Exclusive Excerpt: Hijacked Love by Ethan Stone

Blurb:

It’s the winter of 1971 and FBI Agent Zack Pomeroy is hoping to make a name for himself when he’s assigned the case of the century—the hijacking of an airplane by D.B. Cooper. Zack’s used to hiding his sexuality but working with Duke Magruder is even more of a challenge. Not only do they do have vastly different personalities but also contrasting opinions on how to work the case. Nonetheless, Zack is able to earn Duke’s begrudging respect.

Until Duke learns Zack’s secret.

When Zack finds a lead on the case Duke not only refuses to listen, he also refuses to work with Zack any longer. Zack’s career and his assignment are at jeopardy but that doesn’t mean he’s about to give up on finding Cooper, no matter how many years it takes.

Hijacked Love is a blend of mystery and historical fiction with a bit of romance thrown in.

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Talk about being at the right place at the right time. It was 1971, the day before Thanksgiving and my first day at the Portland FBI office. I was finally meeting my boss, Agent Milton Donaldson. We were shooting the breeze when Donaldson’s secretary dashed into his office.

“Sir, there’s been a hijacking!”

Donaldson glanced at me and shrugged. “Looks like you’ll be hitting the ground running.”

My plans for Turkey day were going to hell. Phil was not going to be happy.

I followed Donaldson down a hallway and into a large conference room where half a dozen men in matching dark suits and ties milled around a table and talked over one another. Donaldson’s presence hushed everyone as he strode to the end of the table. I stood off to the side.

“What do we know, gentlemen?”

Everyone began talking at once. Donaldson straightened, crossed his arms, and scowled. This was not a man I ever wanted to anger. The room quieted, and Donaldson pointed at a barrel-chested man with a receding hairline. “Duke.”

“Flight”—Duke paused to review some notes—”305. Northwest Orient Airlines flying from Portland to Seattle. Just after takeoff, a male passenger gave a note to a stewardess informing her he had a bomb.”

“What does he want?” Donaldson asked.

A couple of men started to speak, but Duke drowned them all out. “Two hundred thousand dollars, four parachutes, and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft on arrival.”

Donaldson pointed at another agent. “Felder, get on the phone with the Seattle office. Let’s make sure we’re working together on this one. I don’t want any pissing matches about who’s in charge. This is a joint operation.”

“Yes, sir.”

“The airline’s president, Donald Nyrop, has been informed of the situation,” Duke continued. “He’ll call me back once he’s made a decision.”

“Good,” Donaldson said. “We’ll wait for his call. Whether or not he agrees to pay the money determines our next action. I don’t want anyone harmed if we can avoid it. Do the passengers know what’s going on?”

An agent sporting thick sideburns spoke up. “The pilot has already announced that landing in Seattle is delayed due to minor mechanical difficulty.”

“Good. What do we know about our hijacker?”

“Nothing yet,” Duke said. While others had taken seats, he had remained standing, and alternated between pacing alongside the table and leaning over it. “I’d like to be on the ground when it lands so I can interview the witnesses.”

“I’m fine with that. I’d like you to wait until we get a call from the airline president. You’ve already talked to him and it’d be better if he spoke to you again.”

Duke nodded and leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, and tapped his foot impatiently. It was easy to tell he was Donaldson’s right-hand man. I’d researched most of the agents I’d be working with but the name Duke didn’t ring a bell. Then it struck me. Wayne Magruder. Twenty-five year veteran of the Bureau. He’d worked in offices all across the country and in several different departments. He had a reputation for closing cases as well as for being a hard ass. Magruder didn’t work well with others.

Donaldson issued assignments to almost every agent in the room before a phone on the wall rang. Duke grabbed it. “Magruder.” He nodded. “Send it through.” He put a hand on the speaker and said to Donaldson, “It’s the airline president.” A moment later, “Hello, Mr. Nyrop. This is Agent Magruder. Have you made a decision?” Pause. “I think you’ve made the right choice, sir. We’ll be in contact soon.” He hung up and turned. “He’s paying the money and has instructed his employees to cooperate fully.”

“Okay, Duke, get your ass to Seattle. Work with agents there to get the money. Interview anyone released when the plane lands. Let’s figure out who this guy is.”

“Yes, sir.”

Duke dashed past me and was almost out the door when Donaldson glanced at me and blinked as if he’d forgotten I was even there.

“Magruder…wait.”

He stopped. “Yeah?”

“This is Special Agent Zachary Pomeroy.”

Duke looked at me and I extended my hand. He shook it briefly, obviously uninterested.

“Call me Zack,” I said.

He didn’t reply, instead facing his boss again.

“I want you to take Pomeroy with you.”

“Sir, I don’t need—”

“It’s not a request, Duke,” Donaldson snapped. “He came with good recommendations after years of dealing with organized crime. I was going to assign you to train him anyway.”

Duke inhaled then slowly let out his breath. Without looking at me, he said, “Fine. You better not hold me back.”

“No, sir, I…”

He took off down the hallway with long strides.

“He’s not joking,” Donaldson said. “He will leave without you.” He patted my back and pushed me out of the room.

I jogged until I caught up with Magruder. “Do I have time to make a phone call?”

“You got a wife you need to check in with?”

“Uh, no.” I did have a partner, but I couldn’t exactly tell Duke that.

“Nobody else matters.”

Arguing would be pointless so I followed Magruder outside to his car, a cherry red 1966 Mustang. I whistled as I slid into the vehicle. “She’s beautiful.”

He grinned for a moment. “Thanks.”

Moments later, we were on our way to Seattle, driving well above the speed limit. After my attempts at conversation were met with monosyllabic responses, I stopped trying. We made it to Seattle in just under two hours. The Seattle office was expecting us, and we were ushered into a conference room and given quick introductions.

“What happened while I was on the road?” Duke demanded, apparently not catching the looks of irritation on the other agents’ faces.

“We’ve gathered the money the hijacker requested,” Special Agent in Charge Gary Floyd responded. “Agent Walker has handled all that.” He gestured to a smallish man with slicked brown hair and wire rim glasses. He sat at a table and had a knapsack full of cash in front of him.

I shook Walker’s hand and introduced myself. “Call me Zack.”

He smiled and held the grip a second longer than normal. “Ernest, but my friends call me Ernie.” I got the feeling that Ernie was gay like me. I couldn’t be positive, of course. It’s not like FBI agents wore colored hankies in their pockets while on the job.

“Enough with the goddamn small talk,” Duke snapped. “What’s going on with the case?”

“Please excuse Duke,” I said. “His mama never taught him manners.”

Everyone chuckled except Duke, who scowled at me instead.

“I got the money from different banks in the area,” Ernie said. “Ten thousand unmarked twenty dollar bills. Most have serial numbers beginning with the letter L. That makes it easier to trace.”

“I assume you’ve got a list of those serial numbers?” Duke asked.

Ernie nodded then stood and closed the knapsack. “We’re good to go, sir.”

Floyd lifted the receiver in front of him. “Let him know his demands have been met.”

I glanced at my watch. It was 5:24 p.m. No doubt Phil would be expecting me home any minute. At that point, I had no idea when I’d make it back. So much for the transfer giving me a more reliable schedule.

Duke tapped a foot. “Let’s get to the airport, Pomeroy. I want to be there when the plane lands.” He left the room without a word to anyone else.

“We’re on our way, too,” Floyd said as he grabbed the bag of money.

I tugged on Ernie’s shirt sleeve. “It was nice meeting you. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.”

He smiled. “I’d like that.”

In the car, I said, “How have you survived this long in the Bureau without learning you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar?”

Duke snorted. “I don’t need or want your opinion about how I do my job, Pomeroy.”

“Suit yourself.”

 

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Exclusive Excerpt of Drama Luau, the fourth Nicky and Noah mystery, by Joe Cosentino

Blurb:

Theatre professors and spouses, Nicky Abbondanza and Noah Oliver, are on their honeymoon at a Hawaiian resort, where musclemen in grass skirts are keeling over like waterfalls. Things erupt faster than a volcano when Nicky and Noah, along with their best friends Martin and Ruben, try to stage a luau show. Nicky and Noah will need to use their drama skills to figure out who is bringing the grass curtain down on male hula dancers—before things go coconuts for the handsome couple. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining fourth novel in this delightful series. Curtain up and aloha!

Excerpt:

The olive-skinned, barefooted muscular men wore loincloths (malo), coconut necklaces, shell bracelets and anklets, and flower (lei) head garlands. With the powerful emerald mountain behind them, the dancers (‘olapa) aerobically executed hand signs, knee sways, and foot stomps toward the turquoise sea (makai), as their deep, full voices chanted to the goddess of the ocean (Namakaokahai). The lead dancer (alakai) and the dance captain (kumu) moved front and center executing their tree in the breeze hand gestures. The dancer helper (kokua) made gestures to the ocean waves behind them.

“Stop!”

The ‘ukulele, steel guitar, and bass accompaniment ended. The dancers slouched and looked toward the rows of tables and chairs facing them.

“Kimu, stand further upstage.”

“Nicky, they don’t know what upstage and downstage mean.”

“Thanks, Noah. Kimu, stand behind the other dancers, so Kal and Ak are the focus of the dance.”

That was me, Nicky Abbondanza, Associate Professor of Directing at Treemeadow College, an Edwardian style private college in the quaint state of Vermont. My husband and the love of my life, Assistant Professor of Acting at Treemeadow, Noah Oliver, is by my side, right where I like him. Why am I directing a luau show at the Maui Mist Resort in Hawaii? Our honeymoon in Maui was a gift from our parents. But when the customers of my parents’ bakery in Kansas became glucose intolerant, and the clientele of Noah’s parents’ dairy farm in Wisconsin found themselves lactose intolerant, Noah and I were left tolerating the bill. So my department head and his husband hit the internet and found this luau show directing job, which came with free airfare, hotel, and food for two. Enticed by the gorgeous tropical location and the gorgeous luau dancers, Martin Anderson, Professor of Theatre Management at Treemeadow College, and Ruben Markinson, director of one of the top gay rights organizations in the country, decided to tag along and keep us out of trouble. Since Martin and Ruben are our best friends, that was more than fine with Noah and me.

Since you can’t see us, I am thirty-six, tall, with dark hair, green eyes, a Roman nose, cleft chin and long sideburns. Thanks to the gym at Treemeadow College (named after Tree and Meadow, the gay couple who founded it), I am pretty muscular. One minor thing. Actually, it’s pretty major. I have a nine and-a-quarter by two-inch penis, which causes Noah to tell everyone we are “going clubbing” when we have sex.

Noah is handsome with wavy blond hair, crystal-blue eyes, porcelain skin, and hotter and sweeter buns than any found in my dad’s bakery. Martin is short, thin, and bald. As an incredible gossip, he resembles an alien looking for a good piece of news to bring back to his home planet. Ruben is tall, thin, distinguished-looking, with salt and pepper hair and two large eyes watching over Martin. Though Ruben would never admit it, like his husband, Ruben revels in the dish too.

I said to the dancers, “The opening (ho’i) number will be fine. Let’s move on.”

Whereas the first dance was an introduction to the dancers, the second number, in honor of the creation gods (Kane and Lono), is a sensual dance, where the muscular dancers get to flex, grunt, and gyrate.

Sitting next to me at the front table opposite the stage, Noah rested a hand on my knee. “Did my character work with the dancers pay off?”

I nodded. “They all seem like characters to me.”

Noah squeezed my hand as the five dancers came on stage, now wearing grass skirts. Kal (short for Kalani), at twenty-five, is tall, strikingly handsome, muscular, the leader of the pack, and he knows it. Ak (Akamu), at thirty-five, was once the stallion of the troupe, but a receded hairline and wrinkles had transformed Ak to dance captain. As leaders, Kal and Ak take focus in the dance numbers, either dancing downstage center or up center on the platform in the shape of a volcano. Pretty ironic since Kal and Ak are ex-lovers and ex-friends.

Current lovers Keanu (dancer helper), at medium height with a growing paunch, and Ahe, young, small, and cute as a button, took their places midstage and looked at each other adoringly.

Finally, Kimu, at medium height with a bull dog face and protruding belly, stood farthest upstage. The only straight member of the troupe, Kimu, said, “Are you girls ready to dance?”

Keanu left his lover, Ahe, and approached Kimu. “What a surprise, Kimu. Liquor on your breath.”

Leader Kal added, “Yeah, Kimu, during the last number you were wavering more than the palm trees near the stage fan.”

Kimu answered, “Hey Kal, is it true that you gave Keanu a pity lei?”

These guys are worse than the divas I work with in the theatre. “Can we please start the number?”

 

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Exclusive First-Look Excerpt: Promoted to Death by Meg Perry (Jamie Brodie Mysteries Book 14)

Blurb:

Elaine Pareja didn’t have any fans among her colleagues in the psychology department at Santa Monica College. When her promotion application is denied and she is terminated, no one is sorry to see her go. When Elaine is reinstated for no apparent reason, it causes a revolt in the department. When she turns up dead, her colleagues turn into suspects. But Elaine was a keeper of secrets – other people’s, and her own. Jamie Brodie and his friend, business librarian Sheila Meadows, join forces with the police to pick their way through the tangled web of Elaine’s life, searching for the thread that led to her death.

Exclusive First-Look Excerpt:

At 5:15 Pete texted me. Leaving campus now.

A half hour later he pulled up in the drop-off circle and I climbed in. “Hey, how’d it go?”

“I resigned, effective at the end of spring term. June 10.”

“Dr. Canaday wasn’t surprised, was she?”

“Not by that, no. She may resign herself.”

Why?

“Elaine got reinstated.”

What?? How the hell did that happen?”

“I’m not sure. It was over Verlene’s protestations.”

“Let’s just throw the faculty promotion process out the window, shall we? Not to mention sleeping with a student! How the fuck are you all supposed to work with her now?”

Pete set his jaw. “I’m not going to any longer than I have to. Verlene and Elliott may both resign in protest.”

“Holy shit. How to decimate an entire department in one move.”

“Yeah. Everyone else will be job hunting, too.”

“Can Aaron afford to take the time to find a desirable job?”

Aaron’s husband, Paul Thayer, was one of the top home stagers in Los Angeles. “Yes, Paul’s income is far higher than his. Verlene and Elliott can both be choosy, too. Curtis and Audra can’t quit without having somewhere else to go.”

“Was there any reason given?”

“Elaine was terminated because of her involvement with our student, on top of her poor evaluation. None of that has changed. I don’t understand what has.”

“Maybe she knows something damaging about someone influential.”

“It would have to be someone incredibly influential. For the college to potentially expose itself to a lawsuit from the union and the state faculty association… I can’t imagine what could have overridden that.”

“Would the board of trustees have done this?”

Pete frowned. “They’ve never interfered in that way, to my knowledge. They vote on faculty hires but it’s supposed to be a formality. They’ve never stated a position on a faculty firing. Besides – a majority of the board would have to vote to reinstate her. I can’t see that happening.”

“Would your college president do it?”

“No. He wouldn’t.” But he didn’t look as sure as he sounded.

When we got to the Y we found side-by-side treadmills and stepped on. I couldn’t run without uncomfortably jarring my shoulder, but I set a steady uphill walking pace that wouldn’t overtax my lungs. Pete built up his pace until he was running hard, slightly uphill, legs pounding, jaw grimly set. When he was about to drop with exhaustion, I said, “You should start cooling down.”

I could tell that he thought about objecting, but then he tapped the controls and began slowing down. I slowed my own pace until we were both walking comfortably. Finally he sighed deeply and stopped. “Shower at home?”

“Yeah.”

In the parking lot Pete turned his phone back on; his voice message alert chirped immediately. He checked the screen. “Elliott, Aaron and Curtis.”

“All wanting to discuss the events of the day.”

“No doubt.”

Pete began returning calls as soon as we got home. Elliott, only four years from retirement, was still on the fence about his decision. Aaron, after discussions with both Dr. Canaday and Paul, would hand in his resignation tomorrow, effective at the end of spring semester.

Pete called Curtis as he opened a pill bottle for me. “Hey, man, sorry it took a while to get back to you. What’s up?” He listened for a full minute. “No, I’m gonna teach online. Adjunct. Jamie found several positions. No, at real schools. Yeah, he can add me to his insurance. How much? Good God. No, of course not. You have to take care of your family. Yes, and I’m sure Aaron would too. You bet. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He ended the call and sighed.

I said, “Curtis can’t resign.”

“Not yet. His wife works too, but for a small dental practice. He has the kids on his insurance. If she adds the three kids and Curtis to hers, it’ll cost $2250 a month.”

“Holy crap. He’s going to search for another job, right?”

“Yeah. He was afraid that we’d think he wasn’t supporting us if he didn’t resign right now.”

“And you’ll write him letters of recommendation.”

“Sure. We all will. Audra, too, if she decides to move.”

“It’s gotta bite, leaving a tenured position.”

Pete shook his head. “I can afford to be an adjunct. Curtis and Audra can’t.”

 

******

 

The next evening

It was nearly 7:30 and starting to get dark when we neared home. We were laughing about something as we turned the corner onto 17th Street – and our laughter died immediately as we saw Elaine Pareja pacing in front of our gate.

Pete muttered, “Oh, for God’s sake.”

I hissed, “What does she want?

We stopped in front of the gate. Pete said, “Elaine. What the hell are you doing here?”

“First, I want to apologize to Jamie. For what I said the other day.” She seemed to be supremely uncomfortable. “That was uncalled for and I’m sorry.”

In my experience, people said what they really thought in times of stress, but I didn’t argue with her. “Thank you.”

“Second -” She stopped and waved her hands in the air. “You can’t all quit.”

Pete said, “Sure we can.”

“But -”

Pete held up his hand. “Elaine. Did you seriously believe that any of us would sit meekly by and be bullied by you and whoever engineered your reinstatement? You said you wanted to drag the department through the mud. You’ve gotten your wish; you’ve wrecked the department. The only person to blame for your predicament is yourself.”

“But I have to teach five classes in both summer terms.”

“Tough shit. You should have considered the consequences of your actions.”

“You’re all tenured. You’ll have to start all over again.”

Pete said, “I’m going to teach online as an adjunct. The others are willing to start over. None of us want to work for an organization that can be blackmailed into subverting the promotion process and retaining a sub-competent and unethical faculty member.”

Elaine was getting mad again. “Are you accusing me of blackmail?

“I’m saying that there’s no logical reason for the college to reinstate you. The only conclusion I can draw is that you’re holding something over someone in a high position. If that’s how the college wants to operate, that’s on them, but the rest of us have professional reputations to consider. We won’t change our minds.” Pete’s gaze dropped to Elaine’s waist. “Elaine. Are you wearing a gun?

What the fuck? I froze, fearing that any movement on my part might produce a disastrous result. Elaine scowled. “So what? I have a permit.”

Pete’s tone was far more casual than mine would have been. “I’m feeling threatened by that, Elaine.”

You’re feeling threatened?” She barked a laugh. “Too damn bad, pal. I’ve been put through hell because of the rest of you. I intend to be threatening. All of you are going to be very, very sorry.”

Pete raised an eyebrow. “It is not in your best interests to threaten us.”

“Pah!” She whirled away and stomped down the sidewalk.

We watched until she turned the corner onto 17th Street. I let out the breath I’d been holding. “Holy shit. Should we call the police?”

“Yes.” Pete reached into his pocket for his phone. “I’ll call that sergeant I talked to on Saturday.”

I unlocked the gate as Pete made the call, then locked it behind us and hurried into the house. Pete spoke with the police for a few minutes. When he hung up I said, “How did you spot the gun?”

“She kept waving her hands, which lifted the edge of her jacket. As cops we were trained to scan people we encountered for guns. I guess my training kicked in.”

“You were so calm.”

He grinned at me. “So were you.”

“Ha! Only outwardly. I was afraid that any movement would provoke her.”

“Same here. When someone’s aggressively disturbed, it’s best to handle them calmly.”

“Could you tell what kind of gun it was?”

“Looked like a .38 Special.”

I inhaled deeply and blew out another breath. “You’re calling those gate people tomorrow, right?”

“First thing in the morning.”

 

Check out the details and look for the upcoming release date: at: https://megperrybooks.wordpress.com/

Exclusive Excerpt from Good Boys (The Solomon Mysteries Book 1) by Keelan Ellis

Excerpt: 

As soon as they got in the car, Paul noticed how much Tim absolutely reeked of smoke. “Please tell me this isn’t going to be a thing. It’s gross, seriously.”

“You sound like Maura,” Tim said. “Get off my back.”

“Sorry,” Paul said.

A few minutes of silent driving passed before Tim said, “So you got that guy’s number, huh?”

Paul looked over at him. “Why do you care?”

“You’re my partner. Aren’t I supposed to care about that shit?”

Paul shrugged. “I don’t know. Are you? I never had a partner who did before.”

Tim nodded emphatically. “Yeah, I am supposed to. I’m sorry your partners before me were dicks.”

Paul sighed. “No, they weren’t. Not all of them. They just didn’t know what was okay to talk about. They weren’t completely unselfconscious like you. I do appreciate that though, Tim. I like how you are. I do.”

“Are you drunk?”

“On two beers?” Paul asked, closing his eyes. “Yeah, I got his number. I don’t know. He seemed a little, I don’t know, skittish or something.”

“You must’ve intimidated him with your beauty and charm, Paulie.”

“Duh,” Paul said, smiling out of the side window at the lit-up Harbor as they passed through it, heading east.

When they got back to the house, Tim went to shower and Paul changed into flannel pants and a T-shirt. He flipped through channels on the television and settle on CNN, half- watching news about a conflict in the Middle East for a few minutes before grabbing a beer from the fridge and a handful of crackers from the cabinet.

Tim came down, thankfully no longer smelling like an ashtray, and they watched TV until Colbert was over. Then Tim yawned and said he was heading upstairs.

“You coming?” he asked.

“Ah, no thanks, Tim. I’m good on the sofa.”

Tim frowned. “Seriously? Why are you making this weird? You can’t even fit on that sofa; your legs hang off by at least a foot.”

Paul shrugged. “I don’t want it to be weird, man. I don’t like sharing sleeping space with someone I’m not screwing, okay? I appreciate it though; for real, I do. Okay?”

Tim rolled his eyes. “Okay. Night, then.”

“Night.”

Paul spread the sheets over the couch and pulled a faded quilt from the hall closet. It wouldn’t be that bad. This was only for a week or so and then he’d…. He stopped thinking about it at that point, because he had no idea what he was going to do. He needed to find a place quickly.

He managed to fall asleep without too much trouble. He got in about two hours of sleep before waking up with a shooting pain in his hip. He tried stretching his legs over the arm of the sofa, which sort of helped, but as soon as he pulled them back in, the cramp returned. He rearranged himself at the other end of the sofa—which in reality was more like a glorified love seat—and lay down on his other side, but it didn’t help.

“Fuck,” he muttered, sitting up. He had to sleep. He had a case to solve, a goddamn red ball case, and he needed a full night of sleep. He huffed out a hard sigh, made a decision, and crept upstairs, taking his phone with him, just in case.

He slid into bed as carefully as possible, but apparently Tim was the soundest sleeper ever because he didn’t even stir. He was snoring softly through his little Irish nose, and Paul thought he was sort of adorable. But only in the way of a slightly funny-looking child.

Paul thought it would be hard to fall back asleep, but he must have gone right under, because the next thing he was aware of was the sudden weight of Tim’s arm across his chest, groping for something. Oh fuck, again? Is this happening? His mind raced with panic, but after a second or two, he became aware of a phone buzzing on the nightstand. Tim was reaching over him to answer it.

“Cullen,” he mumbled, still leaning on Paul’s chest. Paul pushed him off and he rolled onto his back. “No… oh. Shit, hang on.” Tim held the phone out. “Answered your phone,” he said, and rolled away as soon as Paul took it from him.

“Solomon,” he said, hoping to hell it wasn’t someone from work. That’s the last thing he needed.

“Hi. This is Jayden? You came and talked to me today?” Her voice was much more timid than the attitude-laced bravado from that afternoon.

“Yeah, sure Jayden. Of course. What’s up?” Paul sat up. She was calling in the middle of the night, so this couldn’t be nothing.

“Um. Hey, you are gay, huh? I thought you were messing with me.”

“What?” Paul half felt like he was dreaming. Why was she asking this?

“That guy who answered your—”

“Oh! Ha ha, no. I mean, yes, I am gay, but that was my partner.”

“Your—?” She sounded totally confused.

“I mean, my work partner.” Paul was aware that this probably didn’t clear up much of anything. “I’m not sleeping with him. I mean, I am, but only because I don’t have a place to— Look, forget it. Why did you call me?”

“I thought of something. I’m sorry to call so late. I guess it could have waited until tomorrow. But like, yeah, I should’ve waited. I’m sorry.”

Paul struggled to repress an impatient sigh. “That’s okay. I’m glad you thought to call. What’s up?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said, her voice catching and sliding almost into a whisper. “My brain wouldn’t shut down, you know? I kept going over and over the same shit, and then I remembered, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought to tell you this before.”

“Okay,” Paul replied patiently, glad they were on the phone so he didn’t have to refrain from shaking her.

“Darren told me he felt guilty about this guy Javon was seeing. He said it was his fault they met. He said he could tell the guy was bad news and he never should have let Javon anywhere near him.”

Paul sat up, suddenly fully awake, and turned on the lamp. Tim groaned and pulled his pillow over his face, and Paul yanked it away. “It was his fault they met? Why?”

“I don’t know. It was someone Darren knew, but he wouldn’t give me a name. Like I told you, he was older and Darren was afraid I’d tell Miss Joanna.”

“Okay. Did he give you any specific reasons he thought the guy was bad news?”

“He said one time he called when Javon was with the guy, and the guy snatched the phone out of Javon’s hand and hung it up. He didn’t want him talking to other people, maybe, or to Darren specifically, even though they were just friends. There was probably more to it, but that’s all I know, I swear.”

Paul didn’t answer right away. He was thinking. Jimmy Pratt’s face had popped up behind his eyes the second Jayden had said the guy was someone Darren knew. He’d been a little overly hostile about gay people, but Paul had assumed it was cultural. That was probably classist of him. Jimmy might have another reason entirely to feel defensive about it.

“Detective Solomon?” Jayden said, still almost whispering.

“Yeah.” He rubbed at his face. “It’s good that you called, honey. Thank you. Hey, do you by any chance know a guy named Jimmy Pratt who works at Heinz Auto?”

“Ugh, yes,” she said, and Paul could swear he heard her roll her eyes. “He’s a dirtbag. When I first met him I thought he was cute, but he makes rude jokes and looks at me like I’m garbage. I try not to go in there if I can help it.”

“Okay. Thanks. Call if you think of anything.”

He hung up and looked at Tim. “That Pratt kid. I think we should be looking at him.”

Tim nodded. “Yeah, okay. It’s only three-thirty, though, man. Can I go back to sleep?”

“If you can sleep. I don’t know if I can now.”

“You should try, at least. I got a feeling tomorrow might be a long one.”

Paul nodded and turned off the light, then swung his legs back into bed. He fell asleep eventually, to the sound of his partner’s soft snoring.