The Rational Faculty (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords Book 1) by Gregory Ashe

Excerpt:

CHAPTER TEN

NOVEMBER 1

THURSDAY

8:37 AM

HAZARD HAD SLEPT POORLY, and around two he left the bedroom. For a while, he walked the house, counting paces. This many steps from the hall closet to the bathroom. This many steps from the thermostat to the front door. This many steps from the utility room to the window where he watched a fox cross the backyard. The house got smaller and smaller, and after a while, he found himself on a couch, staring up into the dark.

The thing was.

The thing was that it was so easy to imagine: Somers with his sleeves rolled up, smiling, nodding, taking statements, studying a crime scene, moving through a place of violent death with grace and beauty. Somers seeing things that others didn’t see. Somers moving steadily toward justice for an unjust death.

More. Somers, everything about Somers. Somers interacting with people—even the simple, nonverbal things, the way Somers would roll his shoulder or shake his head, and somehow it would be enough to get Foley and Moraes laughing, like it had been the best joke in the universe—in that peculiar way Somers had of being utterly perfect without seeming to realize it.

Hazard let himself play the whole thing out. He ran it backward and forward like an old VHS tape. He let himself split off into what ifs: Somers picking up coffee and donuts because it was the only way to get Norman and Gross to do their job; Somers showing one of the new recruits how to keep people away from a crime scene, politely but firmly. Wilder: Somers chasing a suspect across rooftops; Somers in a shootout.

He played as many scenarios as he could until it hurt so much that he couldn’t breathe. He had to close his eyes.

Then, upstairs, his alarm buzzed. It was a new day.

He packed up all the broken pieces, swept that spot inside himself clean, and went to turn off the alarm. Then he went back to the kitchen, counting the steps automatically, and threw himself into the morning.

A little past eight-thirty, Hazard was sitting at the table, coffee in one hand, his phone in the other. He was reading the news when the garage door went up, and the familiar rumble of the Mustang’s engine rolled into the garage.

Somers looked wrecked when he stepped inside. Hair mussed worse than usual, red eyes, fatigue visible in the lines of his face. He stopped just inside the kitchen. He smiled.

“Morning.”

“Look what the cat dragged in.”

“God, what a night.”

Hazard stood, set down phone and coffee, and walked toward his boyfriend.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Fine.” Hazard bent, kissed Somers, and unbuckled his waistband.

“Ree, I’m wiped. I’m not really—”

Hazard laughed as he undid Somers’s zipper an inch.

“Not that I mind the interest,” Somers said, his hand coming up to run over Hazard’s cheek. “It’s been a while since we . . . you know.”

Still laughing, Hazard slid his hands around Somers and unbuckled the waistband holster. He removed it and set it on the kitchen counter.

“Oh,” Somers said.

Hazard pushed him into a seat at the table. “I’m glad you didn’t mind the interest.”

“Ok, I just thought . . .”

“I know what you thought.”

“Well, when a guy starts taking off your pants the minute you get through the door, you’re bound to think something’s up.”

“Something is up,” Hazard said, navigating to the oven. “Breakfast.”

“Ree.”

“You’ve been up all night. You’ve been up over twenty-four hours, in fact. You need to eat something. And you need to sleep.”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Try doing things in order, John.” Hazard pulled out a plate that had been warming in the oven. He poured juice and coffee.

“I can do that,” Somers said.

“Don’t you dare.” Hazard carried everything over to the table.

“I can do that too.”

“Uh uh.”

Somers stared at the plate.

“Goat cheese omelet with bacon and shallots,” Hazard said. “Grits. And asparagus.”

“I thought it was a little green spear.”

Hazard smiled and went back to his seat.

They sat there together in silence. Somers picked at the food, taking a few bites, but mostly just staring at the plate. He moved a piece of asparagus all the way to one side. Then he moved it back. The tines of his fork rang out against the ceramic. Then the asparagus had to go all the way over again. Hazard watched all of it out of the corner of his eye. The world-traveling asparagus.

“Ree, maybe we should talk about this stuff.”

“Sure. I want to hear about the case.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

Hazard set his phone down. He looked at Somers. And he said, “Please, John. I’m not asking you to give me protected information. I just . . . I just want to hear about it. Whatever you can tell me.”

Somers actually dropped his fork. “You think I wouldn’t tell you?”

“I’m a civilian. Information about ongoing investigations—”

“Jesus Christ, Ree. You’re my boyfriend. You’re the smartest person I know. You’re the best detective I know. If you’re willing to listen, Jesus, you’re going to have to tell me to shut up.”

“I’ve gotten pretty good at that.”

With a real smile on his face, Somers began to talk. And eat. Whatever his objection to the meal, it was forgotten as he launched into an account of the case. A few times, Hazard tried to stop him, but Somers waved the warnings aside and kept talking.

And inside, Hazard felt something coming to life. Like he’d been walking in the dark, and now lights were coming on. He listened to Somers’s description of the crime scene. He listened to the paraphrased interviews. And then, to his own surprise, Hazard found himself asking questions. Did he say this? Did she say that?

It was almost like the old days.

“So,” Somers said as he scraped a fork across his empty plate. “What do you think?”

Hazard grabbed his coffee and took a drink. He shrugged. “Nothing on the security cameras?”

“Not yet. No sign of this guy. He walks out of the apartment and, as far as we can tell, disappears. Cravens is going to have people keep looking at the footage, but . . .” Somers waved a hand dismissively. “So, who else was in on it?”

Hazard shrugged again.

“Come on,” Somers said. “Right now, I like that girl Cynthia for it. She’s got a weird thing for professors; I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabbri had a thing with her, cut it off, and she went crazy.”

“That’s a good theory.” Hazard raised his coffee again.

“Oh no,” Somers said, catching the mug and pulling it back down. “Now you.”

“Come on, I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore.”

“Three months and you’re out of practice?”

“I—”

“Bullshit.”

“John, I—”

“Bullshit.” Somers had a crazy grin. “Tell me.”

“I think it’s strange that the adjunct—what was his name?”

“Carl. Don’t pretend like you don’t remember.”

“I think it’s strange his story doesn’t match up in so many ways. And he’s right: cui bono? Who benefits?”

“So you think it’s Carl.

“I don’t know.”

“No, that’s good. That’s really good to know.”

“John, I’m just saying—” Hazard stopped. “This is not a representation of my ability to make a final, conclusive deduction—”

“Like the time you were convinced you knew how The Sixth Sense was going to end.”

“Shyamalan cheated,” Hazard growled, getting to his feet.

“And I think,” Somers said, sprawling back in his seat, studying Hazard from under hooded eyes, “that it was Cynthia Outzen who killed Fabbri because she was a jilted lover.” Then Somers stood. He took the mug of coffee, gently easing Hazard’s fingers away from the ceramic, and set it on the table. Then he brought Hazard’s hands down to his waistband. “Now. I believe I was having some ideas about you when I got home.”

Hazard had one of those tiny Emery Hazard smiles. He bent and kissed Somers once, and then he pulled his hands away. “You need to go to bed.”

“Sure. Come with.”

Laughing, Hazard extricated himself, collected his coffee, and started stacking Somers’s plate and utensils. “I’ve got stuff to do, John. And you’re exhausted.”

“Not too exhausted to fool around with my hot, hulking boyfriend.” Somers was behind Hazard now, sliding his arms around Hazard’s waist, kissing Hazard’s shoulder and arms through the thin cotton of Hazard’s t-shirt. “Come on. It’s been a while.”

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It feels like forever.”

Hazard was very careful. He had to be so careful these days, careful about almost everything. He set down the stack of dishes. He took Somers by the wrists—gently, carefully—and he turned around, stepping out of the embrace.

It took him a moment too long to know what to say. Confusion, then pain sparked in Somers’s face and disappeared.

“I’ve got to—” Hazard began.

“Yeah,” Somers said.

“I thought I might take a swing at the utility sink today.”

“I’m going to do it, Ree. I promise. Tonight. Or tomorrow if the case stays hot.”

Hazard brought Somers’s hands up. He kissed his palms.

“Ree, you don’t ever have to—I mean, you can just tell me.”

Hazard bent and kissed him. Then he released Somers’s hands, turned him toward the stairs, and gave him a push.

“Go get some sleep.”

But Somers slowed and turned back. He didn’t say anything. He just watched Hazard.

Hazard made himself stand there as long as he could; then he turned and picked up the dishes and made his way to the sink.

“Don’t forget,” Somers said, his voice so normal that Hazard wanted to punch out the window over the sink, “we’ve got dinner with the sheriff tonight.”

“I’ll call and cancel. You’re going to be busy working—”

“No, it’ll be fine. I’ve got to eat dinner sometime, and we’ve been trying to set it up for ages.”

“He’ll understand, John. We’ll do it another time.”

“No,” Somers said sharply. Then, back in that painfully normal voice, “No. Dinner, tonight, with the sheriff.”

“Ok.” Hazard ran the hot water and said, “Get to bed.”

Somers left; it was like he vanished, turned to smoke. No creaking floorboards. No protesting stairs. That part of Hazard’s brain, where the lights had come on, was doing calculations. Somers was an easy sleeper; he’d be totally out in the next five minutes, and he could sleep in a trainyard.

No, Hazard told himself.

He did the dishes.

That part of his brain, though, kept working. It was a fifteen-minute drive from their house to Wroxall. It was fifteen minutes to anywhere in Wahredua.

No.

He wiped down the counters.

Somers was already asleep; Hazard’s internal timer assured him of that. Fifteen minutes to get to Wroxall. Fifteen minutes to get back. How long would Somers sleep? Hazard checked the clock on the stove. Almost nine-thirty. Four hours? Five? Hazard guessed four, and he threw himself a safety net: three hours. He’d have to be back in three hours. Minus half an hour for travel. That left two and a half hours to look at the crime scene himself, to do a preliminary canvass, and to get back.

No.

Hazard got the mop and bucket. He got the jug of Fabuloso. He started the hot water again, measured out the cleaner, and poured it in. As the suds built, he told himself he wasn’t a detective anymore. He wasn’t even a private detective, although Somers had been after him for months now, ever since their last trip to St. Louis, to open his own agency. He was just a guy. And he had no reason to get involved.

He came back to reality just as the bubbles crested and spilled down the side of the bucket. Swearing, Hazard turned off the hot water. The smell of Fabuloso filled the kitchen; it stuck to his hands when he wiped them on his shirt.

He wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to mop the floor—like the good little houseboy you are, a nasty voice said inside him. He was going to mop the floor. He was going to clean up the front flower beds. He was going to overseed a part of the lawn in back that was patchy. He was feeling better, so much better, as he listed out his routine. Yes. He was going to clean the baseboards. They hadn’t done that since moving in, and Somers liked a clean house. Hazard felt great.

None of which explained why he found himself creeping upstairs, careful to avoid the warped boards and the creaky risers. At the top, he paused, listened. Their bedroom door was open, and he could hear Somers’s even breathing. Hazard turned toward the front of the house. He went into the office. He shut the door, and he didn’t dare turn on the light. He felt like he was burgling his own house.

They shared a desk, and as Hazard opened the bottom drawer, he still wasn’t sure why he had chosen this as his hiding place. It seemed like a terribly stupid place, where Somers was likely to look if he needed the stapler or a rubber band. Hazard shifted office supplies until he found the small bundle. He pulled it out of the drawer. He unfolded the protective paper.

Five hundred business cards lay like a bad deal in poker.

Emery Hazard. Private Investigator.

No phone number. No email. He didn’t have an office or a name for the agency. Ordering the cards had been stupid. Sheer stupidity, prompted by one stupid conversation in St. Louis after that asshole North McKinney had crawled under Hazard’s skin again.

Hazard skimmed twenty off the top and stuck them in his pocket. Then he rewrapped the cards, returned them to the drawer, and covered them with Post-Its, a tape dispenser, a box of Bic pens.

He was out of the house, driving toward Wroxall, before he realized he had forgotten to mop the floors.

About the Author

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

Author, Gregory Ashe

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Exclusive Excerpt: The Deadwood Murders (a Kendall Parker Mystery Book 2) by Jon Michaelsen

Excerpt

Parker sized up the Feds as he stepped into Lieutenant Russell’s office. Both men stood over six-foot, one larger than the other in bulk; no blubber on these fellows. Each wore fitted charcoal pinstripe suits and starched white button-down shirts offset by conservative blue ties. The thinner of the two sported a shaved head, more to hide his balding crown than current fashion trend, Parker surmised. A thin gold band rode the man’s left hand. The bulkier one stood closest to Parker. He had blonde hair, styled in a tight crewcut, and steel-blue eyes that softened and disarmed his otherwise imposing posture. Parker noted the man’s ring-less hand. His lover died only eight months ago and the fact he’d noted the ring finger of the most attractive of the two mules took him by surprise. 

 “Sir.” Parker nodded to his new commander. He noted how diminutive his hand was in comparison to his boss’s, and Parker wasn’t a small man by any measure. “Good to finally meet you sir.”

If the agents were surprised by the revelation, they showed nothing in their stoic stares. Parker remained standing, awaiting introductions.

Lieutenant Russell referred to the men. “Supervisory Special Agent Delvecchio and Special Agent Hales, FBI CID, Atlanta Field Office, Century Center.” Russell moved behind his desk and prepared to sit.  

“Gentleman.” Parker assessed the dark-suited strangers from the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division out of Atlanta, shook each of their hands, smiling respectfully. Delvecchio’s palm was rough and waxy; Hales’ hand felt smooth, but firm. “I haven’t passed any bad checks that I know of, so what’s this about? You here on a recruiting expedition?”

Russell curled his lip and glared at his charge. “Knock it off, Parker. This ain’t no social call.”

Neither man reacted to Parker’s rough humor. Russell pointed to a chair against the wall with a grunt. “Pull up a seat, Parker and hear these men out.”

Making a show of his discontent, Parker dragged the black leather armchair up to the desk adjacent to the lieutenant and the Feds. He glanced at the agents expectantly. “Nice weather we’re having,” Parker said. He offered a wink and a grin as he sat. 

Lieutenant Russell scowled, and motioned for the men to sit before taking his own seat. If Parker’s effort was to make a bad first impression with the new lieutenant, he was succeeding.

Russell motioned for the men to begin. Baldy opened the blue folder in his hands and began paraphrasing the facts within. “Three days ago, a male, age thirty-four, 6’2″, a Caucasian married father of two from Memphis, Tennessee was discovered beneath the bed in a downtown Atlanta hotel. Victim was gagged and bound, strangled with a nylon cord believed to be cut from the drapes. Autopsy revealed ligature marks on the wrists and ankles. Incised wounds inflicted to the victim’s torso, face and legs were pre-and post-mortem.” He flipped a couple of pages forward without modifying his dull expression. “Hotel Regency located at 254 Cortland Street.” He returned to the original page in the folder. “The man was in town attending a convention booked in the hotel. The body was discovered by a security guard after being alerted that the guest hadn’t shown for scheduled meetings. APD Evidence Response Team dispatched to the scene found no evidence of forced entry, or any sign of struggle.” He glanced up at Parker with an intense expression in his eyes. “No witnesses to the assault. Nearby guests in the hotel reported hearing nothing unusual. No perpetrator has been identified.”

Special Agent Delvecchio cleared his throat and continued forth in a monotone. “Two weeks ago, the body of a male, age thirty, 6’1”, Caucasian, one hundred and seventy pounds, was discovered behind a facility’s bathroom in a park off Interstate 20. Again, no signs of a struggle. Autopsy identified death caused by ligature strangulation. Victim suffered repeated trauma to the head,” —he flipped a page— “possibly injuries from a ‘slap-jack,’ or some similar type object. Lacerations to the left side of the head above the ear resulted in significant external bleeding. ME ruled the death a homicide. Pool of blood located near the body indicates the victim died in the same location.”

Having no idea where this was leading, Parker had little choice but to afford his full attention to the man droning on about the deaths. Parker readjusted himself in his chair, cleared his throat and continued to listen to the agent.

Delvecchio’s cheeks glowed red as he read from the page. The bluish jugular vein on the side of his throat bulged grotesquely. “Late last month, a Georgia Department of Transportation mowing crew discovered the mutilated body of a Caucasian male in the woods near Interstate 75 outside of Tifton, Georgia. Coroner’s report recorded the victim’s age at thirty-five, height 6’1”, weight one-hundred-eighty-five pounds. Cause of death was asphyxia by ligature compression. Several shallow incised wounds noted to the face and upper torso. Penis and scrotum excised antemortem. All wounds indicated torture prior to death. Instrument used to inflict incised wounds and removal of the privates is unconfirmed at this time.”

“Emasculated before death?” Parker’s thighs flinched. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but why does any of this require my presence here today?”

Special Agent Hales spoke for the first time. “Four more victims died of similar manner, one each in Macon and Valdosta, Georgia and the other two in Florida, Jacksonville and Orlando. There may be more we have not connected to the same perpetrator yet. These killings all happened within the last six months. Victims were male, Caucasian, 6’0” to 6’4”, between twenty-five and thirty-five. All tortured, sodomized, and mutilated to some extent. Most were known or suspected homosexuals, or at the very least, witnessed frequenting businesses that cater to the community.”

“What the hell?” Parker shot up from his seat, seething, his ears burning. “Is this some sort of sick attempt to get me to resign?” He reached the door in two strides. “You’ll hear from my rep before you even make it back to your field office.”

“Sit down Sergeant Parker,” the lieutenant boomed, smacking his large palm on the desk. The room fell eerily silent. “You’re not leaving, and you’re definitely not contacting the IBPO. The reason you’re here will become quite clear.”

Blurb: The Deadwood Murders

A mutilated conventioneer.

Gay men brutally tortured before death.

A trail of bodies carrying the same grim signature.

Homicide Detective Kendall Parker isn’t sure he wants to return to the police force. His last case ended with the arrest of an innocent man for murder, and his long-time homicide partner was killed in the process. Still on leave from APD, Sgt. Parker has gotten sober, smoke-free, and is rebuilding a life alone.

But, the arrival of a brazen killer cuts short Parker’s sabbatical. His new homicide commander summons him to police headquarters with a direct plea from the mayor: go undercover for the FBI to flush out the predator. With the gay community under siege, Parker must prowl Atlanta’s gay bars and late-night dance clubs as bait in hopes of luring the killer.

Award-winning Investigative reporter Calvin Slade is also on the trail. Aided by a hotshot young reporter, Slade soon uncovers a horrifying clue law enforcement has kept from the public. But, will chasing the hottest story of his career put him directly in the path a savage beast?

Haven’t been introduced to Atlanta Homicide Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker yet? Check out the blurb below:

Blurb: Pretty Boy Dead

** Finalist Lambda Literary Awards for Best Gay Mystery **

When the mangled body of a young gay man is discovered in a popular Atlanta park, advocacy groups converge on City Hall demanding justice. Media are quick to pin the brutal homicide on a drug-addicted, homeless teen. Atlanta Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker isn’t so convinced, even after the suspect assaults his homicide partner with a deadly weapon. But when the investigation takes a disastrous turn, a suspect in custody ends up dead.

It becomes a race against time for the veteran detective to solve the apparent gay-bashing, but when a tenacious reporter threatens to expose a police cover-up, Parker is forced to make an impossible choice: stand firm for justice, or betray the brotherhood in blue. With the odds against him, Parker will need to rely on keen instinct and streetwise experience to catch a brutal killer.

Yet success often comes at a price, and for Parker, it may mean revealing his closely guarded secret.

Now is your chance to purchase Pretty Boy Dead (a Kendall Parker Mystery Book 1) at a discounted rate.

More about Jon Michaelsen

Jon Michaelsen is a writer of Gay Mystery, Thriller & Suspense fiction and Speculative fiction within the sub-genres of Mystery, Suspense & Thriller. He was born in southwest Georgia, his family moved to Atlanta, where he remains today. Retired after twenty-five years in corporate travel management, he now spends his time writing. His first novel in the Kendall Parker Mystery series, Pretty Boy Dead, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Gay Mystery and his novella, Prince of the Sea, earned the 2017 Best Gay Men’s Fiction Award for Gay Fiction by a Goodreads Reading Group. He has published several short stories, many of which appear in anthologies. He lives with his husband of 33 years, and two monstrous terriers.

Contact him at Michaelsen.jon@gmail.com

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Dead On Your Feet (Stan Kraychik Mystery Book 3) Grant Michaels

Excerpt:

NEXT MORNING THE TELEPHONE BLASTED ME out of a fitful sleep, like a panic alert for a nuclear attack. Its tormented electronic bleating launched a dull unfocused pressure at the back of my skull. With a queasy stomach, all I could recall was the vast quantity and variety of alcohol and food that I had consumed just a few hours earlier. Groggily I hoped the phone call would be Rafik, eager to apologize for his role in the horrible misunderstanding we’d had last night. At numerous points during the night I’d awaken startled and anxious and tense. I’d get as far as punching his number, but then logic would take over and I’d hang up before the call went through. After all, what if he wasn’t home? That would be even worse than the torture of regret. So throughout the long, lonely night I tried to assure myself that we’d soon be frantically apologizing and forgiving each other. And everything would be back to normal.

The phone was still ringing. I grabbed clumsily and dropped it, accidentally bumping Sugar Baby, who at some point during the night had deigned to settle on the empty pillow next to mine, Rafik’s place. From her cat sleep she sprang from the pillow, leaped over my head, landed on the Turkish carpet that covers my bedroom floor, and scampered away. I put the phone to my ear, but before I’d even said hello, I heard Rafik speaking excitedly with his heavy French accent.

 “Stani,” he said, “there is great trouble. Max Harkey is dead!”

My first reaction was that Rafik was playing a prank to distract me and win back my affection. If so, it was one unworthy of his fertile imagination. Then again, perhaps it was that cultural difference between us that made his joke sound flat to me, some Francophone subtlety I still couldn’t appreciate. But I wondered— and Max Harkey be damned— What about us? Aren’t you sorry about last night? Have you forgotten how you hurt me?

“Stani?” he said uncertainly, as though the phone might be out of order and the connection never properly made.

 “I’m here,” I replied coolly, thinking to myself, And so far you haven’t said the words I want to hear.

“Stani, I find him like this. Is horrible!”

“Where are you?”

“At his apartment.”

I set my blurry vision toward the alarm clock. There seemed to be only one hand, pointing downward. It was 6:30.

“What are you doing there at this hour?”

The line was quiet. After a few seconds of waiting for his answer, I felt the throbbing at the back of my head move forward to my temple. Then an unexpected wave of nausea washed over me, and I felt a cold sweat break out on my forehead. I envisioned every goddam glass of alcohol I’d had last night. They all swirled in a vortex in my mind’s eye, from the first martinis at my apartment, to the additional cocktails at Max Harkey’s, to the numerous glasses of wine with dinner, to the tumbler of liqueur afterwards. It all came back with nauseating clarity. Oh, to be unconscious! All I wanted was to put the phone down and go back to sleep. Maybe then all of last night’s mistakes— especially my boozy belligerence— would fade away back into a dream. Then I could wake up again later to a bright new world where everything was blue skies and songbirds. The idea was so appealing that I almost nodded off.

“Stani?” said Rafik.

I returned to the present, to the unpleasantness of why Rafik was at Max Harkey’s place at six-thirty in the morning. Somewhere I recalled Max Harkey saying that Rafik needed to be humbled. Had the challenge been met last night, only to culminate in the man’s death? I confronted Rafik directly.

“Did you spend the night with him?” I said.

“How you can ask such a thing?” he yelled. A tremor of pain rammed itself through my swollen brain. “Stani, his blood is everyplace.”

The new tension in Rafik’s voice told me that perhaps he wasn’t kidding. I sat up in the bed. Sugar Baby must have sensed my alarm, because she jumped back up onto the bed and nestled against my thigh. I rested my forehead against my free hand.

“Tell me what happened, Rafik.”

“I tell you, he is dead.”

If he was telling the truth, there was only one thing to do. I’d been in those exact circumstances myself, facing a corpse. Back then I thought I’d done the right thing by being responsible and calling the police, but then I always learn the hard way.

“Rafik, if Max Harkey is really dead—”

“He is, Stani. Believe me.”

“Then you must do exactly what I say.”

“But Stani—”

“No buts, Rafik. Just listen and do. First, you wipe your fingerprints off everything you’ve touched in that place. Everything. Understand? And then you get out of there. Now! I’ll be waiting for you here.”

“I cannot do that, Stani.”

“Why not?”

“The police are here,” said the master of selective omission. “They do not know I am calling you. They ask me many questions. Will you come? Please?”

 I paused, not quite sure what to do or say. My arrival at Max Harkey’s place might only complicate things, especially with the police there. The line was quiet while I deliberated. When Rafik spoke again, I heard a new timbre in his voice, wily modulation, cryptic but musical, a kind of aural snare distilled from a legacy of Middle Eastern genes and the myriad ruses employed by clever harem boys to spare themselves painful punishment or even castration.

“Stani,” he said, “I am sorry for last night. I did not mean those things.” His words flowed like dark notes from a wood flute, and their exotic coloration left me defenseless. “I love you. I will stop my work. I will leave the ballet.”

After our falling-out I’d hoped for a more dramatic reconciliation, a physical event where Rafik would arrive at my threshold repentant and contrite. Even at three o’clock in the morning he would beg forgiveness and let me show him just how much and how willingly I could forgive. But instead, Rafik was now inducing me to rescue him from a bad situation with the police, at the home of the very man with whom he might have had the ultimate confrontation, and who was now dead.

“Okay, Rafik. Don’t quit your job yet. I’m on my way.”

Blurb:

A Stan Kraychik Mystery, Book 3 — Out-of-the-closet, loud and proud Stan Kraychik shines again in this witty, fast-moving romp. Boston’s sassiest hairdresser is on the case when the founder of a ballet company is discovered murdered; Homicide Detective Lieutenant, and sometime nemesis, Vito Branco gives the green light. Stan soon finds that the abundance of suspects, including both his lover and his rival. Adept at mining clues from gossip, Stan investigates: a wealthy benefactor; a ballet mistress with a Russian accent; a conductor; and a homophobic homosexual ballet star. A cute guy is killed; an unappealing one makes advances; and Stan and Rafik have relationship tussles. Then, Stan and the killer meet up in a fabulous balconied penthouse one last time … and discovers life is more complex—and deadly—than art.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Murder on Camac by Joseph R. G. De Marco – 10 Year Anniversary Giveaway!

Excerpt:

There was such an air of calm and order that I wondered if Ty had been mistaken. Nothing seemed unusual. Until I reached Camac Street south of Cypress.

The red, blue, and white flashing lights of a police car blocking the other end of the street signaled trouble. Police officers and a small knot of people gathered where I stood. Camac is a small street – in Philadelphia we call it a street, in some places it might be called a back alley. It was never well traveled.

Except for tonight. It teemed with people. CSIs literally crawled around searching for evidence. Cops, detectives, people I assumed were witnesses, and onlookers made the normally quiet street a mini Times Square.

Ronnie Larkin, a familiar face, stood guard near the yellow tape roping off the crime scene. She and I went back a long time, since before my abortive attempt to join the force. She’d become a cop and had encouraged me to join. Things didn’t work out but we’d remained friends and drinking buddies. I could always count on her when I needed information not easily squeezed out of other “friends” in the ranks.

“Hey, Ronnie.” I kept my voice appropriately low.


“Fontana.” She ducked her head in salute.Behind her, by the light of street lamps, I saw a man, sprawled on the cobblestones. Dark blood pooled around the corpse and had filled the gaps between the paving stones. The guy was face down and a CSI probed around, picking up trace evidence, taking photos, before turning the body over.

“What happened, Ronnie? Any witnesses?”

“Mugging. Overheard a witness say a guy with a gun runs up to the victim, shouts something, takes the vic’s bag. Then he opens up, puts three rounds into him, and runs away.”

“Just like that?”

“Flash of an eye. The vic was walking with a friend. Friend says they were going to dinner at the Venture. Then this guy runs up and pops the man. Are you, like, an ambulance chaser now, Fontana? Need cases that bad?”

“I’ll ignore that, Ronnie.” I smiled. “He shot without the other guy struggling? He took the guy’s bag? That was it? Didn’t even try to shoot the friend?”

 “I’m just on crowd control. They tell me nothing. For all I know, he coulda tried to shoot them both. Maybe somethin’ scared him off before he could. I didn’t hear everything. I don’t even know who the vic is… was.” She winced. She was still the Ronnie I knew from way back, tough but compassionate.

“If you hear anything, let me know, will you Ronnie?”


“Sure thing, Marco. You got a personal stake in this?”


“When it happens on your doorstep, it’s kinda personal.” I gave her a nod, looked over the scene once more, and left.
I wouldn’t get more information right then and it wasn’t my case in any event, but I liked to know things. Force of habit with me. Can’t help asking questions, poking into everybody’s business, picking up odd facts. You never know when some detail will come in handy. That’s why so many men I’ve dated tell me they feel like they’re being interviewed, or, grilled is more like the word they use.

My stomach grumbled reminding me I’d only eaten half a turkey sandwich for lunch. I pulled out my cell phone, forwarded office calls to the cell, and walked home.

The gayborhood gets larger every day, adding more businesses, condos, and people. A new café, HavaCup, with the cutest staff and the best muffins, was quickly becoming my place of choice for out of office experiences. Maybe their muffins only tasted good because the staff was so hot. All I knew was that I found myself there almost every day. Just across the street, a small and very chic bar, named Secrets, had taken the place of an old music store. The walls were enclosed sheet fountains which created the illusion of privacy. Secrets had dozens of spaces made for that private tête á tête with a special guy. Observers could see only shadows and outlines. Very sexy.

You never knew who or what you’d find in the gayborhood.

I’d managed to get a condo close to it all, in Lyric House which made living in the city very easy. The building was like a small town with about eight hundred condos and who knows how many people? The residents were amazingly varied, from the outgoing and pushy to the solitary and rude. I guess I fell somewhere in between. Except for the rude part.

The automatic doors whisked me in and I saw people chatting in the marble-clad lobby, Nosy Rosie at the center of the group as usual. She was a gossip magnet and I’d even thought about hiring her to ferret out information, except she couldn’t keep anything to herself. I passed her without being seen. Rosie was too busy finding out details of Mrs. Cooperman’s surgery to notice me.

Carlos was on the desk. Dark and sultry, Carlos loved kidding the denizens of Lyric House. Teasing with his natural good looks, his intense eyes, and his broad smile. Even on my glummest days, he lifted my spirits. Of course, he could lift my spirits in more ways than one if he wanted to.

“Marco! You on a case, man?”

“Always on a case, Carlos.” I laughed wondering if he knew I’d love to be on his case. Even though he was a flirt, he gave all the signs of being straight. Oh well, someone had to do it.

The elevator zipped me to the forty-first floor. It wasn’t the highest floor but damned near and the view from my balcony took my breath away every time. I turned on a few lights, put a Lean Starts dinner into the microwave, and flipped on the radio. All news, all the time. Not a bad thing while nuking food. I’d gotten a lot of leads over the years, listening to them drone on.

“At the top of the hour, we have word the hostage situation at Hopewell Mall in New Jersey has been resolved peacefully. KYW will bring you the police briefing live. Philadelphia returns to normal after the fifteen day transit strike and Andrea Fitchell will have that story. Talks to discuss parochial school closings are set between Mayor Stroupe and Cardinal Galante. After months of speculation, a list of inner city Catholic school closings has been announced. The Mayor hopes to reduce that list. Cardinal Galante, a leading voice in the Roman Catholic Church, still recovering from double knee replacement surgery, offered no comment on Archdiocesan plans. In other news, authorities have uncovered an identity theft ring on Rittenhouse Square. Arrests have been made. But the hour’s top story is the murder of local author Helmut Brandt. Witnesses say an armed man confronted Brandt as he and a companion strolled down a quiet center city street. The assailant then fled on foot. Brandt, author of Vatican Betrayal: The Death of John Paul the First, was returning from a book signing at Giovanni’s Room, a gay and lesbian bookstore. The author, a noted gay pundit and activist, revealed plans for a new book in which he claimed there would be further information on the death of the one they call the Thirty Day Pope. Police released no further information on Brandt or the assailant who is still at large.”

I could hardly believe what I’d heard. The microwave bell dinged but I didn’t move. This had to be some kind of mistake. I’d just talked to Brandt and pegged him as a paranoid nut. This had to be a coincidence. And maybe I was going to be elected the next pope. How many times does a guy tell you he’s going to be murdered and then actually turns up dead and it’s a coincidence? The answer is none. I’d have to look into this case, if only for my own satisfaction.

Blurb: Murder on Camac

Gunned down in the street in an apparent mugging, author Helmut Brandt is at the center of a mystery with many layers. P.I. Marco Fontana is offered the case by Brandt’s partner who suspects that it was a premeditated attack. Brandt’s work on the death of Pope John Paul I angered people in and out of the Church and made him a number of enemies. His death occurs soon after Brandt claims to have evidence implicating people never before suspected in the Pope’s death and suggesting a wider conspiracy. Fontana is not a believer in coincidences and decides to take the case. A lapsed Catholic himself, he knows that uncovering Brandt’s killer means more than exposing a decades old plot to kill the Pope. It would spell ruin for those named in the documents Brandt claimed to have. He realizes also that these same people, having killed such a highly placed target, will not hesitate to kill a P.I. determined to learn the truth. Entering the lofty and secretive world of the Catholic Church, Fontana encounters forces bound on keeping him from the truth. Fontana manages to penetrate the upper levels of Philadelphia’s Catholic hierarchy but realizes that the web of power and deceit is every bit as intricate, tangled, and deadly as he imagined it might be. As the owner of StripGuyz, a troupe of male strippers he runs to help pay the bills, Fontana is familiar with the byways of Philly’s gayborhood as well as the seamier parts of Philadelphia’s gay underworld. But in this case, he finds that there is an even darker side to life in the City of Brotherly Love.

10-Year Anniversary Giveaway!

Leave a comment below for your chance to win a FREE Autographed copy of Murder on Camac, the first book in the popular Marco Fontana Mystery series! Winner will be chosen Friday, November 22, 2019 via drawing by the author.

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More about author, Joseph R. G. De Marco

Joseph R.G. DeMarco is the author of the Marco Fontana mystery series which begins with Murder on Camac, (Jade Mountain Books). His Doyle and Kord mystery series begins with Family Bashings (JMS Books). He is also author of the Vampire Inquisitor series: A Warning in Blood, and A Battle in Blood (forthcoming). A number of his short stories have been published in anthologies including Where Crime Never Sleeps, the Quickies series (1, 2, and 3 from Arsenal Pulp Press), Men Seeking Men, Charmed Lives, and more. His nonfiction work appears in Paws and Reflect, Hey Paisan!, The Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities (ABC- CLIO, 2003), We Are Everywhere, Men’s Lives, The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family (Macmillan, 2002) and others. In the gay press he has been published in The Advocate, PGN, NY Native, and others. He was Editor-in-Chief of the Weekly Gayzette and NGL, contributing editor for Il Don Gennaro, and is now Editor/Publisher of Mysterical-E (mystericale.com). You can learn more at www.josephdemarco.com

Exclusive Excerpt: The Unfinished by Jay B. Laws

Excerpt:

So why in the world did he always feel reluctant to open the front door and step inside? Why this sinking heaviness, almost like sadness, stealing into his heart. It wasn’t fear, exactly. More a growing wonder over what might happen next.

He had barely completed that last thought when a shadowy, amoeba-like shape rippled across and up his front door. Jiggs rubbed at his dilated eye and blinked. It didn’t go away. Whatever it was moved like a heavy liquid, fingers of it spilling upward toward the eaves of the roof. Without being aware he was doing it, he squinted shut his left eye. There—again, the elusive shimmer of heat-fanned waves as it curled and seemingly reabsorbed into the boards of the house.

He took a moment, not knowing what he should do. He could run up the street to Kate and Susan’s, but what then? Tell them about these hunches, these intuitions, these visions which might possibly be just a trick of his eyes?

His hand trembled as he turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door. Almost instantly the hairs on his arms stood on end. His skin went clammy. The interior hallway was dim, despite the midday brightness of the sunny afternoon. As he stepped inside he was suddenly, absolutely sure he was not alone in the house.

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Jiggs curbed his impulse to shout, “Hello?” His breathing grew shallow as he shut the door. The sensation of someone watching from a hidden corner latched onto him and would not loosen its grip. There was a pregnancy to the stilled air, a heaviness that stole light. Something was thickening the air into syrup.

God, this was crazy. Crazy. Where was he going to live, if he was afraid of walking into his own house? He forced himself to walk down the hallway and stare into his living room.

The rocking chair was moving. Back and forth, back and forth. The leather seat sagged under an invisible weight, and something unseen pressed against the pillow strapped to the back of the chair.

Jiggs stumbled backward, and may have even cried out in surprise. He felt shot through with an electric jolt, sure that every hair on his body now stood on end. His vocal cords were paralyzed; it was all he could do just to swallow. While he watched, the rocker began to slow its rhythmic back-and-forth movement. It came to a gentle halt. The cushions sprang back to their normal shape, as though a weight pressing against it had lifted.

He cleared his throat. “Don’t mind me, guys,” he whispered, hoping his voice was souffle-light, masking his tension. As soon as the words fled his lips he was struck by what they implied: a kernel of belief that suggested not something in the house, but someone.

A breeze rustled his hair, accompanied by an abrupt drop in temperature. A biting cold moved through and around him—a meat locker cold, like something frozen solid pushing past. If Jiggs had been shaken by the sight of the rocking chair moving by itself, his fear then was nothing compared to finding himself enveloped by this Arctic blast. The silent wind tugged at his hair and clothes and seemed to want to burrow into his gaping mouth; he snapped his jaw shut in reflex. He was afraid to breathe, afraid he’d see his breath plume out in frosty, ghostly defiance of reality. He sucked in a breath and tasted a horrible gravelly sludge in his mouth. The pebble-and-mud taste made him gag and his stomach revolt. His eyes clamped shut. He raised fists next to his ears. Very clearly he heard the scrape of a shovel as it skimmed across metal.

His eyes blinked open. Something was above him. He tilted his head further back and saw a shovel hanging in the air. Poised above his head, it tipped. All at once a sludgy muck splattered onto his face. 

“Hey!” Jiggs cried out. His hands flew to cover his face. The cold released him. The stunning image of the shovel released him. His mouth still reacted to the taste of whatever it was, bitter and rocky. He peeked through webbed fingers and lights danced across his vision, lights that warned he’d better plant his behind onto a chair before he passed out. His legs were loose and wobbly. In one fluid motion he collapsed onto the couch.

It was only much later, as he tried to put the experience into perspective, that Jiggs realized he had heard the shovel dig its cargo from the wheelbarrow.

It was the first sound he had consciously heard in over twenty-two years.

* * *

Sometime in the dead hours of that morning, when night wielded its tightest grip, a car horn shattered the silence. Jiggs came awake with the blare of the second horn, and sat upright in bed, heart in his throat, with the shrill of the third blast. His hands gripped each other, as though the pressure would assure him he was awake.

Awake, and that he had heard a horn. Actually heard it.

He threw his legs over the side of the bed. He was definitely awake, no ifs, ands, or buts about it, and if he heard the car horn one more time he was going to spring from the bed and investigate. He didn’t dare to think what it could mean.

He waited. The silence with which he had made an uneasy truce over the years spun on and on, uninterrupted.

But the mystery nagged at him. Jiggs got out of bed and padded over to the front door. He tugged back the flimsy curtain covering the peephole window. Beyond the gate, sleek in the moonlight, waited the limousine. With his face nearly pressed against the cool glass, he thought he could actually hear the chug chug chug of the limo’s exhaust pipe. He felt his testicles crawl into hiding at the sight—and sound—of it. His skin erupted into gooseflesh. This isn’t happening. But the illusion moved. A back window glided open on electric skates. The interior was a black maw against the gleaming white, with no hint of what lay inside. Until the arm appeared.

It was shaped like an arm. Jiggs saw the crook of elbow, and stubby fingers spread wide as though in signal. It just didn’t look like an arm. It was covered with something viscous and gray. Blobs of it dripped onto the side of the car as the hand motioned for Jiggs to step out of the house. It reminded him of bird droppings.

“No,” he whispered. “No.” He could hear the engine of the great machine idling, but he could not hear his own voice. The insanity of this pulled him away from the curtain. He could look no more, and double-checked the locks with trembling hands.

But he heard the limousine shift out of park into drive, as it rolled away into the night.

Blurb:

Jiggs, a hearing-impaired gay man tortured by the recent death of his parents, moves into a long-vacant San Francisco apartment. The apartment is revealed to be haunted by the Unfinished, spirits whose lives ended prematurely through tragedy, violence or betrayal. Jiggs’s initially adversarial relationship with his spectral housemates soon becomes a partnership when both parties see each other as instrumental to ending their own suffering. The stories unfold via visitations by three Dickensian ghosts offering accounts of their deaths. In one story, a man dying from AIDS confronts the limits of his vanity when he realizes the terrible price of his wish to recapture his looks. In another, a car mechanic’s soul is left to ponder how his weakness led to his murder.

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The Boystown Mysteries: 10 Year Anniversary by multi-Lambda Literary Award winning author, Marshall Thornton

Multi-Award Winning Boystown Mystery Series

The Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries detail the cases of former police officer-turned-private investigator Nick Nowak. Set in Chicago and covering the period between 1981 and 1985, the twelve books of the series follow Nick as he struggles with memories of his abrupt departure from the CPD and the end of his long-term relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty. He moves through a series of casual tricks until he meets homicide detective Bert Harker with whom he begins a tentative relationship.

As cynical and difficult as the city he calls home, Nick doggedly pursues his cases and often solves them out of sheer stubbornness. He relies on help from a charming cast of characters, who provide clues and comfort in equal measure. Beyond the mobsters and murderers, Nick encounters a larger villain looming on the horizon. A villain who begins striking down Nick’s friends and lovers, bringing the freewheeling fun of the early eighties to an end.

For the tenth anniversary of the series, here is an excerpt from the very first book, Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, published in November 2009.

Excerpt: Little Boy Fallen

Always be careful who you trick with. I should have that tattooed on my forehead so I can see it every morning when I shave.

The woman was waiting for me when I got to my office. She looked to be in her late forties, thick around the hips, busty. There was lot of red lipstick caked onto her lips, and her hair was done up in a way that had probably gotten a lot of attention during the Eisenhower administration. At first, I thought she was a patient of the dentist down the hall, but when I pulled my keys out and started to unlock the door, she came over.

“Are you Mr. Nowak?” she asked.

A few weeks shy of my thirty-third birthday, I didn’t much like being called ‘mister’ by anyone who wasn’t still in grammar school. “You can call me Nick.”

I opened the door and led her into my tiny office. The furniture was crammed together, and still I had room left over for a dead corn plant in one corner. The window was big, taking up most of the outer wall. Eight floors below was LaSalle Street. Across the way stood an ultra-modern, steel and glass building that was so tall it cut out most of my light.

“He said you were nice,” she commented, while making herself comfortable in my guest chair. She wore a red cloth coat with a white fox collar. Instead of a purse, she carried a photo album, clutching it tight to her chest.

I hung my suede jacket on the back of my door and pulled a box of Marlboros out of the pocket. I decided not to ask who ‘he’ was. Not yet. Instead, I asked, “What’s your name, ma’am?”

“Helen Borlock.” I sat down at my desk and lit a cigarette while she talked. “He told me to come. He said you’d help. You can help, can’t you?”

“I don’t know if I can help,” I said honestly. “I don’t know why you’re here.”

She gave me a confused look, as though I should know why she was there. “Bobby told me to come. He said you’d help.”

“Bobby who?”

“Bobby Martin.”

I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Bobby Martin and said so.

“Bobby was my son’s roommate. One of them, I mean. There were four of them living there. Sweet boys, always laughing. The apartment is on Clark and Fullerton. They did it up nice. Every room a different color.”

I still hadn’t a clue who she was talking about.

Abruptly, she held out the photo album. “This is my Lenny.” To be polite, I took the album. “I never wanted to name him Leonard. My husband insisted. He’d had a friend, in the Marines. Wanted to name his son Leonard, after his friend. The friend died, you see.”

I flipped the album open. There was Helen with an infant. I was right. In her day, Helen had been a looker. I flipped a few pages and Lenny began to grow up. Looked like he was on his way to being a looker, too.

“What is it Bobby thought I could help you with?”

She glanced out the window like she suddenly needed to check the weather. It was overcast and threatening to rain or, worse, throw in one last snowstorm for the winter. After a little sigh, she said, “Three weeks ago, my son was murdered.”

“Mrs. Borlock, I’m a private investigator. I don’t investigate murders. The police do that.”

“They don’t care. Lenny is just another pervert to them.”

I waited a few moments, considering. I was telling her the truth. It wasn’t the kind of thing I did. Or at least tried not to do. Mainly I did background checks, skip traces, once in a while a little surveillance. That was it. Murder was different. Yes, I used to be a policeman, but I’d only worked a beat. I’d never been a detective. In the nearly six years I spent on the job, when it came to murder I’d never done much more than secure a crime scene and make sure witnesses stayed put.

“Can you afford a private investigator?”

“Yes. I always put a little aside for Lenny. Ever since he was a little boy.” She stared at her hands, which seemed particularly empty now that I was flipping through the photo album. “I used to think I’d give him the money on his wedding. He was sixteen when I figured out that was never going to happen, so for a while I thought I’d give him the money to go to college. But he was never book smart. Last couple of years, I’ve been waiting to see, did he maybe want to start a business or get a nice beau and buy a house.” Her voice turned bitter. “I should have given it to him. Should have let him spend on whatever he wanted.”

She looked like she might break down, but fortunately she didn’t. I took the final drag off my cigarette and stubbed it out. Against my better judgment, I said, “Tell me what happened to Lenny.”

“Someone pushed him off the seventh floor of the atrium at Water Tower.”

That seemed pretty cut and dried. “Were there witnesses?”

“It was a little after ten in the morning.”

“No one saw him being pushed?”

She shook her head.

“So, how do you know he was pushed?”

Mrs. Borlock pursed her lips. Tears popped into her eyes and threatened to spill over onto her cheeks. “You’re going to tell me my boy killed himself, just like the police.”

“Right now, I’m not telling you anything. Right now, I’m asking questions. How do you know he was pushed?”

“I just know,” she spat. “I know Lenny. And he wouldn’t kill himself.”

“Why wouldn’t Lenny kill himself?” I was expecting a lame answer, like she’d raised him as a good Catholic, and, since it was against God’s law, he wouldn’t do it. But she didn’t say that. She said something completely different.

“Lenny was the happiest person I ever met.”

* * *

That afternoon, I hopped on the El and got off at Diversey rather than going all the way to my regular stop at Belmont. I turned away from DePaul and walked toward the lake. Mrs. Borlock had given me the address of the apartment her son shared with three roommates, one of whom was the mysterious Bobby Martin.

At first, I wasn’t sure it had been a good idea to take the case. Logic told me the kid had killed himself. Yes, his mother thought he was the happiest person she’d ever met. But suicidal tendencies are exactly the kind of thing children hide from their parents. If the police thought it was suicide, then in all likelihood it was suicide. I had my issues with the Chicago PD, but that didn’t mean they did sloppy work.

So, why’d I take the case? Mrs. Helen Borlock, that’s why. Someone needed to help her. Not to find her son’s murderer; there was no murderer. She didn’t understand why her son killed himself, and she needed to understand. She needed the reason. As I rang the bell to her son’s apartment, I promised myself I’d find it for her.

I got buzzed into the building and climbed the stairs. On the second floor, a door sprang open and a boy in his early twenties stood there looking me up and down. He had short brown hair, a heavy five o’clock shadow, a small mustache hanging out beneath his nose on what looked like a temporary basis, and a pair of impossibly large glasses. He was short, real short. About five four, which made me nearly a foot taller. He was wearing a pair of gray gym shorts with the name of some high school partially rubbed off and not much else. He had decent legs and a tight chest, both covered with lots of dark hair. In the background, the Go-Gos got the beat.

“You’re not Bobby, are you?” I asked, though I was pretty sure I’d have remembered him if he was.

“I’m Freddie. Who are you?” Without waiting to find out, he turned and went back into the apartment. I followed him in. The living room was painted an antacid pink. Over an aqua-colored vinyl sofa that looked like it was stolen from a bus station was a large painting. Globs of paint arranged themselves to form a large, erect, rainbow penis. At its base, the painter had glued several handfuls of what looked like dryer lint.

Freddie lifted the needle off the record and the Go-Gos were silenced. He gave me the once-over a second time. “You’re looking for Bobby? Why? Did someone send you as a present? He’ll be—”

“I’m Nick Nowak. I’m a private investigator. Mrs. Borlock hired me to look into Lenny’s death.”

“Oh, my.” Behind his glasses he blinked a few times. He was one of those guys with eyelashes so dark and thick it made you wonder if he was wearing mascara.

“What’s your last name, Freddie?”

“Twombly,” he said. “Isn’t it terrible? It sounds like I’m lisping. Even when I’m not.” He lit an extra-long cigarette. I decided to be sociable and pulled out my Marlboros.

“You mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Only if they’re personal,” he said playfully. He hooked a finger into the elastic band of his shorts, dragging them down over his hip. I struggled to keep my focus on lighting my cigarette.

“Why do you think Lenny killed himself?” It was the question of the hour, so I figured I’d start there.

Freddie stopped being playful and sat on the sofa. It squeaked. “I don’t think Lenny killed himself. No one thinks that.”

I had hoped it would be easier than this. “Why do you say that?”

“Jumping? At Water Tower? It’s so dramatic. Lenny wasn’t a drama queen. Actually, I’m the drama queen in the house. Everything upsets me, but nothing upset Lenny. He was always mellow.”

“So, what do you think happened?”

Freddie shrugged. “Isn’t it your job to figure that out?”

“Do you mind if I look at Lenny’s room? And then maybe ask you a few more questions?”

He picked up the ashtray and walked out of the room. “Come on. It’s this way. Lenny and I share a room.”

I followed Freddie down the hallway. Just above the waistband of his shorts, he had dimples in the small of his back, one on each side. Halfway down the hall he turned, and we were in a small bedroom crammed with two twin mattresses, a schoolhouse desk, and another penis picture with lint for pubic hair—this one was flaccid.

The walls were painted an electric blue, and the ceiling was black. One of the mattresses was stripped naked, showing its sweat stains. The other wore pink polka-dotted sheets. On the bare mattress was a box filled with odds and ends from around the apartment—a frying pan, a picture, some juice glasses from the fifties.

Freddie watched as I looked over the room. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. Hints, I suppose, little clues as to why Lenny might have killed himself: angry letters from creditors, love letters from a failed romance, the complete works of Sylvia Plath. Anything.

“Did Lenny have money problems?” I asked.

“It’s a two-bedroom apartment and there are four of us. We all have money problems.” I looked into the closet. “The left side is his,” Freddie volunteered.

“What about boyfriends? Was he involved with anyone?”

“No. Lenny had sex. He tricked and stuff, but there wasn’t anyone serious.”

I moved Lenny’s clothes around. Stuck my hand in the pockets of his coats. Freddie continued chattering. “I used to be Bobby’s boyfriend. So did Chuck, our other roommate, but only for about five minutes. Bobby tricked with Lenny, which is what broke Bobby and I up, though at this point I can’t remember why I cared.” He gasped suddenly. “Oh, my God! You’re gonna think I killed Lenny for having sex with Bobby! That’s just ridiculous. It was a year and a half ago for God’s sake. In gay years that’s like a decade. Besides I have an alibi.”

“You don’t need an alibi. Lenny killed himself.”

He was silent for a moment. “I wish people who didn’t even know Lenny would stop saying that.” He stuck out his chin. “Lenny’s mom doesn’t think he killed himself. I don’t think she’s paying you to prove something she doesn’t believe.”

“I’m sure she’ll be satisfied if I can tell her why Lenny did it.”

Freddie huffed his disagreement. I lifted the lid to the schoolhouse desk. In the drawer beneath there were Lenny’s bills, his bank statements, some time cards, and an address book. I picked up the address book and flipped through it. Mostly first names.

“I’m supposed to be getting ready for a party. It’s Bobby’s birthday. That’s why I thought you might be a present.” He paused dramatically. “You know, like in Boys in the Band.”

“Yeah, I know. It was at The Parkway two months ago.” Not that I’d particularly enjoyed it. They were a whiny bunch. But it did prompt me to ask, “How did Lenny feel about being gay?”

“I don’t think he thought about it much. He was too busy sucking cock.” I suppose it was meant to shock me, but it didn’t. “I knew you were gay the minute you walked in,” Freddie continued.

“Oh yeah? What gave me away?”

“I’m almost naked. You keep pretending not to notice. Pretend being the operative word.”

It’s embarrassing, but I’m used to guys flirting with me. I’m six foot three and weigh about two-ten. I work out a few times a week to make sure the scale doesn’t tick much higher. That month, my dark hair was just beginning to curl since I needed a haircut. I was thinking about giving a beard a try, or maybe I was just being lazy. Either way, in addition to my mustache, there was heavy stubble all over my face. Trouble, in the form of boys who look like Freddie, always seems to find me. I guess that means I’m good looking.

“Tell me more about Lenny,” I asked, ignoring his flirting.

“Lenny wrote poetry. Dreadful poetry. I can show you some if you want, but my guess is Mrs. Borlock isn’t paying you enough to actually read it.” He pointed to a stack of black and white composition books by Lenny’s mattress. I shook my head. I might have to read them sometime, but hopefully I could figure this out without them.

I picked up Lenny’s bank statements and flipped through them.

“We’re all artsy, the four of us. Bobby is an actor. I’m a painter, a primitive representationalist. I work mostly in acrylics and found objects.” He paused, waiting for me to look up at the painting over his bed and compliment it. I stuck to the bank statements, so he continued, “Chuck is in a band called The Wigs. It’s glam rock. They all wear makeup and have pretty hair, but Chuck’s the only one who’s gay. They’re touring. Well, I mean they have a gig in Bloomington.”

Contrary to what Freddie had said, Lenny wasn’t broke. His most recent bank balance was nearly four thousand dollars. I flipped back over the past few months. His previous balances were significantly smaller, usually never more than six or seven hundred at the most. He’d even overdrawn the account a few times. I went back to the most recent statement. Halfway down the page, there was a circled deposit for three thousand, five hundred, and sixty-four dollars.

“Did Lenny come into some money recently?”

“No.”

“What did he do for money?”

“Oh, we’re all temps. It’s very flexible. We work for a service called Carolyn’s Crew. Carolyn’s great. She used to be an actress, so she understands.”

“She give bonuses?”

“Oh, yeah. If you stay on an assignment for two months, you get a hundred dollars. Then two hundred at six months. Lenny was about to get his second bonus.”

“Lenny had been on the assignment for a while, then?”

“He was having a rough time of it, though.”

“What do you mean a rough time?”

“Well, I’m not sure. He talked about his boss a lot, this guy named Campbell. Obviously, the guy had money. No one names their kid Campbell unless they’re also giving him a trust fund. One minute Lenny adored the guy, and the next he hated him. I think Lenny had a crush and it wasn’t going well.”

“Do you think they might have had a relationship?”

“No, if Lenny was having sex with someone he wouldn’t shut up about it. Seriously, I can tell you the size of every dick he’s touched for the last two years.” He looked at me expectantly, like I might ask him to do so. Curtly, he said, “I’m trying to seduce you, but you seem not to notice.”

“I notice.”

Freddie watched me, waiting for me to make a move. When I didn’t, he padded over to me. Frowning, he looked up and asked, “Are you trying to hurt my feelings?” He was so short I had to practically pick him up to kiss him.

Of course, I knew I shouldn’t have sex with him. It wasn’t what you’d call a reliable interrogation technique. But he didn’t seem to know why Lenny killed himself, didn’t even think Lenny did kill himself, so it was hard to see the harm in it.

Pushing me away, Freddie flopped down on the bed and, lifting his hips, slid off his gym shorts. His dick was semi-hard in anticipation and belonged on a much bigger man. I slipped off my jacket and began to undo the underarm holster holding my 9mm Sig Sauer.

“No,” Freddie said with a devilish smile. “Leave that on.”

I threw my jacket on the floor and joined Freddie on the bed. Taking him into my arms, I kissed him long and deep. There was something sexy about his being completely naked and my having most of my clothes still on. My hard-on rubbed against his, the cotton of my jeans making it all the more exciting. He pulled away from me and looked into my eyes. “You’re a good kisser.”

I thanked him for the compliment by kissing him some more. His hands were in my jeans, working to unbutton them and set my dick free. Once he got it into the open, he gave an appreciative little growl. He jerked me a few times and then rubbed our cocks together.

“This is going to be so good,” he whispered, then rolled over and spooned his naked butt into my lap. I ran my hands across his chest, pinching his nipples. He reached behind himself, grabbing my dick and rubbing the head along the crack of his ass.

His breathing began to come faster, and, somewhat abruptly, he reached around the edge of the mattress and pulled out a small container of Vaseline. Quickly, he lubed up my dick and his pucker hole. Before I slid my dick in, he said, “Take it easy at first.”

I fucked him slowly for a bit, lying there on my side with my pants down around my knees, giving him time to relax into it. Soon, though, I became impatient and pushed him over until he was face down. I crawled on top of him and slipped my cock back into him. He groaned happily.

My hands on his hips, I had to splay my legs wide to get a good angle. I thrust into him until the muscles on the insides of my legs began to ache. I pulled my legs closer together and lifted him up with me. His knees were off the bed, his ass practically floating in front of me as I pounded into him. His moaning began to blend into one long keening sound that reminded me of a siren.

Then I flipped him over. I wanted to see the look on his face while I screwed him. When he looked up at me, he stopped moaning and grinned. I slid back into him. “Yeah, that’s it,” he whispered.

Taking his cock into my hand, I started to jack him off. Matching each stroke with a thrust. He pushed my hand away. “You’re going to make me come too soon.”

I wanted to make him come, though, so I fucked him harder and faster. My holstered gun bounced against my ribs. He arched his hips, meeting each thrust. His hard cock bounced on his belly, and then he was coming. I reached out and jerked him a few times to help him along. All the while, I kept fucking him.

When he stopped spasming, Freddie said, “Pull it out. I want to see you come.”

I pulled out of him and began to jack myself off. It only took a few pumps and I was coming all over Freddie’s reddened dick and his already sticky belly. I collapsed on top of him. He slipped his arms around me and squeezed me close.

When he’d caught his breath, he said, “I hope this means you’ll try extra hard to find out what happened to Lenny.”

I pulled away from him, “Is that what this is about? You fucked me so I’d do a good job?”

“No, I fucked you because you’re sexy. But I can still ask for special treatment, can’t I?”

“I always do a good job,” I said.

He shrugged. “You never asked for my alibi.”

“Okay, tell me your alibi.” Obviously, he was eager to do so.

“The night before Lenny died, I got drunk off my ass on Long Island Iced Teas and took the bus in the wrong direction! This big, burly black guy took pity on me. After that, all I remember is holding onto a bathroom sink in some apartment while the black guy fucked the living daylights out of me. I woke up the next morning around eleven. I had no idea where I was.” He watched me to see what kind of reaction his story might get.

I didn’t know what the big deal was with his alibi. Was he that desperate to display his sexual prowess? Did he want to present himself as some kind of slut? Was this his way of saying, “don’t take what we just did too seriously”?

I dead-panned it. “Could you find this guy again?”

“Probably not.”

“Then it’s not an alibi, is it?”

He frowned. “Oh. I guess not.”

I rolled over and looked at him. “Can you think of anything else that might be important?”

Freddie thought for a moment, then smiled. “He would have liked you. That’s for sure. You’re just his type.”

It was time for me to leave, so I got off the bed. My hands and cock were still gooey with Vaseline. “Which way is the bathroom?”

“It’s right across the hall.”

With my pants around my ankles, I had to waddle across the hall. When I got halfway to the john, the front door opened and in walked Bobby Martin. Immediately, I remembered him. I’d picked him up at The Loading Zone a couple months before. I never saw him after that. We hadn’t exchanged numbers.

He took a moment to look me up and down. My greasy shirttails, my red, sticky cock hanging out, my hairy knees. He smiled and said, “Well, nice to see you again.”

I wanted to punch someone.

Author Bio

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