Exclusive Excerpt: Listening To The Dead by George Seaton


Jack Dolan has spent almost thirty years solving homicides in Denver, his uncanny ability to speak to the dead learned from his aged mentor whom other cops refer to as Old Grim because of his incredible solve rate. For almost as long, Jack has repressed his sexuality, fearing discovery and likely ostracism from his fellow cops…except for one with whom he long ago severed a loving relationship. When Jack retires to the mountains of Colorado, he discovers the bodies of two young men, naked and bludgeoned to death in a recess off a rutted horse path which he eventually refers to simply as The Place. All of his training, everything he learned from Old Grim is put to the test to find out what happened to the young men… including a call to the man he once loved.


 Late spring and through the first summer that Shy had taken up residence on Jack’s seven acres, the Pinecone Lodge horse wrangler named Tyler showed up at about four p.m. three days a week. During the first few visits, he made sure the geld had healed, and then he began to deal with the horse’s temperament, which wasn’t good. Tyler had already schooled Jack on feeding and basic care and had helped construct a metal round pen for training, cautioning Jack that the horse wasn’t a puppy dog and shouldn’t be treated like one.

“He’s fearful, is all,” Tyler had said after the first time he’d managed to get a rope halter on Shy and dealt with the nervous squeals, stomps, rearing, and tugging on the lead rope. Tyler dug his heels into the ground while calmly saying, “Whoa now. Whoa…”

Jack watched it all, and during subsequent sessions, Tyler patiently and without a word raised in anger, dealt with Shy’s left and right side fears and anxiousness to the point, by the dog days of August, Shy was walking, trotting, cantering on cue, and coming to Tyler when he pursed his lips and kissed.

“You got to work both sides of him separately,” Tyler told Jack when he brought him into the round pen with him and Shy for the first time. “Horse brain works that way. They kinda won’t put two and two together ’til they see it from both sides.”

And so, as the summer passed into fall, as the aspens shivered their leaves to reds, oranges, and golds, and as the land whispered of the freeze to come, Shy’s coat began to thicken until later when the first snowfall arrived, he appeared shaggy and stout. Tyler had yet to allow Jack to sit the horse, saying that would come in the spring.

“Get through the winter, exercise him in the round pen and walk him on the trails when you can. You’ll be on him by July.”

And by July, Jack was atop him, just walks at first in the round pen, and then walks along the flat trail that led to Piney Lake. By mid-July, Tyler had Jack trot Shy for the first time with Jack on his back. He was able to stay on, and Shy seemed comfortable with him. And thereafter, every day, Shy and Jack would leave early in the morning and pass the nearby campgrounds spotted here and there with campers in tents who had yet to rouse themselves from the prior night’s campfire nightmare stories and drinking binges. They’d ride past Piney Lake and along the trails headed east toward the slopes of the Gore Range that peaked with Mount Powell, jagged as a saw’s edge.

Heading home one day at not yet nine in the morning, they came down the trail from a meager summit where Jack halted Shy to look at the scenery below. Piney Lake shone as a blue-green jewel surrounded by the upsweep of purely green pine intertwined with the brown decay of beetle destruction. As they passed a small clearing to their left, half-hidden by the overlap of pine boughs, Shy sidestepped off the trail, then stopped and stood dead still, raised his head, curled his lip, and tasted the air about him. Jack tried to rein him back onto the path, but Shy was determined to keep his distance from the shrouded entrance to the clearing and had turned his head away from it.

Jack had come to respect Shy’s judgment when it came to going one way or the other on trails they’d never explored. A horse’s sense of things in the natural world seemed to Jack to be a reflection of what God had given to the horse: a discernment of sorts that Jack possessed only when laying his hands upon the dead. Shy had saved them from stepping into waist-deep muck within the valley, unstable rocks on the hillsides, and the presences of critters not likely to look kindly upon their passing.

Now, as Jack swung his leg off Shy and tied the reins to the limb of a felled tree, he knew caution was what Shy had shared with him. He stepped to the clearing and looked in. The sun shined directly overhead and lit the interior of the place as though a spotlight beamed a circle upon it. Jack thought he saw something not human, perhaps rag-stuffed dummies both facedown—the legs bent wrong, and the arms unnaturally splayed. The blood, though, spoke its own truth, as it lathered the bodies’ backs and buttocks, the arms, legs, and heads. The blackness of the ground near one’s head and the other’s chest were witness that the bodies had bled mostly from those places. But there wasn’t enough blood to determine if this had actually been the killing ground. The shapes of the bodies, the small hips, the broad shoulders, even the blood-encrusted hair, told Jack these were young men, maybe even teenagers.

Jack stepped into the clearing, taking care to keep to the periphery of the five-foot circle he’d mentally drawn beyond the immediate area where the bodies lay. The urge to touch them was nearly overwhelming, but he knew he could not disturb the scene. He would touch them later. He would speak to them and hope they spoke back. But for now, he kept to the edge of the circle he’d established and slowly stepped around it, a full three-sixty, his eyes focused on anything that might prove helpful in answering the questions he, and he was sure the Eagle County sheriff’s crew as well, would have when he later led them up here. Jack could see signs of blunt force and skin-piercing trauma. But it was the way the limbs spread anywise that he knew this would be an image like no other he would forever hold on to.

Jack sat on his haunches at the end of his three-sixty, looked up at the circle of sky and sun above, then looked back down at the bodies. “We’ll figure this out,” he whispered. “Bless you, boys. I’ll be coming back.” He then stood up, stretched out the kink in his back, and stepped from the place. He knew a search of the hillside, maybe even a search of the valley as well. One hundred yards in all directions was critical, but his call to the sheriff was more critical, and that is what he had to do.

The Boys

Brian Hill and Mark Harris were both twenty-two, and as they danced upon a floor bathed in the colors of the rainbow, the other revelers moved about them while the music boomed with heavy bass and wild treble, the diva’s voice pleading for a never-ending love to come their way. For Brian and Mark, it had, or so they thought. The strobes flashed, and both boys watched the other’s robotic movements with wonderment and smiles. It had been Friday night, and the world had shriveled to this moment, this place of fantasy.

They had met almost a year before, both emigrants from Midwest flatlands to the mile-high promise of Denver and the call of the mountains to the west. They knew their degrees from obscure schools were as marketable as water in a deluge, so they opted instead to move into a Colfax Avenue two-room walkup where the bed folded down from the wall, and the bathroom was the second room. They waited tables at an upscale Denver Lodo eatery where they wore white shirts, black vests and pants, and red bowties. In midautumn, they packed their 2000 Mazda and headed west to Vail where their credentials saw them placed in an even more exclusive restaurant that specialized in red-runny steaks, crispy shrimp, fine wines, and luscious desserts served on crystal plates. Their mornings free until eleven, they skied the slopes of Vail, and their late nights were often spent among other gay boys and girls in the few bars and bistros that welcomed them. They had moved into a single-wide trailer in Avon, only fifteen minutes from Vail. After experiencing their first taste of the mountains, their decision was easy. They would stay there and not return to Denver or anywhere else when the ski season was over. They had what they wanted at this time in their lives—an uncomplicated existence that was more or less a fantasy come true.

One Friday night in late spring, Brian and Mark sat at a table in a bar in Vail, sipped beer, and watched two other boys do the same at a table across the room. They were clearly cowboys or something akin to that, and Brian and Mark were intrigued. The other boys were watching them, too. Pretty soon they were all sitting at the same table, getting to know one another and trading tidbits of their histories. The other boys worked about an hour and a half north of Vail, one at the Pinecone Lodge as a wrangler of horses, the other as a fishing and hunting guide, and they both lived at the Whisper River Ranch a few miles west of the lodge. One thing led to another that night, and all the boys ended up at the single-wide where they got to know each other even better. Intimately, in fact.

But by July, after three more encounters with the wrangler and the guide in Vail, Brian and Mark decided they’d drive up to the lodge on their day off and ride the horse the wrangler had offered them. As they were leaving the lodge’s compound after their ride, the wrangler took them aside and discussed the proposition he had for them. It would be worth two hundred and fifty dollars each if they’d do it. “Just kind of a hide and seek kinda thing,” the wrangler said them, and he mentioned to them, too, that he’d be there to make sure nothing got out of hand.

“We’re not really into that,” Mark told the wrangler.

“Don’t worry,” the wrangler said. “I’ve got their promise nothing heavy will go down. We’ll get you set up at a campsite and, other than the hour or two you’ll be…playin’ the game, you can just take it easy—camping, hiking, anything you want to do.”

Brian and Mark thought about that and decided it might be fun. They’d have to take a couple days off work, but that was no problem. Besides they’d be making money while having some time off.

“Okay, we’ll do it,” Brian said after discussing it with Mark.

“Good. You’ll enjoy it,” the wrangler said. He told them he’d pick them up and take them back so they wouldn’t have to worry about driving.


The evening, a Sunday, of Brian’s and Mark’s great adventure was spent in a gray domed tent with the wrangler, Tyler, and the guide, Ben. They drank some, fooled around some, and then shortly after midnight, Tyler and Ben took Brian and Mark to where the game would commence. Tyler told the boys to be aware of where the trail was at all times, and Ben gave them some flashlights so they could see where they were going.

“But the idea is not to be seen,” Tyler told them. And they all agreed Brian and Mark would not turn on their flashlights unless they absolutely needed to and were sure nobody was around at the time.

“You’re sure you’ll be out there somewhere if we need you?” Brian asked.

“A course,” Tyler said. “Just give us a shout, and we’ll hear you.”

And Tyler and Ben stood at the foot of the trail and watched the boys disappear up the hill on a half-moon night.


Exclusive Excerpt: Hacked Up: A Thriller by Ethan Stone


Seattle is being plagued by a string of gruesome murders. For Detective Peter Tao, it’s a career-making case, but he’s struggling to find a lead. How is the killer choosing his victims? What is he trying to prove?

With a long list of suspects and nothing to connect them, Peter is more determined than ever to apprehend the murderer. Then Peter gets the one vital piece of evidence that ties everything together. Now he’ll have to look beyond the obvious to identify the killer before anyone else is murdered.

Solve the mystery in this fast-moving crime thriller by Ethan Stone.


Chapter 1

Another day, another dead body.

I flashed my badge to the uniformed officer standing guard and stepped under the crime scene tape. The wind from nearby Elliot Bay had me pulling the collar up on my coat as goosebumps raced over my flesh. The rising sun did little to alleviate the chill.

“Hey, Detective Tao.” Dr. Jill Trencher, King County Medical Examiner, glanced up. The corpse lay on its back, jeans pulled halfway down, arms and legs tucked alongside the body, and eyes wide open. It appeared to be male, but I wasn’t sure. The lack of breasts pointed to one fact but there wasn’t any male genitalia either. No male or female parts. Just dried blood where something should’ve been.

“What do we have, Jill?”

She stood. “White male. Mid-twenties.”

I kneeled, eyeballing the body and mentally cataloging the young man’s features. Short, light brown hair, eyes the shade of a dull penny. Squat, muscular body. “Time and cause of death?”

“I’d say around midnight for the time of death. As for the how, there’s a wound on the back of the neck,” she replied. “I suspect the killer severed the spinal cord. Would’ve been fairly quick and fairly painless.”

“Even the castration?”

“From the looks of it, that occurred postmortem. I’ll be able to tell you more when he’s on the table. The crime scene unit has already been and gone. We’re just waiting on you. Took you a little longer than normal to get here.”

I stood and scowled. ­“I was home, in bed, where I still should be.” No need to tell her I hadn’t been alone, or who had been in my bed. “I’m not the detective on call.”

“That would be his fault.” Jill pointed behind me.

Turning, I faced my partner, Detective Jamey Nolan.

“Why aren’t you at home with Chelsea?”

He rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I happened to be at the station when the call came in from Harbor Patrol. Sounded like an interesting case so I took it.”

“Am I supposed to thank you?”

“Guess you’ll just have to deal with it, huh?”

I snorted, unable to argue. Not that I was all that upset. A man murdered and castrated could indeed be a fascinating case and a fresh change from the gang killings Jamey and I had been investigating lately.

“Are you guys done?” Jill asked. “Can I get the body out of here?”

I took out my phone and snapped a picture of the victim’s face.

“Yeah, are you finished whining, Tao?” Jamey asked.

Smirking, I replied, “Not even close, but I’ll save it until we’re alone.”

Jamey and I stepped away and watched as Jill and her assistants removed the corpse.

“So, why were you at the station before the ass crack of dawn?”

Jamey didn’t answer. Instead, he turned away and stared out at the bay. I stepped next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “You and Chelsea having problems again?”

Jamey glared at me, but it wasn’t like I was wrong.

“You know us. It’s always something.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

He glanced over and shook his head. “Not right now.”

“Well, if you do, just let me know.”

Jamey waggled his eyebrows and flashed a cheesy grin. “I wouldn’t want to interfere with your plans.”

I elbowed him in the gut, and he pretended I’d hurt him. As far as I knew, Jamey was the only one of my co-workers who knew I was gay. I hadn’t told him. He’d figured it out shortly after we began working together five years ago. Not surprising, really, not with his twenty-six years of experience as a detective. It hadn’t bothered him a bit. In fact, he liked, no, he loved ribbing me about it.

“If you’d been worried about messing with my plans, you wouldn’t have taken this case.”

His eyes got large, and he put a hand to his mouth. “Did you have what’s his name over again?”

“If you mean Haro, then yes, he stayed last night. We were both asleep when the call came in.”

“That’s like, what, the fourth time he’s slept at your place?”

“Sixth, actually,” I said. When Jamey winked, I added, “And don’t get any ideas. This is strictly no-strings-attached.” Haro and I had a lot in common-namely, conservative, old-school parents who wouldn’t handle having a gay son well.

“Yeah, but I know sometimes those types of relationships can turn into more.”

I side-eyed him. “Even if settling down with a guy was in the cards for me, what makes you think I’m in any kind of hurry to do that?”

He patted my cheek. “I just want my best friend to be happy. Figure one of us should be.” Sadness took over his face again, and I wished I could do something to help him out. “I need coffee. What about you?”

“Definitely. I didn’t have time since I was so rudely woken up this morning.”

“Quit your whining.”

We strolled toward the nearest Starbucks. Living in Seattle meant there was basically one on every corner.

“I’ll whine if I want to, jackass. I was hoping for a morning BJ.”

“Shut up, Peter. You know I don’t want to hear about your sex life.”

“That’s because you’re jealous. It’s probably been months since you got any.”

Normally, that would’ve brought on a retort from Jamey, but instead, he fell silent. This wasn’t the time or place to push it, otherwise, I would’ve demanded he tell me what was bothering him. Instead, we waited in silence to cross the street.

Readers can find Ethan online.


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Email: ethanstone.nv@gmail.com

His books: http://www.ethanjstone.com/my-books

Exclusive Excerpt: The Iniquitous Investigator (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 8) by Frank W Butterfield


Monday, July 5, 1954

Mildred’s Diner just isn’t the welcoming place it once was. Looking forward to a nice breakfast, including that chewy bacon that Nick and Carter both love, they’re asked to leave. Mildred has gone back to Texas and word is they “ain’t welcome.”

But it’s a sunny July day, so Nick puts the top down on the Roadmaster and they head across the Golden Gate to Sausalito for eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. But it seems like trouble follows them along the way and, before they know it, Nick and Carter are sitting in jail for vagrancy.

After making bail, the whole team is on the job figuring what the heck is going on in sleepy Sausalito while also chasing down the missing Mildred, who may have been kidnapped or worse!


I stretched out on the cot and thought about the day. It had been rough, there was no doubt about it. As the sheriff’s deputies were leading us out of the courtroom, I saw my father looking shocked and upset. Lettie was holding his arm and whispering something. But, for the first time that I could remember, I felt an affection for the old man. I smiled and hoped he saw it.

I knew the worst that could happen is that we would do three months. I’d been in the Navy. I knew what it was like to be confined to small spaces. And the Marin County jail wasn’t San Quentin. It was smaller than the Dougherty County jail in Georgia had been. I’d been a guest of theirs for a couple of nights the year before.

I turned on my side and looked at the brick wall. It was faintly illuminated by a streetlight outside. There was a small window, covered with simple horizontal bars, that was about two feet square and that let me see the street outside. The cell was slightly above ground level. There was a warehouse across the street with a loading dock that had been busy at the end of the work day.

The clothes I’d been given included a thick cotton undershirt, a button-down denim shirt, and a pair of dungarees. I was allowed to keep my BVDs. The shoes I was wearing had obviously belonged to someone else. They didn’t have my size, so these were too big. They smelled. I had taken them off when I was led to my cell and had only put them back on when dinner was called.

All of Carter’s clothes were too small and that included his shoes. When we were walked into the small mess hall, or whatever they called it, he came in line with the men from his row of cells. I got a momentary glance at his feet and saw that he was walking on the heel of the shoe and that his feet stuck out about an inch.

My row was seated on a long bench in front of a long table. We sat in the order we were marched in. I was at one end of my side, since I was in the last cell of my row. The man next to me didn’t speak and neither did I.

Carter was on the other side of the table in the middle. I counted twelve men on his side. I tried to look down my row to count, but was called out to keep my head down when I did so. So, I followed instructions.

The man across from me looked like he was recovering from a bender. He was having a hard time eating anything but the soup.

The food was basic. There was a bowl of vegetable soup, a piece of bread with a small pat of butter, a surprisingly tender piece of boiled beef, and a pile of mushy boiled carrots. There was no salt or pepper to be tasted or to be had. The butter was the only flavoring of any sort. The food wasn’t horrible. It would do.

As I ate my soup, I managed a couple of glances at Carter. He smiled and I replied in kind. After dinner, I’d stayed in my cell stretched out on my cot, not sure what to do. At some point, Carter had walked up to the door and asked how I was doing. I sat up, he walked in, and sat down next to me. We sat there for a long time talking about childhood antics again, like we had in the Sausalito jail. At one point, he’d leaned into me. Even though there was no one around, I leaned back for a moment and then mentioned how we ought to be careful. He’d sighed and leaned away.

An officer came by and told Carter to get back to his cell for the nightly check and light’s out. As he left, I whispered, “I love you, Chief.” He smiled and only nodded in reply as the officer was standing outside waiting for him.

As I began to drift off, I could hear someone singing. I couldn’t quite catch the tune, but it continued until several voices began to protest. There was a sharp metal rap somewhere and suddenly everything was quiet.

. . .

At some point in the night, I woke up and relieved myself in the uncovered toilet. A roll of brown toilet paper sat on the floor next to the white porcelain base. The toilet was in the corner next to a small sink. There was a cake of rough soap on the sink’s small lip. I turned on the cold water tap, the only one available, and washed my hands. The soap stank of lye. It reminded me of the kind we’d made ourselves in New Guinea. I knew there was a county farm somewhere. I wondered if the prisoners made their own soap out there.

I sat back down on the bed and wished I had a cigarette. Everything had been taken from me when we were processed, including my beat-up old Zippo. For some reason, I was missing that more than anything.

My cot was pushed up against the wall. I pulled my feet up off floor and sat with my legs crossed. As I’d been doing since the hearing ended, I played the events in the courtroom in my head over and over again.

Obviously, O’Connor had been coached. His and Wildman’s testimony had been designed to match, point by point. O’Connor was just a good cop, doing a good job, according to the psychiatrist. Wildman was helping good cops do their best to deal with the intolerable problem of the male homosexual on the prowl. It was a situation that had to be dealt with. All reasonable men and women could see that was the case.

The judge was a piece of work. From his question about Uncle Paul, he’d made it clear where things was going. The stunt of making Kenneth ask to approach while Weissech just wandered around at will was one piece. The ridiculousness of the way he handled Weissech’s objections was another piece. I wondered, however, at the objections that Weissech didn’t make. I thought there might be a glimmer of hope there.

I was convinced that O’Connor had perjured himself. I had no proof, but he had to know who we were.

As he’d testified, I kept thinking about what Dawson had said. There was something wrong there. He’d been on the force for nineteen years and yet this Mountanos, this kid, was a shoe-in for police chief. I wondered what the real story was.

Wildman was definitely one of us. He might not have been in the life, but he was the very definition of a male homosexual. His idea about “cop as daddy” seemed to me to say more about him than anything else. What was the real nature of his relationship with O’Connor? The sergeant had something odd going on somewhere but I didn’t think he was one of us. Was O’Connor aware of this thing and trying to help the man, while also fixating on the man as his own kind of daddy? I didn’t think that made any sense. I was sure the doctor was the older man.

I wondered how I would fit into his analysis. I sure as hell had a disaffected relationship with my father. But I didn’t have time to form an unnatural attachment to my mother, since she left when I was only 7 years old. Of course, as had been pointed out to me, I tended to like other people’s mothers more than their own children did.

I was grateful for Lettie’s presence in my life. I’d known the woman just about a year and I considered her my mother, even if I still couldn’t bring myself to say that word. I had been deeply touched by the fact that Mrs. Jones had come back to San Francisco. I was captivated by Mrs. Kopek, who was a mother to not just Ike but just about any chickadee she might come across. She would have rescued half of Eastern Europe, given the chance.

Were these unnatural attachments? Or were they lines of affection, formed by circumstance and proximity? Was I disaffected from my father because I preferred the men in my life to be strong, kind, and loving and he was none of those? Or was it because there was something wrong with me? Or him? Or both?

I tended to take any psychological theory with a heave dose of salt. It never seemed to me that anything was just black or white.


Exclusive Excerpt: Genuine Gold (Cantor Gold Crime Series Book 3) by Ann Aptaker


New York, 1952. From the shadowy docks of Athens, Greece, to the elegance of a Fifth Avenue penthouse, to the neon glare of Coney Island, art smuggler Cantor Gold must track down an ancient artifact, elude thugs and killers, protect a beautiful woman who caters to Cantor’s deepest desires, and confront the honky-tonk past which formed her. Memories, murder, passion, and the terrible longing for her stolen love tangle in Cantor’s soul, threatening to tear her apart.


I find a parking spot in front of Sig’s building on Fortieth Street, a classy black brick Art Deco office tower crowned with Gothic-style gilt work, and where Sig maintains a penthouse residence. The building is across the street from Bryant Park and the main branch of the New York Public Library, the famous one with the two lions out front facing Fifth Avenue. I’m sure Sig’s enjoyed a stroll through the park. Not sure he’s ever been in the library.

Inside his building, the black marble lobby is filling up with nine-to-fivers shivering after their walk from the subway down the block. Businessmen in wool overcoats and gray fedoras, women in colorful coats, some in the new princess style pinched at the waist, walk briskly to the elevators. I like the princess style. I like any style that accentuates a woman’s body.

I don’t join the crowd at the bank of public elevators. I keep walking to the end of the row, to the private elevator to Sig’s penthouse, guarded by a thug the nine-to-fivers pointedly ignore. They know who lives in the penthouse. Their fear of the crime boss upstairs is greater than their thrill at occasionally being in the presence of the most powerful man in New York when they see him walking through the lobby. Maybe the businessmen tip their hats when they pass him, maybe the women give him a polite smile. None of them know he doesn’t give a damn.

I don’t know the thug guarding the private elevator, but then again, I haven’t been to see Sig in quite a while. So the galoot doesn’t know me, either. He eyes me up and down. It takes him a minute to figure me, then looks at me like he’s examining me for germs. “What’s your business here?”

“Tell Sig that Cantor Gold wants to see him.”

I have to wait while the lobby galoot calls on the intercom beside the elevator and gives the upstairs galoot my message, and that galoot in turn gives the message to Sig’s personal galoot. I use the time to enjoy the lovely sight of an especially pretty office girl reading the front page of her newspaper while she waits for an elevator. But as much as I’d like to linger along her angelic face, have a little fun imagining what’s under her coat, my attention’s diverted when she opens the paper and I can see the whole front page. I’m grabbed by a particular story—down below all the headlines about President Truman and the Red Scare, the shoot-’em-up in Korea, and the never ending bedlam of city politics—printed way down at the bottom of the page, like a cockroach that slipped under the door: judge acquits guzik.

So Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, the Chicago Mob’s payoff man, a confidante of Capone during Al’s heyday, beat another rap. It was Guzik who peeled off the bills that went into the palms of Chicago’s cops and politicians, a job which earned him the Greasy Thumb moniker. I met the guy a coupla times on his trips here after Al bit the dust back in ’47, and gangster power coalesced in New York.

The pretty office girl catches me smiling, which makes her cringe, and she turns away. That might hurt my feelings except I’m not smiling at her. Nope, I’m smiling because my chances of not being killed today by Sig Loreale just went up. He’ll be in a good mood.


Or in as good a mood as a killer can be. By the time the elevator reaches the penthouse floor, I’m asking myself whether coming here was such a hot idea after all. Probing Sig for his secrets is a dangerous play, whether he’s in a good mood or not.

But there’s no turning back. Sig wouldn’t let me, anyway. He knows I’m here and he’ll want to know why. I’d never make it out of the building.

One of his galoots greets me at the apartment door, tells me Sig is waiting for me in his den. “Through the livin’ room and to the left. And I gotta hold your piece.” The guy has all the charm of a shark chewing a leg.

I’m not crazy about handing over my gun, but Sig demands all visitors check any hardware at the door. He likes his guests defenseless. Resistance would only get me a fist in the gut, and frankly I’m just not in the mood. I give the galoot my gun and walk in.

The last time I was in this living room was a night in March of ’49. Crammed among the fine furnishings, English landscape paintings on the walls, and various antiquities here and there—a number of them supplied by me for hefty sums of Sig’s cash—were bushels of flowers for a wedding that was abruptly cancelled: Opal died that night, her wedding night. Sig took his revenge the next morning, soothed his broken heart with murder. I was there. I saw the woman Sig blamed for Opal’s death fall at my feet, a bullet in her skull. I saw Sig and his gunman drive away.

But before he drove away, Sig made a promise, the same promise he made again a year and a half ago when I handed over a Dürer watercolor that should’ve gone to a dead client’s heirs, or at least a museum. It was his promise to look into what happened to Sophie, a promise he hasn’t kept. Sig prides himself on his word, so either he really has no information, or his fabled square dealing is just that: a fable, a storyline to calm unsuspecting marks before he cleans them out, runs them outta town, or kills them.

If it turns out Sig sees me as one of the marks, or even just a pest, then Mom’s right; he’ll kill me. Maybe not today, but when a moment comes up that suits him.

Bringing these thoughts into a meeting with Sig is a bad idea. Worrying over my own demise will blunt my energy, and any encounter with Sig Loreale requires operating at full spark. A deep breath and a swallow are the only weapons I have to squelch my dangerous thoughts. They do the trick, because they have to.

I knock on the door of the den.

“Come in, Cantor,” comes through the door in Sig’s terrifyingly quiet, scratchy voice, like claws scraping the wood, and each word slow and precise, nothing sloppy, the same scalpel-sharp way Sig does business. Sig’s cultivated his manner of speech and his method of business to obliterate the messy, immigrant Coney Island background we both came from. I wonder, if I look hard enough, if I’ll see any of the same honky-tonk remnants in Sig that still lurk inside me. I doubt it. Sig’s too disciplined, his soul too cold to cozy up to any nostalgia, a soul grown only colder since Opal’s death.

He’s at his desk, a large burled maple affair in a burled maple paneled room that’s as much about power as taste, though the taste, I think, isn’t entirely Sig’s. Like the elegantly furnished living room, the den appears to be the work of the dearly departed Opal, whose mother, Mom Sheinbaum, bred Opal to marry into the American dream. Mom sent her to all the right schools to acquire the culture and taste that come with them, rid Opal of the salami taint of the Lower East Side. To Mom’s disappointment, Sig Loreale, the up-from-the-gutter crime lord and killer, was the beneficiary of all that culture, instead of the square-jawed, blue-eyed American dreamboat Mom wanted for her precious Opal.

Sig, in shirtsleeves, a half-finished cup of coffee on the desk, is reading a newspaper when I come in. What for other people would be an otherwise benign activity is, in Sig’s hands, a tableau of his ruthlessly efficient control of life: his, and while I’m here, mine. His white shirt, crisp in the light from the windows and the glass-paned door to the terrace, doesn’t have a single wrinkle, and wouldn’t dare. The gray-and-white houndstooth pattern of his tie is precisely aligned with the knot. The pinstripes on his charcoal suit-vest, fully buttoned, are in military straight lines. And though the cigar smoke curling around his face softens his jowly cheeks and the baggy pouches under his eyes, the smoke can’t hide the predatory menace in those eyes, despite his smile. It’s not a big smile, just a small sneer of satisfaction as he reads the same article about Greasy Thumb Guzik beating the rap that the pretty office girl read downstairs; only the office girl has no connection to Guzik or the judge who dismissed the charges against him. Sig, no doubt, does. Sig, no doubt, owns both Guzik and the judge. The judge, having done what he was told to do, will continue to live his plush, well-paid-for life for the foreseeable future. Jake Guzik will owe Sig his freedom. Both men will keep their mouths shut about anything they know regarding what goes on in the underworld. And Sig, to my relief, is in his ice-cold version of a good mood.