop this person?”

“I’m not, no. But you are.”

“Like hell.”

Calvin took a long breath. “We’re not having this argument again. Plant your ass on your father’s couch and stay out of trouble.”

“It seems pretty suspicious to me that one of your cold case suspects was murdered,” I said without regard to Calvin’s statement. “What about someone seeking revenge? The daughter’s father, maybe? A friend? Did the daughter have a boyfriend? Someone who would want to bring closure. Someone who clearly knew the mother was guilty.”

“I know how to do my job,” Calvin retorted.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t. I’m just trying to work this out.”

“Sebastian, what’s your degree in?” Calvin interrupted.

“My what?”

“Degree.”

“Uh… fine art.”

“Not criminal justice?”

“I get it,” I stated, crossing my arms.

“No, you don’t,” he said before taking another breath. “Baby, I know you’re smart. I know you’ve got a knack for figuring this shit out. You don’t have to prove it to me.”

“I’m not trying to—”

“This is dangerous. Do you not remember what happened last time?”

All too well, actually. And the guilt hit me like a truck out of control on a freeway. If Calvin ever got hurt again because of my own stupidity, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.

It was painful to swallow. I stared at my shoes. “Sorry,” I whispered.

“I only want you to be safe,” Calvin said after a beat. “If—If your expertise were ever required for me to solve a case, I’d call on them.”

That made me look up. “You would?”

“Yeah.”

“Not that you expect to ever need someone skilled in trinkets from Victorian America to solve a murder.”

“You helped with Tamerlane,” Calvin pointed out.

“I guess.”

“Seb, I don’t want anyone questioning your involvement in this. You understand that, right?”

I nodded. I was done arguing. I hated fighting with him. I really did. I loved Calvin too much to bicker, especially when he was right and I was wrong and I knew that from the start.

But the urge to put the mystery to bed myself was still overwhelming. Maybe I did subconsciously crave some sort of way to prove I was smart. That I was clever. Useful, even. That what I did with my life made a difference, like Calvin’s.

Jesus. I needed a hug or something.

“Can I wait at your place tonight?” I asked.

“I’m going to be working—”

“Come home,” I insisted. “Please?”

Someone from behind called my name, and we both turned.

“N-Neil?” I heard myself stutter.

Neil stood a few feet away, holding a forensic kit in one hand. “Why are you here?” he asked me.

“Uh… getting into trouble. Per usual.”

Neil looked at Calvin. “Detective Winter,” he said coolly.

“Millett,” Calvin said with a nod.

This wasn’t awkward at all.

What were the chances my ex would be the CSU detective assigned to collect evidence?

Someone roll the week back to Monday. I demand a do-over.

I cleared my throat. “Has it gotten sufficiently uncomfortable?”

“Yes,” Neil answered.

“Okay, good. I’m leaving now,” I answered.

“I’ll have an officer drive you,” Calvin said. “To my place.”

I caught the sour look that took over Neil’s face. “Thanks,” I answered.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Listening To The Dead by George Seaton

Blurb:

Jack Dolan has spent almost thirty years solving homicides in Denver, his uncanny ability to speak to the dead learned from his aged mentor whom other cops refer to as Old Grim because of his incredible solve rate. For almost as long, Jack has repressed his sexuality, fearing discovery and likely ostracism from his fellow cops…except for one with whom he long ago severed a loving relationship. When Jack retires to the mountains of Colorado, he discovers the bodies of two young men, naked and bludgeoned to death in a recess off a rutted horse path which he eventually refers to simply as The Place. All of his training, everything he learned from Old Grim is put to the test to find out what happened to the young men… including a call to the man he once loved.

Excerpt

 Late spring and through the first summer that Shy had taken up residence on Jack’s seven acres, the Pinecone Lodge horse wrangler named Tyler showed up at about four p.m. three days a week. During the first few visits, he made sure the geld had healed, and then he began to deal with the horse’s temperament, which wasn’t good. Tyler had already schooled Jack on feeding and basic care and had helped construct a metal round pen for training, cautioning Jack that the horse wasn’t a puppy dog and shouldn’t be treated like one.

“He’s fearful, is all,” Tyler had said after the first time he’d managed to get a rope halter on Shy and dealt with the nervous squeals, stomps, rearing, and tugging on the lead rope. Tyler dug his heels into the ground while calmly saying, “Whoa now. Whoa…”

Jack watched it all, and during subsequent sessions, Tyler patiently and without a word raised in anger, dealt with Shy’s left and right side fears and anxiousness to the point, by the dog days of August, Shy was walking, trotting, cantering on cue, and coming to Tyler when he pursed his lips and kissed.

“You got to work both sides of him separately,” Tyler told Jack when he brought him into the round pen with him and Shy for the first time. “Horse brain works that way. They kinda won’t put two and two together ’til they see it from both sides.”

And so, as the summer passed into fall, as the aspens shivered their leaves to reds, oranges, and golds, and as the land whispered of the freeze to come, Shy’s coat began to thicken until later when the first snowfall arrived, he appeared shaggy and stout. Tyler had yet to allow Jack to sit the horse, saying that would come in the spring.

“Get through the winter, exercise him in the round pen and walk him on the trails when you can. You’ll be on him by July.”

And by July, Jack was atop him, just walks at first in the round pen, and then walks along the flat trail that led to Piney Lake. By mid-July, Tyler had Jack trot Shy for the first time with Jack on his back. He was able to stay on, and Shy seemed comfortable with him. And thereafter, every day, Shy and Jack would leave early in the morning and pass the nearby campgrounds spotted here and there with campers in tents who had yet to rouse themselves from the prior night’s campfire nightmare stories and drinking binges. They’d ride past Piney Lake and along the trails headed east toward the slopes of the Gore Range that peaked with Mount Powell, jagged as a saw’s edge.

Heading home one day at not yet nine in the morning, they came down the trail from a meager summit where Jack halted Shy to look at the scenery below. Piney Lake shone as a blue-green jewel surrounded by the upsweep of purely green pine intertwined with the brown decay of beetle destruction. As they passed a small clearing to their left, half-hidden by the overlap of pine boughs, Shy sidestepped off the trail, then stopped and stood dead still, raised his head, curled his lip, and tasted the air about him. Jack tried to rein him back onto the path, but Shy was determined to keep his distance from the shrouded entrance to the clearing and had turned his head away from it.

Jack had come to respect Shy’s judgment when it came to going one way or the other on trails they’d never explored. A horse’s sense of things in the natural world seemed to Jack to be a reflection of what God had given to the horse: a discernment of sorts that Jack possessed only when laying his hands upon the dead. Shy had saved them from stepping into waist-deep muck within the valley, unstable rocks on the hillsides, and the presences of critters not likely to look kindly upon their passing.

Now, as Jack swung his leg off Shy and tied the reins to the limb of a felled tree, he knew caution was what Shy had shared with him. He stepped to the clearing and looked in. The sun shined directly overhead and lit the interior of the place as though a spotlight beamed a circle upon it. Jack thought he saw something not human, perhaps rag-stuffed dummies both facedown—the legs bent wrong, and the arms unnaturally splayed. The blood, though, spoke its own truth, as it lathered the bodies’ backs and buttocks, the arms, legs, and heads. The blackness of the ground near one’s head and the other’s chest were witness that the bodies had bled mostly from those places. But there wasn’t enough blood to determine if this had actually been the killing ground. The shapes of the bodies, the small hips, the broad shoulders, even the blood-encrusted hair, told Jack these were young men, maybe even teenagers.

Jack stepped into the clearing, taking care to keep to the periphery of the five-foot circle he’d mentally drawn beyond the immediate area where the bodies lay. The urge to touch them was nearly overwhelming, but he knew he could not disturb the scene. He would touch them later. He would speak to them and hope they spoke back. But for now, he kept to the edge of the circle he’d established and slowly stepped around it, a full three-sixty, his eyes focused on anything that might prove helpful in answering the questions he, and he was sure the Eagle County sheriff’s crew as well, would have when he later led them up here. Jack could see signs of blunt force and skin-piercing trauma. But it was the way the limbs spread anywise that he knew this would be an image like no other he would forever hold on to.

Jack sat on his haunches at the end of his three-sixty, looked up at the circle of sky and sun above, then looked back down at the bodies. “We’ll figure this out,” he whispered. “Bless you, boys. I’ll be coming back.” He then stood up, stretched out the kink in his back, and stepped from the place. He knew a search of the hillside, maybe even a search of the valley as well. One hundred yards in all directions was critical, but his call to the sheriff was more critical, and that is what he had to do.

The Boys

Brian Hill and Mark Harris were both twenty-two, and as they danced upon a floor bathed in the colors of the rainbow, the other revelers moved about them while the music boomed with heavy bass and wild treble, the diva’s voice pleading for a never-ending love to come their way. For Brian and Mark, it had, or so they thought. The strobes flashed, and both boys watched the other’s robotic movements with wonderment and smiles. It had been Friday night, and the world had shriveled to this moment, this place of fantasy.

They had met almost a year before, both emigrants from Midwest flatlands to the mile-high promise of Denver and the call of the mountains to the west. They knew their degrees from obscure schools were as marketable as water in a deluge, so they opted instead to move into a Colfax Avenue two-room walkup where the bed folded down from the wall, and the bathroom was the second room. They waited tables at an upscale Denver Lodo eatery where they wore white shirts, black vests and pants, and red bowties. In midautumn, they packed their 2000 Mazda and headed west to Vail where their credentials saw them placed in an even more exclusive restaurant that specialized in red-runny steaks, crispy shrimp, fine wines, and luscious desserts served on crystal plates. Their mornings free until eleven, they skied the slopes of Vail, and their late nights were often spent among other gay boys and girls in the few bars and bistros that welcomed them. They had moved into a single-wide trailer in Avon, only fifteen minutes from Vail. After experiencing their first taste of the mountains, their decision was easy. They would stay there and not return to Denver or anywhere else when the ski season was over. They had what they wanted at this time in their lives—an uncomplicated existence that was more or less a fantasy come true.

One Friday night in late spring, Brian and Mark sat at a table in a bar in Vail, sipped beer, and watched two other boys do the same at a table across the room. They were clearly cowboys or something akin to that, and Brian and Mark were intrigued. The other boys were watching them, too. Pretty soon they were all sitting at the same table, getting to know one another and trading tidbits of their histories. The other boys worked about an hour and a half north of Vail, one at the Pinecone Lodge as a wrangler of horses, the other as a fishing and hunting guide, and they both lived at the Whisper River Ranch a few miles west of the lodge. One thing led to another that night, and all the boys ended up at the single-wide where they got to know each other even better. Intimately, in fact.

But by July, after three more encounters with the wrangler and the guide in Vail, Brian and Mark decided they’d drive up to the lodge on their day off and ride the horse the wrangler had offered them. As they were leaving the lodge’s compound after their ride, the wrangler took them aside and discussed the proposition he had for them. It would be worth two hundred and fifty dollars each if they’d do it. “Just kind of a hide and seek kinda thing,” the wrangler said them, and he mentioned to them, too, that he’d be there to make sure nothing got out of hand.

“We’re not really into that,” Mark told the wrangler.

“Don’t worry,” the wrangler said. “I’ve got their promise nothing heavy will go down. We’ll get you set up at a campsite and, other than the hour or two you’ll be…playin’ the game, you can just take it easy—camping, hiking, anything you want to do.”

Brian and Mark thought about that and decided it might be fun. They’d have to take a couple days off work, but that was no problem. Besides they’d be making money while having some time off.

“Okay, we’ll do it,” Brian said after discussing it with Mark.

“Good. You’ll enjoy it,” the wrangler said. He told them he’d pick them up and take them back so they wouldn’t have to worry about driving.

***

The evening, a Sunday, of Brian’s and Mark’s great adventure was spent in a gray domed tent with the wrangler, Tyler, and the guide, Ben. They drank some, fooled around some, and then shortly after midnight, Tyler and Ben took Brian and Mark to where the game would commence. Tyler told the boys to be aware of where the trail was at all times, and Ben gave them some flashlights so they could see where they were going.

“But the idea is not to be seen,” Tyler told them. And they all agreed Brian and Mark would not turn on their flashlights unless they absolutely needed to and were sure nobody was around at the time.

“You’re sure you’ll be out there somewhere if we need you?” Brian asked.

“A course,” Tyler said. “Just give us a shout, and we’ll hear you.”

And Tyler and Ben stood at the foot of the trail and watched the boys disappear up the hill on a half-moon night.

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Hacked Up: A Thriller by Ethan Stone

Blurb:

Seattle is being plagued by a string of gruesome murders. For Detective Peter Tao, it’s a career-making case, but he’s struggling to find a lead. How is the killer choosing his victims? What is he trying to prove?

With a long list of suspects and nothing to connect them, Peter is more determined than ever to apprehend the murderer. Then Peter gets the one vital piece of evidence that ties everything together. Now he’ll have to look beyond the obvious to identify the killer before anyone else is murdered.

Solve the mystery in this fast-moving crime thriller by Ethan Stone.

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Another day, another dead body.

I flashed my badge to the uniformed officer standing guard and stepped under the crime scene tape. The wind from nearby Elliot Bay had me pulling the collar up on my coat as goosebumps raced over my flesh. The rising sun did little to alleviate the chill.

“Hey, Detective Tao.” Dr. Jill Trencher, King County Medical Examiner, glanced up. The corpse lay on its back, jeans pulled halfway down, arms and legs tucked alongside the body, and eyes wide open. It appeared to be male, but I wasn’t sure. The lack of breasts pointed to one fact but there wasn’t any male genitalia either. No male or female parts. Just dried blood where something should’ve been.

“What do we have, Jill?”

She stood. “White male. Mid-twenties.”

I kneeled, eyeballing the body and mentally cataloging the young man’s features. Short, light brown hair, eyes the shade of a dull penny. Squat, muscular body. “Time and cause of death?”

“I’d say around midnight for the time of death. As for the how, there’s a wound on the back of the neck,” she replied. “I suspect the killer severed the spinal cord. Would’ve been fairly quick and fairly painless.”

“Even the castration?”

“From the looks of it, that occurred postmortem. I’ll be able to tell you more when he’s on the table. The crime scene unit has already been and gone. We’re just waiting on you. Took you a little longer than normal to get here.”

I stood and scowled. ­“I was home, in bed, where I still should be.” No need to tell her I hadn’t been alone, or who had been in my bed. “I’m not the detective on call.”

“That would be his fault.” Jill pointed behind me.

Turning, I faced my partner, Detective Jamey Nolan.

“Why aren’t you at home with Chelsea?”

He rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I happened to be at the station when the call came in from Harbor Patrol. Sounded like an interesting case so I took it.”

“Am I supposed to thank you?”

“Guess you’ll just have to deal with it, huh?”

I snorted, unable to argue. Not that I was all that upset. A man murdered and castrated could indeed be a fascinating case and a fresh change from the gang killings Jamey and I had been investigating lately.

“Are you guys done?” Jill asked. “Can I get the body out of here?”

I took out my phone and snapped a picture of the victim’s face.

“Yeah, are you finished whining, Tao?” Jamey asked.

Smirking, I replied, “Not even close, but I’ll save it until we’re alone.”

Jamey and I stepped away and watched as Jill and her assistants removed the corpse.

“So, why were you at the station before the ass crack of dawn?”

Jamey didn’t answer. Instead, he turned away and stared out at the bay. I stepped next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “You and Chelsea having problems again?”

Jamey glared at me, but it wasn’t like I was wrong.

“You know us. It’s always something.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

He glanced over and shook his head. “Not right now.”

“Well, if you do, just let me know.”

Jamey waggled his eyebrows and flashed a cheesy grin. “I wouldn’t want to interfere with your plans.”

I elbowed him in the gut, and he pretended I’d hurt him. As far as I knew, Jamey was the only one of my co-workers who knew I was gay. I hadn’t told him. He’d figured it out shortly after we began working together five years ago. Not surprising, really, not with his twenty-six years of experience as a detective. It hadn’t bothered him a bit. In fact, he liked, no, he loved ribbing me about it.

“If you’d been worried about messing with my plans, you wouldn’t have taken this case.”

His eyes got large, and he put a hand to his mouth. “Did you have what’s his name over again?”

“If you mean Haro, then yes, he stayed last night. We were both asleep when the call came in.”

“That’s like, what, the fourth time he’s slept at your place?”

“Sixth, actually,” I said. When Jamey winked, I added, “And don’t get any ideas. This is strictly no-strings-attached.” Haro and I had a lot in common-namely, conservative, old-school parents who wouldn’t handle having a gay son well.

“Yeah, but I know sometimes those types of relationships can turn into more.”

I side-eyed him. “Even if settling down with a guy was in the cards for me, what makes you think I’m in any kind of hurry to do that?”

He patted my cheek. “I just want my best friend to be happy. Figure one of us should be.” Sadness took over his face again, and I wished I could do something to help him out. “I need coffee. What about you?”

“Definitely. I didn’t have time since I was so rudely woken up this morning.”

“Quit your whining.”

We strolled toward the nearest Starbucks. Living in Seattle meant there was basically one on every corner.

“I’ll whine if I want to, jackass. I was hoping for a morning BJ.”

“Shut up, Peter. You know I don’t want to hear about your sex life.”

“That’s because you’re jealous. It’s probably been months since you got any.”

Normally, that would’ve brought on a retort from Jamey, but instead, he fell silent. This wasn’t the time or place to push it, otherwise, I would’ve demanded he tell me what was bothering him. Instead, we waited in silence to cross the street.

Readers can find Ethan online.

www.ethanjstone.com

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Email: ethanstone.nv@gmail.com

His books: http://www.ethanjstone.com/my-books

Exclusive Excerpt: The Iniquitous Investigator (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 8) by Frank W Butterfield

Blurb:

Monday, July 5, 1954

Mildred’s Diner just isn’t the welcoming place it once was. Looking forward to a nice breakfast, including that chewy bacon that Nick and Carter both love, they’re asked to leave. Mildred has gone back to Texas and word is they “ain’t welcome.”

But it’s a sunny July day, so Nick puts the top down on the Roadmaster and they head across the Golden Gate to Sausalito for eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. But it seems like trouble follows them along the way and, before they know it, Nick and Carter are sitting in jail for vagrancy.

After making bail, the whole team is on the job figuring what the heck is going on in sleepy Sausalito while also chasing down the missing Mildred, who may have been kidnapped or worse!

Excerpt:

I stretched out on the cot and thought about the day. It had been rough, there was no doubt about it. As the sheriff’s deputies were leading us out of the courtroom, I saw my father looking shocked and upset. Lettie was holding his arm and whispering something. But, for the first time that I could remember, I felt an affection for the old man. I smiled and hoped he saw it.

I knew the worst that could happen is that we would do three months. I’d been in the Navy. I knew what it was like to be confined to small spaces. And the Marin County jail wasn’t San Quentin. It was smaller than the Dougherty County jail in Georgia had been. I’d been a guest of theirs for a couple of nights the year before.

I turned on my side and looked at the brick wall. It was faintly illuminated by a streetlight outside. There was a small window, covered with simple horizontal bars, that was about two feet square and that let me see the street outside. The cell was slightly above ground level. There was a warehouse across the street with a loading dock that had been busy at the end of the work day.

The clothes I’d been given included a thick cotton undershirt, a button-down denim shirt, and a pair of dungarees. I was allowed to keep my BVDs. The shoes I was wearing had obviously belonged to someone else. They didn’t have my size, so these were too big. They smelled. I had taken them off when I was led to my cell and had only put them back on when dinner was called.

All of Carter’s clothes were too small and that included his shoes. When we were walked into the small mess hall, or whatever they called it, he came in line with the men from his row of cells. I got a momentary glance at his feet and saw that he was walking on the heel of the shoe and that his feet stuck out about an inch.

My row was seated on a long bench in front of a long table. We sat in the order we were marched in. I was at one end of my side, since I was in the last cell of my row. The man next to me didn’t speak and neither did I.

Carter was on the other side of the table in the middle. I counted twelve men on his side. I tried to look down my row to count, but was called out to keep my head down when I did so. So, I followed instructions.

The man across from me looked like he was recovering from a bender. He was having a hard time eating anything but the soup.

The food was basic. There was a bowl of vegetable soup, a piece of bread with a small pat of butter, a surprisingly tender piece of boiled beef, and a pile of mushy boiled carrots. There was no salt or pepper to be tasted or to be had. The butter was the only flavoring of any sort. The food wasn’t horrible. It would do.

As I ate my soup, I managed a couple of glances at Carter. He smiled and I replied in kind. After dinner, I’d stayed in my cell stretched out on my cot, not sure what to do. At some point, Carter had walked up to the door and asked how I was doing. I sat up, he walked in, and sat down next to me. We sat there for a long time talking about childhood antics again, like we had in the Sausalito jail. At one point, he’d leaned into me. Even though there was no one around, I leaned back for a moment and then mentioned how we ought to be careful. He’d sighed and leaned away.

An officer came by and told Carter to get back to his cell for the nightly check and light’s out. As he left, I whispered, “I love you, Chief.” He smiled and only nodded in reply as the officer was standing outside waiting for him.

As I began to drift off, I could hear someone singing. I couldn’t quite catch the tune, but it continued until several voices began to protest. There was a sharp metal rap somewhere and suddenly everything was quiet.

. . .

At some point in the night, I woke up and relieved myself in the uncovered toilet. A roll of brown toilet paper sat on the floor next to the white porcelain base. The toilet was in the corner next to a small sink. There was a cake of rough soap on the sink’s small lip. I turned on the cold water tap, the only one available, and washed my hands. The soap stank of lye. It reminded me of the kind we’d made ourselves in New Guinea. I knew there was a county farm somewhere. I wondered if the prisoners made their own soap out there.

I sat back down on the bed and wished I had a cigarette. Everything had been taken from me when we were processed, including my beat-up old Zippo. For some reason, I was missing that more than anything.

My cot was pushed up against the wall. I pulled my feet up off floor and sat with my legs crossed. As I’d been doing since the hearing ended, I played the events in the courtroom in my head over and over again.

Obviously, O’Connor had been coached. His and Wildman’s testimony had been designed to match, point by point. O’Connor was just a good cop, doing a good job, according to the psychiatrist. Wildman was helping good cops do their best to deal with the intolerable problem of the male homosexual on the prowl. It was a situation that had to be dealt with. All reasonable men and women could see that was the case.

The judge was a piece of work. From his question about Uncle Paul, he’d made it clear where things was going. The stunt of making Kenneth ask to approach while Weissech just wandered around at will was one piece. The ridiculousness of the way he handled Weissech’s objections was another piece. I wondered, however, at the objections that Weissech didn’t make. I thought there might be a glimmer of hope there.

I was convinced that O’Connor had perjured himself. I had no proof, but he had to know who we were.

As he’d testified, I kept thinking about what Dawson had said. There was something wrong there. He’d been on the force for nineteen years and yet this Mountanos, this kid, was a shoe-in for police chief. I wondered what the real story was.

Wildman was definitely one of us. He might not have been in the life, but he was the very definition of a male homosexual. His idea about “cop as daddy” seemed to me to say more about him than anything else. What was the real nature of his relationship with O’Connor? The sergeant had something odd going on somewhere but I didn’t think he was one of us. Was O’Connor aware of this thing and trying to help the man, while also fixating on the man as his own kind of daddy? I didn’t think that made any sense. I was sure the doctor was the older man.

I wondered how I would fit into his analysis. I sure as hell had a disaffected relationship with my father. But I didn’t have time to form an unnatural attachment to my mother, since she left when I was only 7 years old. Of course, as had been pointed out to me, I tended to like other people’s mothers more than their own children did.

I was grateful for Lettie’s presence in my life. I’d known the woman just about a year and I considered her my mother, even if I still couldn’t bring myself to say that word. I had been deeply touched by the fact that Mrs. Jones had come back to San Francisco. I was captivated by Mrs. Kopek, who was a mother to not just Ike but just about any chickadee she might come across. She would have rescued half of Eastern Europe, given the chance.

Were these unnatural attachments? Or were they lines of affection, formed by circumstance and proximity? Was I disaffected from my father because I preferred the men in my life to be strong, kind, and loving and he was none of those? Or was it because there was something wrong with me? Or him? Or both?

I tended to take any psychological theory with a heave dose of salt. It never seemed to me that anything was just black or white.