Exclusive Excerpt: Police Brutality (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords Book 2) by Gregory Ashe

Excerpt:

CHAPTER FIVE

DECEMBER 17

MONDAY

10:07 AM

HAZARD BROKE DOWN ANOTHER BOX and carried it to the landing, where he had a growing pile. Moving into the office for his private investigation agency had actually been a fairly straightforward affair. Once Hazard had learned that Somers had rented the place without asking him, and once Hazard had learned that Somers would dump his dumb ass if he didn’t really get serious about opening the agency, everything had been pretty clear.

Divorce, not dump, a little voice in his brain reminded. Somers had said divorce, not dump. And then Somers had said the M word. The fucking M word.

Right now, the suite of rooms above an empty storefront on Market Street didn’t look like much, but it did look better. Some of Hazard’s efforts were paying off. The large, front room, where Somers kept talking about hiring an assistant and having him handle the administrative side of things, currently sported several tubular chairs, a fern that slumped against the cracked front window, and a painting that Somers had hung, crookedly, of the Grand Rivere. Hazard’s office held his desk, a beautifully crafted piece that Somers had stolen, literally, from his parents, and a pair of chairs. Over the last few weeks, Hazard had been moving various professional books—both ones that he had owned as a police officer and, now, ones that he had acquired as part of his new career—from home to office. Hence, the cardboard box.

Hazard crossed the room, adjusted the painting so that it was level, and went to his private office. He powered up the laptop Somers had picked out, dropped into the chair Somers had wanted him to have, and navigated the advertising website where Somers had dropped an obscene amount of money and told Hazard, when the fight about how much to spend had escalated, something to the effect of: It’s already fucking spent, so you can either use it or not.

Studying the website, Hazard tried to figure out how to use the money that Somers had spent on him. The money Hazard hadn’t earned. The money Hazard didn’t deserve. The money that might be a very poor investment, judging by how well Hazard had done with his last client, who had been abducted and tortured and almost killed. Hazard had seen Mitchell Martin in the Savers just a few weeks before, from a distance, for an instant before Hazard ran away—ran and hid. The young man was still on crutches, and he looked like he’d been partially rubbed out with an eraser.

Flyers. People still looked at flyers, right? The internet hadn’t completely obliterated flyers, had it? Hazard’s fingers hovered over the keyboard. He sat there for maybe five minutes. Thinking.

Then he closed the browser tab. Maybe he’d better start with a business card first. That would make sense, right? The business cards he had, the ones he’d bought before he was even really sure he wanted to do this, just said, Emery Hazard, Private Investigator. So Hazard looked at linen cards. Then he looked at squishy cards that turned into sponges when you put them in water. Then he went cheap, the bare bones.

And after maybe fifteen minutes, he closed the tab.

Maybe a website first. Maybe that was most important.

But the problem, the real problem, was that Hazard needed a name for the business. And a logo. He was fairly sure that he needed a logo. Something that would communicate, visually, what his business was going to stand for.

So, he told himself, quit being such a pansy about the whole thing. Quit dancing around it. Quit rearranging the three pieces of furniture, quit watering the fern, quit phoning the landlord about the cracked glass, quit playing with your dick and get down to business.

Ok. A name.

That was easy. Hazard opened a blank document, fingers flying across the keyboard. He considered what he’d written, revised. A little shorter. A little punchier. Perfect. Now he just needed a logo. He pulled up a stock images site and browsed for twenty seconds before he found exactly what he wanted. After buying the image, he pasted it onto the document. There. He was grinning, aware of the flush in his face, the ridiculously exaggerated sense of satisfaction at having accomplished even this much. But at least he had something to show Somers tonight, a mock-up for the flyers and business card and website and, fuck, LLC filing.

His printer hummed and chugged just as a knock came at the office door.

Hazard reached for his gun, the Ruger Blackhawk chambered for .45 Colt, six-cylinder, resting in the top, right-hand drawer.

“Hazard?”

For a moment, Hazard was still reacting, his hand wrapping around the Blackhawk’s checkered rubber grip, his whole world narrowing down to the need to run or shoot or both. Then, by inches, he clawed his way back to control. It had been like this for him—he couldn’t think about it more than that, couldn’t face it head-on yet—since July, when he had walked into the ruined hallways of the Haverford to face Mikey Grames.

He was getting better, he told himself.

Pulse stuttering in his neck, he hid his hand, still holding the gun, in the drawer. He worked moisture into his mouth. “Yeah?”

The doorknob turned; the door opened slowly. Walter Hoffmeister poked his head into the room like he was doing some kind of shtick.

“For fuck’s sake,” Hazard said, releasing the Blackhawk and shutting the drawer with his elbow. “Come in.”

The thing about Hoffmeister, Hazard decided as the man took a seat, was that there was nothing to love. Hoffmeister was an asshole. The whole universe was one big fire hydrant for Hoffmeister to piss on. He was tall, thin, and sallow; he looked like a foam cup yellowing in the sun.

“Aren’t you supposed to have some sort of secretary?” he asked, jerking his thumb at the empty front room.

“What do you want?”

“Kind of fucking stupid for you to be back here, hiding in a closet, with that big room empty out there.”

Hazard leaned back; the chair creaked under his weight.

Hoffmeister crossed his legs, ankle bouncing on his knee. “Place is a fucking dump.”

Hazard’s fingertips curled around the leather armrests.

“You see the front window is cracked?” Hoffmeister whistled. “You’re going to pay a fucking fortune this winter. And next summer? Jesus, you’ll have mosquitos in here the size of poodles.”

For a moment, Hazard visualized a Mack truck, a runaway, coming down Market Street with its brake lines cut. And Hazard and Hoffmeister, both of them, standing there on the curb. And Hazard’s hand on Hoffmeister’s shoulder. Like they were buddies.

And hey, it was an infinite universe. Anything could happen.

“Let’s go outside and get some fresh air,” Hazard said.

“Nah, this stretch of Market smells like fish, you know? Jesus Christ. Did you pick this place? What a fucking mess. How much are you paying? Jesus Christ, if you tell me you’re paying more than, I don’t know, a hundred and fifty bucks a month, you’re getting hosed.”

“A hundred and fifty bucks a month won’t rent you a storage unit.”

“Oh man,” Hoffmeister said, laughing, stretching out now that he’d pissed on everything, hands behind his head. But his ankle was still bouncing on top of his knee. “Oh man, you are getting dicked up the ass. I knew it. But I guess you kind of like that, right?”

“What do you want?”

Instead of answering, Hoffmeister leaned forward, brushing something invisible off the desk. He ran his thumb all the way to the end of the wood. Then, twisting back and forth, he slouched in his seat.

“You ever feel fucked?” Hoffmeister said, the words bursting out. “You ever feel like the whole universe is just out to get you? I mean, you’ve got to understand, right? You were a cop. And now you’re in this shithole. You know what I mean?”

“I know you’re really fucking lousy at asking for help.”

For the first time since coming into the office—maybe for the first time since Hazard had met him—Hoffmeister smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am. How much do you charge?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not just saying that. I don’t know, I really don’t. I’m fucked, ok? You heard that psycho bitch at the tree lighting yesterday, right?”

“The one who said, ‘Officer Hoffmeister must die’? Yeah, I heard her.”

“It’s bullshit. It’s fucking ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to wear a target on my back because some rainbow-sprinkles snowflake is upset that I did my job.”

“You know that woman?”

“Fuck no.”

“But you know what she’s upset about.”

“They’re all pissing their panties about the same thing, Hazard. The same fucking thing: I did my job.”

“This is all wrapped up with the lawsuit, is that it? Assault and battery—is that what it is?”

“Fucking bullshit.” Waving a hand, Hoffmeister added, “Union rep says it’s just a dustup. You know, everybody’s hot under the collar about police. My job, you know what it is? Keeping order. Keeping this town safe. And now I do my job, and what happens? My ass gets slapped with fucking criminal charges.”

“I heard that Ozark Volunteer guy, the one pressing charges, I heard he got hurt pretty bad.”

“Jesus, I knocked him to the ground. That’s it. And he was in the middle of felony assault, for whatever the fuck it’s worth.”

“It’s all just a dustup.”

“Sure, but shit, you know how it goes. This drags on and on, and I’m at a desk like an asshole. And then, when this finally clears, that son of a bitch is going to come after me for money.”

“Do you have money?”

“Fuck no, but that won’t stop him. Just hiring a lawyer is going to cost me a fortune.”

“So hiring me probably isn’t a good idea.”

“Money’s no good to me if I’m dead, dumbfuck. That’s why I’m here.” He leaned forward and drilled a finger into the desk. “Me. Alive. That’s how I want to stay.”

“You think that woman at the tree lighting is really a threat?”

Hoffmeister contracted, slouching in the seat again, chewing a thumbnail. He stared past Hazard, fixated on something Hazard couldn’t see.

“What?” Hazard said. “What happened?”

“Fuck it. This was a stupid fucking idea.”

“No, sit down. Instead of giving me the opening lines from your defense, tell me what’s going on.”

“Why? So you and Somers can have a laugh tonight? Fuck off.”

“You’re here because, for some reason, you don’t think you can take this to the police. Is that right?”

Hoffmeister didn’t answer.

“Fifty dollars an hour. A thousand-dollar retainer. I itemize expenses, and I send a report at the end of every week.”

“You can keep me alive?”

“Tell me what’s going on, and I’ll tell you what I think I can do. Then you can decide if you want to hire me.”

Still chewing a nail, Hoffmeister seemed to consider this. Then he shrugged. “I’m fucked, man. Universe has me fucked.”

“Let’s see if we can un-fuck your life.”

“You ever worked for someone? Jesus, I don’t want to be your first. Probably end up in the funny pages, one big fucking punch line.”

Hazard thought of Mitchell Martin, crutching through the Savers.

“You weren’t worried about that when you walked in here,” was all he said.

Tearing his nail from between his teeth, Hoffmeister blew out a breath. “Screw it,” he said, and then he started to talk.

Blurb:

For the first time in a long while, Emery Hazard’s life is good. His new business as a private detective is taking off. Things are good at home. He loves his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset; he loves their daughter. He might even love the new friends they’ve found. There’s only one problem: Somers has been talking about marriage.

When a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, comes to Hazard and hires him to look into a series of anonymous death threats, Hazard eagerly jumps on the distraction. Hoffmeister might be a jerk, but he’s a paying jerk, and Hazard isn’t convinced the threats are serious.

Until, that is, Hoffmeister is almost gunned down on Hazard’s doorstep. As Hazard investigates more deeply, he learns that more than one person in Wahredua has a reason to wish Hoffmeister dead. His search takes him to the Ozark Volunteers, reincarnated as the Bright Lights movement, but it also leads him into a sanctuary of radical Christianity. Meanwhile, an antifa activist has arrived in town, calling for Hoffmeister’s death and threatening total war with the Bright Lights.

As Hazard continues to look for answers, he becomes a target too—and not just because he’s helping Hoffmeister. The Keeper of Bees is still at large, and the killer hasn’t lost interest in Emery Hazard. Not yet. Not, Hazard begins to suspect, until the Keeper has taken everything Hazard holds dear.

About the Author

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

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Exclusive Excerpt: Deserted to Death: A Jamie Brodie Mystery (Jamie Brodie Mysteries Book 19) by Meg Perry

Excerpt:

We were up early, intending to beat the worst heat of the day. While Pete made breakfast, I went through the garage to get the newspaper and found it in its usual spot at the end of the driveway, encased in a plastic wrapper. I lowered the garage door behind me and joined the others on the patio, upturning the wrapper to allow the newspaper to slide onto the table beside Pete. As I did, a separate scrap of paper fluttered to the tile under my feet.

It appeared to be a lined sheet of notebook paper, folded into quarters. I bent down to pick it up, and Kevin scrambled to his feet. “Don’t touch it.”

I froze, halfway down, and craned my neck to look up at Kevin. “Why?”

“Because it shouldn’t be there. Where’s the nearest box of tissues?”

Pete said, “Guest bathroom.”

Kevin disappeared into the house. I straightened up but didn’t move. Pete, Kristen and I stared at the sheet of paper like it might explode. I said, “He’s just being abnormally cautious, right?”

Pete said, “Sure.” 

Kristen said, “It’s probably just a note from your carrier.”

Kevin returned with the box and pulled two tissues out. He draped them over his fingers and picked up the paper, laid it on the table and carefully unfolded it.

The message was handwritten in capital letters with a red Sharpie.

NO QUERS IN ALAMOGORDO

GO BACK TO SANFRANSISCO

OR YOUL’L BE SORRY

Kristen sucked in a breath. I said, “Fuck.”

Pete moved beside Kevin, where he could study the note from the proper angle. Kevin asked him, “Thoughts?”

Pete’s tone was analytical. Detached. “Misspellings indicate lack of education. Use of the word queer indicates someone that’s too old or too out of the mainstream to realize that it’s not considered an insult anymore.”

Kevin said, “Do you know who’s friendly in the Alamogordo PD?”

Pete said, “Not yet. But Steve would.”

“Call him.”

Pete went inside to call Steve. Kristen said, “This is outrageous.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Dr. Cotton was right.”

Kevin said, “What?”

I told him and Kristen what my doctor had said. Pete stepped back onto the patio as I said, “Then he said, ‘be careful.’”

Kevin grunted. “Good advice, apparently.”

Pete said, “Steve’s calling a friend of his who’s a detective with APD. They’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”

Kristen said, “I’d better get dressed.” She went inside.

It was closer to a half hour later when Steve parked at the foot of our driveway, accompanied by a man in a separate car whom I’d never seen before. I opened the front door to them. Steve said, “This is Tobias Rice. Tobias, this is my brother-in-law, Jamie Brodie.”

Tobias Rice was about my size, a shaved-bald African-American man wearing an APD polo shirt, jeans, and a shoulder holster, and carrying what I figured was an evidence case. I shook his hand. “Thanks for coming.”

“Glad to help.” His voice was low but powerful. “Where is this note?”

“Right through here.” I led him into the house and to the patio.

Tobias greeted the others, then snapped on a pair of latex gloves and lifted the sheet of paper, examining it from all angles. “Tell me how you found this?”

I told him. He asked, “And this was when?”

“About 45 minutes ago.”

He thought out loud. “Newspapers are delivered around 5:00-5:30. You find it an hour or so later…”

Pete said, “Easy for someone to go unseen in the dark.”

“Yup.” Tobias nodded at Ammo. “The dog didn’t hear anything?”

I said, “The house was built to be soundproof.”

He unlatched his case and extracted a fingerprinting kit. Several minutes later, he had a full set of clear prints. “I’ll run these through IAFIS, see what pops. Anything else unpleasant happens, you call me direct.” He recited his number, which both Pete and I entered into our phones.

Pete saw Tobias out, then returned. Steve said, “Tobias is the only black cop in Otero County. His wife teaches math at the high school. They live down the street from me.”

I said, “I didn’t know that APD had any detectives. Why didn’t he come when we discovered the body?”

“He doesn’t have any training in homicide investigation. I think APD prefers to let the state police handle those cases. But he has plenty of experience in evidence collection.” Steve punched Pete lightly in the shoulder. “I’m late to work. See ya.”

Pete followed Steve outside. I turned to Kevin who was standing at the edge of the patio, his arms crossed, frowning at me. Behind him, Kristen was pacing. I said, “What the fuck?

Kevin said, “This is unacceptable.”

“I’m open to suggestions. But there’s nothing we can do about it, is there? Other than calling the cops?”

“No.”

Kristen was still pacing. “Maybe Jeff and Colin shouldn’t visit.”

Jeff and his eldest, my nephew Colin, were scheduled to visit next week, arriving the day after Kevin and Kristen left. I said, “Then the terrorists win.”

“True. But what if the attacks escalate?”

Pete came through the back door as she spoke. “They won’t.”

Kevin said, “You don’t know that.”

“No, but I can predict it. Whoever these people are, they’ve done the worst they can think of.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Kevin waved his hand in the general direction of town. “This county is loaded with right-wing Second Amendment fans. You can’t say that someone isn’t out there planning a drive-by.”

Pete scoffed. “Seriously? This is a small town. Nobody’s going to try anything like that.”

“You think shit like that doesn’t happen in a small town? You grew up in a small town. You know how unpleasant the local yokels can be.”

I’d inched my way to stand beside Kristen, and we watched as Kevin and Pete argued. It was a new experience for me. Finally Pete said, “You’re overreacting.”

Kevin wasn’t done. “And you’re sticking your head in the sand. Don’t be naïve. Did you think this rural county would be gay-friendly? Would happily live and let live? Would give you a pass because you’re Steve’s brother? What do you think?”

Pete was attempting patience, but I could tell he was gritting his teeth. “I. Think. That. It. Will. Be. Fine.”

Kevin stared at Pete for a minute, and I realized something that I never had before. I’d thought them equal in terms of intimidation factor, but I’d been wrong.

In a contest of wills, Kevin would always win.

Kevin lowered his voice. “You and Jamie can take care of yourselves. But I am not going to allow Jeff and Colin to walk into the middle of a dangerous situation.”

“That should be Jeff’s decision.”

“It will be, as soon as I explain it to him.” Kevin strode into the house, closing the patio door firmly behind him.

Pete said, to no one in particular, “He’s overreacting.”

I said, “I’m not convinced of that.”

He shifted his gaze to me. “You, too?”

“Pete. We’ve been threatened. Sure, it might not happen again, but I agree with Kev. I’m not willing to risk Colin to that chance.”

Kristen looked back and forth between us. I waited. Finally Pete blew out a deep breath. “I’m going for a walk.”

Kristen said, “I need a drink.”

I said, “Me, too.”

When we went into the house, Kevin was in the family room, pacing just as Kristen had, while he talked to Jeff. Kristen and I got bottles of Coke from the fridge and cracked them open. I was taking a long drink when Kevin came into the kitchen, holding out his phone. “He wants to talk to you.”

I took the phone and said, “Hey.”

Jeff said, “Is Kev overreacting?”

“Pete thinks so. I don’t necessarily agree.”

He sighed. “Colin was super excited about coming to Alamogordo again.”

“I know. It’s your decision.”

“I’ll talk to Val tonight. We’ll let you know.”

“Okay.”

“And for God’s sake, be careful.”

“I will. Don’t tell Dad about any of this.”

“God, no.”

I said goodbye and handed the phone back to Kevin. “He and Val will discuss and decide.”

Kevin said softly, “I’m not overreacting.”

“I know.” I set my bottle on the counter and rubbed my face. “This whole adventure was originally my idea, you know.”

Kristen asked, “How so?”

“When we inherited the money and I first thought of building a second home, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal at the federal level yet. But it was already recognized here in New Mexico.” I counted on my fingers. “My criteria were no earthquakes, no wildfire, and that our marriage would be valid. And Steve was here, and all the elements necessary for solar and geothermal living. It seemed perfect.”

Kristen said, “Eventually, it’ll be all right. I think. But it’ll be easier if you rapidly establish yourselves as Those Who Must Not Be Fucked With.”

Kevin snorted. “You’ll enjoy that.”

I clinked my bottle against his. “Hell, yeah.”

Blurb:

Jamie Brodie is feeling unsettled. His boss has asked him to take an unpaid furlough for the summer; his husband, Pete Ferguson, is obsessed with genealogy research and has papered the walls of their townhouse with family trees; and his father-in-law, Jack, is experiencing odd side effects from a new medication.
Pete wants to head straight for their second home in New Mexico at the beginning of Jamie’s furlough. Jamie has misgivings, but agrees. On their first morning in Alamogordo, Jamie discovers a dead teenager in the street across from their house. The findings in the victim’s autopsy report are deeply disturbing, and the victim’s identification leads Jamie to a jarring discovery.
Several days later, someone leaves a note inside Jamie and Pete’s morning newspaper. NO QUEERS IN ALAMOGORDO.
As the anonymous homophobic attacks continue, Jamie’s determination to stand his ground solidifies. But someone out there is equally determined to push Jamie and Pete out of town, and is willing to take extreme measures to achieve his goal.

More About Author, Meg Perry

Learn more about author Meg Perry and her Jamie Brodie Mystery series via her website:

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From Meg’s website:

“I’ve been writing the Jamie Brodie Mysteries since June 2012. Hard to believe! Jamie is (like me) an academic librarian. Not like me, he’s a gay man, a Rhodes Scholar, a rugby player, a son, brother, uncle…and boyfriend (eventually, husband). Jamie’s boyfriend (eventual husband) is psychology professor Pete Ferguson, and they share a townhouse in Santa Monica, CA.”

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

Excerpt:

CHAPTER TEN

NOVEMBER 1

THURSDAY

8:37 AM

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

The thing was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Morning.”

“Look what the cat dragged in.”

“God, what a night.”

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

“How’d you sleep?”

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

“Ree, I’m wiped. I’m not really—”

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

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

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

“Oh,” Somers said.

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

“Ok, I just thought . . .”

“I know what you thought.”

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

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

“Ree.”

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

“I can’t sleep.”

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

“I can do that,” Somers said.

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

“I can do that too.”

“Uh uh.”

Somers stared at the plate.

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

“I thought it was a little green spear.”

Hazard smiled and went back to his seat.

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

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

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

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

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

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

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

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

“I’ve gotten pretty good at that.”

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

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

It was almost like the old days.

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

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

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

Hazard shrugged again.

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

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

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

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

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

“I—”

“Bullshit.”

“John, I—”

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

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

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

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

“So you think it’s Carl.

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure. Come with.”

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

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

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It feels like forever.”

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

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

“I’ve got to—” Hazard began.

“Yeah,” Somers said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Go get some sleep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, Hazard told himself.

He did the dishes.

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

No.

He wiped down the counters.

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emery Hazard. Private Investigator.

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Author, Gregory Ashe

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

Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blurb: The Deadwood Murders

A mutilated conventioneer.

Gay men brutally tortured before death.

A trail of bodies carrying the same grim signature.

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

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

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

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

Blurb: Pretty Boy Dead

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

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

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

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

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

More about Jon Michaelsen

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

Contact him at Michaelsen.jon@gmail.com

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you?”

“At his apartment.”

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

“What are you doing there at this hour?”

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

“Stani?” said Rafik.

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

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

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

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

“Tell me what happened, Rafik.”

“I tell you, he is dead.”

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

“Rafik, if Max Harkey is really dead—”

“He is, Stani. Believe me.”

“Then you must do exactly what I say.”

“But Stani—”

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

“I cannot do that, Stani.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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


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

“What happened, Ronnie? Any witnesses?”

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

“Just like that?”

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Marco! You on a case, man?”

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

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

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

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

Blurb: Murder on Camac

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

10-Year Anniversary Giveaway!

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

Buy-Links:

Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/vstz86u

Smashwords: https://tinyurl.com/rh3zj8q

More about author, Joseph R. G. De Marco

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