Exclusive Excerpt: MURDER AT THE PAISLEY PARROT A Marshall James Novel by Mark McNease

Blurb:

Time waits for no one, including Marshall James. Now 58 and living in New York City, Marshall has outlived the expiration date he was given with a cancer diagnosis three years ago. He beat the odds but he knows he may not beat the clock. So he’s decided to tell a story or three about some murders he was involved in back in the day.

The year was 1983. The bar was the Paisley Parrot, a gay, mob-run dive where people came to drink and few of them remembered the night before. Marshall loves his job as a bartender there. But one night, among the regulars, a killer arrives. Body by body, death by death, Marshall finds himself pulled into a web of murder, deceit and crime, with a psychopath waiting at the center of it all. Marshall falls for the cop who’s investigating him, not knowing if their relationship will survive or even if he’ll come out of this alive. Find out before last call comes around, in Murder at the Paisley Parrot.

EXCERPT:

MARK McNEASE

MURDER AT THE PAISLEY PARROT

A Marshall James Novel

In memory of the Lemon Twist bar. Make mine a double.

PROGNOSIS

THERE’S A SOUND TO NEW YORK CITY that never goes away. It’s not exactly white noise—that seems too clean for a place this filthy—but a perpetual hum that matches the eternal grayness of the night sky. When you spend significant time here, if you’re the least bit conscious of your surroundings, you realize after a while that you can’t see the stars and there is no such thing as true silence. New York City, especially Manhattan, is a relentless sensual assault. You see it even when you don’t; you hear it at all times, and, in the summer, as it is now, you smell it. That is its most inescapable trait from June through August. You can forget about stars you haven’t seen since you were last off the island, and you can marvel at what passes for quiet at 3:00 a.m., but you can’t ignore the smell of the place. Ripe. Rotten. The way you imagine a body smells when maggots are halfway through their meal. The greatest city in the world.

All of it—the sounds, the sights, the smellswaft through my second-floor window like hot air in a slow updraft. This is especially true every Tuesday, also known as trash day, when the building superintendent and his helper of the week (they change almost as often as the girlfriends of the drag king next door) haul out a dozen trash bags and pile them by the curb. Clear plastic ones for the recyclables, the rest a dark brown, the kind they find torsos and arms stuffed into every now and then along the highway. No corpses in ours yet, just a week’s worth of Chinese takeout, cat litter, shitty diapers, and everything else we discard from our lives on a daily basis. There it sits, for a day and a night, basting in its own putrid juices until the garbage truck comes along in the morning waking everyone up, jamming traffic for a half hour as it crawls trash pile to trash pile. Ours seems to give off especially toxic fumes. Knowing that all odors are particulate, I keep my windows closed from Monday mid-day to Tuesday late morning. But it still seeps in, it still invades my home. Between the smell of summer waste and the exhaust from buses snaking up 40th Street to the Port Authority bus terminal across the avenue, it’s amazing my lung cancer came from smoking and not from living on this corner.

I’m a cancer survivor, not a combatant. I hate the way illness gets anthropomorphized, turned into some cognizant thing, a boxer in the ring with us. We’ve got the charity-approved pink boxing gloves on, and that cancer, that tumor, weighing in at a slim one-sixty and wearing the black trunks with the skull and crossbones, faces off against us in the title match of our lives. I never saw my cancer as an opponent or in any way conscious of what it was doing to me. I did not fight, at least not in any metaphorical sense. I just did what I was told to do, lived through the chemo and the surgery that took out a quarter of my left lung, and, to everyone’s great surprise, outlived my six-month prognosis by two and a half years.

Yes, it’s been three years since I first coughed up blood. It’s been almost that long since I enjoyed a Marlboro and a glass of bourbon—where I come from there’s no such thing as whiskey without a cigarette. And it’s been that long since I told my oncologist to take her dire prediction and shove it, in a nice way. We’re friends, so far as a man and his cancer doctor can be, but Dr. Lydia Carmello fully expected me to die when she said I would. She usually gets it right, and she’s not the sort of person to credit miracles. She’s a hard case, that one. She’s had to be. Death is the nightcap in her profession, after an evening of chemo and a meal of surgery for the ones who can be operated on. She assumed I would be one of her regulars—treated, comforted, referred to some support group where I could mourn the loss of myself while I was still around to do it—but nothing special. Then six months came and went. Nine months. A year. Two years. And finally, when I’d been in remission through the birth of Dr. Carmello’s daughter and the celebration of her first birthday, to which I was not invited, Lydia declared me an anomaly and said I just might get old after all. At fifty-eight I’m not that far from it, but she meant truly old, Social Security and Medicare old, the kind of old when saying you’re as young as you feel just makes you look foolish. Neither of us is counting on it, given the return rate of stage three lung cancer, but it’s nice to have possibility in your life.

I’ve had plenty of that, by the way: possibility. I was a kid who could have been something, given a chance. Too bad I never was. At least not early on, growing up in Indiana in a place too big to be a town and too small to be a city.

Elkhart in the 1960s and 70s was a bustling community of 30,000 or so Hoosiers. They headed to work at the Conn band instrument facility, or one of the motor home factories that gave Elkhart its claim to fame. We once had the highest concentration of millionaires in the country. It may not have lasted long, but it was something to be proud of. We were the RV Capital of the World. It still is as far as I know—who wants to compete for a title like that?—but I can’t confirm it, since I haven’t lived there in forty years. I went back to sell my father’s house twenty years ago and that was the last I saw of Elkhart.

Indiana was a place to flee when I was young. For a gay kid who came out at the age of sixteen, Elkhart was not welcoming. It didn’t matter that I was a native son, or that my family had been there for several generations. A queer is a queer is a queer, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and I was certainly one of those. I announced my sexuality in high school, survived the hostile and sometimes violent reaction of my peers, and got the hell out two days after graduation. My mother was already dead. My father was drunk and on his way to an early grave. My sister and brother were old enough to fend for themselves, and I was ready to get as far away as I could.

I’d seen a report on 60 Minutes about homosexuals in Hollywood. Or maybe it was specifically about homosexual prostitutes. I don’t remember exactly, but I recall being transfixed—not by the segment itself, which was judgmental of the seedy, sad lives of L.A. hustlers—but by the fact they existed. What was a hustler? I wondered. Where did they come from? What exactly did they do for money? I had an idea, having some experience myself by then, although it all involved high school classmates and no money was exchanged. But this was exotic. Alluring. And exactly where I went when I packed my belongings into my orange Gremlin, put the clutch in drive and pulled out of my dad’s driveway for the last time, returning only for short visits over the years until I went back to plant a ‘For Sale’ sign on the lawn. I wouldn’t have gone then, except my sister and brother refused to deal with it and somebody had to bury the old man.

Los Angeles. Hollywood. 1977. Crazy how a world so exciting, that drew me like a promise of freedom, would turn so dark so quickly.

* * *

My name is Marshall James. There’s a Franklin in the middle, but I don’t like it and I’ve never used it. I think my old man called me Franklin a couple times when he was pissed at me. Hildren James was an angry sonofabith. It gave him an excuse to drink, or at least another one in a long list of them. I remember him saying, “Franklin James, you get over here right now!” I got over there, too, wherever that was. It usually just meant placing myself within arm’s length. It made it easier for him to slap me from a sitting position. He slapped us a lot, even my mom. He never hit her full on, as far as I recall, but being slapped across the face or on the top of the head was enough. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was sixteen and got the hell off the planet three months later. Who could blame her?

It was a long time ago. Everything at my age feels that way. Time isn’t really a thing. It doesn’t pass. It doesn’t fly, it doesn’t crawl, it doesn’t wait for anyone because it doesn’t wait at all. It’s more like something we spend our lives inside without realizing it, the way a fish spends its life in water. And, like water in a cracked fish tank, it drains away slowly.

I’ve got a manfriend who stays three nights a week with me in this crappy studio apartment within spitting distance of the bus terminal. His name is Buford McGibbon, but he goes by Boo. You would, too, if you’d been burdened with an antebellum name like that. It even sounds Confederate, but it’s not. Boo’s from upstate New York. He’s also ten years younger than me, but not in any way the object of this older man’s predation. We met when he took one of the tours I give for a living. If you spend much time in New York City you’ll see people like me, leading groups of straggling tourists and a few curious locals around Greenwich Village or the bars in Brooklyn, reciting history and color commentary. My specialty now is the Gotham Ghost Land Tour. It offers several different routes in Manhattan, since people tend to die anywhere. It’s not like the Bob Dylan Smoked a Joint Here tour—Oh look, that’s the window Joan Baez was gazing out when she wrote Diamonds and Rust—or the Edgar Allen Poe tour I did for a while that made exactly one mention of Poe.

I remember Boo very well that first time we met. It was a History of Gay New York tour (I’ve done them all). The group consisted of wide-eyed queens from faraway ghettos, dykes, a few straight couples, several German speakers, and Boo. He was thirty-eight then, alone, hot as a griddle, lingering when the others melted away at the end. He was one of the few who tipped me. I remember taking the five dollar bill from him, saying thanks, and keeping hold of his hand longer than is proper for a tour guide, unless he’s meeting the next love of his life in a moment of ridiculous serendipity.

We’re an odd couple by today’s gay standards. We’re not married and have no plans to be. We’d rather have herpes than children. We don’t live together. He has an apartment in Brooklyn and I’m in Hell’s Kitchen, and we like it this way. We still have sex, which is saying something after a decade, but mostly we love each other in a very relaxed way. He knows I could die if the cancer comes back, and I know he’ll miss me terribly. That’s enough for now.

The other entity I allow into my life is a cat named Critter. He’s four years old, which I know because I remember Justine taking him in as a kitten, as if a junkie prostitute had the wherewithal to take care of a cat. She lived across the hall from me and she asked me to feed him a few times when she was out of town. I had no idea where she went and she never told me. Then one day, about a year after she took Critter in, I got a knock at the door from Javier, our building super.

“You want a cat?” he asked me.

Javier speaking was a rare and curious thing.

“Where’s Justine?” I said, as he stood in my doorway holding an animal that wanted nothing more than to be free from his clutches.

“She died,” he said. Very matter-of-factly, as if she’d been a storefront that was open one day and closed the next.

“You know how she died?” I asked. Part of me dreaded being told she’d been strangled by a john.

“OD,” he said, then shrugged: these things happen.

“Well,” I replied, “we can’t say that’s a surprise, now, can we?”

I took the cat from his arms, and he’s been living with me ever since.

That’s my life: I’m a tour guide with no aspirations to be more. I’m a cancer survivor with one functioning lung. I’ve got a manfriend who spends a few nights a week with me and a cat that never leaves. And I’ve got stories to tell.

You see how things come around? I’m a man on borrowed time. We all are, but the debt collector announced his arrival in my case. I’ve outfoxed the bastard and outlived the expectations, and I started thinking, maybe I should tell people about those murders. The ones I was part of in Hollywood back then. Not murders I participated in, of course. This is not a deathbed confession. But I was part of it … them … and I figured I should go ahead and talk about it while I can. Some of the people involved are dead, and some of us are alive. I’m still not sure who the lucky ones are.

Now let’s head over to the time machine. Strap yourself in, it all happens very quickly. I’ll set the dial to 1977, the GPS to a town in Indiana where a lonely kid prepares his escape to Hollywood, the final destination a dive bar called the Paisley Parrot. Gay, mobbed up, a place for drunks, hustlers and dope dealers. My kind of bar.

CHAPTER THREE (FAST FORWARD)

THE PAISLEY PARROT WAS EXACTLY the kind of bar I liked to drink in, especially when my love affair with alcohol was still mutual. I’d started with vodka and gin when I was in high school, courtesy of my dad’s basement bar. It never closed, and it never ran dry. By the time I put on a cap and gown for my high school graduation and stumbled to the podium for my diploma, I’d been a hard drinker for several years. I’m not an alcoholic—I know how that sounds, most alcoholics deny what they are—but I was as close to being a lush as a teenager can be without running for the nearest rehab. For some reason my drinking didn’t get worse, and I had it fairly under control by the time I decided to work in a bar.

I’d been going to the Parrot and places like it since I’d first moved to Hollywood. I’ve always thought it was because I was an Indiana kid. My identity was well formed before I got to L.A. and was exposed to the prevailing gay archetypes of the time—muscle boys, drama queens, and older men who’d been part of the scene so long they were cultural furniture.  I’m not knocking it. I just knew who Marshall James was and I’ve stayed that way pretty much all my life.

I took pride in living in Hollywood, a neighborhood as diverse as it was seedy. There were black people in my apartment building, drag queens, straight couples, and, twice during my years living there, dead bodies. A woman on the sixth floor was found hanging from her shower curtain, self-inflicted; and a young man, a hustler I knew from my first year on the streets, was found on the fire escape with a syringe in his arm.

My haunts were close by. I liked bars where people went to drink, not to compare abs and gossip about their ex-boyfriends. Bars where they paid more attention to the glass of whiskey in front of them than to the guy who just walked through the door in torn jeans. There were several of them within walking distance: The Vine, on Vine Street, of course; LuLu’s for the dykes; the 12 O’clock Lounge, named long ago for reasons forgotten; the Red River, where the banks overflowed with booze and the tears of failed ambition, and the Paisley Parrot, located discreetly near the corner of Fountain and Las Palmas. There was a neon parrot on the door but no name. The Parrot had been around since the late 1950s, a time when bars that catered to homosexuals did not announce themselves. The front window was tinted so dark you couldn’t see inside even if all the lights were on. A recessed door opened onto a heavy curtain separating the world out there from the world in the Parrot. It served to protect them from each other: the people on the outside did not want to know what went on in there, and the patrons in the bar wanted no reminders that the world outside was waiting for them after the blackout, after the sloppy sex, after their best efforts to drink it all away.

I found the Parrot by accident. It wasn’t really a hustler bar. The mob still ran it in the 1980s, but quietly, and they didn’t want the attention cops brought with them. Being gay wasn’t illegal anymore, but prostitution and its emaciated sister, drug sales, were very much against the law. The two went hand in hand. Most of the hustlers I’d known either traded their bodies for dope or had some to sell. If not, they knew someone, who was conveniently located in a dark corner of the bar or waiting in the back alley.

The criminal enterprise then holding sway in the greater Los Angeles area was the Bianchi family, reported to be an offshoot of the Brooklyn Bianchi mafia clan. Rumor had it the Brooklyn branch had been crippled by law enforcement and had expanded—or escaped—to the West Coast.

Fat Dick Montagano, the Bianchi family lieutenant who kept the bars in line and the cash flowing, only tolerated hustlers who gave him free blowjobs, so the pros stayed away. His name was Richard Montagano. Everybody called him Fat Dick behind his back because he’d once topped off at three hundred pounds, though he’d lost a third of it by the time I met him. I assumed he’d been stuck with the name as a kid, or maybe his mob bosses gave it to him. It wasn’t a name anyone who valued their life would call him to his face, and we all knew to refer to him as Mr. Montagano when we addressed him or he was within earshot. If he overheard you, you might find a piece of piano wire embedded in your neck, so we left the name calling to people he was afraid of, who were all named Bianchi.

The mob presence in Los Angeles was once very powerful. After all, they’d founded Las Vegas, which was only four hours away in good traffic. But by the time I walked into the Parrot, they’d been reduced to pimping, moving drugs in from Mexico for domestic distribution, bookmaking, various other misadventures, and a few gay bars. Gregory Bianchi, the old guy who was the titular head of the family, had not been seen in public for several years and was rumored to be buried in the desert, his reputation used by his son and successor Anthony to instill fear in people’s hearts. Other than that, I knew nothing about  them and made no attempt to find out. It was enough just dealing with Fat Dick coming into the Parrot every Wednesday night to siphon off the Bianchis’ take from the week’s receipts. He was often accompanied by one pretty boy or another. He was married with three kids, but his taste for young male flesh was evident. It was also something you pretended not to notice. I’d been told he kept an apartment on Franklin Avenue for mob business on nights he didn’t return to his family in Encino. I imagine a few of those pretty boys spent the evening there.

I’ll admit to having the hots for the Parrot’s bartender, Phil Seaton. He was the real reason I went to the Parrot a second time. I had other choices for bars, but none of them had Phil slinging drinks. He was thirty-ish, shaved head, tattoos on biceps exposed by a vest with no shirt. He had big hands. Some myths never die, and some are even true.

It had been two years between the time I first walked into the Paisley Parrot and the time I started working there. Phil had been there for eight years or so and had no plans to improve his situation. Like me, the Parrot was his kind of bar. And it turned out I was his kind of twenty-something. We started having sex a week after I ordered my first bourbon and Coke, sitting on a stool staring at his arms. That lasted about three months. It also caused friction between me and Butch. Not because Butch was jealous, but because he believed Phil was a bad influence. I told him Phil and I only did lines of cocaine, washed down with two or three drinks. We stayed away from the crystal meth that was starting to be popular, and I would never use a syringe. But Butch worried and he warned. I ignored it, had a great run with Phil, and let it fall by the wayside. Phil met another young guy a month after we stopped playing together and neither of us made anything of it.

Those first years in L.A. flew quickly. I remember my twenty-fifth birthday, how old I felt and how fast I thought my life was passing. It’s an easy thing to think at that age. I look back now and marvel at how young twenty-five is, and how foolish.

I’d celebrated that New Year’s Eve with Butch, unaware of the darkness ahead. I’d seen him out just after midnight, then headed to the Paisley Parrot for my first drink of 1983. Phil was there with a few of the regulars. He set me up with my usual, a shot of Jim Beam in a glass of Coke. I bought the house a round, and one more time we toasted in the dying light.

CHAPTER FOUR

DAVID BOWIE’S LET’S DANCE WAS a monster hit that year. So was Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, and Sting’s Every Breath You Take, a meditation on stalking that got reimagined by the public as a love song. The space shuttle Challenger made its maiden voyage with the first woman astronaut, Sally Ride, among the crew, and the CDC warned blood banks of a possible problem with the blood supply.

The Redskins won the Super Bowl, the Orioles won the World Series, and the domestic AIDS death toll was a mere 2,304 for the year.

President Ronald Reagan had still not said the word ‘AIDS.’

Is it any wonder so many of us sought companionship and distraction in the bars? The worst had yet to come our way, but we’d already grown accustomed to seeing … or, rather, not seeing … friends at our favorite watering holes as they vanished like fireflies in the night. There was a nervousness to every arrival, walking into the Screw or the Gold Dust or the Paisley Parrot, looking quickly around to identify faces we knew. It brought relief to see familiar faces, another nightly reprieve from our slow, steady extinction.

I was a happy guy the first few months on the job, starting as a barback with Phil. The Parrot was a great place to learn the trade. It was a slower, drunker kind of establishment. It wasn’t like Whistles or The Omega, where a bartender could lose five pounds in a night running back and forth along the bar filling drinks for trendsetters. The Parrot was reserved and quiet, more of a gentleman’s bar, if the gentleman was inebriated and gawking at anyone under forty. We had a TV along the wall that showed muted MTV videos all night while music came from a jukebox by the bathroom. It was easy to stroll back and forth along the bar for an entire shift—no rush, no frantic calling out for cocktails. Just a couple dozen regulars whose drinks we knew as well as we knew their names. There was Bobby Bray, early 50s, who’d run his own bar for twenty years until he went bankrupt buying into a pyramid scheme. There was Quincy, a retired drag queen who always came in with a protégé or two in their 20s. There was Jude and Lester, Maryanne, Gilda and a dozen more. I knew the songs each of them would play on the jukebox and when to cut them off from the vodka or rum. Even a mob bar has standards; by the time a customer is ordering another shot from the floor, you’ve got an obligation to say no.

You could still smoke in bars then, and working there was a little grimy slice of heaven for me: I could go through a pack of Marlboros in a single shift and put back three or four shots of anything I wanted, always at the expense of an admiring customer. My drinking had picked up slightly, not surprising given the environment. It’s hard to imagine a better work life for the man I was at twenty-five. I’d even get lucky sometimes and take someone home.

One of those guys I got lucky with changed everything. His name was Bentley Wennig, an unusual name unless your father’s a car enthusiast.  He went by Ben—who wouldn’t with a name like that? He’d gotten lost and wandered into the Parrot to ask for directions. It was a Wednesday night, which meant Fat Dick was there to take the Bianchi family skim for the week. Dick’s reaction was how I knew Ben had walked in: the scary mob lieutenant couldn’t stop staring at the young man who’d just appeared through the curtain.

Even Phil did a double-take, and he was as jaded as they came. Another handsome face, even one as startling as Ben’s, did not usually merit a stare from Phil. Maybe it was the surprise of seeing someone as clean cut as Ben walking into a bar as dirty minded as the Parrot.

“Can I help you?” I said. I’d been working the bar with Phil for two weeks, having been promoted to bartender under his training. I would normally say, “What’ll you have?”, but this guy looked lost. I wasn’t even sure he was gay.

He walked up to the bar, each step increasing my heart rate. I felt myself getting hard and was glad to be behind the bar.

Ben had dark brown hair just long enough to tickle the tops of his ears. He was clean shaven, no stubble, exposing perfect skin the color of cream. His eyes were so deep and liquid brown I thought of chocolate melting in front of me. And then he smiled …

“I’m kind of lost,” he said. He looked around, trying to form an impression of the bar.

“Hmm,” I said, smiling back. “How does someone get ‘kind of’ lost?”

“Well,” he said, dipping his head in a show of embarrassment, “I was supposed to meet a friend at a bar on the corner of Santa Monica and Las Palmas. I’m new in town, like, two days.”

“It would help if you were on Santa Monica,” Phil said.

I jumped. I hadn’t noticed Phil come up behind me. He slipped a coaster and a napkin in front of the stranger. Was he poaching on my territory?

“You’re two blocks away,” said Phil. “You’re looking for LuLu’s Bar None. Is your friend a lesbian?”

“Yeah,” the man said. “Best friends since high school. She’s the reason I moved here.” Then, looking at me longer than a typical customer would, he added, “Well, one of them.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m early anyway, I might as well have something. Vodka rocks?”

“Marshall here will take care of you.” Phil winked at me and headed down the bar to refill one of the regulars.

“I’m Marshall,” I said, as I set about making his drink.

“Ben,” he replied, extending his hand. Few people shake hands with bartenders, that’s not why we’re there. The gesture amused me, so I shook his hand, noticing a beautiful gold ring with a striking green stone on his right pinky.

“Jade?” I asked.

He glanced at the ring, easing his hand away. “Oh, yes, from my grandmother for my last birthday. I can always count on Granny to find perfect gifts.”

It was only later, when Ben was wiping sweat off his chest with a hand towel, that I learned his full name was Bentley. He was twenty-seven years old. He’d moved to L.A. that very week from Bellevue, Washington. The only person he knew in town was Becky Walters, his dyke friend we’d said goodbye to after a 3:00 a.m. breakfast at the Buffalo Diner before heading to my place.

Is love possible after just one orgasm? I don’t know, so to be safe we made it three. By the time Ben left my apartment, the sun was well above the horizon and I was as sure as I have ever been that happiness had called my name.

CHAPTER FIVE

WE DIDN’T HAVE SMART PHONES in 1983. When you wanted to reach someone, you used this thing called a telephone. It came with a cord stuck into a wall and numbered buttons you had to push. There were even a few rotary phones still around with confounding circular disks that had finger holes in them. When you picked up the headset you heard a dial tone, then you called the person you were trying to contact and either talked to them or left a message on another contraption called an answering machine.

I tried reaching Ben several times over the next few days. He wasn’t avoiding me, he was just very busy. Your first week in a big city is consumed with deciding what you’ll do for a living and the other thousand details of rearranging a life. I left a message on Ben’s answering machine. He left one on mine. Back and forth. We managed to speak once, on Sunday night when I was pulling my first solo shift at the Parrot. Phil’s mother had broken her leg in a fall and he’d gone to Bakersfield that weekend to help her. Normally it was just me and Phil working nights with one of the barbacks for support. If we needed help behind the bar we called Derek or Freeze.  They were the part-timers and our backup. When Phil asked if I wanted one of them to help me, I said no, I can do this, and found myself nearly overwhelmed. A dozen serious drinkers on a Sunday night can be very demanding. So when Ben called the bar around 10:00 p.m., I didn’t think anything of telling him I’d speak to him in the morning.

“I really want to see you again,” he’d said quickly. “I’ve just been so busy.”

“I get it,” I’d replied. The phone was cradled between my ear and my shoulder as I hurried to fill another drink order. “I can’t wait to see you, too. Let’s talk tomorrow and make this happen.”

I don’t remember anything from the rest of my shift. When you’re that harried, time not only flies, but blurs. I made it through. I cut off the drunks who’d had too many, which was a high percentage of the Parrot’s clientele. I’d fended off three passes made by men who wouldn’t remember making them the next day. I shared the workload with Brandon, the new barback who’d been hired to replace me in that position. And I’d made enough in tips to confirm my belief that bartending was a good career choice. It all depends on what you want in life, and at that point I didn’t have many wants: a one-bedroom apartment as soon as I could afford it, a new used car to replace the ailing Gremlin, some nice clothes and a stereo. That was pretty much my wish list … oh, and a good man. I was twenty-five. I felt time passing, and I thought I was ready to settle down for a while. The longest relationship I’d had was three months, ending in more of a shrug than a heartache. There was Butch, of course, and my short-lived fling with Phil the bartender. But nothing I would classify as a relationship. Remembering the phone call with Ben when I was cashing out for the night, I had the crazy idea he might be the one to change that. There was just something about the guy, and as I twist-tied the two big trash bags collected every night behind the bar, I found myself wishing I’d stopped what I was doing and talked to him when he’d called. I’ve never liked unfinished conversations, then or now.

There was an alley behind the Paisley Parrot. It’s still there as far as I know—alleys don’t tend to move—but the Parrot is long gone, replaced by a succession of retail shops, nail salons and, as of this writing, a pet store. I suppose the dumpsters are still there, too. Technology hasn’t done much to improve trash disposal.

I always took the bags out one at a time, since they were so heavy. Brandon had gone home with my encouragement. The kid was exhausted from working and I was used to closing the place down myself, even when Phil was on duty. I propped the back door open with a brick we used for that purpose, and lugged the giant brown plastic bag over to the dumpster.

The lids were closed in a feeble effort to keep the rats out and the smells in. I set the bag down a moment, pushed up the large metal lid of the dumpster, and found myself staring into the face of a corpse.

And not just any corpse. It was the dead, broken body of the young man I hadn’t had time to talk to that evening. The man whose smile had sent me back on my heels when he’d walked into the bar less than a week ago. The man I’d fantasized ten minutes earlier about calling my boyfriend.

Those astonishing brown eyes were open, dead and lifeless. Something was wrapped around his neck, dug so deeply into his flesh I didn’t recognize at first what it was. His right hand rested over his chest, as if pledging allegiance to a dark lord. Something about it struck me, a fleeting detail, but the thought vanished in the shock of the scene. There was no light in his beautiful gaze, only a darkness he’d seen in his final moments that was about to make its way into our lives.

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CHANGES to DRAWINGS for FREE, SIGNED COPIES of MYSTERY novels; 4-Year Anniversary Celebration Continues!

WE’RE CHANGING IT UP TO HELP CELEBRATE the 4-year Anniversary of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction group, autographed copies of selected Gay & Lesbian mystery novels will be offered up to our devoted members who each will have a chance to win via drawing! Twenty authors and Matthew Moore’s, Buy More Books, contributed over 50 books to give away FREE!!

word murder written with an old typewriter

How Do I Enter to Win?

Easy – just watch for a notice posted in the group to enter and win a SIGNED Copy of one of the titles being offered in the drawings.

Enter – to enter the drawings, simply provide a COMMENT WITH THE TITLE of the mystery novel you want a chance to win FREE. (Likes, etc., will not be considered as entering the drawing since some folks simply like to acknowledge their appreciation for the novel/author featured, etc.)

It’s that simple!

How Long Before Winner Announced? 

That depends. There are over 50 novels to be given away, so I want to give every member in the group a chance to see the drawing, so usually about three-five days depending on activity.

A few rules:

  • Only members of the group can enter the drawing; all members are eligible, including authors – they are readers/fans, too!
  • Members can enter as many drawings as you like, but keep in mind, the goal is to award as many members as possible, so multiple-winning members ay be avoided unless participation in the drawings dictate otherwise.
  • Please do not forward this announcement of the drawings to non-members as they are not eligible at this time. Though I welcome new members to the group, this 4-year birthday celebration is to thank all the current, loyal members of this group.
  • Non-USA contiguous & Canada will receive e-book alternative due to postage costs. Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction is a non-revenue, fan-based group and does not have the funds for the additional postage.
  • Substitutes may not be available, but not guaranteed.

If participation is low, remaining books will be held for later in the year. Any remaining books I have in my possession will be donated to the library of Lost-N-Found Youth, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to take homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths up to age 25 off the street and transition them into more permanent housing.

BOOK PROVIDED BY BUY MOORE BOOKS – (Matthew G. Moore)

Jackson Square Jazz – Greg Herren 

(2) Mardi Gras Mambo – Greg Herren

Bourbon Street Blues – Greg Herren

Murder in the Rue Delphine – Greg Herren 

Flight Dreams – Michael Craft

Bitch Slap – Michael Craft 

Shock to the System – Richard Stevenson

Third Man Out – Richard Stevenson

Death Trick – Richard Stevenson

Why Stop at Vengeance- Richard Stevenson 

(2) Lat Your Sleeping Head – Michael Nava

Assault with a Deadly Lie – Lev Raphael

An Echo of Death – Mark Zubro

Filmed to Death – Meg Perry 

No Escape – Nancy Sanra 

ALL OTHER BOOK TITLES; 

 (2) Pretty Boy Dead (A Kendall Parker Mystery) – Jon Michaelsen

(1) Time’s Rainbow: Writing Ourselves Back into American History (Volume 1)– ed; Lori L Lake & Christopher Hawthorne Moss

Death by Pride – Mark McNease

The Couple Next Door – Rick R. Reed

Criminal Gold Mystery series – Any one of copy of the series – Ann Aptaker

The Laconic Lumberjack (A Nick Williams Mystery – Book 4) – Frank W Butterfield

Hidden Identity – (The Jimmy McSwain Files – Book 1) – Adam Carpenter

Calvin’s Head – David Swatling

(2) A Very Public Eye (Book Two in The Public Eye Mystery Series) – Lori L. Lake

You Can Never Walk Away – Edward Kendrick

Body on Pine – Joseph R. G. DeMarco

Cited to Death – Meg Perry

Stacked to Death – Meg Perry

Researched to Death – Meg Perry

Boystown: Three Nick Nowack Mysteries – Marshall Thornton

Lay Your Sleeping Head – Michael Nava

Fever in the Dark: A Jane Lawless Mystery – Ellen Hart

(2) False Confessions (Doug Orlando Mystery – Book 1) – Steve Neil Johnson

(2) Final Atonement (Doug Orlando Mystery – Book 2) – Steve Neil Johnson

Alien Quest – Mark Zubro

Alien Home – Mark Zubro

Alien Victory – Mark Zubro

A Conspiracy of Fear – Mark Zubro

Pawn of Satan – Mark Zubro

Black and Blue, and Pretty Dead, Too – Mark Zubro

Another Dead Republican – Mark Zubro

Gentle – Mark Zubro

Dying To Play – Mark Zubro

Dying for a Thrill – Mark Zubro

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Last Room at the Cliff’s Edge (A Detective Linda Mystery) by Mark McNease

 

Blurb:

Retired homicide detective Linda Sikorsky and her wife Kirsten McClellan head to Maine for a long weekend of rest, relaxation and rewrites as Kirsten finishes drafting her first novel. Bad weather alters their plans, forcing them to stop for the night at the Cliff’s Edge, a motel known for secrecy and indiscretion. Something murderous goes bump in the night, sending the women on a search for justice when a young reporter’s body is found dumped and violated on a back road. A road Linda must now go down, no matter where it takes her, or what it reveals.

mark-mcnease

Exclusive Excerpt: Part I

CAYLEY DREES was nervous. She hadn’t heard from her confidential source for two days and she was supposed to meet him tonight. The timing could not be worse. A storm had made land the past six hours, covering Maine in thickening sheets of rain. She’d not had far to drive, just from Wathingham, where she lived and worked, to the outskirts of Lonesome Pointe, but the driving had been slow and treacherous. Drivers, including herself, had pulled off the highway at intervals to let the rain slow enough for them to see again. Visibility for parts of the 90 minute trip (now closing in on two and a half hours with weather delays) was approximately zero. She was relieved and curious to finally see the fading billboard announcing the Cliff’s Edge Motel just two miles up the road. At the rate she was going it would be a long two miles, but she was comforted to know her destination was in sight.

facia of the car and drops on the windshield
facia of the car and drops on the windshield

At twenty-three Cayley was already among those young achievers who made names for themselves on “30 Under 30” lists and nods to up-and-comers that appeared annually, praising the next generation’s best and brightest. She was going places, and like others of her type, she was the first to declare it. A natural journalist, Cayley had ignored the probability of an internship at the Boston Globe or the Philadelphia Inquirer, choosing instead to learn her reporting chops at little Wathingham, Maine’s, All Pointes Bulletin. But she had her reasons: she was a small pond girl at heart, and she intended to be the biggest fish in it. Had she gone with the Globe or the Enquirer she would be covering news that mattered to much of the world, but she would be the fourth journalist down on the left, in a cubicle listening to a hundred other journalists talk to sources and crank out stories with bylines nobody noticed. The ladder they climbed was steeper, and much more crowded. This way she could move back to Wathingham where her family lived and be a star. It would take time to reach the top, but not as much time. The All Pointes had a staff of only seven, including the part-time receptionist. It was a fiefdom she could find herself running in just a few years.

She wasn’t happy being assigned the obits, but it was part of the game she had to play. Everyone had to start somewhere, and it was the kind of assignment a new reporter was expected to do. The paper’s publisher and editor, a no-nonsense woman named Lucille Proctor, had taken a liking to Cayley when she’d known her casually as a high school student in town and Cayley’s journalism class had spent the day shadowing All Pointes reporters. Lucille accepted her internship application the day after it arrived. She could have said yes that same afternoon, but why seem too eager? Few young people as talented and determined as Cayley ever returned, and certainly showed no interest in internships at the All Pointes when they could cover celebrity drug overdoses for the L.A. Times, where it also happened to be warm most of the year.

Cayley had been reporting on dead people for almost a year now. She covered other things, too: local festivals, some interviews, and an occasional movie review for which she was reimbursed the cost of one ticket, a soda and a small popcorn. It was the opposite of glamorous. There was a time during the summer when Cayley questioned her decision to return to Wathingham. She’d posted a dozen death notices, contacted a few next of kin when something they’d submitted was questionably written or, in one case, to determine if the deceased was truly dead, since she swore she’d seen the man in the pharmacy the day before.

And then it happened: the call from her source. He sounded nervous—in fact, he sounded nervous every time she subsequently spoke to him, as if someone might hear them. They never emailed. He insisted all emails were read by the government, or at least by the employers of everyone sending them. He wanted nothing in writing, he said, he just wanted her to know what happened. But first, about that obituary you ran for Russell Drover …

“Russell Drover?” she’d said, trying to remember which one it was and when it was published.  She had been sitting at her desk rewriting copy when the call came in, the last of the day to be transferred by Rudy, the part-time office guy. (Rudy was sweet, distracted and more interested in finding a girlfriend than furthering his career, which was why he was a part-time receptionist at twenty-six.)

“The old guy who owned the Cliff’s Edge outside of Lonesome Pointe,” the voice said, sounding as if he’d cupped his hand over the phone.

“The Cliff’s Edge …”

“Are you a reporter or a parrot?”

She’d almost hung up on him then. She’d been pranked a few times, always by kids who thought annoying strangers on the phone was hysterical. But something in his tone, his nervousness, made her take a deep breath and refrain from snapping.

“I’m a reporter, Mr …?”

“Never mind that,” he’d said. “I just called to tell you that you got it wrong.”

“Wrong?” she’d said, immediately regretting repeating him again.

“Yes, wrong.”

“How’s that?”

She was sitting up now. She’d taken a pencil from an All Pointes coffee cup she used for them and poised it over a thin white reporter’s notebook. Something told her this was different, this had substance.

“He didn’t shoot himself like they said.”

“We didn’t say that either, Sir. Suicide never reads well in an obituary.”

“You think I’m playing with you, is that what you think?”

His sharpness startled her. She sensed she had to be careful if she wanted him to keep talking.

“Are you telling me he was killed by someone else?” she asked, still not recalling the obituary in question but certain it had said nothing about suicide. Families preferred to say “a sudden illness.” It didn’t matter now. She was being offered something she knew was bigger than the obituary beat, something people would talk about.

“He was murdered, yes,” the man said. This time his tone was flat, almost sad.

She waited a moment, letting him breathe while she decided how best to proceed. “Is there more, Sir? Is there something you’d like to tell me, like … who you believe killed Mr. Drover?”

“Oh, I know who killed him.”

Cayley felt the chill through the phone. Yes, she thought, yes, I’m sure you do know, but will you tell me? Pretty please? Or will this be difficult

“And I know why,” he said. “It was because of what happened.”

“What happened?”

“Yeah, what happened.”

Very carefully now: “When?”

“A long time ago.”

Excerpt Part II

LINDA SIKORSKY wasn’t looking forward to the drive to Maine but she would not tell Kirsten. It would take at least six hours, much of that in a storm the weather service had been warning about for the past week. She’d thought of suggesting they postpone the trip, but she knew the price for it would be days of sulking by Kirsten, delivered with a large side order of disappointment. Her wife had been planning this trip for two months, convinced it would be just what she needed to finish her first mystery, whose central character was transparently modeled after Linda. “The Rox Harmony Mysteries” had become Kirsten McClellan’s obsession. Linda was so relieved Kirsten had found a calling in retirement, even if writing was an avocation Linda thought put food on very few tables, that she withheld her reservations about a fictional lesbian detective based on her. Nor did she speak to Kirsten of the ego deflation that surely lay ahead in mixed reviews, unpredictable book sales and that small matter of finding a publisher. None of these things were worth causing Kirsten to fret more than she normally did. For Linda, just driving to Maine in terrible weather, after an unexpected delay caused by her mother’s emergency in Philadelphia, provided stress enough.

The women lived in a small house in Kingwood Township, New Jersey, that Linda had inherited from her Aunt Celeste. Her mother’s only sibling, Celeste had died on the back porch the spring before last, watering the flowers she’d kept for years in plastic beds hung from a wrought-iron railing surrounding the small space. There was just enough room on the porch for a table and four chairs. Linda had spent many Sunday mornings having coffee with her aunt after driving from New Hope, Pennsylvania, across the river into Jersey. She usually visited her mother the day before, making those weekends a sort of twofer: visit Mom one day, Aunt Celeste the next, and promise to be back in two weeks, three tops if something came up to delay her.

That “something” was sometimes homicide. Linda was then on the New Hope Police Force as its only female detective. She’d put in nearly twenty years, the last six in homicide, when Celeste died and left her the perfect place to retire: five acres of wooded land, a mile’s drive on 651 from the Delaware River. Timing, as Linda knew, was everything. She’d met Kirsten McClellan that January, inherited the house in September, and married Kirsten the following March. Now they were living very rural lives and slowly but surely adjusting to them.

Excerpt Part 3

On their way to a B & B in Maine, Linda and Kirsten are forced by the storm to stop at the Cliff’s Edge Motel.

LENNY SAW the car pull in. It was 7:30 p.m. now, dark and drenched outside as far as the eye could see, which was not far given the driving rain that had brought traffic to a standstill. The storm did not have a name but it was strong enough to be called something besides a Nor’easter. It deserved more respect than that. While it wasn’t an Irene or even a Sandy, it was a nasty one and it packed a punch. That’s why the Cliff’s Edge was almost full. Lenny had worked the front desk for the past six years and had only turned on the “No Vacancy” sign three or four times. This just wasn’t a place people looked for or added to their travel websites’ favorites list. It was exactly what he saw tonight: a place folks ended up because they had to. Just like the two women who came in as he watched from his stool—wet, unhappy and stamping their feet as if the water were snow they wanted off them.

“Evening,” Lenny said. “You ladies get stuck in the storm? Everybody else did.”

“Yes, we did,” Linda said. She regretted not bringing their rain ponchos, or at least a couple trash bags to put over themselves. Her jacket was soaked just getting from the car into the lobby, if it could be called that. It looked more like the front room in a house that should have been torn down decades ago.

“Well, you ladies are lucky tonight, let me tell you. I got one room left.”

Kirsten hung back. She was still stewing over not driving on to Cape Haven. She’d been relieved to get a cell phone signal in this weather, knowing it was hit and miss. It wasn’t great but it was good enough for her to tell the desk clerk they had to stop two hours short of Serenity House and they’d be there first thing tomorrow. The clerk curtly told her she would have to charge them for the night. Kirsten said go ahead, then filed it away for her Yelp review. She had no problem being charged, but she didn’t care for being spoken to as if she’d inconvenienced someone with nothing else to do.

Linda looked at the skinny man behind the counter. She hoped he would not call them “ladies” again. She disliked the term and found it patronizing. Coming from someone who looked like his other job was pumping gas at the only station for twenty miles made it seem smug and deliberate.

“We’ll take it,” Kirsten said, stepping up next to Linda. She’d sensed her wife’s hesitation, as if they had any choice but to check into the Cliff’s Edge and get the hell out at sunrise. She just wanted to get into a room, settle in and fire up her laptop for some revisions on Bermuda Shots.

The clerk reached under the counter and brought up a key attached to a diamond-shaped piece of plastic with the number 7 on it.

“Last room at the Cliff’s Edge,” he said. “Lucky, lucky.”

Linda had the distinct feeling their luck had run out, being forced into a rundown motel in the middle of somewhere.

“What town is this?” Linda asked, unsure they were even in a town.

“If it had a name,” Lenny said, “It’d be Unincorporated. Nearest town is Lonesome Pointe, about three miles from here. That be cash or charge?”

Linda was surprised: she’d never stayed in a motel that took cash.

She pulled her wallet from her purse, slipped out a corporate AmEx and handed it to him.

“I’m Linda Sikorsky,” she said. “And this is Kirsten, my … ”

“Friend,” said Lenny, winking at her.

Linda cursed herself and hoped Kirsten hadn’t noticed the exchange. She glanced to the side and saw her furiously trying to get an internet connection on her phone. Good, the conversation had been ignored. She hated it that she was still uncomfortable referring to Kirsten as her wife. It had taken her months to get used to partner, and spouse was just too … animal-husbandry. She had to get past this. What difference did it make that some creepy desk clerk might disapprove of lesbians?

“Something like that,” Linda replied, knowing Lenny had pegged them as a couple.

“Is there WiFi in the room?” Kirsten asked, frustrated at being cut off from the virtual world. The phone call to Serenity House was the last connection she’d had.

Lenny spoke patiently and slowly, as if to an uncomprehending child. “No,” he said. “We don’t have no internet connection here. This ain’t Portland. But we got TVs you can watch. Not sure what kind of picture you’ll get in this rain …”

“So it’s not cable?”

Lenny did not respond, believing he’d made his point well enough. If the Cliff’s Edge did not have an internet connection, why in the world would they have cable for the few people who stayed here? Mostly they came from surrounding towns to have sex with their secretaries or someone else’s husband. Nobody had time for HBO.

“No,” Linda said, answering for him. “I don’t imagine it is. Let’s just get our stuff from the car and settle in. It’s going to be a long night. Isn’t that right …?”

“Lenny,” he said, handing her the credit card receipt to sign. “

“Does Lenny have a last name?” Linda asked.

Lenny felt the hair on his arms rise. The woman was not smiling, and there was an intensity in her eyes he didn’t like. That’s how predators looked at their prey. He knew, he was one. He’d looked at countless teenage girls and a few of the boys that way, usually before he got them high on something and screwed them. And he’d looked at old man Drover that way just before he’d put a hole in his chest. The girl reporter, too. But she was still in the queue. He suddenly didn’t like putting these women next to the room Cayley Drees was in, but he didn’t have any choice. It was the last room, after all. He’d be extra careful when he slipped into #6 sometime after midnight.

“You can just call me Lenny,” he said. He was glad he’d talked Russell out of making him wear a name tag. What did the old fool think he was, a bellboy?

“Lenny it is,” said Linda, handing him the signed receipt and taking the key.

“You ladies have a good night. And if you need anything, come on down.”

“I can’t call you from the room?” Kirsten asked as they were about to head back to the car.

“Phone works sometimes, but there’s no intercom or nothing,” Lenny said.

“Of course not,” Kirsten replied. “Why would there be?”

Linda pulled the door open and held it for Kirsten. Rain flew into the lobby in the moment it took them to leave. Walking back into it was like walking into a powerful showerhead aimed directly at their faces. They got the last room, and they’d taken the last parking space, which meant they had to grab their belongings—none of which Kirsten was willing to leave in the car at this fine establishment—and hurry down the long motel front to room #7. Hopefully nothing would be damaged by the rain.

Lenny watched the door close. It was a lie they didn’t have internet access. They just didn’t have it for anyone but him, in the back apartment where Russell Drover had lived and where Lenny enjoyed his new life alone. Linda Sikorsky. He hadn’t asked for her driver’s license so he didn’t know where she lived, but he could get the state off her license plate. He planned to see if he could find out anything about her online. There was something chilling in the way her manner had changed while they were at the desk, as if she, too, had sensed something about him. Two snakes who’d come upon each other in the tall grass. He had the unsettling feeling one of them would be eating the other. He hoped not; he did not want to draw attention to himself or, by extension, his employer. He wanted to take care of the reporter, see the women off in the morning when they turned in the key, and wait for it all to blow over. There was a fat paycheck and an extended stay in Puerto Vallarta on the other side.

Author Website:

http://www.markmcnease.com/

 

Excerpts from The Pride Trilogy: Three Kyle Callahan Mysteries by Mark McNease

Excerpts from The Pride Trilogy: three Kyle Callahan Mysteries by Mark McNease

The Pride Trilogy consists of three of the existing five Kyle Callahan Mysteries: Murder at Pride Lodge, Pride and Perilous, and Death by Pride. They were written in that order, with a break between the second and third to write Death in the Headlights featuring lesbian Detective Linda from the series. She and Kyle become partners in crime solving and she’s in all the books (soon to have her own in 2016!).

My intention when I created the series was to write one book featuring older characters, centered on a male couple modeled after myself and my now-husband Frank. As the publisher and editor for a website for over-50 LGBTQ people, lgbtSr.org, I wanted to write a book with and for people who were my own age. If the first book sold, I told myself, I would write a second. It did, and here we are five books later.

Here are short synopses of the three books making up the Trilogy, followed by single, selected excerpts from them. It seemed a better choice than just providing the first chapters. I hope you enjoy them!

Murder at Pride Lodge

Who killed Teddy the handyman – if anyone killed him at all? Was it Sid, one of the new owners of Pride Lodge whose past gets darker the closer you look? Was it the woman whose name was once Emily, when she witnessed the murder of her parents in a burglary gone bad, and who has waited thirty years for vengeance? Was it young Happy Corcoran, promoted to bartender only to vanish three days before Teddy was found dead at the bottom of the empty pool? Find out as Kyle Callahan refuses to believe it was an accident, doggedly pursues the truth in his friend’s death and does his best not to join him. Kyle and his life partner Danny Durban live in New York City, where murder never seems to be more than a subway stop away. In this first story, they head to Pride Lodge, their favorite getaway from the City, over what they expect to be a festive Halloween weekend. What they find instead is a web of murder, deceit, and revenge served cold as a knife blade.

Yellow-Pride-Trilogy-655x1024

Pride and Perilous

The Katherine Pride Gallery is the center of high art and low death in Pride and Perilous, book II of the Pride Trilogy and the second of the Kyle Callahan Mysteries. Kyle, an amateur photographer, is about to have his first exhibit at the gallery, in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. As time ticks away, bodies begin to fall and Kyle realizes somebody wants this gallery closed forever. Join the chase as Kyle and his partner Danny Durban reunite with Detective Linda Sikorsky from the New Hope, PA, police force. They met solving the murders at Pride Lodge, and Linda has come to town for Kyle’s opening, only to find herself joining forces with him again to capture a killer … before he captures them.

Death by Pride

The Pride Trilogy concludes with ‘Death by Pride.’ It’s Gay Pride weekend, the most festive weekend of the year in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of partygoers arrive to show the world how to have a good time.  Stalking the party is the most successful serial killer the city has ever seen. He claims his victims in threes and has just begun his newest spree. Detective Linda Sikorsky comes to town to visit Kyle Callahan and his husband Danny Durban. It’s her first Pride Parade and may well be her last. Harmless fun turns to terror in a frantic effort to stop the killer once the first body floats to the river’s edge. This time it’s personal, and this time one of them might not make it out alive.

Murder at Pride Lodge – An Excerpt

Sam Tatum was found flat on his back in a parking garage three blocks from the Glendale Galleria at three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. Had it started raining an hour later he would have parked on the street and died in a puddle, his face wet with drizzle and his eyes staring up, unblinking, as rain flushed the life from them. The garage had been fate’s one courtesy, saving him the embarrassment of dying even more publicly than he did, insofar as corpses can be embarrassed. It was an ignominious death. While he’d expected to die from one too many lines of cocaine up his old man’s nose, or murdered, even, in a fit of pique by one of the hustlers he’d been too fond of for too many years, ending his life on the concrete floor of a parking garage, his head in an oil stain, was too seedy even for Sam. Had he been able to think once he was dead, he would have found it a tawdry end to a tawdry life and been glad it was over.

The woman who found him, walking with her 12-year-old daughter to their newly purchased Prius parked three cars to the left of Sam’s Camry, had worked as a nurse before marrying well and was familiar enough with dead bodies to make the call. The poor guy was old, out of shape, uncommonly pale, and obviously lived an unhealthy life. He was lucky to make it this far, she thought, more disturbed that her child had seen a corpse than that he was actually dead. She didn’t know him, what was it to her? Mostly it was an inconvenience, since she had the decency to call an ambulance, knowing it was much too late to save the poor slob, and stay around to speak to the police. She’d considered making it an anonymous 911 call, since her daughter’s ballet class started at 3:30 and this would mean missing it for sure. But something in her, that old nurse calling, that instinct to do the right thing, made her give her name and location and wait patiently for the paramedics who would try to resuscitate a man she knew was dead. His eyes were open, for godsake, and what life had been in them had slipped away some time ago. Anyone could see that.

She’d told her daughter Kelly to get into the car the moment she saw the man’s feet come into view. Kelly, being a precocious, ballet-class-taking 12-year-old, wanted the full view and instead of doing what she was told rushed around ahead of her mother to get a good look. She had never seen a dead body before and she could tell by her mother’s lack of urgency that the man was probably beyond help. After an inappropriate but predictable, “Cool!” she obeyed her mother and skipped ahead to their car. Once inside, she tweeted that she and her mother had found a dead guy, and waited for her friends’ texts to start flooding in.

**

Thus it was that someone on the other side of the country who happened to read DeathWatchLA took notice and knew that the email he’d gotten from Sam two weeks earlier was not the panic of a man who had used too many drugs and bought too many young men. Sam Tatum was dead. He had not been paranoid, but convinced someone was after them, and he had been right. Three months earlier there had been another death, a man named Frank Grandy, this one in Detroit. Neither of them had spoken to Frank in years, and it was only when Frank left Sam $2000 in his will as a very belated repayment of a loan, that Sam knew their old partner in crime was dead. No suspects had been named, no one identified, but the report mentioned an antique pocket watch Frank was selling on an internet auction site. The watch case was there, but the watch was gone. Robbery, they assumed, but the investigation had gone nowhere. That was what rang the alarm bell for Sam, the watch. He was surprised Frank had kept it all these years, but not surprised it had led to his death. The past, it seems, had been waiting patiently to find them, and it had.

The two deaths spoke not of coincidence, but of a plan, with a planner and only one target left. The DeathWatchLA reader logged off his computer, swiveled around in his desk chair and cheerfully took a cup of coffee from his partner, smiling as if nothing had changed and they were simply beginning another gorgeous day. Time to get started.

Pride and Perilous – An Excerpt

It had been five years at least since Devin had worried about being followed. That’s how long he had been living as Devin 24/7. Denise Ellerton had ceased to exist – officially, legally, physically, psychologically, and every other way in which each person functions in the world.  For Devin, she had ceased existing long before that, when he had realized as a teenager that he was not like other girls; that the simple reality of pronouns was different for him, as he thought of himself as “he” while everyone else insisted on calling him “she.”  Tom-boyish Denise, odd Denise, rough-and-tumble Denise.  He had wanted to correct them then, and even younger, as early as the third grade.  “I’m not a girl,” he had wanted to say, but it wasn’t until he was in college that he fully understood what was going on with him, and when he finally had the distance from his family to do something about it.

The sensation of being shadowed down a dark street was one of those things that belonged to Denise, to women. Devin had long been aware of the differences in experiences men had from women; to suggest there were no differences was to choose denial over reality. There were experiences unique to men, and experiences unique to women, as well as experiences unique to those who did not fit readily into either. Devin had become a man in every way possible. The transition had been made, the journey completed, and not since before it had he worried about being followed down his own Brooklyn street, late on a rainy Friday night. There was something different about this, too. It wasn’t random, as if he’d crossed paths with the wrong person in an accident of fate, as so many people did who found themselves the victims of crimes of opportunity.  Devin had the very distinct and unsettling feeling that the man coming up slowly behind him had been there for awhile, had followed him off the R train, along the platform, up the stairs, and now, six blocks later, nearly to his apartment on Prospect Avenue.

Devin was tall at five-eight, and worked out religiously at the local New York Athletic Club. He’d had a trainer for two years and always believed he could handle himself in a tight situation. Not that it happened often: he didn’t drink, didn’t stay out late unless he had a showing of his artwork or was attending one of a friend’s exhibits; he hadn’t dated in three years, and he was a night person, meaning he worked at night in his studio apartment and made every effort to be home by 7:00 pm, when he would start his routine of coffee-fueled creativity, putting together his latest collage or designing a multi-medium piece that he would then spend the next two or three weeks bringing to life.

He was an attractive man, too, or so he’d been told enough times to believe. His natural height was complimented by a thin frame, short black hair he gelled back, a high, wide, forehead, moist brown eyes that had never been bothered by glasses, a thin but ready smile, and a nose that had once been broken in a fall, although he told everyone it had been a boxing match. It was the one lie he allowed himself. He just liked the idea of having a nose broken by a fist in a boxing glove. And it made the person who had once been Denise all but unrecognizable.

He’d stayed out later then usual tonight and had been cursing his lapse in discipline when he first realized someone was behind him. This stretch of Prospect Avenue, unlike nearly all streets in neighboring Manhattan, was sparsely populated at night and the presence of other people was noticeable, especially other people who were shadowing you. He’d become aware of the man behind him not long after coming up the subway stairs but had thought nothing of it at the time. Then, a block later, he could hear the footsteps, as if he were in some B-movie thriller and a stalker was shortening the distance between then. Now, four blocks from the subway and just one from his apartment building, he became convinced he was the object of the man’s attention.  Had it not been so worrying it would have been interesting: why would a strange man be following a reclusive artist down a deserted Brooklyn street on a rainy Friday night?  He decided to ask the question directly.   He adjusted his umbrella, with its caved-in side to his back, letting rain trickle down and soak his jacket, and he turned around to get a look at the man he now knew was his pursuer.

As Devin turned to face him, the stranger stopped. He was only about thirty feet away now.  Devin saw that he did not have an umbrella, but his face was hidden by a hoodie pulled down over it.  In late April the air was still chilly at night and most people wore jackets, sweaters, other clothes that kept them warm in the cool darkness.  Hoodies were especially popular, but also had the disconcerting effect of hiding the person’s face. It was only human nature to want to know who was beneath the hood, and why he was covering his face.

The man made no attempt to pretend he was not following Devin. He didn’t keep walking with a turn this way or that; he didn’t cross the street and continue; he didn’t even keep coming, as someone would who really was just walking along the same street at the same time.  He stopped.  In the rain.

“Who are you?” Devin shouted, tilting his umbrella back to show himself and improve his line of sight.

The man just stood and, Devin assumed, stared. It was dark out and raining, and neither could see the other with any great clarity.

Then the man began to walk toward him.

Decision time. Devin could run for his apartment, which was only a block away; he could call for help, someone would throw open a window and call 911 – or would they? – or he could do what he decided to do and stand his ground. He was tough, he trained two hours, three days a week; he was quick and fit and thin, and above all he was not Denise, not anymore. He had not endured the challenges of his life, the demands of simply being and becoming who he was, to flee in front of some punk on a Brooklyn street. He eased his shoulders back, loosened his grip on the umbrella to free his hands, and prepared for a fight.

The closer the man got, the more familiar he looked. He was wearing jeans, red sneakers and the green hoodie, and although his face was hidden, something about his overall presence rang a bell. There was also the limp, if that was the right word, a way of walking that made it appear one leg was shorter than the other, but housed more in the pelvis, a sort of up and down motion, like a piston misfiring every time the man took a step. Devin noticed the emblem on his sweatshirt, a rainbow flag with wording underneath it he couldn’t read.  He relaxed; it must be a neighbor after all, or someone coming to visit a neighbor.  At the very least the stranger was gay and, by inference, non-threatening.

But still he had not responded to Devin’s asking him who he was. And he had stopped, then kept coming.  He was only about ten feet away now, and Devin put it all together: the walk, the sweatshirt, and finally, as the man drew close and eased his hood back – the face.

“You!” Devin said, startled.

Death by Pride- An Excerpt

Killing wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. He expected to be a bit rusty after three years, but he had never anticipated this … dullness, this sense that, in the words of bluesman B.B. King, the thrill was gone. Maybe he had just been away from it too long; maybe he needed to get up to speed. The man whose body he deposited into the East River just before midnight was, after all, only the first in his current series. There would be two more before the week was out, and maybe the old rush would return with the next one. He had to trust it would, to believe as a child believes that Santa Claus is real and will come shimmying down the chimney every Christmas Eve. Or how Dorothy believed, clicking her slippers in that dreadful movie. That might be a more appropriate comparison, given the occasion. Click, click, click … and he was home.

He did not come all the way back to New York to resume his annual ritual for something as lackluster as this first kill. Had it been the young man himself whose death stirred so little response in him? What was his name? Victor? Victor Someone. Dense and inattentive; he had been too easy, and far too handsome. Cute, really. The kind of cute that becomes very sexual in manhood. Innocent smile, calculated shyness. Victor Someone knew exactly what he was doing flirting in the store that afternoon, and he had succeeded, much to his regret.

Unfortunately, Victor wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to kill as he was to look at. Too easy, too unchallenging. Like a cat who had no trouble capturing a wingless bird, he had not had fun with this one. He would have to analyze the experience, figure out why it had not been as satisfying as it was before, and what he might need to do to reignite his excitement. Did he need to be more brutal? Did he need to introduce tools into the game, a scalpel, perhaps, or a drill of some kind? He would think hard on it. A decision had to be made quickly; he’d already placed an online ad looking for the next one and the emails were flooding into his special account, the one no one would ever trace no matter how hard they tried. A phantom as elusive as he was deserved a phantom email routed through Chicago, then London and Tokyo, server after server erasing any clue to its origin.

**

He would look at Victor Someone’s driver’s license in the morning. Sense memory was a beautiful thing, and nothing brought it back quite like his keepsakes. The license was his souvenir—his thirteenth. Lucky thirteen. The rest of the wallet stayed with the body. He wasn’t interested in making identification difficult. It didn’t matter if the police knew who had been killed, only that they would never find the man who did the killing.

It had been dark when he parked by the river. The new moon had worked to his favor, a first. No one had been around; he made sure no one saw a man with a heavy, strangely shaped object wrapped in black plastic trudging his way to the river’s edge. Then a simple heave and splash, and he was on his way home.

Bedtime at last. But before then, for a few minutes anyway, he wanted to go through those emails. He’d requested photos, knowing many of them would be old and meant to trick him, and that was okay. He was less interested in finding a man who looked exactly like his picture than he was in finding a man who made him want to kill. It was like falling in love with an image: he never knew which one it would be, but knew it when it happened. This one. Oh yes. This one will be here soon.

He turned off the kitchen light, took his tea cup with the little chain from the tea ball hanging over the side, and headed to his large master bedroom on the second floor. His laptop was open and waiting for him. He would sift through a dozen or so email responses and see if any of them struck his fancy. But first, the pictures of Victor. Victor Someone. He would enjoy those before sleeping. He always took pictures.

 

Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/Mark-McNease/e/B00579FA0E/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXCERPT: Kill Switch – A Kyle Callahan Mystery by author Mark McNease

Kill Switch

A Kyle Callahan Mystery

by Mark McNease

 

Part I

Among the Living

CHAPTER One

Kyle Callahan glanced around his therapist’s office. He’d sat in this overstuffed beige leather chair, talking to this wise and soft-spoken man for the past six months, and still there were small details he would notice on a visit that he hadn’t seen before. A photograph of Peter Benoit’s daughter, now in her second year at Princeton. A small, cheap plaster bust of Chopin, Peter’s favorite composer, staring blindly from the bookshelf. A book about circuses among the dozens on psychology, psychiatry, and the byzantine workings of the human mind. And tonight: a set of bronzed baby shoes on Peter’s desk. Kyle never sat at or beside the desk. He only looked at it tucked tightly into a corner of the room beneath a window overlooking Central Park West. It was as mysterious as his therapist—he only knew about the daughter and the love for Chopin by asking questions, a reversal of roles that had happened perhaps a half dozen times over the course of twenty-four one hour sessions spent talking about his life since the killing. Correction, the shooting, as Peter reminded him. Yes, Kyle had killed a man. Yes, it had been in self-defense. Yes, it had ended the nightmarish career of the Pride Killer, among New York City’s most successful and cruel sociopaths. So, rightly, Peter Benoit (pronounced “Ben-wah”) reminded Kyle from time to time that it was not murder. But that didn’t change how Kyle felt. It didn’t erase his guilt, however unnecessary. He had taken a man’s life in an Upper East Side townhouse basement, and he had been trying to live with it ever since.

“I haven’t seen bronzed baby shoes since I was a kid,” Kyle said, looking at the desk. “I started to ask if they still made them, but obviously those were made a long time ago. Are they yours?”

“Yes, Kyle, they’re mine,” Peter responded. “I was that small once. We all were.”

“Are they really bronze?”

“I don’t know. My mother had them made. But they look bronze.”

“Yes, they do.”

Kyle turned his attention back to Peter. Lately he’d found himself attracted to the therapist and it made him uncomfortable. He knew it wasn’t real—not real real—and that it was some kind of “transference”, but it made him uneasy. It didn’t help that the therapist was quite tall and handsome, late-forties, with brown hair shot through with gray; blue eyes, large hands, and much too relaxed for anyone living and working in New York City.

“What were we talking about?” Kyle asked, trying to refocus.

“Your father’s death,” said Peter.

“Really?”

“Yes, Kyle. You were visiting your parents in Highland Park. You went in to see your father in his study and you found him slumped over his desk—the same desk you now have in your spare room at home.”

Kyle thought about it. He could not understand how talking about killing Diedrich Keller—the Pride Killer—had morphed into talking about his dead father. Or how it led to talking about his relationship with his husband, Danny. Or his job. Or anything, really. None of those things were why he’d come here, but they had entered his conversations with his therapist and he was as uncomfortable with that as he was with feeling attracted to the man. Psychoanalysis was a curious, dangerous beast, and Kyle wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision letting it out of its cage.

“He didn’t like me,” Kyle said. Just like that. Flat, true.

“What made you think that?”

“You don’t believe me?”

“I didn’t say that. I just asked why you thought your father didn’t like you.”

Kyle stared at him. “Because he told me.”

There, it had happened again. Another unsettling truth uttered as if he’d said it was cold in the room or that he’d left his umbrella at home and it was raining. This had happened quite a few times over the months. Bits and pieces of memories, emotions and unpleasant realities popping out into the air, floating there for a moment then falling to the floor or staining his heart.

“How did it happen?” Peter asked.

“How did what happen?”

“How did your father tell you he didn’t like you? Were you having an argument? Was it a response to something that had been said?”

Kyle remembered it clearly now, just like he remembered finding his father dead at his desk—a not-so-repressed memory he’d told very few people. His mother knew; she was in the house that day, too. Danny, of course. But almost no one else.

Kyle had been at the kitchen table having breakfast. He was twenty at the time. Twenty-one? He was in love with David Elliott, the young man he pursued to New York City from Chicago where they’d both attended college. He’d made the decision to move but not yet done it. His father had not taken kindly to Kyle’s being gay. It wasn’t rejection, per se, but more of a further distancing to an already distant relationship. Kyle’s father had taken the news coolly, as he’d taken all of Kyle’s decisions in life. As if he didn’t care.

“I told him I was moving to New York,” Kyle said, recalling it now in the therapist’s office. “He shrugged. He said, ‘Fine,’ or something like that. Something short and disinterested. ‘Don’t you care?’ I asked him. I didn’t want him to oppose the move—I was hell bent, as my mother said, on chasing David across the country—but something.”

“You wanted him to take it as a loss,” Peter said.

“Yes, yes, I did.”

Image of a street at night

“But that’s not what happened.”

“Not at all,” Kyle said. He looked down now, worried his eyes might water. “I said, ‘That’s all you have to say? ‘Fine?’ And he just … I don’t know … took a bite of his toast, looked at me and said, ‘I don’t like you, Kyle.’”

“It must have hurt.”

Kyle felt his facial muscles tighten. He hated being told such clear simple truths. Of course it hurt. And of course Kyle had never told anyone before tonight what his father had said, or how deeply it cut him.

“Yes,” Kyle said. “It hurt. Then he got up and went to his study. To his desk. Where I found him dead twenty-five years later. Can we change the subject?”

Peter was sensitive, which was not surprising. He was a very experienced therapist and knew when to let things rest. He paused for a moment to drink some of the ginger tea he always had on the stand beside his chair. Kyle knew it was a way of shifting away from one subject to another. Peter Benoit was not the only one in the room who could read people.

“How are the nightmares?” Peter asked, setting his teacup back down.

It was a question the therapist hadn’t asked for several weeks. Kyle was glad of the omission; he preferred not to talk about the dreams that had plagued him since the shooting in Diedrich Keller’s basement. They’d stopped for a while—a short while—but had returned the last week, as distressing as ever. The dreams’ scenario changed slightly, their sequence of events, but they always ended the same: with Kyle sobbing over the body of the serial killer he’d just stopped with a bullet to the heart, while his husband Danny and his friend Detective Linda Sikorsky lay dead at the hands of the man he’d murdered.

“It wasn’t murder,” Peter said the first time Kyle described the dreams. “It was kill or be killed. You need to remember that.”

Kill or be killed. A struggle, a twist of fate, a gunshot, and Kyle had taken a life. He knew it should matter whose life he had taken—a brutal killer who had claimed fourteen victims over seven years and who’d been within a knife blade’s distance from killing Danny—but watching a man die at your own hand defied emotional logic. Death was death. And as he’d seen the life quickly flee from Diedrich Keller’s eyes, he’d felt as if he had been tattooed forever by it. Then the dreams began and he sought out a therapist to try and stop them.

“Not so bad, or so often,” Kyle lied. He’d had a dream just the night before.

“Good,” said Peter, doubting Kyle had told him the truth. “How about your photography?”

Kyle looked up at him. Once upon a time, not long ago, he’d been an avid amateur photographer. The passion had lasted about fifteen years for him, ever since his father had given him an expensive camera for his fortieth birthday. Then the murders at Pride Lodge, Kyle standing over the empty blue pool taking photographs of his friend Teddy’s broken body at the bottom; his first and only photo exhibit at the Katherine Pride Gallery, just days after the madman Kieran Stipling had been stopped from killing Stuart Pride. It was all connected, Kyle knew. The murders, the murderers, and his photography. As one entered his life, the other left. Now he no longer took pictures and had no desire to.

“It’s still on hold,” Kyle said, knowing it would probably stay there. Maybe he would someday see something he thought would look amazing through a camera lens, turned into a moment in time. Or a face that needed preserving in a photograph, or a scene. But not anytime soon. His camera had lain on a shelf in the spare room gathering dust for six months.

Peter leaned forward. It was usually a signal their fifty minutes were coming to a close.

“Have you given some thought to what I suggested?” Peter asked.

The therapist had been encouraging Kyle to take on something new—another passion, another pastime. Kyle had expressed for the first time his interest in getting into the reporting end of his career. If his boss Imogene could do it, he could, too. He’d even begun contributing to her stories—un-credited, of course. He was writing copy now, under Imogene’s tutelage. He knew he was too old to become a reporter, but there may be ways to contribute. No one knew what editors looked like, and Kyle had discovered he had a knack for writing and editing as well as being the best personal assistant Imogene had ever had. He was good for more than bagels and coffee and answering her emails well past quitting time.

“Yes, I have thought about it,” Kyle said. “And Imogene thinks it’s a great idea. I’ve been working on stories with her. She’s very experienced, she’s teaching me a lot—about angles to stories and how to shape them.”

“Good, good. And are you still taking anti-depressants?”

“Oh, God no!” Kyle said, as if he’d just tasted something bitter. He’d tried three different anti-depressants and each made him feel disembodied. No matter how low the dose, whatever they did to him was pronounced and unpleasant. He was glad to find a therapist who preferred talk to medication. Kyle had thrown the pills out each time and was now determined to find another way to deal with his . . . trauma. He didn’t like the word. He didn’t like thinking he’d been traumatized. But sometimes there was no better way to describe it.

What he did not tell Peter Benoit that night was that he’d been thinking through the suggestion to find a new interest and had come up with something very different from writing, editing or reporting. Something he was not ready to tell Peter about. Something that already had him waking up feeling better, clearer, and once again energized.

“Our time’s up,” Peter said gently. He always ended the sessions with his kind voice. Then, as he did from time to time, he said, “I’ll be away next week.” He reached for the Day Planner he kept next to his ginger tea, opened it and said, “Two weeks from tonight is okay for you?”

It was always okay for Kyle. Peter had only skipped three sessions in six months. He never said why; it was part of his mystique. Kyle knew his therapist was divorced—there were no photos of his ex-wife in the office. He knew he had a daughter, and a cat whose white hair was sometimes on the therapist’s pants. But beyond that he knew very little.

“Two weeks is fine,” Kyle said.

He stood up then and shook Peter’s hand. He often wondered if they’d been at it long enough for a hug, but it was better to keep the distance.

“I’ll see you in two weeks,” said Kyle. He turned and let himself out of the office.

Tomorrow was Tuesday and he planned on working late with Imogene. The Manhattan District Attorney was under investigation and it was a huge story, with developments breaking daily. He would be in the office well into the evening.

He would also be paying a visit to someone who could help him find his new obsession, his path back to the life he’d known.

* * *

A short synopsis: Kyle decides the best way he can reengage with life is by following his other true passion – solving murders. He takes on his first cold case: the killing of a teenager three years ago. She was the daughter of a friend, and Kyle decides to give it a try, to bring justice to a grieving, obsessed father, and to pull himself out of his own despair. Joined again by his friend Detective Linda Sikorsky (New Hope, PA, retired), he finds himself delving into the undercurrents of New York City politics and on a collision course with a crime boss who kills as easily as she breathes. Everyone thought Corinne Copley was killed for her cell phone in a random act of violence on a Manhattan side street – but was she? Kyle is determined to find out, and to stay alive.

Exclusive Excerpt: Death by Pride (a Kyle Callahan Mystery) by Mark McNease

Death by Pride

a Kyle Callahan Mystery

by Mark McNease

 

CHAPTER One

Killing wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. He expected to be a bit rusty after three years, but he had never anticipated this … dullness, this sense that, in the words of bluesman B.B. King, the thrill was gone. Maybe he had just been away from it too long; maybe he needed to get up to speed. The man whose body he deposited into the East River just before midnight was, after all, only the first in his current series. There would be two more before the week was out, and maybe the old rush would return with the next one. He had to trust it would, to believe as a child believes that Santa Claus is real and will come shimmying down the chimney every Christmas Eve. Or how Dorothy believed, clicking her slippers in that dreadful movie. That might be a more appropriate comparison, given the occasion. Click, click, click … and he was home.

He did not come all the way back to New York to resume his annual ritual for something as lackluster as this first kill. Had it been the young man himself whose death stirred so little response in him? What was his name? Victor? Victor Someone. Dense and inattentive; he had been too easy, and far too handsome. Cute, really. The kind of cute that becomes very sexual in manhood. Innocent smile, calculated shyness. Victor Someone knew exactly what he was doing flirting in the store that afternoon, and he had succeeded, much to his regret.

Unfortunately, Victor wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to kill as he was to look at. Too easy, too unchallenging. Like a cat who had no trouble capturing a wingless bird, he had not had fun with this one. He would have to analyze the experience, figure out why it had not been as satisfying as it was before, and what he might need to do to reignite his excitement. Did he need to be more brutal? Did he need to introduce tools into the game, a scalpel, perhaps, or a drill of some kind? He would think hard on it. A decision had to be made quickly; he’d already placed an online ad looking for the next one and the emails were flooding into his special account, the one no one would ever trace no matter how hard they tried. A phantom as elusive as he was deserved a phantom email routed through Chicago, then London and Tokyo, server after server erasing any clue to its origin.

Deidrich Kristof Keller III—D to everyone who knew him well (a thought that made him chuckle, since the only ones who truly knew him died with the knowledge) had only been back in his townhouse since March. His tenants, the ones he rented to when he left for Berlin to take care of his mother, had a lease through February and D had waited patiently for them to leave. A lovely young couple with two small children. He’d never met Susan and Oliver Storch—the rental had been arranged through an agent—but they had taken very good care of the place, he would give them that. And you would never know they had children; no stray toys were left behind, no evidence, really, that anyone had been there at all for the past three years. His kind of people.

Death by Pride FRONT

He was so glad to be back. He’d hated Berlin, all of Germany for that matter, though he saw very little of it and had no desire to see more. For D being German was as meaningless as someone being Scottish who had never been to Scotland, spoke with no brogue, and was only tied to the land by name and ancestry. His parents were from Germany, but they had moved to Anaheim, California, before D was born. His mother, Marta, returned to Berlin a broken, bitter woman, but that was not his fault. She was a coward. Cowardess? he wondered, making a cup of tea at his kitchen counter. It was an island counter, surrounded by a stove and refrigerator large enough to impress and too large to be practical—there was almost nothing in the refrigerator, and he rarely cooked. The entire townhouse was furnished for show—the furniture, the artwork, the paintings and photographs of nonexistent family members and forebears. It had been carefully put together to deceive. Anyone who came into his home would think he was just another wealthy man in New York City with a long lineage, should one wonder where he came from. Men with paintings of their grandfathers above a fireplace surely belonged in Manhattan’s upper reaches and had unquestionable pedigree. That was the point, to be unquestioned. By the time anyone got around to questioning him, to wondering about his authenticity, it was too late. He answered their questions with a belt around their necks. The belt he kept especially for them. You’re right, good man, I’m not who I appear to be. Please keep that to yourself. And they did.

He was tired now. He’d worked out how to get the bodies out of his house unnoticed some years ago, but he was getting older, forty-two this coming September. It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. And this one had been heavier than he’d guessed when he chose him.

Note to self: never, ever, pick a customer from the store again. No matter how cute or handsome, no matter how liquid and shining the eyes or seductive the smile. Stay online, stay hidden behind a dozen re-routers, change names each time, do not take this risk ever again.

He’d been away too long, losing his edge in his mother’s dreary Berlin apartment, saving himself for his return to the killing ground. He’d have to sharpen quickly; mistakes were something other people made. He’d made one this time—the only time in all his successes—and he would not make another one.

He would look at Victor Someone’s driver’s license in the morning. Sense memory was a beautiful thing, and nothing brought it back quite like his keepsakes. The license was his souvenir—his thirteenth. Lucky thirteen. The rest of the wallet stayed with the body. He wasn’t interested in making identification difficult. It didn’t matter if the police knew who had been killed, only that they would never find the man who did the killing.

It had been dark when he parked by the river. The new moon had worked to his favor, a first. No one had been around; he made sure no one saw a man with a heavy, strangely shaped object wrapped in black plastic trudging his way to the river’s edge. Then a simple heave and splash, and he was on his way home.

Bedtime at last. But before then, for a few minutes anyway, he wanted to go through those emails. He’d requested photos, knowing many of them would be old and meant to trick him, and that was okay. He was less interested in finding a man who looked exactly like his picture than he was in finding a man who made him want to kill. It was like falling in love with an image: he never knew which one it would be, but knew it when it happened. This one. Oh yes. This one will be here soon.

He turned off the kitchen light, took his tea cup with the little chain from the tea ball hanging over the side, and headed to his large master bedroom on the second floor. His laptop was open and waiting for him. He would sift through a dozen or so email responses and see if any of them struck his fancy. But first, the pictures of Victor. Victor Someone. He would enjoy those before sleeping. He always took pictures.

 

CHAPTER Two

*** Excerpt from Chapter Two

“Did you see Vinnie when you picked up the mail this morning?” Danny asked, stirring creamer into his coffee and taking it to the table. He sat next to Kyle and picked up the mail, flipping through it so see what was his. Leonard stayed in the kitchen, staring up at the coffee pot as if he could not understand there were no treats in it for him. Smelly, the wiser of the two, followed Danny to the table and perched at his feet, knowing he would eventually relent and get the pouch of fish-flavored nuggets for her.

“Come to think of it, no. The relief guy was on duty, what’s his name?”

“Dayton.”

“Dayton? That’s an unusual name.”

The building had doormen. It was a perk Kyle had never known before moving from Brooklyn into Danny’s apartment. It took a while to get used to, but not too long. Having someone open the door for you and receive packages and visitors was luxurious without being too elitist. Vinnie—Vincent Campagna—had the overnight shift and was among the most reliable doormen the building had ever had. He was in his mid-thirties, and in ten years on the door had not been off more than three or four times. This was the second night he’d called in.

“Is Vinnie sick?” Kyle asked, scanning the paper. The city’s new mayor was making changes, many of which were controversial and demanded above-the-fold coverage.

“No, it’s some family thing,” Danny said. “Something about his brother missing, I’m not sure. There’s not that much communication between tenants and the doormen, but I’ve heard things in the elevator.”

Kyle kept reading the paper. The mayor was pushing for some new legislation, the mayor was insisting on a vote his way by the City Council, the U.S. Congress was at a stalemate again. He flipped the paper over to see what news hadn’t made it to the top … and he froze. An article just below the fold was headlined, “Man Found in East River Identified, Police Searching for Clues.”

Kyle started reading the story.

“You know, I think Smelly’s finally losing weight,” Danny said, looking down at the cat. She had been pre-diabetic for several years, but every effort at trimming her down had failed. “Maybe it’s age.”

“Shh!” Kyle said, focused on the article

“What’s so interesting that you have to ‘shhh’ me?”

Kyle ignored him, reading. “What is Vinnie’s last name?” he said after a moment.

“Campagna. Vincent Campagna.”

“He has a brother.”

“Yes.”

“A brother who’s also a doorman.”

“Yes. I think their father was, too. A family tradition I guess, like the military. What are you reading? Is Vinnie in the news?”

“No, he’s not,” Kyle said, sliding the paper to the side. “But his brother, Victor, is.”

“In a good way, I hope,” Danny said, reaching for the paper to read about it himself.

“Not at all. In a bad way. A very bad way.”

Danny read the article quickly. “Oh my God,” he said.

“Oh my God is right. Victor Campagna is the body they found in the river Tuesday morning. You saw the story.”

“It was everywhere. But nothing about it being an accident or a murder.”

“This is awful.”

Smelly began meowing, an escalation of her demands for a treat. Kyle swatted her away with his free hand.

“He’s back,” Kyle said.

Danny looked up at him. The article hadn’t named a suspect. “Who is ‘he’?”

“The Pride Killer.”

Danny remembered then. Every year for four years at Pride weekend the East River had become a depository for victims of a man—assuming it was a man—who remained uncaught. The media had dubbed him the Pride Killer, because the murders only happened that weekend in June, stopping once the festivities were over. Then radio silence. No killing, no bodies, nothing for another year, and another.

“Three years,” Kyle said, as if he’d read Danny’s thoughts. “He stopped three years ago and they couldn’t figure out why. Everyone hoped he was dead, or that he’d come to his senses, if madmen have senses.”

“But the paper doesn’t say who—”

“It’s him. The hands and feet bound, the strangulation, the location of the body. Even if it traveled in the current they’ll trace it back to the general vicinity of where this guy dumps his bodies.”

“Now we know why Vinnie hasn’t been to work,” Danny said. “He must be devastated.”

“It says the body was found two nights ago. Poor Vinnie. And his family, I can’t imagine.”

The men grew silent. Smelly, sensing something was wrong, stopped her meowing and slinked off into the living room. She would get what she wanted, but later, when moods had returned to normal. Leonard was still staring at the coffee pot.

Finally, Kyle said, “He won’t stop.”

“How do you know that, if it’s even him? He stopped for three years.”

“Because this was the first. There will be a second, and a third. That’s the way he works.”

Danny had a sinking feeling. If timing was everything, it worked against them very well. Detective Linda visiting, a body in the East River; the stars had aligned in a way most displeasing to him as he watched Kyle’s face for the telltale glazed expression, the speeding, clicking thoughts. He worried Kyle would not stay out of it, and that sooner or later something terrible would happen to them. They were married now, together forever. What happened to one of them, happened to both of them.

“Listen, Kyle …”

“Don’t worry. This is one for the police.”

Danny had the feeling he had just been lied to. Not deliberately; Kyle had every intention of staying out of it. But it was his nature to wonder—wonder who this man was taking the lives of other men, where he lived, how he found his victims. Danny knew that as much as Kyle might try to ignore this, it would take root in his mind and grow until he had to do something.

“What’s cooking?” Detective Linda said, startling them both. Neither had heard her come out of the bedroom.

A sense of dread came over Danny as he blew across his coffee, cooling it. He knew Linda and Kyle would soon be lost in conversation about serial killers and floating bodies. Why can’t his husband just be an amateur photographer and a personal assistant? Why must he take it upon himself to rid the world of bad people? Sooner or later one of those bad people might rid the world of Kyle.

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