Beautiful Corpse: A Marshall James Thriller (Marshall James Thrillers) by Mark McNease

EXCERPT:

CHAPTER Ten

The Westerly Inn was not an inn at all, but a cheap, ratty motel that had catered to the hourly rate crowd for years. I’d never taken a john there, but I’d heard about the place. Its greatest asset was its anonymity. Questions weren’t asked, and answers were discouraged.

Located near the corner of Western and Franklin, the Westerly looked like all those motels you see along any highway in America, the ones you can’t tell for sure are open, with a car or two parked outside rooms with the curtains drawn across filthy windows. But the Westerly was definitely open for the business of all kinds: hookers, dope dealers, shady transactions requiring alibis. I knew I could get a room there and not worry about being caught on a surveillance camera because there wasn’t one and never would be. The customers may be cheap, but they were plentiful, and they expected to come and go sight unseen.

I pulled my ’79 Mustang into an empty spot near the last room, far from the street. I’d bought the car with savings from my bartending jobs and I was proud of it, despite its dents and dings. It was my sober car. Mac had helped me pick it out, and he’d made sure it was in good working condition. This one didn’t have any stains on the seats from exploding beer cans, or cigarette burns on the carpet. I’d promised myself someday I was going to buy a brand new car, but until then the Mustang was good enough.

The front office of the Westerly was surprisingly neat and clean. There wasn’t much to it—just a desk, a rack of faded tourist brochures to give the place the appearance of legitimacy, and a vending machine with potato chips and candy bars. No one was there when I walked in. I stepped up to the counter and slapped a lonely bell sitting there with nothing to keep it company. A few seconds later an enormous woman appeared from a small dark room behind the desk. She was wearing a tent with faded sunflowers on it. Her hair looked she’d washed it with motor oil, but her teeth were perfect. It was weird, just like the motel.

“Yeah?” she said, leaning against the counter for support. I expected it to topple forward and crush me.

“I need a room for a few days.”

She stared at me as if I’d just told her I was the King of Prussia: nobody stayed at the Westerly for days; they paid for an hour and left after twenty minutes.

“Pay in advance,” she said, almost as a challenge. I knew it was hard for her to believe anyone coming there had enough cash for more than a couple of rocks of crack and a pack of cigarettes. “Thirty-five a night.”

When I took out my wallet, I could see her salivating. I’d stopped at an ATM and taken out a hundred and twenty dollars. The machines were a recent addition to banking, and people were still getting used to making withdrawals through a car window.

“Three nights,” I said, counting out $105. It left me fifteen bucks plus some cash I had in my pocket. I’d hoped it would buy me enough time to find my way out of this nightmare before the cops or the Bianchis tracked me down. Seventy-two hours to live or die, to prove my innocence or be taken away in handcuffs or a body bag, whichever came first.

The cash disappeared into a hand that looked like a small ham with five fingers. From out of nowhere, like some magician in a dive bar, she slid a key across the counter with the number 107 on a plastic tag attached to it.

“Next to the last room,” she said. “The phone doesn’t work, so don’t bother. There’s a payphone across the street.”

I turned briefly and looked out the window, confirming there was indeed a payphone on the opposite side of Western Avenue. When I looked back she was gone.

“You need my name?” I called into the back room.

She laughed. * * *

The room was not as decrepit as I’d imagined. Maybe they wanted the clientele to feel a tiny bit better about themselves and what they were doing there, or maybe it was a way to convince the police and the occasional media presence when a celebrity OD’d that this was a respectable establishment. I don’t know, but the bedspread looked new and when I pulled it down to check for bugs the sheets were clean. There was a night stand on one side with the aforementioned useless phone on it, and a pressboard dresser against a wall. A TV sat on top of it, which meant I could watch the news and see what developments there were in the Danny Bianchi murder. I knew that depended on what information the police were willing to put out, along with any leaks from inside the department. Mostly it was a way to not feel completely alone and abandoned by any sense of fairness. Life wasn’t fair, and death didn’t give a damn.

I decided to rest for an hour or so, just to let myself breathe. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted a drink. I was not going to have either, and lying on the mattress for a while, staring at a nicotine-stained ceiling, was as close to calm as I was going to get.

CHAPTER Eleven

After pretending to sleep for an hour, I made my way across the street to a newspaper and magazine stand. They weren’t an unusual sight then; people got their information and their reading fixes from the printed word, not text on a miniature screen in their hands. If you wanted to know about the world, or about pretty much anything, you had to read words on some kind of paper, or watch television.

I bought a copy of the Los Angeles Times and a pack of gum, then asked the skinny rodent at the cash register for three bucks in quarters if he had them. I couldn’t be bothered with dimes. He said sure, with a fifty cent surcharge. I said okay and left, wondering where he kept his tail.

I was curious to see if there was anything in the paper about the murder. I didn’t think it would be front page news, given where it happened and who it happened to. Gay men dying was getting to be routine, although we were far from the worst of it, and gay men getting killed had always been ho-hum, unless it was somebody famous. But it was probably on page six, or page twenty or somewhere. The victim was part of a notorious family, and he died in a place that was disreputable, to say the least. A gay kid from a mafia clan was sensational if nothing else.

Before I went back to the room and looked through the paper, I had to make a phone call. I’d been thinking of where to start. It couldn’t be with Steven, since I had no idea who he was. And it couldn’t be with Danny Bianchi, whose dead body I’d crawled over at the Sunset Baths less then twenty-four hours ago.

I got lucky the first time when I found the phone booth empty. I got lucky the second time when the phone worked. I dropped a quarter in and dialed information.

“How may I help you?” a woman asked, somewhere on the other end of the line.

“I need the number for the Sunset Baths.”

She didn’t ask me why. She didn’t ask me if I’d heard about the guy who got killed there last night, or if I was the one who killed him. She just gave me a number and offered to connect me.

“Sure,” I said.

The phone rang on the other end. Once, twice …

“Sunset Baths, Cody speaking.”

I didn’t know Cody, from the streets or anywhere else. He sounded young.

“Is Lenny on duty?” I asked. I didn’t know what time Lenny came on shift, or even if he was working that day. Luck struck for a third time.

“Hold on …”

I heard the phone drop and imagined him tossing the receiver on the inside counter. For all I knew, Lenny was sitting next to him, although the booth at the baths didn’t look big enough for two people. A couple moments later Lenny picked up.

“Yeah?”

He didn’t introduce himself but I recognized the voice.

“Lenny, this is Marshall James. I don’t know if you remember me but we met a few times back in the day.”

“Refresh my memory.”

I took it as a good sign: he gave no indication he remembered me from last night, or if he did, he hadn’t connected me to the corpse they took out of the place.

“We got high together a few times,” I said. “Clive Daley’s place …”

Clive had been one of those rich old queens who liked having a gaggle of young men around him, especially at his pool. He was what we used to call a chicken hawk, as long as the chicken was legal or had a fake ID. One of them, or maybe Clive himself, had put an end to the fun when Clive was found face down in his pool one summer day a couple of years ago. I doubt the paramedics even made an effort.

“Did we fuck?” Lenny asked, as matter-of-factly as asking if we’d had breakfast together.

“Not that I recall,” I said. “But it wasn’t personal. I always thought you were cute.”

The truth was, I’d always thought he was contagious. Lenny was pasty. He had the kind of pallor you associate with STDs and too many drugs.

“So why are you calling me, Marshall James?”

I took a deep breath and jumped: “Because I was there last night.”

Silence.

“Fifty guys were here last night,” he said, sounding wary. “I’ll ask you again, why are you calling me? I’m at my job, dude. I can’t take personal phone calls and I don’t deal anymore.”

“I was in the room.”

I could hear him thinking about that a moment, then he asked, “Which room?”

He already knew the answer, he just wanted me to say it.

“Where Daniel Bianchi died.”

“What are you, a crime scene tech or something?”

“No, Lenny. I’m the one they’re looking for.”

I could hear him gasp. “Holy shit! Why are you telling me this? What the fuck do you want from me?”

“I just want to talk,” I said.

“We’re talking, for fucksake. Are you nuts? You told me who you are. What’s to keep me from calling the cops?”

“I didn’t do it.”

That seemed to stump him. Then he said, to no surprise at all, “What’s in it for me?”

“Knowing you helped an innocent man stay that way.”

He laughed.

“A hundred bucks,” I said. “A face-to-face, and twenty-four hours of silence. I’m guessing the cops already talked to you.”

“I made a statement this morning at the police station, on my own time. I deserve a hundred bucks just for that.”

“Fine,” I said, “I’ll give you two hundred.”

He thought about it for a nanosecond, then said, “I can meet you on break. I’ll give you a day, as long as they don’t call me in again or show up with more questions. I can’t lie for you. That’s, like, an accessory to murder or something.”

“I told you, I didn’t do it.”

“Whatever, dude. It’s three o’clock now, I’ll meet you at five at Rudy’s.”

Rudy’s was a coffee shop two blocks from the baths. For all I knew, he’d call the police as soon as we hung up and there would be three cruisers waiting to swoop in and apprehend me when I strolled into Rudy’s. It was a risk I had to take.

“I’ll see you then,” I said.

Click. Just like that, he hung up.

I stared at the street through the phone booth. I’d taken out my limit at the ATM and would have to go to the bank branch for cash. I hoped there wasn’t some all-points bulletin out on me yet. I needed every minute I could get to stay ahead of the hounds sniffing for my scent. Lenny was a start.

CHAPTER Twelve

Rudy’s was a coffee shop before coffee shops were ubiquitous. Starbucks hadn’t taken over the planet yet and the craze for local java joints was a few years away. Back then we had Dunkin’ Donuts, 7-Eleven, diners, gas stations with small markets attached, and a few places like Rudy’s.

 I’d driven over with one eye on the rearview mirror. Paranoia had set in, which was not irrational for a man being framed for murder. I had no way of knowing what the police knew or how close they were to identifying me. It kept me on edge, and I almost ran two red lights on my way from the Westerly to Rudy’s, with a nerve-wracking stop at the bank where I worried the teller was going to ask me to wait a moment while she told the branch manager there was a fugitive from justice at her window. That didn’t happen, and a half hour after leaving my barely-appointed room, I was sitting in a booth at Rudy’s.

There wasn’t much of an afternoon crowd. Rudy’s had been a deli before it was a coffee shop, and it was in the midst of an identity crisis. They still sold sandwiches, with the addition of muffins, stale cookies, and coffee that tasted day-old. I got a cup from the teenage slob working the counter, took it to a small round table and waited for Lenny. He was running late.

I was starting to think he’d stood me up, or maybe set me up and any second I’d hear a voice over a bullhorn telling me to come out with my hands in the air, when Lenny walked in. He looked exactly like he’d looked the night before, except he’d changed his T-shirt—this one had the name of some band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers on it. They were just catching on at the time. It wasn’t my kind of music.

He recognized me instantly, partly because we were the only customers in the place. He hurried over and slid into the booth across from me.

“You want some coffee?” I asked. “It’s on me.”

“No, thanks, I don’t have much time.”

In the daylight I could see he hadn’t aged well, which was saying a lot for someone who wasn’t more than twenty-five or so. We were barely out of our teens when we’d met at one of Clive Daley’s pool parties. Those days had been a haze of dope and booze, essential social lubricants for boys in the life. They still are, and Lenny looked like he hadn’t had a break from them since he was twelve.

“Where’s the cash?” he asked.

I glanced around as if anyone there would see me or care, then I yanked my wallet out and pulled out two hundred dollars in twenties. He nearly leapt off his seat, leaned over and snatched the money from me, slipping it quickly into his pants pocket.

“I remember you now,” he said, relaxing a little once he got the payoff. “Last night. You were fucked up.”

I felt my anger surge, and just as quickly suppressed it. It would not serve me well to yell at him.

“I wasn’t fucked up,” I said. “Somebody dosed me.”

“With what?” He sounded disbelieving.

“I don’t know, some drug. Then he got me in a room with the dead guy. That’s where I came to and how I ended up in this mess.”

“Whatever you say.”

“Its not what I say. It’s what happened, Lenny, and I need answers.”

“I don’t have any answers!” he said. “At least I didn’t until now.”

It occurred to me that I’d just given him information he could sell. The cops wouldn’t pay him, but the Bianchis certainly would—or they’d just put a gun to his head and tell him to start talking. It was a gamble, and I had no choice at the moment but to be a gambling man.

“What did you tell the cops?” I asked, knowing he’d given them a statement.

“What I knew,” he replied, “which wasn’t much. I didn’t mention you because I didn’t connect you to Danny.”

My eyes widened. “So you knew Danny Bianchi?”

“Everybody did. He was a party boy. Sloppy, I must say. We also knew who he was. I mean, the whole Bianchi thing. You didn’t fuck with him, and if he wanted something, he got it.”

“Was he in the life?”

“Danny? Hell no. He didn’t need to sell his ass. He was on some kind of allowance, from what I heard.”

“Did his family know he was gay?” I asked.

“How would I know? Probably. Maybe that’s why they gave him money, so he’d do his gay thing and stay away. I’m speculating, I have no idea. Ask his boyfriend.”

That threw me back. Danny Bianchi had a boyfriend. So what was he doing at the baths? Ask yourself that, Marshall, I thought, before stopping myself. I didn’t need the introspection at the moment. Open relationships weren’t unusual, then or now, but maybe the boyfriend was involved somehow—or not. Maybe the boyfriend didn’t know about Danny’s little trips to the baths. Or maybe the boyfriend did know, and he didn’t like it one bit. In fact, he hated it so much he decided to stop Danny from ever going to the baths again. But if that was the case, where did I fit in? Was I just the fall guy? Had I been in the wrong place at the right time and nothing more? And who was Steven?

“What’s his name, this boyfriend?” I asked.

“Nick somebody,” Lenny said. “I really gotta go. I told you I didn’t know anything.”

“Was he there last night?”

“Who?” Lenny said, impatiently. He slid toward the edge of the booth.

“The boyfriend, asshole!” I said, unable to help myself. “Focus, Lenny. I just paid you two hundred dollars.”

“To keep my mouth shut,” he hissed, “and I will, alright? I won’t say anything to anybody.”

“Provided they don’t ask,” I qualified.

He shrugged: maybe he’d talk, maybe he wouldn’t. It depended on what was in it for him.

“Listen,” he said, “I got there, like, an hour before you stumbled out. I switched shifts with Carlos, his aunt died or something, whatever. I wasn’t working when all this shit went down, you understand? I didn’t see Danny, I didn’t see the boyfriend, and I didn’t see you until it was too fucking late. I wish I hadn’t. The Bianchis are bad news, and somebody’s gonna pay for killing their kid.” He stood up. “If I was you, I’d head to Mexico. Seriously, dude, you’re in a bad situation.”

I looked at him. “Please don’t make it worse, okay? Call out sick if you have to, have some fun with the cash you didn’t have before you walked in here. Just give me some time.”

“I’m a man of my word,” he said, then he hurried out of the coffee shop.

A man of his word whose words were for sale. I told myself it was just business, nothing personal. Lenny didn’t really know me, and I had no interest in ever knowing him. But I had more to go on than I’d had when I got there. The key was Danny Bianchi, and I was about to disturb his ghost.

About the Book:

Click here to purchase

This is the second installment in the Marshall James Thriller limited series. It’s been over a year since Marshall first became intimately familiar with murder. He’s six months sober now and living with the love of his life, LAPD Detective Mac McElroy. Despite the coming storm of AIDS and its devastating toll on the world Marshall knows, his dark days seem to be behind him. Then one night he says the wrong thing, storms out in anger, and walks straight into a nightmare. Someone is setting him up to take the fall for a beautiful corpse. Within hours he finds himself running from the police and the mob, and running toward a killer he must apprehend before the only chance left is no chance at all.

The audiobook edition will be released this coming August, narrated by the marvelous Sean Rhead. The third and final book in the series will be out in 2021. You can find me at MarkMcNease.com, and feel free to join my email list HERE.

Beautiful Corpse is currently on Amazon only as part of Kindle Unlimited, available in July on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. Amazon link:

About Mark McNease

Mark McNease is the author of nine novels, six produced plays and dozens of short stories. Two of his Kyle Callahan Mysteries were best sellers on Kindle, and his short story ‘Stop the Car’ was selected as a Kindle Single. He won an Emmy and Telly as a co-creator and writer for the children’s program ‘Into the Outdoors’ and currently lives with his husband and two cats in rural New Jersey.

Exclusive Excerpt of the non-fiction memoir: Southern. Gay. Teacher. by Randy Fair

Exclusive Excerpt:

STEVEN

This idea that even heterosexual students needed to know about gay issues was further reinforced for me a year later with a student who I will call Steven. Steven was in the senior class for students who didn’t intend to go to college. At the time, we even called the class “Non-college Bound Senior English.” Steven was a great student and very mild mannered, especially for that class. He never caused any discipline problems.

At the very end of the year, he suddenly started acting out. In the middle of class one day, he said loudly, “I hate faggots.” I replied, “Steven, you know you are not allowed to use that word in this class. Don’t do that again.” The next day, he did the same thing. Once again, it happened almost exactly in the middle of the lesson. I said, “I have already warned you about that, and if you do it again, I am going to turn you in to the administrator.”

The third day, he did the same thing, and I turned him into the administrator. Because I knew the administrators were extremely homophobic themselves, I wasn’t surprised that the administrator took no action, but I was surprised when Steven made it a point to come in the next morning to tell me that the administrator didn’t give him any punishment. When he told me this, I said, “Well, since the administrator didn’t give you any punishment, you can just come in for detention with me.” I didn’t expect him to show up. He was a senior with only two weeks left before the end of the school year. We both knew that if he didn’t show up for the detention, nothing would be done.

I was surprised when he did show up on the morning of his detention. He even came early, getting there before I even arrived. Realizing that he wanted to tell me something, I asked him why he continued making those statements when I told him to stop. He said, “You want to know why I hate faggots?” I first said, “Don’t keep using that word, and yes, go ahead and tell me.” He surprised me with his reply when he said, “My father is a faggot, or as you say a gay man, and he left my mother when I was born to run off with his boyfriend. I haven’t seen him in years, and now, he wants to go to my graduation. That’s why I hate faggots.”

We spent the next thirty minutes talking about his father. While I assured him that it was understandable that he would be angry with his father, I asked him to think about what it must have been like for his father to be gay in the mid-seventies when Steven was born. By the time Steven left, I could tell that while I hadn’t solved his problem, he did at least get to talk about it with someone. This is something he wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone other than a gay man.

As with Mary, I realized that he deliberately brought up this subject in my classroom because he wanted to have a conversation about it. He could have brought this up in another teacher’s classroom, and not only would his comments have been allowed, they would very likely have been supported. He wanted someone to give his father’s side of the story. This isn’t to dismiss or excuse his father’s lack of involvement, but I think that Steven wanted some explanation, and he wanted some movement towards a future where he might be able to forgive his father.

This was another reminder to me that we shouldn’t remain silent on these issues, but at that time, I was a little uncertain what to do about this silence. June often referred to me as “the voice crying in the wilderness.” The obvious need for discussion around this topic conflicted with the almost tacit conspiracy on the part of the school system and society to prevent any discussion of the topic. I pointed this conspiracy out whenever I got the chance. For example, when the school system was adopting a new literature textbook series, I asked the salesman why none of the lesbian or gay authors were identified as lesbian or gay in their biographies. I pointed out that the biographies of heterosexual authors always listed the partner of the author. The salesman thought I was crazy. He quickly told me, “These textbooks are published in Texas, and we have to appeal to people in Texas since they are one of the biggest school systems in the country. Do you really think anyone in Texas would buy these books if we put that information in there?”

Blurb:

The South as a region has proven to be resistant to the idea of LGBTQ teachers. Some Southerners, including prominent politicians, have gone as far as asserting that it should be against the law for LGBTQ people to teach. This memoir chronicles the changes that Randy Fair witnessed in his over forty years of experience, both as a teacher and student, in the school systems of the South.

Full Disclosure: My longtime friendship with the author, retired educator, Dr. Randy Fair

I met Randy Fair during Atlanta’s Gay heyday during the early 1980s shortly after his move from Alabama. We meet through mutual friends–where else but in a gay bar? Shortly after, I ran into Randy almost everywhere I went out partying in the evenings, and occasionally, at a house party for mutual friends, or we’d run into each other during our normal course of this thing called, ‘life’.

Randy Fair – 1980s
Jon Michaelsen – 1980s

Though Randy knew me by my legal name at the time, we were attracted to one another, but he and I never confided our interest (until our late 50s!) for the other all those years ago, and therefore remained friends

Jon Michaelsen’s scrap book of the 80s

throughout the decades, mostly just running into each other at one of the many gay bars in Atlanta of the day in the ’80s/90s & the early 00s: Backstreet, Armory, Weekends, Crazy Ray’s, Hoedown’s, Metro, Stephens, Burkhart’s, Illusions, The Cove, Hollywood Hots, The Answer, Poodles, Bulldogs, when gay bar-hopping was an art-form of its own.

About Author, Dr. Randy Fair

Dr. Randy Fair

Dr. Randy Fair is the author of the memoir, Southern. Gay. Teacher. Originally from Weaver, Alabama, Randy attended undergraduate school at Jacksonville State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in Language Arts. After moving to Atlanta and beginning his teaching career, he attended Georgia State University, where he earned a Master’s of Education degree in English Education. Randy returned to Georgia State, where he earned a Specialist of Education degree in English Education and Doctorate in the Philosophy of Teaching and Learning. His essays and writings have appeared in The Southern Voice, where he was a regular columnist, The Houston Voice, The Atlanta Journal, The Anniston Star, Etc. Magazine and in the anthology, Telling Tales Out of School. He is the co-founder of the Atlanta Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Teachers Network and was named one of The Southern Voice’s “Twenty-five Who Made a Difference.” He is a National Faculty – Smithsonian Fellow, and he taught English for 30 years in the Atlanta area.

Exclusive Excerpt: The Less Than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch (The Wyandot County Mysteries Book 1) by Marshall Thornton

Exclusive Excerpt:

When I first crash-landed in Michigan, I took a long look around my nana’s farm. It had been more than a decade since I’d been there and, well, I didn’t have anything else to do. So, I looked around. A lot.

In the front, along West Shore Road, on the west side of our driveway, there were around five acres of neatly arranged, recently planted cherry trees. In February, they were craggy stick figures popping out of the snow. The bottom part of the trunk had been painted white up to about three feet. That must have improved health or production or flavor. I’ve never asked which or even what that white stuff is. In fact, the orchard was never much of a concern to me.

Along the other side of our driveway was another orchard, this one mature, taking up about ten or twelve acres. My grandmother leased both out to her neighbor to the east, Jasper Kaine. He had his own twenty acres of cherry trees, so it wasn’t much bother to take care of Nana Cole’s and he paid her half his profit on the acreage. It was a good deal for both of them.

Her house—clapboard, two-stories with a big old stone porch—sat behind the orchard. There were a couple of out-buildings; one a workshop and the other a red pole barn for the cars and farm equipment—most of which she didn’t use anymore. 

Then there were a couple of acres down a sloping hill where Nana planted vegetables every year: cabbage for slaw, squash, lots of squash, carrots, garlic and some onions. I knew all this because much of what she fed me came with comments about last summer’s crop: carrots were good, acorn squash dry and stringy.

Beyond the vegetable garden were four rows of raspberry bushes she’d strung up years ago—these I remembered from childhood visits. They just needed to be picked in late July. There was an overgrown chicken coup; she’d kept chickens for a decade or so but found them to be annoying, nasty animals who were much more appealing wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic.

At the very back of the property, down a rolling hill where she’d once grown rows and rows of corn, were ten or fifteen acres of trees and a small, kidney-shaped pond. She was good with a rifle and, in season, would go out into those woods to shoot a deer or a wild turkey. She’d dress the deer out there in the woods since she couldn’t carry it. When she’d finished, she’d pile the meat into a child’s wagon and pull it back to the house.

That was the part of the property that scared me most when I arrived. The woods. I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve seen that start out with a city person visiting the country and ending up with that same guileless city person chopped to bits in some hillbilly’s prize-winning chili. Those movies made a big impression on me, and were responsible for a number of frights in those first few weeks. 

I’d lived in Los Angeles my whole life, so I kept locking doors. Nana Cole had a fit until she broke me of the habit. “You’re safe. Nothing happens out here,” she’d tell me. Truth be told, even though I’d spent my life locking doors I don’t think anyone had ever actually come by and checked to see if I had. And, I knew perfectly well that any seasoned thief could get past a locked door in a flash. Still, the day I found the dead body, I was tempted to start locking doors again no matter what Nana Cole said.

Getting out of the truck, I walked around back to the kitchen door, but before I went in I whistled for Reilly. He was Nana’s six-year-old yellow Lab-mix and the one battle with her I’d won definitively. When I arrived, when it was frigidly cold—well, more frigidly cold than it was in April—Reilly was living in a grimy doghouse out by the vegetable garden. I brought him inside as soon as I saw it—actually, I brought him to a groomer near the mall in Bellflower and got him a bath and nail grind—and from then on he slept inside with me.

“People have stopped having children and now they treat animals like their own kids. It’s not right. It’s not how things were. A dog is a dog not a child.” Those are the CliffsNotes. I probably listened to a couple hours of commentary about how dogs were treated when she was young—the right way—and how they were treated now—the wrong way.

She still put him out when I wasn’t there, but when I came back he’d come when I called—as he did that day—and jump on me a couple times even though I told him no. I wasn’t what anyone would call a dog person so discipline was little more than a concept, but he was a good dog, well-behaved. Most of the time.

When we walked into the kitchen, Nana Cole was sitting there with her friend, my boss, Bev. My nana was somewhere near seventy—one side or the other, I didn’t know which—white-haired, rheumy-eyed, with skin as wrinkled as a used sheet of wax paper. Bev was younger, though by how much I couldn’t tell. She had steely hair and a nose like a knife. I got out Reilly’s bowl and filled it with water.

“D’you go to the bakery?” Nana Cole asked.

“I forgot.”

“You forgot?”

“Dead bodies will do that to you.” Though, it was probably the half a Valium I took. Or the whole one I took on the way home. “I’ll go later.”

“I wanted the bread for lunch.”

I put the water down and let Reilly splash it around in what passed for taking a drink. Hopefully, some of it got in his mouth. 

“Too bad there’s nothing in the pantry,” I said. 

The pantry was the size of a bedroom in L.A. (or a whole New York City apartment from I hear) and was full of dry goods and canned vegetables from last year’s garden. Not to mention, there were at least two loaves of bread that I was personally aware of in the freezer in the basement. Nana Cole was just partial to the sourdough at Beanie’s Bakery. 

“He was such a sweet child,” she said to Bev. “I don’t know what happened.” 

She passed that off as a joke, but I had the feeling she half meant it. Well, more than half.

I sat down and asked, “Who’s Sammy Hart?”

“That who you found?” Bev asked.

I nodded. 

Nana Cole said, “The Harts go back a ways, they owned an Italian restaurant in the village for a long while.”

“Who’d they sell that to?” Bev wondered.

“Couple out of Chicago.” Nana Cole shook her head as though no one in Chicago could run a business. “Only lasted a year or two. None of the locals would go there.” 

“Sammy’s mother was a Beckett, wasn’t she?” Bev asked.

Nana Cole nodded. 

Even I knew who the Becketts were. They still had their name on a lot of things around Masons Bay: a farm, a construction company, a funeral parlor. I imagined Sammy would be getting a family and friends discount on his final purchase.

“That’s right,” Nana Cole said. “He was Colleen’s boy. Odd, never married.”

“Yup, that’s the one.”

There was an uncomfortable silence—or at least it was uncomfortable for me. We listened to the kitchen clock tick. Something wasn’t being said, something obvious. These were code words. Never married. Odd. Sammy Hart was gay. Well that figures, I thought, the first gay person I meet in Michigan is a corpse. 

Reilly was done lapping up water and hovered around my knees. I told him to lie down and he went and lay in the big squishy bed I’d gotten him. I don’t think he was minding me, though, I think we just happened to agree that he should lie down.

“They want me to come in tomorrow and make a statement,” I said. “And I’m supposed to bring the note with me.”

“What note?” Nana Cole asked.

“That’s why I was at the Sheck’s. There was a note.”

Bev continued for me, “Someone tacked it to the door, oh, last night or this morning. Said there were some old cars out at the Sheck’s didn’t belong.”

“There weren’t though,” I pointed out.

“So, it was a prank.”

“Well, no, I don’t think so,” I said. “I think maybe someone wanted us to find the body.”

“Oh you watch too much TV,” Nana said.

“I would if you’d get cable.”

“Then you’d do nothing but sit around like a couch potato.”

Which wasn’t far from what I’d been doing on my days off even without movie channels and MTV. And The Real World., God I missed The Real World. Without cable, I did have a DVD player on my iBook and there was a Hometown Video on the way to Bellflower. I’d already become very familiar with their stock. Very, very middle-of-the-road, FYI.

“It doesn’t make sense that someone would kill Sammy Hart, go to the trouble of hiding him at the Sheck’s, and then tell us where he was,” Bev said, then sipped her coffee.

“They might have killed him there,” I said. 

Had they? I wondered. Was there a way to figure it out?

“Why kill him out there, though?” Bev asked.

I shrugged. “So you wouldn’t have to carry him? It did seem like a long way to carry someone.”

“It’s got to be a coincidence. Someone actually thought there were cars out there,” Bev said. “I mean, why not send the note to the police? Why get us involved?”

I shrugged again. “I don’t know. But I bet there’s a reason.”

Nana Cole stood up. “Well, I’d better find something for lunch. You staying, Bev?”

“No, I should go out and talk to the Shecks. If I know Lou Sheck, he’s going to try and find a way to blame this on The Conservancy.” 

She stood up to leave.

“I’ve got some bagels,” Nana Cole said. “I can make you a sandwich on a bagel. You sure you don’t want one to go?”

“No thanks.” She gave my grandmother a little hug and was out the door. Nana Cole started unloading sandwich fixings from the refrigerator. 

“I know you won’t go to church with me, but there’s a pancake supper tomorrow. I want you to go. My friends don’t believe you exist.”

“Your friends know I exist.” I’d met enough of them just going into Masons Bay with her.

“Well, you like pancakes, don’t you?”

“Are you trying to turn pancakes into a gateway drug to Jesus?”

“That’s not funny.”

“It wasn’t a joke.”

She stopped what she was doing. For a moment, she was quiet enough that I knew I’d stepped in it. Again. I stepped in it a lot. 

“The dinner’s at seven. Make sure you’re ready by six-thirty. And you can make your own damn sandwich.”

With that she left the kitchen.

Blurb:

The Less Than Spectacular Times of Henry Milch begins a new mystery series called the Wyandot County Mysteries. Set in a mythical county in northern lower Michigan, the series begins in the spring of 2003.

Things have not been going well for Henry Milch. After a Saturday night clubbing in his beloved West Hollywood, he took one pill too many and ended up banished to live on a farm with his ultra-conservative grandmother. It was that or rehab. While working a part-time job for the local land conservancy he stumbles across a dead body in the snow—as if things couldn’t get worse. But then things take a turn for the better, there’s a reward for information leading the man’s killer. All Henry has to do is find the murderer, claim the reward and he can go back to his real life in L.A.

More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:

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

Sign-up for Marshall’s newsletter here!

Exclusive Excerpt: Mask for a Diva (Stan Kraychik Mystery Book 4) by Grant Michaels

Excerpt:

“Jonathan!’’ cried the small woman.

Me? My name is Stan. I looked behind me. No one was there.

“Jonathan!” she called out again in a high raspy voice. She motioned me toward the car, so I went.

She smiled brightly at me, although her eyes were concealed by wraparound sunglasses as dark as a bandit’s mask. “I forgot to send word,” she said. “Parker stopped driving last month. Can you imagine? I expected some kind of natural calamity would follow, but the only thing that happened is that I’m driving myself now.”

I stared blankly at her. She was easily over seventy years old, spare as a sparrow, and pale, wearing a white cotton sun dress with big black polka dots. She could have been idling on a boulevard in Monte Carlo, awaiting some prince to dash from a casino, laden with bounty, and settle in next to her.

“Well, get in,” she said. “Let’s go!”

“But—”

“We’ll send the jitney to pick up the rest of your bags.”

“But—”

‘‘ Quick now. Lunch will be ready.”

Why argue? I placed my two pieces of luggage on the back seat, then opened the door— the automotive equivalent of a Swiss bank vault— and settled myself into the seat. Aromatic leather enveloped me like those ponderous armchairs in gentlemen’s clubs in London and Boston. The woman eased the heavy car away from the curb and slid it into the traffic lane, oblivious to the oncoming cars. We just avoided a collision, and I bristled. She seemed to be looking everywhere but in front of her, and she seemed to be having trouble seeing. Maybe her chic opaque sunglasses were part of the problem.

“What is all this hubbub around the station?” she said.

I told her there’d been an accident on the tracks.

“Oh, dear,” she said. “Was it serious?”

“A young woman apparently killed herself.”

“Oh, dear!” The woman shook her head. “Well there isn’t much we can do for her now.”

She drove the big convertible at a deplorable crawl along the main street, allowing it to weave languidly in response to her tendency to turn the steering wheel in whatever direction her gaze fell at the moment— toward a colorful shop window on the left, toward a pedestrian couple strolling along on the right, toward me sitting beside her. And ever obedient, the car meandered gracefully to the whim of her visual attention. An oncoming vehicle honked loudly at us, and the woman swerved us back into our lane of traffic.

She said, “What an unfortunate welcome for you, Jonathan.”

“Ma’am, my name isn’t Jonathan.”

She smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. I know most theater people have stage names.”

“I’m Stan Kraychik,” I said.

“You’re Czech, then!” she said, as elated as if she had discovered America.

“Yes, but—”

“Well, it’s no wonder you took a British identity. It makes international work so much easier. Although I love Czech theater. It’s so daring and dynamic. Would you prefer me to use your real name?”

She faced me again. The car followed the direction of her eyes and veered slightly to the right. I was just about to put my hand on the steering wheel when she swerved us back on course.

No,” I said. “As long as you’re comfortable with it.”

“Whatever you like,” she replied.

What I would have liked was to know who Jonathan was. And who she was too, for that matter.

The woman said, “I know it’s an outrage to own a car like this, especially with the economy so uncertain, but when Sid died two years back— my dear, I had no idea how wealthy my second husband was— frozen foods, of all things!— and then Parker failed his eye examination last month— and, well, here I am, driving again.”

“I’m afraid that—”

“Oh, don’t be,” she replied. “I’m quite capable.” She pressed her hand warmly over my forearm. “And I’ve always wanted something sporty.”

I gave up on the identity crisis for the moment and tried to share her delight with her new car. “What is it exactly?”

“Don’t you know? It’s a Bentley, dear. A Bentley Continental. It’s made in your country, by the Rolls-Royce people, but it’s much faster— turbocharged, they say— but you’d never know by the way I drive, always below the limit. It’s the one place where I just can’t seem to break the rules. How nice that you’re here, Jonathan!”

“Ma’am, you’ve really mistaken me for someone else.”

The woman turned her gaze toward me and once again the car followed her line of vision. She lowered the sunglasses away from her eyes. They were a clear pale blue. She studied me with the alertness of a fox. This time I did casually place my hand on the leather-wrapped steering wheel to keep us in our lane.

“Now that I look at you,” she said, “you don’t look quite like Jonathan Byers at all. You have the red hair, but …”

“I tried to tell you.”

“And you’re so much better mannered than I remember.”

“There are some who would disagree.”

“Well!” she said, then laughed heartily. “It seems I’ve made a big mistake. How do you do? I’m Daphne Davenport.”

Daphne Davenport? Was that a real name? Or was I caught in a John Waters hallucination of Some Like It Hot?

“I’m Stan Kraychik,” I said.

“Yes, you told me, you naughty boy. Did you just want to ride in my new car? I wouldn’t blame you one bit.”

“Actually I was looking for a taxi.”

Daphne lifted her sunglasses back over her eyes. “Well, now that we’ve met, would you like to have lunch with me?”

“Sure,” I said. People have sex knowing less about each other. “But I’m supposed to report for work at the opera house.”

Daphne said, “I think they’ll make an exception if they know you’re with me. I am the opera festival, after all.”

I looked at her askance. I was still steering us.

“My second husband was Sid Blaustein,” she said.

“As in the Sidney Blaustein Center for the Performing Arts?”

“That’s right, dear. You could say I own the plantation.” She laughed again. She seemed to be amused with her own life.

“But you just said your name is Davenport.”

“Yes. That was my first husband’s name, and I liked the sound of it so much that I kept it through my second marriage.”

“Well, then,” I said. “If it’s not any trouble, let’s have lunch.”

“No false courtesy with me, young man. We’ll have a nice time and pity poor Jonathan who’s missing all this fun.”

Blurb:

A Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in 1995 – New edition includes a 2020 foreword by Author Joe Cosentino.

A Stan Kraychik Mystery, Book 4 – Stan Kraychik, Boston hair-dresser extraordinaire, has been hired as the wig master’s assistant for the upcoming season of a local opera company. The Italian opera diva and aging soprano Marcella Ostinata, whose use of English is determined by her irritation level, will perform the lead. Before Stan heads to Europe to meet his lover’s parents, one of the actresses from the company kills herself by jumping into the path of a train. Befriending the benefactor, Stan moves into a house on the benefactor’s estate, where a very attractive deaf/mute boy takes a fancy to him. As the company heads unsteadily towards opening night, murder threatens the entire festival and Stan finds himself playing a crucial role in a deadly grand opera, performed without music, and with real weapons and killers.

Re-published by ReQueered Tales

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ ReQueeredTales/

Web: www.ReQueeredTales.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReQueered

Mailing list: http://bit.ly/RQTJoin

DÉJA VIEUX: A Michel Doucette & Sassy Jones Mystery (The Michel Doucette-Sassy Jones New Orleans Mysteries Book 7) by David Lennon

Exclusive Excerpt:

Chapter 22

“I’ll be with you in a second,” a voice called as the bell above the door jingled. “Have a seat wherever you like.”

The diner was empty, all but one booth by the window cleared. Michel inhaled the always pervasive scents of coffee, bacon, and burgers. Today there was something else, too. Rich, savory, smoky. His stomach grumbled.

He took a seat at the counter and examined the salt and pepper shakers. Round purple faces with huge blue eyes, white dot noses, small round orange mouths, green stem hats, yellow and orange striped bodies with no limbs. Like something out of a creepy 1930s Warner Brothers cartoon.

He looked down the counter. A pair of roosters. Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf. Two pigs wearing red bibs. A dog peeing on a hydrant. A monkey and a palm tree. It seemed someone had been hunting thrift stores or eBay in an effort to brighten up the place.

The doors to the kitchen swung open and a black plastic busing tub emerged, carried by a thick-waisted brunette in a red-and-white-check uniform. She looked distracted, perhaps a bit worried, Michel thought, but then she saw him and a warm smile spread across her face.

“Michel!”

“Hey, Darlene.”

“Black Jack was in yesterday. He didn’t tell me you were coming up this way.”

“I decided to surprise him.”

When he’d first met her, Darlene had been twenty-two, still pretty but already showing the strains of a hard life and a toxic on-and-off-again relationship with the town’s wannabe bad boy, Donny Heath. Now she was married to a jovial ex-jock who taught social studies and coached football and baseball at Port Allen High School, and she had three young sons who all shared their father’s seemingly boundless energy.

Darlene rested the tub on a tray stand, walked over, and gave Michel a hug. “How’ve you been, hon?”

Michel smiled. Though she was a decade younger, she’d always managed to make the term work. “I’m doing fine. How about you? How’s the family?”

Darlene made a face of mock exasperation. “I love my boys, but God couldn’t have given me at least one little girl?” She shook her head, smiled. “Otherwise it’s same old same old. You know how it is around here. Nothing ever changes.”

Michel thought he saw a fleeting hint of anxiety. Except for the armed hillbilly brigade who just left, he thought, but decided to ease into the subject. “Obviously, that’s not true. New salt and peppers shakers.”

Darlene laughed, nodded. “My granny collected them. They’ve been in a box in my mother’s garage for years, but she’s fixing to downsize so she gave them to me. I certainly didn’t need fifty of them, and I’m not really one for a lot of bric a brac, especially with the boys rough-housing all the time, so I brought some here.”

“They’re a nice touch.” He nodded at the set of shakers in front of him and raised a quizzical eyebrow.

Darlene shook head. “I’ve been looking at them my whole life and I have no idea. My granny called them tar babies, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have stems growing out of their heads if they were. Best I can figure is eggplants or maybe grapes.”

Michel nodded.

“So what brings you into town?” Darlene asked.

“I was hoping to pick up a few things, but I see the grocery is closed.”

“About two months now.”

“Is Cyrus…?” Michel let the question hang.

Darlene laughed. “No, he’s too ornery to die, but most of his regular customers have passed. He decided his time’s better spent fishing than sitting in the store hoping someone stops by.”

“So where do people shop now?”

“Well, you can get some basics at the Gas & Grocery in Butte La Rose, but most folks go to the Winn Dixie or Piggly Wiggly in Breaux Bridge.”

“I wish I’d known. I drove in from Lafayette. Passed right by.”

“Well, I guess the surprise is on you then.” Darlene gave him a wry smile. “So, you hungry, or just came in to say hi?”

“Definitely hungry. Something smells good.”

Darlene nodded. “Gator. Sausage or chicken fried.”

“Gator?” Michel replied dubiously.

“You ever tried it?”

Michel shook his head.

“Tastes kind of like chicken, but with a swampy undertaste. In a good way.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Michel deadpanned. “I’ll just have a burger and some fries. Seems like asking for trouble, eating alligator then going to a cabin in the swamp.”

*****

Michel wiped his mouth and put the napkin on his plate. Darlene looked up from the ketchup bottles she was wiping.

“You want some coffee or dessert, hon?”

Michel shook his head. “No, I’m good, thanks, but I’m wondering about something.”

“What’s that?”

“Who were those guys?”

Darlene did a poor job of feigning ignorance.

Michel jerked a thumb toward the street. “Big trucks? Camouflage? Guns?”

The faint lines in Darlene’s forehead deepened. “You don’t want to know.”

“Like saying that ever worked.”

Darlene gave him a long appraising look. “Well, I suppose your dad and those gossipy old men at the Gator will tell you anyway, but you didn’t hear it here.” She stared him down until he nodded. She blew a stray hair out of her face, checked the street, and leaned closer. “Rumor is we’ve got a bunch of chemists in the bayous.”

“Chemists?”

“You know, like Walter White.”

Michel looked at her blankly.

Breaking Bad?” she tried.

“That’s a TV show, right?”

Darlene sighed. “Meth labs.”

Michel smiled until he realized she wasn’t kidding. “In Bayou Proche? Seriously?”

Darlene nodded. “And those boys are the muscle that keeps folks away.” She straightened up. “At least that’s the speculation.”

Michel narrowed his eyes. “Why would anyone set up meth labs out here?”

Darlene gave him a knowing look. “For one thing, it’s remote. And for another, we’ve only got one cop in town, and you know Sweets. So long as they don’t start cooking it in the station, he’s not going to bother them.”

Michel sat back, frowning. Sadly, the last part probably wasn’t much of an exaggeration. “How long has it been going on?”

“It’s been about six months now, give or take.”

“Where are they set up?”

“Well, no one knows for sure, but most likely along the channel. Folks have been hearing a lot of airboats out there at night. And Zinny Alcott snagged something a month or so back while he was out fishing under the bridge. Said it was all wrapped up tight in plastic and tied to the bottom so it floated just below the surface. Course it might have just been some trash.”

“He didn’t check it out?”

Darlene blinked at him. “No, he got his ass out of there.”

Michel took a sip of iced tea. It seemed improbable, but the guys in the trucks were real enough. He wanted a cigarette, but decided to wait. “Okay, so what’s the prevailing assumption?” he asked. “That the airboats bring the stuff out of the bayous and leave it to be picked up in the channel?”

Darlene nodded.

“And where does it go from there? There aren’t any major hubs along the river, are there?”

“The river forks about two miles north. The 3177 runs along that section for nine or ten miles. Lots of places to unload.”

“And where does the 3177 go?”

“Eventually to Simmesport up north, and Butte La Rose going south, but it intersects Interstate 10 four miles west.”

Michel gave her a skeptical look. “Sounds kind of elaborate, don’t you think? Why bother going through all that when they could just jump on the interstate here?”

Darlene didn’t miss a beat. “Well, let’s think about that,” she replied in a tone Michel was sure she usually reserved for her boys. “They’re obviously trying to keep a real low-profile save for the muscle, and let’s face it, they could just be a group of survivalists.” She paused as though the idea had just occurred to her and needed some serious consideration. “Which would actually be kind of ironic given that there aren’t any women to have babies.” She paused again, refocused on her original train of thought. “How many roads are there into Bayou Proche?”

“One.”

“Right. One two-lane dirt road that wants to call itself a highway. You don’t think it would draw attention if trucks were going up and down that road all day and night?” She watched Michel with raised eyebrows, waiting for him to catch up. “And you have to figure they’re going to a larger city. They’ve been replacing the railings on the bridge for about two months now. If you were driving a truck full of meth to Lafayette, would you want to be stuck in traffic?”

Michel decided not to point out that they’d have the same issue heading to Baton Rouge if they got on the interstate farther west. Instead he said, “Sounds like you’ve given it some thought.”

“Not much else to do some days.”

A brief cloud pass over her face. Michel wondered if she was contemplating the reality of what she’d said, or if it was something more. “If you’re right about the operation,” he said, “it sounds pretty well-organized.” He thought about the kid. He didn’t seem the type to put something like that together. “Tell me about the young one with the rusty beard.”

“Oh, that’s Dale, but the others call him Rooster. Not sure if it’s because he has red hair or because he thinks he’s the cock of the walk.”

“So I noticed. Is he in charge of the others?”

“Oh God, no. That would be his father, Dez. Rooster just likes to play the big man when Dez isn’t around.”

“Sounds like you don’t think much of Rooster.”

“I certainly wouldn’t want my boys growing up like him. He’s mean, a loudmouth, and full of himself. He tried to cop a feel the first few times he came in until I spilled a cup of coffee in his lap. Accidentally, of course.”

Michel smiled. “Of course.”

“At first I thought the others put up with him because he’s Dez’s son, but now I think they’re a little afraid of him.”

“What’s your take on the others?”

Darlene frowned thoughtfully. “No trouble. Polite enough. Good tippers. At first they seemed a little tense whenever someone they didn’t recognize came in, but now that they’ve seen pretty much everyone who lives here, they seem okay. Still…watchful, I guess is the word, but not jumpy. Just always paying attention to what’s going on around them. And I get the feeling they’ve known one another for a good while.”

“Why’s that?”

“For one thing, they’re set in their ways. Always enter in the same order, sit in the same spots, order in the same order.”

“Maybe it’s an OCD support group,” Michel joked.

Darlene shook it off. “No, my youngest has a touch of OCD. Always has to have Eggo blueberry waffles for breakfast. On the same plate. Puts the butter and syrup on the exact same way, cuts them all up into little squares before he’ll start eating.” She rolled her eyes. “The boys definitely aren’t like that.” She absently wiped a clean spot on the counter. “There’s just something that seems practiced about the way they interact.”

Michel thought about how they’d gotten into the trucks. Positions were predetermined, movements efficient. “You think they might be ex-military?”

“Maybe,” Darlene replied. After a moment, she nodded more certainly. “Dez, for sure. Maybe that’s where they all met. Except for Rooster. He’s definitely not ex-military. Maybe ex-reform school. Or ex-prison.”

“Tell me about Dez.”

“Quiet. Not friendly, but not unfriendly either. Reserved, I’d call it. He’s got that quiet authority thing going on. Oh, and he’s got really pretty blue eyes. Like Paul Newman.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you have a crush, Darlene.”

Darlene slapped Michel on the hand, but he noticed a slight blush in her cheeks.

“So, has anyone actually talked to Sweets about any of this?” he asked.

“Sure. He says not to worry. Says he’s checked things out and there’s nothing going on. But like I said, you know Sweets.”

“What about the State Police?”

Darlene puffed out a small laugh. “And tell them what? That there are some guys with guns in town? And airboats in the channel at night? It’s Bayou Proche. There are lots of guys with guns and lots of airboats. They’d laugh us right out.”

“Bill Coffin would listen to you.”

Darlene made a face. “Sure he would. He couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

Darlene’s jaw tightened and Michel saw a hardness in her eyes he’d never seen before.

“It wouldn’t hurt you,” she said, “because you can go back to New Orleans. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. If you stir up trouble, we have to live with it. Sure, they might burn your cabin down, but you can afford to build another one. We can’t afford to rebuild the town or our lives.” She took a deep breath and some of the anger seemed to drain away. “Look, Michel, I know you used to be a cop and a private investigator so it’s in your nature to poke your nose into things and try to fix them, but I’m asking you as a personal favor to please just let it be.” Another calming breath. “If the State Police suddenly come around, Dez and whoever he works for are going to assume we called them in. Seems to me we’re in a pretty okay situation right now. I want to keep it that way.”

“Okay situation? As the meth capital of Louisiana?”

Darlene stared at him steadily. “Maybe someone’s cooking meth out in the woods, maybe they’re not. In either case, they leave us alone. Dez and his boys keep us away from them and them away from us. The way I see it, that’s okay.” She chewed her lower lip for a moment, then tried a smile. “Besides, I imagine these sorts of folks don’t stay in one place for too long. Hopefully they’ll be gone before too long.”

“And you’re willing to wait them out?”

Darlene nodded decisively. “We don’t really have a choice, and in the meantime, they’re paying customers.” She started to turn away, then turned back and reached across the counter to squeeze Michel’s forearm. “I’m sure Verle thought he was doing the right thing when he didn’t renew those leases, but look what happened to the town.”

And she goes for the knockout, Michel thought, his respect notching up a few pegs.

Buy Links:

E-book:

Paperback:

Blurb:

Seven years after walking away from private investigating, Michel Doucette has settled into a comfortable routine of long lunches and volunteer work, but when an old friend asks him and his former partner, Sassy Jones, to look into possible thefts at the nursing home where she volunteers, Michel reluctantly agrees. What starts out as a seemingly straightforward case, however, suddenly takes an unexpected twist, and things soon turn deadly when a side trip to visit his father in the tiny Atchafalaya Basin town of Bayou Proche puts Michel in the crosshairs of a drug lord and the mercenaries protecting the operation in the swamps surrounding the town.Déja Vieux is the seventh novel featuring detectives Michel Doucette and Alexandra “Sassy” Jones.

The novel that began the Michel Doucette and Sassy Jones mysteries:

More about David Lennon

David Lennon lives in Kennebunk, ME, with his husband, Brian, and their dog, Blue. He is a five-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, and winner of the 2010 Lammy Award for Best Gay Mystery for his second novel, Echoes.

Exclusive Excerpt: Beautiful Corpse: A Marshall James Thriller (Marshall James Thrillers) by Mark McNease

Excerpt:

REMISSION

TODAY DOESN’T FEEL LIKE A milestone. It feels like any other Tuesday, better than some, not as good as others. The sun’s out and the stink of a New York City summer has passed, giving way to the cool of autumn. This is the time of year when I fall in love with the city again. The surge of color on the trees in Central Park; the morning chill that has me staying under the comforter with my husband while our cat, Critter, purrs between us. The kind of morning that makes me want another, and another, just like it. In my position that’s not guaranteed, but an October morning teases me and gives me hope, something I’ve been wary of my entire life.

I have my scheduled walking tour to give this afternoon—the Haunted Greenwich Village Tour, complete with single-page maps with little Xs on them where famous people croaked from murder, suicide or heroin. It’s a seasonal tour we do for Halloween. Other than that, it’s just the day I’m supposed to celebrate being cancer-free for five years. I’m told it’s a big deal, the top of some hill from where I announce to the small world I inhabit that I’m cured for the most part. It’s a hesitant celebration—ask all those people who thought they were in the clear and got blindsided by another round with the Grim Reaper. He always wins anyway. Maybe not five years ago when I was first told those little reds spots on the Kleenex I coughed into were blood, or a month later when half a lung was removed, or six months later when I was bedridden and thinking the cancer couldn’t possibly have been worse than the chemo. But he’s a patient sonofabitch, and every single one of us is set for a cage match that’s already been decided. The crowd knows who gets the trophy, and it ain’t us.

I was supposed to be dead and turned into a box of ashes a long time ago. If not from the lung cancer, then from AIDS in my twenties, or bourbon in my forties, or at the hands of one of several sadistic killers—but I’ll get to that. Let’s focus on the positive, as my oncologist, Dr. Lydia Carmello, would say. She’s been as surprised as anyone that I’m still around, although she’d never express it. She’s still in the ‘cautiously optimistic’ stage after five years. She’s seen too many hearts broken, too much grief, to take victory laps. It’s not her style, and it’s not mine.

I have a lot to be grateful for, even though I can’t say who I’m grateful to. God and I haven’t been on speaking terms since I was sixteen years old, a gay kid in an Indiana town asking him why he wouldn’t make me attracted to girls, or why he wouldn’t get my father sober, or why he killed my mother and left us to take care of ourselves while the old man slept off another binge. By the time I was living in Los Angeles some years later and watching my friends fall like weeds ripped out of a garden, I’d decided God didn’t talk back to me because he wasn’t there and never had been. So my gratitude is the kind you feel when you smell flowers, or when you get hit with a cool breeze on a really hot day. It’s not a ‘thank you’ to anyone, just an acknowledgment that it feels good.

I’m alive, healthy in a relative way, still working, and now a married man. That last one still surprises me more than outliving a grave prognosis. My boyfriend Boo, short for Buford, convinced me two years ago that it was time for us to live together, and since we were going to live together we might as well make it official with a trip to City Hall. And that’s all we did, too. No fancy wedding, no reception, no gift registries. Just me, Buford, and two friends as witnesses for the second trip downtown. There’s a twenty-four hour waiting period in New York, instigated years ago by some do-gooder who thought too many people were getting plastered on their trips to the Big Apple and capping it off with marriages they regretted when the booze wore off. So you have to get your license one day, and either go back and have it officiated, or set up your wedding with someone else who’s qualified to sign the thing. For us, we just got on the subway with our pals, stood in line again, and did the deed. And you know what? I like being married. I like calling Boo my husband, a word that first felt as strange coming out of my mouth as it did falling on the ears of so many people who still react like it’s an odd thing for two men to call each other. I don’t care. I’m turning sixty this year—what’s with all these milestones?—and if I want to call the man I wake up with every day my husband, you can bet your ass that’s what I’m going to do.

Despite all the changes, some of the basics are the same. I live in the same Hell’s Kitchen building I’ve been in for many years. We got a deal on a one-bedroom because I’m a reliable tenant in a building full of not-so-reliable ones. It was a step up from the studio I’d been living in with its view of the Port Authority bus terminal and the sounds of Ninth Avenue as a kind of toxic white noise. Boo made the move from Brooklyn and we fixed the place up nicely. We share it with Critter, who I inherited from a dead prostitute named Justine. He outlived her after the building super found her deceased with a syringe in her arm. The neighbors had been complaining of a terrible smell coming from her apartment, and it wasn’t the cat.

The terminal is still across the street, but we’re not on the side anymore that faces all the buses coming in from New Jersey spewing their fumes up into the windows.  I still give walking tours for a living, having been a guide at one time or another for all the ones the company offers: the Gay New York Tour, the Music Icons Tour, and the haunted tour I’m doing today. There’s also the Famous Bars Tour, where I walk groups of people around and we stop at a half-dozen saloons where they can have a shot or a glass of wine where some celebrity passed out the night before. It’s fitting since I don’t drink, and, frankly, even the cheapest of these places is nicer than the bars I patronized at the end of my long, long drinking career. If people weren’t falling off ratty barstools and the place didn’t smell like puke and Pine-Sol, it was too classy for me. That included the Paisley Parrot, or maybe that’s where it really started. I told you about that dump in the first of these little confessions. 1983, Los Angeles, a mobbed-up, lowlife paradise where I became intimately acquainted with murder and the kinds of people who commit it.

I may be in the clear from cancer for now, but I’m not in the clear with my conscience. I didn’t kill anyone—don’t get me wrong—but I’ve always thought a few people might still be alive if they’d never met me, so I’m getting it out there now. And boy, is there more to get out.

It was 1984. Prince ruled the airways. The Los Angeles Olympics had come and gone, taking with it a spotlight that had shone harshly on the city’s night crawlers and left them thankful for the shadows. AIDS was spreading its dark, black, wings over us all, and I was a happy guy. At least I thought I was, until things took a sudden turn for the deadly.

CHAPTER One

David Bowie’s song 1984 was everywhere that year for obvious reasons: the song, like the George Orwell book that had inspired it, had taken on new urgency once it actually was 1984. Much like a save-the-date for the end of world, however, it proved to be less than prescient. Economies did not crumble, we had not yet been taken over by double speaking bureaucrats who called up down and in out—that would come later with the arrival of a new century.

Prince was also ubiquitous. His Purple Rain album and movie had stormed the gates of entertainment and made themselves inescapable. You couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing one of his songs, and among the fevered debates that year was who deserved the king’s crown: Prince or Michael Jackson. For some people it was a toss up, for me it was Prince.

Los Angeles had been transformed by the arrival and departure of the Olympics. The authorities had wanted the city to look respectable, so for months before that summer the police had been sweeping the hustlers, hookers and drug dealers off Santa Monica Boulevard. Prior to that, it was common to take a drive along Santa Monica and see one young man after another standing on the curb or in the street with his thumb out. I knew because I’d been one of them when I’d first arrived in L.A. seven years earlier. I was later saved from a life—or in many cases a death—on the streets by my friend Butch Reardon, who I’d met one night at the baths. The good news was that Butch was still alive, surviving what we later called a plague. The bad news was that many others were not. Eighty-four wasn’t the worst of the AIDS years by a long shot, but the death toll was high enough for us to know the bottom was a lot farther down. Every gay man I knew expected his life to be shortened by several decades. Each cough, each unexplained blemish, had us getting our things in order and dreading the awful emaciation we’d all become familiar with. Reed-thin friends gasping for breath in hospital rooms marked “Contagious.” Desperate questions without answers. Death was a guest at the party, moving so quickly among us that we could never quite identify what he looked like or which part of the room he was in at any moment.

The only thing we were sure of—that we had to believe for sanity’s sake—was that monogamy was the best way to ride out the storm. Find someone safe, someone healthy, and close ranks, hold on for dear life. That’s not why I was with Mac. It was just timing. We’d met under the strangest, most gruesome circumstances. We’d fallen into love, and as if by instinct, we’d stayed there. The virus had just been identified that year and there was no test for it yet. But we knew it was spread through sex, so the less sex you had, with the fewest people, the greater your chances of survival. You can’t catch what no one can give you, so some of us either swore off sex altogether, or we set up house and locked the door. That was Mac and me, moving in together to cement that sticky thing called love. He was still a cop, I was still a bartender. Aside from everyone living under the darkest, cruelest storm we would ever encounter, things were looking pretty good. It was October, my favorite month … until that night.

* * *

Mac McElroy was my hero, my savior, and my lover. He was an openly gay cop when you could count them on one hand. And not just a cop, he was a detective. My very first encounter with him had shown me his compassionate side, something you don’t expect in a detective who rightly considers you a possible suspect. He had to think of me that way, it was his job, but he’d been kind to me at precisely the moment I’d needed it most. I’m not a fool, I knew what the general population, let alone the police, thought of gay men back then. A lot of them still do. But Mac saw the frightened young man I was, vomiting outside the bar’s back door after seeing the obviously murdered body of a friend, and he was gentle with me. Not condescending, not fake-nice, as if he could get a confession out of me by being understanding. It had been just him, me, and some surly beat cops who’d already made up their minds I’d killed another fairy and put him in a dumpster.

Then all hell broke loose. More murders, more suspicion on me, even as I tried to beat the clock and find out who the killer really was. When I did and it almost cost my life, Mac was the one leading the charge through Richard Montagano’s door and stopping him from strangling me to death. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, it was then. Within a few months we were an item. Within a year we were living together and I was sober after years of drinking like bourbon was my only form of hydration and cigarettes were my oxygen tank. Mac never smoked and rarely drank, but love gives differences like that a chance to work themselves out.

We moved in together to celebrate our one year anniversary. He’d been living in Glendale and I’d been living in Hollywood. Deciding it was best to start fresh, we settled on a two-bedroom apartment in Silverlake, the upper half of a duplex. It was far enough from the past and close enough to the future to make it the perfect choice for us.

Another choice I’d made was to leave the Paisley Parrot and everything it represented. I wasn’t ready to stop bartending since it was the only real profession I had, so I took my skills to West Hollywood. I’d been slinging drinks at the hottest bar in town, a place called Zenith, several blocks west of the French Quarter on Santa Monica, a popular gay restaurant where people sat outside being seen while they ate fried zucchini sticks and Reuben sandwiches. West Hollywood was a mecca to us then, the gayest little city in America. It was also Ground Zero for AIDS in Los Angeles, and every week, walking past the French Quarter, one of the things you noticed was who was not there, which tables were empty where a friend or acquaintance had been just days before. Still, the worst hadn’t hit us yet, and the area remained as vibrant as a street party before the cleanup. Zenith was part of that, the white-hot center of a trendy neighborhood where hope and promise would soon collide with despair.

There were clouds in the sky, but the sun still shone. There were signs of hard times to come, but days of joy in the meantime. I was twenty-six years old. Whatever I knew at that age, it wasn’t nearly as much as I was about to learn.

CHAPTER Two

IT HAD TAKEN MONTHS TO convince Mac we should live together. He’d counseled patience, and I’d believed it was going to happen eventually, as long as we stayed together. He was right to be cautious. New relationships are fragile. Mac and I knew it could go either way: we could make it to the one year mark and have a serious discussion about our future, or we could come apart at the seams. Waiting a year was a good move. It also made it difficult for him to say no when I started showing him ads for apartments.

“You work in West Hollywood,” he’d said. “Maybe we should look there.”

Mac had lived in Glendale for several years while working at LAPD’s Hollywood Station. The drive wasn’t much of a commute, given the distances people in L.A. travel on a daily basis.

We were sitting at his kitchen table. I’d taken to spending most of my nights with him by then, driving over from my apartment on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. I’ll admit there was something exciting about sleeping in a cop’s bed, with his service gun in the nightstand next to him. I guess it made me feel manly, or maybe just protected. We were wearing nothing but briefs, our usual early morning attire. He would head off to work soon, and I’d go back to bed and sleep before my night shift at Zenith. At least one of us was working days.

“It’s too expensive in West Hollywood,” I replied. “Besides, I’ve always liked diversity, and it’s kind of gay-homogenous there. Not really my thing.”

“How about the Valley?”

“God, no. And think of the drive.”

He leaned over to scan the ads with me. That’s when we saw it: a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath duplex in Silverlake. We both lived in apartment buildings, and the idea of a duplex was appealing—you only had one neighbor, above you or below you, depending on which unit was available.

“That looks interesting,” he said, resting his hand on my bare leg. It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds; we’d already had sex for breakfast.

“Should I call?” I asked.

“Sure.”

And that’s how we found our home. A together home. A place of our own, with the emphasis on ‘our.’ Mac McElroy and Marshall James were officially a couple, with all the ups and downs that come with commitment. The ups were fantastic, and the downs survivable, until one night when we both said things we shouldn’t have, a door got slammed, and our lives were upended like a table someone threw over in a fit of rage. All for a moment of petty jealousy. Maybe I had it coming.

* * *

“Where were you?” I asked.

That’s how it started. Cheap, angry, stupid.

It was a Sunday night. Mac worked weekends, and I’d spent the day with a walk in Griffith Park and a drive to the Beverly Center looking for a new answering machine. I’d brought dinner back from one of our favorite Mexican restaurants and planned to heat it up after the initial kiss hello and maybe some time in the sheets. But one hour passed, then another, and Mac had not come through the door with his usual swagger. You need a certain bearing to be a detective, maybe more so if you’re a gay one and everybody knows it. They’re looking for weakness, any sign you might not be as masculine as the job requires. Mac had it in spades: the bearing, the look, the sense that this is a man who does not back down. He didn’t need it so much for investigating murders, but he’d honed it as a beat cop in his early career and it’s the kind of thing that stays with you.

By the time the nightly news was over and he still hadn’t come home, I was slightly annoyed. Then I watched 60 Minutes, followed by Hardcastle and McCormick. My annoyance had progressed to serious irritation. We didn’t have cell phones and I’d refrained from calling the station to see if he was working late. Nobody needs an upset boyfriend calling and asking to talk to the detective in charge. Just as I was reaching the alarmed stage he walked in the door, slightly but clearly inebriated.

I forwent the usual greeting kiss, stopping him in the entryway.

“Where have you been?” I demanded, already suspicious. Smelling booze on him, I added, “Or maybe I should ask where you’ve been drinking?”

Mac seldom drank. For him to come home late with whiskey on his breath was a first.

“Relax,” he said. “I was out with an old friend. And I didn’t drive home, don’t worry. Barry brought me back. I’ll get my car in the morning.”

Barry? I’d never heard of anyone named Barry. How could he be an old friend of Mac’s if I’d never heard of him?

“You’re drunk.”

He cocked his head, staring at me as if I’d just said the most ridiculous thing.

“I’m not drunk. It doesn’t take much for me, Marshall. I’ve had maybe three drinks. We were getting caught up, that’s all, I forgot the time.”

We were gay men. It was 1984. Assumptions were made.

“Is that what you were doing? And who is this old friend, Barry?”

He walked past me, tossing his keys on the dining room table. “We were in the Academy together. He got assigned to Rampart. I hadn’t seen him in five or six years, it just happened.”

My temper flared. “What is ‘it,’ Mac? Did you fuck him?”

I’d crossed a line, as quickly and irreversibly as if I’d slapped him. He went from being pleasantly buzzed to frighteningly sober. He turned to me and said, “What is wrong with you? He’s married. He has two kids. We were close.”

“It sounds like you still are.”

By then I realized my foolishness, but I was young and unable to stop myself.

“I brought dinner home. I ate it. Yours is cold, in the refrigerator.”

I started to leave the room, to storm into the bedroom and wait for an apology.

“Don’t walk away from me.”

It was the way he said it. We’d been many things—detective and suspect, victim and lifesaver, lover and lover—but unequal had never been one of them. We were partners. Today we’d be husbands, but then, in that moment, we were accuser and denier. His tone was commanding, as if he was instructing me to stop in my tracks.

I don’t know what came over me. Pride? Stubbornness? A refusal to admit I was making something huge out of something minor? He should have called me, yes. He should have paged me. But he’d been with an old friend and the time had gotten away from him. It happens. I wish it hadn’t that night, but it did, and instead of letting it go, of making amends on the spot and acting like the adult I was, I kept walking away from him. I went into the bedroom, got my wallet and keys from the dresser drawer, and marched back past him.

“I’m going out,” I said.

Three words that ended up having as much impact as when we’d first said, “I love you.”

“Wait,” he said, knowing I wouldn’t.

He reached out, trying to grab my arm as I hurried by him. I shook his hand off. I’d been shown up, revealed as the petty, jealous, self-pitying lover I was at that moment.

The last sound we both heard was the door slamming behind me.

Some things you can’t take back.

CHAPTER Three

THE SUNSET BATHS WERE SECOND in popularity only to the Hollywood Spa. Located on Fountain Avenue near Gower, they were named after a street they weren’t on. They also had the unfortunate distinction of a name that matched the times, as the men who patronized bathhouses began to enter the abbreviated sunset of their lives. AIDS was gaining momentum, spread by sex, although we still didn’t know what kind. The baths were a place to seek comfort, and to indulge in anonymous pleasure for a few hours while Rome slowly caught fire around us.

It’s important to understand that places like the Sunset Baths were more than mazes of glory holes and stained sheets in which to lose ourselves for a few hours. They were also gathering spots where gay men of all ages could feel safe. Things like marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws were as distant in concept as WiFi and handheld computers. The world we lived in was still a very hostile place. We were outlaws, pre-assimilation quasi-criminals with our own amorphous culture. It was still acceptable to fire us from jobs, disdain us as fairies, and make very public jokes about us even as we died. Spaces provided by the baths, the bars and the community centers were vital. You could spend a night at the baths playing pool, drinking and smoking, and feeling protected from the indignities of a world that considered it open season on you. You could also have lots of sex, which is not why I went there that night. I wanted to cool off,  and hopefully to interact with a friend or two I hadn’t seen since I’d become a taken man. I was in the wrong place for the right reasons, or so I thought. By the time I’d settled into a room with my clothes hung on a door hook, wearing underwear beneath my towel as an added layer of protection against my own impulses, I’d already begun to realize my folly. Mac had not been cheating on me. He was honest enough to admit it if he had been. I’d overreacted all the way to the baths, but once I was there I decided to stay awhile. Not long, maybe an hour or two. Then I would go home and apologize for being an asshole. Mac would exhibit the patience of a saint, and all would be well again.

I locked my door behind me, slipped the key on its elastic band over my wrist, and made the familiar rounds, avoiding the hallways where a hand might reach out to size me up. There was nothing to measure that night. I wasn’t there for that. I’d have a soda or two at the bar, chat with someone I knew or strike up a conversation with someone I didn’t know, and head home before midnight.

I’d been sober for six months at the time. It might sound odd for a bartender not to drink, but there are plenty of us. Just like there are servers in restaurants who don’t eat the food, and bank tellers who would never think of slipping a twenty into their pocket. It’s a job, and I’d been able to perform it without more than an occasional desire to join my customers in a shot. Mac was proud of me, not to mention the wonders it did for our relationship. I knew he wouldn’t be proud of me that night, slinking off to a place I shouldn’t have been.

Sitting at the bar, enjoying a Diet Coke, I decided not to tell him where I’d gone. I would say I’d taken a drive, which was true. I’d tell him I had needed to clear my head and admit my ridiculous jealousy, which was also true. I would just leave out the part about the Sunset Baths. What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, while telling him the truth just might. I’d even resolved to leave sooner, after I finished my soda.

“Hello,” a voice said.

I turned and saw a familiar stranger leaning on the bar next to me. It sounds like an oxymoron: familiar stranger. But that’s what he was. I didn’t know him. I’d never spoken to him. But something about him was not new to me. I’d seen him, though I wasn’t sure where.

He looked to be in his thirties, older than I was at the time. He was lean and muscular, revealing most of his body with just a white towel wrapped around his waist. He had the short chest hair of someone who used an electric razor to trim it. His eyes, even in the dim light, were the startling blue of a watercolor. His brown hair was on the long side, brushed back behind his ears, and he smiled with the brightness of a teeth whitener.

“You look lonely,” he said.

I wasn’t going to let this enter dangerous territory, and quickly replied, “I’m not lonely at all. My boyfriend’s at home. I’m just getting out for awhile.”

He smiled. “At the baths.”

“I’m not here for that.”

“And what is it you’re not here for?”

That,” I said, glancing down at his erection pressing up on his towel.

“It’s involuntary.” Looking around at the other men there, he said, “It comes with the territory. But don’t worry, I respect boundaries. Now can I buy you another drink?”

The things we do when we think we’re not doing them. I would not get physical with this man, of that I was sure. But a little harmless flirting? A little wordplay?

“Sure,” I said. “It’s a Diet Coke. I don’t drink.”

“Oh, good,” he said. “Neither do I.”

I slipped off the barstool. “I’m happy to have a drink and chat, but just one, then I’m going home. In the meantime, I need to pee.”

“You do that …”

“Marshall.”

“Marshall. I’m Steven, by the way.”

We shook hands. His grip was firm and I felt something stirring I would have to un-stir immediately. “Pleased to meet you,” I said, before heading off to the bathroom.

When I came back he was still there. A new Diet Coke was waiting for me. I hopped back on the barstool, took a long sip of my drink, and started an innocent conversation I would barely remember in the morning.

CHAPTER Four

IT TOOK ME A MINUTE after opening my eyes to realize where I was. I’d somehow gotten back to a room I assumed was the one I’d rented—there was no reason to think otherwise. My body felt stiff, my muscles and stomach tightly knotted. I was facing the wall, and as I turned slowly onto my back I realized I was not alone.

My first impulse upon touching his flesh was a need to vomit. How had this happened? I hadn’t gone there for sex, and I certainly hadn’t gone there to drink. But had I done both? Had the stranger, Steven, charmed away my defenses? Had I failed myself and my best intentions? Had I failed Mac?

“I have to leave,” I said, turning to the side of the bed before realizing I could not get out that way. The bed was flush against the wall—the only way out was over the man next to me.

He didn’t say anything, and I thought he must be sleeping. I kept talking anyway.

“This was a mistake, nothing happened. Tell me nothing happened.”

He didn’t respond. Just as well, I thought. What I couldn’t remember was better left forgotten. 

I starting crawling over him, skin brushing against skin, when I noticed how cold he was.

“Steven,” I said. “Are you okay?”

I was straddling him, trying to get to the other side, the side that would let me off the bed and out of the room, when he rolled toward me, my weight turning him on his back. And I saw it, clearly and horrifyingly. It was not Steven.

A young man stared up at me, his eyes open and dead. I knew what a corpse’s eyes looked like, I’d seen them before. Whoever he was, however beautiful he’d been in life, he was now deceased. I allowed myself just a moment to gaze at him. He was very attractive, no more than twenty, I guessed, with green eyes gone dull and lifeless. His hair was short and artificially blond, fanning back from his face. His lips, once pink and full, pouting when they’d been able to speak, were now blue and silent. I was on top of a man who’d left this life, and from the looks of the deep ligature marks on his neck, he’d had help.

* * * * *

Now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple Books

About Author, Mark McNease:

Mark McNease is the author of nine novels, six produced plays and dozens of short stories. Two of his Kyle Callahan Mysteries were best sellers on Kindle, and his short story ‘Stop the Car’ was selected as a Kindle Single. He won an Emmy and Telly as a co-creator and writer for the children’s program ‘Into the Outdoors’ and currently lives with his husband and two cats in rural New Jersey. You can find him at MarkMcNease.com