Mrs Skinner rushed into my office in her hat and furs, pulled up a chair and sat down at my desk. “Have you got the pictures?” she said.
“Well, good morning to you, Mrs Skinner,” I responded.
“Never mind all that!” she snapped back. “Have you got the pictures?” She took off her hat and fur and slammed them on my desk.
“Have you got the money?”
I shook my head. “I need to know that you have the money before I show you the pictures.”
She looked at me and frowned. She grabbed her handbag and rummaged in it for her chequebook.
“How much was it again?” she asked, opening her chequebook and taking a pen out of her bag.
“Four hundred pounds,” I said. “And I want cash.”
She looked up, surprised. “You said three hundred and fifty.”
“The price has gone up.”
“Turns out there’s a bit more to your husband’s affair than meets the eye.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have the cash or not?”
Mrs Skinner replaced her chequebook and pen in her bag, took out her purse and started counting the money in it. “I have three hundred and fifty pounds,” she said, “as that’s what we agreed on. I can owe you the rest.”
She rolled her eyes in irritation, but she eventually took the notes out of her purse and laid them on the desk.
“Are you happy now, Mr Stone?” she said. “Do you think you can show me the pictures now?”
“I am, and I can.” I opened the desk drawer and retrieve the pictures. “I’ll show you the pictures now,” I said, opening the brown envelope, “but I should warn you, it’s not a pretty sight.”
“Just get on with it.”
I placed the pictures on the desk one by one and closely watched her face as I did so. It was rigid and emotionless.
“What’s this?” she said after I had placed the final picture on the desk. She was looking at me, frowning with confusion.
“That’s your husband,” I said.
“Who is that other person with him?”
“That is the man he’s been having an affair with.”
“That is not a man!”
“I think you’ll find he is.” I pointed at a certain part of Lenny’s anatomy.
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’m not suggesting anything.”
“Are you suggesting that my husband is a homosexual?”
“I’m not suggesting anything, Mrs Skinner. I let the pictures do the speaking.” I picked up the photo of Skinner eagerly swallowing Lenny’s cock and placed it on top of the other ones.
“My husband is not a homosexual!” she said, jumping up from her chair. “He is the son of an Anglican priest! That picture is a fake! Where is the man’s head?”
“I cut his head off, Mrs Skinner. There’s no need for you to know who the man is.”
“I’m not paying for those pictures! They are not what I asked for!”
“That’s fine. Then I won’t give them to you.” I picked up the photos, slipped them back in the envelope and locked the envelope in my drawer.
Mrs Skinner remained standing over my desk. Her body trembled with rage and her face began to contort. Finally, the emotion became too much for her and she burst into tears. She sat back down and buried her head in her hands. I admit I did feel a tinge of pity for her. I pulled the handkerchief out of my breast pocket and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she said softly and began drying her tears. “This is so humiliating! I should never have married him. My father warned me not to marry outside my faith. We’re Catholics. This would never have happened if I had married a Catholic.”
I didn’t say anything.
“You will have to burn the pictures,” she said. “No one must see what I’ve seen.”
“You can burn them yourself if you pay for them.”
“There!” She threw the bank notes at me. “There’s your cursed money!”
“What about the other fifty pounds you still owe me?”
“I’ll come back with it another day.”
“How can I be sure?”
She looked at me indignantly. “I think you can trust me, Mr Stone.”
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
I looked at her earrings. “Are those real pearls?”
“My pearls?” She put her hands to her earrings and stared at me with shock. “Are you serious? You want my pearls? Don’t you think I’ve been humiliated enough?”
“Hey, lady, I’ve got a business to run here.”
She took off her earrings and flung them at me. “Have the blessed pearls, you hard-hearted swine!”
I picked up the earrings and put them in my pocket. Then I opened the drawer, took out the envelope and handed it to her. She yanked it out of my hands, picked up her hat and fur and jumped out of her chair. “I hope I never see you again!” She marched out of the office.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you, Mrs Skinner,” I called after her, but she didn’t hear me.
Inspired by the pulp fiction novels of the 1940’s and 50’s, the novellas in this anthology emulate the dark, thrilling, sensational and taboo breaking stories of the post war era and gives them a gay twist.
1950’s London. Felix Stone is an openly gay P.I. He is approached by a mysterious woman who pays him to shadow her husband. What at first seems to be a run of the mill adultery case, soon turns out to be much more serious. When the people involved in the case suddenly start dying around him, Felix finds himself embroiled in the world of cold war espionage and his own life is put in danger.
1949. The East End of London is still recovering from the blitz. Fitzgerald O’Sullivan is a young man with romantic notions of living like an impoverished writer. In an attempt to escape his past, he abandons his life of privilege and rents a room in the East End. There he meets Roy Parker, a chirpy Cockney with a working-class charm. Roy asks Fitz to write a story about how he saved the lives of two Jewish ladies during the war. What follows is a far-fetched tale filled with lies and exaggerations. This is is a noir thriller where nothing is what it seems. A dark tale of love, bitterness and vengeance set in the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War
1950´s L.A. Sixteen year old Henry Blomqvist is the son of an aspiring actress and stepson of a millionaire businessman. He is an embarrasement to his parents, a useless layabout who is constantly getting arrested for cruising the parks. But his vices pale in comparison with the dark secrets in his parents´ lives. The kidnapping of Henry´s stepfather triggers a series of events which expose the skeletons in his parents´ closets and which finally give Henry the chance to step up to the mark and show what he´s really made of.
ebook link:(Releasing December 4th, 2018 via Amazon & FREE via Kindle Unlimited)
Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I’ve spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have every confidence that I will now finally be able to settle down among the olive groves of Andalucia.
I am an avid reader and film fan (in fact, my study is overflowing with my various dvd collections!)
I did an MA in creative writing for film and television at the University of Sheffield. After a failed attempt at making a carreer as a screenwriter, I turned to the theater and wrote and produced a play called ´Death Takes a Lover´ (which has since been turned into the first D.S.Billings Victorian Mystery). The play was performed on the London Fringe to great critical acclaim.
Currently living in Spain where I make ends meet by teaching English .
“Do you have any idea where the place is?” asked Ronnie as he worked at keeping the car on the road. As if from out of nowhere, the wind had kicked up and was blowing Tom’s Buick around the road a bit.
“The judge said they moved the law school out to the airport. I don’t know where, exactly, but it shouldn’t be that hard to find.” He paused and then added, “Howie sent a telegram this morning from Savannah.”
Ronnie whistled. “That was fast. Everything OK?”
“Sounded like it. He mentioned he was keeping his promise to send us one every day.”
Ronnie nodded. “He’s a good kid.”
“He sure is,” said Tom.
Ronnie burped. “Sorry ’bout that. I shouldn’t have had onions on my burger back at lunch. They always repeat on me.” He burped again.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tom look over at him and smile. “You know, you always say that every time you have onions on anything. But you always have onions.”
Ronnie grinned. He wanted to reach over and put his hand on Tom’s face and pull his pal in close, but he had to keep both hands on the wheel to make sure they stayed on the road. He glanced over and quickly winked at Tom, who blushed.
Neither man said anything for a moment. Then Ronnie asked, “Is that why you love me?”
Tom stiffened, or so Ronnie thought.
. . .
“Is that why you love me?”
Tom could barely believe what he was hearing. How could Ronnie ask him a question like that at a time like this? Tom was doing the best he could to hold his reputation together. Witness tampering was a serious offense and he was looking at serious prison time if he was convicted on the hearsay rumors floating around town that he’d sent Inez Johnson back to New York by bribing her, or whatever they were saying.
He had enough to think about without worrying what Ronnie was going to do next. His friend had always been impulsive. That was what made him so attractive, besides the fact that he was handsome, in an odd sort of way, and was thickly built with plenty of muscles popping out everywhere, something Tom always found attractive in a man.
Staring out at the ribbon of highway that was passing below them in the wind-blown car, Tom thought about their time together the night before and how passionate things had been. That was another thing that attracted him to Ronnie. The man was relaxed when it came to carnal matters. He was friendly and passionate and gentle, while also being driven and almost single-minded in his desire to know that Tom was enjoying himself. It had always been that way.
In the few encounters of a similar nature that Tom had during his time in the Army, he’d been shocked at how selfish other men could be. They seemed to want to be satisfied but had no interest in the sort of quiet conversation intermingled with passionate lovemaking that Tom had always loved having with Ronnie and Sarah, both.
What would she think if she knew what they got up to in the bed she had slept in before she died? Would she be repelled? Disgusted?
Ronnie claimed that she had given her blessing to their fooling around. And, on those nights when she wasn’t home, having taken Missy over to the Gulf Coast to spend a few days with relatives who didn’t like Tom, he and Ronnie would fool around in that bed. But they had never slept together. And Tom had always made sure to change the sheets before Sarah got home.
He couldn’t really imagine the conversation she had with Ronnie about all that. He’d claimed that she’d invited him over for dinner and, while drinking beer, had admitted she knew all about how they felt about each other. He even claimed, Ronnie had, that she had blessed their fooling around.
Tom sighed. He wavered back and forth about whether to believe Ronnie on that score. It seemed both highly unlikely and exactly what Sarah would have done. There had been a number of occasions, during their marriage, when she had kindly sat down with him and told him she knew what he was up to and it didn’t bother her at all. He couldn’t remember the specific things—they had all been small, household sorts of things—but he could easily picture her open and frank expression as she looked right at Ronnie and said something like, “I know you’re in love with Tom as much as I am.”
The sudden intensity of that thought shocked him. Of course she had said that to Ronnie. He didn’t know how he knew, but he did. He could feel in it his bones. Over the sound of the tires on the road and the slight moaning of the wind as it buffeted the car around, he could hear her next sentence, “And I know Tom loves you in a way he could never love me.”
That thought made him jump in his seat.
“You OK, buddy?”
It’s Wednesday morning, September 24th to be precise, and Tom Jarrell is in love. He’s walking through the tree-covered streets of Daytona Beach, on his way to work, and thinking about the wonderful night he just spent. But, when he gets to the office, he realizes he has a few things that need to be done. For one, he needs to file an affidavit in a murder trial, but he’s never done any such thing, so he heads off to his old law school to meet with his favorite professor from before the war to get some much-needed advice. And, while there, he gets much more than he was expecting. Meanwhile, Ronnie Grisham is in trouble with his landlady. He hasn’t slept in his boarding house bed for two nights and she just read her cards last night. Change is coming. Could the cards be pointing to Ronnie? As for Marveen Dodge, her suspicions about what is really going on at the law office of Tom Jarrell, Esquire, is like a simmering pot that could boil over at any moment. And, Alice Watson is doing just fine, thank you very much, and looking forward to a nice Saturday at the beach with her girl. But, none of them expects what happens next as two mysterious girls arrive in town, suitcases in hand… And an unexpected trial gets underway… Read about all of this, and more, in the case of THE LAWYER WHO LEAPT.
Author Frank W. Butterfield:
Frank W. Butterfield is the Amazon best-selling author of over 20 books and counting in the Nick Williams Mystery series, stories about Nick & Carter, a private dick and a fireman who live and love in San Francisco.
Beginning in 1953, the series follows their adventures as they deal with the wide-ranging consequences of publicly outing themselves long before the term existed.
Refusing to back down, Nick & Carter begin to build a life where they use their resources to help their family as much as they possibly can.
For Nick & Carter, family is a broad term that includes the ones they were both born into as well as the one they choose: the men and women they know, meet, and grow closer to along the way.
Their stories range from the deeply intimate to the broadly political as they move through the changes in American and global culture from the stultifying sameness of the 50s through the tumultuous transformation of the 60s and the chaotic confusion of the 70s.
As time rolls by and their love deepens, they eventually find themselves able to legally marry in the summer of 2008 at the ages of 84 and 86, respectively.
No one will be as surprised as Nick & Carter when that amazing day finally arrives.
To learn more about Frank W. Butterfield’s novels, Nick & Carter and their ongoing adventures, please click the link before for his website.
In the first chapter of Survival is a Dying Art, Angus Green’s friend Tom invites him to sit in on the meeting of a gay men’s book group.
“This is emblematic of the problems facing our generation,” another man said. He was a real estate agent with a big personality. “Many of us were shunned by our families when we came out. We didn’t have the opportunities younger people have to get educations and good-paying jobs, so we never made that much money while we worked. And then we lost so many of our friends and lovers to AIDS. Now we’re on our own without pensions or savings accounts or kids to look after us.”
There was a general assent among the men at the table, and I felt guilty about the opportunities my generation had because of the pioneering work these men, and others like them, had done.
“A lot has to do with how soon we came out,” another man said. He’d been introduced as Frank, and I had the sense that he and Tom were friends outside the book group. “I was too scared to come out when I was young, and I covered it up by working my ass off. I made money, yeah, but I never had the life I could have had.”
The doctor nodded. “I married my high school sweetheart because I couldn’t see any other path,” he said. “She worked to put me through college and medical school and gave me two wonderful children. For years I knew that I was gay, but I couldn’t abandon her after all she had done for me. It wasn’t until the kids were grown that I finally told her.”
I couldn’t imagine how painful that must have been for both him and his wife. “Fortunately, she understood, and I was able to keep my relationships with my sons, and now I’m loving being a grandfather. But I know a lot of other men in similar situations who’ve been shunned by their exes and their kids.”
The conversation wandered off onto tangents, and I was amazed at how many different paths these men had taken to get where they were. Tom insisted on paying for my meal, and then asked if I had a moment to speak with him and his friend Frank.
Frank ordered us glasses of Scotch from the bar, and the three of us moved over to stand at the railing overlooking the waterway. It had gotten dark by then, and the only boat moving was a small powerboat with Fort Lauderdale Police along the side and a big searchlight at the prow.
Frank was a couple of inches taller than I was, close to my boyfriend Lester’s height of six-foot-two but much skinnier. His gray hair was close-cropped and there were crow’s feet around his eyes, but I could see he’d been quite handsome when he was younger.
“I was surprised when Tom told me that you work for the FBI,” Frank began. “I wasn’t aware they’d lifted the rules against homosexuals in sensitive positions.”
“That happened long before I joined the Bureau,” I said. “Now there are gay men and women at the highest levels. Even so, I’m the only openly gay special agent in my office.” I took a sip of the Scotch, feeling the warmth on my tongue and the back of my palate. Smooth. “How can I help you?”
“I’m afraid someone might be trying to scam me, and while I don’t want to be taken advantage of, I do want to buy what he says he’s selling.”
“Slow down, Frank,” Tom said. “Go back to the beginning.”
Frank pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “Okay. My family are Italian Jews. Centuries in Venice. Did you know that the word ghetto originated there? It means foundry, and the Jews were segregated in the neighborhood where the iron works were located.”
“Not quite that far back,” Tom said. “Start with your father and his brother.”
“Sorry.” Frank grinned sheepishly. “I get distracted by all the history. My father and my uncle were born in Venice right after the turn of the century. When he was in his twenties, my father came to the United States, but my uncle Ugo stayed in Venice. He was gay, and he had a lively group of friends, so he had no desire to leave.”
“Until the Nazis came,” I said.
“Until the Nazis came. And by then it was too late.”
We were all quiet for a moment. I imagined that being both gay and Jewish had made Frank’s uncle a prime target.
“A few months ago, I started looking around online to see what might have happened to the painting. I discovered that it had been confiscated by the Nazis, but then it disappeared. I put up a bunch of posts on art and auction sites asking for information, and eventually a man contacted me, saying that he knew where the painting was, and he could get it to me – for a fee.”
I nodded. “And you’re afraid he’s scamming you.”
“Exactly. I did my own research on him and I discovered that he owns a pawn shop in Fort Lauderdale. That made me concerned. I don’t want to be involved in anything shady, and the very fact that he runs an operation like that makes me distrust him.”’
I agreed to help, and we finished our Scotch as people partied on that fancy yacht moored below us. When it came to say goodbye, I kissed Tom’s cheek and hugged him, then shook Frank’s hand, but the two of them seemed unsure what they were supposed to do. I wondered about their relationship – just friends? Or did one of them want something more?
Whatever Tom and Frank wanted from each other, I hoped they could get it. And maybe by helping Frank track down his uncle’s painting, I could pay back Tom for the favors he’d done for me in the past.
Neil Plakcy has written or edited over three dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. To research the Angus Green series, he participated in the FBI’s sixteen-week citizen’s academy, practiced at a shooting range, and visited numerous gay bars in Fort Lauderdale. (Seriously, it was research.)
He is an assistant professor of English at Broward College in South Florida, and has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction. His website is www.mahubooks.com.
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.
Haven’t discovered the Hazard and Somerset mystery series yet? Click on the cover below to read the blurbs of each novel – and purchase
The smell hit him first, a thick, cloying blend of expensive perfume and corrupt, metallic fruit.
He saw Nick, hunched against a far wall, body shaking with silent grief, eyes closed.
Then he took in the rest.
An all-white bedroom—glamorous and totally impractical, designed like something from a magazine, so that every dot of color looked shocking. A painted wooden desk stood by the window, holding a silver laptop; the signature, light-green-blue of a Tiffany box; a stack of envelopes tied with a red cord; five little, glass, medical bottles lined up, with matching purple bars on their labels. A familiar light-blue dress lay draped over the arm of a padded armchair, a tiny tangle of lacy pink underwear on top.
White walls, furniture, carpet, bedding. Everything was absurdly neat and clean, save the most demanding splash of color—the huge stain which covered the fluffy duvet like crimson dye. A palette of shades of red, in fact, as if the pool had dried gradually from the outside, into the dark and clotted center.
Catriona lay on her side on top of it, in the middle of the wide bed, facing the doorway. She was naked but utterly sexless, her skin like bleached ash against the wet, red cloth. Her beautiful, blank profile, eyes decently shut at least, rested on the purity of her pillow.
Tom saw the guilty kitchen knife lying on the blood-pool beside the upturned palm of her right hand; the mangled, meaty churn of her inner wrists. Then, the dark hole, visible through black-blood-clotted ash-blonde hair, where her ear had been. The shockingly recognizable auricle resting near her fingertips.
One of the paramedics called sharply, “Hey! You shouldn’t be in here, mate!” just as the uniformed police constable materialized behind Tom, to pull him, unresisting, back into the hallway and then, down the stairs. At the bottom, Tom slurred out his name and address, and the reason he was there. He didn’t sound like himself at all, he thought distantly, but the officer noted it all down.
Finally, she left him to perch on the pristine linen sofa in Catriona’s airy sitting room. And he found himself stupidly anxious not to crease the fabric or mark its snowy perfection.
He’d never been in this room before. In fact, he’d never been inside the house.
The door into the hallway lay wide open, allowing Tom to see the bustle of comings and goings in the hallway, as the procedures surrounding an unexpected death snapped into place. All things he’d heard recounted before, but never—actually—witnessed.
The first-response officer, out of his eyeline, was speaking to her radio. Someone—a man—shouted instructions from upstairs as one of the paramedics barreled past the open door and out of Tom’s vision, as if his urgency still had some point.
Movement, back and fore. Voices outside. Inside. Tom forced desperate focus — made himself identify what was happening. Who was who, as they passed.
First onto Tom’s little stage — a man he suspected to be the divisional pathologist, followed by a group of SOCO officers, silent and eerie in hooded white suits, ready to pick over the scene for evidence of anything that might turn out to be suspicious.
Then, less than a minute after they disappeared, two men, clearly plain-clothed police officers. They stood in front of the open sitting room doorway, pulling on those same white forensic suits and overshoes, and Tom was almost certain they’d be the advance Homicide Assessment Team, from whichever murder investigation unit happened to be on call. Tom didn’t recognize either of them—a dull, distant relief.
Part of him was riveted, because after having heard it described so often, casually and not, it felt unreal seeing everything actually happen, like a dramatic performance put on, specially for him. But as the two HAT officers moved out of Tom’s vision, another white-clad figure came in behind them, and as he passed the open sitting room door, he glanced in and caught sight of Tom.
The man stopped and blinked.
For a moment, Tom felt an audience’s shock at having been acknowledged, and he shifted self-consciously under the man’s startled stare. Then, as that stare turned to wide-eyed disbelief, Tom felt suddenly, horribly aware of how incongruous he must look. His golden tan, his glossy, pale-blond shoulder-length hair; his long body, clad in an on-trend brown suede shirt and perfectly-cut jeans; his obsessively precise grooming. A peacock, sitting at the edge of a tragedy.
It took whole seconds for Tom to understand that the man’s reaction wasn’t puzzlement; it was recognition. And finally, even under that disorientating, tightly drawn white hood, Tom recognized him in turn.
Each man stared at the other as if a monstrous apparition had manifested in front of them.
Des fucking Salt.
Through surging panic, Tom took in the man’s once-familiar, sharp features; his densely freckled skin, almost as white as the forensic hood concealing his wiry red hair. How the fuck hadn’t he recognized him? Was it just the oddness of that hood, framing Salt’s narrow face like a nun’s coif?
The relief Tom had felt just minutes before sneered at him now. Because…yes, Tom had known there was a small chance they’d be involved—of course he had—but how unlucky did he have to be?
His face felt scalding hot, his guts skittering with a kind of death-row anticipation. And, inevitably his gaze shot to the hallway behind Salt.
Because always, with DC Des Salt, came DI Will Foster.
Tom’s eyes fixed on that empty space like a mouse in front of a stoat. But nothing happened.
He snapped his attention back to Salt, but Salt had turned away and walked out of Tom’s field of vision. But he could hear hushed voices, as Salt presumably asked the uniformed PC by thr staircase what the fuck Tom was doing there.
When Salt appeared again in the doorway, his expression had fixed into professional neutrality. He extracted a notebook from inside the opening of his forensic suit, pulled down his hood and walked in the room,
“Mr. Gray,” he said. It was stupidly shocking to hear his voice. Perhaps Tom had hoped it was all a lurid dream.
Then he registered, Mr. Gray. They were going to pretend they didn’t know each other, then. Fine by him. But he couldn’t help looking compulsively again toward the open doorway before he focused again on Salt.
“I’m DS Salt with Southwark and Peckham Murder Investigation Team.”
Southwark and Peckham. That was new at least. And so was the rank. He’d made Sergeant. Salt’s Northern Irish accent sounded as strong as it ever had, but Tom unwillingly noted tiny changes in him. New, fine lines between his ginger brows. His unfortunate moustache had gone, as had that shy, awkward niceness he’d exuded once, so out of place on a policeman.
“Don’t be alarmed, sir,” Salt went on blandly. “This is all routine procedure in a case like this.”
Of course it was. With all that blood.
Tom involuntarily squeezed closed his eyes, and the image was starkly there, like a high-res photograph dropping in behind his lids. He thought he would never stop seeing it.
His eyes sprang open.
That was what mattered. What lay upstairs. Not some soap opera from his past.
Sick with himself, he forced his attention back to Salt.
“I know,” he said.
Salt raised an eyebrow. “You told the officer that you’re here because Mr. Haining—Mr. Dominic Haining—requested you come to support him. When he found the body of his wife. Catriona Haining.”
Tom nodded, then said, “Yes.” Aloud, as if he were being recorded.
“And, what’s your relationship to Mr. and Mrs. Haining?” There was no one here to witness any recognition between them, but still, Salt’s tone remained that of a stranger.
“I—Mr…and Mrs. Haining own one of the modeling agencies I work with. Echo…it’s called.”
“This is Mrs. Haining’s home. Mr. Haining no longer lives here, is that correct?”
Tom tightened his jaw. “Yes.”
“You must be a…close friend as well as a client?” Salt began to write in his notebook. “For Mr. Haining to have called you here at a time like this.”
Tom’s mind darted around the question of how much total honesty could complicate things for Nick, but in the end all he said was, “Yes.”
Salt glanced up, brown eyes narrowed. And Tom was sure Salt must be making those damning connections in his head.
Tom and Nick Haining. Nick and Tom.
Nick—whose wife had just killed herself. Of all people to judge him, it had to be Des.
“Tom Gray is one of the world’s top models – an effortless object of desire. Self-contained, elusive and always in control, he’s accustomed to living life entirely on his own terms. But when Tom is implicated in the circumstances surrounding the gory death of his lover’s ex-wife, his world begins to spiral into chaos. Someone’s framing him. Someone’s stalking him. Will Foster is the only man Tom trusts to help him. But Tom brutally burned all bridges between them two years before, and Will paid a bitter price. As shocking secrets come to light, and more people begin to die, Tom desperately seeks answers among old crimes. But he finds his adversary always one step ahead. Somehow, Tom must persuade Will to help him find out who’s invading his life. Before all he values is taken from him.”
The sound of dishes being washed, chink chink chink, or is it bells, distant bells?
Silence, a roaring silence like a never-ending explosion, and a sudden pounding in the chest, hard, like someone’s hitting me with their fists, thumping into me, breaking my ribs. Panic, flight, a jerk in the spine and the legs, prepare to run. Fear.
Everything is white and blurred. I think there’s a TV on somewhere, a screen of some kind. Too much light. Movement, vague circles white out of white, puffy clouds coming closer and receding. Is this death?
A face at the end of a long tunnel, like looking down the wrong end of a pair of binoculars, ridiculously far away and tiny, so tiny it makes me laugh, the breath coming out through my nose.
The face getting closer, a brown sun in a blue sky, white clouds, coming towards me like a dolly shot in a movie, taking up more and more of the sky until all I can see is brown skin and white teeth and eyes that look into mine and a mouth that smiles and speaks, hey, you’re awake, hey Dan, how are you doing, buddy? Welcome back.
And then the clouds cover the sun and the picture goes down to a line like on the old TV at home, a line and then a dot and closedown.
It was the pain that woke me up in the end, a sharp sensation that cut through the last of my dreams. Awake, alive, and hurting. The pain is real, so I must be real.
My eyes felt like they’d been tumble-dried and rolled in sand. I tried to lift my hand to rub them, but it weighed about a hundred pounds. Craning my neck, I looked down at it, lying on the white covers of the bed. Looked like my hand—tanned, gnarly, hairy— but didn’t feel like it. Didn’t feel at all, in fact. Shit, I thought, it’s been chopped off and left on top of the bed. It’s no longer part of me. Am I going to get robot parts?
But the pain. Back to the pain. It was somewhere further down—below the hips, starting around my ass and travelling down to my right foot. Real strong good old-fashioned pain. At least I could feel my legs. I know lots of ex-soldiers who can’t.
Jesus fucking Christ, it was beyond pain, it was getting into red-hot-blade territory, and I must have yelled because there was a sudden movement beside me, to the left of the bed, just beyond my field of vision, and then a voice.
“Ah! Dan! You’re back.”
Sounded familiar, like a dear friend, except I don’t have any friends, let alone dear ones, and God knows it couldn’t be my family.
“Haahmmmfff.” That was meant to be “who’s that?” but my mouth wasn’t working any better than my hand. Fuck, I thought, if my dick doesn’t work either then I’m in real trouble. That made me laugh, which came out through my nose then got stuck and turned into a coughing fit. My lungs, it seemed, had been filled with hot ash.
“Okay, okay.” An arm slipped round my shoulders, lifting me gently. “Take it easy.”
Then the coughing made me belch, and I would have puked if there had been anything in my stomach to bring up other than a bit of foul-tasting bile that dribbled down my chin and neck. I tried to wipe it away, but of course—no hands.
“Take it easy, Dan.” A soft cloth cleaned my mouth, and I was lowered back on to the pillows.
That’s when it twigged. I’m a vegetable. Something has happened to me and I’ve lost the use of my limbs, I can’t control my mouth, I probably have to piss through a tube and shit into a diaper. I always wondered about those guys who come back from war zones like this. Do they know what’s going on—how bad it is? Well, apparently they do. Great.
“Do you have any pain?”
“Mmmmmm.” I couldn’t nod or form words, but I guess the intonation put it across.
“A lot of pain?”
“Okay. I’m calling the doctor.”
He stepped away from the bed, into my field of vision, and for the first time I saw him, five foot eight inches of athletic American male poured into a nurse’s uniform, a handsome face that I recognized from somewhere, a dream perhaps.
He spoke into a phone while I checked his back for wings. No: he appeared to be human, and mortal, which meant I must be alive, if not kicking.
He sat on the edge of the bed and put his warm, living hand on my cold, dead fingers. Maybe not so dead. Maybe a flicker of response. “He’ll be here in a minute. Hang in there, Dan.” He smiled, and I tried to smile back, which led to more drooling. He smiled and dabbed. “Pain relief is coming.”
It occurred to me with a sudden jolt that I had no idea where I was. I’ve heard the question asked in a million movies—where am I, Doc?—but now I couldn’t form the words. I glanced around, hoping for clues. My vision was still blurred, but I made out something that looked like the stars and stripes, high up on the wall. A US base, then, if not actually on home soil.
The pain blasted back, as if my shinbone was being sawn through, and I tensed up, squeezing my eyes shut, all sorts of hell going on in parts of my body I couldn’t identify. A general cacophony of pain. And above it all, a gentle squeeze of my hand.
“Can you look at me, Dan?”
I opened my eyes and squinted out. A handsome face always makes me feel better.
“That’s it. Try and listen. My name’s Luiz. I’m a nurse, and I’ve been looking after you for the last few days, since you got here. You’ve been unconscious for quite a long time, but you’re going to be ne. There’s no brain damage.”
I waited for the but . . .
“Your leg was pretty smashed up. They’ve pinned it back together, and now we’re just going to let it heal.”
But . . .
“The good news is, if it hurts, it’s mending. If you couldn’t feel anything, I’d be worried. The more it hurts, the better.” That sounded like something I’ve said to a lot of young men before, which made me laugh again, with the same messy results. Luiz cleaned me up.
“Okay, okay. You’d better not laugh any more. Take a few deep breaths, it’ll help with the pain until the doctor gets here. I’m just going to keep talking. Listen to my voice, and look into my eyes.”
No great hardship. Beautiful brown eyes . . .
“You’re in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.”
The Navy Med. I’d been here before, maybe four, five times in a career of being shot, blown up, and beaten for Uncle Sam.
“You arrived three days ago after spending two days in a military hospital in Baghdad.”
Baghdad. That rang a bell. Baghdad. That’s where I was. And now I’m here in Bethesda. Baghdad, Bethesda, Baghdad, Bethesda, Beghthesda, Big Bad, Bethlehem, Bthzzzzhzhzzh . . .
His voice muffled, fading, shutters falling again, into a chasm, a deep black chasm that might be death.
In this latest Dan Stagg novel, we find that Dan Stagg is dead . . . at least as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
In the Ring brings Dan Stagg to James Bond territory in an exciting story of concealed identities, beautiful double agents, corruption, power, and passion.
Find more Titles by author James Lear, aka., Rupert Smith