dead branches of a tree; dead branches or trees.
Useless or burdensome people or things.
Two men dressed in dark slacks, pressed white shirts, scuffless black shoes shinier than a new penny, and aviator shades pushed above their foreheads examined the crime scene. Their suit jackets remained across the backseat of the black Chevy Suburban parked behind them the shoulder of the interstate. Sweat layered their backs and pooled in droplets at the temples, soaked their armpits. Swatting at the insects swarming about proved useless.
The Georgia heat this day was stifling, the air thick with humidity, and enlaced with a putrid odor familiar to homicide investigators and most cops. They stared at the nude body about fifteen feet away, a male corpse lying face up on damp, decaying leaves. The skin of the cadaver was grayish and mottled; blood dried a Moorish brown. The eyes of the victim had been eaten away by the scavengers of the forest.
A trio of sheriff’s deputies and a couple of attendants clad in white jumpsuits from the county coroner’s office stood on the perimeter. Forensic pathologists, the medical doctors who performed autopsies, rarely left the morgue. The professionals watched both FBI investigators intently, awaiting their turn with the body. No doubt they were cursing from having to wait in the stifling heat. One consolation however, was the Feebs appeared as miserable as everyone else on this blistering day in mid-July, a record ninety-degrees or better twenty-one days straight and counting.
sheriff, a fiftyish gray-headed man with a round belly, tie askew, and top
button of his dress shirt open to reveal a tuft of graying hair, stood a couple
of spaces off to the side of the tall agents. He had placed the call to the
headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta upon
notification of the horrific discovery. He had referenced a BOLO alert
disseminated to statewide law enforcement agencies the previous month
mentioning a string of linked and unsolved homicides.
found the victim?” asked Special Agent Hales without looking away from the
Department of Transportation mowing crew,” Sheriff Hinson said. “One of their
men walked up into the wooded a hundred feet that way to take a leak out of
view of the interstate. Claims he caught a foul stench and noticed buzzards
circling overhead. Figured it was a dead animal, a wild hog or such, and though
he’d take a peek. Made his way ‘round that ravine over yonder and saw something
curious. Thought it might be a decomposing animal carcass, but it looked
strange to him from a distance, so he decided to get a better look-see.
Curiosity got the best of him, I guess. It always does.” Hinson chuckled,
but lost his grin when the agents remained stoic.
snorted as his partner and Special Agent Delvecchio spoke up, obviously
frustrated with the man’s slow, winding southern drawl as evidenced by the
scowl ripped across his red face. “Go on sir.”
the worker got closer, he ain’t seen no dead hog at all, but a body. He told
his supervisor and 911 Dispatch got the call from GDOT’s office in Macon. A
couple deputies called out here to check.”
“Thanks sheriff,” said Delvecchio. “That’ll be all for now.” He waved the official off. “We’ll motion to you after our initial walk-through. You can inform the photographer and techs to complete their work afterward, and not a moment before. You understand?”
Hinson opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and slunk away. They took their cue, snapped on matching opaque latex gloves and microfiber booties before moving closer to the body, careful not to disturb the scene.
me the rundown,” said Delvecchio.
Hales bent at the knees. After a thorough once over, he began reciting what he observed. Delvecchio took notes: “White male, twenty-five to thirty-five, one-seventy to one eighty-five pounds alive. Height about six feet. Dark hair cut short to the scalp, hairless torso. Signs of trauma to the neck and chest. Bruising, ligature marks visible on both wrists, ankles, and neck.” Hales lifted a stiff arm and portion of the right shoulder. “Dark patches beneath the arms, shoulders, legs and buttocks appear to be livor mortis caused by hypostasis. Abrasions caused by some ligature device; rope, twine, or a type of cord perhaps. Hard to determine without a more thorough examination.”
The younger agent swatted at the gnats and flies swarming around, then shifted his eyes lower. ” Significant defects noted to the pelvic region. Victim’s penis, scrotum and a portion of the abdomen incised.” Hales cleared his throat and continued, albeit in a more gravely tone. “No clothing or personal identification present on scene, same with any visible tattoos, scars or other identifying marks. Autopsy will determine length of exposure to the elements and possible cause of death, but my best guess is the victim has been here four or five days at most.”
spotted something at the base of a thick tree-trunk approximately three feet
away and moved off, calling back over his shoulder. “No drag marks or foot
impressions I can see, but damn weather could have erased any evidence therein by
Hales followed his partner’s movements. Delvecchio bent at the waist and retrieved something from the ground. He stood, holding an object midair for closer inspection. “Looks like a piece of leather shoelace,” he said. “The kind used for work-boots. Might be the ligature used on DB.” Delvecchio inspected the area around the barnacled trunk, circling to the backside of the tree. “Hales, you need to see this.”
agent joined Delvecchio after making a wide arc around any potential evidence
on the ground before cutting back to where his colleague stood. On the lower
portion of the trunk Hales saw a gouge in the bark, like a wedge or deep notch.
Inspecting farther up the tree, he spotted numerous, thinner marks scored into
the rough crust. Rope burns, perhaps even from the portion of shoelace
Delvecchio held aloft.
was either tied to or propped against this tree, strangled with some sort of
ligature device, perhaps the shoelace you found,” Hales said, bending at
the knees. “The scars in the tree’s bark suggest the UNSUB braced a foot
against the trunk for leverage to garrote his victim, but the shoelace
broke, so another device was substituted used.” Hales looked around the base of
the tree. “Body was cut down or the binding broke.”
stood after inspecting the lower impression further, then retraced his steps to
our guy’s work?” Delvecchio asked, following close behind, but his tone
suggested he knew the answer.
“MO appears the same, but I cannot be sure until getting a closer inspection of the body, more specifically the throat.” Hales motioned for the crime scene photographer. A gawky shutterbug with billowing white shoe coverings joined them at once. “Get your prelims before we inspect the body. You can finish your evidence-quality shots once we’ve stepped away.”
The photographer nodded and began snapping away with a fancy digital camera, bending, squatting, and contorting his lithe frame in a bizarre dance around the corpse, positioning himself near enough, but not too close in order to avoid contamination. When satisfied, he stepped away from the body to reclaim his spot at the perimeter where he began fussing with his equipment and unpacking a tripod.
Hales withdrew a pair of chrome-plated micro tissue forceps from his shirt pocket and stepped next to the corpse. Lowering his solid frame to one knee, he leaned over the body. “Let’s find out for sure.” He used the thin instrument to pry open the purple lips, and probed the interior of the mouth, removing some dead leaves and earth. The steel prongs of the tool snagged something solid, lodged deep within the throat. Hales withdrew the forceps, held the foreign object aloft for inspection. “Piece of deadwood shoved down the throat,” he said, scowling. “Just like all the others.”
to next?” asked Delvecchio, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the
back of his meaty hand. The gnats were relentless; the heat insufferable.
Hales glanced at the interstate and sighed. Vehicles whipped past at breakneck speed; their occupants oblivious to the horrific discovery a few yards away. “Based on the UNSUB’s previous pattern and northern trajectory these past few months, and considering the body’s been here a few days, I’d say he’s already arrived at his next destination.”
I woke to find the bed shaking. Somewhere
in the house, glass came crashing down, and on the street car alarms went off
and dogs wailed. The bed lurched back and forth like a raft in the squall. The
floorboards seemed to rise like a wave beneath it, and for one surreal second,
I thought I heard the earth roar, before I recognized the noise as the pounding
of my heart in my ears. My stomach churned and fear banished every thought
except Get out. And then it stopped, as abruptly as it had begun, the
bed slamming to the ground, a glass falling in another room. Outside, the car
alarms still shrilled, the dogs whimpered and the frantic voices of my
neighbors called out to each other, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” I sat up
against the headboard and drew deep breaths. My pulse slowly returned to normal.
I was aware that someone else was in the room. I reached for the lamp, but the
power was out.
I called out, “Who’s there?”
My eyes accustomed themselves to the
darkness, but I could not see anyone among the familiar shapes of the room. Yet
I was sure someone was there, hovering at the foot of the bed, watching me. It
moved, and then a great wash of emotion passed over me. Sadness. Regret. Relief.
I felt them but they were not my feelings. I reached out my hand, but there was
nothing. The room began to rattle, shaken by an aftershock. It lasted only a
few seconds and when it was over, I was alone again.
I hopped out of bed and ran into the
closet door which had been shaken open. The blow stunned, then focused me. “Think,”
I commanded myself. Clothes. Shoes. Flashlight. Get outside. I pulled on a pair
of pants, a sweat shirt, sneakers and headed to the kitchen for the flashlight.
The usual hum of appliances was stilled. Glass crunched beneath my feet as I
crossed the room to the small pantry, where I found the flashlight in a utility
drawer. I shot a beam of light across the kitchen. The cupboards had swung
open, cans and boxes spilling out of them. The refrigerator had been knocked a
couple of feet from the wall. I opened the refrigerator to find its contents
spilled and shaken. I drank some orange juice out of the carton and thought of
Josh, alone in his apartment. I picked up the phone but, as I’d expected, the
line was dead. I got out of the house.
The street where I lived ran along the
east rim of a small canyon in the hills above old Hollywood. On maps of the
city, it was a curving line off Bronson Canyon Drive, hard to find and seldom
traveled. My house, like other houses on the block, dated back to the 30s. It
was down a few steps from the street, behind a low hedge, the bland stucco wall
revealing little of the life that went on there. Until thirteen months earlier,
I’d lived there with my lover, Josh Mandel. Now I lived alone, Josh having left
me for another man who, like Josh, was HIV positive. It was Josh’s belief that,
because of this, Steven could understand him in ways that were inaccessible to
someone like me who was uninfected. But then Steven died and Josh’s own health
began to deteriorate. I would gladly have taken him back but he insisted on
living on his own. Still, we’d had something of a reconciliation, drawn back
together by memories of our shared life and the impending end of his.
As I closed the door behind me, I
considered driving to West Hollywood to check up on him, but I doubted I would
get that far. The quake had likely knocked out traffic signals and the roads
would be filled with panicked motorists and nervous cops turning them back. I
remembered the spooky presence in my bedroom and wondered anxiously if it had
been Josh, but that was absurd. It had been nothing more than a trauma-induced
hallucination; a momentary projection of my terror.
I went around the side of the house and
turned off the gas. When I returned to the street, my next-door neighbor, Jim
Kwan, approached me, flashlight in hand, and asked, “Hey, Henry, you okay?”
“So far,” I said. “Of course, the
night’s still young. How about you?”
“We came through in one piece. Knock on
wood,” he said, rapping his forehead. “I’m going to check on Mrs. Byrne down
“I’ll come with you,” I said, wanting to
We passed a group of our neighbors huddled
around a radio. The radio voice was saying, “. . . is estimated to be a
six-point-six quake centered in the San Fernando Valley, with the epicenter
near Encino …” I was relieved to hear that because it meant Josh was at least
as far away from the epicenter as we were and there didn’t seem to be any major
damage to the hill.
I heard the clatter of metal against the
street and trained my light on Kwan’s feet. He was wearing cleated golf shoes.
“What’s with the shoes?”
An embarrassed smile crossed his round,
good-natured face. “I was scared shitless, man. I grabbed the first shoes I
I shone the light on my own scuffed Nikes
and recognized them as a pair Josh had left behind.
“Is your phone out?” I asked Kwan.
“Look across the canyon,” he said.
“Everything is out.”
Through a gap between two fences I could
see the west rim of the canyon, where far grander houses than ours commanded
breathtaking views. Darkness. The October night was beautiful, cool and mild.
Without the distracting blaze of city lights, the stars glittered in the deep
blue sky. A damp herbal smell came up from the undergrowth. Rosemary. Back in
his naturopathy phase, Josh warmed rosemary oil in a diffuser because he
claimed it reduced anxiety. I tore a sprig from a bush, crushed it between my
fingers and sniffed it.
“Spooky, huh?” Kwan said. “Like
the city was clubbed in its sleep.”
“Did you feel anything strange in your house
after the quake?”
“You mean besides my life flashing in
front of me?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Like a ghost?”
Kwan laughed. “Something must’ve come down
on your head, Rios.”
I felt the bump on my forehead where I’d
hit the closet door. “Maybe so. Maybe I just imagined it, but, for a
minute there, it sure felt like there was someone in the room with me.”
“Maybe it was Jesus,” Kwan joked. “The
Second Coming. Mrs. Byrne will know.”
We found her sitting on her porch steps
reading her Bible by candlelight. She was an old woman, her mottled, veiny face
framed by stiff white tufts of hair. She had lived in Los Angeles, which she
pronounced with a hard Midwestern “g,” for over forty years. Once or twice a
month she went door to door with a sheaf of faded religious tracts of the
hell-and-brimstone variety, and raved at the neighbors polite enough to let her
in about God’s coming and wrathful judgement on our Sodom of a city. I barred
the door when I saw her coming but Kwan, whom she usually caught while he was
out gardening, suffered her rants with good humor. When I kidded him about it,
he said she was lonely. With good reason, I replied.
“Mrs. Byrne, are you okay?” Kwan asked.
She looked at him with rheumy eyes and
said, “Didn’t I tell you, Kwan, it’s the last days. Earthquakes, fires,
plague.” Her voice got high and a little crazy. “Jesus is coming.”
“Just in case he doesn’t come tonight, I’m
going to shut off your gas,” he said. “Keep an eye on her, Henry.”
She squinted at me. “Who are you?”
“Your neighbor from down the block,” I
said. “Henry Rios.” I sat down beside her and asked, “The quake scare
you, Mrs. Byrne?”
“Knocked me clean out of my bed,” she
replied. “But I’ve been through worse, and worse is coming, young
man.” She rattled her Bible. “Now you take this AIDS—”
I trained my light on her Bible and said,
“Why don’t you read to me until Kwan gets back?”
She opened the book and began reading in
her high, shaky old woman’s voice: “‘And I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth:
for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no
more sea.’” As I listened, I felt the kind of euphoria people feel when they
survive a disaster. I realized then that I’d thought I was going to die in the
quake. My mind drifted back to that moment after the quake ended when I’d
imagined there was someone else in the room. Was it just a hallucination? It had
seemed so real. Mrs. Byrne’s voice broke into my ruminations. “‘And God shall
wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither
sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things
are passed away.’”
“What part of the Bible is that?” I asked.
“Revelations, young man.”
“I thought that was all about the
destruction of the world.”
“It is,” she said, “and then what comes
after. The end of all suffering. The end of death.” With an unexpectedly sweet
smile, she added, “You don’t know what the word gospel means, do you?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“It means the good news. Whatever we
suffered here on earth, there is joy with Christ when we die. That’s why I
wasn’t afraid tonight. I’m not afraid to die. Are you?”
“I’m hoping I won’t have to answer that
question for many years, Mrs. Byrne.”
“Silly boy,” she said. “You don’t know how
many years you have. Best to be ready now.”
Then Kwan came around the corner, gave the
all clear, ending our conversation.
For the rest of the night, I huddled with
my neighbors around the radio, listening to reports of the damage. Most of the
city was dark and there were reports of fires, leveled buildings and downed
freeways, but the worst of the damage was confined to the valley. To my relief,
damage to West Hollywood was reported as minimal. For a while, the echo of
sirens reverberated on the hill from the streets below, but by dawn it had
quieted down. As the sky began to lighten, our little disaster party broke up
and we trudged back to our houses.
A boy was sitting at my front door,
asleep. I came down the steps and stood above him. Occasionally, homeless
people wandered up the hill, but he was too clean and well-dressed for that.
His arms were wrapped around his knees and his head was down, long, black hair
covering his face. I had no idea who he was, but I was pretty sure he hadn’t stumbled
into my doorway by accident. I’m a criminal defense lawyer and accustomed to
strangers showing up at my door at odd hours of the day and night.
I didn’t particularly welcome these
unexpected visitations; I’d always seemed to attract a class of clients who
were, as a disgruntled ex-partner once put, “from hunger, Henry.” I was a
magnet for the desperate, frightened and reviled, who somehow or other had
heard about the fag lawyer who was a sap for a sad story and let you pay on
installment. Josh used to tell me, “You’re a lawyer, not a social worker.’’
After he left, I had plenty of time to wonder if he would’ve stayed had I spent
less time on my clients’ troubles and more on ours; that question and the other
mysteries of my midlife. I’d gone into therapy like a good Californian, and
learned that in all probability the reason I’d devoted myself to the legal
lepers of the world was because I felt like an outcast myself – “queer,”
in every sense of the world—and I struggled to compensate with good works.
In the end I’d taken this insight and
decided, so what. I was forty- two years old, and law was all I knew or cared
about, apart from Josh and a few friends. I threw myself back into my practice.
Occasionally, a fellow defense lawyer would refer me a particularly hopeless
case. I wondered which one I had to thank for the sleeping boy.
I hunched down on my heels, shook his
shoulders gently and said, “Wake up, son.” He raised his head and his
eyes fluttered open. They were unusually blue, which was surprising, given his
dark coloring. I judged him to be in his mid-twenties and he was strikingly
handsome: long hair, dark skin, blue eyes and a silver loop in either ear.
Wearily, he got to his feet. He was medium height, five-seven or -eight, but
tightly muscled, a featherweight. Beneath loose-fitting jeans and a black
pullover sweater, his slender body radiated tension and fatigue.
“Are you Henry’ Rios?” he asked nervously.
“Yes. Who are you?”
“Zack Bowen,” he said. “I’m . .
. Chris Chandler’s boyfriend. Can I talk to you?”
For a moment, I was too astonished to
answer. Chris Chandler’s boyfriend?
“Come inside,” I said.
As soon as I stepped into the house,
exhaustion hit me. I’d been running on adrenaline since the quake and it was
all used up. I left Zack Bowen in the living room and went into the kitchen to
figure out some way of making coffee that didn’t require either electricity or
gas. There was still some hot water in the tap, so I mixed two cups of muddy
instant and carried them into the living room. Zack was stretched out on the
couch, asleep again. I sipped the vile brew and thought, Chris Chandler’s
boyfriend. Well, well. That was certainly a long time coming.
Winner of six Lambda Literary awards, the Henry Rios mystery series is iconic and Michael Nava has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of our best” writers. Originally published during the darkest years of the AIDS epidemic in the gay community, The Death of Friends received extraordinary praise both as a mystery and an eloquent work of witness. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This is a brave, ambitious and highly impressive work.” The San Francisco Chronicle described it as “A beautifully executed novel, with a classic whodunit at its core.” And People magazine said, “Nava can devise as canny a plot as he can a defense motion. His latest, though, has something special – the scent of memory that lingers as poignantly as a departed lover’s cologne.”
More about Michael Nava
Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of eight novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios who The New Yorker, called “a detective unlike any previous protagonist in American noir.” The New York Times Book Review has called Nava “one of our best” writers. He is also the author of an award-winning historical novel, The City of Palaces, set at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican revolution. In addition, he is the writer/producer of the Henry Rios Mysteries Podcast which adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head into an 18-episode audio drama. In 2019, he also founded Persigo Press, through which he hopes to publish LGBTQ writers and writers of color who write genre fiction that combines fidelity to the conventions of their genre with exceptional literary merit.
with Trescoe for an hour, helping him put the study back into order. He was a
nice enough bloke, but over time I came to realise although the enormity of the
tragedy of Mike Hissard’s death had hit hard, he hadn’t really cared much for
the man, calling him at one stage a “misguided petty thief”. He
wouldn’t be pressed, but the more we chatted, the more I sensed he’d been aware
of something untoward going on, but had made a conscious decision to keep his
nose clean, and to mind his own business. I offered him a lift home, which he
accepted, telling me after I’d enquired about the cat that he was happy it had
found a good home. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear; as much as I liked animals,
I wasn’t sure right now was the best time for me to be tied down to regular
feeds, cat-tray cleaning, and patting sessions.
As he got out of my car and thanked me for the lift, he passed me a
“Laneway behind Kellett Street, at The Cross,” he said.
“Garage marked with M.H. above the door. It’s the third one along on your
left, coming from Bayswater Road.”
“What’s in it?”
“I’ve no idea. But it was originally his father’s. Michael
always said to me if anything ever happened to him, to take everything inside
to the incinerator at the tip and burn it—and not to look at what’s
“Would you have?”
He shrugged. “What you don’t know can’t kill you. Any fool will
tell you that.”
I smiled. It was a bittersweet smile, because during my time in the
war it had always been what you did know would save your life. Only those who
didn’t know what was coming bit the dust.
“Will you be all right?” I asked. “What will you
“His parents left a proviso in their will for me, and he
promised me the same. I hope he’s honoured it. Between the two, it will keep me
“Well, thank you for the phone number and the offer to help if
need be. Detective Sergeant Telford will be in touch. If you’ve got any
queries, or are worried about anything, here’s my number.”
I scribbled it on a sheet of paper from my notebook. He touched his
hat as he waved me goodbye.
decided the garage at The Cross could wait until another day. It was after four
and I wanted to have a quick look through both Stan Lowe’s and Philip Mason’s
home offices—assuming they both had one.
As Stan’s flat was in a short laneway off Broadway, I went there
first; I could call past Philip’s on the way home. Its back door was, like
mine, up a fire escape and on the top floor. The lock opened easily; no inner
bolts. Inside, the house was immaculate; not in the same obsessive way Mike’s
had been, but as if everything had been put away while the owner was on an
extended holiday. I checked—the fridge had been turned off and the phone was
disconnected. He had a set of suspended files in one of his deep desk
drawers—there wasn’t much there, so I emptied them into a large leather
briefcase I’d brought with me. There were only two bundles of documents. The
first was company invoices—Liu and Sons,
Importers and Exporters of Fancy Goods. The other bundle consisted of bank
statements—two separate accounts with the Hong Kong and Shanghai bank in Dixon
Street. Each bundle was held together by a sturdy alligator clip and faced with
a long strip of paper covered in Chinese writing.
Philip’s house was not so tidy. There was stuff everywhere. It
didn’t look like it had been ransacked, more like he and his wife had packed
and left in a hurry. On his study desk was a pile of manuscripts and radio
plays. I knew he did some radio theatre broadcasting occasionally. In his
typewriter was the second page of a play he’d been writing. I glanced at the
first page on the desk next to the typewriter and then read as far as he’d got
on the sheet in the machine. It was truly awful, overwritten, clueless muck, so
I wasn’t at all surprised to find a pile of manuscripts on the floor next to
his desk with rejection letters. However, taped to the underneath of the top
drawer, in which he kept his pens and pencils, was a clear-paned envelope, in
it a bank statement for the Bank of the Philippines, in the name of Mr. Mason
Phillipe—a nice enough pen name—with a recent deposit of two thousand pounds. I
slipped that into my jacket pocket.
As I was about to leave, something caught my eye. I’d noticed it,
but then not taken notice of it. It was a roll of thin, striped cord—two
hundred yards, the label said. Exactly the same type and colour of thin cord
that had been used, not only to bind up Daley Morrison’s collection of pubic hair
samples, but also his wrists when he was found dead on the pitch at the Sydney
Cricket Ground. That went into my briefcase with everything else I’d collected
My mind whirred on the way home. I got out of the car, unlocked my
garage, and then drove the car inside, sitting for a moment while I got my
thoughts into order after I’d turned off the engine. I glanced at my watch to
check the time, when a soft metallic click sounded from behind my right ear.
“You know the drill, Mr. S.,” Larry the Lamb said. I knew
his voice; I didn’t even have to look. “Raise your hands slowly in the
air, and don’t try anything fancy, because my friend here, Mr. Clancy, has a
tommy gun trained on your back. He doesn’t like me much, so even if you grab me,
we’re both dog food.”
I raised my hands slowly in the air, and then a black hood slipped
over my head, and I smelled the distinctive sweet, clinical odour of chloroform
as a hand pressed a pad of something soft over my mouth.
“I’m sorry I have to tell you this, Harry, but Daley Morrison was murdered. It was no heart attack. He was stabbed through the heart and then staked out, naked, in the middle of the Sydney Cricket Ground as some sort of warning to someone.”
Harry Jones almost fell into his chair, such was his shock.
Clyde Smith is brought into the investigation by his former colleague, Sam Telford, after a note is found in the evidence bags with Clyde’s initials on it. Someone wants ex-Detective Sergeant Smith to investigate the crime from outside the police force. It can only mean one thing—corruption at the highest levels.
The Cricketer’s Arms is an old-fashioned, pulp fiction detective novel, set in beachside Sydney in 1956. It follows the intricacies of a complex murder case, involving a tight-knit group of queer men, sports match-fixing, and a criminal drug cartel.
Was Daley Morrison killed because of his sexual proclivities, or was his death a signal to others to tread carefully? Has Clyde Smith been fingered as the man for the case, or will the case be the end of the road for the war veteran detective?
More About Author Garrick Jones
From the outback to the opera.
After a thirty year career as a professional opera
singer, performing as a soloist in opera houses and in concert halls all over
the world, I took up a position as lecturer in music in Australia in 1999 at
the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music, which is part of CQUniversity.
Brought up in Australia, between the bush and the
beaches of the Eastern suburbs, I retired in 2015 and now live in the tropics,
writing, gardening, and finally finding time to enjoy life and to re-establish
a connection with who I am after a very busy career on the stage and as an
Why do we love murder mystery novels so much, reveling in the murder, mayhem, and madness? I think it’s because we enjoy sorting through the clues, sifting out the red herrings, meeting the quirky and fabulously suspicious suspects, falling in love along with the lovers, laughing out loud at the sleuth’s antics, and most of all bringing order and justice to our disordered world full of injustice. As a past professional actor and current college theatre professor/department head, I know first-hand the wild and wacky antics, sweet romance, and captivating mystery in the worlds of theatre and academia. Hence, the Nicky and Noah mysteries were born.
After seven novels, adorable couple Nicky and Noah had used their theatre skills (including impersonating others) to solve seven mass murders, direct numerous theatrical productions, travel to exotic places, and adopt a son. What was left for them to do? Direct and star in my favorite ballet: The Nutcracker! So, in book eight, Drama Dance, our handsome heroes play the Mouse King and the Cavalier in a holiday production at their TreemeadowCollege (founded by deceased gay lovers Tree and Meadow) in picturesque and cozy Treemeadow, Vermont. Their colleagues and friends Martin (Drosselmeyer) and Rubin (producer) and of course their son Taavi (Fritz) come along for the bumpy ride as hunky dance faculty and students drop faster than their dance belts. As in every Nicky and Noah mystery novel, there are lots of cracked nuts as characters, and the yule tide is definitely gay. Not to mention there are more murders than altar boys in a priest’s closet (as Nicky would say). Laugh out loud humor, sweet romance, intriguing plot twists and turns, and a shocking ending all combine in usual Nicky and Noah mystery fashion. So, take your seats. The curtain is going up on The Nutcracker Ballet Nicky and Noah style!
DRAMA DANCE (the 8th Nicky and Noah mystery)by JOE COSENTINO
Special $3.99 pre-order sale on Kindle version until release day August 1
Exclusive Excerpt of Drama Dance, the eighth Nicky and Noah mystery, by Joe Cosentino:
I felt a tap on my thigh. Naabih Bahri was next to me on one knee. The Associate Professor of Jazz said, “Nicky, I think it would be more interesting if the mice and toy soldiers did a jazz number—like the Jets and the Sharks’ rumble in West Side Story.
I was not going to cave to the Cavalier. “Naabih, please go backstage with the rest of the cast.”
The sword fight music played next. Thomas and Duffy danced and waved their swords. As they came at each other, Thomas banged into the toy chest and flipped backwards out of the window.
Thomas rose behind the window flat. “Sorry, Professor. I can’t see well without my glasses. Can I wear them?”
I stood in from of the orchestra pit. “Do you have contacts?”
“I did but they bothered my eyes.”
Piero groaned from the second row. “I’ve never seen a Nutcracker wear eyeglasses.”
Liz chimed in next to him. “And I’ve never seen a Clara lie so seductively on the chaise.”
“Quiet, please!” I took in a deep breath. “Thomas, wear your glasses for tonight. We’ll speak to the costumer and figure something out for tomorrow night.” I spun around to face the house. “Understudies, this isn’t a comedy club. Please watch the show quietly and review the choreography. Now let’s resume the ballet.”
I sat down. In the seat next to me, Noah took my hand and squeezed. He looked so handsome in his Cavalier understudy costume, I wanted to share a little sugar with him. Onstage, Thomas, wearing his large black eyeglasses, danced toward Duffy. They raised their swords and began the duel. Thomas grandly hit Duffy’s shoulder with the sword. Duffy waved his sword dramatically and struck Thomas’s hat, which exploded, sending Thomas into the tall gift box.
Caterina screamed from the chaise. Duffy took off the mouse head, sweat and shock filling his face. Amidst the gasps of horror all around us, Noah and I dove onto the stage. When we reached the large box, Noah cringed at the sight of the hole in Thomas’ head. I bent down to the floor and examined the fallen Nutcracker hat. Noah placed his finger under Thomas’s neck and stated the obvious. “Nicky, he’s dead.”
The Nutcracker’s cracked.
Theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is back at Treemeadow College directing their Nutcracker Ballet co-starring his spouse, theatre professor Noah Oliver, their son Taavi, and their best friend and department head, Martin Anderson. With muscular dance students and faculty in the cast, the Christmas tree on stage isn’t the only thing rising. When cast members drop faster than their loaded dance belts, Nicky and Noah will once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is cracking the Nutcracker’s nuts, trapping the Mouse King, and being cavalier with the Cavalier, before Nicky and Noah end up stuck in the Land of the Sweets. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining eighth novel in this delightful series. Take your seats. The curtain is going up on the Fairy—Sugar Plum that is, clumsy mice, malfunctioning toys, and murder!
More About Author Joe Cosentino:
Bestselling author Joe Cosentino was voted Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Author of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine for Drama Queen. He also wrote the other novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series: Drama Muscle,Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle; the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation &A Shooting Star, A Home for the Holidays, The Perfect Gift,The First Noel,The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland with Holiday Tales from Fairyland, the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back,Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings, Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings(NineStar Press);andthe Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Chair of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and he is happily married. Joe was voted 2nd Place Favorite LGBT Author of the Year in Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, and his books have received numerous Favorite Book of the Month Awards and Rainbow Award Honorable Mentions.
taken a dump in Shaw’s mouth. He rolled, felt the familiar
crease of his buckwheat pillow, and instantly regretted it. The mouse that had
taken a dump in his mouth was currently burrowing up into his head. It was
trying to gnaw through his skull. Cold sweat flashed out along his entire body,
and Shaw knew he was going to be sick.
“I put your popcorn bucket by the bed.”
The words landed like a hammer, practically
shattering Shaw’s head, but they were still a godsend. He flopped onto his
stomach, found the bucket blindly, and fitted it around his mouth. Then he
puked. And puked. And puked.
When he’d finished, he gently set the bucket
down. And then he tried to die.
“It was one whiskey sour.” North’s voice moved
closer, and the bucket’s plastic chirped against the floor as North picked it
up, and then North’s voice moved away again. “It’s not like you were trying to
outdrink some asshole in Dogtown.”
From the adjoining bathroom came the sound of
running water and then the flush of the toilet. North’s footsteps came across the
room. Those strong, rough hands gathered Shaw’s hair and wound it into a loose
knot, and North pressed a cool, wet cloth against the back of Shaw’s neck.
“Here.” Two ibuprofen. “And here.” A glass of
water. “Drink all of it.”
“I’m going to die.”
“It was one whiskey sour.” But North didn’t
sound confused. He sounded amused. Shaw was used to that by now, the gently
mocking amusement that North found in every idiotic thing Shaw managed to do.
It used to bother him. That was back in the early days, freshman year, when the
only thing that mattered in Shaw’s universe was gaining North’s approval.
Shaw’s first glimpse of North, from the far
end of the dorm hall, had totally, utterly ruined Shaw for anybody else. At
least, that was how it felt at the time. When Shaw saw North’s thatch of messy
blond hair and his blue work shirt, complete with an oval that spelled Mick across his well-developed chest,
and the jeans sculpting a magnificent ass and the boots—Timberland, back then,
instead of the Red Wings he wore now—Shaw had been lost. Obliterated. And that
was before—Shaw groaned again, and this time it was only partially due to the
whiskey—that was before Shaw learned that North was smart and funny and kind.
Shaw had never had a chance.
That was before, too, the night Shaw had sat
on the Sigma Sigma roof and listened through the window and heard North shatter
all his dreams with a single sentence.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about
something,” North said. A chair squealed across the floor, and the sound went
through Shaw’s brain like an anti-aircraft shell. “It happened again last
Shaw didn’t dare roll over—he was convinced he
would puke if he moved anything more than his eyelids—but he wanted to burrow
under his pillow. No, forget the pillow. He wanted to burrow through the bed,
through the floor, through the basement, and just keep going. If he somehow
managed to dig his way to China like in a cartoon, that would be ok. If he
evaporated inside the Earth’s molten core, that might be better.
Shaw’s stomach lurched, and he concentrated on
not barfing. Last night. Lord, why had he been such an idiot last night? All of
North’s needling about drinking, that had been fine. North liked to give Shaw a
hard time. North liked to tease. Most days, it was fine. But yesterday had been
a storm of things. It had started with North asking how the date had gone—Hank?
Harry? Harold?—and with the disappointment in North’s face when Shaw told him
the truth: it had ended the same way, with a slow build of heat all evening and
then a flash freeze that left Shaw standing awkward and embarrassed and
fumbling for a way to get home, alone, as fast as possible. North’s disappointment
had been bad enough.
But then there had been Matty. Matty’s unruly
wave of blond hair. Eyes like gemstones—a clarity of color that was sapphire or
amethyst when the light shifted. There was—not that Shaw could have admitted
it, not that the thought even quite reached the surface—the fact that Matty
could have been North’s younger brother, albeit without all the muscles and
with slightly more refined features. There was the way Matty had clutched
Shaw’s hand, and that familiar rumble of fire in Shaw’s gut. And of course,
there was the fact that North didn’t like Matty, which made perfect sense in
But if Shaw were honest, most of that stupid
decision had been about the pretty boy with the cuffed sleeves on his tee and
the low-cut white sneakers and the bare ankles. It had been about the way he
had leaned across the bar, just a fraction of a degree, toward North and the
way he had shifted the towel over his shoulder when North smiled at him, a
nervous, totally unselfconscious gesture that only made Shaw hate the kid more
because it was so transparently honest. And there had been the moment North called
the kid beautiful.
Shaw groaned; his fingers scraped blindly at
the floor. “I think I’m—”
“Bucket’s right here.” North’s hand lifted the
rat’s nest of hair and refolded the cold cloth. “But try to breathe through it
North was right, as he so often was, and the
need to barf passed. North’s hand hadn’t left Shaw’s neck. His fingers coiled
Shaw’s long hair. Every once in a while, just accidents of chance, his thumb
would scrape the side of Shaw’s neck. It was so wonderful that it was much, much
scarier than barfing into the popcorn bucket again.
“What I wanted to talk about—” North began.
And here it was. This was the moment when they
had to confront the truth they’d both danced around since freshman year. They’d
never talked about it—thank God, Shaw thought with a bubble of clarity through
the pain, thank God I didn’t open my mouth five minutes earlier when we were
out on the Sigma Sigma roof; thank God I was a coward and I got to hear what he
really thought. But now North was going to say something about how he was
worried Shaw had feelings for him, and that was ridiculous of course, that was
totally impossible, Shaw had moved on, Shaw had gone out with a lot of guys
since then, Shaw had basically forgotten, almost totally forgotten what it had
felt like to see North for the first time at the end of the dorm hall. But
North wouldn’t believe him; North was going to make a big deal out of nothing.
But all North said was, “—is that I think
you’ve got a drinking problem.”
Relief went through Shaw like a hailstorm,
cold and pinging all over him, almost painful with how hard it hit. He
flattened his face in the pillow and laughed, and he didn’t even feel like he
needed to puke. Not yet, anyway.
“I think you might need time for detox. Maybe
some recovery time in a treatment center.” North’s thumb kept scraping that hot
line up the side of Shaw’s neck.
“Of course,” Shaw said into the pillow.
“We’ll have to make some pretty big lifestyle
“That would really help.”
“If you want, Pari and I could do an
“I think Pari would only like an
intervention,” Shaw said, “if it was for her.”
“Well,” North said, “I’ve got a list of
Shaw lifted his head, and even though the
whole room looked like it was under water, he could see that typical North
smile lightening those ice-rim eyes, crinkling the corners, without ever
touching his mouth. North had matching black eyes today, and a fresh split
across the bridge of his nose covered by tape. Shaw wanted to ask when North
had found the time for more boxing, but all he said was, “I don’t think you’re
supposed to call them grievances.”
“I’m running this intervention. I can call
them whatever I want.”
Shaw dropped his head into the pillow again.
“I’d like to take you all the way back to
Labor Day, freshman year.”
“Please don’t,” Shaw said. “I’m not ready for
As North spoke, he peeled back the wet cloth,
and his fingers took up a light massage: kneading the sensitive flesh at the
base of Shaw’s neck, the touch dry and rasping—workman’s hands, the thought
flashed along Shaw’s synapses like brushfire. “The setting: your dad’s lake
house at Innsbrook,” North said. “More specifically, the docks. The characters:
Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich, North McKinney—”
“North Ebenezer McKinney,” Shaw said groggily
into the buckwheat.
“That is not my middle name, but a very nice
try. Tucker Laguerre, Rufus Johnson, and a host of Chouteau bros that you
decided to invite for some reason I will never understand.”
“They were cute. And we were all trying to
“Well, there was that one Ladue boy you wanted
to lick the sunscreen off.”
“Percy was cute.” Shaw found himself dragging
the word out in response to the pressure of North’s fingers. “And he read me a
poem by Lord Byron.”
“Well, you are a slut for poetry.”
“I would say I’m a—”
“Slut. For poetry.”
Shaw had a brilliant rejoinder, but then
North’s fingers dug deeper, and he moaned into the pillow.
“And,” North said, “if you’ll recall, after
the equivalent of approximately three-quarters of a wine cooler—”
“I’d been pregaming. I had a big glass of
orange juice that morning, and it was old. I think it was kind of fermented.”
“—you managed to wind up naked, in the
bathroom, puking into one of Tucker’s shoes. A very, very good first
impression, by the way, on my future husband.”
“His shoes were white.”
The deep tissue drag of North’s fingers was
hypnotic, and Shaw was surprised that the worst of the hangover was receding. “Anybody
could have mistaken them for the toilet. And anyway, Tucker was being a total
asshole to you that day, and he kept trying to get his hand down Percy’s swim
trunks because he said he wanted to find out manually if Percy was cut or not.”
Then Shaw heard what he’d said. He froze.
North’s hand froze.
“You need a shower. And then we need to get
going. Unless you’re not feeling up to it?”
Shaw couldn’t bring himself to look up from
the buckwheat where he was burying his face. “North, that was a million years
ago, and I wasn’t—”
North’s Red Wings stomped toward the stairs so
hard that the whole house seemed liable to fall. Then down the stairs. Then
through the galley kitchen. Stomping like he meant to test every floorboard’s
“Shit,” Shaw whispered into the pillow. “Shit,
shit, shit, shit, shit.”
And then he threw up once more in the popcorn
About the Author
Gregory Ashe is a longtime Midwesterner. He
has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. Aside
from reading and writing (which take up a lot of his time), he is an educator.
It was nearly noon when I left City Hall. I found a
phone, checked in with my secretary, and returned calls. When I finished, I
still had an hour before a court appearance at the Criminal Courts Building, so
I called home to invite Josh to lunch with me. All I got was his voice on our
answering machine, urging me to leave a message. I hung up.
There had been a time when the course of
his day was as familiar to me as mine. Now, I stood there for a moment, wondering
where he might be. It was spring break at UCLA, so I knew he wasn’t in class,
but beyond that, I could only guess. I headed to a sandwich shop in the Civic
Center mall. It was warm and smoggy. The only sign of spring was the flowering
jacarandas, bleeding purple blossoms onto the grimy sidewalks.
I passed a bookstore. Displayed in the
windows was a book entitled Vows: How to Make Your Marriage Work. I
stopped and read the book jacket, which promised new solutions to old marital
problems like disputes over money, sex and child-rearing. What about when one
of you has a terminal disease and the other doesn’t? What was the solution to
that? Each time Josh’s T-cell count dropped, I felt him drift farther away from
me, into his circle of Act Up friends, and his seropositive support group. He
had become an AIDS guerrilla, impatient with my caution, contemptuous of my
advice. Just that morning, bickering again over the wisdom of outing closeted
we had to expose their hypocrisy, I said it would only drive others deeper into
the closet—he’d snapped,
“Spoken like a true neggie,” as if being negative for the virus was a defect of
Our arguments were no longer intellectual
disagreements. He had adopted an “us vs. them” mentality over AIDS, and the
more anxious he felt about his own health, the more strident he became. There
might have been less ferocity in our quarrels if we had been able to talk about
his anxiety, as we once had, but he had decided that even this, or perhaps
especially this, was beyond my understanding. I reacted with my own anger at
being treated like an enemy by the man with whom I’d shared the last five years
of my life. I went into the bookstore and bought the book, suffering the sales
clerk’s sympathetic glance as he stuffed it into a bag. Over a limp ham
sandwich I flipped through the chapters. Finding nothing relevant, I buried it
in my briefcase and set off to court, the one place where I knew the rules.
I arrived in court a few minutes late. The
deputy district attorney, an amiable man named Kelly Miller, who had been
chatting with the clerk, said to me, “Your kid’s a no-show, Henry.”
My ‘kid’ was a twenty-year-old gay man
named Jimmy Dee, Deeds on the street, where his deeds were legion. He was a handsome
black boy with a luminous smile, undeniable charm, a four-page rap sheet for
hustling and theft, and a romantic attachment to heroin. His last boyfriend, a
much older man, had had him arrested for stealing from him to support his
habit. After grueling negotiations, I had persuaded the boyfriend, Miller, and
the judge to let Deeds plead to trespass on condition that he enter a drug
rehab. The purpose of this hearing was for him to submit proof that he’d found
a bed somewhere. He was being given a break, a fact that I impressed upon him
at every opportunity. When I did, he would turn his klieg light smile on me and
say, “I know, Mr. Rios, I know. God put you in my life.”
“He’s not that late,” I said.
“Fifteen minutes late.” Judge Patricia
Ryan strode out of her chambers, arranging the bow of her blouse over her
judicial robe. She was a patrician black woman with an acute street sense. “I
don’t know why I let you talk me into this, Henry. I should have had your
client dragged away in manacles when I had the chance.”
Although she was joking, I could tell she
“The case would have fallen apart without
this deal,” I said. “The boyfriend is deeply in the closet. He wouldn’t have
Miller said, “Your kid copped. I could’ve
convicted him on his statement.”
“Juries aren’t buying confessions from
black defendants in L.A. these days,” I replied.
Judge Ryan said, “Save this, gentlemen.
I’m going to issue an arrest warrant.”
“Wait, Judge, will you hold it one day?
I’ll go out looking for him.”
She narrowed her eyes. “We’ve given him
“So what’s one more, Your Honor?”
“Mr. Miller?” she asked.
Kelly shrugged, “Why not? I’m sure Henry’s
not getting paid for this extra work.”
She took her seat on the bench. “OK. People
versus Deeds. The defendant is not in court. I will issue an arrest warrant
to be held until tomorrow morning. Good luck, Mr. Rios.”
“Thank you, Your Honor.”
I called Josh from a phone in the corridor
and caught him at home. I explained that I was going in search of Deeds and
might not be in until late.
“I won’t be here anyway. There’s an Act Up
demo at Antonovich’s house,” he said, referring to a particularly reactionary
“This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“I can’t tell you everything.”
That solved the mystery of where he had
been when I’d called earlier.
“Is this a lawful demonstration, or am I
going to be bailing you out of jail again?”
Coolly, he replied, “The worst that ever
happens is that they hold us overnight.”
“It’s LAPD, Josh,” I said, annoyed at his
nonchalance. “I’ve seen what they’re capable of with prisoners.”
“They’re not going to beat us up,” he
said. “They won’t even touch us without gloves and masks.”
“What if you had a health crisis? Do you
think the cops would rush to call for medical help?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped.
“I’d like you to stay that way by not
putting yourself in dangerous situations.”
“You want me to stay home and let someone
else do my fighting for me.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“This is my fight. This is my life. What
do you not understand about that?”
I took a deep breath. “Fine, Josh. In that
case, do whatever you want.”
“I will,” he said, and clanged the
I hung up and immediately called back, but
the line was busy, and stayed busy until I finally gave up.
Eight hours later, after searching for
Deeds in his usual haunts I found myself pulling into the parking lot of the
Santa Monica Motel in West Hollywood with my investigator, Freeman Vidor. It
was a perfunctory, two-floor stucco building wedged on a small lot just off the
boulevard within walking distance of the gay bars; the kind of place where the
vacancy sign was perennially lit and rooms could be rented by the hour.
“This it?” Freeman asked. “A hot sheet
“According to his dealer, Deeds turns
tricks here sometimes.”
We got out of the car and went into the
dimly lit office. An Asian woman stood behind the desk watching us
“Yes,” she said.
Freeman produced a mug shot of Deeds and
his private investigator’s license. “We’re looking for this kid.”
“Police?” she inquired, holding up his
license to the light.
“I’m a private cop,” he said. “This is Mr.
Rios, the kid’s lawyer.”
She took stock of me in my sincere blue
suit, trying to puzzle it out.
“We’re not here to make any trouble,” I
told her. “The boy calls himself Deeds. He has to be in court tomorrow morning
and I promised the judge he’d be there.”
We all stood there for a moment while she
weighed her options. An air conditioner hummed loudly. Although glossy brochures
advertised Gray Line tours and fun at Disneyland from a metal rack on a table
in the corner, I doubted whether this place attracted that kind of trade.
“Twenty-three,” she said, wearily. “Don’t
kick in the door.”
We found the room. I knocked a couple of
times, then called him. I tried the door. Locked.
“We’ll have to ask her to let us in,” I
“Go admire the view,” Freeman said.
I walked over to the railing and watched
the traffic stream up and down the boulevard. A blond in a Jeep cruised by slowly,
his cassette player blaring a disco tune from the seventies. Ah, the hunt, I
thought, remembering the nights I had stood in San Francisco bars listening to
that same song while I ingested a little liquid courage. Or, rather, a lot of
liquid courage. Most nights I would stagger out alone and take the train back
to school. Once in a while someone would pick me up, or I would pick him up,
and I would toil in a stranger’s bed for a few hours, trying to get out of my
skin by going through his. I imagined that I was having fun, and sometimes I
was, but not nearly often enough to justify the effort.
I watched the blond disappear into the
night and thought, Josh is hooking up with someone. The thought had been in the
back of my mind for months but only now, as I stood in the sexy airs of
Boystown, did it all fall into place: the element of evasion in his behavior
which had never been there before, the vagueness about where he was going, and
when he would be coming back.
I knew he had occasionally slept with other
men. He was thirteen years younger than me and while we’d been monogamous for
the first two years, he got hit on all the time, and it wasn’t realistic for me
to expect that he wouldn’t be tempted by at least some of the offers. Also, I
suspected his HIV-status held him back, part of his shame at having been
infected and I wanted him to overcome it, even if it meant he slept around a
bit. So, we talked it out and came up with some rules—don’t bring anyone to the house, no staying out
overnight and remember where home is. Josh was discreet, but this was
different. This wasn’t being discreet, this was hiding something and I feared
that what he was hiding wasn’t that he was having sex with another guy, but
that he was in love with him.
I glanced back at Freeman. He was holding
the door open.
We stepped inside to a darkened room.
“Deeds,” I called. A sliver of light
seeped out from beneath a door at the other end of the room. I went over and
knocked. “Jimmy, are you in there?”
When there was no answer, I turned the
knob and shoved the door open.
“Oh, shit,” Freeman muttered.
A naked Jimmy Dee sat sloppily on the
toilet, his head tilted back at an angle that would have hurt had he been
alive. A needle was still jammed into his arm. His mouth was open and he stared
up at a water stain on the ceiling in the shape of Africa.
I closed the door and said to Freeman, “Go
After he left, I switched on the light and
looked around the room. Deeds’s clothes were in a pile at the foot of the
unmade bed. There was a twenty on the nightstand, wages for his last trick, no
doubt. On the dresser was a little pile of papers. I examined them and found my
card, some phone numbers and an envelope addressed to Judge Ryan with the
return address of SafeHouse, the same rehab that Gus Peña had been in. I tucked the envelope into my
Josh had left the kitchen window open and
the room smelled faintly of the anise that grew wild down the side of the hill
from our house. He wasn’t there. I poured myself a glass of water and sat down
at the kitchen table with the envelope I’d taken from Deeds’s room. Inside was
a letter from Edith Rosen, M.F.C.C., attesting to the fact that Deeds was
scheduled to enter SafeHouse the following Monday, three days hence.
“You little shit,” I said aloud, more in
grief than anger. In my work, I was used to losing, but I thought I’d staked
out a tiny victory with Deeds.
But then, I’d had a weakness for junkies,
for their defeated, helpless charm. Of course, I knew better. My own fight with
the bottle had taught me intimately everything there was to know about
addiction. Drunks and junkies all had a big hole in their gut that sucked in
panic like Pandora’s box in reverse unless it was filled by booze or a fix.
Eventually, that stopped working, and the panic went out of control until the
only thing left was dying. Sometimes, like Deeds, death is what you got and
sometimes, like me, you were given a reprieve, but there was no logic about
it. Even if you lived, the panic was still there. It only faded when you began to
see it for what it was, the long drop from darkness to darkness, and you
At that moment I could feel the panic
elbowing me, tossing up the image of Deeds in that grisly motel bathroom,
reminding me of every grisly room through which I had stumbled drunk, so close
to dying myself. And when that didn’t get me going, the panic asked, “Where’s
Josh?” a surefire tactic. I got up from the kitchen table and went into the
bedroom, switching on the lamp and stretching out on the bed, still unmade from
that morning. A book was half buried in the covers, the paperback edition of Borrowed
Time, Paul Monette’s moving tale of his lover’s death of AIDS. Josh had
been reading it.
It was after eleven. The demonstration was
certainly over by now.
I sat up and fumbled for the TV remote
control, flicking on the set at the foot of the bed. I switched channels until
I found some local news, looking for a report about the Act Up demonstration.
Instead, I found myself watching Gus Peña, standing against the backdrop of the city
council chamber, his arm draped around his son. Peña was saying, “My kids have always made me proud,
now I want them to be able to say the same thing about me.” Little Peña didn’t seem to be
Watching them, I thought of my father, and
about pride and about betrayal. I shut off the TV, got undressed and into bed,
ready for a long night.
“How was the demonstration?” I asked the
next morning, pouring myself a cup of coffee as I waited for my bagel to toast.
I had been asleep when Josh came in. Waking beside him, my face against his
bare back, I had breathed another man’s smell on his body.
Shaggy-haired and heavy-lidded, he sat at
the kitchen table in boxers, mixing an assortment of liquid vitamins into his
organic cranberry juice.
He looked up at me. “It was great! The
cops turned up in riot gear. You could tell they were terrified that one of us might
“Anyone get arrested?”
He finished mixing his holistic cocktail.
“No, the cops told us that Antonovich wasn’t even in town, so after an hour we
The toaster oven clicked and I retrieved
my bagel. Buttering it, I asked, as casually as I could manage, “What did you
“Drove Steven home,” he said, straining
for equal nonchalance. “Sat and talked to him for a while. Did you find your
I sat down at the table. “Yes, as a matter
of fact. In a motel room in Boystown. He was dead.”
“Murdered?” he asked, putting his drink
“I’m sorry. I know how much you liked that
I crunched into the bagel. “Not as much as
I like you.”
I watched him take a slug of juice,
watched the muscles in his neck contract as he weighed a response. “What do you
“Who are you sleeping with?”
Without hesitation, he replied. “Steven.”
I thought back. Our house had become a
kind of activists’ clubhouse and frequently I came home to find a meeting
raging in the living room. Though Josh had introduced me to many of the men and
women who attended these sessions, their faces blurred in my mind into a single
youthful face flushed with excitement and anger. Steven?
Then I saw him. About my height, muscular,
good-looking. Not one of the big talkers, but the others listened when he did
speak. Josh had mentioned once that Steven was one of the oldest surviving PWAs
in the group, having been diagnosed five years earlier.
Josh was speaking, “I kept meaning to tell
you, but it seems like we never see each other anymore…”
“Are you saying this happened because I’ve
“No,” he said. “It happened because I fell
in love with him.”
“Are you sure it’s not because you fell in
love with his diagnosis?”
He stared at me in disbelief, and then
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean that.”
“You meant it all right,” he said, pushing
his chair back from the table. He stalked out of the house. I heard his car
start up. I didn’t think he would be coming back soon.
Winner of six Lambda Literary awards, the Henry Rios mystery series is iconic and Michael Nava has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of our best” writers. In The Hidden Law, Rios delves deeply into his Latino identity as he defends a young man charged with assassinating a prominent Los Angeles Latino politician. The San Francisco Chronicle hailed the novel and its author: “A beautifully conceived but gritty novel . . . . Nava writes the kind of small, clean, powerful novels that build in emotional power almost invisibly, leaving us breathless at the end.”
More about Michael Nava
Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of eight novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios who The New Yorker,called “a detective unlike any previous protagonist in American noir.” The New York Times Book Reviewhas called Nava “one of our best” writers. He is also the author of an award-winning historical novel, TheCity of Palaces, set at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican revolution. In addition, he is the writer/producer of the Henry Rios Mysteries Podcastwhich adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head into an 18-episode audio drama. In 2019, he also founded Persigo Press, through which he hopes to publish LGBTQ writers and writers of color who write genre fiction that combines fidelity to the conventions of their genre with exceptional literary merit.