There 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.
The 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 traveled.
Except 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.
Ronnie 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 the ranks.
“Hey, 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.
“What happened, Ronnie? Any witnesses?”
“Mugging. 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.”
“Just like that?”
“Flash 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?”
“I’ll 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.
“If you hear anything, let me know, will you Ronnie?”
“Sure thing, Marco. You got a personal stake in this?”
“When 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.
My 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 home.
The 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.
I’d 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.
The 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.
Carlos 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.
“Marco! You on a case, man?”
“Always 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.
The 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.
“At 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 at large.”
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.
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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