NEXT MORNING THE TELEPHONE BLASTED ME out of a fitful sleep,
like a panic alert for a nuclear attack. Its tormented electronic bleating
launched a dull unfocused pressure at the back of my skull. With a queasy
stomach, all I could recall was the vast quantity and variety of alcohol and
food that I had consumed just a few hours earlier. Groggily I hoped the phone
call would be Rafik, eager to apologize for his role in the horrible
misunderstanding we’d had last night. At numerous points during the night I’d awaken
startled and anxious and tense. I’d get as far as punching his number, but then
logic would take over and I’d hang up before the call went through. After all,
what if he wasn’t home? That would be even worse than the torture of regret. So
throughout the long, lonely night I tried to assure myself that we’d soon be
frantically apologizing and forgiving each other. And everything would be back
The phone was still ringing. I grabbed clumsily and dropped
it, accidentally bumping Sugar Baby, who at some point during the night had
deigned to settle on the empty pillow next to mine, Rafik’s place. From her cat
sleep she sprang from the pillow, leaped over my head, landed on the Turkish
carpet that covers my bedroom floor, and scampered away. I put the phone to my
ear, but before I’d even said hello, I heard Rafik speaking excitedly with his
heavy French accent.
“Stani,” he said, “there is great trouble. Max Harkey is dead!”
My first reaction was that Rafik was playing a prank to
distract me and win back my affection. If so, it was one unworthy of his
fertile imagination. Then again, perhaps it was that cultural difference
between us that made his joke sound flat to me, some Francophone subtlety I
still couldn’t appreciate. But I wondered— and Max Harkey be damned— What about
us? Aren’t you sorry about last night? Have you forgotten how you hurt me?
“Stani?” he said uncertainly, as though the phone might be
out of order and the connection never properly made.
“I’m here,” I replied
coolly, thinking to myself, And so far you haven’t said the words I want to
“Stani, I find him like this. Is horrible!”
“Where are you?”
“At his apartment.”
I set my blurry vision toward the alarm clock. There seemed
to be only one hand, pointing downward. It was 6:30.
“What are you doing there at this hour?”
The line was quiet. After a few seconds of waiting for his
answer, I felt the throbbing at the back of my head move forward to my temple.
Then an unexpected wave of nausea washed over me, and I felt a cold sweat break
out on my forehead. I envisioned every goddam glass of alcohol I’d had last
night. They all swirled in a vortex in my mind’s eye, from the first martinis
at my apartment, to the additional cocktails at Max Harkey’s, to the numerous glasses
of wine with dinner, to the tumbler of liqueur afterwards. It all came back
with nauseating clarity. Oh, to be unconscious! All I wanted was to put the
phone down and go back to sleep. Maybe then all of last night’s mistakes—
especially my boozy belligerence— would fade away back into a dream. Then I
could wake up again later to a bright new world where everything was blue skies
and songbirds. The idea was so appealing that I almost nodded off.
“Stani?” said Rafik.
I returned to the present, to the unpleasantness of why
Rafik was at Max Harkey’s place at six-thirty in the morning. Somewhere I
recalled Max Harkey saying that Rafik needed to be humbled. Had the challenge
been met last night, only to culminate in the man’s death? I confronted Rafik
“Did you spend the night with him?” I said.
“How you can ask such a thing?” he yelled. A tremor of pain
rammed itself through my swollen brain. “Stani, his blood is everyplace.”
The new tension in Rafik’s voice told me that perhaps he
wasn’t kidding. I sat up in the bed. Sugar Baby must have sensed my alarm,
because she jumped back up onto the bed and nestled against my thigh. I rested
my forehead against my free hand.
“Tell me what happened, Rafik.”
“I tell you, he is dead.”
If he was telling the truth, there was only one thing to do.
I’d been in those exact circumstances myself, facing a corpse. Back then I
thought I’d done the right thing by being responsible and calling the police,
but then I always learn the hard way.
“Rafik, if Max Harkey is really dead—”
“He is, Stani. Believe me.”
“Then you must do exactly what I say.”
“No buts, Rafik. Just listen and do. First, you wipe your
fingerprints off everything you’ve touched in that place. Everything.
Understand? And then you get out of there. Now! I’ll be waiting for you here.”
“I cannot do that, Stani.”
“The police are here,” said the master of selective
omission. “They do not know I am calling you. They ask me many questions. Will
you come? Please?”
I paused, not quite
sure what to do or say. My arrival at Max Harkey’s place might only complicate
things, especially with the police there. The line was quiet while I
deliberated. When Rafik spoke again, I heard a new timbre in his voice, wily
modulation, cryptic but musical, a kind of aural snare distilled from a legacy
of Middle Eastern genes and the myriad ruses employed by clever harem boys to
spare themselves painful punishment or even castration.
“Stani,” he said, “I am sorry for last night. I did not mean
those things.” His words flowed like dark notes from a wood flute, and their
exotic coloration left me defenseless. “I love you. I will stop my work. I will
leave the ballet.”
After our falling-out I’d hoped for a more dramatic
reconciliation, a physical event where Rafik would arrive at my threshold
repentant and contrite. Even at three o’clock in the morning he would beg
forgiveness and let me show him just how much and how willingly I could
forgive. But instead, Rafik was now inducing me to rescue him from a bad
situation with the police, at the home of the very man with whom he might have
had the ultimate confrontation, and who was now dead.
“Okay, Rafik. Don’t quit your job yet. I’m on my way.”
A Stan Kraychik Mystery, Book 3 — Out-of-the-closet, loud and proud Stan Kraychik shines again in this witty, fast-moving romp. Boston’s sassiest hairdresser is on the case when the founder of a ballet company is discovered murdered; Homicide Detective Lieutenant, and sometime nemesis, Vito Branco gives the green light. Stan soon finds that the abundance of suspects, including both his lover and his rival. Adept at mining clues from gossip, Stan investigates: a wealthy benefactor; a ballet mistress with a Russian accent; a conductor; and a homophobic homosexual ballet star. A cute guy is killed; an unappealing one makes advances; and Stan and Rafik have relationship tussles. Then, Stan and the killer meet up in a fabulous balconied penthouse one last time … and discovers life is more complex—and deadly—than art.
was such an air of calm and order that I wondered if Ty had been mistaken.
Nothing seemed unusual. Until I reached Camac Street south of Cypress.
red, blue, and white flashing lights of a police car blocking the other end of
the street signaled trouble. Police officers and a small knot of people
gathered where I stood. Camac is a small street – in Philadelphia we call it a
street, in some places it might be called a back alley. It was never well
for tonight. It teemed with people. CSIs literally crawled around searching for
evidence. Cops, detectives, people I assumed were witnesses, and onlookers made
the normally quiet street a mini Times Square.
Larkin, a familiar face, stood guard near the yellow tape roping off the crime
scene. She and I went back a long time, since before my abortive attempt to
join the force. She’d become a cop and had encouraged me to join. Things didn’t
work out but we’d remained friends and drinking buddies. I could always count
on her when I needed information not easily squeezed out of other “friends” in
Ronnie.” I kept my voice appropriately low.
“Fontana.” She ducked her head in salute.Behind her, by the light of street lamps, I saw a man, sprawled on the cobblestones. Dark blood pooled around the corpse and had filled the gaps between the paving stones. The guy was face down and a CSI probed around, picking up trace evidence, taking photos, before turning the body over.
happened, Ronnie? Any witnesses?”
Overheard a witness say a guy with a gun runs up to the victim, shouts
something, takes the vic’s bag. Then he opens up, puts three rounds into him,
and runs away.”
of an eye. The vic was walking with a friend. Friend says they were going to
dinner at the Venture. Then this guy runs up and pops the man. Are you, like,
an ambulance chaser now, Fontana? Need cases that bad?”
ignore that, Ronnie.” I smiled. “He shot without the other guy struggling? He
took the guy’s bag? That was it? Didn’t even try to shoot the friend?”
“I’m just on crowd control. They tell me
nothing. For all I know, he coulda tried to shoot them both. Maybe somethin’
scared him off before he could. I didn’t hear everything. I don’t even know who
the vic is… was.” She winced. She was still the Ronnie I knew from way back,
tough but compassionate.
you hear anything, let me know, will you Ronnie?”
thing, Marco. You got a personal stake in this?”
it happens on your doorstep, it’s kinda personal.” I gave her a nod, looked
over the scene once more, and left. I wouldn’t get more information right then and it wasn’t my case
in any event, but I liked to know things. Force of habit with me. Can’t help
asking questions, poking into everybody’s business, picking up odd facts. You
never know when some detail will come in handy. That’s why so many men I’ve
dated tell me they feel like they’re being interviewed, or, grilled is more
like the word they use.
stomach grumbled reminding me I’d only eaten half a turkey sandwich for lunch.
I pulled out my cell phone, forwarded office calls to the cell, and walked
gayborhood gets larger every day, adding more businesses, condos, and people. A
new café, HavaCup, with the cutest staff and the best muffins, was quickly
becoming my place of choice for out of office experiences. Maybe their muffins
only tasted good because the staff was so hot. All I knew was that I found
myself there almost every day. Just across the street, a small and very chic bar,
named Secrets, had taken the place of an old music store. The walls were
enclosed sheet fountains which created the illusion of privacy. Secrets had
dozens of spaces made for that private tête á tête with a special guy.
Observers could see only shadows and outlines. Very sexy.
You never knew who or what you’d find in the gayborhood.
managed to get a condo close to it all, in Lyric House which made living in the
city very easy. The building was like a small town with about eight hundred
condos and who knows how many people? The residents were amazingly varied, from
the outgoing and pushy to the solitary and rude. I guess I fell somewhere in
between. Except for the rude part.
automatic doors whisked me in and I saw people chatting in the marble-clad
lobby, Nosy Rosie at the center of the group as usual. She was a gossip magnet
and I’d even thought about hiring her to ferret out information, except she
couldn’t keep anything to herself. I passed her without being seen. Rosie was
too busy finding out details of Mrs. Cooperman’s surgery to notice me.
was on the desk. Dark and sultry, Carlos loved kidding the denizens of Lyric
House. Teasing with his natural good looks, his intense eyes, and his broad
smile. Even on my glummest days, he lifted my spirits. Of course, he could lift
my spirits in more ways than one if he wanted to.
You on a case, man?”
on a case, Carlos.” I laughed wondering if he knew I’d love to be on his case.
Even though he was a flirt, he gave all the signs of being straight. Oh well,
someone had to do it.
elevator zipped me to the forty-first floor. It wasn’t the highest floor but
damned near and the view from my balcony took my breath away every time. I
turned on a few lights, put a Lean Starts dinner into the microwave, and
flipped on the radio. All news, all the time. Not a bad thing while nuking
food. I’d gotten a lot of leads over the years, listening to them drone on.
the top of the hour, we have word the hostage situation at Hopewell Mall in New
Jersey has been resolved peacefully. KYW will bring you the police briefing
live. Philadelphia returns to normal after the fifteen day transit strike and
Andrea Fitchell will have that story. Talks to discuss parochial school
closings are set between Mayor Stroupe and Cardinal Galante. After months of
speculation, a list of inner city Catholic school closings has been announced. The
Mayor hopes to reduce that list. Cardinal Galante, a leading voice in the Roman
Catholic Church, still recovering from double knee replacement surgery, offered
no comment on Archdiocesan plans. In other news, authorities have uncovered an
identity theft ring on Rittenhouse Square. Arrests have been made. But the
hour’s top story is the murder of local author Helmut Brandt. Witnesses say an
armed man confronted Brandt as he and a companion strolled down a quiet center
city street. The assailant then fled on foot. Brandt, author of Vatican
Betrayal: The Death of John Paul the First, was returning from a book signing
at Giovanni’s Room, a gay and lesbian bookstore. The author, a noted gay pundit
and activist, revealed plans for a new book in which he claimed there would be
further information on the death of the one they call the Thirty Day Pope.
Police released no further information on Brandt or the assailant who is still
I could hardly believe what I’d heard. The microwave bell dinged but I didn’t move. This had to be some kind of mistake. I’d just talked to Brandt and pegged him as a paranoid nut. This had to be a coincidence. And maybe I was going to be elected the next pope. How many times does a guy tell you he’s going to be murdered and then actually turns up dead and it’s a coincidence? The answer is none. I’d have to look into this case, if only for my own satisfaction.
Blurb: Murder on Camac
Gunned down in the street in an apparent mugging, author Helmut Brandt is at the center of a mystery with many layers. P.I. Marco Fontana is offered the case by Brandt’s partner who suspects that it was a premeditated attack. Brandt’s work on the death of Pope John Paul I angered people in and out of the Church and made him a number of enemies. His death occurs soon after Brandt claims to have evidence implicating people never before suspected in the Pope’s death and suggesting a wider conspiracy. Fontana is not a believer in coincidences and decides to take the case. A lapsed Catholic himself, he knows that uncovering Brandt’s killer means more than exposing a decades old plot to kill the Pope. It would spell ruin for those named in the documents Brandt claimed to have. He realizes also that these same people, having killed such a highly placed target, will not hesitate to kill a P.I. determined to learn the truth. Entering the lofty and secretive world of the Catholic Church, Fontana encounters forces bound on keeping him from the truth. Fontana manages to penetrate the upper levels of Philadelphia’s Catholic hierarchy but realizes that the web of power and deceit is every bit as intricate, tangled, and deadly as he imagined it might be. As the owner of StripGuyz, a troupe of male strippers he runs to help pay the bills, Fontana is familiar with the byways of Philly’s gayborhood as well as the seamier parts of Philadelphia’s gay underworld. But in this case, he finds that there is an even darker side to life in the City of Brotherly Love.
10-Year Anniversary Giveaway!
Leave a comment below for your chance to win a FREE Autographed copy of Murder on Camac, the first book in the popular Marco Fontana Mystery series! Winner will be chosen Friday, November 22, 2019 via drawing by the author.
More about author, Joseph R. G. De Marco
Joseph R.G. DeMarco is the author of the Marco Fontana
mystery series which begins with Murder
on Camac, (Jade Mountain Books). His Doyle and Kord mystery series begins
with Family Bashings (JMS Books). He
is also author of the Vampire Inquisitor series: A Warning in Blood, and A
Battle in Blood (forthcoming). A number of his short stories have been
published in anthologies including Where
Crime Never Sleeps, the Quickies
series (1, 2, and 3 from Arsenal Pulp Press), Men Seeking Men, Charmed
Lives, and more. His nonfiction work appears in Paws and Reflect, Hey Paisan!,
The Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities
(ABC- CLIO, 2003), We Are Everywhere,
Men’s Lives, The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family (Macmillan,
2002) and others. In the gay press he has been published in The Advocate, PGN, NY Native, and
others. He was Editor-in-Chief of the Weekly
Gayzette and NGL, contributing
editor for Il Don Gennaro, and is now
Editor/Publisher of Mysterical-E
(mystericale.com). You can learn more at www.josephdemarco.com
So why in the world did he always feel reluctant to open the
front door and step inside? Why this sinking heaviness, almost like sadness,
stealing into his heart. It wasn’t fear, exactly. More a growing wonder over
what might happen next.
He had barely completed that last thought when a shadowy,
amoeba-like shape rippled across and up his front door. Jiggs rubbed at his
dilated eye and blinked. It didn’t go away. Whatever it was moved like a heavy
liquid, fingers of it spilling upward toward the eaves of the roof. Without
being aware he was doing it, he squinted shut his left eye. There—again, the
elusive shimmer of heat-fanned waves as it curled and seemingly reabsorbed into
the boards of the house.
He took a moment, not knowing what he should do. He could
run up the street to Kate and Susan’s, but what then? Tell them about these
hunches, these intuitions, these visions which might possibly be just a trick
of his eyes?
His hand trembled as he turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door. Almost instantly the hairs on his arms stood on end. His skin went clammy. The interior hallway was dim, despite the midday brightness of the sunny afternoon. As he stepped inside he was suddenly, absolutely sure he was not alone in the house.
Jiggs curbed his impulse to shout, “Hello?” His breathing
grew shallow as he shut the door. The sensation of someone watching from a
hidden corner latched onto him and would not loosen its grip. There was a
pregnancy to the stilled air, a heaviness that stole light. Something was
thickening the air into syrup.
God, this was crazy. Crazy. Where was he going to live, if
he was afraid of walking into his own house? He forced himself to walk down the
hallway and stare into his living room.
The rocking chair was moving. Back and forth, back and
forth. The leather seat sagged under an invisible weight, and something unseen
pressed against the pillow strapped to the back of the chair.
Jiggs stumbled backward, and may have even cried out in
surprise. He felt shot through with an electric jolt, sure that every hair on
his body now stood on end. His vocal cords were paralyzed; it was all he could
do just to swallow. While he watched, the rocker began to slow its rhythmic
back-and-forth movement. It came to a gentle halt. The cushions sprang back to
their normal shape, as though a weight pressing against it had lifted.
He cleared his throat. “Don’t mind me, guys,” he whispered,
hoping his voice was souffle-light, masking his tension. As soon as the words
fled his lips he was struck by what they implied: a kernel of belief that
suggested not something in the house, but someone.
A breeze rustled his hair, accompanied by an abrupt drop in
temperature. A biting cold moved through and around him—a meat locker cold,
like something frozen solid pushing past. If Jiggs had been shaken by the sight
of the rocking chair moving by itself, his fear then was nothing compared to
finding himself enveloped by this Arctic blast. The silent wind tugged at his
hair and clothes and seemed to want to burrow into his gaping mouth; he snapped
his jaw shut in reflex. He was afraid to breathe, afraid he’d see his breath
plume out in frosty, ghostly defiance of reality. He sucked in a breath and
tasted a horrible gravelly sludge in his mouth. The pebble-and-mud taste made
him gag and his stomach revolt. His eyes clamped shut. He raised fists next to
his ears. Very clearly he heard the scrape of a shovel as it skimmed across
His eyes blinked open. Something was above him. He tilted
his head further back and saw a shovel hanging in the air. Poised above his
head, it tipped. All at once a sludgy muck splattered onto his face.
“Hey!” Jiggs cried out. His hands flew to cover his face.
The cold released him. The stunning image of the shovel released him. His mouth
still reacted to the taste of whatever it was, bitter and rocky. He peeked
through webbed fingers and lights danced across his vision, lights that warned
he’d better plant his behind onto a chair before he passed out. His legs were
loose and wobbly. In one fluid motion he collapsed onto the couch.
It was only much later, as he tried to put the experience
into perspective, that Jiggs realized he had heard the shovel dig its cargo
from the wheelbarrow.
It was the first sound he had consciously heard in over
* * *
Sometime in the dead hours of that morning, when night
wielded its tightest grip, a car horn shattered the silence. Jiggs came awake
with the blare of the second horn, and sat upright in bed, heart in his throat,
with the shrill of the third blast. His hands gripped each other, as though the
pressure would assure him he was awake.
Awake, and that he had heard a horn. Actually heard it.
He threw his legs over the side of the bed. He was
definitely awake, no ifs, ands, or buts about it, and if he heard the car horn
one more time he was going to spring from the bed and investigate. He didn’t
dare to think what it could mean.
He waited. The silence with which he had made an uneasy
truce over the years spun on and on, uninterrupted.
But the mystery nagged at him. Jiggs got out of bed and
padded over to the front door. He tugged back the flimsy curtain covering the
peephole window. Beyond the gate, sleek in the moonlight, waited the limousine.
With his face nearly pressed against the cool glass, he thought he could actually
hear the chug chug chug of the limo’s exhaust pipe. He felt his testicles crawl
into hiding at the sight—and sound—of it. His skin erupted into gooseflesh.
This isn’t happening. But the illusion moved. A back window glided open on
electric skates. The interior was a black maw against the gleaming white, with
no hint of what lay inside. Until the arm appeared.
It was shaped like an arm. Jiggs saw the crook of elbow, and
stubby fingers spread wide as though in signal. It just didn’t look like an
arm. It was covered with something viscous and gray. Blobs of it dripped onto
the side of the car as the hand motioned for Jiggs to step out of the house. It
reminded him of bird droppings.
“No,” he whispered. “No.” He could hear the engine of the
great machine idling, but he could not hear his own voice. The insanity of this
pulled him away from the curtain. He could look no more, and double-checked the
locks with trembling hands.
But he heard the limousine shift out of park into drive, as
it rolled away into the night.
Jiggs, a hearing-impaired gay man tortured by the recent death of his parents, moves into a long-vacant San Francisco apartment. The apartment is revealed to be haunted by the Unfinished, spirits whose lives ended prematurely through tragedy, violence or betrayal. Jiggs’s initially adversarial relationship with his spectral housemates soon becomes a partnership when both parties see each other as instrumental to ending their own suffering. The stories unfold via visitations by three Dickensian ghosts offering accounts of their deaths. In one story, a man dying from AIDS confronts the limits of his vanity when he realizes the terrible price of his wish to recapture his looks. In another, a car mechanic’s soul is left to ponder how his weakness led to his murder.
The Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteriesdetail the cases of former police officer-turned-private investigator Nick Nowak. Set in Chicago and covering the period between 1981 and 1985, the twelve books of the series follow Nick as he struggles with memories of his abrupt departure from the CPD and the end of his long-term relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty. He moves through a series of casual tricks until he meets homicide detective Bert Harker with whom he begins a tentative relationship.
As cynical and difficult as
the city he calls home, Nick doggedly pursues his cases and often solves them
out of sheer stubbornness. He relies on help from a charming cast of
characters, who provide clues and comfort in equal measure. Beyond the mobsters
and murderers, Nick encounters a larger villain looming on the horizon. A
villain who begins striking down Nick’s friends and lovers, bringing the
freewheeling fun of the early eighties to an end.
For the tenth anniversary of
the series, here is an excerpt from the very first book, Boystown: Three Nick
Nowak Mysteries, published in November 2009.
Excerpt:Little Boy Fallen
Always be careful who you trick with. I should have that tattooed
on my forehead so I can see it every morning when I shave.
The woman was waiting for me when I got to my office. She looked
to be in her late forties, thick around the hips, busty. There was lot of red
lipstick caked onto her lips, and her hair was done up in a way that had
probably gotten a lot of attention during the Eisenhower administration. At
first, I thought she was a patient of the dentist down the hall, but when I
pulled my keys out and started to unlock the door, she came over.
“Are you Mr. Nowak?” she asked.
A few weeks shy of my thirty-third birthday, I didn’t much like
being called ‘mister’ by anyone who wasn’t still in grammar school. “You can
call me Nick.”
I opened the door and led her into my tiny office. The furniture
was crammed together, and still I had room left over for a dead corn plant in
one corner. The window was big, taking up most of the outer wall. Eight floors
below was LaSalle Street. Across the way stood an ultra-modern, steel and glass
building that was so tall it cut out most of my light.
“He said you were nice,” she commented, while making herself
comfortable in my guest chair. She wore a red cloth coat with a white fox
collar. Instead of a purse, she carried a photo album, clutching it tight to
I hung my suede jacket on the back of my door and pulled a box of
Marlboros out of the pocket. I decided not to ask who ‘he’ was. Not yet.
Instead, I asked, “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Helen Borlock.” I sat down at my desk and lit a cigarette while
she talked. “He told me to come. He said you’d help. You can help, can’t you?”
“I don’t know if I can help,” I said honestly. “I don’t know why
She gave me a confused look, as though I should know why she was
there. “Bobby told me to come. He said you’d help.”
I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Bobby Martin and said so.
“Bobby was my son’s roommate. One of them, I mean. There were four
of them living there. Sweet boys, always laughing. The apartment is on Clark
and Fullerton. They did it up nice. Every room a different color.”
I still hadn’t a clue who she was talking about.
Abruptly, she held out the photo album. “This is my Lenny.” To be
polite, I took the album. “I never wanted to name him Leonard. My husband
insisted. He’d had a friend, in the Marines. Wanted to name his son Leonard,
after his friend. The friend died, you see.”
I flipped the album open. There was Helen with an infant. I was
right. In her day, Helen had been a looker. I flipped a few pages and Lenny
began to grow up. Looked like he was on his way to being a looker, too.
“What is it Bobby thought I could help you with?”
She glanced out the window like she suddenly needed to check the
weather. It was overcast and threatening to rain or, worse, throw in one last
snowstorm for the winter. After a little sigh, she said, “Three weeks ago, my
son was murdered.”
“Mrs. Borlock, I’m a private investigator. I don’t investigate
murders. The police do that.”
“They don’t care. Lenny is just another pervert to them.”
I waited a few moments, considering. I was telling her the truth.
It wasn’t the kind of thing I did. Or at least tried not to do. Mainly I did
background checks, skip traces, once in a while a little surveillance. That was
it. Murder was different. Yes, I used to be a policeman, but I’d only worked a
beat. I’d never been a detective. In the nearly six years I spent on the job,
when it came to murder I’d never done much more than secure a crime scene and
make sure witnesses stayed put.
“Can you afford a private investigator?”
“Yes. I always put a little aside for Lenny. Ever since he was a
little boy.” She stared at her hands, which seemed particularly empty now that
I was flipping through the photo album. “I used to think I’d give him the money
on his wedding. He was sixteen when I figured out that was never going to
happen, so for a while I thought I’d give him the money to go to college. But
he was never book smart. Last couple of years, I’ve been waiting to see, did he
maybe want to start a business or get a nice beau and buy a house.” Her voice
turned bitter. “I should have given it to him. Should have let him spend on
whatever he wanted.”
She looked like she might break down, but fortunately she didn’t.
I took the final drag off my cigarette and stubbed it out. Against my better
judgment, I said, “Tell me what happened to Lenny.”
“Someone pushed him off the seventh floor of the atrium at Water
That seemed pretty cut and dried. “Were there witnesses?”
“It was a little after ten in the morning.”
“No one saw him being pushed?”
She shook her head.
“So, how do you know he was pushed?”
Mrs. Borlock pursed her lips. Tears popped into her eyes and
threatened to spill over onto her cheeks. “You’re going to tell me my boy
killed himself, just like the police.”
“Right now, I’m not telling you anything. Right now, I’m asking
questions. How do you know he was pushed?”
“I just know,” she spat. “I know Lenny. And he wouldn’t kill
“Why wouldn’t Lenny kill himself?” I was expecting a lame answer,
like she’d raised him as a good Catholic, and, since it was against God’s law,
he wouldn’t do it. But she didn’t say that. She said something completely
“Lenny was the happiest person I ever met.”
* * *
That afternoon, I hopped on the El and got off at Diversey rather
than going all the way to my regular stop at Belmont. I turned away from DePaul
and walked toward the lake. Mrs. Borlock had given me the address of the
apartment her son shared with three roommates, one of whom was the mysterious
At first, I wasn’t sure it had been a good idea to take the case.
Logic told me the kid had killed himself. Yes, his mother thought he was the
happiest person she’d ever met. But suicidal tendencies are exactly the kind of
thing children hide from their parents. If the police thought it was suicide,
then in all likelihood it was suicide. I had my issues with the Chicago PD, but
that didn’t mean they did sloppy work.
So, why’d I take the case? Mrs. Helen Borlock, that’s why. Someone
needed to help her. Not to find her son’s murderer; there was no murderer. She
didn’t understand why her son killed himself, and she needed to understand. She
needed the reason. As I rang the bell to her son’s apartment, I promised myself
I’d find it for her.
I got buzzed into the building and climbed the stairs. On the
second floor, a door sprang open and a boy in his early twenties stood there
looking me up and down. He had short brown hair, a heavy five o’clock shadow, a
small mustache hanging out beneath his nose on what looked like a temporary
basis, and a pair of impossibly large glasses. He was short, real short. About
five four, which made me nearly a foot taller. He was wearing a pair of gray
gym shorts with the name of some high school partially rubbed off and not much
else. He had decent legs and a tight chest, both covered with lots of dark
hair. In the background, the Go-Gos got the beat.
“You’re not Bobby, are you?” I asked, though I was pretty sure I’d
have remembered him if he was.
“I’m Freddie. Who are you?” Without waiting to find out, he turned
and went back into the apartment. I followed him in. The living room was
painted an antacid pink. Over an aqua-colored vinyl sofa that looked like it
was stolen from a bus station was a large painting. Globs of paint arranged
themselves to form a large, erect, rainbow penis. At its base, the painter had
glued several handfuls of what looked like dryer lint.
Freddie lifted the needle off the record and the Go-Gos were
silenced. He gave me the once-over a second time. “You’re looking for Bobby?
Why? Did someone send you as a present? He’ll be—”
“I’m Nick Nowak. I’m a private investigator. Mrs. Borlock hired me
to look into Lenny’s death.”
“Oh, my.” Behind his glasses he blinked a few times. He was one of
those guys with eyelashes so dark and thick it made you wonder if he was
“What’s your last name, Freddie?”
“Twombly,” he said. “Isn’t it terrible? It sounds like I’m
lisping. Even when I’m not.” He lit an extra-long cigarette. I decided to be
sociable and pulled out my Marlboros.
“You mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Only if they’re personal,” he said playfully. He hooked a finger
into the elastic band of his shorts, dragging them down over his hip. I
struggled to keep my focus on lighting my cigarette.
“Why do you think Lenny killed himself?” It was the question of
the hour, so I figured I’d start there.
Freddie stopped being playful and sat on the sofa. It squeaked. “I
don’t think Lenny killed himself. No one thinks that.”
I had hoped it would be easier than this. “Why do you say that?”
“Jumping? At Water Tower? It’s so dramatic. Lenny wasn’t a drama
queen. Actually, I’m the drama queen in the house. Everything upsets me, but
nothing upset Lenny. He was always mellow.”
“So, what do you think happened?”
Freddie shrugged. “Isn’t it your job to figure that out?”
“Do you mind if I look at Lenny’s room? And then maybe ask you a
few more questions?”
He picked up the ashtray and walked out of the room. “Come on.
It’s this way. Lenny and I share a room.”
I followed Freddie down the hallway. Just above the waistband of
his shorts, he had dimples in the small of his back, one on each side. Halfway
down the hall he turned, and we were in a small bedroom crammed with two twin
mattresses, a schoolhouse desk, and another penis picture with lint for pubic
hair—this one was flaccid.
The walls were painted an electric blue, and the ceiling was
black. One of the mattresses was stripped naked, showing its sweat stains. The
other wore pink polka-dotted sheets. On the bare mattress was a box filled with
odds and ends from around the apartment—a frying pan, a picture, some juice
glasses from the fifties.
Freddie watched as I looked over the room. I didn’t know exactly
what I was looking for. Hints, I suppose, little clues as to why Lenny might
have killed himself: angry letters from creditors, love letters from a failed romance,
the complete works of Sylvia Plath. Anything.
“Did Lenny have money problems?” I asked.
“It’s a two-bedroom apartment and there are four of us. We all
have money problems.” I looked into the closet. “The left side is his,” Freddie
“What about boyfriends? Was he involved with anyone?”
“No. Lenny had sex. He tricked and stuff, but there wasn’t anyone
I moved Lenny’s clothes around. Stuck my hand in the pockets of
his coats. Freddie continued chattering. “I used to be Bobby’s boyfriend. So
did Chuck, our other roommate, but only for about five minutes. Bobby tricked
with Lenny, which is what broke Bobby and I up, though at this point I can’t
remember why I cared.” He gasped suddenly. “Oh, my God! You’re gonna think I
killed Lenny for having sex with Bobby! That’s just ridiculous. It was a year
and a half ago for God’s sake. In gay years that’s like a decade. Besides I
have an alibi.”
“You don’t need an alibi. Lenny killed himself.”
He was silent for a moment. “I wish people who didn’t even know
Lenny would stop saying that.” He stuck out his chin. “Lenny’s mom doesn’t
think he killed himself. I don’t think she’s paying you to prove something she
“I’m sure she’ll be satisfied if I can tell her why Lenny did it.”
Freddie huffed his disagreement. I lifted the lid to the
schoolhouse desk. In the drawer beneath there were Lenny’s bills, his bank
statements, some time cards, and an address book. I picked up the address book
and flipped through it. Mostly first names.
“I’m supposed to be getting ready for a party. It’s Bobby’s
birthday. That’s why I thought you might be a present.” He paused dramatically.
“You know, like in Boys in the Band.”
“Yeah, I know. It was at The Parkway two months ago.” Not that I’d
particularly enjoyed it. They were a whiny bunch. But it did prompt me to ask,
“How did Lenny feel about being gay?”
“I don’t think he thought about it much. He was too busy sucking
cock.” I suppose it was meant to shock me, but it didn’t. “I knew you were gay
the minute you walked in,” Freddie continued.
“Oh yeah? What gave me away?”
“I’m almost naked. You keep pretending not to notice. Pretend
being the operative word.”
It’s embarrassing, but I’m used to guys flirting with me. I’m six
foot three and weigh about two-ten. I work out a few times a week to make sure
the scale doesn’t tick much higher. That month, my dark hair was just beginning
to curl since I needed a haircut. I was thinking about giving a beard a try, or
maybe I was just being lazy. Either way, in addition to my mustache, there was
heavy stubble all over my face. Trouble, in the form of boys who look like
Freddie, always seems to find me. I guess that means I’m good looking.
“Tell me more about Lenny,” I asked, ignoring his flirting.
“Lenny wrote poetry. Dreadful poetry. I can show you some if you
want, but my guess is Mrs. Borlock isn’t paying you enough to actually read
it.” He pointed to a stack of black and white composition books by Lenny’s
mattress. I shook my head. I might have to read them sometime, but hopefully I
could figure this out without them.
I picked up Lenny’s bank statements and flipped through them.
“We’re all artsy, the four of us. Bobby is an actor. I’m a
painter, a primitive representationalist. I work mostly in acrylics and found
objects.” He paused, waiting for me to look up at the painting over his bed and
compliment it. I stuck to the bank statements, so he continued, “Chuck is in a
band called The Wigs. It’s glam rock. They all wear makeup and have pretty hair,
but Chuck’s the only one who’s gay. They’re touring. Well, I mean they have a
gig in Bloomington.”
Contrary to what Freddie had said, Lenny wasn’t broke. His most
recent bank balance was nearly four thousand dollars. I flipped back over the
past few months. His previous balances were significantly smaller, usually
never more than six or seven hundred at the most. He’d even overdrawn the
account a few times. I went back to the most recent statement. Halfway down the
page, there was a circled deposit for three thousand, five hundred, and
“Did Lenny come into some money recently?”
“What did he do for money?”
“Oh, we’re all temps. It’s very flexible. We work for a service
called Carolyn’s Crew. Carolyn’s great. She used to be an actress, so she
“She give bonuses?”
“Oh, yeah. If you stay on an assignment for two months, you get a
hundred dollars. Then two hundred at six months. Lenny was about to get his
“Lenny had been on the assignment for a while, then?”
“He was having a rough time of it, though.”
“What do you mean a rough time?”
“Well, I’m not sure. He talked about his boss a lot, this guy
named Campbell. Obviously, the guy had money. No one names their kid Campbell
unless they’re also giving him a trust fund. One minute Lenny adored the guy,
and the next he hated him. I think Lenny had a crush and it wasn’t going well.”
“Do you think they might have had a relationship?”
“No, if Lenny was having sex with someone he wouldn’t shut up
about it. Seriously, I can tell you the size of every dick he’s touched for the
last two years.” He looked at me expectantly, like I might ask him to do so.
Curtly, he said, “I’m trying to seduce you, but you seem not to notice.”
Freddie watched me, waiting for me to make a move. When I didn’t,
he padded over to me. Frowning, he looked up and asked, “Are you trying to hurt
my feelings?” He was so short I had to practically pick him up to kiss him.
Of course, I knew I shouldn’t have sex with him. It wasn’t what
you’d call a reliable interrogation technique. But he didn’t seem to know why
Lenny killed himself, didn’t even think Lenny did kill himself, so it was hard
to see the harm in it.
Pushing me away, Freddie flopped down on the bed and, lifting his
hips, slid off his gym shorts. His dick was semi-hard in anticipation and
belonged on a much bigger man. I slipped off my jacket and began to undo the
underarm holster holding my 9mm Sig Sauer.
“No,” Freddie said with a devilish smile. “Leave that on.”
I threw my jacket on the floor and joined Freddie on the bed.
Taking him into my arms, I kissed him long and deep. There was something sexy
about his being completely naked and my having most of my clothes still on. My
hard-on rubbed against his, the cotton of my jeans making it all the more
exciting. He pulled away from me and looked into my eyes. “You’re a good
I thanked him for the compliment by kissing him some more. His
hands were in my jeans, working to unbutton them and set my dick free. Once he
got it into the open, he gave an appreciative little growl. He jerked me a few
times and then rubbed our cocks together.
“This is going to be so good,” he whispered, then rolled over and
spooned his naked butt into my lap. I ran my hands across his chest, pinching
his nipples. He reached behind himself, grabbing my dick and rubbing the head
along the crack of his ass.
His breathing began to come faster, and, somewhat abruptly, he
reached around the edge of the mattress and pulled out a small container of
Vaseline. Quickly, he lubed up my dick and his pucker hole. Before I slid my
dick in, he said, “Take it easy at first.”
I fucked him slowly for a bit, lying there on my side with my
pants down around my knees, giving him time to relax into it. Soon, though, I became
impatient and pushed him over until he was face down. I crawled on top of him
and slipped my cock back into him. He groaned happily.
My hands on his hips, I had to splay my legs wide to get a good
angle. I thrust into him until the muscles on the insides of my legs began to
ache. I pulled my legs closer together and lifted him up with me. His knees
were off the bed, his ass practically floating in front of me as I pounded into
him. His moaning began to blend into one long keening sound that reminded me of
Then I flipped him over. I wanted to see the look on his face
while I screwed him. When he looked up at me, he stopped moaning and grinned. I
slid back into him. “Yeah, that’s it,” he whispered.
Taking his cock into my hand, I started to jack him off. Matching
each stroke with a thrust. He pushed my hand away. “You’re going to make me
come too soon.”
I wanted to make him come, though, so I fucked him harder and
faster. My holstered gun bounced against my ribs. He arched his hips, meeting
each thrust. His hard cock bounced on his belly, and then he was coming. I
reached out and jerked him a few times to help him along. All the while, I kept
When he stopped spasming, Freddie said, “Pull it out. I want to
see you come.”
I pulled out of him and began to jack myself off. It only took a
few pumps and I was coming all over Freddie’s reddened dick and his already
sticky belly. I collapsed on top of him. He slipped his arms around me and
squeezed me close.
When he’d caught his breath, he said, “I hope this means you’ll
try extra hard to find out what happened to Lenny.”
I pulled away from him, “Is that what this is about? You fucked me
so I’d do a good job?”
“No, I fucked you because you’re sexy. But I can still ask for
special treatment, can’t I?”
“I always do a good job,” I said.
He shrugged. “You never asked for my alibi.”
“Okay, tell me your alibi.” Obviously, he was eager to do so.
“The night before Lenny died, I got drunk off my ass on Long
Island Iced Teas and took the bus in the wrong direction! This big, burly black
guy took pity on me. After that, all I remember is holding onto a bathroom sink
in some apartment while the black guy fucked the living daylights out of me. I
woke up the next morning around eleven. I had no idea where I was.” He watched
me to see what kind of reaction his story might get.
I didn’t know what the big deal was with his alibi. Was he that
desperate to display his sexual prowess? Did he want to present himself as some
kind of slut? Was this his way of saying, “don’t take what we just did too
I dead-panned it. “Could you find this guy again?”
“Then it’s not an alibi, is it?”
He frowned. “Oh. I guess not.”
I rolled over and looked at him. “Can you think of anything else
that might be important?”
Freddie thought for a moment, then smiled. “He would have liked
you. That’s for sure. You’re just his type.”
It was time for me to leave, so I got off the bed. My hands and
cock were still gooey with Vaseline. “Which way is the bathroom?”
“It’s right across the hall.”
With my pants around my ankles, I had to waddle across the hall.
When I got halfway to the john, the front door opened and in walked Bobby
Martin. Immediately, I remembered him. I’d picked him up at The Loading Zone a
couple months before. I never saw him after that. We hadn’t exchanged numbers.
He took a moment to look me up and down. My greasy shirttails, my
red, sticky cock hanging out, my hairy knees. He smiled and said, “Well, nice
to see you again.”
I wanted to punch someone.
Marshall Thornton writes two popular mystery series, the Boystown Mysteriesand the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery three times. 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.