The Rational Faculty (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords Book 1) by Gregory Ashe

Excerpt:

CHAPTER TEN

NOVEMBER 1

THURSDAY

8:37 AM

HAZARD HAD SLEPT POORLY, and around two he left the bedroom. For a while, he walked the house, counting paces. This many steps from the hall closet to the bathroom. This many steps from the thermostat to the front door. This many steps from the utility room to the window where he watched a fox cross the backyard. The house got smaller and smaller, and after a while, he found himself on a couch, staring up into the dark.

The thing was.

The thing was that it was so easy to imagine: Somers with his sleeves rolled up, smiling, nodding, taking statements, studying a crime scene, moving through a place of violent death with grace and beauty. Somers seeing things that others didn’t see. Somers moving steadily toward justice for an unjust death.

More. Somers, everything about Somers. Somers interacting with people—even the simple, nonverbal things, the way Somers would roll his shoulder or shake his head, and somehow it would be enough to get Foley and Moraes laughing, like it had been the best joke in the universe—in that peculiar way Somers had of being utterly perfect without seeming to realize it.

Hazard let himself play the whole thing out. He ran it backward and forward like an old VHS tape. He let himself split off into what ifs: Somers picking up coffee and donuts because it was the only way to get Norman and Gross to do their job; Somers showing one of the new recruits how to keep people away from a crime scene, politely but firmly. Wilder: Somers chasing a suspect across rooftops; Somers in a shootout.

He played as many scenarios as he could until it hurt so much that he couldn’t breathe. He had to close his eyes.

Then, upstairs, his alarm buzzed. It was a new day.

He packed up all the broken pieces, swept that spot inside himself clean, and went to turn off the alarm. Then he went back to the kitchen, counting the steps automatically, and threw himself into the morning.

A little past eight-thirty, Hazard was sitting at the table, coffee in one hand, his phone in the other. He was reading the news when the garage door went up, and the familiar rumble of the Mustang’s engine rolled into the garage.

Somers looked wrecked when he stepped inside. Hair mussed worse than usual, red eyes, fatigue visible in the lines of his face. He stopped just inside the kitchen. He smiled.

“Morning.”

“Look what the cat dragged in.”

“God, what a night.”

Hazard stood, set down phone and coffee, and walked toward his boyfriend.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Fine.” Hazard bent, kissed Somers, and unbuckled his waistband.

“Ree, I’m wiped. I’m not really—”

Hazard laughed as he undid Somers’s zipper an inch.

“Not that I mind the interest,” Somers said, his hand coming up to run over Hazard’s cheek. “It’s been a while since we . . . you know.”

Still laughing, Hazard slid his hands around Somers and unbuckled the waistband holster. He removed it and set it on the kitchen counter.

“Oh,” Somers said.

Hazard pushed him into a seat at the table. “I’m glad you didn’t mind the interest.”

“Ok, I just thought . . .”

“I know what you thought.”

“Well, when a guy starts taking off your pants the minute you get through the door, you’re bound to think something’s up.”

“Something is up,” Hazard said, navigating to the oven. “Breakfast.”

“Ree.”

“You’ve been up all night. You’ve been up over twenty-four hours, in fact. You need to eat something. And you need to sleep.”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Try doing things in order, John.” Hazard pulled out a plate that had been warming in the oven. He poured juice and coffee.

“I can do that,” Somers said.

“Don’t you dare.” Hazard carried everything over to the table.

“I can do that too.”

“Uh uh.”

Somers stared at the plate.

“Goat cheese omelet with bacon and shallots,” Hazard said. “Grits. And asparagus.”

“I thought it was a little green spear.”

Hazard smiled and went back to his seat.

They sat there together in silence. Somers picked at the food, taking a few bites, but mostly just staring at the plate. He moved a piece of asparagus all the way to one side. Then he moved it back. The tines of his fork rang out against the ceramic. Then the asparagus had to go all the way over again. Hazard watched all of it out of the corner of his eye. The world-traveling asparagus.

“Ree, maybe we should talk about this stuff.”

“Sure. I want to hear about the case.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

Hazard set his phone down. He looked at Somers. And he said, “Please, John. I’m not asking you to give me protected information. I just . . . I just want to hear about it. Whatever you can tell me.”

Somers actually dropped his fork. “You think I wouldn’t tell you?”

“I’m a civilian. Information about ongoing investigations—”

“Jesus Christ, Ree. You’re my boyfriend. You’re the smartest person I know. You’re the best detective I know. If you’re willing to listen, Jesus, you’re going to have to tell me to shut up.”

“I’ve gotten pretty good at that.”

With a real smile on his face, Somers began to talk. And eat. Whatever his objection to the meal, it was forgotten as he launched into an account of the case. A few times, Hazard tried to stop him, but Somers waved the warnings aside and kept talking.

And inside, Hazard felt something coming to life. Like he’d been walking in the dark, and now lights were coming on. He listened to Somers’s description of the crime scene. He listened to the paraphrased interviews. And then, to his own surprise, Hazard found himself asking questions. Did he say this? Did she say that?

It was almost like the old days.

“So,” Somers said as he scraped a fork across his empty plate. “What do you think?”

Hazard grabbed his coffee and took a drink. He shrugged. “Nothing on the security cameras?”

“Not yet. No sign of this guy. He walks out of the apartment and, as far as we can tell, disappears. Cravens is going to have people keep looking at the footage, but . . .” Somers waved a hand dismissively. “So, who else was in on it?”

Hazard shrugged again.

“Come on,” Somers said. “Right now, I like that girl Cynthia for it. She’s got a weird thing for professors; I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabbri had a thing with her, cut it off, and she went crazy.”

“That’s a good theory.” Hazard raised his coffee again.

“Oh no,” Somers said, catching the mug and pulling it back down. “Now you.”

“Come on, I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore.”

“Three months and you’re out of practice?”

“I—”

“Bullshit.”

“John, I—”

“Bullshit.” Somers had a crazy grin. “Tell me.”

“I think it’s strange that the adjunct—what was his name?”

“Carl. Don’t pretend like you don’t remember.”

“I think it’s strange his story doesn’t match up in so many ways. And he’s right: cui bono? Who benefits?”

“So you think it’s Carl.

“I don’t know.”

“No, that’s good. That’s really good to know.”

“John, I’m just saying—” Hazard stopped. “This is not a representation of my ability to make a final, conclusive deduction—”

“Like the time you were convinced you knew how The Sixth Sense was going to end.”

“Shyamalan cheated,” Hazard growled, getting to his feet.

“And I think,” Somers said, sprawling back in his seat, studying Hazard from under hooded eyes, “that it was Cynthia Outzen who killed Fabbri because she was a jilted lover.” Then Somers stood. He took the mug of coffee, gently easing Hazard’s fingers away from the ceramic, and set it on the table. Then he brought Hazard’s hands down to his waistband. “Now. I believe I was having some ideas about you when I got home.”

Hazard had one of those tiny Emery Hazard smiles. He bent and kissed Somers once, and then he pulled his hands away. “You need to go to bed.”

“Sure. Come with.”

Laughing, Hazard extricated himself, collected his coffee, and started stacking Somers’s plate and utensils. “I’ve got stuff to do, John. And you’re exhausted.”

“Not too exhausted to fool around with my hot, hulking boyfriend.” Somers was behind Hazard now, sliding his arms around Hazard’s waist, kissing Hazard’s shoulder and arms through the thin cotton of Hazard’s t-shirt. “Come on. It’s been a while.”

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It feels like forever.”

Hazard was very careful. He had to be so careful these days, careful about almost everything. He set down the stack of dishes. He took Somers by the wrists—gently, carefully—and he turned around, stepping out of the embrace.

It took him a moment too long to know what to say. Confusion, then pain sparked in Somers’s face and disappeared.

“I’ve got to—” Hazard began.

“Yeah,” Somers said.

“I thought I might take a swing at the utility sink today.”

“I’m going to do it, Ree. I promise. Tonight. Or tomorrow if the case stays hot.”

Hazard brought Somers’s hands up. He kissed his palms.

“Ree, you don’t ever have to—I mean, you can just tell me.”

Hazard bent and kissed him. Then he released Somers’s hands, turned him toward the stairs, and gave him a push.

“Go get some sleep.”

But Somers slowed and turned back. He didn’t say anything. He just watched Hazard.

Hazard made himself stand there as long as he could; then he turned and picked up the dishes and made his way to the sink.

“Don’t forget,” Somers said, his voice so normal that Hazard wanted to punch out the window over the sink, “we’ve got dinner with the sheriff tonight.”

“I’ll call and cancel. You’re going to be busy working—”

“No, it’ll be fine. I’ve got to eat dinner sometime, and we’ve been trying to set it up for ages.”

“He’ll understand, John. We’ll do it another time.”

“No,” Somers said sharply. Then, back in that painfully normal voice, “No. Dinner, tonight, with the sheriff.”

“Ok.” Hazard ran the hot water and said, “Get to bed.”

Somers left; it was like he vanished, turned to smoke. No creaking floorboards. No protesting stairs. That part of Hazard’s brain, where the lights had come on, was doing calculations. Somers was an easy sleeper; he’d be totally out in the next five minutes, and he could sleep in a trainyard.

No, Hazard told himself.

He did the dishes.

That part of his brain, though, kept working. It was a fifteen-minute drive from their house to Wroxall. It was fifteen minutes to anywhere in Wahredua.

No.

He wiped down the counters.

Somers was already asleep; Hazard’s internal timer assured him of that. Fifteen minutes to get to Wroxall. Fifteen minutes to get back. How long would Somers sleep? Hazard checked the clock on the stove. Almost nine-thirty. Four hours? Five? Hazard guessed four, and he threw himself a safety net: three hours. He’d have to be back in three hours. Minus half an hour for travel. That left two and a half hours to look at the crime scene himself, to do a preliminary canvass, and to get back.

No.

Hazard got the mop and bucket. He got the jug of Fabuloso. He started the hot water again, measured out the cleaner, and poured it in. As the suds built, he told himself he wasn’t a detective anymore. He wasn’t even a private detective, although Somers had been after him for months now, ever since their last trip to St. Louis, to open his own agency. He was just a guy. And he had no reason to get involved.

He came back to reality just as the bubbles crested and spilled down the side of the bucket. Swearing, Hazard turned off the hot water. The smell of Fabuloso filled the kitchen; it stuck to his hands when he wiped them on his shirt.

He wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to mop the floor—like the good little houseboy you are, a nasty voice said inside him. He was going to mop the floor. He was going to clean up the front flower beds. He was going to overseed a part of the lawn in back that was patchy. He was feeling better, so much better, as he listed out his routine. Yes. He was going to clean the baseboards. They hadn’t done that since moving in, and Somers liked a clean house. Hazard felt great.

None of which explained why he found himself creeping upstairs, careful to avoid the warped boards and the creaky risers. At the top, he paused, listened. Their bedroom door was open, and he could hear Somers’s even breathing. Hazard turned toward the front of the house. He went into the office. He shut the door, and he didn’t dare turn on the light. He felt like he was burgling his own house.

They shared a desk, and as Hazard opened the bottom drawer, he still wasn’t sure why he had chosen this as his hiding place. It seemed like a terribly stupid place, where Somers was likely to look if he needed the stapler or a rubber band. Hazard shifted office supplies until he found the small bundle. He pulled it out of the drawer. He unfolded the protective paper.

Five hundred business cards lay like a bad deal in poker.

Emery Hazard. Private Investigator.

No phone number. No email. He didn’t have an office or a name for the agency. Ordering the cards had been stupid. Sheer stupidity, prompted by one stupid conversation in St. Louis after that asshole North McKinney had crawled under Hazard’s skin again.

Hazard skimmed twenty off the top and stuck them in his pocket. Then he rewrapped the cards, returned them to the drawer, and covered them with Post-Its, a tape dispenser, a box of Bic pens.

He was out of the house, driving toward Wroxall, before he realized he had forgotten to mop the floors.

About the Author

Learn more about Gregory Ashe and forthcoming works at www.gregoryashe.com.

Author, Gregory Ashe

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Exclusive Excerpt: The Deadwood Murders (a Kendall Parker Mystery Book 2) by Jon Michaelsen

Excerpt

Parker sized up the Feds as he stepped into Lieutenant Russell’s office. Both men stood over six-foot, one larger than the other in bulk; no blubber on these fellows. Each wore fitted charcoal pinstripe suits and starched white button-down shirts offset by conservative blue ties. The thinner of the two sported a shaved head, more to hide his balding crown than current fashion trend, Parker surmised. A thin gold band rode the man’s left hand. The bulkier one stood closest to Parker. He had blonde hair, styled in a tight crewcut, and steel-blue eyes that softened and disarmed his otherwise imposing posture. Parker noted the man’s ring-less hand. His lover died only eight months ago and the fact he’d noted the ring finger of the most attractive of the two mules took him by surprise. 

 “Sir.” Parker nodded to his new commander. He noted how diminutive his hand was in comparison to his boss’s, and Parker wasn’t a small man by any measure. “Good to finally meet you sir.”

If the agents were surprised by the revelation, they showed nothing in their stoic stares. Parker remained standing, awaiting introductions.

Lieutenant Russell referred to the men. “Supervisory Special Agent Delvecchio and Special Agent Hales, FBI CID, Atlanta Field Office, Century Center.” Russell moved behind his desk and prepared to sit.  

“Gentleman.” Parker assessed the dark-suited strangers from the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division out of Atlanta, shook each of their hands, smiling respectfully. Delvecchio’s palm was rough and waxy; Hales’ hand felt smooth, but firm. “I haven’t passed any bad checks that I know of, so what’s this about? You here on a recruiting expedition?”

Russell curled his lip and glared at his charge. “Knock it off, Parker. This ain’t no social call.”

Neither man reacted to Parker’s rough humor. Russell pointed to a chair against the wall with a grunt. “Pull up a seat, Parker and hear these men out.”

Making a show of his discontent, Parker dragged the black leather armchair up to the desk adjacent to the lieutenant and the Feds. He glanced at the agents expectantly. “Nice weather we’re having,” Parker said. He offered a wink and a grin as he sat. 

Lieutenant Russell scowled, and motioned for the men to sit before taking his own seat. If Parker’s effort was to make a bad first impression with the new lieutenant, he was succeeding.

Russell motioned for the men to begin. Baldy opened the blue folder in his hands and began paraphrasing the facts within. “Three days ago, a male, age thirty-four, 6’2″, a Caucasian married father of two from Memphis, Tennessee was discovered beneath the bed in a downtown Atlanta hotel. Victim was gagged and bound, strangled with a nylon cord believed to be cut from the drapes. Autopsy revealed ligature marks on the wrists and ankles. Incised wounds inflicted to the victim’s torso, face and legs were pre-and post-mortem.” He flipped a couple of pages forward without modifying his dull expression. “Hotel Regency located at 254 Cortland Street.” He returned to the original page in the folder. “The man was in town attending a convention booked in the hotel. The body was discovered by a security guard after being alerted that the guest hadn’t shown for scheduled meetings. APD Evidence Response Team dispatched to the scene found no evidence of forced entry, or any sign of struggle.” He glanced up at Parker with an intense expression in his eyes. “No witnesses to the assault. Nearby guests in the hotel reported hearing nothing unusual. No perpetrator has been identified.”

Special Agent Delvecchio cleared his throat and continued forth in a monotone. “Two weeks ago, the body of a male, age thirty, 6’1”, Caucasian, one hundred and seventy pounds, was discovered behind a facility’s bathroom in a park off Interstate 20. Again, no signs of a struggle. Autopsy identified death caused by ligature strangulation. Victim suffered repeated trauma to the head,” —he flipped a page— “possibly injuries from a ‘slap-jack,’ or some similar type object. Lacerations to the left side of the head above the ear resulted in significant external bleeding. ME ruled the death a homicide. Pool of blood located near the body indicates the victim died in the same location.”

Having no idea where this was leading, Parker had little choice but to afford his full attention to the man droning on about the deaths. Parker readjusted himself in his chair, cleared his throat and continued to listen to the agent.

Delvecchio’s cheeks glowed red as he read from the page. The bluish jugular vein on the side of his throat bulged grotesquely. “Late last month, a Georgia Department of Transportation mowing crew discovered the mutilated body of a Caucasian male in the woods near Interstate 75 outside of Tifton, Georgia. Coroner’s report recorded the victim’s age at thirty-five, height 6’1”, weight one-hundred-eighty-five pounds. Cause of death was asphyxia by ligature compression. Several shallow incised wounds noted to the face and upper torso. Penis and scrotum excised antemortem. All wounds indicated torture prior to death. Instrument used to inflict incised wounds and removal of the privates is unconfirmed at this time.”

“Emasculated before death?” Parker’s thighs flinched. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but why does any of this require my presence here today?”

Special Agent Hales spoke for the first time. “Four more victims died of similar manner, one each in Macon and Valdosta, Georgia and the other two in Florida, Jacksonville and Orlando. There may be more we have not connected to the same perpetrator yet. These killings all happened within the last six months. Victims were male, Caucasian, 6’0” to 6’4”, between twenty-five and thirty-five. All tortured, sodomized, and mutilated to some extent. Most were known or suspected homosexuals, or at the very least, witnessed frequenting businesses that cater to the community.”

“What the hell?” Parker shot up from his seat, seething, his ears burning. “Is this some sort of sick attempt to get me to resign?” He reached the door in two strides. “You’ll hear from my rep before you even make it back to your field office.”

“Sit down Sergeant Parker,” the lieutenant boomed, smacking his large palm on the desk. The room fell eerily silent. “You’re not leaving, and you’re definitely not contacting the IBPO. The reason you’re here will become quite clear.”

Blurb: The Deadwood Murders

A mutilated conventioneer.

Gay men brutally tortured before death.

A trail of bodies carrying the same grim signature.

Homicide Detective Kendall Parker isn’t sure he wants to return to the police force. His last case ended with the arrest of an innocent man for murder, and his long-time homicide partner was killed in the process. Still on leave from APD, Sgt. Parker has gotten sober, smoke-free, and is rebuilding a life alone.

But, the arrival of a brazen killer cuts short Parker’s sabbatical. His new homicide commander summons him to police headquarters with a direct plea from the mayor: go undercover for the FBI to flush out the predator. With the gay community under siege, Parker must prowl Atlanta’s gay bars and late-night dance clubs as bait in hopes of luring the killer.

Award-winning Investigative reporter Calvin Slade is also on the trail. Aided by a hotshot young reporter, Slade soon uncovers a horrifying clue law enforcement has kept from the public. But, will chasing the hottest story of his career put him directly in the path a savage beast?

Haven’t been introduced to Atlanta Homicide Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker yet? Check out the blurb below:

Blurb: Pretty Boy Dead

** Finalist Lambda Literary Awards for Best Gay Mystery **

When the mangled body of a young gay man is discovered in a popular Atlanta park, advocacy groups converge on City Hall demanding justice. Media are quick to pin the brutal homicide on a drug-addicted, homeless teen. Atlanta Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker isn’t so convinced, even after the suspect assaults his homicide partner with a deadly weapon. But when the investigation takes a disastrous turn, a suspect in custody ends up dead.

It becomes a race against time for the veteran detective to solve the apparent gay-bashing, but when a tenacious reporter threatens to expose a police cover-up, Parker is forced to make an impossible choice: stand firm for justice, or betray the brotherhood in blue. With the odds against him, Parker will need to rely on keen instinct and streetwise experience to catch a brutal killer.

Yet success often comes at a price, and for Parker, it may mean revealing his closely guarded secret.

Now is your chance to purchase Pretty Boy Dead (a Kendall Parker Mystery Book 1) at a discounted rate.

More about Jon Michaelsen

Jon Michaelsen is a writer of Gay Mystery, Thriller & Suspense fiction and Speculative fiction within the sub-genres of Mystery, Suspense & Thriller. He was born in southwest Georgia, his family moved to Atlanta, where he remains today. Retired after twenty-five years in corporate travel management, he now spends his time writing. His first novel in the Kendall Parker Mystery series, Pretty Boy Dead, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Gay Mystery and his novella, Prince of the Sea, earned the 2017 Best Gay Men’s Fiction Award for Gay Fiction by a Goodreads Reading Group. He has published several short stories, many of which appear in anthologies. He lives with his husband of 33 years, and two monstrous terriers.

Contact him at Michaelsen.jon@gmail.com

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