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


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.



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


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 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.


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



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…”


“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.”


“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.


“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:


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

Boystown 7: Bloodlines by Marshall Thornton


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.”


“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 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries

From “Little Boy Blond”

Sex and money mess most things up. That’s what people think, anyway. And I used to agree. These days, I’m thinking love can mess things up pretty badly, too. Sometimes it can mess things up a whole lot worse.

Paradise Isle reopened on a Friday night at the beginning of October. Davey Edwards rented a klieg light and put it out front. It was good advertising, but I think the main reason he got it was to piss off the neighbors who’d done their best to prevent the nightclub’s reopening—though all they’d managed to do was get it postponed by a month.

I stood under a banner that screamed GRAND REOPENING to check IDs and keep a head count. Davey had decided to skip the cover charge that night in hopes of creating a line around the block behind a velvet rope. It worked. Though at times I had to keep the crowd inside at about twenty-five heads below the number the fire marshal allows so the line stayed populated. Davey had taken a full-page ad in Gay Times, but a line winding down Broadway was better advertising.

Inside, the club had been not only re-created but reinvented. Where there had once been a Plexiglas dance floor, there was now a gleaming expanse of polished black linoleum right out of a Busby Berkley musical. Davey had recreated the neon palm trees and the thatched roofing that had always hung over the bar, but added sturdy, five-foot Grecian pillars on each corner of the dance floor. For opening weekend, there were go-go boys dancing on each pillar in tiny Speedos—consequently, no one asked what Grecian pillars had to do with a tropical theme. Gone were the tacky Hawaiian shirts and the leis he’d once passed out; remaining were the sweaty, bare-chested bartenders.

Miss Minerva Jones wore a spangled mini-dress, white patent-leather platforms, and a pink beehive wig that put her over seven feet tall. As DJ, she’d been planning this night for months. She and Davey had gone round and round about what would be played. “I Will Survive” seemed like a natural, given that the club was literally rising from the ashes. Miss Minerva would only agree to play it twice, though. Davey wanted it every hour on the hour. They also had friction over Blondie, the Police, and Devo. Davey sensed competition from a couple of New Wave clubs that had recently opened. Miss Minerva was a purist, whose tastes ran to classic, urban disco. A single request for Abba could upset her for an entire evening. Still, she acquiesced and played “Call Me,” “Whip It,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” once each.

Boystown 2 Cover 2nd Edition2

The evening was a huge success, and by two a.m. my feet were killing me. I needed to get out of my size twelve Frye boots and into a tub of hot water. Usually, my shift ended an hour earlier when business started to taper off; that night, people kept coming. Finally, though, the tides turned and more people were leaving than coming, and Davey came over and told me to get myself a drink. I headed over to the bar and ordered a beer and a shot of Jack. I downed the shot and lit a Marlboro.

The go-go boys were still dancing. By that point, they were all pretty tired, and some of them were having trouble keeping the beat. I figured they had about fifteen more minutes before exhaustion set in and they fell off their pedestals. On the one nearest me, a stocky blond gyrated and bounced. I’d had my eye on him most of the night. His floppy hair, prominent cheekbones, and faint dimple in his chin had caught my attention early on. I also liked that his body was thick, well muscled, and had patches of light brown hair on his chest and belly. His crooked smile didn’t hurt, either. I sipped my beer and stole looks at him. He noticed my attention and started playing with the band of his blue and white Speedo. Dollar bills were tucked into the trunks, giving his basket a crunchy look. I looked up at his face and caught him smiling at me.

Davey came over and I had to take my eyes off the dancer. A kid was with Davey. Tall and gangly, with an Adam’s apple that could cut glass. The kid looked like a freshman in college. I wondered for a moment if he was Davey’s nephew.

“Great night,” I said to Davey.

He nodded and said, “It’ll do.” I knew something was up, since Davey wasn’t normally shy about basking in success. “Nick, this is Martin Dalton. He owns The Jewel Box.”

I was surprised. I’d heard of The Jewel Box; it was a theater somewhere in Old Town that specialized in showing gay porn films and turning a blind eye when the patrons got friendly with each other. I didn’t think someone so young could be associated with some place that notorious, much less own it.

I shook Martin’s hand. It was warm and damp. “We also make films,” he added. I waited to see why that was important.

“Martin is in need of your services,” Davey explained.

The bulk of my business is background checks. I doubted there was much point in that type of service when it came to triple X actors, so I asked, “What happened? One of your actors run off in the middle of a scene?”

Martin shook his head and said, “No. He was murdered.”

Usually, I flat-out tell people no when they bring up murder. It’s not that I hadn’t investigated murder before, but I did really try not to. This time, I lit a cigarette and said, “Tell me about it.”

“My biggest star was beaten to death in his kitchen,” Martin explained.

“Dex Summers,” Davey added, though it didn’t mean much to me.

“Sounds domestic,” I said, not because it did so much but because most murders are. “The police will figure it out soon enough.”

He shrugged. “In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of aldermen trying to use it as a reason to shut me down.”

“You gotta help him out, Nick,” Davey said.

I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe I was titillated by the idea of porn, or maybe it annoyed me that a couple politicians were trying to get ahead by using this poor guy’s murder, or maybe I just wanted to go home and figured Davey wouldn’t let me until I’d said ‘yes.’ No matter what the reason, I crushed out my cigarette and asked Martin Dalton for a retainer.

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Spending time with the author of the BOYSTOWN mystery series; Marshall Thornton

This week I got to spend some time with the author of the highly popular, BOYSTOWN, series: Marshall Thornton. I love his sexy character, Nick Nowak, a former cop turned private investigator, during the 1980s in Chicago – Interview by Jon Michaelsen;


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?

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.

I have been listening via audio book to the first Nick Nowak novel: Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries. I am looking forward to the next release in audio book. How do you sustain serialized, continuing characters? What are your thoughts about printBoystown5_Murder Book 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.FinalistSM

On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre really want to know. And a huge congratulations on your Boystown 5: Murder Book making finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards in the Gay Mystery/Thriller category.

Thank you!

Last question; will you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

Before the end of the year, my next book The Ghost Slept Over should be out. It’s a romantic comedy for a change of pace.

 Here’s the bluTheGhostSleptOver_finalrb: When failed actor Cal Parsons travels to rural New York to claim the estate of his famous and estranged ex-partner he discovers something he wasn’t expecting…the ghost of his ex! And, worse, his ex invites Cal to join him for all eternity. Now. As Cal attempts to rid himself of the ghost by any means he begins to fall for the attractive attorney representing the estate. Will Cal be able to begin a new relationship or will he be seduced into the ever after?

And, of course, Boystown 6: From the Ashes will be coming out in the spring of 2014.

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