Exclusive Excerpt: A Body To Dye For (Stan Kraychik Book 1) by Grant Michaels

Excerpt

I opened the door and he was there, all six feet of him. My senses switched to slow motion to take it all in. He stood with his weight shifted onto one of his long, muscular legs. His blue-gray eyes glittered.  Though recently shaven, his beard cast a bluish shadow against his satin olive complexion. He didn’t smile, but I knew when he did, it would be luminous. His curly dark hair was tousled. An aroma of balsam surrounded him. One second had passed. 

“You got trouble here?” he asked, restraining the natural power in his resonant voice. A clean white cotton shirt was slightly wrinkled; a striped necktie lay loosened at the collar; sleeves were rolled to expose powerful, hirsute forearms; gray pleated slacks tried in vain to conceal the assertive strength in his loins; shiny black loafers enveloped broad feet with high insteps. When my gaze returned to his face, I saw his eyes looking straight into my own, and felt a Mediterranean zephyr caress my face. Two seconds. 

“Who are you?” he asked curtly. 

“Stan Kraychik,” I answered. 

He pushed his way by me, and three other cops followed him. I heard him say, “Lieutenant Branco,” as he went by. Of the other three cops, one was a plainclothes officer in his late twenties. I sized up his compact body and styled blond hair. A fitting assistant, I thought, but maybe a little too cute and cool. The wedding band on his left hand relieved some of the mystique. 

Another of the three cops was a uniformed officer, a hefty woman almost as tall as Branco. Her arms and shoulders dwarfed mine. Her features were dark and rough, but I sensed a warmth in her. 

The last cop was the lab expert, a reedy black man slightly taller than me. His big bright teeth took up one-fourth of his face when he smiled, which he seemed to do easily. He seemed too gentle to be a cop. 

Branco looked around the room quickly, but I could see him register every detail in a computer-like mind. He scribbled words into a small black notebook while he surveyed the room— and me. “There’ll be more personnel arriving shortly. Now, what happened here?” 

I tried to answer coolly. “Someone’s not breathing in the bedroom. No pulse either.” My stomach lurched again and a tremor ran up and down my spine. Branco nodded to his assistant and the lab man to go check out the body. Suddenly we heard the frenzy of banging drawers and slamming closet doors, even the flushing of a toilet. Branco whirled at me. “Someone else here?” 

I rolled my eyes and nodded, as though letting him in on a secret. “You bet.” I began to explain, but was interrupted by Calvin’s arrival from the hallway. He’d put on a puffy salmon-colored cotton shirt and baggy white linen pants. The stuff was expensive, just the perfect togs for a Palm Beach reception, but it was out of season in Boston. I was surprised that Calvin could commit such a fashion blunder. He was under more stress than I thought. 

Calvin looked Branco up and down. “Well!” he exclaimed, “I thought that blond you sent to the bedroom was a nice piece, but the prize bull is definitely out here.” 

Branco ignored the comment. (Was he used to it?) Instead he spoke brusquely to Calvin. “Who are you?” 

“I live here. So the real question is, who are you?” His voice quivered with an artificially induced energy. 

Branco said evenly, “Lieutenant Branco, homicide.” 

“No uniform? How do I know you’re a cop?” Branco flashed his badge. Calvin looked at the badge, then at Branco. He said. “You seem quite real, Mr. Bronco.” I was certain Calvin had mispronounced the name intentionally. He continued, “I’m Calvin Redding and I own this flat. And some rather unpleasant events seem to have occurred this evening. I hope your men will able to set everything straight.” The female officer glared at Calvin and cleared her throat.

I said, “Something’s weird, Lieutenant. He wasn’t like this before.” I sounded defensive. 

Branco looked at me coldly. “Quiet, you!” Then to Calvin he said, “We’d appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Redding.” 

“You want me to cooperate? I’d be only too happy to help you, but I think Vannos here may be the one you want to talk to.” Branco turned on me. 

“Just what is your name?” 

His sudden vehemence startled me. “I, uh … it’s … Stan,” I said. “I mean, Stanley. Well, actually, Stanislav is the most correct. But in the shop it’s Vannos. But my grandmother used to call me Stani.” 

Branco shook his head and muttered, “Jesus!” 

Meanwhile, the blond assistant returned from the bedroom. He looked at Branco seriously and said, “You’d better have a look, Lieutenant.” 

Branco said, “Okay,” then left Calvin and me in the living room with the female officer while he and the blond cop went back to the bedroom.

Calvin whispered to me, “Some cop! No uniform, and he has hairy forearms.” He frowned in distaste. 

The female officer moved between us and grumbled to Calvin, “Anything you got to say mister, speak up!” 

When Branco and his assistant came back out, he sent me to the kitchen with the blond one while he interrogated Calvin in the living room. I told the assistant everything that had happened since I first arrived. Talking to him was easier than with Branco, and my fumbling defensive tone went away for a while. Branco took longer with Calvin, so I watched them both from the kitchen doorway. Calvin sank lower into the leather sofa as Branco pressed him for answers. He began to resemble a dog left outside a restaurant while his master went in for a steak dinner. He was quite a different Calvin from a few minutes ago, or even earlier that day. Branco finished and came into the kitchen. He sent the blond cop back out to question Calvin again. Then he sat down, opened his black leather note pad, and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s hear your side of it.” 

“Again?” 

“Just talk.”

I tried to tell him everything I’d told the other cop, but his physical presence unnerved me, and I lost track of exactly what had happened. To make things worse, Branco would jot things in his little black book, but it always seemed at the wrong time.When I’d say something I thought was important, he’d do nothing. Then, when I’d pause to remember a detail, he’d write like a demon, which made me wonder what kind of game he was playing. When I finally finished, he asked me without looking up, “You haven’t touched anything, have you?” 

“No, sir.” I lied calmly…

Blurb

Stan Kraychik is a hairdresser in Boston, leading a successful hairdresser’s life. Successful hairdressers’ lives vary widely but they usually have one thing in common – no dead bodies.

Not only does Stan find a dead body but the police suspect that he’s the killer. Stan, on the other hand, suspects his arrogant client, Calvin, who dragged him into his mess. Proving Calvin did it will clear Stan’s name. Proving it without landing into a different pool of trouble … well, that’s a problem Stan will have to solve.

Grant Michaels’ zany series of adventures starring Stan Kraychik garnered multiple Lambda Literary Awards including a 1991 nomination for Best Gay Mystery for A Body to Dye For. For this new edition, Carl Mesrobian reminisces about his brother Grant in an exclusive foreword, and Neil Placky provides an appreciation in a 2019 introduction.

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Boystown 12: Broken Cord (Boystown Mysteries) by Marshall Thornton

Excerpt

Freemont Tate lived in an exceptionally grand co-op on Lake Shore Drive a few blocks north of my apartment. While I lived in one of the cheapest apartments on the Drive, Tate lived in one of the most expensive. So expensive it had its own private elevator.

After calling up to announce me, the doorman got out a special key and then walked me over to the elevator. Next to the metal doors was a lock into which he put the key. A moment later the doors opened and he nodded his head toward them. I stepped in. There was an up button and a down button but nothing more. I pressed up.

At the top floor, sixteen floors later and the only possible stop, I stepped out into a foyer with a white marble floor, ghastly wallpaper and a real live butler. The butler was a dapper, middle-aged man dressed in a tuxedo—a bit much for mid-morning, I thought. 

He told me, “You’re Mr. Nowak.”

“I am.”

“Mr. Tate recognized your name and asks that you join him in the downstairs library.” 

Downstairs library? Did that mean there was an upstairs library? Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed when I followed the butler out of the foyer into a long hallway was a flight of stairs leading upstairs. It was the kind of hallway filled with comfortable chairs and small tables, as though the apartment was so large a guest might need to suddenly sit down and rest. 

We passed several open rooms, all to my right: a dining room set for ten, a sitting room, a living room three times as big as my entire apartment. Each room was finished with neatly painted floor boards, molding and cornices. The paintings on the walls looked collectible. There was a Michael France in the sitting room taking up most of a wall. Lilies, I think.

I felt grossly out of place in my faded jeans, Reeboks and dark blue alligator shirt—though, at least that had a collar. 

The downstairs library—which was directly across from the living room—was a deep forest green, including all the molding. The green was carefully chosen to set off an enormous gold-framed mirror that reflected the stunning view of the lake. There was a large mahogany desk and two comfy looking, leather chairs. Presumably Tate only did business here with people he liked. A lot.

A man in his early seventies sat behind the desk. He had a full head of white hair and skin the color of a brick. I suspected a vacation home in Arizona or somewhere else equally scorching. As it happened, I’d never seen him before in my life, which made it unlikely I’d be collecting the money I was owed.

Standing up to shake my hand, he said, “Mr. Nowak, I presume?”

“Mr. Tate.” I was tempted to ask if his friends called him Free, but then I’d thought the same thing when I met the phony Mr. Tate.

“So, we agree that we’ve never met?” His voice was loud.

“Yes. We do.”

“Pardon me?”

“I said, ‘Yes, we do.’” I raised my voice a bit. The old man didn’t seem to hear very well.

“Wonderful. So, who wrote the check that you attempted to cash?”

“A man came to my office. He introduced himself as Freemont Tate. He was around sixty, salt-and-pepper hair, thick in the middle, pasty complexion, shorter than you are.”

“What kind of work do you do at your office?”

“I’m a private detective.”

“What did you say?”

“A private detective.”

“Oh, I see,” he said, a doubtful tone in his voice. “And what did your Mr. Tate ask you to do?”

“I’m afraid that’s confidential.” It wasn’t exactly. Not after the check bounced—nonpayment tends to void most legal agreements. 

He—phony Mr. Tate—hired me to follow his much younger wife and discover whether she was having an affair. She was. The story he fed me was that they had a legal agreement guaranteeing her money if they divorced, but that agreement was void if she cheated. She had and so it was. In retrospect, it was possible none of that was true. 

Since I’d sat outside that very building waiting for the young woman—I assumed I’d followed the right woman. Glancing around, I found a photo of her on the bookshelf, so yeah, I’d followed the right woman. The question now was did Mr. Tate want to know about his wife’s dalliance. If he didn’t want to know, I certainly didn’t want to tell him. 

“Do you have a brother or cousin around your age?” I asked.

“Why would you want to know that?”

“The man I met was near your age. Roughly.” Though he had no issues with his hearing.

“How do you know my age? Why do people always think they know—”

I ignored him and asked again, “Relatives?” 

“Other than my children I have very few relatives. A maiden aunt in her nineties. A few second and third cousins out West.”

“How would someone have gotten ahold of one of your checks?”

“Checks? I keep my personal check register here on the desk most of the time and the extra checks in that cabinet right there.” He pointed at the cabinet that was the base of a built-in bookcase. “The check was taken from the cabinet. It was out of sequence.”

“So you wouldn’t notice right away it was missing. And they only took one check?”

“Yes.”

I stopped for a moment. That meant the entire point of stealing a check was to pay me. This wasn’t part of some bigger theft.

“Who has access to this room?”

“The staff. Teddy, whom you’ve met. Our cook, Midge. Three maids. They come and go so often I don’t learn their names.”

“You and your wife live here alone?”

“No. There are six bedrooms. My wife and I have adjoining rooms; each of my children has a bedroom. The last is a guest room. We often have guests.”

“How old are your children?”

“Forty, thirty-eight and sixteen—if I’m remembering correctly.” 

That told me that Mrs. Tate was a second or third wife. She was a woman in her thirties. Two of the children were older than she was. The sixteen-year-old might be hers. Hard to say. 

It also told me his two older children weren’t particularly ambitious. They were far too old to be living at home.

“So, the list of who had access to your checks includes any of your five servants, possibly more since you say there’s a lot of turnover among the maids, any of your three children, and any of the guests you had in say March, April or early May.”

“Also delivery men. We receive a lot of packages. The plumber, I think, has been here recently. Teddy would know for sure. I believe we had the filters on the air conditioners cleaned, which required letting someone in.”

“This is getting to be quite a list,” I pointed out. Going through it wasn’t going to be the best way to approach this. Of course, I shouldn’t bother. Even if I found the first Mr. Tate, it was unlikely he was going to pay me.

“And you, of course,” he said.

“Me? I’ve never been here before.”

“That is what you’d say, isn’t it, if you were involved.” He stared at me for a moment. “Though I must say, if you are involved it’s brazen of you to show up here asking to be paid. That is what you’re doing, isn’t it? Asking to be paid?”

“You don’t have to pay me. I didn’t work for you.”

“I assume if I pay your bill you’ll tell me why you were hired?”

“That’s not a good idea. This is a con job, don’t you think? The whole point of it is to get you the information I discovered. Someone wants you to know what I’ve learned. And I don’t think they’re doing you any favors.”

The logic in what I’d just said was probably leaping all over the place. But with or without leaps, I couldn’t think of any other reason for a fake Mr. Tate to hire me to uncover Mrs. Tate’s affair other than that he, or whoever hired him, wanted the real Mr. Tate to find out about it.

“Someone’s gone to a lot of effort to put me in this room with you,” I continued. “The best way to thwart them would be for me to remain silent.”

“Yes, but then I think knowing is better than not knowing. The things we don’t know end up hurting us much more than the things we do.” He took his check register out of the top drawer of his desk and began to write me a check. “I’m adding an extra five hundred. For the inconvenience.”

He held out the check and I had to decide whether to take it or not. He seemed like a pretty smart guy. Eventually, he’d realize I’d left his wife off the list of people who might have stolen the check used to pay me. That would tell him she was the subject of my investigation. Once he knew that, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of it to fall into place. I took the check.

“Your wife is much younger than you are.”

“What was that?”

I raised my voice and repeated, “Your wife is much younger than you are.”

“That’s nothing I didn’t already know.”

“She seems to be having an affair with someone name Edward Hurley.”

Tate’s face got tight. “Edward Hurley is my attorney. I think you’ve misunderstood.”

“Yes, that’s entirely possible.” I didn’t think it was.

He waited a moment. “What makes you think they might be having an affair?”

“I followed your wife to the Starlight Motel. She entered a room that had been registered to an Edward Smith. Mrs. Tate was there a little bit more than half an hour. She left the room with a man I later identified as Edward Hurley.”

The Starlight Motel was a seedy place way up on Lincoln Avenue along a stretch where there were a number of other seedy motels. At first, it seemed odd that Mrs. Tate and Hurley would go to such a place when the Drake was available. However, I suspect the Drake doesn’t allow fake names or rent by the hour.

After a moment, Tate cleared his throat and asked, “Did you take photos?”

“I did.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t been sent to me,” Tate said.

“I think they were for my benefit.”

“Your benefit? How so?”

“The, um, imposter told me you have some kind of agreement with your wife. If you divorce her because of infidelity she gets nothing. But he didn’t ask for pictures. I had to suggest them.”

“My wife and I don’t have any such agreement.”

I wondered if he was suddenly wishing they did.

He cleared his throat. “As you’ve pointed out, my wife is much younger than I am. In a marriage like ours certain accommodations need to be made. And that’s all I want to say about it.”

“You’re saying your wife did nothing wrong.”

“Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. I’d appreciate a little discretion.”

“So whoever wanted you to know—”

“Is a fool.

Blurb

In the latest installment of the Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries, it’s summer 1985.
As Nick’s personal life begins to unravel, Nick throws himself headlong into investigating the murder of a woman married to a much older, wealthy man. It appears that only her husband could have killed her, but Nick is sure that’s not what happened. Meanwhile, Rita Lundquist makes her presence known, posing a continuing threat to Nick and those around him. 

More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:

Marshall Thornton writes two popular mystery series, the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery twice, once for each series. His romantic comedy, Femme was also a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite Uncle, The Ghost Slept Over and Masc, the sequel to Femme. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America.

Sign-up for his newsletter at marshallthorntonauthor.com

Let’s Get Criminal (A Nick Hoffman / Academic Mystery Book 1) by Lev Raphael

Excerpt

There was no mistaking what truly ended my night’s sleep. The clock radio got us up with local news at eight o’clock on the public radio station. The unctuous voice said, “An SUM professor was found dead on campus early this morning. He has been identified as Professor Perry Cross of the English, American Studies, and Rhetoric Department. Campus Police have released no other details.” 

As the announcer went on to some item about the state legislature, I rolled over to find Stefan staring at me.

I stared back.  “How can he be dead?” 

Stefan frowned, shook his head as if he hadn’t really heard me and wasn’t even sure he was awake.

“He was just here at dinner last night!” I shook my head. “And now he’s dead?” I sat up, leaned back against the headboard. “It was Perry, wasn’t it? You heard it too? I’m not dreaming this, am I?” 

“We’re awake,” Stefan said, and reached back to shut off the radio. 

I didn’t know what to say. Just before falling asleep, I’d joked about killing Perry; I felt disgusted to have said it. 

My mind was full of flickering images of people in movies and on TV finding out about a death: they were usually shocked, they screamed, cried, rushed around, stuffed fists into their mouths, stumbled backwards into a chair, quivering— did things that seemed extreme, no matter how limited the compass. But I was just dumbfounded. 

I guess Stefan was too. 

Suddenly, last night’s dinner felt retrospectively eerie, a portent of even worse things to come. 

We had been eating dinner with a corpse. That’s what it seemed like here in bed this morning. I felt deeply ashamed of how upset I’d been to have Perry over— that seemed trivial now when weighed against his death. 

“I guess I don’t have to share my office anymore,” I brought out. “Or not for a while.” 

Stefan grinned a little strangely, and I realized that joking was definitely not the right tack. 

We got up. We showered and ate breakfast without saying much at all. I felt as if I’d taken too many antihistamines: my vision, my hearing, my thinking were all clouded and dull. 

Stefan had an early class and left before me. Luckily I didn’t have to teach that morning. I only had a long stretch of office hours, and it was somewhat too early in the semester for students to have questions, problems, or even feel like coming in to chat. 

Usually, I went to the department office first to check my mail, say hi to the secretaries and whoever was there, plugging in to the prevailing current. But today I headed right up to the third floor of Parker. I didn’t want people reminding me that I’d seen Perry the night he died, had made dinner for him. It seemed embarrassing and grotesque to talk about him at all, especially since he wasn’t a friend. How could I mention his name withoutsome of my antagonism leaking through? I could imagine Serena Fisch’s smile when she met me. It wasn’t that long ago that we had acknowledged how much we despised Perry. 

I felt guilty somehow, as if saying good night to Perry Cross had sent him off to death. It was weird that I was so affected, but perhaps I was responding to Stefan’s heavy silence. 

If you’ve lived with an introvert, then you know that they can have many different levels and kinds of silence. You become expert at tuning in, listening, interpreting. Or sometimes ignoring. But I didn’t know what to make of Stefan’s silence at breakfast, and felt sucked into my own. 

Unlocking my scarred office door, I shuddered at the two cheap black and white plastic nameplates, mine and Perry’s. Someone would have to remove his, I thought. And I pictured his mailbox right above mine in the department office. 

Inside, at my desk, with the office door open just a crack, I was glad that Perry’s desk and file cabinets were not in my immediate sight line but behind my back, where I could ignore them. I would have to make an effort to either inspect what was on his desk or to take in the still life his death had left behind. 

I knew the student newspaper was downstairs and wondered if there was an article in there yet— or was it too soon? “Found dead on campus”— what did that mean? Where did it happen? Who found him, and when? How did he die? Was he wounded? Were there witnesses? 

Click to purchase

I sat at my desk, unable to take out any papers to grade, unable to push my thoughts in some productive direction. 

I hadn’t liked him even before I knew what he had done to Stefan, so I wasn’t sorry Perry Cross was dead, but I wasn’t relieved. His dying so soon after dinner even made me feel cheated, a little. Lying in bed with Stefan last night, I’d imagined many scenes of quiet but vindictive triumph in our office. Like heading off up north to our cabin on Lake Michigan for a weekend. Or coming back from an opera in Chicago. I’d be casual as I shared information about our good times with Perry, a nasty kid holding a scrap out of his hungry dog’s reach, waving it back and forth hypnotically. 

I was also ashamed of myself for being so vindictive. Perry was dead; nothing that I felt, nothing that had happened really made a difference now.

Perry’s death was bound to create confusion in our department, and not just because of the need for someone to cover his classes. Broadshaw would probably take Perry’s death personally, and storm around kicking desks and shouting. I dreaded the chaos our chair would make. I’d seen him enraged last year by a snowstorm that kept some faculty members at home in their rural towns. I felt sorry for everyone who’d have to put up with Broadshaw, which of course included me.

There was a knock and Stefan came in. I checked my desk clock; he had another hour before his next class. He was pale and more out of it than he had been at home. Today his clothes looked incongruously good on him— they fit so well that the dark green and black checked shirt and black slacks only heightened how miserable he looked. 

He sunk into the comfy chair I had bought for my students (since I couldn’t requisition anything from university stores that was acceptable). Students are usually nervous enough talking to a professor, and watching them twitch and stretch in a stiff-backed unsteady chair would have been distracting for me. 

“They found him in the river,” Stefan said. 

“The river? How? What the hell was he doing?”

Blurb

Nick Hoffman has everything he’s ever wanted: a good teaching job, a beautiful house, and a solid relationship with his lover, Stefan Borowski, a brilliant novelist and writer-in-residence at the State University of Michigan. But when Perry Cross shows up, Nick’s peace of mind is shattered. Not only does he have to share his office with the nefarious Perry, who managed to weasel his way into a tenured position without the right qualifications, he also discovers that Perry played a destructive role in Stefan’s past. When Perry turns up dead, Nick wonders if Stefan might be involved, while the campus police force is wondering the same about Nick. Originally published in 1996, this first book in the Nick Hoffman Academic Mystery series is now back in print, with a 2019 foreword by the author.

About Lev Raphael

Lev Raphael has wanted to be an author since he was in second grade, and he’s not only achieved his dream, he’s published twenty-six books in genres from memoir to mystery to erotic vampire tale; had his work translated into fifteen languages; seen one sell close to 300,000 copies; appeared in two documentaries; won various prizes; done hundreds of invited talks and readings on three different continents; sold his literary papers (92 boxes!) to the Michigan State University Libraries (MSUL); been the subject of scholarly articles, papers, and book chapters; and seen his work taught at colleges and universities around the country. Which means he’s become homework. Who knew?

After close to twenty years of university teaching, he now offers creative writing workshops as well as editing at http://writewithoutborders.com.

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