As we walked through the gardens, we came around a bend. Suddenly the sea was stretched out in full view. Carter took a deep breath and asked, “Never gets old, does it?”
“Nope. As much as I miss sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, this view always gets to me.”
Carter rested his hand on my shoulder for a long moment. It was a Tuesday afternoon. There was no one around. I was tempted to turn and kiss him, but something told me not to. Moving his hand to my neck, Carter led me to a bench that was a prime spot for gazing out over the water.
We both sat. I scooted a little closer to him than I normally would in public. I had a strong desire to be held in his arms but I knew we would have to wait until we got home where we had our own private view.
We sat there, neither speaking, for several minutes. I was about to nod off when I heard someone off in the distance. Carter, who had put his hand on my knee, removed it and scooted away an inch or two.
I could hear what sounded like four or five people moving in our direction. No one was talking but they weren’t trying to be stealthy. It sounded like they were walking through the woods that bordered the grassy areas.
As I was about to turn and see who it was, I heard an oddly familiar female voice ask, “Quite a view, isn’t it?”
I heard Carter gasp as I turned to look. We both jumped to our feet. I tried not to gape. She was more beautiful in person than she’d ever been on the screen. My first thought was that motherhood agreed with her. She looked softer and less angular than in the movies.
She was wearing a blue dress that ended just below her knees. Over that, she sported a light blue coat whose cuffs ended in the middle of her forearms. Small white gloves and a strand of pearls completed the look. Her blonde hair was perfectly held in place under a small periwinkle hat pinned in place. She appeared very comfortable and beautiful, all at the same time.
She smiled at me and tilted her blonde head. Offering her gloved hand, she asked, “Mr. Williams?”
I shook and nodded. “Yes, Your…” I didn’t know the word.
“Serene Highness,” prompted Carter.
She nodded and offered her hand to him. “Mr. Jones?”
He gently shook and bowed slightly. “Yes, Your Serene Highness.”
Once that was done, she looked out at the water below. “I’m always a bit surprised every morning when I see that blue water.” Turning to me, she said, “I’m sure you must feel the same.”
I nodded, remembering to breathe, and quoted Carter, unable to think of anything else. “It never gets old.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
We stood there for what seemed like a long moment. Finally, Carter asked, “How is Princess Caroline?”
She beamed at the name of her daughter. “Very well, thank you. She’s growing so fast. I can’t believe it sometimes. She’ll be seven months old in a week.”
We both nodded but neither of us replied. Finally, I came to my senses and asked, “Is there something we can help you with, Your Serene Highness?”
She laughed. “Please, when we’re alone, do call me Grace.”
I smiled. “I’m Nick and that’s Carter.”
Blurb – The Leaping Lord by Frank W. Butterfield:
Tuesday, August 13, 1957 Life is good. Nick and Carter are living on the French Riviera, having breakfast by the pool every morning with a view of the Mediterranean, and living a quiet life after a busy month. The grand re-opening of Nick’s latest acquisition, l’Hôtel Beau Rivage, the hottest spot in Nice, has gone off without a hitch. And, best of all, Nick has recovered nicely after taking a bullet in his shoulder. But then, on the same day, they have not one, but two unexpected encounters with the aristocracy. A day of driving down the coast leads to an amiable but unusual request from the former Grace Kelly, now Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco. Nick is suspicious of the favor she’s asked but he’s also smitten with the gorgeous blonde who lives in the Prince’s Palace just a few miles down the coast. Carter, of course, can’t help but tease Nick about losing his heart to movie-star royalty. Later that evening, Nick and Carter are invited to an impromptu dinner with Her Grace, the Duchess of Boston. She happens to be the mother of the British spy who has been helping Nick and Carter stay out of trouble for the past couple of years. Her son, Lord Gerald Whitcombe, left London for Nice back in July but has since disappeared. The duchess is convinced that the two of them are the only ones who can find him. What follows is a race against time that leads Nick and Carter back to Paris where they find that things are not exactly how they left them.
Tuesday, August 13, 1957
Life is good. Nick and Carter are living on the French Riviera, having breakfast by the pool every morning with a view of the Mediterranean, and living a quiet life after a busy month. The grand re-opening of Nick’s latest acquisition, l’Hôtel Beau Rivage, the hottest spot in Nice, has gone off without a hitch. And, best of all, Nick has recovered nicely after taking a bullet in his shoulder.
But then, on the same day, they have not one, but two unexpected encounters with the aristocracy.
A day of driving down the coast leads to an amiable but unusual request from the former Grace Kelly, now Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco. Nick is suspicious of the favor she’s asked but he’s also smitten with the gorgeous blonde who lives in the Prince’s Palace just a few miles down the coast. Carter, of course, can’t help but tease Nick about losing his heart to movie-star royalty.
Later that evening, Nick and Carter are invited to an impromptu dinner with Her Grace, the Duchess of Boston. She happens to be the mother of the British spy who has been helping Nick and Carter stay out of trouble for the past couple of years. Her son, Lord Gerald Whitcombe, left London for Nice back in July but has since disappeared. The duchess is convinced that the two of them are the only ones who can find him.
What follows is a race against time that leads Nick and Carter back to Paris where they find that things are not exactly how they left them.
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Somers knelt over his father, trying to stop the bleeding. Santa Claus had shot Glenn Somerset in the stomach at least once, maybe twice. It was hard to tell because the lights were out and because there was blood. So much blood. Somers barely remembered crossing the room to where his father lay. He remembered glancing at the girl—Bing’s daughter—and knowing she was dead; a bullet had punched through her back, and she wasn’t breathing. He didn’t remember where he got the fabric that he now wadded up and held against his father’s stomach. All his attention now focused on this makeshift attempt to stop the bleeding. In the tips of his fingers, Somers felt a pulse. His own? Or was that his father’s heart pumping blood out of the gaping wound?
Somers could hear it—a soft, squelching noise as blood soaked through the improvised bandage. That was crazy. That was batshit. There was no way that Somers could hear, actually hear, blood pumping out. But he could. He could hear that squelching. His Great-aunt Elaine had a red rubber hot water bottle that she would put in her bed in the winter, and when she would carry the bottle to the sink and empty it, it sounded like this: fingers compressing the rubber until it squeaked against itself. God, this was insane, the whole thing was insane, and if his father—
—no, that wasn’t even a legitimate thought, that wasn’t something he could allow himself to consider.
It was with something like surprise that Somers realized the lights had come back on. In the warm, yellow light, his fingers were so many colors: crimson, purple, blue, black. Somers forced his gaze up, towards his father’s face. The flesh was puffy, creamy except where the day’s growth of stubble gave everything an aquamarine cast. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing. Pretty strong breaths. Yes. Good breathing. The lungs hadn’t been damaged, thank God. Over the years, Glenn Somerset had put on weight, but he looked very small now laid out on the floor. It was like gravity had stretched him, stretched him like taffy, and Somers thought that liquids had constant volume but no definite shape. Like all that blood, spilling out thinly across Somers’s knuckles. Someone was talking to him, Somers realized, but he didn’t care. His father was oozing out across the floor, all that blood, what a joke, what a goddamn joke.
“—and if you touch him I’ll break your nose.” That part managed to penetrate Somers’s fog, and he realized it was Hazard speaking. He was using that low, deadly voice that made the hair on the back of Somers’s neck stand up, the voice like he’d do everything he said and it wouldn’t bother him a bit.
“We’ve got a job to do,” a snippy young man’s voice answered.
“Open your mouth again,” Hazard said. “Go ahead.”
If the snippy young man had more to say, he didn’t voice it.
A moment later, Hazard’s face swam into Somers’s line of sight. “Somers, the paramedics are here. You’ve got to get out of their way.”
Somers blinked. The words washed over him, past him, away.
“Come on,” Hazard said. His big hands, surprisingly delicate, prized Somers’s fingers off the makeshift bandage, and Hazard helped Somers to his feet.
“No,” Somers said, shaking his head and stretching back towards his father. “I’ve got to—”
“They’re going to take him to the hospital,” Hazard said, steering Somers a safe distance away. “That’s the only chance your father has.”
Somers stared as the paramedics went to work. Their movements were precise, efficient, and controlled. One was the young man that Somers had heard objecting; the other was a much older woman with leathery skin. The young man’s hands trembled, but he kept working. The woman—her hands looked like they could have held an ocean and not spilled a drop. Liquid—
—had a constant volume but no definite shape.
Faster than Somers would have believed, they transferred his father to a gurney and wheeled him from the house. Somers glimpsed Sheriff Bingham embracing his son, both of them paralyzed by the death of Bing’s daughter. And Somers noticed his mother trailing after him, her movements stiff, as though she hadn’t walked in years. She glanced around, her blind gaze moving over Somers as though he weren’t even there, before settling on Jeremiah Walker. He crossed the room as though summoned by that gaze, settling an arm around Grace Elaine’s shoulders and urging her after the gurney.
“You need to go,” Hazard said, turning Somers towards the door. “Your mom is going to need you. We’ll take care of everything here.”
Everything here. Two words. Everything here meant bullet casing. It meant blood. It meant the gunpowder smell that had replaced everything else. It meant talking to drunken socialites. It meant facing a murderer. It meant a dead girl. Somers felt as though he were rising from deep waters—slow at first, and then faster and faster as the pressure shot him towards the surface. He saw, now, that Wahredua’s finest were already here. How much time had passed? Somers cast a quick glance. Where was Santa?
“Let’s go,” Hazard said, giving another push. “You can ride in the ambulance. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.”
Somers shook his head.
“Fuck no.” Somers lifted his hands, intending to press on his pounding head, but he saw the blood again. Already it had dried, turning sticky and crusty as it did. “I just—I need a minute—”
“You need to get your ass out of here.” Martha Cravens, Wahredua’s Chief of Police, marched towards them.
Cravens was a big woman with an hourglass shape; large without being fat, her hair stylishly gray, she somehow managed to give off the air of being someone’s grandmother. The reality was very different. Cravens had toughed it out as one of the only women on a small-town police force, and she had earned respect and trust while doing so. She had been talking, Somers noticed, with Mayor Newton, who was one of Cravens’s strongest supporters. The mayor folded his arms and studied Somers from across the room; there was something in the old man’s face that made Somers’s skin crawl.
“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” Hazard said. “Look, I’ll drive you there.”
“No way.” Somers raised his hands again, saw the blood again, stopped again. “No.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Cravens said. Her face was hard—lined with sympathy, yes, but still hard enough to crack a goddamn Rolex so it wouldn’t ever tick again. “You think you’re going to take matters into your own hands. You think I might be stupid enough to let you within ten miles of this business because it’s personal, because you’re a good detective, because you’ve put in your time.”
“Chief,” Somers said, his voice thick, so thick it barely escaped his throat. “You’re out of your goddamn mind if you think I’m not handling this.”
“What’s there to handle, Detective? Everybody saw the shooter come into the room with a gun. We don’t need to do a goddamn thing except wait. We’ll take statements, pick up the casings, and we’ll run ballistics, just to be sure, but that’s just to keep lawyers from crawling down our throats. There’s no case to work. This thing was shut almost before it opened.” Cravens’s face softened, the lines around her eyes and mouth deepening. “John-Henry, the best thing you can do is help your family right now.”
Somers shook his shoulders, as though trying to throw off an invisible hand.
“Come on,” Hazard said in a quiet voice. When Somers didn’t respond, he said, “John-Henry.”
The sound of that name on Hazard’s lips, a name Hazard hadn’t used since—
—the locker room, Somers’s heart thudding as he saw the desire in Hazard’s eyes—
—high school, made Somers blink. He nodded. Cravens grasped his hand, and Somers let Hazard hustle him out into the night. It was cold, much colder than Somers remembered. His breath misted, but it was so goddamn cold that the mist should have crystallized, fallen to the earth, and shattered. Spindrift glistened in the headlights of a dozen police cruisers. Pebbly snow chittered against the metal shells. Overhead, the stars looked close enough that Somers thought he could reach up and shove them around a little.
The stars. Somers shouldn’t have been able to see the stars. His father had lit up the house like the Bellagio, and the lights had blotted out the sky. But the exterior lights, the decorative lights, had not come back on.
“Keys,” Hazard said, still guiding Somers towards the Interceptor.
Somers fished them out of his pocket and pressed them into Hazard’s hand: the skin warm, callused, strong.
Why hadn’t the exterior lights come back on?
Hazard wasn’t acting like Hazard either. He was shivering, and for the first time, Somers noticed that Hazard wasn’t wearing his jacket. He also noticed that Hazard was holding the door open for him, waiting for Somers to climb into the car.
“Where’s your jacket?”
Shaking with the cold, Hazard jerked his head at the car. “Will you get in?”
“Did you leave it inside?”
“Yeah, sure. Before I freeze my fingers off if you don’t mind.”
Somers climbed into the seat, Hazard shut the door, and a moment later he climbed behind the steering wheel. The SUV roared to life, and warmth fluttered out of the vents.
“That was your jacket. I was using it to—my father’s stomach, the blood—” Somers cut off, unable to finish the statement.
“Jesus, if I’d just taken him to the station like my father asked.” Somers rocked forward. He lifted his hands to cover his face, but again the sight of blood stopped him. Scrubbing at his shirt, Somers tried to clean the tacky mess from his hands, but all he succeeded in doing was spread a rust-colored stain across the cloth. He scrubbed harder; the friction brought heat to his hands. If the goddamn blood would just come off—
Hazard’s hands closed around his wrists. “Breathe.”
Somers couldn’t breathe. He rocked forward again. “I should have just taken him to the fucking station. But I had to be an ass. I had to make a point. I had to—”
The sound of paper ripping filled the car, and Somers glanced over. Hazard had a packet of alcohol-cleanser towelettes, and he was working one of the cloths free. Without speaking, Hazard gripped Somers’s hand and began cleaning the dried blood from his fingers. Somers knew he should say something. Stop. That would be the smartest thing. Or, let me. Anything would be better than silence. Even crying, even sobbing would be better than the sick feeling in his stomach and the tightness in his throat.
But Somers didn’t say anything because right then, Hazard’s touch felt like the only thing keeping him from flying apart. Hazard cleaned with strong, firm movements, but again he showed that surprising gentleness as he manipulated Somers’s hands. When he had finished—and, in the process, used all of the towelettes—Hazard grabbed Somers’s chin. This grip was not gentle; it was painful, and it hurt more as Hazard forced Somers’s head so that their eyes met.
“You say one more time that you should have taken him into the station, and you’ll be shitting out your own teeth for the next year.”
Somers started to laugh. He wasn’t sure where the laughter came from—the sick feeling inside was still there, just pushed to the back a little—but the laughter felt real. He laughed until a hint of a smile cracked Hazard’s stern expression and Hazard’s fingers dropped away. Still laughing, Somers leaned back against the glass. Cold soaked through his jacket and shirt, and it felt clean against all that sickness inside him.
“That’s your idea of being comforting?” Somers said as his laughter faded. The tightness in his throat had eased. He still felt like shit, but he felt like shit with his eyes open.
“That’s my idea of keeping you from being an even bigger horse’s ass.”
“Can we—I mean, would you take me to the hospital?” Somers paused. “I can ask one of the uniforms to drive me if you need to get home.”
Hazard growled something under his throat and shifted the Interceptor into gear. Their tires stirred up tiny cyclones of snow as they pulled away from the Somerset home and headed into the city.
“What was that?”
“I said you really are a dipshit.”
Hazard didn’t respond.
“Who turned the lights back on?”
“I don’t know. Somebody.”
“The breakers tripped. All of them.”
“And somebody reset them?”
“All of them?”
“Christ’s sake. Yes.”
So why hadn’t the outside lights come back on?
Before Somers could voice the question, Hazard’s phone buzzed. The dark-haired man answered, speaking in a low tone—grim monosyllabics punctured by a single, violent, “What?” After listening for another minute, Hazard threw the phone skidding across the dash.
“What?” Somers said. “Is it my—”
“No. Nothing about your dad, not yet. He’s still in surgery.”
“Then what?” Somers tried to think, but his reactions were dulled by emotion and exhaustion. “Nico?”
“Santa Claus is dead.”
Somers stared at Hazard. “That’s a joke.”
“He was shot while trying to escape arrest.”
Paternity Case Blurb:
It’s almost Christmas, and Emery Hazard finds himself face to face with his own personal nightmare: going on a double date with his partner—and boyhood crush—John-Henry Somerset. Hazard brings his boyfriend; Somers brings his estranged wife. Things aren’t going to end well.
When a strange call interrupts dinner, however, Hazard and his partner become witnesses to a shooting. The victims: Somers’s father, and the daughter of a high school friend. The crime is inexplicable. There is no apparent motive, no connection between the victims, and no explanation for how the shooter reached his targets.
Determined to get answers, Hazard and Somers move forward with their investigation in spite of mounting pressure to stop. Their search for the truth draws them into a dark web of conspiracy and into an even darker tangle of twisted love and illicit desire. And as the two men come face to face with the passions and madness behind the crime, they must confront their own feelings for each other—and the hard truths that neither man is ready to accept.
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… Kris tried to breathe, tried to stop the shaking that came over him, crawling up from the bottom of his feet, all the way up his skin. He hadn’t felt this before, hadn’t yet run face-first into the same furious, crackling rage the rest of his team nurtured. He hadn’t joined in on the calls for revenge, the bloodthirsty hunger for retribution against al-Qaeda, against the Taliban. He’d kept the blame for himself.
“Kris?” David yawned as he slipped out from behind the curtain to their room. “You okay?”
Fury roared through him, blinding, aching fury. His bones seemed to scream, his skeleton shaking, aching to every last inch.
“Kris?” David was right there, reaching for him. His hands landed on Kris’s arms, gently.
Kris flew back, jerking free. “Stop!” he hissed. “Just stop!”
David stepped back, hands up, surrendering. His eyes glistened, pools of silver in the starlight and the flash of the radio lights. “I’m sorry.”
“You shouldn’t help me! You shouldn’t care about me! You shouldn’t do any of this!” Kris waved back to their room, to David, trying to wrap everything David had done, all that he was, up as one. “I am not worth anything!”
“I am not worth one moment of what you’ve given me! Not a single moment! Your care, your concern, your coffee? Stop wasting your time on me!”
“Kris…” David slowly inched forward, his voice a whisper. “Why are you saying this?”
“Because—” His heart screamed, the same pitch, the same tone as the planes that flew over Manhattan, that slammed into the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. Ash coated his throat, and in his hands, he felt the dust of thousands upon thousands of bones sift through his fingers. “Because I am responsible for 9/11!”
David stopped, freezing. His eyes narrowed. “What?”
“My section, my unit! We were tracking Khalid al-Mihdhar and Marwan al-Shehhi. We had them on our radar. The FBI, earlier this year, they asked for what we had on them! We refused to share the intel. We knew they were al-Qaeda. We knew they were connected to the embassy bombings in Africa. We were tracing their connections, their meet-ups with al-Qaeda operatives. Money that was exchanged. But we wouldn’t share what we had! The higher-ups, they thought the FBI would fuck it up! And no one knew, no one fucking knew, when they needed to know!”
“Their names were on my desk! Mine! If I had just passed those names along, if the FBI would have alerted someone, anyone, about those two… American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 175 wouldn’t have slammed into the Pentagon and the South Tower!”
“You don’t know that. You can’t say that—” David sputtered, shaking his head.
“They would have been detained when they entered the US! Questioned. They wouldn’t have been on those flights. Maybe al-Qaeda would have had to call the entire operation off! Maybe they would have had to cancel it! If they had to cancel it, then Ahmad Shah Massoud would still be alive. Bin Laden wouldn’t have had to murder him, on September ninth! Everything, all of this! It’s my fault! Because I didn’t—”
His voice cracked, and Kris collapsed, the bones in his body no longer able to hold him up, keep him standing under the weight of three thousand dead souls, under the years of unlived lives, under the shame that grated his heart to slivers, to sand, to dust. He fell to his knees, curled over, and pressed his forehead to the dirty floor, the threadbare carpet covering the cold concrete.
He couldn’t breathe. He gasped, his throat closed, choked off, like he was being strangled. Tears flowed, cascading down his cheeks, falling from his chin, his nose, into pools beneath his face. Snot and spit dribbled from his nose, his mouth. He was disgusting. A disgusting human being.
A hand rested on his back, gentle, warm. Another landed on his head, fingers sliding through his hair. The hand guided him up, cradled his head until he was sitting, staring into David’s stern face.
Kris waited for David to snap his neck, to rip him in half. To end everything.
“It was not your fault,” David breathed. His voice, a whisper, shook. His eyes burned, slamming into Kris like a brand. “It was not your fault. You did not hijack those planes. You did not fly them into the Towers, into the Pentagon. You did not do this.”
“I let it happen…”
David gripped his skull, pulled Kris closer. His hands shook, his arms, and Kris trembled with him. His teeth started to chatter. “Do not take on this blame, Kris. You are not them. You are not a murderer. You are not part of their conspiracy, their hate. You are not to blame.”
“You are not the beginning of this, Kris. You are not where all of this, all of the hatred, all of the fighting, comes from. Don’t do this to yourself.”
“All I can see, when I close my eyes,” Kris gasped, “are the Towers. The planes. And the hijackers’ faces, looking up at me from my desk.” He squeezed his eyes closed. Tears spilled from his eyes, raining from his eyelashes. “How can you even look at me?”
“Because I see what you don’t. I see the smartest man I’ve ever met. A man dedicated to the fight. To stopping the Taliban, to capturing Bin Laden. I see a man focused on doing the right thing. On being the best he can be. I see a hero, Kris.”
“No…” A sob built in his chest, and he tried to pull free of David’s hold. “No, I’m not.”
“I see a man who came to Afghanistan, and despite everyone’s judgments, everyone’s prejudice, did his job perfectly. You built an alliance with General Khan. You did that. You built that. The people of Afghanistan have hope, and a future, once we get rid of the Taliban. And we will, because of what you built with Khan. How is that not heroic?”
Kris shook his head. He couldn’t speak, again.
“I see a man I care about,” David whispered. “Someone I—” His lips clamped shut. His thumbs stroked over Kris’s cheekbones, wiping away tears. “I see you. I see someone exceptional.”
David pulled Kris in, slowly wrapping his arms around Kris until they were one, huddled on the floor and wrapped around each other, arms and chests pressed so tightly together, until there was no space between them. Kris trembled, shaking until he thought he’d fly apart. Until he thought his body would just fall to pieces. David held him, a fierce hold that surrounded Kris, enveloped him completely, and held him up. Held his bones and his soul in place.
He didn’t know how long they stayed there. It felt like an eternity, listening to Arabic whisper over the radio and Ryan and Jim snoring in counterpoint. Finally, David pulled him up, guided him back to their room. He unzipped his own sleeping bag and laid Kris inside, deep in the warm folds that smelled like David, that radiated his presence.
Hesitation. David stared into Kris’s eyes, deep into his gaze.
The truth is complicated.
On September 11th, 2001, Kris Caldera was a junior member of the CIA’s Alec Station, the unit dedicated to finding and stopping Osama Bin Laden. They failed.
Ten days later, he was on the ground in Afghanistan with a Special Forces team, driven to avenge the ghosts that haunted him and the nation he’d let down. On the battlefield, he meets Special Forces Sergeant David Haddad. David – Arab American, Muslim, and gay – becomes the man Kris loves, the man he lives for, and the man he kills for, through the long years of the raging wars.
David Haddad thought he’d be an outsider his whole life. Too American for the Middle East, too Arab for America, and too gay to be Muslim. It took Kris to bring the parts of himself together, to make him the man he’d always wanted to be. But the War on Terror wreaks havoc on David’s soul, threatening to shatter the fragile peace he’s finally found with Kris.
When a botched mission rips David from Kris’s life, Kris’s world falls into ruin and ash. A shell of the man who once loved with the strength to shake both the CIA and the world, he marks time on the edges of his life. The days bleed together, meaningless after losing the love of his life.
After being captured, tortured to the edge of his life, and left for dead by his comrades, David doesn’t know how much of himself is left. He vanished one day in the tribal belt of Pakistan, and the man who walks out almost a decade later is someone new: Al Dakhil Al-Khorasani.
But strange rumblings are whispering through the CIA. Intelligence from multiple sources overseas points to something new. Something deadly, and moving to strike the United States. Intercepts say an army from Khorasan, the land of the dead where the Apocalypse of Islam will rise, is coming.
And, at the head of this army, a shadowy figure the US hasn’t seen before: Al Dakhil Al-Khorasani.
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.
Want to know more about author, Gregory Ashe? Follow him here: https://www.gregoryashe.com/
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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.
Gregory, thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to answer a few brief questions about yourself, and your writing for the members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.
Thank you so much for inviting me to do this. It’s an honor to be asked to participate.
JM – Where were you born, and where do you live now?
GA – I’m a St. Louis native. Although I moved away for college, grad school, and then work, I came back a few years ago. I love the city; it’s great for so many reasons: the culture, the food, the history, the parks, etc. Among other things, I was surprised on my return to find that St. Louis has a strong LGBTQ+ community. It also has a strong writing community. I feel like I lucked out!
JM – Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your life with us?
GA – Oh boy. The sad truth is that I’m very boring. I work full time (I teach at a local high school), and in my free time, I try to read and write as much as possible. I also do exciting things like laundry, grocery shopping, and home repair (I’m still learning a lot about this last one). Every once in a while, I still try dating. I used to travel a fair amount for research, but now my adventures are limited to summer vacation. I’m still trying to figure out where I might go this year!
JM – Do you write full-time, have a 9-5, or are you a Lottery Winner?
GA – Writing full time sounds like a dream job; maybe one day I’ll get there. Right now, I’m lucky that I love the work I do teaching high school (my students might not be quite as enthusiastic, however).
JM – How long have you been writing/publishing?
GA – Like many writers, I imagine, I’ve been writing and telling stories for about as long as I can imagine. My siblings were fairly good sports about it until puberty hit! For a long time, I thought of myself as a writer even though I wasn’t actually writing anything. A series of experiences changed my mind about that, and about ten years ago, I started writing regularly.
JM – Do you write in other genres besides gay mystery/thriller/suspense?
GA – I’ve written in high fantasy, urban fantasy, and gay mystery/thriller. I also have an abandoned sci-fi (cyberpunk) novel that I still intend on finishing one day.
JM – Have you always self-published your writing? I ask because your finished product is of great quality, which isn’t always the case in this hyper-insane, electronic publishing market.
GA – That’s an incredibly generous thing to say. Thank you. I have always self-published. I’ve had a few near-misses with traditional publishers, but nothing has ever landed for me. That being said, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that my work has improved over the last ten years. I keep my older books available for sale, but I hope readers will recognize that my self-publishing skills and my writing craft have grown. My advice is always to preview first; I feel like that gives a fair idea of what you’re buying.
JM – You are a new author for me, having discovered your gay mystery/suspense novel, Pretty Pretty Boys, shortly after its release in Nov. 2017. I quickly snapped up the second novel in the series, Transposition, and have pre-ordered the third, The Paternity Case. Is Hazard/Somer’s your first series? How did the characters come about for you?
GA – Again, thank you for the very kind words. I have–boy, let me think–I think, I have five series that I’ve previously published. No, six. Two of them are m/m paranormal (no were-creatures or vampires): Hollow Folk and The Sophistries of June. A third (Witte & Co. Investigations) is historical fantasy with a strong m/m romance line (although not the main plot). See above for my caveat about my growth as a writer and self-publisher.
Your question about how Hazard and Somers came about is a good one. I know that many authors say that they’re not sure where an idea came from; it just popped into their head. That’s happened to me before, but it wasn’t the case with this series. I remember vividly when I first heard the story of Jesse Valencia, a student at Mizzou who was killed by a closeted cop in order to cover up their relationship (http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/05/23/rios/). That was the seed for this story; Hazard and Somers grew out of it. (JM–I know this story well; how ironic – I have a drafted plot idea influenced by this story in a folder (along with some research) that I wrote in 2011 – great writing minds think alike, lol!).
I have a longer account of how the piece developed, including a few surprising twists along the way, that I’ll be sharing with subscribers to my email list when Paternity Case launches at the beginning of April. I hope anyone interested will sign up!
JM – I so enjoyed Pretty Pretty Boys; the push and pull, yin and yang, rather complicated relationship between MCs, Emery (Hazard) Hazard and John-Henry Somerset (Somers), both detectives in the small-town Wahredua Police Department make the novels work! At the beginning of the series, Somers has remained in Wahredua, MI his entire life; Hazard has just returned to his hometown in disgrace upon getting fired from his former detective’s job in big city, USA; What a set up! So much history to explore from page one! How many books in the series are you planning?
GA – That’s a lovely description of the dynamic I’ve attempted to create in the books; thank you. The short answer to your question is: I don’t know yet. The slightly longer answer: I’m finishing a six-book arc that will resolve the back-and-forth of Hazard and Somers’s relationship, as well as one (maybe two) of the major recurring antagonists. However, I’ve already planned a second arc for the two detectives, and I plan on writing that second set of novels if there’s still interest.
JM – You have been successful in creating two strong-willed characters that are enemies as much as they are friends; yet their unique personalities make it work between them. The novels have complex, twisty mysteries, and yet romantic undertones (not giving anything away, here!) Have you always been a romantic?
GA – Ha! Yes. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I came out relatively late in life, and so my experience with romance is still, to some degree, mediated and second-hand. Now, I spend a lot of my time convincing myself that I’m a rigorous intellectual, but the reality is that my brain turns mushy whenever I meet a nice guy. Although, (maybe this is too much honesty) it’s been a long time since I met a nice guy . . .
JM – On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time answering questions of the genre. Can you share a little about your current release and/or WIP?
GA – Jon, thank you for making me feel so welcome in this community. I really appreciate it. I’ve got two WIP right now: I’m finishing revisions on Paternity Case, which releases April 6, 2018, and I’m writing Guilt by Association (book four of the Hazard and Somerset mysteries). Guilt by Association takes Hazard and Somers to the next level: they are facing a tougher mystery, their work lives are compromised when the mayor hands-off their case, and they find their relationship hurtling towards . . . well, that’s the problem. Neither of them knows. Yet. I’m looking forward to releasing this book in early summer.
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.