Exclusive Excerpt: The Same Page (Have Body, Will Guard Book 9) by Neil Plakcy

Excerpt:

The detective led Arseny to a part of the building where the cells looked like they were for longer-term holding, with two bunk beds and a pot in the corner. He unlocked a cell where another man sat on one of the bunks, his head in his hands.

His father had often said that Arseny made decisions based on his heart, not his brain, and he’d warned Arseny that the world did not look kindly on a man who did not consider the consequences of his actions.

What would his father say now? I told you so? Would he be able to contact Slava? Perhaps his father could use his contacts to get him released—or pay a ransom. How humiliating that would be, to go running to his papa like a small boy. No, there had to be something he could do himself.

The detective took Arseny’s arm and thrust him roughly into the cell, then clanged the door shut with a sound that reverberated through Arseny’s body. He collapsed on the cot across from the other man, who didn’t look up until the detective had left.

The Same Page

Arseny was immediately struck by how handsome his cell mate was. Black hair, a couple of days’ scruff of beard, piercing dark eyes. He got up and paced back and forth a few times, walking with the cocky, chest-forward attitude of a short man accustomed to making his presence known among men much taller than he was. The kind of man Arseny would have gravitated toward immediately in a gay bar in Moscow.

Watching him, Arseny was flooded with a desire to get down on his knees, eat out the man’s tight ass, and fuck him until he whimpered and cried out and ejaculated solely from the pressure of Arseny’s dick against his prostate.

But instead they were in a prison cell, in a country known for its opposition to homosexuality. Arseny repressed any urges and simply said, “You are Russian? Or Chechen?”

The man shrugged. “I speak only a few words of Russian,” he said, in that language. “Sono Italiano.”

Arseny spoke no Italian beyond hello and goodbye, so he tried, “English?”

The man smiled and nodded. “Yes, English. I am Giovanni. You are?”

“Arseny. How do you come here?”

“It is all big mistake,” Giovanni said. “I am archaeologist by trade. I come here to see ancient sites. I wish to buy some items for museum, and suddenly I am arrested and accused.” He cocked his head. “You?”

“I don’t know why I’m here.” Arseny had no intention of revealing his true reason for being in Chechnya, so he stuck to his cover story. “I want to start an import-export business and I came here to meet with a man who could supply me with merchandise. But for some reason the police think he is corrupt, and because of him, me.”

“This is messed-up country,” Giovanni said. “Both of us innocent and in jail for no reason.”

They talked for a few more minutes, then lapsed into silence. Arseny’s stomach grumbled, and he realized he hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. Did they feed prisoners? Would it be something edible?

“You live in Russia?” Giovanni asked.

“In Moscow. You?”

“In Rome. But my family, they are from Assisi. You know, from Saint Francis? The one with the animals?”

Arseny had heard of him. “A small town?”

Giovanni shrugged. “Not so small. But Rome? Rome is big city, much like Moscow, I think.”

“I have never been to Rome,” Arseny said. “Or anywhere in Italy. My father lives now in Monaco, so maybe I will visit him some time. Is not far from where he lives to Italy.”

“Ah, the Riviera ligure,” Giovanni said. “Very beautiful. I have been several times, with a person I once loved.”

Arseny wondered if the lack of gender to the “person” was deliberate, or simply because Giovanni’s English was not perfect.

He pushed a little. “I have loved like that,” he said. “But eventually it ended. The person and I wanted different things in life.”

Giovanni nodded, and Arseny thought he saw something in the Italian’s dark eyes. “You have a business in Moscow?”

“Not yet.” Arseny felt a bit ashamed at admitting that his father had transferred some of his business assets to him and to his sister before fleeing Moscow, and that he lived on that income rather than anything he did himself. “I am just out of university for one year.”

He looked at Giovanni. “You must have a doctorate degree for your job?”

Giovanni shook his head. “I am a low-level person. The kind they send out to dangerous places. I think the term from military in English is cannon fodder.”

Arseny didn’t know that term, and Giovanni explained it. “Do you ever watch the American Star Trek?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” Arseny said with feeling. “Kirk and Spock!”

He was suddenly embarrassed, but Giovanni nodded. “Yes, Kirk and Spock. Very handsome men, good friends.”

Before Arseny could fully process that comment, Giovanni continued. “There is idea among fans of show. That on exploration of strange planet, characters wearing red shirts will be killed by aliens.”

They began to discuss favorite episodes of the show, and the similar Star Wars movies, and Arseny felt more and more drawn to the handsome Italian. Though it was foolish to assume anything, in a jail cell in a strange place where even the idea that a man could be sexually attracted to another man was grounds for imprisonment or death.

But Arseny couldn’t help wondering. Maybe that was why Giovanni had been arrested. Perhaps he had made an advance to another man, been revealed and taken into custody. Was that why the police had put them in this cell together?

Were they being watched for signs of romantic activity? Arseny gulped. All the more reason to watch himself.

Excerpt for Jon Michaelsen from The Same Page

The detective led Arseny to a part of the building where the cells looked like they were for longer-term holding, with two bunk beds and a pot in the corner. He unlocked a cell where another man sat on one of the bunks, his head in his hands.

His father had often said that Arseny made decisions based on his heart, not his brain, and he’d warned Arseny that the world did not look kindly on a man who did not consider the consequences of his actions.

What would his father say now? I told you so? Would he be able to contact Slava? Perhaps his father could use his contacts to get him released—or pay a ransom. How humiliating that would be, to go running to his papa like a small boy. No, there had to be something he could do himself.

The detective took Arseny’s arm and thrust him roughly into the cell, then clanged the door shut with a sound that reverberated through Arseny’s body. He collapsed on the cot across from the other man, who didn’t look up until the detective had left.

Arseny was immediately struck by how handsome his cell mate was. Black hair, a couple of days’ scruff of beard, piercing dark eyes. He got up and paced back and forth a few times, walking with the cocky, chest-forward attitude of a short man accustomed to making his presence known among men much taller than he was. The kind of man Arseny would have gravitated toward immediately in a gay bar in Moscow.

Watching him, Arseny was flooded with a desire to get down on his knees, eat out the man’s tight ass, and fuck him until he whimpered and cried out and ejaculated solely from the pressure of Arseny’s dick against his prostate.

But instead they were in a prison cell, in a country known for its opposition to homosexuality. Arseny repressed any urges and simply said, “You are Russian? Or Chechen?”

The man shrugged. “I speak only a few words of Russian,” he said, in that language. “Sono Italiano.”

Arseny spoke no Italian beyond hello and goodbye, so he tried, “English?”

The man smiled and nodded. “Yes, English. I am Giovanni. You are?”

“Arseny. How do you come here?”

“It is all big mistake,” Giovanni said. “I am archaeologist by trade. I come here to see ancient sites. I wish to buy some items for museum, and suddenly I am arrested and accused.” He cocked his head. “You?”

“I don’t know why I’m here.” Arseny had no intention of revealing his true reason for being in Chechnya, so he stuck to his cover story. “I want to start an import-export business and I came here to meet with a man who could supply me with merchandise. But for some reason the police think he is corrupt, and because of him, me.”

“This is messed-up country,” Giovanni said. “Both of us innocent and in jail for no reason.”

They talked for a few more minutes, then lapsed into silence. Arseny’s stomach grumbled, and he realized he hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. Did they feed prisoners? Would it be something edible?

“You live in Russia?” Giovanni asked.

“In Moscow. You?”

“In Rome. But my family, they are from Assisi. You know, from Saint Francis? The one with the animals?”

Arseny had heard of him. “A small town?”

Giovanni shrugged. “Not so small. But Rome? Rome is big city, much like Moscow, I think.”

“I have never been to Rome,” Arseny said. “Or anywhere in Italy. My father lives now in Monaco, so maybe I will visit him some time. Is not far from where he lives to Italy.”

“Ah, the Riviera ligure,” Giovanni said. “Very beautiful. I have been several times, with a person I once loved.”

Arseny wondered if the lack of gender to the “person” was deliberate, or simply because Giovanni’s English was not perfect.

He pushed a little. “I have loved like that,” he said. “But eventually it ended. The person and I wanted different things in life.”

Giovanni nodded, and Arseny thought he saw something in the Italian’s dark eyes. “You have a business in Moscow?”

“Not yet.” Arseny felt a bit ashamed at admitting that his father had transferred some of his business assets to him and to his sister before fleeing Moscow, and that he lived on that income rather than anything he did himself. “I am just out of university for one year.”

He looked at Giovanni. “You must have a doctorate degree for your job?”

Giovanni shook his head. “I am a low-level person. The kind they send out to dangerous places. I think the term from military in English is cannon fodder.”

Arseny didn’t know that term, and Giovanni explained it. “Do you ever watch the American Star Trek?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” Arseny said with feeling. “Kirk and Spock!”

He was suddenly embarrassed, but Giovanni nodded. “Yes, Kirk and Spock. Very handsome men, good friends.”

Before Arseny could fully process that comment, Giovanni continued. “There is idea among fans of show. That on exploration of strange planet, characters wearing red shirts will be killed by aliens.”

They began to discuss favorite episodes of the show, and the similar Star Wars movies, and Arseny felt more and more drawn to the handsome Italian. Though it was foolish to assume anything, in a jail cell in a strange place where even the idea that a man could be sexually attracted to another man was grounds for imprisonment or death.

But Arseny couldn’t help wondering. Maybe that was why Giovanni had been arrested. Perhaps he had made an advance to another man, been revealed and taken into custody. Was that why the police had put them in this cell together?

Were they being watched for signs of romantic activity? Arseny gulped. All the more reason to watch himself.

Purchase links for The Same Page (Have Body, Will Guard Book 9)

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CLyr9u

Books2Read: https://www.books2read.com/u/3nY16P

More About author, Neil Plakcy

Neil Plakcy

Neil Plakcy has written or edited over three dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. To research the Angus Green series, he participated in the FBI’s sixteen-week citizen’s academy, practiced at a shooting range, and visited numerous gay bars in Fort Lauderdale. (Seriously, it was research.)

He is an assistant professor of English at Broward College in South Florida, and has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction. His website is www.mahubooks.com.

Atmosphere (The Blake Harte Mysteries Book 9) by Robert Innes

Excerpt

“Tell me about the woman.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, what does she look like?”

Blake Harte leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling with a sigh.

“Old. She was an old woman. White hair, wrinkled face, shrivelled up old mouth.”

“And it’s the exact same woman from the events we spoke about when you were a child?”

Linda Forrest scribbled something onto her clipboard and then looked back up at Blake.

“Yes,” replied Blake. “It’s the same woman from when I was a kid because it’s the same nightmare I’ve had ever since I was a kid.”

Linda nodded as she continued writing. “And when these dreams started again, how long had it been since the last one?”

“When I was at university, quite a few years ago.”

“And since then?”

Blake clasped his hands together in his lap and wrung them together slightly. He absolutely hated discussing the nightmares in such detail as this.

“Since I had the first one a few months ago, I’ve been experiencing them at least once a week. Sometimes twice. I even had one last night and apparently I woke up my partner, because I was crying out, which is impressive as normally he can sleep through an earthquake.”

There was silence for a few moments as Linda finished writing her notes and then placed the clipboard on the table between them.

Blake studied her. She was a dumpy woman with kind looking blue eyes. He could not help but wonder if she was a grandmother, because Blake could imagine that she would be incredibly good at it. She had just the right level of calm serenity about her but at the same time appeared ever so slightly stern. Overall, he conceded, she seemed to be the right sort of person to be a therapist.

“Okay,” Linda said. “Let’s talk about the actual dream itself. What happens?”

Blake shuffled in his seat but said nothing. The room they were in was hot, and he could feel sweat trickling down his back, similar to how he felt whenever the nightmare woke him up.

“Come on, Blake,” Linda pressed gently. “I know it’s difficult, but I need you to tell me what happens.”

Blake took a deep breath. “It’s like I said. When I was ten, I broke into an old house on my street. It had been abandoned for years, but me being a young tearaway, I had to explore it. I had a mate that I used to have dares with, Tommy, and he dared me to go and find out what was going on inside the house.”

“And nobody had been in or out of this house for years?” Linda asked him, leaning forward.

“Not that I saw,” Blake replied, shuffling slightly in his seat. “Though, I was only ten. My parents always said that it may as well have been knocked down as they had lived there for years before I was even born, and they had never seen anybody.”

“So, you get inside the house?”

“Yes,” Blake continued. “The whole place was locked up and the only way inside was through a tiny window around the back of the house. I was a skinny child; I mean I wouldn’t call myself exactly large now, but as a kid, I was like a rake. Even I struggled squeezing through it, but I eventually found myself inside the house. I wish I’d taken the difficulty in getting in as a sign to stop being so stupid, but what can I say? I was ten.”

“Okay,” Linda said. “And what did you find once you had managed to get inside?”

Blake sighed again as his eyes landed on the large fish tank in the corner. There was a small fish fluttering weakly around the surface of the water, looking as if it was in its last moments of its life.

“Blake?”

“The room was dark,” Blake said quietly. “Pitch black, actually. I had to scramble around to find the light switch. Then, when I finally turned it on, there she was.”

“And what was she doing?”

“Not a lot,” Blake replied dryly. “She was dead. She was sitting in a rocking chair with a knife sticking in her back. There was a pool of blood beneath the chair. And I couldn’t move. I was so terrified staring at her face. It was like someone had frozen her in the middle of the most horrified scream imaginable. I mean, she had just been stabbed in the back, so I guess it’s understandable, but it was the most horrific thing I’d ever seen.”

“So, you were frozen, in your mind trapped, unable to escape with this traumatic sight in front of you?” Linda clarified.

“Basically, yes. After what must have only been about a minute or so, but it felt like hours, I finally managed to get back the use of my legs and got out of there. Then I ran home and my mum called the police.”

“You’re a policeman now, aren’t you?” Linda asked. “Do you think this event had anything to do with that?”

Blake had wondered that himself over the years. “No, I don’t think so. Though, being a police detective did mean that I was able to find out details about the case a few years later.”

“And what did you discover?”

“Not a great deal,” Blake replied. “I know they found out her name was Julia Watkins. She was, according to her pension book, eighty-seven, and they also discovered that she had been squatting in the house for months. I suppose it’s unavoidable with old abandoned buildings. But as for her death, it was never solved. The only way in and out was through that tiny window that even I had difficulty climbing through. Other than that, the house was completely sealed.”

Linda scratched the back of her head as she consulted her notes. “It’s the sort of thing you’ve become quite used to, haven’t you? These sorts of impossible events.”

Blake shrugged. “I suppose so. I have been kept busy since moving to Harmschapel, that’s certainly true.”

“A lot of murders?”

“I’ve had my fair share,” Blake conceded. “Not that I didn’t get them when I worked in Sale.”

“That’s Sale in the Manchester area, where you used to live before moving to Harmschapel?”

“That’s right.”

“I’ve seen a lot in the papers about some of the cases you’ve had to deal with since moving to the area,” Linda said thoughtfully. “ And of course, you helped bring a serial killer to justice in the earlier days of your career.”

Blake shuddered at the memory. “Yeah. Thomas Frost.”

“I read about him,” Linda said, nodding. “He strangled a number of women in the Manchester area and you were the officer that helped put him behind bars?”

“Probably the closest I’ve come to experiencing evil,” Blake replied quietly. “The man is a psychopath. I had the unpleasant experience of meeting him again not so long ago. He hadn’t changed.”

“All in all, that must be incredibly stressful, especially when you’re dealing with bodies. Murdered bodies at that.”

Blake’s mouth was starting to feel dry. He leant forwards and took a sip of water from the plastic cup next to him.

“It can be,” he replied. “That’s the job. Sadly, being a police officer isn’t all about catching people who have stolen the church collection money or handing out parking tickets for vehicles parked on the village green. Sometimes life happens, and life can be pretty brutal sometimes.”

“Do you think that could have had an effect? Stabbings, shootings, strangulations, you’re only human after all.” She smiled kindly at him, then glanced at the clock on the wall. “Have a think about it. We’re coming to a close now for the first session, but I think we’ve covered some really helpful details today.”

Blake was doubtful. As he thanked Linda and left the office, he could not help wondering exactly what she could possibly do to prevent him having bad dreams, especially as they stemmed from an event that had actually happened to him. There was no way to try and make sense of it, it was a traumatic experience that had clearly stuck with him and no amount of therapy was going to change that.

As he climbed into his car, he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, briefly chastising himself for his lack of self-control when it came to smoking. He had been trying to quit for a long time, but recently, even Blake had to admit that he had basically become a full-time smoker again.

With a heavy sigh, he turned the key in the ignition and began driving back towards Harmschapel, the image of the screaming old woman flashing into his mind’s eye briefly as he pulled out of the car park.

Blurb:

There’s no such thing as magic. Everything has a logical explanation, even when you can’t immediately see it. Nothing is impossible when looked at from the right angle.

Blake Harte has always lived by this mantra. It’s an attitude that has fared him well in Harmschapel after being faced with numerous bizarre murders and situations. But Blake’s beliefs are soon to be tested to breaking point when touring magician, Sebastian Klein, arrives in the village with his daughter, and glamorous assistant, Amelia, to perform their touring magic show.

Although reluctant to even watch the show, Blake and the rest of Harmschapel Police are soon called into action when Sebastian Klein performs the most baffling trick of his career. Just how many ways are there for a woman to completely vanish in front of an audience, especially when even the great Sebastian Klein has no explanation for what happened?

What initially looks like a big theatrical stunt soon leads Blake and the team to one of the darkest and most sinister cases they have ever come across. The disappearance of Amelia Klein threatens to explode in the ugliest way possible, and there is no way of telling just how many secrets she could expose if found…

Buy links:
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07L43NR4N/ref=series_rw_dp_sw
US: https://www.amazon.com/Atmosphere-Blake-Harte-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07L43NR4N/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43126026-atmosphere?from_search=true

Want to know more about the author? Click the image of Robert Innes to reach his website!

Robert Innes is the author of The Blake Harte Mysteries – a series of head scratching and impossible crimes. When he’s not trying to work out how to commit seemingly perfect murders and building up a worrying Google search history, Robert can be found at his local slimming group, wondering why eating three pizzas in the space of a week hasn’t resulted in a weight loss. Since the creation of the Blake Harte mystery series in November 2016, each book has become a best seller in LGBT mystery both in the USA and the UK.

Exclusive Excerpt: The Shifting Scion (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 27) by Frank W Butterfield

Excerpt:

“May I help you, gentlemen?” That was a rotund fellow of about 60. He was bald and had a pair of glasses perched on his head and another pair dangling over his chest on a silver chain. We were in a store by the name of The Old Book Shop. I held the lease on the place as I owned the apartment building above it. It was on the north side of Sutter, just a few feet west of Larkin.

Carter asked, “Do you have a copy of The Strength of the Strong by Jack London?”

“Of course.” He sized both of us up for a moment and then looked at me and asked, “Mr. Williams?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

He held out his pudgy hand. It was dry and soft as I shook it. “My name is Irwin Smith and I’m the proprietor. May I say how happy I am to finally meet my landlord?” He sounded sincere but I wasn’t sure.

I nodded. “Nice to meet you.” I gestured towards Carter. “This is—”

“Oh, Mr. Jones needs no introduction.” He offered his hand and reddened slightly when Carter shook with his right and then clasped the man’s hand with his left.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith.”  

Taking a deep breath as if to steady his nerves, the older man said, “The pleasure is all mine.” He looked from Carter to me and then back to Carter. “You both look much more handsome than the newspapers could ever show.” Putting his left hand over his chest, just above the glasses dangling on the silver chain, he said, “I hope you don’t think I’m trying to take advantage of your presence, but I have something you might very well be interested in seeing.” He turned without waiting for either of us to reply and made his way into the back, motioning over his shoulder for us to follow him.

Behind a dark green curtain, we found a young man sitting on a stool, eating an egg salad sandwich while reading a thick book with yellowed pages and bound in dark-brown leather. The sandwich was wrapped in wax paper and he was carefully taking small bites from it. The book was laid out flat on the counter in front of him.

“Arthur!” said Mr. Smith, sounding a little irritated.

“Sorry, Mr. Smith,” said the kid as he quickly wrapped up his sandwich and stuffed it into a knapsack that was resting on the wood floor at the bottom of his stool. Having done that, he stood and realized we were standing there. His mouth suddenly dropped open as he appeared to recognize us.

“Arthur! Please attend to the front.”

The kid closed his mouth, nodded, and then slipped around Carter and was gone.

“I apologize,” said Mr. Smith as he removed the lid from one of a series of wood crates stacked one on another. “Arthur is very good with the books but rather lacks the kind of social skills one would desire in an antique book store. Now, here it is.” He stepped back so we could see what was in the top crate. “Have a look.”

Carter walked over and gasped. “Nick! Look!”

Scooting around him, I peered in. Several volumes of Jack London’s novels were lined up perfectly, held in place by tightly-packed straw and newspapers. The blue leather binding looked brand new. The book titles were printed on the spines in bright gold. I looked over at Mr. Smith. “Are these new?”

He beamed. “Quite to the contrary. When Mr. London was building his magnificent house up in Glen Ellen, a publisher in London approached him and requested permission to print all of his novels and short stories in a calf-leather binding. There were to be one hundred sets. However, the house burned to the ground, Mr. London died not long after, and only one set was ever produced. This is that set.”

Carter gently ran his finger over the spines and asked, “Where did you get them?”

“It’s quite unusual that they even exist. They sat in the publisher’s storage, in these very crates, for the longest time. The publisher went into receivership in 1935 and this was one of their assets, although no one in England thought much of an American author like Jack London.” He sniffed. “They didn’t sell at auction and the firm who was handling the disposition of assets just held onto them. Strangely, during the Blitz, one half of their building was destroyed, but since these were in the half that wasn’t touched, they were perfectly fine.” He smiled. “About six months ago, I received a letter from a gentleman at that firm, asking if I would be willing to take them on consignment, being an antique bookseller in Jack London’s hometown. I agreed, thinking of several good customers who might be interested. The set arrived on Monday. I haven’t made any calls so far. Something told me to wait. So, then, you both walk in, asking for one of the very books that the set contains. And, here we are…” He sighed and rested both of his hands on his belly, under the dangling glasses.

“How much?” I asked.

He leaned in towards the stack of crates and put on the pair of glasses that had been on his head. “Well, that is rather a difficult question to answer. You see—”

“Ten grand,” said Carter.

The man gasped. “Well… I don’t…” He took out his handkerchief and began to wipe his face.

Carter pulled out his wallet, asking, “Will you take a check?”

“Oh, my…” The man’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as he slid down to the floor faster than Carter could catch him. 

Blurb:

Thursday, October 18, 1962

Nick is in trouble. He’s obstructing justice and might possibly be an accessory to murder, after the fact. The cops are on to him and his lawyer is very concerned.

How did this happen?

It’s all because Sam Halverson, a close friend and an operative for WilliamsJones Security, has murdered a man and is on his way to Mexico to hide out from the law.

At Nick’s instruction… Oh, boy!

Meanwhile, Nick’s latest attempt at matchmaking appears to be falling apart. It seemed like such a perfect pairing but, apparently, the prospective couple won’t be living happily ever after.

Will justice (and love) prevail?

Find out in this, the second book in a three-part story arc (beginning with The Derelict Dad), that’s all about what happens when a father, who has abandoned his family to find his fortune, finally has to come to terms with his past.

More about author Frank W. Butterfield:

Frank W. Butterfield is the Amazon best-selling author of over 20 books and counting in the Nick Williams Mystery series, stories about Nick & Carter, a private dick and a fireman who live and love in San Francisco.

To learn more about Frank W. Butterfield’s novels, Nick & Carter and their ongoing adventures, click on the link for his website. https://www.frankwbutterfield.com/


Exclusive Excerpt: A Cradle Song by Mark Zubro

Part One

Chapter One

Erik

The loneliest little harmonica sniffled. As best he could, he ignored all the distraction and noise from the store.

His name was Erik. Especially on a Christmas Eve like today, he tried to shut the world out. Then in his heart, he would listen to a cradle song for harmonica and orchestra, the most beautiful and soothing music he’d ever heard.

click on image to purchase

Deep inside of him, Erik had several secret wishes. The most important was that he wanted to be chosen by a good and caring child, and for that child he wanted to play a cradle song.

Long, long ago back to a time he could barely remember, Erik had heard cradle songs for harmonica and orchestra, a beautiful lullaby music. Only a few of those tunes existed. He wanted to make more. New ones. If not that, he wanted to make music with one little boy or girl, for one little boy or girl, music that would soar to the heavens in purity and grace. Music that would change the world, or at the least, heal a child’s tired and broken heart.

He wanted to play a song like that, be part of a song like that. To play for a child with or without an orchestra, to play a lullaby as the child fell asleep on Christmas Eve, all this in Erik’s forever home, nestled in the child’s hands. That was his deepest dream.

But he’d been stuck back here for years, longer than Erik could remember. He’d never been chosen, not even close; picked up and put back only once.

Erik wore a coating of dust most of the year. Maybe in the big cleaning before Christmas, he was noticed in his quiet refuge and someone wiped away the year’s dirt. Most times, they skipped him because they didn’t see him.

Erik was far, far back on his shelf. The dim light rarely reached as far back as he was. He was a little rusty and dinged up. All the bright, shiny trumpets, French horns, tubas, flugelhorns, coronets, and so many more were out in front on the big shelves throughout the store; ready to blare and blast at the slightest sign of interest. The kids who wandered this far back rarely even saw, much less put a hand out toward him.

Erik wasn’t as frightened as he had been in the beginning. He was used to feeling alone. He liked being so far back because he refused to ever show anyone that he was close to sniffling, or worse, crying.

Every Christmas Eve was the worst. Most days, the store thronged with children who all passed him by. He didn’t blame them. They couldn’t even see him all tucked away. Christmas Eve was the busiest day of the year, with the poor and dispossessed kids admitted to the Isle of Misfit Toys to pick and choose among them, and then take away a free toy. On that day, the crowds were the biggest of the year. To be bypassed by so many, added an extra drop to his despair.

On Erik’s own shelf, a cluster of knocked-around but shiny trumpets lounged way out front, followed by the battered but preening flutes and then, way far in the corner, him.

Erik was an oddity, a little baby harmonica. He hadn’t grown. He always thought this was because he’d been snatched from the factory too soon. The truth was, he’d been made that way, but he didn’t know that, and really, it didn’t make any difference to him. He was happy being the smallest possible harmonica. He just wished with all his heart to make music.

Today, Erik tried to be brave for the tiny little race car who had been thrust onto his shelf a month or so ago. The little car had been shoved way back, by a boy who was being mean to his younger brother.

Reginald was the little car’s name. It was his first Christmas Eve not being in someone’s home, without being cherished by a child. That woe-filled first day, he’d told Erik his story between stifled sobs and snorted sniffles.

Reginald was barely bigger than a Monopoly token and must originally have been bright yellow. He’d been loved and held and played with until he was worn to a dull sheen. Now, Reginald was all dinged, rusted, and seedy-mustard yellow. He had lost his left front tire. In his home, he hadn’t cared because he’d known he was loved.

Erik thought one of the worst parts of Reginald’s story was that, years before, the poor little car had lost his mom and dad to a crazed parent who was determined to throw away all her son’s so-called childish junk. Then disaster had struck on that recent fateful day just after Thanksgiving. That had been Reginald’s very worst moment.

The little car had talked between his tears about his home and the boy, Daniel, who loved him. How he always stayed in a special place in the boy’s bottom drawer. He had always been safe in that one tiny snugglement.

Daniel cared for Reginald, treasured him, and was very kind, and always protected him. On that horrible day, Daniel’s older brother, Harold, had waited in ambush to snatch the car out of Daniel’s hand. The little boy couldn’t get Reginald back.

Daniel got very angry and cried. His big brother dashed away and laughed at him. Daniel ran after his brother. He even chased him down the street, but the older boy danced and skipped away always an inch out of his brother’s reach. All that time, Harold waved the weeping little car above his head.

The little boy told his parents. His daddy was harsh, said he needed to get tough and not be a baby. His mother kept silent because she was afraid of her husband and also fed up with hearing the boys argue. Then later that day, in this store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, when no one was looking, Harold had thrust Reginald as far back on this shelf as he could. Daniel didn’t see him do it. No one did.

Their parents had been tired and shushed the squabbling boys, then rushed them out of the store so their fighting and wailing wouldn’t embarrass the adults.

Erik felt sorry for the little car who had no one and nothing in common with anyone on his shelf. After he’d been crying, Reginald tended to hiccup in the night. Erik comforted the little car as best he could.

As for himself, Erik had been passed around for years in many homes. In each one, he’d tried to be cheerful and make friends, but so many of the other musical instruments were indifferent or cared only about themselves. Plus, he was so tiny, it was easy to ignore or overlook him.

In one home, he’d met some snotty violins. One time when he’d thought they were feeling mellow, he’d explained to one of them about music for harmonica and orchestra, cradle songs, the kind he loved. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he’d picked the most wrong one to confide in.

Agnes, the meanest violin, had snipped at him, “Well, even if that kind of music does exist, and I doubt it, you’re not a real harmonica, are you? You’re a little baby harmonica, hardly worth the few notes you can play.”

Agnes had liked to make the other toys feel bad. She tried to lord it over everyone, but Erik knew her secret. First, he’d noticed how she took to heart slights from the two closest other instruments, an oboe and a bassoon. He also saw that the bigger instruments and even other kinds of toys picked on Agnes. It was only when all of her tormentors weren’t around that Agnes attacked and berated the ones smaller than herself.

The little harmonica felt sorry for Agnes, but his every kind word to her always fell flat. She was always meaner faster than any other toy he’d ever met.

Erik knew he didn’t make as many notes as other instruments. Once, he’d met a huge grand piano. He’d lived in its bench for the longest time. The little boy of the house was made to take lessons on an instrument that seemed to be a bazillion times bigger and have a million more notes than the harmonica.

After his interminable session every day, the little boy would sneak Erik out of the great bench. The boy would hide in a vast closet in one of the elegant rooms, and he’d play and play. Erik did his best to help the little boy feel better.

His second favorite times at that house were when the mom or dad would read out loud with the boy. Erik would be all nestled in the boy’s shirt pocket, or if it was at night, in the pocket on his pajama tops, and Erik would feel the words wash over both of them as if they were part of a long flowing stream of stories stretching on endlessly into magic.

Then one day, the boy had taken him outside to a park. He had swung and twirled on a round-a-bout tilt-a-whirl. The boy had gotten dizzy and sick and forgot the little harmonica on the edge of the sandbox.

While climbing over the edge of the sandbox, a three-year-old girl with angelic blond locks had accidentally knocked Erik off the edge and down into the sand. The next day, the little boy had come to search for him. Everyone looked and hunted, and the little boy had cried. But Erik had landed under a small drift of sand that only got bigger as hands reached and searched for him.

Erik stayed buried in the sandbox for the longest time. It had rained and gotten very cold. Many nights, the harmonica shivered and shook.

Then one sunny spring day, another little girl had found him. She’d cleaned him up almost as good as new. Try as she might, she couldn’t get every bit of the rust off, but she got most of it. Her fingers weren’t skilled enough to fix the dents.

Erik lived for a while on a shelf with her dolls. They were friendly in a stand-offish way. They didn’t like to talk to him because he wasn’t one of them.

Later, Erik had been thrown into a box of junk, which made its way through garage sales and rummage sales and finally giveaways in church basements.

Erik survived the drops, dings, and dents as best he could. He was seldom played with during all his jostlings and journeys. These days, the noise he made wasn’t as true as it had once been.

In this store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, when he was brought in, they’d cleaned him up as new as he’d felt in years.

Even here with its kindly proprietor, the clarinets, flutes, and oboes farther along the shelves could be mean and snotty, most often in a snide way, whispering in their high or low-pitched whines.

The little harmonica knew he’d been here for years. No one had picked him. He’d barely ever been touched. He longed for one set of hands and one set of lips to bring him to life.

On his first Christmas Eve in this store, he was at one of his lowest points. At that moment, Erik had made the mistake of telling one of the other musical instruments his dream of playing a gentle cradle song for a child. He’d forgotten the lesson he’d learned from Agnes. He’d hoped her attitude wasn’t shared by anyone else. Surely, no one could be as cruel as that violin? Alas, he was wrong.

Mildred was a brass trumpet who’d lost one of her shiny knobs and had a couple of big dents. At that time, Erik was closer to the front of the shelf, before he got shoved so far back out of the light and had begun to lose hope.

Blurb:

This is the story of a Christmas Eve and the travails of a tiny harmonica alone and lost in the deep dark on the back of his shelf in a store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, and about a little boy frightened, alone, and lost from his family on Christmas Eve. It is a story of warmth, compassion, and joy to be read by the whole family.

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Want to know more about Mark Zubro? 

Click on the author’s photo to the left to be taken to his website: 

Exclusive Excerpt: Gay Noir (three noir mysteries with a gay twist) by Olivier Bosman

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT:

Mrs Skinner rushed into my office in her hat and furs, pulled up a chair and sat down at my desk. “Have you got the pictures?” she said.

“Well, good morning to you, Mrs Skinner,” I responded.

“Never mind all that!” she snapped back. “Have you got the pictures?” She took off her hat and fur and slammed them on my desk.

“Have you got the money?”

“Pictures first!”

I shook my head. “I need to know that you have the money before I show you the pictures.”

She looked at me and frowned. She grabbed her handbag and rummaged in it for her chequebook.

“How much was it again?” she asked, opening her chequebook and taking a pen out of her bag.

“Four hundred pounds,” I said. “And I want cash.”

She looked up, surprised. “You said three hundred and fifty.”

“The price has gone up.”

“Why?”

“Turns out there’s a bit more to your husband’s affair than meets the eye.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you have the cash or not?”

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Mrs Skinner replaced her chequebook and pen in her bag, took out her purse and started counting the money in it. “I have three hundred and fifty pounds,” she said, “as that’s what we agreed on. I can owe you the rest.”

“Show me.”

She rolled her eyes in irritation, but she eventually took the notes out of her purse and laid them on the desk.

“Are you happy now, Mr Stone?” she said. “Do you think you can show me the pictures now?”

“I am, and I can.”  I opened the desk drawer and retrieve the pictures. “I’ll show you the pictures now,” I said, opening the brown envelope, “but I should warn you, it’s not a pretty sight.”

“Just get on with it.”

I placed the pictures on the desk one by one and closely watched her face as I did so. It was rigid and emotionless.

“What’s this?” she said after I had placed the final picture on the desk. She was looking at me, frowning with confusion.

“That’s your husband,” I said.

“Who is that other person with him?”

“That is the man he’s been having an affair with.”

“That is not a man!”

“I think you’ll find he is.” I pointed at a certain part of Lenny’s anatomy.

“What are you suggesting?”

“I’m not suggesting anything.”

“Are you suggesting that my husband is a homosexual?”

“I’m not suggesting anything, Mrs Skinner. I let the pictures do the speaking.” I picked up the photo of Skinner eagerly swallowing Lenny’s cock and placed it on top of the other ones.

“My husband is not a homosexual!” she said, jumping up from her chair. “He is the son of an Anglican priest! That picture is a fake! Where is the man’s head?”

“I cut his head off, Mrs Skinner. There’s no need for you to know who the man is.”

“I’m not paying for those pictures! They are not what I asked for!”

“That’s fine. Then I won’t give them to you.” I picked up the photos, slipped them back in the envelope and locked the envelope in my drawer.

Mrs Skinner remained standing over my desk. Her body trembled with rage and her face began to contort. Finally, the emotion became too much for her and she burst into tears. She sat back down and buried her head in her hands. I admit I did feel a tinge of pity for her. I pulled the handkerchief out of my breast pocket and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” she said softly and began drying her tears. “This is so humiliating! I should never have married him. My father warned me not to marry outside my faith. We’re Catholics. This would never have happened if I had married a Catholic.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You will have to burn the pictures,” she said. “No one must see what I’ve seen.”

“You can burn them yourself if you pay for them.”

“There!” She threw the bank notes at me. “There’s your cursed money!”

“What about the other fifty pounds you still owe me?”

“I’ll come back with it another day.”

“How can I be sure?”

She looked at me indignantly. “I think you can trust me, Mr Stone.”

“I don’t trust anyone.”

“Well, what do you want me to do?”

I looked at her earrings. “Are those real pearls?”

“My pearls?” She put her hands to her earrings and stared at me with shock. “Are you serious? You want my pearls? Don’t you think I’ve been humiliated enough?”

“Hey, lady, I’ve got a business to run here.”

She took off her earrings and flung them at me. “Have the blessed pearls, you hard-hearted swine!”

I picked up the earrings and put them in my pocket. Then I opened the drawer, took out the envelope and handed it to her. She yanked it out of my hands, picked up her hat and fur and jumped out of her chair. “I hope I never see you again!” She marched out of the office.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you, Mrs Skinner,” I called after her, but she didn’t hear me.

BLURB:
Inspired by the pulp fiction novels of the 1940’s and 50’s, the novellas in this anthology emulate the dark, thrilling, sensational and taboo breaking stories of the post war era and gives them a gay twist.
The Honeytrap

1950’s London. Felix Stone is an openly gay P.I. He is approached by a mysterious woman who pays him to shadow her husband. What at first seems to be a run of the mill adultery case, soon turns out to be much more serious. When the people involved in the case suddenly start dying around him, Felix finds himself embroiled in the world of cold war espionage and his own life is put in danger.

The Deluded

1949. The East End of London is still recovering from the blitz. Fitzgerald O’Sullivan is a young man with romantic notions of living like an impoverished writer. In an attempt to escape his past, he abandons his life of privilege and rents a room in the East End. There he meets Roy Parker, a chirpy Cockney with a working-class charm. Roy asks Fitz to write a story about how he saved the lives of two Jewish ladies during the war. What follows is a far-fetched tale filled with lies and exaggerations. This is is a noir thriller where nothing is what it seems. A dark tale of love, bitterness and vengeance set in the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War

Estranged

1950´s L.A. Sixteen year old Henry Blomqvist is the son of an aspiring actress and stepson of a millionaire businessman. He is an embarrasement to his parents, a useless layabout who is constantly getting arrested for cruising the parks. But his vices pale in comparison with the dark secrets in his parents´ lives. The kidnapping of Henry´s stepfather triggers a series of events which expose the skeletons in his parents´ closets and which finally give Henry the chance to step up to the mark and show what he´s really made of.

ebook link: (Releasing December 4th, 2018 via Amazon & FREE via Kindle Unlimited)

Paperback link: (Currently Available)

Olivier Bosman’s Bio: 

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Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I’ve spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have every confidence that I will now finally be able to settle down among the olive groves of Andalucia.

I am an avid reader and film fan (in fact, my study is overflowing with my various dvd collections!)

I did an MA in creative writing for film and television at the University of Sheffield.  After a failed attempt at making a carreer as a screenwriter, I turned to the theater and wrote and produced a play called ´Death Takes a Lover´ (which has since been turned into the first D.S.Billings Victorian Mystery). The play was performed on the London Fringe to great critical acclaim.

​Currently living in Spain where I make ends meet by teaching English .