EXCERPT: Lambda Literary Award Finalist – DeadFall by David Lennon

April 11th, 2015

Chapter 4

He’d spent the afternoon cleaning and vacuuming. Other than a different floral wallpaper and “brick” linoleum in the kitchen, and shortened drapes in the living room and study, the house hadn’t changed in the thirteen years since he’d been there. He opened a window over the kitchen sink and pressed his right hand against the screen, savoring the feel of the cool evening air against his skin for a moment.

A knock startled him and he spun around. Through the screen door he could see the shoulder of a dark blue shirt and a badge. His heart did an unexpected quickstep as he moved cautiously to the door.

The officer looked to be in his late thirties, though the soft belly swallowing the top of his belt buckle suggested older. His face was unremarkable, his receding hair faded blond. Only his eyes were interesting. They were pale green, watchful.

“Can I help you?” Danny asked.

The officer just stared back. Danny licked his lips and stole a quick glance at the silver nameplate pinned above the right breast pocket: Holtz. An image of mirrored sunglasses and a thick blond mustache flashed in his mind. “Dick Hole,” he whispered involuntarily, then tried to cover it with a cough.

“Nice to see you, too, Danny,” Weston Police Lieutenant Rick Holtz said dryly, then gave a tight smile. “Or is it Dan now?”

“Danny’s fine,” Danny replied. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” Holtz said. “As I recall, I may have earned the name a few times. I heard you were back in town and just wanted to stop by to say hello. All right if I come in for a minute?”

Danny immediately felt wary, but pushed the door open. Holtz stepped stiffly past him into the hallway, then turned right into the kitchen. He took a look around before turning back to Danny. Danny leaned against the door frame, cradling his left arm across his stomach with his right hand.

“Settling in okay?” Holtz asked.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Danny’s mouth suddenly felt dry. “You want something to drink?”

“Do you have any coffee?”


Danny shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t drink it.” He felt oddly embarrassed. “I guess I just never acquired the taste.”

“Mommy has a headache. Make mommy some coffee, just the way I showed you.”

“Probably just as well,” Holtz said. “Stains your teeth and rots your gut.” He nodded toward the family room. “Shall we?”

“Yeah, sure,” Danny said uneasily.

Holtz sat on the plaid couch, while Danny took the orange twill recliner by the fireplace. He shook a Marlboro from a pack on the side table, then looked up. “You mind?”

“It’s your house,” Holtz shrugged.

Danny clamped the cigarette between his lips and lit it.

“So is your left arm paralyzed?” Holtz asked. It came across as detached curiosity rather than intrusive.

“No,” Danny replied. “The nerves are okay, but it got busted up pretty badly and the bones fused in this position. By the time I was stable enough for surgery, they would have had to re-break them all. Didn’t seem worth it since no one expected me to wake up.” He looked down and wiggled his fingers. “Maybe some day I’ll get it fixed, but right now I don’t want to see the inside of another hospital for a long time.”

“I’m sure,” Holtz nodded. “So are you planning to stick around for a while?”

“Yeah. Seems like a good place for me right now.”

“Emotionally comfortable,” Holtz offered.

Danny considered it, smirked. “Well, let’s just leave it at emotionally familiar. Plus my mom’s going to need me to cart her around for six months until she gets her license back.”

“When does she get out?”


Holtz nodded. “I’m sure it’ll be good for her to have you here. I think she got lonely out here by herself.”

The words hung there for a moment, and Danny wondered if he’d imagined a note of blame. He decided to change the subject. “So how long has the Gardners’ house been empty?”

“It’s not,” Holtz said. “Joey lives there.”

Danny blinked back. “It looked abandoned when I drove by.”

“Yeah, he hasn’t exactly kept the place up. I don’t know if anyone told you, but his mother committed suicide a few months after Bryce was killed. Pills. His father has some sort of degenerative brain disease. Joey moved back to take care of him about five years ago but had to put him into a home last year.”

Danny nodded, only half-listening. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might see Joey again, at least not so soon. “Is he married?” he asked. “Any kids?”

Holtz frowned. “I don’t think he’s exactly the marrying kind. He pretty much stays to himself at the house. We see him in town once in a while, though never for long.”

So he’s some kind of freaky homo hermit now?

The neurologist had told Danny “the voice” was just unconscious thought bubbling up from a part of his brain that hadn’t reintegrated with the whole yet. He preferred to think of it as a remnant of his fifteen-year-old self, lurking in some corner of his brain. He found the idea comforting.

“You should stop by and visit,” Holtz said. “I’m sure Joey would appreciate seeing you. And it might be good for both of you.” He looked at a grouping of family photos on the wall above the mantel for a moment, then pushed to his feet with a grunt. “I should get going. I’m sure you still have a lot of unpacking to do, and my wife’s holding dinner for me. Like I said, I just wanted to stop by to say hi.” He paused for a half-second before adding, “Though I would like to sit down and talk with you at some point.”

Danny’s stomach clenched. “Why?”

“I’d like to hear what happened the night you and Bryce were attacked.”

Danny considered just telling the truth—that he didn’t remember anything from that night or the weeks leading up to it—but something in Holtz’s tone struck him as odd. “Why? What does it matter?” he asked. “Tim Walczak’s already in jail.”

Holtz shrugged casually. “You never know. You might remember something that didn’t come out during the original investigation.”

“Like what?” Danny pressed, beginning to feel annoyed.

Holtz smiled as though he’d just discovered Danny was slow. “If I already knew, then there wouldn’t be any reason to talk to you, would there?” Before Danny could reply, Holtz took out his wallet, removed a card, and handed it to him. “Give me a call when you have some time. I’m not on patrol anymore, so I’m usually at the station.” He patted his stomach and offered up a grin that seemed intended as self-effacing. “Or grabbing a bite at Ye Olde Cottage.”

Danny felt the old dislike come rushing back.

Chapter 5

Danny watched the taillights disappear down Cherry Brook, then went back inside and locked the door. He grabbed a Coke from the fridge and lit a cigarette.

He wasn’t sure what to make of Holtz’s visit. Clearly it had been more than just a social call. How had Holtz even known he was back? He’d been in town for less than nine hours and had made only a quick stop at the boutique grocery store that replaced the Triple A Market.

The Holtz he remembered had been petty, insecure, and desperate to have his authority respected. He’d been like the substitute teacher who starts class by warning the kids not to test him or they’ll be sorry. It might have made him dangerous if he hadn’t also been predictable. Danny had always gotten off with a slap on the wrist because it had been so easy to push Holtz’s buttons and get him to undermine his own credibility.

This Holtz seemed outwardly different. More direct, at ease with himself, maybe even thoughtful. Yet Danny had still sensed the old Holtz lurking behind the not-so-shiny new facade, and the visit had definitely felt like a warning shot.

But for what, and why did he need to stop by so soon? It’s been thirteen years. What difference would another few days make?

His thoughts began to move faster.

Or another few years? Walczak’s already in jail, so what does it matter? Why does he want to talk with me at all? I don’t know anything. I didn’t have anything to do with the murders. I was almost killed. But what if he doesn’t believe that? What if he’s been waiting all this time to prove that I was the killer, and…

Danny caught himself and laughed. He took a drag on the cigarette to slow his racing pulse, and shook his head. Or maybe he’s just missed me because he hasn’t had anyone to hassle since I’ve been gone. He cracked the tab on the Coke, took a sip, and headed upstairs.


Though he’d expected to be immersed in his past when he moved back, he hadn’t realized it would be quite so literal. His room was a virtual time capsule. Marantz receiver and Technics turntable still on a low stand under one window, albums neatly arranged beneath. Bookshelves lined with classic adventure and mass market paperbacks. Walls a who’s who of stoner rock—Pink Floyd, Hendrix, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers, Cream, Skynyrd, Marley. Paint and a new mattress were definitely in the near future, he decided.

He looked at the lone poster over the bed, a stark black and white shot of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page from a 1973 show at the Boston Garden. Plant’s shirt was open, his hips thrust forward, his cock and balls gaudily outlined against his upper thigh. Danny smiled, remembering Caroline staring at the poster with a combination of disapproval and curiosity. How did she not know? he wondered. I hardly ever listened to Led Zeppelin.

She was married to Jerry for seventeen years.

He knelt in front of the stereo and pressed the ON button. After a few seconds the tuner glowed blue. He set the function to FM and slowly turned up the volume. A station promo—“WBCN Boston. The more you listen, the longer it gets.”—segued into the frenetic marimba organ loop of Baba O’Riley.

Guess that hasn’t changed either, he thought. He opened a box and began sorting clothes into the dresser.

The idea of seeing Joey scared him. It wasn’t just the disturbing picture Holtz had painted. What if things between them were too different? Though he knew it would be ridiculous to assume they could pick up like no time had passed, what if there was no connection at all?

He pushed the drawer shut, opened another, and began filling it with socks and underwear. He had a vision of Karl giving him an exasperated look and straightened up the underwear.

He’d never been one of the popular kids or even part of a clique, but he’d always felt like he belonged. It wasn’t just pieces of his memory that were missing. He’d lost that sense of belonging. The world he’d been part of had moved on without him, but he didn’t feel part of this one yet either. Something was missing. He’d hoped he could find it by coming home. Maybe Joey would be part of that.

He pushed the drawer shut and reached into the bottom of the box for the porn magazines Abby had slipped into his bag as a going-away present from Shady Meadows. He already had them pretty much memorized, but couldn’t bear to part with them. He crossed to the nightstand and opened the top drawer. All thoughts of Joey faded.

The drawer was empty save for an oversized white book with horizontal bands of both bright and dark green above blocky hand-drawn type: WESTON 78. It was the yearbook of what should have been his graduating class.

He laid the magazines on the nightstand, sat on the edge of the bed, and took the book out, resting it on his lap. He stared at it for a moment, then ran his fingers over the cover. He felt a tingle run through his body, raising the hair on his arms. He took a deep breath and flipped it open.

The inside cover and fly leaf were covered top to bottom with scrawls of blue and black ink. Danny leaned closer and studied them. There were a few short notes, but mostly signatures. He recognized nearly all the names, and felt a lump form in his throat. He looked self-consciously into the hallway as though Caroline might be watching.

He turned the page. On the right was a photo from his last Christmas morning, proudly modeling the fleece-collared Levi jacket Caroline had gotten him. His long sandy hair was disheveled and his eyes still a little puffy with sleep, but he looked genuinely happy. He was sure it was the only choice Caroline had given the yearbook committee. She’d told him it was her favorite photo of him because he was always sweetest in the morning, before he remembered to be a teenage boy.

Across the top of the page it read DEDICATION, and just above the photo, To Our Friend Danny Tyler. Below it, We Miss You. Love, The Class of 1978.

Danny began to cry.


Excerpt: Lambda Finalist in Lesbian Mystery: The Acquittal by Anne Laughlin

April 4th, 2015


  • 1 •


Friday, February 15

Lauren flipped on the kitchen lights and saw the body of her lover sprawled at her feet, a bullet hole centered on her forehead. She knelt and felt for Kelly’s pulse. There was no need, really, since half of her head appeared to be stuck to the breakfast room wall. The body was still warm, the smell of the gunshot still fresh in the air. Kelly’s glorious hair was fanned out and drenched in blood. Her arms and legs were shooting out at curious angles, so at odds with the graceful woman she’d been. Lauren had to turn away. She saw her own revolver on the floor a few feet from the body. When she touched it she could feel it was still warm as well.

A tremendous clatter came from the hallway behind her, booming in the dead quiet. Lauren grabbed the revolver and shot blindly, splintering a kitchen cabinet. All was quiet for a moment before her cat came rocketing out of the doorway, galloped across the family room, and flew onto the fireplace mantel. She licked herself furiously. Lauren dropped the gun where she found it.

She sat next to the body and watched a small rivulet of blood make its way toward her, heedless of the ridiculously expensive business suit she wore. Kelly had given it to her as a gift. She was quite generous that way, as long as she was using Lauren’s credit card. She felt guilty thinking ill of Kelly. The things she complained about were the very things she’d found charming about her when they first got together.

The gift buying, the elaborate care she took of herself, the relentless cheerfulness morphed over time into reckless spending, shallowness, and inability to take anything seriously. They’d had a bad fight about her spending that morning.

But Lauren felt real sorrow. They’d been together a number of years. There’d been many good times. She stood and reached into her bag for her phone. She dialed 911 and then went to see if the cat was okay.


Friday, September 6

The paint was barely dry on the walls when Josie Harper’s first client walked through her office door. Josie sat cross-legged on the floor of the reception room, trying to put together an Ikea chair. She hadn’t expected any business her first day, but now an exceedingly tall woman was standing with one hand on her door, reading the words stenciled on the glass—Josie Harper, Private Investigations.

Josie got up from the floor. She was shoeless and wore a tattered Led Zeppelin T-shirt and blue jeans. She was dressed for back-room assembly, not front-room sales.

“Can I help you?” Josie said. She could feel a flush of color move up her face.

“I’m Sarah DeAngeles. I have an appointment with Stan Waterman. I think his office is past yours.”

Sarah appeared to be in her thirties, good-looking, if your preferences ran to cheerleader faces and ponytails. Josie’s did not. She watched Sarah’s eyes as they traveled from her ancient ball cap, past her old 501s, down to her polka-dot socks. They might as well have been different species.

“Sure, I know Stan,” Josie said. He ran Shield Detectives down the hall.

“When I saw your name on the door I decided to come in,” Sarah said. “I’d much rather work with a woman on this matter.”

“Naturally,” Josie said. She had no idea what the matter was, but was happy to take advantage over a PI with more experience than her—a group that included every PI in Chicago.

“Is this a good time to talk?” Sarah said.

“Of course. Let’s go into my office.”

Sarah took a minute to cancel her appointment with Stan Waterman before following Josie through the Ikea detritus and into her office.

The window faced east toward Lake Michigan. The light streamed over the desk and visitor chairs that were fortunately assembled and ready for business. The rest of the room was a mess. Josie’s laminated wood desk would be peeling in a year’s time. It was littered with office supplies still in shrink wrap. Josie could see the wary look in Sarah’s eye as she took the chair in front of her desk.

“I’m sorry things are such a mess. Setting up an office is a real pain,” Josie said.

“But you’ve been in business for a while?”

“I was a cop for over ten years. I’ve been doing investigations for a long time.” Josie felt that was true, depending on what definition of “long” was being used. Or “investigations,” for that matter. She’d been a property crimes detective for a couple of years before leaving the department. “Why don’t you tell me what brings you here?”

“I’m a member of the board of directors for Wade-Fellows Publishing. Our president and editor-in-chief was recently acquitted of murdering her partner. We need help clearing her name and I’ve been put in charge of that effort,” Sarah said.

It took a moment for the words to sink in and Josie felt a twinge of panic. Murder? It didn’t seem possible her first case would involve murder. And Sarah hadn’t delivered the statement with the right amount of gravitas. She sounded like she was inquiring about getting new carpet for her home.

The Acqittal 300 DPI

“What did you say?” Josie said. She’d placed her hands flat on her desk and leaned slightly forward.

“You sound surprised. Haven’t you handled murder cases before?” Sarah said.

“Not as a private investigator. You won’t find many of us who have.” Josie didn’t want to tell Sarah that Stan Waterman was one of the few PIs with actual homicide experience. Hell, he was a former homicide detective.

“Then you have at least two things in your favor,” Sarah said. “You’re female and you have police experience. Should I tell you the story now?”


Sarah got herself settled in her chair. Apparently she was one of those women who constantly drink water. She’d already taken several long pulls from the bottle she’d walked in with. She dropped her bag to the floor and took another swig before shrugging out of an expensive high-tech climbing jacket Josie doubted would ever brush up against a mountain.

“Are you familiar with the Lauren Wade case?” she began.

“Not really. I’ve heard her name on the news once or twice.”

“It’s unusual for a woman to be accused of murdering her female lover. I’d have thought it would grab your attention.”

“Why would you say that?” Josie asked.

Sarah cocked her head to one side. “Am I getting this wrong? I read you as lesbian. I was thinking that I’d gotten very lucky when I walked through your door.”

Was she that obvious? Josie thought of herself as average. Average height and weight, average face. Not average lesbian. Simply average.

“For the record,” Sarah said. “I am too. But you probably guessed that.”

No, she hadn’t. She would have lost a lot of money on that bet.

“So your company is concerned?” Josie prompted.

“Yes, of course. Having our top executive arrested for anything would be of concern to the board, especially a murder charge. But Wades have always been at the head of the company; Lauren Wade is naturally given a lot of leeway before action would be taken against her by the board.”

“But she was acquitted,” Josie said.

“The board thinks that still leaves the question of whether she committed the murder hanging in the air. There was no evidence that she didn’t do it. The jury simply felt the prosecution didn’t meet their burden of proof. There are plenty of people in the business world who think she may be guilty.” Sarah looked hurt at that opinion, as if it reflected on her personally.

“Why is that a concern?” Josie asked. “The system says she’s not guilty.”

Sarah looked at Josie as if she’d just said something odd. Or stupid. “Obviously there are authors and companies who will refuse to do business with us.”

Josie shrugged. “What about the police? Won’t they be trying to catch the real killer?” Josie knew that was unlikely. Once someone’s acquitted, the file’s unofficially closed. The police always think they got it right the first time.

“I’m sure they think they already have. We’re not counting on further action from the police. We want you to identify the killer.”

Josie pulled a notebook out of her bag and wrote Lauren Wade’s name on a fresh page. The pages before it were filled with notes from when she was a police detective. “What’s your relationship with Lauren Wade?”

She’d been reading books on how to be a private investigator. One stressed the importance of knowing your client’s true motivation.

Sarah, however, seemed taken aback by the question. “Why do you need to know that?”

“It’s pretty basic information. Is there some reason you don’t want to tell me?” Josie said.

Out came the bottle of water again. Sarah appeared to be buying some time by taking a long drink. Finally she capped the bottle.

“Initially, Lauren and I had a strictly business relationship, which goes back a few years now. In addition to sitting on the board, I also publish books with Wade-Fellows. We’re not best friends or anything, but we’ve had enough meals together to say the relationship goes beyond business.”

“Did you urge the board to fund this investigation?” Josie said.

“I don’t know why you’re questioning my motives,” Sarah said, sounding a little annoyed. “I’m trying to help her, not harm her.”

Josie didn’t want to lose her first client before she even got started, so she backed off. “Why don’t you tell me the story and we can figure out where to go from there.”

Sarah relaxed and sat back in her chair. “I know a little about Lauren’s relationship with Kelly. They’d been together for five years when Kelly was murdered, and from what Lauren told me they were happy.”

“When did she tell you this?” Josie had zero experience in happy relationships.

“It was several weeks before Kelly was killed. They’d just finished redoing their house. I don’t think you do a renovation when your relationship’s on the rocks.”

“Why not?” Josie said. “People have babies to try to save relationships.”

“True, but Lauren seemed genuinely excited. I got the impression they were a pretty solid couple. It turns out there was trouble. But I’ll get to that.”

She didn’t think Sarah had been unhappy to hear Lauren and Kelly’s relationship was shaky.

“Tell me about the murder,” Josie said.

“You’ll find all this in the trial transcript, which I’ll give you, but the bare facts are Lauren came home around eight thirty on February fifteenth and found Kelly dead on the kitchen floor. She’d been shot through the head. When the police arrived they discovered Lauren’s own revolver next to the body and no sign of forced entry anywhere in the house. The gun had been recently fired and they found powder residue on Lauren’s hands. They took her in for questioning and then charged her with the murder.”

“How did Lauren explain the gun and the residue?”

Sarah leaned forward. “That’s what’s so weird about this whole thing. Lauren wouldn’t say anything at all to the police.”

“You mean she requested a lawyer?”

“No, she refused a lawyer. She wouldn’t say anything to defend herself. The detectives and their lieutenant took her refusal to answer questions as tantamount to a confession. They felt they had enough to charge her.”

Josie was drawing question marks in her notebook. “Tell me more about Lauren’s work.”

“Wade-Fellowes Publishing is an old family company. They produce hobby and lifestyle books,” Sarah said. She sounded very formal. “I write crafts books and publish with them, which is how I first knew Lauren. I joined the board only recently. I was scheduled to have a business lunch with her the day after her arrest and I had to call her office several times to find out why it was canceled. None of her staff would say anything, but one referred me to the Tribune’s website, where the story was breaking. Everyone was stunned, of course,” Sarah made this sound like she spoke for the nation.

“I left Lauren’s assistant a message with the name of the criminal defense attorney recommended by our general counsel, but I didn’t know at the time she was refusing counsel. Lauren eventually ended up using that lawyer. I was touched she took my advice.”

Josie looked up from her notebook. She saw Sarah had a little color on her cheeks. Even a PI with Josie’s limited experience could see she had a thing for Lauren, and the crush, or whatever it was, was probably enough to convince Sarah of Lauren’s innocence.

“The trial only took a few days,” Sarah continued, “and most of that was jury selection. Lauren didn’t take the stand. All her lawyer could do was argue the evidence was insufficient to meet the beyond-a reasonable-doubt standard.”

“Why do you think Lauren didn’t testify?” Josie found Lauren’s silence the most disturbing thing about the story. How could she help someone who didn’t want to be helped?

“I really don’t know,” Sarah said. “I haven’t had any contact with her other than sending her the attorney’s name. She refused to see me when I went to Cook County Jail for a visit.”

“So far I don’t see how Lauren got acquitted.”

“I think it was due to Nancy Prewitt, Lauren’s lawyer, who gave an amazing closing. She pointed out what I think the jury already thought—the prosecution had done a half-assed job and the police investigation may have been worse. The jury couldn’t see past the fact Lauren was unlikely to be stupid enough to shoot Kelly with her own gun and then leave it next to the body before calling the police.”

“The prosecution didn’t offer anything else at trial?”

Sarah looked uncomfortable. “The only other thing that came out was Kelly was having an affair with another woman and Lauren had recently found out about it. That’s what I meant about Kelly and Lauren not being as happy as I thought they were.”

It also gave Lauren a whopping motive. Josie contemplated what to say next. The case seemed tremendously fucked up and probably nothing but trouble. But it was a paying case—if she could manage to get hired.

“Have you considered the possibility my investigation may prove Lauren did murder Kelly?” Josie asked.

Sarah looked unconcerned. “There’s no downside. Lauren can’t be retried for the same crime. And after all, that’s the information the company wants an investigator to find.”

“True, but perhaps it’s something you’d rather not know.”

Sarah waved that away. “I’m not worried about it. I don’t believe for a minute she’d hurt anyone. But you can see how murky the whole thing is and why it’s important to remove that doubt.”

Josie couldn’t, really. She’d think Sarah would thank her lucky stars for the acquittal and leave it at that. It seemed Lauren had.

“I can check on the status of the police investigation,” Josie said. “I have contacts in homicide.” She thought that should impress Sarah.

“What does Lauren think of this effort of yours? She doesn’t seem very interested in keeping her name untarnished.”

Sarah fiddled with her water bottle. “She doesn’t know anything about it.”

Josie stopped writing and looked up, careful to take the sarcasm out of her voice. “You want me to find the person who killed Lauren’s girlfriend, presuming it’s not Lauren herself, without her knowledge? Won’t she know the board hired an investigator?”

“We’re not volunteering the information, but we’re aware she’ll find out as soon as the investigator starts interviewing people.” She paused. “You sound like you may believe she’s guilty. I need you to be on board.”

Josie didn’t believe in causes. She believed in paychecks and getting the job done. She stole a look at her watch. She was going to be late for her therapy appointment.

“I have an appointment I need to get to, so we’ll have to stop here. I have to think about this before I can agree to take your case.”

“Of course. And I’ve not yet decided whether to hire you,” Sarah said. She pulled a thick file out of her bag and pushed it across the desk. “You’d find most of this on the Internet, I imagine, but I’ll save you the time of looking it up. These are the media reports and trial transcript. Maybe you could read them and we’ll meet again tomorrow morning.”

Josie looked at the file skeptically. She wasn’t a particularly fast reader. She’d just finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy and that took forever. This was a very thick file. “I could meet you back here at four tomorrow afternoon. That’ll have to do.”

Sarah rose and put on her jacket. “Fine. I assume all this will remain confidential?”

“Of course.”

There was a hint of a smile on Sarah’s lips as she turned away and left the office. Josie took a moment to whisper a thank-you for the possibility of a paycheck and another thank-you for all the medications that made it possible for her to take on this case. She grabbed the Lauren Wade file, found her shoes, and hurried to her fifty minutes of torture.

The Three Faces of James: Interviewing the ever talented, James Lear

March 28th, 2015

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


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

London. I’ve lived here since I was 18, and I’ve been in this particular bit of south London since the 80s. I’ve thought about leaving a million times but I just can’t seem to tear myself away.

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

I’m married with one child, whom we adopted a couple of years ago. I’ve been with my husband for over 20 years, we became ‘civil partners’ in 2009 and are about to convert that into marriage; we’re kind of riding the crest of a lot of legislative change in the UK. That includes changes to adoption law, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I was a journalist for over 20 years, and before that an academic, so I’ve always been writing for a living. I started writing fiction properly in the late 90s, and my first novel was published in 1998. I’ve lost count of how many novels I’ve written since then. Over twenty.

I understand from reading your bio there was a time when you were frustrated with your writing career, a friend suggested you try writing erotica, hence the birth of James Lear. Was switching gears really that simple?

James Lear_The Hardest Thing

Yes, absolutely. I was having trouble getting my literary fiction published, and a friend told me that he knew an editor who was looking for gay porn. My fiction always had a fair bit of sex in it, I like writing about sex, and so it was just a question of foregrounding the sex and making it the main event. While there are certain key differences between erotic fiction and literary fiction, you still have the same basic duty to tell a good story, well structured, with lots of drama. It’s not actually that different, there’s just a lot more penis.

Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

They’re all based on people I know. Most of the guys in the erotic novels are based on men I’ve known or seen at the gym. I can’t actually have sex with them in real life, so this is a good way of getting all that lust out of my system. Sometimes I see men I’ve just been writing about and I think ‘you have no idea what you are getting up to in my new book…’. Some of the protagonists of my novels represent aspects of me – usually nerdy, bookish young men who get involved in doomed relationships with straight guys. That was the story of my young adulthood and it’s a theme to which I seem to return a lot.

What was your inspiration creating the salaciously hunky-hunk, Mitch Mitchell, in the spectacular Mitch Mitchell Mysteries trilogy featuring the sexually charged detective?  

I wanted to create a character who was cheerfully, shamelessly horny, but who also had sufficient brain power to sort out a few mysteries. Mitch uses sex as a way of investigating his cases – he’s always ready to delve into areas that others won’t go. He manages to have sex three or four times a day, but hey, this is fiction. The actual physical character was based on a very sexy American jock who used to go to my gym; he had that cocky confidence that just made me want to fuck his brains out. Mitch is about to return, actually: I’m currently writing a new story for him.

I was excited as hell to come across your latest novel, The Hardest Thing, to discover what I feel is a gay “Jack Reacher” or “John Rain”. There are simply too few gay hard-boiled, rough and tough, ex-military bass-ass thrillers in my opinion? What influenced you to create Dan Stagg?    

I was reading Lee Child, simple as that. I think his books are absolutely saturated with homo-erotic potential – not sure whether he’d see it that way, mind you. All the Lear novels take a solid literary model and then fill it with gay sex. Agatha Christie inspired the Mitch Mitchell novels, and Lee Child inspired the Dan Staggs. I wanted to create quite a dark, miserable character, like Jack Reacher, who has difficulty distinguishing between love and sex.

Have you received criticism from readers and/or reviewers for showcasing Dan Stagg’s active libido?


Criticism of the Lear novels falls into two categories. A) ‘This is a great thriller spoiled by too much sex’ and B) ‘This is a porn novel spoiled by too much plot’. You can’t please everyone, can you? I try to get the balance right, but make no mistake, these are erotic novels and their main purpose is to get the reader off. It always makes me laugh when people complain about the amount of sex. It’s like people buying a porn video and complaining that the dialogue isn’t good enough. I try to keep the literary standards high, because that enhances the reading experience, but really I want people to get turned on and have a wank. That’s the kind of ‘review’ I’m looking for.

Will readers get more of (my favorite) former US Army Major, Dan Stagg, in future mystery/thriller novels?

He rides again in a new novel entitled Straight Up, which comes out in the summer. As usual he’s made a complete hash of his private life and is trying to forget about it by having as much sex as possible, while getting into a very dangerous plot involving ex-members of a USMC black ops team.

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

As Rupert Smith, my latest release is Interlude, a story about a young woman who discovers a massive gay secret in her family history. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. As James Lear, there’s Straight Up in the summer, and I’m currently writing a new Mitch Mitchell mystery, which is set on a Mediterranean island. It’s my tribute to Evil Under the Sun and so on.


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.


Find James Lear/Rupert Smith on the web:








Exclusive Excerpt: Lambda Award Finalist, The Next, by Rafe Haze

March 20th, 2015

Exclusive Excerpt:

The Next


Rafe Haze

Chapter Eight

My own piano sat against the wall, buried in debris. I began to remove the shit off it—the moldy sweater, the electronic power supply cords whose recipients had jumped ship years ago, thumbed paperbacks, discarded Starbucks cups. I lifted the keyboard cover.

TheNext_cvr (5)

My fingers drifted over the keys without pressing down. They hovered over F sharp two octaves above middle C. If I pressed down, the commitment to that one tone would cement the path that leads to the next, leading to the cementing of the next, and then the next. What if, at the end of the path, I churned out some uninspired, pedestrian, shitty song, reinforcing what a failure I’d become in a brand new way? That first note bore the weight of forty years of largely unsuccessful attempts at a career, the loss and disdain of a woman most men in Manhattan would give their left nut to hold at night, and the responsibility of finding out if the future had even the slightest bit of light in it.

My finger remained suspended above the keyboard, unable to commit.

Andrea Bocelli echoed through the window from the courtyard, mourning epically with exquisite tragedy. A fuck-lovely perfection I may never know. I turned to the window to identify which neighbor was responsible for this random choice of entertainment.

Mr. and Mrs. Perfect’s apartment was empty…oh wait…no. Mr. Perfect emerged from the kitchen dressed in a suit, his head cocked to one side as he propped an iPhone against his ear. He spoke in an assured and patient manner, casually glancing out the window, then sauntering toward the other side of the house. His undirected stride was paced to the rhythm of his conversation. He was alone. I guess the family went to play in the snow in the country without him this weekend. But Bocelli was not coming from his apartment. But then, from where was it emanating? I lowered my eyes…

The Princess.

She sat at her dressing table, fussing with the seams of her sleeves. She was dressed in a gauzy navy-blue dress interwoven with silver threads, her hair up in a tight bun. When I’d last seen The Princess, she wore no more than jeans and an American Apparel stretch t-shirt. Unless she got a significant six-figure bump in her salary, I had no idea how she afforded an exquisitely tailored couture dress as a single girl in her twenties living in the heart of Manhattan in a small studio apartment. Did she have a sugar daddy? Did a parent die? Did she catch the boss cheating?

The romantic vocal strains wafted lushly from a CD player near her bed, accompanying her application of makeup to her cheeks, her lips, and her eyelashes as she carefully contoured herself to the ideal of ladyhood, obscuring every blemish, covering any millifraction of imperfection. She finally reached up to her bun and removed a pin. Her long dark locks fell down past her shoulders. She proceeded to run her fingers through them, smoothing every last strand with her fingers, a concerned look on her face.

How could anyone live with that much pressure to be perfect every second of every hour of every day? What was at risk for her if she weren’t perfect? She was young—barely drinking age—so she still had lots of time. What was so imperfect about her interior that required that much overcompensating on the outside, right down to the final dab of perfume on her neck from the lid of the tiny ornate pink glass bottle?

Rafe Haze wants you to check this out

When I was completing a song, staying up for forty-eight hours in a row perfecting every last cadence, every last sixteenth note, every last pianissimo or crescendo expression, I was the Princess. She used makeup, I used treble and bass clefs. She used a silver ribbon in her hair, I used crisp, perfectly un-smudged laser copy paper to print the score. She needed validation from the man she was about to meet, and I needed validation from any ear my music would meet. I understood the Princess’s need, and a particularly petty part of me loathed her for reflecting my folly.


I lifted my hand. I closed the keyboard lid and piled the books and crap back on top of it.

Not ready.

Suddenly I became aware of a figure standing against the window above the Princess’s apartment facing my apartment square on. My heart skipped a beat, and I automatically ducked to the right behind the curtain. It was perfectly unnecessary to hide. All the lights were out in my apartment, and the curtain wasn’t open wide enough to see in. As far as anyone was concerned, nobody was home here on the third floor. Then why was someone facing my apartment with such direct attentiveness?

I slowly peeked around the curtain until I spied the figure again. To my surprise, Mr. Perfect stood at the window of his bedroom, facing my building. As always, he was wearing a suit, looking the picture of professionalism, dignity, power, and success. His hair was salt and pepper, feathered back to display the rugged handsomeness of his face.

This was a man to whom entire floors of employees in Manhattan glass high-rises might kowtow when he stepped off the elevator. This was a man university libraries might be named after. This was a man who might advise Atlas to shrug.

And this was a man standing at the window facing my apartment groping his dick through his pants.

What the hell?

I traced his hand to his arm, to his broad shoulders, to his white collared neck, to his defined jawline, and then to his deep set dark eyes. They were directed not at my window, but at the window of the floor above mine.

Holy shit!

Ruben just moved in and was already putting on a show for the neighbors. What kind of professionalism did they teach those lovelies at Juilliard, anyway? But I thought Mr. Perfect was straight. He had a family who had only just exited the door to go play in the snow for the weekend.


A closeted faggot in Manhattan? That’d be an anomaly.

Marzoli’s sarcasm rebounded in my brain. Yes, but in all the time I’d lived here and observed Mr. and Mrs. Perfect, I never once saw anything to indicate the husband would do what he was now doing.

He pulled down his fly and burrowed through the dark pants to retrieve his pole. He dangled his fleshy white dick in front of his dark charcoal trousers. The white meat bobbed up and down at first. Mr. Perfect put his arms up above his shoulders and braced his hands against the window, providing Ruben upstairs with a perfectly unobstructed view of his dick. His trousers inched their way down his thick hairy thighs, then dropped past his knees to his ankles.

Ruben must have been putting on some kind of performance, because Mr. Perfect’s pole pulsated from a southward pointing direction to a northward pointing direction without any assistance from his hands. Mr. Perfect bit his lower lip with his perfect teeth, indicating a desire that came directly from his groin. I could almost hear a guttural rasping moan pushing its way through his esophagus and past his moist lips. His dick thrust slightly forward, hardening and reddening at the head.

It occurred to me just then that if I could observe this, others could too. But that was not possible. Perfect’s bedroom window was recessed and flanked by three, tall, fortunately positioned trees. The retail level of my building had no courtyard windows, and the floor above Ruben had a wide, unused balcony that prevented any direct views down. I’d never realized until that moment that Ruben and I had the only clear view of Mr. and Mrs. Perfect’s bedroom window.

Mr. Perfect wrapped the fingers of his right hand around his hard shaft, pumping it slowly. He moistened his lips with his tongue, his gaze directed to Ruben’s window. His eyelids settled halfway down as he indulged in the pleasure of his fist reaching the tenderness of his rod’s head and then retracted on a slow tight descent to the base.

I felt my own dick hardening. Was it the sight of a man that caused this reaction? Or was it the illicitness of the situation that caused it? Or was it a malicious enjoyment of something more sickly subversive? Was it the successful and powerful leveled to depravity by the need for something no position at the head of a board meeting table could provide? That no conformity to family virtues could provide? That no trip to the weekend house with the wife and kids could provide? That no jump in the market could provide? The king jacking off for the hot pawn across the court meant the king could be had for the price of a pound of twinkie flesh, and this satisfaction shot my rod to a smug erection.

Wrapping my lips around her nipple and tracing it with my tongue, causing her low moan.

Thoughts of Johanna’s body flashed into my brain as I watched Mr. Perfect’s stroking increase in intensity.

The warm flesh between Johanna’s vagina and her hole.

Mr. Perfect flung off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. His chest was solid and hairy, and his ripped abdomen contracted and expanded as he jacked his rod up and down.

Was the thing that turned me on the most about Johanna the same leveling of status? The queen leveled by the tonguing of one of her subjects? Was that all it had been? Surely more…

Mr. Perfect’s fisting had reached a frenzy. He had to be close now. Through the ceiling, I heard a faint moan. Ruben had reached his climax. Mr. Perfect responded by suspending the stroking and holding a tight vice grip on the head of his dick. With the wrenching of his abdomen, his cum splattered against the window glass. Thick strands of semen followed the initial onslaught in short firings, striping the window in white gelatinous lines which immediately oozed down the pane.

You bad, nasty, naughty King!

Mr. Perfect once again let his meat dangle as he lifted his arms and braced himself against the window with his hands, recovering his breath. He lowered his head. I could tell by his energy that he would not acknowledge Ruben again tonight. Shame? Or the inordinate adeptness to compartmentalize? I did not know, but Mr. Perfect did not lift his eyes again. Rather, he turned away from the window and went toward the bathroom, turning the lights off and plunging the room into darkness. The show was over. Get your purse from under the seat and go home.

My rod had already softened, having made no stops of pleasure along tonight’s train ride. When was the last time I’d had an orgasm? Couldn’t remember.

Marzoli’s full lips. His neck. His voice. His gentle dark eyes.

What the fuck!


What the hell was I thinking about a dude like Marzoli for? I’d fantasized sparingly through my life about man-on-man blow jobs, but only with some larger-than-life slab of muscle I’d absolutely no personal connection with. I’d justified those rare fantasies by the need for novelty and too much wine. There was no pining involved, no more emotional attachment than one has for bacon.

But now…with Marzoli…

He’d touched my shoulder. He’d looked into my eyes. He was so much more than bacon. I’d be an idiot to think about…about his lips…his chest…his jawline…


Why the fuck would I choose to entertain the hope for something I may never get? Why? One more new disappointment…one more new failure…one more new reason to despise myself…and I just might…who the fuck knows?

If I could, I would re-center by surfing for some straight porn and try to normalize. Try to let fly some of this frustration. If I had internet connectivity.

If I could connect.

I swallowed hard, shoved my dick back into safety, and zipped up my pants.

Andrea Bocelli’s heartbreak was reaching an epic climax.

Jesus fucking Christ! Turn that shit off!

As if hearing and taking pity, the Princess took one more look at her doll face in the mirror, tousled her hair one last time, clicked off the CD player, and departed down the hall. The lights flicked off.

Have a good date, Princess. I hope he appreciates your perfection. He probably won’t, but he should. I do.


A Conversation with Multi-Genre Author & two time Lammy Finalist, Steve Neil Johnson

March 14th, 2015

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


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

I live in the perfect neighborhood for a mystery writer, Brentwood in Los Angeles; my home is almost literally in the shadow of the O.J. Simpson murder scene, and just a block down the mean streets from where Raymond Chandler once lived.  The gangster Mickey Cohen’s house, which was bombed by gang rivals, is nearby too.  The great thing about L.A. is that under the sunny sky there is always a dark side if you know where to look for it.

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

I’m actually a newlywed.  My husband Lloyd and I just got married this fall on the edge of a cliff (hopefully not a metaphor for nuptials in general) overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve been together since before most people on this planet were even born, our wedding day taking place a few days after our twenty-five year anniversary.  You’ve asked me not to get too personal, so I won’t go into whether married sex is better.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I’ve always been interested in telling stories, in fact, books and movies were all I could think about growing up.  I wrote a couple of books that didn’t sell before I wrote my first published work, FINAL ATONEMENT, in my early thirties.  It was released by Penguin in 1992.


In the early ‘90s you released the Homicide Detective Doug Orlando mystery series – recently re-released for a new generation – which include Final Atonement, a Lambda Literary Award finalist for gay mystery, and False Confessions, with Det. Orlando tracking a serial killer “who leaves his victims naked but for dozens of long, murderous needles”: Any plans in the future to revisit Doug Orlando?

Re-released for a new generation?  Jon, you’re making me feel old!  But yes, I get a huge kick out of the fact that people who were toddlers when the books originally came out are reading them now.  I don’t know if I could write any more Doug Orlando novels because the books are quintessential New York political novels, and I haven’t lived there since the late 1980s.  I don’t know if I could capture the nuances of N.Y. political life today without living there.

Two of your mystery novels were finalists for the Lambda Literary Award; Final Atonement and The Yellow Canary: What was it like to get such recognition for your writing? 

I have to say I crave accolades as much as the next guy, and I noticed my most recent nomination gave me a bit of a bump in sales, which is always nice.  The Lammies were still in their infancy, over twenty years ago, when I was nominated the first time, and it was pretty cool because I got the nom for my first book.  The second time I was nominated, they had the ceremony in New York at Cooper Union, which is a great hall with an illustrious history, including the fact that Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the theater’s stage, so if you win you’re actually giving your acceptance speech on a spot where Lincoln once stood.  I thought the year THE YELLOW CANARY was nominated was especially exciting because the books in the mystery category came from all over the world… there was a British author, a couple of Canadians, and an American or two.  It just showed that really interesting work in the gay mystery genre is happening all over the planet.


I’ve read your most recent novel, The Black Cat, the second novel in your planned L.A. After Midnight Quartet–spanning four generations from the ‘50s to the 80s (Excellent, btw!). How did you go about researching the gay experience for the decades covered in each novel of the quartet?  

It all started back in the 1970s when I came across a book called GAY AMERICAN HISTORY by Jonathan Ned Katz and started fantasizing about the lives of gay people in history.  Every time I read a nonfiction book on the history of the gay community my imagination would go into overdrive.  Other books that especially influenced me were John D’Emilio’s masterpiece, SEXUAL POLITICS, SEXUAL COMMUNITIES and later, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’ GAY L.A.  I also participated in an oral history project interviewing gay elders some time ago.  That was really important to me, because I was able to see how gays with a little power (one man I interviewed was a closeted psychiatrist for the military during WWII) were able to help other gays during really oppressive times.  That moved me, and helped to inform the characters and plots of THE YELLOW CANARY and THE BLACK CAT.

Several years filled the time between the original release of the Doug Orlando mystery novels, and your most recent gay mystery quartet. What were you doing during this time? 

A whole lotta stuff.  I received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from UCLA, wrote twenty-five telenovela scripts, was Elton John’s massage therapist for a while, and worked in various aspects of hospital administration.  But honestly, every moment I wasn’t writing was like a dagger in my heart.  Sometimes you have to make a living doing work that really doesn’t interest you, and that’s especially hard for people in the arts because you see the years slipping away and you just don’t have the time to do the work you feel you were meant to do.  But my story has a happy ending:  now I write full-time, which is an incredible gift, and even though I sometimes grouse about spending the day staring at a blank page on a computer screen when I could be outside enjoying the California sunshine, I really am grateful.


Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

Many of my characters are inspired by real people, and a lot of the events in my books are true.  I basically pluck people from their lives and from history and stick them into my stories.  As far as characters representing me…when my husband read the Doug Orlando books when they originally came out, the first thing he said was “the Stewart character (Doug Orlando’s English professor partner of ten years) is based on you.”  Basically, whenever the lead character has a Jewish boyfriend, that character’s personality is probably inspired by me, even though I’m not Jewish.  I also identify strongly with the wisecracking crow who thinks he’s a raven in my children’s book, EVERYBODY HATES EDGAR ALLAN POE!

Do you have a timeline – blurb or plot – for the next novel in the L.A. After Midnight Quartet novel?

I’m hoping to have the third L.A. After Midnight book, THE BLUE PARROT, out sometime this summer.

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

THE BLUE PARROT takes place in 1975, and my characters inhabit a very different world than in the previous two books which focused on 1956 and 1966…the Stonewall riots have changed the political landscape in ways that are almost unimaginable in the earlier books…it’s a time in which the bathhouses are packed, Gay is Good, and everything seems possible, but my characters are still fighting for their basic rights.  This book details the battle to repeal California’s lifetime prison sentence for sodomy, the tensions between radical and more conservative gay activists for control of the movement, and the pervasive legacy of psychiatric abuse.


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.

Thank you!

Find Steve Neil Johnson on the web:







Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 7: Bloodlines by the multi-Lammy nominated Marshall Thornton

March 7th, 2015

Boystown 7: Bloodlines by Marshall Thornton


In the latest book in the Boystown Mystery series, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself simultaneously working two cases for his new client, law firm Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. A suburban dentist has just been convicted of murdering her adulterous husband, Nick is asked to interview witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial—and possibly find the dead man’s mistress. At the same time, he’s becoming involved in protecting Outfit bigwig Jimmy English from a task force out to prosecute him for a crime he may not have committed.


Tax day fell on a Monday that year, the sixteenth. The sky was full of gray clouds and peoples’ moods were just as colorless. For a change, it wasn’t a bad day for me. In fact, I was in something resembling a good mood. I’d spent most of the year before bartending and having taxes withheld so I didn’t have to struggle through the normally complicated question of whether I’d made a profit from my private investigation business. In fact, I was expecting a small tax refund. Money in the mail was always worth being happy about. But more than that, I was working again, and while that would complicate my 1984 taxes, I was making good money and it was more interesting than pouring flat beer and sour wine.

Around two o’clock, there was a knock on my office door and, before I could yell “Come in,” Owen Lovejoy, Esquire whooshed in. He was a friend, a fuck buddy, occasionally my attorney, and, at that particular moment, my boss. I tended to think of him as Owen Lovejoy, Esquire because that’s the way he first introduced himself. A good-looking guy, he’s on the taller side of short, thick-bodied and brown-haired. He favors tortoise-shell glasses with lenses that cover most of his face, and well-tailored suits that cost twice what I make in a good week. He sat down on the two cardboard boxes full of paperwork that I’d stacked in front of my desk as a temporary guest chair.

“I have a job I need you to do,” he said.

That confused me. I was already doing a job for him. Quite a complicated job, in fact. I began to reply but all I got out was the word, “But—” before he raised his hand to silence me. I stared at him, trying to think the situation through.

Late in February of that year I’d begun working for Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. Every week I sent them an invoice for seven hundred dollars. Under services rendered I typed RETAINER. At Owen’s request, I never sent an itemized bill. I also never sent a single report describing what I’d found. My reports were given verbally on windy street corners, busy diners, even once in bed. After Owen and I fucked, he’d turned the radio on loud and I whispered what I’d learned. The case was important. It had to do with Jimmy English.

A menagerie of Federal, State and City agencies had formed a task force and were months or maybe even weeks away from indicting Jimmy on a host of charges. At the top of the stack were a couple of murders. Owen assured me that Jimmy hadn’t had anything to do with the murders under investigation, while at the same time never claiming that Jimmy hadn’t been involved in at least a couple other murders along the way. I knew Jimmy, had done a little work for him, and probably owed my current position to his good graces. If Jimmy said he didn’t kill someone he probably didn’t. More importantly, he was too smart a guy to waste time lying to his own attorney.

Now, why the task force wanted to get him for two murders he didn’t commit was something of a question. They either mistakenly believed he’d been involved in the murders, or, knowing he been involved in other murders, decided it didn’t matter much what murder they nabbed him for as long as he went to prison. My job was to learn everything the task force had. That might sound challenging, but as it turned out it wasn’t especially hard.

On the second day of my employment with Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby, Owen had shown up at my office with a moving man. My office is above a copy place on Clark and on that particular February morning it was what I’d politely call a mess. Much of the furniture from my abandoned apartment was still being stored there. I’d gotten rid of a few things; the bed for instance, which in my last days with Harker had developed a dip in the middle. The dip was fine if I planned to be constantly sliding into it to meet someone I loved, but sooner or later I’d be living on my own again and I couldn’t face sliding into the dip alone. So I’d let it go.

The moving guy brought fifteen cardboard boxes into my office in two trips. He was heavily-muscled, tall, just a little over thirty, and had barely broken a sweat bouncing all those boxes around. I had a sneaking suspicion that Owen would try to seduce him the minute they were done with me. That thought created some pretty pictures in my head, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention when Owen asked the moving guy to step out into the hall.

“Was he bad? Are you punishing him?”

“Sweetheart, you need to remember something very important.” He leaned in and spoke very clearly, “We were never here.”


“And if anyone ever asks, you did not get these boxes from us.”

“Where did I get them?”

“Yard sale? No, I’m joking. You don’t need to worry your pretty head about that. If push comes to shove, we’ll make sure you’re never asked.”

“What’s in them?”

“Everything the task force has on Jimmy English.”

“How did you get all this?”

He smiled. “I didn’t get it. I was never here. Remember?”

“What am I supposed to do with these boxes that fell out of the sky?”

“For now? Read everything. Learn everything. Know it all backwards and forwards.”

I nodded. Eventually, if there were a trial, all of this information would come to the defense as part of discovery. Well, most of it anyway. I was going to be responsible for making sure nothing got conveniently dropped by the government. Particularly if that something was favorable to Jimmy. Of course, I also saw exactly why Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby didn’t want to be connected to the materials until they received them directly from the State’s Attorney’s office. At that moment, there was no indictment, so it wasn’t exactly legal for anyone to have them. Dropping the files on me allowed them to have them and not have them.

“This is the last time we can talk in your office. We’ll make other arrangements.”

“You think my office is bugged?”

“Not yet, dear. This is your second day. It will be by the end of the week, though.”

“If I’m working for you then they can’t bug my office. Doesn’t privilege extend—”

“Privilege depends on the situation, on the judge who’s ruling, on which way the wind is blowing off Lake Michigan. Look, if I explain anymore than that we’ll both fall asleep. Trust me, your office will be bugged. And soon.”

“Can you fight it? Go to the judge—”

“There is no judge. It’s not legal surveillance.”

In Chicago legal niceties were sometimes skipped. They couldn’t present an illegal wiretap in court but they could act on information they gleaned by creating other routes to discover whatever they’d learned. Treasure hunts are always easier if you already know where the treasure is.

Still, my sense of justice was a tad outraged. “Let’s catch them at it. Let’s take them down.”

“They’ve been caught before. Had their hands slapped. The only lesson they learned was to be more careful. There will be several impenetrable layers between the task force and the bug. Anything they hear that they want to use, they’ll feed to an informant.”

“They can’t create their own testimony.”

“Darling you watch too much TV. The law is not about right and wrong. It’s about what you can get away with on a given day.”

After he left, I got down to business with the boxes and almost immediately started having a good time. They were full of interviews, witness statements, crime reports, depositions, transcripts from wiretaps (legal ones), and transcripts from a few peripherally related trials. Over the next few weeks I’d mentally cross-referenced everything. I knew where it all was and I knew what it all meant. I had two very important things I needed to discuss with Owen, so I wasn’t especially happy that he was trying to give me another job.

“All right. Tell me about this job,” I said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Madeline Levine-Berkson?”

“Yes and no,” I said. Madeline Levine-Berkson was a dentist whose husband, Wes Berkson, made the mistake of telling her about an affair he was having while she was making dinner. Dr. Levine-Berkson stopped chopping vegetables and stuck the rather large knife she’d been using into her husband’s chest. At first the case garnered a lot of press, and it was obvious the reporters were dying to get their hands on the mistress; an interview with her would have sold papers hand over greedy fist. But, they couldn’t find her. And, worse, Dr. Levine-Berkson refused to claim any justification other than the unproven infidelity, so the case was quietly relegated to the back section of most papers.

Boystown 7 Cover 2nd Edition2

“Wasn’t she convicted?” I asked.

“Yes. But it was still a victory.”

“It was?”

“They charged her with first-degree murder and second-degree murder. The jury got to choose which they thought she was guilty of. They went with second degree.”

“Okay, I still don’t know what you want me to do.”

“We have a two-week continuance to prepare for sentencing. The minimum the jury is allowed to impose is four years probation. That’s our best hope. Worst case scenario she’ll be sentenced to twenty years. If it’s twenty years she’ll serve ten or twelve, possibly more. She’ll be lucky to get out in time to see her children graduate high school. Not to mention she’ll be a confirmed lesbo by then.”

That jogged my memory. The high school part, not the lesbo part. There were two small children involved, which could work in her favor. Children do need their mothers. Though, when you kill a child’s father you’re unlikely to win an award for good parenting.

“How many women on the jury? That should work in her favor.”

Most women would not stab a cheating spouse; most did understand the impulse.

“Seven,” Owen said. But then a cloud passed over his face. “The state made a big to-do about an insurance policy during the trial. Trying to make a case for first degree. I’m not sure one or two didn’t believe that.”

“Refresh my memory. What was their case?”

“The Berksons had taken out million dollar policies on each other.”

“She was a dentist and he was…”

“Frequently unemployed.”

“But she admits stabbing him so she’ll never collect. How could that be first degree?”

“The ASA tried to make it sound like she didn’t understand the fine print.”

“She’s smart enough to plot a murder but too stupid to understand an insurance policy?”

“He spent a lot of time reading the policy into the record. Claimed even he had trouble understanding it.”

“She’s a dentist. She has an education.”

“She went to dental school in the Caribbean. Wasn’t at the top of her class.”

“Still. No offense, but I think law school is a lot easier.” Science had never been a strong suit of mine.

Owen shrugged. “I thought it was crap, too. I’m absolutely certain she did not kill her husband for any insurance money she thought she’d get. She’s very bright, and quite nice for a murderess. Fortunately, the jury agreed and threw out the first-degree charges.”

“So what do you want me to do? Find the mistress?”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“I work for you, you can ask—”

“Madeline doesn’t want her found. We do have to respect the client’s wishes.”

That struck me as odd. The mistress would have bolstered her story and created sympathy.

“Is there even a mistress?” I wondered.

“The newspapers tried awfully hard to find her,” he said absently. “But then…journalists, they don’t always have the right skills.”

He wanted me to find the mistress. I hadn’t spent much time working for him, but I had the feeling we’d be having a lot of conversations that were not directly about what they were about.

“Isn’t it kind of pointless to find her now? Your client still won’t appreciate it.”

“No, she won’t. But…” I could see the wheels turning. “If someone found her by accident it could be helpful.”

“If she exists.”

“Yes, if she exists. I wouldn’t want her in court but…someone could get her interviewed by the Daily Herald or The Tribune.”

“How would that help?”

“The jury. They’re not supposed to read the newspaper during the trial. Most of them take that very seriously. But she’s been convicted. At least a couple of them will have jumped the gun and be back to reading the newspaper or watching the nightly news. Not to mention discussing it with their families. If the woman were to do an interview, the jury would know it.”

“So I need to accidentally find her.”

Owen’s lips were sealed. In fact, he kept them tightly closed. Instead, he picked up his briefcase, chocolate brown leather with his initials engraved in gold leaf. O.W.L. I wondered what the “W” was for. Or even if it was for anything. It might just be that he liked to think of himself as an owl. Owls were wise. He pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it onto my desk. On it was a column of names; six of the names were typewritten, seven were added by hand.

“The names on the top are the witnesses who’ve agreed to testify on Madeline’s behalf. The names on the bottom are those who’ve refused. Start with the ones who’ve refused. If nothing else, try to get them to come in and speak on Madeline’s behalf. A couple of them might really help her.”

The list didn’t mean much at the moment. I decided to figure it out later. I really needed to talk to him about Jimmy English. “Um, why don’t I walk you out?”

“Yes, why don’t you.”

I really didn’t think my office was bugged. I’d been sticking the cover from a matchbook in between the door and the jamb just below the hinge whenever I left the office. If someone picked the lock and entered my office the little square of cardboard would have fallen to the floor. So far, it had stayed just where I’d left it.

Silently, we walked out of my office and down the narrow stairs to Clark Street. As soon as we were out the door, I said, “Look, I’ve got to tell—” He raised his hand to silence me again. It all seemed a bit ridiculous. He stepped out into the street and hailed a cab. We climbed in, and before giving the driver an address Owen took a twenty out of his pocket and waved it in the front seat. “We’re just going around the block a few times. So, the rest is for you.” He dropped the twenty on the seat and then closed the plexiglass partition between us.

Turning to me, he said, “All right, what’s the problem?”

“I’ve figured out a couple of things about Operation Tea and Crumpets.” Operation Tea and Crumpets was the cutesy name the task force had given the investigation into Jimmy’s activities. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to step away right now.”

“Then don’t. Do both.” I started to say that I wasn’t sure it would be fair to either client but he stopped me by adding, “Keep billing us the retainer for Jimmy. And also whatever work you do for the Levine case.” What that meant was that my invoicing could easily go over a thousand dollars a week. For about two weeks. That made the whole thing more appealing. I might need to work night and day, but it was just for a while. Part of me still wanted to say no to the lady dentist, but I was fresh out of good reasons.

“What did you find out on Jimmy?” Owen asked.

“The most damaging information comes from a single source. A confidential informant they call Prince Charles. There’s no information in the files about who Prince Charles is. Not even a hint. Which makes me think that they know you have the files. That they wanted you to have them.”

“They’ll have to expose him eventually.”

“So why go to the trouble of hiding him unless they know we’re likely to get our hands on the files now?”

“You think it’s a haystack with no needle.”

“It might be. According to the transcripts, Jimmy told Prince Charles stories. Almost as though he was bragging, which seems out of character.”

“I agree.”

“And there’s another thing. There’s a book or a diary somewhere.”

“Somewhere? But it’s not in the boxes I gave you?”

“No. But a lot of the files have notations. Page numbers and dates.”

“Something like that would be a terrific piece of evidence. Especially if it corroborates Prince Charles’ testimony.”

“But Jimmy’s too smart for all of this.” I resisted the temptation to say, “Something’s fishy.”

“I hope so,” Owen said before he told the cab driver to pull over. We were at the corner of Belmont and Clark for the second time. Just as he got out the door, Owen said, “We need to know who’s talking. And we need that book.”

It was a tall order. A very tall order.


Haven’t started the Boystown series yet? Check out the Little Boy Dead: A Boystowns Prequel – currently free at Amazon.




Amazon Author Page:


Exclusive Excerpt: From author Jessie Chandler’s “Operation Stop Hate”

February 28th, 2015

Exclusive Excerpt

Operation Stop Hate

by Jessie Chandler



The second gunshot came less than a minute after the first. The sharp report faded, replaced by the frenetic sound of music drumming through Sony headphones. They covered the ears of a young man who moved with slow, deliberate steps down an empty hall. Blond curls brushed the collar of a black Carhartt jacket, and worn jeans hung loosely on his thin frame.

He peered carefully through the narrow, rectangular windows on each classroom door. Inside, students cowered alongside terrified teachers. As he systematically checked one room after another, he tonelessly hummed to the thumping rhythm in his ears. Halfway down the hall, he froze in front of one of the windows. After a moment, he raised a hand and tried the doorknob.

School protocol dictated that in the event of a threat involving potential or realized violence, the teacher’s task was to lock down their classroom. The teacher within had followed directions.

The boy wrenched violently at the knob. The door shuddered under the onslaught.

He stepped back, aimed a black handgun between the knob and the doorjamb and pulled the trigger. The deafening report of the gunshot sent the still classroom into a blur of movement. Kids screamed, scrambling for cover. The teacher charged toward the now-splintered entry at the same time the shooter slammed the sole of his scuffed boot in the center of the door. It swung violently inward, into the woman. She bounced off the door and skidded across the floor.

The boy calmly stepped over the motionless teacher and scanned the room. He reached up and tugged his headphones off, leaving them slung around his neck, the pounding bass now clearly audible.

The shooter focused on a thin teen in jeans and an untucked, green flannel shirt. “Hunter.”

A wide-eyed, longhaired girl who’d been standing near Hunter backed slowly away.

Hunter made a choking sound and his face blanched. He raised his hands. “No, Mike, please. What’s—”

The gunshot shattered the air. Hunter spun as if a hand reached down from the ceiling and twirled him like a top. He crashed into the girl. Both went down in a flurry of arms and legs. The panicked shrieks of thirty terrified students reverberated through the classroom.

Mike exited without a backward glance, humming once again. Three doors down, he paused and tried the doorknob. This one turned. He pushed the door open.

A chubby man with a fringe of white hair stretched his arms protectively in front of a number of students who huddled like lambs behind him.

Mike looked past the teacher and locked eyes with another student with a buzz cut and an athlete’s physique.

“Billy.” Mike’s voice was glacier cold. “Mr. H., please move.”

“Mike,” Mr. H. said, “this isn’t what you—”

“Please, just move.”

“You don’t have to—”

“Move it!”

Mr. H. lunged toward Mike. Blood spewed as the report of the shot hammered through the room, the concussion almost a physical force in the enclosed space.

Kids yowled. They scrambled over desks and each other in an effort at self-preservation.

Mike calmly skirted the fallen Mr. H. He stopped in front of Billy, who was backed up against the windows that overlooked the parking lot.

“What are you doing?” Billy’s voice sounded like someone had kneed him in the nuts.

“What am I doing?” Mike echoed faintly. He raised the gun. “You know what.” Mike’s body quaked and he shouted, “No more!”


“Shut up.” Mike stepped closer. He pressed the barrel of the gun into Billy’s sternum.

“Mike!” a voice shouted from the doorway. “Please, please don’t.”

He cast a glance back at a tall, plump girl who stood on the threshold. She breathed heavily, eyes wide. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, kids squeezed past her and ran down the hall. Mike let them go.

“No, Livy, not this time.” Mike refocused on Billy. Over his shoulder he said, “Get out of here. You don’t want to see this.”

“Dude, come on.” Olivia took a couple of steps inside the classroom. “It doesn’t have to be like this. They’re not worth it.”

“Olivia, go!”

Billy’s eyes flicked between Mike and Olivia. “Yeah, Mike, come on—”

Mike dug the barrel harder into his chest, and Billy grunted in pain.

Mike’s voice dropped, hardened. “Hunter and this asshole did something to Otis. To my goddamned dog. We had to put him to sleep last night.”

“Oh, God,” Olivia whispered on an exhale.

Billy said, “Come on, man. I swear I didn’t—”

“Shut up, fucker. Paybacks are a bitch.” More gently, he said, “Get out of here, Livy. Do it now.”

Olivia backed away, stumbling over an upended desk. A thunderous blast chased her out the door. Glass shattered, the sound almost lost in the din of screams echoing in the hallway.

At last, nothing remained but the tinny beat of heavy metal rock music.

Cover Final Stop Hate JPG

Chapter 1

Raindrops pounded the ground. I forcefully shook my head before stepping through the back door into my apartment, which was half of an ancient, two-story Northeast Minneapolis duplex. Built railroad-style, the apartments had a long hall that ran along the outermost wall, going through the unit from the front door straight to the back door. The kitchen, the living room, and a half-bath opened off the hallway. On the second floor, two bedrooms and a full bath were situated off of a duplicate hall.

I shrugged out of my wet jacket and hung it up. April showers might bring May flowers, but they didn’t do much more than make me cranky. The week had been grueling, and I looked forward to an unexpected weekend off.

Mail injected through a slot in the door by the postal carrier was strewn haphazardly across the foyer. I scooped up the envelopes and brought them into the kitchen.

At the table I flipped through the mail. Two credit card applications landed in a shred pile. A Target bill and a reminder that my teeth were overdue for cleaning went into another.

A pink envelope had the return address of one E. Knight. Eli was a redheaded Tasmanian devil, an ex who’d recently decided she no longer wished to hold that status. After what the tramp had pulled on me, that status wasn’t about to change. Ever.

In the midst of an intense four-year relationship, I’d come home unexpectedly early one afternoon and walked into our bedroom to the shock of a lifetime.

Eli and a woman she worked with were sprawled in our bed, between our sheets, doing the horizontal mambo. After my brain caught up, I flashed the gun in my shoulder holster and sent them both packing, dressed in nothing but their birthday suits.

As they scrammed down the stairs and out the front door, I picked up the clothing they’d dropped and threw it out the bedroom window. The neighborhood gossiped for the next month about the two naked chicks scrambling around my front yard attempting to cover themselves while trying to gather their stuff.

That was nearly two years ago. Eventually, for whatever reason, Eli decided she wanted another go. Ever since I’d come home from an assignment in New Jersey last winter, she had been a pain in my ass. I figured sooner or later she’d knock it off, but five months had passed, and she hadn’t let up. She’d recently taken over the helm of the advertising agency she worked for when we were together. The little womanizer had the gall to claim she’d slept up the ladder for me. For me? Yeah. Whatever. She was a certified nut job wrapped inside a power-hungry barracuda.

I gazed at the stack of pink envelopes on the table and then at four empty vases—vases that had held red roses before I pitched them directly into the trash—sitting on the kitchen counter between the refrigerator and the microwave. All the flowers had come in the last week. Maybe it was time to admit my ex had lost her mind.

I ripped the newest missive open and pulled out a single sheet of scented stationery. The smell brought unbidden memories of times best forgotten.


Why are you shutting me out? I’m finally at the top, and you’re meant to be here with me. I’m the only one who knows how to love you, and you know it. Let me give you all of me. I love you, Cailin. I know you love me too.


I tucked the note back into the envelope and tossed it onto the growing pile of undying love. It was past time to call her on her bullshit, but I’d put off a confrontation hoping she would pull her own head out of her ass without help.

I threw the rest of the junk mail in the recycling bin and dialed Northstar Gallery.

“Northstar,” a distracted-sounding voice answered. My heart thumped, like it did whenever I heard Alejandra—Alex to those she knew and loved—Rodriguez speak. My girl was always quick to make it clear she wasn’t to be confused with the ex-Yankee baseball player. While she had bigger figurative balls than half the Yankees put together, she came by her strength naturally. Every night, when I lay down and held Alex to me, I thanked the gods and goddesses for bringing her to me.

My responsibilities as a special agent for a small branch of the Department of Homeland Security called the National Protection and Investigation Unit took up the majority of my life. The Federal Government wasn’t creative enough to come up with a new set of job titles for the NPIU, so we were stuck with the same ones the Feebs used. Beyond that, though, were some major differences. The NPIU had three main goals. The first was to assess, track, and stop homegrown terror plots by analyzing and acting on information gathered by a number of agencies at all levels of government. Information collection proved exceptionally tricky. Just ask those folks at the National Security Agency.

Currently, the NSA was under fire for overreach in their efforts to collect international intelligence. I didn’t know how the mess would end, but no matter which way it went, the reputation of the United States had taken a serious hit. I was glad I worked mainly on this side of the pond.

The second mandate was to be available to any agency who requested our assistance, terror-related or not, so long as imminent danger to the American public was established.

The last, and in my opinion, most critical mandate was to improve cooperation—sharing of vital information between city, state, and the federal agencies in an attempt to bridge the negative attitudes departments often held against each other.

The pervasive cooperation problem reminded me of a pack of dogs fighting to mark their territory by seeing who could lift their leg higher. The truth of the matter was, all too often, no one was getting any relief.

I’d been caught in one of those leg-lifting battles last September. Two of us had been sent to New Jersey to help the ever-shorthanded East Coast Bureau investigate a threat involving the Holland tunnel. The bright spot out of that mess was Alex. We’d begun dating, and she allowed herself to be dragged to Minneapolis when the assignment ended. I was still shocked she was here.

Alex cleared her throat and repeated, “Northstar.”


“Hey, yourself.” I heard the smile in her smoky voice. “What’s up?”

“Aside from being whiny from loneliness, I figured you’d like to know I got another letter.”

Alex let out an exasperated sigh. “What did it say this time?”

“Same shit, different day.”

“Jesus Christ. What’ll it take for her to get the hint? Get a restraining order. Shoot her. Something.”

Alex was only half-kidding. Eli had been incessant since we’d come home. She had an obsessive streak, but in the past she eventually grew bored with whatever her current obsession was and would fixate on a new one. Why she wasn’t doing that this time was beyond me.

In the deepest recesses of my gut, a part of me felt wholly inadequate because I couldn’t find a way to successfully rein in my ex-lover. The chats I’d already had with her had no impact. Maybe a restraining order wasn’t a terrible plan, but the idea that someone who worked in law enforcement couldn’t take care of their own shit was pathetic. I needed to be firmer. On occasion, my pride did have a nasty habit of getting in the way of common sense.

“Shooting Eli sounds like a splendid idea,” I said. “I don’t get it. She should’ve moved onto something else months ago. This is excessive, even for her.”

A buzz in the background became a jumble of loud voices. “It’s because you’re irresistible. On that note, I gotta run. Some briefcase-toting chicks in designer power suits just walked in. See you tonight.” Alex disconnected and almost immediately another call lit up my phone screen. Bad sign—my workplace was on the line. I had a hunch my weekend was about to go up in flames.

“Sorry for the call, McKenna,” my direct boss, Supervisory Special Agent Allen Weatherspoon said without preamble. Weatherspoon was a decent guy and still remembered what it was like to run hot in the trenches. When his agents had a rare weekend off, he was loath to interrupt. He had a wife and three kids and liked to keep to a regular schedule himself. If the SSA was expressing an apology to me on a Friday evening, something very bad must have happened.

“There’s been another school shooting.”

“Oh, shit, no.” I wasn’t sure if I said that out loud or if the words only echoed in my head.

The previous week a shooting occurred at Steven’s High School in Minneapolis, and we’d been called in to assist. Minnesota hadn’t seen a school shooting since the Rocori High shooting in Cold Spring in 2003 and the Red Lake massacre in 2005.

The Steven’s High shooter had killed himself after dropping four students and the vice principal. The investigation into the incident was ongoing. There didn’t seem to be any effective federal solutions, thanks in part to a government that couldn’t agree on anything and a noisy portion of the public terrified of losing their right to bear arms.

“Where?” I asked.

“Gray Academy Charter. Minneapolis has asked us in, and Nakamura’s on her way. Coordinate with the responding agencies and the locals. You know the location?”

“The alternative school? 31st and Nicollet?”

“That’s the one.”

“Is it secured, or is the shooter still on the loose?”

“Secured. The shooter took out two kids, a security guard, and at least one teacher. Funny thing, he was waiting on the front steps of the school when the cavalry arrived. He stood up, hands in the air, and turned himself in.”

“Weird. I’m on my way, sir.”

I texted Alex that I’d been called out and that she was on her own for the evening. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be home anytime soon.


Twenty minutes later I parked near the entrance to Gray Academy. The structure was imposing—the early twentieth-century brick building had housed the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company, and many of the city’s streetcars had been built there in an era long since gone.

The wind had picked up, and I shivered with an inner chill the warmest heater wouldn’t chase away. Dusk was eerie, far earlier than usual at this time of year thanks to low-lying, battleship-gray clouds and the nonstop rain. Mother Nature seemed to be weeping for what had taken place.

Squads and ambulances, their red and blue lights flashing, were parked within the cordoned-off parking lot. Across the lot, on the sidewalk next to the street, three dozen gawkers had gathered. Reporters crowded together in a designated area, their bright lights shining and cameras ready to roll.

Yellow crime scene tape wound from tree to signpost to garbage can around the school. A number of crime scene guys hovered over something on the ground to the right of the front doors. Intensely bright police spotlights flooded the area.

I caught the attention of one of the officers valiantly engaged in staving off the morbidly nosy. When I flashed my NPIU credentials, he said, “It’s an ugly one, McKenna.”

“They all are.” I ducked under the crime scene tape. Trampled brown grass ended at a sidewalk leading to a flight of ten stairs and the wide, double doors of the school’s entrance.

Five people had gathered halfway up the stairway. I recognized my NPIU counterpart, Agent Rosie Nakamura, by her short, angular profile. Beside her stood the Minneapolis Chief of Police, Howard Helling, along with MPD Officers Manuel Martinez and Bryan Peterson who were a couple of Minneapolis Homicide guys I’d worked with in the past. They moonlighted on the MPD’s Special Response Team. I didn’t know the fifth man.

Peterson and Martinez reminded me of a mixed up Laurel and Hardy. Martinez was laid back, rotund, and balding. A thick, black moustache hovered over his upper lip. Bryan Peterson’s thin, six-foot-tall frame was topped by a mop of straw-colored hair.

Martinez said, “Would be nice to see you, McKenna, if we were at the bar.”

All business, Peterson said, “Let’s get the intros out of the way. Agent Cailin McKenna, Principal Nyland Nash.”

He jerked his head toward a solidly built man with salt-and-pepper hair. I reached for Nash’s hand and gave it a quick shake. His paisley tie had been loosened, and the knot sat crookedly at the base of his throat. Sweating and shaky, he looked like he might lose his marbles any moment.

“Miles Johnson,” Peterson continued, “is running the scene along with MPD’s crime lab. Here he comes now.”

Johnson took the steps two at a time. “Hey.” A man of few words, he was the head of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Forensic Crime Scene Team. I’d worked with Johnson a couple of times. He was a decent guy and had a great nose for finding shit that was often overlooked.

I gave him a nod and turned to Helling. “Chief.”

Every time I saw Chief Helling, he reminded me of Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad—minus the terminal cancer diagnosis. His face vacillated between bluish-gray and reddish-green in the reflection of the flashing lights. The stress of dealing with a cancer of a different kind that encompassed our entire city had to be monumental.

Might as well get on with it and maybe we could get out of the drizzle. I asked, “What have we got?”

Principal Nash found his voice. “A little after three this afternoon, one of our students opened fire.”

In report mode, Miles Johnson picked up the narrative. “We have two dead.”

Chief Helling crossed his arms, his face anguished. I would not want to be in his shoes.

“Three wounded,” Johnson continued, “including the security guard at the front door who was shot in the upper thigh, one teacher who was knocked unconscious by a door the shooter kicked in, and another teacher who was shot in the abdomen. The dead are two seventeen-year-old male students. The injured have been transported to Hennepin County Medical Center, and the deceased are still in place. The shooter has been taken to the Juvenile Detention Center.”

Helling said, “Students awaiting pick up are in the library, along with a few kids who came forward wanting to talk to us about the shooter. We need to find out what they know. One fortunate turn of events is one of the kids is the shooter’s best friend, and she’s willing to talk.”

Rosie asked, “Do we have an ID on the shooter?”

Peterson flipped open a notepad. “Michael John Lorenzo, age sixteen.”

The air suddenly thickened. I felt like I was choking in a vacuum of disbelief. “Michael Lorenzo?” Cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck. For a second I thought I might go toes up in front of everyone.

“Cailin?” Rosie asked. “What’s wrong? You know him?”

It would be easier to think if the roaring in my ears subsided. “I know a kid, a teen, with the same name.”

Off-duty, I occasionally picked up off-the-record cases, cases typically outside the scope of my job. Behind closed doors, I admitted to sometimes wielding the power of my badge in ways my bosses might not approve of. Most of those cases involved trying to pull runaways and homeless kids off the streets and get them somewhere safe. Provide them resources they might not know were available. The MPD had a small unit assigned to do just that, but they were often swamped. I was more than happy to lend a hand when I could. The intent was noble enough in my eyes, and that made it easy to rationalize away my legal indiscretions. How many Michael John Lorenzos could there be attending this particular high school?

I snapped my mouth shut. “I pulled a Mike Lorenzo off the streets and helped him get placed in foster care. He attends Gray Academy.”

“McKenna.” The chief faced me. He pensively tapped his chin with a finger. “Since you might know this boy, maybe you should be the one to talk to this friend of his.”

“Who is it?” My voice still sounded thin.

Martinez consulted his notebook again. “Olivia Chapman.”

“Goddamn it.” The words were out of my mouth before I could censor myself. I tilted my head back to the dark sky. “The shooter is my Mike.” A second later I returned my gaze to Helling’s. “A year or so ago he told me he’d actually made a friend. Her name was Olivia. Yeah, I’ll talk to her.”

“Where are the teachers?” Rosie asked. She was one of the NPIU’s high tech, detail-oriented computer magicians, and she approached life like she did her work, with a single-minded focus.

Chief Helling said, “Teachers are in the gym. Martinez, head downtown. Make sure the foster parents are notified.” He pointed at Rosie and Peterson. “You two go with McKenna. Johnson, get back in there and make damn sure no one is contaminating the crime scene. I’ll have enough people crawling all over me without having to deal with that problem.”

“Sure thing, Chief.” Miles Johnson made for the front door of the school, the big yellow “CST” on his burly back reflecting the sweep of the emergency lights.

Helling rubbed his hands together briskly and attempted a smile that came across as a tired grimace. “Mr. Nash, if you’ll come with me, I’d appreciate it. Time for us to face the cameras.”

The two men moved down the stairs, Martinez following in their wake.

Martinez stopped after he’d descended a couple of steps. “Jesus, McKenna. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

Rosie nudged me. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”


Jessie Chandler
Author of the award-winning Shay O’Hanlon Caper Series.

Nick Nowak Returns in this Exclusive Excerpt – Boystown 6: From the Ashes

February 21st, 2015

Boystown 6 – From The Ashes

by Marshall Thornton


Some people are like orchids: delicate, easily bruised, wilted by a chill breeze. Others are more like weeds: stubborn, hard to dig out, impossible to kill. Most people don’t know which they are until life starts to kick them around. Early in 1984, I found out which I am. I’m a weed.

Tucked under the Sheridan stop of the Jackson Howard, the bar was called Irving’s “L” Lounge. The year before, I’d spent so much time drinking there they hired me as the day bartender. I was surprised by the job offer since my no longer being a customer likely put a noticeable dent in their profits. Irving’s had a liquor store—and one-time delicatessen—on one side and the dark, sticky bar on the other. By the time I worked there, Irving was long gone—if there ever was one—and the place was now owned by a fat guy named Ludlow who clerked the liquor store himself because he was too cheap to pay anyone else to do it.

When you walked through the nicotine-drenched velvet curtain that covered the front door, the first thing you noticed was the antique mahogany bar. Even though the shellac had worn off in spots and there were chips every few inches, it was a beautiful sight: inlaid columns holding it up every few feet, a thick brass foot rail, and a heavy lip wrapping around the whole thing. Behind me, when I was working, it rose to the ceiling, with more columns, a wide cornice at top, and three beveled mirrors. The bar was obviously an antique and, like much of the clientele, in need of rescue.

The day-drinkers liked to make up stories about it, the most common being that it was salvaged from an old hotel down in the Loop that was pulled down decades ago. They speculated that Al Capone sat at it and drank. I never thought that story was particularly true. The bar was too small to have served a hotel, a speakeasy perhaps, but never a hotel. And, as far as I knew, Al Capone spent more time selling booze than drinking it. Still, the story kept my regulars occupied between sips.

Across from the bar, four small booths lined the wall. The booths were upholstered in licorice black leatherette, matching the stools that ringed the bar. Every few minutes the El rattled by above us. I had to be careful not to stack the glasses too close together or they chattered. And chattered. And chattered.

Every morning at five I arrived to get ready to open the doors at six. By seven we were in the middle of a rush. Our regulars broke down into a couple of distinct types. First, you had the graveyarders, the men and women who’d worked all night and wanted a couple of drinks before they went home to sleep all day. No one would think twice about them, except that they did everything opposite the normal world. Then, you had what I called the freshmen. Young kids who’d just discovered drinking, got drunk on Rush Street the night before, and decided they just had to keep going. They usually showed up just once or twice. Sooner or later they’d get some sense unless, of course, they turned into the third type of customer we had—the career drunk. These were people who drank in Irving’s until closing at four a.m., ran out to a twenty-four hour diner for a little breakfast, and were back at the front door waiting for me to open at six. The career drunks drank twenty-four hours a day for as long as they could, then crashed somewhere for a few days or maybe even a week, and then began the process all over again. That was me for a while. I gave it up when I crawled over to the other side of the bar. Not because I had an epiphany or read a self-help book or suddenly got all happy, it was just that drinking day and night got boring after a while. So, I slowed down.

The morning Mrs. Harker showed up at the bar was windy and barely above freezing. On the way in, I’d hit a patch of black ice on the sidewalk that allowed the wind to sail me back a good three feet. The fact that she’d braved the elements and at least two buses was not a good sign. She snuck in while a regular was telling me about the Super Bowl. Well, not so much about the game, according to him that was a real snooze with the Raiders trouncing the Redskins, but about a commercial, a really cool commercial in the second half for a computer named after a fruit.

“The ad was based on that book, you know the one, it says the world is gonna end this year.”

Boystown 6 Cover 2nd Edition2

1984?” I guessed.

“Yeah, that one.”

I’d never read it, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t about the apocalypse. I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone needed anything and there was Mrs. Harker, sitting primly at the street end of the bar. She looked older, older than she was even, though I didn’t know exactly how old she happened to be. Somewhere near, or past, seventy. Her hair was white, whiter than the clumps of snow outside on the sidewalk, her skin was pink and about as thick as tissue paper, her eyes were hard and mean as a snake. I walked down and stared at her a moment, then asked, “How’d you find me here?”

“Your lawyer tell my lawyer,” she said. This was how we’d been communicating, through lawyers. Showing up in person was a new twist but it did mean she wouldn’t be getting an invoice from her lawyer. I figured sooner or later she’d get tired of paying to torture me and look for a way to do it for free. She looked around the bar and sneered. “Bertram would not like this place.”

No, I thought, she’s right. And he wouldn’t like me working there either. I decided to be snotty and said, “I won’t tell him, if you won’t.” She gave me the frown I deserved. No one was telling Bert anything. He’d been dead for more than a year. “What do you want, Mrs. Harker?”

“I have Seven and Seven,” she said. I wasn’t all that sure, but I didn’t think I’d actually spoken to her since Bert’s funeral. Her accent seemed to have grown thicker, her English rough. I wondered if she spoke it very often; if she spoke any language very often. Or was it more that she’d become disenchanted with America, angry about all the country had given her and then taken away.

I arched an eyebrow at her and said, “It’s nine o’clock in the morning. Isn’t that early for a high ball?”

“This is way you talk to customer?”

After a heavy sigh, I walked down the bar and made her a drink. I brought it back and set it in front of her. She opened her purse and began to dig through it. “It’s on me,” I said, but she stubbornly put a five-dollar bill on the bar. I stubbornly ignored it. I stood there until she took a sip of her drink. She tried to hide her shiver as she swallowed. She was not the kind of woman who drank in the morning, and to remind her of that fact, I’d made the drink a little strong; well, it was almost brown.

“Now, tell me what you really want,” I said.

“I, I need hire you.”

“You need a bartender? Are you throwing a garden party?”

“I need detective,” she said with a scowl.

I almost said I didn’t do that anymore, because I didn’t. I’d been avoiding my chosen profession since I killed the man who killed Bert. That sort of made me lose interest. Still, I couldn’t help asking the obvious question. “Why do you need a detective, Mrs. Harker?”

“At my church, my priest, Father Maniatis, he died.”

“Father what?” I asked, not quite catching the name through her accent.

She gave me her basic unhappy look. She didn’t believe she had an accent. “Is Greek. Many-ah-tis.”

“Father Maniatis. He was murdered?”

“I don’t know. I am not detective. You are detective. You are to find out.”

“Do the police think he was murdered?”

She shook her head. “No.”

I waited for her to say more but she didn’t. “What do the police think?”

“He had heart attack.”

“And you don’t think he did?”

“No. Very young, very healthy.”

“How young was he?” I asked.

“Forty-one, forty-two.”

That was just about five years older than I was. Which did seem young. On the other hand there were days I thought I might be on the verge of dropping dead of a heart attack myself. Usually right before I passed out drunk. “Why do you think he was healthy?”

“His doctor say.”

“You talked to his doctor?”

“Father Maniatis tell me.” With a glance she read my mind. “He would not tell lie.”

“Well…doctors have been wrong before. Was there an autopsy?”

“I do not know. This is for you to find out.” She gave me an exasperated look, as though I were a child who refused to understand.

“I told you. I don’t do that anymore. Check the yellow pages.”

“So you not help me? I pay you.” She knew I wouldn’t take her money. I hadn’t touched a penny of Harker’s money even though he’d left me half of it. He’d never said so, but I figured he did it so I’d always take care of his mother. A position that my lawyer had made clear to her lawyer. From the way she was looking at me I think she’d decided my doing work for her came under the heading of taking care of her. I didn’t agree.

It took a few more minutes, but she finally figured out I wasn’t going to do what she wanted. She snatched up her five-dollar bill and with a huff got off the stool. I watched her walk out the door, happy she was leaving.

She didn’t belong in a place like Irving’s.


I had him face down on the bed, head shoved into the pillow, back-arched. I held onto the veneered headboard with both hands and fucked him in an aggressive way that in some states was classified as a felony. Owen Lovejoy, Esquire was enjoying the hell out of it.

He was too tall to be considered short but too short to be considered average, which put him on the tall end of short. He had dark hair cut conservatively, nice copper eyes that were made bigger by the large, round, tortoise-shell glasses that kept slipping down his nose as I fucked him. His body was squat and athletic, like a wrestler or a boxer, even though I knew for certain he didn’t do either of those things. Long hours and take-out food seemed to be his only health regime.

His ass was perfectly round, especially when he lay on his stomach, and he lifted it up to meet me as I thrust into him. I’d been fucking him for what seemed like hours. He’d come maybe ten minutes before. I wanted to come. I was tired and the room was hot with radiator heat so I was sweating like we were mired in the dog days of August.

I pushed all thought out of my head and concentrated on the way my dick felt sliding in and out of his ass, the little gasping whimpers he let out, and the sexy arch of his back. A minute later, I could feel myself getting close, muscles contracting, cum flowing through me, and then a few brief seconds of silence, release, blissful emptiness. The French call it la petite mort, the small death. But I don’t think it’s like that. It’s more like life, before I screwed it up so bad.

I caught my breath and pulled my dick out of him. He flipped over and said, “I made a mess of the sheets. I came twice.”

“You paid for them. I don’t think I can complain.” On his second visit, Owen had arrived with a set of nice permanent press polyester and cotton sheets from Carson Pirie Scott. I lived in a place called the Hotel Chateau where you could rent rooms by the hour, the day, the week, or the month. The rooms were furnished right down to the bedding. Bedding that wasn’t up to Owen’s standards.

The Hotel Chateau was located in a six-story, yellow brick building on Broadway with a mod sixties neon sign and steel awning stuck on one end of the building. I lived in a single room with no kitchen. The sallow yellow paint had bubbled off under the window and the drapes had a groovy brown and black pattern that hid the mold growing up the back of them. There was a double bed, a dresser, and a small metal table with two chairs. In other words, the place was thoroughly disgusting. But it was a hundred and ten dollars a month and I could walk to work. That gave it an appeal.

Abruptly, Owen said, “I keep hearing that this is what causes AIDS.”

“What is?”

“Sex, dear. What we just did.”

“Do you wanna stop coming to see me?” I asked, completely unconcerned with what his answer might be. Well, maybe not completely. It would be inconvenient if he stopped coming around.

“No. I mean, if you’ve got it then you’ve already given it to me. Right?”

“Or vice versa.” I really had no idea what he did when he wasn’t in my bed. I mean, aside from being a lawyer and working his ass off. He could have been fucking half of Chicago in shifts for all I knew.

“True,” he admitted. Of course, he knew that Harker had been sick with AIDS when he was murdered. I suppose he was thinking it was more likely that I’d be the one to be handing it out. If it truly was caused by sex, that is. We lay there a minute or so, the sounds of traffic on the street below drifted up. I’d cracked the window a bit to help with the extra radiator heat.

“This is nice pillow talk,” I said, finally.

“Sweetie, I just wondered if you were worried. Are you?”

Was I? It was like I’d been waiting to start dying for a year, well, hoping might be a better word. It was starting to get hard to believe that I would. “No, I’m not worried.”

“It’s mostly in New York and San Francisco, anyway,” he pointed out.

“Is it?”

“I think something like two thousand people have died nationwide. But I don’t think there’s even been two hundred here. If that.”

“Lucky us,” I said, though I didn’t feel lucky. I’d known three people who had it. Two of them wouldn’t have made the death count, though. Harker because he’d been murdered. Earl Silver, Ross’ boyfriend, had officially died of liver disease since it was less embarrassing. So, of that couple hundred, I knew one who’d been counted. Some guy named Robert who’d been Brian’s grumpy roommate. I didn’t like the drift of the conversation so I changed the subject. “You told Mrs. Harker where I work.”

“I told her lawyer where you work. Was it a secret?”

“She came by to see me.”

“I’ll call Buck and tell him that’s not cool.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“What did she want?”

“Her favorite priest died of a heart attack. Except she doesn’t believe it. She wants me to poke around.”

“Are you going to?

“No, I gave that up.”

“You still have your license, though.”

“For another year.”

“When you’re ready to go back to work, I can use you at the firm. In fact—”

“I’m not going to get ready. I just said I gave that up.”

He put a hand on my bare chest and said, “Relax, it was just an offer. Why doesn’t she believe the priest had a heart attack?”

“Because she’s a stubborn old bitch.”




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Exclusive Excerpt: From #1 Best Seller Gay Mystery – Dying To Play by Mark Zubro

February 14th, 2015

Exclusive Excerpt – Dying To Play

By Mark Zubro


Monday 9:01 A.M.

Donny Campbell, the younger man, had broad shoulders, eight-pack abs, and hadn’t shaved yet this hour. Tufts of hair peeked out above his form-fitting T-shirt. Black satin athletic shorts clung to narrow hips but bagged at the knees. Connor Knecht, the older gentleman, was dressed elegant-casual: khakis, dark blue blazer, light blue shirt, red tie. Duncan Morgan, my secretary, ushered them into the office.

Knecht rushed over to me, held out his hand, and said, “You’re Mike King, right?” He didn’t wait for my acknowledgment but bulled ahead. “I’m told you’re the best. We need your help. Someone’s trying to kill us all.”

It was good to know the client had gotten positive reviews on my work, plus he seemed eager. Eager and positive and a little forward weren’t inherently bad.

After we shook hands, they sat in the two overstuffed client chairs. I was in the leather swivel chair behind the old wooden teacher’s desk. Connor Knecht glanced at the Picasso on the wall, a real Picasso. I had solved the case of a missing child for a very grateful client who happened to be very rich.

Knecht leaned forward and placed his hands on his knees. Campbell swung his right ankle on top of his left knee. I got an excellent view up to and including a well-stuffed jockstrap. A sly stud, or totally clueless, or a prick tease, or issuing an invitation? His “pleased to meet you” had been delivered in a rumbling baritone. He didn’t notice my checking him out because I found his eyes lingering on my crotch longer than a straight guy’s normally would. He caught me catching his glance and didn’t look away.

Connor Knecht owned the Butterfield, Wisconsin, Mustangs, a minor league baseball team. Donny Campbell was the team captain and played shortstop.

Dying to Play

The town of Butterfield was west of Madison on the Mississippi River. Last year the controversy over the team and its new stadium had reached the front pages of the Chicago Tribune.

I said, “After you made the appointment, I checked the Internet for all the articles about what happened. I think I have a grasp of the details about the problems you had in the community as they appeared in the media. None of them said anything about murder.”

Knecht said, “I offered to rescue that town. I left fifty years ago. I made my fortune, and I chose to retire there. I love the town. I wanted to help it come back.” He got misty eyed.

From what I’d read, I knew Knecht had begun with almost nothing and over many years built a financial colossus impervious to economic vicissitudes. Among other things, he now owned the largest dairy farm in Wisconsin.

Knecht wiped his eyes and continued, “The downtown has been dying. Young people are moving away. I should never have gone back. I should have let them wallow in their misery. For years the local entertainment was to come downtown and watch them put up shutters on stores that had just gone bankrupt. Places I knew as a kid were gone. Environmentalists, rival developers, jealous country club types, and resident loonies—none of them wanted their world interrupted.” He coughed, wiped his eyes some more. “Once the referendum passed, I thought things would calm down, but they didn’t. While the grandstand was being built, someone took a chainsaw to every single piece of wood used in the construction. The police did nothing.”

“Absolutely nothing?” I asked.

“They barely took a report. So we put guards on the materials. After the stadium was built, somebody tried to set fire to the grandstand. Not once, but twice. Some jerks even took an old outhouse and burned it on top of the pitchers’ mound. The police claim they couldn’t figure out how this huge privy got there. Members of the team have been threatened. The police claim they haven’t been able to track down any of the threats.”

Campbell said, “Some of the guys on the team got notes saying we’d be hurt if we didn’t get out of town.”

Knecht said, “And phone calls to their homes, or to their wives. Sometimes notes are left in the locker room.”

I asked, “Has anyone actually been harmed yet?”

“No,” Campbell said.

Knecht said, “It’s the threats to the players that have me worried. We didn’t get those until just this month. I can’t have people hurt. I want the threats stopped. I want the person making them caught and arrested. If something does go wrong, you’ll be right on the scene to provide protection. I was told you know how to keep your mouth shut. I’ve had enough screaming headlines. I don’t want people to know there have been threats.”

“I don’t see how I could do the job you need without talking to people in the town and the members of the team who’ve been threatened. If I talk to people, someone’s going to notice.”

“Talk to them, but be discreet. Yes, they’ll probably catch on. Maybe it will be good if they do. Maybe that would stop whoever’s doing it. I want to at least try investigating without announcing it with a fanfare. We’ve got a lot of pressure on the guys now that Tyler Skeen is doing rehab with the team until he’s ready to go back with the big club.”

“How does that add pressure to the other guys?”

“The media is everywhere. There’s some big deal guy who was a huge part of Skeen’s trial. Guy named Tim Czobel. He’s been sniffing around. He’s from that website TRUTHINSPORTS. COM.”

Everyone who followed sports knew about the case. Skeen had sued everyone in sight who claimed he’d used any kind of drugs. He won. The government never proved he’d done drugs or lied during an investigation. The jury that cleared Skeen had awarded him only one dollar in damages. The jury didn’t believe him, but they didn’t convict him. They’d been polled later. He won because, in the jurors’ minds, the accusations weren’t backed up by strict facts. He’d gotten a buck because they didn’t like him and thought he was getting away with drug use on technicalities dreamed up by his high-priced lawyers.

I asked, “What’s Czobel done?”

“He’s an asshole. My people get harassed. Tyler is a good guy, but he has no control of any of what’s happening to the team or all this publicity. All the guys like him. I do too. The club has invested millions in him, and they’re relying on me to keep him safe while he’s in town. I want to take precautions. I want to do something proactive. As for the players, I figured you could double as one of them.”

“My name has been in the Chicago papers,” I said. “Mike King might be a common name, and I’m not famous, but I’d hate to rely on my lack of fame to keep your secret. It may not be very likely, but people might see it, recognize it, make a logical deduction. I want to make sure you recognize that there’s a chance, however unlikely.”

“They won’t,” Campbell said. “None of the guys read the paper beyond the sports section. The only magazine they read is Sports Illustrated and that’s mostly to whack off to the swimsuit issue. On the nightly news they only watch the sports. Your picture been on the sports news, ESPN?”


“You’ll be safe.”

“A simple search on the Internet would turn me up.”

Campbell said, “The guys just use the Internet for porn to whack off to, not the news.”

“People in the town?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” Knecht said. “You being on the team was all I could think of as a disguise. You’d be a natural. I looked into your credentials, and I talked with a number of people. You were also the only investigator who just missed being drafted by several baseball teams out of college.”

“I wasn’t quite good enough for the majors then. I haven’t gotten better. I’m not in these guys’ league. It would become obvious very quickly that I don’t have a skill set that comes close to theirs. Somebody would have had to have heard about me before I showed up on a team at this level. Prospects just don’t drop in out of the sky.”

I’d played college ball a few years ago. We won a lot of games, but we’d never even gotten to the college world series. I started all of our games for two years. Lots of starters in college never get much beyond that. I still ran several miles every day and worked out three or four times a week. That didn’t make me a professional baseball player.

Knecht said, “I’m the owner of the team. I get what I want. Nobody questions me.”

Perhaps he was the last bastion of absolute monarchy. Some people have that kind of magic even in the new century. He asked how much I charged. I named my fee per week for sticking with the team around the clock. A twenty-four-hour-a- day investigation wouldn’t be cheap. I always tack on a surcharge for absolute monarchs. In his case it was double. He didn’t blink at the price. Being impervious to economic vicissitudes must be a great lifestyle.

Campbell said, “You look like you’re in plenty good enough shape. The guys will buy your presence, at least for a while. We gotta know what’s going on.”

Knecht offered, “You could be like the guy they made the movie about. Out of baseball for a while but working hard at it. Now comes another chance. I realize you’ll have to talk to the players. That’s why I brought Donny along. As captain, he’s respected. He’s a good player and a good guy. He can be your guide to the team. He can get you a lot of introductions, give you a feel for the operation.”

I said, “You mentioned a list of possible suspects. Anybody in particular I should concentrate on?”

Knecht said, “Todd Timmons is the main rival developer, him and his slimy lawyer, L.P. Ornstein. Timmons is a young fella with a lot of ego and ambition. He’s got a lot of confidence and not much sense. He wants big chain stores at every exit of the Interstate. He wants to create something new, not preserve the town I love. And the fool doesn’t have enough money. He’s a pup who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he’s vicious. I don’t trust him.”

I’d want to talk to the locals early on. Knecht gave me a few other names and details about them.

I said, “How much do you stand to lose if your whole investment goes bust?”

Knecht looked like I’d slapped him. Campbell looked confused.

Knecht replied, “I don’t know.”

“You’ve got to have some idea. Any decent businessman knows what he’s spending for what.”

“I don’t see how knowing that will help your investigation.”

I stood up. I’d miss trying to get another glimpse of Campbell’s jockstrap and the delights it concealed. I held out my hand and said, “I’m sorry we won’t be able to do business.”

Knecht half stood. “What? You’re rejecting a huge fee? You’re turning me down?” He sat back down, looked to Campbell. No help there.

“I’m not starting out with only half the information about what’s going on.”

After a number of hems, haws, and harrumphs, Knecht said, “Okay. I guess.” He hesitated some more, caught my eye, looked away, thought a few more moments, sighed. “Yes, I stand to lose money.” He caught my gaze. “A great deal of money.”

I waited.

He said, “Just under fifty million. I was prepared to invest as much again.”

I sat back down and said, “That kind of sum could cause a lot of people to get angry and desperate.”

“Yes,” Knecht said. “Why turn that kind of money away from a community that needs it?”

Why indeed? Maybe I’d find out. I was willing to give it a try. Plus there was Campbell and his jockstrap and the secrets it concealed. I told them I’d do my best. As they left, I contemplated Campbell’s butt. Very nice.


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Exclusive Excerpt – Boystown 5 – A Time For Secrets – by Marshall Thornton

February 6th, 2015

Excerpt from Boystown 5: Murder Book  – Lambda Literary Finalist

by Marshall Thornton

Chapter One

Former Chicago Police Detective Bertram Edgar Harker died sometime during the evening of September 28, 1982. It was a Tuesday. I wish I’d been with him when he died but that wasn’t possible. He didn’t die in a hospital or at home. My best guess is that he died in the back of a van parked in a dirty alley somewhere on the northwest side. He was the seventh victim of the Bughouse Slasher.

That night, I came home later than usual. I’d been working a case for Carolyn O’Hara, who ran a temp agency called Carolyn’s Crew. One of her clients, an advertising wunderkind who’d started his own company a year before but was now going through a vicious divorce, was trying to claim bankruptcy. Carolyn was sure the owner had the money he owed her and was just hiding assets from his wife, and by extension Carolyn.

After I followed the twenty-nine-year-old business prodigy around for a few days, I was pretty sure she was right. Irwin Meier drove a brand new Jaguar XJS—sticker price roughly thirty-two thousand—and lived in a pretty brick house in Evanston right across from Lake Michigan. On paper, the house belonged to his eighteen-year-old, live-in girlfriend, and, upon further investigation, I discovered the recent high school senior also leased the Jaguar.

Shifting through the reams of paper Carolyn’s lawyer provided, I attempted to find the path money had taken from Meier to his nubile girlfriend, where it had ended up, and exactly when the money had been moved. The closer the exchange to the bankruptcy, the more likely the creditors would be able to attach the funds. It was interesting work, something I hadn’t done before, so I’d been enjoying myself and lost track of time.

Walking into my apartment around seven, I called out for Harker and was met by silence. I hurried down the entry hallway and into the four-room garden apartment that wound around itself. Spare room, living room, bedroom, kitchen. The rooms were dark and empty. I turned on lights and saw dust in the air, making the place seem like it had been abandoned for a very long time. Where was Harker? Lately, he hadn’t been feeling well and had been sticking close to home. Well, lately as in the last nine months, but more so in the preceding weeks. He’d had an energetic spurt at the end of summer which had slowly faded.

That meant I had no idea where he might have gone. I thought about calling his mother, but she lived out in Edison Park and there was no way he’d have gone there unless… I considered the possibility that something had happened to her and he’d rushed to her side. But that didn’t make sense. I’d been in my office, sitting next to a telephone, only a few blocks away. If something had happened to his mother, Harker would have called me to drive him wherever he needed to go. Wouldn’t he?

Boystown 5 Cover 2nd Edition2

I called her anyway. It took less than two seconds to find out Harker wasn’t there.

“Mrs. Harker, it’s Nick.”

“What happened? Is Bertram all right?”

“Yeah, he’s fine,” I said reflexively as I scrambled for another reason for the call. “So, did you come by today?”

“No. Bertram was tired. But he call me. We have very nice, long talk.”

“You’re coming tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

“Would you like me to come and get you?”

“No, I take bus like always.”

I could hear suspicion growing in her voice. Neither of us relished the possibility of being in a car together. I covered by saying, “I was going to be out that way and Bert thought I could give you a ride.”

“No. I take bus,” she said and then hung up on me.

I was relieved she hadn’t figured out something was wrong. I didn’t want her at my doorstop dogging my every move. I sat down at my desk with the phone on my lap trying to think who else to call. Harker’s life wasn’t exactly a social whirlwind. Neither was mine for that matter.

There was the tiniest chance he was with his partner from the eighteenth, Frank Connors. But that didn’t make sense. They talked on the phone or Connors came by. He knew how sick Harker was; I didn’t think Connors would ask him to go anywhere. I could call him, but decided to hold out. Connors was the last call I should make. If I couldn’t find Bert, if he were missing, I’d need Connors to pull strings and get the CPD moving as quickly as possible. I told myself I was being paranoid and tried to think of other calls I could make.

I only came up with one call, a call I didn’t want to make. Over the summer, Harker had befriended a wannabe journalist named Christian Baylor who was interested in the Bughouse Slasher. Since the killings had originally been Bert’s cases, Christian was all over him for information in hopes of writing an article for Chicago magazine. In the process, they’d become close. Closer than I liked, actually. Biting the bullet, I dialed Christian’s number. It rang several times, and I wondered if he hadn’t gotten home from his new job out in Downer’s Grove, or if maybe he was actually with Harker. Finally, he snapped up the phone, out of breath. “Hello.”

“It’s Nick. Have you seen Bert?”

“What? No. He’s not at home?”

“No, he’s not.”

“Then where is he?” Panic already infected his voice.

“I don’t know,” I said. “All right, thanks–”

“Wait, should I come over?”

“No. Don’t.”

“But…will you have him call me when he gets home? I’m going to worry.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

I hung up and tried to think what to do next. The only constructive thing that came to mind was walking my neighborhood. It was possible he’d needed something and had gone out to the store to get it. Maybe he’d wanted aspirin or had a craving for ice cream.

I was out the door in less than a minute and heading down Roscoe. The street was quiet, my neighbors settling in for an evening of television. When I got to Broadway, I headed up to Addison to stick my head into the White Hen Pantry to see if he’d needed some…well some anything. He wasn’t there. I headed down Broadway, peeked into The Closet, knowing he wouldn’t be in there having a drink but needing to check anyway. I walked through the Melrose, Unabridged Books, and Walgreens. He wasn’t in any of those places. I walked down Belmont until I got to Halsted then did the same kind of search over there. Nothing. I walked the alleys in between, figuring there was only so far he could go. And if he’d had to vomit or had had a sudden bout of diarrhea…but again, nothing.

When I got back to the apartment it was just after nine. I walked by my front door and let myself into the main building. I climbed the carpeted stairs to the second floor and knocked on the apartment right above mine. A young lesbian named Sue lived there and I hoped against hope that she’d seen something. She worked during the day, something to do with the big computers FirstChicago needed to keep track of their money. She probably hadn’t even been home when Harker left.

I knocked again and waited. I could smell the polish used on the wooden banister, mildew in the carpet, and a touch of charred meat from someone’s dinner. I heard a television playing on the floor above me. Sue didn’t come to the door. I gave up.

On the floor above, I discovered the television was playing in the back apartment that faced the courtyard on one side and the pass-through on the other. They were unlikely to have seen Bert coming or going so I didn’t bother knocking. In the apartment above Sue’s there didn’t seem to be anyone home. I tried to put a face on the tenant but couldn’t. In fact, I wasn’t even sure anyone lived there at the moment.

When I went back downstairs, I called three nearby hospitals and asked if Harker had been admitted. They’d never heard of him. So, finally, at nearly ten o’clock I called Connors at home, having found his number in the address book Harker kept in the top drawer of our bedroom dresser.

Connors was annoyed to be hearing from me.

“Harker’s missing,” I told him before he could cuss me out too badly. I quickly went over everything I’d done to find him.

“Stay there in case he comes home,” he said. “I’ll do some nosing around and call if I find anything.”

He hung up and I began to wait in earnest. Helpless. Alone. Time crawled like it had just been slammed in the knees with a baseball bat. I found myself glancing at the VCR every few minutes. 11:01; 11:05; 11:07; 11:08. God, it was excruciating. I knew, I just knew, something bad had happened and, sitting there, smoking cigarette after cigarette in my living room, I waited to find out exactly what it was. It was like the moment before the nurse stuck you with a needle, or the one before the dentist pulled out the decayed tooth, except it went on hour after hour.

I couldn’t even wonder if he was dead. I didn’t have the nerve. I did wonder if, someday, when Harker died, would I know it? Even if I wasn’t with him? Was our bond that strong? Would he reach out across time and space and touch me, just to let me know he was no longer in this world? Probably not, I decided.

The call came at eight twenty-three the next morning. I hadn’t slept all night except for a few fuzzy minutes here and there. I snatched up the phone before the first ring finished.


“It’s bad, Nick,” I heard him say. “He’s gone.”

“What hospital?” I asked.

“He wasn’t at a hospital.”

“Where was he?”

“We found his body beside the Chicago River, near Hooker Street. His throat was slashed.”

“No,” I said. “That can’t be.”

Connors was wrong; he’d made a mistake. I knew how Harker would die. He would die in a hospital of this new disease, AIDS. That was how things were going to play out. We knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant, but the sheets would be clean, the nurses would be friendly but concerned, and I would be there next to him.

“The Bughouse Slasher got him,” Connors said.

I felt like I might puke so I walked into the bathroom, and as soon as I got in there I felt an uncontrollable desire to lie on the floor, quickly. I managed to do it without hitting my head on any of the porcelain fixtures. My eyes shut of their own accord and maybe fifteen, twenty seconds later, I came to staring at the phone receiver I’d dragged into the bathroom with me and which now lay a few feet from my face. The cord straggled back to the base, sitting by the bathroom door, beyond that the phone line wiggled through the apartment.

The receiver squawked, “Nick? Nick, are you all right?”

I grabbed it. “Yeah, I’m here,” I said. “I needed a moment.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“I guess I should call his mother.”

“I already called her,” Connors said. “Legally, I had to call her first. Hell, legally I’m probably not even supposed to call you.”

He was probably right, so I kept my mouth shut. There were surprisingly few things going on in my head at that particular moment. It was as though someone had poured in a bucket of tar. Things had slowed down to a near stop.

“Well, thank you for calling me,” I said, because that’s what you say.

“We’re going to need to search your place, Nick. You know, because Bert lived there.”

“Do you have a warrant?”

“I could get one,” Connors said, his voice instantly stiff and professional. “I’d rather not.”

I left a long pause. “Give me two hours.”

“What do you need two hours for?”

I’d like to put my pants on. Or do you want me sitting around buck naked when you search the place?” I wasn’t buck naked, I was still wearing the clothes I’d worn the day before. I waited for him to say that it wouldn’t take two hours to put my pants on, since of course it wouldn’t. But he didn’t. He knew it would take at least twenty-four hours to get a warrant; he was getting a break.

“Two hours,” he said and hung up.

As much as I wanted to lie back down on the bathroom floor, I knew there was something more important I had to do. Sitting on the old desk shoved into a corner of my living room was the murder book Harker had been working on since he got sick. I assumed there was one like it at the eighteenth, probably sitting on Connors desk. A three-hole binder, five inches thick, blue; it was filled with six inches of paper: autopsies, arrest reports, tip sheets, computer runs. It had been there, growing, for months and months, and I’d never looked inside.

Now I did, and was surprised by what I found. I’d thought Harker had been playing at the book. I’d thought it was barely real. But there was so much more in it than I’d expected. He’d given me the impression he was reconstructing the book from his memory of the original murder book, but there were copies of…well, pretty much everything. It looked like he had every piece of paper the police had. Piece by piece, Connors had brought him copies of everything on the Bughouse Slasher cases. Things Harker never should have had as a disabled police officer.

This was what Connors was coming to get. I wasn’t entirely sure how, but the book was important. Had Harker followed the clues in the book until he got too close to the Slasher? Had it gotten him killed? At that moment, it barely made sense. I hoped it would soon.