Excerpt: The Orion Mask – a new novel by author Greg Herren

The Orion Mask


Greg Herren


Heath Brandon’s mother died when he was barely three years old. His father never spoke about her, or her family. So when her family reaches out to him after his father’s death, Heath decides to make the trip to Louisiana to get to know the only family he has left.But he soon learns that there was a lot more to his mother’s death than he ever knew…and the beautiful old mansion on the Mississippi River has many secrets, secrets someone would kill to protect.And the key to everything that happened when he was a child just might be hidden in his own memory



The Runway Bar was weathered and old, and had gone through many different iterations and name changes over the years. Someone had told me it had been built during Prohibition, when Bay City was a popular destination for rum runners smuggling contraband liquor into Florida from Cuba. Located a block or so away from the airport entrance, it was a popular after work watering hole for airport employees. The icy air conditioning blasted me in the face when I opened the door and walked inside. Some of my co-workers were there, sharing a couple of pitchers of beer in their uniforms. An old Garth Brooks tune was blaring from the jukebox. I saw Jerry Channing sitting at a small table back in a corner, nursing a Corona with a wedge of lemon floating inside the bottle. I walked back to where he was sitting and sat down across from him. “All right,” I said. “I’m here. What is this about?”

“I’m interested in your mother.” He tilted his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. “What did your father tell you about Genevieve?” He said it familiarly, like he’d known her, as he picked up the bottle and took a drink.

“He refused to talk about her, so he didn’t tell me anything.” I replied, ordering a bottle of beer from the waitress who’d materialized while I was speaking. Once she moved away, I shrugged slightly. “So I don’t really know much about her, other than what I could find on-line. She was a painter. She killed herself. That’s pretty much it.” And the one time my father talked about her, he said she was an evil woman. But you don’t need to know that. “Did you know her?”

“She lived and died before the Internet,” Jerry said with a shake of his head, ignoring my question. “Believe me, if the Internet had been what it is today when she died, there would be plenty about her for you to find. Although your grandfather did a really good job keeping it all quiet, and out of the papers. That must have cost him a pretty penny, but I imagine he thought—still thinks—it was worth it. The Legendre name is damned important to him.”

The waitress set my beer down on the table, and he paid for it. Once she left, I asked, “Why was it such a big deal to keep it out of the papers? Was it because she was a Catholic? And suicide was a sin?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Are you telling me you don’t even know how she died?”

“She committed suicide when I was three years old.” I sipped my beer. “Big deal.”

The Orion Mask 300 DPI

“She committed suicide?” He took a deep breath and stared at me, a puzzled look on his face. “I—you know, maybe I was wrong, and this isn’t such a great idea. I mean, I thought you at least knew some of this. I don’t know if I should be the one to tell you the truth.”

“The truth? There’s more?” I heard my father’s voice, shouting in my head again, you mother was an evil woman. “I told you my father refused to talk about her. He got angry if she was ever mentioned, so how would I know anything other than what I can find on-line?”

He watched me as the jukebox switched from Garth Brooks to Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar.” He took another drink, almost draining the bottle empty. “Your mother was—it was more than just a suicide, Heath. Your mother was having an affair. She was cheating on your father. She killed her lover and took her own life.”

No wonder Dad didn’t want to talk about her! I saw the pain on his reddened face again as he shouted those words at me. Your mother was an evil woman!

I shook my head, hoping my shock didn’t register on my face. “All he told me was she killed herself, that she didn’t love either him or me enough to go on living. He didn’t say anything about an affair.” I said, picking the label off my beer. The amber bottle was covered with condensation. I felt oddly numb, and even more sympathetic for Dad. How awful that must have been for him!

“And you’ve never met any of your mother’s family?” His face was unreadable, and he was speaking in a professional monotone.

I stared at him. “I—“ I stopped myself from finishing the sentence. “No. All I know about the Legendres is what I’ve read on the website for their estate. Chambord.” I raised my chin. “They’ve never once tried to reach out to me. Not once, in all the years since she—since she died. They don’t care about me, so why should I care about them? The Legendres can go to hell.”

My words were strong, were what I’d always believed, yet I could feel doubt forming, creeping in. Are you sure? Dad didn’t tell me everything. Maybe there’s more to the story…

“Are you sure?” His facial expression didn’t change. “Family is everything to your grandfather—and your mother was your grandparents’ favorite child. I can’t believe your grandmother Nina died without ever trying to see you, to see Genevieve’s only child.” He leaned towards me. “Are you sure they never reached out to you? From everything I’ve been told, your father was really angry when he left Louisiana—not that I can blame him, given what happened. Maybe they tried and he wouldn’t let them?”

I stared at him, remembering how angry my father had been when he told me the truth. He’d been angrier than I’d ever seen him. He wasn’t a man with a temper, he rarely got angry, and he had a lot of patience.

Your mother was an evil woman.


Excerpt: Barbara Winkes’ “Indiscretions” – A Carpenter / Harding novel

Indiscretions – A Carpenter / Harding novel


Barbara Winkes


After surviving an attack by a stranger, rookie officer Ellie Harding decides to put herself first and make bold moves in both her career and her private life, refusing to let the traumatic incident get her off track.

Detective Jordan Carpenter faces the decision whether to remain in a disastrous, but long-term relationship or give in to the attraction she feels for her younger colleague. Her partner Bethany isn’t willing to let go, of Jordan or the case, a sadistic killer who murders women for behavior he considers immoral.

Can they find him before he strikes again?


After waking in a cold sweat for the second time, Ellie decided she had enough and got out of bed at 4:37 a.m. Bright and early enough for you, Detective? She hadn’t meant to, but she had already changed habits. For the longest time, she’d wear heels in the morning on her way to work and change back into them after her shift. Lately, the sound of heels on the pavement made her uncomfortable. She knew it would abate with time. Why not hurry the process along? They might not be able to catch the bastard who had jumped her, but if she could assist catching the killer Jordan and her team were after, it would go a long way towards making her feel safer again.

Determined, she slipped into a pair of pumps. Sometime this week, she might even go out with her friends again. If Jordan told her no another time, to hell with her. Ellie would have no problem finding someone else in her pursuit for pleasure.

Jordan wore jeans and a white buttoned down shirt this morning. Ellie had little time to admire her, because they dove into the disturbing reality of the case on the table right away.

“The common theme here seems to be some relationship trouble. This is one thing we know about all the victims so far, a recent breakup. Two of the women straight, one lesbian. The question is where does he find them? Lori Gleason told me she found dates in a chat room. She signed up after her divorce.”

Ellie had done her best to get herself up to date with the facts. Gleason was currently recovering in the hospital. Isabel Hayes’ body had been found behind a dumpster five weeks ago, and the first victim, Eleanor Campbell, had been discovered by trespassing teenagers. The trespassing became rapidly irrelevant, and the high school kids had been taught the lesson of a lifetime in what could happen if you walked into a creepy abandoned building.

“How can we be so sure it’s the same killer?” Jensen asked. “I imagine Hayes would not hang out in the same chat room, for obvious reasons.”

Ellie could see the hint of indulgence on the detectives’ faces. Jordan, however, addressed the question. She pointed to Hayes’ crime scene photo.

“You better hope there aren’t more like him out there. The victims’ injuries are consistent. The rope fibers match. You are right insofar as their life circumstances were different. Gleason preferred the chat room. Isabel Hayes preferred bars. Eleanor Campbell, as far as we know, was the only one in a committed relationship, but the husband’s alibi checks out.”

“He hates women. Sexually active women. Maybe he got rejected.” Ellie didn’t realize she’d said this out loud until all eyes were on her. She shrugged. Ellie had done a lot of reading on why some men hated on women, from her undergraduate days on. A lot of those theories had come back to her lately.

“That’s a possibility.” Jordan’s reaction was rather reserved. “It’s all theory at this point. What we need is to find the link between all those women. They lived in different neighborhoods, but in a relatively small distance. He’s probably local, can’t or won’t travel. I want you to concentrate on the dates from the chat room so far. We have the data from Lori’s computer, every date, every conversation. Look closely for anything suspicious.”

“What about Gleason’s ex?” Jensen inquired.

“He’s coming back from a business trip in Europe. I expect him this afternoon. Meanwhile, let’s hope Lori will remember more.”

Ellie got up, but waited until everyone was beginning their own work. Two of the other detectives left. Jordan, sensing her hesitation, came over to her.

“Lori Gleason…was she raped?” Ellie asked. She hated how all of a sudden, her voice sounded small.

“The rape kit came back negative.” Jordan’s tone was calm and detached, but there was concern in her gaze. They both knew that left a lot of other possibilities. “Will you be okay?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Okay then. Go find the perfect match online.”

Ellie couldn’t help it, even the probably innocent suggestion brought heat to her face, and lower regions. What kind of person did that make her? They had a job to do, because some women had suffered far worse abuse than she had, and besides, Jordan had a girlfriend. Reason was not helpful.


“More like a date with the devil,” she said lightly. “Thank you. I really appreciate this.”

“No problem. You still owe me a beer.”

For the next fifteen minutes or so, Ellie kept wondering if she’d really heard her say it. However, her fantasies were certainly not priority. She read pages after pages of emails Lori Gleason had exchanged with potential dates, the tone always ranging from flirty to definitely not safe for work. She felt a bit sick, knowing this was the kind of behavior a man would hardly ever be criticized for. Someone had taken offense, kidnapped, beaten and cut her, would have killed her if the neighbors hadn’t called the police. Because she flirted with men on the internet? Because she enjoyed dating and possibly, sex? The world was fucked up.

She winced at the suggestion of a threesome, and Lori’s response, aware of how easy it was to let one’s own sensibilities and boundaries seep into judgment. As long as they kept it safe, who was she—or anyone—to blame them?

“My friend would like to join us,” Lori had written. “When can we meet?” The date had never come to pass, because of Lori’s abduction. Unless…Ellie stared at the printout until the letters started blurring in front of her eyes. Of course two straight people dating and considering a third party was not the same as Isabel enjoying the lesbian nightlife, except to a sexist murderer it might be. Maybe Eleanor’s marriage hadn’t been that happy after all, and she’d had a secret of her own—they could be looking at a hate crime. Jordan was right. This was a theory, and only one of many possible at this point. They had to stick to the facts.

“I know you’ve been hurt before, and the same is true for me. I want to meet someone who’s committed, who won’t let me down. If you can be that person, I promise you won’t regret it,” said one of the answers Lori had gotten. There might be some people going onto these sites who were honestly looking for a relationship, love. It was hard not to get paranoid. Everybody had something to hide. One of them had sent a poem. Another had promised a trip to an exotic location Lori wouldn’t ever forget.

At least Mr. Threesome with whom the most recent correspondence had taken place, had written emails from his work account. This would be an interesting visit, Ellie thought as she looked up the company, a computer firm, and jotted down the address. The location was right in the center of the circle in which the women had been found.

Jordan, much to Ellie’s disappointment, didn’t send her and Jensen to talk to Lori’s date. Instead, and Ellie realized soon that she was getting the much better deal, she took her to see Lori Gleason. The ride to the hospital was a tad awkward, as Ellie sat straight up, trying not to stare, at Jordan, at her hands on the steering wheel, imagining these hands doing something else instead. She forced herself to keep her gaze straight ahead, focus.

The smells and sounds of the hospital hit her hard. She hadn’t been in here since the night she’d been attacked, and the sensory memories put a jarring halt to her inappropriate thoughts.

There was a uniformed officer in front of Lori Gleason’s room, greeting them briefly. He confirmed with Jordan that no unauthorized person had tried to approach Lori, and they went inside.

Ellie stopped in her tracks at her first look at Gleason. The instant panic on the patient’s face that abated only when she realized her visitors were with the police, the bruises…without a doubt, her injuries were graver than Ellie’s had been, but she had a hard time stopping the unwelcome trip down memory lane.

Jordan introduced her to Lori Gleason, and the woman gave a faint smile that slipped from her face so quickly Ellie might have imagined it.

“How are you today, Ms. Gleason?” Jordan asked, keeping her tone soft, non-threatening.

The blank expression, either from medication or self-protection, told Ellie they weren’t likely to get a lot of information out of her. Gleason shrugged and winced, the movement causing her pain.

“We reached your ex-husband. He was on a business trip, and is coming in today.” The news seemed neither helpful nor upsetting for Lori.


“He wouldn’t do anything like that. We had a good marriage.”

“Why did you get divorced?”

“Am I under suspicion for anything?”

Ellie thought to herself that she probably would have reacted the same way.

“No, of course not,” Jordan reassured her. “It’s important for us to figure out why you were targeted.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I’ve been wracking my brain every waking moment. I don’t know anymore than I’ve told you. You probably saw the chats by now. I’ve had a few dates. Those were decent people, or at least I assumed so. There’s nothing else I can tell you.”

“I know it’s hard,” Ellie said, stepping forward. Gleason shot her a suspicious look. She showed emotion, which, Ellie assumed, was better than lethargy. Maybe she knew something that hadn’t come to mind yet.

“What do you know?”

“I was attacked some weeks ago. Would you mind?” She pointed to the visitor’s chair, and Lori shook her head.

“Why are you telling me this? You got away—obviously.”

“So did you. I want you to know that it will take some time, but details will come back to you, and that’s not a bad thing. It means you’ll be able to work through them, now that you’re safe.”

Lori’s expression spoke volumes. At this point, it would be hard for her to believe she’d ever feel safe again. Ellie could sympathize. “I’m sure the last thing you want right now is for us to bother you with questions,” she continued. “I hated everyone who asked me about it, I wanted them all to forget about it, so I’d be able to. First of all, I learned it doesn’t work that way. Second, we want this man in prison, so he can never hurt anyone else. So, if there’s anything you can think of, that comes back to you, please let us know.”

“It was dark. He was wearing a mask. I woke up in that basement, and I never saw his face. I’m trying, damn it.”

“I know.” Ellie suppressed the urge to take the woman’s hand. There were situations when touch meant no comfort, on the contrary, it could make a person want to jump out of their skin. “Please know that we’re doing everything we can. You beat the son of a bitch already. You lived.”

Due to a coincidence, but still. Ellie had the uncomfortable feeling that the woman was able to read her mind. They both had been lucky to benefit from the quick thinking and kindness of strangers. What did it mean? The world wasn’t ever safe, no matter how much you tried to prepare for the worst.

“Did they get him?” Lori asked, startling her. “The guy who attacked you, was he arrested?”

Ellie was tempted to lie to her, but she thought the woman deserved better. “No.” Lori’s face fell. “Which doesn’t mean anything for your case. He left traces, people like that make mistakes. We’ll catch him. I promise.”


Excerpt: Book #4 in the Dick Hardesty Mystery Series – The Hired Man by Dorien Grey

“The Hired Man is the fourth book of the Dick Hardesty Mystery series to be reissued by Untreed Reads publishing. It centers around murder and intrigue in an exclusive gay male escort service. E-book releases


Lunch turned out to be an incredible crab salad with a side dish of fresh fruit–slices of honeydew melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, and sprinkled with fresh raspberries.

We small-talked pleasantly through lunch, and Johnnie Mae returned with coffee, then took the empty dishes back to the house on the same tray.

“So tell us, Mr. Hardesty,” Mrs. Glick said as we drank our coffee, “what was it you wanted to ask?”

I glanced quickly at Mr. Glick and thought I noticed just a flicker of…what?…discomfort? …cross his face, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by his usual expression of complete composure. I felt suddenly very awkward, not really knowing what to say.

Gary caught on instantly. “Perhaps I should excuse myself,” he said with a small smile, but Mrs. Glick reached out and touched his arm.

“Nonsense,” she said. “I’m sure whatever Mr. Hardesty has to ask isn’t privileged…” she glanced at me, “is it, Mr. Hardesty.”


“Well, no…it’s just a general question about the escorts’ services.”

“Please,” Mr. Glick said, “ask.”

I took what wasn’t obviously apparent was a deep breath. “I understand that each of the escorts is selected partly for their ability to cater to…specific…client requests, with each one providing a different area of expertise.”

Jeezus, Hardesty! You want to try that one again, in English? my mind asked.

Mr. Glick gave a very small smile of amusement. “That’s true, yes.”

Oh, to hell with pussyfooting, I decided. “Are any of your escorts bisexual?” I asked.

There was a long silence, until Mrs. Glick said “Well, we understand that several of the escorts have had heterosexual experiences, yes.”

I recognized sidestepping when I saw it, and pushed ahead. “Yes, and I realize that a large number of your clients are themselves bisexual, but do any of your escorts specialize in requests for bisexual activity involving women?”

Another awkward silence, until….

“That would be me,” Gary said with a smile, his eyes fixed on mine.









Excerpt: Still Waters (Memoirs of the Human Wraiths) by F.E. Feeley Jr.

Still Waters


F.E. Feeley Jr.



SUMMERTIME HAD come to the Great Lake State of Michigan and to the little town of Promise. A quaint little burg down I-96, where those considered low-income still earned triple digits, far from the hustle and slums of Detroit, Promise boasted magnificent shops and stretches of beautiful homes with deep yards and nice cars. The high school, home of the Indians, was state of the art, modern, the curriculum tough, and the teachers’ salaries kept them happy. The town was truly the land of milk and honey for those wealthy enough to afford it. A picture of the modern Gilded Age, where everything in town was connected by telephone wires and gossip like spindly threads of a spider’s web. When a new family moved in, the lines hummed, and before the family could finish unpacking, several neighbors would show up at their door with baskets, pies, or fresh flowers from their gardens to welcome them to the neighborhood. Which, on the outside, looked pleasant enough, but these little visits were less a welcome wagon and more of an interview, and the people who came, less like neighbors and more like spies. These spies not only assessed the people themselves but their belongings. All the information gathered would be traded via the telephone wires that crisscrossed over their new neighbor’s home, without the new family being aware. It was a test of sorts, given to these new tenants, of whether or not they would be accepted into the social circles of the locals. If you made enough money, voted Republican, and believed Barack Obama was the Antichrist—if you drove the right car, were fashionably religious, and never wore white shoes after Labor Day—you were accepted with open arms. You were automatically welcomed into their circles if you had enough money to purchase a home on Promise Lake, the most expensive of the residential areas, and were dragged into the who’s who of the town. All the others—the ones who lived in subdivisions run by associations, where Labrador retrievers and red begonias in copper pots were all the rage this season—had to work just a little bit harder. The kids, however, were luckier than their triple-digit parents. Promise High School, for whatever reason, always boasted a rebellious streak along with high grades. It was almost fashionable to kick against the pricks as hard as possible there. They longed for the day when they could get out, far away from having to be under their parents’ roofs, and silently vowed to themselves to always vote Democrat. The kids sensed something was amiss. They couldn’t quite figure it out, but deep down they knew that Promise was unlike most places where what you got was what you saw. Something deeper than greed, envy, and lust ran amuck. Other far more malignant things traversed in the deep shadows between shops and back alleys. That night the weather was balmy, but the wind blew through the trees so hard that branches whipped and leaves sighed as if pleased to be cooled from the heat of the day. Above, thousands of stars dotted the night sky as the moon shone orange across the surface of the still lake. These same winds forced the clouds to pass overhead quickly as the moon cast its glow on the earth below before being covered once more, like a game of peek-a-boo with the world. The water’s surface broke only by the occasional jump of a fish as it surfaced for a mayfly that had strayed too close to the water. The lake rippled out in tiny waves until it settled again, making the surface of the lake a still mirror reflecting the sky once more. Around the shore, houses sat quiet and still that Wednesday night in May. The humidity was thick, floating in the air like strands of ancient memory, wispy and tendril-like. It swirled around street lamps, which dotted the deserted concrete walkway that stretched around the far side of the lake. In the center of the lake sat an island, dark and quiet. Its many trees reached up toward heaven as if in supplication to some long-dead god. The island was large—big enough at least to build a large home upon it, but no one had ever tried. No one wanted to. The stories that surrounded this island kept everyone away, except of course for the silly high school kids sent across on a dare. Legends old and urban hovered over that little piece of earth, and the locals whispered about them to their children who were being naughty. Stories of an ancient people who once roamed the lands of Michigan, stories about curses, and stories about what would happen should they not behave themselves and clean their plates. The children listened with wide-eyed fascination.
The heat made its way back now that summer was again upon them, and people were happy to have it. After a long, frozen winter, summer would bring revelers, travelers, and sunbathers to the shore of the spring-fed lake. Soon Memorial Day would be upon them. Barbeques would be held in the small segment of the lake that was a state park, where sand had been trucked in to make a small beach and families would frolic in the shallow, unusually cool water. On the lake, fishermen would take their little boats out and cast lines, and on July Fourth the township would host a fireworks display as it had done for the past twenty years or so. Promise was a good place to raise a family. Income was high and crime was low. For the adults, it was still a work night, even if the majority of them made their own schedules. Most of the adults there dealt with the end of the school year, with graduation parties on the weekends and trips to Cedar Point with the younger children. Come September they would be escorting their new college students to university either in Ann Arbor or Lansing, or even down to the biggest football rival, Ohio. It was the kind of night that inspired young lovers to their first kiss and old lovers to wrap an arm around the shoulder of their loved one as they rocked in their front-porch swings. The fragrance of freshly cut grass and evening dew hung so heavy and sweet you could almost taste the nectar of the flowers. On the horizon, far off to the west, heavy clouds brought the promise of a rain shower later in the evening as lightning zigzagged with celestial arcs, illuminating the clouds. It wasn’t close enough yet to hear thunder, but it would come, and in the morning the roses, which had just begun to bloom steadily, would drip when the beads of rain they’d collected became too heavy to stay on their tender petals. That night was also heavily shadowed. As the breeze bent the sturdiest of trees and swung around their leaves, the branches and limbs cast darkness in mysterious and elongated shapes. It was the kind of night that scared children at two in the morning as tree limbs scratched at windows, when the familiar became phantoms that made them crawl into their parents’ beds. Being home alone would cause a person to turn on lights and fall asleep watching television just to drown out the sound of the whistling winds. The music of the night was a trade-off—inspiration and fear. Life, the perfect neutral referee, would host both joy and tears. In the ever-spinning lottery that was the world, all one had to do to play was breathe.
still waters 3Bret Williams wasn’t worried about the cost of college that fall or about going to campus to find a job to supplement his income, even though he had acceptance letters from all three schools, two of which were nearly begging him to attend due to his SAT scores. He wasn’t thinking about buying books, finding housing, or cleaning out his room, which his mother had begged him to do before he left for school in the fall. She had meekly informed him that she would be turning his bedroom into a sewing room once he vacated. Bret didn’t mind. They didn’t really want him back, and to be honest, he didn’t want to come back. Not after what they’d done. Not after what they’d said. Bret’s parents had fallen into the snares of those concerned more with wealth and image than family and home. His mother, a former ballet instructor, now stayed home and “took care” of her husband. Bret’s father worked to “take care” of his wife and son. They used to be happy, back when they were struggling to make it, but all that had changed when money became the focus of their lives. Bret was able to handle most of it, rolled his eyes about the rest, and ignored the worst—well, that was until it became personal. Mom and Dad became Elle May and Doug, two people he didn’t recognize anymore. That night, Bret’s stomach was in terrible knots with those thoughts and with another as he left the police station for the thirteenth time already this week. He braked hard at a stop sign and quickly grabbed hold of the stack of paper on the passenger seat to keep it from flying forward and spilling into the floorboard of the car. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of the photo he had been staring at for the past few days. Adam’s face grinned back at him from the black-and-white photo, his eyes dancing with mirth as if he knew a secret—as if he knew where he was and refused to tell Bret. Adam was handsome and kept his blond hair carelessly long though it easily fit underneath his swimmer’s cap on the high school team, where they’d met three years ago.
With a sigh, Bret sat back in the driver’s seat and whispered, “Where are you, baby?”
“Your breast-stroke needs work” came a voice through the din of slamming lockers and shuffling feet. Bret, lost in his own stormy thoughts, nearly jumped out of his skin. Looking to the right of where he sat, he continued two feet upward to muscular thighs and the white-towel-clad waist of the person standing next to him. Sitting back, he skipped the muscular abdominals and chest he had admired from afar since the beginning of the semester, straight up to the face of Adam Woolsey, the best swimmer on the team. Adam’s piercing blue eyes looked at him sympathetically, unlike everyone else on the team after Bret had brought down their average score. Bret felt his face heat up for the briefest moment but then dissipate as he cast his eyes back to the floor. “Yeah.” “Dude, really, don’t sweat it. It just takes practice and style. You’re new here, right?” Adam asked, sitting next to Bret. “Yeah. I transferred from Belleville High at the end of last year. My dad got a new job,” Bret said with a smirk. “I’m Adam, nice to meet you.” He extended a hand. Bret swallowed hard. “Bret. Same here,” he said, shaking Adam’s hand. It was solid and warm despite them having climbed out of the cold pool a few minutes prior when Coach had launched into his tirade at Bret—how he’d better shape up if he planned on staying on the team. Bodies around Bret and Adam shuffled flip-flop-clad feet along, avoiding slick spots, into the waiting steam and soap of the locker room showers. “You’re not a swimmer, are you?” Adam asked. “Nah, I was a gymnast, but we don’t have a program like that here,” Bret said, removing his shirt. “You’ve got a great body, but I see where the problem is. As a gymnast, you train different, your muscles are more square. Swimmers’ muscles tend to be longer and smooth. We can change that, but it’s going to take practice, is all,” he said with an inviting smile and a welcoming gaze. Bret nodded. “I’m down for a change.” “Good. We’ll meet after school every day for an hour. Do you have wheels of your own?”
“Meh… yeah, but I haven’t put the engine back in yet,” Bret said, thinking about the 1970 GTO he’d found at a junkyard and was restoring. “Oh, no sweat, then, you can always hitch a ride with me. Anyway, we’ll start today. Come on, let’s shower, otherwise we’ll be late for fourth period.”
And with that, it had begun….
A CAR horn honked behind him, jarring Bret out of the memory. They didn’t wait for him to move, just whipped around while someone yelled out their window. In anger Bret flipped them off as they tore through the intersection and down the road. He threw the photo flier back atop the stack and wiped away the tears that came too quickly as of late. Biting his tongue to stave them off, he flipped on the radio and turned it up. “…search continues tonight for missing high school graduate and three-time state swim champion Adam Woolsey. Authorities have said that its possible Adam has left town and there is no sign of foul play, but there has been no word from him in several days. Stay with….” Bret drove through the intersection and passed Promise High School before making his way home, listening to the radio as he turned left at the next intersection. He rode up Willis Drive, the road parallel to the lake, and eventually pulled into his parents’ driveway. Killing the ignition, he sat back and sighed. He wanted to go into that house as badly as he wanted a bullet hole between his eyes, but it was just for a few more days. The Woolseys had told him to stay with them, but with Adam missing, they were so upset, Bret didn’t want to be a burden on them and a constant reminder that Adam was gone. Angrily he opened the car door and was met by the deep bark of his dog Kaiser. He walked around to the back door, inserted his key, and met the tail-wagging one-hundred-pound German shepherd he and Adam had bought together last year. At least someone in this house is happy to see me. Bret reached down and petted the dog’s silky fur. Kaiser sat back on his haunches and brought a paw up, and Bret knelt to scratch his neck. “We’re still looking for your Adam.” The dog whined and nuzzled his hand.
“Bret, is that you?” his mother called from deeper inside the house. “No, it’s the fucking Boston Strangler, who has a key to the house,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “Bret?” she called again, obviously not hearing him. “Yeah! It’s me, Ma!” he said again. He motioned for Kaiser to move, and the dog backed up enough to allow him to ascend the stairs into the kitchen, but stayed right at his heels, sniffing the backs of his pant legs, trying to figure out where he’d been and who he’d been with. Bret swiped backward with his hand. “Get out of my butt!” The dog reared his head before Bret could make contact with his nose. Mrs. Elle May Williams came into the kitchen with hope in her eyes. “Have you heard anything about Aaron?” she asked politely. “You mean Adam,” Bret said, annoyed with the same smile she offered him every time. “Yes, him. Any word?” She looked at him expectantly. She loathed Adam. Loathed what Adam meant to him, who they’d been, what they were. Bret felt the anger rise like bile in him, but he just shook his head as Kaiser nudged at his hand, feeling the tension in the room. “Well, I’m sure he’ll turn up just fine,” she said. “Your father will be home in a few days. You may want to get a head start finding campus housing. I mean, the fall is coming quickly, and it’ll take your mind off your friend.” “Fiancé,” Bret replied. “Excuse me?” she asked, her eyes narrowing. “Fiancé, Mother. I am not leaving behind someone I love because—” “Please, don’t try to dignify what the both of you do as love.” “Oh, right. Because that’s what you and Dad have? Tell me, when Dad had his affair with—what was her name… Jessica?—was that love as well?” Bret fired back with a smile on his lips. His mother’s lips puckered, and he watched as her fury grew. “You little son of a bitch, how dare you—” she said, growing furious, but Bret put up a hand. “Tell the truth? Look, let’s just keep from jumping on the merry-go-round of knives, shall we? Stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours. Deal?” he asked.
“Fine. But I will be telling your father when he gets back,” she sniffed, putting her hands on her hips and then dropping them in outrage as Bret suddenly burst into laughter. “Oh no,” he said, grabbing his heart. “Oh, please don’t tell Daddy. What will I do with his disapproval?” “Oh, you don’t care much about his approval, I know. Your father cheated on me because he couldn’t handle having a gay son. It disgusted him,” she said venomously. The statement would have hurt him if he hadn’t turned her off a long time ago. He still wanted to slap her. But instead, he decided he’d hit another way. “Mother, your husband cheated on you because when we moved here, his wife became Queen Ice Bitch of Promise Lake. That, and Jessica was twenty-three. So don’t put your Stepford bullshit on me,” he fired back. She took an angry step forward, and Kaiser let out a menacing growl that caused her to hesitate. However, the look of fury on her face was replaced with one of stone calm, something that scared Bret even more than their heated war of words. She was beginning another “how dare you” statement, which had become common since her discovery of Bret’s sexuality, when Kaiser let out a series of very loud barks that caused them both to jump. The reflection of two lights across the kitchen wall caused Bret to turn as a car pulled into the driveway. “Kaiser, come on,” he said, snapping his fingers. The dog turned from the window and looked at Bret before wagging his tail and following him on his way to the stairs that led up to his room. “Where are you going?” his mother demanded, and Bret turned and was about to respond when a car door slammed and a voice tore through the night—and right into his heart. “Bret! Bret!” The voice sobbed and broke the second time. The tortured sound hit him like a truck. His heart skipped, and the truth he was yet to discover, the hand fate had held, was shown for the first time. Bret’s mouth went dry as his throat constricted, and he swore if he were to try to step forward, he would fall flat, but with another shout of “Bret!” he ran forward. He knew the voice, and Kaiser was hot on his heels while his mother complained about the racket they were causing.
Bret hit the door, his heart lodged in his throat and his knees trembling. Kaiser rushed between his legs to the person standing in the light of the car. Bret’s view was obscured as the beams from the headlights stole his night vision, but Kaiser knew the newcomer and got out of their way as they came into focus. It was Timmy, Adam’s older brother, and the look on his face screamed through Bret’s body like electricity as realization dawned horribly in his mind. The cards were being laid out on the table. “No.” Bret sobbed, shook his head, and brought his hand up to his mouth. As if shaking his head would somehow slay the dragon, he reached out for Timmy as his knees finally gave out on him. Timmy fell too as he gathered Bret in his arms, as Adam’s mother and father shrouded both boys in grief. Kaiser, unsure of what was happening, raised his head toward the sky and let out his own mournful wail as they wept, their tears soaking the parched concrete driveway with the truth. Adam wouldn’t be coming home.