Exclusive Excerpt: Dodging and Burning: A Mystery by John Copenhaver

Excerpt:

DODGING AND BURNING is a mystery set in 1945 about Jay Greenwood, a gay WWII photographer, and the photo he takes of a murdered woman’s body. When the body goes missing, the photo is the only proof of her murder. When he shows the photo to Bunny Prescott, the debutant who’s in love with him, and Ceola, the kid sister of his lover who is missing in the Pacific, the story becomes as much about the photographer as the subject of the photo.

Prior to this excerpt, Jay has asked twelve-year-old Ceola to look for her dead brother’s journal. She doesn’t fully understand why, but to please Jay, she’s willing to look. This is from Ceola’s perspective:

Mama’s grief ruled the house with an iron fist after your death, Robbie. Her first almighty decree was: All who live in this house must live in silence.

Papa ordered me not to play records or listen to the radio or make too much noise of any kind. I was even told to take off my shoes before entering the house. The quiet was hell. I curled up on my bed for hours at a time, yearning to hear the Andrews Sisters or Anita O’Day or The Shadow or anything for relief. Despite his dutiful enforcement of the rules, Papa was as much a prisoner of them as I was.

One night, he was taking in the news on the radio in the living room, like he did, and I was sitting at the top of the staircase, straining to hear, real happy for the distraction. Mama stormed into the room, and the radio clicked off. I heard her say, “I have a headache, Bob. I’ve already asked you to turn it down once.”

I heard Papa’s heavy footsteps, and then the radio came back on but louder—“World News Today. Brought to you by the Admiral Corporation makers of Admiral Radio, America’s Smart Set—”

She snapped, “Turn it off! I’ve had enough bad news for one lifetime.”

The radio went dead. Seconds later, I heard Papa trudge out of the house. He didn’t come back that night. Soon after that, he began spending evenings and weekends digging holes, planting trees, surrounding the house with a forest of saplings. Although it was intended as a memorial, it surely felt more like he was trying to wall us in.

Mama’s second decree was: When Robbie is spoken of, he must be spoken of in if-then statements.

Mama would carry your photo with her around the house, setting it in the kitchen while she cooked or propping it against a book in the living room while she knitted. If I entered the room, she would begin her usual litany of conditionals. “If Robbie had survived the war,” she’d say, “he would’ve lived in Royal Oak, to be close to his family. If he had survived, he would’ve married a nice girl—that Donna Smith or Rachel Richfield or the King girl—or no, not the King girl, she’s too easy with the boys.” She was certain whoever you would’ve married, the two of you would’ve had beautiful children. She even chose names for the ghost grandchildren—Robert Jr. and Mary Jane. Little Mary Jane had blond curls just like she did as a young girl.

“If he had returned from the Pacific,” the chant went, “he would’ve studied law, or maybe medicine. He certainly would have gone to UVA or Virginia Tech. He would’ve loved his community and, particularly, his church, where he would have become a lay reader. He would’ve joined the Kiwanis Club like his father. He would’ve set a good example. He would’ve taken care of us, as we got older. He would’ve held my hand when God calls to me in my last hour.”

Her third and final decree was: No one, under any circumstances, could enter Robbie’s bedroom or touch his belongings.

Mama made it into her own personal shrine to you. Her grief was greedy, claiming your stamp collection, your saved Dixie Dew bottles, your favorite red sweater with the hole in the sleeve, your Roy Rogers cowboy hat with gold trim, the bone-handled pocket knife Papa gave you when you were twelve, your baseball mitt, the pocket watch you inherited from Grandpa that was inscribed with Great Grandpa’s name (Terrence Henbone Bliss, 1854), and the broken-in deck of cards you used to teach me pinochle. All of them became holy relics.

For months, I thought that if I went into your bedroom, sirens would blast and police would rush in, seize me, and haul me off to jail, hands cuffed and hunched over in disgrace. Papa made me promise I would never, ever disturb your room. “If Mama finds out,” he said, “we’ll both be in terrible trouble.”

But the limbo of mourning became too much for me, and, in the worst sort of way, I wanted to claim something of my own from Mama’s police state.

About midsummer, I said to hell with the rules and started poking around. That’s when I found the stack of magazines under your nightstand and started sneaking off to read them. But of course, I hadn’t come across your journal.

Right after Jay had shown Bunny and me the hiding place in the tree, and Bunny had marched off in a tizzy, he said, “Cee, I have to know Robbie’s journal is safe. Please. Before anyone else finds it. It’s killing me.”

His blue eyes were on fire. It was the first time I’d seen him frightened.

I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to give him your journal, but I sure wanted to find it. I wanted to keep it safe. I suppose what I really wanted was to keep it for myself, because deep down, I wanted to know you better. So when I got home, I crept upstairs and down the hall to your room. Mama was running errands and Papa wasn’t home from work yet.

The door to your room was cracked—you remember, it was warped and never came to—so I nudged it open. The afternoon sun was peeking through the limbs of that old locust tree outside your window and throwing flecks of light across the floor. I hesitated, worried Mama might come home and catch me, but also worried I was doing something sacrilegious, like spitting in a baptismal font or walking across a grave. I moved forward on tiptoes. With each step, the floor groaned like demons calling out to me—What are you doin’, Ceola? You’ll get in big trouble. Mama and Papa will never forgive you. You’re desecrating the memory of your brother.

The slanted ceilings and dormer windows and sideways light gave your room a sadness I still feel when I’m by myself in the church sanctuary, fixing flowers or replacing candles for Sunday services. But those red cowboys galloping across the walls, lassos whipping through the air, herding and roping cattle, reminded me that it was your space, your sanctuary, not Mama’s. Between the windows, I saw your small, beat-up dresser with both of our initials carved into the side of it, displaying bits and pieces of your life, from school awards to postcards from Virginia Beach. Along the bottom of the mirror, you had wedged several school photos of friends, maybe there was even a picture of Jay—no, surely Mama would’ve seen it and thrown it in the wood stove.

I rummaged under your bed and riffled through your closet—nothing but sports equipment, schoolbooks, and dusty clothes. Underneath the neatly folded T-shirts and boxer shorts in your dresser, I found even more magazines—Dime Detective, Astonishing Tales, Weird Stories, and a stack of comics. I’d struck gold. Right there, on the floor, I fanned out this new treasure trove so I could see all of it, forgetting about how angry Mama and Papa would be if they caught me.

I picked up the comics and let the pages fall through my fingers, reading bits of dialogue and glancing at the pictures. The handsome fedora-ed detectives, holding their pistols close to their hips, spat phrases like, “It’s time to meet your Maker. I hope you’re wearing your best dress.” Or, “Baby-doll, you’ll make a beautiful corpse.” And the femme fatales, wrapped like maypoles in red and black satin gowns, every curl on their head as tight as a spring and eyes aimed like twin Colt .38s.

I can still hear you, clear as a bell, reading in a low voice so you wouldn’t draw Mama and Papa’s attention—It was a hot, damp, mean August day, and the city streets were crying black tears. Detective Rod Magnum leaned back in his chair, unbuttoned his collar, and drifted into an uneasy slumber. When he heard the click-clack of her heels and smelled her perfume through the open door, he sat up and straightened his tie. Sweet trouble was coming his way . . .

When you read to me, you always held out at the cliffhanger—a dame with a knife dangling over her head or the hero slipping from a crumbling ledge, some melodramatic climax or other—and made me beg for the ending. You loved to make me beg. I remembered you reading “A Date with Death” to me, but stopping just before the final page. Oh, I really wanted you to finish it! But it was just as well you didn’t. When you were finally done reading, we’d talk the stories over, going on about the parts we liked and picking at the parts we didn’t, our talks all out of joint if we thought the story was a cheat.

As I flipped, I caught a glimpse of something wedged between the fluttering pages of an issue of Dime Detective. I thought it was a paper doll, but then it was something I hadn’t expected—a male underwear model. You must’ve cut him out of a Sears catalog, trimming his outline, not sacrificing a finger or a flip of hair or a fold of fabric to the scissors. In other magazines, I found more cutouts of men, from smiling boys with their hands on their hips to cool customers trailing ribbons of cigarette smoke to muscle men, Charles Atlas sorts, flexing their greased biceps and sporting sculpted pompadours. I didn’t understand what they meant. How could I at that age? I just imagined you bent over magazines and catalog pages, tongue caught between your teeth, concentrating as you traced the outlines of these men with Mama’s sewing scissors. I knew they were secret, and I knew I wanted to keep them safe—and far from Mama’s and Papa’s eyes.

Blurb:

In a small Virginia town still reeling from World War II, a photograph of a beautiful murdered woman propels three young people into the middle of a far-reaching mystery.

*Nominated for a 2019 Barry Award and Lambda Literary Award*


A lurid crime scene photo of a beautiful woman arrives on mystery writer Bunny Prescott’s doorstep with no return address—and it’s not the first time she’s seen it. The reemergence of the photo, taken fifty-five years earlier, sets her on a journey to reconstruct the vicious summer that changed her life.

In the summer of 1945, Ceola Bliss is a lonely twelve-year-old tomboy, mourning the loss of her brother, Robbie, who was declared missing in the Pacific. She tries to piece together his life by rereading his favorite pulp detective story “A Date with Death” and spending time with his best friend, Jay Greenwood, in Royal Oak, VA. One unforgettable August day, Jay leads Ceola and Bunny to a stretch of woods where he found a dead woman, but when they arrive, the body is gone. They soon discover a local woman named Lily Vellum is missing and begin to piece together the threads of her murder, starting with the photograph Jay took of her abandoned body.

Buy Links:

Amazon

B&N

IndieBound

More About Author John Copenhaver

As Ceola gets swept up playing girl detective, Bunny becomes increasingly skeptical of Jay, and begins her own investigation into the connection between Jay and Lily. She discovers a series of clues that place doubt on Jay’s story about the photograph. She journeys to Washington, D.C., where she is forced to confront the brutal truth about her dear friend—a discovery that triggers a series of events that will bring tragedy to Jay and decades of estrangement between her and Ceola.

https://www.dodgingandburning.net/

Copenhaver is the Barry Award- and Lammy Award-nominated author of the historical mystery Dodging and Burning (Pegasus, 2018). He writes a crime fiction column for Lambda Literary called “Blacklight.” He’s been awarded five DCCAH Artist Fellowships. He’s published in CrimeReads, Electric Lit, Glitterwolf, PANK, Washington Independent Review of Books, New York Journal of Books, and others. He chairs the 7-12 grade English at Flint Hill School and lives in DC with his husband. 

www.jcopenhaver.com
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Exclusive Excerpt: STEAM by Jay B. Laws

A note from Jon Michaelsen: STEAM, a classic gay horror novel by the late Jay B. Laws is now available for the first time in e-book and brought to you by ReQueered Tales. First published in 1991 by Alyson Publications, Laws’ incredible horror novel has been compared to works by Stephen King and Peter Straub over the years. I strongly urge you to read STEAM, if you dare. You will not be disappointed!

Excerpt:

In the stillness of his room, David lay awake.

He couldn’t sleep. The pressure above his eyes was agony. It pulsed in synchronistic rhythm to his heartbeat. It was like enduring a terrible sinus headache and being forced to stand head bowed, with all the blood rushing between his eyes. A migraine’s vehemence without the sharp stabs of pain. This was like giving birth to death.

“What is happening to me?” David moaned.

He was afraid. That was the bottom line. He knew what would happen. One look at his misshapen forehead and off he’d be whisked into a hospital room. And like Eddie, he would never again breathe crisp October air. He’d be examined, poked. Doctors with heads bowed, tsk-tsking.

 I’m sorry, Mr. Walker, but you have a tumor the size of a baseball in your head. Guess you aren’t the Miracle Kid after all. Guess your ticket’s been punched, and nothing we can do but sit back and watch it eat you up, one bite at a time. But don’t worry: We’ll keep you here as long as it takes, I say as looong as it takes.

These thoughts were boulders in his head, gathering momentum as they knocked and bounced and tumbled on top of each other, hurrying toward a pit that housed his total despair.

Not only that, crazy images flickered across the screen of his mind. Bright flares of disjointed images, like an acid trip out of his youth. Staring into a campfire. A net raining out of the sky. Standing on a vast, high cliff, an ocean wind upon his face, with something hidden in his hand.

How much time passed in this state he did not know. He could not bring himself to call 911 and request an ambulance, even though he knew he was very sick. He lay perfectly still in his agony, sheets thrown back to cool the sweat dripping off of him. He flushed hot and cold, hot and cold. Night sweats.

Dear god. In desperation David tried to rein in his thoughts, but the boulders crashed and tumbled over the calm landscape he attempted to conjure for himself. He thought of Eddie’s vibrant health and for some reason the boulders crashed through that, too: Something about it rang false.

Something about everything rang false, lately. It was all around him.

Images swooped and capered in the dark of his bedroom. He knew he was delirious, and that whatever had gotten hold of him might very well kill him, if he didn’t get some immediate help. But he could not have climbed out of bed to dial 911 even if his life depended upon it—as he suspected it did. No. He gave in to the seasick nausea and prayed for a respite from its stormy waters.

Soon enough, it came, announcing itself with a smell.

Chlorine.

The odor cut through David’s haze of pain. He sniffed the air and winced as the chlorine burned the tender cavities of his nostrils. Instinctively, his whole body tensed.

He gasped. That’s all he had time for.

A blast of wet air cascaded over him.

And the creature pounced.

Quite suddenly he was pinned to the bed. Hot breath snorted across his neck and face—the breath of a mad bull. He was smashed against the mattress by a weight that was more a pressure than a physical form, like the repelling ends of two magnets. But the voice that barked over him, the menacing growls and gnashing of teeth: That much of it was real.

No time to think. No time to even conceive what was happening. He was suddenly fighting for his life.

Rabid dog snarls issued out of the opaque darkness just above his face. His head whipped side to side, but he couldn’t get away from the terrible gnashing. It flooded over him with startling, suffocating ferociousness. His fingers raked the air, his legs bucked and kicked. There was no moving the force on top of him.

One thought lit a blazing trail:

Oh, god, it’s killing me—!

In the winking starlight before his eyes, as consciousness ebbed, a voice insinuated itself into his ear: Release me.

The snarling presence growled at this exchange. It gobbled the air above David’s lips, suffocating him. In desperation he summoned himself, all of his strength and fight. The tendons in his neck stood out like bridge posts. His brow furrowed. Above his eyes, that stabbing pain pushed and pushed, like something demanding to be born.

Release me—

He shrieked with pain. Something warm sprang free with a zippering wet explosion above his eyes. Sparks blew across his vision.

He heard a frustrated howl of rage—and the presence, the creature, the whatever it was—leapt off him. No longer crushed against his mattress, David greedily gulped air into his lungs, happy to be breathing again.

A lamp overturned in the darkness. Books crashed onto the carpet amid the flapping of loose papers. The room shook as if it housed a whirlwind.

Stunned to find himself free of the suffocating weight, David sprang into a sitting position, hiccupping for air. Hands flew to his forehead before remembering he ought not touch—and snapped back in reflex, but not before they were painted with his blood.

Where is it? he thought wildly. Where has it gone?

He sensed the presence in the room. Sensed it hating him, yet keeping its distance. What caused it to retreat? His cry—or his blood?

“Go away!” David shouted into the darkness.

A snarling wind spun papers about the room—and then it was gone. The sharp odor of chlorine hung in the air like an afterthought.

Trembling with shock, he hoisted himself to his feet and veered toward the bathroom. He was halfway down the hall when he realized the intense pain above his eyes had vanished. A cautious hope took hold of him. He switched on the bathroom light. Hissed through clenched teeth at the sight of his blood-soaked hands. And careened toward the mirror, anxious for a glimpse of himself.

Twin rivers of blood trickled down each side of his nose. In the center of what had been his strange puffy bruise was a clean slit. His forehead was settling flat again. The wound was already fading to a rosy pink, healing even as he stood ogling it.

He ran hot water, grabbed a washcloth, and cleaned his face and hands.

Gingerly (and not without holding his breath) he dabbed the skin of his forehead clean. He was vastly relieved when no hallucinations swallowed him.

It was healing. By god, it was healing! But how? Why?

His joy was so all-consuming it held these questions at bay, at least for the moment.

He felt tingly, as though a small electric current hummed through him. Different in a way he had no name for. Better. Stronger. The excruciating pain of the past few days had given birth to this blessed relief, and he was thankful for it.

A sudden weariness seized him, and it was all he could do to drag himself back to bed and flop upon the mattress.

Later, he told himself as he closed his eyes. I’ll figure this all out tomorrow, when I have time.

But time, David was about to learn, had joined sides with the enemy.

About Author Jay B. Laws

Author Jay B. Laws died tragically early, having only two or three published works to his credit. Steam ranks among the most brilliant horror novels of all time and, certainly wins the blue ribbon as the finest gay horror novel ever written. Eerie and disturbing, Laws’ haunted bath house serves as a personification of the early AIDS epidemic and, even today, is practically guaranteed to send chills up and down your spine. —Hal Bodner

About ReQueered Tales

Perhaps forty years of gay fiction—and notably gay and lesbian mystery, detective and suspense fiction—has been teetering on the brink of obscurity. Orphaned works, orphaned authors, many living and some having passed away—with no one to make the case for their creations to be returned to print (and e-print!).

This is the mission of ReQueered Tales: to bring back to circulation this treasure trove of fantastic fiction which, for one reason or another, has fallen by the wayside. For a new generation of readers, these tales are full of insights into the gay world of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. And for those of us who lived through the period, they are a delightful reminder of our youth and reflect some of our own struggles in growing up gay in those heady times.

We are honoured, here at ReQueered Tales, to be custodians shepherding back into circulation some of the best gay and lesbian fiction writing and hope to bring many volumes to the public, in modestly priced, accessible editions, worldwide, over the coming months and years.

Excerpt: Hawaiian Holiday: A Jesse Ashworth Mystery by Stephen E Stanley

Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself who you are, and who you want to be.
-Anonymous

Chapter 1

It was another day in Paradise. I stepped out onto the lanai with my morning cup of coffee and took in the view. Between the buildings I could see sections of Waikiki Beach and to my left I could see Diamond Head. The calendar said it was February, but to me it seemed like an endless summer. Sitting at the small table and sipping my coffee, I remembered why I was here.

It had taken me almost a week to get here. I could have done the flight all in one day. I also could have jumped off a twenty story building, but that didn’t appeal to me either. To break up the trip I had stopped in Las Vegas for a few days and then on to San Francisco to see the sights before hopping on a jet to Honolulu.

This wasn’t my first time in Hawaii. I had been here three times before when I was much younger. I loved how it seemed a different world and how far away it was from daily life. It had been a rough year. On my birthday no less the doctor had called me to say, “Mr. Ashworth, there seems to be a problem with your blood work, and I’d like to see you in my office as soon as possible.”

I knew that wasn’t good, and when he informed me that I had a form of chronic leukemia he told me not to panic. In most cases it never develops to the stage where it needs to be treated and other than a checkup every six months I should be fine.

I was fine and then I wasn’t, so a six month ride on the chemo therapy rollercoaster had just ended. I love my hometown of Bath, Maine, and all my friends there, but I needed to get away by myself and recover both physically and spiritually. The fact that I hate winter with a passion helped the decision along.

My partner Tim Mallory and I run a small security agency back home. It’s called the Bigg-Boyce Security Agency because we bought it from Mr. Bigg and Mr. Boyce, but the locals call us the Big Boys Detective Agency. Tim and my two friends Hugh Cartier and Jason Goulet are finishing up a case back home, and then I expect everyone will head here and leave the agency in the hands of my son Jay and Tim’s daughter Jessica and her husband.
I planned to be here for the winter, so I rented a condo rather than a hotel room, and I had a kitchen to cook for myself if I didn’t feel like running off to a restaurant, but so far I’ve enjoyed eating out and not cooking, except for breakfast. My typical breakfast is cereal, fresh fruit, and yogurt. And coffee of course, good local Kona coffee.

I’ve heard that people after chemo sometimes have an identity issue, and I believe it. I feel like I left myself back home, and here I’m someone else, but I don’t know who. But the one thing I know is that I don’t feel whole.
It was time to start my day, which will be pretty much like every day: eat, swim, walk, nap, read, and repeat. Aloha!

Last night as I was having an umbrella drink in a nice open-air bar news stories were playing on the bar’s television. There was a three day blizzard in the Northeast from Washington to Nova Scotia. I thought Washington needed a good blizzard or two, but I felt bad thinking that back home the snowplows, generators, and snow blowers would be working overtime. So bad in fact that I ordered another drink and then went for a walk along the beach.

The one thing I love about Hawaii is the diversity of the people. Nobody cares much about what you are or what you look like, and it’s a great place for people watching. I had left my inhibitions back home, too. I never wear shorts in public back home, but here I would feel overdressed in long pants. You wouldn’t catch me dead in a Hawaiian shirt back home, but this was, after all, Hawaii. One of the first things I did was head over to Hilo Hattie’s and buy some shirts, but I bought muted designs and colors so I wouldn’t look like a tourist, and then I packed away all my New England clothing. I draw the line at flip-flops. I bought a pair of sandals. In an emergency, how could I ever run in flip-flops?

Finishing my coffee, I showered, got dressed, and headed out the door. Something told me to vary my morning routine. I should point out that that “something” is a little voice in my head that tells me to pay attention to my surroundings. I’ve learned over the years to listen to my sixth sense and that to ignore it doesn’t end well for me.

I should explain that my cousin Monica and I had been taught by our grandparents to listen to our inner voices. We come from a long line of Spiritualists, and though we don’t practice Spiritualism and are basically skeptics, we are more sensitive to our surroundings then other people.

So instead of heading to the beach I walked down Paki Avenue to Kapiolani Park. It was early and the place wasn’t busy. Later in the day many locals would be picnicking in the park, and tourists would be wandering around looking for that authentic Hawaii of their imagination.

There were parked cars along the way and I wondered where their drivers were because the automobiles were unoccupied. Walking along I spotted a red Volkswagen camper from the 1970s. There was something about the van that made me pause. I hadn’t seen one for a long time and I noticed that the windows were open and the curtains closed. I love cars and as I walked along I was able to recognize different automobile makes and models.

I had a sudden craving for coffee, so I headed out of the park and up Kalakaua Avenue until I found a small coffee shop and had a cup of coffee and a tasty pastry, and watched the people as they passed by on the sidewalk.

My phone went off and I looked at the caller ID and sighed. The ID read Clyde Ashworth, so it was either my father or my mother. “Jesse,” said my mother on the other end of the line, “is it true you ran away from home?”

“No, Mother, I didn’t run, I took an jet plane.”

“I called your office and Jay said you went to Hawaii? Are you looking for hula girls? There are plenty of girls here in Florida. You should have come down here.”

“Mother, we’ve been over this. I’m not looking for hula girls or any girls. And I think we now call them women by the way.”

“Did you get tired of your detective hobby? I remember you playing detective with that tin badge when you were a kid. Maybe you should go back to teaching.”

“I’m retired from teaching these last twelve years, and Tim and I aren’t indulging in a hobby. The agency is a real thing.”

“Who’s this Tim?”

“Tim Mallory. Remember, we grew up together. He’s my partner.”

“Has he found a woman yet?”

“Put dad on the phone, please,” I needed to touch reality again.

“CLYDE!” she yelled into the phone. “Jesse wants to talk to you.”

“Hello son. You’re mother is crazy as a loon.”

“I’m not crazy!” she yelled in the background. My father ignored her.

“How are you son?”

“My blood count is normal, so it looks like the chemo worked.”

“That’s good news. I’m glad you were able to get away for a while. You must be worn out.”

“He needs to get a real job,” yelled my mother from somewhere in the house.

“Yes, I admit I feel beat up. Thankfully everyone understands I need some rest. How is mother by the way?”

“Good days and bad days. The doctors are confident that her problem is plaque buildup in the arteries to the brain. They are going to operate and open them up, and hopefully that will help.”

“Keep me updated,” I said. “Love you both,” and I ended the call.

Blurb

It’s winter and retired teacher turned investigator Jesse Ashworth heads to Honolulu to recover from chemotherapy treatments. Jesse is pulled into a murder investigation when the sister of the murder victim hires Jesse to find the truth behind her brother’s death. The investigation leads him to cross paths with Honolulu Homicide Detective Travis Chan. As Jesse slowly recovers, his intuitive detective skills begin to return to help unravel the intricate case. Despite the distance, Jesse manages to keep in contact with those back in his home town.As spring approaches, Jesse heads back home to Bath, Maine and his partner former chief of police Tim Mallory. Two of the most unusual missing persons cases present themselves as the two try to solve the mysteries.

More about author Stephen E Stanley

Stephen E. Stanley has been an educator for over thirty years, first as a high school English instructor and then as a full-time teacher mentor for secondary education in a large New Hampshire school district. He grew up in Bath, Maine the setting of his Jesse Ashworth mysteries. He studied at the University of Southern Maine, Lesley University, the University of New Hampshire and currently resides in New Hampshire.

Sam Markum and the Palm Springs Predators (Sam Markum, PI – Book 1) by T. Lawton Carney

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Sam Markum ducked under an awning in front of a cannabis shop on North Palm Canyon Drive just as another January downpour hit the street. He was in a vintage Burberry khaki trench coat and sported a brown trilby hat cocked to one side and pulled low over his left eye. It was 12:50 and those who passed him thought he might be going to some sort of fancy dress party or possibly someone who needed professional help. Sam didn’t care, the coat kept him dry while those who hadn’t adjusted to the idea that Palm Springs, California was no longer a desert walked around soaked to the skin. As with so many storms that hit the western coast of America these days the deluge came in waves of heavy rain with lightning and thunder followed by periods of light drizzle and Sam knew this particular opening of the heavens would pass in a few minutes. As he watched the traffic on the street pass by he reached inside his coat and adjusted the pulse pistol tucked in its holster just under his left arm. He wasn’t a violent man but the pistol had saved his skin more than once while working a case. He kept his five foot eight inch forty-two year old frame well-toned and combined with his stunning deep-set blue eyes and jet black hair he was a very attractive man. He wasn’t vain but did enjoy the attention he often received when out and about in this Southern California oasis. Although his clothes were clean he was often disheveled and friends told him on more than one occasion he looked like an unmade bed. It didn’t bother him and to his mind he thought the look helped in his profession. 

In this, the year 2077, Sam’s choice of anachronistic clothing was just one of the many things that some saw as outdated. Sam was a PI or private investigator and his cases were, for the most part, as conventional as his wardrobe was not. He spied on wandering spouses, heterosexual and same sex, which usually revolved around the question of who was doing what to whom. He had been in the business for so long he could usually tell when, where and how he would get the hard evidence needed to pass along to the injured party. He also had a lucrative business consulting about security and improved theft prevention. There were cases, however, that often defied description and the one he had just been called in on was one. Missing persons weren’t new to Sam but he was intrigued by the call he had gotten earlier in the morning. A man named Elliot Duval wanted Sam to investigate the abduction of his husband who had been missing for almost three days. Mr. Duval told Sam he even knew how his husband, Michael Towson, had been taken. The police had dismissed his claims and would not follow-up with an investigation and he asked Sam to come right over and help him get his husband back. Sam agreed to meet that afternoon because he wanted to know more about a case that seemed on the face of it easy to solve.

With a crack of thunder and an explosive display of lightning the rain began to ease up and Sam started walking north toward the address given by Mr. Duval. 777 North Palm Canyon had once been a two story office and retail complex but in 2046 it was replaced by a thirty story condominium tower with expensive shops and restaurants on the ground floor and luxurious residences above. Mr. Duval’s flat was one of two penthouses located on the top floor. Sam arrived at the Tamarisk Tower and walked through the covered passageway with shops on either side to the lobby of the condominium tower. He was shaking the water off his hat as the tall, husky uniformed door man greeted him by tipping his hat and asking,

“May I help you?”

“I’m Sam Markum and have an appointment with Mr. Duval in 3001.”

“If you would go over to the concierge desk he will be happy to help you.”

At the desk Sam was greeted by a very handsome man in his late thirty’s with a thatch of dirty blonde hair and deep set brown eyes. He was dressed in the latest fashion of snug knee length shorts sporting a splashy print topped with a short sleeved silk shirt open at the collar. As Sam cast an appreciative eye over the tight body and delightfully rounded buns the concierge addressed him.

“Mr. Duval is expecting you. Are you here to help? I certainly hope so. Ellie’s been so upset since Mikey went missing. In truth we all are. You may go right up and I’ll be here when you’re finished if you need anything. I’m Jamie, by the way.” he said with a wink and a smile.

Sam turned away from the desk with a smile on his lips and stepped into the well-appointed lift. He was quickly on the thirtieth floor and knocking on Mr. Duval’s door.

The door was opened and there before him was his new client. Mr. Duval was five feet eight inches tall with a slender almost waif-like appearance and he couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred forty pounds. He was about twenty-seven years old with light brown hair that was perfectly groomed and dark brown eyes that were almost piercing as he looked Sam up and down with a languorous gaze that Sam took in as he looked at the man. He was dressed in tight tan trousers and a blousy flowing open necked deep blue linen shirt with a chartreuse green silk scarf wrapped loosely around his neck. The only jewelry he wore was a large chronograph-comm on his left wrist. His eyes finally settled on Sam’s and he broke into a broad, almost inviting, smile.

“Mr. Markum I’m so glad you were able to come over so quickly.” He was ushered into the foyer which led into the expansive living room with a spectacular south facing aspect that would have had wonderful views of the mountains to the right and left if the clouds weren’t hanging so low to the ground. As he entered the living room he was overwhelmed by the extravagance of the antique furniture on display. The flooring was white on white terrazzo with brilliantly colored Nichols and Fetti wool rugs throughout.  The sofa and matching chairs facing the expanse of windows were upholstered in violet mohair with a matching set of Ruhlman Macassar wood tables. The other furniture around the room was a well edited collection of Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Grey, Le Corbusier and Ray and Charles Eames. The wall behind him was adorned with an oil painting in the contructivism style by the renowned Hungarian artist Bela Kadar.

“Have a seat Mr. Markum; would you like something to drink? A cigarette, perhaps?”

“No thank you, I can’t help but admire your collection. Antiques like these are so hard to find these days. You two must have spent years looking for just the right pieces.” Sam said as he took a seat in one of the chairs next to the sofa.

“Oh, my I wouldn’t know. All this was here when I moved in two years ago. Michael loves to collect and he’s responsible for all this. I have a small study off the hall I’ve done up in 21st century Mid-American funk which I think is just as nice.”

Elliott had been fluttering around the room straightening nick-knacks and trying not to look as excited as he was. He moved from one table to another and from one upholstered piece to another. Sam sat quietly and watched the nervous man move around the room and observed how his unease was made more evident with each small flick of his wrists. Finally, he adjusted his scarf and sat down on the sofa next to Sam. “Mr. Duval tell me about the night Mr. Towson disappeared.”

Alien abductions. Mysterious lightning storms. A handsome concierge and a suave private investigator. In the near future, Palm Springs becomes the center for a murderous gang intent on blackmail and money. Using an advanced technology, no one is safe from their nefarious actions.

Blurb:

Sam is called by Elliott Duval to find his husband who was abducted three days before. The police don’t believe his story and Sam is his only hope. Through clever undercover work and deft research Sam and his team embark on a bizarre trail leading to an unexpected resolution.

Author T. Lawton Carney Bio:

Tom’s undergraduate studies were at the University of Tennessee, majoring in English Literature, and he is the published author of three highly successful books on the business of interior design under the name of Thomas L. Williams. Tom has also contributed to the premier issue of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal and co-written interior design forecast pieces and written for local and regional newspapers.

Tom’s mother sparked an interest in Sci-Fi when he was just six years old and took him to the neighborhood library to introduce him to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and his early favorite, the Tom Swift, Jr. series. His love of optimistic portrayals of research and discovery in a futuristic setting have taken him to all parts of the universe. His own writing ranges from galactic adventure in the far future to a near future murder mystery series featuring Sam Markum. The Markum series brings the glamour and intrigue of the 1930’s to a late 21st century future with all the action and adventure one would expect from a suave private eye.

It was the supportive writing course at the Palm Springs LGBT center that first took Mr. Williams writing into Sci-Fi. The moderator of the group, successful author David Wallace, helped Tom discover the inner fantasy-fiction writer he is today. Tom embraces the concept of a future in which all mankind is the beneficiary of the exploration that will take us to the moon, the planets and ultimately the stars.  

Tom, and his husband Robert, have lived on the East Coast of the United States, London, England, Carmel, California and now Palm Springs, California. They have traveled extensively and enjoy a wide range of interests.

Murder at White Oak (White Oak Murder Series Book 1) by Marko Realmonte

Chapter 13:  TIMOTHY

Jake has decided to walk me back to St. John’s… I think we’re both a bit trollied. For some ungodly reason he wants to see the hovel I call home.

The turret which Blackmore assigned me to isn’t even a proper room. Originally, it was meant as a sort of military fortification, perhaps giving the old building a defensive posture should the Vikings ever decide to invade England again. There’s just enough room for a single mattress and a small desk. My clothes are all folded in neat stacks because there isn’t space for a wardrobe. The violin case and a loose pile of sheet music sit atop the only chair.

“Please don’t mock,” I beg.

Jacob takes a look around. “Sweet Jesus,” he says, “you barely have enough room in here to cuff the carrot.” He smirks.

“Is that your definition of not mocking?”

“Sorry. No we are here for the good of science, Ashlock.” He’s brought along a candle which he quickly lights and holds aloft.

“Tommy Walker,” he shouts, “if you can hear me… blow this out.”

Of course nothing happens.

“Interesting,” Jake notes.

“Apparently I am phantom-free. That certainly takes a load off,” I say.

“What is a ghost anyway?” Jake asks, blowing out the flame himself.

“Historically they are troubled souls.”

“Exactly,” he agrees, putting a drunken arm around my shoulder. “Restless spirits. Imagine this scenario: A White Oak lad goes missing, meeting some gruesome fate, and now he’s forced to wander about Brigsley for all eternity… he seems to be confined there.”

“Perhaps he just prefers it. Maybe it was his home,” I venture.

Jake trips on a stack of my uniforms and then leans against my desk, he’s far too big a bloke to be in this confined space. His feet are enormous. He opens the violin case and inspects my instrument. “That’s a decent hypothesis,” he says. “Of course, if we refer to our Poe, perhaps Little Tommy is buried under the floorboards…or even in the walls.”

“Don’t be morbid,” I say. “In literature spirits almost always have a purpose. They are out for vengeance, trying to right some wrong inflicted upon them in life. It’s personal. There’s always a bit of unfinished business, which is why they don’t willingly cross over.”

Jake smiles, threading his fingers through his thick blond hair. “You’re glorious, Ashlock, you little ripper,” he says. “You know what we’re going to do?”

“I’m afraid to ask,” I mutter.

“We’re going to solve Tommy Walker’s murder.”

Chapter 14:  JACOB

            Yes, I’m smitten. He’s charming, clever and just a bit sad. I find him irresistible.  He’s also gorgeous.

“I have a plan,” I say.

Tim’s refolding a stack of sweaters that I bumped over. He looks up. “Let’s hear it then.”

“First, pack up all your gear. You’re moving in with me.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Not afraid of ghosts, are you, Ashlock?” I tease. “Listen, it makes perfect sense. The cottage is a piece of this puzzle, and I need you around to bounce ideas off. You have far too little space in here, and I have far too much over there. Brigsley has three bedrooms, for Christ’s sake!”

“Perfect,” he says, “one for you, one for me and one for Tommy Walker.”

“Hilarious. What’s stopping you?”

“First, Blackmore will never sign off on it. He enjoys my misery here far too much.”

I scoff. “Leave him to me. What else?”

I know where he’s about to go.

“Second, I’m not going to sleep with you. I like you Weston, but I’m not gay.”

I laugh at him. “Mon Chéri,” I say, “hardly anyone is Gay-gay anymore. It’s all about being bi-curious or simply not being placed in a box. Don’t let others define you because to allow definition is to limit! You may not be full homo, but you’re definitely on the spectrum, less so than I am, sadly, but your sexuality is fluid.”

“Maybe so,” he admits, “but if I move into Brigsley you’ll be keeping your fluids to yourself.”

“It’s a deal,” I say. “Pack your duffel while I go downstairs and give Blackmore an Oscar-worthy performance.”

“You’re not going to pay a call on the Housemaster when you’re steaming drunk, are you?”

“He’ll be none the wiser. I can hold my liquor, mate.”

Blurb:

A murder mystery…a ghost story…and a gay romance. Jake Weston, a seventeen-year-old cross between Holden Caufield and Sherlock Holmes, is an openly gay American at a private British boarding school.
He’s being haunted by the ghost of a former student, and he’s fallen in love with his beautiful roommate.  He’s trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of Tommy Walker, a White Oak student who vanished in 1976 but piecing together a puzzle from the past will lead to real danger in the present. He’ll inherit a fortune if he can solve a murder and make it out of White Oak Academy alive. 
This genre-bending fusion of supernatural suspense, thriller and young adult LGBTQ romance has mind-blowing plot twists that will keep you guessing until the very last page. 
Finally, a gay whodunit! 
Murder at White Oak tackles some of the very real issues of bullying and beatings within the walls of prestigious boarding schools for boys and the difficulties of being gay in that restrictive, closed environment. This is the first in a series of gay mysteries. 

Learn more about author, Marko Realmonte

I currently live in beautiful Santa Cruz, California, devising wicked plot twists and murdering unsuspecting figments of my imagination.  I spent twenty years writing for film and television in Hollywood…primarily for Disney, but often as a laptop for hire.
As I’ve often said, I’ve had my fingers in more pilots than an Air Force proctologist.
I’m using my influential friends to sell this book (and hopefully the series) to Netflix or someone else with equally deep pockets.  I do aim to portray gay characters and relationships in a positive way.  To be honest, I’m tired of only reading queer coming out or coming of age yarns.

Exclusive Excerpt: Murder at the Green Lantern (Corey Shaw mysteries Book 2) by Alex Morgan

The interrogation of Chauncey was finished, and he stood behind the bar as Corey approached. He hurried over, extending his hand. “Hi, I’m Chauncey Avant, the manager of the Green Lantern. Didn’t I see you here last night?”

Corey introduced himself, and Chauncey’s eyes grew wide in surprise when he heard the Psionic Officer title.

“Do you recognize the victim?”

Chauncey shook his head. “I didn’t see his face.” He shuddered at the recollection. “As soon as I saw…him, I ran out of the room and dialed 911.”

“Remember the skinny twink wearing only red gym shorts and the Celtic knotwork tattoo around his right bicep?”

Chauncey searched his memory. “You mean Aiden?”

“Maybe. He didn’t introduce himself to me. Are there many other guys who come in here dressed like that, with that tattoo?” Corey gave him a minute.

“It’s gotta be him, then.” The manager choked a little as he lowered his head.

“I take it he was a regular?”

“Almost every weekend.” Chauncey pulled himself together. He wasn’t trembling anymore.

“Did you know him well?”

“Not outside of the Green Lantern. I only knew him as Aiden. I’m sure there are plenty of guys that know him better.”

Of that, I have no doubt, Corey mused. “I noticed that he was very…popular.” He emphasized the last word with raised eyebrows.

“If you mean ‘slut,’ yes. He was always bragging about how many men he slept with,” Chauncey said, sneering. “I don’t think he ever brought money with him. He always wore those skimpy shorts that obviously didn’t have a place for his wallet. He could get anyone to pay for his drinks. All he’d do is rub that flat stomach and his crotch up against them, and he got what he wanted.”

“Did he ever return the favors? Like he intimated to me?” Corey wasn’t ready to admit he almost fell for Aiden’s game.

Chauncey brushed some imaginary crumbs off the bar. “Yes, and no. Aiden liked to tease the older guys, the uglier ones, the ones he thought didn’t have a chance in hell of getting picked up. He’d make them think they could take him home, but usually, he went after the young, good-looking guys. The muscular, beefy men. Those were the ones he left with.”

Corey realized that Chauncey was simply being blunt and forthright, rather than insulting his customers. “I’m sure some of the men he rejected got mad at him.”

“Yeah, a lot of them got pissed off at him, but I don’t think that anyone got angry enough to do something like this, do you?”

“It doesn’t sound likely, but we have to consider every possibility. Do you have a coat check or some place that he may have left his clothes? I don’t think he came dressed like that, but I don’t remember seeing him come in.”

“We do upstairs, but we’ve already checked, and no one left any clothes behind.” Chauncey leaned up against the bar.

Corey walked to the staircase and called up to Detective Nash. “Have you found the shorts he wore last night? Red with white trim?”

“We’re still searching the building and the surrounding area. If they turn up, we’ll let you know,” came the answer.

Corey finished with Chauncey and walked upstairs to the bar. The flash of the forensic photographer’s camera cast odd shadows on the wall behind the gruesome scene, washing out what little color was in the room. He waited at the top of the stairs, watching patiently until the forensic team had finished taking pictures.

“Can I have a moment?” he asked the man with the camera. Or at least he thought it was a man. Both members of the team wore bio-suits, which masked faces, body shapes and features.

“We haven’t swept for fibers yet,” the man protested. His voice was muffled.

Corey repeated his observation that there were many, many people in the bar last night. The forensic technician removed the headpiece of the bio-suit. “I’d still like to prevent any more contamination.”

“Do you have an extra one of those?”

Several minutes later, Corey, donned in a bio-suit without the headpiece, approached the body, being careful not to step in the blood.

The forensic team left the room but remained in the doorway. Corey closed his eyes and let his mind roam free. He could see images easier that way.

A vision of a hand flashed across his thoughts, the fingers contorting and curling in pain as a nail was pounded through the wrist. He heard screams of agony and angry shouting. He saw a foot strapped to the cross with a rope to keep it anchored to the step while another nail was driven through it. More screaming, crying, and pleading. It was drowned out with angry yelling, but Corey heard more than one voice shouting.

How many were there? What had he done to be tortured like that?

The people shouting in fury sounded like they were reciting or orating. It sounded stilted to him, instead of normal voice intonations. He saw the young man’s face frozen in terror. Then he saw the flash of a knife.

Gasping in horror, Corey snapped out of his visions and recalled his power. As he reconnected with his surroundings, he realized that he had backed away from the cross and was pressed against the wall. He stood there panting and covered in sweat, his pulse racing, trying to calm down from the terrible visions he had seen.

Detective Nash leaned against the threshold. “See anything interesting?” he called out with the slight edge of disdain in his tone.

“Not much more than what you’ve already discovered here,” Corey said, his breathing starting to return to normal. “I think his murderers were passing some sort of religious judgment on him.”

“Murderers? We’re looking for more than one?”

Corey nodded.

“And what kind of judgment? Kind of like a divine retribution? A warning to gays?”

Corey shook his head as he walked closer to Nash. “No, just him. This was personal, like a jury sentencing him to death. And it may not have been because he was gay, either.”

Nash sighed in annoyance. “This whole setup of nailing him to a cross reeks of religious zealots. We’ve seen it before. Can you tell me something I don’t know?”

The detective’s callousness rankled him. In a lightning flash move, Corey ripped off his glove and grabbed him by the wrist. Before the detective could react, he forced the horrible images he had seen into Nash’s mind, letting him see the gruesome scene and hear the death cries of the victim.

Corey pulled his hand back. “I figured you didn’t know that.”

Detective Nash remained rooted to his spot. The blood drained from his face, frozen in an expression of terror. Corey pushed past him and out of the room.

Learn about author, Alex Morgan:

Alan Scott (aka Alex Morgan) was born and raised in western Oklahoma. He majored in chemistry in college and moved to Dallas to get his master’s degree. Later he received a PhD in analytical chemistry. He now lives in the Baltimore area.

He has been an avid reader, particularly mysteries, after being introduced to the Hardy Boys in grade school. After reading his first Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express, in junior high, mysteries have been one of his biggest enjoyments. He has always enjoyed reading comic books and loves the super-hero genre just as much.

Combining these two concepts, he has written four mystery novels introducing gay, paranormal sleuth Corey Shaw. Under the pen name Alan Scott, he has written a novel continuing the paranormal detective series with “Inside Passage to Murder” and the forthcoming “A Faire Day for Murder.”  He is also the author of several gay erotica short stories.