2017 BEST GAY MEN’S FICTION AWARD – G/G Goodreads’ Reading Group
A lone gnat buzzed about Jonathan’s face. He swiped the air in frustration, more at Paul than with irritation at the pest. He had agitated the insect, which fought to escape and yet managed to fly up his nostril. He plugged the side of his nose and tried to flush the pest without success. Finally, and with apprehension, he swallowed to clear his throat.
Driven by need deeper than thirst, Jonathan ducked inside through the doorway of the single-story cottage and crossed the threshold to the parlor of the west wing, filled with nautical trimmings and reproduced coastal collections. He tore past the cold fireplace and a sofa draped with an old patchwork quilt. The antique double-door bar cabinet nestled in the far corner reminded him of the days his mother had carted him through the vintage shops peppering the Southeastern Coast. In spite of his mood, he smiled at the memories. He snatched a fresh bottle of booze from the shelf below, tossed a couple cubes of ice into his glass, and filled it half-full of scotch.
Jonathan slugged the beverage, refilled his glass, and then shuffled to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing inland. He thought about being stood up by Paul, the knot in his chest traveling up his neck like a hand closing around his throat. Typical. Paul had become more distant of late and the excuses he tried to pass off seemed contrived at best. They were nearing the end of the relationship, perhaps. Jonathan didn’t know anymore, and it drove him crazy.
Stop with the melodramatics, Jonathan chided himself as he sipped his drink and stepped out onto the porch again. He set his cocktail on the railing, reached high above his head, and stretched his arms before crossing them over his chest and gripping his shoulders. The ocean breeze caressed him as he watched the waves rolling in, whitecaps bustling with the fury of stampeding cattle before crashing headlong into shore. Why did it bother him this much? Should he be surprised Paul chose career goals over their relationship yet again? Jonathan should have seen it coming months ago, but he’d ignored the signs, desperate to rekindle the passion slipping away after years of happiness.
A large cargo ship sailed in line of the horizon. Seagulls and pelicans floated along the shoreline searching for food. Jonathan dreamed of a relationship devoid of friction and financial strain, absent of business dinners filled with false hope and weekend interruptions. He savored his career as a successful scriptwriter, but he abhorred the Hollywood lifestyle.
His drink empty, Jonathan began to turn when something caught his eye. Glancing beyond the beach, he scanned the ocean’s surface searching the whitecaps. Someone was bobbing and swirling about in wide circular motions, dipping beneath the waves and resurfacing. Jonathan observed the head and shoulders of a man who seemed to be struggling to remain above the surface. Adrenaline shot through him like a bullet and panic clutched his chest.
He’s in trouble!
Jonathan scanned the beach for help. A few beachcombers walked in either direction along the sand, some strolling hand in hand, as others huddled in groups with a child or two darting out from the pack to race toward the water’s edge. No one seemed to notice the swimmer in distress. Most followed their downcast eyes, searching the beach for the ocean’s treasures washed up in the tide.
Jonathan raced toward the water’s edge and kicked off his loafers, flailing his arms and screaming trying to attract attention. He ripped off his shirt as he ran, the fabric falling behind in the sand. Pausing to strip off his slacks, he trudged into the sea.
Waves battered him in violent succession, pushing him back, forcing him to lift his knees high to stab his feet into the water to stay righted. When the water reached his hips, Jonathan dove headlong into the churning surf. The smack of cold water against his face and chest sobered him as he pinwheeled his arms through the strong current toward the struggling swimmer.
Where did he go? Jonathan eased up to get his bearings, dogpaddling around and looking for the man. He called out, “Can you hear me? I’m here to help.” He swiveled his head back and forth, searching for the swimmer.
I’ve gone too far, he thought. Jonathan whipped around, turning back toward the beach. The cottage stood farther up the beach than his current position. Fearing the swimmer had disappeared beneath the surface, Jonathan ducked below the water and aimed his body deep, opening his eyes to take a quick peek. The sting of the saltwater forced his lids shut and he retreated.
Jonathan angled his body upward and kicked his feet hard against the strong current. Reaching the surface proved elusive, as the undertow sucked him down. Disoriented and terrified, his lungs begging for air, Jonathan clawed at the wall of seawater to no avail. No matter where he aimed, he couldn’t find the surface. The harder he fought the farther down he sank. Desperate for oxygen, his heart pounding, Jonathan’s life flashed before him.
Is this it? Am I doomed to be another tragic drowning?
Jonathan drifted into a quiet calm from lack of air, his thoughts a random jumble. Why had he charged forth in the first place, foolish considering all the alcohol? What about Paul? Would he be stunned to learn of his death, perhaps feel guilty about refusing to join him sooner? Would his family ever forgive his carelessness?
His chest compressed, expressing the last bit of air from his lungs. He wrestled an onslaught of convulsions as brackish seawater invaded his nose and mouth, his lungs. Arms and legs became lead. He lashed out, each stroke pulling him down until he finally hit the ocean floor.
The undertow snatched him away as his awareness waned. He lashed out in a futile attempt to right himself but grasped onto something slick and supple instead. His fingers slid over the soft object.
Something large and powerful slammed into him from behind. He felt an incredible tug against his body, a whoosh that snapped him back like a bungee cord before he blacked out.
Island myth, or guarded secret…destiny lures Jonathan home.
Jonathan’s ten-year relationship with Paul has lost its spark, so in a last-ditch effort to rekindle the passion they once shared, Jonathan rents a seaside cottage in his boyhood hometown; Tybee Island, Georgia, a quaint, tiny coastal islet he abandoned more than a decade or so ago.
But, the romantic surprise backfires royally when his partner rushes off to woo a high-profile client in Chicago, leaving Jonathan alone and broken-hearted. While killing his pain with loads of alcohol the afternoon of his arrival on the beach, nothing seems to ease the gut-wrenching pain.
That’s when Jonathan notices a swimmer caught in a riptide, desperate to stay afloat. Without hesitation, the west coast transplant races to the water’s edge, trudging through seawater before diving headlong into the raucous surf. Soon, he too, falls victim to the fierce undertow, struggling to reach the surface and fearing the worst.
Then a mighty force slams into him from behind, causing him to blackout. When he regains consciousness, Jonathan realizes he is surrounded by horrified beachcombers, all staring at his half-naked body.
How did Jonathan get to shore?
What happened to the drowning man?
And, who is the mysterious old woman gaping at him from afar?
Jon Michaelsen is a writer of fiction in the mystery, suspense and thriller genres.
A born southerner born near the Chattahoochee River, his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when he was a young boy; where he remains today. His debut mystery novel, Pretty Boy Dead, was selected as a Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Mystery. He is currently writing the second Kendall Parker Mystery, The Deadwood Murders, expected in early 2019.
He lives with his husband of 32 years and two monstrous terriers.
Contact him: Michaelsen.email@example.com
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The phone’s ringing went through Hazard’s skull like a couple of inches of good steel. One minute he was asleep. The next, awake and feeling like someone had shoved a spear through the back of his head. It went on for a long time. Then it went quiet. Later, it rang again. A fragment of memory—not for us, the flashing bronze, was that Homer?—because the noise was like the blade of a fucking spear going into his brain. And then, again, blessed silence. The pillow, he thought drowsily as he tried to sink under the headache and into the gray stillness of sleep, smelled like Nico.
For a while he was there again, inside that grayness, while a part of his brain recycled the past night. The hammering music inside the Pretty Pretty. The smell of sweat and superheated lights and Guinness. Nico pressed against him—no, Nico across the room, far off, while Hazard talked to Marcus. No, to the hot guy in the jacket and tie. No, to the bouncers. And through it all, that mixture of headache and bass line, pounding, pounding, pounding—
Pounding on the door. Hazard jerked free of the tangled bedding. Immediately, he regretted it. The headache surged back to the front of his head, and he had to steady himself against the nightstand. The clock marked a bleary eleven. Whoever was knocking was really going to town.
“Just a minute,” Hazard shouted.
Pants. And a shirt. But he had no memory of where anything had ended up last night, and he came up with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The shorts fit. The shirt didn’t. It had to be Nico’s, but it felt like a child’s. A child’s small. Jesus, maybe an infant’s. It was choking the life out of Hazard.
And somebody was still trying to pound down the door.
Squeezed into the tiny shirt—had Nico bought it for a nephew? what the hell was it doing on the floor?—Hazard stumbled to the door and glanced through the peephole. Groaning, he turned back to the bedroom.
“I can hear you,” Somers called from the other side of the door.
Hazard kept going.
“I’ll keep knocking.”
Hazard kicked aside Nico’s empty laundry basket. His toes caught in the plastic mesh, and he swore as he ripped them free.
“I’ve got Big Biscuit.”
At the bedroom door, Hazard stopped.
Somers had gone silent. Even without seeing Somers, even with a solid door between them, Hazard knew the bastard was smug. Probably grinning. Hazard knew he should go back to bed. He should take one of those pills for his head and pull the covers over his eyes and just go back to bed, and when he woke up, he’d call Nico, and he’d figure out what he’d done wrong last night, and he’d apologize the way he’d apologized to Billy, the way he’d apologized to Alec. He’d eat the same old shit out of this shiny new bowl. That was it. He’d just get into bed and ignore Somers. He’d—
By that point, he’d already unlocked the front door.
“Took you long enough—Jesus God, what are you wearing?”
Somers, a plastic carryout bag hanging from one hand, appraised him. And it was exactly that: pure, fucking appraisal. Somers was hot. He was runway hot, swimsuit hot, blond and golden-skinned, even in the middle of winter, fuck him, and with eyes like Caribbean waters. Today, like every day, he managed to look like he’d just rolled out of bed—and like he hadn’t been alone. His button-down was rumpled, his jacket was askew, his hair had that perfect messiness that made Hazard itch to run his hands through it. And he was still standing there, still appraising Hazard like he might buy him at auction. Now there was a thought. Hazard barely suppressed a second, very different kind of groan.
“Give me the food.”
“You look like shit.”
Hazard tried to shut the door; he blamed his headache and hangover for the fact that Somers still managed to sneak inside. As Somers always did when he came to Nico’s apartment—Nico and Hazard’s apartment, Hazard amended—he made a show of considering the mess. Nico’s clothes, Nico’s books, Nico’s shoes, Nico’s latest shopping. There were about three square inches of space that weren’t covered by something that Nico owned.
Somers went straight to the table and shoved a pile of unmatched socks onto the floor. Then, after a moment’s consideration, he shoved a stack of textbooks.
“Please don’t start.”
“I know I’m messy.”
“Somers, I’ve got the worst headache, and I’m tired, and I—”
“I mean, I know I’m messy. I know that’s why you moved out. One of the reasons.”
Hazard gave up and waited for the rest of it.
“But this,” Somers gestured at the chaos—he paused, Hazard noted, when he saw a stack of some of Nico’s more provocative underwear. Hazard shoved them under one of the sofa cushions.
Somers, smirking, continued, “But this is insane. It’s like you’re living in a dorm. Or a frat. And as much as you might have enjoyed close quarters with all those rich, athletic boys, sharing showers, dropping towels, a few playful wrestling moves turn into something not quite so playful—”
“Somers, I swear to Christ.”
“—you’ve got to admit you don’t like living like this.”
“Are you done?”
“Because if you’ve got more jokes, get them out now.”
Somers spread his hands innocently.
“Any more comments about my—” He had been about to say boyfriend, but the word stuck in his throat. For once, his hesitance to acknowledge his relationship with Nico had nothing to do with how he felt about Somers. “—about my apartment?”
“It’s not yours.”
“I’m just saying, it’s not. It’s Nico’s.”
“You’re a real piece of work.”
“I mean, I get it. You’re living here now. But it’s not like that’s going to last forever.”
The last words struck home hard. Hazard dropped into a seat at the table, head in his hands.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Ree, I was just teasing. Well, mostly. I mean, this place is a mess, but I’m not trying to—come on. What’s going on?”
The pounding in Hazard’s head had gotten worse. He needed one of those pills, but he couldn’t drag himself out of the chair. Not yet. Just a minute, he just needed a minute.
“All right,” Somers said. “Your hair is all loose and wild and sexy barbarian, which means you either just finished banging one out with Nico or you haven’t showered yet. You’re wearing a shirt that’s about eighteen sizes too small, and those gym shorts—well, you’re going commando, buddy. So again: either you just nailed Nico the wall, or you’re—” Somers whistled. “You’re hungover.”
“I’m not hungover.”
“You are. You had a fight with Nico. You got plastered. You’re wrecked.”
“You don’t have to sound so goddamn happy about it.”
Neither man spoke for a moment. Then Somers touched the back of Hazard’s neck, and Hazard flinched.
“He hit you? That motherfucking piece of shit put a hand on you?”
“What? God. No.”
“You’ve got a bruise about a mile long back here. Doesn’t he have any fucking brains? Didn’t he even think about the fact that you’re still healing, that you shouldn’t even bump your head, let alone—and the little bitch hit you from behind, didn’t he? Where is he?” Somers hadn’t moved, hadn’t raised his voice, hadn’t so much as lifted his fingers from Hazard’s neck. But it was like someone else had come into the room. It put a shiver down Hazard’s back. And deep in his brain, at the surface of conscious thought, he realized he liked it. “Where is he?” Somers asked again. “That’s all you have to say, just tell me where.”
“You’re acting crazy.”
“All right. All right. You don’t say anything. You don’t have to say anything.”
“You’re out of your damn mind. Will you stop acting like this?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll find him myself.”
“John-Henry, will you sit down and listen to me?”
Somers fell back into his seat. They sat that way for a moment, neither of them speaking, both watching the other as though seeing something new. Hazard had grown up in Wahredua. He had grown up hounded, persecuted, tormented by the man who sat in front of him. He had come back to this place, to this town he hated above all else, unwillingly, and he had found himself partnered with a man he had hated for most of his life—hated and, even worse, been attracted to. And instead of the bully, instead of the thug, instead of the cocky football star, he’d found an intelligent, funny, skilled detective who had wanted to make the past right. It hadn’t hurt that Somers had grown up to be the kind of hot that, in a cartoon, would have made the mercury in a thermometer shoot up so fast the glass exploded. Somers’s hand was still on the back of Hazard’s neck. His fingers felt good there. They raised a strip of goosebumps down Hazard’s chest.
So Hazard told him.
“He’s just not that kind of guy,” Somers said with a shrug.
“What kind? And don’t say something asshole-ish. Don’t say he’s not the kind that’s mature or something like that.”
“Me? I meant he’s not the kind that likes jealousy.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“You beat up a guy for kissing your boyfriend.”
“I didn’t beat him up. You make it sound like I’m in eighth grade.”
“In eighth grade, you were so scrawny you could barely hold a pencil.” Somers smirked. “Well, I guess you were definitely strong enough to hold your pencil, if you get what I—”
“I get it.”
“I meant your dick. That’s what I meant by pencil.”
“Not everybody likes jealousy. Some people get off on it. Some don’t mind—they might appreciate it, but they aren’t looking for it. And some people don’t like it. Hate it, even.”
“I’m not jealous.”
Somers fixed him with a look.
“All right, I shouldn’t have hit that guy.”
“I definitely shouldn’t have thrown him.”
“And I should have let Nico handle it.”
“Yeah, well, you definitely shouldn’t have done that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What did you mean?”
“I’m an idiot, all right? Stuff just comes out of my mouth sometimes.”
“You meant something. You—” Before Hazard could finish, his phone buzzed. He pulled it out, and a message from Nico showed on the screen. I’m staying at Marcus’s place for a few more days. Can you tell me a time you’ll be out of the apartment so I can pick up a few things?
“What?” Somers said.
Hazard dropped the phone on the table. Picking it up, Somers read the message. His eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t say anything.
Somers put the phone back on the table.
“Don’t fucking say you’re sorry. Don’t act like you’re not thrilled. Don’t act like this isn’t what you wanted.”
It took a moment before Somers answered, and when he spoke, his voice was carefully neutral. “I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
And it sounded so pathetic, like such an absolute, flat-out lie, that Hazard was blushing as soon as it was out of his mouth, and he was grateful Somers didn’t even acknowledge the words.
“Let’s eat. You’re hungover. Your head hurts. You need food.” Somers unpacked the clamshell containers of takeout from Big Biscuit, and then he touched the back of Hazard’s neck again. “You’ve got to eat something. And you need a drink. Water, I mean. Lots of it. And those pills for your head, have you taken any today? Christ, of course you haven’t.”
Hazard knew he should get up. He could grab plates and forks. He could pour a glass of water. He could clean the rest of this shit, Nico’s shit, so there’s was actually a decent space to eat. He didn’t, though. He barely had the energy to turn the phone face-down so he didn’t have to see that damn message any longer.
Hazard swallowed the pills dry, and then a cool glass was pressed into his hand.
He drank, and when he’d finished, Somers opened the clamshells. Steam wafted off home fries, eggs over easy, and biscuits the size of dinner plates. Buttery, flakey, pillowy biscuits. Hazard waited for the smell to turn his stomach, but he was surprised that instead, he was hungry.
They ate, and as they ate and as the pills took effect, the worst of the pain—both emotional and physical—started to pass. It wasn’t gone. It wasn’t even close to gone. But it got better, and the world didn’t seem like one big turd waiting for the flush. At least, not completely. Not—
—with Somers there—
—while the biscuits lasted.
It wasn’t until Hazard had dragged the last home fry through a smear of ketchup that he noticed the third clamshell. Reaching over, he popped it open, and three delicate slices of strawberry french toast met his eyes.
“Are you shooting for three hundred?” Somers asked as Hazard speared the french toast and dragged it towards him.
“You’re not going to fit into your pants.” A smile crinkled Somers’s face, and it was so boyish, so genuine, that for a moment Hazard forgot about Nico and forgot about his cracked head and forgot, even, about the french toast dripping strawberries down his wrist. “You can barely fit into your shirt as it is.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“An idiot who made you smile.”
“I didn’t smile.”
Somers’s grin got bigger.
“All right,” the blond man finally said, shoving away the rest of his food. “We’ve got to think strategically.” Hazard barely heard him; a half-eaten biscuit was staring back at Hazard. Half. Half of one of those perfect, heavenly creations. Half just tossed aside, like Somers was going to throw it in the trash. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” Somers said, knocking the styrofoam container towards Hazard. “Just eat it before you choke on your own spit.”
“They’ll have to order one of those shipping containers to bury you.”
“I’m recovering. I need to build up my strength.”
Rolling his eyes, Somers said, “Here’s what we’re going to do: you’re going to take a shower. I’m going to make some phone calls. Then we’re going to do it.”
The biscuit went sideways in Hazard’s throat, and he began to choke. When he’d managed to clear his windpipe, he said, “What?”
A rakish grin peeled back the corners of Somers’s mouth.
“You did that on purpose,” Hazard grumbled. “Going to do what?”
“Get Nico back.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in. “No.”
“No. Whatever this is,” he gestured at the phone, “however it works out, it’ll be fine. I don’t need you—”
“Do you want him to break up with you?”
Hazard hesitated. Yesterday, at the Pretty Pretty, he would have said yes. But now—now things were different. Facing into the loneliness, facing into the abyss, Hazard found himself unsure. Things were good with Nico. Things had been really good. So they’d had a fight. So they’d had one little fight. All they had to do was work it out, figure where things went wrong, and things would be good again.
A little voice in his head, though, asked if that were true, then why hadn’t he answered Somers yet?
“That’s what I thought,” Somers said. “So we’ll take it from the top: flowers, a card, reservations at Moulin Vert. I bet if I ask, Cora will call him and get him to meet you there. She’s good with people, she really is. And we’ll have you dressed to the nines, and that poor boy won’t know what hit him.” Somers’s grin tightened. “You’re Emery fucking Hazard. He doesn’t have any idea how lucky he is, but we’re going to change that.”
Hazard suppressed a grimace at the mention of Cora, Somers’s estranged wife. “Look, this isn’t—”
But Hazard never finished the objection. Somers’s phone rang, and he glanced at the screen and answered it. His questions were short, sharp, and familiar.
When Somers ended the call, he shrugged and stood. “No time for a shower, I’m afraid, but you’ll probably want to change out of the shirt. It’s a little cold for that.”
Hazard ignored the jab. “What is it?”
“This isn’t one of those fake shootings, is it? This isn’t Batsy Ferrell calling because she’s upset about the gun range at Windsor?”
“No. This is the real deal. Looks like a murder.”
“Any ID on the victim?”
Somers blew out a breath. His eyes were very bright. They were bright like the sun flat on top of tropical water. But some of the color had left his face. “Oh yeah, plenty of ID. Just about everybody there ID’d him.”
Everything in Emery Hazard’s life is finally going well: his boyfriend, Nico, is crazy about him; he has a loyal partner at work; and he has successfully closed a series of difficult murders. By all accounts, he should be happy. What he can’t figure out, then, is why he’s so damn miserable.
After a fight with Nico, Hazard needs work to take his mind off his relationship. And someone in town is happy to oblige by murdering the sheriff. The job won’t be easy; the sheriff had enemies, lots of them, and narrowing down the list of suspects will be difficult. Difficult, but routine.
The arrival of a special prosecutor, however, throws the case into turmoil, and Hazard and Somers find themselves sidelined. With an agenda of his own, the prosecutor forces the case toward his favorite suspect, while Hazard and Somers scramble to find the real killer. As the people they care about are drawn into the chaos, Hazard and Somers have to fight to keep what they love–and to keep each other. To find the killer, they will have to reveal what each has kept buried for years: their feelings for each other.
And for Hazard, that’s a hell of a lot scarier than murder.
Find our more about Hazard and Somerset mystery-series by author, Gregory Ashe at his website by clicking on his image.
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Emery Hazard and his partner, John-Henry Somerset, have solved their first case together. The brutal murders that rocked the quiet town of Wahredua have been put to rest. Hazard, however, finds his life has only grown more complicated as he adjusts to his new home. Living with Somers, whom he has been drawn to since high school, makes ‘complicated’ the understatement of the year.
The turmoil of living together spills over when Hazard and Somers find themselves trapped by the weather in an old mansion and, against Hazard’s better judgment, sharing a bed. Strictly as friends, of course. Just when things can’t get any more confusing, the next morning brings a worsening storm–and a murder.
Cut off from the outside world, Hazard and Somers must face a clever, determined killer who is hiding among the mansion’s guests. Without backup, they can only rely on their wits–and on each other–to survive. And as the snow falls and the mansion’s guests continue to die one by one, solving the string of murders becomes secondary. First, Hazard and Somers have to survive.
Rain swept down from the sky in huge sheets, drops drumming against wood and metal and glass until Hazard could barely hear himself think. As he sprinted towards the Impala, with Somers at his side, rain stung his face. By the time they reached the car, only fifteen feet from the door, both men were soaked. Hazard could feel himself dripping as he sank into the passenger seat.
Hazard told himself it wasn’t Somers’s fault. Somers couldn’t control the weather. Somers couldn’t have known that the phone call would be about a shooting or that the visit to Mrs. Ferrell would require them to stop at Windsor. Somers couldn’t have done anything different, really. Except, of course, keep his goddamn mouth shut instead of volunteering them for holiday work.
As the Impala revved to life and the heaters cranked out humid warmth, rain glazed the windshield so thickly that Hazard could barely see beyond the hood. Somers, squinting and leaning over the steering wheel, looked like he was having the same problem. The Impala crawled forward, thumping once over the edge of the brick pavement before Somers adjusted their course.
And still the rain kept coming. It had been like this for a week. It felt like it had been an eternity. Rain, and then rain, and then more rain: so much rain that Hazard was surprised—and disappointed—that Wahredua hadn’t slid into the Grand Rivere. A slapping noise, too wet and brittle to be called drumming, filled the car as the rain hit the windshield, and the Impala’s heater circulated the smell of wet wool so that it was all Hazard could taste.
The Impala jerked to a halt so suddenly that Hazard rocked forward, his head narrowly missing the windshield. “What the hell—” Then Hazard saw what had caused Somers to stop: the Petty Philadelph had overrun its banks. The water surged up into the overgrown fields, trampling the tall grass before swirling around the Impala’s tires. Ahead of the car, water skated across the top of the bridge.
“How fast do you think it’s moving?” Somers shouted over the drumming rain.
“It’s just skimming the top of the bridge. We can still make it.”
Somers set his face in determination. “We’re getting you to Nico’s house. You’ll never forgive me if you don’t have a chance at going away sex.”
“You’re a complete and total idiot.” But Hazard didn’t object as Somers eased the car forward. Somers was right: the water did look like it was barely rushing over the top of the bridge. And the bridge wasn’t very long. They’d only have to drive carefully for ten or fifteen yards, and then they’d reach dry—well, relatively—land on the other side and be safely on their way back to Wahredua.
As soon as the Impala’s tires touched the bridge, though, metal shrieked and groaned. Water shoved the Impala sideways, and the nose of the car hammered into the bridge’s support. Over the thrum of the rain, the shrill noise of twisting metal grew stronger, and a tremor ran through the bridge and up into the Impala.
“Get out,” Hazard said, fumbling with his seat belt.
Somers didn’t speak; his face had lost some color, but his features were still set in a kind of extreme focus. With two quick movements, he undid his seatbelt and then Hazard’s. Then he pulled the latch, and the door swung open, forced by the rising water.
“This way,” Somers said, grabbing Hazard’s jacket and tugging him across the center console. “The water’s blocking your door.”
Hazard crawled into the driver’s seat, ignoring the searing stab of pain in his shoulder, and splashed out into the water that was already hitting him mid-calf. He staggered under the rushing speed of the water, but Somers still had hold of his jacket, and he used it to steady the larger man. Supporting each other against the growing force of the flood, the two detectives stumbled towards higher ground.
The water was still ankle-deep when the bridge gave a last, pained squeal and tore free. The wood-and-steel frame whipped around once in the Petty Philadelph’s muddy waters, and then it crashed against the bank, bounced, crashed again, and drifted out of reach of the Impala’s headlights. The Impala, its front tires no longer supported by the bridge, sagged forward into the river. Inch by inch, the car slid away.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Somers said, wiping rain from his eyes as he stared at the sinking Impala. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Icy rain continued to pelt the men; Hazard shivered, and he was suddenly aware of the river water and the rain leaching heat from him. Somers still had hold of Hazard’s jacket, and Hazard pried him loose.
“Come on,” Hazard said. “Before we freeze to death.”
By the time they reached the house, Hazard’s shivering had become uncontrollable, and his teeth chattered so violently he was afraid of biting his tongue in two. Somers, who was smaller and carried substantially less body fat, looked blue. Hazard half-carried his partner up the steps to Windsor, propped Somers against the door, and started hammering on the wood.
What felt like an eternity passed before the door swung open, and Meryl, with her red hair shining like a welcome fire, stared at them. “What in the—”
Hazard pushed past her, dragging Somers into the entry hall. “Fireplace,” Hazard managed between bouts of chattering. “T-t-towels.”
“The dining room,” Meryl said. “You know the way. I’ll grab towels and blankets.”
Without waiting for an answer, she sprinted up the stairs, moving faster than Hazard expected a woman in a gown to move. Hazard, still carrying much of Somers’s weight, moved into the dining room. He was pleased to see that the other guests had abandoned the room, and even more pleased to see that platters of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes with congealed butter still sat on the table. A fire flickered in the chimney, and Hazard and Somers dragged chairs next to the flames. With the poker, Hazard stirred the logs and added more fuel. Heat poured over them, and, still shivering, Hazard sank back into the chair.
“Y-y-y-you’re going to s-s-set yourself on fire,” Somers managed.
Hazard blinked at the other man, too tired to respond, and settled lower towards the flames.
Somers tried to say something else, but he couldn’t get it out. Instead, he settled for leaning forward and swatting Hazard on the leg. Hard. The blow stung, and Hazard pulled his legs back. It was only then that he noticed the smoke curling up from his trousers. With a grudging nod, Hazard pulled his seat back from the flames—but only a little.
“What happened?” Meryl, clutching towels and blankets to her chest, watched them from the doorway.
“Bridge is out,” Hazard managed to say. The heat from the fire soaked into his chilled skin, and as numbness gave way, tingling prickles took its place. He shrugged out of his jacket, worked stiff fingers into the pocket, and found his phone.
“Who do I call?”
Hazard dialed, and a familiar voice answered on the second ring. “Swinney.”
Elizabeth Swinney and her partner, Albert Lender, were the other two detectives on Wahredua’s police force. Both of them seemed decent types, but Swinney had struck a note of friendship with Hazard. More importantly, between Swinney and Lender, they knew Wahredua and the surrounding county better than almost anyone—they specialized in drug-related crime, which took them all over the area.
“Where are you?”
“Halfway to Nebraska. We’re spending Thanksgiving on the farm if you can believe that. Where are you?”
“That big house near the Petty Philadelph.”
“I know what Windsor is. Why are you there?” Then Swinney groaned. “Lord, this doesn’t have to do with Mrs. Ferrell does it?”
“Pretty much. Bridge is out.”
“You all right?”
“But you’re stuck at Windsor?”
“That’s why I’m calling.”
Swinney was silent for almost a full minute, and then Hazard heard the line ringing. For a moment, he thought the call had disconnected, and then a man’s voice picked up. “Swinney? What’s up?”
“Lender, I’ve got Hazard on the line. Bridge is out at Windsor, and he and Somers—that’s right, isn’t it, you’ve got Somers with you?”
“He and Somers are stuck there. You know another way out? Backroads?”
“Geez, you guys picked a bad time to go to Windsor.”
Hazard didn’t bother to reply.
“Windsor’s land stretches a long way. There used to be a service road that met up with some of it.”
“Used to be?”
“Gone. It was a dirt road, and it washed out years ago.”
“Maybe we could still find it.”
On the other end of the line, Lender snorted. “Nothing left to find. You could walk right past it and see nothing but the last ten year’s growth.”
Hazard decided now wasn’t the best time to tell them about the car being lost to the Petty Philadelph. Instead, he said, “So we’re stuck here.”
“Until the rain dies down at least.”
No one spoke for a moment.
“That all? I’ve got to get back to my kids.”
“Thanks, Lender,” Swinney said.
“Happy Thanksgiving.” A click marked Lender’s disconnection.
“You’ve got somewhere you can hole up?” Swinney asked. “I can call the company that owns Windsor, see if they have a place you can stay.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“You want me to call Cravens?”
“No, I’ll do it.”
“You want me to drive back there and see what I can do?”
“Keep driving to Nebraska, Swinney. Somebody deserves a vacation.”
“Give me a call if I can help.”
Hazard disconnected the call. He was surprised that the pins-and-needles in his hands had faded and the terrible cold gripping him had eased. The smell of roast turkey made his stomach grumble, and Hazard dragged himself out of the chair and over to the table. Using a leftover dinner roll, he made a sandwich of turkey and stuffing. Meryl approached with the towels, but Hazard waved her away.
“Yeah?” Hazard asked, holding the sandwich towards Somers.
Somers nodded and took the sandwich, which he devoured in three bites. Hazard made a plateful of sandwiches, carried them back to the fire, and shared them with Somers.
“You don’t want to dry off?” Meryl asked as she hovered near the table, a towel outstretched.
“Not until I’m out of these clothes,” Hazard said. “Laundry?”
“They said—” Meryl gestured towards the back of the house. “In case we had an emergency, there’s a machine back there.”
“I don’t suppose you’re going to do it,” Hazard said, fixing a glower on Somers.
Somers must have been feeling better because he managed a weak grin. “I’ll just hang everything up to dry.”
“Fucking barbarian,” Hazard said, stuffing the last of the sandwich in his mouth. He dialed his phone again, and this time, the call picked up on the first ring.
“We’ve got a problem, Chief.”
“What’s going on?”
Hazard told her everything, starting with Mrs. Ferrell and ending with Lender’s pronouncement that there was no way to leave Windsor. When he’d finished, he said, “You want to send a chopper for us?”
“I hope you’re joking, Detective.”
“Not really. I’m not planning on spending Thanksgiving at this place, and Somers and I are on duty tomorrow.”
“We’ll find someone to cover.”
“Swinney and Lender are—”
“I know where my detectives are, thank you very much. Let me think.” After a moment, Cravens said, “There’s nothing to do about it. You stay there until the weather clears up. I’ll start making phone calls about getting a temporary bridge; we’ll have to evacuate everyone as soon as it’s safe to do so. Are you and Detective Somerset all right?”
“We’re doing better than the department vehicle.”
“We’ll talk about that later. You’ve got food, you’ve got a roof, you’ve got heat. For now, plant yourselves and try not to cause any trouble. I don’t need you giving the mayor another reason to stretch my neck on the block.”
What did the mayor have to do with any of it? Before Hazard could ask, though, Cravens said goodbye and disconnected the call, and Hazard was left staring at the phone in his hand. Then, not quite ready to face Nico’s anger, Hazard sent a quick text: Grab the shuttle, we’re stuck. Call later.
“Well?” Somers said. The color had come back into his face, and aside from the occasional shiver, he looked like he could have splashed off the set for a commercial—cologne, maybe, or a fancy watch, something high-end and very expensive.
“We stay until they can put in a temporary bridge and evacuate us.”
“Evacuate us?” Meryl dropped into a chair at the table. “You’re kidding, right? We’re stuck here?”
“Boy, I have all the luck.” She blew out a breath, shaking back her fiery hair to expose a pale neck and an even paler decolletage. Somers was noticing that decolletage, and Hazard noticed him noticing, and he hated the fact that he was noticing Somers’s noticing.
“Extra toothbrush?” Hazard said abruptly, getting to his feet to break the moment. “Soap? Shampoo?”
“What? Oh, yes. It’s like a hotel, see? They have all of that in the bathrooms.”
“How about a place for us to stay?”
“Let me—Ran, don’t try to sneak away. I saw you.”
Ran, his acne shining in the firelight, slunk into the dining room. “I wasn’t sneaking,” he said in his high, whiny voice.
“The detectives need a place to stay.”
“Because they just do, all right?” Meryl got to her feet, still clutching the towels and blankets. “Do you still have that stupid map?”
“It’s not stupid.”
“Do you have it?”
“If it were stupid, you wouldn’t want it.” Ran gave a nasally giggle at this. “But you do want it.”
“Ran—” Meryl began.
“A room with two beds,” Hazard said. “Either take us there or give me the goddamn map, right now.”
Ran swallowed the rest of his giggle, wrapping his arms around his thin chest, his eyes sullen as he said, “There’s only one room left.”
“Then let’s see it.”
Hazard and Somers followed the acne-spattered young man through the entry hall and up to the second floor. Meryl trailed behind them. At the top of the landing, Hazard noticed the light shining under the door where Adaline had delivered Thomas Strong’s dinner. When Hazard looked up, Meryl was watching him.
“Working late,” Hazard said.
In a whisper, Meryl said, “He hasn’t come out all night, and you saw what happened to poor Adaline when she disturbed him. He’s all in a frenzy about the stock price. It went rock-bottom today, that’s what Benny says, and Thomas quite literally might go mad if he can’t get it back up.”
They continued down the hallway. Electric sconces were dimmed to provide only the faintest glow, and the wood paneling glimmered at odd angles. The air was colder here, Hazard noticed, and another shiver ran through him. Up here, the smell of wax polish and a dry, stone scent, which made Hazard think of a museum, filled the air. Ran led them past a series of doors, all closed and dark, and stopped at the bottom of a crooked, winding staircase. Cold air rushed down the stairs, and Hazard shivered again.
“It’s the only room left,” Ran said in his sniveling voice, but there was a look of dark satisfaction in his eyes, the look of a man who thinks he’s very clever and enjoys the last laugh.
“Fine,” Hazard said.
“And the bathroom?” Somers said.
“You’ll want these, I guess,” Meryl said, her voice still pitched low as she passed the bundled blankets to Hazard.
Ran didn’t wait to be dismissed; he scurried down the hallway and disappeared into one of the rooms they had passed. The sound of the lock turning echoed down the hallway.
Her extraordinary features set with grim amusement, Meryl said, “And then there was one. I suppose I’ll go to bed too. Benny was right, you know? The whole game was ruined. Everybody’s pitching a fit in their own way, and,” her voice dropped so low that Hazard could barely hear her, “Thomas is the worst of them, the old bully.” Without a goodbye, Meryl strode down the hallway, the hem of her gown sweeping the floor. In the wan light, with the opals of her dress glowing, she looked like royalty, like an ancient and eternal queen, and then she pressed a switch and the hall went dark.
“Upstairs, I guess,” Somers said, jostling Hazard as he mounted the steps. “They’re crazy. You get that, right?”
Hazard followed. “I don’t know. Meryl seems all right.”
“She’s the worst one.”
“What does that mean? She’s the only one that’s been decent.”
“I don’t know,” Somers said. “I’m too tired to care. It’s fucking freezing up here. Did they leave the window open? And look at the dust. Here we are, half-icicles, stuck in this house full of crazy people, and I don’t know how it could—”
“Don’t say it,” Hazard said.
“—get any worse.”
At that moment, Somers opened the door at the top of the stairs and flicked on the light. Hazard felt like the floor had opened up be
neath him; his stomach dropped and just kept dropping, past his knees, past his ankles, and he doubted it would hit bottom for another mile or so.
There was just one bed.
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Have you read the first book in the series? Click on the link below to read an exclusive excerpt of Pretty Pretty Boys, by Gregory Ashe.
After Emery Hazard loses his job as a detective in Saint Louis, he heads back to his hometown–and to the local police force there. Home, though, brings no happy memories, and the ghosts of old pain are very much alive in Wahredua. Hazard’s new partner, John-Henry Somerset, had been one of the worst tormentors, and Hazard still wonders what Somerset’s role was in the death of Jeff Langham, Hazard’s first boyfriend.
When a severely burned body is discovered, Hazard finds himself drawn deeper into the case than he expects. Determining the identity of the dead man proves impossible, and solving the murder grows more and more unlikely. But as the city’s only gay police officer, Hazard is placed at the center of a growing battle between powerful political forces. To his surprise, Hazard finds an unlikely ally in his partner, the former bully. And as they spend more time together, something starts to happen between them, something that Hazard can’t–and doesn’t want–to explain.
The discovery of a second mutilated corpse, though, reveals clues that the two murders are linked, and as Hazard gets closer to answers, he uncovers a conspiracy of murder and betrayal that goes deeper–and closer to home–than he could ever expect.
They drove in a tan Impala with cloth seats and a pine-scented air freshener glued to the central vent. Neither man spoke, and Hazard took advantage of the silence to reorient himself. He’d lost his cool as soon as Somers had opened his mouth. No, it was worse than that. He’d lost control. It was like he’d been outside his head, watching, unable to stop as he got angrier and angrier. Every word Somers had said had been like dumping gasoline on a house fire.
And it didn’t help that Somers was so breezy. Everything he did and said came off cool, collected, composed, like he didn’t have a fuck to give for anything or anyone. In spite of his determination not to look, Hazard studied the man. John-Henry Somerset hadn’t changed. Sure, his blond hair was shorter and crisply styled, and he’d added on a few inches of lean muscle. But the major things hadn’t changed. He still had his preppy good looks: his smooth, golden tan, his eyes like tide pools, jaw cut sharp as a straight razor. He still had that way of walking, his shoulders back and his head up, like he owned this city and the next one over and he expected everyone to know it. Perfect—the word popped into Hazard’s head. John-Henry was still so goddamn perfect.
Somers shifted, as though sensing Hazard’s gaze, and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. His cuff slid back, exposing a stretch of darkly-inked skin. Well, Hazard thought. That was very interesting. The golden boy had a tattoo; maybe John-Henry had changed a little.
“The guy we’re going to see, he’s a college student. His name is Rosendo, I think. I’ve got it written down. He reported vandalism this morning, and a patrol car went past. They passed it up to us.”
“Because it has to do with what? This PR crap?”
With a small shrug, Somers said, “Kind of. There’s been a lot of this going around.”
“Vandalism? That’s what we deal with?”
“This is about the most interesting thing we’ve had all year. And it’s not just vandalism. It’s a hate crime or the next thing to it. LGBT community is getting targeted for the most part, although it spills over.”
“And I’m the band-aid?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“The fuck it isn’t. What were they going to do? Hire me, parade me around town, show everybody they were a progressive department and then—what? Shove me in a corner to do paperwork?”
Somers didn’t answer.
After a moment, Hazard laughed. “The LGBT community, huh? What? You guys finally have enough queers around here to throw a stick at? Guess things change.”
“They—there’s always been a community here. You know, because of the college. But you’re right: things have changed.”
The way Somers said it, with that earnest tone and Boy Scout look, made it clear what he meant: he meant that he’d changed, that Wahredua had changed, that the world had changed. That was a nice dish of bull crap, as far as Hazard was concerned.
“Wroxall?” Hazard said. “That’s like two classrooms and a cafeteria.”
“Maybe twenty years ago. They’ve grown. A lot. Enrollment is around fifteen thousand.”
“Fifteen thousand? You’re joking.”
“No. And Wahredua had to grow too. The city’s pushing ninety thousand. We’re officially a city, you know, not a town anymore. And the college has brought the blue vote. All the old hippies, organic farmers, musicians, deadheads. It’s different.”
Hazard grunted; he’d believe it when he saw it. “Tell me about Cravens.”
“She’s decent. She’s a politician, but only because that’s her job. She’ll stick by you, for the most part. She bakes some good cupcakes and brings them on Fridays.”
“What’d you have to say to get her to hire me?”
“She wanted to hire you. I didn’t have to say anything.”
“What’d you say?”
“She thought you’d be good as the department’s face. You know: brooding detective, great shoulders, killer ass. You could—”
Hazard felt that same old house-fire burning deep inside him. “What’d you say?”
“It was just a joke. C’mon, lighten up.”
“Jesus, you really are the same, aren’t you? All right. Let’s get it all out on the table. Yeah, I’m gay. I like to fuck guys. Is that clear?”
Somers was shaking his head, his eyes fixed on the road.
“I asked you a question.”
“All right. You think it’s funny or weird or gross. Fine. You want to give me shit about it. Fine. You want to make my life hell. Fine. I’m not the kid you used to push around. I’ve done this whole pony show before. If you think you’ve got something that the guys in St. Louis didn’t already try, you’ve got another thing coming. It didn’t work for them, and it sure as hell isn’t going to work for you. I’m not going—”
“Jesus Christ,” Somers growled, his cool snapping for the first time since Hazard had seen him. Somers jerked the wheel to the right, and the tires rumbled against the curb. They pulled to the end of the block, and Somers unbuckled his seatbelt. “Get out of the car. Right now.”
Without waiting for a reply, Somers kicked his door open and walked to the sidewalk.
Hazard only hesitated a moment. He had his .38, and if it came to that, he wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in John-Henry’s perfect golden tan. But the best odds were that Somers was going to try to slug him. Somers was right-handed. He had muscle, but lean, more like a runner—he didn’t have Hazard’s bulk. Hazard knew the drill. He’d move into the punch, take it on his shoulder or arm instead of on his jaw, and then he’d land one that would knock Somers out of the county.
When Hazard got to the sidewalk, though, Somers just shrugged out of his jacket, folded it, and held it out to Hazard.
Hazard stared at the coat and raised an eyebrow.
“Hold it for me,” Somers insisted. “And then why don’t you break my jaw or my nose or whatever the fuck you’re determined to do, and then we can get on with our day.”
Hazard hesitated again. Was this a fake-out? Would he swing as soon as Hazard reached for the jacket?
“For God’s sake,” Somers grumbled. He tossed the jacket on the ground and took a step forward, tilting his head back and presenting his jaw. “I fucked up in high school. I get it. This is your chance.”
“Yeah, and get myself out of a job on the first day. I’m not that stupid.”
“You want to record me? You want this taped? I’ll say whatever you want me to say. You’ve got my permission to take off my fucking head, so go on and do it. I fucked up, so let’s make it right.”
The heat of the day, even this early, prickled on Hazard’s neck; sweat dampened his armpits and the small of his back. Somehow, again, Somers had thrown him off balance, and Hazard couldn’t seem to get his feet planted.
Somers took another step forward. They were close enough now that Hazard could feel the heat pouring off Somers, could smell the clean scent of Somers’s deodorant, could see the nearly invisible blond stubble on Somers’s jaw.
“Are you going to do it or not? Either you hit me right now, as hard as you want, as much as you want, and you get it out of your fucking system, or you drop the chip from your shoulder and we go do this interview. I don’t know about you, but I want to do my job.”
Somers waited a full minute, his eyes still locked with Hazard’s, before Hazard finally looked away. Somers grunted and got back into the Impala. After a moment, Hazard followed. Then he stopped, turned back, and gathered the fallen jacket. He dusted it off and climbed into the passenger seat. Wordlessly, he shoved the jacket at Somers.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” Hazard said, his eyes on the dashboard. “I’ll work with you. I’m your partner. I’ve got your back, as far as that goes, and you can count on me when it comes to the job. But if you think I’m going to forgive and forget because you’ve gone to college and you think you’re open-minded now and can crack jokes with your faggot partner, you’re wrong. I know you. I know the special kind of piece of shit you are. Even if nobody else knows, even if you’ve got them all fooled, I know.” Hazard tapped his chest where the three shiny lines still marked him, but inside, he was thinking about what Mikey Grames and Hugo Perry and John-Henry Somerset had done to Jeff, that summer when they’d cut up Hazard’s chest, what they’d done to Jeff when they’d really gotten going. “You made sure I’d never forget.”
Somers paled as he took the jacket. He held it awkwardly, as though unsure of what to do with it, and then dropped it in his lap. He fumbled the key in the ignition, started the car, and then, his face pitched towards the floorboards, said, “I know I fucked up. But I am different. All I’m saying is give me a chance.”
Hazard didn’t answer; he’d said everything he needed to say.
Struggle showed in Somers’s face, and as he shifted the car into gear, he blurted, “And I wasn’t cracking jokes or trying to be funny. You do have a killer ass. So fuck you.”
And that, Hazard decided as they pulled away from the curb, made it official: the whole world had gone batshit.
Fiction and reality become intertwined when a young movie actor playing the role of a detective finds himself in a real-life drama that threatens to bring a sudden end to his career.
Evan Ericson is young and beautiful, a former fashion model and a gifted actor. When he is offered the role of a detective in a new film noir indie movie, he jumps at the chance, certain that this is his opportunity to leave behind the notoriety of appearing in porn movies and his dependence on drugs.
Mark Henderson is an out-of-work actor searching for his big break. When, by sheer chance, he lands a part in a new indie movie, he can’t believe his luck. Nor can he believe it when he meets Evan Ericson. Sparks fly at their first encounter. When rehearsing their roles, Mark’s world is rocked by Evan’s kiss and a new Hollywood romance is born.
But things thought long buried in the past have a nasty habit of rearing their ugly heads, and being stalked and threatened by a manic drug dealer is not something either Evan or Mark envisaged in their future together. Will Hollywood magic be enough to keep them safe or will Evan’s bad-boy reputation tear them apart?
Evan has helped out a one-time friend by giving him enough money to go home and escape the clutches of a loan syndicate. Now Evan is being threatened by this same syndicate and he calls on Dave Franklin and LAPD cop for help…
Evan jerked his head toward the studio door, where the silhouette of a large figure was framed in the doorway. Dave…let’s hope this is good news. “Hey, Dave.”
He waved and hurried over to his friend from his modeling days. Tall, broad-shouldered, his dark-brown hair now lightly streaked with gray, Dave Franklin was still an imposing presence. He caught Evan up in a bear hug and kissed him on the forehead.
“You look even better than I remember,” he said, holding Evan at arm’s-length, his gaze sweeping over Evan’s face and body. “Why did I ever let you go?”
Evan laughed. “You were married to your job, if I recall.”
“And you were traipsing all over the world. Well, it’s good to see you. I’m glad you called me. Where’s your friend?”
Looking around, Evan spotted Mark talking to one of the sound techs but watching him and Dave at the same time. “Hey, Mark…when you’re done, come meet Dave.” Mark crossed the studio floor and approached them, a nervous expression on his face.
“Dave, this is my boyfriend, Mark Henderson.” Evan took Mark’s arm and drew him in close. He watched as the men shook hands, and Mark seemed to relax under Dave’s broad smile.
“Good to meet you, Mark. Sorry about the circumstances, but chances are I’d never have heard from Evan if there wasn’t some kind of problem.”
Evan tried not to feel guilty at Dave’s words. “We’ve talked…but you’re right, Dave, I’m terrible at keeping in touch, but it’s good to see you.”
“Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
Mark gestured at the corridor that led to the break room. “There’s no one taking a break right now. We can use the room while it’s empty.”
“Good enough.” Dave followed them as they led the way past the camera and sound equipment. “So, this is where it all happens. I’ve never seem a movie in progress before.”
“You should stay and see Evan in his next scene,” Mark said. “We can ask Charles if it’s okay that you watch him in action.”
“That’d be great.” They entered the break room and sat at one of the tables. “So, here’s the deal.” Dave kept his voice low even though they were the only ones in the room. “Castro wants fifty thousand—you don’t have it, but you can offer him a helluva lot more.”
Evan stared at him in surprise. “I can?”
“Yep. You can offer him fifty thousand dollars’ worth of cocaine, which on the street will rake in five, six times as much. And if I’m right about the punk, he’ll leap at the chance to acquire that much blow.”
“But where the hell would I find that amount of coke?”
Dave grinned. “Oh, we have some lying around. Okay, I’ve talked with the chief, and with your help we’re going to put together a sting operation. This is how it will work. You will call Castro and make the offer. Sound very nervous. You’re an actor, so you can do it. Make him believe you managed to acquire the coke by devious means, which of course you cannot divulge to him. He won’t question you too much, but he will be suspicious of the quality. He’s gonna want to check it out. You will have to meet with him face to face.”
Mark shifted uncomfortably. “Won’t that be dangerous? Evan alone with a criminal?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be there, only Castro can’t know about our involvement.”
“So, I meet with him, then what?” Evan asked, leaning forward in his seat.
“You’ll have a sample for him to check out. You’ll wear a wire. Any conversation you have with Castro or his cronies will be picked up by us and recorded as evidence. Don’t worry, wires are totally unnoticeable these days. Tiny, like a thread. Once he’s okay with the quality, he’ll arrange with you a time and place for the drop-off. You will hand the cocaine over, and that’s when we step in and arrest him. We figure once he’s out of the picture the rest of the cartel will dissolve. There might be somebody there who thinks he can become the kingpin, but that’ll be easier for us to deal with. Castro is the one we want, and from what I’ve heard about the guy, he might just sing about the rest of the thugs he’s involved with.”
Mark visibly shivered. “It still sounds dangerous to me.”
Dave nodded. “There is a danger factor, I won’t deny it. These guys are volatile, and Castro will be suspicious. It’s up to you, Evan, to come across scared enough to get them off your back. That you’ll do anything to be free of the debt. How d’you feel about this?”
Evan chuckled. “Well, I’ve got the scared part down perfect. I won’t have to act too hard to make them believe it.”
“Are you sure, Evan?” Mark asked. “About this, I mean? What if these guys are armed?”
“Oh, they will be,” Dave said grimly. “They don’t go anywhere without guns. So, yeah, there is a distinct possibility there will be a show of arms. But they’re not gonna shoot you, Evan. Castro will want the deal, I’m sure of it.”
“How sure?” Mark snapped.
“Sure as I am about anything to do with drug dealers. Number one, they are greedy. Money means everything to them, and a deal like this will look mighty sweet to Castro.” Dave paused and looked at Evan, a frown creasing his forehead. “Okay, now this has to be entirely your decision, Evan. I’ll understand if you don’t want to get involved. I won’t underestimate the danger aspect of it. All I can do is tell you that we will be with you every step of the way.”
“Okay, I’ll do it.” Evan smiled at Mark and took his hand. “I’m not gonna be on my own, babe. I’ll have LA’s finest at my back. It’ll be fine.”
The door swung open at that moment and two of the crew stepped inside. Dave stood and indicated with a jerk of his head that they should leave. Just then his cell phone rang. “Franklin. Yeah? Okay, be right there. Sorry, guys.” He gave Evan and Mark a rueful look. “Have to take a rain check on watching the movie action. Gotta head into the precinct right away.”
“That sucks,” Evan said. “And here I was ready to show you my acting chops.”
Dave grinned. “Next time.” Evan and Mark walked him over to the exit. “I’ll be in touch once I get the details ironed out with the chief. If Castro calls again, tell him you’re working on a deal to get him his money. That’ll shut him up for a while.”
They said their goodbyes, then Mark dragged Evan into a dark corner of the studio and wrapped his arms around him. “I don’t want you to do this, Evan, I really don’t. Surely we can work this out without you having to put yourself in danger. We can get a loan, pay this Castro guy off and get on with our lives.”
Evan leaned into Mark’s embrace and nuzzled his throat. “I think there’s more to it than just paying off Dareck’s debt. What Dave is trying to do is put some bad guys out of business, and I’m all for that. A year and half ago I gave up drugs. It was tough. I wasn’t exactly an addict, but I came pretty close, and I saw, because of the company I kept, some really bad scenes. Guys strung out so bad they had to be taken to the ER. Some didn’t make it. During that time I had unprotected sex with men, and sometimes I had no clue who they even were. I was lucky. At the end of it all I was clear of STDs. I was broke, but I still considered myself lucky. I don’t judge people who get off on drugs, but a part of me wants to see guys like Miguel Castro shut down, put away for a nice long stretch, and the drugs he sells just that little bit harder to get.”
“So, this is like a crusade?” Mark frowned at him. “You want to put your life in danger in order to stop one drug dealer when there are a hundred more like him out there ready to take over his business? What about me, Evan? What about us? If anything happened to you now, I just don’t know what I’d do…”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to me, babe. Okay, I wasn’t going to admit this to you…” He caressed Mark’s face with is fingertips. His voice was low and rueful, although his gaze never moved from Mark’s as he explained. “I’ve been in something like this before, when I was younger. Not with the cops, just me and a friend who wanted to help a guy we knew being threatened by drug-dealing scum. We set a trap for them, pretending we were buyers and we…well, we beat the crap outta them. All those years of having to defend myself in foster care and the institution paid off, I guess. I wasn’t exactly a street fighter, but I knew some moves. I’d met Dave by that time and I called him when it was all over, and he took them in. This time Dave and a bunch of cops will be right there the whole time. If things get testy they’ll step in.”
“Just like that? This isn’t a movie, Evan, where it’s all planned out, choreographed, rehearsed. Things could go really wrong. These are real criminals we’re talking about.”
“I know that,” Evan said, more sharply than he had intended, and Mark stepped back from their embrace, his expression etched with worry. Evan immediately regretted his outburst. “Sorry…” He laid a light kiss on Mark’s lips. “It’ll be okay, sweetheart. I know this isn’t a movie, but Dave won’t go in without a solid plan. Castro and his men might be armed, but so will the cops—”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” Mark groaned. “What if you get caught in the crossfire?”
“Mark, come on, babe. You are looking at this as the worst possible scenario. Chances are Castro will go for the deal, I’ll back off and the police will take over.”
“You make it sound so easy, and I just know it won’t be.” Mark put his arms around Evan again and laid his head on Evan’s shoulder. “I won’t sleep a wink if you agree to go through with Dave’s plan.”
“I’ve already decided.”
Mark sighed. “I know you have. Damn you.”
“I love you.” Evan tilted Mark’s head toward him and kissed his lips gently. “Very much.”
Mark’s eyes brimmed with tears as he stared at Evan. “I love you too, even though I hate you at this moment.”
It’s the winter of 1971 and FBI Agent Zack Pomeroy is hoping to make a name for himself when he’s assigned the case of the century—the hijacking of an airplane by D.B. Cooper. Zack’s used to hiding his sexuality but working with Duke Magruder is even more of a challenge. Not only do they do have vastly different personalities but also contrasting opinions on how to work the case. Nonetheless, Zack is able to earn Duke’s begrudging respect.
Until Duke learns Zack’s secret.
When Zack finds a lead on the case Duke not only refuses to listen, he also refuses to work with Zack any longer. Zack’s career and his assignment are at jeopardy but that doesn’t mean he’s about to give up on finding Cooper, no matter how many years it takes.
Hijacked Love is a blend of mystery and historical fiction with a bit of romance thrown in.
Talk about being at the right place at the right time. It was 1971, the day before Thanksgiving and my first day at the Portland FBI office. I was finally meeting my boss, Agent Milton Donaldson. We were shooting the breeze when Donaldson’s secretary dashed into his office.
“Sir, there’s been a hijacking!”
Donaldson glanced at me and shrugged. “Looks like you’ll be hitting the ground running.”
My plans for Turkey day were going to hell. Phil was not going to be happy.
I followed Donaldson down a hallway and into a large conference room where half a dozen men in matching dark suits and ties milled around a table and talked over one another. Donaldson’s presence hushed everyone as he strode to the end of the table. I stood off to the side.
“What do we know, gentlemen?”
Everyone began talking at once. Donaldson straightened, crossed his arms, and scowled. This was not a man I ever wanted to anger. The room quieted, and Donaldson pointed at a barrel-chested man with a receding hairline. “Duke.”
“Flight”—Duke paused to review some notes—”305. Northwest Orient Airlines flying from Portland to Seattle. Just after takeoff, a male passenger gave a note to a stewardess informing her he had a bomb.”
“What does he want?” Donaldson asked.
A couple of men started to speak, but Duke drowned them all out. “Two hundred thousand dollars, four parachutes, and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft on arrival.”
Donaldson pointed at another agent. “Felder, get on the phone with the Seattle office. Let’s make sure we’re working together on this one. I don’t want any pissing matches about who’s in charge. This is a joint operation.”
“The airline’s president, Donald Nyrop, has been informed of the situation,” Duke continued. “He’ll call me back once he’s made a decision.”
“Good,” Donaldson said. “We’ll wait for his call. Whether or not he agrees to pay the money determines our next action. I don’t want anyone harmed if we can avoid it. Do the passengers know what’s going on?”
An agent sporting thick sideburns spoke up. “The pilot has already announced that landing in Seattle is delayed due to minor mechanical difficulty.”
“Good. What do we know about our hijacker?”
“Nothing yet,” Duke said. While others had taken seats, he had remained standing, and alternated between pacing alongside the table and leaning over it. “I’d like to be on the ground when it lands so I can interview the witnesses.”
“I’m fine with that. I’d like you to wait until we get a call from the airline president. You’ve already talked to him and it’d be better if he spoke to you again.”
Duke nodded and leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, and tapped his foot impatiently. It was easy to tell he was Donaldson’s right-hand man. I’d researched most of the agents I’d be working with but the name Duke didn’t ring a bell. Then it struck me. Wayne Magruder. Twenty-five year veteran of the Bureau. He’d worked in offices all across the country and in several different departments. He had a reputation for closing cases as well as for being a hard ass. Magruder didn’t work well with others.
Donaldson issued assignments to almost every agent in the room before a phone on the wall rang. Duke grabbed it. “Magruder.” He nodded. “Send it through.” He put a hand on the speaker and said to Donaldson, “It’s the airline president.” A moment later, “Hello, Mr. Nyrop. This is Agent Magruder. Have you made a decision?” Pause. “I think you’ve made the right choice, sir. We’ll be in contact soon.” He hung up and turned. “He’s paying the money and has instructed his employees to cooperate fully.”
“Okay, Duke, get your ass to Seattle. Work with agents there to get the money. Interview anyone released when the plane lands. Let’s figure out who this guy is.”
Duke dashed past me and was almost out the door when Donaldson glanced at me and blinked as if he’d forgotten I was even there.
He stopped. “Yeah?”
“This is Special Agent Zachary Pomeroy.”
Duke looked at me and I extended my hand. He shook it briefly, obviously uninterested.
“Call me Zack,” I said.
He didn’t reply, instead facing his boss again.
“I want you to take Pomeroy with you.”
“Sir, I don’t need—”
“It’s not a request, Duke,” Donaldson snapped. “He came with good recommendations after years of dealing with organized crime. I was going to assign you to train him anyway.”
Duke inhaled then slowly let out his breath. Without looking at me, he said, “Fine. You better not hold me back.”
“No, sir, I…”
He took off down the hallway with long strides.
“He’s not joking,” Donaldson said. “He will leave without you.” He patted my back and pushed me out of the room.
I jogged until I caught up with Magruder. “Do I have time to make a phone call?”
“You got a wife you need to check in with?”
“Uh, no.” I did have a partner, but I couldn’t exactly tell Duke that.
“Nobody else matters.”
Arguing would be pointless so I followed Magruder outside to his car, a cherry red 1966 Mustang. I whistled as I slid into the vehicle. “She’s beautiful.”
He grinned for a moment. “Thanks.”
Moments later, we were on our way to Seattle, driving well above the speed limit. After my attempts at conversation were met with monosyllabic responses, I stopped trying. We made it to Seattle in just under two hours. The Seattle office was expecting us, and we were ushered into a conference room and given quick introductions.
“What happened while I was on the road?” Duke demanded, apparently not catching the looks of irritation on the other agents’ faces.
“We’ve gathered the money the hijacker requested,” Special Agent in Charge Gary Floyd responded. “Agent Walker has handled all that.” He gestured to a smallish man with slicked brown hair and wire rim glasses. He sat at a table and had a knapsack full of cash in front of him.
I shook Walker’s hand and introduced myself. “Call me Zack.”
He smiled and held the grip a second longer than normal. “Ernest, but my friends call me Ernie.” I got the feeling that Ernie was gay like me. I couldn’t be positive, of course. It’s not like FBI agents wore colored hankies in their pockets while on the job.
“Enough with the goddamn small talk,” Duke snapped. “What’s going on with the case?”
“Please excuse Duke,” I said. “His mama never taught him manners.”
Everyone chuckled except Duke, who scowled at me instead.
“I got the money from different banks in the area,” Ernie said. “Ten thousand unmarked twenty dollar bills. Most have serial numbers beginning with the letter L. That makes it easier to trace.”
“I assume you’ve got a list of those serial numbers?” Duke asked.
Ernie nodded then stood and closed the knapsack. “We’re good to go, sir.”
Floyd lifted the receiver in front of him. “Let him know his demands have been met.”
I glanced at my watch. It was 5:24 p.m. No doubt Phil would be expecting me home any minute. At that point, I had no idea when I’d make it back. So much for the transfer giving me a more reliable schedule.
Duke tapped a foot. “Let’s get to the airport, Pomeroy. I want to be there when the plane lands.” He left the room without a word to anyone else.
“We’re on our way, too,” Floyd said as he grabbed the bag of money.
I tugged on Ernie’s shirt sleeve. “It was nice meeting you. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.”
He smiled. “I’d like that.”
In the car, I said, “How have you survived this long in the Bureau without learning you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar?”
Duke snorted. “I don’t need or want your opinion about how I do my job, Pomeroy.”