Excerpts! Lammy Finalists: Boystown 10: Gifts Given & Night Drop, both by Marshall Thornton

Two Exclusive Excerpts from this year’s double Lammy Finalist (Gay Mystery)  – Lambda Literary Award winner (and multi-nominated), author, Marshall Thornton!

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Exclusive Excerpt #1 – Lambda Finalist – Boystown 10: Gifts Given

Given what I’ve seen, given what I’ve lived, it strikes me that love is a kind of madness. An insanity that poses as a necessity, tricking us into believing we need it as much as breath, as much as life itself. A sensible man would run from it, bar the doors, hide in a cupboard like a child, rifle through the kitchen drawers looking for a weapon to stave it off. A sensible man would have nothing to do with love. I am not a sensible man.

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A week before Christmas, a Tuesday, I asked my friend Brian to go shopping with me. I needed his help picking out a gift for my live-in boyfriend, Joseph Biernacki, which was how we ended up standing in a very long line, empty-handed, waiting to get into Marshall Field’s Walnut Room for lunch. We’d done exactly forty-five minutes of shopping, most of it spent looking at watches even though I knew that was the wrong gift for Joseph. He’d given me a Swatch for our six-month anniversary, so a watch felt wrong, repetitive and unoriginal. Besides, I’d accidentally thrown the Swatch he’d given me away—and I didn’t want to remind him. I was also a little afraid he’d buy me a new one for Christmas.

“You know, lunch is going to take two hours,” I pointed out. “Maybe we should go out to State Street and buy a slice of pizza.” There were greasy little pizza places roughly every two blocks.

“Isn’t this a Chicago tradition, though? A Christmas lunch at Field’s?” Brian asked. He’d grown up downstate. But he was right, lunch at Field’s was a Christmas tradition. Hence the line we were in.

It was something I’d done a dozen times as a child. My mother, like thousands of mothers, had brought my brothers and me each year for shopping and lunch. Unfortunately, whatever fond memories I had of that had been obliterated by the fact that the last time I was in Field’s I’d been shot at.

“It’s not a tradition I need to repeat,” I said.

He read the impatience on my face and said, “Hold on a second,” before walking up to the hostess stand. After a brief conversation he turned and waved at me to join him.

When I got there, the hostess smiled and said, “Right this way.”

As we walked through the atrium, passing the giant, three-story Christmas tree, I whispered into Brian’s ear. “How did you manage this?”

“You’ll see.”

The hostess led us across the wood-paneled dining room—presumably walnut given the name of the place—to a table that sat in the corner in front of two enormous windows looking out at a random collection of Loop office buildings. Sugar Pilson sat alone at a table for four. She was casual but elegant in a cabled cream-colored sweater and a pair of washed-out, high-waisted jeans. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she looked more like the cheerleader she was rumored to have once been than the socialite she actually was. I’d met her years before on a case, but she was now more Brian’s friend than mine. Not that I didn’t like her immensely, it’s just that she and Brian did charity work together for Howard Brown, creating a bond between them I wasn’t part of.

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Obviously, Brian had known Sugar was there, so why had we waited in line at all? Were they planning to pretend we were meeting accidentally?

As soon as the hostess walked away, I said, “This is a setup, isn’t it? What’s going on?”

“Of course it’s a set-up, darling. I need to have a professional conversation with you.”

I took off my trench coat and threw it over the fourth chair beside Sugar’s white fox car coat. Brian slipped his down jacket over the back of his chair.

“Why not just come to my office?” I asked as I sat down.

“I’ve driven by your office. Really Nick, how do you expect to attract clients? Your name isn’t on the door and it looks like the kind of place you’d go for a back alley abortion.”

She wasn’t wrong. My office was hardly appealing.

“Abortion is legal, Sugar, and you’re too young to know anything about back alley abortions.”

“I’m not, but it’s sweet of you to say so.”

“So, what exactly do you need?”

She didn’t answer, though, since a waitress showed up. “Can I get you something from the bar?”

“Yes, please. I’ll have one of those wonderful coffee drinks you make,” Sugar said, then she looked at Brian and me and said, “Perfect for a day like today.”

Outside, it was in the low twenties and threatening to snow. Though in all honesty, I doubted Sugar had experienced much of the weather walking from her front door to the limo and from the limo into Field’s. She’d probably been outside for a whole minute and a half.

“I’ll have the same,” I said.

“Can I have a diet Coke?” Brian asked.

When the waitress walked away, I asked Sugar again, “Why do you need my professional services?”

She took a moment, chewed some of the pink lipstick off her lower lip, and finally said, “I’ve fallen in love.”

“And like most women the first thing you thought about was hiring a private detective?”

“Nick, don’t tease her,” Brian said. “It’s not nice.”

“Sorry. I assume you think this gentleman is after your money.”

“Oh, I know he’s after my money,” Sugar said. “They always are. I need to know more about him so I can decide how much I want to spend on him.”

“That’s an interesting attitude,” I said.

“Well, it’s not like I can flip him over and check the price tag.”

Brian giggled at the image.

“All right. What’s his name?” I asked.

“There’s one more thing.”


“I have the feeling I’m being watched,” Sugar said. “It’s a feeling I don’t like.”

“Why do you feel that way?”

“Things keep showing up in Gloria’s column. Things that shouldn’t be there.”

Gloria Silver wrote “The Silver Spoon” for the Daily Herald. We had a long, unpleasant association. She was the wife of the late Earl Silver, who originally wrote the column. He was also the lover of my friend (and onetime fuck buddy) Ross. I suppose that made us sexual relatives in a way. An extremely unpleasant thought.

I read her column every day, and Sugar was right, she’d been in the column a lot. Several of the mentions had to do with her drinking habits, the others weren’t much more flattering.

“And do you think your new beau is the source of Gloria’s information?”

“No, she’s written about things he couldn’t know.”

“So you think Gloria’s having you followed?”

“Oh God, that sounds so paranoid when you say it out loud.”

The waitress brought our drinks. I took a spoon and stirred mine up. It was topped with whipped cream. Whipped cream and mustaches don’t go well together in public. I took a sip; it was warm and sweet and very strong.

“You can help her, right Nick?” Brian asked.

I wasn’t exactly ready to commit. “Tell me about the man.”

“He’s an artist. I met him at a gallery about two months ago. He paints orchids and flamingos on gigantic canvases. I bought a flamingo for my dining room. That’s how we got to know each other.”

“It’s a great painting,” Brian said.

“Isn’t it?” Sugar said. “I think it just makes the room.”

“How much was this great painting?”

“Hardly anything.”

“Hardly anything in my world is twenty bucks,” I pointed out. “How much is it in yours?”

“Five thousand.”

“Are you his only client?”

“Goodness no. He sells all the time.”

“He’s very popular,” Brian added.

“How long does it take him to paint a picture?”

“A couple of weeks. It’s hard to tell. He works on more than one at a time.”

“So he makes roughly ten grand a month and you think he might be after your money?”

“Darling, I clip coupons. And I never touch my principal.” She also she lived lavishly and gave generously, meaning that her income was large enough to impress people who made ten grand a month.

“You clip coupons? I hope that’s just an expression. I don’t like to think of you having a lot of bearer bonds lying around the house.” Bearer bonds were not registered to their owner and therefore a very convenient thing to steal. They’d also gone out of fashion and, if I wasn’t mistaken, weren’t being issued anymore.

“Of course it’s an expression,” she said. “And I don’t keep anything valuable around the house.” Except the paintings on her walls, the furs in her closet and, I’d guess, a couple handfuls of diamonds lying about.

“We should get back on topic. We were talking about your painter. Michael France.”

“Oh Nick, you know his name! You’re psychic, aren’t you? That must be so useful in your line of work.”

“I read ‘The Silver Spoon.’ Gloria has been promoting him for a while now. A year? Longer?”

“How can you read that dreadful witch?” We’d both had run-ins with Gloria. It was something we had in common. Gloria hated both of us.

“I read her because I like to know what the witch is up to.” Of course, it was obvious that Sugar read the column every day herself. Then something occurred to me. Michael France was a sort of protégé of Gloria’s, or possibly…

“Sugar? Did you steal Gloria’s boyfriend?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it exactly like that.”

Brian, though, was furiously nodding his head.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Didn’t you tell me that Gloria was in love with some twenty-five-year-old who was robbing her blind?”

“He’s not twenty-five, he’s almost thirty. And apparently Gloria is doing just fine since she bought a condo on Lake Shore and Burton. Two bedrooms, three hundred thousand dollars.”

“A hundred and fifty thousand a bedroom?”

“Well, it is an entire floor. And it has more bathrooms than bedrooms.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I know her real-estate agent.”

“I guess the Daily Herald pays better than I thought.”

“It doesn’t. She acts like she comes from money, but I don’t think she does.”

“Did they give her a discount for publicity?”

“A steep discount, I imagine.”

Another waitress came and asked if we wanted to order lunch. There was wait staff everywhere running around and they didn’t seem too concerned with who did what. I ordered the Walnut Room’s famous chicken potpie, Sugar ordered a salad, and Brian ordered meatloaf.

When we were alone again, I said, “I’ll do a standard background check, but I’d also like to meet France—if you don’t think that would be too awkward.”

“There’s a holiday open house at his studio on Thursday. I’ve already invited Brian. Come as his guest. Don’t mention that I’ve hired you.”

“Of course not. Do you plan to tell him, though? At some point?”

“It depends on what you find.”

The conversation drifted to the AIDS test that was supposed to be coming out soon. The test was still being tested, and activists were already raising concerns about confidentiality and whether insurance companies or employers might be able to get hold of your results.

“I was having a conversation with a board member about creating a testing center where people could be tested for free on a strictly confidential basis,” Brian said.

“Does it really matter, though?” I asked. “There’s no cure. So what good is knowing?”

“I’ve heard that before. I think it’s better to know. So that people can take precautions.”

“People are already taking precautions.” Precautions that don’t always work, I did not add.

“Darling, it’s not just about individuals. The test is also important for research and helping doctors learn how to treat their patients.” That was annoyingly true.

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Exclusive Excerpt #2: Night Drop by Marshall Thornton

At times I felt like a ghost. I think I hadn’t had enough time to become myself before I met Jeffer, and then I was part of Noah and Jeffer, Jeffer and Noah. We went to a party once and I overheard someone saying about me, “It’s like he has no personality when Jeffer leaves the room.” It was a cruel thing to say, mostly because it felt true.

That’s what I was thinking about as I drove home in a riot. Strange, I thought. Very strange. But then I remembered it was almost the anniversary of Jeffer’s getting sick; the great unraveling of secrets and lies; the beginning of my floating away from him, ghostlike and empty.

My apartment was less than a mile from Pinx Video. Around the time Jeffers died, I’d moved to a small, one-bedroom apartment on a hill in Silver Lake. Not one of the better hills, a hill well below Sunset. The good part of Silver Lake was north of Sunset surrounding the actual lake, of course. Fanning out from there were some decent blocks, but then, when you crossed Sunset, you came to a hilly area where altitude and income fell into step. The wealthier people lived at the top of the hills, while the poor and desperate lived at the bottom.

Not that my apartment was the kind of place where rich people lived. The dishwater gray building was a small six-unit L wrapped around a shabby, old-growth courtyard. There were thick, shaggy palms, birds of paradise and a dribbling fountain, leaving only enough room for a single metal table and chairs. A cement stairway—painted rusty red—came up from the street and garages to the courtyard, then a wooden stairway led to the second floor. A red-tiled walkway with white railings ran across the entire second floor.

My place was on the second floor at the front giving me a southwest view of the basin. As I was unlocking my door that morning, I glanced out and saw plumes of smoke rising above the city in at least a dozen spots. I suppose most of them had been there when I’d left two hours before, but I hadn’t thought much about them, assuming they were left over from the night before. Now they seemed ominous; a hint of the future rather than a glimpse of the past.

I wasn’t sure if the apartment measured six hundred square feet, if it did it was just that. The living room was small, too small for a full sofa so I had a second-hand love seat that I’d wrapped in a crazy black and purple print I’d gotten at the new IKEA in Burbank. Beside that there wasn’t much other than a black leather chair with a bent-wood frame—also from IKEA, it was called POONG or something unpronounceable along those lines—a veneered armoire from the thirties which held my 13-inch TV/VCR combo, my video collection (or at least part of it), a compact stereo and a stack of CDs I’d gotten from a record club. On the wall over the POONG chair hung a Hockney poster that Jeffer had bought me at the LACMA retrospective in eighty-eight.

There was a faux Danish modern dinette set that I’d put in front of the window next to the dining area off the kitchen. That area was too small for the table, so I’d turned it into an office area by putting my sixties-style metal desk under the corner windows.

The minuscule, U-shaped kitchen had appliances that were brand new when I was in high school and very little counter space, most of which was taken up by my most important appliance, the microwave.

The bedroom had a wall of closets, and a wall of built-in cabinets and drawers, leaving exactly enough room for a queen-sized bed. I had set my bed in front of a do-it-yourself bookcase made of concrete blocks and planks of wood, using it as a kind of headboard. This eliminated the need for nightstands, which there wasn’t room for anyway. I’d painted the entire apartment dove gray and put in bright white miniblinds. I ignored the sculptured brown carpet as best I could.

I put on a Dionne Warwick CD and kicked off my shoes. I went into the bathroom to wash my face. I don’t think it was dirty, but just the idea of a riot made everything seem sooty and thick. I tried not to look at myself. If I had I would not have seen the ghost I felt like but instead a reasonably attractive young man of around twenty-eight. I had brown eyes and unremarkable but symmetrical features. The most noticeable thing about me was my hair. It was massively thick and stubborn. It did whatever it chose and I had little say in the matter. I’d tried every product out there and nothing tamed the beast on my head. At that particular moment it needed cutting, but I could hardly put out a bulletin to stop the riot so I could find a barber.

I tried even harder not to look at the rest of me. If you were being unkind you’d call me delicate, frail, skinny—I couldn’t for the life of me keep weight on—elf-like even. And if you were being kind, well, there were few kind words for a man of my stature.

Dionne was nearly finished loving Paris when the phone rang. I pressed pause on the CD player and picked up the cordless. It was Louis from downstairs.

“Marc is on his way home from the studio. They’re shutting down. Did you close the video store?”

“I did.”

“Good idea. I’m making lunch. Come down.”

I’d barely said yes when he hung up. Louis was partial to short telephone chats and long after-dinner conversations. I didn’t need to change my clothes; I dressed casually at Pinx—though not as casually as my employees. Still, I changed into a pair of khaki shorts, flip-flops, a mock turtleneck and an over-sized jean jacket. I ran a comb through my hair but quickly gave up trying to subdue it. Then went down to the courtyard about ten minutes later.

Louis had a glass of chardonnay already poured for me. The sky was thick with clouds—the marine layer—but that didn’t matter. There was an umbrella stuck into the center of the metal table in the extremely remote chance it rained.

Sitting on the ground next to the table was a high-end boom box tuned to KCRW. They were discussing whether the Federal government might now file charges against the LAPD officers accused of beating King. The guest was fairly certain they would.

“We live in strange times,” Louis said coming out of his apartment. He and Marc lived directly below in an apartment that was identically small. While I had a view, they’d claimed this end of the courtyard for themselves.

Wearing navy shorts, penny loafers, a light blue dress shirt and an apron that said “Finger Lickin’ Good,” Louis was tall, nearly forty and spreading in the middle. His eyes protruded a bit and his smile was wide, giving him the look of a jovial frog. I wasn’t the first to notice it; there was a collection of miniature frogs on his kitchen windowsill. In one hand he held a plate full of uncooked ribs.

“We live in strange times, so you thought you’d barbecue?” I asked.

“It was that or pack up the car and flee.”

He set the ribs on the table and bent over a small hibachi. In a short while, he had the coals lit and sat down with me at the table.

“So. Can you believe the verdict?” he asked.

“It was shocking.”

“I don’t see how they could come to that decision. Between the videotape and Gates himself saying it was…what was the word he used, an aberration?”

I sipped the wine. It was cold, sweet and tart at the same time, and warming as it went down. The glass had sprouted beads of water. I rubbed at them while I listened to the sirens in the distance.

“I don’t remember much about the beating. I wasn’t paying attention,” I admitted.

“Well, it wasn’t an aberration. I’ve seen the LAPD beat people like that before.”

“You have?”

“Absolutely. I mean, there was no video camera handy. And the person was white. But you have to know LAPD makes a habit of this.”

“So, it’s systemic?”

“Again, the video. Look at all those other cops standing around watching, doing nothing. That’s systemic.”

“What about people saying King was on PCP?”

“And it gives you superhuman strength?”

I shrugged. That’s what they said, but I had no idea.

“If that man had superhuman strength they left it out of the video,” Louis said.

Just then, Marc came up the stairs. He was smaller and wider than Louis, and about ten years younger. He wore gray wool slacks, a white shirt and a red tie. In one hand, he carried the jacket that went with the slacks, in the other a scuffed briefcase. His face was round and his lips were what my mother’s generation would have called bee-stung.

Not bothering to go inside, he flopped down in one chair and tossed his things in another, before he pulled out a pack of extra-long menthol cigarettes.

“Oh. My. God. I just drove through hell.” He lit his cigarette and inhaled. “I took Washington to Vermont, my normal route. Huge mistake. I had no idea that South Central was like a block away from there. A block! They started talking about it on the radio. Did you know that it goes all the way up to the 10? I certainly didn’t. And there I was, a block from the 10. And then, almost as soon as I realize that, I glance over and there are these guys trying to break into a liquor store on the other side of the street. I mean, the place had all these security bars and they’re just ripping them down like they’re curtains—Louis, why haven’t you gotten me a glass of wine?”

“Well dear, it seemed rude to walk away while you were talking.”

“Go get me wine. I’ll talk louder.” He inhaled deeply from his cigarette. “So, every few blocks there’s someone trying to break into a business and then…OH MY GOD!” he yelled so Louis could hear him inside. “I get to Washington and Vermont and there are two, not one but TWO GAS STATIONS ON FIRE!”

Louis came out of the apartment with a fresh glass of wine for himself and one for Marc. “You didn’t stop for any red lights, did you?”

“Are you crazy? Not after the things we saw on TV last night.” He took the glass of wine. “Oh thank God.” After a long sip, he continued. “I don’t know what happened. This morning—I mean, I drove the same route at eight-thirty—nothing was happening, nothing was being broken into, and nothing was on fire.”

“I guess rioters like to sleep in,” Louis suggested. “They were up late last night, after all.”

“Did you really run red lights?” I asked.

“Only the one at Washington and Vermont.”

“So, there were no fire engines at that intersection? No police?”

“No, the gas stations were just burning.”

“Well,” said Louis. “We’re glad you made it home safe.”

“Yes, my being dragged from the car and beaten would have ruined your appetite.”

“Well, it would have,” Louis said. “Though not as much as worrying about how I’d get the Infiniti back.” He looked at me and said, “It’s on a lease.”

I enjoyed Marc and Louis and their banter. I felt safe with them for some reason. I wondered what Jeffer would have thought of them. I doubt he’d have liked them. I remember the first time I brought Jeffer up, Marc said, “Good God, what kind of a name is Jeffer?”

“He was Jeff as a child. And then Jeffrey. But he liked Jeffer best.”

“Pretentious,” Marc said.

“Now, now,” Louis interrupted. “Don’t speak ill of the dead. Not when there are living people you can speak ill of.” And then he did just that, taking a few swipes at the president, who I found too bland to be worth insulting, or Pat Robertson or the mayor. It was fine with me, of course, since I preferred to talk about anything but Jeffer.

“Did you close the video store?” Marc asked.

“Of course, he closed the video store,” Louis replied for me. “He’s here isn’t he? He wouldn’t just leave his employees to fend for themselves.”

“Do you think it will be all right?” Marc asked, pointedly ignoring his lover.

“Well, they’re not sure it’s going to get this far,” I said. “I’ve heard most of it is still happening in South Central and Koreatown.”

“Yes, I imagine Koreatown’s getting slammed,” Louis said. “It’s one thing to murder a child. It’s another to get off scot-free.”

“It was involuntary manslaughter,” Marc corrected.

“You say potato I say murder.”

White flakes of ash began falling through the air. One or two at first, then more. The wind picked them up somewhere nearby. A somewhere nearby that was on fire.

“And Koreatown didn’t kill the girl, that cashier did. It’s not the neighborhood’s fault. It’s really the judge’s fault, she’s the one who reduced the sentence. They should go burn her house down and be done with it.”

“And the jury out in Simi Valley. They should get their houses burned down. Come to think of it, they can burn the whole Simi Valley.”

“I blame public transportation,” I said quietly.

“What?” Louis asked, and they both looked at me.

“Public transportation is terrible in L.A. The rioters can’t get to Simi Valley.”

Louis erupted into laughter. He put the ribs onto the hibachi, and when he stood up noticed the white flakes of ash floating in the air.

“Huh. Who says it never snows in Los Angeles.”

An Exclusive Interview with the Dynamic, Gay Mystery/Thriller Author, Gregory Ashe

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Gregory, thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to answer a few brief questions about yourself, and your writing for the members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to do this. It’s an honor to be asked to participate.

Author Gregory Ashe

JM – Where were you born, and where do you live now?  

GA – I’m a St. Louis native. Although I moved away for college, grad school, and then work, I came back a few years ago. I love the city; it’s great for so many reasons: the culture, the food, the history, the parks, etc. Among other things, I was surprised on my return to find that St. Louis has a strong LGBTQ+ community. It also has a strong writing community. I feel like I lucked out!

JM – Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your life with us?

GA – Oh boy. The sad truth is that I’m very boring. I work full time (I teach at a local high school), and in my free time, I try to read and write as much as possible. I also do exciting things like laundry, grocery shopping, and home repair (I’m still learning a lot about this last one). Every once in a while, I still try dating. I used to travel a fair amount for research, but now my adventures are limited to summer vacation. I’m still trying to figure out where I might go this year!

JM – Do you write full-time, have a 9-5, or are you a Lottery Winner?

GA – Writing full time sounds like a dream job; maybe one day I’ll get there. Right now, I’m lucky that I love the work I do teaching high school (my students might not be quite as enthusiastic, however).

JM – How long have you been writing/publishing?

GA – Like many writers, I imagine, I’ve been writing and telling stories for about as long as I can imagine. My siblings were fairly good sports about it until puberty hit! For a long time, I thought of myself as a writer even though I wasn’t actually writing anything. A series of experiences changed my mind about that, and about ten years ago, I started writing regularly.

JM – Do you write in other genres besides gay mystery/thriller/suspense?

GA – I’ve written in high fantasy, urban fantasy, and gay mystery/thriller. I also have an abandoned sci-fi (cyberpunk) novel that I still intend on finishing one day.

JM – Have you always self-published your writing? I ask because your finished product is of great quality, which isn’t always the case in this hyper-insane, electronic publishing market.

GA – That’s an incredibly generous thing to say. Thank you. I have always self-published. I’ve had a few near-misses with traditional publishers, but nothing has ever landed for me. That being said, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that my work has improved over the last ten years. I keep my older books available for sale, but I hope readers will recognize that my self-publishing skills and my writing craft have grown. My advice is always to preview first; I feel like that gives a fair idea of what you’re buying.

JM – You are a new author for me, having discovered your gay mystery/suspense novel, Pretty Pretty Boys, shortly after its release in Nov. 2017. I quickly snapped up the second novel in the series, Transposition, and have pre-ordered the third, The Paternity Case. Is Hazard/Somer’s your first series? How did the characters come about for you?  

GA – Again, thank you for the very kind words. I have–boy, let me think–I think, I have five series that I’ve previously published. No, six. Two of them are m/m paranormal (no were-creatures or vampires): Hollow Folk and The Sophistries of June. A third (Witte & Co. Investigations) is historical fantasy with a strong m/m romance line (although not the main plot). See above for my caveat about my growth as a writer and self-publisher.

Your question about how Hazard and Somers came about is a good one. I know that many authors say that they’re not sure where an idea came from; it just popped into their head. That’s happened to me before, but it wasn’t the case with this series. I remember vividly when I first heard the story of Jesse Valencia, a student at Mizzou who was killed by a closeted cop in order to cover up their relationship (http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/05/23/rios/). That was the seed for this story; Hazard and Somers grew out of it. (JM–I know this story well; how ironic – I have a drafted plot idea influenced by this story in a folder (along with some research) that I wrote in 2011 – great writing minds think alike, lol!).

I have a longer account of how the piece developed, including a few surprising twists along the way, that I’ll be sharing with subscribers to my email list when Paternity Case launches at the beginning of April. I hope anyone interested will sign up!

JM – I so enjoyed Pretty Pretty Boys; the push and pull, yin and yang, rather complicated relationship between MCs, Emery (Hazard) Hazard and John-Henry Somerset (Somers), both detectives in the small-town Wahredua Police Department make the novels work! At the beginning of the series, Somers has remained in Wahredua, MI his entire life; Hazard has just returned to his hometown in disgrace upon getting fired from his former detective’s job in big city, USA; What a set up! So much history to explore from page one! How many books in the series are you planning?   

GA – That’s a lovely description of the dynamic I’ve attempted to create in the books; thank you. The short answer to your question is: I don’t know yet. The slightly longer answer: I’m finishing a six-book arc that will resolve the back-and-forth of Hazard and Somers’s relationship, as well as one (maybe two) of the major recurring antagonists. However, I’ve already planned a second arc for the two detectives, and I plan on writing that second set of novels if there’s still interest.

JM – You have been successful in creating two strong-willed characters that are enemies as much as they are friends; yet their unique personalities make it work between them. The novels have complex, twisty mysteries, and yet romantic undertones (not giving anything away, here!) Have you always been a romantic?

GA – Ha! Yes. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I came out relatively late in life, and so my experience with romance is still, to some degree, mediated and second-hand. Now, I spend a lot of my time convincing myself that I’m a rigorous intellectual, but the reality is that my brain turns mushy whenever I meet a nice guy. Although, (maybe this is too much honesty) it’s been a long time since I met a nice guy . . .

 JM – On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time answering questions of the genre. Can you share a little about your current release and/or WIP?

 GA – Jon, thank you for making me feel so welcome in this community. I really appreciate it. I’ve got two WIP right now: I’m finishing revisions on Paternity Case, which releases April 6, 2018, and I’m writing Guilt by Association (book four of the Hazard and Somerset mysteries). Guilt by Association takes Hazard and Somers to the next level: they are facing a tougher mystery, their work lives are compromised when the mayor hands-off their case, and they find their relationship hurtling towards . . . well, that’s the problem. Neither of them knows. Yet. I’m looking forward to releasing this book in early summer.

Thanks again, Jon, for having me here!

 Do you have questions for Gregory Ashe? Please feel free to contact him via email: (ashegr@gmail.com) or via his website: www.gregoryashe.com

Exclusive Excerpt: Pretty Pretty Boys by Gregory Ashe (Hazard & Somerset #1)


After Emery Hazard loses his job as a detective in Saint Louis, he heads back to his hometown–and to the local police force there. Home, though, brings no happy memories, and the ghosts of old pain are very much alive in Wahredua. Hazard’s new partner, John-Henry Somerset, had been one of the worst tormentors, and Hazard still wonders what Somerset’s role was in the death of Jeff Langham, Hazard’s first boyfriend.

Author Gregory Ashe

When a severely burned body is discovered, Hazard finds himself drawn deeper into the case than he expects. Determining the identity of the dead man proves impossible, and solving the murder grows more and more unlikely. But as the city’s only gay police officer, Hazard is placed at the center of a growing battle between powerful political forces. To his surprise, Hazard finds an unlikely ally in his partner, the former bully. And as they spend more time together, something starts to happen between them, something that Hazard can’t–and doesn’t want–to explain.

The discovery of a second mutilated corpse, though, reveals clues that the two murders are linked, and as Hazard gets closer to answers, he uncovers a conspiracy of murder and betrayal that goes deeper–and closer to home–than he could ever expect.

Exclusive Excerpt:

Chapter 3

October 24



They drove in a tan Impala with cloth seats and a pine-scented air freshener glued to the central vent. Neither man spoke, and Hazard took advantage of the silence to reorient himself. He’d lost his cool as soon as Somers had opened his mouth. No, it was worse than that. He’d lost control. It was like he’d been outside his head, watching, unable to stop as he got angrier and angrier. Every word Somers had said had been like dumping gasoline on a house fire.

And it didn’t help that Somers was so breezy. Everything he did and said came off cool, collected, composed, like he didn’t have a fuck to give for anything or anyone. In spite of his determination not to look, Hazard studied the man. John-Henry Somerset hadn’t changed. Sure, his blond hair was shorter and crisply styled, and he’d added on a few inches of lean muscle. But the major things hadn’t changed. He still had his preppy good looks: his smooth, golden tan, his eyes like tide pools, jaw cut sharp as a straight razor. He still had that way of walking, his shoulders back and his head up, like he owned this city and the next one over and he expected everyone to know it. Perfect—the word popped into Hazard’s head. John-Henry was still so goddamn perfect.

Somers shifted, as though sensing Hazard’s gaze, and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. His cuff slid back, exposing a stretch of darkly-inked skin. Well, Hazard thought. That was very interesting. The golden boy had a tattoo; maybe John-Henry had changed a little.

“The guy we’re going to see, he’s a college student. His name is Rosendo, I think. I’ve got it written down. He reported vandalism this morning, and a patrol car went past. They passed it up to us.”

“Because it has to do with what? This PR crap?”

With a small shrug, Somers said, “Kind of. There’s been a lot of this going around.”

“Vandalism? That’s what we deal with?”

“This is about the most interesting thing we’ve had all year. And it’s not just vandalism. It’s a hate crime or the next thing to it. LGBT community is getting targeted for the most part, although it spills over.”

“And I’m the band-aid?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“The fuck it isn’t. What were they going to do? Hire me, parade me around town, show everybody they were a progressive department and then—what? Shove me in a corner to do paperwork?”

Somers didn’t answer.

After a moment, Hazard laughed. “The LGBT community, huh? What? You guys finally have enough queers around here to throw a stick at? Guess things change.”

“They—there’s always been a community here. You know, because of the college. But you’re right: things have changed.”

The way Somers said it, with that earnest tone and Boy Scout look, made it clear what he meant: he meant that he’d changed, that Wahredua had changed, that the world had changed. That was a nice dish of bull crap, as far as Hazard was concerned.

“Wroxall?” Hazard said. “That’s like two classrooms and a cafeteria.”

“Maybe twenty years ago. They’ve grown. A lot. Enrollment is around fifteen thousand.”

“Fifteen thousand? You’re joking.”

“No. And Wahredua had to grow too. The city’s pushing ninety thousand. We’re officially a city, you know, not a town anymore. And the college has brought the blue vote. All the old hippies, organic farmers, musicians, deadheads. It’s different.”

Hazard grunted; he’d believe it when he saw it. “Tell me about Cravens.”

“She’s decent. She’s a politician, but only because that’s her job. She’ll stick by you, for the most part. She bakes some good cupcakes and brings them on Fridays.”

“What’d you have to say to get her to hire me?”

“She wanted to hire you. I didn’t have to say anything.”

“What’d you say?”

“She thought you’d be good as the department’s face. You know: brooding detective, great shoulders, killer ass. You could—”

Hazard felt that same old house-fire burning deep inside him. “What’d you say?”

“It was just a joke. C’mon, lighten up.”

“Jesus, you really are the same, aren’t you? All right. Let’s get it all out on the table. Yeah, I’m gay. I like to fuck guys. Is that clear?”

Somers was shaking his head, his eyes fixed on the road.

“I asked you a question.”


“All right. You think it’s funny or weird or gross. Fine. You want to give me shit about it. Fine. You want to make my life hell. Fine. I’m not the kid you used to push around. I’ve done this whole pony show before. If you think you’ve got something that the guys in St. Louis didn’t already try, you’ve got another thing coming. It didn’t work for them, and it sure as hell isn’t going to work for you. I’m not going—”

“Jesus Christ,” Somers growled, his cool snapping for the first time since Hazard had seen him. Somers jerked the wheel to the right, and the tires rumbled against the curb. They pulled to the end of the block, and Somers unbuckled his seatbelt. “Get out of the car. Right now.”

Without waiting for a reply, Somers kicked his door open and walked to the sidewalk.

Hazard only hesitated a moment. He had his .38, and if it came to that, he wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in John-Henry’s perfect golden tan. But the best odds were that Somers was going to try to slug him. Somers was right-handed. He had muscle, but lean, more like a runner—he didn’t have Hazard’s bulk. Hazard knew the drill. He’d move into the punch, take it on his shoulder or arm instead of on his jaw, and then he’d land one that would knock Somers out of the county.

When Hazard got to the sidewalk, though, Somers just shrugged out of his jacket, folded it, and held it out to Hazard.

Hazard stared at the coat and raised an eyebrow.

“Hold it for me,” Somers insisted. “And then why don’t you break my jaw or my nose or whatever the fuck you’re determined to do, and then we can get on with our day.”

Hazard hesitated again. Was this a fake-out? Would he swing as soon as Hazard reached for the jacket?

“For God’s sake,” Somers grumbled. He tossed the jacket on the ground and took a step forward, tilting his head back and presenting his jaw. “I fucked up in high school. I get it. This is your chance.”

“Yeah, and get myself out of a job on the first day. I’m not that stupid.”

“You want to record me? You want this taped? I’ll say whatever you want me to say. You’ve got my permission to take off my fucking head, so go on and do it. I fucked up, so let’s make it right.”

The heat of the day, even this early, prickled on Hazard’s neck; sweat dampened his armpits and the small of his back. Somehow, again, Somers had thrown him off balance, and Hazard couldn’t seem to get his feet planted.

Somers took another step forward. They were close enough now that Hazard could feel the heat pouring off Somers, could smell the clean scent of Somers’s deodorant, could see the nearly invisible blond stubble on Somers’s jaw.

“Are you going to do it or not? Either you hit me right now, as hard as you want, as much as you want, and you get it out of your fucking system, or you drop the chip from your shoulder and we go do this interview. I don’t know about you, but I want to do my job.”

“Fuck you.”

Somers waited a full minute, his eyes still locked with Hazard’s, before Hazard finally looked away. Somers grunted and got back into the Impala. After a moment, Hazard followed. Then he stopped, turned back, and gathered the fallen jacket. He dusted it off and climbed into the passenger seat. Wordlessly, he shoved the jacket at Somers.


“Let’s get one thing straight,” Hazard said, his eyes on the dashboard. “I’ll work with you. I’m your partner. I’ve got your back, as far as that goes, and you can count on me when it comes to the job. But if you think I’m going to forgive and forget because you’ve gone to college and you think you’re open-minded now and can crack jokes with your faggot partner, you’re wrong. I know you. I know the special kind of piece of shit you are. Even if nobody else knows, even if you’ve got them all fooled, I know.” Hazard tapped his chest where the three shiny lines still marked him, but inside, he was thinking about what Mikey Grames and Hugo Perry and John-Henry Somerset had done to Jeff, that summer when they’d cut up Hazard’s chest, what they’d done to Jeff when they’d really gotten going. “You made sure I’d never forget.”

Somers paled as he took the jacket. He held it awkwardly, as though unsure of what to do with it, and then dropped it in his lap. He fumbled the key in the ignition, started the car, and then, his face pitched towards the floorboards, said, “I know I fucked up. But I am different. All I’m saying is give me a chance.”

Hazard didn’t answer; he’d said everything he needed to say.

Struggle showed in Somers’s face, and as he shifted the car into gear, he blurted, “And I wasn’t cracking jokes or trying to be funny. You do have a killer ass. So fuck you.”

And that, Hazard decided as they pulled away from the curb, made it official: the whole world had gone batshit.

Discover more of author Gregory Ashe:

Website: https://www.gregoryashe.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Gregory-Ashe/e/B004YYND70/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1179529.Gregory_Ashe

The God Game: (A Dan Sharp Mystery Book 5) by Jeffrey Round

From THE GOD GAME: A Dan Sharp Mystery

Dundurn Press

By Jeffrey Round

© 2018


When the husband of a government aide disappears, private investigator Dan Sharp is hired to track him down. But when his investigation catches the attention of a mysterious political operative known only as the “Magus,” the case gets too close to home. After a body turns up on his doorstep, Dan races to catch a killer and prove his innocence.

Prologue: Toronto, 2013


Never in his life had anything like this happened to him before. He was not the sort of man to be given the sack. And that was precisely why he’d been drinking for the past two weeks. I am not the sort of man to be given the sack, he told himself as he grabbed at his bootlace and pulled. I am John Badger Wilkens III and I was not — here the bootlace snapped — born to be subjected to public ridicule and disgrace.

He frowned and threw the lace down in disgust, glaring at the ragged ends as if they were to blame for his dismissal. John Wilkens, you are hereby suspended from your duties for suspected inappropriate conduct. He remembered every word. That was exactly what they had said when they came to remove him from his office.

He sat there, one boot on and one boot off, staring at the empty bourbon bottle sitting beside the empty tumbler on the otherwise empty table. What a dismal thing to be turned out for suggesting that all was not well behind the scenes at Queen’s Park. A pack of lying thugs had taken over, besmirching his name in the process. And at Christmas, of all times!

He stared at the rebellious boot. If he simply bypassed the top eyeholes and tied the laces shorter — if he could just reach them — he leaned down and grasped. There!

He needed to clear his head and think. What could he do to fight the forces marshalled against him? He’d raised his voice above the crowd and dared to suggest that things were not all they seemed. And no sooner had he spoken those words than he’d found himself facing allegations of misconduct and improper use of public funds. Absurd!

He tugged at the other boot till he had them both on, one lace shorter than the other but secure at last. He tramped to the hallway. The closet swung open with surprising ease, clipping his nose in the process. He didn’t know his own strength!

With a tug, he pulled the trench coat from its hanger and slung it over his shoulders, inserting his arms into the sleeves with difficulty. The garment resisted his efforts. When had he last worn it? The belt barely made it around his waist.

The vestibule opened onto an unseasonably mild December evening. A warm front had come in, creating a dense fog. Streetlamps gleamed like distant fireflies before vanishing around the corner. The whole world was murky.

He patted his pockets for keys. Both sets were there, house and car, but he wasn’t about to get into the driver’s seat. That was all he needed on top of everything, to be stopped for driving while intoxicated. A taxi was also out of the question. Leave no trail. He’d been warned to come alone.

He was halfway down the street before he realized that the insistent tugging at his waist was because he’d mistakenly taken his wife’s overcoat instead of his own. It crossed his mind how ridiculous he must look, but it didn’t seem to matter. Then he saw he’d also left with two mismatched gloves: one leather and the other Thinsulate. One pair for good and the other for shovelling. For pity’s sakes! he thought. Whom the gods would humiliate … !

If he’d taken a proper look before leaving, he might have noticed another small incongruity: the garage door left slightly ajar, a coil of yellow nylon rope missing from its interior. He might have, but his thoughts were elsewhere.

Staggering along, it came to him with a flash of drunken clarity: they were going to gang up and pin this on him. With the election coming, that egregious minister and his mob of supporters were cooking things up to besmirch his party. And they thought there was nothing he could do to stop them.

They were wrong! He had a secret weapon. He’d peeked behind the curtain and discovered a thing or two in the process. But he wasn’t the only one who knew. He thought of the mysterious emails he’d recently received. We both know what’s going on here. I can help you, their sender had offered, but whether they came from friend or foe he couldn’t tell. He’d left the first unanswered. The second was more straightforward: You’re running out of time. Talk to me.

Whatever the sender knew, it meant he wasn’t the only one sitting on such explosive information. Someone besides him realized what was going on. Someone outside the inner circle of ministers and flunkies in the government, maybe even someone with a vested interest in bringing the government down.

From the start he’d tried to stay out of the rabble-rousing and keep his hands clean. But the dirt had come to him. It was impossible to avoid. And, once he began to dig, it was inevitable he would find something.

Nothing could have stopped him from looking once he had the idea. Because he had to know! How could he not? Nine hundred and fifty million! All that public funding down the drain! It still seemed impossible to believe even when he’d seen the proof.

The final message came the afternoon he was suspended. It’s you or them. Deal with me or I go public, his secret sharer had warned.

None of the notes had been signed, but he had his suspicions. They’d all heard rumours of a mysterious, behind-the-scenes manipulator who could make or break you. A Magus. He hadn’t believed in the Magus, but that had been naïve of him. It just made things that much easier to do the dirty work if the world refused to believe in you.

When the problems surfaced, he’d thought of resigning to save face for the party, but it was too late. They wanted a scapegoat. A martyr.

But now it was his turn. He was going to tell his mysterious contact everything he knew in return for clearing his reputation. One thing was sure, he wasn’t going to have this pinned on him like some apparatchik run afoul of the Kremlin.

“Information for information,” he said aloud to the fog as he stumbled along. “You want to know what I know, then you tell me what you know and how you know it.”

His breath swirled, joining the wisps and curlicues of a diaphanous curtain. He stopped and looked back. His home had disappeared in the whiteness. Thank goodness he’d sent Anne away. His cheeks burned with the memory of having to tell her he’d done nothing wrong, but that it might look otherwise until he could reveal a few simple truths. I will clear my name if it’s the last thing I do, he’d told her. Because the whole fucking mess would come out in the wash sooner or later. And then he would be vindicated.

He stumbled along, wondering who he was about to meet. He had his suspicions: it was likely to be one of those beastly reporters hanging around the assembly, sifting the dirt, looking for a juicy story. Whoever it was had found a good one and locked onto the likeliest target: John Badger Wilkens III. To his everlasting shame.

Why do you want to go into politics, Badger? his father had asked years ago. It’s a dirty business. Don’t you know that? John simply shook his head, thinking of ambition. Thinking of righting a few wrongs in the world. But to do that, you had to stay clean yourself. You’re too good for the rabble, Badger. Don’t besmirch yourself.

In his father’s day, politics meant that the big boys came in and assessed the scene then hired the companies to mine for ore and, once that ore was found, they let the corporations bid on the right to extract it. Corporations owned by friends. Next they set hiring standards and got other friends to implement those standards into law and pay the workers, men so desperate for work and so ignorant of what safety meant ever to refuse a job. They came from all over the country, with their wives and children trailing behind. There were always accidents as they stripped the earth and polluted the environment till the vegetation died and the rivers ran rust and someone cried foul, then safety standards were enacted and environmental laws set up to counteract the destruction until the day the ore itself ran out and the workers went elsewhere to start all over again, leaving behind ravaged landscapes and empty pockets for most but swollen bank accounts for a privileged few, the company executives, who simply waited for the next big strike-it-rich opportunity.

And always there were secrets to be kept, names to be protected. Then more laws were enacted to shield those same men from legal repercussions as the whole thing went round and round again. It was never the men you saw, but the men you didn’t see, who made the wheels turn in their tortured, squeaking revolutions.

That was what his father had warned him about, those men you didn’t see coming. The ones John had vowed never to be like or outsmarted by. It was a relief to know his father had died before finding out how true his words were.

John staggered to a corner to read the sign: Heath Street. How on earth … ? In the fog and in his drunken state he’d ended up on one of those little cul-de-sacs backing onto the ravine. The signs had been warning him: No Exit.

A private place, the voice on the phone said. Somewhere close to your home. And then the promise for discretion: Come alone. It’s just a talk. There’ll be no witnesses.

A pile of refuse loomed off to the right. His father had been right: politics was dirt, filth. And there was no one he could turn to except a mysterious emailer intent on discovering what he knew. Well then. Let me tell you what I know, he would say.

He reached the end of the alleyway. The moon suddenly snapped into view, a bone-luminous light coming through the fog. Beyond lay the immensity of the galaxy, the universe spreading on forever. In that moment of illumination, he saw stairs off to his left leading down to the ravine. He was saved!

Then just as suddenly the light was gone again. Eclipsed. It dawned on him that it was nothing more than a streetlamp with a rickety connection. So much for the grandeur of it all. He stopped and laughed at the absurdity. They had him exactly where they wanted him.

It might have been the only moment of true perspective he’d had all week. We are nothing, he thought, peering into the swirling fog. We live and die in the blink of an eye. A brief space between two eternities. All the while, he wondered if it was the alcohol talking. Babble, babble, babble. Just like those fools in the legislature.

Without warning he was convulsed with shame at the memory of his dismissal. The tears came quickly, clouding his vision. In his grief he sat heavily on the pavement, groping with blind hands to feel the earth beneath him.

From a distance, footsteps headed his way. He jerked his head around, wiping his eyes and stumbling to stand, not wanting to be caught in this forlorn posture. Someone was coming toward him silhouetted by the light, monstrous and grotesque, like a giant alien enlarged and projected against a screen of fog.

Suddenly he felt stone-cold sober from fear.

It was a little past seven when the fog began to lift. An early-morning jogger looked up to see the figure suspended from the bridge, an outline coming in and out of the mist. It was a man in dishevelled garb — a woman’s overcoat, mismatched gloves, and boots tied with broken laces — suspended by a yellow nylon cord.

At first the police thought it was a vagabond living in the gully, until they emptied his pockets and took a look at the ID he carried. This was no ordinary man who’d hanged himself. This was a man who’d recently been publicly disgraced. And soon the awakening city would know why.

See more of Jeffrey Rounds books at his website:



Exclusive Excerpt: Street People by Michael Nava


Ben Manso drifts through life, working as a rent boy, until an casual encounter with an eight-year old street kid named Bobby at a convenience store changes everything. When Ben sees Bobby again, the boy is with a man who claims to be Bobby’s father, but Ben suspects the man is a pedophile and the boy his captive. A third encounter draws Ben even more deeply into Bobby’s drama and forces him to face his own haunted past. After Ben’s well-intentioned plan to rescue Bobby puts the boy in even greater danger, Ben is forced to make a life-changing choice.

Street People is the story of lives at the margin, about the throw-away people we see without seeing, and the real meaning of family.


On a warm night in May, 1988, the sky above Los Angeles glowed Martian red and Ben Manso pushed his way into a 7-Eleven on Santa Monica Boulevard to buy cigarettes and condoms. The only other people in the store were a kid standing at the check-out counter and the clerk standing behind it. The boy was scrawny, brown-haired and dark-eyed—Mexican, Ben thought, wearing jeans, a dirty tee-shirt, and ratty sneakers. Waiting his turn behind the kid, Ben watched him carefully place his purchases on the grubby counter: a bag of Doritos, two pre-wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches, a carton of milk, and a Hostess cupcake.

The clerk’s name tag identified him as Ahmed. He rang up the boy’s purchases, peered at him through thick glasses and said, “Five dollars and thirty-two cents.”

The boy pulled a handful of crumpled bills and some change from his pants pocket and dumped them on the counter.

Patiently, Ahmed counted it. “This is only four-fifty,” he said gently. “Not enough. You have to put something back.”

The boy stared at him helplessly.

Ahmed picked up the cupcakes. “Take this back, ok?”

Mouth quivering, the kid took the pastry and lurched backwards, bumping into Ben.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

“Wait a second,” Ben said. “I’ll pay for his food and give me a pack of Merits.”

“Just the cigarettes?” the clerk asked.

“No,” Ben said, “A pack of Trojans, too.”

Ben slapped a twenty on the counter. Ahmed got the cigarettes and rubbers, rang everything up, and bagged the boy’s groceries. The boy grabbed the bag and threw Ben a look of startled gratitude as he hurried out of the store.

“Kind of late to be grocery shopping,” Ben said.

“He’s a street kid,” Ahmed replied. “He eats when he’s got the money. You need matches?”

“Thanks,” Ben said, accepting a matchbook advertising a nearby bailbondsman. “Are you saying he hustles?

“Could be,” Ahmed said.

“He can’t be more than eight or nine.”

Ahmed shrugged. “If he’s a seller, there’s a buyer.”

Ben tucked the cigarettes and matchbook into the pocket of his unlined ash-gray silk blazer.. “You must see a lot of sick shit working here.”

Ahmed laughed. “Yeah, they don’t call it the graveyard shift for nothing.” He picked up the rubbers. “Don’t forget these. Someone’s getting lucky.”

Ben shrugged. “Business.”

“Ah,” Ahmed said. “Take care my friend.”

Out in the parking lot, one of his pagers went off. He spotted a phone booth at the corner. Heavy traffic moved in both directions on the boulevard and the air was foul with exhaust fumes. Across the street, a teen-age kid with a mop of wild hair, in tight jeans and a wife-beater, stood beneath a streetlight smoking and peering at the passing cars. Ben stepped into the phone booth, pulled the door shut, and watched a blue Corolla pull up to the curb in front of the teen. All Ben could see of the driver was that he was male with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a blue Dodgers windbreaker.The boy approached the car, leaned into the window and after a brief exchange with the driver r, opened the passenger door and climbed inside.

“Hey, Pete,” Ben said, watching the car’s tail lights merge into traffic.

“I got a guy who’ll pay to watch us get it on,” Pete said. “You in?”

“I have a date tonight,,” Ben said.

“Meredith get to you first?”

“Yeah, it’s an overnight. Sorry, Petey.”

“Okay, cool,” he said. “Call me tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Ben said.

He hung up. A panhandler emerged from the darkness and leaned drunkenly against Ben’s Fiat. Ben smelled the guy before he reached him; he reeked of booze, body odor and unwashed clothing

“Hey, man,” Ben said. “Do you mind?”

“This your car?” the man asked, carefully forming each word.

The drunk pushed himself off the hood, pulled a filthy rag from his back pocket and said, “I’ll clean the windshield for a buck.”

“The windshield is fine,” Ben said.

“Please, man, I really need a drink.”

Impulsively, Ben asked, “What’s your name?”

It took the drunk a minute to remember. “Ron.”

Ben handed him a ten. “Here you go, Ron, for protecting my car.”

“Hey, thanks,” Ron said. “Thanks a lot.”

Clutching the bill in his hand, he lurched into the store.

Driving down the boulevard, Ben saw the kid from the store on the other side of the street lugging his little sack of groceries. He was trying to look tough but when Ben honked at him and waved, the boy jumped. He stared after Ben as if he’d seen Santa Claus and waved wildly with his free hand. For a second, Ben thought about turning around and giving the kid a ride, but he was already running late and the boy was no longer visible in his rearview mirror anyway.

He turned off Franklin and headed up the hills into a neighborhood of twisting, narrow roads, and enormous houses that commanded expensive views of the city below. At a stop sign, he fluffed his hair, put out his cigarette, and popped a breath mint. The thick scent of tuberoses in the bouquet on the passenger’s seat filled the air. Ellie was a regular, but even his regulars expected a little courtship before getting down to business; flowers to be admired and arranged in a fancy vase, the nice wine in the pretty glasses on the terrace, and the conversation that trailed off to the pregnant silence that was his signal to kiss her. No money changed hands—she had paid the agency when she requested him—but in the end, he was no different than the kid climbing into the Corolla to give a driver a ten buck blow job. They worked different streets, but they were all street people. He headed up the hill to her house.

Wade was outside his apartment in his walker when Ben let himself into the building. The old man smiled, or grimaced, it was hard to tell which. Since he’d broken his hip the summer before he was always more or less in pain. He was shapeless in an old, oversized Pendleton shirt and pair of baggy khakis. His mottled skin was like the fly-specked pages of an old book and time had dissolved his features into a puddle topped by a crown of wispy white hair. His blue eyes were still bright, however, and they missed nothing.

“Just getting home, baby?” he wheezed.


“You want some coffee?”


“Come on in and put on a pot,” Wade said.

Unless he was sleeping, Wade kept his front door open. He spent most of the day in a rocker that faced the door, trying to snare passersby into his room to visit. The other tenants hurried by because once Wade got started it was hard to shut him up. Ben didn’t mind. Ben was as natural a listener as Wade was a talker. He liked to hear the old man’s stories of his days as a bit player at the studios, tales documented by the black-and-white photographs that lined the walls of his apartment showing him with the big stars of the forties and fifties.

Wade’s room smelled faintly of bird shit. He had had a pair of canaries, Goneril and Regan. Opening the cage door to change the water one day, he’d moved too slowly and the birds had flown out and through an open window. Wade had refused Ben’s offer to replace the birds telling him, “At this rate, they’d outlive me, then what would happen to them? Unless you’d take care them.”

Ben shrugged, “I don’t know, Wade. Birds in cages? Might creep out some of my johns.”

“I thought you were strictly out-call,,” Wade crackled.

Ben smiled, “I make exceptions for the right amount of money.”

Wade knew Ben was a hustler but made no judgments since, as he had told Ben more than once, “Everyone in Hollywood has a price.”

Ben worked mostly for an agency called White Knights, which provided escorts to women, and free-lanced on the side with men. White Knights was operated by a woman named Meredith, whom he had met through Pete when they were cater waiters for the same company. One night, after working a party at Bel-Air in a steel-and-concrete house that reminded Ben of an airport hanger, he’d gone home with Pete. Later, lying in bed, Pete told him, “You’re good at sex.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“No, I mean it,” he said, taking a drag from Ben’s cigarette. “Most guys are lousy at it because all they care about is getting off. You pay attention to the other person.” He took another puff. “You fuck women, too?”

“You wanna do a threesome?”

“Just answer the question, man.”

He shrugged. “I’ve had sex with women.”

“Would you fuck someone for money?”

“You mean would I whore myself out?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, could you do it for money?”

“I never thought about it,” Ben said.

“Think about it now.”

Ben stubbed out his cigarette. For the most part, Ben, being naturally accommodating, had sex with people because they wanted him and because, having little sexual passion of his own, it interested him to observe theirs. Reading in bed late into the night was more thrilling for him than sex, a legacy of his years of boarding school when, after lights out, he had read secretly by flashlight beneath the covers in the narrow, uncomfortable beds that seemed to furnish every dorm room he had ever occupied.

“Sure,” he told Pete. “Why not?”

Pete grinned and said, “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

“What are you?” Meredith had asked Ben during his interview.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am?”

“Ah,” she said, approvingly, “nice manners, but drop the ma’am. It makes women feel old. Your look,” she continued. “It’s All-American boy, but there’s something about your eyes and skin that’s rather. . . exotic.”

She studied him with the intensity of a jeweler examining a diamond for weight, flaws, and luminosity. Her large office, on a side street off Rodeo Drive was aggressively feminine down to the spindly white and gilt Louis XIV chair on which Ben perched. Meredith herself was a tiny woman who favored shoulder pads, wore her short blonde hair like a lacquered helmet, and exuded the faint rose scent of Jean Patou’s “Joy.” Heavy but expertly applied make-up concealed any vestige of personality, but even it could not hide her square, determined jaw and shrewd eyes. Later he would learn Meredith ran the business with her lover, Carol, who, apart from being a brunette, could have been Meredith’s twin.

“Your last name, Manso,” she said, speculatively. “Italian?”

“Spanish,” Ben told her. “My father was Mexican-American, my mom is white.”

“Ah,” she said. “That explains it. God, you mixed race boys are gorgeous. Pete says you’re bisexual.”

“I guess,” he said. “I’ve never thought about it much.”

“I don’t care what you are,” she continued briskly, “as long as you can perform with a woman. Can you?”

“Yes,” he said, biting off the ‘ma’am.’ “I’ve been with women.”

“Of course,” she said quickly, “White Knights is in the business of providing companionship, not sex. Still, what happens between you and the client once she’s paid for your time is entirely up to her. Do you understand, Ben?”

He nodded.

“Oh,” she said, “and you can sleep with boys on your own time, if that’s what you’re into, but use protection and I’d better not find out you’re hustling men on the side. I will cut your balls off if I catch you free lancing.” She extracted a business card from her desk drawer and slid it to him. “This is our photographer. Make an appointment with him for this week. He’s very good, the best. Of course, you’re giving him a lot to work with.”

He tucked the card into his coat pocket. “What do you do with the pictures?”

“They go into the book,” she said.

“The book?”

“The one our clients look through when they come in for an escort.”

“What kind of pictures?” he asked, nervously.

She smiled, “Don’t worry, Ben. They’re headshots and one or two with your shirt off. Nothing that would embarrass your mother.”

Ben helped Wade into his rocker.

“God, being old is fucked,” Wade said. “It’s the most depressing thing in the world.”

Ben smiled. “Yesterday you said bad drag was the most depressing thing in the world.”

“This is worse.” Wade rocked morosely.

From the doorway of the little kitchen, Ben asked, “Did you eat today?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Inside the refrigerator was a can of Folgers, a few slices of bologna, half a loaf of bread, assorted condiments, and something in a Tupperware container covered with fuzzy mold.

“Make a grocery list. I’ll go shopping for you,” Ben said and set about making coffee.

“So, what was it last night,” Wade asked when Ben brought him a mug of coffee. “Scrumptious dick or disgusting cooze?”

Ben sat on the floor, back against Wade’s narrow bed, and smiled. “A woman.”

Wade pretended to shudder.

“Your doctor’s a woman. You like her.”

“I’ve loved many women in my time,” Wade replied. “From the neck up.” He blew across the surface of his coffee. “You ever fall in love with any of your tricks?”

“You know the old saying, Wade, when you start to come with your johns it’s time to get out of the business.”

Wade cackled. “You’re pretty smart for a whore.”

“No, I’m just another pretty face.”

“That you are, my boy. You prefer tricking with men or women?”

“Money doesn’t have a gender.”

“Get her.”

Restlessly, Ben’s gaze swept across the room. Over a dusty desk was a framed photograph of the young Wade standing at the gates MGM with a teen-aged Judy Garland.

He remembered asking Wade, “What was she like?”

“Fifteen going on fifty, poor thing,” Wade had replied.

He told Wade about the kid he’d seen at the store the night before.

“He couldn’t have been more than eight. The guy at the 7-Eleven thinks he hustles.”

“The queen who used to manage this place let street kids stay here. I think he took the rent in trade. Filthy little things.”

“Not this one,” Ben said. “He was just a little boy. Too young to be out on the streets.”

“Life’s a bitch, and then you die.”

“You’ve been reading too many tee-shirts,” Ben replied. “What do you want from the store?”

Michael Nava is the six-time Lambda Literary-award winning of the Henry Rios novels and the historical novel, The City of Palaces. His most recent work, Lay Your Sleeping Head (Korima Press, 2016), a reimagining of the first Henry Rios novel, was hailed as “one of the literary events of the year,” and earned him his tenth Lambda Literary award nomination. You can find him on Facebook at Michael Nava Writer. His website is http://michaelnavawriter.com/.

Exclusive Excerpt: A Happy Holiday (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 17) by Frank W. Butterfield


Monday, December 19, 1955

It’s early in the morning and Carter is worried that he and Nick won’t be warm enough for their Christmas trip to Vermont.

Nick, for his part, is wondering if they will ever be able to return to the big pile of rocks he’s finally come to love. An exile in France isn’t the worst thing in the world but still…

But before they can get much more than halfway from San Francisco to Vermont, they discover that the mob is after them and is on their tails, chasing them across the country as they take planes, trains, and automobiles.

They finally get to Vermont, all covered in freshly-fallen white snow, and begin to wonder if it will be their last Christmas, after all.



I opened my eyes. The room was dark but there was a bit of street light coming in around the edges of the curtains. Carter was standing next to the bed, looking down at me with a grin.

“Time to get up.”

I groaned. “I don’t wanna.”

“I know, son. You can sleep in the car.”

With that, he pulled back the covers. The room was chilly and I just wanted to go back to sleep.

“Come on,” he said, pulling on my arm.

I stood up and hugged him. “This is one of those times when I wish we were there already.”

“Where?” he asked as he ran his hands over the back of my head.


He didn’t say anything for a while. As we stood there in the dark, I could feel myself getting sleepy again.

Finally, he said, “We could take a plane from here to New York. We don’t have to go to Vermont.”

“Is that what you want?”

“No. I wanna have Christmas with all our family.”

“Even Roger?”

He laughed. “Yes, even Roger. I changed my mind about him at dinner last night.”

I sighed. “Me, too. I love him. And John, too.”

“It would break my mama’s heart if you weren’t there for Christmas.”

I sighed again. “She loves you, too.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t sound convinced.