Exclusive Excerpt: A Cradle Song by Mark Zubro

Part One

Chapter One

Erik

The loneliest little harmonica sniffled. As best he could, he ignored all the distraction and noise from the store.

His name was Erik. Especially on a Christmas Eve like today, he tried to shut the world out. Then in his heart, he would listen to a cradle song for harmonica and orchestra, the most beautiful and soothing music he’d ever heard.

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Deep inside of him, Erik had several secret wishes. The most important was that he wanted to be chosen by a good and caring child, and for that child he wanted to play a cradle song.

Long, long ago back to a time he could barely remember, Erik had heard cradle songs for harmonica and orchestra, a beautiful lullaby music. Only a few of those tunes existed. He wanted to make more. New ones. If not that, he wanted to make music with one little boy or girl, for one little boy or girl, music that would soar to the heavens in purity and grace. Music that would change the world, or at the least, heal a child’s tired and broken heart.

He wanted to play a song like that, be part of a song like that. To play for a child with or without an orchestra, to play a lullaby as the child fell asleep on Christmas Eve, all this in Erik’s forever home, nestled in the child’s hands. That was his deepest dream.

But he’d been stuck back here for years, longer than Erik could remember. He’d never been chosen, not even close; picked up and put back only once.

Erik wore a coating of dust most of the year. Maybe in the big cleaning before Christmas, he was noticed in his quiet refuge and someone wiped away the year’s dirt. Most times, they skipped him because they didn’t see him.

Erik was far, far back on his shelf. The dim light rarely reached as far back as he was. He was a little rusty and dinged up. All the bright, shiny trumpets, French horns, tubas, flugelhorns, coronets, and so many more were out in front on the big shelves throughout the store; ready to blare and blast at the slightest sign of interest. The kids who wandered this far back rarely even saw, much less put a hand out toward him.

Erik wasn’t as frightened as he had been in the beginning. He was used to feeling alone. He liked being so far back because he refused to ever show anyone that he was close to sniffling, or worse, crying.

Every Christmas Eve was the worst. Most days, the store thronged with children who all passed him by. He didn’t blame them. They couldn’t even see him all tucked away. Christmas Eve was the busiest day of the year, with the poor and dispossessed kids admitted to the Isle of Misfit Toys to pick and choose among them, and then take away a free toy. On that day, the crowds were the biggest of the year. To be bypassed by so many, added an extra drop to his despair.

On Erik’s own shelf, a cluster of knocked-around but shiny trumpets lounged way out front, followed by the battered but preening flutes and then, way far in the corner, him.

Erik was an oddity, a little baby harmonica. He hadn’t grown. He always thought this was because he’d been snatched from the factory too soon. The truth was, he’d been made that way, but he didn’t know that, and really, it didn’t make any difference to him. He was happy being the smallest possible harmonica. He just wished with all his heart to make music.

Today, Erik tried to be brave for the tiny little race car who had been thrust onto his shelf a month or so ago. The little car had been shoved way back, by a boy who was being mean to his younger brother.

Reginald was the little car’s name. It was his first Christmas Eve not being in someone’s home, without being cherished by a child. That woe-filled first day, he’d told Erik his story between stifled sobs and snorted sniffles.

Reginald was barely bigger than a Monopoly token and must originally have been bright yellow. He’d been loved and held and played with until he was worn to a dull sheen. Now, Reginald was all dinged, rusted, and seedy-mustard yellow. He had lost his left front tire. In his home, he hadn’t cared because he’d known he was loved.

Erik thought one of the worst parts of Reginald’s story was that, years before, the poor little car had lost his mom and dad to a crazed parent who was determined to throw away all her son’s so-called childish junk. Then disaster had struck on that recent fateful day just after Thanksgiving. That had been Reginald’s very worst moment.

The little car had talked between his tears about his home and the boy, Daniel, who loved him. How he always stayed in a special place in the boy’s bottom drawer. He had always been safe in that one tiny snugglement.

Daniel cared for Reginald, treasured him, and was very kind, and always protected him. On that horrible day, Daniel’s older brother, Harold, had waited in ambush to snatch the car out of Daniel’s hand. The little boy couldn’t get Reginald back.

Daniel got very angry and cried. His big brother dashed away and laughed at him. Daniel ran after his brother. He even chased him down the street, but the older boy danced and skipped away always an inch out of his brother’s reach. All that time, Harold waved the weeping little car above his head.

The little boy told his parents. His daddy was harsh, said he needed to get tough and not be a baby. His mother kept silent because she was afraid of her husband and also fed up with hearing the boys argue. Then later that day, in this store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, when no one was looking, Harold had thrust Reginald as far back on this shelf as he could. Daniel didn’t see him do it. No one did.

Their parents had been tired and shushed the squabbling boys, then rushed them out of the store so their fighting and wailing wouldn’t embarrass the adults.

Erik felt sorry for the little car who had no one and nothing in common with anyone on his shelf. After he’d been crying, Reginald tended to hiccup in the night. Erik comforted the little car as best he could.

As for himself, Erik had been passed around for years in many homes. In each one, he’d tried to be cheerful and make friends, but so many of the other musical instruments were indifferent or cared only about themselves. Plus, he was so tiny, it was easy to ignore or overlook him.

In one home, he’d met some snotty violins. One time when he’d thought they were feeling mellow, he’d explained to one of them about music for harmonica and orchestra, cradle songs, the kind he loved. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, he’d picked the most wrong one to confide in.

Agnes, the meanest violin, had snipped at him, “Well, even if that kind of music does exist, and I doubt it, you’re not a real harmonica, are you? You’re a little baby harmonica, hardly worth the few notes you can play.”

Agnes had liked to make the other toys feel bad. She tried to lord it over everyone, but Erik knew her secret. First, he’d noticed how she took to heart slights from the two closest other instruments, an oboe and a bassoon. He also saw that the bigger instruments and even other kinds of toys picked on Agnes. It was only when all of her tormentors weren’t around that Agnes attacked and berated the ones smaller than herself.

The little harmonica felt sorry for Agnes, but his every kind word to her always fell flat. She was always meaner faster than any other toy he’d ever met.

Erik knew he didn’t make as many notes as other instruments. Once, he’d met a huge grand piano. He’d lived in its bench for the longest time. The little boy of the house was made to take lessons on an instrument that seemed to be a bazillion times bigger and have a million more notes than the harmonica.

After his interminable session every day, the little boy would sneak Erik out of the great bench. The boy would hide in a vast closet in one of the elegant rooms, and he’d play and play. Erik did his best to help the little boy feel better.

His second favorite times at that house were when the mom or dad would read out loud with the boy. Erik would be all nestled in the boy’s shirt pocket, or if it was at night, in the pocket on his pajama tops, and Erik would feel the words wash over both of them as if they were part of a long flowing stream of stories stretching on endlessly into magic.

Then one day, the boy had taken him outside to a park. He had swung and twirled on a round-a-bout tilt-a-whirl. The boy had gotten dizzy and sick and forgot the little harmonica on the edge of the sandbox.

While climbing over the edge of the sandbox, a three-year-old girl with angelic blond locks had accidentally knocked Erik off the edge and down into the sand. The next day, the little boy had come to search for him. Everyone looked and hunted, and the little boy had cried. But Erik had landed under a small drift of sand that only got bigger as hands reached and searched for him.

Erik stayed buried in the sandbox for the longest time. It had rained and gotten very cold. Many nights, the harmonica shivered and shook.

Then one sunny spring day, another little girl had found him. She’d cleaned him up almost as good as new. Try as she might, she couldn’t get every bit of the rust off, but she got most of it. Her fingers weren’t skilled enough to fix the dents.

Erik lived for a while on a shelf with her dolls. They were friendly in a stand-offish way. They didn’t like to talk to him because he wasn’t one of them.

Later, Erik had been thrown into a box of junk, which made its way through garage sales and rummage sales and finally giveaways in church basements.

Erik survived the drops, dings, and dents as best he could. He was seldom played with during all his jostlings and journeys. These days, the noise he made wasn’t as true as it had once been.

In this store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, when he was brought in, they’d cleaned him up as new as he’d felt in years.

Even here with its kindly proprietor, the clarinets, flutes, and oboes farther along the shelves could be mean and snotty, most often in a snide way, whispering in their high or low-pitched whines.

The little harmonica knew he’d been here for years. No one had picked him. He’d barely ever been touched. He longed for one set of hands and one set of lips to bring him to life.

On his first Christmas Eve in this store, he was at one of his lowest points. At that moment, Erik had made the mistake of telling one of the other musical instruments his dream of playing a gentle cradle song for a child. He’d forgotten the lesson he’d learned from Agnes. He’d hoped her attitude wasn’t shared by anyone else. Surely, no one could be as cruel as that violin? Alas, he was wrong.

Mildred was a brass trumpet who’d lost one of her shiny knobs and had a couple of big dents. At that time, Erik was closer to the front of the shelf, before he got shoved so far back out of the light and had begun to lose hope.

Blurb:

This is the story of a Christmas Eve and the travails of a tiny harmonica alone and lost in the deep dark on the back of his shelf in a store on the Isle of Misfit Toys, and about a little boy frightened, alone, and lost from his family on Christmas Eve. It is a story of warmth, compassion, and joy to be read by the whole family.

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Guest Blog and Exclusive Excerpt: Always (Roger & Steve Teen Mystery Book 3) by Mark Zubro

Absolutely nuts.

One of the pieces of advice I give to aspiring writers is to read. Everything. But especially to read the kind of books you want to write. To learn. To observe. To understand. I’ve read mysteries since grade school. Thank you, Freddy the Detective. I write them, as well as young adult books, and a few other things. So I’ve read tons of young adult books. For example, each year, Publishers Weekly puts out a list of young adult books to which they have given starred reviews during that year. I go through them. Check for ones I might be interested in, especially those starred books that feature LGBTQ young adult characters. And I watch young adult shows and/or movies for as long as I can stand them. Usually not long. Spoiler alert. Spoilers coming.

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On Netflix, I recently binged on season two of Thirteen Reasons Why and on the first half of season two of Riverdale. What do all the characters, teens and adults, heroes or villains, in both series, have in common? If I had to pick one phrase, I’d say, they’re stupid. Another phrase? They make incredibly poor choices. And secrets! If they all just told the truth the first time around, the shows wouldn’t get past the first commercial break. In my books, I do my best to have logic rule. Not in these things. But my most huge gripe here is with Riverdale. Again, as I said; spoiler alert.

It is revealed that years ago, the killer’s family were all murdered. And that members of the town came to that kid back then, and the kid identified the killer. And so the townspeople went and killed the murderer. Except the kid identified the wrong person. So now all these years latter, the kid, now an adult, puts the characters in the show through all kinds of hell, for no apparent reason. Or if reasons are given, they make no sense. The teens didn’t kill the wrong guy. Adults did. Years ago. To summarize: the kid picked out the wrong guy. They killed the wrong guy. And now, the kid as an adult is killing all of them for killing the wrong guy. Which he caused because he screwed up.

This makes no sense to me. What does this remind me to do in/for my books? That there must be logic.That I can’t rely on non-sensical secret keeping as a plot device. That I need to make my teens and adults realistic people that follow the dictates of logic. Sure things can go wrong, but they’ve got to be in ways that make sense. I hope I’ve done this all along, but certainly these two shows brought home the lesson even more starkly.

 

Exclusive Excerpt: 

Always

By Mark Zubro

Chapter One

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Friday 6:15 P.M.

For the fourth time, Steve pulled up the zipper on his tuxedo pants. I stroked the soft mound of fabric covering his dick and balls with my fingers. I sighed.

We were dressing for the prom in my upstairs room.

Well, trying to get dressed.

I couldn’t keep my hands off him. When he slid on his black boxer briefs, I ran my hands over his thighs, his pelvis, his ass, felt the front of his underwear, touching and caressing his dick and balls where they gathered snugly together. I had done the whole thing when he’d put his pants on the first time. And then again. And again.

That’s why he was on his fourth zip up. While I kneaded his crotch, he had one hand cupping and squeezing my ass. His other was on the front of my pants outlining my hardon.

I shifted to bring our bodies even closer, opened my legs wide to give his hands the best possible access.

He’s always hot in my eyes, but this was blistering wild heat, and so different from our usual jeans and T-shirts.

For the prom, my parents had insisted we get tailor-made tuxes. Especially my mom. She’s like that. Rented were not to be borne. In this case, I agreed. My tux was perfect, broad in the shoulders and narrow at the hips. Steve’s encased his figure like a second skin. As skinny as he is, he can be hard to fit. This outfit had his shoulders well defined, but it was especially those pants, tight in his crotch, taut across his ass, legs like skinny jeans. Ultimate hotness on top of more ultimate hotness.

In the middle of all this intimacy, we were trying to be as quiet as possible. Kind of added an extra bit of spice.

Steve had been living in our renovated garage for months now. His mom, out on bail after being charged with murdering her husband, still lived in their house. That she even got bail was nuts. That wasn’t my fight though.

Besides murder and conspiracy charges against her and her co-defendants, other legal crap continued. Lawsuits and counter lawsuits among all kinds of people had been filed. We weren’t involved in a majority of them.

At that moment in my room, I was super turned on. I was leaking so much pre-cum, I had to change my underwear twice. It didn’t help that Steve didn’t bother to keep his hands and mouth from the covered mounds my dick and balls made. He insisted I wear the slider shorts that I wore with my baseball uniform. He loved the taut whiteness. He said I didn’t need the cup that came with the shorts since I bulged plenty enough without it.

Finally, sufficiently drained and dressed, we pinned on each other’s white orchid boutonnières. I suppose we could have managed ourselves, but I enjoyed the fussing and touching he and I did as we performed this simple intimacy.

The scent of the orchid filled the air and was great, but he smelled better. I love inhaling his aroma whether he’s drenched in sweat or freshly showered, with or without deodorant.

We stood together, holding hands and gazing into the full-length mirror on the back of my bedroom door. Steve’s suit coat hung far enough down on his hips to cover the damp spot from his leaking pre-cum. I thought we were total studs. Then again, we were in love, and could possibly be forgiven for some sappiness about prom night and bias toward each other about our looks.

Steve even smiled. He doesn’t do that often. It’s dazzling with his black hair and deep brown eyes.

He caressed my ass, put his arm around me. I slipped my arms around his shoulders. We pulled each other close.

I said, “I love you. You’re beautiful.”

He nuzzled into me and said, “I love you, Roger.”

I texted my parents that we’d be arriving at the top of the stairs. We’d promised to run the gauntlet of parental gushing and picture taking with equanimity and good grace. In this instance, I didn’t find feeding my parents’ pride a huge burden.

Cameras started clicking as we exited the bedroom door. At the top of the stairs, we turned and swayed for them as directed. The familial entourage was at the bottom of the stairs. Even my grandmother had shown up, unannounced so as not to drive my mom nuts.

My parents, grandmother, and my twin kid sisters all had their phones out taking videos, pictures, or both. We had to walk down the stairs three times so each of them could record all they wanted. Then pictures in the living room followed by us moving outside and then more scenes: on the lawn, in front of the limo, with us seated in the limo with the window down, and with us waving to them from inside the limo.

All in all, annoying in a good way.

The only hitch to the happiness motif was the pause in the picture taking for a meeting with our security contingent. They looked sort-of youngish, like just-graduated linebackers from division two colleges. We’d met with them before tonight along with the Riverside police, representatives from the FBI, and school officials including the principal and the head of security for the school.

We said hello to them then turned to our parents. Mom hugged me and whispered, “You do what the guards say.”

I said, “Mom, we’ve discussed this a thousand times.”

My dad leaned close. “Angela, the boys know what to do.”

We’d had death threats, bomb threats and so many anonymous vicious phone calls that’d we’d had to get new cell phone numbers. My parents got rid of the landline altogether, which I’d been campaigning for anyway.

Yeah, LGBT couples go to proms. And LGBT kids still get beat up. The school had hired extra security.

Steve and I had managed to piss off a whole lot of right wing zealots in Southern California, and for all we knew around the world. Lately, even a few classmates had upped their level of handing us religious tracts as we entered the school.

We could laugh off that last one pretty easily. The rest of the adult-level threats, not so much.

A few prejudiced parents had protested our attending the prom. A few people from each group had variously suggested we cancel the prom, or that Steve and I should forego attending, and other nonsense. My parents, the administration, and the civil authorities had all agreed the dance would go on as scheduled with us a part of it.

The school had assured everyone that all precautions were being taken.

We ignored all the extra fuss as best we could.

Our notion? Rampant homophobia should not be a reason to skip the prom. Hell, even the Supreme Court had agreed that ‘how other students might react,’ didn’t justify us or other gay kids being excluded. And that was in 1980. Steve and I were learning all this legal shit as we went along. Shouldn’t have to, I suppose, but trying to live your life on shouldn’ts is kind of a waste of time as far as I can see.

We stepped outside. With the sun setting, the record heat of the day had finally begun to abate. The slight breeze brought warmth not relief.

So security guards in place, last second familial hugs hugged, and we were ready to go. At the last instant, I reached into the limo and came out with special corsages for my twin sisters, my mom, and grandma. The girls squealed with delight at the specially made orchid corsages for their wrists. My mom and grandma gave us each another hug. Then Steve got out a special boutonniere for my dad. Finally, another last round of hugs completed, we piled in. Then the us-waving-as-we-drove-way pictures. We turned the corner and eased back in the seats.

As we held hands and the car gained speed, Steve said, “Your mom and dad are so normal.” He sighed. “They almost make me forget the craziness of all this security shit.”

Neither of us mentioned that our limo driver also doubled as a security guard. Our two guards sat up front near him. We’d been determined to face our fears and discuss them. That didn’t make it easier or make them go away, but at least we had each other to share them with.

Were we really scared that violence might occur against us or against the kids at the prom? A bomb placed in a flower pot?

Steve and I had decided that living in a permanent state of paralysis was pointless. We’d have no lives at all. We’d taken every possible precaution as had the conglomeration of security personnel. And in this day and age, other than being specifically aware of threats to us, really, there wasn’t much difference in the level of dealing with normal security threats. It’s the world we live in.

In the final hug before being whisked away, my dad had whispered, “Be careful. Be safe. We love you.”

In the car, we both sat musing for a few moments. “I could get used to that normal shit,” Steve said.

“Yeah.”

“That’s as close as we’re getting to a normal prom. Sometimes that’s all I’d like. To have my life be just normal. Less death, destruction, and hatred.”

I said, “We’re coming as close as we can.”

He gazed at me with his sad, doleful eyes.

We kissed.

 

 

Chapter Two

Friday 7:32 P.M.

 

We picked up our best friends Jack McVeen and Darlene Banyon and their dates, Maria and Joey.

The limo ride was fun. The prom was great.

The venue was several exits past downtown Riverside on Highway 60 at the new Riverside Plaza Extravaganza Hotel and Convention Center. Kind of sterile. More striving for desert chic than elegant. The anemic plants in the atrium clustered in ‘desert interest centers.’ The palm trees dotting the lobby were about eighteen inches tall with mostly yellow leaves. The trickling stream that meandered throughout already had rust grubbing along the seams and edges. Cages twenty feet high took up space in the atrium lobby. The cages had real live parrots that screeched and called and shit and stunk. I wondered if the interior decorator ever got another job.

But tonight, I didn’t care. Each of us as couples joined the throng strolling in, hand in hand. More pictures were taken under a canopy.

Bryce Wold and Martin Uday, our resident Pride Parade and glitter specialists, had taken charge of decorating. The ballroom looked like Lou Rawls and Lady Gaga had been given an unlimited budget and told to go nuts, sort of kinky-modern, but very dark.

I didn’t care.

Steve and I swayed and swirled around the ballroom all night. Dancing with the man I loved and hoped to marry someday was perfect. I liked the slow dances where I could feel Steve’s hard dick pressing up against mine. It was like sharing a secret love in front of everybody. If there were sneers from some of the teens, adults, or chaperones, I didn’t notice.

Even Jack danced with both of us, as did Darlene.

It was a magic night.

Until…

Exclusive Excerpt: Ring of Silence (A Paul Turner Mystery Book 12) by Mark Zubro

Blurb:

Detectives try to save lives and protect the community and themselves.

We all saw the video of the Chicago cop who shot the kid sixteen time while his colleagues stood and watched. What would happen if Detectives Paul Turner and Buck Fenwick in a similar scenario showed up ten seconds before the firing started. In Mark Zubro’s twelfth book in his Paul Turner, gay police detective series, they’d do the right thing and put a stop to it. But that would only be the beginning of the intrigue, danger, and death that surrounds them in a ring of silence as they try to solve a mystery and do the right thing for themselves, their families, their colleagues, the community, and the rule of law.

Excerpt:

Thursday 3:15 P.M.

“This goddamn Taser isn’t working.” Fenwick shook it, then banged it against the brick wall they were walking next to. He glared at the electronic device. “God damn technology bullshit.” He shook it again, pressed the on button. Nothing.

“Let me see it,” Paul Turner said to his partner. He was aware that Buck Fenwick’s technique of smashing at electronics seldom had the effect his partner desired. Fenwick and anything more technical than a manual typewriter had an iffy relationship at the best of times. Once, he ran over a recalcitrant phone with the tires of his car. Six times. Fenwick most often thought violence to an inanimate object would cause it to behave in ways he thought efficacious.

Turner seldom intervened when Fenwick was at war with electronics. Today, he thought he’d give it a try.

Fenwick handed him the Taser. They were at the beginning of a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift on a hot June afternoon. They’d gotten a call of pursuit in progress. They’d been on foot only about a block or so away near the corner of Harrison and Canal. They chose to hurry over instead of trying to dash back to their car, parked a block in the other direction. They hustled forward. Outright running was precluded by Fenwick’s hefty bulk. They could hear sirens ahead of them and to their left. The wind of a predicted line of thunderstorms gusted in their faces.

They rounded the corner of the building. Twenty feet in front of them, Turner saw Detective Randy Carruthers, feet spread wide, gun held in both hands, pointing it directly at them.

Carruthers had recently betrayed Turner and Fenwick by providing information on a murder case to the Catholic Church. Turner had been waiting for the perfect moment to confront the squad’s most inept detective and now notorious traitor. Carruthers had been on vacation for a week after the events in question. It had only been a few hours since he’d been back on the job.

Between Carruthers and them was a young African-American male who was standing still, facing Turner and Fenwick. Maybe seven feet from them.

Carruthers screamed, “Halt, mother fucker.” In the seconds Turner had been on the scene, the kid hadn’t moved. His hands were up. The wind carried the boy’s screams of, “Don’t shoot. Don’t kill me.”

Carruthers’s bellows mingled with the kid’s. Like an LP album stuck in a ‘stupid’ groove, Carruthers kept repeating, “Stop, motherfucker!” In between screams for his life, the kid began to blubber and cry, then started to choke. Turner saw Carruthers’s gun wobble then swing wildly. For a second or so, the man’s body gave a mighty twitch, but then he renewed his stance and gripped the gun more firmly.

The kid’s body began to convulse from his own choking while trying to hold himself rigidly still so as not to be shot. In the few seconds that passed, Turner wondered where Harold Rodriguez was. He was Carruthers’s long-suffering partner. Carruthers started firing. Instead of standing around like police officers in other situations when a moronic and incompetent cop was firing pointlessly and murderously, Turner and Fenwick acted. They were not about to do an imitation of inert morons while someone committed murder. Not while they could do something about it. Pope or president, gang banger or fool, it did not matter who was fi ring. They had to be stopped.

Fenwick rushed to the kid and tackled him, attempting to get him out of range of the wildly firing Carruthers. On his knees, Fenwick tried to yank the kid behind the nearest vehicle. In his mad haste to get the kid out of the line of fire, he managed to bang the kid’s head against the fender of a car. With his last shove, he yanked so hard that part of the kid’s shirt ripped. Fenwick lost his grip, and the detective’s momentum caused his own head to bash into the car’s headlight, shattering it.

Simultaneous to Fenwick’s actions, Turner aimed the Taser at Carruthers and jammed at the on button. The thing functioned and the wires flew straight for the idiot detective. The thin, electrified cables caught him on his left shoulder. The dumb son of a bitch fell to his knees but kept firing. His gun swayed in great arcs up and down and side to side, which meant even more people could be at risk. Turner heard Fenwick grunt and begin cursing.

Then Turner saw Harold Rodriguez running up from the far end of an unmarked police car about thirty feet away. Rodriguez tackled Carruthers, whose gun skittered away. Turner noted that Rodriguez had Carruthers face down and was handcuffing the dumb shit’s hands behind his back. Turner made sure no one was near the cop’s gun which was eight feet from his left foot. Then he dropped the Taser and rushed to his partner.

 

Thursday 3:18 P.M.

In seconds, he crossed the few feet to Fenwick and the kid who was half under Fenwick. The kid was crying, blubbering, and repeating. “I didn’t do anything. Don’t kill me. I didn’t do anything. Don’t kill me.” Fenwick was holding his own left bicep with his right hand. He raged his unhappiness. “Dumb, mother-fucking son of a bitch. If he’s not dead, I’m going to kill him.” Turner saw red dampness spreading on the cloth of Fenwick’s shirt and dripping down to the pavement. Fenwick applied pressure to the spot the blood oozed from.

Turner could see no visible wounds on the kid. He got out his phone, called in, identified himself, and then said, “Shots fired. Officer down. Ambulance needed Harrison and Des Plaines Avenue.”

He knelt next to the kid and Fenwick. He placed a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. Up close, he thought the kid might be all of fourteen, short and scrawny.

Several times Turner repeated “You’re safe now.” Until he saw the kid’s eyes stop fluttering back and forth. Turner asked, “Have you been shot? Hurt?”

The kid caught his eyes. His panicky wailing and weeping became reduced to moans and hiccups. Perhaps it was Turner’s words or his calm demeanor that eased the kid’s fear. The boy whispered, “No. I think I’m okay.” He grunted and tried to wriggle out from under Fenwick. “Except this guy is kind of huge.” He gave up attempting to squirm from under the heavy-set cop and gave an abrupt shove to the part of Fenwick’s bulk that was holding the left side of his own body flush against the pavement.

Fenwick bellowed. Turner was reminded of a water buffalo in pain. The kid’s movement had caused Fenwick’s wounded arm to mush against the pavement.

Turner said to the boy, “Hang on for a second. My partner’s been shot. He probably saved your life.” Fenwick ceased roaring. Turner saw that his partner was trying to ease off his own shirt to examine his wound. Turner shifted so he was closer to his friend. Their eyes met.

Fenwick asked, “Is Carruthers dead yet?”

Turner looked over. Rodriguez and his prone partner were being surrounded by cops. Others were rushing towards them, guns still out. As Turner watched, he saw Carruthers struggle against his bonds. Rodriguez yanked on the cuffs and said, “Move again, dumb shit, and I’ll shoot you myself.” Rodriguez looked up at the assembling beat cops and said, “Make a god damn perimeter around the scene.” He pointed to Mike Sanchez and Alex Deveneaux, beat cops they’d all worked with many times. “Make sure no one touches any of the dash cams on any of the cars. Get as many guys to help you as you need. Anybody touches a dash cam, shoot them.”

Sanchez and Deveneaux hustled away to comply. Others began ushering the crowd away. Turner heard one man in the crowd whose voiced carried to him. “That cop saved that boy. He’s a hero. So is his partner. I’ve got it all.” The guy held up his cell phone in one hand while pointing at the prone threesome with the other.

Turner saw a forest of cell phones aimed at the scene from, it seemed, everyone nearby. He turned back to the kid. He asked, “What’s your name?”

“DeShawn.” He put his hands on either side of his head and said, “And my head kind of hurts.” In another few seconds, he was puking softly. Turner cradled his head. He saw shards of headlight where Fenwick must have hit and a dent in the fender lower down where the kid’s head must have banged into the car. Turner couldn’t remember the sequence of how soon after a head wound one was likely to puke, and if said vomiting was a sure sign of concussion. What he knew for sure was that it wasn’t a good sign

 

Want more Paul Turner Mysteries:?

Check out Author Mark Zubro’s website:

http://www.markzubro.com/index.htm

 

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: Gentle (a Shane & Corey Gay Teen Mystery) by Mark Zubro

Blurb:

Two high school boys try to survive amid death and danger in the desert, while hoping for the possibility of first love.

Shane Semereau wants to be left alone to read his books and carve his wood sculptures in the warm desert. His life is a swarm of confusion and violence, but he wants to be a force in making the world a gentle place. He grasps at those dreams. Cory Garcia is a bundle of electric energy who lashes out at everyone and everything, but loves to let his mind go in the world of dance. Amidst great danger and looming violence they find each other and unite against all that is arrayed against them at every turn.

Gentle Final Front Cover 7 7 2016 (2)

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Sunday evening – orange groves

With a care born of fear and a caution mixed with suppressed

excitement, I parted the branches of the encircling tree. A southern

California winter night, cool, but not brutally cold. If it had been

brutally cold then the cloyingly sweet fruit around me would be

dead and the growers poorer by billions. At least that’s what the

exaggerators on the news always said.

Sunday night. Not yet ten o’clock but late to be out for a school

night. But Mom’s not home. I’ll have extra caffeine in the morning.

It’s not as if there’s a lot really great to stay awake for at school.

I gotta say, nothing about my goddamn life is normal.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. I go to high school. I eat food.

I take showers. I use the bathroom. I wear clothes except when I go

to bed.

Apart from that, my world is pretty wide open.

And I’m telling this story because maybe someone will listen.

I’m in the orange groves many weekend nights, most much

warmer than this, and mostly it’s quiet, and dark, and empty of all

save orange trees, and an occasional cluster of teenagers. Except

  1. Listening to them. Envying them, sometimes. Begrudging

their crude friendships, rough camaraderie. Observing the trysting

grounds of teenagers from hiding.

Out here on school nights, usually it’s only me and the moon and

the stars and the trees. I prefer the silence.

The dark comforted me, and this hiding spot had always been

perfectly safe. Few headlights whooshed past on the main road

hundreds of feet away, and the glow from those distant headlights

doesn’t reach this far. Even fewer turned down the long lane that led

to this secluded spot. And this late in the evening people and their

cars rarely crept toward me.

The bunch I was watching weren’t that far away. Close enough

that I could recognize them as kids from my school.

I can hear them. If the words ‘dude’ and ‘bro’ got banned from

the language, my peers would be unable to communicate even the

simple bits of idiocy they do exchange. I’m not saying all teenagers

are dumb. I’m saying these teenagers twenty feet from me made

dumb look good.

One was the star of the football team. Tall, strong, muscular.

Well, you don’t get to be star of the football team if you’re short and

skinny and a nerd like me. The other two were acolytes of his I knew

vaguely from school. There’s two thousand kids at Cactus Central

High School. It’s not like I’d memorized everybody’s name.

The wind is blowing from them to me. I smell beer, dope, sweat.

I hear them bragging about beating up some poor kid. They use

common slurs to refer to the kid they pounded the hell out of. I

don’t recognize the name, but it’s definitely not someone from their

ethnic group. These guys and a few of their hulking friends picking

on one kid.

My school can be rough. I try to be as invisible during the day as

I am now. I’m in their ethnic group, but I’m not one of them. I’d get

the hell beat out of me too.

I hear shuffling coming toward me. I ease deeper into the darkness

provided by the tree branches.

There’s all kinds of rumors you hear about a wild variety of

dangers out in the orange groves. Mostly it’s teenage imagination

fueled by teenage anxiety and/or stoked by parental fears, or it was

just plain fear in those parents’ minds. Silly crap. That a killer lurks

among the trees. Be frightened of being hurt, killed, kidnapped. The

stuff that really does happen can be more frightening. At least to me.

And then there’s the nutty stuff and silly rumors. That the ghosts

of variously manhandled kids, usually girls or women, appear at

strangely spooky spots on particularly eerie nights. Add a little fog

and a screwy teenager’s imagination and you get zombies and living

dead and vampires. Odd how those ghost sightings occur mostly

on foggy nights. I’m not sure how much imagination it takes to see

ghosts in the fog.

Another rumor was that kids lurked among the trees willing to

provide sexual favors. Wish I could run into one of those. I’d heard

that a group had caught a gay guy who had been spying on them,

and they’d tied him to the back of a bumper and dragged him until

he died. I never saw a report on it in the newspaper though or on the

Internet, so I’m not sure it’s true. A Google search revealed nothing.

A body was never found.

And then there’s the real stuff that I’ve seen. Sort of mundane, I

guess, kind of hot. This one time something happened in the middle

of the day, of all times. I’m usually not out here then, but that day

I was, and there was this guy sitting by himself in his car. He’d had

his eyes shut. At first, I’d thought he was sleeping. Then I’d seen the

glow of his phone in his left hand and his right arm moving rapidly

up and down. I’d inched as close as I could. He was a young guy, a

teenager, thin. He’d parked under the shade of a huge tree. All the

car windows had been open. From what I saw, he was good looking.

I’d wanted to watch everything, but I’d been afraid to get too

close. A few minutes later, I heard him give a soft groan, followed

seconds later by a smile of satisfaction on his face. Both of his hands

had disappeared and he’d lifted his mid-section, so I guessed he had

been pulling up his pants and underwear. Where had he wiped the

excess?

When he drove off, I was extra careful to make sure no one was

watching, hid in the deepest shadows, and for the first time out in

the orange groves, I took out my own dick. I don’t know how I had

the nerve. It took me only a few seconds to let go a load. I don’t do

that often, but it’s great when I do, being outside and in daylight. I

let my cum fall onto the ground under a tree. Whacking off outside,

and getting totally turned on by it, is that weird?

Tonight, the shuffling comes nearer. I barely dare to breathe.

Every kid in town knew about the one definite, for sure murder

in the past month, a teenager found floating in the irrigation canal.

The same canal I had to jump over to get from the fields around

the railroad tracks behind my house to these vast rows of citrus

trees and random, scattered clumps of other vegetation. No one had

recognized the dead kid. He wasn’t local. The corpse hadn’t been

torn up like it would have been if it had been dragged behind a

car. The body had never been claimed. No local kid was missing.

He might have floated for miles. Even with all their technology and

Internet hook-ups, the cops hadn’t found out who he was. Each

rumor was crazier than the last. That the killer had stuffed the dead

kid’s private parts in his mouth. That they’d cut off his hands.

None of that was true.

I’d watched him float by about an hour before he was found by a

grower. I’d been frightened and might have reported it, but if I used

my cell phone or called from home, they’d know who I was. I knew

he was dead. The body reeked and was bloated, gross, disgusting,

and definitely not breathing.

I wasn’t about to begin answering a lot of questions about what

I was doing out here and then maybe they’d begin to suspect me or

worse, arrest me and try to say I did it. My imagination can run away

with me, too. I was scared that night but drawn to the body at the

same time. I remember the eyes. Wide open. Cold, dark, and dead.

If my parents found out I come out here, there’d be hell to pay

about that.

No. There was no one lurking in the trees behind me tonight. No

one I’d heard or seen, and I’m special careful. The only live bodies

besides me were the ones I was spying on.

Now, I can hear the quarterback telling his buddies how much

he loved kicking the kid when he was down. In the pauses of his

discourse, I can hear the breathing of the one approaching me. I can

see his outline now. He’s within five feet of me.

I can see a glow of light. He’s got his stupid phone out. He’s away

from his buddies for ten seconds, and he’s taking a piss, and he’s

got his phone out. Since he’s looking at the glowing screen, the light

doesn’t shine toward me, which is good.

The soft rustle of cloth, the rasp of a zipper, liquid unleashed.

He’s pissing on the ground. The phone’s light isn’t pointed toward

his dick, which might be interesting to see.

And he doesn’t see me. They never do.

He finishes. Zips up. Gives a five second belch. I see him grab his

crotch and adjust himself. He stumbles back to the others. It’s hard

to walk on the usually crumbly ground in the orange groves. No

water in the dirt grooves for irrigation tonight.

I hear the pop of beer can tops. The flare of matches for more

cigarettes and dope. They’re getting louder as they get drunker and/

or higher. Now, they’re talking about the dead boy in the canal.

A lot of the time I can tell which kids are sneaking out for the

first time, and those who are hardcore partiers. It’s in the amount of

noise. The first timers are all whispering and shushing each other,

more giggling, too. The teenage-old-timers, the ones who’ve been

out before, they’re loud in a furtive way. Their attitude seems to be,

we’re tough and macho but keep one eye out—nobody can stop us

from partying, but the cops could come.

Once in a while there are couples who use this for lover’s lane,

but this is mostly a party place with a little making out now and

then. The real lover’s lane is farther back in the hills, and I usually

don’t walk that far. Besides, I think those kids deserve some privacy.

Sometimes, I see condoms on the ground. Once I found a broken

cell phone, couple times underwear, guy’s and girl’s. All kinds of

intimate things, but mundane items, too: cigarette lighters, a bong,

water bottles.

I know of three different kids in several different groups that I’d

listened to who said they knew who killed the kid in the canal. I think

they’re lying or exaggerating.

Mostly they talk about sex and computer games. I’m entranced

by the sex bragging.

But now this group begins discussing leaving. Another one of

them comes toward me. It’s the quarterback. I can tell because he’s

tallest with the broadest shoulders. His footsteps stop. This time

I inch closer. Movement of cloth. No zipper. He’s wearing sweat

pants. Sound of piss hitting ground.

You want a saint, look somewhere else. You want a straight kid,

you’re out of luck. You want a teenager who doesn’t think about sex

constantly, find a dead one.

Whenever I see the quarterback, Darrel Granger, in the hall at

school, I never look him in the eyes. We have one class together. I’m

sure he doesn’t know I exist. I barely ever glance at him. Just enough

that I’ve memorized the folds in the front of his jeans. But only long

enough to not get caught staring. I guess that’s longer than ‘glancing

barely.’ I’d watch in class to see if I could observe telltale bulges as

he sat and spread his legs. Sometimes I could.

I’d give a great deal to see Darrel Granger naked. Or be in his

arms. To feel him hold me. Right now, I’d just like to get a lingering

peek at his dick.

I slip another few inches in his direction. A side step. Dirt slides.

I can almost see an extra light pinkness next to his hand.

“Who’s there?” he calls.

Stay in the shadows? Run?

The other guys come toward us. They’re maybe ten, fifteen feet

to my right.

I crash out of the tree and take off. For the first second or two,

leaves, branches, and fruit tear at and bump against my skin.

“Hey,” somebody yells.

“Get him!”

I can’t possibly outrun them. They’re bigger. But I know the

trees and the groves. I dodge and dart, my shoes slipping. I trip.

Get up. It’s frantic. They’re too close. I can’t get to the secret paths

I know so well. But it’s too dark for them to follow my footprints.

I scurry forward with care and caution. I hear them stumble and

curse. They take a wrong turn, and I draw away. I begin circling and

eventually come around to almost behind them. I stop. They keep

going forward.

I thrust my body deep under the leaves and branches of a tree.

I lean my head against the trunk. I pull in deep breaths. I quieten. I

listen. They’re coming back. I turn to start another sprint.

Car headlights come down the dirt road. I can’t run. They’ll see

me in the lights.

Trapped.

The face of the boy floating in the canal comes to me. I don’t

want to be the next statistic.

I try to melt myself into the tree. I hear their footsteps. The lights

of the new car turn off. Car doors slam. I shut my eyes.

I hear Darrel and his friends pass on either side of the tree I’m

hiding in, but their attention is on the newcomers.

After they pass, I pull in air for what feels like the first time in

hours.

The two groups meet under the old pepper trees that line the

road. I hear acrimony.

I creep to the main path through the trees. When I get there, I

run full tilt. I am pretty fast on solid ground. I leap the irrigation

canal. Home is a short run to the embankment, up it fifteen or

twenty feet, over the railroad tracks, down the other side, across the

field, over our backyard fence, and into the house. It’s a mile and

a half across the field. When I’m halfway, I look back. No one is

behind me. I slow down. Check myself for injuries but only find a

few minor scrapes from twisting and crashing through the tree when

I first started running.

Exclusive Excerpt: Dying for a Thrill (a Mike King Mystery) by Mark Zubro

Exerpt:

Wednesday 7:21 P.M.

The door to the outer office burst open. The man’s eyes danced from me to Duncan to Georgia. The stranger’s overcoat flapped open revealing red smears on a bright yellow hooded sweatshirt. The man swayed, clutched the edge of the door, gasped, pulled in a huge breath, and shrieked, “They’re trying to kill me!”

He collapsed.

Not the usual way clients introduced themselves at the Mike King Detective Agency. When they get to my office, they usually aren’t hysterical. Maybe frustrated, often put out, likely annoyed, even all the way up the scale to totally pissed off and willing to do anything or almost anything to get even. Private detectives deal with a whole lot more pissed off than panic-stricken.

He was the first client who thrust himself through the door and then passed out.

The three of us were working late, finishing notes on a case involving blackmail among some super rich gay men with summer cottages in the Hamptons and winter homes in the south of France. We’d hoped that blackmailing gay people, for whatever reason, had become passé. We were wrong, but we’d solved the case and some bad guys were in jail.

The three of us rushed forward. I grabbed a cushion from the couch for his head. Georgia took a carafe of water from the tea tray, and hunkered down next to me on the floor. Duncan joined us and helped cradle the man’s head.

We leaned over the new guy. He was breathing, and my fingertips on his carotid artery confirmed that his pulse was pulsing. The left lens of his black, horn-rimmed glasses was cracked. Duncan lifted the man’s head far enough so I could place the cushion under it.

Duncan pointed to the smears on the yellow hoody. “Blood?”

I nodded. “Most likely.”

The hood of the stranger’s sweatshirt had twisted and hid half his face. I pushed it back and then removed his hat. I realized the dark smears on his gloves and coat were blood just like that which showed on his sweatshirt. No blood on or around his head. A cursory feel over his brush-cut blond hair gave no indication of out-of-the ordinary bumps.

Dying for a Thrill Front Cover 2 14 2016 b

His head lolled. I unwrapped the scarf from around his heavily muffled neck to be sure he wasn’t inadvertently strangling himself and to check for other injuries.

He looked bedraggled, wet, and exhausted, as if someone had ripped and torn his Army war surplus clothes then washed and dried them a thousand times without using fabric softener. Then the clothes would be stored in a heap on someone’s floor until picked up to be worn. He smelled like he’d been putting on extra deodorant to cover not having bathed in a several days, not the most pleasant combination. Georgia asked, “Is this another one of your cataclysmic corpse contacts biting the dust?”

I said, “I’ve never met him.”

Georgia said, “Wouldn’t be the first one.” Georgia De’Jungle was one of my top operatives. “That’s Georgia De’Jungle with an E,” she always added. Georgia was the most accomplished drag queen on the North American continent. She was my disguise expert. Her ability to disguise herself was unknown. That’s how good she was. If she was legendary or unrivaled, that would mean people would know what she was up to. I paid her handsomely to take care of some of the most delicate work for the firm. At the moment she wore an evening gown designed by Pasta Fagioli, the pseudonym of an ethnically challenged Chicago designer she favored. The designer was so exclusive, he didn’t do fashion shows. Just designed for select clients.

Besides helping us finish our end-of-case details, Georgia had been preparing to go out for her evening’s work.

Duncan asked me, “Didn’t you have a conquest who keeled over? In Berlin I think it was. Last year? When that gay ambassador from Lichtenberg was kidnapped and the relatives who didn’t trust the government wanted you to save him? You seduced one of the kidnappers in the back room of some leather museum in Berlin, wasn’t it? And that guy keeled over?”

“He didn’t ‘keel over’. He wanted to be in that position. He kept repeating, ‘please, daddy’. And there is no Lichtenberg.” I leaned back. “And that’s not important at the moment.” While I continued to monitor this guy’s pulse, I added, “They don’t keel over. They just don’t work out.” I examined the man’s face and then repeated. “I don’t know this guy.”

Georgia gave me her best smirk. “Dead’s a pretty for sure sign they didn’t work out.”

I said, “This one is breathing.”

Georgia said, “You’re sure he’s not another one of your conquests gone bad?”

I said, “I’m sure.”

Even in the most outré circumstances, they often teased me about my lack of success at dating. This qualified maybe among the top five in outré comment moments. And they didn’t all die.

Seldom, in fact.

The prostrate man continued to breathe. I could smell the slightest whiff of Georgia’s subtle perfume. I cradled the guy’s head and upper torso. Bits of melting snow dripped onto the floor from his bulky overcoat.

Next, I eased off the heavy outer garments. As I undid each item, Georgia and Duncan helped me rearrange his body. Then Georgia took each item and stretched it out to dry on the couch.

The guy’s skin-tight jeans had no smears. The logo on the longsleeve

T-shirt taut on his gaunt frame read “Frodo Lives” in

fourteen point type. Hard to see at almost any distance. I liked

him for the message.

His running shoes were inappropriate for the weather and

were soaked through to his sodden socks. Georgia placed these

four items close to a heating vent.

I lifted the T-shirt from his emaciated and inert frame. No wounds on his torso. After examining him I said, “No obvious wounds. The blood must be somebody else’s.”

Duncan asked, “Heart attack, stroke, plain old faint?”

I took out my cell phone, punched in 9-1-1.

Duncan checked the guy’s coat pockets. He muttered, “No weapons.” No need to take chances about a possibly armed intruder even though he was incapacitated at the moment. Duncan pulled out a wallet from the left back pocket of the man’s skinny jeans, keys and a phone from his right front pocket.

I told the emergency operator where I was. She said with the rising storm and all the accidents in the city, it might be a while before anyone could respond.

“No,” I said in answer to her question, “there doesn’t seem to be any immediate danger.” She suggested I try to get him to the nearest hospital a few blocks north and a block or two east. I hung up.

Duncan handed me the wallet, a tattered black billfold with five crisp one hundred dollar bills and a couple ones.

His Illinois driver’s license said his name was Jamie Vincek.

The man’s eyelids fluttered then opened. “Who? What?”

He snatched his wallet from me, and his keys and phone from Duncan’s hands. He shoved the accoutrements back into his pockets and then tried to stand, but he faltered and fell back. I caught him before his head thunked onto the floor. He shook his head but forbore to rise and stayed in my arms.

He saw my phone which was still in my hand. He swatted at it. I kept it up and out of his reach.

“No calls.” His voice was just short of another shriek.

I held him in my arms and tried to be soothing. “Shush. Hush. We need to get you help.”

His second attempt to scramble to his feet succeeded. The three of us stood up as well. He gazed down at his unshod feet, then caught sight of his shoes and socks drying next to the air vent. I held out an arm toward Vincek. He staggered two steps to the wall and propped himself against it with his left hand. He was managing on his own for the moment.

Between great panting gasps for breath, he said, “Please, no phone calls. Please stop!” His shrieking had changed to pleading. I put my phone away.

I asked, “Who’s trying to kill you?”

He glanced wildly around the room. His eyes came to rest on “You’re Mike King?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Jamie Vincek.”

Beyond what I’d seen on his driver’s license, the name meant nothing to me. He looked at me as if I should recognize it. With the index finger on his trembling right hand, he pointed at the New York Times on top of Duncan’s desk. “It’s in there already!”

I kept my voice low and soothing. “Why don’t we step into my office where you can tell me how I can help you?”

“Is it safe here?” he demanded.

I said, “It’s as safe as anywhere, I suppose.”

I placed a hand on his elbow and steered him toward the inner office.

Georgia said, “I’m late for this evening’s gig.” She was performing undercover as a torch singer. She did a pretty good Bessie Smith. I didn’t think there’d be much of crowd in this weather, but she was a trouper. She left.

Vincek responded to the slight pressure on his elbow by moving forward. I picked up the copy of the Times as I helped propel him toward my office.

Wednesday 7:28 P.M.

I got him settled in a comfy client chair. Duncan placed a glass and a bottle of water next to him on the end table. He helped Vincek off with his T-shirt. It had a few red smears of it on the end of each sleeve. Duncan said, “I’ll get you a replacement for that.” Duncan put the T-shirt on a towel on the couch on the right side of the room. He left and closed the door.

I settled behind my old teacher’s desk that I got at a sale at a failed university.

I said, “You have blood on your clothes, and it doesn’t seem to be yours.”

“I’m in trouble.”

“The bleeding person would seem to be in more trouble.”

Tears sprang to his eyes. “He’s dead. I held my friend in my arms as he died. Blake is dead. I loved him. I could never tell him that when he was alive. Now I never will.” His blank stare settled into the middle distance like a character in a nineteenth century British novel. Tears leaked down his cheeks. I took a box of tissues out of the top drawer of the desk and held it out to him. He took several and wiped his cheeks.

“What happened?” I asked.

He picked up the newspaper and pointed to a front page

article above the fold. The headline read, Spies Convicted. “It’s this.”

I hadn’t read the article, hadn’t followed the case. I glanced at

the first few paragraphs and got the who, what, why, and when

on a conviction in a New York courtroom of an international

spy ring.

He said, “They’ve been pressuring the defendants to name

names to get themselves lighter sentences. See.” He turned the

paper to the full-page spread on page eighteen. At the bottom

was a list of people the government was looking for. He pointed

to the final paragraph. “I’m on that list.”

He tossed the paper on the desk top, pointed to the relevant

paragraph, then leaned his head back in the chair. He thrust his

legs wide apart revealing a bulge of some heft in his tight jeans.

He might or might not work out, but his muscles were taut. As

for his crotch, either he was a shower or something about the

situation turned him on. Other than that, he didn’t look sexually

stimulated, more like he might pass out again any second. He

wiped his hands across his face as if trying to waken himself. He

said, “I haven’t slept in forty-one hours.”

“Why not?”

“I’m scared. I’m frightened out of my mind.”

While I scanned the rest of the article, he looked at me and

drew several deep breaths.

When I finished, I said, “The trial was in New York. This is

today’s paper so the conviction must have happened yesterday.

You have blood on you, and you’re here in Chicago which has a

building blizzard. Are you an international spy?”

“No.”

“Why do they want to talk to you?”

“They think I’m a spy. They have no proof I’m a spy.”

I asked, “How did the investigators in New York get your

name?”

“I’m not sure. There’s no way they could have. That’s what

scares me.” He pointed at the paper. “My name in that article is

the first I’ve heard about it.”

“As far as I can tell from the article, it looks like states attorneys

and police, probably the FBI and Homeland Security and maybe

even the CIA as well would all want to talk to you. Shouldn’t you

be consulting an attorney?”

“They don’t want to talk to me. They want me dead. This

whole trial was a sham to get me.”

I couldn’t tell if he was paranoid, crazy, or frightened out of

his mind, or in what combination all of those feelings might be

coursing through his brain. Nor could I tell how close he was to

dealing rationally with reality. Maybe he was lying through his

teeth. Or telling the truth.

I didn’t even have proof he was the guy who the paper

said officials wanted to talk to. The driver’s license had looked

real, but I like to confirm things. On my second case, I hadn’t

confirmed some basic information, and an emaciated fourteenyear-

old orphan boy in Budapest came within an inch of slitting

my throat.

The blood on Vincek’s clothes was fairly convincing as

proof that he was in some kind of trouble. Why go through

the elaborate ruse of smearing his own clothes with, presumably,

someone else’s blood? Unless something truly out of the ordinary

was happening.

“If this was the first you’ve heard of it, how do you know

they were out to get you?”

“I’m a leader of an all-powerful group of secret gay hackers.”

“How does being all-powerful work?”

He gazed at me. “Huh?”

“Well, if you’re all-powerful, I can’t imagine you’d be passing

out on my carpet.” I pointed at the paper. “Or be in trouble

with the law or at least be someone the law wants to talk to. If

they don’t think you’re guilty of something yourself, they must

think you know something that would help them. What is it you

know?”

Duncan knocked and came in with a sweatshirt I recognized

from his gym bag. It had the name of Mokena University on the

front. He handed it to Vincek who fumbled with it and dropped

it.

“You’re sure you’re not hurt?” Duncan asked as he picked

up the sweatshirt. Vincek stood up, and Duncan helped him

shrug into the sweatshirt. It hung to mid-thigh, six inches below

Vincek’s fingertips. In it he looked fifteen.

Vincek reiterated, “The blood isn’t mine, but my muscles hurt

like hell.” Vincek had winced as he lifted his arms.

Vincek was skinny, maybe five seven, and maybe all of

a hundred pounds, if he kept his heavy overcoat on. Duncan

gave him a washcloth to wipe remnants of blood off. Vincek

was perhaps the hairiest ginger I’d ever seen with a thick mat

of reddish-brown fur from his neck to the ribbon of Andrew

Christian underwear sticking up from his jeans. While his T-shirt

was off, I also saw dark purple bruises that spread from an inch

above his left nipple to his shoulder.

Vincek plopped back into the client chair. Duncan left.

I asked, “Who was your friend that died in your arms?”

“I am in so much trouble. You’ve got to help me.”

“I’ve pretty much got that part. In trouble with whom?”

Sometimes with new clients I use the correct interrogative

pronoun. Doesn’t impress as many of them as much as I’d like.

I try my best.

Duncan returned with hot chocolate and then left again

closing the door after himself.

Duncan is a treasure. He used to play basketball for Mokena

University. Still played pick-up games at the local gym. He’s

now a grad student at the University of Chicago who should be

indulging in nuclear physics, not keeping my filing and accounts

in order. He says he likes the work. He’s been with me five years.

Vincek sipped then answered my question. “Everybody.”

His body began to tremble. As he put the cup of hot chocolate

down on the end table, he almost sloshed the contents onto the

antimacassar Duncan keeps on the arm of the chair.

Vincek clutched his arms around his torso and breathed

deeply for a few moments then he took off his glasses and

wiped his face again. He tapped on the lens that was broken

and then muttered, “I’ve got another pair in my backpack.” His

head swiveled around the room, his eyes coming to rest on mine.

“Where’s my backpack?”

“There was no backpack. Was there something in it that you

didn’t want to lose?”

He breathed deeply for several moments then said, “Nothing

that can’t be replaced.” He gave me a suspicious look. “You didn’t

root through it and take it?”

I said, “I looked through your wallet, got your ID.”

“You looked in my wallet!”

“You passed out on my floor.”

“We have lots of IDs, but that one is real.”

“You and this gay geek group were meeting in Chicago. Why?”

“We meet all around the world. We even have a few safe havens

on ships outside the territorial waters near various countries. We

don’t stay in one place.”

“And why did you come to me?”

“I don’t know which of my friends I can trust. We know

you’re a private eye and you’re gay. A combination of both is rare.

You’ve been in the papers. We follow all the gay news. Google

gay private eye, real ones, not the ones from literature, and your

name comes out at the top of the page. At least among the set

that might need protection or a private eye, your name always

comes up first.”

I guess I didn’t need to advertise. I said, “I get the gay stuff.

What do you need with a private eye?”

“We’re nerds, computer geeks. You’re an action guy. We need

that.”

Even with him swimming in Duncan’s sweatshirt, I could see

small patches of damp from sweat beginning to leak at various

folds in the cloth. He put his broken glasses back on and peered

at me. It was a sad face, with long eyelashes, and dark brown eyes,

but kind of handsome in an off-beat way, and skewed as I tried

to catch a left eye that was made off kilter by the broken lens.

He stared at me a few moments, despair in his slumped

shoulders and down-turned mouth. I glanced back at the article

for a moment then asked again, “Why didn’t you stay with Blake?”

“I don’t have much time. The ones who killed him were after

me as well. He died, and then I ran. They may have followed me.

I don’t feel safe here. Is there somewhere safe we can go?”

“Where would you feel safe?”

“I’ve got no time for this. We have to get out of here.” He

leapt back to his feet and swayed. “Nowhere is safe.” He was

back to just short of shriek level. He switched from looking near

passing out to raging paranoia in an instant. Maybe he was just a

nut job with someone else’s blood on him. Or a better actor than

I’d ever seen.

Or did he kill someone?

I said, “If nowhere is safe, why do we have to get out of

here? If your reasoning is correct, here would be as unsafe as

anywhere.”

He stared at me with his mouth agape as if logic were not his

strong suit.

“Is there somewhere we can go?”

I was suspicious. Was all this an act and he was simply trying

to get me out of the office? To what purpose? In the first stages

of the predicted blizzard?

His voice was back to pleading. “I can pay your fee. A retainer.

I know you’re expensive. On the Internet I saw what you charge.

Money is not a problem. I can transfer money to your account.”

He named an amount Bill Gates and Warren Buffet together

could afford. I glanced at the Picasso on the wall. The amount he

mentioned wouldn’t be enough for a down payment to pick up

something which matched that but close.

Vincek noted my glance at the painting. He said, “You should

get something to complement that for the wall directly opposite.

It looks kind of forlorn there by itself. Maybe a Matisse with lots

of vibrant colors.”

Great to know I had an interior design critic as well as a

potential client.

I told him a figure double what he’d offered. He didn’t blink,

which made me more suspicious than ever that something was

very amiss, but I didn’t feel threatened by him, or at least felt

no immediate threat from him. As Humphrey Bogart told Mary

Astor in the movie of The Maltese Falcon, “We didn’t exactly believe

your story… we believed your two hundred dollars.”

My fee was considerably beyond two hundred by several

places to the left of the decimal point. He was offering to pay

too much. More suspicion.

I escorted him to the outer office. I instructed Duncan to make

the transfer from Vincek’s accounts to the agency’s. Vincek took

off the sweatshirt Duncan had given him, then put his hooded

sweatshirt back on, buttoned his overcoat and then unbuttoned

  1. At one point Vincek offered to type in the information for the

transfer. He even reached to work the keys, but Duncan’s calm

demeanor combined with a severe glare, kept Vincek at bay.

Taps on phone faces and clicks on keyboards and a few

moments later, money moved.

Vincek sat down for a moment and pulled his not-yet-dry

shoes and socks back on. We didn’t have extra shoes or boots in

his size. When he stood up, Vincek swayed from foot to foot. His

hands trembled. He put on his hat and tied his scarf under his

chin. I thought the guy might jump out of his skin.

I took two burner phones from the file cabinet. I keep a stack

of them on hand. I gave him one. Then I grabbed my hat, coat,

and gloves, and said, “Let’s go.”