The History of a Mystery (Series) – Discussing Dick Hardesty by Dorien Grey

The History of a Mystery (Series)

by Dorien Grey

Few readers know…or, probably, care…about the evolution of the books they read. And while there is no real reason why such things should concern them, those interested in writing and writers can find a little backstory on a book or a series of interest.

There’s been a lot going on with my 15-book Dick Hardesty mystery series of late, and some of it is a little confusing, both to readers and to myself. So, for those interested, I’d like to present little crash course in its history.

The first Dick Hardesty mystery was published in 2001. I had a devil of a time finding a publisher, but finally found one—GLB Publications out of San Francisco—willing to take it on. The title was The Ninth Man, and it was released only in e-book format. It did so well, I wrote a second book, The Butcher’s Son, as a prequel, to explain how Dick Hardesty became a p.i., and it came out as a paperback. The Ninth Man was then released as a paperback making, technically and confusingly, The Butcher’s Son the “first” book of the series and The Ninth Man the second.

Dorien

Bill Lee, the owner and publisher of GLB, was a fascinating guy. A retired military doctor and a strident gay activist, he had certain rock-bound views and opinions which proved to be sometimes counterproductive to his writers. He would not allow any GLB book to be distributed by any distributor which did not have a specific “Gay-Lesbian” category. This thereby eliminated the possibility of my books being made available through Fictionwise, then the largest distributor of e-books. GLB issued its own e-books. He also had some rather unusual but deeply held beliefs on gay life. He did not, for example, believe in monogamy. For the first four books of the Dick Hardesty series, Dick is rather promiscuous. But in the fifth book, The Good Cop, I decided to give Dick a monogamous relationship, which did not go over well with Bill.

Our relationship became more strained over the course of the next five books until, with the release of book #10 of the series, The Paper Mirror, I was given the choice of either returning Dick to his promiscuous ways or having GLB drop the series. Reluctantly, I chose the latter. Luckily, Zumaya Publishing, which had published my gay western/romance/adventure novel, Calico, which GLB had rejected because the protagonist shot people….it’s a western, for Pete’s sake!…offered to pick up the series, and subsequently produced five more books in the series.

When Bill Lee, who had been battling cancer for a few years, died, GLB folded and it’s stockpile of published books was destroyed, leaving its ten Dick Hardesty books effectively out of print. Zumaya stepped in and agreed to reissue all ten books. However, adding ten books to its already full production schedule involved long delays. Patience was never one of my virtues, and I grew increasingly restive with the pace of the reissues. I’m afraid my incessant “when will the next one come out?” questions understandably wore heavily on Zumaya and it was suggested that I might look for yet another publisher.

Serendipitously, Jay Hartman, an internet friend from the very start of the series had started his own publishing company, Untreed Reads. He had for several years said that he would be happy to take on the series should the chance ever arise. So I turned to him and, with sincere thanks to Liz Burton of Zumaya for her cooperation, the entire Dick Hardesty Mystery series is switching from Zumaya to Untreed Reads.

Nothing, however, is simple. When the transfer became effective on January 1, 2015, Zumaya cut all ties to the series (though it continues to carry Calico and the Elliott Smith Mystery series) and all 15 print and e-book versions became all but unavailable until Untreed Reads can reissue them, at the projected rate of one book every other month. The first of these reissues, The Butcher’s Son, has been released, with The Ninth Man to follow in early February.

The five audiobooks of the series will remain readily available.

And there you have the rather checkered history of the Dick Hardesty Mystery series. I hope that if you have not already read all—or any—of them, you might start out on this new journey with me. I’d very much appreciate it.

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Exclusive Excerpt – Boystown 4 – A Time For Secrets – by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 4 – A Time for Secrets

by Marshall Thornton

“You owe me five pounds of potatoes,” the man said, and I had no idea what he was talking about. His name was Ronald Meek, and he’d shown up at my office unannounced. He was in his mid-sixties, far too thin, with a hawk’s nose and a few tufts of tea-colored hair.

He arrived while I was in the middle of packing my files into some beat-up cardboard boxes I’d gotten from behind the Jewel. My landlord had finally decided to tear down the south Loop building, where my office had been located for a couple of years, and put up a building twice as big. They sent me a flyer inviting me to rent from them again in fall 1984 when the building would be finished. Of course, I’d have to win the Pick Three or marry some fat old heiress to do it. So I figured chances were slim I’d be back.

I’d rented a new office up on Clark Street a few blocks from my apartment in a neighborhood that was sometimes called Boystown and sometimes called New Town, depending generally on which team you batted for. Of course, I had no idea how I’d get all my crap up there but figured I’d manage. I had three days left before I had to be out, so I kept packing while I talked to Meek.

“Five pounds of potatoes?” I asked. “Do you want to explain that?”

“You don’t remember me? I’m crushed.” He put on a face that mocked sadness.

I stopped what I was doing and took a closer look at him. The summer sun was bouncing off the building across LaSalle Street, so I got a little more light than usual. Otherwise, I might not have noticed that Meek was wearing makeup, subtly applied and covered with a light dusting of powder. On another man it might have seemed odd, but it went well with Meek’s green velvet blazer and paisley ascot. He sat in my guest chair with his legs crossed and a hand tucked under his chin. He reminded me of an overdressed praying mantis. None of this was familiar, though. I was sure I didn’t know him.

Boystown 4 Cover 2nd Edition2

“You’re going to have to give me a clue,” I said, opening the bottom drawer of my desk and finding a two-year-old reverse phone book, back issues of Crain’s Chicago Business, and a company directory for First Chicago, something I was not supposed to have. I put everything into a box.

“I’m your knight in shining armor,” Meek said.

All his coyness began to piss me off. “Look, whatever this is about, just come out and say it.”

He took a deep breath and began. “One night about five years ago, I heard a commotion outside my window. I opened my window and looked down to find some young ruffians attacking a nice gay couple on the sidewalk below. Soooo…I got a bag of potatoes and started dropping them on the goons. A few minutes later they ran away.” He leaned over to make this point, “I saved your ass, Mr. Nowak. Though you hardly seemed grateful.”

Now I remembered him. I didn’t want to, but I did. My ex-lover, Daniel, and I had been coming home drunk from a bar when the kids jumped us. I wasn’t hurt, but Daniel ended up having a couple of surgeries to rebuild his cheekbone after getting hit square in the face by a baseball bat. I imagine all that surgery must have been extremely unpleasant. I wouldn’t know because we broke up that night, and I never got around to asking when our relationship had briefly rekindled the previous winter. By then his face looked good, too good, and we were, well, occupied.

“Other than receiving my undying thanks, is there a reason you stopped by?” I asked, giving up on packing and sitting back in my chair.

“You’re a private investigator?”

“It says so on the door.” Aside from the door with my name on it, my office boasted a desk, some filing cabinets, the guest chair Meek sat in, a half-dozen, half-filled cardboard boxes, and a dead plant I was considering moving to my new office solely for sentimental reasons. None of the stuff was any good; I could probably have just thrown it all away and started over.

“There’s someone I’d like to find. I thought you’d be right for the job.” He shifted in the chair as I waited for him to continue, his bravado fading. “He’s someone I once loved. We had a brief but quite intense affair. I suppose you’d say he’s the one who got away. I’m not getting any younger and I thought, if not now when?”

“What’s his name?”

“Vernon.”

“Does Vernon have a last name?” I was already afraid of the answer.

“I think it began with an S. Or maybe an M,” he said, naming the two largest sections of the phone book. “The last time I saw Vernon, he was throwing a party in his apartment at the Edgewater Arms. It was April 22, 1959.”

“Twenty-three years ago?”

“Yes.”

I sighed. “What was the apartment number?”

He shrugged.

“You know the exact date, but you don’t know Vernon’s last name or his apartment number? That doesn’t make sense.”

“I keep a journal. On April 22, 1959 I wrote, ‘Went to a divine party at Vernon’s apartment in the Edgewater Arms. The view was amazing. Vernon was delightful. We all drank too much, and Vernon was very witty. We kissed on the roof under the stars.’ Well, we more than kissed, but discretion forbids.”

“Why didn’t you ever see him again?”

He sighed. “I’m not sure someone your age can understand. In the fifties, we were degenerates. Perverts. Sickos. To many of us, the idea of forming a relationship, having a real lover, well it barely entered our minds. We were told we couldn’t have that, that it wasn’t in our nature. We didn’t dare contradict that. Nowadays things are so different. If I were your age and I met Vernon today, well…I would make different choices, let me tell you.” He smiled in what he thought was a demure way. “Can’t you help me, please?”

“Is that all you know about Vernon? He was good kisser who lived at the Edgewater Arms?”

“No, not all. I know lots of things.”

“Like?”

“He’d been in the Navy. He was a Republican. He worked as a hairdresser on Oak Street, and the ladies called him Mr. Vernon. He was quite popular.”

“Have you tried to find him yourself?” I asked.

“Oh, I couldn’t. I’d have no idea where to start.”

“Detective work isn’t rocket science. It’s mostly paperwork.” And the occasional gunfight, I thought but didn’t mention.

“I don’t just want to find him,” he admitted. “I’m hoping you’ll give him a message for me. Tell him that I’d like to see him, that I’d like to talk over old times. If he’s willing.”

“And if he says no?”

“Then that’s all you have to tell me.”

Something was a little off about the whole thing and I had a bad feeling, or maybe the grilled ham and cheese sandwich I’d had for lunch wasn’t sitting well. I couldn’t be sure. Given the few scraps of information he’d provided, I didn’t think I’d be able to do a lot for him. I didn’t want to rip him off. No, it wasn’t the sandwich. My gut said not to take the case. On the other hand, my bank account said I was about to start bouncing checks.

I dug around in a cardboard box and found an index card. I slid it across my now empty desk. “Write down the message,” I said. “Write it down exactly as you want me to say it.”

While he did that I told him my rates. He swallowed hard when I asked for a two hundred and fifty dollar retainer, but he handed me the message and took a checkbook out of his inside jacket pocket. He wrote me a check.

“I hope you’ll get started as soon as you can,” he said, sliding the check across my desk.

I glanced at it; his bank was on the other side of the Loop. As soon as I walked over and cashed the check, I’d get started.

“Sure thing,” I said.

He said his goodbyes and rose to leave. Before he got to the door, I asked, “How did you find me?”

“You’re listed in the phone book.”

“My name is, yes, but I don’t remember introducing myself the night we met.”

“Oh.” He blushed. “There was a police investigation afterward. Don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“The policeman who came by my apartment asked if I knew you, and not very nicely. I think he was hoping that the three of us knew one another and were somehow trying to con four nice kids from the suburbs.”

That didn’t sound far off. I was a cop then myself. It wasn’t just that cops didn’t like fags. Some cops didn’t like victims much either and seemed to delight in turning things around and making them guilty. If you were a fag and a victim you didn’t stand a chance. It was no surprise the CPD never bothered to find those four nice kids from the suburbs, which at the time didn’t bother me much. There were a couple of days when I even thought the whole thing might blow over and I’d get to hold onto my job. I stonewalled in the two interviews they tried to have with me. But then copies of the police report and Daniel’s statement made the rounds of the department.

“And, of course, I met Daniel,” Meek said.

“You did?”

“I went to see him in the hospital. He’s a nice young man.”

“Yes. He is a very nice young man.”

“He was grateful for my help.”

I nodded.

“Are the two of you still…?” Meek asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No. I’m with someone else now.”

“I guess that’s the way of the world,” he said, and floated out of my office.

 

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Exclusive Excerpt – The Butcher’s Son, A Dick Hardesty Mystery by Dorien Grey

The Butcher’s Son, a Dick Hardesty Mystery by Dorien Grey
Exclusive Excerpt:
At the moment, I was being rather embarrassingly overpaid by a
small public relations firm, Carlton Carlson & Associates. The
reason for the high salary was that CC&A was run by the rear end
of a horse with a monumental ego, and the only way he could keep
help was by paying them so much they couldn’t afford to go
elsewhere.
He had, thanks to his rich wife’s family connections, passably
juggled the careers of one or two fairly well-known clients over the
years. Now, he had volunteered his—that is to say, his staff’s—
services in the promotion and setup of a press conference for the
chief of police’s contemplated assault on the governor’s mansion.
His magnanimous gesture was hardly altruistic, since C.C. viewed
it as his key to taking over the chief’s entire campaign.
Dorien
The task wouldn’t be an easy one, as anyone with his head a
little less far up his behind than my boss would readily have
recognized. The chief’s political beliefs fell considerably to the right
of Attila the Hun’s, and he ran his department like Vlad the
Impaler. Need I add that he loathed homosexuals? His tact,
diplomacy, and delicate handling of any problem involving the gay
community had, among some gays, earned him the nickname “The
Butcher.”
But his methods, however reprehensible, had kept the local
crime rate in check, and he had, until now, maintained an extremely
low personal profile.
If the chief managed to win the primaries—his opponent was
one Marlen Evans, a moderately popular but lackluster state
senator—he would be pretty much a shoo-in, since the incumbent
governor’s wildly liberal policies had alienated the most powerful
lobbying groups in the state.
The first step in humanizing the inhuman, my boss decided, was
to play up the chief’s warm and loving family life. Guess who got
stuck with gathering homey bits about this little nuclear holocaust?
Yep, yours truly. The fact that, up until now, very few people had
any idea, or the slightest interest, that the chief had a license to
breed, let alone that he had exercised it five times, left me a pretty
open field.
We started by building a rather anemic file of newspaper photos
and articles. The chief’s wife Kathleen was always on hand at
functions that required the presence of a spouse, but she generally
blended so well with the wallpaper she was almost impossible to
pick out if there were more than three people in the picture. Of the
children, there was almost nothing known except that the eldest son
was a minister, and the chief had recently become a grandfather.
It was, therefore, decreed that I, together with a freelance writer
noted for never having met a subject she didn’t like and a
photographer selected for his Vaseline-lensed portrait work—both
handpicked by C.C. himself—would be sent out to meet with the
entire family. The object was getting a feature story into the Sunday
supplement of the city’s leading newspaper. My purpose for being
there was a bit vague, other than to ride herd on the writer and
photographer and to steer them clear of the unlikely possibility they
might touch on anything that could smack of controversy.
I viewed the entire project with the same enthusiasm as I’d
anticipate a root canal, but I had little choice.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries

From “Little Boy Blond”

Sex and money mess most things up. That’s what people think, anyway. And I used to agree. These days, I’m thinking love can mess things up pretty badly, too. Sometimes it can mess things up a whole lot worse.

Paradise Isle reopened on a Friday night at the beginning of October. Davey Edwards rented a klieg light and put it out front. It was good advertising, but I think the main reason he got it was to piss off the neighbors who’d done their best to prevent the nightclub’s reopening—though all they’d managed to do was get it postponed by a month.

I stood under a banner that screamed GRAND REOPENING to check IDs and keep a head count. Davey had decided to skip the cover charge that night in hopes of creating a line around the block behind a velvet rope. It worked. Though at times I had to keep the crowd inside at about twenty-five heads below the number the fire marshal allows so the line stayed populated. Davey had taken a full-page ad in Gay Times, but a line winding down Broadway was better advertising.

Inside, the club had been not only re-created but reinvented. Where there had once been a Plexiglas dance floor, there was now a gleaming expanse of polished black linoleum right out of a Busby Berkley musical. Davey had recreated the neon palm trees and the thatched roofing that had always hung over the bar, but added sturdy, five-foot Grecian pillars on each corner of the dance floor. For opening weekend, there were go-go boys dancing on each pillar in tiny Speedos—consequently, no one asked what Grecian pillars had to do with a tropical theme. Gone were the tacky Hawaiian shirts and the leis he’d once passed out; remaining were the sweaty, bare-chested bartenders.

Miss Minerva Jones wore a spangled mini-dress, white patent-leather platforms, and a pink beehive wig that put her over seven feet tall. As DJ, she’d been planning this night for months. She and Davey had gone round and round about what would be played. “I Will Survive” seemed like a natural, given that the club was literally rising from the ashes. Miss Minerva would only agree to play it twice, though. Davey wanted it every hour on the hour. They also had friction over Blondie, the Police, and Devo. Davey sensed competition from a couple of New Wave clubs that had recently opened. Miss Minerva was a purist, whose tastes ran to classic, urban disco. A single request for Abba could upset her for an entire evening. Still, she acquiesced and played “Call Me,” “Whip It,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” once each.

Boystown 2 Cover 2nd Edition2

The evening was a huge success, and by two a.m. my feet were killing me. I needed to get out of my size twelve Frye boots and into a tub of hot water. Usually, my shift ended an hour earlier when business started to taper off; that night, people kept coming. Finally, though, the tides turned and more people were leaving than coming, and Davey came over and told me to get myself a drink. I headed over to the bar and ordered a beer and a shot of Jack. I downed the shot and lit a Marlboro.

The go-go boys were still dancing. By that point, they were all pretty tired, and some of them were having trouble keeping the beat. I figured they had about fifteen more minutes before exhaustion set in and they fell off their pedestals. On the one nearest me, a stocky blond gyrated and bounced. I’d had my eye on him most of the night. His floppy hair, prominent cheekbones, and faint dimple in his chin had caught my attention early on. I also liked that his body was thick, well muscled, and had patches of light brown hair on his chest and belly. His crooked smile didn’t hurt, either. I sipped my beer and stole looks at him. He noticed my attention and started playing with the band of his blue and white Speedo. Dollar bills were tucked into the trunks, giving his basket a crunchy look. I looked up at his face and caught him smiling at me.

Davey came over and I had to take my eyes off the dancer. A kid was with Davey. Tall and gangly, with an Adam’s apple that could cut glass. The kid looked like a freshman in college. I wondered for a moment if he was Davey’s nephew.

“Great night,” I said to Davey.

He nodded and said, “It’ll do.” I knew something was up, since Davey wasn’t normally shy about basking in success. “Nick, this is Martin Dalton. He owns The Jewel Box.”

I was surprised. I’d heard of The Jewel Box; it was a theater somewhere in Old Town that specialized in showing gay porn films and turning a blind eye when the patrons got friendly with each other. I didn’t think someone so young could be associated with some place that notorious, much less own it.

I shook Martin’s hand. It was warm and damp. “We also make films,” he added. I waited to see why that was important.

“Martin is in need of your services,” Davey explained.

The bulk of my business is background checks. I doubted there was much point in that type of service when it came to triple X actors, so I asked, “What happened? One of your actors run off in the middle of a scene?”

Martin shook his head and said, “No. He was murdered.”

Usually, I flat-out tell people no when they bring up murder. It’s not that I hadn’t investigated murder before, but I did really try not to. This time, I lit a cigarette and said, “Tell me about it.”

“My biggest star was beaten to death in his kitchen,” Martin explained.

“Dex Summers,” Davey added, though it didn’t mean much to me.

“Sounds domestic,” I said, not because it did so much but because most murders are. “The police will figure it out soon enough.”

He shrugged. “In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of aldermen trying to use it as a reason to shut me down.”

“You gotta help him out, Nick,” Davey said.

I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe I was titillated by the idea of porn, or maybe it annoyed me that a couple politicians were trying to get ahead by using this poor guy’s murder, or maybe I just wanted to go home and figured Davey wouldn’t let me until I’d said ‘yes.’ No matter what the reason, I crushed out my cigarette and asked Martin Dalton for a retainer.

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Exclusive Excerpt:Boystown(#1)Three Nick Nowak Mysteries by Marshall Thornton

Exclusive Excerpt:

Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries by Marshall Thornton

From “Little Boy Burned”

 

That Valentine’s Day I was sleeping alone—by choice.

I was in the middle of a sex dream about the kid in that island movie that came out last year, the one about the boy and girl who get shipwrecked, run around mostly naked, and eventually learn about sex. In my dream, though, there wasn’t any girl on the island, and things between the kid and I had begun to get hot and heavy when the phone rang.

“Yeah,” I said, untangling my hard-on from my twisted boxers. I glanced at the clock. It was 6:12 a.m. I’d slept a little more than two hours.

“Nick, it’s Ross.” His voice was electric. “Something’s happened. Paradise is on fire.”

“I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”

Boystown 1 Cover 2nd Edition2

I worked the door at Paradise Isle two nights a week and had for a couple of years. Ross was one of the bartenders and my occasional fuck buddy. The nightclub, which we usually called just Paradise, was part of a string of brick storefronts down on Broadway right above Diversey. Ross and I had both finished shifts just hours before.

Groggy and a little horny, I threw on some clothes and ran out to find a cab. It had been easier to find one at three a.m. In the wee hours of a Sunday, cabs cruised around ready to take late-night revelers home. But by six-thirty they’d become scarce. It took almost ten minutes, but I finally got one, and it zipped me down Clark to Diversey. We couldn’t make the V turn to get onto Broadway because fire trucks blocked the way. I paid the driver and hopped out.

I got there about six-forty. Smoke was still pouring out of the top of the building, but it looked like the fire was winding down. The sky in the east had turned pink, and I figured the sun would be up in a few minutes. The air was frigid cold, but at least it wasn’t snowing. Two big, red fire trucks sat in front of the bar. Hoses crisscrossed the street. Firemen scuttled back and forth; the sidewalk slick with icy water, washing away the dirty snow that currently graced most curbs in Chicago.

I saw our DJ, Miss Minerva Jones, standing on the east side of Broadway in a small crowd. I made my way over. I’d never seen Miss Minerva out of a dress. Usually she favored wrap-around silk disco dresses, six-inch heels, over-teased blond wigs, and a dusting of glitter. That morning, though, she wore a pair of Sergio Valente jeans with their bull’s-head logo stitched into the back pockets and a gray parka. She’d left her wig at home and made a half-hearted attempt to take off her makeup. Whiskers were starting to poke their way through the remaining streaks of foundation.

When she saw me, she growled, “Every album I own is in there.” In the DJ booth, there were about five milk crates stuffed with the best disco ever recorded. “My life is ruined,” she moaned.

“What happened?” I asked.

“No one knows. I was getting ready for bed when I heard the sirens.” Miss Minerva had a studio apartment a block away on Clark Street. “They kept getting louder and louder. When they stopped, I knew. I called Davey and then Ross.”

I looked around and saw the owner, Davey, and Ross talking with a fireman. Ross was wearing a long, gray wool coat that was actually mine. He’d borrowed it a couple weeks back and now seemed unwilling to return it. Too thin for this weather, the only way I got away with wearing it in winter was to layer up with a corduroy blazer, a flannel shirt, and a T-shirt. Ross wasn’t wearing anything underneath but a BVD T-shirt. Even from where I stood, I could see him shivering.

“Bernie was inside,” Miss Minerva said flatly. Bernie was another of the bartenders. I didn’t know him well. He’d started on the afternoon shift and had only recently begun working the peak nights, Friday and Saturday. I had noticed that, like all of Davey’s bartenders, he was a very good-looking boy.

“Is he dead?” I asked.

“No. He’s burned pretty bad. They took him to the hospital a few minutes ago.” She was sullen, seeming to grind her expensive caps.

“What time did this start?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Not long ago. Close to six?”

“What was Bernie doing here at six in the morning?

“Sleeping in the storeroom,” Miss Minerva said. Then with a roll of her eyes she added, “Boyfriend trouble.”

I nodded, then headed over to join Davey, Ross, and the fireman. As I walked over, I noticed that an axe had been used to get through the front door where I usually stood checking IDs and keeping an eye out for trouble.

Davey and Ross greeted me, and I patted Davey on the shoulder.

The fireman wore stiff, yellow turnout gear that made him seem enormous. His face was smudged with soot, and he smelled like sweet, acrid smoke. He explained, “It appears the fire began near the bar or possibly even behind it. Accelerants were used, but it could have been bottles of liquor.”

“151 Rum would have done it,” said Ross.

“It’s arson,” the fireman said bluntly.

Davey went pale. “Someone did this on purpose?”

“We’re not finding any signs of forced entry.”

“What does that mean?” Davey asked.

“It could mean a lot of things,” I interrupted. Davey didn’t seem to understand the situation, but I did, and I didn’t think he should say anything else. The fireman gave me a look. His eyes were a sharp blue. We stared each other down for a moment. And then he said, “I’ll be back to talk to you later.” He walked away.

Davey shook his head, confused. Paradise was his world. It was the second bar he’d put together. The first had been called The Cellar and had a five-year run in Old Town. He’d hit at just the right time. Disco was big then, and there had been long lines around the block on Fridays and Saturdays. Paradise Isle was successful, but not on the same scale.

Ross pulled out a pack of Camel Lights. He offered me one, and I took it. We lit up and smoked for a minute. “If there are no signs of forced entry, it means that whoever started the fire was let in or had a key,” I explained.

“They had a key?” Davey wondered. “How would they get a key?”

“They might have hidden somewhere,” suggested Ross. “In the bathroom maybe?”

I took a drag on my cigarette and said, “The thing is, Davey, you’re gonna be the most likely suspect.”

He blushed a little. “I have an alibi.” Davey had a much younger, Asian boyfriend who barely spoke English and called the bar if Davey was five minutes late leaving.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “You could have hired someone to start the fire.”

“I love this place. I would never burn it down.”

“You have insurance, right?”

He nodded.

“That’s your motive.”

“What, they think I burned the place down so I could redecorate?”

I smiled. “That’s a better reason than some I’ve heard.”

“I have to go to the hospital and see how Bernie’s doing,” Davey said, as though to himself. He walked away without saying goodbye. Then he turned and came back.

“Find out,” he said. “Find out who did this.”

 

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