Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 9: Lucky Days (The Boystown Series) by Marshall Thornton

Blurb:

In the ninth book of the bestselling mystery series, a young man wakes up covered in blood and no memory of the previous night. When hypnotism doesn’t help, he turns to private investigator Nick Nowak. Meanwhile, the trial of Outfit kingpin Jimmy English begins. Quickly the case begins to unravel when an important witness goes missing and Nick must put his other cases, and his home life, on hold while he goes to Las Vegas to find him.

 

Excerpt:

Jimmy’s trial was held in one of the larger courtrooms on the sixth floor of Cook County Courthouse. The room was lined in a light, polished stone, which might have matched the outside of the building if they managed to sandblast off the few decades of grime that clung to the building. There were four very large windows to the right as you walked in. The ceiling was made up of painted wooden beams with flat fluorescent lights in each of the boxes the beams formed. The jury sat opposite the windows in sixteen leather armchairs that swiveled but were bolted to the floor—they could see everything, but were denied the right to pick up their seat and throw it. An aisle separated the twelve jurors from the four alternates.

The judge’s bench was raised and looked down at the rest of the room. Next to it was a witness box on one side, and a recorder’s station on the other. Almost in the center of the room was a long table where the prosecution would sit while they presented their case; the defense would sit at another long table along the side of the room, looking straight at the jury. Mid-trial, when it was the defense’s turn to present their case, we would change positions. There were flags hanging from tall poles behind the judge, and brass embellishments running around the room near the ceiling—my bet was they had something to do with justice and that no one ever really looked at them.

The spectators would be sitting in sixteen oak pews, eight rows deep, and one pew on each side of the courtroom with an aisle in the center. The first pew on each side was designated for the defense and the state’s attorney. I wouldn’t be sitting there, though. I would be sitting in one of four chairs that lined the wall behind the defense table.

When I arrived that morning Jimmy was already there, seated at the defense table but pushed back a few feet, resting his hands on his cane. He’d aged quite a bit in the few years I’d known him. I can’t imagine the stress of a criminal investigation is good for the skin; his was pale and thin as plastic wrap. Standing near him were Nathan Babcock—fiftyish, tall, patrician, neatly groomed—and Owen Lovejoy, Esquire—shortish, stocky wearing an expensive suit and over-large tortoiseshell glasses. We’d been friends for a couple of years and I was fairly certain he was a better lawyer than Babcock. It was unlikely he’d ever be put in front of a jury, though, since he had a tendency to flutter his hands about, overemphasize his S’s, and call other men ‘darling.’ Jurors who took against a defense attorney were likely to convict regardless of guilt or innocence.

I took my seat against the wall, placing the two boxes of documents I had at the ready on the seat next to me. On the other side of the boxes was a woman in her early sixties, Nathan Babcock’s secretary. She, too, was there in case of emergency. She didn’t bother to say hello to me, so I didn’t bother to say hello to her.

Mrs. Barnes, as I later learned she was called, probably judged me as insignificant based on what I wore. I had on my old corduroy jacket. I’d had it dry-cleaned, but it still looked like it had been run over by a semi. Beneath the jacket I had on a white Oxford shirt, a plaid woolen tie, 501s and brown, Florsheim penny loafers. I should have upgraded my wardrobe. I certainly had enough money to, it’s just that every time I went into Marshall Field’s or Carson, Pirie, Scott all the clothes seemed designed for either East Coast bankers with a penchant for weekend golf or some costumer’s idea of which pastel an undercover cop might wear in Miami.

At the State’s table, Linda Sanchez stood with two other ASAs. She was raven-haired and dark-eyed. She wore a blue pin-striped suit over a cream-colored blouse that boasted a big floppy bow around her neck. On her feet, she wore a pair of Nikes, which she eventually traded for a pair of conservative, two-inch heels she carried in her briefcase. The two other ASAs were men. One was forty and doughy, and even from twenty feet away I could see he resented Sanchez, who was clearly in charge. The other ASA was Tony Stork.

Tony was around thirty, tall, lanky, with an upper crust North Shore look to him. He had sand-colored hair and dark eyes rimmed with thick lashes. I was surprised to see him on their team. A few years before, he’d prosecuted a guy named Campbell Wayne, who tried to throw me in front of a CTA train. He’d also given me a memorable blow job in an empty interview room. Since I’d also dallied with Owen Lovejoy, Esquire, that meant I’d had sex with lawyers on each side of the aisle. I decided it might not be good to spread that information around.

 

As it neared ten, the pews filled. A good number of the spectators seemed to be press, but there were also a few other people I recognized. Lydia Agnotti was there sitting in a pew near the back. She was Jimmy’s granddaughter. We’d met when she’d tricked her brother into killing their stepfather. Her brother was now in prison, while she roamed the streets.

Sliding into the front pew were Beverly Harlington and Rose Hansen. Beverly was Lydia’s mother, whose first husband was Jimmy’s deceased son—Lydia didn’t happen to have anything to do with his death. Rose was Jimmy’s daughter. She and Beverly were more appropriately dressed for afternoon tea than court. On the other side of the room, looking somber and determined, was Deanna Hanson with her much older boyfriend, Turi Bova. I have to say, with all of Jimmy’s family there it looked more like a custody case than a mob trial.

Aside from the press and the family, there were a couple of other middle-aged men who looked like they might be members of the Outfit: their dark polyester slacks, golf shirts, windbreakers and Italian shoes were dead giveaways. At the top of Jimmy’s food chain was a man called Doves. My guess was that these guys would be bringing Doves the news of the day.

I didn’t understand why Rose and Deanna were there. They were both going to be witnesses and I doubted they’d be testifying on the first day, so I wondered what made them think they’d be able to remain in the courtroom. When I was on the job I’d had to testify about a dozen times. Each time I’d had to wait in the hallway until I was called. I didn’t know why Rose and Deanna thought they’d be entitled to watch the trial, other than the fact that they felt entitled in general.

A bailiff walked into the court from the back; a red-haired woman wearing a khaki and green uniform. In her late forties, she had very large breasts jutting out, making me wonder if she even knew there was a walkie-talkie and gun on her belt.

“Please rise.”

We did.

“Cook County Criminal Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Martin Corbin presiding.”

Next came a meek looking court reporter in a brown dress with a white lace collar. Behind her, Judge Corbin in his black robes. He was in his late fifties, with thinning white hair and a puffy face. Once he got situated behind the bench he said, “Please be seated.”

We sat.

The judge looked around and then said, “This is State of Illinois v. Giovanni Agnotti. Is that correct?”

ASA Sanchez and Nathan Babcock each stood and said, “Yes, your honor.”

“I like to make sure. Cousin of mine went into the hospital to have a testicle removed. They took the wrong one. Now he has none. I wouldn’t like to come to work in the morning and hear the wrong case.”

It was a crazy thing to say. Most of the people in the room didn’t know whether to laugh or not. Certainly, Jimmy’s team was confused. The ASAs, though, they knew to laugh and were putting on a show of it. Judge Corbin looked pleased with the response he got. I wondered if he began every trial with this same joke.

“Before we begin jury selection, are there motions?”

ASA Sanchez stood up and motioned that witnesses be excluded from the courtroom. “With the exception of Mr. Agnotti’s family members, of course.”

Since Rose and Deanna were witnesses for the state’s attorney, I fully expected Nathan Babcock to object and ask that they be excluded. Instead, he stayed seated and said, “No objections, your honor.”

I was surprised by that, but from the look on her face not as much as ASA Sanchez. For a moment, I thought she might jump up and say, “Oh no, your honor, never mind.”

The judge announced that jury selection was going to begin. The bailiff went to get the first round of sixteen jurors to be questioned. Owen looked over his shoulder then pushed his chair back to me.

“Have you spent much time in a courtroom?” he asked.

“A bit.”

“We’re not expecting this to go more than two weeks. Maybe less.”

“What about Devlin? Will you be able to talk about him?” In my opinion, the best defense for Jimmy would be to focus on Devlin and his creative ways of gathering confessions. Beating the crap out of witnesses tends to make their testimony inadmissible.

“There was a motion to suppress two weeks ago. I guess we’d call it a draw. We can’t bring him up, but it’s impossible to keep him completely out since he interviewed most of their witnesses.”

“So you won’t be calling me?” Devlin was responsible for pretty much all of my recent injuries. I would have loved to testify about him.

“No,” Owen said. “We can’t put you on the stand or present testimony about Devlin’s prosecution.”

“Will they be calling him to testify?”

“No. The first question is always name and address. If he didn’t say Cook County Jail he’d be perjuring himself and if he tells the court where he currently lives we get to ask why.”

“So this is going to boil down to how much you can get in about Devlin without asking questions about Devlin.”

He gave me a devilish smile. “Darling, you should have been a lawyer.”

When the prospective jurors got settled, the judge told the attorneys they could begin. Sanchez and Babcock took turns asking bland questions like, “Do you think you can be impartial?” Occasionally, Sanchez would ask a juror how they felt about police officers. If she didn’t like the answer she’d dismiss the juror. Babcock asked a similar question about the restaurant business and let go of a couple of jurors who’d once been waitresses. It was all pretty obvious stuff.

While I sat there, I wondered exactly what was going on. The most damning evidence against Jimmy would come from his granddaughter, Deanna. She’d been informing on him for more than a year, providing Operation Tea and Crumpets—the task force investigating Jimmy—with a journal that detailed Jimmy’s activities for nearly thirty years. Keeping something like a journal was a stupid idea, but Jimmy admitted to me that he’d done just that. Then, when I finally got to look at a much-copied Xerox in discovery, I’d realized there was no way Jimmy had written the journal. The handwriting was wrong. So, he’d lied to me. What I hadn’t figured out was, why?

The case began to crumble when it became obvious that Devlin was a bad cop. The Feds dropped it like a hot potato, but ASA Sanchez persisted. I had an inkling she thought the publicity could only be good for her career. What I didn’t understand was the defense. Why hadn’t they insisted the handwriting in the journal be compared to Deanna’s? At this point, given the weakness of the prosecution’s case, just suggesting that Deanna had written the journal herself might have been enough to get them to drop the charges.

Of course, Jimmy could simply be protecting Deanna. Providing false evidence was a crime, as was lying to federal agents. Conceivably, she could spend half a decade in prison. Was Jimmy counting on his expensive lawyers to get him off without exposing his granddaughter’s lies? I’d known Jimmy for a while. That seemed like something he’d do. I knew family was important to him. His grandson was in prison; I doubted he wanted any more of his grandchildren to end up there.

Jury selection took a bit more than two hours. Once the jury was empanelled, Judge Corbin gave them a little speech.

“This is my courtroom. I make the rules here and what I say goes. You’ll note that the state attorneys or the defense attorneys will often object to my decisions. In fact, they will likely try to influence you by the objections they make. Don’t let them.”

He stopped to give both sides in the case a dirty look.

“This is an important trial that has garnered interest from the local press. You are not to read any of the articles written about the trial or watch any news programs that include stories about the trial. If at any time I think any one of you has ignored these instructions I will sequester you all.”

Now he gave the jurors a dirty look.

“There’s something I want to make very clear to all twelve of you jurors and also the four alternates. At this moment in time, Giovanni Agnotti is innocent.” I watched ASA Sanchez flinch when he said it. “He’s innocent because in the American system we are all innocent until proven guilty. The fact that Ms. Sanchez believes she can prove that Mr. Agnotti is guilty does not make it so. He is innocent until the state proves to you he is not. And on that note, we should break for lunch. We will reconvene at two-thirty.”

It wasn’t quite one. We had nearly two hours before court began again. Not enough time to go back to the office, but enough time to get really bored. Rose and Beverly were already hovering around Jimmy—from the comments they made it seemed as though Jimmy’s driver was going to drive them somewhere “decent” for lunch. Babcock seemed to be tagging along, though I wasn’t sure I had an invitation. When the party began to walk out of the courtroom, I noticed Lydia Agnotti hovering nearby. She was pointedly ignored by her mother and her aunt; Jimmy may have nodded at her, but I couldn’t be sure.

When they’d walked completely out of the courtroom, Lydia turned and glared at me. My exposing her as the one truly responsible for her stepfather’s death had caused the estrangement with her family, so we weren’t exactly friends.

I’m not sure, but she may have hissed at me.

Guest Blog: The Boystown Mysteries author Marshall Thornton chats about writing the series

Boystowncollection

I first discovered Marshall Thornton’s Boystown series in the summer of 2013 – long after he’d originally published the first four novels; Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowak Novellas and Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets. By the time of the release of Boystown 4, I had become familiar with Marshall’s mysteries, and decided to start at the beginning since the first full-length novel of the series had caught my attention. About this same time, Marshall had begun to release the first few books in the series via Audiobook, narrated by the incredible Brad Langer, and offered to me a promo-copy of Boystown 2 to review. Through Marshall’s words, Brad Langer made quirky, tough, rough around the edges, at times jaded, former Chicago cop turned private detective, Nick Nowak come to life, and I eagerly await each novel’s release in the series.

LammySeal-actualsize_2013-e1377558848107

Boystown 7

I got to interview Marshall for my Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group in 2013 and reposted the interview in January 2016 with updates (interview), have written numerous reviews of both his novels & audiobooks, and got to finally such a warm, sweet man in person when we both attended a Mystery Writer’s of America seminar in Atlanta a couple years ago. Numerous novels in the Boystown series have been finalists for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award. Boystown 7: Bloodlines actually won the Lammy for Best Gay Mystery this year at the 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.

There is so much more I’d love to share about Marshall and Nick Nowak, but instead of rambling on, I thought I’d share a recent blog post that says everything I would want and more. You can read it below.

How Far Will I Go?

Guest Blog by Marshall Thornton

Reposted with permission; originally posted February 24, 2016

One of the questions I get a lot about the Boystown series is, “How many books will there be?” Of course, since the question is about the future the most honest answer is, “I don’t know.” But at the same time, how many books to write and where to leave Nick Nowak is something I think about and obviously something that interests my readers so I thought I’d put down a few thoughts…

Typically, as I finish one book I get ideas about the next one. Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind came out a few days ago and I already have about fifteen percent of Boystown 9: Lucky Days written in the form of notes and first draft scenes. This is important as I have to keep track of the mystery arc in books 7-9 about Jimmy English, and of course the ongoing lives of the recurring characters. I imagine if I finish one of the books and have no ideas, or very few ideas, about the next book I’ll know that the end has arrived.

boystown8

The first eight books cover the period from January 1981 through August 1984. I definitely want to do two more books set in 1984 and have one in mind for 1985. That would bring me up to eleven—Joseph Hansen, one of my idols, did twelve in his series. I hope that I’ll write more than eleven. I wouldn’t mind getting all the way to nineteen or twenty like Michael Connelly, another of my idols. It would be nice to take the books all the way to the first glimmers of hope in the AIDS epidemic, but that wasn’t until the mid-nineties, which right now is a long way off.

As a gay man who lived through the eighties there are so many stories from that period I feel I can tell. So many stories I think are still important. One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this series has been collecting the little bits of real life that I remember from that period and weaving them into the mysteries. Quite a few of the characters and situations I’ve touched on in the stories come from people I knew during the period, in many cases people who can no longer speak for themselves. Collecting those stories matters to me a great deal on a very personal level.

There are many ways to classify the Boystown series. I think it would be fair to include it as AIDS literature. Most of AIDS literature took place in the eighties and nineties, and most of it was a cry for help, a warning bell rung as loudly as possible. Writing about AIDS from this vantage point is a very different experience. I’m able to focus on the way very real people reacted to the crisis. Knowing that things improve, allows me to focus on the ways in which individuals reacted, sometimes heroically, sometimes not. Of course, AIDS is still an issue. It hasn’t gone away. Reminding people of how it began and how we got to where we are is something I find to be vital.

I think if the Boystown series were a romance series with mystery elements—as opposed to being the opposite of that—I would have would have stopped at two or three books as I find manufacturing “conflict” in a happy couple uninteresting. Some writers do it well; I don’t think I’m one of them. Several of the Boystown books have ended in a happy-for-now kind of way, but if Nick ever finds a truly happy ending it will likely mean the end of the series.

Boystown 1 Cover 2nd Edition2Boystown 4 Cover 2nd Edition2Boystown 5 Cover 2nd Edition2

An important indicator of whether a writer should keep writing a series is sales. Not for financial reasons—certainly many writers do well writing multiple series of three or four books—but because each sale represents one or more readers. The last year has been very positive for the Boystown series. Boystown 7: Bloodlines opened better than any of the previous books, and even though it’s only been a few days it looks as though this year’s book is on tract to exceed that. Equally important is that last year the first book in the series actually sold more copies than it had since it was published five years before. The audience is finding the books and I’m so happy about that. With all of that said, I’d like to send out a big thank you to all who’ve bought and supported the series over the years. It means a lot.

Cover Preview – Coming early 2017 – Boystown 9: Lucky Days

Boystown 9

Website:

https://marshallthorntonauthor.com/

Guest Blog: Author of the very Popular Boystown Mysteries, Marshall Thornton

Boystowncollection

I first discovered Marshall Thornton’s Boystown series in the summer of 2013 – long after he’d originally published the first four novels; Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowak Novellas and Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets. By the time of the release of Boystown 4, I had become familiar with Marshall’s mysteries, and decided to start at the beginning since the first full-length novel of the series had caught my attention. About this same time, Marshall had begun to release the first few books in the series via Audiobook, narrated by the incredible Brad Langer, and offered to me a promo-copy of Boystown 2 to review. Through Marshall’s words, Brad Langer made quirky, tough, rough around the edges, at times jaded, former Chicago cop turned private detective, Nick Nowak come to life, and I eagerly await each novel’s release in the series.

Boystown 7

I got to interview Marshall for my Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group in 2013 and reposted the interview in January 2016 with updates (interview), have written numerous reviews of both his novels & audiobooks, and got to finally such a warm, sweet man in person when we both attended a Mystery Writer’s of America seminar in Atlanta a couple years ago. Numerous novels in the Boystown series have been finalists for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award. Boystown 7: Bloodlines is being considered in the Gay Mystery category this year as well. Finalists for the 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards is expected to be announced any day now. Good luck, Marshall!

There is so much more I’d love to share about Marshall and Nick Nowak, but instead of rambling on, I thought I’d share a recent blog post that says everything I would want and more. You can read it below.

How Far Will I Go?

Guest Blog by Marshall Thornton

Reposted with permission; originally posted February 24, 2016

One of the questions I get a lot about the Boystown series is, “How many books will there be?” Of course, since the question is about the future the most honest answer is, “I don’t know.” But at the same time, how many books to write and where to leave Nick Nowak is something I think about and obviously something that interests my readers so I thought I’d put down a few thoughts…

Typically, as I finish one book I get ideas about the next one. Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind came out a few days ago and I already have about fifteen percent of Boystown 9: Lucky Days written in the form of notes and first draft scenes. This is important as I have to keep track of the mystery arc in books 7-9 about Jimmy English, and of course the ongoing lives of the recurring characters. I imagine if I finish one of the books and have no ideas, or very few ideas, about the next book I’ll know that the end has arrived.

boystown8

The first eight books cover the period from January 1981 through August 1984. I definitely want to do two more books set in 1984 and have one in mind for 1985. That would bring me up to eleven—Joseph Hansen, one of my idols, did twelve in his series. I hope that I’ll write more than eleven. I wouldn’t mind getting all the way to nineteen or twenty like Michael Connelly, another of my idols. It would be nice to take the books all the way to the first glimmers of hope in the AIDS epidemic, but that wasn’t until the mid-nineties, which right now is a long way off.

As a gay man who lived through the eighties there are so many stories from that period I feel I can tell. So many stories I think are still important. One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this series has been collecting the little bits of real life that I remember from that period and weaving them into the mysteries. Quite a few of the characters and situations I’ve touched on in the stories come from people I knew during the period, in many cases people who can no longer speak for themselves. Collecting those stories matters to me a great deal on a very personal level.

There are many ways to classify the Boystown series. I think it would be fair to include it as AIDS literature. Most of AIDS literature took place in the eighties and nineties, and most of it was a cry for help, a warning bell rung as loudly as possible. Writing about AIDS from this vantage point is a very different experience. I’m able to focus on the way very real people reacted to the crisis. Knowing that things improve, allows me to focus on the ways in which individuals reacted, sometimes heroically, sometimes not. Of course, AIDS is still an issue. It hasn’t gone away. Reminding people of how it began and how we got to where we are is something I find to be vital.

I think if the Boystown series were a romance series with mystery elements—as opposed to being the opposite of that—I would have would have stopped at two or three books as I find manufacturing “conflict” in a happy couple uninteresting. Some writers do it well; I don’t think I’m one of them. Several of the Boystown books have ended in a happy-for-now kind of way, but if Nick ever finds a truly happy ending it will likely mean the end of the series.

Boystown 1 Cover 2nd Edition2Boystown 4 Cover 2nd Edition2Boystown 5 Cover 2nd Edition2

An important indicator of whether a writer should keep writing a series is sales. Not for financial reasons—certainly many writers do well writing multiple series of three or four books—but because each sale represents one or more readers. The last year has been very positive for the Boystown series. Boystown 7: Bloodlines opened better than any of the previous books, and even though it’s only been a few days it looks as though this year’s book is on tract to exceed that. Equally important is that last year the first book in the series actually sold more copies than it had since it was published five years before. The audience is finding the books and I’m so happy about that. With all of that said, I’d like to send out a big thank you to all who’ve bought and supported the series over the years. It means a lot.

Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 7: Bloodlines by the multi-Lammy nominated Marshall Thornton

Boystown 7: Bloodlines by Marshall Thornton

Blurb

In the latest book in the Boystown Mystery series, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself simultaneously working two cases for his new client, law firm Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. A suburban dentist has just been convicted of murdering her adulterous husband, Nick is asked to interview witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial—and possibly find the dead man’s mistress. At the same time, he’s becoming involved in protecting Outfit bigwig Jimmy English from a task force out to prosecute him for a crime he may not have committed.

 

Tax day fell on a Monday that year, the sixteenth. The sky was full of gray clouds and peoples’ moods were just as colorless. For a change, it wasn’t a bad day for me. In fact, I was in something resembling a good mood. I’d spent most of the year before bartending and having taxes withheld so I didn’t have to struggle through the normally complicated question of whether I’d made a profit from my private investigation business. In fact, I was expecting a small tax refund. Money in the mail was always worth being happy about. But more than that, I was working again, and while that would complicate my 1984 taxes, I was making good money and it was more interesting than pouring flat beer and sour wine.

Around two o’clock, there was a knock on my office door and, before I could yell “Come in,” Owen Lovejoy, Esquire whooshed in. He was a friend, a fuck buddy, occasionally my attorney, and, at that particular moment, my boss. I tended to think of him as Owen Lovejoy, Esquire because that’s the way he first introduced himself. A good-looking guy, he’s on the taller side of short, thick-bodied and brown-haired. He favors tortoise-shell glasses with lenses that cover most of his face, and well-tailored suits that cost twice what I make in a good week. He sat down on the two cardboard boxes full of paperwork that I’d stacked in front of my desk as a temporary guest chair.

“I have a job I need you to do,” he said.

That confused me. I was already doing a job for him. Quite a complicated job, in fact. I began to reply but all I got out was the word, “But—” before he raised his hand to silence me. I stared at him, trying to think the situation through.

Late in February of that year I’d begun working for Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. Every week I sent them an invoice for seven hundred dollars. Under services rendered I typed RETAINER. At Owen’s request, I never sent an itemized bill. I also never sent a single report describing what I’d found. My reports were given verbally on windy street corners, busy diners, even once in bed. After Owen and I fucked, he’d turned the radio on loud and I whispered what I’d learned. The case was important. It had to do with Jimmy English.

A menagerie of Federal, State and City agencies had formed a task force and were months or maybe even weeks away from indicting Jimmy on a host of charges. At the top of the stack were a couple of murders. Owen assured me that Jimmy hadn’t had anything to do with the murders under investigation, while at the same time never claiming that Jimmy hadn’t been involved in at least a couple other murders along the way. I knew Jimmy, had done a little work for him, and probably owed my current position to his good graces. If Jimmy said he didn’t kill someone he probably didn’t. More importantly, he was too smart a guy to waste time lying to his own attorney.

Now, why the task force wanted to get him for two murders he didn’t commit was something of a question. They either mistakenly believed he’d been involved in the murders, or, knowing he been involved in other murders, decided it didn’t matter much what murder they nabbed him for as long as he went to prison. My job was to learn everything the task force had. That might sound challenging, but as it turned out it wasn’t especially hard.

On the second day of my employment with Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby, Owen had shown up at my office with a moving man. My office is above a copy place on Clark and on that particular February morning it was what I’d politely call a mess. Much of the furniture from my abandoned apartment was still being stored there. I’d gotten rid of a few things; the bed for instance, which in my last days with Harker had developed a dip in the middle. The dip was fine if I planned to be constantly sliding into it to meet someone I loved, but sooner or later I’d be living on my own again and I couldn’t face sliding into the dip alone. So I’d let it go.

The moving guy brought fifteen cardboard boxes into my office in two trips. He was heavily-muscled, tall, just a little over thirty, and had barely broken a sweat bouncing all those boxes around. I had a sneaking suspicion that Owen would try to seduce him the minute they were done with me. That thought created some pretty pictures in my head, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention when Owen asked the moving guy to step out into the hall.

“Was he bad? Are you punishing him?”

“Sweetheart, you need to remember something very important.” He leaned in and spoke very clearly, “We were never here.”

“Okay.”

“And if anyone ever asks, you did not get these boxes from us.”

“Where did I get them?”

“Yard sale? No, I’m joking. You don’t need to worry your pretty head about that. If push comes to shove, we’ll make sure you’re never asked.”

“What’s in them?”

“Everything the task force has on Jimmy English.”

“How did you get all this?”

He smiled. “I didn’t get it. I was never here. Remember?”

“What am I supposed to do with these boxes that fell out of the sky?”

“For now? Read everything. Learn everything. Know it all backwards and forwards.”

I nodded. Eventually, if there were a trial, all of this information would come to the defense as part of discovery. Well, most of it anyway. I was going to be responsible for making sure nothing got conveniently dropped by the government. Particularly if that something was favorable to Jimmy. Of course, I also saw exactly why Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby didn’t want to be connected to the materials until they received them directly from the State’s Attorney’s office. At that moment, there was no indictment, so it wasn’t exactly legal for anyone to have them. Dropping the files on me allowed them to have them and not have them.

“This is the last time we can talk in your office. We’ll make other arrangements.”

“You think my office is bugged?”

“Not yet, dear. This is your second day. It will be by the end of the week, though.”

“If I’m working for you then they can’t bug my office. Doesn’t privilege extend—”

“Privilege depends on the situation, on the judge who’s ruling, on which way the wind is blowing off Lake Michigan. Look, if I explain anymore than that we’ll both fall asleep. Trust me, your office will be bugged. And soon.”

“Can you fight it? Go to the judge—”

“There is no judge. It’s not legal surveillance.”

In Chicago legal niceties were sometimes skipped. They couldn’t present an illegal wiretap in court but they could act on information they gleaned by creating other routes to discover whatever they’d learned. Treasure hunts are always easier if you already know where the treasure is.

Still, my sense of justice was a tad outraged. “Let’s catch them at it. Let’s take them down.”

“They’ve been caught before. Had their hands slapped. The only lesson they learned was to be more careful. There will be several impenetrable layers between the task force and the bug. Anything they hear that they want to use, they’ll feed to an informant.”

“They can’t create their own testimony.”

“Darling you watch too much TV. The law is not about right and wrong. It’s about what you can get away with on a given day.”

After he left, I got down to business with the boxes and almost immediately started having a good time. They were full of interviews, witness statements, crime reports, depositions, transcripts from wiretaps (legal ones), and transcripts from a few peripherally related trials. Over the next few weeks I’d mentally cross-referenced everything. I knew where it all was and I knew what it all meant. I had two very important things I needed to discuss with Owen, so I wasn’t especially happy that he was trying to give me another job.

“All right. Tell me about this job,” I said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Madeline Levine-Berkson?”

“Yes and no,” I said. Madeline Levine-Berkson was a dentist whose husband, Wes Berkson, made the mistake of telling her about an affair he was having while she was making dinner. Dr. Levine-Berkson stopped chopping vegetables and stuck the rather large knife she’d been using into her husband’s chest. At first the case garnered a lot of press, and it was obvious the reporters were dying to get their hands on the mistress; an interview with her would have sold papers hand over greedy fist. But, they couldn’t find her. And, worse, Dr. Levine-Berkson refused to claim any justification other than the unproven infidelity, so the case was quietly relegated to the back section of most papers.

Boystown 7 Cover 2nd Edition2

“Wasn’t she convicted?” I asked.

“Yes. But it was still a victory.”

“It was?”

“They charged her with first-degree murder and second-degree murder. The jury got to choose which they thought she was guilty of. They went with second degree.”

“Okay, I still don’t know what you want me to do.”

“We have a two-week continuance to prepare for sentencing. The minimum the jury is allowed to impose is four years probation. That’s our best hope. Worst case scenario she’ll be sentenced to twenty years. If it’s twenty years she’ll serve ten or twelve, possibly more. She’ll be lucky to get out in time to see her children graduate high school. Not to mention she’ll be a confirmed lesbo by then.”

That jogged my memory. The high school part, not the lesbo part. There were two small children involved, which could work in her favor. Children do need their mothers. Though, when you kill a child’s father you’re unlikely to win an award for good parenting.

“How many women on the jury? That should work in her favor.”

Most women would not stab a cheating spouse; most did understand the impulse.

“Seven,” Owen said. But then a cloud passed over his face. “The state made a big to-do about an insurance policy during the trial. Trying to make a case for first degree. I’m not sure one or two didn’t believe that.”

“Refresh my memory. What was their case?”

“The Berksons had taken out million dollar policies on each other.”

“She was a dentist and he was…”

“Frequently unemployed.”

“But she admits stabbing him so she’ll never collect. How could that be first degree?”

“The ASA tried to make it sound like she didn’t understand the fine print.”

“She’s smart enough to plot a murder but too stupid to understand an insurance policy?”

“He spent a lot of time reading the policy into the record. Claimed even he had trouble understanding it.”

“She’s a dentist. She has an education.”

“She went to dental school in the Caribbean. Wasn’t at the top of her class.”

“Still. No offense, but I think law school is a lot easier.” Science had never been a strong suit of mine.

Owen shrugged. “I thought it was crap, too. I’m absolutely certain she did not kill her husband for any insurance money she thought she’d get. She’s very bright, and quite nice for a murderess. Fortunately, the jury agreed and threw out the first-degree charges.”

“So what do you want me to do? Find the mistress?”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“I work for you, you can ask—”

“Madeline doesn’t want her found. We do have to respect the client’s wishes.”

That struck me as odd. The mistress would have bolstered her story and created sympathy.

“Is there even a mistress?” I wondered.

“The newspapers tried awfully hard to find her,” he said absently. “But then…journalists, they don’t always have the right skills.”

He wanted me to find the mistress. I hadn’t spent much time working for him, but I had the feeling we’d be having a lot of conversations that were not directly about what they were about.

“Isn’t it kind of pointless to find her now? Your client still won’t appreciate it.”

“No, she won’t. But…” I could see the wheels turning. “If someone found her by accident it could be helpful.”

“If she exists.”

“Yes, if she exists. I wouldn’t want her in court but…someone could get her interviewed by the Daily Herald or The Tribune.”

“How would that help?”

“The jury. They’re not supposed to read the newspaper during the trial. Most of them take that very seriously. But she’s been convicted. At least a couple of them will have jumped the gun and be back to reading the newspaper or watching the nightly news. Not to mention discussing it with their families. If the woman were to do an interview, the jury would know it.”

“So I need to accidentally find her.”

Owen’s lips were sealed. In fact, he kept them tightly closed. Instead, he picked up his briefcase, chocolate brown leather with his initials engraved in gold leaf. O.W.L. I wondered what the “W” was for. Or even if it was for anything. It might just be that he liked to think of himself as an owl. Owls were wise. He pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it onto my desk. On it was a column of names; six of the names were typewritten, seven were added by hand.

“The names on the top are the witnesses who’ve agreed to testify on Madeline’s behalf. The names on the bottom are those who’ve refused. Start with the ones who’ve refused. If nothing else, try to get them to come in and speak on Madeline’s behalf. A couple of them might really help her.”

The list didn’t mean much at the moment. I decided to figure it out later. I really needed to talk to him about Jimmy English. “Um, why don’t I walk you out?”

“Yes, why don’t you.”

I really didn’t think my office was bugged. I’d been sticking the cover from a matchbook in between the door and the jamb just below the hinge whenever I left the office. If someone picked the lock and entered my office the little square of cardboard would have fallen to the floor. So far, it had stayed just where I’d left it.

Silently, we walked out of my office and down the narrow stairs to Clark Street. As soon as we were out the door, I said, “Look, I’ve got to tell—” He raised his hand to silence me again. It all seemed a bit ridiculous. He stepped out into the street and hailed a cab. We climbed in, and before giving the driver an address Owen took a twenty out of his pocket and waved it in the front seat. “We’re just going around the block a few times. So, the rest is for you.” He dropped the twenty on the seat and then closed the plexiglass partition between us.

Turning to me, he said, “All right, what’s the problem?”

“I’ve figured out a couple of things about Operation Tea and Crumpets.” Operation Tea and Crumpets was the cutesy name the task force had given the investigation into Jimmy’s activities. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to step away right now.”

“Then don’t. Do both.” I started to say that I wasn’t sure it would be fair to either client but he stopped me by adding, “Keep billing us the retainer for Jimmy. And also whatever work you do for the Levine case.” What that meant was that my invoicing could easily go over a thousand dollars a week. For about two weeks. That made the whole thing more appealing. I might need to work night and day, but it was just for a while. Part of me still wanted to say no to the lady dentist, but I was fresh out of good reasons.

“What did you find out on Jimmy?” Owen asked.

“The most damaging information comes from a single source. A confidential informant they call Prince Charles. There’s no information in the files about who Prince Charles is. Not even a hint. Which makes me think that they know you have the files. That they wanted you to have them.”

“They’ll have to expose him eventually.”

“So why go to the trouble of hiding him unless they know we’re likely to get our hands on the files now?”

“You think it’s a haystack with no needle.”

“It might be. According to the transcripts, Jimmy told Prince Charles stories. Almost as though he was bragging, which seems out of character.”

“I agree.”

“And there’s another thing. There’s a book or a diary somewhere.”

“Somewhere? But it’s not in the boxes I gave you?”

“No. But a lot of the files have notations. Page numbers and dates.”

“Something like that would be a terrific piece of evidence. Especially if it corroborates Prince Charles’ testimony.”

“But Jimmy’s too smart for all of this.” I resisted the temptation to say, “Something’s fishy.”

“I hope so,” Owen said before he told the cab driver to pull over. We were at the corner of Belmont and Clark for the second time. Just as he got out the door, Owen said, “We need to know who’s talking. And we need that book.”

It was a tall order. A very tall order.

 

Haven’t started the Boystown series yet? Check out the Little Boy Dead: A Boystowns Prequel – currently free at Amazon.

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Exclusive Excerpt – Boystown 4 – A Time For Secrets – by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 4 – A Time for Secrets

by Marshall Thornton

“You owe me five pounds of potatoes,” the man said, and I had no idea what he was talking about. His name was Ronald Meek, and he’d shown up at my office unannounced. He was in his mid-sixties, far too thin, with a hawk’s nose and a few tufts of tea-colored hair.

He arrived while I was in the middle of packing my files into some beat-up cardboard boxes I’d gotten from behind the Jewel. My landlord had finally decided to tear down the south Loop building, where my office had been located for a couple of years, and put up a building twice as big. They sent me a flyer inviting me to rent from them again in fall 1984 when the building would be finished. Of course, I’d have to win the Pick Three or marry some fat old heiress to do it. So I figured chances were slim I’d be back.

I’d rented a new office up on Clark Street a few blocks from my apartment in a neighborhood that was sometimes called Boystown and sometimes called New Town, depending generally on which team you batted for. Of course, I had no idea how I’d get all my crap up there but figured I’d manage. I had three days left before I had to be out, so I kept packing while I talked to Meek.

“Five pounds of potatoes?” I asked. “Do you want to explain that?”

“You don’t remember me? I’m crushed.” He put on a face that mocked sadness.

I stopped what I was doing and took a closer look at him. The summer sun was bouncing off the building across LaSalle Street, so I got a little more light than usual. Otherwise, I might not have noticed that Meek was wearing makeup, subtly applied and covered with a light dusting of powder. On another man it might have seemed odd, but it went well with Meek’s green velvet blazer and paisley ascot. He sat in my guest chair with his legs crossed and a hand tucked under his chin. He reminded me of an overdressed praying mantis. None of this was familiar, though. I was sure I didn’t know him.

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“You’re going to have to give me a clue,” I said, opening the bottom drawer of my desk and finding a two-year-old reverse phone book, back issues of Crain’s Chicago Business, and a company directory for First Chicago, something I was not supposed to have. I put everything into a box.

“I’m your knight in shining armor,” Meek said.

All his coyness began to piss me off. “Look, whatever this is about, just come out and say it.”

He took a deep breath and began. “One night about five years ago, I heard a commotion outside my window. I opened my window and looked down to find some young ruffians attacking a nice gay couple on the sidewalk below. Soooo…I got a bag of potatoes and started dropping them on the goons. A few minutes later they ran away.” He leaned over to make this point, “I saved your ass, Mr. Nowak. Though you hardly seemed grateful.”

Now I remembered him. I didn’t want to, but I did. My ex-lover, Daniel, and I had been coming home drunk from a bar when the kids jumped us. I wasn’t hurt, but Daniel ended up having a couple of surgeries to rebuild his cheekbone after getting hit square in the face by a baseball bat. I imagine all that surgery must have been extremely unpleasant. I wouldn’t know because we broke up that night, and I never got around to asking when our relationship had briefly rekindled the previous winter. By then his face looked good, too good, and we were, well, occupied.

“Other than receiving my undying thanks, is there a reason you stopped by?” I asked, giving up on packing and sitting back in my chair.

“You’re a private investigator?”

“It says so on the door.” Aside from the door with my name on it, my office boasted a desk, some filing cabinets, the guest chair Meek sat in, a half-dozen, half-filled cardboard boxes, and a dead plant I was considering moving to my new office solely for sentimental reasons. None of the stuff was any good; I could probably have just thrown it all away and started over.

“There’s someone I’d like to find. I thought you’d be right for the job.” He shifted in the chair as I waited for him to continue, his bravado fading. “He’s someone I once loved. We had a brief but quite intense affair. I suppose you’d say he’s the one who got away. I’m not getting any younger and I thought, if not now when?”

“What’s his name?”

“Vernon.”

“Does Vernon have a last name?” I was already afraid of the answer.

“I think it began with an S. Or maybe an M,” he said, naming the two largest sections of the phone book. “The last time I saw Vernon, he was throwing a party in his apartment at the Edgewater Arms. It was April 22, 1959.”

“Twenty-three years ago?”

“Yes.”

I sighed. “What was the apartment number?”

He shrugged.

“You know the exact date, but you don’t know Vernon’s last name or his apartment number? That doesn’t make sense.”

“I keep a journal. On April 22, 1959 I wrote, ‘Went to a divine party at Vernon’s apartment in the Edgewater Arms. The view was amazing. Vernon was delightful. We all drank too much, and Vernon was very witty. We kissed on the roof under the stars.’ Well, we more than kissed, but discretion forbids.”

“Why didn’t you ever see him again?”

He sighed. “I’m not sure someone your age can understand. In the fifties, we were degenerates. Perverts. Sickos. To many of us, the idea of forming a relationship, having a real lover, well it barely entered our minds. We were told we couldn’t have that, that it wasn’t in our nature. We didn’t dare contradict that. Nowadays things are so different. If I were your age and I met Vernon today, well…I would make different choices, let me tell you.” He smiled in what he thought was a demure way. “Can’t you help me, please?”

“Is that all you know about Vernon? He was good kisser who lived at the Edgewater Arms?”

“No, not all. I know lots of things.”

“Like?”

“He’d been in the Navy. He was a Republican. He worked as a hairdresser on Oak Street, and the ladies called him Mr. Vernon. He was quite popular.”

“Have you tried to find him yourself?” I asked.

“Oh, I couldn’t. I’d have no idea where to start.”

“Detective work isn’t rocket science. It’s mostly paperwork.” And the occasional gunfight, I thought but didn’t mention.

“I don’t just want to find him,” he admitted. “I’m hoping you’ll give him a message for me. Tell him that I’d like to see him, that I’d like to talk over old times. If he’s willing.”

“And if he says no?”

“Then that’s all you have to tell me.”

Something was a little off about the whole thing and I had a bad feeling, or maybe the grilled ham and cheese sandwich I’d had for lunch wasn’t sitting well. I couldn’t be sure. Given the few scraps of information he’d provided, I didn’t think I’d be able to do a lot for him. I didn’t want to rip him off. No, it wasn’t the sandwich. My gut said not to take the case. On the other hand, my bank account said I was about to start bouncing checks.

I dug around in a cardboard box and found an index card. I slid it across my now empty desk. “Write down the message,” I said. “Write it down exactly as you want me to say it.”

While he did that I told him my rates. He swallowed hard when I asked for a two hundred and fifty dollar retainer, but he handed me the message and took a checkbook out of his inside jacket pocket. He wrote me a check.

“I hope you’ll get started as soon as you can,” he said, sliding the check across my desk.

I glanced at it; his bank was on the other side of the Loop. As soon as I walked over and cashed the check, I’d get started.

“Sure thing,” I said.

He said his goodbyes and rose to leave. Before he got to the door, I asked, “How did you find me?”

“You’re listed in the phone book.”

“My name is, yes, but I don’t remember introducing myself the night we met.”

“Oh.” He blushed. “There was a police investigation afterward. Don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“The policeman who came by my apartment asked if I knew you, and not very nicely. I think he was hoping that the three of us knew one another and were somehow trying to con four nice kids from the suburbs.”

That didn’t sound far off. I was a cop then myself. It wasn’t just that cops didn’t like fags. Some cops didn’t like victims much either and seemed to delight in turning things around and making them guilty. If you were a fag and a victim you didn’t stand a chance. It was no surprise the CPD never bothered to find those four nice kids from the suburbs, which at the time didn’t bother me much. There were a couple of days when I even thought the whole thing might blow over and I’d get to hold onto my job. I stonewalled in the two interviews they tried to have with me. But then copies of the police report and Daniel’s statement made the rounds of the department.

“And, of course, I met Daniel,” Meek said.

“You did?”

“I went to see him in the hospital. He’s a nice young man.”

“Yes. He is a very nice young man.”

“He was grateful for my help.”

I nodded.

“Are the two of you still…?” Meek asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No. I’m with someone else now.”

“I guess that’s the way of the world,” he said, and floated out of my office.

 

https://marshallthornton.wordpress.com/

 

Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets written by Marshall Thornton – A Review

BOYSTOWN 4: A TIME FOR SECRETS – Audio Version

Written by Marshall Thornton – Narration by Brad Langer

Review by Jon Michaelsen

In Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets, Marshall Thornton has penned the first full-length novel featuring tough, rough around the edges, at times jaded, former Chicago cop turned private detective, Nick Nowak, which is perhaps my favorite of the series thus far. A Time For Secrets contains a stunning mystery that reveals an older gentleman’s longing to learn whatever happened to his long lost lover, a decades old murder and a mix of Chicago politics; the novel is first rate and deftly written with enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep a reader flying through the pages to find out what happens.

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Also contained within the pages is further insight into the sometimes odd relationship between Nick and his cop-currently on medical leave-boyfriend, Bert Harker, who still has both feet firmly in the closet when it comes to his overbearing and unaccepting mother, Mrs. Harker. Unlike previous Nick Nowak stories, Thornton tosses in a budding friendship his lover, Harker, has with an ambitious young reporter with starry eyes, and seemingly ulterior motives. The boy inserts himself more and more into Nick and Harker’s home — and relationship — in the guise of learning more about the vicious Bughouse Slasher, the last case Harker was working before having to take medical leave as his health got worse.

The Bughouse Slasher case continues a story-arc that has existed since the release of the second Nick Nowak novel, Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries and comes to a head by the end of the novel when readers learn Harker has been secretly carrying on the investigation into discovering the identity of the serial killer, perhaps aided by the doe-eyed young reporter who has now inserted himself into Nick and Harker’s relationship. Not surprising, really, considering the time – early 80s – and the openness of most gay relationships of the time, but readers come away with a real sense of the deep love Nick has for Harker, especially when he is forced to face his own jealously, something even Nick didn’t think he could ever exhibit.

Once again, I listened to the unabridged audio book version. Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets. As I’ve said before, reading and/or listening to a Nick Nowak novel is like slipping on a well-worn leather coat, comfortable and warm and the same feelings holds throughout this novel. Nick Nowak continues his tough man, studly persona, while just beneath the surface he knows he must come to terms with his lover’s worsening health and be there to support Bert. Yet, it’s Harker who comes across stronger than Nick in this regard, working to prepare and provide support to his lover through the enviable, clear his conscience by finally coming out to his mother, and to enjoy what remains of his life.

Narrator, Brad Langer, who has narrated the previous Nick Nowak mysteries, has become Nick Nowak to me. His voice is perfect for the series and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Not only can I highly recommend Boystown 4: A Time For Secrets, but I can also assure any reader of mysteries the entire Nick Nowak mystery series is destined to become a classic, ranked up there with the likes of Michael Nava’s Henry Rios, Richard Stevenson’s Donald Stratchy and Greg Herren’s Chanse MacLeod series.