Monday, February 25, 2008

The Ninth Man excerpt by Dorien Grey


The following is an excerpt from "The Ninth Man". "The Ninth Man" was technically the first book written for the Dick Hardesty Mystery series, before I had any idea it was going to be a series. However, it was originally put out as an e-book and was not issued in print until after "The Butcher's Son", which was actually intended as a prequel to "The Ninth Man."



The Ninth Man, by Dorien Grey
GLB Publishers (2001)
ISBN: 1-879194-78-3

Excerpt:

It's hard to remember, now, that there was a time not so
long ago when all it took to do whatever you wanted was to find
someone willing to do it with you--when the highest "wages of sin" you
might have to pay was a case of clap. It was a different time, and a
different world, and I miss it.

-----

It was hotter than hell, the air conditioner hadn't worked
since the Titanic went down, and I was in no mood for the
bleached-blond queen who came swishing across the room toward me after
making an entrance that made me wonder whatever happened to Loretta
Young. There were times when I almost wished I had a few straight
clients, and this was one of those times. Still, I told myself, it
isn't the principle of the thing, it's the money.

I stood up and extended my hand. As I expected, the
proffered paw was limp and vaguely clammy.

"Mr. Rholfing." I made it a statement, not a question.
Clients, I've found, expect you to be decisive. Authoritative.
Butch. It's bullshit, but it works.

"Yes, Mr. Hardesty." Jesus, he sounded as nelly as he
looked. "I'm so glad you could see me." I felt his eyes giving my
entire body a radar scan.

He was wearing one of those cloying perfumes/colognes that
emanate an almost visible fog around the wearer.

"Have a chair," I said, indicating the one that would have
been upwind if there'd been any movement of air through the open
window, which there wasn't.

I sat down behind my desk and watched as Rholfing
fluttered down, with considerable butt-wiggling, and immediately
crossed his legs at the knee. He was dressed all in perma-starched
white, with a flaming yellow ascot which missed his hair color by
about eight shades. He looked like a butter-pecan ice cream cone with
delusions of grandeur. After the talcum had settled, I sat back in my
own chair and forced myself to stare directly at my prospective
client--mentally picturing a maraschino cherry and some chopped nuts
atop the carefully coifed curls.

Rholfing leaned forward, crossing his wrists on his
crossed knees, and said simply: "Someone has killed my lover."

Why me, Lord? Why do I get all the cracked marbles?

We stared at one another in silence for a moment or two
until I finally managed to remind myself that that's what I'm in
business for: to solve other people's mysteries.

"Any idea who?" I asked.

"How should I know?" he said, exasperated, his manicured
hands fluttering up a short distance from his knees, only to settle
back, studiedly.

"Well, at the risk of sounding a bit like a B movie," I
said, "isn't this a matter for the police?"

Rholfing stared at me as though I'd just farted in church.

"The police all but said that he committed suicide. The
police," he said finally, "eat shit. Somebody killed him."

The thought flashed through my mind that anyone sharing an
evening, let alone a life, with the character in front of me might
well be a candidate for suicide. "Exactly what makes you think he was
murdered?" I asked, choosing not to get into a long discussion of the
merits and flaws of law enforcement.

"Bobby was 27 years old, healthy as a horse--hung like
one, too--and never had a sick day in his life, unless you count
hangovers. Personally, I don't. And all of a sudden he's dead in
some cheap, tacky hotel room without a mark on him and the police
think it was suicide!"

"I assume there was an autopsy," I said. "What did they
say about that?"

"Oh, they said several things, none of which a lady cares
to repeat. The gist of it was that while it was perfectly all right
for a fruit like me to come down to the morgue to identify the body,
since I was neither a blood relative nor his legal guardian, I had no
right whatsoever to any information other than that he's dead--which
any fool could see, with him lying there on that fucking slab!"

"And that was it?"

Rholfing took a small white handkerchief from his shoulder
bag and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. He then carefully folded
it, returned it to the bag, zipped the bag shut, and re-creased the
already razor-sharp crease in his trousers with thumb and forefinger
before finally re-meeting my gaze.

"Not quite," he said. "Two of the burly cretins took me
into a small room and subtly asked me what my experience had been with
poisons. Poisons! Me! I was tempted to tell them to drop by some
afternoon for tea and I'd see what I could do, but I'd just had the
fumigators in. Me! Lucrezia Borgia! Can you imagine?"

As a matter of fact, I could.

"Now, I may be a fairy," he continued, smoothing down the
back of his hair with one hand, "but I certainly am not stupid! Their
refusing to tell me how he died in one breath and asking me about
poisons in the next was about as subtle as a lighted match on the
Hindenburg.

"Bobby was murdered. There's no question about it. And
knowing how the police in this city feel about faggots, the only was
anyone is going to find out who killed Bobby is for me to hire you.
You come..." he gave me a smile I'm sure he meant to be disarming, but
came across outright lecherous "...very highly recommended."

"Thanks," I said, awkwardly. I never did learn how to
accept compliments very well--even those without hooks in them. "Have
you spoken to Bobby's parents about this?" I asked.

"What parents?" Rholfing asked, haughtily. "He told me he
had a grandfather back in Utah somewhere, but he never mentioned
parents, if he ever had any."

"So can you tell me anything about Bobby that might help?" I asked.

"Well, he was a tramp--that much I know. He'd go home
with anything in pants. I told him I was going to get him his own
portable glory hole and put it out in the street in front of the
apartment. At least that way I'd know where he was all the time."

"Did the police say anything about drugs?"

Rholfing thought a moment, lips pursed, nose wrinkled,
brows knit, eyes looking upward at nothing. "I don't think so. Just
poisons."

"Did he use drugs?" I asked.

Rholfing sighed. "No, thank God. That was one of his
good points--about his only one, come to think of it: he never got
mixed up with drugs. Oh, he'd smoke a joint now and then, but I guess
we all do, don't we?" He gave me a conspiratorial wink--the kind you
can see from the top row of the balcony--and that coy/lecherous smile
again.

I didn't say anything for a moment (that's a bad habit I
have; when I don't have anything to say, I tend not to say
anything--bugs the shit out of a lot of people), and Rholfing sat
there looking more and more uncomfortable as the seconds dragged on.
He pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from God knows where and began
waving it gently back and forth beneath his chin. A tiny droplet of
perspiration crept from his hairline and meandered its way across his
left temple.

Finally, he couldn't stand it. "Well? Will you take the case?"

"Okay," I said. "But I don't have much to go on." God!
Where had I heard that line before?

"Well, find something," Rholfing blurted, revealing the
rolled-steel interior behind that whipped-cream and lace facade.
"You're the big, strong detective. To the cops he's just another dead
fag, and good riddance--but nobody kills my lover and gets away with
it." He must have anticipated my next comment, because he hastened to
add: "Don't worry about the money. Daddy has five or six acres of
downtown Fort Worth, and he'll give me anything I want just for me to
stay the hell away from there."

I found myself in something of a quandary. I had--clich├ęs
aside--very little to go on. Given Rholfing's account of the
circumstances of the death, however accurate or inaccurate they may
have been, and despite his denial of his lover's drug use, the obvious
assumption was that it was very likely a routine drug overdose. But
that's why people hire me in the first place; if they knew all the
answers, who'd need a detective? The police were notoriously
uncooperative in anything that smacked of homosexuality. And I wasn't
exactly in a position to pass up a potential client--particularly one
whose Daddy had five or six acres of downtown Fort Worth.

I thought of Tim Jackson, a sometime-trick and pretty
good friend of mine who works in the county coroner's office. I'd
never had the occasion to use his professional services, but maybe now
was the time.

"Okay, Mr. Rholfing; I'll check it out," I said. "But
don't expect miracles."

I thought he was going to leap across the desk and kiss me. Fortunately, he didn't.

"Now, about my fee..." I began, but he cut me off by
digging into his shoulder bag and coming up with five crisp, new $100
bills.

"Will this be enough? For a retinue, or whatever in hell
it is you call it?"

"Retainer, and it'll do just fine," I said, making a
conscious effort not to grab it out of his hand.

"You will call me, won't you?" he said, rising out of his
chair as graceful as a hot-air balloon and again giving me the radar
scan. "Even if you don't have anything to report, I'd appreciate your
keeping in... close...touch." He used one hand to adjust his shoulder
bag while the other made an inspection of the back of his shirt,
pulling and tugging at imaginary wrinkles. "Perhaps you could stop by
for a drink some evening?" He sounded like Delilah asking Samson to
stop by for a haircut. "You do have my name and address, don't you?"

I assured him I had written them down when he called for the
appointment, resisting the temptation to speculate that every tearoom
wall in town had his number. I rose and he, eyes glued to my crotch,
offered me a dead hand at the end of a limp wrist. I wasn't sure
whether I was supposed to kiss it or shake it, so I took the latter
course, and he turned on his little ballerina feet and swished to the
door.

"Oh, there is one little thing," I called after him as his
hand reached for the knob. He turned quickly, eyes sparkling
coquettishly.

"Yes?"

"About your lover."

"Who?"

"Your lover. Bobby."

"Oh. Yes." He looked disappointed.

"It might help if I knew his last name."

"McDermott," he said over his shoulder as he opened the
door. "Bobby McDermott." And with that, he was gone.

I sat back down, leaned back in my chair, and put my
thumbnail between my teeth--a dumb habit, I'll admit, but that's the
kind of thing you do when you go from three packs of cigarettes a day
to nothing. I stared at the door for a minute, then pulled my thumb
out of my mouth, reached for a note pad, and wrote "Bobby McDermott."

Part of me felt slightly guilty for taking Rholfing's
money; one call to Tim Jackson should confirm that it was drugs and
give me whatever other information I might need to wrap the whole
matter up.

It was five thirty; too late to reach Tim at the office
but, if I waited a few minutes, I could probably reach him at home.
Suddenly, I was looking at my crotch, and it was reminding me of how
long it had been since I'd seen Tim.

It was too hot to wait in the office, so I decided to go
down the street to Hughie's and have a drink. I could call Tim from
there. Thin wisps of Rholfing's cologne still hung in the air so,
cursing the broken air conditioner and hoping it wouldn't rain, I left
the window wide open as I closed the door behind me.

http://www.doriengrey.net/

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