Guest Blog: The Boystown Mysteries author Marshall Thornton chats about writing the series

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I first discovered Marshall Thornton’s Boystown series in the summer of 2013 – long after he’d originally published the first four novels; Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowak Novellas and Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets. By the time of the release of Boystown 4, I had become familiar with Marshall’s mysteries, and decided to start at the beginning since the first full-length novel of the series had caught my attention. About this same time, Marshall had begun to release the first few books in the series via Audiobook, narrated by the incredible Brad Langer, and offered to me a promo-copy of Boystown 2 to review. Through Marshall’s words, Brad Langer made quirky, tough, rough around the edges, at times jaded, former Chicago cop turned private detective, Nick Nowak come to life, and I eagerly await each novel’s release in the series.

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I got to interview Marshall for my Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group in 2013 and reposted the interview in January 2016 with updates (interview), have written numerous reviews of both his novels & audiobooks, and got to finally such a warm, sweet man in person when we both attended a Mystery Writer’s of America seminar in Atlanta a couple years ago. Numerous novels in the Boystown series have been finalists for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award. Boystown 7: Bloodlines actually won the Lammy for Best Gay Mystery this year at the 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.

There is so much more I’d love to share about Marshall and Nick Nowak, but instead of rambling on, I thought I’d share a recent blog post that says everything I would want and more. You can read it below.

How Far Will I Go?

Guest Blog by Marshall Thornton

Reposted with permission; originally posted February 24, 2016

One of the questions I get a lot about the Boystown series is, “How many books will there be?” Of course, since the question is about the future the most honest answer is, “I don’t know.” But at the same time, how many books to write and where to leave Nick Nowak is something I think about and obviously something that interests my readers so I thought I’d put down a few thoughts…

Typically, as I finish one book I get ideas about the next one. Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind came out a few days ago and I already have about fifteen percent of Boystown 9: Lucky Days written in the form of notes and first draft scenes. This is important as I have to keep track of the mystery arc in books 7-9 about Jimmy English, and of course the ongoing lives of the recurring characters. I imagine if I finish one of the books and have no ideas, or very few ideas, about the next book I’ll know that the end has arrived.

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The first eight books cover the period from January 1981 through August 1984. I definitely want to do two more books set in 1984 and have one in mind for 1985. That would bring me up to eleven—Joseph Hansen, one of my idols, did twelve in his series. I hope that I’ll write more than eleven. I wouldn’t mind getting all the way to nineteen or twenty like Michael Connelly, another of my idols. It would be nice to take the books all the way to the first glimmers of hope in the AIDS epidemic, but that wasn’t until the mid-nineties, which right now is a long way off.

As a gay man who lived through the eighties there are so many stories from that period I feel I can tell. So many stories I think are still important. One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this series has been collecting the little bits of real life that I remember from that period and weaving them into the mysteries. Quite a few of the characters and situations I’ve touched on in the stories come from people I knew during the period, in many cases people who can no longer speak for themselves. Collecting those stories matters to me a great deal on a very personal level.

There are many ways to classify the Boystown series. I think it would be fair to include it as AIDS literature. Most of AIDS literature took place in the eighties and nineties, and most of it was a cry for help, a warning bell rung as loudly as possible. Writing about AIDS from this vantage point is a very different experience. I’m able to focus on the way very real people reacted to the crisis. Knowing that things improve, allows me to focus on the ways in which individuals reacted, sometimes heroically, sometimes not. Of course, AIDS is still an issue. It hasn’t gone away. Reminding people of how it began and how we got to where we are is something I find to be vital.

I think if the Boystown series were a romance series with mystery elements—as opposed to being the opposite of that—I would have would have stopped at two or three books as I find manufacturing “conflict” in a happy couple uninteresting. Some writers do it well; I don’t think I’m one of them. Several of the Boystown books have ended in a happy-for-now kind of way, but if Nick ever finds a truly happy ending it will likely mean the end of the series.

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An important indicator of whether a writer should keep writing a series is sales. Not for financial reasons—certainly many writers do well writing multiple series of three or four books—but because each sale represents one or more readers. The last year has been very positive for the Boystown series. Boystown 7: Bloodlines opened better than any of the previous books, and even though it’s only been a few days it looks as though this year’s book is on tract to exceed that. Equally important is that last year the first book in the series actually sold more copies than it had since it was published five years before. The audience is finding the books and I’m so happy about that. With all of that said, I’d like to send out a big thank you to all who’ve bought and supported the series over the years. It means a lot.

Cover Preview – Coming early 2017 – Boystown 9: Lucky Days

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Website:

https://marshallthorntonauthor.com/

Exclusive Excerpt: Splintered by SJD Peterson – a terrific gay FBI mystery/thriller!

Splintered by SJD Peterson

Blurb:

Hunting Evil: Book One

A string of murders targeting effeminate gay men has the GLBTQ community of Chicago on alert, but budget cuts have left many precincts understaffed and overworked, and homophobia is alive and well within the law enforcement community so little has been done to solve the mystery. When the FBI calls in Special Agent Todd Hutchinson and his team, the locals are glad to hand the case off. But Hutch finds a bigger mystery than anyone originally realized—seventeen linked murders committed in several different jurisdictions. Hutch’s clues lead him to Noah Walker.

Working on his PhD in forensic psychology, Noah has been obsessed with serial murders since he was a child. Noah finds himself hunted, striking him off Hutch’s suspect list, but not off his radar. To catch the killer before anyone else falls victim, they’ll have to work together to bring him to justice.

Excerpt::

They pulled off the road near the ravine that Jared Martin—the first known victim—had been discarded in. Like all the other victims, except for the latest one, he’d been thrown to the ground without any kind of care to how he landed. Once dead, he was like yesterday’s garbage, dumped without worth or another thought.

Granite didn’t follow Hutch as he made his way to the exact spot Martin had been found. Instead, Granite leaned against the car with notebook in hand. Granite would take his own notes of the area but knew enough to give Hutch a minute alone at the scene. Hutch considered the area with a critical eye. There was nothing special about it, a wide open field with scattered trees and brush visible beneath the nearly full moon. It was doubtful it had changed much in the past three years. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes as he tried to think beyond his own definitions of right and wrong.

It’s isolated. I live close by. I’ve been here before. Don’t want to take a chance on getting lost with my prize. It’s deserted. The grass has grown up in the ruts of the makeshift road. No one comes here often. It’s a perfect place to leave my toy.

Hutch let the thoughts flow through him as he tried to get a mental picture of the man speaking to him in his head, but he always stood in shadow, never revealed too much about himself or showed his face. Hutch recalled from the notes that there had been no tire marks left, no other types of indentations suggesting he’d used a cart or any means to bring the body here except brute strength. The shadowy figure morphed into a larger man.

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A glint of light off the smooth steel blade sliced through delicate skin. Metal shackles that immobilized straining limbs clanked. Anguished screams as fire met flesh echoed off the walls, took it in, relished in the sweet symphony.

As the images and sounds of torture and mutilation played out in Hutch’s mind, the edge of his lip curled into a sneer as exhilaration raced along his nerve endings. Blood. Pain. Screams. Power. Lust. His body heated, pulse racing as arousal surged through him, hardening his cock. Hutch stumbled back with a loud gasp as the intensity caused his body to spasm violently.

Strong arms snaked out and caught him around the waist before he could land on his ass, steadying him. “I got ya,” Granite murmured against Hutch’s ear as he was pulled tightly against Granite’s chest.

Hutch gasped harshly, trying to get air into his constricted lungs. His mouth watered and he swallowed several times as he fought to keep down the rising bile from spewing out. Hutch let Granite support his trembling weight as he worked to slow down his breathing and calm his rapidly beating heart. He hated this part of the job. But his uncanny ability to get into the mind of a killer was a necessary evil and part of what made his arrest record so stellar. Still, it scared the living shit out of him. The way his body reacted to the images of carnage and death disgusted him.

What the fuck is wrong with me? He was no longer sure if he was experiencing what the killer was feeling or his own reactions to the images, the lines having become blurred. Was it possible that on some level, he had the same penchant for suffering and murder? Was he just as sick as the bastard he was hunting?

Hutch pushed the disturbing thoughts down and locked them up tight. He didn’t dare look at them too deeply, question them, afraid of what the answer would be. He straightened and pulled away from Granite.

“I’m… I’m good,” he assured Granite as he threaded his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair.

Granite watched him carefully, worry and confusion evident in his tight features. He knew Hutch well enough, had witnessed his strangeness enough times not to push him at the moment. But Hutch knew they’d be talking about it later. At least by then, hopefully he’d have his shit under control and could tell Granite the same thing he always did. “Imagining how they die always gets to me.” Granite was smart enough to hear the lie for what it was, but he never demanded more. Hiding this dark, ugly part of himself was the only way Hutch could look anyone in the eye every day. Eventually, though, he knew the truth would come out. What then? Would he find himself with a one-way ticket to the asylum for the criminally insane before he could become what he sought?

Agent Hutchinson, you are one fucked-up man. “Yeah, tell me something I don’t know,” he muttered under his breath as he stomped back to the car.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Splintered-Hunting-Evil-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01HLYKIXQ/ref=sr_1_9_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468412390&sr=1-9&keywords=splintered

Exclusive Excerpt: The Dream Ender by Dorien Grey: A Dick Hardesty Mystery – Book 11

The Dream Ender by Dorien Grey – A Dick Hardesty Mystery Book 11

Blurb:

When rugged construction worker and biker Cal Hysong is killed, Dick knows the reason. Cal was widely suspected of deliberately spreading AIDS to other gay men. Like the rest of the gay community, Dick’s initial reaction is “good riddance.” But when Jake Jacobson and Jared Martinson, two of Dick’s closest friends, become suspects, the case turns personal, and Dick sets out to clear them and find the real killer. His search takes him into the unfamiliar world of gay bikers and leathermen, and through a labyrinth of suspects, motivations, blind alleys and memorable characters.

Excerpt:

Thursday passed without incident. I was, of course, curious about how the police investigation was going, but while under other circumstances I may have been tempted to call Marty Gresham to ask him, I didn’t want to even consider it now. The further I kept away from things, the better.

I was just getting ready to walk out the door for work on Friday when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Dick, it’s Jake. We’ve got a really big problem.”

Shit!

“What’s wrong?” Stupid question.

“The police just left. They showed up with a search warrant for my gun.”

I was a little surprised but tried to offer some reassurance. “I told you they might ask you if you had a hunting rifle. But that they’d have a search warrant is a little extreme, I’d think.”

“That’s not the problem! When I went to get it for them, it was gone!”

“Gone?” I echoed, immediately feeling stupid for doing so. “When’s the last time you saw it?” I also immediately thought of the meeting they’d had with the other guys from the Male Call.

“The last time I saw it was when I put it under the bed right after I bought it. I didn’t have any need to take it out until hunting season.” He paused, then, “I should have looked for it when you told me about it on the phone. I at least could have reported it stolen before the police showed up looking for it.

“And what’s worse, if that’s possible, is that the warrant wasn’t just for a Winchester hunting rifle. It was specifically for a Model 94 Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative. They’re a limited issue.”

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“Chief Crazy Horse?” I asked. “Why in the world would you want a Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative rifle?”

“Winchester does commemoratives all the time,” he explained. “When Stan and I were kids, we always played cowboys and Indians, and Stan always insisted on being Chief Crazy Horse and me being General Custer. I know they didn’t have anything to do with each other in fact, but you know how kids’ minds work.

“We had been talking about buying new rifles this year anyway, and when Stan heard about this particular commemorative, he insisted we get it. How could the police have known I even had one?”

Good question. Obviously the police had been doing their job.

“I’d imagine they tested the bullet taken from Hysong’s body and that it came from a Winchester 94,” I said. “You said it was a pretty new model—apparently, they were able to pin the spent bullet down to the exact model that fired it. They undoubtedly checked the gun shops and dealers for a list of people who’d recently bought one.

“They’ll undoubtedly be checking with Stan, too,” I added.

“Oh, that’ll go over big!” Jake said. “After all the battles Stan has had with the bureaucracy dragging their feet on the AIDS problem, he doesn’t look kindly on authority figures. But even so, with my gun missing, I’ve got a pretty good idea who the police will move up to the top of their suspect list.”

I did, too, but didn’t say so.

“Well, there’s no point wasting your time worrying about that right now,” I said. “Did you tell the police about the guys from the Male Call being over?”

“No. I couldn’t see any point to dragging them into it, since for all I know the gun might very well have been gone before they were even here. These guys talk tough, but I can’t imagine that any of them could actually steal the gun, let alone use it!”

“But they knew you had it,” I pointed out.

“Well, yeah. The weekend I got it, we were at the Male Call, and I know I was talking about it then. It’s sort of like getting a new car. Okay, so I was doing the old ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ thing. Hey, how many people do you know with a Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative Winchester 94?”

“And you never had any indication that someone had broken into your apartment?”

“Not a clue, but…” He paused, then, “Jeezus, how stupid can I be? I sometimes leave the kitchen window open a crack. Somebody could have gotten in that way—but there’s never been any trouble in my building, and I’ve never even heard of a break-in anywhere in the neighborhood.”

“Jared was there when the cops were?”

“Yeah, but he had to leave for Carrington in time to make it to school. They seemed a little reluctant to let him go, and they fingerprinted us both before he left, which I thought was kind of strange.”

I did, too, but again didn’t say anything.

“They didn’t say so,” Jake continued, “but I imagine they think Jared has the gun at his place, and I’ll bet the minute they left here they called the Carrington police to get a search warrant. They won’t find it, of course, but I guess I can understand their thinking. Of all the rotten luck!” He paused for a moment and then said, “I was wondering if maybe you could do us a huge favor and check with your police contacts to see what’s going on. We didn’t mention that we knew you, by the way.”

Well, now that the police were aware—and I was afraid that was a gross understatement—of Jake and Jared, I at least didn’t have to avoid using their names.

“I can do that,” I said. “But tell me what else they said or asked you.’

“They wanted to know if we knew Cal, and of course, we said yes. It would be stupid to deny it. Then they asked if either Jared or I had a grudge against him. I told them that, of course, we did—Cal was murdering gay men. They wanted to know if there might be any other reason, and I told them as far as I was concerned, the reason I gave them was reason enough.

“Then they asked if either one of us had AIDS. I told them to check with our doctor.

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind

By Marshall Thornton

 

Chapter One

Chicago is famous for its wind, its snow, its frigid, bone-cracking cold. It’s not as well known for the one or two weeks each summer when the heat hits the high nineties, and the humidity grips you by the throat and squeezes. For those dog days, which almost always happen in August, we sweat, we overheat, we get red-faced and as angry as cats in a bathtub. Our brief summer heat waves explain why it’s actually a pleasure to wear an overcoat most of the year.

I’d cranked open all the windows in my tenth floor apartment. Joseph and I lay naked on my bed trying not to touch each other, while at the same time trying to spread our limbs so we weren’t touching ourselves either. Joseph had gotten us a plastic spray bottle and filled it with chilled water. Every so often we woke up and sprayed ourselves so the water would evaporate on our skin and cool us down.

The phone rang around three that morning. My first inclination was to not answer as there was a fifty-fifty chance it was a wrong number. Curiosity got me on the sixth ring, though. I pushed myself out of bed and aimed toward the living room. I hoped I’d get lucky and hear a stranger ask for Mary or Bobo or José. But then I picked up the phone and wasn’t lucky.

“Nick? Nick, I need your help.”

I tried not to recognize his voice. I tried to think of a good reason to just hang up. The last person in the world I wanted to be having a conversation with in the middle of the night was Christian Baylor, intrepid journalist and all around pain in the ass.

“Why can’t you come to my office in the morning like a normal person?”

“I need help now. Can you come over?”

I hadn’t seen Christian since April. There was a chance he was calling about a detective named Devlin who had hassled us for a while over the death of the Bughouse Slasher. There was also a chance he was just trying to get me to come over and fuck him.

“I need you, Nick. You have to—” His voice was TV movie urgent.

“No, actually, I don’t have to.”

“There’s a dead man in my bathroom.”

That stopped me. I had no idea whether to believe him or not. I wanted to not believe him. I wanted to call him a liar. But he did strike me as exactly the kind of person who’d end up with a dead man lying around the house.

“Why do you have a dead man in your bathroom?”

“He’s one of my neighbors. Someone shot him and he ran to my apartment, so I let him in and tried to help him. But I couldn’t. It was too late.”

“And the someone with the gun?”

“Took off.”

“So you decided to call me…”

“Yes.”

“Instead of the police?”

“I’m going to call them. I just thought it would be good to have a friend here when I do.”

Friend was pushing it. Still, I said, “Call them now. And I’ll come.”

“You will?”

“Call them.”boystown8

Christian lived in the only contemporary building on that block of Belden. It was about eight stories, red brick, and as architecturally bland as a cheese sandwich. It was about a half hour walk from my place. At that time of the morning it could take fifteen or twenty-minutes to get a cab and even longer to find a parking place if I drove, so I went ahead and hoofed it. When I got there thirty-five minutes later, it was no surprise to find an empty blue-and-white squad car sitting in front of the building with its lights flashing, next to a white van from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Someone had been nice enough to jam a phone book in the lobby door, so I let myself up to Christian’s fifth floor studio—well, close to his studio. When I got off the elevator I was stopped by a wall-sized patrol.

“I’m sorry, this area is closed,” he said.

In the elevator I’d decided to start this off on the wrong foot and had my keys ready in my hand. “I live down there,” I said, pointing at the door across from Christian’s.

“Are you just getting home?”

“Bartender.” I tried to look exhausted which wasn’t much of a stretch.

“You know the guy across the hall?”

“Not well.”

In a lowered voice, he asked, “He a faggot?”

I ground my teeth a little. Then I said evasively, “I try to keep to myself.”

He got a worried look on his face and I thought he was trying to decide whether he should let me by. In my days on the job I wouldn’t have let someone walk through a crime scene. When I set a perimeter it stayed set. But that didn’t mean this guy wasn’t going to let me by.

“This job, man. It’s getting more dangerous every day.”

I stared at him. Other than the fact that it was muggy as a swamp, I didn’t see what was so dangerous about standing in a hallway.

Without being asked, he explained, “There’s blood everywhere in there. Faggot blood.”

Oh. That. His fear didn’t faze me. Panic about AIDS had begun to reach the general population and all the wrong people were freaked out over all the wrong things. Doorknobs, toothbrushes, movie seats. The world was a continuing round of famine, war and genocide, but it was doorknobs that scared the shit out of people.

“I’ll just stick to my side of the hallway.”

He looked around as though someone might give him a yay or nay. Begrudgingly, he said, “All right. Go directly to your apartment.”

I walked down the hallway and stood in front of the door across from Christian’s. I looked over my shoulder. What I saw was disturbing. The patrol was right. Blood was everywhere. The door to the apartment was covered in a big splash of it. Honestly, it looked like someone had thrown a water balloon at the door and it had exploded…except it wasn’t water, it was blood. There was blood on almost every other surface I could see, handprints, splashes, smears; it was everywhere on the butter-colored hardwood floor. I didn’t see the medical examiner anywhere. I guessed he was in the bathroom with the body.

Underneath all that blood, the studio was preciously decorated with a twin-sized daybed covered in too many pillows sitting in front of the one wide window, a mod blue desk and a little cafe table with two metal chairs. The miniscule kitchen sat to the right of the front door. The bathroom was in the back to the left of the living room area.

In the center of the living room, Christian stood talking to another patrol, a thick, tough-looking woman in her late twenties. Christian was slight and too pretty for his own good. He looked like he’d been clubbing; he wore a yellow mesh shirt and a tight pair of jeans with clean, white Chuck Taylors. There wasn’t a drop of blood on him. If he’d tried to help the dead guy like he’d said, his help must not have gone much beyond shouting encouragement. Clearly, he hadn’t been anywhere near the guy while he was bleeding to death.

“Just go into your apartment, sir,” the Wall said. His plastic nametag told me his name was some kind of Slavic, beginning with a V and ended with a -vich. There were ten or twelve letters in between. The Wall was easier to remember.

I turned, wondering exactly how I was going to worm my way out of this. Suddenly the door in front of me opened. A scrawny, fifty-year-old woman in a flowered housecoat stared at me as though I had the word RAPE tattooed on my forehead and then yelled, “GO AWAY!” Before I could, she slammed the door in my face.

Behind me, I heard Christian yell, “Nick! You came!”

I turned fully to look at him, ignoring the glare I was surely receiving from the Wall. Christian hurried out into the hallway, his patrol close behind.

“I can’t believe this happened! It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Who are you, sir?” the female officer asked, her nametag said McCready. “You a neighbor?”

“No. Christian called me. Asked me to come.”

Without turning, I could feel that the Wall had moved in and was now breathing down my neck. I’d lied to him and I could feel his anger floating my way.

“Name?” McCready asked.

“Nick Nowak.”

I decided not to mention my profession since no one was paying me. But Christian had other ideas and told them, “He’s a private investigator.”

McCready looked me up, down and around. “Nowak? You have family on the job?”’

“I do.”

“Bridgeport?”

“That would be them.”

“Then you know this isn’t a social occasion. It’s not a party. Your friend doesn’t get to send out invites. You don’t have any business at our crime scene.”

I tried not to smile at her possessiveness. Someone had been murdered and the crime scene belonged to her. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go stand down the hall.”

“I’d prefer you leave the building entirely,” she said. It really was preference. She didn’t have the right to ask me to leave the building completely. I would have happily gone home, though, except for the panic in Christian’s eyes.

“Do you want me to call a lawyer?” I asked him.

“I didn’t do anything.” Which was actually one of the better reasons to call a lawyer. I didn’t bother pointing it out, though. He was a big enough boy to make his own decisions.

“I’ll be right down here if you need me,” I told him pointing down the hallway

I turned to walk down the hall, and as I walked by the Wall he gave my shoulder a shove as though he didn’t think I’d be able to walk away from the scene on my own. I stumbled a few steps then righted myself. I took a position near the elevator and lit a cigarette. The Wall took a position in the middle of the hallway and puffed himself out in case I tried to slip by him again.

Belden was just over the line into the 18th police district. Harker’s district. Detective Bert Harker had been my lover from the spring of 1981 until he died in September 1982. Eighteen months. The two-year anniversary of his death was coming up in a month. He’d been gone longer than we’d been together. But I didn’t really have time to be thinking about that. I needed to be thinking about Christian Baylor, who Harker had brought into my life.

Since the apartment was in Harker’s old district, I held a faint hope that his former partner, Frank Connors, might be the detective showing up for this investigation. He wouldn’t be happy to see me, but he’d be likely to let me know what was going on.

Unfortunately, after I’d been standing in the hallway by the elevator for about three cigarettes—exchanging cold stares with the Wall—a black guy in his early forties got off the elevator. I could tell he was a detective right off. His ill-fitting, cheap suit and the mean glance he gave me were big clues.

One of the very few times I missed spending time with my family was the year before, when Harold Washington got elected mayor and appointed the first black police commissioner. I would have loved to see the looks on their faces. Having spent decades under the thumb of an Irish mayor and an Irish-dominated police force, I would have loved watching them get passed over for the blacks. Of course, in their view—and there was a bit of truth to it—they’d been getting passed over for the blacks since the seventies, when the department was put under court order to recruit and promote in a way that more accurately reflected the makeup of the city. In other words, more blacks. Whoever it was who’d just walked by me probably got his job due to the court order. I hoped he deserved it.

I decided to try conversation with the Wall. “Where are all the neighbors?”

“We told them to go back inside.”

“Anyone hear anything?”

“Most of them heard someone yell and then the gunshot. There was a lot of peephole peeping, but everyone stayed inside.”

“Just one gunshot?”

He got a look on his face, like he realized he’d already said too much. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a lot of difference to the dead guy.”

After that, the Wall clammed up. Even halfway down the hall, I could hear that people were talking in Christian’s apartment. I just couldn’t hear what they were saying. I did know that whatever Christian was telling them was a bald-faced lie. What I didn’t know was why he was lying. And why he thought he needed me there. He seemed to be doing a bang up job of lying to the police without my help.

Christian told me his neighbor had been shot and ran to his apartment for help. Of course, I thought it was ridiculous that anyone would run to Christian for help. But beyond that there wasn’t any blood in the hallway. Well, any blood other than the blood that had been tracked out of the apartment into the hallway, including a few bloody footprints on the low-pile, butterscotch-colored carpet in front of Christian’s door. I didn’t know whether they belonged to the killer or the patrol officers. As I stood there trying to work that out, I realized there was a faint set of footsteps that came away from the door and continued down the hallway toward me. The footprints were nearly undetectable, fading more with each step. But they continued toward me, then went by me and down the hallway becoming fainter and fainter with each step. I took a few steps down the hallway to find out where they went.

The Wall asked, “Where are you going?”

I pointed at the footprints in the carpet at my feet. The Wall squinted, but he saw what I was showing him. We followed the footprints, which disappeared as we turned the corner on the far side of the elevator. Halfway down a short hallway a garbage chute sat about four feet up the wall: a metal door, eighteen inches square with a handle smeared in blood.

The Wall reached out like he was going to open the chute and I instinctively said, “Don’t touch it.” He gave me a dirty look, mainly because I was right. There was blood, so there would be fingerprints. “Get the detective.”

“I’m not leaving you here.”

“Do you want me to go get the detective while you wait here?”

He pulled me by the arm back to where I’d been standing and then continued down the hall to the door of Christian’s apartment. He kept his eyes on me while speaking into the apartment. “Detective White? There’s something you need to see.”

The Wall kept looking at me and I managed to keep a straight face over the irony of a black detective being named White. The name was like the punch line to a joke that didn’t quite land. Detective White came out of the apartment and followed the Wall down the hallway. They breezed passed me and I followed them.

“Footprints,” the Wall said, pointing at the carpet, then at the garbage chute. “Smudge.”

“Go down to the basement and find out what this kid dropped into the chute,” White said.

The Wall gave him a concerned look. “Who’s gonna watch this guy?”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Unhappy, the Wall turned and went around the corner to the elevator. White looked me over and said, “Your friend is telling a bucket full of lies.”

“I’d offer to tell him to stop, but I have the feeling he lies to me, too.”

“Do you know why he’s lying?”

“Not a clue.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his suit. It was about two sizes too big. I wondered if he’d recently lost a lot of weight and hadn’t bothered with a new wardrobe just in case the diet didn’t stick.

“Officer McCready says you have family on the job.”

“I do. I was on the job myself in the mid-seventies.” I pulled one of my business cards out of a pocket; it wasn’t too badly crumpled so I gave it to him. “Nick Nowak.”

“Monroe White,” he said, shaking my hand. He glanced at my card, “You’re a private dick.”

Dick was an old-timey nickname for a private eye. I figure he used it since it was an opportunity to call me a dick to my face. “Investigator. Yes.”

“Why’d you leave the CPD?”

“Creative differences.”

I could tell he didn’t like my answer. His dark eyes got a shade darker. “What are you doing here?”

“Christian called me.”

“He your boyfriend?” That made me wonder if he already knew why I wasn’t on the job.

“No.”

“That offend you? Me thinking you’re a fag?”

“My boyfriend is an ex-priest. He’s teaching me forgiveness.”

“You fucking this one on the side, then?”

“No. I’m not.”

You would think that who’s fucking who was not the most important thing to figure out in a murder investigation, but you’d be wrong. It’s depressing how often love and death get tangled up together.

“What did Christian say to you on the phone?”

“That his neighbor got shot and ran to his apartment for help, and then died in his bathroom.”

White raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

“No. Someone came to the door, your victim answered and he was shot there at the door. He retreated into the apartment to get away or try to stop the bleeding. I’m only guessing, I haven’t been in there, but I doubt Christian was anywhere near here when it happened.”

“Unless he was the one with the gun.”

“The shooting took place in a closed space. He’d be covered in blood.”

“He took his time. Called you. Maybe he took a shower.”

“Isn’t the body in the bathroom?”

“There are a hundred showers in this building. He didn’t have to get cleaned up in there.”

“Can you prove he took a shower somewhere else?”

“We got time,” he said and walked away from me.

I went back to the spot where I’d been standing to smoke and swelter. I wore a pair of jeans and a blue Cubs T-shirt that Joseph bought me when we went to a game. It was too much clothing. If I thought stripping down to my BVDs would have helped the situation I’d have done it.

The elevator pinged and the door opened. The Wall came out delicately holding a snub-nosed 38 by the barrel with two fingers. He walked quickly down to the apartment. The whole thing was beginning to annoy me. White was already focused on Christian as the main suspect. That was a mistake. Or at least my gut said so. Christian wasn’t the type to murder.

But it was more than that. As I stood there, I began to see little things that didn’t add up. If Christian did shoot the dead guy why did he do it at the front door? Given the mess the blood made on the door—and not in the hallway—it made sense that the guy answered the door and someone shot him. Why would Christian come home and shoot someone in his own doorway?

And why was he so clean? If he did murder the guy and then went somewhere else for a shower, then why not tell the lie that he’d been out and just come home to find this dead guy in his apartment? That was a story that fit the way he looked. The story he told me, that he’d tried to help his neighbor, didn’t fit with the way he looked. If he had murdered the guy, the last thing in the world he should do was take a shower and say he tried to save him. He’d washed the proof of his story away.

Christian was annoying me as much as White. If he didn’t kill the guy, and I was pretty sure he didn’t, then why was he lying? Was there something bigger going on? Something scarier? Something worse than being suspected—

Officer McCready pulled Christian out of the apartment. He was handcuffed and his hands were covered by brown paper bags. The kind mothers pack with lunch for their kids. As they walked by, I said, “Christian, you need a lawyer. Tell them you want a lawyer.”

But he didn’t. He just gave me a confused look that said he didn’t understand what was happening.

Exclusive Excerpt: Prince of the Sea by Jon Michaelsen: Romance Mystery/Thriller from Lethe Press

Blurb:

Jonathan Lemke thought spending two weeks alone with his partner in a beachside cottage would help to rekindle the lost passion of their ten-year union. He’d chosen Tybee Island, a quiet seaside community on the Georgia coast east of Historic Savannah. Jonathan had spent his childhood growing up on the pristine shores of the barrier islet which continues to hold a special place in his heart.

The romantic surprise backfires when Paul, Jonathan’s partner, rushes off to Chicago for the chance to woo a high profile client, leaving Jonathan alone and brokenhearted until a chance meeting with a mysterious and seductive stranger linked to a beloved island legend provides a chance at discovering forever love.

But someone with strong familial ties to Tybee Island is desperate to expose its secrets and avenge a grudge decades in the making. An assailant so threatened by the forces of nature that defy explanation, he will stop at nothing to unmask ancient island lore…even if he must kill to prove it.

Excerpt:

Jonathan slipped on a pair of board shorts and headed out shirtless for a stroll beneath a clear night sky. The balminess skimming off the ocean reminded him of the nights as a boy he’d lain awake in his bed staring out the window at the stars. His window had faced east toward the sea, providing a stellar inky-black canvas for spotting the constellations his grandfather had pointed out to him. Jonathan smiled at the thought of his grandpa who had taught him more about the earth and its natural beauty than any textbook ever did.

Meandering down the beach about half a mile before walking to the water’s edge, Jonathan dug his toes into the sand and felt the granules beneath his feet erode with the retreating water. Moonlight bathed the beach in incandescence as the ocean lapped the shoreline, depositing tiny crabs and shells in the recoil of the waves. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the sky when he glanced up. He spotted Polaris, the North Star, right away, the first luminary he’d discovered with Grandpa; Ursa Major, more commonly known as the Big Dipper, opposite and more difficult to spot, Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. Snaking its way between the two was Draco, the dragon, Jonathan’s favorite constellation of them all. Every night before falling asleep, he used to fantasize about the mighty dragon racing across the inky blackness at lightning speed slaying Leo the lion and Taurus the bull. “Ever diligent,” his grandfather used to say, all those years ago. “Protector of the stars and planets.”

That feeling again. Goosebumps fanned out across Jonathan’s chest and snaked along his arms.

The stars shine bright tonight, no?

Startled by the deep, melodic voice, Jonathan jerked around, but the dunes stood alone. A sudden awareness, like a sense of déjà vu washed over him. The hair on his arms prickled. Seeing no one, he shrugged off the strange feeling as having had too much scotch. He turned around to head back toward the cottage.

Jonathan.

He spun around like a frightened animal. Syllables drifted through his mind, forming words into inner thoughts, the sound not his but a voice of long ago. Jonathan saw no one on the beach with him. “Who’s there?”

It is I, Jonathan. Your old friend.

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The voice caused his heart to skip, a warm flush to his cheeks as he stood frozen. “Lucius?” Jonathan said. “Where are you? I can hear your voice but I don’t see you.”

I am here, my friend. The familiar voice urged him forth. Near the palm.

Jonathan spotted a tree with its trunk jutting out of the sand like a giant rocket impaled in the sand. A large image emerged from the shadows. He saw it was the man he’d tangled with before, the same person he’d tried to rescue from drowning. Lucius wore white slacks and nothing else, the fabric fluttering in the breeze. His torso shimmered in the moonlight, the sheen highlighting the toned muscles of his chest and the tautness of his stomach. A simple leather cord hung around his neck, bearing a lustrous stone of intermediate shades of white, pink and brown that fell in the hollow of his throat.

A voice cooing in Jonathan’s head beckoned him closer. The moment seemed surreal, dreamlike. “Lucius, is that really you?” He took a few tentative steps forward. “It’s been so long.”

It is I, Jonathan. The voice wafted. I am here now.

“I don’t understand.” Jonathan stood, disbelieving the voice drifting in his head. “How is it possible I can hear your words, but your lips aren’t moving?”

Lucius chuckled, that same wonderful melodic echo that had warmed Jonathan’s heart all those years ago. I speak in your consciousness, my friend, as can you. I perceive your thoughts and you mine, but only if you allow. Lucius moved forward, his arms outstretched and welcoming. You feel the connection, do you not?

Jonathan stood still. Since returning to the island, he’d sensed something tugging at his psyche, an outpouring of passion eluding explanation, one he had chosen to ignore. Images of the two boys exploring the north shore flashed in his mind. Heat flowed through his body in a large burst, sparking awareness unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.

Seeing his childhood friend ignited a familiar fire within Jonathan. He moved forward like a kid again, the years melting away like ice cream on a beach.

“I think I do.” Jonathan closed the distance between them. He felt giddy and childish. “I feel you and sense your thoughts, yet I don’t understand how that’s even possible.”

“As do I, my dear friend.” Lucius moved his lips for the first time. “We share a mystical bond, you and I, unlike any other.”

Lucius stood well over six feet tall, blessed with wide shoulders and muscular arms, and a trim torso lined with ribbed abs. His brooding eyes caught the moonlight and sparkled like emerald fireflies.

“Was it always so?” Jonathan asked.

“Yes, since we were young pups. You don’t remember?” Lucius laughed and grinned at him. “Your return has brought me much joy, Jonathan. I have missed you terribly, my friend. I always knew you would return home one day.”

Jonathan felt dumbfounded. His family had worked hard to convince him Lucius did not exist all those years ago. They’d said he was Jonathan’s imagination. And now this.

He sensed the mutual attraction. Little had changed between them it seemed, save for their physical size. Lucius stood taller and more muscular, his face blunt and masculine, offset with a straight Nordic nose and razor-sharp jaw, no longer the boy with plump cheeks and a pudgy middle. Long dark hair wisped about his face in the breeze and shimmered in the bright moonlight.

“I trust your lungs have cleared since…”

“What…yes, thank you. It was stupid of me to have gone into the surf, much too rough. But I thought you were in trouble.”

“Jonathan, I meant you no harm. I admit I came inshore to gain a better view, to confirm my intuition that you had indeed returned.” He cast his eyes down. “I did not anticipate you would see me and enter the tide.”

“It’s okay,” Jonathan said. “If not for you, I might have drowned.” He smiled and faked a punch to the man’s right shoulder. “Enough of this. I’m just so damn glad to see you.” He wanted to pull the man into his arms, but sensibility won out.

Lucius offered his hand instead. “Walk with me.”

Jonathan took his friend’s outstretched palm and immediately sensed his incredible strength. The gesture was natural and innate, the act needing no words. He remembered when he and Lucius used to explore the rocks and dunes together for hours on end, forever seeking new adventures or sneaking into the island’s marine preserve to snorkel or skin-dive. Once, they had stowed away on a cargo ship docked in the Savannah harbor bound for China and jumped from the bow of the vessel before it sailed out to sea. He recalled their laughter, guiltless and blithe as they had howled all the way back to the island that day, oblivious to the dangers of their stunt. Thinking back, he cherished those days of naiveté, far from the expectations and responsibilities of adulthood.

They strolled hand in hand along the shoreline. Jonathan was transported back in time and immersed in the reminiscences of their childhood, running and laughing along the sand. He remembered swimming in the green water beneath the pier at Mid Beach and yanking on baited hooks, giggling at the surprised fishermen reeling in empty lines.

A keen perception passed between them after a time. Jonathan felt vibrant and alive, and light on his feet. He didn’t want this moment to end.

Is this happening? Am I actually walking hand-in-hand with the boy—now a man—who once stole my heart, my first crush?

He held the hand of the most beautiful man ever. The touch felt genuine and real, not obligatory or forced, like strolling along with Paul. Joy filled his heart as a sense of belonging that had eluded him of late rushed in like the coming tide. It felt right to be here with this man. Nothing else in the world mattered.

They came across the trail of a loggerhead sea turtle and followed the reptile’s tracks. Lucius spotted her a few feet up the beach and motioned Jonathan forward. She pushed at the thick sand using powerful back flippers to burrow a nest for her eggs. They observed in silence as she worked, witnessing the beauty of nature firsthand. Over the next hour, she spawned a hundred or more white oval shells before covering them with sand and crawling back into the sea, leaving a trail in her wake.

“Tell me something,” Jonathan said as they resumed walking along the beach, at times stopping to marvel at a shell or the shimmering of the moonbeam across the ocean. “Why did you stay? Most of us youngsters went off to universities or moved to bigger cities for better paying jobs, yet you chose to remain on the island.”

“This is my home.” Lucius gestured at the wide expanse before them, the tiny white lights of Little Tybee twinkling in the distance. “Generations of my clan have been reared here, and many more to come. I cannot imagine residing elsewhere. Why should I want to leave the home of my father, my ancestors?”

Jonathan nodded. “What do you do,” he asked. Lucius turned with furrowed eyebrows. “You know, for a career.”

“I am unsure what you mean.”

“You work, don’t you?”

Lucius stared at him, emanating a radiance that clutched Jonathan’s heart.

“Your livelihood. How do you earn a living, you know, pay the bills?”

“Ah, I understand now.” Amusement flashed in Lucius’s eyes, and he appeared coy. “I protect the ocean, its inhabitants and environment. My family has safeguarded the waters and the island for centuries.”

“Oceanography, how cool. It makes sense,” Jonathan said. “You always knew way more about the ocean than I ever did, and you always were an excellent swimmer. Are you affiliated with the Skidaway Institute over in Savannah?” Lucius nodded. “Wow, I’m impressed. That facility is world renowned for its marine research.”

“And you?” Lucius asked. “Did you discover your dreams inland?”

The question seemed odd, though sincere. Jonathan considered a moment before answering. “I suppose so,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an accomplished writer. I studied creative writing and dramatic arts at the University of Georgia. After graduation, I took out for L.A. after landing a job writing copy for an independent network. After a few years, I was awarded a gig as a screenwriter for Destiny Road. Have you heard of it? It’s this tawdry melodrama chronicling the lives of two feuding families with far too much money for their own good. The show runs on cable, not one of the major networks, but it pays well. We’ve been picked up for another two years, so not bad in a business where ninety-five percent of new pilots each season fail to impress the viewing audiences.”

They slowed and turned toward the sea. “In my spare time, I develop screenplays to pitch to the networks. I’ve got boxes full of rejections to prove it.” Jonathan snickered. “Oh, and there’s this great novel I’ve been working on for years that I’ve got saved on my computer’s hard drive.”

“What is a screenplay?” Lucius asked.

“You’re serious?” Jonathan hoped the shock on his face hadn’t offended his friend. “You know, movies, television, that sort of thing.”

Lucius smiled without a hint of understanding.

“I write stories which are then acted out on film.”

Recognition swept across his friend’s features. “Do you mean Hollywood?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Jonathan sensed fire below his navel. The man’s innocence was more than sexy, ridiculously tempting. Jonathan struggled to ignore his carnal desires. Lights on a cargo ship headed out to sea flickered on the darken horizon. “You don’t get out much do you?”

“Perhaps not,” said Lucius.

“Are you married now? Have a girlfriend?”

Jonathan actually surprised himself by venturing into personal territory so quick, unsure why he even broached the subject. The syllables crossing his lips sounded lame to his ears, very seventh grade. He wanted to take his words back. He had pried into the man’s love life as if testing the waters of possibility, looking to hook up. No longer available and off the market for a decade now, he wondered why the hell he felt the need to snoop into Lucius’s personal affairs at all.

“I have no one, Jonathan.” The sadness in the man’s words sounded heavy and ominous. “I am alone…except for my family.”

Jonathan fought the urge to pull his friend into an embrace, to reassure him. Lucius must have sensed his worry because he moved in closer so that their arms and hips touched. Jonathan’s stomach somersaulted. Tendrils of delight surged through his body and he turned to shield his flushing face.

A bright star shot across the horizon.

“Did you see that?” Jonathan asked. “The most beautiful sight in the world, isn’t it? My grandfather used to say when a star fell from the sky it meant someone had fallen in love.” He turned to Lucius, pulled in by his green eyes sparkling in the moonlight. “I never understood what he’d meant as a boy, but I do now.” The energy emanating between them grew intoxicating. Jonathan leaned into his friend and drank in the oceanic scent of his skin.

The snap of twigs distracted Jonathan. He glanced back, but saw nothing moving in the shadows. “It’s probably some small animal foraging in the dunes,” Jonathan said, offering a slight chuckle that sounded shallow and unsure. Turning back, he saw the distress in Lucius’s face.

“I should go,” Lucius said.

“Okay.” Jonathan’s mood fell faster than a barroom rejection.

Lucius flinched and stood rigid. He surveyed the dunes and the beach, searching the darkness and making Jonathan uncomfortable.

“Is something wrong? You seem…”

Lucius leaned into him with ease. Jonathan lost himself in the man’s lovely scent and parted his lips to receive a kiss, a stirring caress that left his head spinning and snatched his breath.

Jonathan pulled back, somewhat startled. “Lucius. I—”

What Jonathan wanted to say, what he needed to explain, was that he had a boyfriend, a partner of ten years. Someone he loved very much. But the sensation he’d had just now left him confused. No denying it. Touching Lucius’s lips was stunning, amazing even but… Jonathan yearned for more, holding steadfast in a delirious haze.

Lucius broke the embrace. “Meet me on the rocks at North Shore tomorrow at sunset,” he said. “I will present to you the most amazing view of the stars.”

Another snap of timber caused Jonathan to turn inland. A shadow moved beyond the seagrass lining the dunes. The hair on his arms prickled.

When he turned back, Lucius was gone.

Buy links: 

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Prince of the Sea – ebook – Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/hxcfsml

Prince of the Sea – Discount for Print – Lethe Press: http://tinyurl.com/hw7pnlm