Why do we love murder mystery novels so much, reveling in the murder, mayhem, and madness? I think it’s because we enjoy sorting through the clues, sifting out the red herrings, meeting the quirky and fabulously suspicious suspects, falling in love along with the lovers, laughing out loud at the sleuth’s antics, and most of all bringing order and justice to our disordered world full of injustice. As a past professional actor and current college theatre professor/department head, I know first-hand the wild and wacky antics, sweet romance, and captivating mystery in the worlds of theatre and academia. Hence, the Nicky and Noah mysteries were born.
After seven novels, adorable couple Nicky and Noah had used their theatre skills (including impersonating others) to solve seven mass murders, direct numerous theatrical productions, travel to exotic places, and adopt a son. What was left for them to do? Direct and star in my favorite ballet: The Nutcracker! So, in book eight, Drama Dance, our handsome heroes play the Mouse King and the Cavalier in a holiday production at their TreemeadowCollege (founded by deceased gay lovers Tree and Meadow) in picturesque and cozy Treemeadow, Vermont. Their colleagues and friends Martin (Drosselmeyer) and Rubin (producer) and of course their son Taavi (Fritz) come along for the bumpy ride as hunky dance faculty and students drop faster than their dance belts. As in every Nicky and Noah mystery novel, there are lots of cracked nuts as characters, and the yule tide is definitely gay. Not to mention there are more murders than altar boys in a priest’s closet (as Nicky would say). Laugh out loud humor, sweet romance, intriguing plot twists and turns, and a shocking ending all combine in usual Nicky and Noah mystery fashion. So, take your seats. The curtain is going up on The Nutcracker Ballet Nicky and Noah style!
DRAMA DANCE (the 8th Nicky and Noah mystery)by JOE COSENTINO
Special $3.99 pre-order sale on Kindle version until release day August 1
Exclusive Excerpt of Drama Dance, the eighth Nicky and Noah mystery, by Joe Cosentino:
I felt a tap on my thigh. Naabih Bahri was next to me on one knee. The Associate Professor of Jazz said, “Nicky, I think it would be more interesting if the mice and toy soldiers did a jazz number—like the Jets and the Sharks’ rumble in West Side Story.
I was not going to cave to the Cavalier. “Naabih, please go backstage with the rest of the cast.”
The sword fight music played next. Thomas and Duffy danced and waved their swords. As they came at each other, Thomas banged into the toy chest and flipped backwards out of the window.
Thomas rose behind the window flat. “Sorry, Professor. I can’t see well without my glasses. Can I wear them?”
I stood in from of the orchestra pit. “Do you have contacts?”
“I did but they bothered my eyes.”
Piero groaned from the second row. “I’ve never seen a Nutcracker wear eyeglasses.”
Liz chimed in next to him. “And I’ve never seen a Clara lie so seductively on the chaise.”
“Quiet, please!” I took in a deep breath. “Thomas, wear your glasses for tonight. We’ll speak to the costumer and figure something out for tomorrow night.” I spun around to face the house. “Understudies, this isn’t a comedy club. Please watch the show quietly and review the choreography. Now let’s resume the ballet.”
I sat down. In the seat next to me, Noah took my hand and squeezed. He looked so handsome in his Cavalier understudy costume, I wanted to share a little sugar with him. Onstage, Thomas, wearing his large black eyeglasses, danced toward Duffy. They raised their swords and began the duel. Thomas grandly hit Duffy’s shoulder with the sword. Duffy waved his sword dramatically and struck Thomas’s hat, which exploded, sending Thomas into the tall gift box.
Caterina screamed from the chaise. Duffy took off the mouse head, sweat and shock filling his face. Amidst the gasps of horror all around us, Noah and I dove onto the stage. When we reached the large box, Noah cringed at the sight of the hole in Thomas’ head. I bent down to the floor and examined the fallen Nutcracker hat. Noah placed his finger under Thomas’s neck and stated the obvious. “Nicky, he’s dead.”
The Nutcracker’s cracked.
Theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is back at Treemeadow College directing their Nutcracker Ballet co-starring his spouse, theatre professor Noah Oliver, their son Taavi, and their best friend and department head, Martin Anderson. With muscular dance students and faculty in the cast, the Christmas tree on stage isn’t the only thing rising. When cast members drop faster than their loaded dance belts, Nicky and Noah will once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is cracking the Nutcracker’s nuts, trapping the Mouse King, and being cavalier with the Cavalier, before Nicky and Noah end up stuck in the Land of the Sweets. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining eighth novel in this delightful series. Take your seats. The curtain is going up on the Fairy—Sugar Plum that is, clumsy mice, malfunctioning toys, and murder!
More About Author Joe Cosentino:
Bestselling author Joe Cosentino was voted Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Author of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine for Drama Queen. He also wrote the other novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series: Drama Muscle,Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle; the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation &A Shooting Star, A Home for the Holidays, The Perfect Gift,The First Noel,The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland with Holiday Tales from Fairyland, the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back,Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings, Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings(NineStar Press);andthe Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Chair of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and he is happily married. Joe was voted 2nd Place Favorite LGBT Author of the Year in Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, and his books have received numerous Favorite Book of the Month Awards and Rainbow Award Honorable Mentions.
taken a dump in Shaw’s mouth. He rolled, felt the familiar
crease of his buckwheat pillow, and instantly regretted it. The mouse that had
taken a dump in his mouth was currently burrowing up into his head. It was
trying to gnaw through his skull. Cold sweat flashed out along his entire body,
and Shaw knew he was going to be sick.
“I put your popcorn bucket by the bed.”
The words landed like a hammer, practically
shattering Shaw’s head, but they were still a godsend. He flopped onto his
stomach, found the bucket blindly, and fitted it around his mouth. Then he
puked. And puked. And puked.
When he’d finished, he gently set the bucket
down. And then he tried to die.
“It was one whiskey sour.” North’s voice moved
closer, and the bucket’s plastic chirped against the floor as North picked it
up, and then North’s voice moved away again. “It’s not like you were trying to
outdrink some asshole in Dogtown.”
From the adjoining bathroom came the sound of
running water and then the flush of the toilet. North’s footsteps came across the
room. Those strong, rough hands gathered Shaw’s hair and wound it into a loose
knot, and North pressed a cool, wet cloth against the back of Shaw’s neck.
“Here.” Two ibuprofen. “And here.” A glass of
water. “Drink all of it.”
“I’m going to die.”
“It was one whiskey sour.” But North didn’t
sound confused. He sounded amused. Shaw was used to that by now, the gently
mocking amusement that North found in every idiotic thing Shaw managed to do.
It used to bother him. That was back in the early days, freshman year, when the
only thing that mattered in Shaw’s universe was gaining North’s approval.
Shaw’s first glimpse of North, from the far
end of the dorm hall, had totally, utterly ruined Shaw for anybody else. At
least, that was how it felt at the time. When Shaw saw North’s thatch of messy
blond hair and his blue work shirt, complete with an oval that spelled Mick across his well-developed chest,
and the jeans sculpting a magnificent ass and the boots—Timberland, back then,
instead of the Red Wings he wore now—Shaw had been lost. Obliterated. And that
was before—Shaw groaned again, and this time it was only partially due to the
whiskey—that was before Shaw learned that North was smart and funny and kind.
Shaw had never had a chance.
That was before, too, the night Shaw had sat
on the Sigma Sigma roof and listened through the window and heard North shatter
all his dreams with a single sentence.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about
something,” North said. A chair squealed across the floor, and the sound went
through Shaw’s brain like an anti-aircraft shell. “It happened again last
Shaw didn’t dare roll over—he was convinced he
would puke if he moved anything more than his eyelids—but he wanted to burrow
under his pillow. No, forget the pillow. He wanted to burrow through the bed,
through the floor, through the basement, and just keep going. If he somehow
managed to dig his way to China like in a cartoon, that would be ok. If he
evaporated inside the Earth’s molten core, that might be better.
Shaw’s stomach lurched, and he concentrated on
not barfing. Last night. Lord, why had he been such an idiot last night? All of
North’s needling about drinking, that had been fine. North liked to give Shaw a
hard time. North liked to tease. Most days, it was fine. But yesterday had been
a storm of things. It had started with North asking how the date had gone—Hank?
Harry? Harold?—and with the disappointment in North’s face when Shaw told him
the truth: it had ended the same way, with a slow build of heat all evening and
then a flash freeze that left Shaw standing awkward and embarrassed and
fumbling for a way to get home, alone, as fast as possible. North’s disappointment
had been bad enough.
But then there had been Matty. Matty’s unruly
wave of blond hair. Eyes like gemstones—a clarity of color that was sapphire or
amethyst when the light shifted. There was—not that Shaw could have admitted
it, not that the thought even quite reached the surface—the fact that Matty
could have been North’s younger brother, albeit without all the muscles and
with slightly more refined features. There was the way Matty had clutched
Shaw’s hand, and that familiar rumble of fire in Shaw’s gut. And of course,
there was the fact that North didn’t like Matty, which made perfect sense in
But if Shaw were honest, most of that stupid
decision had been about the pretty boy with the cuffed sleeves on his tee and
the low-cut white sneakers and the bare ankles. It had been about the way he
had leaned across the bar, just a fraction of a degree, toward North and the
way he had shifted the towel over his shoulder when North smiled at him, a
nervous, totally unselfconscious gesture that only made Shaw hate the kid more
because it was so transparently honest. And there had been the moment North called
the kid beautiful.
Shaw groaned; his fingers scraped blindly at
the floor. “I think I’m—”
“Bucket’s right here.” North’s hand lifted the
rat’s nest of hair and refolded the cold cloth. “But try to breathe through it
North was right, as he so often was, and the
need to barf passed. North’s hand hadn’t left Shaw’s neck. His fingers coiled
Shaw’s long hair. Every once in a while, just accidents of chance, his thumb
would scrape the side of Shaw’s neck. It was so wonderful that it was much, much
scarier than barfing into the popcorn bucket again.
“What I wanted to talk about—” North began.
And here it was. This was the moment when they
had to confront the truth they’d both danced around since freshman year. They’d
never talked about it—thank God, Shaw thought with a bubble of clarity through
the pain, thank God I didn’t open my mouth five minutes earlier when we were
out on the Sigma Sigma roof; thank God I was a coward and I got to hear what he
really thought. But now North was going to say something about how he was
worried Shaw had feelings for him, and that was ridiculous of course, that was
totally impossible, Shaw had moved on, Shaw had gone out with a lot of guys
since then, Shaw had basically forgotten, almost totally forgotten what it had
felt like to see North for the first time at the end of the dorm hall. But
North wouldn’t believe him; North was going to make a big deal out of nothing.
But all North said was, “—is that I think
you’ve got a drinking problem.”
Relief went through Shaw like a hailstorm,
cold and pinging all over him, almost painful with how hard it hit. He
flattened his face in the pillow and laughed, and he didn’t even feel like he
needed to puke. Not yet, anyway.
“I think you might need time for detox. Maybe
some recovery time in a treatment center.” North’s thumb kept scraping that hot
line up the side of Shaw’s neck.
“Of course,” Shaw said into the pillow.
“We’ll have to make some pretty big lifestyle
“That would really help.”
“If you want, Pari and I could do an
“I think Pari would only like an
intervention,” Shaw said, “if it was for her.”
“Well,” North said, “I’ve got a list of
Shaw lifted his head, and even though the
whole room looked like it was under water, he could see that typical North
smile lightening those ice-rim eyes, crinkling the corners, without ever
touching his mouth. North had matching black eyes today, and a fresh split
across the bridge of his nose covered by tape. Shaw wanted to ask when North
had found the time for more boxing, but all he said was, “I don’t think you’re
supposed to call them grievances.”
“I’m running this intervention. I can call
them whatever I want.”
Shaw dropped his head into the pillow again.
“I’d like to take you all the way back to
Labor Day, freshman year.”
“Please don’t,” Shaw said. “I’m not ready for
As North spoke, he peeled back the wet cloth,
and his fingers took up a light massage: kneading the sensitive flesh at the
base of Shaw’s neck, the touch dry and rasping—workman’s hands, the thought
flashed along Shaw’s synapses like brushfire. “The setting: your dad’s lake
house at Innsbrook,” North said. “More specifically, the docks. The characters:
Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich, North McKinney—”
“North Ebenezer McKinney,” Shaw said groggily
into the buckwheat.
“That is not my middle name, but a very nice
try. Tucker Laguerre, Rufus Johnson, and a host of Chouteau bros that you
decided to invite for some reason I will never understand.”
“They were cute. And we were all trying to
“Well, there was that one Ladue boy you wanted
to lick the sunscreen off.”
“Percy was cute.” Shaw found himself dragging
the word out in response to the pressure of North’s fingers. “And he read me a
poem by Lord Byron.”
“Well, you are a slut for poetry.”
“I would say I’m a—”
“Slut. For poetry.”
Shaw had a brilliant rejoinder, but then
North’s fingers dug deeper, and he moaned into the pillow.
“And,” North said, “if you’ll recall, after
the equivalent of approximately three-quarters of a wine cooler—”
“I’d been pregaming. I had a big glass of
orange juice that morning, and it was old. I think it was kind of fermented.”
“—you managed to wind up naked, in the
bathroom, puking into one of Tucker’s shoes. A very, very good first
impression, by the way, on my future husband.”
“His shoes were white.”
The deep tissue drag of North’s fingers was
hypnotic, and Shaw was surprised that the worst of the hangover was receding. “Anybody
could have mistaken them for the toilet. And anyway, Tucker was being a total
asshole to you that day, and he kept trying to get his hand down Percy’s swim
trunks because he said he wanted to find out manually if Percy was cut or not.”
Then Shaw heard what he’d said. He froze.
North’s hand froze.
“You need a shower. And then we need to get
going. Unless you’re not feeling up to it?”
Shaw couldn’t bring himself to look up from
the buckwheat where he was burying his face. “North, that was a million years
ago, and I wasn’t—”
North’s Red Wings stomped toward the stairs so
hard that the whole house seemed liable to fall. Then down the stairs. Then
through the galley kitchen. Stomping like he meant to test every floorboard’s
“Shit,” Shaw whispered into the pillow. “Shit,
shit, shit, shit, shit.”
And then he threw up once more in the popcorn
About the Author
Gregory Ashe is a longtime Midwesterner. He
has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. Aside
from reading and writing (which take up a lot of his time), he is an educator.
It was nearly noon when I left City Hall. I found a
phone, checked in with my secretary, and returned calls. When I finished, I
still had an hour before a court appearance at the Criminal Courts Building, so
I called home to invite Josh to lunch with me. All I got was his voice on our
answering machine, urging me to leave a message. I hung up.
There had been a time when the course of
his day was as familiar to me as mine. Now, I stood there for a moment, wondering
where he might be. It was spring break at UCLA, so I knew he wasn’t in class,
but beyond that, I could only guess. I headed to a sandwich shop in the Civic
Center mall. It was warm and smoggy. The only sign of spring was the flowering
jacarandas, bleeding purple blossoms onto the grimy sidewalks.
I passed a bookstore. Displayed in the
windows was a book entitled Vows: How to Make Your Marriage Work. I
stopped and read the book jacket, which promised new solutions to old marital
problems like disputes over money, sex and child-rearing. What about when one
of you has a terminal disease and the other doesn’t? What was the solution to
that? Each time Josh’s T-cell count dropped, I felt him drift farther away from
me, into his circle of Act Up friends, and his seropositive support group. He
had become an AIDS guerrilla, impatient with my caution, contemptuous of my
advice. Just that morning, bickering again over the wisdom of outing closeted
we had to expose their hypocrisy, I said it would only drive others deeper into
the closet—he’d snapped,
“Spoken like a true neggie,” as if being negative for the virus was a defect of
Our arguments were no longer intellectual
disagreements. He had adopted an “us vs. them” mentality over AIDS, and the
more anxious he felt about his own health, the more strident he became. There
might have been less ferocity in our quarrels if we had been able to talk about
his anxiety, as we once had, but he had decided that even this, or perhaps
especially this, was beyond my understanding. I reacted with my own anger at
being treated like an enemy by the man with whom I’d shared the last five years
of my life. I went into the bookstore and bought the book, suffering the sales
clerk’s sympathetic glance as he stuffed it into a bag. Over a limp ham
sandwich I flipped through the chapters. Finding nothing relevant, I buried it
in my briefcase and set off to court, the one place where I knew the rules.
I arrived in court a few minutes late. The
deputy district attorney, an amiable man named Kelly Miller, who had been
chatting with the clerk, said to me, “Your kid’s a no-show, Henry.”
My ‘kid’ was a twenty-year-old gay man
named Jimmy Dee, Deeds on the street, where his deeds were legion. He was a handsome
black boy with a luminous smile, undeniable charm, a four-page rap sheet for
hustling and theft, and a romantic attachment to heroin. His last boyfriend, a
much older man, had had him arrested for stealing from him to support his
habit. After grueling negotiations, I had persuaded the boyfriend, Miller, and
the judge to let Deeds plead to trespass on condition that he enter a drug
rehab. The purpose of this hearing was for him to submit proof that he’d found
a bed somewhere. He was being given a break, a fact that I impressed upon him
at every opportunity. When I did, he would turn his klieg light smile on me and
say, “I know, Mr. Rios, I know. God put you in my life.”
“He’s not that late,” I said.
“Fifteen minutes late.” Judge Patricia
Ryan strode out of her chambers, arranging the bow of her blouse over her
judicial robe. She was a patrician black woman with an acute street sense. “I
don’t know why I let you talk me into this, Henry. I should have had your
client dragged away in manacles when I had the chance.”
Although she was joking, I could tell she
“The case would have fallen apart without
this deal,” I said. “The boyfriend is deeply in the closet. He wouldn’t have
Miller said, “Your kid copped. I could’ve
convicted him on his statement.”
“Juries aren’t buying confessions from
black defendants in L.A. these days,” I replied.
Judge Ryan said, “Save this, gentlemen.
I’m going to issue an arrest warrant.”
“Wait, Judge, will you hold it one day?
I’ll go out looking for him.”
She narrowed her eyes. “We’ve given him
“So what’s one more, Your Honor?”
“Mr. Miller?” she asked.
Kelly shrugged, “Why not? I’m sure Henry’s
not getting paid for this extra work.”
She took her seat on the bench. “OK. People
versus Deeds. The defendant is not in court. I will issue an arrest warrant
to be held until tomorrow morning. Good luck, Mr. Rios.”
“Thank you, Your Honor.”
I called Josh from a phone in the corridor
and caught him at home. I explained that I was going in search of Deeds and
might not be in until late.
“I won’t be here anyway. There’s an Act Up
demo at Antonovich’s house,” he said, referring to a particularly reactionary
“This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“I can’t tell you everything.”
That solved the mystery of where he had
been when I’d called earlier.
“Is this a lawful demonstration, or am I
going to be bailing you out of jail again?”
Coolly, he replied, “The worst that ever
happens is that they hold us overnight.”
“It’s LAPD, Josh,” I said, annoyed at his
nonchalance. “I’ve seen what they’re capable of with prisoners.”
“They’re not going to beat us up,” he
said. “They won’t even touch us without gloves and masks.”
“What if you had a health crisis? Do you
think the cops would rush to call for medical help?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped.
“I’d like you to stay that way by not
putting yourself in dangerous situations.”
“You want me to stay home and let someone
else do my fighting for me.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“This is my fight. This is my life. What
do you not understand about that?”
I took a deep breath. “Fine, Josh. In that
case, do whatever you want.”
“I will,” he said, and clanged the
I hung up and immediately called back, but
the line was busy, and stayed busy until I finally gave up.
Eight hours later, after searching for
Deeds in his usual haunts I found myself pulling into the parking lot of the
Santa Monica Motel in West Hollywood with my investigator, Freeman Vidor. It
was a perfunctory, two-floor stucco building wedged on a small lot just off the
boulevard within walking distance of the gay bars; the kind of place where the
vacancy sign was perennially lit and rooms could be rented by the hour.
“This it?” Freeman asked. “A hot sheet
“According to his dealer, Deeds turns
tricks here sometimes.”
We got out of the car and went into the
dimly lit office. An Asian woman stood behind the desk watching us
“Yes,” she said.
Freeman produced a mug shot of Deeds and
his private investigator’s license. “We’re looking for this kid.”
“Police?” she inquired, holding up his
license to the light.
“I’m a private cop,” he said. “This is Mr.
Rios, the kid’s lawyer.”
She took stock of me in my sincere blue
suit, trying to puzzle it out.
“We’re not here to make any trouble,” I
told her. “The boy calls himself Deeds. He has to be in court tomorrow morning
and I promised the judge he’d be there.”
We all stood there for a moment while she
weighed her options. An air conditioner hummed loudly. Although glossy brochures
advertised Gray Line tours and fun at Disneyland from a metal rack on a table
in the corner, I doubted whether this place attracted that kind of trade.
“Twenty-three,” she said, wearily. “Don’t
kick in the door.”
We found the room. I knocked a couple of
times, then called him. I tried the door. Locked.
“We’ll have to ask her to let us in,” I
“Go admire the view,” Freeman said.
I walked over to the railing and watched
the traffic stream up and down the boulevard. A blond in a Jeep cruised by slowly,
his cassette player blaring a disco tune from the seventies. Ah, the hunt, I
thought, remembering the nights I had stood in San Francisco bars listening to
that same song while I ingested a little liquid courage. Or, rather, a lot of
liquid courage. Most nights I would stagger out alone and take the train back
to school. Once in a while someone would pick me up, or I would pick him up,
and I would toil in a stranger’s bed for a few hours, trying to get out of my
skin by going through his. I imagined that I was having fun, and sometimes I
was, but not nearly often enough to justify the effort.
I watched the blond disappear into the
night and thought, Josh is hooking up with someone. The thought had been in the
back of my mind for months but only now, as I stood in the sexy airs of
Boystown, did it all fall into place: the element of evasion in his behavior
which had never been there before, the vagueness about where he was going, and
when he would be coming back.
I knew he had occasionally slept with other
men. He was thirteen years younger than me and while we’d been monogamous for
the first two years, he got hit on all the time, and it wasn’t realistic for me
to expect that he wouldn’t be tempted by at least some of the offers. Also, I
suspected his HIV-status held him back, part of his shame at having been
infected and I wanted him to overcome it, even if it meant he slept around a
bit. So, we talked it out and came up with some rules—don’t bring anyone to the house, no staying out
overnight and remember where home is. Josh was discreet, but this was
different. This wasn’t being discreet, this was hiding something and I feared
that what he was hiding wasn’t that he was having sex with another guy, but
that he was in love with him.
I glanced back at Freeman. He was holding
the door open.
We stepped inside to a darkened room.
“Deeds,” I called. A sliver of light
seeped out from beneath a door at the other end of the room. I went over and
knocked. “Jimmy, are you in there?”
When there was no answer, I turned the
knob and shoved the door open.
“Oh, shit,” Freeman muttered.
A naked Jimmy Dee sat sloppily on the
toilet, his head tilted back at an angle that would have hurt had he been
alive. A needle was still jammed into his arm. His mouth was open and he stared
up at a water stain on the ceiling in the shape of Africa.
I closed the door and said to Freeman, “Go
After he left, I switched on the light and
looked around the room. Deeds’s clothes were in a pile at the foot of the
unmade bed. There was a twenty on the nightstand, wages for his last trick, no
doubt. On the dresser was a little pile of papers. I examined them and found my
card, some phone numbers and an envelope addressed to Judge Ryan with the
return address of SafeHouse, the same rehab that Gus Peña had been in. I tucked the envelope into my
Josh had left the kitchen window open and
the room smelled faintly of the anise that grew wild down the side of the hill
from our house. He wasn’t there. I poured myself a glass of water and sat down
at the kitchen table with the envelope I’d taken from Deeds’s room. Inside was
a letter from Edith Rosen, M.F.C.C., attesting to the fact that Deeds was
scheduled to enter SafeHouse the following Monday, three days hence.
“You little shit,” I said aloud, more in
grief than anger. In my work, I was used to losing, but I thought I’d staked
out a tiny victory with Deeds.
But then, I’d had a weakness for junkies,
for their defeated, helpless charm. Of course, I knew better. My own fight with
the bottle had taught me intimately everything there was to know about
addiction. Drunks and junkies all had a big hole in their gut that sucked in
panic like Pandora’s box in reverse unless it was filled by booze or a fix.
Eventually, that stopped working, and the panic went out of control until the
only thing left was dying. Sometimes, like Deeds, death is what you got and
sometimes, like me, you were given a reprieve, but there was no logic about
it. Even if you lived, the panic was still there. It only faded when you began to
see it for what it was, the long drop from darkness to darkness, and you
At that moment I could feel the panic
elbowing me, tossing up the image of Deeds in that grisly motel bathroom,
reminding me of every grisly room through which I had stumbled drunk, so close
to dying myself. And when that didn’t get me going, the panic asked, “Where’s
Josh?” a surefire tactic. I got up from the kitchen table and went into the
bedroom, switching on the lamp and stretching out on the bed, still unmade from
that morning. A book was half buried in the covers, the paperback edition of Borrowed
Time, Paul Monette’s moving tale of his lover’s death of AIDS. Josh had
been reading it.
It was after eleven. The demonstration was
certainly over by now.
I sat up and fumbled for the TV remote
control, flicking on the set at the foot of the bed. I switched channels until
I found some local news, looking for a report about the Act Up demonstration.
Instead, I found myself watching Gus Peña, standing against the backdrop of the city
council chamber, his arm draped around his son. Peña was saying, “My kids have always made me proud,
now I want them to be able to say the same thing about me.” Little Peña didn’t seem to be
Watching them, I thought of my father, and
about pride and about betrayal. I shut off the TV, got undressed and into bed,
ready for a long night.
“How was the demonstration?” I asked the
next morning, pouring myself a cup of coffee as I waited for my bagel to toast.
I had been asleep when Josh came in. Waking beside him, my face against his
bare back, I had breathed another man’s smell on his body.
Shaggy-haired and heavy-lidded, he sat at
the kitchen table in boxers, mixing an assortment of liquid vitamins into his
organic cranberry juice.
He looked up at me. “It was great! The
cops turned up in riot gear. You could tell they were terrified that one of us might
“Anyone get arrested?”
He finished mixing his holistic cocktail.
“No, the cops told us that Antonovich wasn’t even in town, so after an hour we
The toaster oven clicked and I retrieved
my bagel. Buttering it, I asked, as casually as I could manage, “What did you
“Drove Steven home,” he said, straining
for equal nonchalance. “Sat and talked to him for a while. Did you find your
I sat down at the table. “Yes, as a matter
of fact. In a motel room in Boystown. He was dead.”
“Murdered?” he asked, putting his drink
“I’m sorry. I know how much you liked that
I crunched into the bagel. “Not as much as
I like you.”
I watched him take a slug of juice,
watched the muscles in his neck contract as he weighed a response. “What do you
“Who are you sleeping with?”
Without hesitation, he replied. “Steven.”
I thought back. Our house had become a
kind of activists’ clubhouse and frequently I came home to find a meeting
raging in the living room. Though Josh had introduced me to many of the men and
women who attended these sessions, their faces blurred in my mind into a single
youthful face flushed with excitement and anger. Steven?
Then I saw him. About my height, muscular,
good-looking. Not one of the big talkers, but the others listened when he did
speak. Josh had mentioned once that Steven was one of the oldest surviving PWAs
in the group, having been diagnosed five years earlier.
Josh was speaking, “I kept meaning to tell
you, but it seems like we never see each other anymore…”
“Are you saying this happened because I’ve
“No,” he said. “It happened because I fell
in love with him.”
“Are you sure it’s not because you fell in
love with his diagnosis?”
He stared at me in disbelief, and then
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean that.”
“You meant it all right,” he said, pushing
his chair back from the table. He stalked out of the house. I heard his car
start up. I didn’t think he would be coming back soon.
Winner of six Lambda Literary awards, the Henry Rios mystery series is iconic and Michael Nava has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of our best” writers. In The Hidden Law, Rios delves deeply into his Latino identity as he defends a young man charged with assassinating a prominent Los Angeles Latino politician. The San Francisco Chronicle hailed the novel and its author: “A beautifully conceived but gritty novel . . . . Nava writes the kind of small, clean, powerful novels that build in emotional power almost invisibly, leaving us breathless at the end.”
More about Michael Nava
Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of eight novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios who The New Yorker,called “a detective unlike any previous protagonist in American noir.” The New York Times Book Reviewhas called Nava “one of our best” writers. He is also the author of an award-winning historical novel, TheCity of Palaces, set at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican revolution. In addition, he is the writer/producer of the Henry Rios Mysteries Podcastwhich adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head into an 18-episode audio drama. In 2019, he also founded Persigo Press, through which he hopes to publish LGBTQ writers and writers of color who write genre fiction that combines fidelity to the conventions of their genre with exceptional literary merit.
Jas lowered his
voice. “DS Anderson – London Road. Remember?” They’d been close, he and Mhairi
… Jas smiled: the nearest thing he’d had to a friend in the days before Leigh.
“Fuck aff, polis!” A harsh laugh. “Ah’ve had enougha yous
tae last me a lifetime.”
“Come on, Mhairi …” He kicked the bottom of the door. It
didn’t give an inch. “… open up. It’s Jas – ah’ve bin talkin’ tae Ali.”
Silence. Then: “Ali? Ali who?”
“Ali-fuckin’ Baba! Ali Rehmandi – remember? Ali’s worried aboot ye, Mhairi. Ah
wis worried aboot ye tae.”
Scrapings, bolts unbolted, chains unchained. Slowly, the
door opened a crack. A jaundiced eye peered at him. “Jas? Big Jas?”
“Aye, Mhairi … can ah come in?”
The door burst open and a thin arm grabbed his. “Get inside,
ya stupit fuck … whit ye dain’ roon here?” He was pulled into the flat.
In the unlit hall, Mhairi carefully re-did dead-bolts and
the three-foot metal security bar which ran the breadth of the door.
Jas waited. She turned, pressing fingers into his chest.
“Go on through, man.”
Jas made his way through to the lounge. Mhairi followed. The
walls were a lurid orange, the carpet new, a static-inducing brown nylon. There
was no furniture to speak of. A couple of blankets lay in a corner, along with
a blue sleeping-bag. Three large holdalls slouched in a corner, spilling what
looked like black PVC. A small TV sat perkily on a cardboard box. The room was
tidy and clean. Jas walked to the curtainless window, before turning. “It’s bin
a while, Mhairi.”
Long, dark hair hung across her face. She wore red
sweat-pants and a baggy white top. Large, black trainers housed small feet. She
looked impossibly young. Smack … the fountain of youth. At 5′ 4″ Mhairi was
smaller, thinner than Jas remembered …
She pushed back the hair.
… but the eyes were the same, just a little yellower. Blue
pupils stared out of a Dresden face which was pale as the china, hard as the
bombing-raids. The mouth was set in a red curl, mocked by the long crescent
scar which linked right eye to a birthmark above top lip. Drawn by a crazed
dot-to-dot fanatic whose hand had slipped, the wound glared defiantly at Jas.
She laughed. The scar twitched.
“Hid a good look, hiv ye?” Mhairi walked to the TV and
lifted a packet of cigarettes.
Jas had heard about the attack, but not seen the result.
Like Dali’s ‘St. John’, Mhairi had survived wanton vandalism, but apparently
rejected any restoration attempts. She wore her damage like a badge, flaunting
She jiggled a cigarette in his direction.
He shook his head and moved closer. Gently, he traced the
length of the scar-tissue with the back of a finger. It was knobbly, rough
beneath his touch.
Remaining stationary, Mhairi grabbed his wrist. “Didney
think you were intae wimmin … but that’ll be ten quid, onyway.” She grinned.
The scar twitched again. “Ah’ll dae you a special rate. The punters pay fifteen
tae touch it, twenty tae lick it.”
Jas laughed, enjoying the rapport. “Easy money, eh Mhairi?”
She let go his wrist and lit a cigarette. “Maybe the
Johnstones did me a favour.” She exhaled noisily, blowing a smoke-ring. “Huvney
opened ma legs in months. Nae need.” She fingered her means of production.
“Maest’re happy jist lookin’, then ah toss them aff. A few are intae the rough
stuff …” She pointed to the holdalls. “… but that’s nae hassle, eether.” She
smiled. “Gies me a chance tae dress up!” Mhairi shook her head, disbelieving.
“Corrective Services …” She pronounced the words awkwardly. “Never knew there
wur so many weirdos …” She corrected herself. “… gentlemen of exotic tastes, in
Glasgow …” She sat down.
Jas joined her on the floor. “Take aw’ sorts, Mhairi.”
An ironic smile. “You’d be the expert, man!” Sigh. “If ah’d
kent that earlier, ah couldda retired by noo. As it is …” She looked down at
“Still oan the junk, ah hear.”
She nodded. “Aye …” She puffed on the cigarette. “… but at
least ah’m aff the streets.” Pause. “’ Member Chrissy?”
Jas remembered. “Ah wis sorry tae hear aboot …”
“Jist a kid.” The voice was low, tinged with sadness.
“Couldney get by on the social, no wi’ Tony’s habit an’ aw …”
At eighteen, Christine McGhee’s semi-cremated body had been
discovered, naked, three months ago on waste ground. Stabbed twenty-five times.
Her common-law husband was currently in custody, awaiting trial.
“Did it tae feed the kids, only the wance. Some psycho … no’
Tony.” Anger. “Doesney seem fair. At least ah kent whit ah wis dain’ …” She
looked at Jas.
“The risks …” She pulled off a black trainer and rubbed a
foot. Between toes red puncture marks dotted the white skin. “… we aw’ take
risks, eh man? The risk ye take tae block-oot another risk can turn oan ye.”
Jas frowned. Life was full of risks … of one sort or
another. Risks helped fill the emptiness. Mhairi laughed again. “Aw’ this, an’
ah’m still alive an’ clean as a whistle … ’part fae the hepatitis …”
“Lucka the draw, Mhairi. Ye must have a guardian angel up
there, somewhere …” They sat silently together on the floor. Through the wall,
from the next flat, an agonised moan.
Mhairi finished her cigarette, killed it in the ashtray.
“So, Big Man – tae whit dae ah owe the pleasure?” She stood up almost jauntily.
“Ah had a word wi’ Jimmy Mygo.”
Nod. “So ah heard. Wish ah’d seen it. Whit that bastard did
tae that wee boay …” Anger, then pity. “The polis chuck ye oot?”
that’s the leasta ma worries. Ali says the brothers Grimm ur efter me. Ah need
tae git tae them first, Mhairi. Ye heard anythin’ else?”
Mhairi walked to the far side of the room, paused. “They’ll
no’ be well pleased,” she murmured, “that’s fur sure. But ah’ve a feelin’
they’ll no’ dae much aboot it. Jimmy wiz an … embarrassment tae them.”
“They still nickin’ cors?”
laugh. “Naw … almost legit, noo, the Johnstones. Big garage – ‘valeting’ they
call it. Flash motors …”
Jas remembered the spinning wheels and screaming brakes of a
“Still runnin’ the girls, on the side, though,” she
continued. “Coupla boys too, nooadays, fae whit ah’ve bin telt … young boys.”
Jas frowned. “Diversification – the mark of the real
Mhairi looked puzzled. “Onyway,” she went on, “ah’d stay
well oota their way, Jas.” Pause. “Hey … ye don’t want me tae start snoutin’
fur ye again, or anything?” She crouched down.
“Naw … you did yer bit.”
“’ Cos ah’ve goat a new guy …”
Jas rubbed the broken skin on his knuckles.
“Toap man.” Mhairi smiled. “Pays better than you ever did!”
“That’s between you an’ him, Mhairi … dae ah ken the guy?”
She shook her head. “Stewart Street … canny tell ye onything
Jas understood. He got up. “Know where the Johnstones’re
livin’ these days?”
“Movin’ aboot, fae whit ah hear. Nowhere near here, though –
thank fuck!” Her voice leaked concern. “Don’t go lookin’ fur trouble, Jas … let
A tough gay thriller set in the criminal underworld of Glasgow, Scotland.Set in the derelict inner-city of Glasgow’s Dennistoun, FreeForm introduces a tough new gay cop, Detective-Sergeant Jas Anderson. A violent anti-hero, suspended from duty for assault when the story opens, Jas is the natural suspect when Leigh, his lover and partner in a heavy S/M relationship, is found brutally murdered. Now on the run and struggling to clear his name, Jas uncovers Leigh’s involvement in a blackmail ring, and even his lover’s identity becomes confused. Film-noir in inspiration, vividly characterised, and authentically exposing the raw nerves of Thatcherite Britain, FreeForm is set to appeal to a wide readership.
This edition is accompanied by an exclusive 2019 foreword by Clive King.
More About Author Jack Dickson
Jack Dickson – former bass player with Gomorrah and the Sodomites, fashionisto and classically trained pianist (Grade VIII, distinction!) – works and lives in the east end of Glasgow with his partner and his Jack Russell, Dixie. A novelist, screenwriter and currently playwright, Jack continues to obsess over the damaged, charismatic mavericks who fill his novels. Shamelessly mining the world around him and beyond, he writes about junkies and babies, old ladies and ash trees, soldiers and Afghani dancing boys: ordinary people just trying to plough a furrow for themselves through difficult landscapes. When he’s not doing this, Jack himself enjoys a charmed life teaching T’ai Chi, baking his own bread and wandering the Easterhouse marshlands looking (these days!) for buzzards and water voles. He’s the world’s most productive layabout, who was always urged to get a proper job. And still hasn’t. Jack is super chuffed that ReQueered Tales are republishing the “Jas Anderson Investigates” series.