Excerpt from the new Corey Shaw Mystery by Alex Morgan

August 29th, 2015

Legacy of Hephaestus

by

Alex Morgan

Blurb:

Paranormal sleuth Corey Shaw is wrapping up what’s left of his European vacation by enjoying the beautiful men in Europe.  During his visit, the largest yellow diamond in the world is stolen from a factory in Amsterdam.  On his way home, an attempt is made on his life, and his house is broken into upon his arrival home in Boston. Just as Corey finds the “Lava Diamond”, a professor from Boston College disappears while on sabbatical at Bergen University in Norway.

Drawn into the fray, Corey travels back across the Atlantic to search for the professor only to discover a connection between the missing prof and the “Lava Diamond”.

Excerpt:

As Corey paused to watch, one of the players leaned over the table to line up a shot and glanced up, locking gazes with him. His face split into a big grin. His short crop of curly red hair and blue eyes reminded Corey of Prince Harry of England, only sexier. The man returned his attention to his shot, although his smile remained.

Corey noted the long, sinewy forearms with a vascularity that spoke of strength and musculature. The pool player slid the pool cue back and forth several times through his long, out-stretched fingers, making Corey think he was insinuating something rather than lining up a shot. He thrust the pool stick forward, striking the cue ball, sending it flying across the table where it collided with the 4 ball with a sharp crack. The 4 darted off at an angle, straight into the corner pocket. Murmurs of approval rippled through the spectators.

‘Harry’ straightened up with a slight grin, acknowledging the mutterings of encouragement, and circled the table with his gaze on the remaining balls. His navy blue T-shirt hung over muscular pecs, and the short sleeves had been rolled up, exposing bulging biceps. An emblem on his shirt indicated he worked for a longshoreman company at the port. Or at least the company owned the T-shirt.

His path brought him next to Corey, where he stopped and bent over the table in front of him, bumping him with his round ass, contained in tight blue jeans.

LegacyOfHephaestsus_cvr

“Sorry,” he said over his shoulder. His tone did not sound apologetic, and Corey nodded with a twitch of an eyebrow.

In an automatic, involuntary move, Corey reached out and placed an open palm on Harry’s back pocket. The ass didn’t yield under his touch.

“Nice,” Corey whispered, and Harry shifted his weight back, pushing into Corey’s hand. He fired off another shot, sinking the next ball.

Corey watched him as he circled the table several times, stopping to line up a shot and sink a third ball. Within a few short minutes, Harry had cleared the table and shook hands with his opponent to a smattering of applause. He turned to face Corey across the room just as another challenger stepped up to him. Harry glanced at Corey as if willing him to be patient and stick around.

Corey nodded again and backed against the wall, out of the way. Harry racked the balls in seconds and broke, sending them in all directions, sinking two. He continued to make short work of his opponent, clearing the table in several turns.

Before the game ended, Corey sought out the bar and ordered two Heinekens. When he returned, Harry was shaking hands with the loser.

Not wanting to look too eager or desperate, he approached the pool player with a slow pace. Harry looked up with a beautiful smile as Corey proffered the beer.

Bedankt,” Harry said.

“Good game,” Corey said, taking a sip and hoping the gorgeous man understood him.

“Do you play?” Harry asked in perfect English and took a swig.

“I’ve dabbled now and then.”

“You’re American,” Harry said. “On holiday?”

“Only a couple of days. Then I go to Oslo before heading home.”

“Perhaps I could show you some of the sights of our beautiful city,” Harry said with a suggestive wink.

“I like what I see in here.” Corey returned the gesture.

 

Wilde City Press: Alex Morgan

http://www.wildecity.com/authors/alex-morgan/

EXCERPT: Lloyd A Meeker’s new Russ Morgan Mystery – Blood and Dirt

August 22nd, 2015

Blood and Dirt

by

Lloyd A Meeker

Blurb:

Family squabbles can be murder. Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that’s escalating in a hurry. Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation. Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point. Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age. His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane, and good. Now, that’s really dangerous…

Set-up:

Evan Landry wants to hire Russ to find out who wrecked his sister Sarah’s legal marijuana grow, located on the family ranch in Mesa County, Colorado. Landry want his step-sister Marianne to be the guilty party, and expects Russ to prove it. The Ellis/Landry family has marinated in toxic animosity for years. Evan is in Russ’ Denver office, in their first meeting. The first half of this scene is at Clare London’s site… http://clarelondon.com/2015/08/21/lloyd-meeker-visits/

Excerpt:

I couldn’t deny family intrigue was fascinating to me. Over the years, I’d encountered a long parade of bizarre relationships, toxic secrets, competition for affection or mere attention, and vendettas. However, I’d also seen reconciliations and witnessed the most beautiful demonstrations of compassion and forgiveness and understanding. I smiled at my own discovery. Maybe I had just figured out why I’d become a specialist in family complexities.

I stuck out my hand. “Yes, I’ll take your assignment. I’ve never had anything to do with marijuana cultivation, so this should be especially educational.”

“Good.” Landry gave my hand a perfunctory shake that said my answer was no surprise to him—he’d expected my agreement before he walked in. At the same moment, he slid his other hand into a jacket pocket and handed me a check. Already made out to me. “A retainer,” he said with cool nonchalance. “You don’t need to create an invoice until you’re done, then we can see what’s left to cover.”

Nodding, I tucked the check into my desk drawer and pulled out my simple one-page engagement letter.

“Now,” Landry said as we finished up the formalities, “you get all the dirty laundry.”

I got ready to take notes.

BloodDirt_cvr-Full Size

It was a convoluted story, with all the elements of a classic family melodrama, a perfect breeding ground for bad blood. Stanford Ellis, the current owner of the Ellis Ranch, was in his sixties. He’d married young, and sired three children: Stanford Jr., Marianne, and William, who everybody called Billy even though he was now in his late twenties.

When Billy was four, Mrs. Ellis decided the rancher’s life was no longer for her and disappeared, leaving her husband with three small children to raise and a ranch to run.

Stanford, being an old-school rancher, knew that a rancher needed a wife, so he got himself another one—Carolyn Landry, who already had two children of her own by a previous marriage.

Although Carolyn had frequently asked Stanford to formally adopt her two children Evan and Sarah, he’d refused. Maybe it was some vestige of arrogance about the Ellis name and Ellis blood that prevented him from saying yes. Maybe it was something else, but while Stanford Sr. was perfectly decent to his second wife, the two children she had brought into the family remained Landrys.

According to Landry, Stanford Sr. might have been obstinate about that particular issue but was indecisive about everything else. After Carolyn’s death, his refusal to take a firm stand with his brood left the children to cope with each other without many boundaries except, strangely, at the dinner table. There, Stanford controlled everyone’s behavior with a dictator’s fist.

By middle school, an internecine rivalry had begun, with the Ellis children pitted not only against the Landrys, but against each other as well. Each child developed their own way of fighting or at least coping.

Sarah had become something of a Birkenstock hippie, spending more time with animals and plants than people. She did passably well at school and began working for the local rancher’s co-op after graduation.

When she could show that marijuana was a viable cash crop, she negotiated a very favorable lease with Stanford Sr. for space in an old barn the ranch no longer used, complete with water rights.

Evan had stayed under the radar of family conflict as much as possible until he came out in high school, then he defiantly took on all comers. He’d escaped as soon as he could, moving to Denver where being gay wasn’t such a big deal, got a grunt job in a restaurant and learned the business as he worked his way up to chef, managing partner, and, finally, owner.

Stanford Jr. had never really accomplished much of anything. He was smart but chronically unrealistic. He daydreamed, was undisciplined and grandiose, and drank far too much and too often. Marianne was the most social of the Ellis children and went off to study journalism after high school. She was now part of the TV news team at the Grand Junction station. She made sure she was part of all the social circles on the western slope that counted, few as those were.

Billy wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but was kind and reliable. He and Ellis Senior did all the physical work on the ranch. Billy had gone through high school as a member of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. He’d raised prize-winning animals to show at the county fair. He was born to be a rancher.

Stanford Sr. had made the competition and distrust among the siblings worse by making vague promises and threats about who would inherit parts of the ranch land when he died, and the story changed all the time.

Maybe he thought that was the only club he had to maintain control, but whatever the reason, the lion’s share of blame for sibling animosity rested at the patriarch’s door, as far as Evan Landry was concerned.

“Even though our family dynamic puts a nest of vipers to shame,” Landry said, winding up his story, “Ellis insists that when we are on ranch property, we all eat dinner together.” He gave me a joyless smile. “And you’ll get to join us in that unique pleasure on Monday night.”

That didn’t sound particularly attractive to me.

Landry stood and shrugged his sport jacket into place. “Arrive at the ranch as soon as you can. I’ll introduce you to Stanford Sr. before dinner. He’s promised everyone’s full cooperation, and he’s the only person who can make that promise. So you’ll be operating under his aegis as well as mine.”

He laughed bitterly. “My aegis is not half as far-reaching as Stanford’s, so stay alert. The only reason I’m still tolerated on the property is because I’ve got money and because Sarah’s marijuana operation is now a more reliable income stream than the ranching operation.”

Enigma_100dpi_cvr

He shook his head. “The Ellises have the land, and the Landrys have the money. You’d think that would offer an easy solution, but family blood and pride seem thicker than poverty and envy. Or their cure.”

“How do I get to you on Monday?”

“Oh, right.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out another piece of paper. “I sketched this map. It’s easy. It’s on the west side of the Gunnison. South of Grand Junction to Whitewater on 51, then west on 141 a few miles. You’ll see the sign for Ellis Ranch, north side of the road. Get there no later than four o’clock. Call me if you get lost.”

We shook hands again, me agreeing to his instructions. He let himself out, and I watched him cross the street toward a high-end Mercedes sedan. Its lights blinked, ready and obedient, as he approached. Evan Landry was used to being the boss.

 

 

Interviewing the Talented, Multi-Genre Author of Sunset Lake; John Inman

August 8th, 2015

 

John, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.—-

I’m thrilled to be here.  Thanks for having me.

Let’s start off with, where do you live?—- 

I live in beautiful San Diego, home of the 2015 GayRomLit get-together in October!  Woohoo!  There are so many people I want to meet I can’t wait.  This will be my first writer’s convention.  I’m a little nervous but it should be a lot of fun.

Spirit

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?—-

I’m married.  My husband’s name is John too.  We’ve been together for ten years and married for two and we live in the South Park section of the city.  We have two cats, Max and Leo, who think they own the place.  For exercise I walk about 10 miles a day and for fun I read, watch movies, and piddle around in the yard.  That’s about it.  Oh, and we take in as many stage shows as we can.   For my birthday last month, John took me to see a production of Cabaret.  It was great.

I’ve read somewhere that you only recently began submitting your writing for publication; How long have you been writing and why did it take you so long to submit to publishers?  —

That’s not quite accurate.  I’ve  been writing fiction since I was a kid.  I spent my whole life submitting stuff to publishers and never got my foot in the door anywhere.  It was only after I ran across the website for Dreamspinner Press, and after I got to know the wonderful Elizabeth North, who runs the place, that I ever received an acceptance letter.   I was sixty before I sold my first book.  Since then, I think I just signed my 24th contract, or thereabouts.  I write fast even if I did get off to a slow start.  It just goes to show, you should never give up.

Do you get to write full-time or are you maintaining an evil day job?—-

I’m retired so I’m one of the lucky few who can write full time.  I usually crank out 3 or 4 hours at the computer every morning pecking away at whatever story I’m working on at the time then I go back to it several times during the course of the day.  When I’m in the middle of a story I don’t think of much of anything else.  The other John seems to understand and stays the hell out of my way. Poor guy. Right now I’m just finishing up a romantic thriller titled, MY BUSBOY.  I should have it off to DSP in a couple of weeks.  Don’t know what I’ll work on next.  Maybe another comedy.

Ahardwinterrain

Is A Hard Winter Rain your first novel? Can you share a little of where you got your inspiration for the story and how long it took you to write it?—-

Rain wasn’t my first novel, but it was up there.  When I wrote Rain I was still working so it took me longer to finish. Don’t remember how long exactly.  Almost a year, I think, since I was working and didn’t have a lot of time to write, plus Rain is longer than a lot of the other novels.  It’s still a favorite of mine though.  I was so thrilled when DSP picked it up.  It was one of the first ones they bought.  I walked on air for a week after that.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the greatest thrill of my life, bar none.  As for inspiration, I was a hairdresser for forty years and I wanted to write something about a character in that field.  I’m not as butch as the guy in the book, but I was able to draw on a lot of stuff knowing the business the way I did.  I remember also being excited about incorporating the weather into that story.  We had just had a rainy winter in San Diego and I thought the storms would make a great backdrop for a thriller.

You’re known in much of your writing for comic flair, including in stories with a gay mystery/thriller theme, such as Hobbled and Spirit. Is it important to you to include some humor in your writing?—-

I don’t know how important it is, all I know is I seem to do it.  I can’t help myself.  I think every good piece of fiction needs a little humor to lighten the load of a heavy story.  Sometimes I know I go a little overboard — haha — but like I said, I can’t seem to help myself.  I try to write what I like to read, and since I like to read humor, that’s what I do.

I read an interview you did with author Carole Cummings where she described you as DSP Publication’s “answer to Stephen King” – that’s a very impressive compliment. Have you always had a special place in your heart for horror?—-

I almost fell off my chair when I saw she had written that.  First of all, because he’s one of my idols, and second of all because I would never compare myself to Stephen King.  In my opinion, as far as horror goes, nobody matches the King.  Just being mentioned in the same sentence with him was enough to make me swoon.  Do 65-year-old gay men swoon?  I don’t know.  Maybe it was just a stroke.

Hobbled

You write in many genres; M/M Romance, Horror, Mystery/Thriller, all very well received from your fans. Do you feel you have different fans per sub-genre, or do they cross over?—-  

I had never really thought about it.  I do know some of my loyal readers that I’ve gotten to know tell me they prefer comedy or romance, and sometimes those are the ones who aren’t too crazy about horror.  But like I said before, I strive to write what I like to read, and I pretty much like to read everything.  With every new book I write I try to shoot for something different than what I’ve written before.  That’s why I never thought I’d ever write a series.  I thought I would be too bored.  Fooled me.  Somehow when I did Serenading Stanley, I fell in love with the characters so much I had to bring them back.  The third Belladonna Arms book comes out August 17th and I’m already thinking about a fourth. So never say never.

Where do you get your ideas for a story; tell us about how you can up with your latest release “Sunset Lake”?—-

Sunset Lake is the closest thing to autobiographical that I’ve ever written.  I don’t mean the plot — I haven’t killed any little old ladies, I swear — but I mean as far as the setting goes.  Nine Mile may not really exist but it is absolutely a dead ringer for the little farming community where I grew up in Indiana.  A lot of the characters in the story are people I knew growing up as well.  Mrs. Shanahan for instance, lived on an adjoining farm.  The lady who died at her piano in the story was actually a maiden aunt of mine and she really did sit in the closet with a cat on her lap during thunderstorms.  Sunset Lake was a stripper pit that everyone used to swim in and it was just as beautiful as the one in the story.  There’s a lot of me in that story.  A lot of the way I grew up, a lot of the morals I still believe in.  I don’t think anyone comes from a farming community like that but that it leaves a mark on you, and over all I think the marks are an asset to the person you become in later life.  There’s a lot of love to be found in an environment like that.  A lot of honesty.  A lot of goodness.  It’s a healthy way to grow up.  Which doesn’t really explain why I decided to kill them all in my book.

SunsetLake

And as for horror having a special place in my heart?  You bet.  I love writing horror.  There are no constraints when you’re writing horror.  Anything goes.  You can steer your reader anywhere your imagination wants to take him without any boundaries of reality to stand in your way.  It’s fun trying to scare that person out there holding your book in the middle of the night, all alone with nothing but your words to keep them company.  I like the spooky, gory stuff.   I like it in movies and I like it in the books I read.  For me, there’s nothing remotely resembling work about writing a horror story.  It’s just plain fun.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?—-

The novel I’m just finishing up, MY BUSBOY — I have one scene left to write and then some editing — is a love story between a well-known writer and a busboy he meets at his favorite neighborhood restaurant.  As most of my stories do, it takes place in San Diego.  For conflict, we have a crazy ass stalker who’s driving the writer nuts, and before the story is over the stalker goes off the deep end and becomes truly dangerous.  You have to watch those fans, haha, you never know what they’re going to do.  I’m pleased with the way the story is ending up.  In fact, I just wrote most of the big “battle” scene this morning over a pot and a half of coffee.  I’ll probably have to tone it down a little bit after the caffeine wears off.  This is one of those novels, unlike A Hard Winter Rain, where the romantic part of the story takes center stage.  It’s a very sweet book, I think.  Even with all the action at the end.  I hope people will like it.

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.—-

I’m really honored that you asked me.  I hope we can do it again some time.  It’s been a lot of fun.

Find John Inman on the web:

Website:

http://www.johninmanauthor.com/John_Inmans_Site/Welcome.html

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/John-Inman/e/B005MJ3S6W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/709667.John_Inman

Dreamspinner Press

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/AuthorArcade/john-inman

 

Excerpt: New Lesbian Mystery by Kate McLachlan – Ten Little Lesbians

August 1st, 2015

Ten Little Lesbians

by

Kate Mac

Blurb:

Ten women, guests at the lesbian-owned Adelheid Inn, are stranded in the Cascade Mountains after a mudslide closes the only road out. One goes missing. One is killed. More than one is not who she pretends to be, and every one of them has a secret. When another woman is attacked, it become clear there’s a killer in their midst, and it has to be one of them.

Is it Beatrice, the judge, surly and sad after the death of her long-term partner? Or her niece, Tish, angry and sullen at being kept under Beatrice’s thumb? Or is it Carmen, Beatrice’s childhood friend who lured her to the Inn under false pretenses?

It couldn’t be the Mormon girls, Amy and Dakota. Or could it? Perhaps it’s Paula, the gallant butch, or her date, the lovely and silent Veronica. A blind woman couldn’t do it, but is Jess really blind? And what about Holly, the hotel manager who is just a bit too perky, or Lila, the mysterious owner of the hotel?

One thing quickly becomes clear. They’d better find out, before there are none.

Excerpt:

BEATRICE WAS THE first down for breakfast but someone, either Holly or the invisible Lila, had transformed the dining room into a breakfast buffet. A tray of ice on the sideboard held milk, juice, hard-boiled eggs, jam, and butter. Beside that was a coffee maker, an assortment of coffees, a toaster, three kinds of sliced bread, a tray with donuts, and several boxes of cereal. On the table were stacks of bowls, plates, utensils, glasses and cups.

Beatrice tucked a brew pack into the coffee maker and moved to the French doors. She opened them and looked out at a partially covered patio with white wicker chairs and tables. The sun was shining and the air was still and warm. Probably too warm. Heavy clouds hovered over the mountains, which were very near, and promised a storm later on. She took her coffee to a round table for four in the shaded half of the patio and sat. It might be her last chance to have coffee outside until spring, so she might as well take advantage of it.

She had been there only a moment when she heard movement from the lounge. She looked up, and Paula appeared in the doorway with a mug in her hand.

Drat. Of all people.

“Good morning, sunshine.” Paula sat in a swing lounge on the edge of the patio.

“Morning,” Beatrice said.

“Oh come on, Bea, you can act a little better than that. At least pretend you don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” Beatrice said.

“Well, you don’t love me.”

“No, I don’t love you.”

“Damn, you’re honest.” Paula kicked the ground to set her swing in motion. “Anyone else up?”

“I haven’t seen anyone,” Beatrice said, “but someone set out the breakfast things.”

“I meant guests.” Paula took a sip from her mug. “So what’s the story about your niece? Trish?”

“Tish.”

“She’s kind of cute. Probably get fat when she’s older, though. Curvy girls do.”

“Leave her alone,” Beatrice said. “She’s too young for you. Besides, you have a date here, remember? A skinny one.”

Paula made a face. “She’s a dud. So how are you doing? I haven’t seen you since Leigh’s funeral. Are you dating yet?”

Beatrice felt like she’d just been punched. A lot of people had asked her if she was ready to date, and it was common for people to mention Leigh’s death, but no one had ever linked the two together like that, as if one were the cause of the other. “Shut up,” she whispered harshly. “Don’t talk about Leigh.”

“Geez, I’m sorry,” Paula said, but not like she was sorry at all. “It’s been four years, hasn’t it?”

It had been three years, seven months, two-hundred and fifteen days, but Beatrice didn’t bother telling Paula that.

Jess stepped onto the patio at that moment and Beatrice was spared from having to respond. Jess carried her cane in one hand and a bowl with a spoon in the other. She wore cargo shorts and an orange T-shirt that said “Caution: Slippery When Wet.”

“Good morning, Jess,” Beatrice said, and added, “There are two tables out here, one round and one square, and eight chairs. And a swing.”

“But I’m on it,” Paula said. There was room on the swing for three people, but Paula spread her legs wide, like a man, to claim it all.

TenLittleLesbians

“Good morning.” Jess moved forward and guided herself around the chairs until she found one in the sun. She sat and ate her cereal without speaking again.

Beatrice finished her coffee and tried to quell the painful throbbing of her heart caused by Paula’s thoughtless words. She was about to rise and get another cup when Carmen appeared in the doorway. She had a glass of milk in one hand and a plate with donuts in the other, and she was grinning. She joined Beatrice at her table. Beatrice settled back down. She couldn’t leave Carmen to fend with Paula by herself.

“Look,” Carmen said. “They’re homemade.” She took a bite.

“Donuts for breakfast?” Paula asked.

Carmen looked up, saw Paula, and her face turned brick red. She spit the bite of donut out onto the plate.

Beatrice felt her stomach turn, not at the gooey mess on the plate, but at Carmen’s whipped puppy demeanor around Paula.

“It’s not your business what she eats,” Beatrice said.

“It was my business when we were together,” Paula said, “but she wouldn’t listen to me then either. She just kept getting fatter and fatter.”

“It was not your business then either,” Beatrice said. “Unless you’re feeding a small child, it’s never your business what someone else puts in her body.”

“No, it’s all right,” Carmen said, pushing the plate away. “I don’t need to eat this.”

“It’s my business when I’m putting my business in her body,” Paula said and laughed.

“God, what are you, sixteen?” Beatrice pushed the plate of donuts back at Carmen. “Eat what you want.”

Carmen blinked at the plate and bit her lip.

A thumping signaled the arrival of Tish. She paused in the doorway and rested her armpits on the crutches. Her denim skirt was already short, and the crutches hiked it up even further so that her ass nearly hung out. Paula was right. Tish had a cute little body now, but she would probably be fat someday.

“Can somebody get me some breakfast?” Tish asked.

Not even a please. When did the girl become so graceless? She’d been such a sweet kid. She had rough times, of course, and her coming out had been brutal, but she’d always been polite, at least. Beatrice had let her go the last few years. Things seemed so much easier for gay and lesbian youth these days, and she’d thought Tish didn’t need or want guidance from an aunt thirty years her senior. That was a mistake, she realized now. Somehow during that time, the Tish she knew had gotten lost.

Nobody responded to Tish’s plea, and Beatrice felt the others eye her. She was the correct person to help, but she didn’t want to reward Tish’s rudeness.

“Aunt Bea?” Tish asked, disrespect in the very tone of her voice, and Beatrice wanted to send her to her room without any breakfast at all.

Jess stood. “I’ll help.”

Beatrice flushed and rose from her chair. “No, no, I’ll do it. Sit down, Jess. You too, Tish. I’ll bring you something.”

Tish clomped onto the patio and joined Jess at her table.

The breakfast room was dark after the brightness of the patio, and it took a moment for Beatrice’s eyes to adjust. She popped a couple slices of raisin bread into the toaster and poured a glass of orange juice. She turned to lean against the sideboard while the bread toasted and was surprised to see Veronica sitting at the table. She wore crisp yellow capris and a white top, daisy fresh, but when she looked up Beatrice saw that her eyes were swollen. Either she hadn’t slept much the night before, or she’d been crying.

“Good morning,” Beatrice said.

“Good morning.” Veronica’s voice was husky, and Beatrice guessed crying.

“Paula’s on the patio,” Beatrice said.

“I know,” Veronica said. “That’s why I’m staying in here.”

Beatrice liked Veronica, she decided. “If you need to get away from her,” she said, “just let me know. I’ll help.”

The toast popped up, and Beatrice was still buttering it when Dakota barreled into the room clad in nothing but a thin ribbed tank top and boxer shorts.

“Have you seen Amy? Have you?”

“No,” Beatrice said. “Not today.”

Veronica shook her head.

Dakota ran out the French doors. “Have any of you seen Amy this morning?”

Beatrice heard a chorus of no’s. She followed Dakota outside and set the toast and juice in front of Tish.

“She’s gone,” Dakota said.

 

 

Excerpt: The Orion Mask – a new novel by author Greg Herren

July 25th, 2015

The Orion Mask

by

Greg Herren

Blurb:

Heath Brandon’s mother died when he was barely three years old. His father never spoke about her, or her family. So when her family reaches out to him after his father’s death, Heath decides to make the trip to Louisiana to get to know the only family he has left.But he soon learns that there was a lot more to his mother’s death than he ever knew…and the beautiful old mansion on the Mississippi River has many secrets, secrets someone would kill to protect.And the key to everything that happened when he was a child just might be hidden in his own memory

 

Excerpt:

The Runway Bar was weathered and old, and had gone through many different iterations and name changes over the years. Someone had told me it had been built during Prohibition, when Bay City was a popular destination for rum runners smuggling contraband liquor into Florida from Cuba. Located a block or so away from the airport entrance, it was a popular after work watering hole for airport employees. The icy air conditioning blasted me in the face when I opened the door and walked inside. Some of my co-workers were there, sharing a couple of pitchers of beer in their uniforms. An old Garth Brooks tune was blaring from the jukebox. I saw Jerry Channing sitting at a small table back in a corner, nursing a Corona with a wedge of lemon floating inside the bottle. I walked back to where he was sitting and sat down across from him. “All right,” I said. “I’m here. What is this about?”

“I’m interested in your mother.” He tilted his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. “What did your father tell you about Genevieve?” He said it familiarly, like he’d known her, as he picked up the bottle and took a drink.

“He refused to talk about her, so he didn’t tell me anything.” I replied, ordering a bottle of beer from the waitress who’d materialized while I was speaking. Once she moved away, I shrugged slightly. “So I don’t really know much about her, other than what I could find on-line. She was a painter. She killed herself. That’s pretty much it.” And the one time my father talked about her, he said she was an evil woman. But you don’t need to know that. “Did you know her?”

“She lived and died before the Internet,” Jerry said with a shake of his head, ignoring my question. “Believe me, if the Internet had been what it is today when she died, there would be plenty about her for you to find. Although your grandfather did a really good job keeping it all quiet, and out of the papers. That must have cost him a pretty penny, but I imagine he thought—still thinks—it was worth it. The Legendre name is damned important to him.”

The waitress set my beer down on the table, and he paid for it. Once she left, I asked, “Why was it such a big deal to keep it out of the papers? Was it because she was a Catholic? And suicide was a sin?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Are you telling me you don’t even know how she died?”

“She committed suicide when I was three years old.” I sipped my beer. “Big deal.”

The Orion Mask 300 DPI

“She committed suicide?” He took a deep breath and stared at me, a puzzled look on his face. “I—you know, maybe I was wrong, and this isn’t such a great idea. I mean, I thought you at least knew some of this. I don’t know if I should be the one to tell you the truth.”

“The truth? There’s more?” I heard my father’s voice, shouting in my head again, you mother was an evil woman. “I told you my father refused to talk about her. He got angry if she was ever mentioned, so how would I know anything other than what I can find on-line?”

He watched me as the jukebox switched from Garth Brooks to Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar.” He took another drink, almost draining the bottle empty. “Your mother was—it was more than just a suicide, Heath. Your mother was having an affair. She was cheating on your father. She killed her lover and took her own life.”

No wonder Dad didn’t want to talk about her! I saw the pain on his reddened face again as he shouted those words at me. Your mother was an evil woman!

I shook my head, hoping my shock didn’t register on my face. “All he told me was she killed herself, that she didn’t love either him or me enough to go on living. He didn’t say anything about an affair.” I said, picking the label off my beer. The amber bottle was covered with condensation. I felt oddly numb, and even more sympathetic for Dad. How awful that must have been for him!

“And you’ve never met any of your mother’s family?” His face was unreadable, and he was speaking in a professional monotone.

I stared at him. “I—“ I stopped myself from finishing the sentence. “No. All I know about the Legendres is what I’ve read on the website for their estate. Chambord.” I raised my chin. “They’ve never once tried to reach out to me. Not once, in all the years since she—since she died. They don’t care about me, so why should I care about them? The Legendres can go to hell.”

My words were strong, were what I’d always believed, yet I could feel doubt forming, creeping in. Are you sure? Dad didn’t tell me everything. Maybe there’s more to the story…

“Are you sure?” His facial expression didn’t change. “Family is everything to your grandfather—and your mother was your grandparents’ favorite child. I can’t believe your grandmother Nina died without ever trying to see you, to see Genevieve’s only child.” He leaned towards me. “Are you sure they never reached out to you? From everything I’ve been told, your father was really angry when he left Louisiana—not that I can blame him, given what happened. Maybe they tried and he wouldn’t let them?”

I stared at him, remembering how angry my father had been when he told me the truth. He’d been angrier than I’d ever seen him. He wasn’t a man with a temper, he rarely got angry, and he had a lot of patience.

Your mother was an evil woman.

 

Excerpt: Barbara Winkes’ “Indiscretions” – A Carpenter / Harding novel

July 18th, 2015

Indiscretions – A Carpenter / Harding novel

by

Barbara Winkes

Blurb:

After surviving an attack by a stranger, rookie officer Ellie Harding decides to put herself first and make bold moves in both her career and her private life, refusing to let the traumatic incident get her off track.

Detective Jordan Carpenter faces the decision whether to remain in a disastrous, but long-term relationship or give in to the attraction she feels for her younger colleague. Her partner Bethany isn’t willing to let go, of Jordan or the case, a sadistic killer who murders women for behavior he considers immoral.

Can they find him before he strikes again?

Excerpt:

After waking in a cold sweat for the second time, Ellie decided she had enough and got out of bed at 4:37 a.m. Bright and early enough for you, Detective? She hadn’t meant to, but she had already changed habits. For the longest time, she’d wear heels in the morning on her way to work and change back into them after her shift. Lately, the sound of heels on the pavement made her uncomfortable. She knew it would abate with time. Why not hurry the process along? They might not be able to catch the bastard who had jumped her, but if she could assist catching the killer Jordan and her team were after, it would go a long way towards making her feel safer again.

Determined, she slipped into a pair of pumps. Sometime this week, she might even go out with her friends again. If Jordan told her no another time, to hell with her. Ellie would have no problem finding someone else in her pursuit for pleasure.

Jordan wore jeans and a white buttoned down shirt this morning. Ellie had little time to admire her, because they dove into the disturbing reality of the case on the table right away.

“The common theme here seems to be some relationship trouble. This is one thing we know about all the victims so far, a recent breakup. Two of the women straight, one lesbian. The question is where does he find them? Lori Gleason told me she found dates in a chat room. She signed up after her divorce.”

Ellie had done her best to get herself up to date with the facts. Gleason was currently recovering in the hospital. Isabel Hayes’ body had been found behind a dumpster five weeks ago, and the first victim, Eleanor Campbell, had been discovered by trespassing teenagers. The trespassing became rapidly irrelevant, and the high school kids had been taught the lesson of a lifetime in what could happen if you walked into a creepy abandoned building.

“How can we be so sure it’s the same killer?” Jensen asked. “I imagine Hayes would not hang out in the same chat room, for obvious reasons.”

Ellie could see the hint of indulgence on the detectives’ faces. Jordan, however, addressed the question. She pointed to Hayes’ crime scene photo.

“You better hope there aren’t more like him out there. The victims’ injuries are consistent. The rope fibers match. You are right insofar as their life circumstances were different. Gleason preferred the chat room. Isabel Hayes preferred bars. Eleanor Campbell, as far as we know, was the only one in a committed relationship, but the husband’s alibi checks out.”

“He hates women. Sexually active women. Maybe he got rejected.” Ellie didn’t realize she’d said this out loud until all eyes were on her. She shrugged. Ellie had done a lot of reading on why some men hated on women, from her undergraduate days on. A lot of those theories had come back to her lately.

“That’s a possibility.” Jordan’s reaction was rather reserved. “It’s all theory at this point. What we need is to find the link between all those women. They lived in different neighborhoods, but in a relatively small distance. He’s probably local, can’t or won’t travel. I want you to concentrate on the dates from the chat room so far. We have the data from Lori’s computer, every date, every conversation. Look closely for anything suspicious.”

“What about Gleason’s ex?” Jensen inquired.

“He’s coming back from a business trip in Europe. I expect him this afternoon. Meanwhile, let’s hope Lori will remember more.”

Ellie got up, but waited until everyone was beginning their own work. Two of the other detectives left. Jordan, sensing her hesitation, came over to her.

“Lori Gleason…was she raped?” Ellie asked. She hated how all of a sudden, her voice sounded small.

“The rape kit came back negative.” Jordan’s tone was calm and detached, but there was concern in her gaze. They both knew that left a lot of other possibilities. “Will you be okay?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Okay then. Go find the perfect match online.”

Ellie couldn’t help it, even the probably innocent suggestion brought heat to her face, and lower regions. What kind of person did that make her? They had a job to do, because some women had suffered far worse abuse than she had, and besides, Jordan had a girlfriend. Reason was not helpful.

Indiscretions

“More like a date with the devil,” she said lightly. “Thank you. I really appreciate this.”

“No problem. You still owe me a beer.”

For the next fifteen minutes or so, Ellie kept wondering if she’d really heard her say it. However, her fantasies were certainly not priority. She read pages after pages of emails Lori Gleason had exchanged with potential dates, the tone always ranging from flirty to definitely not safe for work. She felt a bit sick, knowing this was the kind of behavior a man would hardly ever be criticized for. Someone had taken offense, kidnapped, beaten and cut her, would have killed her if the neighbors hadn’t called the police. Because she flirted with men on the internet? Because she enjoyed dating and possibly, sex? The world was fucked up.

She winced at the suggestion of a threesome, and Lori’s response, aware of how easy it was to let one’s own sensibilities and boundaries seep into judgment. As long as they kept it safe, who was she—or anyone—to blame them?

“My friend would like to join us,” Lori had written. “When can we meet?” The date had never come to pass, because of Lori’s abduction. Unless…Ellie stared at the printout until the letters started blurring in front of her eyes. Of course two straight people dating and considering a third party was not the same as Isabel enjoying the lesbian nightlife, except to a sexist murderer it might be. Maybe Eleanor’s marriage hadn’t been that happy after all, and she’d had a secret of her own—they could be looking at a hate crime. Jordan was right. This was a theory, and only one of many possible at this point. They had to stick to the facts.

“I know you’ve been hurt before, and the same is true for me. I want to meet someone who’s committed, who won’t let me down. If you can be that person, I promise you won’t regret it,” said one of the answers Lori had gotten. There might be some people going onto these sites who were honestly looking for a relationship, love. It was hard not to get paranoid. Everybody had something to hide. One of them had sent a poem. Another had promised a trip to an exotic location Lori wouldn’t ever forget.

At least Mr. Threesome with whom the most recent correspondence had taken place, had written emails from his work account. This would be an interesting visit, Ellie thought as she looked up the company, a computer firm, and jotted down the address. The location was right in the center of the circle in which the women had been found.

Jordan, much to Ellie’s disappointment, didn’t send her and Jensen to talk to Lori’s date. Instead, and Ellie realized soon that she was getting the much better deal, she took her to see Lori Gleason. The ride to the hospital was a tad awkward, as Ellie sat straight up, trying not to stare, at Jordan, at her hands on the steering wheel, imagining these hands doing something else instead. She forced herself to keep her gaze straight ahead, focus.

The smells and sounds of the hospital hit her hard. She hadn’t been in here since the night she’d been attacked, and the sensory memories put a jarring halt to her inappropriate thoughts.

There was a uniformed officer in front of Lori Gleason’s room, greeting them briefly. He confirmed with Jordan that no unauthorized person had tried to approach Lori, and they went inside.

Ellie stopped in her tracks at her first look at Gleason. The instant panic on the patient’s face that abated only when she realized her visitors were with the police, the bruises…without a doubt, her injuries were graver than Ellie’s had been, but she had a hard time stopping the unwelcome trip down memory lane.

Jordan introduced her to Lori Gleason, and the woman gave a faint smile that slipped from her face so quickly Ellie might have imagined it.

“How are you today, Ms. Gleason?” Jordan asked, keeping her tone soft, non-threatening.

The blank expression, either from medication or self-protection, told Ellie they weren’t likely to get a lot of information out of her. Gleason shrugged and winced, the movement causing her pain.

“We reached your ex-husband. He was on a business trip, and is coming in today.” The news seemed neither helpful nor upsetting for Lori.

 

“He wouldn’t do anything like that. We had a good marriage.”

“Why did you get divorced?”

“Am I under suspicion for anything?”

Ellie thought to herself that she probably would have reacted the same way.

“No, of course not,” Jordan reassured her. “It’s important for us to figure out why you were targeted.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I’ve been wracking my brain every waking moment. I don’t know anymore than I’ve told you. You probably saw the chats by now. I’ve had a few dates. Those were decent people, or at least I assumed so. There’s nothing else I can tell you.”

“I know it’s hard,” Ellie said, stepping forward. Gleason shot her a suspicious look. She showed emotion, which, Ellie assumed, was better than lethargy. Maybe she knew something that hadn’t come to mind yet.

“What do you know?”

“I was attacked some weeks ago. Would you mind?” She pointed to the visitor’s chair, and Lori shook her head.

“Why are you telling me this? You got away—obviously.”

“So did you. I want you to know that it will take some time, but details will come back to you, and that’s not a bad thing. It means you’ll be able to work through them, now that you’re safe.”

Lori’s expression spoke volumes. At this point, it would be hard for her to believe she’d ever feel safe again. Ellie could sympathize. “I’m sure the last thing you want right now is for us to bother you with questions,” she continued. “I hated everyone who asked me about it, I wanted them all to forget about it, so I’d be able to. First of all, I learned it doesn’t work that way. Second, we want this man in prison, so he can never hurt anyone else. So, if there’s anything you can think of, that comes back to you, please let us know.”

“It was dark. He was wearing a mask. I woke up in that basement, and I never saw his face. I’m trying, damn it.”

“I know.” Ellie suppressed the urge to take the woman’s hand. There were situations when touch meant no comfort, on the contrary, it could make a person want to jump out of their skin. “Please know that we’re doing everything we can. You beat the son of a bitch already. You lived.”

Due to a coincidence, but still. Ellie had the uncomfortable feeling that the woman was able to read her mind. They both had been lucky to benefit from the quick thinking and kindness of strangers. What did it mean? The world wasn’t ever safe, no matter how much you tried to prepare for the worst.

“Did they get him?” Lori asked, startling her. “The guy who attacked you, was he arrested?”

Ellie was tempted to lie to her, but she thought the woman deserved better. “No.” Lori’s face fell. “Which doesn’t mean anything for your case. He left traces, people like that make mistakes. We’ll catch him. I promise.”

 

Excerpt: Book #4 in the Dick Hardesty Mystery Series – The Hired Man by Dorien Grey

July 11th, 2015

“The Hired Man is the fourth book of the Dick Hardesty Mystery series to be reissued by Untreed Reads publishing. It centers around murder and intrigue in an exclusive gay male escort service. E-book releases

Excerpt:

Lunch turned out to be an incredible crab salad with a side dish of fresh fruit–slices of honeydew melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, and sprinkled with fresh raspberries.

We small-talked pleasantly through lunch, and Johnnie Mae returned with coffee, then took the empty dishes back to the house on the same tray.

“So tell us, Mr. Hardesty,” Mrs. Glick said as we drank our coffee, “what was it you wanted to ask?”

I glanced quickly at Mr. Glick and thought I noticed just a flicker of…what?…discomfort? …cross his face, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by his usual expression of complete composure. I felt suddenly very awkward, not really knowing what to say.

Gary caught on instantly. “Perhaps I should excuse myself,” he said with a small smile, but Mrs. Glick reached out and touched his arm.

“Nonsense,” she said. “I’m sure whatever Mr. Hardesty has to ask isn’t privileged…” she glanced at me, “is it, Mr. Hardesty.”

TheHiredMan

“Well, no…it’s just a general question about the escorts’ services.”

“Please,” Mr. Glick said, “ask.”

I took what wasn’t obviously apparent was a deep breath. “I understand that each of the escorts is selected partly for their ability to cater to…specific…client requests, with each one providing a different area of expertise.”

Jeezus, Hardesty! You want to try that one again, in English? my mind asked.

Mr. Glick gave a very small smile of amusement. “That’s true, yes.”

Oh, to hell with pussyfooting, I decided. “Are any of your escorts bisexual?” I asked.

There was a long silence, until Mrs. Glick said “Well, we understand that several of the escorts have had heterosexual experiences, yes.”

I recognized sidestepping when I saw it, and pushed ahead. “Yes, and I realize that a large number of your clients are themselves bisexual, but do any of your escorts specialize in requests for bisexual activity involving women?”

Another awkward silence, until….

“That would be me,” Gary said with a smile, his eyes fixed on mine.

 

E-book:

http://www.amazon.com/Hired-Dick-Hardesty-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00ZYMTZWS/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1436626316&sr=1-1&keywords=the+hired+man+dorien+grey&pebp=1436626324948&perid=1GR19A4M0XZ84GTA0F0N

Paperback:

http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=720&products_id=1707

 

 

 

Excerpt: Still Waters (Memoirs of the Human Wraiths) by F.E. Feeley Jr.

July 4th, 2015

Still Waters

by

F.E. Feeley Jr.

 

Excerpt:

SUMMERTIME HAD come to the Great Lake State of Michigan and to the little town of Promise. A quaint little burg down I-96, where those considered low-income still earned triple digits, far from the hustle and slums of Detroit, Promise boasted magnificent shops and stretches of beautiful homes with deep yards and nice cars. The high school, home of the Indians, was state of the art, modern, the curriculum tough, and the teachers’ salaries kept them happy. The town was truly the land of milk and honey for those wealthy enough to afford it. A picture of the modern Gilded Age, where everything in town was connected by telephone wires and gossip like spindly threads of a spider’s web. When a new family moved in, the lines hummed, and before the family could finish unpacking, several neighbors would show up at their door with baskets, pies, or fresh flowers from their gardens to welcome them to the neighborhood. Which, on the outside, looked pleasant enough, but these little visits were less a welcome wagon and more of an interview, and the people who came, less like neighbors and more like spies. These spies not only assessed the people themselves but their belongings. All the information gathered would be traded via the telephone wires that crisscrossed over their new neighbor’s home, without the new family being aware. It was a test of sorts, given to these new tenants, of whether or not they would be accepted into the social circles of the locals. If you made enough money, voted Republican, and believed Barack Obama was the Antichrist—if you drove the right car, were fashionably religious, and never wore white shoes after Labor Day—you were accepted with open arms. You were automatically welcomed into their circles if you had enough money to purchase a home on Promise Lake, the most expensive of the residential areas, and were dragged into the who’s who of the town. All the others—the ones who lived in subdivisions run by associations, where Labrador retrievers and red begonias in copper pots were all the rage this season—had to work just a little bit harder. The kids, however, were luckier than their triple-digit parents. Promise High School, for whatever reason, always boasted a rebellious streak along with high grades. It was almost fashionable to kick against the pricks as hard as possible there. They longed for the day when they could get out, far away from having to be under their parents’ roofs, and silently vowed to themselves to always vote Democrat. The kids sensed something was amiss. They couldn’t quite figure it out, but deep down they knew that Promise was unlike most places where what you got was what you saw. Something deeper than greed, envy, and lust ran amuck. Other far more malignant things traversed in the deep shadows between shops and back alleys. That night the weather was balmy, but the wind blew through the trees so hard that branches whipped and leaves sighed as if pleased to be cooled from the heat of the day. Above, thousands of stars dotted the night sky as the moon shone orange across the surface of the still lake. These same winds forced the clouds to pass overhead quickly as the moon cast its glow on the earth below before being covered once more, like a game of peek-a-boo with the world. The water’s surface broke only by the occasional jump of a fish as it surfaced for a mayfly that had strayed too close to the water. The lake rippled out in tiny waves until it settled again, making the surface of the lake a still mirror reflecting the sky once more. Around the shore, houses sat quiet and still that Wednesday night in May. The humidity was thick, floating in the air like strands of ancient memory, wispy and tendril-like. It swirled around street lamps, which dotted the deserted concrete walkway that stretched around the far side of the lake. In the center of the lake sat an island, dark and quiet. Its many trees reached up toward heaven as if in supplication to some long-dead god. The island was large—big enough at least to build a large home upon it, but no one had ever tried. No one wanted to. The stories that surrounded this island kept everyone away, except of course for the silly high school kids sent across on a dare. Legends old and urban hovered over that little piece of earth, and the locals whispered about them to their children who were being naughty. Stories of an ancient people who once roamed the lands of Michigan, stories about curses, and stories about what would happen should they not behave themselves and clean their plates. The children listened with wide-eyed fascination.
The heat made its way back now that summer was again upon them, and people were happy to have it. After a long, frozen winter, summer would bring revelers, travelers, and sunbathers to the shore of the spring-fed lake. Soon Memorial Day would be upon them. Barbeques would be held in the small segment of the lake that was a state park, where sand had been trucked in to make a small beach and families would frolic in the shallow, unusually cool water. On the lake, fishermen would take their little boats out and cast lines, and on July Fourth the township would host a fireworks display as it had done for the past twenty years or so. Promise was a good place to raise a family. Income was high and crime was low. For the adults, it was still a work night, even if the majority of them made their own schedules. Most of the adults there dealt with the end of the school year, with graduation parties on the weekends and trips to Cedar Point with the younger children. Come September they would be escorting their new college students to university either in Ann Arbor or Lansing, or even down to the biggest football rival, Ohio. It was the kind of night that inspired young lovers to their first kiss and old lovers to wrap an arm around the shoulder of their loved one as they rocked in their front-porch swings. The fragrance of freshly cut grass and evening dew hung so heavy and sweet you could almost taste the nectar of the flowers. On the horizon, far off to the west, heavy clouds brought the promise of a rain shower later in the evening as lightning zigzagged with celestial arcs, illuminating the clouds. It wasn’t close enough yet to hear thunder, but it would come, and in the morning the roses, which had just begun to bloom steadily, would drip when the beads of rain they’d collected became too heavy to stay on their tender petals. That night was also heavily shadowed. As the breeze bent the sturdiest of trees and swung around their leaves, the branches and limbs cast darkness in mysterious and elongated shapes. It was the kind of night that scared children at two in the morning as tree limbs scratched at windows, when the familiar became phantoms that made them crawl into their parents’ beds. Being home alone would cause a person to turn on lights and fall asleep watching television just to drown out the sound of the whistling winds. The music of the night was a trade-off—inspiration and fear. Life, the perfect neutral referee, would host both joy and tears. In the ever-spinning lottery that was the world, all one had to do to play was breathe.
still waters 3Bret Williams wasn’t worried about the cost of college that fall or about going to campus to find a job to supplement his income, even though he had acceptance letters from all three schools, two of which were nearly begging him to attend due to his SAT scores. He wasn’t thinking about buying books, finding housing, or cleaning out his room, which his mother had begged him to do before he left for school in the fall. She had meekly informed him that she would be turning his bedroom into a sewing room once he vacated. Bret didn’t mind. They didn’t really want him back, and to be honest, he didn’t want to come back. Not after what they’d done. Not after what they’d said. Bret’s parents had fallen into the snares of those concerned more with wealth and image than family and home. His mother, a former ballet instructor, now stayed home and “took care” of her husband. Bret’s father worked to “take care” of his wife and son. They used to be happy, back when they were struggling to make it, but all that had changed when money became the focus of their lives. Bret was able to handle most of it, rolled his eyes about the rest, and ignored the worst—well, that was until it became personal. Mom and Dad became Elle May and Doug, two people he didn’t recognize anymore. That night, Bret’s stomach was in terrible knots with those thoughts and with another as he left the police station for the thirteenth time already this week. He braked hard at a stop sign and quickly grabbed hold of the stack of paper on the passenger seat to keep it from flying forward and spilling into the floorboard of the car. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of the photo he had been staring at for the past few days. Adam’s face grinned back at him from the black-and-white photo, his eyes dancing with mirth as if he knew a secret—as if he knew where he was and refused to tell Bret. Adam was handsome and kept his blond hair carelessly long though it easily fit underneath his swimmer’s cap on the high school team, where they’d met three years ago.
With a sigh, Bret sat back in the driver’s seat and whispered, “Where are you, baby?”
“Your breast-stroke needs work” came a voice through the din of slamming lockers and shuffling feet. Bret, lost in his own stormy thoughts, nearly jumped out of his skin. Looking to the right of where he sat, he continued two feet upward to muscular thighs and the white-towel-clad waist of the person standing next to him. Sitting back, he skipped the muscular abdominals and chest he had admired from afar since the beginning of the semester, straight up to the face of Adam Woolsey, the best swimmer on the team. Adam’s piercing blue eyes looked at him sympathetically, unlike everyone else on the team after Bret had brought down their average score. Bret felt his face heat up for the briefest moment but then dissipate as he cast his eyes back to the floor. “Yeah.” “Dude, really, don’t sweat it. It just takes practice and style. You’re new here, right?” Adam asked, sitting next to Bret. “Yeah. I transferred from Belleville High at the end of last year. My dad got a new job,” Bret said with a smirk. “I’m Adam, nice to meet you.” He extended a hand. Bret swallowed hard. “Bret. Same here,” he said, shaking Adam’s hand. It was solid and warm despite them having climbed out of the cold pool a few minutes prior when Coach had launched into his tirade at Bret—how he’d better shape up if he planned on staying on the team. Bodies around Bret and Adam shuffled flip-flop-clad feet along, avoiding slick spots, into the waiting steam and soap of the locker room showers. “You’re not a swimmer, are you?” Adam asked. “Nah, I was a gymnast, but we don’t have a program like that here,” Bret said, removing his shirt. “You’ve got a great body, but I see where the problem is. As a gymnast, you train different, your muscles are more square. Swimmers’ muscles tend to be longer and smooth. We can change that, but it’s going to take practice, is all,” he said with an inviting smile and a welcoming gaze. Bret nodded. “I’m down for a change.” “Good. We’ll meet after school every day for an hour. Do you have wheels of your own?”
“Meh… yeah, but I haven’t put the engine back in yet,” Bret said, thinking about the 1970 GTO he’d found at a junkyard and was restoring. “Oh, no sweat, then, you can always hitch a ride with me. Anyway, we’ll start today. Come on, let’s shower, otherwise we’ll be late for fourth period.”
And with that, it had begun….
A CAR horn honked behind him, jarring Bret out of the memory. They didn’t wait for him to move, just whipped around while someone yelled out their window. In anger Bret flipped them off as they tore through the intersection and down the road. He threw the photo flier back atop the stack and wiped away the tears that came too quickly as of late. Biting his tongue to stave them off, he flipped on the radio and turned it up. “…search continues tonight for missing high school graduate and three-time state swim champion Adam Woolsey. Authorities have said that its possible Adam has left town and there is no sign of foul play, but there has been no word from him in several days. Stay with….” Bret drove through the intersection and passed Promise High School before making his way home, listening to the radio as he turned left at the next intersection. He rode up Willis Drive, the road parallel to the lake, and eventually pulled into his parents’ driveway. Killing the ignition, he sat back and sighed. He wanted to go into that house as badly as he wanted a bullet hole between his eyes, but it was just for a few more days. The Woolseys had told him to stay with them, but with Adam missing, they were so upset, Bret didn’t want to be a burden on them and a constant reminder that Adam was gone. Angrily he opened the car door and was met by the deep bark of his dog Kaiser. He walked around to the back door, inserted his key, and met the tail-wagging one-hundred-pound German shepherd he and Adam had bought together last year. At least someone in this house is happy to see me. Bret reached down and petted the dog’s silky fur. Kaiser sat back on his haunches and brought a paw up, and Bret knelt to scratch his neck. “We’re still looking for your Adam.” The dog whined and nuzzled his hand.
“Bret, is that you?” his mother called from deeper inside the house. “No, it’s the fucking Boston Strangler, who has a key to the house,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “Bret?” she called again, obviously not hearing him. “Yeah! It’s me, Ma!” he said again. He motioned for Kaiser to move, and the dog backed up enough to allow him to ascend the stairs into the kitchen, but stayed right at his heels, sniffing the backs of his pant legs, trying to figure out where he’d been and who he’d been with. Bret swiped backward with his hand. “Get out of my butt!” The dog reared his head before Bret could make contact with his nose. Mrs. Elle May Williams came into the kitchen with hope in her eyes. “Have you heard anything about Aaron?” she asked politely. “You mean Adam,” Bret said, annoyed with the same smile she offered him every time. “Yes, him. Any word?” She looked at him expectantly. She loathed Adam. Loathed what Adam meant to him, who they’d been, what they were. Bret felt the anger rise like bile in him, but he just shook his head as Kaiser nudged at his hand, feeling the tension in the room. “Well, I’m sure he’ll turn up just fine,” she said. “Your father will be home in a few days. You may want to get a head start finding campus housing. I mean, the fall is coming quickly, and it’ll take your mind off your friend.” “Fiancé,” Bret replied. “Excuse me?” she asked, her eyes narrowing. “Fiancé, Mother. I am not leaving behind someone I love because—” “Please, don’t try to dignify what the both of you do as love.” “Oh, right. Because that’s what you and Dad have? Tell me, when Dad had his affair with—what was her name… Jessica?—was that love as well?” Bret fired back with a smile on his lips. His mother’s lips puckered, and he watched as her fury grew. “You little son of a bitch, how dare you—” she said, growing furious, but Bret put up a hand. “Tell the truth? Look, let’s just keep from jumping on the merry-go-round of knives, shall we? Stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours. Deal?” he asked.
“Fine. But I will be telling your father when he gets back,” she sniffed, putting her hands on her hips and then dropping them in outrage as Bret suddenly burst into laughter. “Oh no,” he said, grabbing his heart. “Oh, please don’t tell Daddy. What will I do with his disapproval?” “Oh, you don’t care much about his approval, I know. Your father cheated on me because he couldn’t handle having a gay son. It disgusted him,” she said venomously. The statement would have hurt him if he hadn’t turned her off a long time ago. He still wanted to slap her. But instead, he decided he’d hit another way. “Mother, your husband cheated on you because when we moved here, his wife became Queen Ice Bitch of Promise Lake. That, and Jessica was twenty-three. So don’t put your Stepford bullshit on me,” he fired back. She took an angry step forward, and Kaiser let out a menacing growl that caused her to hesitate. However, the look of fury on her face was replaced with one of stone calm, something that scared Bret even more than their heated war of words. She was beginning another “how dare you” statement, which had become common since her discovery of Bret’s sexuality, when Kaiser let out a series of very loud barks that caused them both to jump. The reflection of two lights across the kitchen wall caused Bret to turn as a car pulled into the driveway. “Kaiser, come on,” he said, snapping his fingers. The dog turned from the window and looked at Bret before wagging his tail and following him on his way to the stairs that led up to his room. “Where are you going?” his mother demanded, and Bret turned and was about to respond when a car door slammed and a voice tore through the night—and right into his heart. “Bret! Bret!” The voice sobbed and broke the second time. The tortured sound hit him like a truck. His heart skipped, and the truth he was yet to discover, the hand fate had held, was shown for the first time. Bret’s mouth went dry as his throat constricted, and he swore if he were to try to step forward, he would fall flat, but with another shout of “Bret!” he ran forward. He knew the voice, and Kaiser was hot on his heels while his mother complained about the racket they were causing.
Bret hit the door, his heart lodged in his throat and his knees trembling. Kaiser rushed between his legs to the person standing in the light of the car. Bret’s view was obscured as the beams from the headlights stole his night vision, but Kaiser knew the newcomer and got out of their way as they came into focus. It was Timmy, Adam’s older brother, and the look on his face screamed through Bret’s body like electricity as realization dawned horribly in his mind. The cards were being laid out on the table. “No.” Bret sobbed, shook his head, and brought his hand up to his mouth. As if shaking his head would somehow slay the dragon, he reached out for Timmy as his knees finally gave out on him. Timmy fell too as he gathered Bret in his arms, as Adam’s mother and father shrouded both boys in grief. Kaiser, unsure of what was happening, raised his head toward the sky and let out his own mournful wail as they wept, their tears soaking the parched concrete driveway with the truth. Adam wouldn’t be coming home.

EXCERPT: Relatively Rainey (A Rainey Bell Thriller) by R. E. Bradshaw

June 27th, 2015

Relatively Rainey

by

R. E. Bradshaw


Part I

PRELUDE TO A NIGHTMARE

“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.”

 ― Edgar Allan Poe

 

CHAPTER ONE

7:00 PM, Monday, September 2, 2013

Chancery Court Subdivision

Durham County, NC

The small window screen in Dr. Kent Barker’s hand puzzled him. His profound bewilderment drew the attention of his neighbor.

“What’s the trouble there, Kent?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Kent, half listening, still tried to make sense of things.

The smiling neighbor pointed a dripping hose nozzle at the screen.

“You’ve been standing right there since I started watering this flowerbed.  I was so caught up in watching you, I think I over-soaked it.”

Kent looked at the perfectly maintained bed of flowers edging the driveway next door. The flowerbed exemplified the order in Kent’s upper-middle class, manicured subdivision. The homeowners’ association made sure everyone conformed to the neat and tidy rules. Upon returning an hour ago from a Labor Day weekend trip to the beach with family, the Thomas Kincaid-ness of his cul-de-sac struck him once more. The French Country style homes formed a perfect jigsaw puzzle picture of the American dream. No matter how many times Kent made that corner, the image remained the same.

He remarked to Marilyn, his wife, “I could take a picture of this street every day, and it would only reflect the change in seasons.” He smiled at his college freshman daughter’s reflection in the rearview mirror, adding, “There is comfort in that sameness.”

Hannah was almost on her own now, soon to relegate her time with the family to weekends when she could manage it. She was the last of the Barker brood to leave the nest. Kent had just turned fifty, and the slower pace of suburban living suited him. None of his medical school buddies would believe beer-bong champ Barker would prefer the mundane and routine in his later years. But after a long day of surgery, surprises were the last thing an anesthesiologist wanted. Spotting the screen out of place interrupted the solace Kent felt in his world of comfortable banality.

The neighbor persisted, “What happened? Did you get that off and now can’t figure out how to put it back?”

Kent asked, “Reece, were you around this weekend?”

“Yes. Well, I was. Travis took his mother to see his brother on Sunday, but I was here all weekend. Why, what’s wrong?”

Kent glanced back down at the screen and the basement window it should have been covering.

Shrugging, he answered, “I don’t know. This screen was off, but the window was still locked on the inside, and the alarm was active. Marilyn says it just feels like someone was in the house, but we can’t find anything missing.”

“Now, that’s disconcerting. I sure didn’t see or hear anything. Is she sure?”

Kent’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Hannah, came screaming out the front door with the answer.

“Daddy, some pervert went through my laundry and stole all my underwear, all of it, bras, and everything.”

Hannah left her first week’s worth of college laundry in the basement, before joining the family for the beach holiday with her older siblings and their spouses. Kent knew this because he carried the bulging duffle bag down the stairs Friday afternoon.

Kent’s wife fled the house close on Hannah’s heels, phone to her ear, and in mid-sentence, “…broke into our house and stole our teenaged daughter’s underwear. And if I’m not mistaken, there is some genetic material you need to come collect.”

At that moment, everything in Kent’s banal world changed.

#

10:00 PM, Friday, July 25, 2014

Buckhorn Road, Chatham County, NC

Arianna Wilde climbed into her grandmother’s farmhouse canopy bed, sinking into the feather top and down pillows. A source of countless fond memories, she felt the bed cradle her as it had on those special occasions when she came to visit the farm. Snuggled under Nana Wilde’s arm, Arianna would listen to her favorite books read aloud. Her war bride grandmother maintained her cultured British accent throughout her life, even after spending the last sixty-nine years of it near the banks of the Cape Fear River. Arianna believed a genuine appreciation achievable for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan only when the texts were read aloud by a British grandmother.

She inherited the farm and her grandmother’s feather bed in January. After finalizing her divorce and the sale of the matrimonial home, Arianna moved into the farmhouse in May. The money from the settlement helped restore and modernize the old place. Having lived in Chapel Hill since her college days, the move twenty-five miles south to her family’s ancestral country home was a welcomed one. Wherever her laptop received a signal became an office, and the solitude of country living appealed to her at this juncture in her life. Relocating seemed the answer to the question Peggy Lee sang over and over in her mind for the last few years, “Is that all there is?”

The intense stress of living on site during a remodel was well worth it. Arianna relearned the self-sufficiency of her youth after too many years of living dependent on the skills of others. Now in the final stages, she was down to the cosmetics of painting the interior and trying to get a handle on the overgrown grounds. Beating back nature to the wood line in the massive yard by day and painting the two-story interior by night, Arianna worked her body to its limits over the last few weeks. She had no spare moments to dally in the past. The work focused her and kept her old friends Regret and Dread at bay.

Arianna regretted she didn’t love her husband. He was sweet and kind, but it wasn’t enough. She regretted that she’d stuck it out for thirteen wasted years and dreaded the thought of dating again at forty-one. She regretted she hadn’t spent more time with her aging grandmother. She dreaded the weekly phone calls from the ex, ostensibly to make sure she was all right, but it was more about propping him up.

He ended almost every conversation with some form of, “I could understand if it was someone else, but you just stopped loving me.”

Arianna regretted ever being honest with him about her feelings. She had contemplated telling him there was someone else, in hopes that he would move on with his life. She regretted that she didn’t care enough to lie.

Today she added a new bit of remorse to the list. She thoroughly regretted saying, “How hard could this be,” before turning the key on the old tiller and promptly sending it through the side of the barn.

“I should have remembered the tractor debacle,” she said aloud, following it with chuckles.

Her muscles ached but were taut. Her body looked better than it had in years. She overcame many things since the move, learning something new about herself and the farm seemingly minute by minute. She had taken back her name and worked on taking back her life one day at a time. Regrets aside, Arianna had mastered her dread of a coming new day.

Tomorrow, I will conquer the tiller.

She reached for the bedside lamp. As she pulled the old chain, plunging the room into darkness, she said aloud, “Think happy thoughts.” It was something her grandmother would say each night. Arianna thought of the happiest thing she could.

The new washer and dryer will be installed in the morning. Praise baby Jesus.

The lace curtains of the canopy bed swayed slightly with the light summer wind coming through the open windows. The heat and air would be installed once all the construction dust settled.

“No need to clog up a new system, ma’am,” the installer informed her, as he handed her a trip ticket with a much later installation date than she had hoped scribbled at the bottom.

The dust was the reason the wood-framed screens were removed downstairs and the large windows thrown open. Fans sat on sills, running day and night to dry paint and suck out the seemingly never-ending drywall dust. She cleaned and vacuumed every day, but the dust prevailed. Plastic covered the portal to the bedroom where she slept. With the door shut much of the time the room stayed relatively free of contaminants. The powder-fine gypsum dust still managed to slip through the tiniest cracks. She thought the hand-tatted canopy should come down before it was damaged, but it comforted her with the retained fragrance of her grandmother’s perfume. Arianna’s eyes fluttered shut as the night breeze tickled her nose with Nana Wilde’s Chanel no. 5.

#

He knew she would be one of his girls the first time he saw her. He had twenty-five regularly visited targets, but was always ready to add a new one if the urge struck. He had jogged past the old Wilde farm the day she ran the tractor into the ditch by the road.

“Perhaps brush-hogging the front forty wasn’t your wisest choice for a first outing,” he had said to her.

“No kidding,” she said, and then laughed before blowing strands of stray hair from her brow.

He had been obliged to stop, along with several other helpful country neighbors. That was the thing about people living in the county where they buried Mayberry’s Sheriff Taylor’s Aunt Bee. Down on the river, away from the suspicion and self-absorption of urban life, folks were there to help a neighbor in need. He needed Arianna Wilde from the moment she smiled in his direction.

He paid his first furtive visit to her that very night. He helped himself to a black bra and panties left hanging from a makeshift clothesline on the back porch, and now treasured among the many items he removed during successive visits over the last eight weeks. It took him only a few minutes the next day to find out about the new resident on Buckhorn Road. He simply mentioned the activity around the Wilde place to the man at the feed store over in Brickhaven. What the old timer didn’t know, his nosey wife filled in. A little more searching on the Internet and he had all the information needed on his new target, Arianna Wilde.

He watched her bedroom window, as the amber glow of the bedside lamp went dark. It wouldn’t be long now.

RelativelyRainey

#

7:50 AM, Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arianna Wilde’s Farmhouse

“What do you mean there wasn’t anyone at home? I’m at home. I saw you drive away.”

Arianna listened to the voice on her phone for only a second, before unleashing a tirade.

“I think spending thousands of dollars with your company warrants more than a cursory knock. Flash Gordon could not have made it to the door before you decided no one was home.”

The voice interrupted her rant, causing her to pause. Upon hearing the delivery driver’s response, she sighed heavily.

“You want to know who Flash Gordon is? Oh, for the love of— Look, your office said the delivery would be between eight and nine this morning. It is just now seven-fifty. You turn that truck around this instant or return after I get off the phone with your boss, your boss’s boss, and on up the chain of command until I have a washer and dryer installed and working in my home, today.”

Arianna was halfway down the stairs when she hung up on the apologetic driver. The old washer was on its last legs and the dryer gave up the ghost years ago. Dogs or cats or some other creatures had been making off with her lingerie for weeks. She suspected the crow that hung out near the clothesline. He looked guilty and seemed always to be watching. Arianna laughed at the thought of a tree somewhere decorated with her bras and panties. She hated to think of the alternative—that one of the workers had a thing for ladies underwear. Her dirty clothes from the past week waited in a basket on the kitchen counter, in anticipation of a new working washer and dryer, and as a way to stem the tide of vanishings. She couldn’t afford to hang any more underclothes on the line to dry. She had no time right now to shop for more.

Reaching the front door, she flung it open and stood there ready to speed dial the appliance store if its truck did not return in a timely fashion. Another bright July day had dawned on a clear blue Carolina sky. Sunrays shot through the open door, illuminating the dust she stirred on her way down the stairs. Arianna watched the particles dance in the sunbeams. The light revealed a floor and stairs she’d cleaned the evening before, cast again with a layer of powder-thin dust.

“When will this end?” She asked, with a palm raised to the invisible powers that be.

She saw the footprints at the same time the appliance truck slowed on the road in front of the house and began the turn into the driveway. Tracing the path of the footprints with her eyes, Arianna noted they approached from the back of the house, went up the stairs, and then returned the way they came.

“Carl, are you here already?”

Arianna called out to the handyman she’d hired to help with the finishing touches. Maybe he arrived early and realized she had not come out of her room yet. He was supposed to finish the tile repair on the upstairs bathroom today. No response came from Carl. He was probably out back, waiting for her to appear with coffee. The guys were getting out of the delivery truck, tools in hand. All was right with Arianna’s world for a moment.

The euphoria was short-lived. As she led the installers through the kitchen to the laundry room at the back of the house, Arianna saw her dirty clothes dumped on the floor. The empty basket was left on the counter. As she reflexively picked up the clothes and returned them to the basket, she froze with her eyes on the footprints. She could see now they led up to her bedroom from the back door. Arianna’s sense of security took a major hit. Her anxiety registered with the men now watching her.

“Are you okay?” One of them asked.

Her shaken state evident in the reply, Arianna answered, “I believe someone has just stolen all my underwear.”

#

7:10 AM, Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chancery Court Subdivision,

Durham County, NC.

Kent Barker turned the last bend in the running trail, legs and lungs on fire. With the end in sight, he dug deeper, sprinting as fast as his fifty-one-year-old legs would allow. Crossing his imaginary finish line, Kent alternated between walking off the lactic acid surging through his near cramping muscles and grabbing his knees, gasping for air.

“Nice sprint,” a sheriff’s deputy said from the edge of the woods.

He and two other deputies appeared to be searching the strip of land behind Kent’s house that separated the running trail from the yards in the neighborhood.

“Thanks,” Kent replied, between gasps. “What’s going on?”

The deputy approached, asking, “Do you live around here?”

“Yeah,” Kent said, finally able to stand erect. “I live right there.” He pointed to the back of his home.

The deputy pulled out a pad and pen. “Could I have your name, sir?”

“Dr. Kent Barker. What’s going on? Has something happened to my wife?”

“Why would you ask that, sir?”

Kent became impatient. “Because you’re standing in the woods behind my house asking me questions.”

“Your wife is Marilyn Barker?”

“Yes. What’s happened? Is she okay?” Kent demanded.

“May I have a look at the soles of your shoes, sir?”

Kent immediately showed the bottoms of his shoes to the deputy and began to panic, “Oh, my God. Marilyn. Tell me what’s happened.”

“Your wife is fine, Dr. Barker. Someone broke into the house two doors that way.” The deputy pointed just a few hundred yards down the trail. “During the canvas this morning, we found tracks in the mud there and the same tracks here behind your home and more muddy prints on your back patio. They do not match your shoes. We spoke to your wife. We understand you reported a theft a little over a year ago. Is that right?”

“Yes. Did he come back?” Kent asked.

“The crimes seem to match the fetish burglaries we’ve had over the past twelve months, starting with your home last September, only this time the female was at home.”

“The Tanners, that’s who you’re talking about, right? Is anyone hurt?”

“Tanner, yeah that’s right. Do you know them?”

“Yes, we all know each other. It’s a friendly neighborhood. You didn’t answer me. Is everyone okay?”

“Yes, sir. No one was hurt. The teenager was home alone. She took a shower and when she came out, the clothes she left on the bathroom floor were gone along with the contents of her lingerie drawer.”

“My God, he was in there with her. When did this happen?”

“Where were you around midnight last evening, Dr. Barker?”

Incensed that he was under suspicion, Kent responded, “What? You think I stole my own daughter’s underwear, and now I’ve moved on to the neighbor’s?”

“We’re asking these questions of everyone, Dr. Barker.”

“I was home with my wife. Didn’t you speak to her? Didn’t she tell you that?”

The deputy smiled. “We have to ask and yes she did. Did you see or hear anything unusual last night?”

Kent relaxed. “No, nothing. We went to bed around eleven. I take a sleeping aid, and I was out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t have heard a thing for at least six hours. My wife says I’m like the living dead.”

“In the last year, have additional personal items disappeared from your home?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but our daughter doesn’t live here anymore. She shares a house with some friends a few miles away and closer to her school. The responding officers last year told us she was the target, that it was probably a teenager with issues.”

“I think we’re reevaluating that assessment, Doctor. This is the eleventh reported fetish burglary in the last year.”

“My God, I had no idea,” Kent said, feeling sick to his stomach.

The deputy made a note and put the pad back in his pocket. “We might want to speak with you again. Keep your doors and windows locked, sir.” He started to turn away but added, “You might lay off that sleeping aid for a bit. At least, until we catch this guy.”

#

4:56 AM, November 22, 2014

Arianna Wilde’s Farmhouse

Buckhorn Road, Chatham County, NC

She watched the second hand on her grandmother’s kitchen wall clock tick away the minutes in slow motion. The large red rooster with the clock in his belly hung in that very spot as long as Arianna remembered.  She’d been sure to rehang it as soon as the new paint dried. Mr. Rooster’s clock hands said it was closing in on five in the morning. Her attacker left her at three, two hours ago. Two hours that crept by one tick at a time.

“Arianna, can you look straight ahead for me?”

The EMT’s smile did not cover his concern, as he focused a small flashlight in each of her eyes.

“Thank you,” he said, clipping the penlight back inside his shirt pocket. He checked the bandage on her head, seemed satisfied, and asked, “Are you warm enough? Can I get you anything?”

Arianna pulled her grandmother’s quilt tighter around her shoulders and resumed watching the seconds tick by.

“Are you sure we can’t take you to the hospital?” A second EMT asked.

“I’m sorry, gentleman. May we have a moment alone with Ms. Wilde?”

Arianna heard the voice of the female detective again, the one who tried to interview her before without much luck. The only words Arianna spoke in the last two hours were to the emergency operator. The details she gave were sparse. Her name, address, and the declaration “he raped me” were all she said before hanging up. The phone repeatedly rang in the long minutes she waited for the police to arrive. Arianna ignored it while she watched Mr. Rooster tick-tick-tick away the life she knew. Convinced this was punishment for walking out of her marriage, for trying to start over, for seeking the life of independence she craved—Arianna Wilde stopped talking because there was nothing left to say.

The flashlight bearing EMT protested being asked to leave, “She needs medical attention.”

“That’s the goal, but right now what she needs is to process,” the detective responded with authority.

“Well, if she starts showing signs of shock—”

A female voice unfamiliar to Arianna interrupted the EMT.

“I think what Ms. Wilde needs right now is a little quiet. If you will just wait outside in the hall, I’m sure she’ll leave with you voluntarily when she’s ready.”

The room cleared of all but the detective and the other woman, the one with the calm, controlled tone. The moment the police arrived the normally peaceful country night had filled with male voices and the sound of heavy footsteps. They attempted hushed communications, but Arianna could still hear them—and smell them. Or was that his odor lingering on her skin. She rubbed her nose in her grandmother’s quilt, hoping for a whiff of Chanel no. 5, as quiet returned to the kitchen.

Arianna heard the refrigerator door open. She turned to see the calm voice belonged to a tall woman with short chestnut curls, dressed in a black, classic, long wool coat. At the moment, she was removing a carton of half and half from the shelf. Arianna became entranced with the woman who did not try to speak to her, but went about making tea. A full five minutes of silence passed before the tall stranger sat down across from Arianna and slid a cup of tea in front of her. A little wisp of steam curled up between them.

“I hope I got it right,” the darkly attractive woman said. “You look like you could use something warm. It’s getting chilly in the early mornings, isn’t it?”

Arianna nodded and reached for the cup. She pulled it close, wrapping both hands around it for the warmth. To her bones, she felt a chill that only seemed to turn colder as time wore on. Tea was exactly what she wanted, but she hadn’t been able to articulate that to anyone. Arianna stared across the table into eyes that understood.

With eye contact made, the woman began to talk. Nothing in her voice registered the seriousness of the situation. She spoke as if they were sitting down for a casual tea, two strangers meeting for the first time.

“I’m a coffee drinker, but my spouse spent a summer in England during college. I’ve been told putting the milk in first and then adding the tea and water makes a better cup. Do you add your milk first?”

Arianna answered without thinking. “Yes, my grandmother was British and taught me to make it that way.” She then took a sip of the tea and found it tailored to her taste. She smiled at the stranger. “It’s perfect. How did you know?”

The woman returned the smile and replied nonchalantly, “You have half and half in the refrigerator. The used cup in the sink has a residue, giving me a clue as to the color I was shooting for. The sugar bowl, a few spilled granules, and the spoon on the paper towel by the hot water dispenser were a clue that you stirred a bit of sweetener into your tea. Since you are health conscious, according to your food choices, and appear to be in great shape, I guessed it was only a small amount, a guilty pleasure.”

Arianna took another sip before asking, “Are you some kind of Sherlock Holmes?”

“In the way that Doyle explained the power of observation, I guess you could say I am a believer. My name is Rainey Bell. I’m a behavioral analyst by trade.”

“Are you a detective, like her?” Arianna indicated the other woman standing silently by the kitchen sink.

“No, Detective Robertson and I go back to my days as an FBI agent, but I’m a consultant for local law enforcement now.”

“Why are you here?” Arianna wanted to know.

“Sheila,” Rainey said, giving a nod to Detective Robertson, “thought I might be uniquely qualified to help you.”

“Why, because you have experience making victims talk?”

Rainey Bell leaned a little closer and locked her eyes on Arianna’s. “No, because I’ve been exactly where you are. I know what this feels like, and I think I know what you need to hear.”

“Oh yeah, and what is that?” Arianna asked with a bit of attitude, thinking this woman couldn’t possibly know what to say to take away the self-blame. Could she have fought harder? Should she have fought him until he killed her? He would have, she was sure of that. And what was that feeling, nagging, pulling at her heart—was it shame for choosing compliance over death?

The behavioral analyst kept her deep green eyes focused on Arianna as she explained,  “Every assault is unique, but one thing remains the same. You did what you had to do to survive and that is all that matters. You survived. Hang on to that. Hold it tight. It will help you in the days to come. When your brain starts telling you what you should have and could have done differently, simply remind yourself that you are alive to hear those doubts.”

“He was going to kill me,” Arianna said, and finally broke.

#

9:15 PM, Sunday, November 30, 2014

Long-term Parking, RDU Airport

Wake County, NC

“Park on the other side of that RV in the last row. The security cameras can’t see this far back.”

The older man laughed. “I see this isn’t your first rodeo. How old are you kid?”

The teenager turned to the man. “However old you need me to be to complete our business.”

The man eased the car into the parking place and put the car in park.

The teenager instructed, “Turn it off. The security guard tools around here on a golf cart. He won’t notice us if the car isn’t running. Keep your foot off the brake.”

“You come here often?”

The man’s attempt at humor was lost on the teen. He replied to the joke, “Let’s get this over with. Fifty bucks for the blow, like I said. If you want to touch me, that’s going to cost you double. Money up front.”

The man dug into his back pocket for his wallet. “I don’t usually pay first.”

“Well, you haven’t been tossed out of a moving car by an asshole that didn’t want to pay up.”

The kid held out his hand for the money, unprepared for the cold steel that slapped around his wrist.

“You are under arrest for prostitu—”

The teenager didn’t hesitate. He snatched his wrist free of the man’s grasp, taking the handcuff with him. In an instant, he was out of the car and running toward the woods. There was no moon, and once he was out from under the parking lot lights, he was plunged into inky black darkness. His eyes took their time adjusting, but he didn’t slow down. He heard footsteps and shouts coming fast on his heels.

“Stop! Police!”

“Fuck that,” the boy said, and ran faster.

His heart pounded in his chest as his feet flew across the ground before he felt the earth drop out beneath him. A few seconds of hang-time later he plunged into the frigid water of the drainage pond.

“Dammit,” he thought, “I forgot about the fucking pond.”

He thrashed around in the cold water and finally found his footing. He stood up in the glare of multiple flashlights.

Silhouettes of officers shouted, “Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands.”

The teenager reached for the sky. A submerged tree branch caught on the handcuff still dangling from his wrist. It followed his hand into the air and slapped against his side.

“Jesus Christ,” a voice behind a flashlight exclaimed.

“Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot,” the kid yelled, before stumbling backward.

As he swung wildly to catch his balance, the branch swung around in front of him. That’s when he saw it wasn’t a branch at all. The teenage tough-guy turned into the little boy he truly was, screaming and falling on his back in the water, as skeletal arms wrapped around him.

#

1:00 PM, Monday, December 1, 2014

Bell’s Bail and Investigations

East Franklin Street

Chapel Hill, Orange County, NC

“Rainey Bell,” she said into the phone.

“Ms. Bell, this is Detective March, from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.”

“Good afternoon, Detective. How can I help you?”

“Actually, I have some information for you,” the detective replied. “It’s about your assault case. I was told you should be informed of a recent finding.”

“Okay, I’m listening,” Rainey said and sat up straighter in her chair.

“We found three bodies in the drainage pond near a long-term parking lot at RDU. Two of the bodies haven’t been there long enough to be JW Wilson’s victims, but the third, a male, appears to be that of Dr. John Taylor. We don’t have DNA evidence yet, but we did find his wallet and credit cards near the body. We aren’t making this public knowledge until the test results come back, but things leak. You know how it is. We thought you should know before you read it in the paper.”

“Thank you for that consideration, Detective. I appreciate it. You don’t have to call the former Mrs. Wilson. I’ll take care of that.”

“You’re welcome. Yeah, Detective Robertson, over in Durham, said you’d probably want to do the notification with Mrs. Wilson.”

Rainey tensed and corrected him. “She’s Mrs. Bell-Meyers now.”

“Yeah, I guess she remarried. Anyway, we can put the case to bed. Wilson must have sunk the missing escorts out deep in the lake.”

Rainey commented, “I guess we will know that when the bodies are discovered. Thank you again for calling. Is there anything else?”

The detective seemed confused by Rainey’s dismissal. “Uh, no. I guess that’s it. Have a good day, Ms. Bell.”

“You too, detective,” she hesitated, before sending him off with the truth. “By the way, Katie Meyers Wilson married me. She’s my wife and the mother of our triplets. You can put that in the file before you close it. People should know there was a happy ending for us.”

Rainey was pleasantly surprised at the detective’s response, “I’ll do that, Ms. Bell. That’s good to hear. Congratulations.”

She hung up the phone and stared at the wall.

Ernestine Womble, the office manager who only came in two days a week now, topped the stairs leading into Rainey’s office. Known as Ernie by all that loved her, she was still as spry as ever, acting and looking much younger than her seventy-two years. She was semi-retired but kept an eye on things, as she had since Rainey’s father opened the bail bond business back in the seventies.

“What crazed idiot does Wake County want you to help them catch this time?”

“That wasn’t a consultation request,” Rainey replied. “They found John Taylor’s body—the veterinarian set up to take the fall for JW Wilson’s crimes.”

“Oh,” came Ernie’s one-word reply.

“I guess I better call Katie before the media leaks the story.”

“You all right kid?” Ernie asked.

Rainey would always be a kid to Ernie. She helped Rainey’s dad, Billy, raise her and was more of a mother figure during her formative years than her biological mother. Ernie was giving Rainey the eye, the one that said, “Don’t lie to me.” Rainey knew better than to be anything but truthful.

“I think so. I’m not sure. Every time I get to a place where the memories of that time dissipate, something pops up to remind me. Here comes another round of nightmares.” She added sarcastically, “Katie will be thrilled.”

“He didn’t win, you know,” Ernie reminded her.

Rainey shook her head in response. “Yes, he did. He intended to scar me for life and apparently he has. JW Wilson will just not go away.”

Ernie would not abide self-pity. “He intended to kill your ass, how many, three times? He did not succeed and is dust in an urn as we speak. You’re still here. You fill your head with that beautiful family of yours and evict that evil SOB from your mind. He’s of no consequence to you now.”

Rainey smiled at Ernie’s simplification of a complicated neural process.

“That’s not exactly how PTSD works. I can’t control when the memories come. It doesn’t matter how happy my life is. He comes again in the night with no warning. Each round of nightmares brings more detail than the last. I suppose until my mind processes the entire event, I’m going to be forced to witness the explorations of my repressed knowledge of that night.” She paused, before adding another truth with a sigh, “Ernie, I don’t want to remember.”

“Maybe that’s the problem, Rainey. You need to talk it out. You never have. Your dad was the same way, kept everything tight to the vest. He wouldn’t even talk to Mackie about the war for years. His demons came in the night too until he had to get help. Do you know when that was?”

“No, I just remember his nightmares, his screams, and barking orders.”

“Oh, those were mild compared to the early years. He shot a hole through the sliding glass door in his bedroom once. He was dangerous in his sleep.”

“I never knew that,” Rainey said, wondering what else she did not know about her father. The first ten years of her life, she hadn’t known he existed. She didn’t come to live with him until she was fourteen. Parts of Billy Bell’s life remained a mystery. Rainey had discovered only a few years ago that she had a half-sister.

“When you started coming to visit, Mackie and I told Billy he had to go to therapy, or he might shoot you during one of his nightmares. He went every day for a while. He’d check in at the office in the morning and then head to the VA hospital over in Durham before beginning his day. It changed him for the better. He still had the dreams occasionally, but they were never as bad.”

“I knew he spent a lot of time with vets, working through their PTSD battles.”

“He was working on his own as well, Rainey. You can’t keep those horrid memories locked inside forever. At some point, they are going to come out. The question is, will it be on your terms or theirs?”

#

The house was finally quiet. After feeding, bathing, and tucking the triplets into their beds, Rainey read to them until the last little eye closed. She and Katie went to bed a few minutes later, exhausted from the trying day. The discovery of John Taylor’s body had veiled the evening in somberness. Emotionally drained, they lay there quietly, each lost in thoughts of her own. Freddie, Rainey’s cat, was comfortably curled at her feet. With Katie’s head resting on Rainey’s chest, they drifted off to sleep.

The movie in her dream began almost immediately. Rainey had experienced it many times before. Disconnected from her bound and gagged body, spread-eagle on the bed, she watched him rape her. Rainey saw him dig the scalpel into her flesh, as she floated above the scene, able to look on now without the heart-pounding panic of earlier viewings. Time had hardened her emotions toward the violence perpetrated against her body. The physical scars from those injuries had healed. It was the gaping wound to her psyche that had yet to close.

She had come to view this part of the dream as the prelude to the impending nightmare. If she were lucky Rainey could force herself awake, before being thrust into the helpless body on the bed and returned to the pain and panic of the attack as if it were happening for the first time. But that was not to be the case on this occasion.

He was at her ear, whispering, “You be a good girl now, or I will have to hurt her.”

Rainey felt the plastic wrapped mattress beneath her body. She closed her eyes against the panic and the searing pain screaming through her body. She fought the bindings, flailing her head wildly from side to side.

“Look at her,” he demanded.

Opening her eyes to see an unconscious Katie tied on the bed next to her, Rainey’s guttural cries were muffled by the gag while the nightmare continued to veer from its normal course.

“What?” He asked, his eyes sparkling with delight behind the black mask concealing the rest of his face. “You don’t want me to hurt her?”

Rainey glared at him through eyes nearly swollen shut, her breath fast and shallow, air puffing in and out of her gagged mouth. Her nose bled profusely, providing no access to more air and threatened to drown her in her own blood, but still she fought him.

He raised the scalpel over Katie’s chest. “She should have known, you know. She should have seen what I was. She wasn’t paying attention. This is all her fault, right? She should pay for the pain she allowed me to inflict on you. Katie should have seen it all coming, don’t you think?”

The blade glinted in the air. Rainey tried to scream and tore at the bindings, ripping skin as the rope dug deeper into her wrists. The small part of Rainey’s brain that was conscious and horrified by what it saw began to beg.

Please God, start the siren.

Rainey’s silent prayer was answered with the sweet sound of a distant whine blaring from a patrol car in route to save the day. It was an accident, a mistake that saved her life. The orders were to approach in silence. A rookie cop hit his siren and charged toward the scene before someone told him to turn it off. Mercifully, it sang out just long enough to warn her attacker.

The dream resumed its chilling retelling of the night JW Wilson nearly killed her. Katie’s body disappeared. Rainey once again inhabited her private hell alone with JW, who bolted from the bed and scampered out of the room. Now came the moment when he paused at the door and looked back over his shoulder. Rainey could see his mouth move, but she could never make out what he said—until now.

She could only imagine he believed she wouldn’t survive the overdose of narcotics he’d given her, or at least the amnesia-inducing effects would block her memories. Rainey didn’t remember, but her subconscious had witnessed the entire attack and kept a record. It had been a long reveal, one painful disclosure at a time, but Rainey had now seen it all. Her mind finally played the last moments on the memory reel.

JW looked down at her. “I should have done that years ago.”

The next and last second of the movie played in slow motion. It was the first time it had ever advanced this far. Rainey watched in disbelief.

Oh, my God!

“Rainey, wake up. Rainey! Wake the hell up!”

Rainey’s eyes flew open. Katie was standing by the bed, cautiously hitting her with one of the decorator pillows from the chaise lounge by the window.

“Wake the hell—oh, there you are. Wow,” Katie said, “that was a bad one. Sorry, I had to hit you. You were losing it. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Rainey sat up. “I’m sorry, honey. I wasn’t loud, was I? I didn’t wake the kids, did I?”

“No,” Katie said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “It was one of those where you’re trying to talk, but it’s all garbled in your throat. Are you okay, now? Did Freddie hurt you? He was biting your wrist.”

Rainey blinked her eyes a few times and looked down at the tiny feline bite marks on her left wrist. She sighed deeply and then wrapped her arms around her wife. She buried her face in Katie’s hair and whispered into her neck, “No, honey, I’m not. I need to call Danny. I need help.”

 

EXCERPT: Kill Switch – A Kyle Callahan Mystery by author Mark McNease

June 20th, 2015

Kill Switch

A Kyle Callahan Mystery

by Mark McNease

 

Part I

Among the Living

CHAPTER One

Kyle Callahan glanced around his therapist’s office. He’d sat in this overstuffed beige leather chair, talking to this wise and soft-spoken man for the past six months, and still there were small details he would notice on a visit that he hadn’t seen before. A photograph of Peter Benoit’s daughter, now in her second year at Princeton. A small, cheap plaster bust of Chopin, Peter’s favorite composer, staring blindly from the bookshelf. A book about circuses among the dozens on psychology, psychiatry, and the byzantine workings of the human mind. And tonight: a set of bronzed baby shoes on Peter’s desk. Kyle never sat at or beside the desk. He only looked at it tucked tightly into a corner of the room beneath a window overlooking Central Park West. It was as mysterious as his therapist—he only knew about the daughter and the love for Chopin by asking questions, a reversal of roles that had happened perhaps a half dozen times over the course of twenty-four one hour sessions spent talking about his life since the killing. Correction, the shooting, as Peter reminded him. Yes, Kyle had killed a man. Yes, it had been in self-defense. Yes, it had ended the nightmarish career of the Pride Killer, among New York City’s most successful and cruel sociopaths. So, rightly, Peter Benoit (pronounced “Ben-wah”) reminded Kyle from time to time that it was not murder. But that didn’t change how Kyle felt. It didn’t erase his guilt, however unnecessary. He had taken a man’s life in an Upper East Side townhouse basement, and he had been trying to live with it ever since.

“I haven’t seen bronzed baby shoes since I was a kid,” Kyle said, looking at the desk. “I started to ask if they still made them, but obviously those were made a long time ago. Are they yours?”

“Yes, Kyle, they’re mine,” Peter responded. “I was that small once. We all were.”

“Are they really bronze?”

“I don’t know. My mother had them made. But they look bronze.”

“Yes, they do.”

Kyle turned his attention back to Peter. Lately he’d found himself attracted to the therapist and it made him uncomfortable. He knew it wasn’t real—not real real—and that it was some kind of “transference”, but it made him uneasy. It didn’t help that the therapist was quite tall and handsome, late-forties, with brown hair shot through with gray; blue eyes, large hands, and much too relaxed for anyone living and working in New York City.

“What were we talking about?” Kyle asked, trying to refocus.

“Your father’s death,” said Peter.

“Really?”

“Yes, Kyle. You were visiting your parents in Highland Park. You went in to see your father in his study and you found him slumped over his desk—the same desk you now have in your spare room at home.”

Kyle thought about it. He could not understand how talking about killing Diedrich Keller—the Pride Killer—had morphed into talking about his dead father. Or how it led to talking about his relationship with his husband, Danny. Or his job. Or anything, really. None of those things were why he’d come here, but they had entered his conversations with his therapist and he was as uncomfortable with that as he was with feeling attracted to the man. Psychoanalysis was a curious, dangerous beast, and Kyle wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision letting it out of its cage.

“He didn’t like me,” Kyle said. Just like that. Flat, true.

“What made you think that?”

“You don’t believe me?”

“I didn’t say that. I just asked why you thought your father didn’t like you.”

Kyle stared at him. “Because he told me.”

There, it had happened again. Another unsettling truth uttered as if he’d said it was cold in the room or that he’d left his umbrella at home and it was raining. This had happened quite a few times over the months. Bits and pieces of memories, emotions and unpleasant realities popping out into the air, floating there for a moment then falling to the floor or staining his heart.

“How did it happen?” Peter asked.

“How did what happen?”

“How did your father tell you he didn’t like you? Were you having an argument? Was it a response to something that had been said?”

Kyle remembered it clearly now, just like he remembered finding his father dead at his desk—a not-so-repressed memory he’d told very few people. His mother knew; she was in the house that day, too. Danny, of course. But almost no one else.

Kyle had been at the kitchen table having breakfast. He was twenty at the time. Twenty-one? He was in love with David Elliott, the young man he pursued to New York City from Chicago where they’d both attended college. He’d made the decision to move but not yet done it. His father had not taken kindly to Kyle’s being gay. It wasn’t rejection, per se, but more of a further distancing to an already distant relationship. Kyle’s father had taken the news coolly, as he’d taken all of Kyle’s decisions in life. As if he didn’t care.

“I told him I was moving to New York,” Kyle said, recalling it now in the therapist’s office. “He shrugged. He said, ‘Fine,’ or something like that. Something short and disinterested. ‘Don’t you care?’ I asked him. I didn’t want him to oppose the move—I was hell bent, as my mother said, on chasing David across the country—but something.”

“You wanted him to take it as a loss,” Peter said.

“Yes, yes, I did.”

Image of a street at night

“But that’s not what happened.”

“Not at all,” Kyle said. He looked down now, worried his eyes might water. “I said, ‘That’s all you have to say? ‘Fine?’ And he just … I don’t know … took a bite of his toast, looked at me and said, ‘I don’t like you, Kyle.’”

“It must have hurt.”

Kyle felt his facial muscles tighten. He hated being told such clear simple truths. Of course it hurt. And of course Kyle had never told anyone before tonight what his father had said, or how deeply it cut him.

“Yes,” Kyle said. “It hurt. Then he got up and went to his study. To his desk. Where I found him dead twenty-five years later. Can we change the subject?”

Peter was sensitive, which was not surprising. He was a very experienced therapist and knew when to let things rest. He paused for a moment to drink some of the ginger tea he always had on the stand beside his chair. Kyle knew it was a way of shifting away from one subject to another. Peter Benoit was not the only one in the room who could read people.

“How are the nightmares?” Peter asked, setting his teacup back down.

It was a question the therapist hadn’t asked for several weeks. Kyle was glad of the omission; he preferred not to talk about the dreams that had plagued him since the shooting in Diedrich Keller’s basement. They’d stopped for a while—a short while—but had returned the last week, as distressing as ever. The dreams’ scenario changed slightly, their sequence of events, but they always ended the same: with Kyle sobbing over the body of the serial killer he’d just stopped with a bullet to the heart, while his husband Danny and his friend Detective Linda Sikorsky lay dead at the hands of the man he’d murdered.

“It wasn’t murder,” Peter said the first time Kyle described the dreams. “It was kill or be killed. You need to remember that.”

Kill or be killed. A struggle, a twist of fate, a gunshot, and Kyle had taken a life. He knew it should matter whose life he had taken—a brutal killer who had claimed fourteen victims over seven years and who’d been within a knife blade’s distance from killing Danny—but watching a man die at your own hand defied emotional logic. Death was death. And as he’d seen the life quickly flee from Diedrich Keller’s eyes, he’d felt as if he had been tattooed forever by it. Then the dreams began and he sought out a therapist to try and stop them.

“Not so bad, or so often,” Kyle lied. He’d had a dream just the night before.

“Good,” said Peter, doubting Kyle had told him the truth. “How about your photography?”

Kyle looked up at him. Once upon a time, not long ago, he’d been an avid amateur photographer. The passion had lasted about fifteen years for him, ever since his father had given him an expensive camera for his fortieth birthday. Then the murders at Pride Lodge, Kyle standing over the empty blue pool taking photographs of his friend Teddy’s broken body at the bottom; his first and only photo exhibit at the Katherine Pride Gallery, just days after the madman Kieran Stipling had been stopped from killing Stuart Pride. It was all connected, Kyle knew. The murders, the murderers, and his photography. As one entered his life, the other left. Now he no longer took pictures and had no desire to.

“It’s still on hold,” Kyle said, knowing it would probably stay there. Maybe he would someday see something he thought would look amazing through a camera lens, turned into a moment in time. Or a face that needed preserving in a photograph, or a scene. But not anytime soon. His camera had lain on a shelf in the spare room gathering dust for six months.

Peter leaned forward. It was usually a signal their fifty minutes were coming to a close.

“Have you given some thought to what I suggested?” Peter asked.

The therapist had been encouraging Kyle to take on something new—another passion, another pastime. Kyle had expressed for the first time his interest in getting into the reporting end of his career. If his boss Imogene could do it, he could, too. He’d even begun contributing to her stories—un-credited, of course. He was writing copy now, under Imogene’s tutelage. He knew he was too old to become a reporter, but there may be ways to contribute. No one knew what editors looked like, and Kyle had discovered he had a knack for writing and editing as well as being the best personal assistant Imogene had ever had. He was good for more than bagels and coffee and answering her emails well past quitting time.

“Yes, I have thought about it,” Kyle said. “And Imogene thinks it’s a great idea. I’ve been working on stories with her. She’s very experienced, she’s teaching me a lot—about angles to stories and how to shape them.”

“Good, good. And are you still taking anti-depressants?”

“Oh, God no!” Kyle said, as if he’d just tasted something bitter. He’d tried three different anti-depressants and each made him feel disembodied. No matter how low the dose, whatever they did to him was pronounced and unpleasant. He was glad to find a therapist who preferred talk to medication. Kyle had thrown the pills out each time and was now determined to find another way to deal with his . . . trauma. He didn’t like the word. He didn’t like thinking he’d been traumatized. But sometimes there was no better way to describe it.

What he did not tell Peter Benoit that night was that he’d been thinking through the suggestion to find a new interest and had come up with something very different from writing, editing or reporting. Something he was not ready to tell Peter about. Something that already had him waking up feeling better, clearer, and once again energized.

“Our time’s up,” Peter said gently. He always ended the sessions with his kind voice. Then, as he did from time to time, he said, “I’ll be away next week.” He reached for the Day Planner he kept next to his ginger tea, opened it and said, “Two weeks from tonight is okay for you?”

It was always okay for Kyle. Peter had only skipped three sessions in six months. He never said why; it was part of his mystique. Kyle knew his therapist was divorced—there were no photos of his ex-wife in the office. He knew he had a daughter, and a cat whose white hair was sometimes on the therapist’s pants. But beyond that he knew very little.

“Two weeks is fine,” Kyle said.

He stood up then and shook Peter’s hand. He often wondered if they’d been at it long enough for a hug, but it was better to keep the distance.

“I’ll see you in two weeks,” said Kyle. He turned and let himself out of the office.

Tomorrow was Tuesday and he planned on working late with Imogene. The Manhattan District Attorney was under investigation and it was a huge story, with developments breaking daily. He would be in the office well into the evening.

He would also be paying a visit to someone who could help him find his new obsession, his path back to the life he’d known.

* * *

A short synopsis: Kyle decides the best way he can reengage with life is by following his other true passion – solving murders. He takes on his first cold case: the killing of a teenager three years ago. She was the daughter of a friend, and Kyle decides to give it a try, to bring justice to a grieving, obsessed father, and to pull himself out of his own despair. Joined again by his friend Detective Linda Sikorsky (New Hope, PA, retired), he finds himself delving into the undercurrents of New York City politics and on a collision course with a crime boss who kills as easily as she breathes. Everyone thought Corinne Copley was killed for her cell phone in a random act of violence on a Manhattan side street – but was she? Kyle is determined to find out, and to stay alive.