Exclusive Excerpt: Street People by Michael Nava

Blurb:

Ben Manso drifts through life, working as a rent boy, until an casual encounter with an eight-year old street kid named Bobby at a convenience store changes everything. When Ben sees Bobby again, the boy is with a man who claims to be Bobby’s father, but Ben suspects the man is a pedophile and the boy his captive. A third encounter draws Ben even more deeply into Bobby’s drama and forces him to face his own haunted past. After Ben’s well-intentioned plan to rescue Bobby puts the boy in even greater danger, Ben is forced to make a life-changing choice.

Street People is the story of lives at the margin, about the throw-away people we see without seeing, and the real meaning of family.

Excerpt:

On a warm night in May, 1988, the sky above Los Angeles glowed Martian red and Ben Manso pushed his way into a 7-Eleven on Santa Monica Boulevard to buy cigarettes and condoms. The only other people in the store were a kid standing at the check-out counter and the clerk standing behind it. The boy was scrawny, brown-haired and dark-eyed—Mexican, Ben thought, wearing jeans, a dirty tee-shirt, and ratty sneakers. Waiting his turn behind the kid, Ben watched him carefully place his purchases on the grubby counter: a bag of Doritos, two pre-wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches, a carton of milk, and a Hostess cupcake.

The clerk’s name tag identified him as Ahmed. He rang up the boy’s purchases, peered at him through thick glasses and said, “Five dollars and thirty-two cents.”

The boy pulled a handful of crumpled bills and some change from his pants pocket and dumped them on the counter.

Patiently, Ahmed counted it. “This is only four-fifty,” he said gently. “Not enough. You have to put something back.”

The boy stared at him helplessly.

Ahmed picked up the cupcakes. “Take this back, ok?”

Mouth quivering, the kid took the pastry and lurched backwards, bumping into Ben.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

“Wait a second,” Ben said. “I’ll pay for his food and give me a pack of Merits.”

“Just the cigarettes?” the clerk asked.

“No,” Ben said, “A pack of Trojans, too.”

Ben slapped a twenty on the counter. Ahmed got the cigarettes and rubbers, rang everything up, and bagged the boy’s groceries. The boy grabbed the bag and threw Ben a look of startled gratitude as he hurried out of the store.

“Kind of late to be grocery shopping,” Ben said.

“He’s a street kid,” Ahmed replied. “He eats when he’s got the money. You need matches?”

“Thanks,” Ben said, accepting a matchbook advertising a nearby bailbondsman. “Are you saying he hustles?

“Could be,” Ahmed said.

“He can’t be more than eight or nine.”

Ahmed shrugged. “If he’s a seller, there’s a buyer.”

Ben tucked the cigarettes and matchbook into the pocket of his unlined ash-gray silk blazer.. “You must see a lot of sick shit working here.”

Ahmed laughed. “Yeah, they don’t call it the graveyard shift for nothing.” He picked up the rubbers. “Don’t forget these. Someone’s getting lucky.”

Ben shrugged. “Business.”

“Ah,” Ahmed said. “Take care my friend.”

Out in the parking lot, one of his pagers went off. He spotted a phone booth at the corner. Heavy traffic moved in both directions on the boulevard and the air was foul with exhaust fumes. Across the street, a teen-age kid with a mop of wild hair, in tight jeans and a wife-beater, stood beneath a streetlight smoking and peering at the passing cars. Ben stepped into the phone booth, pulled the door shut, and watched a blue Corolla pull up to the curb in front of the teen. All Ben could see of the driver was that he was male with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a blue Dodgers windbreaker.The boy approached the car, leaned into the window and after a brief exchange with the driver r, opened the passenger door and climbed inside.

“Hey, Pete,” Ben said, watching the car’s tail lights merge into traffic.

“I got a guy who’ll pay to watch us get it on,” Pete said. “You in?”

“I have a date tonight,,” Ben said.

“Meredith get to you first?”

“Yeah, it’s an overnight. Sorry, Petey.”

“Okay, cool,” he said. “Call me tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Ben said.

He hung up. A panhandler emerged from the darkness and leaned drunkenly against Ben’s Fiat. Ben smelled the guy before he reached him; he reeked of booze, body odor and unwashed clothing

“Hey, man,” Ben said. “Do you mind?”

“This your car?” the man asked, carefully forming each word.

The drunk pushed himself off the hood, pulled a filthy rag from his back pocket and said, “I’ll clean the windshield for a buck.”

“The windshield is fine,” Ben said.

“Please, man, I really need a drink.”

Impulsively, Ben asked, “What’s your name?”

It took the drunk a minute to remember. “Ron.”

Ben handed him a ten. “Here you go, Ron, for protecting my car.”

“Hey, thanks,” Ron said. “Thanks a lot.”

Clutching the bill in his hand, he lurched into the store.

Driving down the boulevard, Ben saw the kid from the store on the other side of the street lugging his little sack of groceries. He was trying to look tough but when Ben honked at him and waved, the boy jumped. He stared after Ben as if he’d seen Santa Claus and waved wildly with his free hand. For a second, Ben thought about turning around and giving the kid a ride, but he was already running late and the boy was no longer visible in his rearview mirror anyway.

He turned off Franklin and headed up the hills into a neighborhood of twisting, narrow roads, and enormous houses that commanded expensive views of the city below. At a stop sign, he fluffed his hair, put out his cigarette, and popped a breath mint. The thick scent of tuberoses in the bouquet on the passenger’s seat filled the air. Ellie was a regular, but even his regulars expected a little courtship before getting down to business; flowers to be admired and arranged in a fancy vase, the nice wine in the pretty glasses on the terrace, and the conversation that trailed off to the pregnant silence that was his signal to kiss her. No money changed hands—she had paid the agency when she requested him—but in the end, he was no different than the kid climbing into the Corolla to give a driver a ten buck blow job. They worked different streets, but they were all street people. He headed up the hill to her house.

Wade was outside his apartment in his walker when Ben let himself into the building. The old man smiled, or grimaced, it was hard to tell which. Since he’d broken his hip the summer before he was always more or less in pain. He was shapeless in an old, oversized Pendleton shirt and pair of baggy khakis. His mottled skin was like the fly-specked pages of an old book and time had dissolved his features into a puddle topped by a crown of wispy white hair. His blue eyes were still bright, however, and they missed nothing.

“Just getting home, baby?” he wheezed.

“Yeah.”

“You want some coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Come on in and put on a pot,” Wade said.

Unless he was sleeping, Wade kept his front door open. He spent most of the day in a rocker that faced the door, trying to snare passersby into his room to visit. The other tenants hurried by because once Wade got started it was hard to shut him up. Ben didn’t mind. Ben was as natural a listener as Wade was a talker. He liked to hear the old man’s stories of his days as a bit player at the studios, tales documented by the black-and-white photographs that lined the walls of his apartment showing him with the big stars of the forties and fifties.

Wade’s room smelled faintly of bird shit. He had had a pair of canaries, Goneril and Regan. Opening the cage door to change the water one day, he’d moved too slowly and the birds had flown out and through an open window. Wade had refused Ben’s offer to replace the birds telling him, “At this rate, they’d outlive me, then what would happen to them? Unless you’d take care them.”

Ben shrugged, “I don’t know, Wade. Birds in cages? Might creep out some of my johns.”

“I thought you were strictly out-call,,” Wade crackled.

Ben smiled, “I make exceptions for the right amount of money.”

Wade knew Ben was a hustler but made no judgments since, as he had told Ben more than once, “Everyone in Hollywood has a price.”

Ben worked mostly for an agency called White Knights, which provided escorts to women, and free-lanced on the side with men. White Knights was operated by a woman named Meredith, whom he had met through Pete when they were cater waiters for the same company. One night, after working a party at Bel-Air in a steel-and-concrete house that reminded Ben of an airport hanger, he’d gone home with Pete. Later, lying in bed, Pete told him, “You’re good at sex.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“No, I mean it,” he said, taking a drag from Ben’s cigarette. “Most guys are lousy at it because all they care about is getting off. You pay attention to the other person.” He took another puff. “You fuck women, too?”

“You wanna do a threesome?”

“Just answer the question, man.”

He shrugged. “I’ve had sex with women.”

“Would you fuck someone for money?”

“You mean would I whore myself out?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, could you do it for money?”

“I never thought about it,” Ben said.

“Think about it now.”

Ben stubbed out his cigarette. For the most part, Ben, being naturally accommodating, had sex with people because they wanted him and because, having little sexual passion of his own, it interested him to observe theirs. Reading in bed late into the night was more thrilling for him than sex, a legacy of his years of boarding school when, after lights out, he had read secretly by flashlight beneath the covers in the narrow, uncomfortable beds that seemed to furnish every dorm room he had ever occupied.

“Sure,” he told Pete. “Why not?”

Pete grinned and said, “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

“What are you?” Meredith had asked Ben during his interview.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am?”

“Ah,” she said, approvingly, “nice manners, but drop the ma’am. It makes women feel old. Your look,” she continued. “It’s All-American boy, but there’s something about your eyes and skin that’s rather. . . exotic.”

She studied him with the intensity of a jeweler examining a diamond for weight, flaws, and luminosity. Her large office, on a side street off Rodeo Drive was aggressively feminine down to the spindly white and gilt Louis XIV chair on which Ben perched. Meredith herself was a tiny woman who favored shoulder pads, wore her short blonde hair like a lacquered helmet, and exuded the faint rose scent of Jean Patou’s “Joy.” Heavy but expertly applied make-up concealed any vestige of personality, but even it could not hide her square, determined jaw and shrewd eyes. Later he would learn Meredith ran the business with her lover, Carol, who, apart from being a brunette, could have been Meredith’s twin.

“Your last name, Manso,” she said, speculatively. “Italian?”

“Spanish,” Ben told her. “My father was Mexican-American, my mom is white.”

“Ah,” she said. “That explains it. God, you mixed race boys are gorgeous. Pete says you’re bisexual.”

“I guess,” he said. “I’ve never thought about it much.”

“I don’t care what you are,” she continued briskly, “as long as you can perform with a woman. Can you?”

“Yes,” he said, biting off the ‘ma’am.’ “I’ve been with women.”

“Of course,” she said quickly, “White Knights is in the business of providing companionship, not sex. Still, what happens between you and the client once she’s paid for your time is entirely up to her. Do you understand, Ben?”

He nodded.

“Oh,” she said, “and you can sleep with boys on your own time, if that’s what you’re into, but use protection and I’d better not find out you’re hustling men on the side. I will cut your balls off if I catch you free lancing.” She extracted a business card from her desk drawer and slid it to him. “This is our photographer. Make an appointment with him for this week. He’s very good, the best. Of course, you’re giving him a lot to work with.”

He tucked the card into his coat pocket. “What do you do with the pictures?”

“They go into the book,” she said.

“The book?”

“The one our clients look through when they come in for an escort.”

“What kind of pictures?” he asked, nervously.

She smiled, “Don’t worry, Ben. They’re headshots and one or two with your shirt off. Nothing that would embarrass your mother.”

Ben helped Wade into his rocker.

“God, being old is fucked,” Wade said. “It’s the most depressing thing in the world.”

Ben smiled. “Yesterday you said bad drag was the most depressing thing in the world.”

“This is worse.” Wade rocked morosely.

From the doorway of the little kitchen, Ben asked, “Did you eat today?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Inside the refrigerator was a can of Folgers, a few slices of bologna, half a loaf of bread, assorted condiments, and something in a Tupperware container covered with fuzzy mold.

“Make a grocery list. I’ll go shopping for you,” Ben said and set about making coffee.

“So, what was it last night,” Wade asked when Ben brought him a mug of coffee. “Scrumptious dick or disgusting cooze?”

Ben sat on the floor, back against Wade’s narrow bed, and smiled. “A woman.”

Wade pretended to shudder.

“Your doctor’s a woman. You like her.”

“I’ve loved many women in my time,” Wade replied. “From the neck up.” He blew across the surface of his coffee. “You ever fall in love with any of your tricks?”

“You know the old saying, Wade, when you start to come with your johns it’s time to get out of the business.”

Wade cackled. “You’re pretty smart for a whore.”

“No, I’m just another pretty face.”

“That you are, my boy. You prefer tricking with men or women?”

“Money doesn’t have a gender.”

“Get her.”

Restlessly, Ben’s gaze swept across the room. Over a dusty desk was a framed photograph of the young Wade standing at the gates MGM with a teen-aged Judy Garland.

He remembered asking Wade, “What was she like?”

“Fifteen going on fifty, poor thing,” Wade had replied.

He told Wade about the kid he’d seen at the store the night before.

“He couldn’t have been more than eight. The guy at the 7-Eleven thinks he hustles.”

“The queen who used to manage this place let street kids stay here. I think he took the rent in trade. Filthy little things.”

“Not this one,” Ben said. “He was just a little boy. Too young to be out on the streets.”

“Life’s a bitch, and then you die.”

“You’ve been reading too many tee-shirts,” Ben replied. “What do you want from the store?”

Michael Nava is the six-time Lambda Literary-award winning of the Henry Rios novels and the historical novel, The City of Palaces. His most recent work, Lay Your Sleeping Head (Korima Press, 2016), a reimagining of the first Henry Rios novel, was hailed as “one of the literary events of the year,” and earned him his tenth Lambda Literary award nomination. You can find him on Facebook at Michael Nava Writer. His website is http://michaelnavawriter.com/.

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

 

Happy Four Year Anniversary to the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group!

To help celebrate my four-year anniversary of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook 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 drawings! Twenty authors and Matthew Moore’s of Buy More Books, have contributed over 50 books to give away!!

word murder written with an old typewriter

How Do I Enter to Win?

Easy – just watch for a notice posted in the group of a selected Autographed Copy featuring the title of the novel with corresponding book cover, and author.

Enter – to enter the drawing, simply provide a one-word comment for the novel you want a chance to win. (“Likes”, etc., will not be considered as entering the drawing since some folks use the feature to acknowledge 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 notice, so usually three-five days depending on activity and scheduling.

A few rules:

  • Only members of the group can enter the drawing; all members are eligible, including authors – they are readers/fans, too! Since this is a private group, no new members will be added until the Anniversary Celebration drawings are concluded.
  • Members can enter as many drawings as you like, but keep in mind, the goal here is to award as many members as possible so multiple-winning members may be avoided unless participation in each drawing dictates differently.
  • Please do not forward the announcement of the drawings to non-members; they are not eligible. Though I welcome new members to the group, this 4-year birthday celebration is to thank all the current loyal membership.
  • Non-USA contiguous/Canada winners 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 postage.
  • Substitutes may not be available.

Titles Provided by Buy Moore Books (Matthew 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

The Death of a Constant Lover – Lev Raphael

Assault with a Deadly Lie – Lev Raphael

An Echo of Death – Mark Zubro

Filmed to Death – Meg Perry

No Escape – Nancy Sanra

Titles Donated by the Authors:

(2) Prince of the Sea – Jon Michaelsen

(2) Pretty Boy Dead – Jon Michaelsen

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

Last Room on the Cliff’s Edge – Mark McNease

Death by Pride – Mark McNease

Rainey Bell Mystery series – any one copy of the six Rainey Bell Mysteries – R. E. Bradshaw

The Couple Next Door – Rick R. Reed

Genuine Gold – 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

Exclusive Excerpt: Michael Nava’s “Lay Your Sleeping Head” – A Henry Rios Novel

Blurb:

Thirty years ago, The Little Death introduced Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer who became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series. In a brilliant reimagination of The Little Death, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head. Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junky struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university. Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER 4

Hugh was staying in a nineteenth century cottage on a sketchy street deep in Hayes Valley. Late Victorian, Queen Anne’s style; wide wooden plank porch and intricate and extraneous wooden carvings and lattices, all of them in an advanced state of decay. I knew all this because I’d tricked a few times with a guy in the city who restored Victorians and whose idea of pillow talk was pulling out a pile of blue prints and showing me the differences between Gothic Revival and Eastlake and Italianate and Richardsonian Romanesque – Queen Anne was somewhere in there. I was standing at the uncurtained window watching the fog lurk in the street and half-listening for the howl of the Hound of the Baskervilles; this kind of wet, cold, spooky summer night was everything I disliked about the city.

Hugh was in bed, sleeping it off. The rusting pipes gurgled as they digested the bucket of his puke I’d poured down the toilet. At the ER he swore that evening was the first time he’d used in six months, as if that was supposed to make me feel better. The fact he’d been clean that long meant his usual fix could have been lethal. Fortunately for Hugh, the guy who’d wandered into his cubicle at Liberty Baths and found him passed out with his lips turning blue was a doctor. Otherwise, he’d be dead. 

“You little fuck,” I said softly but what I felt more than anger, more than anxiety, was sadness and confusion. This thing happening between us is what Hugh had called it. Me, I hadn’t called it anything, even to myself, but there was something  if not “a marriage of true minds” – what did Shakespeare mean by that anyway? – then at least a  recognition. Yes, that was a good way to think about it; a recognition. But what did we recognize in each other? I was an out-of-work, maybe washed up lawyer, with too much time on his hands and too many unanswerable questions on his mind and Hugh was – well, what he call himself – a wastrel? Old fashioned word. Here was another: a remittance man paid to stay away from his family who had wandered home where no one was waiting for him. Maybe all we had recognized was that we were each superfluous. Or was it loneliness? Isolation? Horniness?

I turned away from the window. In the kitchen I poured myself a glass of brandy.  The slow, smooth burn of expensive alcohol on my tongue – add to my list, and he drinks too much – failed to quiet the damning self-assessment rattling around in my head. Back into the living room I took stock of the odds and ends of furniture, couch, chair, a coffee table, a couple of floor lamps. Not nearly enough to furnish the big, oddly-shaped space, just enough to suggest transience. The walls were covered with a muted but quite ugly floral wallpaper, curling at the edges, where dark squares and circles and rectangles indicated where pictures had once been hung and furniture pushed against the wall.  The varnish had worn away on much of the wooden floor and the exposed wood was splintering.

..

This was home? Hell if I lived here, maybe I’d take drugs, too.  I wandered over to a built in bookshelf that held a couple of dozen books. Old, worn-out paperbacks, Tolkien, Herman Hesse, Howl  — a college sophomore’s library. The Joy of Gay Sex looked to be the newest addition. Next to it, oddly, was a worn-out copy of The Little Prince, the pages almost in tatters. A solitary, skinny volume lay face down on the bottom shelf. I reached for it, and turned it over: Whirligig: Selected Poems by Katherine Paris. Hugh’s mother? I scanned the table of contents and turned to a poem called “The Lost Child:”

When they cleaned you and gave you to me,
long legs and fingers, red glow
rising from creased flesh,
eyes already awake, gaze steady,
I shook for three days
in my knot of hospital sheets.

Tears came later—cries, fears, fierce holding.
The ways you’d shake me off.
Your well of rage. Over and over
you bloomed in your separate knowledge.

“Is that my mother’s book?”

He wore baggy sweat pants, thick wool socks and an old black cable-knit sweater over a black turtleneck. His pale skin was the texture of a parchment or a blown narcissus petal. The blue eyes were still like the sky, but the sky at twilight, the upper reaches fading into black. He had never look more fragile or more desolate up or more beautiful. I wanted to fold him into my arms but instead I handed him the book, still open to the poem I’d been reading.

“The Lost Child,” he read. “She didn’t lose me, she gave me away.” He pointed with the book to my glass. “Can I have some of that?”

We traded. I turned the book over to the dust jacket photo of the author. She had airbrushed to an indeterminate age and, because the photo was black and white, her hair could have been blonde or silver. Her face was as symmetrical as Hugh’s but the effect was statuary.

He went on a coughing jag. I put the book in the shelf, went over, took the glass before he dropped and then went into the kitchen and brought him water.

“Drink this,” I said.

He put his hand up, coughed a little more, then took the water and sipped it.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

He slumped into the couch. “You asked me something like that at the jail,” he said. “It was a stupid question then and it’s a stupid question now.”

I stared at him. “So I guess that means you’re fine. In that case, I’ll be on my way.”

“No, please,” he said. “I’m sorry. Please.” He touched the cushion beside him. “Don’t go. Sit.”

I sat down. He drank his water. I sipped my brandy.

“What the fuck were you thinking, Hugh?” I asked softly.

“I was thinking I was strong enough to do what I had to do. I was wrong.”

I waited.

“I went to see my dad,” he said.

I was confused. “Your dad’s dead.”

“That was a lie,” he said. “Half-lie. He might as well be dead. He’s in an institution, Henry. He’s a schizophrenic.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but why didn’t you tell me? Why lie?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid.”

I moved an inch closer to him. “Afraid of what, Hugh?”

“That I might be like him.”

“Why would you think that?”

“It was something someone said to me when I told them what my grandfather had done to me. He said, maybe I was imagining it, maybe it was – what’s the word the shrinks use – a confabulation.” He sprang to his feet and went to the same window where I had stood. “That something did happen to me but it wasn’t my grandfather who did it and I was blaming him because when my dad went into the hospital and my mom left and I went to live with my grandparents, I was too young to understand and I thought he had taken me away from them.” He turned from the window and looked at me, pleadingly. “Do you think that’s possible? Am I crazy.”

“What you told me your grandfather did to you,” I said quietly, “was pretty specific and it sounded very much like rape.”

“Oh,” he said. “I’ve been raped, Henry. More than once.” He shrugged. “A little white junkie boy running around Harlem and Alphabet City trying to score? Rape was the least of it. I was robbed and beaten, too. I’m lucky no one killed me.”

Anxiety constricted my chest as I listened to him and wondered whether anything he’d told me about himself was true. Or had it all been the ravings of a disordered mind? Then the lamplight glinted off his Patek Philippe watch. I thought about the hundreds in his wallet, the exquisite table manners. His mother’s book. The prep school photo, The healed track marks on his arm. No, it wasn’t all fantasy. He was from money, he was troubled, he was an addict. His story about his family was more consistent than not: he had been abandoned by both his parents. And even if these accusations against his grandfather conflated anger at their abandonment with unrelated memories of molested, that was not the type of confabulation I had encountered in the handful of my clients who had been diagnosed as schizophrenics.  Their confabulations were global and persistent and obvious after even ten minutes talking to them. I had just spent four intense days with Hugh Paris; no schizophrenic could have held it together that long or in those circumstances.

“Maybe you’re confused,” I said, “but I don’t believe you’re crazy, Hugh.”

“I want to believe that, too,” he said.

“What happened when you went to see your father?”

He crossed the room and sat down with me again. “I was nine the last time I saw him. He went off in a black car without even saying goodbye. I was heart-broken. My dad was more than my dad, Henry. He was my playmate. From as far back as I can remember he was always there, ready to get on the floor and let me climb all over him, to play hide and seek, or empty my toy box with me. And he told me stories. Wild stories.” His voice was breaking. He paused and breathed. “I know now those stories were part of his sickness but back then they were like our secret language. My mom, she wasn’t around much, so it was my dad who fed me and bathed and read me bedtime stories.”

The Little Prince,” I said.

“My little prince,” he said, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his sweater. “That’s what he called me.”

“And today?”

“He didn’t know who I was,” Hugh said. “I tried to remind me but he said he didn’t remember having a son. I brought The Little Prince with me. He stared at it like he had never seen it before. Nothing, Henry. There was nothing in his eyes when he looked at me.”

I held him and let him cry.

 

Exclusive Excerpt of “Lay Your Sleeping Head”; the new Gay Mystery Novel from Michael Nava

Blurb:

michael-nava

Thirty years ago, The Little Death introduced Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer who became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series. In a brilliant reimagination of The Little Death, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head. Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junky struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university. Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.

lay-your-sleeping-head

Exclusive Excerpt:

A movement in the shrubs outside my bedroom window woke me. I glanced at the alarm clock: 3:18. The soft shuffle of footsteps on the sidewalk was followed by a quick rap at the front door. I pulled on a pair of pants and felt my way through the darkness to the living room. I stood at the door and listened. There was another knock, louder and more urgent. I looked through the peephole. Hugh Paris stood shivering in the dark. I was startled but not surprised, maybe because I’d thought of him so often in the past few weeks, it was as if I’d finally conjured him up. A breeze blew his hair across his forehead. I opened the door.

“Hugh?”

“Don’t turn on the porch light,” he said. “I think I’m being followed.”

“Come in.” He slipped through the door and I closed it softly behind him.

Followed? Was he high? I guided him to my desk and switched on the reading lamp to get a good look at him. His eyes were clear and alert. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt; I scanned his arms for signs of track marks. The ones I saw were old and healed.

“I’m not high,” he said, watching me. “But I could use a drink.”

“Sure thing,” I said.

I went into the kitchen and poured a couple of shots of Jack Daniel’s. When I returned to the living room he was poking around the stack of orange crates that held my books and music. The last time I’d seen him, the oversized jail jumpsuit had concealed his body. The form fitting jeans and T-shirt revealed a slender but muscled frame; a gymnast’s physique. I was appropriately appreciative.

“Here you go,” I said.

He turned and took a glass from me. “Prost,” he said, touching his glass to mine. Smiling slightly, he openly appraised my body. “Not that I’m complaining, but when I pictured you naked, I saw a hairy chest.”

“It’s the Indian blood,” I said. “What are you doing here, Hugh?”

“You gave me your card, remember, told me to call you day or night, for whatever I needed.”

He set his glass down on the coffee table, took mine from me and set it beside his. He stepped forward into my arms, tipped his face upward and we kissed. His tongue slid lazily into my mouth and I savored his taste and the warmth of his hard, little body against mine. I licked that elegant neck and cupped his hard little butt. His fingers worked the buttons of my 501s and grazed the tip of my cock. With a last, lewd kiss, he dropped to his knees. I reached down, hooked my arms around his armpits and lifted him to his feet.

“Stop,” I said.

“You want me to stop? I’m famous for my blow jobs, baby.”

“Sit down,” I said, directing him to the couch. I buttoned up my jeans and sat down beside him. “I gave you my card weeks ago. If all you wanted was sex, you could’ve called me anytime. I would have come running. Instead, you show up at my apartment in the dead of night telling me you’re being followed. You’re not obviously high, so what’s up?”

When he picked up his drink, I caught the glint of his watch. It was very thin and silvery but not silver. Platinum. Watches like that went along with trust funds, prep schools and names ending with Roman numerals.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call. I really wanted to. I felt, you know, that we connected.”

“Me, too,” I said. “I tried to find you. Looked you up in the phone book, had a friend at DMV run your name. I even went to the Office a couple of times thinking maybe you’d show up.”

“I’m not easy to find,” he said. “Precautions.”

“Against what?”

“I told you I came back from New York to deal with some family things and they’ve been getting pretty heavy. I got a scare tonight. I needed to find a safe place. I thought of you.”

“You need to fill in some blanks for me.”

“I don’t want to mix you up in my drama.”

“You already have. So let’s hear it.”

He picked up his glass and took a slug. “I come from money.”

“I guessed that from the watch.”

He glanced at the watch. “Good eye,” he said. “Vintage Patek Philippe. It was my dad’s. I managed to hang on to it through—everything.”

“Everything meaning junk.”

“Everything,” he said empathically. “Including junk. But like I told you at the jail, I’m clean now.”

“I’m glad you kicked, Hugh. Go on.”

“My family has a lot of money. My grandfather controls most of it through a family trust. While I was out there using, the only thing I cared about was that he give me enough to maintain. Eventually, he cut me off. I had to find other ways to take care of myself. After I got clean, I began to look into the trust. All I wanted to know was what was mine, but I discovered some things about how my grandfather got control of the money. Criminal things.”

“Like what, diverting funds? Embezzlement? ”

“Murder,” he said.

“What?”

“He had people killed. That’s how he got control of the money.”

I had heard enough incredible stories from interviewing clients that I knew to keep a game face, ask leading questions and wait until they tripped themselves up.

“Who do you think he had killed?” I asked.

“My grandmother and my uncle,” he replied.

“Why them?”

“It was my grandmother’s money. She was going to divorce him. He killed them to prevent it.”

“What does this have to do with you being followed?”

“He knows I’m on to him,” Hugh said. “I felt like someone was following me tonight. I freaked out. The city didn’t feel safe, so I came here.”

“What do you think you’re grandfather’s going to do to you?”

“If he can’t scare me off, he’ll kill me, Henry.”

I finished my drink and said, neutrally, “Your grandfather wants to kill you. Really?”

He frowned. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

“Put yourself in my position. In the middle of the night, a guy you met once shows up at your house and tells you he’s being stalked by his grandfather who’s some kind of serial killer. What would you think?”

“See,” he said angrily. “That’s why I didn’t say anything to you at the jail.”

“How did you get out of jail?” I asked him. “Who did you call?”

“My Great-uncle John, my grandmother’s brother. He has some influence down here.”

“I’ll say he does. I heard the DA dropped all the charges,” I said. “Does your uncle know about your allegations against your grandfather?”

Hugh shrugged. “I told him. He thinks . . . He thinks I’m angry about how the old man’s treated me.”

“He doesn’t believe you,” I said.

“I have evidence,” Hugh said.

“Then you should take it to the police,” I said. “There’s no statute of limitations on murder and if your grandfather is cheating you out of money that belongs to you, I can refer you to a good civil lawyer.”

He stood up. “I’m sorry I bothered you, Henry. I’ll be leaving now.”

I grabbed his hand. “Wait. This is what I think, Hugh. You come from money but you ended up on the streets shooting junk and now you’re clean. While you were out there, your grandfather cut you off and you’re angry about that. Maybe he was practicing tough love or maybe he’s an asshole, I don’t know. I do know that depending on how long you used, it might be awhile before your head clears up completely. In the meantime, I’d be very careful about accusing people of being murderers.”

“You’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?” he said with a small smile.

“I’m just trying to make sense of what you’ve told me.”

He looked at me. “You want me to go?”

I shook my head. “I want you to take your clothes off.”

He smiled. “If you still want me to stay after what I told you, you’re as crazy as I am.”

“I haven’t stop thinking about you since we met.”

He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it to the floor, kicked his shoes off, unbuttoned his pants, pushed them to his feet and stepped out of them. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of his briefs and slipped them off. He stepped between my legs. This time when he sank to his knees, I didn’t stop him.

Buy link:

http://korimapress.com/buy-books/4586050572/lay-your-sleeping-head-pre-order-available/10917762

Check out the interview I did with Michael Nava in May 2014 below:

Author Michael Nava; Creator of the Highly Popular Henry Rios Mystery Novels

Website:

Lay Your Sleeping Head

 

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

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

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

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

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

WayneGunnCurrent_Photo by Alex Amador
Photo by Alex Amador

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

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