Exclusive Excerpt: PRETTY BOY DEAD, a mystery/thriller novel by Jon Michaelsen

Lambda Literary Award Finalist – Gay Mystery 

Blurb:

A murdered male stripper. A missing go-go dancer. A city councilman on the hook. Can Atlanta Homicide Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker solve the vicious crime while remaining safely hidden behind the closet door?

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Exclusive Excerpt:

“I’ve talked to a few of the bartenders,” Perelli shouted, leaning near his partner’s ear. He stuck a thumb over his shoulder as Parker turned. “None….good…say…”

Unable to understand, he motioned for them to move up the stairs and out into the main room. “What were you saying?” he asked, ignoring the ringing echo in his ears.

“No luck so far. I’ve talked to several employees, but nothing.” Perelli tipped his cup on end, licking the remnants of alcohol from the corners of his mouth. “I’m getting another. Want one?”

“Take it easy on the alcohol, Perelli.”

Perelli waved him off and shot across the carpeted floor, returning moments later with a fresh drink. “Cops carry clout in these places,” he said. “No waiting in line either.” The threat to his masculinity had abated with a few drinks. So, it seemed, had his cold shoulder to Parker. “Hell, this place ain’t so bad,” he sneered. “Despite all the fucking fags.”

Parker ignored his partner’s comment, distracted by the movement of a patron across the room. The young man was edging toward the emergency exit and kept an eye peeled in their direction.

“What’s up, partner?”

“I’m not sure yet,” said Parker. “You see the guy over there in the red tank?” Perelli followed Parker’s stare and nodded. “Since we’ve been standing here, he’s slipped through the crowd, not a word to anyone, but kept watching us. Looks like he’s headed for that exit.”

“I’d say he’s about to bolt.” Perelli tossed his cup into a nearby trash bin and leaned in close to Parker’s ear. “I’ll head out front and swing around,” he said. “He makes a run for it, I’ll be there.”

Parker studied the character over his partner’s shoulder. “Keep it cool, Perelli,” he said. “If the dude makes a break for it, detain him and that’s all. It’s probably nothing, but I want to be sure. And watch your back.”

Perelli disappeared through the squash of bodies. Parker sipped his cocktail, peering over the rim of the plastic cup as he watched the man’s eyes springboard around the room. Parker spotted Callahan and two goons moving in fast as the man rushed to make a break for it. A hand slapped onto Parker’s arm about the time he started to advance.

“Slade. What the hell are you doing here?”

The reporter smirked. Parker turned back in time to see the red shirt had moved closer to the emergency exit. A cluster of chatty men blocked his view as Slade tugged his arm again.

“You’re working the park homicide, aren’t you? Why else would you be here?” Slade tried to follow Parker’s line of sight across the room. “I know the victim worked here as a dancer, a mighty popular one, I might add.”

“What’s your point?” Parker turned away and craned his neck over the crowd in front of him. He spotted the tousled blond hair of the young man within inches of freedom. “Some other time,” he said.

All eyes were on Parker as he shoved and elbowed his way through the crowd, stepping on a few toes along the way. He heard some choice words and threats in his wake. Patrons dashed out of the way and protected their drinks.

The guy threw open the emergency door and set off the alarm. Someone nearby screamed and people scattered in the opposite direction. Callahan and his men retreated as Parker reached the exit, slammed through the door and leaped into the alleyway beside the club.

Pitch black. Retrieving his gun with his right hand, he clasped the butt of the weapon with his left and waited wide-eyed for his pupils to adjust. Where was Perelli? Brooks? The smell of sewage and stale beer hung in the night air. Behind him, the heavy door shut.

An eerie silence invaded the area.

Parker stood in total darkness, his weapon aimed, and safety released. His heart pumped like a jackhammer as he scanned the area. He ventured forward, placing one foot carefully before the next in slow, measured steps. The grit on the asphalt crunched beneath his rubber soles and echoed in his ears.

The exit door had dumped him into the narrow alleyway accessed by main roads at either end of the Metroplex. A long, dark vehicle facing the opposite direction hugged the cinderblock wall of the building, exhaust from its tailpipe drifting skyward from an idling engine. The tinted windows were slick with raindrops, and the headlights off. Parker glanced to the left. A pile of empty liquor boxes seemed to be the only hiding place, because the guy didn’t have enough time to get to Juniper Street.

LammyFinalist_Small_Web_v3Where the fuck’s Perelli?

Seconds ticked away in the quiet alley. Parker edged forward to inspect the pile of rubbish, poking at the refuse with the barrel of his gun. Nothing. Moving around to the other side, he nudged at several lower boxes with his toe. No movement. His stomach constricted and his legs stiffened with anticipation. Perspiration slid down his temples, but he dared not wipe the sweat away. Two minutes had passed since his burst through the door and still nothing stirred.

Every cop dreaded such a situation, slow dancing in the shadows alone with a robber, a thief…a killer. Fear had a way of clutching the heart and soul, controlling all logic. He knew from experience the anxiety coursing through his veins was enough to riddle a man’s body stiff and lock his joints, even for tough cops like him. It had a mind of its own…fear, dominating the human psyche, causing one to act out of desperation, to strike when provoked. Fear.

Fear of the unknown or fear of death?

Parker backed away from the boxes, his eyes glued to the pile of cardboard, his breathing more rapid and his heartbeat echoing in his ears. Easy, he coaxed himself. Wait him out. He swung his arms slowly to the right, following the point just above the barrel of his weapon. Steady…

A cat screamed in the distance, sending chills up Parker’s spine. He stepped into something cold and wet, the mess oozing into his shoe as a pungent odor hit his nose. A door in the wall next to the parked vehicle burst open and out stepped a short figure in a suit, bathed in the interior light when the car door opened. He heard a faint step, saw a flash of red before something heavy struck hard against the back of his head.

Pain shot through his neck and shoulders. He stumbled forward off balance, but managed to fire a single shot into the brick wall before losing his grip on the gun. A broken bottle, lead pipe, splintered board—whatever the hell it was—held by a shadowed hand cracked hard across Parker’s skull. He tumbled to the wet pavement in time to see confusion flicker across the face of the suited man ducking into the backseat of the sedan. The vehicle’s engine revved, and its tires squealed as it raced away. Fuck!

The attacker dropped its weapon and sprinted in the opposite direction. Parker got to his knees and fumbled around for his gun. He stood, staggered a second, and took off after the attacker in a running stumble. The pressure and pain at the base of his head pulsated as he ran. Warm blood flowed from above his right ear, filling his ear canal and running down his jaw and neck.

The suspect had darted around the building onto Juniper. Parker neared the corner wall and halted, putting his back against the brick wall to avoid another attack. He  sucked in a deep breath and threw his entire weight around the corner with his pistol drawn. In the distance, two figures scuffled in the middle of the road, their struggle illuminated by a nearby street lamp.

Freeze!” Parker chased after the man, spitting blood as he ran.

The suspect glanced up, panicked and clamped his teeth down hard on Perelli’s arm before stabbing him in the chest with something. Perelli yelled, released his hold and fell to the asphalt clutching his neck. The perpetrator sprinted down the block and disappeared at the next side street.

 

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Exclusive Excerpt: Death by Pride (a Kyle Callahan Mystery) by Mark McNease

Death by Pride

a Kyle Callahan Mystery

by Mark McNease

 

CHAPTER One

Killing wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. He expected to be a bit rusty after three years, but he had never anticipated this … dullness, this sense that, in the words of bluesman B.B. King, the thrill was gone. Maybe he had just been away from it too long; maybe he needed to get up to speed. The man whose body he deposited into the East River just before midnight was, after all, only the first in his current series. There would be two more before the week was out, and maybe the old rush would return with the next one. He had to trust it would, to believe as a child believes that Santa Claus is real and will come shimmying down the chimney every Christmas Eve. Or how Dorothy believed, clicking her slippers in that dreadful movie. That might be a more appropriate comparison, given the occasion. Click, click, click … and he was home.

He did not come all the way back to New York to resume his annual ritual for something as lackluster as this first kill. Had it been the young man himself whose death stirred so little response in him? What was his name? Victor? Victor Someone. Dense and inattentive; he had been too easy, and far too handsome. Cute, really. The kind of cute that becomes very sexual in manhood. Innocent smile, calculated shyness. Victor Someone knew exactly what he was doing flirting in the store that afternoon, and he had succeeded, much to his regret.

Unfortunately, Victor wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to kill as he was to look at. Too easy, too unchallenging. Like a cat who had no trouble capturing a wingless bird, he had not had fun with this one. He would have to analyze the experience, figure out why it had not been as satisfying as it was before, and what he might need to do to reignite his excitement. Did he need to be more brutal? Did he need to introduce tools into the game, a scalpel, perhaps, or a drill of some kind? He would think hard on it. A decision had to be made quickly; he’d already placed an online ad looking for the next one and the emails were flooding into his special account, the one no one would ever trace no matter how hard they tried. A phantom as elusive as he was deserved a phantom email routed through Chicago, then London and Tokyo, server after server erasing any clue to its origin.

Deidrich Kristof Keller III—D to everyone who knew him well (a thought that made him chuckle, since the only ones who truly knew him died with the knowledge) had only been back in his townhouse since March. His tenants, the ones he rented to when he left for Berlin to take care of his mother, had a lease through February and D had waited patiently for them to leave. A lovely young couple with two small children. He’d never met Susan and Oliver Storch—the rental had been arranged through an agent—but they had taken very good care of the place, he would give them that. And you would never know they had children; no stray toys were left behind, no evidence, really, that anyone had been there at all for the past three years. His kind of people.

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He was so glad to be back. He’d hated Berlin, all of Germany for that matter, though he saw very little of it and had no desire to see more. For D being German was as meaningless as someone being Scottish who had never been to Scotland, spoke with no brogue, and was only tied to the land by name and ancestry. His parents were from Germany, but they had moved to Anaheim, California, before D was born. His mother, Marta, returned to Berlin a broken, bitter woman, but that was not his fault. She was a coward. Cowardess? he wondered, making a cup of tea at his kitchen counter. It was an island counter, surrounded by a stove and refrigerator large enough to impress and too large to be practical—there was almost nothing in the refrigerator, and he rarely cooked. The entire townhouse was furnished for show—the furniture, the artwork, the paintings and photographs of nonexistent family members and forebears. It had been carefully put together to deceive. Anyone who came into his home would think he was just another wealthy man in New York City with a long lineage, should one wonder where he came from. Men with paintings of their grandfathers above a fireplace surely belonged in Manhattan’s upper reaches and had unquestionable pedigree. That was the point, to be unquestioned. By the time anyone got around to questioning him, to wondering about his authenticity, it was too late. He answered their questions with a belt around their necks. The belt he kept especially for them. You’re right, good man, I’m not who I appear to be. Please keep that to yourself. And they did.

He was tired now. He’d worked out how to get the bodies out of his house unnoticed some years ago, but he was getting older, forty-two this coming September. It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. And this one had been heavier than he’d guessed when he chose him.

Note to self: never, ever, pick a customer from the store again. No matter how cute or handsome, no matter how liquid and shining the eyes or seductive the smile. Stay online, stay hidden behind a dozen re-routers, change names each time, do not take this risk ever again.

He’d been away too long, losing his edge in his mother’s dreary Berlin apartment, saving himself for his return to the killing ground. He’d have to sharpen quickly; mistakes were something other people made. He’d made one this time—the only time in all his successes—and he would not make another one.

He would look at Victor Someone’s driver’s license in the morning. Sense memory was a beautiful thing, and nothing brought it back quite like his keepsakes. The license was his souvenir—his thirteenth. Lucky thirteen. The rest of the wallet stayed with the body. He wasn’t interested in making identification difficult. It didn’t matter if the police knew who had been killed, only that they would never find the man who did the killing.

It had been dark when he parked by the river. The new moon had worked to his favor, a first. No one had been around; he made sure no one saw a man with a heavy, strangely shaped object wrapped in black plastic trudging his way to the river’s edge. Then a simple heave and splash, and he was on his way home.

Bedtime at last. But before then, for a few minutes anyway, he wanted to go through those emails. He’d requested photos, knowing many of them would be old and meant to trick him, and that was okay. He was less interested in finding a man who looked exactly like his picture than he was in finding a man who made him want to kill. It was like falling in love with an image: he never knew which one it would be, but knew it when it happened. This one. Oh yes. This one will be here soon.

He turned off the kitchen light, took his tea cup with the little chain from the tea ball hanging over the side, and headed to his large master bedroom on the second floor. His laptop was open and waiting for him. He would sift through a dozen or so email responses and see if any of them struck his fancy. But first, the pictures of Victor. Victor Someone. He would enjoy those before sleeping. He always took pictures.

 

CHAPTER Two

*** Excerpt from Chapter Two

“Did you see Vinnie when you picked up the mail this morning?” Danny asked, stirring creamer into his coffee and taking it to the table. He sat next to Kyle and picked up the mail, flipping through it so see what was his. Leonard stayed in the kitchen, staring up at the coffee pot as if he could not understand there were no treats in it for him. Smelly, the wiser of the two, followed Danny to the table and perched at his feet, knowing he would eventually relent and get the pouch of fish-flavored nuggets for her.

“Come to think of it, no. The relief guy was on duty, what’s his name?”

“Dayton.”

“Dayton? That’s an unusual name.”

The building had doormen. It was a perk Kyle had never known before moving from Brooklyn into Danny’s apartment. It took a while to get used to, but not too long. Having someone open the door for you and receive packages and visitors was luxurious without being too elitist. Vinnie—Vincent Campagna—had the overnight shift and was among the most reliable doormen the building had ever had. He was in his mid-thirties, and in ten years on the door had not been off more than three or four times. This was the second night he’d called in.

“Is Vinnie sick?” Kyle asked, scanning the paper. The city’s new mayor was making changes, many of which were controversial and demanded above-the-fold coverage.

“No, it’s some family thing,” Danny said. “Something about his brother missing, I’m not sure. There’s not that much communication between tenants and the doormen, but I’ve heard things in the elevator.”

Kyle kept reading the paper. The mayor was pushing for some new legislation, the mayor was insisting on a vote his way by the City Council, the U.S. Congress was at a stalemate again. He flipped the paper over to see what news hadn’t made it to the top … and he froze. An article just below the fold was headlined, “Man Found in East River Identified, Police Searching for Clues.”

Kyle started reading the story.

“You know, I think Smelly’s finally losing weight,” Danny said, looking down at the cat. She had been pre-diabetic for several years, but every effort at trimming her down had failed. “Maybe it’s age.”

“Shh!” Kyle said, focused on the article

“What’s so interesting that you have to ‘shhh’ me?”

Kyle ignored him, reading. “What is Vinnie’s last name?” he said after a moment.

“Campagna. Vincent Campagna.”

“He has a brother.”

“Yes.”

“A brother who’s also a doorman.”

“Yes. I think their father was, too. A family tradition I guess, like the military. What are you reading? Is Vinnie in the news?”

“No, he’s not,” Kyle said, sliding the paper to the side. “But his brother, Victor, is.”

“In a good way, I hope,” Danny said, reaching for the paper to read about it himself.

“Not at all. In a bad way. A very bad way.”

Danny read the article quickly. “Oh my God,” he said.

“Oh my God is right. Victor Campagna is the body they found in the river Tuesday morning. You saw the story.”

“It was everywhere. But nothing about it being an accident or a murder.”

“This is awful.”

Smelly began meowing, an escalation of her demands for a treat. Kyle swatted her away with his free hand.

“He’s back,” Kyle said.

Danny looked up at him. The article hadn’t named a suspect. “Who is ‘he’?”

“The Pride Killer.”

Danny remembered then. Every year for four years at Pride weekend the East River had become a depository for victims of a man—assuming it was a man—who remained uncaught. The media had dubbed him the Pride Killer, because the murders only happened that weekend in June, stopping once the festivities were over. Then radio silence. No killing, no bodies, nothing for another year, and another.

“Three years,” Kyle said, as if he’d read Danny’s thoughts. “He stopped three years ago and they couldn’t figure out why. Everyone hoped he was dead, or that he’d come to his senses, if madmen have senses.”

“But the paper doesn’t say who—”

“It’s him. The hands and feet bound, the strangulation, the location of the body. Even if it traveled in the current they’ll trace it back to the general vicinity of where this guy dumps his bodies.”

“Now we know why Vinnie hasn’t been to work,” Danny said. “He must be devastated.”

“It says the body was found two nights ago. Poor Vinnie. And his family, I can’t imagine.”

The men grew silent. Smelly, sensing something was wrong, stopped her meowing and slinked off into the living room. She would get what she wanted, but later, when moods had returned to normal. Leonard was still staring at the coffee pot.

Finally, Kyle said, “He won’t stop.”

“How do you know that, if it’s even him? He stopped for three years.”

“Because this was the first. There will be a second, and a third. That’s the way he works.”

Danny had a sinking feeling. If timing was everything, it worked against them very well. Detective Linda visiting, a body in the East River; the stars had aligned in a way most displeasing to him as he watched Kyle’s face for the telltale glazed expression, the speeding, clicking thoughts. He worried Kyle would not stay out of it, and that sooner or later something terrible would happen to them. They were married now, together forever. What happened to one of them, happened to both of them.

“Listen, Kyle …”

“Don’t worry. This is one for the police.”

Danny had the feeling he had just been lied to. Not deliberately; Kyle had every intention of staying out of it. But it was his nature to wonder—wonder who this man was taking the lives of other men, where he lived, how he found his victims. Danny knew that as much as Kyle might try to ignore this, it would take root in his mind and grow until he had to do something.

“What’s cooking?” Detective Linda said, startling them both. Neither had heard her come out of the bedroom.

A sense of dread came over Danny as he blew across his coffee, cooling it. He knew Linda and Kyle would soon be lost in conversation about serial killers and floating bodies. Why can’t his husband just be an amateur photographer and a personal assistant? Why must he take it upon himself to rid the world of bad people? Sooner or later one of those bad people might rid the world of Kyle.

Buy link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QGVQCLS/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_A.1Iub022E2RB

 

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT – The Best Corpse For The Job by Charlie Cochrane

Excerpt:

Inspector Bright, looking just as attractive as he’d had earlier—maybe more so, given that his collar had clearly been loosened a bit—stood on the step, smiling. “Thanks for seeing me. I know it’s a bit late, but the more we can get sorted early on, the better.”

“Not got your sergeant with you?” Adam, trying not to sound too pleased about that fact, ushered his guest into the hallway.

“He’s got the job of contacting Ian Youngs’s family. I got the long straw for once.”

Adam wasn’t sure how to answer that, apart from showing the way to the kitchen and hiding his grin. “Bloody awful job that must be. How can you bear to do it?”

“I was going to say you get hardened to it, but I suspect if you did, you’d be no use at it.” Robin slipped onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar, then took out a notebook and pen. “Black coffee, please,” he said, in response to Adam’s gesture towards the coffeemaker. “This house is really nice. I thought teachers were poorly paid.”

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“We are.” Adam poured the drinks. “This was my grandparents’ cottage. As their only grandchild, they left it to me. I’d rather still have them here and be a lodger or something.” Oh God. Already pouring my heart out. “Sugar?”

“No. Just as it comes, thanks.” Robin took the mug. “Have you always lived around here?”

“God no. Born and brought up in Hampshire.” Adam fetched his drink and a plate of biscuits—maybe he’d get his appetite back?—over to the breakfast bar. “One of life’s coincidences, the job at Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s coming up just about the same time I got this place. And a bit of a promotion—inclusion coordinator as well as class teacher.” Nerves were getting the better of his tongue. Shut up with the life story.

“I bet you think that’s a two-edged sword, now. Being at St. Crispin’s.”

“You mean because of this murder?”

“Not just that.” Robin took one of the biscuits, tapping the crumbs off but not eating it. “It’s not exactly a high-flying place.”

Adam shrugged. “I knew it wasn’t all the local reputation cracked it up to be. It was going downhill even before I got there, in case you think I’m the one who scuppered it.”

Robin laughed, wearily. “It’s always had a high opinion of itself.”

“I don’t know, it’s . . .” A scratching noise at the back door made them both turn round. “Excuse me. That’s Campbell.” Adam hopped off his chair.

“Campbell?”

“The dog. I inherited him with the house too. Come in, boy.” He opened the door for a large Newfoundland to make a regal entrance. “Does he bother you? I’ll lock him in the bedroom if he does.”

“No. I like dogs.” Robin tapped his leg, encouraging Campbell to come over for a pat. “I don’t have the regular hours to let me keep one.”

Adam slipped back onto his chair. Funny how the arrival of the dog had eased the atmosphere immediately, creating a common point of contact that had nothing to do with dead bodies or schools. “Unlike us teachers with our allegedly short days and long holidays.”

“I didn’t say that.” Robin smiled, caressing Campbell affectionately behind the ear.

“You’ve made a friend. Just don’t give him any biscuits. He’s spoiled enough.”

“Noted.” Robin flashed another one of his devastating, dark-eyed smiles. “You were saying?”

“I was going to say that there are plenty of people who’d leap at the chance to run the school.” Adam watched the interaction of dog and rozzer. George had never really established more than a wary truce with Campbell, even when he’d been living here for weeks on end. Didn’t they say that animals knew? “If someone comes in and turns us around, it’ll be a real feather in his or her cap. Campbell!”

The dog, suitably chastened, took his nose out of Robin’s pocket where it might have hoped to find a stray custard cream.

“Where’s your chewy toy? Go find it. Go on, boy.”

Campbell, reluctantly, went to his bed, rooting around under it.

“He’s a daft beggar. I’m sure it’s not there. Still, it’ll keep him out of mischief.” Adam sighed. “For whoever gets the headteacher job, there’s every chance it’ll turn out to be this year St. Crispin’s, and two years down the line some failing inner-city primary school with a mega salary to boot. People should be falling over themselves to get it.”

“Really?” Robin made a sour face, swiftly hidden. “If the job’s such a plum, then why did nobody decent apply the first time?”

Campbell, proving his owner wrong, waddled over with a teddy bear firmly clenched in his jaws, depositing the vile object in Robin’s lap.

“I said you’d made a friend. You’ll have to pretend to be pleased, even if it’s revolting.” Adam found the sight of dog and man together strangely comforting.