Exclusive Excerpt: Cloistered to Death (Jamie Brodie Mysteries Book 16) by Meg Perry

Excerpt:

Prologue

Monday, April 9, 2018

Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Bad news doesn’t always come in threes. Sometimes it’s twos.

I said it out loud just as Liz Nguyen walked into my office. “Well, fuck.”

She snorted a laugh and dropped into the chair across from me. “Good morning to you, too. Fuck what? Or who?”

“Oxford University Press and major depressive disorder.”

“Uh oh. Has OUP cancelled the second book?”

Last summer I’d taken a sabbatical to write a book exploring the connection between the Bridei kings of the Pictish nation in early medieval Scotland and the Brodie family. My family. As books do, this one had veered off in a slightly different direction as I was writing it to also become the story of the younger sons of the Brodie clan chiefs and their descendants. Of which I was one. Most historical studies of clans concentrated on the chiefs. My book was unique in its focus on the younger sons.

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The book was published in January and had become, by academic publishing standards, wildly successful. Sales were closing in on 2000 copies. As a result, Oxford University Press had asked me to produce a sequel of sorts – the stories of the younger sons of the Scottish clan chiefs and lairds through the centuries. I’d agreed a month ago, under the impression that I had plenty of time.

“On the contrary.” I pointed to my screen. “Email from my editor, David Beaton.” I read the content to Liz. “‘Sorry, just received this myself. Proposal, outline and first three chapters for book are due 30 April.’ That’s three weeks from today.”

Liz made an O with her mouth. “Have you started on those yet?”

“Nope. I have ideas but nothing committed to paper.”

“All right. Three chapters, three weeks. You can do it.”

“I could, if these weren’t our busiest two weeks for instruction.” As reference and instruction librarians, we spent most of our days in the first few weeks of a new quarter in classrooms teaching research skills to students in our specialty areas. Mine were history, philosophy, and the history of science. Nearly half of my time over the next two weeks was already booked with classes. “And you’re forgetting my second fuck.”

Liz frowned. “What was that one? Depressive disorder?”

“Yup. This email is from Lola.”

Lola Mack was a colleague of Liz’s and mine, another YRL research librarian whose subject specialties were classics, linguistics, and languages. Lola and I were co-authoring a paper on the subtle differences in language employed by various Roman-era historians.

Back in January, when Lola had proposed it, the collaboration had sounded like a terrific idea. But Lola struggled with major depressive disorder and often had difficulty concentrating on research and writing. As a result, we were behind schedule and the deadline for submission to the journal in which we hoped to publish was Friday, April 20. Less than two weeks away.

And now Lola was bailing on me. I read the message to Liz. “‘Jamie, I am so sorry, but my doctor has changed my meds again and I’m going to be out of work this week. I wish I could promise to work on the paper, but I doubt I’ll be able to. You have my notes and references – if you could please complete the paper however you see fit, I’ll be eternally grateful. ETERNALLY. List yourself as first author. THANK YOU.’”

Liz grunted. “Well, fuck.”

“Exactly. I feel terrible for Lola, but… shit.”

Liz hopped to her feet. “I’m gonna get out of your hair. You have work to do.”

 

Fortunately, I had no instruction sessions scheduled for this morning. I responded to David Beaton – Thanks for the update, will do – and to Lola. No worries, my friend. Concentrate on feeling better. Then I changed my Skype status to Do Not Disturb and got busy.

I ate lunch at my desk and spent four solid hours writing and revising Lola’s and my paper. At 12:55, I went downstairs to the reference desk for my two-hour shift with Liz. She was already there, chatting with Dolores Lopes and Justin Como, who worked the 11:00-1:00 reference shift. Dolores said, “Liz was just telling us about Lola.”

“Yeah. I hope they can find the right drug this time.”

Dolores was the mother hen of the librarians, worrying about all of us when we had troubles. We called her Mama Dolores. She said, “Oh, I hope so, too. Poor Lola has been through so much.”

We murmured agreement and took our seats at the desk. Liz said, “You concentrate on writing. I’ll handle patrons, unless we have two at once.”

“Awesome. I owe you a drink. Or two.”

She grinned. “Forget drinks. Next paper you write is gonna be with me.”

“You have a topic in mind?”

“Something about the history of elections.” Liz was our political science subject specialist.

“Huh. Intriguing. But let me get these two projects behind me first.”

I started to write again. As promised, Liz dealt with patrons. Thirty minutes later, Clinton Kenneally appeared.

Clinton was a patron turned friend, a former monk who visited us daily with a word of the day. He’d first appeared on Liz’s initial day at YRL, nearly nine years ago and had barely missed a day since. He always arrived at 1:30 on the dot.

I paused my hands on the keyboard. Liz said, “Hi, Clinton.”

“Good afternoon.” Clinton studied me. “Today’s word must be frazzled, as Jamie seems to be suffering from that condition.”

I said, “As always, you are correct.” I told him about my deadlines.

Clinton tapped his chin, thinking. “You should avail yourself of a writing retreat.”

Liz applauded. “Oooo. That’s brilliant.”

It was an intriguing idea, but… “Where would I go? If I stay home, I’ll never accomplish anything. If I go to my dad’s, then my family will expect interaction. If I go to New Mexico, I’ll be distracted by everything that needs to be done in the house.” My husband, Pete Ferguson, and I owned a recently-built vacation home in Alamogordo.

Clinton said, “A monastery would suit your purposes. You wouldn’t be bothered.”

Liz said, “How cool. You could write about medieval Scottish clans to the sound of Gregorian chant.”

I said, “I could go to a hotel…”

Liz said, “You’d have to go out for food. And you’d be interrupted by housekeeping every day. I think a monastery is a fantastic idea.”

Clinton added, “The monks will provide your meals at set times. Other than that, you will be free to do as you please.”

I was intrigued. There was a Benedictine monastery in my hometown of Oceanside not far from my brother Jeff’s farm. I’d always found it fascinating and wondered what went on there. “Do you have a recommendation?”

Something flickered in Clinton’s eyes for a second, then was gone. “There is a Benedictine monastery nearby at the end of Mandeville Canyon Road. It is surrounded by wilderness. They welcome guests during the week.”

I located the website. “The Abbey of St. Chad of Mercia. How about that? Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom.”

“Yes. St. Chad is credited with the Christianization of Mercia.”

Liz said, “Pete could drop you off and pick you up. You can’t get more convenient than that.”

Pete loathed all things Catholic. He’d hate the idea. “Are there any Buddhist monasteries nearby?”

“Nope. Closest one is up in the San Gabriels.” Liz poked me in the arm. “Come on, you can’t turn down a monastery named after a medieval British kingdom.”

“I guess not.” I clicked on the Retreats link on the monastery website. “Here’s the booking form.”

Liz leaned over so she could see my screen. “What do they have available?”

 

So I booked a retreat and scheduled a week of vacation leave from the library. When I told Pete that evening what I’d done, he stared at me, aghast. “You’ve done WHAT??

“I have to get this proposal sent out. I need four uninterrupted days to work on it.”

“You could do that here.”

“No, I couldn’t. I’d be interrupted by the dog, by you, by my phone… The retreat will allow me to accomplish a ton of work.”

“You could go to New Mexico.”

“I’d end up painting the bedrooms and working in the garden instead of writing.”

“You could stay at a hotel.”

“Then I’d have to arrange for my own meals. I’d be interrupted by the maid service every day.”

Pete jumped to his feet from the loveseat and began to pace. “I’m not comfortable with this.”

“Why?”

He stopped and glared at me. “You know why.”

Pete had been sexually abused as a teenager by his parish priest. Naturally, the experience had turned him into an implacable enemy of the church. “Pete. These guys are monks, not priests.” Although I suspected it didn’t matter. “And I won’t be interacting with them at all. I won’t be there for indoctrination, I’ll be there to work. Alone. And Clinton recommended it, so it has to be okay.”

“There must be an alternative.”

“If you can present me with one, I’m open to it.”

 

Two weeks later…

 

Monday, April 23, 2018

 

TWO DAYS TO SOLVE

Los Angeles, California

5:15 am

 

Voiceover: Homicide. The ultimate crime. When a murder is committed in Los Angeles, the LAPD’s homicide detectives have two days to solve the crime before the trail begins to go cold.

Tonight, a murder was committed. Tonight, we ride with two of LAPD’s finest, the homicide detectives of the West Los Angeles Division, as they hunt a killer.

 

Detective Brodie (in the passenger seat, speaking to the camera): Our victim is a male, found in front of an empty house that’s for sale. A neighbor was outside with his dog and heard the gunshot. He didn’t see anything but he called it in.

Detective Kevin Brodie has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for sixteen years, ten of them with West LA homicide.

Brodie: We have far fewer homicides in West LA than in most of the other divisions.

Detective Eckhoff (driving): We may not have as many, but the motives aren’t that different.

His partner, Detective Jonathan Eckhoff, has been with LAPD for fourteen years, seven as a homicide detective.

Eckhoff: Drugs and money. There are a lot of drugs in them thar hills. Lots of money, too.

Brodie: We get a fair number of body dumps up in the canyons this side of Mulholland. Someone’s dog discovers a victim, and we have no idea where the crime scene is.

Eckhoff: This time, we know.

The unmarked car is waved through a checkpoint and pulls up to the curb in front of a large house. Uniformed police and crime scene personnel swarm the site. There is a For Sale sign at the end of the driveway.

Brodie (to a uniformed officer): Hey, Ben, what’ve we got?

Officer: White male, shot in the chest at close range.

Brodie and Eckhoff approach the house, where the victim lies just outside the front door in a pool of blood. The victim is wearing jeans and a t-shirt and is barefoot.

Brodie: You’re not kidding, close range. (He leans in to study the wound.) Shooter must have been less than three feet away.

Eckhoff: Someone he trusted. (He scans the scene.) Oh, shit. His shoes are missing. Is this a copycat?

Brodie: No way. (To the camera) About six months ago, Harbor Division arrested a guy who’d been stabbing homeless people and stealing their shoes. He’s in jail.

Officer: This guy doesn’t look homeless. Or stabbed.

Brodie (glances down the driveway): It’s gotta be coincidence, but we’ll keep it in mind. How did he get here? (To coroner’s investigator) He doesn’t have ID?

CI: Not yet. There’s nothing in his pockets. Not even a quarter.

Brodie (still studying the body): He’s got a defensive wound.

Eckhoff (demonstrates to the camera): Someone knows he’s about to get shot, he’s likely to throw up his hands. Doesn’t help, the bullet goes right through, but it’s a reflex reaction.

Coroner’s investigator (kneeling by the body): Chest wound isn’t a through and through, so we’ll get the bullet.

Eckhoff (looks up at the house): This is an odd place for a robbery.

Brodie: I don’t think this started off as a robbery.

Crime scene personnel are taking multiple pictures.

Brodie: He looks vaguely familiar, kinda like a guy I played ball with in college.

Eckhoff (in some disbelief): You know him?

CI: He looks older than you.

Eckhoff: Detective Brodie’s regimen of clean living has preserved his youthful countenance.

Brodie (rolls his eyes at Eckhoff): Ha ha. If it’s the same guy, he was a couple of years older than me. He was a utility infielder. What the hell was his name?

Eckhoff (trying to help Brodie remember): Was it a common name?

Brodie: No. His first name was a last name. Wait… Bartlett. Like the president on West Wing. That was his first name. Everyone called him Bart. (He snaps his fingers.) Bart Hightower.

CI: How sure are you this is him?

Brodie: Not sure at all.

CI: We’ll print him, see if he’s in the system.

The coroner removes the body. Crime scene investigators scour the scene.

Brodie: Let’s talk to the neighbor.

Brodie and Eckhoff meet a man in pajamas and a bathrobe standing at the end of the driveway with several uniformed officers.

Eckhoff: Thank you for speaking with us, sir. Can you tell us what happened this morning?

Neighbor: I’m not typically outside this early but my dog has had – um – intestinal issues. She woke me up, in a hurry to go out. We used the front door because it’s closer. I was waiting for the dog when I heard the shot from this direction.

Eckhoff: What did you do?

Neighbor: I can’t see over or through the fence. I took Princess – the dog – inside then went down my driveway and around to this gate. It was open, which it shouldn’t be, and I could see the man lying there. I called 911 right then.

Brodie: How long has this house been for sale?

Neighbor: At least six months. The owners moved to Switzerland.

Eckhoff: Did you see or hear anything else?

Neighbor: I might have heard a car start while I was getting Princess back in the house. But it didn’t pass my driveway so it must have gone up the hill.

Brodie: Has anyone been over here, other than realtors?

Neighbor: Not that I know of. But it’s an extremely private neighborhood. I wouldn’t necessarily have seen anyone.

Eckhoff: You said the gate was supposed to be closed?

Neighbor: Yes. The realtor has the code that opens it.

Brodie: What about the neighbor on the other side?

Neighbor: Oh, that house is unoccupied at the moment, too. It belongs to an actor who’s appearing on Broadway right now. He’s been in New York for about six weeks.

Eckhoff (hands the neighbor a card): We appreciate your cooperation, sir. If you remember anything else that might be helpful, please give us a call.

Neighbor: I will.

Brodie and Eckhoff walk back toward the crime scene. Eckhoff examines the fence between the properties, which is overgrown with vines.

Eckhoff: He’s right, you can’t see through this at all.

Brodie: These people moved to Switzerland.

Eckhoff (grins): Sixteen years in West LA and you’re still not accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Brodie (to camera): This is why Detective Eckhoff always initiates the interviews of witnesses and suspects in this part of town. He grew up with people like this. He knows how to handle them.

Eckhoff: It’s a gift.

A uniformed officer approaches the detectives.

Officer: Kevin, Jon, take a look at this.

The officer points to the base of the gate at the end of the driveway.

Brodie (squats down to see): Black duct tape over the sensor… so the gate wouldn’t close?

Eckhoff: But then the killer left it there? If the gate had closed and the neighbor hadn’t heard the shot, the victim might have lain there for a while before anyone saw him.

Brodie: The killer was in a hurry to leave.

Eckhoff: And lucky for us, the neighbor did hear.

Brodie: Thank God for doggie diarrhea.

 

8:22 am

 

Back at the station, Detective Eckhoff gets a phone call.

Eckhoff: Eckhoff. Hey, tell me something good. Seriously? Fantastic. Thank you. (He hangs up and turns to Detective Brodie.) We got a fingerprint match. It’s your guy.

The victim is identified as Bartlett Corcoran Hightower IV, age 41.

Brodie: He’s in the system?

Eckhoff: Yeah. A couple of busts for possession several years ago. Would Pete remember him?

Detective Brodie calls his brother-in-law, who might know the victim.

Brodie (on the phone): Hey. Gotta question for you. Yeah. Remember a guy from college ball named Bart Hightower? A couple of years ahead of me, so a couple of years behind you. Right. You remember much about him? No kidding. Yeah, I’ll call him. See ya. (He hangs up.) He remembers him. Said he got suspended from the team for drugs once.

Eckhoff: Is your coach still around?

Brodie: Yeah, he’s retired up in Ventura County somewhere. (To camera) I went through UCLA on a baseball scholarship. Bart was a junior when I was a freshman.

Eckhoff: Was he any good?

Brodie (shrugs): Good enough for a scholarship. Not good enough for the majors. As I remember, he was a local.

Producer: Will your acquaintance with the victim cause a conflict of interest?

Brodie: Nah. We’ll check with the boss to make sure, but I haven’t seen Bart in nearly twenty years. We were never friends. It won’t be a problem.

Eckhoff (sits at a computer): Okie dokie, let’s see what we can learn about Mr. Hightower.

Brodie (sits at a different computer): I’ll call the realtor then search for next of kin.

 

Santa Monica, California

8:30 am

 

Pete spent two weeks seeking an alternate retreat location for me, but didn’t find one. Not for lack of effort. He’d scoured the internet searching for a retreat center to which a person could retreat. Most included a schedule of activities – yoga, pottery, meditation, drumming, whatever. None allowed the visitor to remain unoccupied for long stretches of the day and evening.

So I was going to St. Chad’s.

I stuffed socks into the crevices of the duffel, then turned to my toiletries bag. Pete watched for a minute, morose. “Do they even have internet there?”

“Yes. And a library. And three meals a day.”

He took a deep breath, as if he was steeling himself for something. “You know, it’s 2018. And this time you’re doing the two-year thing.”

I stopped in confusion, toothpaste in my hand. “What thing?”

“Remember? 2012, 2014, 2016? Moving in together and the conference in Oakland and Aunt Ruth’s bus tour to Scotland? This time, it’s you making the decision without consulting me.”

Yikes. This had to be handled delicately. “Okay, you have a point. But this is not exactly the same. Those times before, the decisions you made either forced me to do something I didn’t want to do or prevented me from doing something I did want to do. This time, it only affects me. At least from an active standpoint.”

He was wearing his stubborn face. “You are forcing me to do something I don’t want to do. Sit by idly while you go off to a monastery for a week.”

“Oh, Pete.” I reached out and ruffled his hair, my go-to conciliatory gesture. “You’ve hardly sat by idly. You did your best to find an alternative. There wasn’t one. And it’s not a week, it’s four days.”

He frowned at me for a minute, then sighed deeply and pushed off the bed. “Waffles for breakfast? You’ll probably be eating gruel for the rest of the week.”

I laughed. “Gruel?

“Oatmeal. Porridge. Whatever.”

“Yes, please. Waffles sound fantastic.”

He went to the kitchen and started banging around. I went to the office to pack my computer bag and then hauled my luggage downstairs.

We sat to eat and I said, “You’ll have a distraction while I’m gone. This is the week that Kevin and Jon start filming for Two Days to Solve.”

Pete huffed a laugh. “That’s right. I’d almost forgotten.”

Two Days to Solve was a reality cop show that followed a homicide investigation from beginning to end. LAPD had only recently chosen to participate, and the top brass had designated my brother Kevin and his partner Jon Eckhoff as the lucky team of detectives to represent the department.

Kevin had agreed because it was a boost for Jon’s career. I knew he wouldn’t have otherwise. But Jon hoped to get promoted to Homicide Special, a section of the elite Robbery-Homicide Unit that operated from headquarters, and Kevin was willing to sacrifice his distaste.

I was digging into my second waffle when my phone rang. When I checked the screen, I was surprised to see that it was Clinton. He almost never called. I answered, “Good morning, Clinton.”

“Jamie, good morning. Are you still at home?”

“Yep, I can’t check in at the monastery until 10:00. What’s up?”

“I fear that I am stranded. I was forced to have my car towed to the Dodge dealership this morning. I was hoping…”

I said, “Say no more, Clinton. Is this the dealership on Santa Monica and Centinela?”

“Yes.”

“Hang on.” I lowered the phone and said to Pete, “Clinton needs a ride.”

“Sure, no problem.”

I returned to Clinton. “We’ll swing by and pick you up on our way to the monastery. Where should Pete drop you off?”

Clinton’s voice reflected his relief. “Oh, wonderful. If he would take me to UCLA’s campus, that would be perfect. Thank you so much.”

“Don’t mention it. We’ll see you in…” I checked my watch. “About a half hour.”

“Thanks again, Jamie.”

“You’re welcome. See you shortly.” I hung up.

Pete said, “Funny, I never think of Clinton as having a car.”

“He has to get around somehow.”

“Obviously. I guess I thought he rode the bus everywhere.”

I laughed. “He’s a retired monk. He doesn’t have to be impoverished anymore.”

“Ha! I guess not.”

We were mopping up the remaining syrup on our plates when Pete’s phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “It’s Kevin.”

“It’s awfully early.”

Pete put the phone on speaker and answered. “Hey. Are you at a scene?”

I asked, “Is the camera crew with you?”

Kevin growled. “Yeah.”

Pete said, “Greaaaat. What’s up?”

“Remember a guy from college ball named Bart Hightower? A couple of years ahead of me, so a couple of years behind you.”

Pete looked surprised. “Yeah, I remember. A second-string utility infielder. Is he your victim?

“Right. You remember much about him?”

“Only that he got suspended when he was a sophomore. He tested positive for coke.”

“No kidding.”

“I know, you can’t talk about this now. You should call Coach.”

“Yeah, I’ll call him. See ya.” He hung up.

I said, “Well, damn. Now I have to wait to see what’s up with that.”

Pete leaned back, contemplating. “Bart Hightower. I hadn’t given him a thought since I graduated.”

“Sounds like you didn’t know him very well.”

“He wasn’t a friend, that’s for sure. He wasn’t much of a player or student either. He was local and he came from money.” Pete glanced at the clock. “Time to go.”

 

Clinton was waiting at the door of the customer lounge. I exited the front passenger seat. “Here, Clinton, you take the front. Pete will drop me off first.”

He hesitated, then climbed in. “Thank you. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.”

Pete said, “Not at all.”

I buckled my seatbelt. “Pete had an old Jeep Cherokee that spent a lot of time in these service bays. What do you drive?”

Clinton cleared his throat. “Er – a Dodge Neon. My sister and I took a drive in the mountains over the weekend and the brakes overheated.”

Pete and I made sounds of commiseration. I said, “It was the brakes that finally did that Cherokee in, too.”

Clinton slipped his sunglasses on; I was amused to see that they were tortoiseshell Wayfarers. Pete asked, “Will you need a ride later to pick up your car?”

“No, thank you. I have arranged with Liz to transport me after work.”

Pete turned right onto Santa Monica. “If you change your mind, let me know.”

 

Mandeville Canyon Road originated at Sunset Boulevard and wound its way north through multimillion dollar homes to its terminus a couple of thousand mostly-vertical feet shy of Mulholland Drive. About halfway up, we passed one house with an LAPD black-and-white parked across the driveway and yellow crime scene tape strung between the pillars supporting the gate.

I wondered if that was Kevin and Jon’s crime scene, then decided not to raise the subject. Pete was chatting with Clinton; he didn’t indicate that he’d noticed the patrol car, and he wouldn’t take as a positive sign a murder which just happened to occur on the same road as my monastery.

Sky Valley Road split off from Mandeville Canyon Road near its tip, dead-ending at a T intersection. At the T, an unmarked dirt road continued straight for another 500 feet. There, surrounded by a thick border of mountain scrub, eucalyptus, and aged trees, stood the Abbey of St. Chad of Mercia.

There was a tall wrought-iron fence across the front of the property. Beyond it, the driveway was paved. We stopped on the circular drive in front of the Spanish-style building, cream-colored stucco with a red tile roof.

As we pulled up, two men in black monk’s robes came out to greet us. One was a stereotypical monk in his mid-sixties, tubby, with a fringe of hair around the back of his head. A genetically endowed semi-tonsure. He approached the car, a wide smile on his face. Pete muttered, “Ugh.”

“Shhh. I’ll FaceTime you this evening.”

“Mm hm.”

I retrieved my bags from the cargo area, slammed the hatch closed, and Pete sped away. The portly monk held out his hand. “Mr. Brodie?”

“Yes, sir.” I shook his hand.

“I’m Father Gregory, abbot of St. Chad’s. Welcome! We’re so pleased to host you this week.”

“Thank you.”

He gestured to the other monk, standing two steps behind him. “Brother Martin will escort you to your room. You’ll dine with the other guests at my table this evening. I’ll see you then.”

“Yes, sir.”

Father Gregory turned, nodded curtly to Brother Martin, and disappeared into the building. Brother Martin was young, probably in his early thirties – five or six years younger than me. It was difficult to discern body type under the robes, but I had the sense that he was wiry. He had a full head of brown hair and sported an impressive black eye. I said, “That’s some shiner.”

Brother Martin’s solemn expression didn’t waver. “Yes. I was head-butted by one of our goats.”

“Ack. Goats will do that.”

“Yes.” He reached for my duffel bag. “Allow me.”

 

Blurb:

Jamie Brodie is on deadline. The proposal for his second book is due, and he desperately needs uninterrupted writing time. At the suggestion of patron, friend, and former monk Clinton Kenneally – and over the protests of Pete Ferguson, Jamie’s husband – Jamie schedules a week-long writing retreat at a local monastery. But the monastery is not exactly what Jamie expected…which might explain the flicker of disquiet in Clinton’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Kevin Brodie and Jon Eckhoff are dealing with a dead drug dealer, doggie diarrhea, and a camera crew from the reality TV show Two Days to Solve. The camera loves Jon, and vice versa. Kevin’s just trying to refrain from swearing on TV. But when the victim turns out to be someone from Kevin’s past, the case gets a whole lot more interesting.
And there’s no way it’ll be solved in two days.

click on image for Meg Perry’s website

Learn more about author Meg Perry and her Jamie Brodie Mystery series via her website:

From Meg’s website:

“I’ve been writing the Jamie Brodie Mysteries since June 2012. Hard to believe! Jamie is (like me) an academic librarian. Not like me, he’s a gay man, a Rhodes Scholar, a rugby player, a son, brother, uncle…and boyfriend (eventually, husband). Jamie’s boyfriend (eventual husband) is psychology professor Pete Ferguson, and they share a townhouse in Santa Monica, CA.”

Exclusive Excerpt of Drama Luau, the fourth Nicky and Noah mystery, by Joe Cosentino

Blurb:

Theatre professors and spouses, Nicky Abbondanza and Noah Oliver, are on their honeymoon at a Hawaiian resort, where musclemen in grass skirts are keeling over like waterfalls. Things erupt faster than a volcano when Nicky and Noah, along with their best friends Martin and Ruben, try to stage a luau show. Nicky and Noah will need to use their drama skills to figure out who is bringing the grass curtain down on male hula dancers—before things go coconuts for the handsome couple. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining fourth novel in this delightful series. Curtain up and aloha!

Excerpt:

The olive-skinned, barefooted muscular men wore loincloths (malo), coconut necklaces, shell bracelets and anklets, and flower (lei) head garlands. With the powerful emerald mountain behind them, the dancers (‘olapa) aerobically executed hand signs, knee sways, and foot stomps toward the turquoise sea (makai), as their deep, full voices chanted to the goddess of the ocean (Namakaokahai). The lead dancer (alakai) and the dance captain (kumu) moved front and center executing their tree in the breeze hand gestures. The dancer helper (kokua) made gestures to the ocean waves behind them.

“Stop!”

The ‘ukulele, steel guitar, and bass accompaniment ended. The dancers slouched and looked toward the rows of tables and chairs facing them.

“Kimu, stand further upstage.”

“Nicky, they don’t know what upstage and downstage mean.”

“Thanks, Noah. Kimu, stand behind the other dancers, so Kal and Ak are the focus of the dance.”

That was me, Nicky Abbondanza, Associate Professor of Directing at Treemeadow College, an Edwardian style private college in the quaint state of Vermont. My husband and the love of my life, Assistant Professor of Acting at Treemeadow, Noah Oliver, is by my side, right where I like him. Why am I directing a luau show at the Maui Mist Resort in Hawaii? Our honeymoon in Maui was a gift from our parents. But when the customers of my parents’ bakery in Kansas became glucose intolerant, and the clientele of Noah’s parents’ dairy farm in Wisconsin found themselves lactose intolerant, Noah and I were left tolerating the bill. So my department head and his husband hit the internet and found this luau show directing job, which came with free airfare, hotel, and food for two. Enticed by the gorgeous tropical location and the gorgeous luau dancers, Martin Anderson, Professor of Theatre Management at Treemeadow College, and Ruben Markinson, director of one of the top gay rights organizations in the country, decided to tag along and keep us out of trouble. Since Martin and Ruben are our best friends, that was more than fine with Noah and me.

Since you can’t see us, I am thirty-six, tall, with dark hair, green eyes, a Roman nose, cleft chin and long sideburns. Thanks to the gym at Treemeadow College (named after Tree and Meadow, the gay couple who founded it), I am pretty muscular. One minor thing. Actually, it’s pretty major. I have a nine and-a-quarter by two-inch penis, which causes Noah to tell everyone we are “going clubbing” when we have sex.

Noah is handsome with wavy blond hair, crystal-blue eyes, porcelain skin, and hotter and sweeter buns than any found in my dad’s bakery. Martin is short, thin, and bald. As an incredible gossip, he resembles an alien looking for a good piece of news to bring back to his home planet. Ruben is tall, thin, distinguished-looking, with salt and pepper hair and two large eyes watching over Martin. Though Ruben would never admit it, like his husband, Ruben revels in the dish too.

I said to the dancers, “The opening (ho’i) number will be fine. Let’s move on.”

Whereas the first dance was an introduction to the dancers, the second number, in honor of the creation gods (Kane and Lono), is a sensual dance, where the muscular dancers get to flex, grunt, and gyrate.

Sitting next to me at the front table opposite the stage, Noah rested a hand on my knee. “Did my character work with the dancers pay off?”

I nodded. “They all seem like characters to me.”

Noah squeezed my hand as the five dancers came on stage, now wearing grass skirts. Kal (short for Kalani), at twenty-five, is tall, strikingly handsome, muscular, the leader of the pack, and he knows it. Ak (Akamu), at thirty-five, was once the stallion of the troupe, but a receded hairline and wrinkles had transformed Ak to dance captain. As leaders, Kal and Ak take focus in the dance numbers, either dancing downstage center or up center on the platform in the shape of a volcano. Pretty ironic since Kal and Ak are ex-lovers and ex-friends.

Current lovers Keanu (dancer helper), at medium height with a growing paunch, and Ahe, young, small, and cute as a button, took their places midstage and looked at each other adoringly.

Finally, Kimu, at medium height with a bull dog face and protruding belly, stood farthest upstage. The only straight member of the troupe, Kimu, said, “Are you girls ready to dance?”

Keanu left his lover, Ahe, and approached Kimu. “What a surprise, Kimu. Liquor on your breath.”

Leader Kal added, “Yeah, Kimu, during the last number you were wavering more than the palm trees near the stage fan.”

Kimu answered, “Hey Kal, is it true that you gave Keanu a pity lei?”

These guys are worse than the divas I work with in the theatre. “Can we please start the number?”

 

Buy Links:

http://myBook.to/DramaLuau

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/711186

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/drama-luau-joe-cosentino/1125994872?ean=2940154062050

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

Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind

By Marshall Thornton

 

Chapter One

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

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

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

“Nick? Nick, I need your help.”

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

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

“I need help now. Can you come over?”

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

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

“No, actually, I don’t have to.”

“There’s a dead man in my bathroom.”

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

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

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

“And the someone with the gun?”

“Took off.”

“So you decided to call me…”

“Yes.”

“Instead of the police?”

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

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

“You will?”

“Call them.”boystown8

###

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

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

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

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

“Are you just getting home?”

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

“You know the guy across the hall?”

“Not well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Name?” McCready asked.

“Nick Nowak.”

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

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

“I do.”

“Bridgeport?”

“That would be them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We told them to go back inside.”

“Anyone hear anything?”

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

“Just one gunshot?”

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

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

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

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

The Wall asked, “Where are you going?”

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

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

“I’m not leaving you here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

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

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

“Do you know why he’s lying?”

“Not a clue.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why’d you leave the CPD?”

“Creative differences.”

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

“Christian called me.”

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

“No.”

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

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

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

“No. I’m not.”

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

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

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

White raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

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

“Unless he was the one with the gun.”

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

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

“Isn’t the body in the bathroom?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marshall Thornton’s Website:

http://marshallthorntonauthor.com/

Gay/Lesbian Excerpts Blog features False Evidence Excerpt!

Great news! My new novella, False Evidence, is featured at Gay/Lesbian Fiction Excerpts website today!!!

Click the link to check out an excerpt and see why Amos Lassen says False Evidence is a “romance and mystery…(and) Michaelsen has written quite a book here and once I began, I did not leave my chair until I closed the covers”..!!!

http://glfictionexcerpts.blogspot.com/?zx=41baf713764c4bf4

michaelsen.jon@gmail.com

Excerpt – Cowboys’ Christmas by Carol Mckenzie

Cowboys’ Christmas

By Carol McKenzie

http://carol-mckenzie.com

http://xanga.com/mckbooks

 

As of today, Friday, December 19th, 2008, Cowboys’ Christmas is ranked the #1 best seller at Fictionwise for loveyoudivine, it is the #1 best seller for loveyoudivine at All Romance Ebooks and ranks #15 at AllShortStories.com

 

It is the first story to be released for the coming print anthology in 2009, Men On Holiday.

 

Ebook ISBN / Price: 978-1-60054-283-1

Length: 56 pages / 14,400 word count

Genre: M/M

Category: His and His Kisses

Rating: Shooting Star

Price: 3.75

Buy link: http://tinyurl.com/4u2yz8

Video Trailer: http://tinyurl.com/59anuw

About

Cowboys’ Christmas

 

The First Release from MEN II: On Holiday from Carol McKenzie – DEC 1st

It’s December and it’s cold. Blake’s back aches from busting broncs and he wants to settle down, maybe do some ranching. Blake loves his sister, who doesn’t know he’s gay. But he loves Riley, too. If he breaks the news, will his sister accept Riley into the family?


Thirty-year-old Blake finishes his obligations on the rodeo circuit for the year. It’s December and it’s cold. He calls his sister, Katy, in Rufus, Oregon, and tells her that he is getting too old to bust broncos. His back and bones ache. He mentions he may come home for Christmas. Katy ís delighted because she needs help with the Kinglsley Ranch; it’s falling apart, and her boyfriend is too much a tenderfoot to help.

Blake can’t wait to meet up with his “friend” in their usual camping area. Katy doesn’t know about his flame, Riley S. Campbell. What will she say or think when she finds he’s taken Riley, a man, as his lover? Will Riley’s family accept Blake?

Excerpt:

 

Blake Kingsley pulled his truck and fifth wheel into a vacant island of Huck’s Gas Mart in downtown Longview, Washington, and stopped the engine. He climbed out and put his gray Stetson on his head. Heavy, cold rain beat down on the overhang and the air smelled of gasoline. He lifted the nozzle, pressed the mid-grade button and pumped forty dollars worth of gas into his tank, mumbling his displeasure the whole time. When he finished, he put handle back and ambled toward the pay station, the soles of his boots smacking in puddles.

A sleepy-eyed, brunette attendant behind a counter looked at him over her gold-rimmed glasses and blinked long, curling lashes.

Tipping onto his toes, he drew a couple of wadded bills from his tight jeans’ pocket and placed them on the steel counter.

The attendant took them without a word.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said and returned to his truck.
He climbed into the cab, closed the door and within the minute, drove toward Kalama, Washington, taking the interstate north. Pangs of loneliness entered his system again. He thought about his family; those alive and dead. I need to make a call. He retrieved his cell phone from the center console. Without swerving off the road, he dialed his sister in Rufus, Oregon.
“Katy, this season’s done. Thank God.”
“I hope you come home.” Her voice sounded creaky. He imagined her soft, freckled face and auburn, curly hair. “It’s been quiet here since mom and dad’s died.”

A picture of their parent’s crumpled automobile, with blood on the seats the day after their head on collision in Medford played in his mind. The horrible call from the emergency room had come announcing their demise. He gulped air in his sadness.

His sister sighed, bringing him back to the here and now. “Things are fallin’ apart around this ol’ place. Frank’s not into ranchin’. He can’t even ride a horse.”

Blake wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and the remembrance ended. He clucked his tongue, recalling her tenderfoot boyfriend, Frank. “I’ll bet.” A misplaced smile quirked at the corners of his lips. It’s best I change the subject, or she’ll cry. “What do you want for Christmas, sis?”

“Just get here safely. We’ll have a nice holiday, if you come. I’m invitin’ you, you know.”


“I’ll spring for the turkey, if I was to come,” Blake said and placed his Stetson on the passenger seat.


“So, how are you doin’ otherwise, little brother?'”


“It’s best you not ask, ’cause right now, I’m in a piss poor mood.”


“Why’s that?”


“These friggin’ gas prices suck. They’re high as hell. It costs too much drivin’ the circuit anymore. I’m twenty-eight and gettin’ too old for bustin’ broncs.”


“Get a different job, then. Stay home, settle down. Maybe get a job as, I dunno, be a cop.”


“I’ve done ruint my back.”


“Maybe it’s time to quit.”


“I’ve got to think about it. See you.”


“Tell your buddy hi. Oh, and call when you get close.”


“Will do.”

Once he put the cell phone back in the case and closed the console lid, he took a left onto a different highway and began thinking about what Katy didn’t know—his ideas on sexual preferences. It’d shock her to death. He thought about his job situation, too. Maybe I’ll work the farm. Or become a cop. At a stoplight he lit a cigarette and slid the Bic back into the pocket of his blue western shirt. Right now, all I do is get out there and risk life and limb…for what? To give the audience thrills, and all I get is a few measly dollars. Shit. I must have rocks in my fuckin’ head. What the hell am I goin’ to do? Should I rodeo another year, or quit? Cops’ lives are always in danger. Maybe my back ain’t in good enough shape to do that kind of work.

He coughed, took another drag off his Benson & Hedges and glanced at the speedometer. The dial read he was going five miles per hour over the speed limit. He raised his foot a bit on the gas pedal until the needle stopped just over sixty-five. An elongated sigh left his lips.

He passed several dense, vast forested areas. The dark green fir trees alongside the road forked upward toward a gloomy, cloudy sky. Rain splattered on the windshield as the wipers thump-thump-thumped. When he stopped at a sign, he flicked his cigarette out the window into a mud puddle. He turned the satellite’s radio knob to a country-western station and hummed along with George Strait who sang Easy Come, Easy Go.

As he started driving, his thoughts turned to a better subject. Yeah, I’ll park this thing and take a rest. Gettin’ a mess of Riley will make me feel better. The U-Shine Car Wash caught Blake’s eye. Maybe I should unhook this thing and wash the road dust off my pickup. He decided to keep on trucking, wanting to get to his destination before dark and get a space rented. I’ll wash it tomorrow.

Mid-afternoon, driving along on I-5, he gazed out upon the sparkling Columbia River near his exit. Slow barges made their way north and west; a breathtaking sight.

Once off the interstate and in town, he drove down the main drag looking for the old, peeling sign that read Campground–Marty’s Trailer Spaces–Weekly and Monthly Rates. Blake passed the launderette and the post office. He traveled two blocks past the totem pole, the Lone Pine Cafe and made a right just like he had at previous season’s end.

I’ll rest. Maybe spend part of the winter with my ol’ buddy.

He pictured his pal, Riley S. Campbell, when he last saw him over a year earlier. He stood five ten and had a slim, strong build. Blake never thought to ask his exact age, but he guessed it to be around twenty-eight. He’d worn hand-tooled boots and a belt that sported a silver Texas longhorn buckle. Riley’s onyx gaze seemed to penetrate his soul and mind. Worn jeans, most of the time faded, encased a well-shaped ass. Blake began to feel the slide of him coming inside his body. Damn, I’ve missed him. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.