Exclusive Sneak-Peek: Murder and Mayhem: An Annotated Bibliography of Gay and Queer Males in Mystery, 1909-2018 by Matthew Lubbers-Moore

From the introduction:

  • This bibliography can follow the acceptance of gay and queer men in mysteries from when they first appeared to the present day and not all authors wrote about gay or queer men in a positive light. Therefore some of the comments below the titles explain how the author may have been homophobic or written their main character to be homophobic/transphobic.

Mystery Genre Definitions:

  • Amateur Sleuth: The amateur sleuth tries to solve the murder of someone close. Either the police have tried and failed or misread the murder as an accident/suicide. Both the loss and need for a solution is personal. -Definition provided by Stephen D. Rogers.
  • Bibliomystery: Mystery stories set in the world of books; libraries, bookstores, or those who deal with books; authors, book collectors, book sellers, editors, or publishers.
  • BDSM: Sexual activity involving such practices as the use of physical restraints, the granting and relinquishing of control, and the infliction of pain –Definition provided by Merriam Webster. BDSM is not a genre of mysteries but I include it as a warning to those who may not want to read sexually explicit and sexually 13 violent titles (MLM).
  • Caper: A caper is a comic crime story. Instead of suave and calculating, the caper chronicles the efforts of the lovable bungler who either thinks big or ridiculously small. -Definition provided by Stephen D. Rogers.
  • Classics: Classics are often written by authors in the late 19th and early 20th century, i.e. Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, Daphne du Maurier, Dashiell Hammett, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These are the authors that all mystery is built on.
  • Coming of Age: when a person reaches an important stage of development, growing into adulthood, becoming a mature adult. –Definition provided by Collins Dictionary.
  • Courtroom Drama/Legal Thriller: Lawyers make effective protagonists since they seem to exist on a plane far above the rest of us. Although popular, these tales are usually penned by actual lawyers due to the demands of the information presented. – Definition provided by Stephen D. Rogers.
  • Cozies: The cozy, typified by Agatha Christie, contains a bloodless crime and a victim who won’t be missed. The solution can be determined using emotional or logical reasoning. There is no sex or swearing, and the detective is traditionally heterosexual or asexual. -Definition provided by Stephen D. Rogers.

Modern Cozies: Unlike classic cozies, modern cozies include some swearing, discussions of sex, and can have a homosexual detective.

  • Crime Drama: Suspense in the crime story comes from wondering whether the plan will work. We’re rooting for the bad guys because they are smart, organized, and daring. -Definition provided by Stephen D. Rogers.

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The book contains the complete story The Man with the Watches by Arthur Conan Doyle.  From the history:

The debate over whether or not Sherlock Holmes was gay and had an attachment to Watson can be and probably will be argued over for as long as the characters are popular enough to be debated over. However, the two characters in this story obviously have feelings for each other …

THE MAN WITH THE WATCHES

by Arthur Conan Doyle

THERE ARE MANY WHO WILL still bear in mind the singular circumstances which, under the heading of the Rugby Mystery, filled many columns of the daily Press in the spring of the year 1892. Coming as it did at a period of exceptional dullness, it attracted perhaps rather more attention than it deserved, but it offered to the public that mixture of the whimsical and the tragic which is most stimulating to the popular imagination. Interest dropped, however, when, after weeks of fruitless investigation, it was found that no final explanation of the facts was forthcoming, and the tragedy seemed from that time to the present to have finally taken its place in the dark catalogue of inexplicable and unexpiated crimes.

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Sample entries:

624. Colton, James, Known Homosexual, Brandon House, 1968. (Pulp) Scorned by his family, defeated by society, Steve was at a major crossroads in his life. His marriage had gone sour, his hopes as a playwright dashed. Confused and friendless, Steve turned to pretty boy Coy Randol for love and support. But then Coy was found brutally murdered and there was only one person the police suspected: Steve. –republished as Stranger to Himself in 1977 by Major Books under [Joseph] Hansen’s own name, the only Colton book to be reclaimed. It was heavily edited as it removed much of the sex scenes. It was then republished as Pretty Boy Dead in 1984 by Gay Sunshine Press. The book is edited to reintroduce some of the items Hansen cut out in Stranger to Himself but still left out much of the sex scenes. Steve is an early version of Cecil from Hansen’s later Brandstetter books (MLM). 3/3

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1981. Michaelsen, Jon, Pretty Boy Dead, Wilde City Press, 2013. Kendall Parker #1 of 2. (Police Procedural) A murdered male stripper. A missing go-go dancer. A city councilman on the hook. Can Atlanta homicide detective Sergeant Kendall Parker solve the vicious crime while remaining safely hidden behind the closet door? –book two in the Kendall Parker series, Deadwood Murders, is set to be published late in 2019 (MLM). 3/3

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2145. Paretsky, Sara, Burn Marks, Delacorte, 1990. V. I. Warshawski #6 of 21. (Hardboiled) Someone knocking on the door at 3 A.M. is never good news. For V.I. Warshawski, the bad news arrives in the form of her wacky, unwelcome aunt Elena. The fire that has just burned down a sleazy SRO hotel has brought Elena to V.I.’s doorstep. Uncovering an arsonist – and the secrets hidden behind Elena’s boozy smile – will send V.I. into the seedy world of Chicago’s homeless… into the Windy City’s backroom deals and bedroom politics, where new 628 schemers and old cronies team up to get V.I. off the case – by hook, by crook, or by homicide. –the gay yuppie neighbor and his laid-back boyfriend appear slightly (MLM). 1/3

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2478. Sanders, J. B., Glen and Tyler’s Honeymoon Adventures, Lulu, 2011. Glen and Tyler #1 of 5. (Caper) Tyler can’t inherit unless he gets married … and when Glen proposes, hijinks ensue. Follow the guys on their world-spanning adventure as they defeat mobsters, an evil step-mother, a rakish brother-inlaw and pirates. No, really – pirates! Plus, there’s an underground super-base. And hockey. Come for the romance, stay for the hockey. –two bisexual guys take the plunge after decades of friendship (MM). 3/3

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2991. Woody, Michelle, The Scarecrow’s Kiss, iUniverse, 2004. (Fantasy) In 1980, serial killer Joseph Parrish was killed in a raid by local authorities and his bizarre world uncovered. Now, Russell Kenyon has come to do a segment on Parrish for his show, Spooky History, hoping the report will be his show’s saving grace. With a new victim missing, talk of Parrish’s curse has spread through town. 3/3

Blurb:

Librarian and scholar Matt Lubbers-Moore collects and examines every mystery novel to include a gay or queer male in the English language starting with the 1909 Arthur Conan Doyle short story “The Man with the Watches,” which is included in its entirety. Authors, titles, dates published, publishers, book series, short blurbs, and a description of how involved the gay or queer male character is with the mystery are all included for a full bibliographic background.

Murder and Mayhem will prove invaluable for mystery collectors, researchers, libraries, general readers, aficionados, bookstores, and devotees of LGBTQ studies. The bibliography is laid out in alphabetical order by author for the ease of the reader to find what they are looking for and be able to read the blurb and author notes to determine if the book is what they are looking for whether a hard boiled private eye, an amateur cozy, a suspenseful romance, or a police procedural. All subgenres within the mystery field are included within including fantasy, science fiction, espionage, political intrigue, crime dramas, courtroom thrillers, and more with a definition guide of the subgenres for a better understanding of the genre as a whole.

A ReQueered Tales Original publication, this 2020 edition contains a bonus story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

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About Matthew Lubbers-Moore

“One of the founders of ReQueered Tales, Matt served as a judge for the Lambda Literary Awards for Best Gay Mystery in 2017 and 2018. Matt is over educated with 3 associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in Human Rights, as well as working on his second master’s degree in history after finishing his master’s in library and information science in 2019. He lives in a converted creamery in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his farmer and truck driving husband, Doug. Other than ReQueered Tales, Matt works at a bookstore, a comic book store, and an academic library. His traveling bookstore appears at comic cons, gay pride events, book fairs, and flea markets. He is also kept busy as one of the administrators of the Gay Mystery-Suspense-Thriller FB page. He has four hobbies; collecting gay mysteries, collecting Dr. Doom comic book appearances, going to used bookstores and pizza restaurants, usually right after the other, and traveling the country via train.”

Lion’s Head Revisited: A Dan Sharp Mystery by Jeffrey Round

Excerpt:

Chapter Five: CRYSTAL LULLABYE

Sarah Nealon looked surprisingly well-put-together for a meth addict. Safely enrolled in a government-sponsored rehab program, she was one of the lucky ones who hadn’t ended up on the streets or working as a hooker. Instead, she lived in a bright public-housing unit and was well-dressed, with her hair done and fingernails painted. Dan sat watching her butterfly-like movements as she toyed with a tea set in a slow-motion parody of a homemaker’s routine: put tea in the pot then smile at your guest; pour water from the kettle then smile at your guest; offer your guest his cup then smile again. Everything seemed designed to reassure him that all was well and she was fully in control of her situation, despite the unnatural sheen in her eyes.

A sun-catcher dangled over the table. She reached up with spidery fingers to spin it. The coppery faces reflected light haphazardly throughout the room, random acts of beauty in a harsh and unpredictable world. It tinkled softly, dispelling gloom while keeping the world and its demons at bay.

Dan was familiar with meth users. Most of them wanted a good time, not a self-destructive ride to hell. Unfortunately, the latter was more often what they got — a never-ending trip that ensnared everyone around them, the people who watched in disbelief as a wonderful friend/co-worker/brother/sister/son/daughter/spouse turned into an abusive monster/liar/thief who needed desperately to support a habit that had started out as just an escape from the humdrum routine of life. Why do nine-to-five when you could get five-to-ten instead? But Sarah Nealon was lucky, in a manner of speaking. Her addiction meant she could exist on a disability pension that would extend her life of purgatory and pay for her habit for as long as she wanted.

“Do you mind if I ask where you were over the weekend?” Dan said.

“When Jeremy disappeared?”

“Yes.”

She smiled again, her movements light as a feather, as though she were trying to avoid making contact with anything more tangible than the air surrounding her.

“Oh, I was here,” she said, brushing the hair from her forehead and cradling her tea. “I’m always here.”

Watching her, Dan doubted whether she would have been capable of plotting and pulling off an abduction on her own even if she’d wanted to. Then again, addicts were surprisingly tenacious.

“I’m not supposed to leave.” She showed him her ankle monitor. “They always know where I am. It’s part of my probation agreement.”

“I understand you got off surprisingly easy.”

“It’s because of the pregnancy.” Her face twitched at some memory reaching through the fog of her brain. She unconsciously patted her swollen abdomen. “When the judge heard I was pregnant, she took pity on me, I think.”

“Three months is a very light sentence,” Dan agreed.

“Oh, but there’s still my probation,” she said, as though he might be considering that the judge had been too lenient. “It’s for another two years. After that, we’ll see.”

Dan wondered whether her probation would be rescinded if the judge learned she was using meth again. Then again, with the city’s restricted budgets most felons were self-reporting under the new rules. And so the system failed them again.

“I’m also not allowed to have credit cards or enter a bank without supervision.” She watched his every movement, her eyes focused on him as she sipped from her cup.

“It’s probably for the best,” he said.

“Oh! I wouldn’t do it again. I know better now.” She gave a light laugh. “I really believed I was on a mission to end world hunger and poverty. I was convinced God sent me to that bank to ask for funding.” She smiled. “Isn’t that crazy?”

“It’s a nice thought,” Dan said. “If all the banks around the world put their resources together they probably could do just that.”

“I know — that’s the crazy thing. My thinking wasn’t that far off. It was just …”

She reached up. The sun-catcher tinkled again. She smiled at it as if it were a friend calling her name.

“Your method of going about it?” Dan asked.

“Yes! I thought I was asking for a contribution to help end world hunger, but they thought I was robbing the bank.” Her expression darkened. “Though I guess that’s what I was doing, really, when you think about it.”

“Sadly, yes,” Dan said.

She turned back to him. “Why are you here again?”

“I came to ask you about Jeremy Bentham. He’s been abducted.”

“That’s terrible. I didn’t know.” She paused. “Or did I? I don’t remember. It seems to me I did know it, but then I forgot.”

“Do you remember asking his mother, Janice, for money after Jeremy’s birth?”

“I do remember that. She was very nice. She gave me money when I explained that giving birth to Jeremy made me turn to …” She frowned and shook her head. “The fertility clinic fired me. After that I went away and promised not to ask her for more.”

“And did you stop asking?”

“I …” She looked away for a moment. “Janice was very nice to me. She promised to help.” She smiled sadly. “I’m getting better.”

“That’s good.” Dan considered. “Do you know of anyone who might want to harm Jeremy or take him from his mother?”

“No! Why would anyone harm a child? Did someone tell you I did?”

“No. No one told me that.”

“Good, because I would never.” Tears formed in her eyes. “There was an accident once, though. It was terrible.”

“With Jeremy?”

“Oh, no. Not with him.” She shook her head. “Something terrible happened to a boy I knew.”

“One of the children you were carrying for someone else?”

“Oh, no.” She looked relieved. “Another boy. It was very sad. But I don’t really remember it now.”

“How did you learn where Jeremy lived?”

“I wasn’t supposed to know!” She suddenly looked mischievous, a child who had done something naughty but clever. “It was at the clinic. When they told me my services were no longer required, the doctor was distracted for a moment. I looked down at my file and saw the address. I still remember it!”

“And when you went to ask Janice and Ashley for money, did you think you were helping end world hunger again?”

She stared at him for a moment then stood. “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me. Marjorie is coming soon. She’s my social worker. I have to get ready for her.”

Dan stood. “Thank you for seeing me.”

She saw him to the door.

“I hope they find Jeremy.” She unconsciously reached down to feel her stomach. “I love children. I’d hate to see any of them hurt. I’m going to have my own soon. My mother is very happy she’s going to have a grandchild of her own.”

Dan nodded, wondering how long a drug addict and convicted felon would be allowed to keep a child. The door closed behind him. A young woman was coming along the sidewalk toward him. Her clothes were prim, her look officious. The social worker.

“Are you Marjorie?” he asked.

“Yes.” She looked at him uncertainly. “Who are you?”

“My name is Dan Sharp. I’m a private investigator.”

She gave him a shrewd look. “About the missing boy, Jeremy, I suppose?”

“That’s right.”

“I doubt I can tell you anything, but ask me whatever you like.”

Dan shook his head. “No, I wasn’t going to ask you anything. I’ve just had a visit with Sarah.”

“The police were already here.”

“Yes, I know.” Dan hesitated.

“What is it?”

“I just wondered if you knew that Sarah is getting high while pregnant.”

For a second, Dan thought he detected a smirk on Marjorie’s face.

“She’s not.”

“She’s definitely high,” Dan said.

Her expression softened. “No, I meant she’s not pregnant. She uses a pillow to make it look as though she is.” She gave a rueful little smile. “But yes, she very likely is high. That’s a given, sad to say.”

She opened the door and disappeared inside.

Blurb:

A case brings PI Dan Sharp to the northern Ontario wilderness, where he has to face his own dark past.

When a four-year-old autistic boy disappears on a camping trip, his mother is reluctant to involve the police. Instead, she calls in private investigator Dan Sharp after a ransom demand arrives.

On investigating, Dan learns there are plenty of people who might be responsible for the kidnapping. Among them are an ex-husband who wrongly believed the boy was his son; the boy’s surrogate mother, now a drug addict; the boy’s grandmother, who has been denied access to her grandson; and a mysterious woman who unnerves everyone with her unexpected appearances.

A trip to Lion’s Head in the Bruce Peninsula, where the boy disappeared, brings Dan unexpectedly into contact with his own brutal upbringing. But when a suspected kidnapper is found dead, Dan suddenly finds himself chasing the ghosts of the present as well as the past.

Find out more about author, Jeffrey Round

  • I am the author of fifteen published books. These include seven volumes of my Lambda Award-winning Dan Sharp mystery series and four volumes of the comic Bradford Fairfax series. I am also an award-winning filmmaker, television producer and song-writer.
  • My most recent book is Lion’s Head Revisited (February 2020.) Seventh in the Dan Sharp series from Dundurn Books, it tells of Dan’s efforts to rescue an autistic boy kidnapped on the Bruce Peninsula.
  • Its predecessor, Shadow Puppet (2019), is a fictional recreation of the real-life serial killings that took place in Toronto’s gay community from 2010 through 2017. The Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Cannon wrote, “…this is as good a whoddunit as we will see this year.”
  • Endgame, a stand-alone mystery, was called a “brilliant recreation” of Agatha Christie’s best-selling And Then There Were None, giving the original what one critic called a “punk-rock reboot.” It became my publisher’s best-selling ebook in the US in 2016.

Exclusive Excerpt: In The Game (Virginia Kelly Mystery Book 1) by Nikki Baker

Excerpt:

When I got back to my room, the message light was flashing on my phone. The desk said I was supposed to meet a friend at noon in front of the columns at Quincy Market. That was all there was to the message and I figured it had to be from Mary Tally.

I tried again to call Bev but she was out. I left another message on her machine and then I looked at my watch. It said eleven o’clock. I decided to walk it.

Quincy Market is on Congress Street. The man at the desk told me I couldn’t miss it. He was right. Quincy Market looks like Boston’s answer to Pier 39 or Ghiradelli Square. It is a low-rise watertower if you use Chicago as a point of reference, with jugglers and puppet shows and guys with long hair playing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” on their guitars for spare change.

It is wall-to-wall people at noon on Saturday and I could understand why someone who didn’t want to be found might agree to meet there; it was a perfect place to get lost in a crowd. I had no idea how she would find me but I leaned on a gray concrete column and waited. A guy with a life-sized hand puppet, “Pirate Jack,” shouted friendly witticisms at people in the crowd. It was a pretty good puppet show and I didn’t mind the wait.

At exactly noon, someone tapped me on the shoulder. She wore a black leather mini with a zipper up the front, a lace camisole and a biker jacket. She had that honey-brown hair a la Tina Turner that seems to be enjoying a resurgence on black women. It was tied up in a cloth band. I thought that this was not the outfit I would pick if I were incognito, but then I noticed at least five other women around in roughly the same costume.

“You Beverly Johnson?” she said.

“Yeah.” I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do yet. “Are you Mary Tally?” I asked.

She put her hand on her hip. “Maybe,” she said. “Let’s walk, okay?”

“All right,” I said.

We walked. Mary Tally had a walk that could stop traffic on the turnpike.

“How old are you?” I said. She looked fifteen.

She smiled. “Old enough. Twenty-three. How old are you?”

 “I’m twenty-seven,” I said.

“You don’t look it.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sure. So what have you got for me?”

“Are you Mary Tally?” I asked her again.

“Yeah,” she said. “What have you got?”

“How can I be sure?” I asked. “Show me something to prove it.”

She hesitated for a minute then pulled a wallet from the pocket of her jacket. She took a driver’s license out and handed it to me. There was a picture of her in a Boston University sweatshirt and a headband. The name on the license was Mary E. Tally. I handed it back to her and she put it in her wallet. “Satisfied?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yeah.” I was satisfied. “Did you go to BU?”

“I dropped out,” she said. “So what you got for me?”

I took an envelope from my purse. It was a prop; there was nothing in it.

Mary Tally reached for it.

“Not here,” I said. “Someplace more private.”

She shrugged and pointed to a restaurant off the square. “Let’s eat then. You pay.”

We got a table upstairs. It wasn’t the best one they had and I didn’t know if it was because we were two women or two blacks, but I wasn’t in the mood to make waves. Mary had demanded the smoking section before I could stop her. When we sat down she lit up with a lot of attitude. Mary smoked menthols. She offered me one.

“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”

“Good for you,” she said. “I’m trying to quit. I got asthma.”

The restaurant was nearly empty and the waitress paid us a lot of attention. She looked like a poster child for the Seven Sisters. Mary ordered dessert and a decaf espresso. I had lunch, a hamburger and some beer.

Mary sat across from me with one leg tucked up under the other and her cigarette tucked in the corner of her mouth like the tough girl I didn’t really take her for. Her cigarette bobbed up and down as she moved her lips.

“Now, what have you got for me?” she asked again.

I handed her the envelope. She was noticeably pissed when there was nothing in it.

“What the fuck is this?” she said.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. I’m not Beverly Johnson, but I’m a friend.” It must have sounded lame.

Mary Tally may have looked like she’d been born yesterday, but she wasn’t. “What exactly do you want?” she said. I could see she was checking out her exit strategies.

“I want to find out who killed Kelsey,” I told Mary. “Seems to me, the way you loved her, you’d want to find that out too.”

Mary Tally relaxed. Something I had said struck her really funny. She put her cigarette down and threw her head back so she could laugh better. She laughed from her chest which was round and firm. I would have found the laugh engaging if she hadn’t been laughing at me. “Whoever you are, you’re misinformed, but clearly you’re harmless and you’re surely not the police.” She took a drink of her coffee and grimaced. “I don’t know whether to set you straight or let you stay this stupid.”

“Why don’t you set me straight.” Mary was starting to piss me off.

“All right,” she said. She had sized me up from my Cole Haan loafers to my college signet ring. She had a chip on her shoulder for people like me and she wanted to make sure I knew she was at least as smart as I was, even if she didn’t have a diploma. “What do you want to know?”

I had about a million questions and they started with why Kelsey was so broke if she was embezzling all that cash and ended with who had killed Kelsey. In between, I wanted to know about her partners and where Bev came in.

Mary ordered another espresso. “Kelsey taught me how to drink these,” she remarked in a way that made me think that Kelsey might not have been so bad. “Let me tell you a story.”

She put out her cigarette and took her time.

Blurb:

When businesswoman Virginia Kelly meets her old college chum Bev Johnson for drinks late one night, Bev confides that her lover, Kelsey, is seeing another woman. Ginny had picked up that gossip months ago, but she is shocked when the next morning’s papers report that Kelsey was found murdered behind the very bar where Ginny and Bev had met. Worried that her friend could be implicated, Ginny decides to track down Kelsey’s killer and contacts a lawyer, Susan Coogan. Susan takes an immediate, intense liking to Ginny, complicating Ginny’s relationship with her live-in lover. Meanwhile Ginny’s inquiries heat up when she learns the Feds suspected Kelsey of embezzling from her employer.

Nikki Baker is the first African-American author in the lesbian mystery genre and her protagonist, Virginia Kelly is the first African-American lesbian detective in the genre. Interwoven into the narrative are observations on the intersectionality of being a woman, an African-American, and a lesbian in a “man’s” world of finance and life in general.

First published to acclaim in 1991, this new edition features a 2020 foreword by the author.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R88E1C4ORTKMF/

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Excerpt: Boystown 13: Fade Out (Boystown Mysteries) by Marshall Thornton

Excerpt:

Bert Harker bought me a sofa. Four years ago.

It was covered in a knobby, beige, fire-retardant fabric that on close inspection resembled spun plastic. The design was boxy and bland, not meant to be the focal point in anyone’s living room. It was designed to disappear under an Erté print or behind a lacquered Oriental coffee table or at very least melt away next to an expensive entertainment center.

That was the designer’s plan, but in my apartments the sofa had always been the main attraction. There was no competition from the director’s chairs or the industrial shelves that held my electronics or my dinged-up metal desk or the tiny dining table in front of my window. As far as furniture went, the sofa was the star.

I hadn’t liked it at first. Hadn’t wanted it. But I’d slowly become accustomed to it. I’d recovered from broken bones and beatings on it, I’d fucked on it, I’d grieved on it; my lover, Harker, spent time dying on it, and so did my friend Ross.

The arms had turned from beige to gray; the cushions were now stained with red wine, coffee, soup, Hawaiian Punch and in one spot blood—I have no idea from which wound or for that matter even whose blood it was. There were at least three cigarette burns and one actual tear. Most of the time, to keep from having to buy another sofa, I covered it with an old afghan.

Really, it was time to let it go, to drag it out of the building and leave it in an alley for someone to pick it up and find a new life for it. It’s time with me was done, but somehow I wasn’t ready to admit that. So it sat in my living room, dirty, dilapidated and a little smelly.

I was sitting on it when the police showed up and began banging on my door. It was early on the last day of July. My lover Joseph had left me a day or two before. My friend Ross was dying in a hospital nearby. Even though I had no idea why the police were there, it made perfect sense that they would be out in the hallway threatening to break the door down.

Without deciding to, I got up off the sofa and answered the door. A detective I didn’t know stood there with a couple of uniforms. He said, “Nick Nowak, I’m arresting you for the first-degree murder of Rita Lindquist.”

“Really? That’s interesting.”

“Interesting? You think it’s interesting?

I shrugged. I did find it interesting that Rita was dead, that someone had gotten the upper hand on her. I mean, she’d never struck me as the victim type. The detective was a bit younger than me and either Italian or Mexican, I couldn’t tell. He recited my Miranda rights to me and asked if I understood them.

I shook my head and said, “No.

“Don’t be a smart ass.” He pushed past me saying, “We have to search the apartment.” The uniforms followed him inside.

It crossed my mind to ask to see a search warrant, but I didn’t. Technically, they could look around to make sure I didn’t have any weapons or evidence I might destroy. I did have a Sig Sauer and a Baby Browning. I said a mental fond farewell to each. One of the uniforms grabbed me by the wrists and cuffed my hands behind my back.

Disconnected. I felt disconnected from the things that were happening. It was as though I were watching myself on TV, as though I’d just tuned in and this was all part of some show I didn’t know the name of and was just as clueless about the plot.

“Which district are you from?” I asked the detective.

“Town Hall.”

“Where’s Hamish?”

Hamish Gardner was the detective I knew there. The guy I’d dealt with from time to time. I didn’t like him much and he certainly didn’t like me. Still, at a moment like this his unfriendly face would have been appreciated.

“Detective Gardner is at your office. Where the body was found.”

“Rita’s body was found at my office?” That didn’t make sense. None of this made sense, of course, but Rita’s body being found at my office made the least sense of all.

The detective didn’t answer my question just gave me a look that said I should know the answer to that.

“And who are you?” I asked.

“Detective Tim Burke.” His name sounded a lot like timber, which I’d bet was his nickname all through grade school. I looked into his eyes. Reading my mind, he said, “You make a crack about my name and I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

“Nice to meet you, Detective Burke.”

To the uniform holding onto my arm, he said, “Take him downstairs, put him in the back of a squad.”

I was led out of my apartment and down the hallway to the elevator. A couple of neighbors were standing in their doorways watching what was happening. I had no idea there were so many people at home on a weekday morning. Glad I could entertain them.

At the elevator, the uniform pressed the down button. I glanced at his chest. His nametag said PATTON. He wasn’t that tall, had sandy brown hair and a pronounced underbite. At another point in my life I’d have been trying to figure out how to get him to suck me off in the elevator, murder charge or no murder charge.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” he demanded. Apparently, I’d been staring.

“Nothing.”

The elevator door opened and he shoved me inside. I slumped against the back wall and made a half-assed attempt to figure out what was going on. Rita Lindquist. Dead. Okay. So who killed her? And why did the police think it was me? Wait, that part was easy. She was killed in my office. That’s what Timber had said, right? So all I needed to do was figure out who wanted Rita dead and who’d think killing her in my office was a great idea. At the intersection of those two ideas would be the killer.

Unfortunately, no one came to mind. There were definitely people in the world who’d want to kill Rita. I could easily name a few of them. But I couldn’t think of anyone who would also want to do it in my office.

We reached the first floor. As we left the elevator, I asked, “How?”

“What?”

“How was Rita killed?”

“Cute. Really cute.”

“I think I have a right to know.”

“You already know. So cut the shit.”

At Two Towers, the buildings were joined by a glassed-in walkway. Halfway down were doors that opened onto the circular drive. The office was in the south building, and as Patton and I got close to the front door the manager of my building—a tall, awkward girl named Clementine—rushed over, saying, “Nick what’s happening? Where are they taking you?”

“None of you your business, ma’am,” Patton said.

“Nick, do you need me to call someone for you? A lawyer?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, right before Patton pushed me out the front door.

Nick!

Moments later, I was crushed into the back of a blue-and-white. The doors locked instantly, and did not have the luxury of inside handles. Patton walked away—to argue with Clementine, I think—leaving me sliding around on the vinyl seat with my hands uncomfortably cuffed behind me.

 Well, this was a pretty picture. Me in the back of a squad. Lights unnecessarily flashing. Every few minutes someone would come out of the building: An old woman walking a tiny little dog; a young banker heading down to the Loop; a scrawny old queen I’ve seen at the bars. They all stared at me and then quickly looked away.

Half of me was trying to figure out how to get more information. If I knew what happened to Rita it would be easier to make them understand I didn’t kill her. And the other half, well, that half didn’t give a shit. Lock me up, throw away the key. Fine by me.

Ten minutes later, Patton came back and got into the car. I couldn’t resist saying, “Home, James.” Like he was chauffeuring me. That went over like a lead balloon.

We drove down the Inner Drive to Addison, then turned west. Town Hall station was on the corner of Addison and Clark. An old two-story brick building that I’d been to many times, though never like this.

Patton pulled around the back, got out, and hustled me into the station though a rear entrance. He took the cuffs off and handed me over to a middle-aged man who was civilian support. He’d been sitting at an old wooden desk devoting all his attention to smoking a cigarette. He was quite good at it, and I could tell it annoyed him to be interrupted.

Reluctantly, he got out a fingerprint card and asked me a bunch of questions with about as much emotion as the default message on an answering machine.

Name?

“Nick Nowak.”

Nicholas?

“Sure.” It said Mikolaj on my birth certificate but same difference.

“Middle name?”

“Dawid.”

The guy looked up at me.

“David.”

Address?

I rattled it off. “3220 Lake Shore Drive apartment 1008, Chicago, 60657.”

“Employer?”

“Me.”

“Employer’s address?”

“3257 Clark, Chicago, 60657.”

“North Clark?”

Yes.

Social?

I was tempted to say, “Very,” but gave him my social security number instead.

“Date of birth?”

April 25, 1948.

“Place of birth?”

Chicago.

Sex?

“You’re not my type.”

He gave me another look and then put an M in that box. For good measure he put a C in the box for race. Caucasian.

“Height?”

“Six foot three.”

“Weight?”

“One ninety. After a big meal.”

He must have been getting tired of me because he gave me another glance and filled in the boxes for hair and eyes with two B’s[3] . My eyes are actually hazel, but I decided not to quibble.

That was all he needed. With a nod he let me know I should sit at the chair next to his desk and he got out an ink pad. He moved his chair over close to mine and then took my right hand. One by one, he rolled my fingers on the ink pad and then on the card.

He was close to me. Closer than I liked. He smelled of stale cigarette smoke, sweat and drugstore aftershave. I can’t say I was enjoying the intimacy of being arrested. It took an excruciatingly long time to finish rolling my fingers on the card. When he was finally done, he made me sign the card, then handed me a tissue so I could rub the ink around on my fingertips.

Then he got up and led me over to a little setup where they took mug shots. It was a lot like the DMV, except not as much fun. I just stood there and let it happen. I didn’t know what kind of face to make. I mean, should I smile, frown, look sad? I didn’t have a ‘you’ve been falsely accused of murder’ face and I couldn’t guess what it would look like anyway.

After we were done with the photo, the guy—who didn’t have a nametag and hadn’t bothered to introduce himself—led me back to his desk. He took out a big plastic bag and a receipt book. He handed me the bag.

“Shoelaces, belt, keys, wallet, anything else in your pockets. Anything else not in your pockets. I’m going to write down everything and give you a receipt to sign. Don’t try to keep anything. If they find it later on you’ll probably never see it again. This is your chance to protect your valuables. I suggest you take it.”

I began giving him my stuff. The laces to my Reeboks, I wasn’t wearing a belt, my keys, my wallet which was crammed full with a lot of stuff—none of it money—a wad of cash from my pocket, some change, my beeper, receipts I was going to expense to the job I’d finished the week before.

“Forty-three dollars, fifty-four cents,” Mr. Smiley said after he counted my money. I’m going to turn the beeper off so it doesn’t lose its charge.”

That seemed considerate until I remembered that they could probably search it and would need it to be nice and charged for that. When I was done handing him things, he held out the receipt and said, “Read it. If you agree, sign at the bottom then rip off the pink copy and put it in the bag.”

I looked it over. It seemed okay. I signed. Meanwhile, Smiley had picked up his phone and dialed an internal number.

“The package is ready.”

It was hardly a secret that I was the package and I don’t think I was being called that so I wouldn’t know what was going on. He was deliberately telling me I wasn’t human. That I was just a thing to be passed around the station. My humanity had been checked at the door.

Patton came back and led me out of that area and up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Now I was in familiar territory. There were two interview rooms in the back of the floor. I’d been in each of them at least once.

Windowless. A metal table. A couple of metal chairs. Patton pushed me in and said, “Make yourself comfortable.” As though that were even a possibility.

Blurb:

The Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mystery series comes to a close with Boystown 13: Fade Out. When a box containing a woman’s corpse shows up at his doorstep, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself accused of murder. The police are convinced it’s Rita Lindquist—a woman who once shot Nick. Their case is thin, but they and the state’s attorney are determined to prosecute him. Recent events have left Nick emotionally gutted and he’s not even sure he wants to fight back. But when he’s mysteriously bailed out of jail, he can’t help by try to solve the mysteries in front of him. Who posted his bond? Why is the state’s attorney trying to railroad him? And what’s the real identity of the girl in the box?

More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:

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

Sign-up for his newsletter at marshallthorntonauthor.com

Exclusive Excerpt: Drama Faerie, the 9th Nicky and Noah mystery by Joe Cosentino

Excerpt:

Just like Demetrius rejecting Helena. Though I admit I prefer Shakespeare’s similes.

“Ray, please, give me another chance. I know I’m not hot like you, but I can be loyal.”

“How many times do I have to say it? You and I will never happen, dude.” He pushed Enoch away and headed offstage.

Having witnessed the encounter from upstage, Braedon Walsh hurried to his best friend’s side. The hunky little blond threw his Hermia wig on the stage floor and placed a comforting arm around Enoch. “Are you all right?”

Enoch laughed bitterly. “Obviously not, according to Ray.”

“Don’t listen to him.”

“Why not? Ray holds the opinion of the majority.” Tears streamed down Enoch’s face. “Why did I think it could be any different?”

“Enoch, don’t let Ray, or anyone, measure your self-worth.”

“Easy for you to say. Everyone loves your self-worth, remember?”

“Enoch, why can’t you see all you have going for you?”

Ray appeared at Braedon’s other side. “Braedon, what are you doing after rehearsal?”

“Getting a quick bite to eat and then going over my scenes.”

“Let’s do it together.”

Braedon waffled. “I don’t think—”

“I’m really confused about this last scene. Won’t you help me, man?”

Braedon looked up at Ray. “Well, I guess I can—”

Enoch’s face turned the color of Braedon’s peach dress. “Are you two kidding me right now? You’re going to hook up together—with me standing right here watching?”

Ray groaned. “Nobody asked you to stand here and watch.”

“Enoch, I want our show to be a success. I think I can help Ray with—”

Ray grabbed Braedon’s arm. “Come on, let’s go.”

Enoch pushed Braedon away. “Go ahead, Braedon. No more pity party for me. I release you from your duty as my best friend.” He choked out, “And I hope you two are happy together.” Enoch stormed offstage.

“Enoch!” Braedon started to go after him.

Ray held him back. “Let him go. He needs a reality check, big time.”

“How could you treat him like that?”

“No matter what I do, I can’t get the guy off my back.”

Literally.

Braedon’s green eyes bore into Ray. “You don’t know Enoch like I do. He’s been my best friend since we were kids. The guy is really sensitive.”

“The guy’s oblivious. I told him over and over again that I’m not interested.” Ray scratched at his washboard abs. “How can I get him to understand I don’t want a relationship with him? What am I doing wrong?”

Braedon’s shoulders dropped. “I guess this isn’t your fault, Ray.”

“I agree. And it’s not your fault either. People like who they like.” He smiled. “And I happen to like you.”

Braedon returned the smile. “That’s really sweet.”

“Totally.” Ray wrapped his arms around Braedon. “And we’d be really sweet together.”

“I’m flattered, but I don’t want a relationship. And I have to talk to Enoch. He looked so desperate and despondent. I need to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

After Braedon headed offstage, Ray said to himself, “What’s stupid is you not jumping at the chance to hook up with me tonight, dude.” Then Ray went backstage.

Before Braedon could fully exit the stage, Elliot Hinton and his understudy, Graduate Assistant Yates Aldrich, both appeared in Lysander’s chocolate-colored tunic, tights, and high boots. They surrounded Braedon, causing him to resemble peach filling inside a chocolate bar.

Elliot towered over Braedon. “Don’t tell anyone, but I smuggled some beer from the dorm. Meet me outside?” He winked at Braedon. “Or after I’m a star, you’ll regret missing the opportunity.”

The graduate assistant’s sapphire eyes sparkled in the stage lighting. “Braedon, I picked up some sandwiches from the deli in town—turkey and veggies with pesto mayonnaise. I know this sounds corny, but the veggies reminded me of back home on the farm. It made me feel warm all over, and I thought of you. Let’s head to the Tiring House and share some lunch.”

Braedon replied, “Thanks, guys, but I’m really worried about Enoch.”

Yates replied, “It’s nice of you to be concerned about your friend. But I’m older than you. I’ve had more years of schooling. And believe me, you can’t spend your whole life feeling sorry for a dish rag.”

“Enoch’s not a dish rag. He’s my best friend!”

“You need to make some more mature friends.” Yates grinned.

Elliot winked at Braedon. “And I’m the guy to show you how to do it.”

“I appreciate the offers, guys. But I can’t.” Braedon brushed past them, calling out, “Enoch!” And he was gone backstage.

Elliot and Yates shrugged and followed.

A few minutes later, the student stage manager called everyone back from break. All the actors and understudies sat on the benches in the groundling section—except for the five Mechanicals who took their places behind the center entrance, waiting to come on stage. After five tries to get the lighting change, the stage manager finally succeeded and gave the cue to begin.

Outside his house, Peter Quince commences rehearsal for the play he wrote to be performed at Duke Theseus’s and Queen Hippolyta’s wedding.

At the sound of their characters’ names, Martin and Ruben applauded wildly from their box seat.

Quince’s play is entitled, “The Wedding of Pyramus and Thisby.” Joining Quince to rehearse the scene, among others, are Bottom playing Pyramus the groom, and Flute cast as Thisby the bride. After their rough rehearsal, they all execute a flashy jazz dance, lifting Bottom in the air singing, “We All Need a Good Bottom.” Mid-lift, Bottom comes crashing to the floor—onto his bottom.

“Stop!”

Ruben cried out from the box, “If he’s injured, we’ll be sued.”

Martin screeched, “I refuse to be penniless when I reach old age.”

Ruben glared at him. “You reached old age before pennies were invented!”

Graduate Assistant of Movement, Yates Aldrich, raced up the stairs onto the stage. He kneeled next to Assistant Professor of Music Dante Bravo—our Bottom. Yates’s sapphire eyes displayed fear and concern. “Dante, are you hurt?”

Dante stood on flabby, and shaky legs. “No harm done.”

Everyone applauded, and appropriately shouted, “Bravo!” Dante milked the attention by bending over for a deep bow, which landed him on the stage floor bottom down once again. He smiled. “Now if I could just get a handle on the play.”

Braedon Walsh, our much-desired Hermia, hurried up the stairs. The compact student helped the bear of a professor back onto his flat feet and off stage.

Behind me, Detective Jose Manuello bragged in my ear, “During my understudy rehearsal as Bottom, I understood every word of the play, and I was as light as a feather on my feet—including during the lift.”

I glanced back at Manuello’s full tunic. “I hope the other actors are insured for hernia surgery.”

“Very funny, Nicky.”

“I’m glad you appreciate my fine wit, Manuello.”

“I appreciate it like I appreciate my enlarged prostate.”

I gasped. “Manuello, must you throw your prostate in my face?”

“My prostate isn’t anywhere near your face.”

“And let’s keep it that way, Manuello!”

Suddenly, I heard a piercing scream followed by, “Demetrius!”

Glancing around the theatre house, I noticed Ray Zhang had never come back after the break.

“Don’t move, Nicky.”

Ignoring Manuello’s orders as usual, I sprung up the stage steps, ran across the stage and through the right doorway, following the sound of the scream. I arrived in the Hut to find our prop person, Sharon Delwab, pointing to the lifeless body of Ray Zhang. Our Demetrius was face up on the floor with the point of a foil penetrating his chest. Foiled!

DRAMA FAERIE (the 9th Nicky and Noah mystery)

a comedy/mystery/romance novel by JOE COSENTINO

Discount pre-order sale until Feb. 1 only!

http://mybook.to/DramaFaerie

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/993418

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/drama-faerie-joe-cosentino/1135276418?ean=2940163403288

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/drama-faerie-a-nicky-and-noah-mystery

Blurb:

It’s summer at Treemeadow College’s new Globe Theatre, where theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is directing a musical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream co-starring his spouse, theatre professor Noah Oliver, their son Taavi, and their best friend and department head, Martin Anderson. With an all-male, skimpily dressed cast and a love potion gone wild, romance is in the starry night air. When hunky students and faculty in the production drop faster than their tunics and tights, Nicky and Noah will need to use their drama skills to figure out who is taking swordplay to the extreme before Nicky and Noah end up foiled in the forest. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining ninth novel in this delightful series. Take your seats. The curtain is going up on star-crossed young lovers, a faerie queen, an ass who is a great Bottom, and murder!

Praise for the Nicky and Noah mysteries:

“Joe Cosentino has a unique and fabulous gift. His writing is flawless, and his use of farce, along with his convoluted plot-lines, will have you guessing until the very last page, which makes his books a joy to read. His books are worth their weight in gold, and if you haven’t discovered them yet you are in for a rare treat.” Divine Magazine

“a combination of Laurel and Hardy mixed with Hitchcock and Murder She Wrote…

Loaded with puns and one-liners…Right to the end, you are kept guessing, and the conclusion still has a surprise in store for you.” “the best modern Sherlock and Watson in books today…I highly recommend this book and the entire series, it’s a pure pleasure, full of fun and love, written with talent and brio…fabulous…brilliant” Optimumm Book Reviews

“adventure, mystery, and romance with every page….Funny, clever, and sweet….I can’t find anything not to love about this series….This read had me laughing and falling in love….Nicky and Noah are my favorite gay couple.” Urban Book Reviews

“For fans of Joe Cosentino’s hilarious mysteries, this is another vintage story with more cheeky asides and sub plots right left and centre….The story is fast paced, funny and sassy. The writing is very witty with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour….Highly recommended.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews

“Every entry of the Nicky and Noah mystery series is rife with intrigue, calamity, and hilarity…Cosentino keeps us guessing – and laughing – until the end, as well as leaving us breathlessly anticipating the next Nicky and Noah thriller.” Edge Media Network

“A laugh and a murder, done in the style we have all come to love….This had me from the first paragraph….Another wonderful story with characters you know and love!” Crystals Many Reviewers

“These two are so entertaining….Their tactics in finding clues and the crazy funny interactions between characters keeps the pages turning. For most of the book if I wasn’t laughing I was grinning.” Jo and Isa Love Books

“Superb fun from start to finish, for me this series gets stronger with every book and that’s saying something because the benchmark was set so very high with book 1.” Three Books Over the Rainbow

“The Nicky and Noah Mysteries series are perfect for fans of the Cozy Mystery sub-genre. They mix tongue-in-cheek humor, over-the-top characters, a wee bit of political commentary, and suspense into a sweet little mystery solved by Nicky and Noah, theatre professors for whom all the world’s a stage.” Prism Book Alliance

“This is one hilarious series with a heart and it just keeps getting better. I highly recommend them all, and please read them in the order they were written for full blown laugh out loud reading pleasure!” Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

More About Author Joe Cosentino:

Joe Cosentino was voted Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Author of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine for Drama Queen. He also wrote the other novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series: Drama Muscle, Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle, Drama Dance, Drama Faerie; the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation & A Shooting Star, the Bobby and Paolo Holiday Stories: A Home for the Holidays/The Perfect Gift/The First Noel, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland with Holiday Tales from Fairyland; the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back, Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings, Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings (NineStar Press);andthe Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Chair of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and he is happily married. Joe’s books have received numerous Favorite Book of the Month Awards and Rainbow Award Honorable Mentions.

Web site: http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JoeCosentinoauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeCosen

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4071647.Joe_Cosentino

Amazon: Author.to/JoeCosentino

Exclusive Excerpt: Police Brutality (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords Book 2) by Gregory Ashe

Excerpt:

CHAPTER FIVE

DECEMBER 17

MONDAY

10:07 AM

HAZARD BROKE DOWN ANOTHER BOX and carried it to the landing, where he had a growing pile. Moving into the office for his private investigation agency had actually been a fairly straightforward affair. Once Hazard had learned that Somers had rented the place without asking him, and once Hazard had learned that Somers would dump his dumb ass if he didn’t really get serious about opening the agency, everything had been pretty clear.

Divorce, not dump, a little voice in his brain reminded. Somers had said divorce, not dump. And then Somers had said the M word. The fucking M word.

Right now, the suite of rooms above an empty storefront on Market Street didn’t look like much, but it did look better. Some of Hazard’s efforts were paying off. The large, front room, where Somers kept talking about hiring an assistant and having him handle the administrative side of things, currently sported several tubular chairs, a fern that slumped against the cracked front window, and a painting that Somers had hung, crookedly, of the Grand Rivere. Hazard’s office held his desk, a beautifully crafted piece that Somers had stolen, literally, from his parents, and a pair of chairs. Over the last few weeks, Hazard had been moving various professional books—both ones that he had owned as a police officer and, now, ones that he had acquired as part of his new career—from home to office. Hence, the cardboard box.

Hazard crossed the room, adjusted the painting so that it was level, and went to his private office. He powered up the laptop Somers had picked out, dropped into the chair Somers had wanted him to have, and navigated the advertising website where Somers had dropped an obscene amount of money and told Hazard, when the fight about how much to spend had escalated, something to the effect of: It’s already fucking spent, so you can either use it or not.

Studying the website, Hazard tried to figure out how to use the money that Somers had spent on him. The money Hazard hadn’t earned. The money Hazard didn’t deserve. The money that might be a very poor investment, judging by how well Hazard had done with his last client, who had been abducted and tortured and almost killed. Hazard had seen Mitchell Martin in the Savers just a few weeks before, from a distance, for an instant before Hazard ran away—ran and hid. The young man was still on crutches, and he looked like he’d been partially rubbed out with an eraser.

Flyers. People still looked at flyers, right? The internet hadn’t completely obliterated flyers, had it? Hazard’s fingers hovered over the keyboard. He sat there for maybe five minutes. Thinking.

Then he closed the browser tab. Maybe he’d better start with a business card first. That would make sense, right? The business cards he had, the ones he’d bought before he was even really sure he wanted to do this, just said, Emery Hazard, Private Investigator. So Hazard looked at linen cards. Then he looked at squishy cards that turned into sponges when you put them in water. Then he went cheap, the bare bones.

And after maybe fifteen minutes, he closed the tab.

Maybe a website first. Maybe that was most important.

But the problem, the real problem, was that Hazard needed a name for the business. And a logo. He was fairly sure that he needed a logo. Something that would communicate, visually, what his business was going to stand for.

So, he told himself, quit being such a pansy about the whole thing. Quit dancing around it. Quit rearranging the three pieces of furniture, quit watering the fern, quit phoning the landlord about the cracked glass, quit playing with your dick and get down to business.

Ok. A name.

That was easy. Hazard opened a blank document, fingers flying across the keyboard. He considered what he’d written, revised. A little shorter. A little punchier. Perfect. Now he just needed a logo. He pulled up a stock images site and browsed for twenty seconds before he found exactly what he wanted. After buying the image, he pasted it onto the document. There. He was grinning, aware of the flush in his face, the ridiculously exaggerated sense of satisfaction at having accomplished even this much. But at least he had something to show Somers tonight, a mock-up for the flyers and business card and website and, fuck, LLC filing.

His printer hummed and chugged just as a knock came at the office door.

Hazard reached for his gun, the Ruger Blackhawk chambered for .45 Colt, six-cylinder, resting in the top, right-hand drawer.

“Hazard?”

For a moment, Hazard was still reacting, his hand wrapping around the Blackhawk’s checkered rubber grip, his whole world narrowing down to the need to run or shoot or both. Then, by inches, he clawed his way back to control. It had been like this for him—he couldn’t think about it more than that, couldn’t face it head-on yet—since July, when he had walked into the ruined hallways of the Haverford to face Mikey Grames.

He was getting better, he told himself.

Pulse stuttering in his neck, he hid his hand, still holding the gun, in the drawer. He worked moisture into his mouth. “Yeah?”

The doorknob turned; the door opened slowly. Walter Hoffmeister poked his head into the room like he was doing some kind of shtick.

“For fuck’s sake,” Hazard said, releasing the Blackhawk and shutting the drawer with his elbow. “Come in.”

The thing about Hoffmeister, Hazard decided as the man took a seat, was that there was nothing to love. Hoffmeister was an asshole. The whole universe was one big fire hydrant for Hoffmeister to piss on. He was tall, thin, and sallow; he looked like a foam cup yellowing in the sun.

“Aren’t you supposed to have some sort of secretary?” he asked, jerking his thumb at the empty front room.

“What do you want?”

“Kind of fucking stupid for you to be back here, hiding in a closet, with that big room empty out there.”

Hazard leaned back; the chair creaked under his weight.

Hoffmeister crossed his legs, ankle bouncing on his knee. “Place is a fucking dump.”

Hazard’s fingertips curled around the leather armrests.

“You see the front window is cracked?” Hoffmeister whistled. “You’re going to pay a fucking fortune this winter. And next summer? Jesus, you’ll have mosquitos in here the size of poodles.”

For a moment, Hazard visualized a Mack truck, a runaway, coming down Market Street with its brake lines cut. And Hazard and Hoffmeister, both of them, standing there on the curb. And Hazard’s hand on Hoffmeister’s shoulder. Like they were buddies.

And hey, it was an infinite universe. Anything could happen.

“Let’s go outside and get some fresh air,” Hazard said.

“Nah, this stretch of Market smells like fish, you know? Jesus Christ. Did you pick this place? What a fucking mess. How much are you paying? Jesus Christ, if you tell me you’re paying more than, I don’t know, a hundred and fifty bucks a month, you’re getting hosed.”

“A hundred and fifty bucks a month won’t rent you a storage unit.”

“Oh man,” Hoffmeister said, laughing, stretching out now that he’d pissed on everything, hands behind his head. But his ankle was still bouncing on top of his knee. “Oh man, you are getting dicked up the ass. I knew it. But I guess you kind of like that, right?”

“What do you want?”

Instead of answering, Hoffmeister leaned forward, brushing something invisible off the desk. He ran his thumb all the way to the end of the wood. Then, twisting back and forth, he slouched in his seat.

“You ever feel fucked?” Hoffmeister said, the words bursting out. “You ever feel like the whole universe is just out to get you? I mean, you’ve got to understand, right? You were a cop. And now you’re in this shithole. You know what I mean?”

“I know you’re really fucking lousy at asking for help.”

For the first time since coming into the office—maybe for the first time since Hazard had met him—Hoffmeister smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am. How much do you charge?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not just saying that. I don’t know, I really don’t. I’m fucked, ok? You heard that psycho bitch at the tree lighting yesterday, right?”

“The one who said, ‘Officer Hoffmeister must die’? Yeah, I heard her.”

“It’s bullshit. It’s fucking ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to wear a target on my back because some rainbow-sprinkles snowflake is upset that I did my job.”

“You know that woman?”

“Fuck no.”

“But you know what she’s upset about.”

“They’re all pissing their panties about the same thing, Hazard. The same fucking thing: I did my job.”

“This is all wrapped up with the lawsuit, is that it? Assault and battery—is that what it is?”

“Fucking bullshit.” Waving a hand, Hoffmeister added, “Union rep says it’s just a dustup. You know, everybody’s hot under the collar about police. My job, you know what it is? Keeping order. Keeping this town safe. And now I do my job, and what happens? My ass gets slapped with fucking criminal charges.”

“I heard that Ozark Volunteer guy, the one pressing charges, I heard he got hurt pretty bad.”

“Jesus, I knocked him to the ground. That’s it. And he was in the middle of felony assault, for whatever the fuck it’s worth.”

“It’s all just a dustup.”

“Sure, but shit, you know how it goes. This drags on and on, and I’m at a desk like an asshole. And then, when this finally clears, that son of a bitch is going to come after me for money.”

“Do you have money?”

“Fuck no, but that won’t stop him. Just hiring a lawyer is going to cost me a fortune.”

“So hiring me probably isn’t a good idea.”

“Money’s no good to me if I’m dead, dumbfuck. That’s why I’m here.” He leaned forward and drilled a finger into the desk. “Me. Alive. That’s how I want to stay.”

“You think that woman at the tree lighting is really a threat?”

Hoffmeister contracted, slouching in the seat again, chewing a thumbnail. He stared past Hazard, fixated on something Hazard couldn’t see.

“What?” Hazard said. “What happened?”

“Fuck it. This was a stupid fucking idea.”

“No, sit down. Instead of giving me the opening lines from your defense, tell me what’s going on.”

“Why? So you and Somers can have a laugh tonight? Fuck off.”

“You’re here because, for some reason, you don’t think you can take this to the police. Is that right?”

Hoffmeister didn’t answer.

“Fifty dollars an hour. A thousand-dollar retainer. I itemize expenses, and I send a report at the end of every week.”

“You can keep me alive?”

“Tell me what’s going on, and I’ll tell you what I think I can do. Then you can decide if you want to hire me.”

Still chewing a nail, Hoffmeister seemed to consider this. Then he shrugged. “I’m fucked, man. Universe has me fucked.”

“Let’s see if we can un-fuck your life.”

“You ever worked for someone? Jesus, I don’t want to be your first. Probably end up in the funny pages, one big fucking punch line.”

Hazard thought of Mitchell Martin, crutching through the Savers.

“You weren’t worried about that when you walked in here,” was all he said.

Tearing his nail from between his teeth, Hoffmeister blew out a breath. “Screw it,” he said, and then he started to talk.

Blurb:

For the first time in a long while, Emery Hazard’s life is good. His new business as a private detective is taking off. Things are good at home. He loves his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset; he loves their daughter. He might even love the new friends they’ve found. There’s only one problem: Somers has been talking about marriage.

When a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, comes to Hazard and hires him to look into a series of anonymous death threats, Hazard eagerly jumps on the distraction. Hoffmeister might be a jerk, but he’s a paying jerk, and Hazard isn’t convinced the threats are serious.

Until, that is, Hoffmeister is almost gunned down on Hazard’s doorstep. As Hazard investigates more deeply, he learns that more than one person in Wahredua has a reason to wish Hoffmeister dead. His search takes him to the Ozark Volunteers, reincarnated as the Bright Lights movement, but it also leads him into a sanctuary of radical Christianity. Meanwhile, an antifa activist has arrived in town, calling for Hoffmeister’s death and threatening total war with the Bright Lights.

As Hazard continues to look for answers, he becomes a target too—and not just because he’s helping Hoffmeister. The Keeper of Bees is still at large, and the killer hasn’t lost interest in Emery Hazard. Not yet. Not, Hazard begins to suspect, until the Keeper has taken everything Hazard holds dear.

About the Author

Learn more about Gregory Ashe and forthcoming works at www.gregoryashe.com.

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