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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Website:

https://marshallthorntonauthor.com/

Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind

By Marshall Thornton

 

Chapter One

Chicago is famous for its wind, its snow, its frigid, bone-cracking cold. It’s not as well known for the one or two weeks each summer when the heat hits the high nineties, and the humidity grips you by the throat and squeezes. For those dog days, which almost always happen in August, we sweat, we overheat, we get red-faced and as angry as cats in a bathtub. Our brief summer heat waves explain why it’s actually a pleasure to wear an overcoat most of the year.

I’d cranked open all the windows in my tenth floor apartment. Joseph and I lay naked on my bed trying not to touch each other, while at the same time trying to spread our limbs so we weren’t touching ourselves either. Joseph had gotten us a plastic spray bottle and filled it with chilled water. Every so often we woke up and sprayed ourselves so the water would evaporate on our skin and cool us down.

The phone rang around three that morning. My first inclination was to not answer as there was a fifty-fifty chance it was a wrong number. Curiosity got me on the sixth ring, though. I pushed myself out of bed and aimed toward the living room. I hoped I’d get lucky and hear a stranger ask for Mary or Bobo or José. But then I picked up the phone and wasn’t lucky.

“Nick? Nick, I need your help.”

I tried not to recognize his voice. I tried to think of a good reason to just hang up. The last person in the world I wanted to be having a conversation with in the middle of the night was Christian Baylor, intrepid journalist and all around pain in the ass.

“Why can’t you come to my office in the morning like a normal person?”

“I need help now. Can you come over?”

I hadn’t seen Christian since April. There was a chance he was calling about a detective named Devlin who had hassled us for a while over the death of the Bughouse Slasher. There was also a chance he was just trying to get me to come over and fuck him.

“I need you, Nick. You have to—” His voice was TV movie urgent.

“No, actually, I don’t have to.”

“There’s a dead man in my bathroom.”

That stopped me. I had no idea whether to believe him or not. I wanted to not believe him. I wanted to call him a liar. But he did strike me as exactly the kind of person who’d end up with a dead man lying around the house.

“Why do you have a dead man in your bathroom?”

“He’s one of my neighbors. Someone shot him and he ran to my apartment, so I let him in and tried to help him. But I couldn’t. It was too late.”

“And the someone with the gun?”

“Took off.”

“So you decided to call me…”

“Yes.”

“Instead of the police?”

“I’m going to call them. I just thought it would be good to have a friend here when I do.”

Friend was pushing it. Still, I said, “Call them now. And I’ll come.”

“You will?”

“Call them.”boystown8

Christian lived in the only contemporary building on that block of Belden. It was about eight stories, red brick, and as architecturally bland as a cheese sandwich. It was about a half hour walk from my place. At that time of the morning it could take fifteen or twenty-minutes to get a cab and even longer to find a parking place if I drove, so I went ahead and hoofed it. When I got there thirty-five minutes later, it was no surprise to find an empty blue-and-white squad car sitting in front of the building with its lights flashing, next to a white van from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Someone had been nice enough to jam a phone book in the lobby door, so I let myself up to Christian’s fifth floor studio—well, close to his studio. When I got off the elevator I was stopped by a wall-sized patrol.

“I’m sorry, this area is closed,” he said.

In the elevator I’d decided to start this off on the wrong foot and had my keys ready in my hand. “I live down there,” I said, pointing at the door across from Christian’s.

“Are you just getting home?”

“Bartender.” I tried to look exhausted which wasn’t much of a stretch.

“You know the guy across the hall?”

“Not well.”

In a lowered voice, he asked, “He a faggot?”

I ground my teeth a little. Then I said evasively, “I try to keep to myself.”

He got a worried look on his face and I thought he was trying to decide whether he should let me by. In my days on the job I wouldn’t have let someone walk through a crime scene. When I set a perimeter it stayed set. But that didn’t mean this guy wasn’t going to let me by.

“This job, man. It’s getting more dangerous every day.”

I stared at him. Other than the fact that it was muggy as a swamp, I didn’t see what was so dangerous about standing in a hallway.

Without being asked, he explained, “There’s blood everywhere in there. Faggot blood.”

Oh. That. His fear didn’t faze me. Panic about AIDS had begun to reach the general population and all the wrong people were freaked out over all the wrong things. Doorknobs, toothbrushes, movie seats. The world was a continuing round of famine, war and genocide, but it was doorknobs that scared the shit out of people.

“I’ll just stick to my side of the hallway.”

He looked around as though someone might give him a yay or nay. Begrudgingly, he said, “All right. Go directly to your apartment.”

I walked down the hallway and stood in front of the door across from Christian’s. I looked over my shoulder. What I saw was disturbing. The patrol was right. Blood was everywhere. The door to the apartment was covered in a big splash of it. Honestly, it looked like someone had thrown a water balloon at the door and it had exploded…except it wasn’t water, it was blood. There was blood on almost every other surface I could see, handprints, splashes, smears; it was everywhere on the butter-colored hardwood floor. I didn’t see the medical examiner anywhere. I guessed he was in the bathroom with the body.

Underneath all that blood, the studio was preciously decorated with a twin-sized daybed covered in too many pillows sitting in front of the one wide window, a mod blue desk and a little cafe table with two metal chairs. The miniscule kitchen sat to the right of the front door. The bathroom was in the back to the left of the living room area.

In the center of the living room, Christian stood talking to another patrol, a thick, tough-looking woman in her late twenties. Christian was slight and too pretty for his own good. He looked like he’d been clubbing; he wore a yellow mesh shirt and a tight pair of jeans with clean, white Chuck Taylors. There wasn’t a drop of blood on him. If he’d tried to help the dead guy like he’d said, his help must not have gone much beyond shouting encouragement. Clearly, he hadn’t been anywhere near the guy while he was bleeding to death.

“Just go into your apartment, sir,” the Wall said. His plastic nametag told me his name was some kind of Slavic, beginning with a V and ended with a -vich. There were ten or twelve letters in between. The Wall was easier to remember.

I turned, wondering exactly how I was going to worm my way out of this. Suddenly the door in front of me opened. A scrawny, fifty-year-old woman in a flowered housecoat stared at me as though I had the word RAPE tattooed on my forehead and then yelled, “GO AWAY!” Before I could, she slammed the door in my face.

Behind me, I heard Christian yell, “Nick! You came!”

I turned fully to look at him, ignoring the glare I was surely receiving from the Wall. Christian hurried out into the hallway, his patrol close behind.

“I can’t believe this happened! It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Who are you, sir?” the female officer asked, her nametag said McCready. “You a neighbor?”

“No. Christian called me. Asked me to come.”

Without turning, I could feel that the Wall had moved in and was now breathing down my neck. I’d lied to him and I could feel his anger floating my way.

“Name?” McCready asked.

“Nick Nowak.”

I decided not to mention my profession since no one was paying me. But Christian had other ideas and told them, “He’s a private investigator.”

McCready looked me up, down and around. “Nowak? You have family on the job?”’

“I do.”

“Bridgeport?”

“That would be them.”

“Then you know this isn’t a social occasion. It’s not a party. Your friend doesn’t get to send out invites. You don’t have any business at our crime scene.”

I tried not to smile at her possessiveness. Someone had been murdered and the crime scene belonged to her. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go stand down the hall.”

“I’d prefer you leave the building entirely,” she said. It really was preference. She didn’t have the right to ask me to leave the building completely. I would have happily gone home, though, except for the panic in Christian’s eyes.

“Do you want me to call a lawyer?” I asked him.

“I didn’t do anything.” Which was actually one of the better reasons to call a lawyer. I didn’t bother pointing it out, though. He was a big enough boy to make his own decisions.

“I’ll be right down here if you need me,” I told him pointing down the hallway

I turned to walk down the hall, and as I walked by the Wall he gave my shoulder a shove as though he didn’t think I’d be able to walk away from the scene on my own. I stumbled a few steps then righted myself. I took a position near the elevator and lit a cigarette. The Wall took a position in the middle of the hallway and puffed himself out in case I tried to slip by him again.

Belden was just over the line into the 18th police district. Harker’s district. Detective Bert Harker had been my lover from the spring of 1981 until he died in September 1982. Eighteen months. The two-year anniversary of his death was coming up in a month. He’d been gone longer than we’d been together. But I didn’t really have time to be thinking about that. I needed to be thinking about Christian Baylor, who Harker had brought into my life.

Since the apartment was in Harker’s old district, I held a faint hope that his former partner, Frank Connors, might be the detective showing up for this investigation. He wouldn’t be happy to see me, but he’d be likely to let me know what was going on.

Unfortunately, after I’d been standing in the hallway by the elevator for about three cigarettes—exchanging cold stares with the Wall—a black guy in his early forties got off the elevator. I could tell he was a detective right off. His ill-fitting, cheap suit and the mean glance he gave me were big clues.

One of the very few times I missed spending time with my family was the year before, when Harold Washington got elected mayor and appointed the first black police commissioner. I would have loved to see the looks on their faces. Having spent decades under the thumb of an Irish mayor and an Irish-dominated police force, I would have loved watching them get passed over for the blacks. Of course, in their view—and there was a bit of truth to it—they’d been getting passed over for the blacks since the seventies, when the department was put under court order to recruit and promote in a way that more accurately reflected the makeup of the city. In other words, more blacks. Whoever it was who’d just walked by me probably got his job due to the court order. I hoped he deserved it.

I decided to try conversation with the Wall. “Where are all the neighbors?”

“We told them to go back inside.”

“Anyone hear anything?”

“Most of them heard someone yell and then the gunshot. There was a lot of peephole peeping, but everyone stayed inside.”

“Just one gunshot?”

He got a look on his face, like he realized he’d already said too much. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a lot of difference to the dead guy.”

After that, the Wall clammed up. Even halfway down the hall, I could hear that people were talking in Christian’s apartment. I just couldn’t hear what they were saying. I did know that whatever Christian was telling them was a bald-faced lie. What I didn’t know was why he was lying. And why he thought he needed me there. He seemed to be doing a bang up job of lying to the police without my help.

Christian told me his neighbor had been shot and ran to his apartment for help. Of course, I thought it was ridiculous that anyone would run to Christian for help. But beyond that there wasn’t any blood in the hallway. Well, any blood other than the blood that had been tracked out of the apartment into the hallway, including a few bloody footprints on the low-pile, butterscotch-colored carpet in front of Christian’s door. I didn’t know whether they belonged to the killer or the patrol officers. As I stood there trying to work that out, I realized there was a faint set of footsteps that came away from the door and continued down the hallway toward me. The footprints were nearly undetectable, fading more with each step. But they continued toward me, then went by me and down the hallway becoming fainter and fainter with each step. I took a few steps down the hallway to find out where they went.

The Wall asked, “Where are you going?”

I pointed at the footprints in the carpet at my feet. The Wall squinted, but he saw what I was showing him. We followed the footprints, which disappeared as we turned the corner on the far side of the elevator. Halfway down a short hallway a garbage chute sat about four feet up the wall: a metal door, eighteen inches square with a handle smeared in blood.

The Wall reached out like he was going to open the chute and I instinctively said, “Don’t touch it.” He gave me a dirty look, mainly because I was right. There was blood, so there would be fingerprints. “Get the detective.”

“I’m not leaving you here.”

“Do you want me to go get the detective while you wait here?”

He pulled me by the arm back to where I’d been standing and then continued down the hall to the door of Christian’s apartment. He kept his eyes on me while speaking into the apartment. “Detective White? There’s something you need to see.”

The Wall kept looking at me and I managed to keep a straight face over the irony of a black detective being named White. The name was like the punch line to a joke that didn’t quite land. Detective White came out of the apartment and followed the Wall down the hallway. They breezed passed me and I followed them.

“Footprints,” the Wall said, pointing at the carpet, then at the garbage chute. “Smudge.”

“Go down to the basement and find out what this kid dropped into the chute,” White said.

The Wall gave him a concerned look. “Who’s gonna watch this guy?”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Unhappy, the Wall turned and went around the corner to the elevator. White looked me over and said, “Your friend is telling a bucket full of lies.”

“I’d offer to tell him to stop, but I have the feeling he lies to me, too.”

“Do you know why he’s lying?”

“Not a clue.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his suit. It was about two sizes too big. I wondered if he’d recently lost a lot of weight and hadn’t bothered with a new wardrobe just in case the diet didn’t stick.

“Officer McCready says you have family on the job.”

“I do. I was on the job myself in the mid-seventies.” I pulled one of my business cards out of a pocket; it wasn’t too badly crumpled so I gave it to him. “Nick Nowak.”

“Monroe White,” he said, shaking my hand. He glanced at my card, “You’re a private dick.”

Dick was an old-timey nickname for a private eye. I figure he used it since it was an opportunity to call me a dick to my face. “Investigator. Yes.”

“Why’d you leave the CPD?”

“Creative differences.”

I could tell he didn’t like my answer. His dark eyes got a shade darker. “What are you doing here?”

“Christian called me.”

“He your boyfriend?” That made me wonder if he already knew why I wasn’t on the job.

“No.”

“That offend you? Me thinking you’re a fag?”

“My boyfriend is an ex-priest. He’s teaching me forgiveness.”

“You fucking this one on the side, then?”

“No. I’m not.”

You would think that who’s fucking who was not the most important thing to figure out in a murder investigation, but you’d be wrong. It’s depressing how often love and death get tangled up together.

“What did Christian say to you on the phone?”

“That his neighbor got shot and ran to his apartment for help, and then died in his bathroom.”

White raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

“No. Someone came to the door, your victim answered and he was shot there at the door. He retreated into the apartment to get away or try to stop the bleeding. I’m only guessing, I haven’t been in there, but I doubt Christian was anywhere near here when it happened.”

“Unless he was the one with the gun.”

“The shooting took place in a closed space. He’d be covered in blood.”

“He took his time. Called you. Maybe he took a shower.”

“Isn’t the body in the bathroom?”

“There are a hundred showers in this building. He didn’t have to get cleaned up in there.”

“Can you prove he took a shower somewhere else?”

“We got time,” he said and walked away from me.

I went back to the spot where I’d been standing to smoke and swelter. I wore a pair of jeans and a blue Cubs T-shirt that Joseph bought me when we went to a game. It was too much clothing. If I thought stripping down to my BVDs would have helped the situation I’d have done it.

The elevator pinged and the door opened. The Wall came out delicately holding a snub-nosed 38 by the barrel with two fingers. He walked quickly down to the apartment. The whole thing was beginning to annoy me. White was already focused on Christian as the main suspect. That was a mistake. Or at least my gut said so. Christian wasn’t the type to murder.

But it was more than that. As I stood there, I began to see little things that didn’t add up. If Christian did shoot the dead guy why did he do it at the front door? Given the mess the blood made on the door—and not in the hallway—it made sense that the guy answered the door and someone shot him. Why would Christian come home and shoot someone in his own doorway?

And why was he so clean? If he did murder the guy and then went somewhere else for a shower, then why not tell the lie that he’d been out and just come home to find this dead guy in his apartment? That was a story that fit the way he looked. The story he told me, that he’d tried to help his neighbor, didn’t fit with the way he looked. If he had murdered the guy, the last thing in the world he should do was take a shower and say he tried to save him. He’d washed the proof of his story away.

Christian was annoying me as much as White. If he didn’t kill the guy, and I was pretty sure he didn’t, then why was he lying? Was there something bigger going on? Something scarier? Something worse than being suspected—

Officer McCready pulled Christian out of the apartment. He was handcuffed and his hands were covered by brown paper bags. The kind mothers pack with lunch for their kids. As they walked by, I said, “Christian, you need a lawyer. Tell them you want a lawyer.”

But he didn’t. He just gave me a confused look that said he didn’t understand what was happening.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 8: The Lies That Bind by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind

By Marshall Thornton

 

Chapter One

Chicago is famous for its wind, its snow, its frigid, bone-cracking cold. It’s not as well known for the one or two weeks each summer when the heat hits the high nineties, and the humidity grips you by the throat and squeezes. For those dog days, which almost always happen in August, we sweat, we overheat, we get red-faced and as angry as cats in a bathtub. Our brief summer heat waves explain why it’s actually a pleasure to wear an overcoat most of the year.

I’d cranked open all the windows in my tenth floor apartment. Joseph and I lay naked on my bed trying not to touch each other, while at the same time trying to spread our limbs so we weren’t touching ourselves either. Joseph had gotten us a plastic spray bottle and filled it with chilled water. Every so often we woke up and sprayed ourselves so the water would evaporate on our skin and cool us down.

The phone rang around three that morning. My first inclination was to not answer as there was a fifty-fifty chance it was a wrong number. Curiosity got me on the sixth ring, though. I pushed myself out of bed and aimed toward the living room. I hoped I’d get lucky and hear a stranger ask for Mary or Bobo or José. But then I picked up the phone and wasn’t lucky.

“Nick? Nick, I need your help.”

I tried not to recognize his voice. I tried to think of a good reason to just hang up. The last person in the world I wanted to be having a conversation with in the middle of the night was Christian Baylor, intrepid journalist and all around pain in the ass.

“Why can’t you come to my office in the morning like a normal person?”

“I need help now. Can you come over?”

I hadn’t seen Christian since April. There was a chance he was calling about a detective named Devlin who had hassled us for a while over the death of the Bughouse Slasher. There was also a chance he was just trying to get me to come over and fuck him.

“I need you, Nick. You have to—” His voice was TV movie urgent.

“No, actually, I don’t have to.”

“There’s a dead man in my bathroom.”

That stopped me. I had no idea whether to believe him or not. I wanted to not believe him. I wanted to call him a liar. But he did strike me as exactly the kind of person who’d end up with a dead man lying around the house.

“Why do you have a dead man in your bathroom?”

“He’s one of my neighbors. Someone shot him and he ran to my apartment, so I let him in and tried to help him. But I couldn’t. It was too late.”

“And the someone with the gun?”

“Took off.”

“So you decided to call me…”

“Yes.”

“Instead of the police?”

“I’m going to call them. I just thought it would be good to have a friend here when I do.”

Friend was pushing it. Still, I said, “Call them now. And I’ll come.”

“You will?”

“Call them.”boystown8

###

Christian lived in the only contemporary building on that block of Belden. It was about eight stories, red brick, and as architecturally bland as a cheese sandwich. It was about a half hour walk from my place. At that time of the morning it could take fifteen or twenty-minutes to get a cab and even longer to find a parking place if I drove, so I went ahead and hoofed it. When I got there thirty-five minutes later, it was no surprise to find an empty blue-and-white squad car sitting in front of the building with its lights flashing, next to a white van from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Someone had been nice enough to jam a phone book in the lobby door, so I let myself up to Christian’s fifth floor studio—well, close to his studio. When I got off the elevator I was stopped by a wall-sized patrol.

“I’m sorry, this area is closed,” he said.

In the elevator I’d decided to start this off on the wrong foot and had my keys ready in my hand. “I live down there,” I said, pointing at the door across from Christian’s.

“Are you just getting home?”

“Bartender.” I tried to look exhausted which wasn’t much of a stretch.

“You know the guy across the hall?”

“Not well.”

In a lowered voice, he asked, “He a faggot?”

I ground my teeth a little. Then I said evasively, “I try to keep to myself.”

He got a worried look on his face and I thought he was trying to decide whether he should let me by. In my days on the job I wouldn’t have let someone walk through a crime scene. When I set a perimeter it stayed set. But that didn’t mean this guy wasn’t going to let me by.

“This job, man. It’s getting more dangerous every day.”

I stared at him. Other than the fact that it was muggy as a swamp, I didn’t see what was so dangerous about standing in a hallway.

Without being asked, he explained, “There’s blood everywhere in there. Faggot blood.”

Oh. That. His fear didn’t faze me. Panic about AIDS had begun to reach the general population and all the wrong people were freaked out over all the wrong things. Doorknobs, toothbrushes, movie seats. The world was a continuing round of famine, war and genocide, but it was doorknobs that scared the shit out of people.

“I’ll just stick to my side of the hallway.”

He looked around as though someone might give him a yay or nay. Begrudgingly, he said, “All right. Go directly to your apartment.”

I walked down the hallway and stood in front of the door across from Christian’s. I looked over my shoulder. What I saw was disturbing. The patrol was right. Blood was everywhere. The door to the apartment was covered in a big splash of it. Honestly, it looked like someone had thrown a water balloon at the door and it had exploded…except it wasn’t water, it was blood. There was blood on almost every other surface I could see, handprints, splashes, smears; it was everywhere on the butter-colored hardwood floor. I didn’t see the medical examiner anywhere. I guessed he was in the bathroom with the body.

Underneath all that blood, the studio was preciously decorated with a twin-sized daybed covered in too many pillows sitting in front of the one wide window, a mod blue desk and a little cafe table with two metal chairs. The miniscule kitchen sat to the right of the front door. The bathroom was in the back to the left of the living room area.

In the center of the living room, Christian stood talking to another patrol, a thick, tough-looking woman in her late twenties. Christian was slight and too pretty for his own good. He looked like he’d been clubbing; he wore a yellow mesh shirt and a tight pair of jeans with clean, white Chuck Taylors. There wasn’t a drop of blood on him. If he’d tried to help the dead guy like he’d said, his help must not have gone much beyond shouting encouragement. Clearly, he hadn’t been anywhere near the guy while he was bleeding to death.

“Just go into your apartment, sir,” the Wall said. His plastic nametag told me his name was some kind of Slavic, beginning with a V and ended with a -vich. There were ten or twelve letters in between. The Wall was easier to remember.

I turned, wondering exactly how I was going to worm my way out of this. Suddenly the door in front of me opened. A scrawny, fifty-year-old woman in a flowered housecoat stared at me as though I had the word RAPE tattooed on my forehead and then yelled, “GO AWAY!” Before I could, she slammed the door in my face.

Behind me, I heard Christian yell, “Nick! You came!”

I turned fully to look at him, ignoring the glare I was surely receiving from the Wall. Christian hurried out into the hallway, his patrol close behind.

“I can’t believe this happened! It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Who are you, sir?” the female officer asked, her nametag said McCready. “You a neighbor?”

“No. Christian called me. Asked me to come.”

Without turning, I could feel that the Wall had moved in and was now breathing down my neck. I’d lied to him and I could feel his anger floating my way.

“Name?” McCready asked.

“Nick Nowak.”

I decided not to mention my profession since no one was paying me. But Christian had other ideas and told them, “He’s a private investigator.”

McCready looked me up, down and around. “Nowak? You have family on the job?”’

“I do.”

“Bridgeport?”

“That would be them.”

“Then you know this isn’t a social occasion. It’s not a party. Your friend doesn’t get to send out invites. You don’t have any business at our crime scene.”

I tried not to smile at her possessiveness. Someone had been murdered and the crime scene belonged to her. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go stand down the hall.”

“I’d prefer you leave the building entirely,” she said. It really was preference. She didn’t have the right to ask me to leave the building completely. I would have happily gone home, though, except for the panic in Christian’s eyes.

“Do you want me to call a lawyer?” I asked him.

“I didn’t do anything.” Which was actually one of the better reasons to call a lawyer. I didn’t bother pointing it out, though. He was a big enough boy to make his own decisions.

“I’ll be right down here if you need me,” I told him pointing down the hallway

I turned to walk down the hall, and as I walked by the Wall he gave my shoulder a shove as though he didn’t think I’d be able to walk away from the scene on my own. I stumbled a few steps then righted myself. I took a position near the elevator and lit a cigarette. The Wall took a position in the middle of the hallway and puffed himself out in case I tried to slip by him again.

Belden was just over the line into the 18th police district. Harker’s district. Detective Bert Harker had been my lover from the spring of 1981 until he died in September 1982. Eighteen months. The two-year anniversary of his death was coming up in a month. He’d been gone longer than we’d been together. But I didn’t really have time to be thinking about that. I needed to be thinking about Christian Baylor, who Harker had brought into my life.

Since the apartment was in Harker’s old district, I held a faint hope that his former partner, Frank Connors, might be the detective showing up for this investigation. He wouldn’t be happy to see me, but he’d be likely to let me know what was going on.

Unfortunately, after I’d been standing in the hallway by the elevator for about three cigarettes—exchanging cold stares with the Wall—a black guy in his early forties got off the elevator. I could tell he was a detective right off. His ill-fitting, cheap suit and the mean glance he gave me were big clues.

One of the very few times I missed spending time with my family was the year before, when Harold Washington got elected mayor and appointed the first black police commissioner. I would have loved to see the looks on their faces. Having spent decades under the thumb of an Irish mayor and an Irish-dominated police force, I would have loved watching them get passed over for the blacks. Of course, in their view—and there was a bit of truth to it—they’d been getting passed over for the blacks since the seventies, when the department was put under court order to recruit and promote in a way that more accurately reflected the makeup of the city. In other words, more blacks. Whoever it was who’d just walked by me probably got his job due to the court order. I hoped he deserved it.

I decided to try conversation with the Wall. “Where are all the neighbors?”

“We told them to go back inside.”

“Anyone hear anything?”

“Most of them heard someone yell and then the gunshot. There was a lot of peephole peeping, but everyone stayed inside.”

“Just one gunshot?”

He got a look on his face, like he realized he’d already said too much. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a lot of difference to the dead guy.”

After that, the Wall clammed up. Even halfway down the hall, I could hear that people were talking in Christian’s apartment. I just couldn’t hear what they were saying. I did know that whatever Christian was telling them was a bald-faced lie. What I didn’t know was why he was lying. And why he thought he needed me there. He seemed to be doing a bang up job of lying to the police without my help.

Christian told me his neighbor had been shot and ran to his apartment for help. Of course, I thought it was ridiculous that anyone would run to Christian for help. But beyond that there wasn’t any blood in the hallway. Well, any blood other than the blood that had been tracked out of the apartment into the hallway, including a few bloody footprints on the low-pile, butterscotch-colored carpet in front of Christian’s door. I didn’t know whether they belonged to the killer or the patrol officers. As I stood there trying to work that out, I realized there was a faint set of footsteps that came away from the door and continued down the hallway toward me. The footprints were nearly undetectable, fading more with each step. But they continued toward me, then went by me and down the hallway becoming fainter and fainter with each step. I took a few steps down the hallway to find out where they went.

The Wall asked, “Where are you going?”

I pointed at the footprints in the carpet at my feet. The Wall squinted, but he saw what I was showing him. We followed the footprints, which disappeared as we turned the corner on the far side of the elevator. Halfway down a short hallway a garbage chute sat about four feet up the wall: a metal door, eighteen inches square with a handle smeared in blood.

The Wall reached out like he was going to open the chute and I instinctively said, “Don’t touch it.” He gave me a dirty look, mainly because I was right. There was blood, so there would be fingerprints. “Get the detective.”

“I’m not leaving you here.”

“Do you want me to go get the detective while you wait here?”

He pulled me by the arm back to where I’d been standing and then continued down the hall to the door of Christian’s apartment. He kept his eyes on me while speaking into the apartment. “Detective White? There’s something you need to see.”

The Wall kept looking at me and I managed to keep a straight face over the irony of a black detective being named White. The name was like the punch line to a joke that didn’t quite land. Detective White came out of the apartment and followed the Wall down the hallway. They breezed passed me and I followed them.

“Footprints,” the Wall said, pointing at the carpet, then at the garbage chute. “Smudge.”

“Go down to the basement and find out what this kid dropped into the chute,” White said.

The Wall gave him a concerned look. “Who’s gonna watch this guy?”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Unhappy, the Wall turned and went around the corner to the elevator. White looked me over and said, “Your friend is telling a bucket full of lies.”

“I’d offer to tell him to stop, but I have the feeling he lies to me, too.”

“Do you know why he’s lying?”

“Not a clue.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his suit. It was about two sizes too big. I wondered if he’d recently lost a lot of weight and hadn’t bothered with a new wardrobe just in case the diet didn’t stick.

“Officer McCready says you have family on the job.”

“I do. I was on the job myself in the mid-seventies.” I pulled one of my business cards out of a pocket; it wasn’t too badly crumpled so I gave it to him. “Nick Nowak.”

“Monroe White,” he said, shaking my hand. He glanced at my card, “You’re a private dick.”

Dick was an old-timey nickname for a private eye. I figure he used it since it was an opportunity to call me a dick to my face. “Investigator. Yes.”

“Why’d you leave the CPD?”

“Creative differences.”

I could tell he didn’t like my answer. His dark eyes got a shade darker. “What are you doing here?”

“Christian called me.”

“He your boyfriend?” That made me wonder if he already knew why I wasn’t on the job.

“No.”

“That offend you? Me thinking you’re a fag?”

“My boyfriend is an ex-priest. He’s teaching me forgiveness.”

“You fucking this one on the side, then?”

“No. I’m not.”

You would think that who’s fucking who was not the most important thing to figure out in a murder investigation, but you’d be wrong. It’s depressing how often love and death get tangled up together.

“What did Christian say to you on the phone?”

“That his neighbor got shot and ran to his apartment for help, and then died in his bathroom.”

White raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

“No. Someone came to the door, your victim answered and he was shot there at the door. He retreated into the apartment to get away or try to stop the bleeding. I’m only guessing, I haven’t been in there, but I doubt Christian was anywhere near here when it happened.”

“Unless he was the one with the gun.”

“The shooting took place in a closed space. He’d be covered in blood.”

“He took his time. Called you. Maybe he took a shower.”

“Isn’t the body in the bathroom?”

“There are a hundred showers in this building. He didn’t have to get cleaned up in there.”

“Can you prove he took a shower somewhere else?”

“We got time,” he said and walked away from me.

I went back to the spot where I’d been standing to smoke and swelter. I wore a pair of jeans and a blue Cubs T-shirt that Joseph bought me when we went to a game. It was too much clothing. If I thought stripping down to my BVDs would have helped the situation I’d have done it.

The elevator pinged and the door opened. The Wall came out delicately holding a snub-nosed 38 by the barrel with two fingers. He walked quickly down to the apartment. The whole thing was beginning to annoy me. White was already focused on Christian as the main suspect. That was a mistake. Or at least my gut said so. Christian wasn’t the type to murder.

But it was more than that. As I stood there, I began to see little things that didn’t add up. If Christian did shoot the dead guy why did he do it at the front door? Given the mess the blood made on the door—and not in the hallway—it made sense that the guy answered the door and someone shot him. Why would Christian come home and shoot someone in his own doorway?

And why was he so clean? If he did murder the guy and then went somewhere else for a shower, then why not tell the lie that he’d been out and just come home to find this dead guy in his apartment? That was a story that fit the way he looked. The story he told me, that he’d tried to help his neighbor, didn’t fit with the way he looked. If he had murdered the guy, the last thing in the world he should do was take a shower and say he tried to save him. He’d washed the proof of his story away.

Christian was annoying me as much as White. If he didn’t kill the guy, and I was pretty sure he didn’t, then why was he lying? Was there something bigger going on? Something scarier? Something worse than being suspected—

Officer McCready pulled Christian out of the apartment. He was handcuffed and his hands were covered by brown paper bags. The kind mothers pack with lunch for their kids. As they walked by, I said, “Christian, you need a lawyer. Tell them you want a lawyer.”

But he didn’t. He just gave me a confused look that said he didn’t understand what was happening.

 

Marshall Thornton’s Website:

http://marshallthorntonauthor.com/

Catching up with the Multi-Lammy Finalist author, Marshall Thornton

MarshallThorntonIt’s been two years since I first interviewed, Marshall Thornton, the author of the very popular BOYSTOWN series. This week, I’ve decided to share the same interview with you again, and provide some updates to what Marshall has been up to with the Boystown series.

Where do you live? City, town, island, country?

I live in Long Beach, California about a block from the beach. I’ve been in Southern California for twenty-five years. Before that I lived in Chicago.

Writer’s rarely like to toot their own horn; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Well, aside from simply still being alive, I’d have to say that my Boystown mystery series is what I’m most proud of. I suppose, I’m also quite proud of the fact that I put myself through college; several times.

Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your home life?

I live in a very large apartment with two roommates, two step-dogs and one pampered pedigree cat.

What inspires and challenges you most in writing?

I think the best writing advice I’ve ever seen is to write something you’d like to read. I find that both inspiring and challenging.

You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers (and fellow writers) would like to know: Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing, or plot out your storylines?

Boystown1

It depends on the project, but generally I start an outline before I begin a project and then never finish it. Sometimes if I loose my way, I stop and re-outline. I will admit that the first five Boystown books have an arc that was unplanned and completely seat of your pants writing. I have actually thought through an arc for the next three or four books… I don’t want to trust in luck twice.

How do you deal with the constant distractions such as blogs, FB, promo and real life (like that dreaded daytime job)?

I’m a multitasker by nature. I don’t have the patience to just do one thing at a time. As I write this I’m also checking my sales numbers, playing World of Warcraft, and considering ways in which our government could become functional.

How do you sustain serialized, continuing characters? What are your thoughts about printBoystown5 versus audio book?

I think the best series, whether in book form or on television, are stories in which the main character has an unsolvable internal conflict at the center of their character. An easy example of that would be the TV comedy Everybody Loves Raymond. Raymond is a guy who hates his family and loves them at the same time. That’s a problem without a solution. In my series, as in many detective series, the main character’s central conflict has to do with the desire for justice and the inability to get justice in an unjust world; in a gay mystery series this internal conflict mirrors the external conflict of our community’s fight for justice.

There are some big differences between audio and print. With audio, I think there’s a temptation to spell everything out for the listener and I’m trying to avoid that. I prefer the listener feel that they’re being told a story rather than having a story acted out for them. Some of the books I’ve listened to go too far with elaborate voices and characterizations; personally, I have trouble finishing those.

Your first book in the Nick Nowak series Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist. Can you share how you learned your novel was a finalist and how you felt?

Honestly, I don’t remember how I found out. I think I saw that the finalists had been announced and went to their site and saw my book. Of course, it felt great. I think I’ve wanted a Lammy since I first heard about them twenty-five years ago – years before I was even writing fiction… It was very exciting to come close.

After your book(s) come out, have you ever had to deal with homophobia, and if so, what form has it taken?

No, I wouldn’t say I’ve dealt with any homophobia. Or at least, not homophobia with a big H. The books are pretty clearly labeled so I wouldn’t expect to. I’ve had a little pushback from some m/m romance readers who aren’t comfortable with Nick’s unrepentant promiscuity. But then, I’m not trying to write that kind of book and I think readers have figured that out by this point.

Boystown 7On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for answering the questions. Huge congratulations on your Boystown 6: From the Ashes  being selected finalist in the 2015 Lambda Literary Awards in the Gay Mystery category. Good luck with Boystown 7: Bloodlines for the 2016 Lammys!

Thank you!

Will you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

The eighth book of the best-selling Boystown Mystery Series begins with a phone call in the middle of the night. Private investigator Nick Nowak is pulled into the troubled world of freelance journalist, and all around pain-in-the-ass, Christian Baylor. When Christian can’t stop lying about the corpse in his bathroom things slip slowly out of control. Meanwhile, Nick’s relationship with former priest Joseph Biernecki takes an unexpected turn and the Federal case against Jimmy English proceeds toward trial

boystown8Boystown 8: The Lies that Bind is available for pre-order currently and will be released February 25, 2016.

Have any questions to ask Marshall? Feel free to post them here and Marshall will be happy to respond!