Exclusive Excerpt: Flesh and Gold by Ann Aptaker


The setting: Havana, Cuba, 1952

Dapper, custom suited butch Lesbian Cantor Gold is in Havana searching for her stolen love, Sophie de la Luna y Sol, who was kidnapped from the streets of New York and sold into the Havana sex trade.


Turn two corners from the Prado, Havana’s tree-lined boulevard of flashy hotels, neon-  bright high-hat casinos, well-dressed locals and swanky tourists, onto Consulado and the accommodations and entertainment become a lot less high-hat or flashy, the locals a lot less fashionable, and the tourists are more interested in the kind of sleaze they can’t get at three o’clock in the afternoon back home in Cornfield County. Make another turn at a corner with no name and you’re in the Callejón de los Burdeles, the Alley of the Brothels, a narrow strip of Hell in the Colon Quarter’s red light district.

One step into the callejón and my face is smothered in a humid fog of cheap perfumes on sweaty flesh and the stench of stale sex. The aromas ooze into my nose and seep into my mouth, puckering my lips and tongue. Clashing music from radios and tinny phonographs rolls through the sticky air from saloons, cafés, and the open windows of flea bitten brothels; conga drums and brasses collide with steamy crooners and sentimental strings. I’m tossed around by despair and desire at the sight of so much sex for sale by so many women of so many colors of flesh, some pale as linen, others dark as coal smoke, and all the tasty shades between. Women in fishnets and flashy spangles and not much else beckon with curling fingers, smeared smiles, and voices flirtatious and brittle in Spanish and English: Ven aquí, chica. You want a good time? Here and there, pretty boys give me the eye before they realize their mistake and look past me with a sly smile. I’m not their clientele but we understand each other completely.

So many faces, so many swaying, desperate bodies, the young bodies still succulent, the older faces wise in the ways of staying alive for one more day. They all see me and figure me, know what I am and what I like. They call to me with the promise to provide it.

I want to see Sophie among these faces. I want to find her, take her home, leave Havana, get out from under Lansky’s thumb, get back to New York, bathe Sophie clean in my arms.

I don’t want to see Sophie here in this filthy street with its scabby bodies and destroyed lives. Not here. Not here…

“Cantor Gold?” My name comes up next to me through a woman’s voice, an American voice, gravelly from too many cigarettes, too much booze, and probably too many years earning the rent on her back or her knees.

The voice is faintly familiar, but when I turn to look, the face—its high cheek-boned, blue-eyed remnants of a once delicate beauty now puffy under bottle-brunette waves—brings the memory home. “Agnes Cain,” I say. In her expensive light blue linen suit and matching little hat, the fishnet veil softening the life-smart lines of her face, she’s a lot better dressed than she used to be. Her cat house must be doing well.

Like all savvy working girls, and the madams who employ them, Agnes can read a face straight through to the thoughts in your head. “I’m down here shopping,” she says, going right to the question that’s evidently written all over me. “See if there’s any fresh new trade I can buy off the street and put to work for me. But what about you, Cantor? I haven’t seen you in Havana in years.” She puts her hand on my chin, turns my face this way and that, examining. “You’ve bought yourself a few scars since I saw you—what?—ten years ago? Before the war, anyway. You know, those scars suit you, especially that knife-shaped number above your lip. Makes you look dashing. But what are you doing here? I never pegged you for the gutter trade.” I’m about to answer her, even press her for information about Sophie, but she’s not through with me. She puts her alligator clutch under her arm, slips her arm through mine and walks with me along the street as if strutting me down the aisle. “You know,” she says in the intimate manner of a bride, “I’m all done with my business here, so what do you say we go back to my place? I’ve moved up in the world since the last time you patronized my establishment. I run a top-of-the-line house now.”

“From what I hear, the local gangs have a grip on the houses. How do you get by?”

“Same as I always have. Same as everybody. I pay whoever’s in charge. It used to be the cops, now it’s the gangs for ‘protection’,” she says with a shrug. “Tell you the truth, the gangs are easier to deal with than the cops. Less greedy. So how about it, Cantor? I’ve got a lovely little sweetie at my place who’s right up your alley. I know it’s been a long time, but a good businesswoman never forgets a customer’s tastes.” The smile she gives me could eat right through my teeth.

I stop our walk. “Okay, Agnes, let’s do business. What’s an hour cost with that lovely little sweetie?”

A hand on her hip, and with the chummy attitude of a peddler trying to sell me a souvenir tablecloth, she says, “For you, a special price, Cantor, as a way of welcoming you back as a customer. So, shall we say a hundred dollars American? But if you’re paying in pesos—”

“Uncle Sam’s burning a hole in my pocket.” I take a hundred from my stash in my jacket, and take out the photo of me and Sophie. I give Agnes the hundred, but hold on to the photo. “We can do our business right here, Agnes. The hundred’s for information. I’m looking for this woman,” I say, showing her the photo. “She was kidnapped in New York and brought into the Havana flesh trade over three years ago. Ever see her?” My breath sticks in my chest while Agnes looks at the photo. Maybe my search can end here. Maybe Agnes recognizes Sophie, knows where she is. Maybe it’s even Agnes who has her…

The veil of her hat sways as Agnes shakes her head.

My breath seeps out again.

But Agnes keeps looking at the photo a little longer before looking back up at me. That hat veil does nothing to soften the look in her eyes, filled with both pity and scorn. “You look like you could use a drink,” she says.

I’d like to drown my disappointment in a whole bottle, but a friendly bit of alcohol with Agnes could loosen her lips, tell me who’s the current who’s who in Havana’s sex racket. “I’ll buy,” I say.

She gives me a coquettish smile that wore out years ago, and rips the photo of me and Sophie in half, right down the middle.

I don’t hit women, and I’ve been known to exact a terrible price from guys who do, but right now it takes every ounce of my willpower not to swat Agnes across the face for her desecration. My jaw’s so tight I’m afraid my teeth will crack by the time she gives back Sophie’s half of the picture, and says, “If you’re going to show this woman’s picture around town and expect to get information from anyone”—she hands back the half of the picture with me—“never let them see your heart.”

More About Ann Atptaker

Lambda Literary and Goldie Award winner, native New Yorker Ann Aptaker’s first book, Criminal Gold, was a Golden Crown Literary Society’s Goldie Award finalist. Her next book, Tarnished Gold, book two in the Cantor Gold crime series, was honored with a Lambda Literary Award and a Goldie Award. The third book in the series, Genuine Gold, won the 2018 Goldie Award. Flesh And Gold is the newest book in the ongoing series, with Murder And Gold scheduled for release in July 2021 by Bywater Books.

Ann’s short stories have appeared in two editions of the crime anthology Fedora, Switchblade Magazine’s Stiletto Heeled issue, and will be featured in the Mickey Finn crime anthologyand in The Black Cat Mystery Magazine, both scheduled for late 2020 publication. Her novella, A Taco, A T-Bird, A Barretta and One Furious Night, has been released by Down & Out Books’ Guns And Tacos crime series. Her flash fiction, A Night In Town, appeared in the online zine Punk Soul Poet, and another flash fiction is featured in the Goldie Award winning anthology Happy Hours: Our Lives in Gay Bars. Ann has been an art curator, exhibition specialist, art writer, and has taught Art History at the New York Institute of Technology. She now writes full time.

Exclusive Excerpt: Wheelchair: Antarctica. Snow and Ice by Garrick Jones


You can never judge an academic book by its cover. Simon Dyson, a quiet assistant professor, is a man of hidden depths. To the world he presents as a harmless, innocuous, shy and retiring intellectual. However, the man who lurks behind that public persona is far more interesting … and dangerous … and driven.

I shouted Marvin brunch at a cosmosexual café we both liked in the old kiosk of a park on the beach. It was outrageously expensive, but I felt guilty—well, not really, but every so often I liked Marvin to think I did. In fact, one of my crutches had tangled around his feet when he’d opened the bathroom door, and he’d tripped, cracking his head against the doorjamb.

We’d organised our guests for the night, and had just finished shopping for dinner and were loading up the car when I sensed someone standing right behind me.

“Hello, Simon,” the man said, leaning familiarly on the door arch of my opened hatchback.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Marvin,” another voice said.

“Too late, Cupper, I already pressed the emergency button. GPS will have the cops here in less than five minutes.”

I’d put two and two together quickly enough to reach for my crutches as soon as I’d heard Marvin say the man’s name. The tall blond man who’d spoken to me kicked them out of the way.

“That’s not nice, Felix,” I said.

Their quick glance at each other showed a moment of panic. I recognised the look. I’d seen it on the faces of punters ever since I’d fled to the streets when I was a child. It was the look of someone caught with their pants down. Shock at the realisation they weren’t as safe and anonymous as they thought they were. If we knew their names, it was probably pretty certain someone else did too.

Cupper, the short one who’d waved a gun in Marvin’s face on the day they’d come to ransack our house, went to grab my shirt collar. It was a very bad move. Even with my weight on one leg, I was still a fighter. I slapped his hand out of the way.

“Try that again and I’ll break your fucking nose,” I said. “Now, piss off before the cops get here.”

“Break my nose? Yeah, you and whose army?”

Unfortunately, some crooks had a more developed idea of their own mean streak than the reality. Neither of them knew how to look after themselves. I summed it up in a split second. Bodies angled wrong, tension in all the wrong places. They were used to using muscle and body weight, not combat fighting.

Felix hit the ground first—my signature shot, my powerful right hook, knocked him flat on his arse. If Cupper hadn’t reacted so quickly, I might have enjoyed the sight of the tall Scandinavian lying on his back, gaping, wondering what had happened. Instead, his friend, who’d taken objection to the suggestion I might break his nose, grabbed a handful of my hair and tried to land one on me before I could react.

Marvin tried to get between us, but I shoved him to one side. My knee came up between Cupper’s legs at the same time I headbutted him. He roared with anger and kicked my plaster cast violently, while trying to get a punch around my guard.

“Fancy-boy boxing is it,” he yelled just as I saw Felix rise into view over his shoulder. Cupper drew back his arm, clenching his fist—I couldn’t waste time playing games, so I slugged him good and proper. A short, brutal stab right on the bridge of his nose. I felt the bone crack. His eyes crossed briefly, and then he fell backwards like a ton of bricks onto the tarmac of the shopping centre parking lot.

There was a split second when all three of us realised Cupper wasn’t getting up in a hurry—I’d knocked him out. People who’d been coming out of the shops to their cars during the few minutes in which our altercation had been taking place started to gather around. A large man, around my own age, glanced at the cast on my leg and at the man sprawled motionless at my feet and called out, “Need a hand, mate?”

Felix drew back to throw a punch at me, but then realised he needed to save himself, and tore free from Marvin, who’d grabbed his upper arm. He smacked Marvin across the face, knocking off his glasses, and then fled down the central arcade of the shopping centre, the large man who’d offered to help in pursuit.

“My frigging glasses,” Marvin yelled after him. They’d been trodden on by either Felix or his pursuer.

“Are you all right, Marvin?” I was furious, but more worried about Marvin’s glasses than the ferocious pain in my leg. I glanced down. The wall of the side of the cast was dented—it looked as if it had been broken—and there was blood seeping over the top just beneath my knee.

“Simon …”

“What, Marvin?”

He was staring at the ground in front of me. A large spreading puddle had appeared behind Cupper’s head. It was then I realised his eyes were open, motionless, staring into the sky.


“It was self-defence,” I shouted.

“I understand that, Mr. Dyson, but a man is dead because of your actions. We have to take you to the station to be questioned.”

Two police cars had arrived almost simultaneously, sirens blaring, lights flashing. I was on the ground at that point, clutching uselessly at my leg, almost screaming with the pain, and shouting at Marvin to call Squid, and after him Manny when Squid’s phone went to answering machine. “Tell Manny to get onto Mordecai Buttons,” I yelled through clenched teeth.

“No, you can’t handcuff me, I’m sorry,” I said to the police officer who was trying to restrain me. She’d tried to grab me forcefully by the arm to take me to the police car when I’d declined her gruff invitation to follow, but I’d shaken her off—admittedly, my reaction had been fairly aggressive. “You don’t understand. You can’t touch me. I have aphenphosmphobia … no, don’t touch me!”

She ignored me and tried to fasten one handcuff over my wrist—more aggressively than I thought appropriate.

Bad move. Instinctively, I punched her.

All hell broke loose.


Wheelchair is a slow burn contemporary psychological crime thriller about a man who suffers from both OCD and PTSD, a man who is unwittingly caught up in a cross-border war between rival crime gangs—a conflict that almost leads to his death, and more than once. It’s a study of compulsion and of disability, and of the many faces of emotional dependence and sexual compulsion. It’s about how some men cannot just love or make love because their hearts or their bodies lead them to it, but who can only connect emotionally and physically through self-imposed rituals which involve struggle or self-abasement. 

More About 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 academic.

Impressions: A Lesbian Detective Novel (Carpenter/Harding Series Book 8) by Barbara Winkes


Mid-morning, Detective Maria Doss went on a coffee run and stopped by Ellie’s desk for a break and some conversation.

“So, do tell,” she said, taking the visitor’s chair. “How was the honeymoon? Didn’t you regret not taking more days off?”

Life had been busy leading up to those perfect moments, so Jordan and Ellie had agreed to take a prolonged weekend at a spa retreat rather than a longer trip.

“Oh, no, it was amazing,” she said. “Thanks, by the way.” She picked one of the hot beverages and opened the lid. “Caramel latte. It’s not so bad coming back to this—though I really loved it. The nature, and fireplaces everywhere…Even the naps were tantric.”

She didn’t notice her choice of words until Maria started laughing.

“Transcendent. That’s what I meant.”

“Still, too much information, and a bit cruel to the single lady.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t worry. I can take it.” Maria took a sip of her coffee. “You better enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. Cliff’s been grumbling the whole time…When he was actually present, that is. Funny how in his opinion, only the women have too much off time.”

“He said that?” Ellie frowned. “We had a vacation last year, and before that, I never took more than a couple of days at the time. I know Jordan did the same. What’s his problem?”

“The whole world,” Maria commented. “Anyway, I’m glad you had a good time. It’s been almost quiet…you know that never lasts long.”

“True.” After the past few days, Ellie felt fairly ready to face whatever was going to come her way. Besides enjoying the heavenly tranquility of the mountain spa, including sauna, massages and the hot tub, she and Jordan had talked, a lot more than during those days in Hawaii, when they’d still had so much healing to do. Many things had still been uncertain back then. Now they had a solid foundation that enabled them to look at everything that had led them here.

“Harding, where’s your partner?” She turned around to face Lieutenant Carroll who had left his office.

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him today.” Ellie barely suppressed a wince when she saw the irritation in his expression.

“All right, then, Doss, you go with her.”

“Sir…I have a meeting with the D.A. in…” Maria checked her watch. “Seven minutes. I should be going.”

“That’s okay. I can go by myself,” Ellie offered. Much to his credit, Carroll only hesitated a brief moment.

“Sure. Arnold Robertson, the music producer, was just found dead in his condo by his bodyguard.”

Ellie was already standing, keys in hand. “I’m on my way.”

Peace and quiet were over.

* * * *

Officers Chris Atwood and Samantha Potts were on the scene, and a perimeter around the building had already been established. Ellie had to make her way through a crowd of press and bystanders.

“You’re late,” Atwood said, and she barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Atwood was about the only friend Waters had at the department. While he was younger than Waters, his antiquated ideas were even worse than the detective’s. He didn’t like that Ellie had made this step up the career ladder, either.

At the front door, she showed her badge to a concierge who studied it for an inappropriate length of time, and on the penthouse floor, a guard quickly followed her.

“Ma’am, you can’t go in there.”

“I believe I can,” she said, flashing her badge again. “Thank you.”

The apartment stretched over two floors, with floor to ceiling windows. Ellie had no time to admire the view, her gaze drawn to the body in the center of the room. In another corner, Casey Lyons was talking to a burly man Ellie assumed to be the bodyguard, and ME Melissa Adams was taking pictures.

Now was not the moment to get nervous. She had proven that she deserved to be here, she knew what to do, and most of all, it wasn’t her fault if Waters neglected his duties to the point no one could ignore it any longer.

She walked over to Dr. Adams, grateful no one but she could hear her heart that was beating loudly all of a sudden.

“Good morning, Doc. What do we have here?”

“You’re aware of who it is we have here, right?” Dr. Adams asked dryly.

“Yes, of course. Arnold Robertson, the music producer. I’ve heard of him, but I didn’t know he lived in the city.”

“Well, someone who didn’t like him very much knew. By the way, there’s a woman in the other room they found holding this,” she held up a gun enclosed in an evidence bag. “Her shirt’s soaked in blood.”

For a brief moment, Ellie wondered if it could really be this easy. She looked down at Robertson who had been shot multiple times. How had that woman made it past the bodyguard? Unless…

“The how is pretty obvious, right?”

“I’d be surprised if those bullets didn’t come from this gun,” Melissa said.

“Okay, let’s find out.”

She knew Melissa would want to know if her team could move the body. Ellie saw no reason why not, given the rather clear circumstances of how Robertson died. She wanted to talk to the bodyguard, and see the woman before they brought her to the station, wishing she could do everything at the same time—wishing her partner would take the job more seriously. Still being the newbie in the Homicide unit, she couldn’t afford to make mistakes.

“That means we can go ahead? Detective?”

“Yes. Call me as soon as you know more.”

Ellie walked over to Casey Lyons and the man she was talking to.

“This is Raymond Owens, Mr. Robertson’s bodyguard. He found him earlier.”

“I also found the bitch that did it,” Owens said angrily. “Are you going to remove her from this house, or what?”

Ellie sent an imploring look to Casey who supplied the information she was looking for. “Her name is Brandi Gilbert. She’d been a guest of Mr. Robertson’s a couple of times before. Those visits passed without incident, Mr. Owens told me.”

“She’s a hooker, if you must know. It’s obvious that she was after money, probably to pay for drugs.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Ellie assured him. “In the meantime, I’d like to talk to you at the station, just so we can clear up some things.”

“What’s to clear up? I saw her with the gun in her hand.”

“She threatened you?”

He seemed almost offended at that. “I disarmed her, and then I made sure she stayed put until the police arrived.”

So that was what Atwood had meant when he said she was too late. Well, neither Atwood nor Owens would decide the next steps.

“Okay. I’ll meet you at the station. Thank you for your cooperation.”

In an office off the main living area, Brandi Gilbert sat, sobbing, the officer in the room with her shaking her head.

“Has she said anything?” Ellie whispered.


“Ms. Gilbert? I’m Detective Harding. Can you tell me what happened here?”

The woman looked up at Ellie with so much despair in her expression she felt a chill run down her spine.

“Have you arrested him yet?”


“Ray…if that’s his name.” She sounded nauseated, but that might be from the blood soaking her shirt. It made Ellie think of her first case…Bloody clothes didn’t always mean someone was guilty. On the other hand, she might be trying to shift the blame.

“Are you saying that Mr. Owens shot Mr. Robertson?”

She cast a frightened look towards the door, then shook her head.

“I did it,” she said.

On her first day back at work after her honeymoon, Ellie was apparently having it all: The murder weapon, and a suspect confessing at the drop of a hat.

Nothing was ever this easy.

More about author Barbara Winkes:

Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings. Women loving women always take the lead.

A Friend in the Dark (An Auden & O’Callaghan Mystery Book 1) by C.S. Poe and Gregory Ashe


Sam was digging into the potatoes, the over-easy eggs already broken open and soaking the home fries. He spoke in a low voice, his attention seemingly fixed on the food. “I hate this place. The city, I mean. I don’t like… people. I don’t like being touched. I don’t like loud noises. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

“A hell of a place to come and investigate, then,” Rufus said as he pulled his own plate closer. His meal was a mirror of Sam’s. He actually never ate at BlueMoon beyond the occasional fried egg Maddie would slip him if he came in looking particularly pathetic. Rufus’s usual was coffee and sugar, so this was a hell of a treat. At the realization of his own words, Rufus’s hand froze where it hovered over his cast-aside utensils. “That’s what you’re going to do, isn’t it?”

Glancing up, Sam offered a small, bitter smile that seemed turned inward rather than at Rufus. All he said was “Yeah, I guess that’s what I’m going to do. Not very easy when Jake’s partner tells me he was shot in the forehead and has no gunshot residue on his hands.”

“Lampo’s a jackass,” Rufus muttered over the clatter of utensils being unrolled and falling onto his plate. He picked up the fork and licked butter off the tines.

“You know him? Jesus, maybe you can get a straight answer out of that dickbag.”

Rufus stabbed at his home fries. “Doubtful. What did Lampo say to you? Not about Jake’s forehead.” He stuffed the food in his mouth and talked around chewing. “I know about his forehead. I saw it. I tried to tell him, but Lampo wouldn’t listen to me—like I don’t know a thing or two about death.”

“I already told you: no gunshot residue. That’s it. Then somebody—his supervisor, I guess—came in. She must have put the fear of God in him because he wrapped things up and got me out of there faster than a twink with a hot douche.”

Rufus screwed his expression up, took another bite, and said, “You’re all class.”

“Have you ever had a hot douche? It’s like Satan himself is breathing up your bunghole.”

Jesus fucking Christ.” Rufus missed stabbing at a bit of potato, accidentally flicked it off his plate, and watched it land on the floor. He glanced at Sam again. “Lampo really told you there wasn’t any residue on Jake’s hands?”

“Yes. And he all but told me he thought it was murder too.”

“He said that?”

“No, that’s why I said he all but told me. He kept saying things weren’t typical—where he shot himself, the absence of GSR. ‘Pretty damn hard to shoot yourself and not have evidence on your hands’ were his exact words. He tried to say the case was open-and-shut, but when I called his bullshit, I think he might have agreed with me. Then his boss showed up, and I was out on the sidewalk with a scorched rectum.”

As Sam spoke, Rufus could feel a telltale prickle in the corners of his eyes. He sniffed loudly, blinked rapidly, and stared out the window. “I told Lampo. I told him that.” Rufus’s voice caught like he had a wedge of potato stuck in his throat. “Fucking Jake. Goddamn it. There was someone else there when I found him. The guy almost blew my head off. But Lampo—” Rufus made a fist and punched the sagging seat underneath him. The springs protested. “He’s never taken anything I’ve said seriously unless it’s filtered through Jake. And Jake’s dead, so he couldn’t say, ‘Lampo, you dumb fuck, of course someone shot me.’”

“What the fuck?” Sam said. “There was someone else there? And you saw him? Why the fuck didn’t you say something earlier?”

Rufus hastily wiped one eye and did his best to glare daggers at Sam. “I did. I told Jake’s partner. Who else is there—you? Fuck you.”

“Forget me for a minute. Lampo just ignored you? Is he dumber than shit? Lazy? What the fuck? And why were you even there in the first place? Were you supposed to be meeting Jake?”

Rufus stabbed at his home fries again. One bite, two, a third until his mouth was full and his tongue was burned. He washed it down with coffee and then cut a wedge of a pancake with the side of his fork. “Yeah,” he confirmed, voice low. “He had a job for me.”

“And what was the job?”

Rufus picked up a small container of syrup, the handle sticky. He drowned the pancake before eating the slice. “A pickup.”

“What were you picking up?”

Rufus sucked syrup off his thumb. “If I knew, I wouldn’t have been rifling through Jake’s underwear drawer earlier.”

For a moment, Sam’s face was tight. Then he said, “That’s why you’re looking for his phone.”

“Jake has to have record somewhere of what the job was. I tried his personal laptop but that was a deadend. He did most of his business on his phone. I figured finding that was better than letting my bare ass flap in the wind.”

“The phone seems like a good place to start,” Sam said; it sounded like a concession.

Rufus cut another wedge of pancake. “Sounds like you intend to stick with me after we eat.”

Sam’s knife and fork hovered over the pancakes. Then, with a casualness that seemed exaggerated, he cut into the mound of fluffy deliciousness. “It would be helpful,” he said, the words in time with the slow rocking of the knife, “to have someone else with me. Someone who knew Jake from here, as a cop. Someone who knows the city.”

“You think you can buy me one meal and I’ll put out?”

This time, Sam’s smile was a grin, and it was directed one-hundred percent at Rufus. “A guy can hope. Those dainty wrists and all.”

Rufus couldn’t recall a single conversation in his adult life that had this much sexual innuendo and didn’t immediately end with some guy punching him in the neck for being queer. Even after getting food in his stomach, Rufus wasn’t sure what he thought of Sam. Besides the obvious, of course. Sam was gorgeous and probably knew it, confident in his masculinity, and frustrating in conversation. So the dickish personality was probably fairly true to his character and not something Rufus superimposed on Sam merely because he had hunger pains and little patience. Sam was also gay—maybe gay?—definitely, Rufus was certain. And that was, on the one hand, sort of nice—the casualness with which Sam embraced his sexuality, the teasing, the possibility of someone to flirt with—but on the other hand, Rufus wasn’t any good at that sort of stuff.

Rufus ate some more pancakes. “That next bullet might hit its mark. I don’t make it a habit of walking headfirst into danger.”

Sam’s smile snapped out, and he worked on the food for a while. When he spoke again, his voice had flattened back into its former tone. “Then you could at least tell me what you think might be going on. Where you’ve looked for his phone. Anything that might help.” Then, throwing down the knife and fork, Sam pushed away the plate. “You might not care about Jake enough to risk your life, but I do, and I want to find who did this to him.”

Rufus stopped chewing the mound of dough in his mouth and stared at Sam. “I do too care.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Nobody taught you not to talk with your mouth full?” Then, that smirk ghosting across his lips, “Except in certain cases, of course.”

Rufus swallowed. “Wow.”

“I might have somewhere to start, but I want to know the rest of it. Where else have you looked for his phone? If you had to make a list, right now, of who might have killed him, who are your top five? What don’t I know that I need to know?”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Rufus asked with a sort of disbelieving laugh. “Jake was a cop—a good one. Any criminal in this city would want him out of the way. Anyone he’s put on Rikers who’s got connections on the outside could have done this.” But Rufus held up one hand and began to tick locations off on each finger, starting with his pinky. “I checked his apartment. I checked his car. I checked his secret apartment.” He said that and gave Sam the finger. “I checked trash cans, a nearby park—short of going through his desk at the precinct, I’ve checked everywhere for his stupid phone.”

More about author C.S. Poe

C.S. Poe is a Lambda Literary and EPIC award finalist author of gay mystery, romance, and paranormal books.
She is a reluctant mover and has called many places home in her lifetime. C.S. has lived in New York City, Key West, and Ibaraki, Japan, to name a few. She misses the cleanliness, convenience, and limited-edition gachapon of Japan, but she was never very good at riding bikes to get around.
She has an affinity for all things cute and colorful and a major weakness for toys. C.S. is an avid fan of coffee, reading, and cats. She’s rescued two cats—Milo and Kasper do their best on a daily basis to sidetrack her from work.
C.S. is a member of the International Thriller Writers organization.
Her debut novel, The Mystery of Nevermore, was published by DSP Publications, 2016.

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Exclusive Excerpt: A Body on the Hill (A Mitch O’Reilly Mystery Book 2) by Brad Shreve


There was a slight drizzle of rain, and typical for Los Angeles, people drove as if it was a blizzard. I was a few miles away from Dominique’s hotel when my phone rang.

It was Devin Doss.

“Oh, Mitch,” Devin exclaimed. “Thank the Lord I reached you. Someone has been in our apartment and ravaged it.”

“What happened, Devin? Did you call the police?”

“No, I wanted to talk with you first. Especially, since I ain’t talked with Cody. I can’t find her.”

“Is she…uh, he at work?”

“She’s supposed to be, but she ain’t there. Won’t answer her phone or texts either.”

“I’ll see if I can get ahold of him and head your way.”

“Thank you, Mr. Detective. I’m scared being here all by myself.”

I sent a text to Cody to see if he was working but got no response. It was likely he didn’t hear his phone buzzing in the crowded club. I tried calling several times, but he didn’t answer.

I was able to reach his boss, Luna Salcedo.

“I have no idea where he is,” she said. “I’ve called and have had no answer. It’s not like him to be irresponsible. I hope he didn’t have an accident or…”

“What time was he scheduled to work?”

“6:00 p.m., and he’s usually here ten minutes early.”

“Over an hour late for his shift is a pretty good sign that he doesn’t plan to come in.”

“I would agree,” Luna said.

“I’ll swing by his place and let you know if I find him.”

“Please do. I’m worried.”

Because of the rain, the neighborhood in Koreatown was dark and empty. I was surprised and excited when I found a parking space in front of Devin and Cody’s apartment building. It’s those little things that made us Angelenos happy.

The light on the second landing of the stairwell was out. That with the tapping of the sprinkles on the window gave me chills I hadn’t felt when I had been there during the day. My steps quickened up to Devin’s door at apartment 302.

I asked, “Any word from Cody?”

“Not a thing,” Devin huffed. “Come on, I’ll show you the damage.”

“I talked to Cody’s boss. She hasn’t heard from him.”

“Oh Lord! I hope nothing happened to her. She best not lose his job whoring around. I can’t afford this place on my own, and Cody’s already late with rent. She better hope she’s in trouble.” Devin put his hand to his lips. “There goes my mouth again. What a terrible thing for me to say.”

“Do you want to show me the damage? Everything out here looks okay.”

“Come with me.”

I followed Devin as he sashayed to Austin’s room. It was empty except for four open boxes sitting on the floor.

I said, “How can this room be ravaged?”

“Hold on.”

Devin opened the closet door. Two more boxes sat with their flaps open, and the rack was full of hanging clothes.

“All the things in these boxes were neatly stacked and flaps were closed. Look at them now?”

“Hardly looks like they were ravaged.”

“Ms. Cody hasn’t been in this room since the last day you were here. It upsets her too much. Austin’s death finally sunk in. Everything here Dominique left for us to take to Goodwill, but I ain’t done it by myself. I came in to grab Austin’s old rain jacket, and this is how I found the place. Boxes open and clothes moved around.”

“It’s probably a good thing you didn’t call the police over a messy closet.”

“I don’t leave things messy, Mr. Detective,” he hissed.

I asked, “Do you know where Cody parked his car?”

“In this neighborhood there ain’t no telling. If you don’t have a driveway, which we don’t, you park in the first place you can find. Sometimes that means a block or two away. Sometimes more.”

I went out the building and walked two blocks down the street in each direction. Cody’s car was nowhere to be seen. I stepped back inside to see Devin.

I said, “Cody’s car isn’t out front. Where else would he park?”

“Sometimes she goes and parks on James Wood Drive. I keep telling her she’s crazy to do that. Cody goes out the back to get there. Totally cray cray.”

“Show me where.”

I followed Devin down the hall on the first floor. In the rear of the building was a door that opened into a courtyard between the buildings.

“Where does he go?” I asked.

“Straight down that alley, but you’re on your own. It’s getting dark, and I won’t go out that way.”

The courtyard was barely visible from a small yellow light hung on the side of the building next door. There was a basketball hoop, but judging by the board hanging sideways it looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. In one corner was a homeless camp with blankets rolled out and several piles of garbage bags. No one was there to stake their claim. From the courtyard, I took a slow walk up the alley leading to where Cody’s car was parked. The entire alley was free and clear except for a pile of debris midway to the street. There were several garbage bags opened and with trash spewing out. Some broken furniture and an old box spring on its side leaning against a gray stucco building.

Finding bodies is not a habit I enjoy, and I was worried I’d find Cody’s body there. Could also be rats, or some crazy man with a knife or a broken bottle. When I got close my heart sank. Sticking out from behind the box spring was a pair of bare feet. As I got closer there was heavy breathing and grunting sounds. Goddamn in hell, they were still alive.

When I tilted the box spring forward, I found a haggard, grungy woman lying silently while holding a shopping bag from Target. I carefully let go of the box spring and backed away so as not to wake her.

I cased James Wood Drive for five minutes before I spotted Cody’s dark green 2012 Ford Focus parked in front of Ultra-Fast Check Cashing. Cash in Minutes with Low Fees the sign promised.

A car is just a car, and I should have had no qualms approaching it, but experience had taught me that sometimes there are dead bodies inside. It was a day I wasn’t feeling up to reliving.


After growing up in Michigan and North Carolina, I crisscrossed the country while working in the hotel industry. In addition to working in hotels as a bellman, front desk clerk, and reservation call center director, I managed coffee houses, waited tables, sold potato chips off a truck, and even hawked pre-burial funeral plans.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak developed my first interests in art and storytelling. I’d spend hours on the floor sketching and painting and writing stories.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George gave me my first inklings that I’d like to be a novelist someday. Authors Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Gregory Mcdonald and Robet B. Parker, influenced my love of mystery.

I was delighted when I discovered the gay mystery subgenre and the list of writers who inspired me to follow this more comfortable direction are too numerous to mention.

Though my interest in writing began at an early age, entering the hotel business soon after graduation steered me in a different direction. The secretary, the big office and a prestigious title were great for the ego but weren’t all that fulfilling.

As a grownup I was thinking of what I wanted to do when I became a bigger grownup and the answer was obvious. My fingertips have been on the keyboard ever since.

I’m a proud dad, beach bum, and coffee house squatter.

I currently live in the Los Angeles South Bay with my husband, Maurice.



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Exclusive Excerpt: The Same Breath (The Lamb and the Lion Book 1) by Gregory Ashe



Jem went to the bar in the Apollonia, one of the most expensive hotels in Salt Lake City, situated between Temple Square and the Salt Palace Convention Center—in other words, the perfect place to stumble across closeted gay Mormon businessmen who had some extra cash to burn. He timed his entrance so that he collided with a stout, middle-aged guy in a Jazz jersey. They exchanged apologies, and Jem made his way to the bar. He ignored Stef, who was drying glasses behind the bar and rolling her eyes. Her hair was red now, and the sides of her head shaved.

It only took a moment to scan the sheep at the bar: four men, two in conversation, two sitting by themselves. Jem immediately crossed off the guy on the right; he was engaged in a loud phone call with someone he kept calling princess. The guy on the left, though, had looked over when Jem collided with the other man at the bar’s entrance, and he’d already glanced at Jem a second time. He was a nice looking, blond, late thirties, probably really starting to feel the pinch of a wife and two and a half kids. Between his hands, he cupped a tumbler—so maybe he wasn’t the nice Mormon daddy he looked like. Jem counted three stools over and sat.

Stef was rolling her eyes again.

Ignoring her, Jem asked about local whiskey and bourbon.

“We’ve got High West.” Stef had her lines pretty much perfect by now. “They do a traditional, Old West blended whiskey: rye, scotch, and bourbon. Do you want to try it?”

Jem made a face.

“It’s pretty good,” the guy to Jem’s left said. “I tried the Campfire.”

“Yeah?” Jem said. “Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing.” He laughed. “I’m not much of a drinker, but, I don’t know. Tonight I was feeling a little reckless.”

“Get him a Campfire neat,” the guy said, and then he swiveled on the stool, his legs spread, studying Jem openly.

Jem had never really mastered blushing on demand, but he could do a pretty good job of combing his fingers through his beard, biting the corner of his mouth, looking away and looking back. The guy’s grin got bigger, more confident. When Stef came back, setting a tumbler in front of him, Jem patted himself down and lurched off the stool.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jem said. “Hold on.”

He made his way back to the entrance, studying the floor, squatting near the door. After about a minute, the guy from the bar came over.

“What happened?”

“Somehow I dropped my money.”

“You lost your wallet?”

“No, I left my wallet in my room. I just brought cash and my ID.” He flashed the Montana driver’s license, one of many fakes. “Dang it. Never mind. This is like a sign, you know? I should have just watched Rocky and gone to bed. I cannot believe I dropped that money. It was the rest of my per diem.”

“You know what?” the guy said. “I don’t think you dropped it.”

Jem worked on his quizzical expression; he was getting pretty good at quizzical. “What do you mean?”

“That guy who ran into you on the way out? That’s a classic pickpocket move. Crash into a guy, take his wallet while he’s recovering, and he doesn’t realize until you’re long gone. A hotel like this, with a lot of people from out of town? Perfect venue.”

“Oh my gosh,” Jem groaned. “Are you serious? That actually happens?”

“All the time. Don’t worry; you’ll learn these things.”

“No way,” Jem said. “I’m going back to Missoula tomorrow, and I’m not leaving again.” He chuckled. “Would you believe I was so proud of myself for getting around the last few days? I thought I was street smart.”

The guy laughed a little too, touched Jem’s shoulder, and tugged him toward the bar. “Come on, have a drink. On me. Don’t beat yourself up about it; guys like that, they prey on people who are just a little too confident.”

“Gosh,” Jem said, trying hard to ignore Stef pretending to stab herself in the ear. “That’s crazy.”

This time, they sat next to each other. The guy introduced himself as Patrick; he had a whole story about working out of San Francisco, but when he put his phone and keys on the bar, his keychain had a loyalty card for a sandwich shop that only operated in the Salt Lake Valley—Jem recognized the logo—and his ring finger showed a lighter patch of skin where he normally wore a wedding band. Jem spun him a story back, something about ranching in Montana, keeping the details light. When Patrick spread his legs, Jem spread his legs. When Patrick leaned on the bar, Jem leaned on the bar. Jem asked questions, always tagging on Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, working the name into conversation as much as he could. Nothing too personal, because he didn’t want Patrick to spook and think Jem might have realized Patrick was local and not a California tycoon, but he asked business questions, then questions about whiskey, questions about life. Questions about women, Jem unspooling his doubts: why couldn’t he find the one? Why didn’t it feel ‘right’? Anything to make Jem look naïve and inexperienced; anything to make Patrick feel worldly and sophisticated.

When Stef brought sliders, nachos, and a draft beer, Patrick’s hand moved to Jem’s thigh.

Deer-in-the-headlights was a Jem Berger classic, and Patrick ate it up like candy.

Patrick smiled. He was in control, the mature guy who was about to make a contest and also provide a moment of sexual awakening. Jem focused on the sliders so he didn’t throw up a little inside his mouth.

“I think maybe you want to keep talking,” Patrick said. “Do you want to go back to your room?”

Jem gulped. It might have been a little over the top, based on the face Stef made, but it worked a surprising amount of the time. “My buddy’s here with me.”


“But we could go to your room,” Jem said, and then he played with his beard and stared at the food, mumbling, “If, you know, if you want to.”

“Yeah,” Patrick said. “I definitely want to.” He laughed, squeezed Jem’s leg, and excused himself to go to the bathroom.

“You are a bad man,” Stef said.

“Fuck that,” Jem said. “This asshole probably lives fifteen minutes from here,” the words emerged between bites as he shoveled the remaining food into his mouth, “and he’s going to get a room right now because he thinks he’s going to get his dick wet. My bet is that he’ll try to get me to leave right after, and if I won’t, then he’ll make up an excuse and jet. The little wifey will miss him if he’s gone too late.”

“You are a very bad man,” Stef said, and then she drifted away as Patrick came back.

“Hey, cowboy,” Patrick said, his hand light on Jem’s shoulder. Jem tried, again, not to throw up a little. “Ready?”

Jem licked the last of the nacho cheese off his finger, grinned, and nodded.

A nice-looking guy, the first good meal all week, some decent whiskey, a soft bed, and a room that had honest-to-God heat. Jem whistled “Home, Home on the Range,” while Patrick groped him in the elevator.


Teancum Leon, who goes by Tean, is a wildlife veterinarian. His life has settled into a holding pattern: he loves his job, he hates first dates, and he only occasionally has to deal with his neighbor Mrs. Wish’s cat-related disasters.

All of that changes, though, when a man appears in his office, asking for help to find his brother. Jem is convinced that something bad has happened to Benny, and he thinks Tean might be able to help. Tean isn’t sure, but he’s willing to try. After all, Jem is charming and sweet and surprisingly vulnerable. Oh. And hot.

Then things get strange: phone calls with no one on the other end of the line; surveillance footage that shows what might be an abduction; a truck that tries to run Tean and Jem off the road. As Tean and Jem investigate, they realize that Benny might have stumbled onto a conspiracy and that someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

But not everything is as it seems, and Tean suspects that Jem has been keeping secrets of his own.

More About Author Gregory Ashe:

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

Gregory Ashe

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