The Three Faces of James: Interviewing the ever talented, James Lear

James, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.  


Let’s start off with, where do you live?

London. I’ve lived here since I was 18, and I’ve been in this particular bit of south London since the 80s. I’ve thought about leaving a million times but I just can’t seem to tear myself away.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I’m married with one child, whom we adopted a couple of years ago. I’ve been with my husband for over 20 years, we became ‘civil partners’ in 2009 and are about to convert that into marriage; we’re kind of riding the crest of a lot of legislative change in the UK. That includes changes to adoption law, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I was a journalist for over 20 years, and before that an academic, so I’ve always been writing for a living. I started writing fiction properly in the late 90s, and my first novel was published in 1998. I’ve lost count of how many novels I’ve written since then. Over twenty.

I understand from reading your bio there was a time when you were frustrated with your writing career, a friend suggested you try writing erotica, hence the birth of James Lear. Was switching gears really that simple?

James Lear_The Hardest Thing

Yes, absolutely. I was having trouble getting my literary fiction published, and a friend told me that he knew an editor who was looking for gay porn. My fiction always had a fair bit of sex in it, I like writing about sex, and so it was just a question of foregrounding the sex and making it the main event. While there are certain key differences between erotic fiction and literary fiction, you still have the same basic duty to tell a good story, well structured, with lots of drama. It’s not actually that different, there’s just a lot more penis.

Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

They’re all based on people I know. Most of the guys in the erotic novels are based on men I’ve known or seen at the gym. I can’t actually have sex with them in real life, so this is a good way of getting all that lust out of my system. Sometimes I see men I’ve just been writing about and I think ‘you have no idea what you are getting up to in my new book…’. Some of the protagonists of my novels represent aspects of me – usually nerdy, bookish young men who get involved in doomed relationships with straight guys. That was the story of my young adulthood and it’s a theme to which I seem to return a lot.

What was your inspiration creating the salaciously hunky-hunk, Mitch Mitchell, in the spectacular Mitch Mitchell Mysteries trilogy featuring the sexually charged detective?  

I wanted to create a character who was cheerfully, shamelessly horny, but who also had sufficient brain power to sort out a few mysteries. Mitch uses sex as a way of investigating his cases – he’s always ready to delve into areas that others won’t go. He manages to have sex three or four times a day, but hey, this is fiction. The actual physical character was based on a very sexy American jock who used to go to my gym; he had that cocky confidence that just made me want to fuck his brains out. Mitch is about to return, actually: I’m currently writing a new story for him.

I was excited as hell to come across your latest novel, The Hardest Thing, to discover what I feel is a gay “Jack Reacher” or “John Rain”. There are simply too few gay hard-boiled, rough and tough, ex-military bass-ass thrillers in my opinion? What influenced you to create Dan Stagg?    

I was reading Lee Child, simple as that. I think his books are absolutely saturated with homo-erotic potential – not sure whether he’d see it that way, mind you. All the Lear novels take a solid literary model and then fill it with gay sex. Agatha Christie inspired the Mitch Mitchell novels, and Lee Child inspired the Dan Staggs. I wanted to create quite a dark, miserable character, like Jack Reacher, who has difficulty distinguishing between love and sex.

Have you received criticism from readers and/or reviewers for showcasing Dan Stagg’s active libido?


Criticism of the Lear novels falls into two categories. A) ‘This is a great thriller spoiled by too much sex’ and B) ‘This is a porn novel spoiled by too much plot’. You can’t please everyone, can you? I try to get the balance right, but make no mistake, these are erotic novels and their main purpose is to get the reader off. It always makes me laugh when people complain about the amount of sex. It’s like people buying a porn video and complaining that the dialogue isn’t good enough. I try to keep the literary standards high, because that enhances the reading experience, but really I want people to get turned on and have a wank. That’s the kind of ‘review’ I’m looking for.

Will readers get more of (my favorite) former US Army Major, Dan Stagg, in future mystery/thriller novels?

He rides again in a new novel entitled Straight Up, which comes out in the summer. As usual he’s made a complete hash of his private life and is trying to forget about it by having as much sex as possible, while getting into a very dangerous plot involving ex-members of a USMC black ops team.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

As Rupert Smith, my latest release is Interlude, a story about a young woman who discovers a massive gay secret in her family history. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. As James Lear, there’s Straight Up in the summer, and I’m currently writing a new Mitch Mitchell mystery, which is set on a Mediterranean island. It’s my tribute to Evil Under the Sun and so on.


On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.


Find James Lear/Rupert Smith on the web:





Exclusive Excerpt: Lambda Award Finalist, The Next, by Rafe Haze

Exclusive Excerpt:

The Next


Rafe Haze

Chapter Eight

My own piano sat against the wall, buried in debris. I began to remove the shit off it—the moldy sweater, the electronic power supply cords whose recipients had jumped ship years ago, thumbed paperbacks, discarded Starbucks cups. I lifted the keyboard cover.

TheNext_cvr (5)

My fingers drifted over the keys without pressing down. They hovered over F sharp two octaves above middle C. If I pressed down, the commitment to that one tone would cement the path that leads to the next, leading to the cementing of the next, and then the next. What if, at the end of the path, I churned out some uninspired, pedestrian, shitty song, reinforcing what a failure I’d become in a brand new way? That first note bore the weight of forty years of largely unsuccessful attempts at a career, the loss and disdain of a woman most men in Manhattan would give their left nut to hold at night, and the responsibility of finding out if the future had even the slightest bit of light in it.

My finger remained suspended above the keyboard, unable to commit.

Andrea Bocelli echoed through the window from the courtyard, mourning epically with exquisite tragedy. A fuck-lovely perfection I may never know. I turned to the window to identify which neighbor was responsible for this random choice of entertainment.

Mr. and Mrs. Perfect’s apartment was empty…oh wait…no. Mr. Perfect emerged from the kitchen dressed in a suit, his head cocked to one side as he propped an iPhone against his ear. He spoke in an assured and patient manner, casually glancing out the window, then sauntering toward the other side of the house. His undirected stride was paced to the rhythm of his conversation. He was alone. I guess the family went to play in the snow in the country without him this weekend. But Bocelli was not coming from his apartment. But then, from where was it emanating? I lowered my eyes…

The Princess.

She sat at her dressing table, fussing with the seams of her sleeves. She was dressed in a gauzy navy-blue dress interwoven with silver threads, her hair up in a tight bun. When I’d last seen The Princess, she wore no more than jeans and an American Apparel stretch t-shirt. Unless she got a significant six-figure bump in her salary, I had no idea how she afforded an exquisitely tailored couture dress as a single girl in her twenties living in the heart of Manhattan in a small studio apartment. Did she have a sugar daddy? Did a parent die? Did she catch the boss cheating?

The romantic vocal strains wafted lushly from a CD player near her bed, accompanying her application of makeup to her cheeks, her lips, and her eyelashes as she carefully contoured herself to the ideal of ladyhood, obscuring every blemish, covering any millifraction of imperfection. She finally reached up to her bun and removed a pin. Her long dark locks fell down past her shoulders. She proceeded to run her fingers through them, smoothing every last strand with her fingers, a concerned look on her face.

How could anyone live with that much pressure to be perfect every second of every hour of every day? What was at risk for her if she weren’t perfect? She was young—barely drinking age—so she still had lots of time. What was so imperfect about her interior that required that much overcompensating on the outside, right down to the final dab of perfume on her neck from the lid of the tiny ornate pink glass bottle?

Rafe Haze wants you to check this out

When I was completing a song, staying up for forty-eight hours in a row perfecting every last cadence, every last sixteenth note, every last pianissimo or crescendo expression, I was the Princess. She used makeup, I used treble and bass clefs. She used a silver ribbon in her hair, I used crisp, perfectly un-smudged laser copy paper to print the score. She needed validation from the man she was about to meet, and I needed validation from any ear my music would meet. I understood the Princess’s need, and a particularly petty part of me loathed her for reflecting my folly.


I lifted my hand. I closed the keyboard lid and piled the books and crap back on top of it.

Not ready.

Suddenly I became aware of a figure standing against the window above the Princess’s apartment facing my apartment square on. My heart skipped a beat, and I automatically ducked to the right behind the curtain. It was perfectly unnecessary to hide. All the lights were out in my apartment, and the curtain wasn’t open wide enough to see in. As far as anyone was concerned, nobody was home here on the third floor. Then why was someone facing my apartment with such direct attentiveness?

I slowly peeked around the curtain until I spied the figure again. To my surprise, Mr. Perfect stood at the window of his bedroom, facing my building. As always, he was wearing a suit, looking the picture of professionalism, dignity, power, and success. His hair was salt and pepper, feathered back to display the rugged handsomeness of his face.

This was a man to whom entire floors of employees in Manhattan glass high-rises might kowtow when he stepped off the elevator. This was a man university libraries might be named after. This was a man who might advise Atlas to shrug.

And this was a man standing at the window facing my apartment groping his dick through his pants.

What the hell?

I traced his hand to his arm, to his broad shoulders, to his white collared neck, to his defined jawline, and then to his deep set dark eyes. They were directed not at my window, but at the window of the floor above mine.

Holy shit!

Ruben just moved in and was already putting on a show for the neighbors. What kind of professionalism did they teach those lovelies at Juilliard, anyway? But I thought Mr. Perfect was straight. He had a family who had only just exited the door to go play in the snow for the weekend.


A closeted faggot in Manhattan? That’d be an anomaly.

Marzoli’s sarcasm rebounded in my brain. Yes, but in all the time I’d lived here and observed Mr. and Mrs. Perfect, I never once saw anything to indicate the husband would do what he was now doing.

He pulled down his fly and burrowed through the dark pants to retrieve his pole. He dangled his fleshy white dick in front of his dark charcoal trousers. The white meat bobbed up and down at first. Mr. Perfect put his arms up above his shoulders and braced his hands against the window, providing Ruben upstairs with a perfectly unobstructed view of his dick. His trousers inched their way down his thick hairy thighs, then dropped past his knees to his ankles.

Ruben must have been putting on some kind of performance, because Mr. Perfect’s pole pulsated from a southward pointing direction to a northward pointing direction without any assistance from his hands. Mr. Perfect bit his lower lip with his perfect teeth, indicating a desire that came directly from his groin. I could almost hear a guttural rasping moan pushing its way through his esophagus and past his moist lips. His dick thrust slightly forward, hardening and reddening at the head.

It occurred to me just then that if I could observe this, others could too. But that was not possible. Perfect’s bedroom window was recessed and flanked by three, tall, fortunately positioned trees. The retail level of my building had no courtyard windows, and the floor above Ruben had a wide, unused balcony that prevented any direct views down. I’d never realized until that moment that Ruben and I had the only clear view of Mr. and Mrs. Perfect’s bedroom window.

Mr. Perfect wrapped the fingers of his right hand around his hard shaft, pumping it slowly. He moistened his lips with his tongue, his gaze directed to Ruben’s window. His eyelids settled halfway down as he indulged in the pleasure of his fist reaching the tenderness of his rod’s head and then retracted on a slow tight descent to the base.

I felt my own dick hardening. Was it the sight of a man that caused this reaction? Or was it the illicitness of the situation that caused it? Or was it a malicious enjoyment of something more sickly subversive? Was it the successful and powerful leveled to depravity by the need for something no position at the head of a board meeting table could provide? That no conformity to family virtues could provide? That no trip to the weekend house with the wife and kids could provide? That no jump in the market could provide? The king jacking off for the hot pawn across the court meant the king could be had for the price of a pound of twinkie flesh, and this satisfaction shot my rod to a smug erection.

Wrapping my lips around her nipple and tracing it with my tongue, causing her low moan.

Thoughts of Johanna’s body flashed into my brain as I watched Mr. Perfect’s stroking increase in intensity.

The warm flesh between Johanna’s vagina and her hole.

Mr. Perfect flung off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. His chest was solid and hairy, and his ripped abdomen contracted and expanded as he jacked his rod up and down.

Was the thing that turned me on the most about Johanna the same leveling of status? The queen leveled by the tonguing of one of her subjects? Was that all it had been? Surely more…

Mr. Perfect’s fisting had reached a frenzy. He had to be close now. Through the ceiling, I heard a faint moan. Ruben had reached his climax. Mr. Perfect responded by suspending the stroking and holding a tight vice grip on the head of his dick. With the wrenching of his abdomen, his cum splattered against the window glass. Thick strands of semen followed the initial onslaught in short firings, striping the window in white gelatinous lines which immediately oozed down the pane.

You bad, nasty, naughty King!

Mr. Perfect once again let his meat dangle as he lifted his arms and braced himself against the window with his hands, recovering his breath. He lowered his head. I could tell by his energy that he would not acknowledge Ruben again tonight. Shame? Or the inordinate adeptness to compartmentalize? I did not know, but Mr. Perfect did not lift his eyes again. Rather, he turned away from the window and went toward the bathroom, turning the lights off and plunging the room into darkness. The show was over. Get your purse from under the seat and go home.

My rod had already softened, having made no stops of pleasure along tonight’s train ride. When was the last time I’d had an orgasm? Couldn’t remember.

Marzoli’s full lips. His neck. His voice. His gentle dark eyes.

What the fuck!


What the hell was I thinking about a dude like Marzoli for? I’d fantasized sparingly through my life about man-on-man blow jobs, but only with some larger-than-life slab of muscle I’d absolutely no personal connection with. I’d justified those rare fantasies by the need for novelty and too much wine. There was no pining involved, no more emotional attachment than one has for bacon.

But now…with Marzoli…

He’d touched my shoulder. He’d looked into my eyes. He was so much more than bacon. I’d be an idiot to think about…about his lips…his chest…his jawline…


Why the fuck would I choose to entertain the hope for something I may never get? Why? One more new disappointment…one more new failure…one more new reason to despise myself…and I just might…who the fuck knows?

If I could, I would re-center by surfing for some straight porn and try to normalize. Try to let fly some of this frustration. If I had internet connectivity.

If I could connect.

I swallowed hard, shoved my dick back into safety, and zipped up my pants.

Andrea Bocelli’s heartbreak was reaching an epic climax.

Jesus fucking Christ! Turn that shit off!

As if hearing and taking pity, the Princess took one more look at her doll face in the mirror, tousled her hair one last time, clicked off the CD player, and departed down the hall. The lights flicked off.

Have a good date, Princess. I hope he appreciates your perfection. He probably won’t, but he should. I do.


A Conversation with Multi-Genre Author & two time Lammy Finalist, Steve Neil Johnson

Steve, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 


Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in the perfect neighborhood for a mystery writer, Brentwood in Los Angeles; my home is almost literally in the shadow of the O.J. Simpson murder scene, and just a block down the mean streets from where Raymond Chandler once lived.  The gangster Mickey Cohen’s house, which was bombed by gang rivals, is nearby too.  The great thing about L.A. is that under the sunny sky there is always a dark side if you know where to look for it.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I’m actually a newlywed.  My husband Lloyd and I just got married this fall on the edge of a cliff (hopefully not a metaphor for nuptials in general) overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve been together since before most people on this planet were even born, our wedding day taking place a few days after our twenty-five year anniversary.  You’ve asked me not to get too personal, so I won’t go into whether married sex is better.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I’ve always been interested in telling stories, in fact, books and movies were all I could think about growing up.  I wrote a couple of books that didn’t sell before I wrote my first published work, FINAL ATONEMENT, in my early thirties.  It was released by Penguin in 1992.


In the early ‘90s you released the Homicide Detective Doug Orlando mystery series – recently re-released for a new generation – which include Final Atonement, a Lambda Literary Award finalist for gay mystery, and False Confessions, with Det. Orlando tracking a serial killer “who leaves his victims naked but for dozens of long, murderous needles”: Any plans in the future to revisit Doug Orlando?

Re-released for a new generation?  Jon, you’re making me feel old!  But yes, I get a huge kick out of the fact that people who were toddlers when the books originally came out are reading them now.  I don’t know if I could write any more Doug Orlando novels because the books are quintessential New York political novels, and I haven’t lived there since the late 1980s.  I don’t know if I could capture the nuances of N.Y. political life today without living there.

Two of your mystery novels were finalists for the Lambda Literary Award; Final Atonement and The Yellow Canary: What was it like to get such recognition for your writing? 

I have to say I crave accolades as much as the next guy, and I noticed my most recent nomination gave me a bit of a bump in sales, which is always nice.  The Lammies were still in their infancy, over twenty years ago, when I was nominated the first time, and it was pretty cool because I got the nom for my first book.  The second time I was nominated, they had the ceremony in New York at Cooper Union, which is a great hall with an illustrious history, including the fact that Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the theater’s stage, so if you win you’re actually giving your acceptance speech on a spot where Lincoln once stood.  I thought the year THE YELLOW CANARY was nominated was especially exciting because the books in the mystery category came from all over the world… there was a British author, a couple of Canadians, and an American or two.  It just showed that really interesting work in the gay mystery genre is happening all over the planet.


I’ve read your most recent novel, The Black Cat, the second novel in your planned L.A. After Midnight Quartet–spanning four generations from the ‘50s to the 80s (Excellent, btw!). How did you go about researching the gay experience for the decades covered in each novel of the quartet?  

It all started back in the 1970s when I came across a book called GAY AMERICAN HISTORY by Jonathan Ned Katz and started fantasizing about the lives of gay people in history.  Every time I read a nonfiction book on the history of the gay community my imagination would go into overdrive.  Other books that especially influenced me were John D’Emilio’s masterpiece, SEXUAL POLITICS, SEXUAL COMMUNITIES and later, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’ GAY L.A.  I also participated in an oral history project interviewing gay elders some time ago.  That was really important to me, because I was able to see how gays with a little power (one man I interviewed was a closeted psychiatrist for the military during WWII) were able to help other gays during really oppressive times.  That moved me, and helped to inform the characters and plots of THE YELLOW CANARY and THE BLACK CAT.

Several years filled the time between the original release of the Doug Orlando mystery novels, and your most recent gay mystery quartet. What were you doing during this time? 

A whole lotta stuff.  I received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from UCLA, wrote twenty-five telenovela scripts, was Elton John’s massage therapist for a while, and worked in various aspects of hospital administration.  But honestly, every moment I wasn’t writing was like a dagger in my heart.  Sometimes you have to make a living doing work that really doesn’t interest you, and that’s especially hard for people in the arts because you see the years slipping away and you just don’t have the time to do the work you feel you were meant to do.  But my story has a happy ending:  now I write full-time, which is an incredible gift, and even though I sometimes grouse about spending the day staring at a blank page on a computer screen when I could be outside enjoying the California sunshine, I really am grateful.


Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

Many of my characters are inspired by real people, and a lot of the events in my books are true.  I basically pluck people from their lives and from history and stick them into my stories.  As far as characters representing me…when my husband read the Doug Orlando books when they originally came out, the first thing he said was “the Stewart character (Doug Orlando’s English professor partner of ten years) is based on you.”  Basically, whenever the lead character has a Jewish boyfriend, that character’s personality is probably inspired by me, even though I’m not Jewish.  I also identify strongly with the wisecracking crow who thinks he’s a raven in my children’s book, EVERYBODY HATES EDGAR ALLAN POE!

Do you have a timeline – blurb or plot – for the next novel in the L.A. After Midnight Quartet novel?

I’m hoping to have the third L.A. After Midnight book, THE BLUE PARROT, out sometime this summer.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

THE BLUE PARROT takes place in 1975, and my characters inhabit a very different world than in the previous two books which focused on 1956 and 1966…the Stonewall riots have changed the political landscape in ways that are almost unimaginable in the earlier books…it’s a time in which the bathhouses are packed, Gay is Good, and everything seems possible, but my characters are still fighting for their basic rights.  This book details the battle to repeal California’s lifetime prison sentence for sodomy, the tensions between radical and more conservative gay activists for control of the movement, and the pervasive legacy of psychiatric abuse.


On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

Thank you!

Find Steve Neil Johnson on the web:




Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 7: Bloodlines by the multi-Lammy nominated Marshall Thornton

Boystown 7: Bloodlines by Marshall Thornton


In the latest book in the Boystown Mystery series, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself simultaneously working two cases for his new client, law firm Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. A suburban dentist has just been convicted of murdering her adulterous husband, Nick is asked to interview witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial—and possibly find the dead man’s mistress. At the same time, he’s becoming involved in protecting Outfit bigwig Jimmy English from a task force out to prosecute him for a crime he may not have committed.


Tax day fell on a Monday that year, the sixteenth. The sky was full of gray clouds and peoples’ moods were just as colorless. For a change, it wasn’t a bad day for me. In fact, I was in something resembling a good mood. I’d spent most of the year before bartending and having taxes withheld so I didn’t have to struggle through the normally complicated question of whether I’d made a profit from my private investigation business. In fact, I was expecting a small tax refund. Money in the mail was always worth being happy about. But more than that, I was working again, and while that would complicate my 1984 taxes, I was making good money and it was more interesting than pouring flat beer and sour wine.

Around two o’clock, there was a knock on my office door and, before I could yell “Come in,” Owen Lovejoy, Esquire whooshed in. He was a friend, a fuck buddy, occasionally my attorney, and, at that particular moment, my boss. I tended to think of him as Owen Lovejoy, Esquire because that’s the way he first introduced himself. A good-looking guy, he’s on the taller side of short, thick-bodied and brown-haired. He favors tortoise-shell glasses with lenses that cover most of his face, and well-tailored suits that cost twice what I make in a good week. He sat down on the two cardboard boxes full of paperwork that I’d stacked in front of my desk as a temporary guest chair.

“I have a job I need you to do,” he said.

That confused me. I was already doing a job for him. Quite a complicated job, in fact. I began to reply but all I got out was the word, “But—” before he raised his hand to silence me. I stared at him, trying to think the situation through.

Late in February of that year I’d begun working for Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. Every week I sent them an invoice for seven hundred dollars. Under services rendered I typed RETAINER. At Owen’s request, I never sent an itemized bill. I also never sent a single report describing what I’d found. My reports were given verbally on windy street corners, busy diners, even once in bed. After Owen and I fucked, he’d turned the radio on loud and I whispered what I’d learned. The case was important. It had to do with Jimmy English.

A menagerie of Federal, State and City agencies had formed a task force and were months or maybe even weeks away from indicting Jimmy on a host of charges. At the top of the stack were a couple of murders. Owen assured me that Jimmy hadn’t had anything to do with the murders under investigation, while at the same time never claiming that Jimmy hadn’t been involved in at least a couple other murders along the way. I knew Jimmy, had done a little work for him, and probably owed my current position to his good graces. If Jimmy said he didn’t kill someone he probably didn’t. More importantly, he was too smart a guy to waste time lying to his own attorney.

Now, why the task force wanted to get him for two murders he didn’t commit was something of a question. They either mistakenly believed he’d been involved in the murders, or, knowing he been involved in other murders, decided it didn’t matter much what murder they nabbed him for as long as he went to prison. My job was to learn everything the task force had. That might sound challenging, but as it turned out it wasn’t especially hard.

On the second day of my employment with Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby, Owen had shown up at my office with a moving man. My office is above a copy place on Clark and on that particular February morning it was what I’d politely call a mess. Much of the furniture from my abandoned apartment was still being stored there. I’d gotten rid of a few things; the bed for instance, which in my last days with Harker had developed a dip in the middle. The dip was fine if I planned to be constantly sliding into it to meet someone I loved, but sooner or later I’d be living on my own again and I couldn’t face sliding into the dip alone. So I’d let it go.

The moving guy brought fifteen cardboard boxes into my office in two trips. He was heavily-muscled, tall, just a little over thirty, and had barely broken a sweat bouncing all those boxes around. I had a sneaking suspicion that Owen would try to seduce him the minute they were done with me. That thought created some pretty pictures in my head, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention when Owen asked the moving guy to step out into the hall.

“Was he bad? Are you punishing him?”

“Sweetheart, you need to remember something very important.” He leaned in and spoke very clearly, “We were never here.”


“And if anyone ever asks, you did not get these boxes from us.”

“Where did I get them?”

“Yard sale? No, I’m joking. You don’t need to worry your pretty head about that. If push comes to shove, we’ll make sure you’re never asked.”

“What’s in them?”

“Everything the task force has on Jimmy English.”

“How did you get all this?”

He smiled. “I didn’t get it. I was never here. Remember?”

“What am I supposed to do with these boxes that fell out of the sky?”

“For now? Read everything. Learn everything. Know it all backwards and forwards.”

I nodded. Eventually, if there were a trial, all of this information would come to the defense as part of discovery. Well, most of it anyway. I was going to be responsible for making sure nothing got conveniently dropped by the government. Particularly if that something was favorable to Jimmy. Of course, I also saw exactly why Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby didn’t want to be connected to the materials until they received them directly from the State’s Attorney’s office. At that moment, there was no indictment, so it wasn’t exactly legal for anyone to have them. Dropping the files on me allowed them to have them and not have them.

“This is the last time we can talk in your office. We’ll make other arrangements.”

“You think my office is bugged?”

“Not yet, dear. This is your second day. It will be by the end of the week, though.”

“If I’m working for you then they can’t bug my office. Doesn’t privilege extend—”

“Privilege depends on the situation, on the judge who’s ruling, on which way the wind is blowing off Lake Michigan. Look, if I explain anymore than that we’ll both fall asleep. Trust me, your office will be bugged. And soon.”

“Can you fight it? Go to the judge—”

“There is no judge. It’s not legal surveillance.”

In Chicago legal niceties were sometimes skipped. They couldn’t present an illegal wiretap in court but they could act on information they gleaned by creating other routes to discover whatever they’d learned. Treasure hunts are always easier if you already know where the treasure is.

Still, my sense of justice was a tad outraged. “Let’s catch them at it. Let’s take them down.”

“They’ve been caught before. Had their hands slapped. The only lesson they learned was to be more careful. There will be several impenetrable layers between the task force and the bug. Anything they hear that they want to use, they’ll feed to an informant.”

“They can’t create their own testimony.”

“Darling you watch too much TV. The law is not about right and wrong. It’s about what you can get away with on a given day.”

After he left, I got down to business with the boxes and almost immediately started having a good time. They were full of interviews, witness statements, crime reports, depositions, transcripts from wiretaps (legal ones), and transcripts from a few peripherally related trials. Over the next few weeks I’d mentally cross-referenced everything. I knew where it all was and I knew what it all meant. I had two very important things I needed to discuss with Owen, so I wasn’t especially happy that he was trying to give me another job.

“All right. Tell me about this job,” I said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Madeline Levine-Berkson?”

“Yes and no,” I said. Madeline Levine-Berkson was a dentist whose husband, Wes Berkson, made the mistake of telling her about an affair he was having while she was making dinner. Dr. Levine-Berkson stopped chopping vegetables and stuck the rather large knife she’d been using into her husband’s chest. At first the case garnered a lot of press, and it was obvious the reporters were dying to get their hands on the mistress; an interview with her would have sold papers hand over greedy fist. But, they couldn’t find her. And, worse, Dr. Levine-Berkson refused to claim any justification other than the unproven infidelity, so the case was quietly relegated to the back section of most papers.

Boystown 7 Cover 2nd Edition2

“Wasn’t she convicted?” I asked.

“Yes. But it was still a victory.”

“It was?”

“They charged her with first-degree murder and second-degree murder. The jury got to choose which they thought she was guilty of. They went with second degree.”

“Okay, I still don’t know what you want me to do.”

“We have a two-week continuance to prepare for sentencing. The minimum the jury is allowed to impose is four years probation. That’s our best hope. Worst case scenario she’ll be sentenced to twenty years. If it’s twenty years she’ll serve ten or twelve, possibly more. She’ll be lucky to get out in time to see her children graduate high school. Not to mention she’ll be a confirmed lesbo by then.”

That jogged my memory. The high school part, not the lesbo part. There were two small children involved, which could work in her favor. Children do need their mothers. Though, when you kill a child’s father you’re unlikely to win an award for good parenting.

“How many women on the jury? That should work in her favor.”

Most women would not stab a cheating spouse; most did understand the impulse.

“Seven,” Owen said. But then a cloud passed over his face. “The state made a big to-do about an insurance policy during the trial. Trying to make a case for first degree. I’m not sure one or two didn’t believe that.”

“Refresh my memory. What was their case?”

“The Berksons had taken out million dollar policies on each other.”

“She was a dentist and he was…”

“Frequently unemployed.”

“But she admits stabbing him so she’ll never collect. How could that be first degree?”

“The ASA tried to make it sound like she didn’t understand the fine print.”

“She’s smart enough to plot a murder but too stupid to understand an insurance policy?”

“He spent a lot of time reading the policy into the record. Claimed even he had trouble understanding it.”

“She’s a dentist. She has an education.”

“She went to dental school in the Caribbean. Wasn’t at the top of her class.”

“Still. No offense, but I think law school is a lot easier.” Science had never been a strong suit of mine.

Owen shrugged. “I thought it was crap, too. I’m absolutely certain she did not kill her husband for any insurance money she thought she’d get. She’s very bright, and quite nice for a murderess. Fortunately, the jury agreed and threw out the first-degree charges.”

“So what do you want me to do? Find the mistress?”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“I work for you, you can ask—”

“Madeline doesn’t want her found. We do have to respect the client’s wishes.”

That struck me as odd. The mistress would have bolstered her story and created sympathy.

“Is there even a mistress?” I wondered.

“The newspapers tried awfully hard to find her,” he said absently. “But then…journalists, they don’t always have the right skills.”

He wanted me to find the mistress. I hadn’t spent much time working for him, but I had the feeling we’d be having a lot of conversations that were not directly about what they were about.

“Isn’t it kind of pointless to find her now? Your client still won’t appreciate it.”

“No, she won’t. But…” I could see the wheels turning. “If someone found her by accident it could be helpful.”

“If she exists.”

“Yes, if she exists. I wouldn’t want her in court but…someone could get her interviewed by the Daily Herald or The Tribune.”

“How would that help?”

“The jury. They’re not supposed to read the newspaper during the trial. Most of them take that very seriously. But she’s been convicted. At least a couple of them will have jumped the gun and be back to reading the newspaper or watching the nightly news. Not to mention discussing it with their families. If the woman were to do an interview, the jury would know it.”

“So I need to accidentally find her.”

Owen’s lips were sealed. In fact, he kept them tightly closed. Instead, he picked up his briefcase, chocolate brown leather with his initials engraved in gold leaf. O.W.L. I wondered what the “W” was for. Or even if it was for anything. It might just be that he liked to think of himself as an owl. Owls were wise. He pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it onto my desk. On it was a column of names; six of the names were typewritten, seven were added by hand.

“The names on the top are the witnesses who’ve agreed to testify on Madeline’s behalf. The names on the bottom are those who’ve refused. Start with the ones who’ve refused. If nothing else, try to get them to come in and speak on Madeline’s behalf. A couple of them might really help her.”

The list didn’t mean much at the moment. I decided to figure it out later. I really needed to talk to him about Jimmy English. “Um, why don’t I walk you out?”

“Yes, why don’t you.”

I really didn’t think my office was bugged. I’d been sticking the cover from a matchbook in between the door and the jamb just below the hinge whenever I left the office. If someone picked the lock and entered my office the little square of cardboard would have fallen to the floor. So far, it had stayed just where I’d left it.

Silently, we walked out of my office and down the narrow stairs to Clark Street. As soon as we were out the door, I said, “Look, I’ve got to tell—” He raised his hand to silence me again. It all seemed a bit ridiculous. He stepped out into the street and hailed a cab. We climbed in, and before giving the driver an address Owen took a twenty out of his pocket and waved it in the front seat. “We’re just going around the block a few times. So, the rest is for you.” He dropped the twenty on the seat and then closed the plexiglass partition between us.

Turning to me, he said, “All right, what’s the problem?”

“I’ve figured out a couple of things about Operation Tea and Crumpets.” Operation Tea and Crumpets was the cutesy name the task force had given the investigation into Jimmy’s activities. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to step away right now.”

“Then don’t. Do both.” I started to say that I wasn’t sure it would be fair to either client but he stopped me by adding, “Keep billing us the retainer for Jimmy. And also whatever work you do for the Levine case.” What that meant was that my invoicing could easily go over a thousand dollars a week. For about two weeks. That made the whole thing more appealing. I might need to work night and day, but it was just for a while. Part of me still wanted to say no to the lady dentist, but I was fresh out of good reasons.

“What did you find out on Jimmy?” Owen asked.

“The most damaging information comes from a single source. A confidential informant they call Prince Charles. There’s no information in the files about who Prince Charles is. Not even a hint. Which makes me think that they know you have the files. That they wanted you to have them.”

“They’ll have to expose him eventually.”

“So why go to the trouble of hiding him unless they know we’re likely to get our hands on the files now?”

“You think it’s a haystack with no needle.”

“It might be. According to the transcripts, Jimmy told Prince Charles stories. Almost as though he was bragging, which seems out of character.”

“I agree.”

“And there’s another thing. There’s a book or a diary somewhere.”

“Somewhere? But it’s not in the boxes I gave you?”

“No. But a lot of the files have notations. Page numbers and dates.”

“Something like that would be a terrific piece of evidence. Especially if it corroborates Prince Charles’ testimony.”

“But Jimmy’s too smart for all of this.” I resisted the temptation to say, “Something’s fishy.”

“I hope so,” Owen said before he told the cab driver to pull over. We were at the corner of Belmont and Clark for the second time. Just as he got out the door, Owen said, “We need to know who’s talking. And we need that book.”

It was a tall order. A very tall order.


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