Monday, April 20, 2015

Lola Dances excerpt by Victor J Banis

Lola Dances excerpt from the bestselling author of 'Longhorns' Victor J. Banis. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and often bawdy, Lola Dances ranges from the 1850 slums of the Bowery to the mining camps of California and Montana, to the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Little Terry Murphy, pretty and effeminate, dreams of becoming a dancer. Raped by a drunken profligate and threatened with prison, Terry flees the Bowery and finds himself in the rugged settlement of Alder Gulch, where he stands out like a sore thumb among the camp's macho inhabitants--until the day he puts on a dress and dances for the unsuspecting miners as beautiful Lola Valdez--and wins fame, fortune and, ultimately, love


Terry comes to Alder Gulch

Terry felt like he had been lifted up into the air, as if in a tornado, and set down in another world altogether.
It had taken them most of a year to get here—by train and by riverboat, and traveling for a time with a wagon train of Mormons. They’d gone first to California, but the mine fields there were already overrun with thousands of others who’d heard the same stories Brian had heard, of gold for the picking up of it—stories they had quickly learned had been greatly exaggerated. There was gold, to be sure, but coaxing it out of the ground and the creeks took work, hard work, and lots of it.

In any case, all of the likely spots there had already been claimed, and the claims closely guarded by suspicious, quick to shoot miners who kept an especially close eye on any newcomers. Gunfire was not an uncommon sound, and new graves were not an unusual sight.

They had no sooner arrived there, though, than news had come of a rich strike here, at Alder Gulch, and Brian had spent most of the money he had left to buy them a bullock cart and a horse,  and they had lit out the same night they got the news.

Terry had turned eighteen on the long journey, somewhere close to Salt Lake City, but he felt as if he had aged decades. Already his life in the Bowery seemed as if it had happened to someone else, or in another lifetime.
Brian had quickly built them a rough log cabin, with a hard packed dirt floor, a whisky barrel for its chimney and flour sacks for windows. The roof of woven willow saplings leaked endlessly, so that in a heavy rain, the dirt floor turned to mud. It was as good as most of the miners had, better than the lean-tos and wickiups many of them lived in, but the cabin was tiny—a single room, most of that taken up with stove and table, and one bed along the other wall, a straw-stuffed pallet that they slept in together. There was hardly enough room in the rest of the
cabin for the two of them to move around in it when they were both there, let alone space to do a jeté.
By the time they had arrived at Alder Gulch, the best claims here had been taken as well, but Brian had quickly found a job working for the Simmons brothers, who had better than a half a dozen claims of their own staked and were generally regarded as the richest men in the camp. They paid Brian a hundred dollars a week. Back in the Bowery, that would have been a fortune, but here a man could spend that much to rent a cabin if he hadn’t the mind or the time to build his own.

Brian got a tenth of whatever dust he found for them as well, and he got to stand right there and watch as they weighed it, so there was no cheating in the payment of it. Already, he had a nice little pouch of dust buried in the dirt under their bed.

“When I’ve got enough, we’ll set out on our own,” he said. “I didn’t come all this way to work for someone else, even if the Simmons brothers are good men to work for. They’re fair, at least, which is more than could be said for some in this town. But it’s still just kissing ass, ain’t it?”

To Terry’s undying shame and regret, though, Brian seemed to have accepted in his own mind that what had happened back in New York had been Terry’s fault and not something odious that had been done to him by a drunken profligate. Once or twice, Terry had tried to talk to him about it, to make Brian understand his innocence, but Brian had made it clear he wasn’t interested in hearing Terry’s version of things.

“It’s not gonna change anything anyway,” was his final word on the subject. “Van Arndst is lower than a snake’s belly, that’s true enough, but you were his woman, weren’t you? That’s how anybody would see it, if they knew. How you went about getting his pecker up your ass don’t make much difference. It was there, is all that matters. You’re as much to blame as he was, the way I look at it.”

Which was how it was left between them. The best Terry could do was to try to make himself at home in Alder Gulch— but, he had doubts that he would ever really be able to feel that way about this foreign setting in which he now found himself. He wondered, was this where his omen and portents had been leading him all this time?
At first, when they had set out, he had felt a genuine sense of excitement. Maybe this journey was the one for which he had waited and watched, the one that would carry him safely and cleanly to the future he had imagined. Maybe at last he would arrive at that walled city of his dream.

But, surely, this Alder Gulch was not that future. He could see, when he strolled about the town, that the setting must have once been beautiful. Surely, not long before, there had been a carpet of pine needles beneath the towering fir trees and the abundant alders. The creek that came down from the mountains was tawny and sparkled in the sunlight, like jewels where it cascaded over the rocks, and the mountains themselves, still snow-capped in the middle of summer, loomed majestically against a sky almost obscenely blue after the soot-filled air of the Bowery.

All of it had been ravaged though, by the coming of these eager, greedy men. The creek was an ugly patchwork of sluices and chutes, entire fields of trees reduced to stumps and the carpet of pine needles was now a sea of mud that ran between rows of cobbled-together buildings. Only the sky remained pure, and the mountains that seemed to look down upon it all with a lofty and infinite scorn.

As he strolled, Terry looked around him with a combination of puzzlement and dismay. It was all so squalid, so dismal. Had he misread the signs, or only fooled himself all this time? What kind of future could Alder Gulch possibly hold for him? Even if Brian did get rich, and that began to seem more and more like a fantasy, no more real than Terry’s dream of being a dancer, what could that mean for him? They’d still be here, in this horrible place. And Brian would still look at him with barely disguised disgust. At least, in the past, back in the Bowery, he had sensed an abiding if rough affection on the part of his brother, but Van Arndst seemed to have killed that as surely as he had destroyed Terry’s innocence.

The men who passed by as he walked—there were few women, and those were obviously prostitutes—were all of a kind, lean, tough looking individuals with hard eyes, unwashed hair and shaggy beards. They wore black trousers and black hats and red or blue flannel shirts, and they looked curiously at the slim, willowy stranger in their midst, with his white cotton shirt and the cleanly washed gray trousers that clung tightly to his round little dancer’s bottom.

A lone woman clattered by in a shiny black buggy, snapping her whip at a dappled roan. She was a big woman, ample rather than fat. Her dyed yellow hair was piled atop her head in careless ringlets, and her gown was as red as the buggy’s wheels and too dressy for daytime. Terry stared as she drove by.

“Do not lust after the whore of Babylon,” a voice said from behind him.

He knew who she was, then. Even he had heard of Belle Blessings, madam of the local whorehouse. She gave him a quick glance as she drove by—a new male in town was certainly of interest to her—and looked quickly, dismissively away, her practiced eye telling her in a glance that this was an unlikely customer.

“I wasn’t lusting, Reverend,” Terry said, turning to the speaker. “Just curious, is all.”

“Let your mind seek in the Lord’s way,” the Reverend Davidson said. “For that is the path of salvation.”

The Reverend was almost the first person Brian and Terry had met on their arrival here. Brian had scarcely claimed a space for their cabin and begun to build it with the wood from the bullock cart—the lone ox had been sold off for supplies—before the Reverend had shown up to welcome them to Alder Gulch.

He was a tall man, six foot six or more, gaunt and sere, as if the juices had been dried out of him, with long skinny legs like a grasshopper’s, you wondered that they could support him, and neither his hair nor his beard gave any hint of ever having known soap and water, let alone a comb or a brush. He gave an odd impression of being too large for his skin, and you couldn’t help thinking he might be a bit less puckish if it fitted him more loosely, but he radiated a kind of energy that made him seem anything but frail despite his leanness. His wide dark eyes flashed with an almost alarming intensity when he spoke, and the voice that emanated from that sunken chest was astonishingly deep and booming, even in everyday conversation. He wore the same flannel shirt and dark, dirty trousers as the others in town and apart from his shagginess, and most of the men who had been here any time at all were similarly shaggy, there was little to distinguish him from them save for the little gold crucifix that he wore on a chain at his throat and fingered ceaselessly when he talked.

He had invited Brian and Terry to attend services at his “church”—really, nothing more than a lean-to attached to his own cabin. Terry had visited him there once. It was as primitive as the rudest shacks of the miners, its only decoration a roughly hewn wooden cross before which wildflowers were sometimes scattered incongruously on the dirt floor. Occasionally on a Sunday morning one or two of the miners could be seen there, kneeling while the Reverend exhorted them to piety and led them in a hymn or two in a voice that made up in loudness what it lacked in tune.

“He catches them staggering home from the saloon,” Brian said of the Reverend’s parishioners, and Terry was inclined to think he was probably right. Curious, he had hidden among the trees his first Sunday in Alder Gulch, watching the Reverend’s “service,” and it had been evident that at least one of the miners was on his knees because he had difficulty standing.

Terry wondered what had brought Davidson to Alder Gulch. It did not seem that, like the others, he had come to seek his fortune, and if he had come expecting to “gather the lost sheep back to the fold,” as Davidson himself put it, Terry could not but think his journey a wasted one. The sheep showed little inclination for being gathered.
“I’ll keep that in mind, Reverend,” Terry said now, “though it doesn’t seem to me that there is much choice of direction here in the Gulch.”

“Every breath is a choice,” the Reverend said, “you walk toward the Lord or away from him,” but Terry had already nodded and gone in his own direction, away from the Reverend. The preacher made him uncomfortable. Those hard, dark eyes looked at him as if they wanted to penetrate his inmost thoughts, and Davidson’s scowl seemed to him altogether disapproving.

He was grateful that the Reverend did not follow him, at least, though he had the feeling that his eyes did.

Terry paused to look in the open doorway of the town saloon, The Lucky Dollar. The air inside was filled with stale cigar smoke and the scent of unwashed bodies. Men clustered at the bar or around the gaming tables, scuffing their feet in the sawdust on the floor and talking in overloud voices. Someone beat out a discordant tune on an upright piano and as Terry watched, a tall wiry man grabbed a woman from a chair, slapped her and shoved her reeling onto the dance floor. A disheveled miner grabbed her with a loud whoop and began to spin her around spiritedly, taking not the slightest heed of her sobs.

Fascinated and frightened at the same time by the aura of vice rampant, Terry turned away and continued his meandering. Two men standing outside the saloon glanced after him as he passed and one of them gave the other a knowing smirk and pursed his lips, but Terry did not notice them.


Print version from Rocky Ridge Books, will be available Fall, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

A sentencA secoond sentence

A sentence from my journal regarding Iguazu Falls: The gauzy, sun-sifted spray, half falling, half floating, seemed infinitely fine and gentle, but the thunder-like detonations of water hitting the granite boulders below blasted up from the canyon, telling a story of force beyond any power I’ve known.
alan chin

A second sentence from The Wet Skirt (A Napkin)"The tip of her penis peeped out of her panties as she preened herself in the ladies; room of the Pix porno theater"
mykola  dementiuk.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Prayer for the Dead excerpt by Victor Banis


Stanley, accompanied by Chris, is convalescing at a Big Sur monastery, St. Marywood. Tom is back in San Francisco, with their new Girl Friday, Delightful - aka Dee - about whom Stanley is less than delighted.

A Prayer for the Dead
Dreamspinner Press (later, 2015)
IBSN:

Excerpt:

They were in those guest rooms, getting ready for bed, when Stanley’s cell phone rang, a tinny version of the can-can. He had gotten so used to the quiet here at Saint Marywood that Stanley was surprised, almost startled, by the sound.
“It’s Tom,” he mouthed at Chris, answering, and into the phone, “Yes, we got here just fine and everything‘s okay, only Father Brighton…well, he was dead when we arrived. That’s kind of put a damper on things.”
“Dead? How so, dead?” Tom asked.
“Dead,” Stanley repeated. “You know, no more tick-tock…”
Tom sighed loudly. “I meant, how did he die?”
“Natural causes. At least, that’s what they say.”
“You’ve got any reason to doubt that?”
Stanley thought about that for a moment. But the truth was, he didn’t have a single valid reason to suspect otherwise. It was what he used to call the detective bug. You get so used to looking for problems, you saw them even when they aren’t there. But when he tried to think of what they had learned since they had been here, he was forced to admit he had too little to go on. It was like trying to grope one’s way through a maze of spider webs, only when the webs were all torn down, there was nothing to be found beyond them. The spiders had moved on. Or – the thought popped into his mind -  were too clever at hiding to be so easily spotted. Spiders could be so sneaky. Murderers, too, in his experience.
“No, not really,” he admitted with a sigh of his own. “I have to admit, there’s nothing to suggest otherwise.” He decided he’d keep the poison pen letter to himself for the moment. It might, in fact, have nothing to do with the two deaths. To change the subject, he asked, “How’s Miss Dee doing?”
“Delightful,” Tom said, a bit too cheerily, it seemed to Stanley. Tom was by nature something of a grump. There were only a few things that got him sounding like Jiminy Cricket - one of them being women. Attractive women especially, though Stanley sometimes thought Tom found them all attractive, just in varying degrees.
“I was afraid she might be. Where are you? I hear music in the background.” Yes, he could hear Patsy Cline singing something mournful in the distance. They had no Patsy Cline music at the office. They didn’t even have a boom box there since an errant elbow – his, alas - had sent the old one toppling out an open window to crash on the sidewalk below.
“We’re at that place in Westwood – Jimmy Canary’s. You know, we’ve been there, you and me. For lunch, one day.”
Stanley scrunched up his face and tried to recall. “I don’t remember it – And anyway, it’s way past lunch time. So, tell me, why exactly are you at Jimmy Songbird’s?”
“Canary. Jimmy Canary.”
“Those songbirds all sound the same to me.  Is Jimmy singing about that divorce you were working on?”
“Well – no, not exactly.”
“Uh, you are still working on that divorce?”
“No, not really – the husband’s been laying low of late. I haven’t been able to catch him up to anything.”
“Which leaves us with the same question as before -  what are you doing there? At this bird’s place?”
“Just having a drink. Before dinner.”
“I see.” Stanley paused. “Drinking alone is not good for you, Tom.”
“Well, yeah, I know that, only, see, I’m not exactly alone.”
“I see,” Stanley said again. He suppressed another sigh. He had a pretty good idea just where this conversation was headed, and he did not much care for the destination. “And just exactly who is keeping you company at Jimmy Robin’s”
“Canary. Jimmy Canary.”
“Don’t split birds with me.”
Tom took longer than should have been necessary to answer that. “Dee is…well, she’s sort of with me.”
I was afraid of that, too, Stanley thought, but did not say. “And?”
“We’re just chatting. She was telling me her mom was in movies at one time.”
“Yes, I remember her.”
A moment of puzzled silence. “You do? But I haven’t even told you her name yet.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Stanley said, “everyone knows Lassie.”


Monday, March 30, 2015

Gun Shy excerpt by Lori L Lake

 

In Gun Shy by Lori L Lake, Minnesota police officer Dez Reilly, while on patrol, saves two women from a brutal attack. One of them, Jaylynn Savage, is immediately attracted to the taciturn cop - so much so that she joins the St. Paul Police Academy. As fate would have it, Dez is eventually assigned as Jaylynn's Field Training Officer. Having been burned in the past by getting romantically involved with another cop, Dez has a steadfast rule she has abided by for nine years: Cops are off limits. But as Jaylynn and Dez get to know one another, a strong friendship forms. Will Dez break her cardinal rule and take a chance on love with Jaylynn, or will she remain forever gun shy? 

~Midwest Book Review~
“Lake's Gun Shy is the story of two somewhat reluctant women who finally learn to believe in themselves and each other enough to commit to love. Covering just over a year in their lives, the novel reads like a season's worth of episodes from a television show that you wish was on TV.”

~After Ellen.com~
“Lori Lake’s novels Gun Shy and Under the Gun are part mystery, part romance, and totally captivating… Jaylynn and Dez are both sympathetic, complex, and dynamic characters that are realistically flawed at the same time; consequently, they capture your interest quickly and maintain it throughout the story. The evolving relationship between the two cops and the challenges they face both separately and as a couple come across uncontrived and convincing.”

~Lavender Magazine~
"Considered one of the best authors of modern lesbian fiction, her work--part action, part drama, and part romance--gleefully defies categorization."

~Midwest Book Review~
"Lori Lake is one of the best novelists working in the field of lesbian fiction today."

Lori L. Lake

Gun Shy
Publisher: Renaissance Alliance Publishing (July 19, 2002)
  • ISBN-10: 1930928432
  • ISBN-13: 978-1930928435

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

A GOLD AND white squad car swung around the corner onto Como Boulevard, no headlights and little sound but tires squeaking on hot pavement. To the left, in the heart of the city of St. Paul, was Como Lake, a small body of water only half a mile in diameter. The street ran parallel to a walking and biking path that ringed the lake. To the right, up on a slight slope, sat a row of darkened homes, which were heavily shaded by huge elm and oak trees.
The police car paused four houses away from a white, two-story stucco house. Officer Desiree “Dez” Reilly turned off the air conditioning and powered her window halfway down, staring intently at the stucco house. With a weary sigh, she listened for the nighttime noises over the engine of the car. The neighborhood was silent, almost too quiet. She should hear crickets, but all was still. She cut the engine, picked up her flashlight, and stepped out of the car, shutting the door so it clicked quietly. As she strolled along the sidewalk, the hum of nighttime insects started up, and she stood in front of the stucco house, waiting, listening. Somewhere down the street came a faint bass thump of music as a car passed through the intersection and faded off into the distance. Otherwise, no one was out.
 Her eyes scanned the street and the houses with practiced speed. Nothing seemed out of place, but someone had reported the sound of a woman screaming and had pinpointed the noise as coming from the house in front of her. A string of residential break-ins had occurred over the last two months, all centered in this area. Even more disturbing was that in three of the seven cases, a woman had been raped. Cops at roll call were beginning to toss around the words “serial rapist.” It was enough to make Dez take notice, living as she did within a mile of the lake.
Outside the air conditioned car, the August humidity seeped into her pores through the short-sleeved blue uniform shirt, through the bulletproof vest, and through the white cotton t-shirt she wore, adding to her fatigue more than she thought possible. She took a deep breath of the dank air and felt herself sweating. August in St. Paul was no fun, but at least the mosquitoes weren’t after her. Yet.
She was tall, lean-hipped, and broad-shouldered with long black hair caught up in a French braid. She walked with a confident stride across a strip of grass, over the sidewalk, and up the cracked walkway to the house, pausing periodically to listen. There were six stairs to the porch, and the first floor windowsills were slightly above her eye level. The front windows were dark, but a shaft of golden light shone from an open second floor window around the corner of the house. Leaving her flashlight off, she strode around to the south side and paused for a moment. Now she could hear angry muttering, the sound of an urgent, high-pitched voice, and then a frantic scream quickly muffled.
Dez heard a ripping sound, and then deep-throated laughter. A male voice growled, “Stop it! Stop fighting or—”
“No, you stop it. Get out of here!” a woman’s voice shouted.
“Oh, shit!” the man’s voice growled. “You move, I cut her throat. Got it?” In a different tone, he hollered, “Get her!”
That was all Dez needed to hear. She touched her shoulder mic and called for backup as she ran toward the back of the house and around to the other side, visually checking the doors and windows until she found what she suspected: a sliced window screen leading into what she thought would be the dining room.
Hearing another scream, she flicked on her shoulder mic again and advised the dispatcher to hurry the backup team. In a hoarse whisper she said, “This sounds bad. I think there are at least two male suspects and one, maybe two, female victims.” In the background she heard far-off sirens, and as her skin crawled, she felt an uncharacteristic compulsion to do something and do it now. A loud crash startled her, and she hit the shoulder mic again. “I’m going in. Tell ’em to follow quick as possible—north side window.”
Hooking her flashlight on her belt, she hoisted herself up over the windowsill headfirst and tumbled into the darkened house as quietly as she could. Scuttling across the floor on her hands and knees, she moved toward the faint light of the doorway and peeked around the corner. Stairs, where are the stairs? She rose and silently inched around the corner out of the dining room. She grabbed the flashlight off her belt, feeling the metal warm against her palm, then clicked it on and unholstered her gun.

JAYLYNN SAVAGE REALIZED she was tired when her watch chimed eleven. She had spent the entire evening in the air conditioned college library cramming for her summer term finals, and visions of Constitutional Law danced in her head. She persisted for another ten minutes, then gave up when her vision kept blurring. Running hands through short white-blonde hair, she hoped the political theory exam would go well in the morning, but she just couldn’t study one more minute. Going over and over the material was no longer productive. Since the library closed at midnight anyway, Jaylynn decided to head home. She packed up her books, said hello to friends on the way out, and exited into the humid summer air.
Jaylynn liked to say she was five-and-a-half feet tall, but that was only if she was wearing shoes with an inch heel. A slender build, lightly tanned skin, and sun-bleached blonde hair were evidence of time spent outdoors. Her face, framing warm hazel eyes, was full of youthful innocence and of something else perhaps best described as contentment.
As she strolled away from the library, her legs felt strong, but fatigued, from the five mile run she’d taken earlier in the day. She walked slowly from the library to the bus stop, going over First Amendment issues. That’s one area of the exam that I’ll ace. I know that cold. She thought about how glad she would be to finish this final class. Perhaps she’d have time to write poetry again.
The bus deposited her half a block from the rented house she shared with two friends. Cutting up the alley, she let herself in through the kitchen door. Jaylynn loved the old house she and Tim and Sara lived in. Not only was it situated right across the street from Como Lake, but it was also enormous. Every room was spacious with tall ceilings, ornate woodwork, and walk-in closets. She shut and locked the door quietly so as not to awaken Sara. Her other roommate, Tim, wasn’t home yet. She could tell because his beat-up red Corolla wasn’t parked out back. She tossed her keys on the table and crept up the stairs.
Sara must still be up, she thought as she turned the corner on the landing. The lamp in her roommate’s room cast a faint patch of light that slightly illuminated the top stairs. She thought of her friend sitting on the couch, studying in the spacious master bedroom, and she smiled, but then an acrid smell, like body odor, assaulted her senses. She squinched up her face and frowned. When she heard a thud and a ripping noise, she paused on the stairwell, heart beating fast for reasons she didn’t understand. She eased up the last two stairs and peered silently around the doorway into her friend’s room.
Sara lay twisting on the floor in the wide space between the twin beds, her hands taped together. A huge figure in a dark gray sweatshirt and black pants straddled her waist, muttering and threatening. He held a knife in one hand and a silver strip in the other. Sara screamed as he tried to put the duct tape over her mouth. She shook her head furiously, whipping around her long brown hair and causing it to stick to the tape. Her assailant slapped the side of her face and she screamed again and struggled, tears running down her cheeks, as he forced the strip of tape over her mouth.
He said, “Stop it! Stop fighting or I’ll—”
Without a thought, Jaylynn pushed into the room. “No, you stop it. Get out of here!”
“Oh, shit!” He rolled aside and spun around, grabbing the girl on the ground by the neck. “You move, I cut her throat. Got it?”
He wore a tan nylon stocking over his head, obscuring his face and making his features look distorted and diabolical. He glanced toward the shadowy area behind the door and said, “Get her!”
Jaylynn turned to see a smaller man, dressed like the first and also wearing a nylon mask. She screamed, a loud, throaty bellow. He was no taller than she, but was much stockier and held a wooden bat in one hand. As she screamed again and backed toward the door, the smaller man grabbed her by the shoulder and arm. He dragged her onto the twin bed near the door and shoved her so hard that she bounced when she hit the mattress. She saw the baseball bat coming at her face and rolled to the side to avoid it. It hit the wall with a resounding crash. As he dove toward her, Jaylynn got her feet up, knees to her chest, and kicked him in the torso, sending him sprawling against the opposite wall and to the floor. Before she could roll off the bed, he was up. He dove on her again, the bat in one hand and a hank of her hair in the other.
Jaylynn shrieked and growled, kicking at him and swinging wildly, some of her blows connecting solidly. He stumbled back from the bed, panting. Getting a better grip on the bat, he advanced on her again. “I’ll kill you, bitch!”
Footsteps pounded on the stairs, then a husky voice shouted, “Police!” A flashlight beam shone down the hall. Jaylynn’s attacker turned toward the doorway and she saw him swing the bat. It struck an arm coming low through the doorway and she heard a clatter. Jaylynn rolled off the bed. She yelped when her knees hit the floor and then she looked up to see a blue-clad figure dive into the room and roll. Instantly the cop was back up.
Dez winced when she saw the bat descending, but it was too late to pull back. She felt an explosion of pain when the bat connected, and her hand involuntarily turned and opened. Her Glock flew from her grasp and skittered behind her. She knew she didn’t have time to find it in the hallway and instead burst into the room shouting in rage.
The beefy man with the knife let go of Sara and pulled himself to his feet. His partner, wielding the bat, rushed Dez, only to be met by her right elbow slamming a solid blow to his face. He dropped the bat and staggered back, cradling his face. Jaylynn took the opportunity to kick him behind the knee and he screamed in pain and fell. She looked for Sara, caught her eye, and saw her friend’s look of terror. Jaylynn gestured, pointing toward the closet, but when Sara tried to rise, the big man shoved her, knocking her back to the floor. The bound woman made a high-pitched noise as she squirmed away and slid halfway under one of the twin beds on the far side of the room.
The man with the knife came at Dez in a rush, but out of control. She got the flashlight up to block the downward lunge of the blade and then kicked at his groin with her steel-toed service boot. Enraged, he yowled but kept on coming, managing to slice downward through her shirt to imbed the knife in her vest. She knocked aside his knife arm and gave him a right elbow to the chin, sending him off balance. Dez punched him in the side of the head with the flashlight. As he went down, the other man regained his footing and picked up the bat. He swung high and Dez ducked to a squat, then launched herself to head-butt him across the room. He hit the bedside table and smashed the lamp to the ground. Sara squeezed farther under the bed to avoid being landed on.
Dez extricated herself from the little man’s grip as Jaylynn sprang across the room and wrenched the bat from his hand. She whacked at his head. Though he raised his arms in defense, Jaylynn nailed him solidly on the collarbone, feeling a surge of adrenaline when he roared in pain. She stepped back, tripping over the big man’s leg as he rose, cradling his bleeding head. Scrambling on all fours, Jaylynn crawled across the carpet, up and over the twin bed near the door, and dove into the hall. I’ve got to find the gun. Find the gun. Find the gun. It repeated like a chant in her head. She spotted it on the landing three stairs below and picked it up, surprised to find it much lighter than she expected. She realized she didn’t know how it worked. Was there a safety?
As Jaylynn came back through the doorway, she saw the woman in blue whirl, graceful and deadly in the same motion. Every time an attacker came at her, she used quick left jabs and kicks to flatten one, then the other. The larger man wailed in a high-pitched voice and tried to get up. The cop nailed him in the side of the head with a vicious roundhouse and then kicked him in the chest.
“Stay down,” the cop shouted. The smaller man lay on his side, heaving with exertion. The officer handcuffed his wrist to the bigger man’s ankle, then jumped clear of them and, with her left hand, dragged Sara out from under the bed and toward the closet across the room.
Jaylynn stood in the doorway holding the bat and the black gun. “Here,” she said, offering the weapon to the police officer. She kept the bat for herself.
The tall, dark woman turned, her face white despite the exertion. She seemed enormous to Jaylynn—not fat, just solid and very powerful. Later, Jaylynn would remember the feral smile of satisfaction on the cop’s face and consider that she might be a very dangerous woman. But at that moment, as she looked into steel blue eyes for a heartbeat, she felt as though she knew her, and a thrill of recognition coursed through her mind. The blue eyes narrowed as they met her own, and for a brief moment, Jaylynn wondered if the woman recognized her, too. But of course she couldn’t know her. The cop hurried across the room and snatched the gun from Jaylynn.
Sara whimpered, and Jaylynn moved farther into the room. “Sara! Sara, are you all right?”
“Wait,” Dez said. She held the Glock in her left hand and stood over the two panting men. “Don’t move. I’d be so very happy to shoot your fuckin’ heads off if you move a single muscle.” Dez could hear the sirens coming, their whining becoming more insistent as her backup drew nearer. She glanced at Sara and made a quick motion with her head toward Jaylynn. “Get her outta here. Now! Into the hall. And be sure to stay clear of these two jokers. Wouldn’t want to have to blow their brains out, now would we?”
Jaylynn wanted to tell her it was perfectly all right with her if the cop emptied her gun into their sorry carcasses. Instead, she leapt to Sara’s side and helped her to her feet. She pulled her out into the hall where her friend sank to the floor sobbing. Jaylynn slowly pulled the duct tape off her mouth. She was still trying to loosen the twisted tape from Sara’s hands when the backup officers burst into the house.

THE HOUSE WAS surrounded with spotlights and curious onlookers. Police ran in and out of the stucco home as a tremendous commotion, both inside and outside, engulfed the neighborhood with noise and light. After a few tense moments, Dez relinquished her guard role and let the backup cops take charge. Once the suspects were properly cuffed, she stepped over and pulled the nylon masks off their heads. Two white males, in their early twenties, neither very handsome—especially in light of the damage she was glad she’d inflicted. The bigger man was bruised and bleeding from three gashes in his brows. His ear bled a trail down his neck. The slimmer man bled profusely from a cut below his left eye. At the moment, they were both sullen and angry as they sat on the floor muttering and cursing her. The backup cops read the two men their rights before dragging them out of the room and down the stairs.
Dez’s right arm throbbed painfully as she eased down the steps, passing the emergency medical team coming up the stairs for the injured young woman. A stream of cops crowded through the front door to take a look at the two suspects, both of whom Dez suspected were responsible for the neighborhood’s recent rapes.
The living room, now flooded with light and activity, was furnished with overstuffed chairs, a fluffy sofa, an upright piano, and a futon couch. Four oak bookcases full of neatly ordered books stood along one wall. Movie posters covered most of the other walls: a black-clad Schwartzenegger from The Terminator, Jackie Chan in a flying kick, Geena Davis pointing a gun, and Stallone hanging from a cliff. Dez walked through the room, past a Bruce Willis Die Hard poster, and out the front door. As she stepped wearily down the front stairs, a thin man dressed in khaki slacks and a tan t-shirt ran up the walkway.
“Where’s Jay and Sara?” he asked her breathlessly, running his hand through his red hair.
“Inside.” Two paramedics maneuvering a stretcher came up the walk toward her, and she navigated the last two stairs and stepped over onto the grass, gesturing to the young man to do the same. “Who are you, sir?”
“Tim Donovan—I live here.” He pushed past, looking back at her, his face pale and stricken. “Are they…uh…okay?”
“Yup, I think so.” Dez continued down the walk, suddenly feeling a bit sick to her stomach. As she moved along, she tried to flex her forearm, but it hurt too much. She looked at her watch: 11:58. In two minutes my shift is over. Good timing. She headed over to the ambulance to have her arm looked at.
Tim took the stairs two at a time and blasted into the house just in time to nearly mow over the EMTs and his two roommates.
“Sara, Jay, what happened?”
“Oh, Tim!” Sara fell into his arms weeping.
“Excuse me, sir,” the EMT said as he gently grasped Tim’s shoulder. “Please, we need to transport her.” The medic turned back to Sara. “Come along, Miss. Let’s take you in for a little look-see and make sure you’re okay.” He helped Sara onto the stretcher and covered her with a blanket.
“I’ll go with her,” Jaylynn said.
“Only room for one, ma’am,” the EMT said. He strapped Sara down and nodded toward his fellow medic, and they moved the stretcher toward the stairs.
Jaylynn turned to Tim. “One of us needs to go with her, but we need to close up the house, too.” She pointed at the open window at the top of the stairs.
“Here, Jay,” Tim said. He shot a hasty look toward the stairs as the EMTs rounded the corner and disappeared. Digging in his pocket he pulled out his car keys. “Take these. You drive over, and I’ll go with Sara now.” He turned and took the stairs down two at a time.
“Wait, which hospital?” she called out after his departing back. He paused, looking back at her impatiently as she said, “How do I know where to go?”
A patrolman standing behind her in the hall touched her arm. “I’m Officer Milton. I’ve got a lot of questions for the report. Why don’t you follow me over to the hospital?”
“There you go,” Tim said. “I’ll see you over there.” He disappeared down the stairs.
“I have to lock up the house,” Jaylynn said to the cop.
“Good idea,” said Officer Milton. “I’ll help you with the windows.”
Jaylynn collected her things and locked all the doors. As Officer Milton escorted her through the yard, a white van pulled up, and two men piled out of the vehicle. One shone a bright light in her face while the other man held a microphone and shouted questions at her.
The reporters did double-steps on the lawn next to Jaylynn and Milton as the officer tried to hurry them down the walk. “Can you tell us what happened?” one reporter asked in a breathless voice.
Jaylynn said, “I came home to find two men in our house attacking my roommate. They tried to get me, too, but before they could, a cop—” She stopped and looked around the yard, letting her eyes come to rest on the various police cruisers. “It was a woman cop. I don’t know who she is, but she nailed both of them even after losing her gun. It was incredible, a sight to behold!” She looked up at Milton. “Who was she, Officer? Where’d she go?”
“Reilly,” Milton muttered.
“Who?” Jaylynn said, but the reporters had already heard.
“Reilly? Desiree Reilly?” one of the men repeated excitedly. “Reilly was the officer? Oh, this is going to be a great story. What else can you tell us?”
“That’s it, folks,” Milton said as he pushed past them. “You know the channels to go through.” He took hold of Jaylynn’s elbow and rushed her down the walk. Wordlessly, he helped her into Tim’s Toyota, then got in his cruiser and slammed the door. He turned on his lights, but not his siren, and pulled around the other police cars parked haphazardly along the street, slowing to wait for Jaylynn to catch up with him. Jaylynn looked back at the scene. Neighbors stood in tight little bunches watching from the front stoops of their houses. She waved as she passed the couple on the corner and they hesitantly waved back, not quite sure who she was.

DEZ’S FOREARM SWELLED so quickly that before she even arrived at the hospital, the paramedic had to immobilize the forearm with an inflatable splint. “It’s likely broken, you know,” he said.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
At the emergency room they led her through the crowded waiting area and toward an examining room. She didn’t want to look around, but she couldn’t help herself. The last time she had been here was for Ryan. Even now her eyes filled with bitter tears, and she bit her lip to try to control her thoughts. She hated this place, didn’t want to be here. She considered turning around to leave, but before she could, the nurse on duty was at her heels ushering her to a table. The nurse helped her unbutton and remove the bloodied and tattered blue shirt, and Dez pulled at the Velcro on the bulletproof vest. The nurse picked up a pair of trauma shears.
Dez said, “Hey, no! These things are expensive.”
“Do you keep them if they’re sliced open like that?” The nurse pointed to Dez’s left breast. Dez looked down, surprised to see an 8-inch gash. “It’s easier to cut it away. Otherwise I might hurt you,” the nurse said, a question in her voice.
Dez shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t worry.”
The nurse put down the shears and ripped at the Velcro straps on the vest as Dez looked around. The emergency room wasn’t all that big, with six bays, three on either side of an aisle that ran up the middle of the area. Her overall impression of the room was that it was filled with a lot of pipes and tubes and contraptions, and the dominant colors were white or dull silver. She thought it smelled like some sort of cleaning fluid. Dez sat on the exam table closest to the door. In the back corner, farthest from the door, an elderly woman lay hooked up to oxygen and strands of other tubes. With eyes closed, her hands fluttered across the chest of her pink robe as a technician fussed over her. Heart attack, Dez thought. That’s what that looks like.
The nurse managed to get the vest loosened and off. She pulled at Dez’s t-shirt.
“It’s just my arm. No need to strip naked is there?”
“I need to be sure you’re not hurt anywhere else.” The nurse pulled the curtain around the bay.
Dez frowned. It occurred to her that if she hadn’t realized her vest was shredded, then the nurse probably thought she might not know about other injuries. “Here, check me over.” Dez lifted her shirt with her left arm and the nurse ran her hand across her back, down her abdomen. “I think I’m fine. Really. I’d tell you if I was hurt anywhere else.”
The nurse nodded as she helped pull the t-shirt back down. “Can’t help it, Officer. They’d have my head if I missed anything.” She leaned down and untied Dez’s black work boots and slipped them off. “Step out of the slacks, too. Stand up. Here, I’ll help you.” She laid the blue pants over the exam table and checked the big cop over, then handed her a nearly translucent sheet to put over her bare legs. “Just sit back up there.” Once she was situated, the nurse got out a blood pressure cuff and strapped it on Dez’s arm, checked her pulse and blood pressure, and shone a light in her eyes. Dez bore the exam patiently.
“Okay, you’re doing fine,” the nurse said as she removed the cuff. “Let’s go ahead and get you dressed again, and I’ll have the doctor come in as soon as possible.” They worked together to get her re-dressed as Dez cautiously held her right arm.
The nurse whipped open the curtain around the area and tried to catch the attending physician’s eye. When that failed, she sighed and her brown eyes looked tired.
Dez asked, “Been a long shift, huh?”
“Yes, and I’ve only been here four hours. It’s been quite a night. As soon as he checks you over, we’ll get you across the hall to radiology.”
From outside the tiny box of a room where the x-ray machine was kept, Dez sat on a bench and observed the arrival of the victims of the evening’s melee. Paramedics rolled a weeping Sara into the ER, followed closely by the red-haired man who stutter-stepped alongside the gurney in order to hold the hand of the young woman. Moments later, Jaylynn came running in, Officer Milton at her heels. Not long after that, a middle-aged woman appeared in the doorway and was ushered over to the partly curtained area.
When the x-rays were done, the nurse gave Dez an ice pack for her forearm, and she was led back into the emergency room where she eased herself onto the exam table.
“Hey, Milton,” Dez called out to her fellow officer as he finished talking to the young woman on the gurney and flipped his notebook closed.
He looked up and nodded, then strode toward her and smiled. “Reilly. You’re hurt, huh?”
“Arm. Guy hit me here.” She lifted the ice bag and gestured toward the middle of her forearm. “Think it’s busted—maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll just be a bad bruise, but I have a hunch it’s cracked.”
“Tough luck, but hey, you did good tonight.”
“Yeah, I’m glad for them.”
Their backs were to Dez, but she could see the red-haired man with his arm around the feisty blonde woman. Dez’s face took on a puzzled look as she stared at her. Where have I seen her before? She surveyed the lean legs and khaki shorts, the hot pink tank top and the well-rounded hips and shoulders. Short white-blonde hair topped a long, regal neck. Dez wished the woman would turn around so she could study her more closely.
She couldn’t see the girl who had been attacked, though she could see an older lady leaning over her  whom she assumed to be the young woman’s mother. Dez heard a soft murmur of reassuring words being spoken to the girl. The doctor and another nurse swept past Milton and headed for the bay where the brown-haired girl lay. The nurse stopped for a brief moment and waved the two onlookers away. It was clear that the two friends tried to protest, but the doctor reached up and pulled a curtain around the bay to shut them out. They stepped back and Milton called out, “C’mon, people. Let her mom handle this for a bit. They’ll take good care of her. Come out and wait with me.”
They headed toward the door, both focusing on Milton. The woman glanced briefly at Dez and did a double take. “You! It’s you.” She stopped in front of Dez, close enough to put her hand on the injured cop’s knee. “What happened?” Behind her the red-haired man stepped up to peer over his friend’s shoulder.
Dez shrugged as she felt herself blush. She lifted the ice bag again to display her swollen arm, which was also beginning to show the pale outline of a wide bruise.
“How did you… How did that happen?”
“Little guy hit me with the bat when I first came in the room.”
“But—but, how did you do that—stop them, I mean—with your arm like that?”
Dez shrugged again and knew her face was fully crimson.
The woman went on. “Well, that was totally exhilarating. It was amazing to see! You were incredible.”
Dez mumbled, “Not really. Actually, you did half of it. If you hadn’t kicked them a few times, I would’ve been in worse trouble.”
The nurse returned just then. “All right, all right,” she said. “Enough with the visiting. I’ve got work to do. Out. Out into the waiting area.” She shooed them out, waving at Milton, too.
Dez put her hand on Milton’s sleeve to hold him back. “Before you go, what are their names?”
“Don’t know the man’s yet, but I’m gonna question them now,” he said. He flipped open his memo book and thumbed down a few pages. “Her name’s Jaylynn Savage, and that one over there,” he nodded toward the bay in the corner, “she’s Sara Wright.”
“Thanks,” she said, and then the nurse demanded her attention to tell her the doctor would be in shortly to set her arm and have it casted. It’s broken, Dez thought. That’s just great. Three or four weeks of desk duty. Just what I need. Shit.

JAYLYNN AND TIM settled into the waiting room among a conglomeration of sickly and unhappy people either waiting to be seen or waiting for some loved one.
“She didn’t look so good, did she, Tim?” Jaylynn said.
He fidgeted and said, more sharply than he meant, “Well, she just survived a beating and a near rape. What do you expect?”
“No, I don’t mean Sara. The cop. I meant the cop.”
“Oh yeah, her, too.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a comb to nervously style his hair.
Jaylynn winced, remembering the cop’s battered arm. And to think I didn’t even notice what happened! How could I have been so blind? I remember him hitting her with the bat...but now that I think about it, of course she wouldn’t escape unscathed. In bat versus arm, the bat always wins.
Tim put his comb back in his pocket. “I don’t know what would have happened if I had come home and found you both being raped. Or dead. Oh, God.” Shaking, he took a deep breath and put his head between his knees, messing up his hair.
Jaylynn draped her arm across his back and leaned down to speak in his ear. “That didn’t happen, so don’t even think about it. It’s all right, Tim.”
He sat back up and shivered. “Keep reminding me, okay?” He got his comb back out and repeated the styling, his hands shaking.
It took almost an hour before they learned the hospital would keep Sara overnight for observation. Until then, they sat in the waiting room watching wounded people being hauled in and scores of cops coming and going through the ER entrance. Jaylynn wondered if every cop in St. Paul had stopped by the hospital to check on Officer Reilly.
She turned the events of the night over and over in her head. What if she hadn’t come home when she did? What if Sara had been killed? She shuddered. What if both of them had been killed? What if the cop hadn’t shown up when she did? Too many “what-ifs.” Jaylynn looked over at Tim. His head was tipped back against the wall and he was asleep, his hand in hers. Just then the glass door leading to the exam rooms opened and the woman cop emerged, followed by a nurse. She carried her blue uniform shirt and a gray vest in her good hand. In the thin tank t-shirt her broad shoulders were nearly as white as the cast that covered her right arm from knuckles to elbow. She and the nurse went to the main desk and spoke briefly with the clerk who handed her a white prescription bag. Jaylynn watched as the tall woman tried to sign something with her right hand in a cast, then gave up and switched to her left hand, which she held awkwardly above the paper on the high counter.
Two patrol officers rose from the uncomfortable waiting room chairs on the other side of the room and strolled toward the woman cop. The male officer was young, his bleached white hair in a buzz cut, and he wore golden wire-rimmed glasses. He swaggered over, his bow-legged stride confident and sure. Taking shorter paces next to him was a smaller, wide-shouldered Latino woman. Her short-cropped hair was jet-black and she was probably in her late thirties. The male cop came up behind the wounded woman and gave her a mock blow to the lower back, and she turned. A slow smile crossed her face and she smacked him in the stomach with the back of her good hand as the woman slid her arm around Reilly’s waist. She said something in the injured woman’s ear, which must have been serious because Reilly looked down at her cast and nodded grimly.
That Reilly sure is tall, Jaylynn thought. She towered a good foot over the nurse and was maybe six inches taller than the other woman cop. Without the bulk of the vest she looked slimmer than she had during the fight. Jaylynn admired her lean hips and very wide shoulders. From behind, she was as broad-shouldered as a man, except that with her brunette hair French-braided so beautifully, it wasn’t likely she’d be mistaken for one. The big officer slung his arm across her shoulders, and as the three moved to leave, Jaylynn could see how tired the injured cop looked.
“Hey,” Jaylynn said over the low din in the room. She almost didn’t expect to be heard, but Dez looked at her and gave her a quick nod.
“Wait a minute,” Jaylynn heard her say to the two cops, and then she strolled toward her and the sleeping man. Jaylynn stared at Reilly and was captivated again by the bluest, steeliest eyes she’d ever seen, eyes that bored right through her. Her heart beat faster and she choked in a short intake of breath, tilting her head slightly to the side to try to take in the strange, almost disturbing glimpse of something familiar yet forgotten. She extricated herself from Tim and rose to face the woman in blue. She reached out for Dez’s left hand saying, “Thanks for what you did,” and squeezed the bigger hand and reluctantly let go.
“No problem. It’s my job.”
Jaylynn smiled and gazed up into tired but warm blue eyes. “I hardly think getting your arm broken is in the job description.”
Dez shook her head. “Not usually.”


www.LoriLLake.com

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Heat Trap (#3 in the Plumber’s Mate mystery series) excerpt by JL Merrow


In Heat Trap, #3 in the Plumber’s Mate mystery series by JL Merrow, the wrong secret could flush their love down the drain
It’s been six months since plumber Tom Paretski was hit with a shocking revelation about his family. His lover, P.I. Phil Morrison, is pushing this as an ideal opportunity for Tom to try to develop his psychic talent for finding things. Tom would prefer to avoid the subject altogether, but just as he decides to bite the bullet, worse problems come crawling out of the woodwork.
Marianne, a young barmaid at the Devil’s Dyke pub, has an ex who won’t accept things are over between them. Grant Carey is ruthless in dealing with anyone who gets between him and Marianne, including an old friend of Tom and Phil. Their eagerness to step in and help only makes them targets of Grant’s wrath themselves.
With Tom’s uncertainty about Phil’s motives, Tom’s family doing their best to drive a wedge between them, and the revelation of an ugly incident in Phil’s past, suddenly Tom’s not sure whom he can trust.
The body in the Dyke’s cellar isn’t the only thing that stinks.

Warning: Contains British slang, a very un-British heat wave, and a plumber with a psychic gift who may not be as British as he thinks he is.

Heat Trap
SamhainPublishing (March 17, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1619229242
ISBN-13: 978-1619229242

Excerpt:
I’d never gone into a pub cellar before—I might be a plumber, but the sort of liquids they have piped in down there aren’t really my area of expertise. Then again, I suppose I’ve downed a few pints in my time. I’d expected it to be fairly small, just room for a few barrels and pipelines. Maybe another room where they stored the spares, and the bottles of wine and bags of crisps and stuff.

It was actually pretty massive, with four or five separate rooms leading off from the narrow stone stairway. It couldn’t stretch as far as the whole upstairs floor space, owing to the medieval well in the public bar which must still have been in use when the cellar was dug, but it couldn’t be far off. If trade at the Devil’s Dyke ever took off in a big way, landlady Harry could put in a whole separate bar down here if she wanted to. The walls were whitewashed brick, with those low, curving ceilings you always seemed to get in cellars built during Ye Olde Tymes.
It was as if I’d dropped in on a hobbit with a drinking problem.
And a housekeeping problem, come to that. It smelt pretty rank down here. There was something about the odour that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, although maybe it was just down to the chill in the air here after the oven-like conditions back upstairs in the land of the living. I stood stock-still, opened up the spidey-senses and listened.
I practically fell over with the force of the vibes buffeting me in the chest.
I couldn’t believe I’d been sitting in the bar having a pint, oblivious. How could I have blocked out something that strong? There was guilt and anger—and fear too. My stomach went cold as I realised just what I was likely to find down here.
I turned to Marianne. “I reckon you’ve got more to worry about than a burst drain, love.” My face must have looked as iffy as I felt, as she wrapped skinny arms around herself, her pretty face a picture of worry.
I followed the thick, sickly vibes out of the main cellar with its shiny metal barrels and high-tech pump lines, the hum of the chiller unit fading behind me. They took me down the dimly lit passageway that led to the farthest cellar room. It was clearly used as a dumping ground for any old rubbish Harry hadn’t got around to chucking away yet.
Among other things.
It was warmer in here, although still nowhere near as hot as upstairs, and close up, the stench was sickening. Let’s face it, in my profession you get used to the odd nasty niff, from blocked drains and bunged-up loos and that, but the stink of death? That’s something else. I think it’s the sweetness that gets to me most. Like, what the hell is something so awful doing smelling sweet? I gagged and clapped a hand over my nose and mouth. It didn’t help. The reek of decay seemed to seep inside my lungs even when I wasn’t inhaling. I had to force myself to go on looking.
Didn’t take me long to find it. Talk about following your nose. It was wedged behind some barrels—actual old wooden ones, covered in cobwebs. God knows why they were down here. Maybe they’d been left by the original owner of the place. Any beer they’d ever held had long since been drunk, or maybe just evaporated over the centuries.
The body didn’t actually look as far gone as you’d think, given the smell. The features were swollen, grotesque, but still recognisable.
At least, I recognised them.

JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea.  She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance, and is frequently accused of humour.  Her novel Relief Valve, #2 in the Plumber’s Mate series, is a finalist in the 2015 EPIC Awards.
Find JL Merrow online at: www.jlmerrow.com


Monday, March 9, 2015

Pretty Boy Dead excerpt by Jon Michaelsen

Pretty Boy Dead excerpt by Jon Michaelsen

In the 2014 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Gay Mystery, Pretty Boy Dead author Jon Michaelsen stirs a murderous brew with ingredients of a murdered male stripper, a missing go-go dancer. a city councilman on the hook. Can Atlantlike a Homicide Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker solve the vicious crime while remaining safely hidden behind the closet door?
Excerpt:

“I’ve talked to a few of the bartenders,” Perelli shouted, leaning near his partner’s ear. He stuck a thumb over his shoulder as Parker turned. “None….good…say…”
Unable to understand, he motioned for them to move up the stairs and out into the main room. “What were you saying?” he asked, ignoring the ringing echo in his ears.
“No luck so far. I’ve talked to several employees, but nothing.” Perelli tipped his cup on end, licking the remnants of alcohol from the corners of his mouth. “I’m getting another. Want one?”
“Take it easy on the alcohol, Perelli.”
Perelli waved him off and shot across the carpeted floor, returning moments later with a fresh drink. “Cops carry clout in these places,” he said. “No waiting in line either.” The threat to his masculinity had abated with a few drinks. So, it seemed, had his cold shoulder to Parker. “Hell, this place ain’t so bad,” he sneered. “Despite all the fucking fags.”
Parker ignored his partner’s comment, distracted by the movement of a patron across the room. The young man was edging toward the emergency exit and kept an eye peeled in their direction.
“What’s up, partner?”
“I’m not sure yet,” said Parker. “You see the guy over there in the red tank?” Perelli followed Parker’s stare and nodded. “Since we’ve been standing here, he’s slipped through the crowd, not a word to anyone, but kept watching us. Looks like he’s headed for that exit.”
“I’d say he’s about to bolt.” Perelli tossed his cup into a nearby trash bin and leaned in close to Parker’s ear. “I’ll head out front and swing around,” he said. “He makes a run for it, I’ll be there.”
Parker studied the character over his partner’s shoulder. “Keep it cool, Perelli,” he said. “If the dude makes a break for it, detain him and that’s all. It’s probably nothing, but I want to be sure. And watch your back.”
Perelli disappeared through the squash of bodies. Parker sipped his cocktail, peering over the rim of the plastic cup as he watched the man’s eyes springboard around the room. Parker spotted Callahan and two goons moving in fast as the man rushed to make a break for it. A hand slapped onto Parker’s arm about the time he started to advance.
“Slade. What the hell are you doing here?”
The reporter smirked. Parker turned back in time to see the red shirt had moved closer to the emergency exit. A cluster of chatty men blocked his view as Slade tugged his arm again.
You’re working the park homicide, aren’t you? Why else would you be here?” Slade tried to follow Parker’s line of sight across the room. “I know the victim worked here as a dancer, a mighty popular one, I might add.”
“What’s your point?” Parker turned away and craned his neck over the crowd in front of him. He spotted the tousled blond hair of the young man within inches of freedom. “Some other time,” he said.
All eyes were on Parker as he shoved and elbowed his way through the crowd, stepping on a few toes along the way. He heard some choice words and threats in his wake. Patrons dashed out of the way and protected their drinks.
The guy threw open the emergency door and set off the alarm. Someone nearby screamed and people scattered in the opposite direction. Callahan and his men retreated as Parker reached the exit, slammed through the door and leaped into the alleyway beside the club.
Pitch black. Retrieving his gun with his right hand, he clasped the butt of the weapon with his left and waited wide-eyed for his pupils to adjust.Where was Perelli? Brooks? The smell of sewage and stale beer hung in the night air. Behind him, the heavy door shut.
An eerie silence invaded the area.

Parker stood in total darkness, his weapon aimed, and safety released. His heart pumped like a jackhammer as he scanned the area. He ventured forward, placing one foot carefully before the next in slow, measured steps. The grit on the asphalt crunched beneath his rubber soles and echoed in his ears.
The exit door had dumped him into the narrow alleyway accessed by main roads at either end of the Metroplex. A long, dark vehicle facing the opposite direction hugged the cinderblock wall of the building, exhaust from its tailpipe drifting skyward from an idling engine. The tinted windows were slick with raindrops, and the headlights off. Parker glanced to the left. A pile of empty liquor boxes seemed to be the only hiding place, because the guy didn’t have enough time to get to Juniper Street.
Where the fuck’s Perelli?
Seconds ticked away in the quiet alley. Parker edged forward to inspect the pile of rubbish, poking at the refuse with the barrel of his gun. Nothing. Moving around to the other side, he nudged at several lower boxes with his toe. No movement. His stomach constricted and his legs stiffened with anticipation. Perspiration slid down his temples, but he dared not wipe the sweat away. Two minutes had passed since his burst through the door and still nothing stirred.
Every cop dreaded such a situation, slow dancing in the shadows alone with a robber, a thief…a killer. Fear had a way of clutching the heart and soul, controlling all logic. He knew from experience the anxiety coursing through his veins was enough to riddle a man’s body stiff and lock his joints, even for tough cops like him. It had a mind of its own…fear, dominating the human psyche, causing one to act out of desperation, to strike when provoked. Fear.
Fear of the unknown or fear of death?
Parker backed away from the boxes, his eyes glued to the pile of cardboard, his breathing more rapid and his heartbeat echoing in his ears.Easy, he coaxed himself. Wait him out. He swung his arms slowly to the right, following the point just above the barrel of his weapon. Steady… 
A cat screamed in the distance, sending chills up Parker’s spine. He stepped into something cold and wet, the mess oozing into his shoe as a pungent odor hit his nose. A door in the wall next to the parked vehicle burst open and out stepped a short figure in a suit, bathed in the interior light when the car door opened. He heard a faint step, saw a flash of red before something heavy struck hard against the back of his head.
Pain shot through his neck and shoulders. He stumbled forward off balance, but managed to fire a single shot into the brick wall before losing his grip on the gun. A broken bottle, lead pipe, splintered board—whatever the hell it was—held by a shadowed hand cracked hard across Parker’s skull. He tumbled to the wet pavement in time to see confusion flicker across the face of the suited man ducking into the backseat of the sedan. The vehicle’s engine revved, and its tires squealed as it raced away.Fuck!
The attacker dropped its weapon and sprinted in the opposite direction. Parker got to his knees and fumbled around for his gun. He stood, staggered a second, and took off after the attacker in a running stumble. The pressure and pain at the base of his head pulsated as he ran. Warm blood flowed from above his right ear, filling his ear canal and running down his jaw and neck.
The suspect had darted around the building onto Juniper. Parker neared the corner wall and halted, putting his back against the brick wall to avoid another attack. He  sucked in a deep breath and threw his entire weight around the corner with his pistol drawn. In the distance, two figures scuffled in the middle of the road, their struggle illuminated by a nearby street lamp.
Freeze!” Parker chased after the man, spitting blood as he ran. 
The suspect glanced up, panicked and clamped his teeth down hard on Perelli’s arm before stabbing him in the chest with something. Perelli yelled, released his hold and fell to the asphalt clutching his neck. The perpetrator sprinted down the block and disappeared at the next side street.  


 Jon Michaelsen