Exclusive Excerpt: The Serpent’s Tongue (A Dick Hardesty Mystery Book 15) by Dorien Grey


When Dick Hardesty is hired to look into threats against former priest Dan Stabile, possibly from someone whose confession Dan heard while still in the priesthood, it’s just another case. Then, on a stormy Sunday, on a rain-slick road, Dan is killed, Dick’s partner Jonathan is severely injured, and suddenly, it’s personal. Was the accident really an accident…or murder? Dick learns Dan’s secret could involve a child murderer, and now it seems the man is stalking their son Joshua and tormenting Jonathan. The objectivity so vital to Dick’s role as a private investigator goes out the window as he pursues one lead after another, and it begins to look like Dan wasn’t the target after all.


The weather forecast had called for storms Sunday, and they were delivered. After Jonathan and Joshua went off to church in the driving rain, I went through my usual Sunday morning ritual of reading the paper before going into the kitchen to get the quiche ready to go into the oven for when they got back with Dan Stabile. I was trying to figure out how best to approach him on the subject of the threats.

If they were related to something he’d heard in the confessional while a priest, I was sure he couldn’t tell me. But there might be a way to get around it.

I turned the oven on at twelve fifteen, expecting them at any minute. Twelve thirty came and went. At ten-to-one I was beginning to get worried.

The sky was black, and visibility was limited by the downpour. I knew Dan might not have been able to leave right after the service but was a little angry with Jonathan for not calling to let me know they were going to be late, especially with the weather being as bad as it was.

By one thirty, I was definitely concerned and wondered if I should call the MCC. Just as I finished that thought, the phone rang, and I hurried to pick it up.

“Dick Hardesty?” I didn’t recognize the voice.


“This is Officer Lucas of the metro police. There’s been an accident.”

Someone poured a bucket of ice water over my head.

“Are Jonathan and Joshua okay?” I heard myself ask.

“I think you’d better come down to Mercy Memorial as soon as you can. I’ll explain everything then.”

I almost dropped the phone in my rush to hang up and run out the door, not even taking the time to get an umbrella or lock the door after me. I reached the garage fumbling for the key to the lock and I jumped into Jonathan’s truck. I didn’t bother to close the garage door when I drove off.

What was I thinking? I don’t know. I was too busy fighting off nausea and trying to focus my eyes on the road through the heavy rain.

Calm down! Calm down! It isn’t bad. Just a minor accident. The police often insist people go to the hospital just to check them out. They just called me to pick Jonathan and Joshua up and take them home.

I don’t know how long it took me to get to the hospital, but I was lucky not to get into an accident myself on the way. The parking garage was located across from the hospital’s new wing, which included the emergency room. Rather than go around to the main lobby, I raced to the emergency room entrance, getting drenched in the process, and went directly to the nurses’ station.

“Can I help you?”

“I just had a call from the police. My partner, Jonathan Quinlan, and his nephew Joshua were just brought in.”

“Oh, yes. Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll tell Officer Lucas and let the doctor know you’re here.”

“Thank you,” I said as she moved from behind the desk and went down a hall to the right. I did not take her offer to have a seat.

A moment later, two uniformed officers came down the hallway. Spotting me, they came directly over.

“Mr. Hardesty,” the older of the two said, “I’m Officer Lucas. This is Officer Curtis.”

“Yes! Thank you for calling.” Thank you for calling? Of all the stupid things to say at a time like this! “How’s Jonathan? How’s Joshua? Are they okay?”

Lucas did the talking.

“Mr. Quinlan’s car—your car, according to the registration—was sideswiped on the approach to the Booker Street overpass and went off the road and over the embankment. It rolled over several times. The boy—Mr. Quinlan’s nephew, I assume, since he kept calling Mr. Quinlan ‘Uncle Jonathan’—fortunately was wearing a seatbelt, and his injuries are not life-threatening.” He paused then added, “Unfortunately, the adult passenger in the car was killed. Was he the boy’s father?”

“No, Joshua’s parents are dead. Jonathan and I are raising him.”

The passenger in the car was killed.

“Killed?” I heard it, but it didn’t register. All I was really aware of was that my heart was racing, and my knees were very weak. I forced them not to buckle.

“Can I see them?”

“The boy is being treated in Pediatrics now. Mr. Quinlan is in surgery.”

There was a momentary rush of relief, replaced by concern over how seriously he was hurt.

I noticed that Officer Curtis was looking at me, lips pursed.

“Are you the private investigator?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I’ve heard your name mentioned around City Annex. Do you have any reason to think this might not have been an accident? Our one witness said it looked as though the truck deliberately swerved into the vehicle. Have you had any problems lately relating to your work? Anyone you can think of who might want to do you harm?”

The idea sent another chill through me.

“But I wasn’t even in the car.”

“But it was your car. It was raining so heavily the truck driver probably couldn’t see who was driving.”

The thought that somebody might have been trying to kill me, and that Jonathan and Joshua had suffered—and Dan Stabile killed—because of me made me physically ill.

Exclusive Excerpt: The Blue Parrot (Book 3: The L.A. AFTER MIDNIGHT Quartet) by Steve Neil Johnson

Who is Steve Neil Johnson?

Steve is the author of the bestselling Doug Orlando mysteries, FINAL ATONEMENT (Lambda Literary Award finalist for Best Mystery) and FALSE CONFESSIONS. The books grew out of his experiences working for the District Attorney of Brooklyn. His other books include the occult thriller THIS ENDLESS NIGHT, the young adult novel RAISING KANE, and the middle-grade book (under the pseudonym Rathbone Ravenford) EVERYBODY HATES

EDGAR ALLAN POE! He was honored by ONE/National Gay & Lesbian Archives for his contributions to gay literature. He is a longtime resident of Los Angeles, where he is writing his four-book four-decade spanning saga of gay life from the 1950s to the 1980s, The L.A. AFTER MIDNIGHT Quartet. The first book in the series, THE YELLOW CANARY, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for Best Mystery. THE BLACK CAT is the second book in the series. The third, THE BLUE PARROT, was recently published.


Los Angeles, 1975…Eight years have passed since the events in THE BLACK CAT…Crusading attorney Paul Winters is drawn into a web of fear and peril when Jim Blake, the dangerously handsome cop from his past, is framed for murder. As they follow clues left by the killer, their search leads them through the freewheeling world of sex and drugs and gay bathhouses in mid-seventies Los Angeles, and into the dark and chilling history of psychiatric abuse in California’s most notorious state mental hospital. And Paul is forced to choose between two very different men…and face the truth that he loves them both… THE BLUE PARROT is the third book in the Lambda Literary Award nominated series The L.A. AFTER MIDNIGHT Quartet, a four-book four-decade spanning saga of gay life from the 1950s to the 1980s in the City of Angeles. In order to fully enjoy the series, the author recommends reading the books in the order they were written, starting with THE YELLOW CANARY.

April, 1975

Chapter 1

From the front doorway of his house perched high in the hills above Hollywood, Jim Blake watched as the patrol car with its lights flashing and the black sedan following it sped along Canyon Drive, the siren’s shrill peal echoing up the hillside.  The stretch of the city below him was shrouded in a blanket of fog, and tattered veils of mist floated by his porch in the cool of the night.

Blake glanced back inside to his dimly lit living room.  The smell of gunpowder hung heavily in the air, and the shotgun blast still rang in his ears.  He felt numb, and sweat beaded his thick brows.  At least he’d had it together enough to put his clothes back on before making the call.  In the haze of his thoughts he could remember the man’s lips, lush but firm, and the tautness of his body, but not his name.

He knew he was in trouble and he would never be able to explain any of it.  Through the dull pall of alcohol and drugs that lay over him, that terrible anxiety was beginning to worm its way back inside, the apprehension and foreboding that had always haunted him in the darkest moments of his life.

The vehicles slowed to a crawl and found Sierra Lane, nearly hidden among tall hedges, then climbed the hill to where the road dead-ended at the steep vine-covered incline rising to his house.  Blake’s partner in Homicide, Sergeant Pete “Mitch” Mitchell, got out of the sedan and waited for the two uniforms in the cruiser to douse the headlights and kill the siren before starting up the long flight of wooden stairs that led to his front door.

Someone was having a party on the other side of the valley, and the insistent beat of rock music filtered through the mist across the cut.  On still summer nights he could catch the sweet scent of marijuana wafting over the canyon.

The lane had no streetlights, and the neighboring houses were unlit.  The three men rose through the wisps of fog in dark silhouette.  In front, Sergeant Mitchell—tall, reedy, almost gaunt, his trench coat flapping—was undoubtedly the last detective in the LAPD to still wear a fedora.  He had the unhurried gait of a man nearing retirement, or one who had already seen everything and was in no rush to see anything more.  When he reached the porch, out of breath, the two officers chugging up behind him, Mitchell gazed assessingly at his partner for a minute without saying anything.

Blake silently gazed back.  His height of six foot two and his broad shoulders were nearly as high and wide as the frame of the door.  His expression was unreadable in the shadows of the entryway.              Then Blake stepped aside as if by previous mutual agreement and Sergeant Mitchell stood tentatively in the threshold.  He continued to watch Blake for another moment, then his focus drifted to the floor of the entry.

“Jesus, Jim.”

The naked body of a man lay sprawled on the floor, his head haloed in a thick pool of blood on the hardwood; even in the dim room it was clear little of his face remained.  Mitchell advanced farther inside, glanced inquisitively at Blake one more time, then approached the body, folding his long lanky form and crouching beside it.  He didn’t bother to check for a pulse.

After carefully examining the gaping wound, Mitchell looked up.  “A double-barrel shotgun, square in the face, right?”  His gray eyes, weary but shrewd, shifted around the room.  “Where is the weapon?”

Blake didn’t answer.  He couldn’t look at the body.  He felt dazed and the shock of the deafening gun blast in his ears came back to him.  He leaned against the door to steady himself.

Jim,” Mitchell said sharply to get his attention, “where did you put the gun?”

When Blake couldn’t find the words to respond, he knew in that brief silence his twelve-year relationship with Mitchell was coming apart.  Whatever trust they had built up—and over time there had been plenty of it—was slipping away with each passing moment.  He should have known calling Mitchell wouldn’t make any difference.  Before everything else, first and foremost, they were cops, and in his failure to reply he had just gone from being a friend and respected partner to being a murder suspect.

“Who is he?” Mitchell asked.  “What’s his name?”

“I don’t know.”

At least that much was true.  Blake shook his head, struggling to clear his mind for what was to come.  Training his sightline away from the corpse, he went around Mitchell and the body into the living room and sat down heavily on the couch.  He had to think, but that was the one thing his brain wasn’t letting him do.  That anxiety he always dreaded was working its way into his gut, burrowing upward.  He rubbed his big hands over his face.  His palms were clammy.  He found a cigarette pack on the table and lit a Chesterfield.  As he inhaled deeply it occurred to him dully that The Eagles had been playing in endless repetition on the stereo all night.  It seemed like he had put that LP on a lifetime ago, but what had it been, only an hour or so earlier?

Mitchell spoke quietly to one of the officers, who trotted back down the stairs to radio for a forensics team.  He ordered the other uniform, a rookie with a black handlebar mustache, to check out the rest of the house.  Drawing his gun, the uniform threw Blake a look hungry with suspicion as he passed by, then made his way room to room, peering into the kitchen and the dining room, and finally disappeared down the hall toward the bedrooms in the rear of the house.

Coming over to the coffee table, Mitchell bent down, sniffing at two tumblers nearly drained of liquor next to a bottle of Dewar’s, but didn’t touch the glasses.  “Anything else I should know about?  If you have a stash in the house, you know we’ll find it.”

Blake shook his head again.  He’d had the wherewithal to flush the baggie containing a few twisted joints he kept hidden on one of the slats under his box springs down the toilet before he’d called his partner.

“You look doped up.  Are you on LSD?  MDA?”  Mitchell eased onto the couch beside him.  He took off his hat and laid it in his lap and observed Blake, his long, ruggedly assembled face etched with concern.  “Sometimes people do things they never would have if they weren’t high.”

Blake was about to reply, but caught himself.  The less said now the better.  In the blur of the evening, he remembered one moment above the rest: the heat of their naked bodies nestled on the couch, hands exploring, roughly, possessively, their mouths locked together, the taste of whiskey on their entwined tongues.  And then, suddenly, the room had begun to spin, his lungs starved for air, and a dark cloud enveloped him.

His eyes came to rest on the tumblers on the coffee table.  Something had been slipped into his drink.  He was sure of it.  But that didn’t make sense.  None of it did.  All he knew was the drug must have been strong.  It had taken a shotgun blast to wake him from his stupor.

“C’mon, Jim.  Give me something to work with.  You called me because you knew I’d give you a fair shake.”

At last Blake spoke.  “There aren’t any drugs here.  The house is clean.  But you’d better check my glass.  It was spiked.”

“Okay, that’s better.  Now we’re talking.  Tell me what’s going on.  Let’s make this go away.”

A wave of despair swept over him as he recognized the lines Mitchell had used in a thousand interrogations with suspects.  Mitchell must have caught it too, because for a moment he couldn’t bear to look at his partner.  Blake knew he shouldn’t say a word, that nothing could save him, but one grain of hope remained that he could at least convince his partner that he wasn’t guilty of murder.

“Mitch,” Blake said, staring down at his hands, his cigarette smoldering between unsteady fingers, “look at the wall.  Across from the door.”

Rising from the couch, Mitchell set his hat aside and went to the shadow-laden entryway and switched on the overhead light.  He blinked, adjusting to the brightness.

An ugly splotch on the wall directly across from the door caught his attention and drew him closer.  A spray of shotgun pellets, blood and brain matter the size of a human head marred the wall at shoulder level.  Mitchell observed it closely, turned back to the door, and then to where the body lay.

He began counting down the theoretical series of events out loud, as if that was what he needed to string each strand in the sequence together.  “There was a knock at the door, right?  The vic walked over and answered, and somebody was standing there on the front porch and blew him away with a shotgun.  Right in the face.”  Mitchell tapped his finger on his long nose, then pointed at the blotch.  “The impact threw him against the entry wall, then he collapsed on the floor.  Then the perp ran off, taking the shotgun.”

But something troubled him about that scenario, and he took in the open doorway, chewing his lip.  It was the same problem Blake faced when he tried to piece together what had happened that night.  Did it seem likely the victim had answered a knock at the door without wearing any clothes?

Mitchell finally seemed to note in the dimness by the fireplace a pair of pants flung on a nearby chair, a shirt hanging on its back, shoes, socks and underwear tossed haphazardly at its foot.  He couldn’t have missed from the very beginning the implication of the man having no clothes on, but he seemed to weigh the full meaning of it for the first time.  Maybe he had just not wanted to consider it before.  Blake could see he was working his jaw, trying to make the pieces fit, not liking his conclusions.  But Mitchell didn’t ask the next question.  Maybe he just didn’t have the stomach for it.  They had been friends too long. The rest could wait for later, under the stark light of the interrogation room.

It was the one thing Blake would never be able to explain away, and that meant his days in the department were numbered.  Even if he were exonerated of everything else.  Why was the victim naked?  What was Blake doing with a naked man in his house, music on the stereo, two glasses of scotch on the table?

“Mitch,” Blake said quietly, looking up from his hands, “you know I had nothing to do with this.”

“I still have to bring you in.”  Mitchell observed him with a tired expression on his face.  “Until we get this cleared up.  You can make your phone call here, or you can wait until we get to the station.  You got a lawyer?  Someone you can call?”

Blake’s face clouded with doubt, the crease between his thick black brows deepening.  He hesitated before he replied, taking a long draw on his Chesterfield and exhaling a plume of smoke through his nose.  There was only one person he could think of.  Someone from a long time ago.  How many years had it been?  That worm of anxiety and regret made its way to his throat.

“Paul Winters,” he said under his breath.


Something happened in his chest every time Paul Winters heard that voice.

“Paul, it’s me, Jim.”

Paul felt his hand involuntarily grip the phone tighter.

And then, after a pause, as if the greeting needed further explanation, “Jim Blake.”

A tumble of emotions too complicated to unravel cascaded through Paul’s head, and his breath caught in the back of his throat.  He hadn’t seen nor spoken with Jim Blake in eight years.

Paul quickly glanced across the kitchen to where his lover, David Rosen, was putting finishing touches on a tray of hors d’oeuvres on the countertop.  They were having a party that evening to celebrate the remodeling of their kitchen—including their gleaming brand new matching avocado stove and refrigerator—and their breakfast table was crowded with wine and liquor bottles and serving dishes arranged with fussy appetizers.  Their friends had all dutifully lined up to admire the renovation, filled their glasses with alcohol, then settled in the living room, where the sounds of laughter and disco music, and the occasional ring of the doorbell, came down the hall.

“I’m in trouble.”

For the briefest moment Paul wanted to hang up the phone and go back to the life he had known for the past several years, to shut off all the conflicting feelings toward Jim Blake that were now welling inside him, but he knew he wouldn’t.  He wasn’t sure he’d be able to trust his voice, but when he spoke his tone came out measured and professional.

“Tell me what’s happened,” he said quietly.

He listened for a minute, playing with the bristly hairs in his new and meticulously cropped mustache.  He stared down at his shoes but could feel David watching him curiously from across the room.

Then he said, “I’ll be there,” and hung up the phone.




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Exclusive Excerpt: Trapped to Death: A Jamie Brodie Mystery (Book 13) by Meg Perry


Autumn brings a fresh start in academia, but there are signs that Jamie Brodie’s autumn quarter might bring trouble. First, his next door neighbors unexpectedly drop off the grid. Several days later Jamie discovers – with the help of his dog – that something very bad has happened in the neighbors’ house. When the victim is identified, Jamie briefly becomes a suspect – but something far more dangerous is lying in wait for Jamie. And he doesn’t recognize it until it’s too late.


Sunday, September 25

I was dreaming that Pete and I had returned to Jennifer’s former apartment. We knocked, but it wasn’t Jennifer that answered the door – it was Barb Simmons. Behind her, the apartment was stacked to the ceiling with thousands and thousands of books. She scowled at us. “What are you doing here?”

I said, “We came for your books.”

“Oh, no, you don’t.” Barb tried to slam the door shut. Pete stuck his foot out to block her, and Ammo began to bark…

I woke up. Ammo was on his feet, ears perked, growling. I raised my head to look at him, and he woofed. Not a full-throated bark, but enough to make his point. Something was going on.

I squinted at the clock – 3:30 am. Ammo woofed again and went to the door. Pete made a “mmph” sound and rolled over. I slipped out of bed and pulled on a pair of briefs. The windows of our bedroom were above head height, so I couldn’t see out of them. I parted the blinds in the door leading to the deck and peered out, but I couldn’t see much.


When I opened the bedroom door, Ammo shot downstairs to the back door. I tiptoed after him and went to the peephole. There was nothing on the first-floor deck or the steps leading to the pavement. Everything else was in darkness. I went to the living room; there was nothing outside the front door peephole. I cracked the blinds on our large front windows and saw nothing out of place.

Ammo stood at the back door, growling. He barked twice, sharply. I went back to the kitchen and opened the back door. Our back porch light revealed nothing. The rest of the alley was in shadow. I listened for a moment. Silence.

Ammo had his nose pressed to the screen door, sniffing and whining.


Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to be a threat to us. I said, “I don’t know, big guy. Wish you could tell me what you heard.”

Ammo looked up at me and whined again.

I closed and locked the back door. “Back to bed?”

He knew the word bed. He turned reluctantly and trotted back up the steps.

When I slid back into bed Pete grunted softly. “What?”

“Ammo heard something, but everything seems quiet.”


“Sorry I woke you.”

“Was Ammo’s toenails.”

“Ah. Go back to sleep.”

He followed orders as well as Ammo did and was out again in seconds. Before I went back to sleep myself, I made a mental note to clip Ammo’s nails.


We spent the afternoon working in the garden. Remembering Ammo’s disturbance during the night, I checked outside our front gate and around the side of the building. Each of the four front yards of our building was enclosed by an eight-foot wrought iron fence. From the sidewalk, visitors entered the yards through a gate the size of a full door. The gates had decorative curlicues of wrought iron between the bars. Pete and I were screened from view when behind our fence by jasmine vines, planted by Pete’s uncle years ago, but we kept them trimmed back from the gate.

Everything appeared to be undisturbed around our house. I strolled a few feet in the other direction, to the front of the Carters’ unit, and studied their front yard. Seemed fine.

As I was standing there, a Santa Monica patrol car rolled up. It wasn’t the same female officer I’d seen before, but a middle-aged male officer with a buzz cut and overly bulky shoulders that screamed steroids to me. He frowned at me as he got out of his vehicle.

I smiled and tried to appear nonthreatening. “Hi, Officer. I was just checking the neighbors’ front yard.”

“And you are?”

“Jamie Brodie. I live right here.” I pointed to our gate, behind which Pete was thinning carrot sprouts but watching me. “Our dog heard something last night around 3:30, but nothing appears to be disturbed.”

“What did you hear?”

I spread my hands. “Not a thing. The dog’s barking woke me up. I looked out the back door, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong.”

“We didn’t get any calls.”

“Yes, sir. It was probably nothing. Did you come to do the house check?”

“Right.” The officer rattled the gate and tried the handle; it was locked, as it should be. “I’ll go around back and check the doors. Have you been back there?”

“No, sir.”

“All right. If you see or hear anything unusual, call us.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have a good day.” He went back to his car.

I said, “Thank you,” to his retreating back and rejoined Pete. “Maybe Ammo was imagining things.”

“I’m sure he heard something.”

“Maybe it was a cat. Or a car door slamming. Or nothing.”

“Maybe you should quit worrying about it and pull some weeds.”

I laughed. “Yes, sir.”


Thursday, September 29

On Thursday morning we intended to go for a short run and take Ammo with us. But when we got to the bottom of the steps, he began whining and tugging us toward the Carters’.

Ammo had been a bomb detection dog, and that’s where my mind went first. “Shit, does that mean he smells explosives?”

Pete, who was on the other end of Ammo’s leash, said, “No, he’s trained to sit and bark once he finds explosives. He’s not exactly sitting.”

Ammo was straining to go up the steps to the Carters’ back door. Pete unhooked the leash and Ammo bounded up the stairs, sniffing almost wildly at the bottom of the door. Pete followed him and said, “Okay, buddy. What’s going on?”

I was standing at the bottom of the steps. “What is going on?”

Pete had an odd expression on his face. “Call him to you. Don’t come up here.”

“Ammo, come.”

He glanced at me and went back to sniffing. I said, “Ammo, COME.”

He came, reluctantly, and Pete tossed me his leash. I reattached it as Pete stood at the door, sniffing, then got down on his hands and knees and lowered his nose to where Ammo’s had been. He sniffed once and stood right back up. “Fuck.”


“Decomp.” He came back down the stairs, his phone out, tapping numbers as he descended.

Well, hell. Why couldn’t this have happened yesterday? I let Ammo pee on the trash bins then dragged him up to our deck, urged him inside and retrieved my phone. I went back outside and separately emailed Dr. Loomis and the instructors of the two classes I’d had scheduled for the morning. Dr. Loomis responded immediately. Oh dear. Keep me informed.

I replied, Yes, ma’am.

One of the instructors responded as well. Good grief. Yes, we can reschedule. One week from today works for me.

I replied, Thank you. As I did, two police cars rolled up and stopped at the foot of our stairway.

One of the officers was the buzz cut with the steroid shoulders who’d questioned me the morning after Ammo’s barking had woken me. The other was the woman I’d seen checking the Carters’ house last week. She got out, speaking into her radio, then said to Pete, “Sir, you called this in?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What happened?”

“We brought our dog out and he dragged me up the Carters’ stairs, sniffing at the bottom of the door. I got down there and took a whiff. Smells like decomp to me.”

The cop narrowed her eyes. “You’ve smelled decomp?”

“Yes, ma’am. Ten years with LAPD.”

She looked surprised. “Ah. All right. Did you touch anything? The door handle?”

“I was on my hands and knees sniffing at the bottom of the door. Otherwise, no. I didn’t touch the door or knob.”


While Pete and the female officer were talking, Steroid Shoulders pulled on a pair of gloves, went up the Carters’ steps, and tried the door handle. It didn’t budge. He stepped back and studied the door. “That’s a heavy duty deadbolt. We’re going to need the fire department.”

The female officer shot us a look. “You two sit tight.”

Pete said, “Yes, ma’am.”

The officer – whose last name, according to her tag, was Fox – got back on her radio. Steroid Shoulders came back down the steps and waited. I turned back to my phone – I’d gotten a response from the second instructor – and added both of the cancelled instruction sessions to my calendar. I asked Pete, “Can someone cover your classes?”

“Not with this last-minute notice. They’ll attach a sign to the door instructing the students to check the course website. Are your classes covered?”

“Rescheduled for a week from today.”

Another patrol car rolled up as we were talking. A gray-haired cop with sergeant stripes got out, glanced at us, and conferred with Fox in hushed tones. Pete said, “Patrol supervisor.”

Another few minutes and the fire truck appeared, parking behind Fox’s vehicle. By this point, Helen and Alyssa were both outside. Helen joined Alyssa on her deck and they conversed, worry on their faces.

I wondered whether Ammo’s waking me at 3:30 am on Sunday was significant, assuming there was a body in the Carters’ house.

At the moment that seemed like a sound assumption.

The firefighters piled out of the truck and talked to Fox and the supervisor for a minute, then one of them returned to the truck and retrieved an axe. He donned his helmet and face shield then climbed the Carters’ stairs and began to chop.

The Carters were going to be pissed off.

Unless it was them lying in there.


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