Part 2 – Interview with Gay Media and Literary Historian, Drewey Wayne Gunn

Part 2 of the interview by Matthew Moore and Jon Michaelsen.

Wayne, thank you so much for agreeing to additional questions compiled by fellow member & super fan Matt Moore and I for the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. We had more than the standard ten questions for you, so thank you for agreeing to a two-part interview!

MM – What authors do you believe brought gay mysteries to mainstream audiences and away from the explicit pulps of the 50s and 60s?   

DWG – By “mainstream” I take it you mean both gay and straight readers. I wish sales figures were available for Rodney Garland’s The Heart in Exile. It did well enough for there to be both U.K. and U.S. editions, and it went into paperback. However, it was not marketed as a gay mystery; rather it was advertised as an expose of the homosexual underground in London. Yet it is the prototype for what was to come. Never mind that the victim kills himself, he is still murdered, and the psychiatrist-turned-sleuth works to unmask the villain. The novel has recently been reissued by Valancourt Books. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the gay mystery.

WayneGunnCurrent_Photo by Alex Amador
Photo by Alex Amador

George Baxt’s A Queer Kind of Death was the first gay murder mystery published by a mainline press aimed at a mass audience. It launched Baxt’s career. There were two more books in the series (none of them, by the way, marketed as Pharoah Love mysteries at the time), and he went on to gather a following for his celebrity mysteries, many of which had gay characters. Then came Hansen’s Fadeout in 1970.

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Interview with Legendary Gay Media and Literary Historian, Drewey Wayne Gunn – Part 1

Interview by Matthew Moore and Jon Michaelsen.

Wayne, it is so incredible to be able to interview one of my idols of gay media! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions compiled by fellow member/super fan, Matthew Moore and I for Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook blog.

DeweyWayneGunn 1968 - Photo by Daniel Flannery
1968 shot by Daniel Flannery

JM – Why don’t we start off with where do you live?

DWG – I live in a small ranching town in South Texas. Sometimes I feel rather isolated here, but that is my fault. I’m just not that gregarious. I don’t take advantage of conferences and festivals the way I could. Part of it is my age, of course.

JM – Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

DWG – As you can gather, I lead a pretty quiet life. I lost my partner of twenty-one years to a heart attack. I enjoy the company of a few close friends, taking long walks with a canine companion, reading, keeping abreast of new gay films, and, of course, writing.

JM – You have become a very well-respected historian of gay literature. Most notably, The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography is a much beloved, go-to resource for fans of the genre and academics alike. Can you share a little about how you came to compile the bibliography?

Gay Male Sleuth, 1st ed.

DWG – It was more or less an accident. My father having died and my having just retired from teaching, I returned to my childhood home to become my mother’s caregiver when she fought her final battle with ovarian cancer. Now that I didn’t have to keep up with my teaching field but could read anything I wanted, I began exploring gay mysteries to pass the time. Even as a child I had been drawn to the mystery genre. I enjoyed Nancy Drew as much as I did the Hardy Boys, and I early discovered Agatha Christi. (I sometimes wonder how much influence the Bobbsey Twins have had on my life. Two of my favorite books were The Bobbsey Twins in Mexico, which might explain why I ended up in South Texas, and The Bobbsey Twins at Mystery Mansion.) During the 1970s and ’80s I was a big fan of Joe Hansen’s Brandstetter series. Now, back at my mother’s home, I started discovering Hansen’s “literary children.” Before I knew it, I had read something like a hundred gay mysteries. At that point, old habits kicked in: I felt the need to bring some order to what I was discovering. The first step then was to catalog the books, and that led directly to the bibliography.

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Catching up with the Multi-Lammy Finalist author, Marshall Thornton

MarshallThorntonIt’s been two years since I first interviewed, Marshall Thornton, the author of the very popular BOYSTOWN series. This week, I’ve decided to share the same interview with you again, and provide some updates to what Marshall has been up to with the Boystown series.

Where do you live? City, town, island, country?

I live in Long Beach, California about a block from the beach. I’ve been in Southern California for twenty-five years. Before that I lived in Chicago.

Writer’s rarely like to toot their own horn; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Well, aside from simply still being alive, I’d have to say that my Boystown mystery series is what I’m most proud of. I suppose, I’m also quite proud of the fact that I put myself through college; several times.

Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your home life?

I live in a very large apartment with two roommates, two step-dogs and one pampered pedigree cat.

What inspires and challenges you most in writing?

I think the best writing advice I’ve ever seen is to write something you’d like to read. I find that both inspiring and challenging.

You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers (and fellow writers) would like to know: Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing, or plot out your storylines?

Boystown1

It depends on the project, but generally I start an outline before I begin a project and then never finish it. Sometimes if I loose my way, I stop and re-outline. I will admit that the first five Boystown books have an arc that was unplanned and completely seat of your pants writing. I have actually thought through an arc for the next three or four books… I don’t want to trust in luck twice.

How do you deal with the constant distractions such as blogs, FB, promo and real life (like that dreaded daytime job)?

I’m a multitasker by nature. I don’t have the patience to just do one thing at a time. As I write this I’m also checking my sales numbers, playing World of Warcraft, and considering ways in which our government could become functional.

How do you sustain serialized, continuing characters? What are your thoughts about printBoystown5 versus audio book?

I think the best series, whether in book form or on television, are stories in which the main character has an unsolvable internal conflict at the center of their character. An easy example of that would be the TV comedy Everybody Loves Raymond. Raymond is a guy who hates his family and loves them at the same time. That’s a problem without a solution. In my series, as in many detective series, the main character’s central conflict has to do with the desire for justice and the inability to get justice in an unjust world; in a gay mystery series this internal conflict mirrors the external conflict of our community’s fight for justice.

There are some big differences between audio and print. With audio, I think there’s a temptation to spell everything out for the listener and I’m trying to avoid that. I prefer the listener feel that they’re being told a story rather than having a story acted out for them. Some of the books I’ve listened to go too far with elaborate voices and characterizations; personally, I have trouble finishing those.

Your first book in the Nick Nowak series Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist. Can you share how you learned your novel was a finalist and how you felt?

Honestly, I don’t remember how I found out. I think I saw that the finalists had been announced and went to their site and saw my book. Of course, it felt great. I think I’ve wanted a Lammy since I first heard about them twenty-five years ago – years before I was even writing fiction… It was very exciting to come close.

After your book(s) come out, have you ever had to deal with homophobia, and if so, what form has it taken?

No, I wouldn’t say I’ve dealt with any homophobia. Or at least, not homophobia with a big H. The books are pretty clearly labeled so I wouldn’t expect to. I’ve had a little pushback from some m/m romance readers who aren’t comfortable with Nick’s unrepentant promiscuity. But then, I’m not trying to write that kind of book and I think readers have figured that out by this point.

Boystown 7On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for answering the questions. Huge congratulations on your Boystown 6: From the Ashes  being selected finalist in the 2015 Lambda Literary Awards in the Gay Mystery category. Good luck with Boystown 7: Bloodlines for the 2016 Lammys!

Thank you!

Will you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

The eighth book of the best-selling Boystown Mystery Series begins with a phone call in the middle of the night. Private investigator Nick Nowak is pulled into the troubled world of freelance journalist, and all around pain-in-the-ass, Christian Baylor. When Christian can’t stop lying about the corpse in his bathroom things slip slowly out of control. Meanwhile, Nick’s relationship with former priest Joseph Biernecki takes an unexpected turn and the Federal case against Jimmy English proceeds toward trial

boystown8Boystown 8: The Lies that Bind is available for pre-order currently and will be released February 25, 2016.

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

 

EXCERPT: Done To Death: Lambda Award Finalist Charles Atkins – Lesbian Mystery

Done To Death

by

Charles Atkins

Excerpt:

Chapter Two

Barry Stromstein felt the migraine coming. His vision had wavy lines around the edges and it was hard to focus on Lenore’s face. There was her trademark auburn bob and arresting green eyes; admittedly, her hair was wavering to the right and, at the moment, she had four eyes. He heard her words, but struggled to put them into sentences. Just nod and smile, he told himself, hoping he could make it through, knowing it was her perfume – Lenore’s ‘Possession’ − that triggered what was blossoming into a headache that if he didn’t take his Rizatriptan in the next ten minutes would leave him desperate for his bed and a dark room for the next three days. ‘Right,’ he parroted her last sentence, ‘local color . . . petty jealousies, fun characters.’

‘Are you even listening?’ she asked. ‘I don’t think you’re getting this, Barry, and to be honest, your first treatment I wouldn’t use for toilet paper. Bargain Bonanza? What kind of crap project is that? We’re not cable access. You either pull this together fast, or I’ll give it to Carrie. And if that happens . . .’

He wanted to scream, and he knew she wasn’t kidding. ‘I’ve got it, Lenore,’ and, struggling to find the words, he blurted, ‘you want blood, guts, expensive tchotchkes and scenic New England. Kind of Antiques Roadshow meets The Hunger Games on the set of Gilmore Girls.’

There was a moment’s pause. ‘Hallelujah!’ she said, closing the space between them.

Her perfume, like a wave of noxious gas, engulfed him. He had to get out of there. ‘I’m on it.’ He backed away, ‘I’ll have something on your desk by morning.’

‘That’s a good boy,’ she said. ‘And Barry, if you don’t . . .’

He took that as his cue and, holding his breath, bolted from her inner office. Half-blinded by the oncoming migraine he raced out of Lenore’s penthouse suite and down the hall. He bypassed the elevators and flew down eight flights of stairs, his thoughts fixed on the pill in his upper desk drawer. He sprinted to his offices and banged his knee on a glass top desk in the reception area.

Celia, his secretary, looked up, ‘Oh crap,’ she said. ‘You’ve got migraine eyes.’

‘Yeah,’ he said without stopping, the words thick on his tongue. It was always the same. First the vision went, then his words, and then came the actual headache, like a vice squeezing his eyeballs while a steel pike pounded into his brain. He jerked the drawer open, grabbed the little blue box, pulled out the ridiculously expensive pills, fumbled at the packaging and finally popped the melty lozenge under his tongue. It tasted like chalk and like something trying to be a pastille mint, but bitter and metallic. He closed his eyes, and heard Celia as she quietly walked around his corner office closing the blinds and shutting out the spectacular views of Central Park and midtown.

‘Do you want me to cancel your afternoon meetings?’

9780727883742 DONE TO DEATH

‘Please.’

‘You got it . . . you should go home.’

‘Can’t. Need to come up with a new concept. She hated Bargain Bonanza. Give me forty-five minutes. Wait!’ Still tasting the pill’s remnants on his tongue, he thought through Lenore’s directive. ‘Tell the team to toss everything on Bargain Bonanza but the locale . . . I think that’s still OK – in fact, I know it is. Tell them blood lust and collectibles, and to be ready to pitch by one. And no one’s leaving till we have a winner.’

‘Will do. Anything I can do to help?’

‘No . . . it’s just got to run its course. Thank God for the magic melt-under-the-tongue pills.’

‘It was her perfume, wasn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why don’t you tell her?’

Barry looked at his assistant through hooded eyes. ‘Seriously?’

‘Right,’ Celia shrugged, as her phone rang. ‘Hope you feel better,’ and she shut the door.

Just breathe, he told himself, his head in his hands, his eyes shut tight. Let it pass. What a bitch! After three years with Lenore, Barry had no illusions. Either he came up with an acceptable pitch in the next twenty-four hours or he could take his résumé and try to find another producing job in an industry where thirty-five is over the hill and forty is washed up, and he was thirty-eight. To the outside world this was a great gig, a high six figure salary, bonuses, a team of young and energetic wannabes snapping at his heels. His NYU Alma Mater, Tisch School of the Arts, wanting him to take interns, holding him up as an exemplar of someone making it in the entertainment industry. And in a single day it could all turn to ashes. Lenore was desperate to stay on top . . . of the ratings, of her celebrity, of everything and everyone. She was hunger personified, a gaping maw always wanting more. ‘She’s a monster.’ He cracked his eyes open, and thought of his one point five million dollar apartment that was barely eleven hundred square feet, with a tiny patio, two modest bedrooms − one for him and Jeanine and the other for three-year-old Ashley. He pictured his gorgeous wife and their little girl, with blond ringlets that would darken with time, bright hazel eyes − they were his two treasures, his salvation. You have to pull this together.

He and Jeanine, a contestant on his last successful show, Model Behavior, had no more than a two month cushion in the bank and no family safety net. To Barry’s blue collar Jersey parents and Jeanine’s, who survived crop to crop on their Iowa farm, they were the affluent ones.

His phone buzzed; Celia’s voice came through the speaker. ‘Barry, it’s Jeanine, do you want me to tell her you’re out?’

‘No, put her on.’

The line clicked.

‘Hi sweetie,’ Jeanine’s husky voice even better than his magic pill.

Barry closed his eyes, ‘Hey babe, what’s up?’

‘It’s kind of stupid,’ she said. ‘But I felt like I should check before blowing twenty-five hundred bucks on a pocketbook.’

‘What?’

‘I know you’ll tell me just to do it. But I’m looking at all the other high-end real estate agents and the ones who get the million dollar sales are all carrying Chanel or Birkin. It’s part of the uniform − a Chanel suit, a pair of Louboutin pumps and a Birkin bag.’

‘Then do it,’ he said.

‘You’re sure?’

‘Babe, if you need it, you need it.’

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘Migraine.’

‘What triggered it?’

‘Lenore’s perfume.’

‘That bitch! Are you going to be OK?’

‘Yeah, actually just hearing your voice helps.’

‘Why don’t you take the rest of the day? Screw the purse, I’ll pour you a bath, give you a massage . . .’

Barry let Jeanine’s words fill his head. He imagined her soft hands kneading his tense shoulders, the tickle of her silky curls against his skin. ‘That would be what the doctor ordered, but I can’t.’

‘Barry, tell me what’s wrong, and I’m not just talking the headache. What’s going on?’

He didn’t want to tell her. He hated this crushing sense of failure, of letting her down. He also knew she wouldn’t let up until he told her. ‘She hated the pitch.’

‘Barry, I’m so sorry. What’s the backup plan?’

‘Working on it now. I’ll come up with something.’

‘And if you don’t? What did she say? Tell me, please.’

‘Don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine. Everything’s fine. Really. It’s just the headache couldn’t have come at a worse time. But I got to my pill in time, it’s passing. You know me, it’s all about pulling rabbits from hats. I want you to go out and buy that pocketbook. Because you know what they say?’

‘What?’

Remembering advice from one of his first mentors in the industry. ‘The more you spend, the more you make.’

‘You’re sure of that?’

‘Absolutely. I’m going to want to see that purse when I get home. Although don’t wait up, it’s going to be a very long night.’

‘I love you Barry,’ Jeanine said. ‘And that has nothing to do with a pocketbook.’

‘I know. But I want you to have it. I want you and Ashley to have everything, and I’m going to make damn certain that this next pitch blows Lenore away.’

‘OK then . . .’

He heard the concern in her voice. It was like a knife. ‘I’m going to make this work.’

‘I know you will.’

‘Buy the pocketbook.’

‘OK.’

‘I love you.’

‘I love you too,’ she said, ‘and I hope that bitch Lenore drops dead.’

‘Please God no,’ he said. ‘Without Lenore there will be no Birkin bags.’

‘Fine, then I guess she can live. And Barry . . .’

‘Yeah?’

‘I am going to wait up.’

After he hung up he felt a familiar tingle that pushed against the migraine. Eight years into their marriage and ten into their relationship, just her voice made everything right. If she wanted a Birkin bag, he’d make damn sure she’d get it. Lenore trashing Bargain Bonanza was not the end of the world . . . not yet. With his eyes closed he hung on to the sound of Jeanine’s voice. How did you get to be that lucky? It was time to get to work.

He glanced at his monitor and braced for the stab of pain the light would send to his head. He squinted and focused on unread emails. His vision was clearing. The pill was doing its trick with the pain − holding it back. Sure, he’d have a headache, but he’d gotten to the med in time. Just function, he told himself. That was all that mattered − function, come up with something brilliant − Antiques Roadshow meets The Hunger Games on the set of Gilmore Girls − pitch it and get Lenore to love it. In spite of everything, he chuckled. ‘That won’t happen.’ In his three years with Lenore she didn’t love anything, and even when she did, she’d never let you know. ‘I expect brilliance,’ is what she’d say. ‘It’s what I pay you for.’

            Celia, who pre-screened his emails, had divided them into files. He started in with those related to the now tanked Bargain Bonanza. There was one from the field agent who’d been scouting locations − Grenville, CT being a front runner, as Lenore had a country place in Shiloh, the town immediately north. There were several from agents who represented prospective hosts they’d approached, and a small stack from assorted locals at the various sites. He flipped through a couple from freelance show runners and field producers, two of whom he knew well, one he’d gone to school with, Jim Cymbel.

He opened Jim’s.

Hey B:

            Wanted to get back with some ideas for your killer new reality show − Bargain Bonanza. Where the market’s saturated with these flea market contests, it’s a tough sell getting a new boy to float to the top. I’ve got several ways we could do this. I’d love to talk it over and see if we could make a marriage.

            Love ya . . . and Jeanine.        

            Jim

He thought about calling, but only as a last resort. Sure, Jim wanted to help − help himself to Barry’s job. Because that email − and several others in his queue − were a lot like the one he’d sent to Susan Grace, the woman whose offices he now occupied. Last he’d heard she’d fallen down the industry food chain to where she couldn’t even get pitch meetings.

He looked back at the screen and shifted from prospective producers and their promises to deliver fresh ideas, scanning the ones from talent agents − waste of time till you know what you’re doing. He scrolled past the smattering of locals at various sites. Those were a crap-shoot, everything from mayors and first selectmen, wanting Lenore’s reflected glamour in their town, to B and Bs and prospective locations eager to sign lucrative deals.

His eye caught on one headed ‘Cash or Trash − Lil Campbell’. ‘That’s as lame as Bargain Bonanza’ – but he clicked it open anyway.

Dear Mr Stromstein:

            This is in response to the email I received about my syndicated antiques and collectibles column, ‘Cash or Trash’. Yes, I’d love to set up a phone time to talk about one of my favorite things − my hometown Grenville, CT, the antiques capital of New England (possibly the world). The thought of having a Lenore Parks show feature our town is a thrill. Feel free to call any time − the home number is the best, but I do carry my cell.

            Best,

            Lil Campbell

 LammyFinalist_Small_Web_v3

He replayed his Hail Mary pass that Lenore seemed to like − Antiques Roadshow meets The Hunger Games on the set of Gilmore Girls. Scenic Grenville, in the Litchfield Hills, fit a third of the equation. Through hooded eyes he dialed Lil Campbell’s number and pressed the button for speaker. He leaned back and waited for an answering machine.

‘Hello?’ A woman’s voice answered.

‘Hi, this is Barry Stromstein, of Lenore Parks Productions. I’m trying to reach a Lil Campbell.’

‘How strange is that? I had literally just dialed your number when you popped up on call waiting.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Talk about synchronicity. Do you mind if I put you on speaker? My partner Ada Strauss is with me and we don’t often get calls from TV producers.’

‘That’s fine,’ he said. ‘So what got you to dial?’

‘You’re kidding,’ she said. ‘The thought of having even a single episode of a show shot in Grenville would be a big deal. I mean several of our dealers have been experts on other shows, but nothing in the town itself.’

‘Right,’ and Barry recoiled at the familiar scent of want. ‘So,’ falling into his familiar role of gatekeeper to the brass ring, ‘what makes Grenville special?’

He listened as this Lil woman extolled the town’s beauty. He’d seen the pictures and knew she wasn’t lying. It would be a dream to film: the changing seasons, lovingly preserved Colonial and Federal houses, the tidy greens with their romantic bronzes and ancient cannons. Fine, it’s pretty, he thought, lots of places are pretty. And sure, it probably fulfills two out of three − Antiques Roadshow and the set of Gilmore Girls. He imagined bringing Jeanine and little Ashley out for the shoots; they’d love it. His thoughts drifted, and he made polite noises as though he were paying attention as Lil Campbell talked about the two hundred antique dealers, the weekly flea market and active council − God save me from active councils. He’d heard enough. He gently cleared his throat. ‘It does sound like a place to consider,’ he said, and prepared to launch into his kiss off.

‘Lil, don’t forget to tell him about the murder rate,’ a new voice popped in.

‘Excuse me?’

‘The murder rate,’ this other woman, with a slight New York accent, repeated. ‘Grenville had the highest per capita murder rate in Connecticut for two years running. And if you think about it, all of the victims were in some way connected to the antiques industry, although in that horrible fire at the assisted living center it was mostly that doctor.’

‘Which doctor? And I’m assuming you’re Ada.’

‘Ada Strauss. Long story short: it was a huge Medicaid fraud, we’re talking millions, that centered on this doctor − who apparently was both an antique clock collector and a hoarder. We’d see him every week at the flea market. It wound up as an arson slash multiple murder at one of the biggest assisted care facilities in the state. And, considering the total population of Grenville is twelve thousand, it doesn’t take much to bump our numbers up. That pushed us to the top for 2011, and in 2010 there was a serial killer who was taking out high-end antique dealers. Come to think of it, another doctor − what is with them? That one was a dentist. The freaky thing is he actually worked on a crown for me that came off when I was eating a crème brulée . . . sorry, too much information. Although both Lil and I barely made it out when he torched his place.’

‘What? Wait a minute!’ Barry was forward in his seat. ‘Not too much at all.’ His complacency and the throbbing in his head had suddenly been blown away like leaves in a storm . . . meets The Hunger Games. Ding ding ding. ‘Tell me about the murders. It seems like you know a fair amount about them.’

‘Please, we were there . . . I mean really there, as in almost got killed. You see Calvin Williams, the psychopathic dentist, had a lifelong crush on Lillian, and apparently his mother, who had Alzheimer’s, had been selling off the family heirlooms to local dealers who’d essentially robbed her blind.’

Barry was mesmerized as plots and twists fell from this Ada Strauss’s lips. A town filled with competing dealers, a supply of merchandise that was hotly contested, corruption, bribes, small-town scandals, a child-molesting dentist . . . murder. Too good to be true. He tried to picture Ada Strauss. She sounded a bit older, knowledgeable and funny. At one point he interrupted her, ‘Do I have your headshot?’

She laughed, ‘Why would you?’

‘Right . . . not an actress or on-screen personality, I’m assuming.’

‘Hardly. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember Strauss’s department stores.’

‘I remember them.’ He laughed. ‘I remember my mother putting us in matching caps so she wouldn’t lose us during the back to school sales.’ He felt a twinge of regret. She might be too old for on-screen talent, or she could be a total dog. ‘You’re that Strauss . . . and Mr Strauss?’

‘Passed several years ago.’

‘Sorry.’

‘You didn’t kill him. But it’s kind of you to say.’

‘You’re quick.’

‘You’re surprised.’

His usual defenses were down. There was something here − at least he hoped there was. You’re desperate, Barry, this is a reach. ‘Is there any way I could get you – I mean the two of you – into the city for a pitch meeting this afternoon?’

‘I have no idea what that is,’ Ada Strauss said. ‘I mean aside from what you read in Jackie Collins novels. Lil? What do you think?’

‘We could be there in two hours. It’s the middle of the day, and traffic shouldn’t be bad.’

‘Fantastic!’ And he gave them the address.

After they hung up, he buzzed his assistant. ‘Celia, we’ve got an Ada Strauss coming in from Connecticut. I want some test shots, and get Jason to get her on tape. Have her talk about anything: antiques, murder, whatever.’

He hung up and realized his headache was gone. Please, he thought, feeling the dangerous seed of hope take root. Please, please, please.

 

 

 

Excerpt: Lambda Literary Finalist in Gay Mystery: Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

Excerpt:

Elliot was still brooding—and increasingly annoyed with himself for doing so—as his car topped the pine-tree-lined drive and his headlights illuminated the dark cabin.

The porch light was out again.

Maybe there was a short in the wiring on the front of the house. The cabin wasn’t new. Or maybe he’d forgotten to turn the light on when he’d left that morning. He couldn’t specifically recall doing so, but leaving the light on was automatic by now.

There was nothing concrete, but he felt uneasy.

He pulled into the garage, turned off the engine and removed his pistol and flashlight from the glove compartment. He racked the Glock’s slide and slipped out of the car, leaving the door open.

The garage was nearly pitch-black and Elliot spared a grateful thought that he hadn’t lived in the cabin long enough to accumulate much junk. He edged past the cabinets and tool bench, crossed behind the Nissan, and made his way as noiselessly as possible to the side door. He unlocked it, eased it open and stepped out into the crisp, cold night.

Above the serrated silhouettes of the pines he could see the moon sailing serenely through the silver edged clouds. The spicy scent of pine mingled with the faint tang of the sound.

The rough wooden logs caught at his jacket as he inched down the length of the cabin. He held his pistol at low ready. When he came to the sunroom, he craned his head and stole a quick look. The room was in darkness. He could make out the shape of furniture in the gloom. Nothing moved.

The only sound was the wind soughing through the tree tops.

Moving across that wall of windows would be a mistake if someone was waiting for him inside, and though his knee was better than it had been on Saturday, the days when he could crawl along the ground commando style were gone.

He thought it over and then went back the other way along the side of the house, pausing by the side door to the garage and listening intently.

Nothing.

FairGame_Josh Lanyon

He peered inside. No light shone from under the kitchen door. Not the faintest glimmer.

Continuing along the wall of the cabin, Elliot climbed with some difficulty onto the side of the shadowy porch, and ducked past the nearest window. He pushed gently against the front door. It didn’t budge.

He touched the handle.

Locked.

Was he overreacting? If he really believed there was a threat he needed to get down to Steven’s cabin and summon the Pierce County Sheriff Department.

Stubbornly, he resisted the idea of not being able to deal with this, not being capable of handling his own problems—assuming his problem was anything more than too much imagination.

If someone was in the cabin they would be expecting him to enter through the kitchen door leading onto the garage. Second best guess would be the mud porch entrance which he might use if he had gone around to the back to get firewood or dump something in the trash cans. He used his keys to quietly unlock the front door. He pushed it wide.

It swung open with a yawning sound.

Elliot stayed well to the side to present the smallest possible target and avoid being backlit by the bright moon behind him. A quick scan showed the front room bathed in quicksilver: furniture, rugs, fireplace. All looked perfectly, reassuringly normal.

He pulled the flashlight from his waist belt and advanced into the room, using the hands-apart technique: his gun hand extended, his left holding the flashlight at random heights. He intermittently pressed the tailcap sending short bursts of radiance bouncing across the room. It was a long time since he’d done this and it felt awkward—not to mention silly—but the advantage was it made it difficult for his possible quarry to mark his position. It there was someone waiting for him, the moving light would theoretically draw fire away from his center-of-mass.

The flashlight beam caught and spotlighted the empty rocking chair, the face of the grandfather clock, the painting over the fireplace of the Johnson Farm, the black oblong of the hall entrance.

He proceeded to the hallway. The light illuminated family photos and the staircase at the far end.

Elliot turned the opposite direction and walked toward the kitchen. His empty water glass sat on the counter, a copy of William L. Shea’s Fields of Blood rested on the table where he’d left it that morning before leaving to catch the ferry for the mainland.

No sign of any disturbance. No sign of any intruder.

But Elliot’s unease, his sense of something wrong, was mounting. His scalp crawled with tension, his back and underarms grew damp.

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He stepped into the sunroom, still pressing the flashlight button at irregular intervals and alternating the light position.

At first quick glance the sunroom seemed just as he’d left it. But the next instant the flashlight beam highlighted the half-full crystal wineglass balanced on the edge of the diorama.

Elliot’s heart stopped and then his pulse went into overdrive. He flashed the light around the room, finger quivering on the Glock’s trigger.

No one was there, but an open bottle of Lopez Island merlot sat on the fireplace mantle. It gleamed dully in the overbright glare of the flashlight.

Was anything else was out of place? No. Or was it? He stepped forward, shining the flashlight on the diorama. The diminutive hand painted houses and trees, the miniature gardens and roads popped up in the spotlight. Something was wrong…

JEB Stuart’s entire cavalry unit was gone.

Vanished.

He checked the diorama to see if they had been moved. They had not. The flashlight beam finally picked out what was left of the resin and alloy men and horses crushed and broken in the fireplace grate. Stuart’s small plumed hat winked like a jewel in the ashes.

The mudroom door slammed shut, the bang reverberating through the dark cabin. Elliot spun, the incautious move sending pain flashing through the damaged nerves and muscles of his knee. He ignored it and sprinted for the back of the cabin.