A Friend in the Dark (An Auden & O’Callaghan Mystery Book 1) by C.S. Poe and Gregory Ashe


Sam was digging into the potatoes, the over-easy eggs already broken open and soaking the home fries. He spoke in a low voice, his attention seemingly fixed on the food. “I hate this place. The city, I mean. I don’t like… people. I don’t like being touched. I don’t like loud noises. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

“A hell of a place to come and investigate, then,” Rufus said as he pulled his own plate closer. His meal was a mirror of Sam’s. He actually never ate at BlueMoon beyond the occasional fried egg Maddie would slip him if he came in looking particularly pathetic. Rufus’s usual was coffee and sugar, so this was a hell of a treat. At the realization of his own words, Rufus’s hand froze where it hovered over his cast-aside utensils. “That’s what you’re going to do, isn’t it?”

Glancing up, Sam offered a small, bitter smile that seemed turned inward rather than at Rufus. All he said was “Yeah, I guess that’s what I’m going to do. Not very easy when Jake’s partner tells me he was shot in the forehead and has no gunshot residue on his hands.”

“Lampo’s a jackass,” Rufus muttered over the clatter of utensils being unrolled and falling onto his plate. He picked up the fork and licked butter off the tines.

“You know him? Jesus, maybe you can get a straight answer out of that dickbag.”

Rufus stabbed at his home fries. “Doubtful. What did Lampo say to you? Not about Jake’s forehead.” He stuffed the food in his mouth and talked around chewing. “I know about his forehead. I saw it. I tried to tell him, but Lampo wouldn’t listen to me—like I don’t know a thing or two about death.”

“I already told you: no gunshot residue. That’s it. Then somebody—his supervisor, I guess—came in. She must have put the fear of God in him because he wrapped things up and got me out of there faster than a twink with a hot douche.”

Rufus screwed his expression up, took another bite, and said, “You’re all class.”

“Have you ever had a hot douche? It’s like Satan himself is breathing up your bunghole.”

Jesus fucking Christ.” Rufus missed stabbing at a bit of potato, accidentally flicked it off his plate, and watched it land on the floor. He glanced at Sam again. “Lampo really told you there wasn’t any residue on Jake’s hands?”

“Yes. And he all but told me he thought it was murder too.”

“He said that?”

“No, that’s why I said he all but told me. He kept saying things weren’t typical—where he shot himself, the absence of GSR. ‘Pretty damn hard to shoot yourself and not have evidence on your hands’ were his exact words. He tried to say the case was open-and-shut, but when I called his bullshit, I think he might have agreed with me. Then his boss showed up, and I was out on the sidewalk with a scorched rectum.”

As Sam spoke, Rufus could feel a telltale prickle in the corners of his eyes. He sniffed loudly, blinked rapidly, and stared out the window. “I told Lampo. I told him that.” Rufus’s voice caught like he had a wedge of potato stuck in his throat. “Fucking Jake. Goddamn it. There was someone else there when I found him. The guy almost blew my head off. But Lampo—” Rufus made a fist and punched the sagging seat underneath him. The springs protested. “He’s never taken anything I’ve said seriously unless it’s filtered through Jake. And Jake’s dead, so he couldn’t say, ‘Lampo, you dumb fuck, of course someone shot me.’”

“What the fuck?” Sam said. “There was someone else there? And you saw him? Why the fuck didn’t you say something earlier?”

Rufus hastily wiped one eye and did his best to glare daggers at Sam. “I did. I told Jake’s partner. Who else is there—you? Fuck you.”

“Forget me for a minute. Lampo just ignored you? Is he dumber than shit? Lazy? What the fuck? And why were you even there in the first place? Were you supposed to be meeting Jake?”

Rufus stabbed at his home fries again. One bite, two, a third until his mouth was full and his tongue was burned. He washed it down with coffee and then cut a wedge of a pancake with the side of his fork. “Yeah,” he confirmed, voice low. “He had a job for me.”

“And what was the job?”

Rufus picked up a small container of syrup, the handle sticky. He drowned the pancake before eating the slice. “A pickup.”

“What were you picking up?”

Rufus sucked syrup off his thumb. “If I knew, I wouldn’t have been rifling through Jake’s underwear drawer earlier.”

For a moment, Sam’s face was tight. Then he said, “That’s why you’re looking for his phone.”

“Jake has to have record somewhere of what the job was. I tried his personal laptop but that was a deadend. He did most of his business on his phone. I figured finding that was better than letting my bare ass flap in the wind.”

“The phone seems like a good place to start,” Sam said; it sounded like a concession.

Rufus cut another wedge of pancake. “Sounds like you intend to stick with me after we eat.”

Sam’s knife and fork hovered over the pancakes. Then, with a casualness that seemed exaggerated, he cut into the mound of fluffy deliciousness. “It would be helpful,” he said, the words in time with the slow rocking of the knife, “to have someone else with me. Someone who knew Jake from here, as a cop. Someone who knows the city.”

“You think you can buy me one meal and I’ll put out?”

This time, Sam’s smile was a grin, and it was directed one-hundred percent at Rufus. “A guy can hope. Those dainty wrists and all.”

Rufus couldn’t recall a single conversation in his adult life that had this much sexual innuendo and didn’t immediately end with some guy punching him in the neck for being queer. Even after getting food in his stomach, Rufus wasn’t sure what he thought of Sam. Besides the obvious, of course. Sam was gorgeous and probably knew it, confident in his masculinity, and frustrating in conversation. So the dickish personality was probably fairly true to his character and not something Rufus superimposed on Sam merely because he had hunger pains and little patience. Sam was also gay—maybe gay?—definitely, Rufus was certain. And that was, on the one hand, sort of nice—the casualness with which Sam embraced his sexuality, the teasing, the possibility of someone to flirt with—but on the other hand, Rufus wasn’t any good at that sort of stuff.

Rufus ate some more pancakes. “That next bullet might hit its mark. I don’t make it a habit of walking headfirst into danger.”

Sam’s smile snapped out, and he worked on the food for a while. When he spoke again, his voice had flattened back into its former tone. “Then you could at least tell me what you think might be going on. Where you’ve looked for his phone. Anything that might help.” Then, throwing down the knife and fork, Sam pushed away the plate. “You might not care about Jake enough to risk your life, but I do, and I want to find who did this to him.”

Rufus stopped chewing the mound of dough in his mouth and stared at Sam. “I do too care.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Nobody taught you not to talk with your mouth full?” Then, that smirk ghosting across his lips, “Except in certain cases, of course.”

Rufus swallowed. “Wow.”

“I might have somewhere to start, but I want to know the rest of it. Where else have you looked for his phone? If you had to make a list, right now, of who might have killed him, who are your top five? What don’t I know that I need to know?”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Rufus asked with a sort of disbelieving laugh. “Jake was a cop—a good one. Any criminal in this city would want him out of the way. Anyone he’s put on Rikers who’s got connections on the outside could have done this.” But Rufus held up one hand and began to tick locations off on each finger, starting with his pinky. “I checked his apartment. I checked his car. I checked his secret apartment.” He said that and gave Sam the finger. “I checked trash cans, a nearby park—short of going through his desk at the precinct, I’ve checked everywhere for his stupid phone.”

More about author C.S. Poe

C.S. Poe is a Lambda Literary and EPIC award finalist author of gay mystery, romance, and paranormal books.
She is a reluctant mover and has called many places home in her lifetime. C.S. has lived in New York City, Key West, and Ibaraki, Japan, to name a few. She misses the cleanliness, convenience, and limited-edition gachapon of Japan, but she was never very good at riding bikes to get around.
She has an affinity for all things cute and colorful and a major weakness for toys. C.S. is an avid fan of coffee, reading, and cats. She’s rescued two cats—Milo and Kasper do their best on a daily basis to sidetrack her from work.
C.S. is a member of the International Thriller Writers organization.
Her debut novel, The Mystery of Nevermore, was published by DSP Publications, 2016.

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More About Author Gregory Ashe:

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

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