Monday, November 24, 2008

Mexican Heat excerpt by Laura Baumbach & Josh Lanyon

Tough, street-smart SFPD Detective Gabriel Sandalini is willing to do whatever it takes to bring down West Coast crime boss Ricco Botelli -- including a dangerous, deep undercover gig as one of Botelli's hired guns. But Gabriel's best laid plans may come crashing down around him when he falls hard for the sexy, suave lieutenant of a rival Mexican drug lord. Turns out his new love interest may have a few secrets of his own: secrets that could destroy both men and the fragile bond between them. A new romantic crime series from the combined talents of popular award winning authors Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon.

Mexican Heat (Crimes & Cocktails Mystery Series #1)
MLR Press (Novembe, 2008)
ISBN: 978-1-934531-05-1


"I think..." There was a deliberate pause. "I'd prefer it the other way around."

Huh? Gabriel tried to remember exactly what he'd said, and hissed as he was unexpectedly hauled off the desk. Hands momentarily free, he lashed out, managing to land a couple of largely ineffectual blows at the other's head. A second later his arms were yanked behind his back, wrists pinioned by one large, capable hand.

Christ, this guy was strong. Gabriel felt a flicker of genuine alarm. Even if he really wanted free, he wasn't sure he'd manage it. Once again he was manhandled over the desk.

Fingers threaded his hair, caressing, curling through the long strands. "So soft," the big man murmured. "Like a kitten."

"K-kitten? I remind you of a goddamned kitten?" Gabriel stuttered his indignation, trying to shake off the tender touch. He didn't want tenderness, didn't want caresses. He tossed his head, but the questing fingers merely clamped in his hair, demanding stillness.

"Shhh." And the guy said it gently like he fully expected Gabriel to hush up now.

And appallingly Gabriel felt a melting in his gut, a desire to shut up and do whatever this prick told him to do. "I see," he sneered instead. "So what animal are you supposed to be?" He made his tone as offensive as he could. "A goat? A rooting, rutting pig maybe?"

The larger man sucked in a sharp breath, and the expansion of his chest pressed Gabriel against the desk's edge already biting into his hips.

"D'you...mind..." he gasped.

"I might," he was informed mildly. "I might be quite sensitive, gatito. You might have seriously hurt my feelings."

Once again the sonofabitch was laughing at Gabriel. He ground out, "Yeah, right. Okay, asshole. Fun is fun. Now let me up. I've got things to do and places to go. Not that this hasn't been a night to remember..."

A breath of tequila huffed against the side of his face, tickling his ear. "Is that what you really want, little tiger? You do not like my...attentions?"

Gabriel shivered as the man plastered himself closer still, his stiff member rubbing up and down Gabriel's ass. "You do not want my...warmth against your body?"

Gabriel swallowed hard. Yeah, he wanted the big man's warmth. He wanted his attentions all right. His ass was aching for something more than a rough rub through the layers of their clothing. But this was outside of his experience, outside of his control. Why not admit it? This guy scared Gabriel. Yeah, a tough street cop, a guy who'd seen it all and even done a lot of it in the interests of justice, he was scared. His body was literally shaking with a crazy mix of desire and alarm.

He shook his head, not trusting his voice.

"We both know you're lying, mi gatito parvulo." A big hand slid between Gabriel's legs to grope the hard bulge there. "You desire me, si?"

"No, I don't see," Gabriel gritted. But, oh God, the feel of that big hand fondling him through the stiff denim of his jeans. It was all he could do not to beg.

The exploring hand found his waistband, and expertly worked the button fly of his jeans. Before Gabriel could do more than grunt out a protest, his Levi's were roughly dragged down. Cool air wafted over his bare cheeks as the jeans slid down his long strong legs to pool at his feet. He was left standing there in his jock strap.

"Silk," the big man murmured approvingly. "Yes. That is you. That is perfect."

Perfectly embarrassing, maybe.

Gabriel gulped, "Were you planning to do something, you faggot greaser or were you just going to admire my underwear all night?"

And the wisp of silk and elastic went with one swipe, freeing Gabriel's swollen cock to jut up against the polished wood of the huge desk. He started to turn, then thought better of it, tensing at the chink of a belt buckle. This was followed by the slide of a zipper. Gabriel stood frozen, the blood pounding dizzily in his ears. His cock was already leaking in excitement.

The big man said something soft in Spanish, something Gabriel couldn't quite catch, but the velvet growl of words nuzzled into his hair set his heart tumbling.

Long steely fingers wrapped around his shaft. The blunt, callused pad of a thumb slowly massaged the head, teasing the underside and tracing the now creamy slit. Gabriel bit his tongue to keep from moaning, but as the edge of that thumb smeared the pre-cum, a faint sound escaped him. His knees went weak. Gratefully he acknowledged the hard arm about his waist, only noticing then - distantly - that his hands were free. Good thing. He needed them to steady himself on the edge of the desk.

Hard callused fingers moved between his legs, exploring the tight sac and then leisurely moving on. A sliding caress of one angular hip and then the long blunt fingers slowly traced the crack of Gabriel's taut ass.

Then came the delicate press of a thick fingertip on the hot pink hole of Gabriel's anus.

"Holy mother!" the man said huskily. "You feel so ripe, so ready for me."

Gabriel moaned again, shivering. "Oh...fuck!"

The fingers pierced him slowly, sweetly. Slickly. Slickly? Lube? Where had this guy got lube? Was he some kind of always prepared sexual Boy Scout or had he found it in a desk drawer? It wasn't hard to believe in this place: tubes of KY dispensed with the bottles of Wite-Out.

"Is that a request, gatito?" The man pressed his lips next to Gabriel's ear. The hand holding Gabriel's straining cock in its callused warmth stilled. "Because if it isn't, I'll stop now." Though the voice was no less seductive, an undertone of inflexibility cut through the haze of Gabriel's lust. "I have no wish to take what is not truly desired."

Gabriel twisted, staring back at the stern handsome face watching his own. The big man's cock was nestled hotly in the crease of his ass. His own shaft rested trustingly in the other's tight grip. And now the guy wanted to discuss it? Jesus fucking - no pun intended - Christ!

Of course Gabriel wanted him. He wanted this man with every fiber of his being, but he hated being forced to admit it out loud.

Tall, dark, and perverse's moral soft spot was going to spoil the whole goddamned thing. It was part of the game Gabriel played with himself. He relied on the illusion that he was being physically forced, restrained against his will, overpowered by a greater strength and will than his own. He craved the pretense of his helpless submission - and this man with his hard hands and silken voice, his velvety kisses and brutal strength was Gabriel's fondest wet dream come true. A man who instinctively knew it took more than just a thick cock to take Gabriel to the peak of sexual ecstasy.

But not if they had to talk about it for chrissake!

The blunt head of the man's cock rubbed over his fluttering asshole, and Gabriel deliberately pushed backward. The tip of the slick, thick cock nudged into his ring of tight, quivering muscle. Gabriel groaned and thrust his hips to gain more of the deliciously teasing shaft. But infuriatingly, the big dick didn't shove past his sphincter muscle.

Wet lips brushed over his ear and drew a line of moisture down his neck. "Yes, gatito?"

The words tore out of him. He couldn't help it. "Yes! You cholo bastard. Yes!"

In one long smooth stroke the stout cock sheathed itself to the hilt in Gabriel's taut body. The man whispered into the crook of his neck. "Spanish, my little gatito. Not Mexicano. Not Americano. You are conquered by a true son of Spain."

"Like I give a shit." Gabriel gasped fretfully, "Just fuck me blind."

Si, mi gatito, si. I will give you what you most desire."

Slow, strong, thrusts jarred Gabriel's teeth and knocked his bobbing hard-on into the desk with a heavy thud at each languid stroke. He could have wept at that solacing mix of pain and pleasure.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Jade Owl excerpt by Edward C Patterson

In China they whisper about the Jade Owl and its awful power. This ancient stone, commissioned by the Empress Wu and crafted by a mineral charmer, long haunted the folk of the Middle Kingdom until it vanished into an enigma of legend and lore. Now the Jade Owl is found. It wakes to steal the day from day. Its power to enchant and distort rises again. Its horror is revealed to a band of five, who must return it to the Valley of the Dead before the laws of ch’i are set aside in favor of destruction’s dance. Five China Hands, each drawn through time’s thin fabric by the bird, discover enchantment on the secret garland. Five China Hands, and one holds the key to the world’s fate. Five China Hands. Only one Jade Owl - but it’s awake and in China, they whisper again.

Professor Rowden Gray has come to San Francisco following a new opportunity at the East Asian Arts and Culture Museum, only to find that the opportunity has evaporated. Desperate, he means to end his career in a muddle of pity and Scotch, but then things happen. He latches on to a fascinating young man who is pursuing a lost relic that Professor Gray has in fact been seeking. Be careful for what you seek - you may just find it. Thus begins a journey that takes the professor and his companions on a spirited adventure across three-thousand miles of Chinese culture and mystery - a quest to fulfill a warrant long set out to ignite the world in myth and legend. The Jade Owl is the beginning of a series - a legacy that fulfills a terrible truth; and in China, they whisper again.

The Jade Owl
CreateSpace (October 2008)
ISBN: 1440447977


Chapter One

Opportunities Lost


When Rowden Gray charged into the San Francisco Museum of East Asian Arts and Culture, he caused quite a stir. He had been pacing in the buttery sun of Golden Gate Park for at least twenty minutes, his feet scuffing the grayment. He clutched a battered telegram. Stopping, he gazed at the Museum’s marble archway. He tried hard to restore his calm. Difficult. He was not calm. After the flight from New York, his jet lag advanced. His stomach growled like a fireball. His eyes strained from the grit of in-flight movies. He took one bracing lung-pulling breath and felt the strange warmth of the wintry air.

I should leave, he thought. I should just head back to the airport and go home. Why should I give him any satisfaction? Rowden sauntered to a bench, sat and then cracked his knuckles almost dropping the balled up paper. He loosened his tie. Hands wiped on his gray slacks. Eyes closed. Spit. Where would I go? All these years waiting for this or something like this, was shattered like the telegram he mashed. Shattered by the telegram he mashed. Years of research and classroom slavery, a sea of bored faces cropping into his mind — students without interest, without aptitude. No reward for the serious scholar, the passionate expert in things Chinese. Here it was, before these doors, the opportunity of a lifetime, the reward that comes to the worthy. Only now that reward lay tarnished in words ill met by downcast eyes. I wish they hadn’t led me here. But they had. He had, and to Professor Rowden Gray, that made the telegram burn as if it had teeth biting into his palm, eating his composure to the marrow.

So when Rowden resolved to enter and face his foe, he flew off the bench, whirled up the marble stairs into the cold luster of the Museum’s cavernous lobby. His feet kept him focused on the goal, but blind to the many visitors and guests. As Rowden bolted past the security guards, he ran smack into an unsuspecting visitor.


Rowden kept to his own feet, the visitor being a slight thing — a young man in a blue shirt, who careened backwards, spun and fell near the guard station.

“Are you all right?” Rowden asked. He came to the young man’s aid feeling quite the ass for his actions. “I didn’t mean to . . . I mean, I’m sorry to have . . . Christ, I’m sorry.” The man lay facedown, squirming to regain his feet. When he turned, his eyes met Rowden’s. Lavender, Rowden thought, although he had no idea why he thought it. Maybe it was the kid’s aftershave or perhaps his deep blue eyes. Whatever crossed Rowden’s mind, it stymied him from helping. The guards rushed to the young man’s assistance. They scowled at Rowden Gray.

The stricken visitor seemed more embarrassed than upset. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Leave me be. I’m okay. Really.”

Rowden sighed, and then cracked his knuckles. The guards, appearing to know the young man, helped him brush off. One guard had a full cropping handlebar mustache. The other was as hairless as a Chihuahua.

“You better have a good explanation for charging in here like a fucking bull,” said the mustached guard.

Rowden looked about. Beyond the lobby, the main exhibition hall now echoed with the chatter of visitors.

“Well,” the guard snapped. “Are you listening to me?”

“I am,” Rowden said. He held the crumpled telegram in his right hand. “I have business here. Important business. Pressing business.”

“We’ll see about that,” the guard said, pulling at the telegram. Rowden refused to surrender it. He turned away from the main hall, glancing down a long corridor. A woman approached, her beige high heels echoing on the marble floor, announcing her arrival.

“RG?” she said upon reaching the entrance.

“Connie?” Rowden tightened his hold on the telegram. “Connie, look what I’ve caused.”

Connie inspected the damage. There was none. The young man was already recuperating. The other visitors were drifting back to the display cases.

“Quivers,” Connie said to the mustached guard. “This is Professor Gray. He has an appointment with the Curator-General.”

Quivers bobbed his head and fluttered his hands. “If you say so, Miss Wilson.”

“I’ll take him in,” she said. “Follow me, RG.”

The young man in the blue shirt sat on a bench now. Rowden thought to apologize again, but perhaps it was best to leave it alone. Incident over. He had vented his anger. Shame it poured over an innocent bystander. Shame.

Rowden followed Connie Wilson through the corridor past an authorized personnel only sign. She slinked, her fetching curves easy to follow, if one had a notion.

“Rowden, I’m really sorry this has happened.”

“Me too,” Rowden said. “I hope that young man’s okay.”

“Young man?” She smacked her lips and rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry about him. I’m sure he’ll recover. Accidents happen.” She turned toward him and straightened his tie. “No, I meant about the position.”

Rowden sighed, loosening his tie. “So you know?”

“I do. I was excited when I heard that you were joining our team. I told J.J. that the Board made a wise decision in choosing you. I heard the bad news only yesterday. I’m sorry.”

They had reached a dark cold spot in the hallway. Rowden could barely see his conductor, but felt her as she slipped his tie up again. She gave him a peck on the cheek.

“I only wish they’d told me before I came all the way out here,” he said. He raised the telegram and punched it.

“I agree. Not tactful nor timely.”

They turned a corner into a brighter stretch. A windowed door filtered light upon the mosaic floor. Curator-General was emblazoned across the opaque window proclaiming the seat of authority. Connie turned the knob, but hesitated before the pull.

“He’ll fill you in, RG. I believe there will be satisfactory compensation.”

“It’s not about the money.” Rowden’s chin tucked as his former anger rekindled. “This place is my dream. John Battle’s quarry is here. What an opportunity to prod and poke in the old man’s treasures. You, of all people, know what this post meant to me.”

Connie lowered her eyes, the look of understanding. She opened the door, ushering Rowden in. The Curator-General’s secretary, a pleasant, older woman with white hair and tidy heft, acknowledged them with a friendly smile. She stood behind her well-ordered desk.

“Millie, this is Professor Gray.”

“Professor Gray,” Millie said. “It’s such a pleasure. Your name is a legend among the staff. Just the other day I heard . . .” She stopped mid-smile, perhaps thinking what she had heard should not be repeated, although she probably had repeated it often enough. No matter. “Actually, Professor Gray, I wish the Curator-General had better news for you. I’m truly sorry. It would have been nice to have you on board.” Suddenly, her pout changed to a broad smile. “Are your accommodations satisfactory?”

Rowden’s head cocked. She’s worried about my accommodations, when I’m out here adrift. How flaky is that? “Quite nice,” he said. “I’m at the Drake, but you would know that, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes,” she said, inviting him to sit. “Good. I’m glad. At least we can make you comfortable while you’re our guest in San Francisco.” She waddled around to his side. “I’ll tell J.J. you’re here.”

Rowden sat. He was the picture of anxiety. Lips tensed. Teeth clenched. Eyes scanning the room. He cracked his knuckles. Connie sat beside him.

“Still doing that?” she said, placing her hand on his.

“Bad habit, I know.”

“And noisy.” She brushed his pants toying with the crease, or what would have been a crease had the flight been shorter. “How’s Rose?”

“Rose?” He smiled. “News travels slowly. Rose and I split up. I thought you knew. It’s been four years.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not really helping you, am I?”

“Actually, you are. You’re a friendly face — a familiar one.”

He had felt abandoned since his arrival, even before he checked in at the Drake and got that poisoned telegram. He came to San Francisco filled with excitement. Things had been rough lately. Nothing but a sea of the same old classroom assignments and beginner’s guides to the Cultural Revolution — nothing special.

“Connie, this post was good news — great news. Then, to get this telegram.” He slapped the paper again. “You don’t know what it is to arrive with hope only to be handed bad news by a front desk clerk. It’s no way to treat a man of letters.”

“No,” she agreed. “But you needed to hear about it somehow and before you came here today.”

That’s certainly true. But why should he be here at all? Why didn’t they just leave him alone in his obscure fiddle-fucking, pen twirling sinological obscurity — allow him to fester on some innocuous research paper for The Harvard Journal of Asian Studies, a cancerous whim meant for importance instead of infecting him down to the knuckles he cracked? Why did he feel so alone and betrayed? Why should he not? He was both.


Millie returned through the Curator-General’s door, where a tall, portly man stood wearing a three-piece suit. Older than Rowden by two decades, J. Jenkins Gillenhaal appeared older still, time aging him with the same subtle brush that had varnished his office’s dark paneling.

“RG,” he boomed. “Please come in. Have a seat. Millie, two coffees. If I remember, you take it black?”

Rowden jerked to his feet. He veiled his thoughts behind a forced smile and followed J.J. Gillenhaal’s cue. The curator checked his pocket watch, proceeding to a large picture window overlooking Golden Gate Park. A grandfather’s clock bellowed the noon hour as Rowden sat.

“We have beautiful weather here in winter, RG,” the Curator-General said. “It gets cold during the summer. Befuddles your East coast logic, doesn’t it?”

“The weather doesn’t befuddle me, J.J.” He cracked his knuckles. “I love Golden Gate Park in any season. This museum is its crown jewel.”

“We are proud of it.” Within these halls, the relics told their tales and slipped their secrets. “Ah, the coffee. Thanks, Millie.”

When Millie left, Curator Gillenhaal sat behind his empire desk, his demeanor changing. He played with his MontBlanc pens, three of them — one green, one red and one blue. “It’s been some time since we’ve sat face to face. You were among my star pupils.”

“J.J., cut to the chase. I’ve come a long way for nothing. I’m as tired as hell and fucking pissed. Bottom line, please.”

“I can understand your hurt,” Gillenhaal said, shrugging, “but it’s not personal, you know. The Board of Trustees created a real position. You were their choice and rightly so. Although, I must say, you haven’t published much and you’ve never held tenure in any of your positions. Nonetheless, the Board reviewed your research. You were their choice.”

“It sounds like I wasn’t your choice.”

The clock ticked like a bomb somewhere in the corner of the room.

Tick dock. Tick dock.

“There is no other expert of your caliber in Sung Dynasty studies today,” J.J. said. “I did have reservations. Personally, I think you cleave too much to John Battle’s school of thought, you know. Battle’s methods were never my cup of tea.”

Tick dock. Tick dock.

“John Battle was a great man.”

“Yes. A pirate and swashbuckling scholar.” J.J. templed his fingers, tapping his lips. “There was always a touch of drama about John Battle. He was too driven. And then there was his obsession with the Jade Owl.” Rowden winced. Just this reference to his mentor’s lost relic sent shivers down his spine. “I mean, it’s a shame the damn thing went missing, if it existed at all. But whatever credibility the Old China Hand had with me evaporated when he lectured on the Jade Owl.”

Tick dock. Tick dock.

Rowden remembered one such lecture about that precious jade avian figurine. John Battle claimed it glowed and hooted and cast who-knows-what voodoo over its possessor. He delivered that lecture with the conviction of an evangelist on the Mount of Olives. Rowden also remembered the whispers. The old man’s lost it. He’s stayed out in the sun too long. Rowden hated that the field’s most prominent scholar was cast in lunacy’s tinge. Jealousy, more like it.

Tick dock. Tick dock.

“Last time I looked,” Rowden said, “the main exhibition hall out there sports John Battle’s name.”

“Don’t get me wrong. Without his contributions, this Museum would be poorer.” Gillenhaal smirked, apparently pleased to see his points secure. He had tossed a javelin and it hit its mark. “You see how you defend unorthodoxy?” he groaned. “Nonetheless, despite any reservations, I did approve you as the choice.” He tapped his coffee cup with the spoon.

Tick dock. Tick dock.

“We didn’t expect the Endowment to be cut. That makes the new position out of the question. Maybe when the administration changes, the cash flow might improve. However, in my experience, it really does not matter who rules the national cupboard, once cut, it’s cut.”

“I see,” Rowden said. “So it really doesn’t matter that I have an agreement with the Board?”

Tick dock. Tick dock.

“Well, it’s not really an agreement. We extended the offer. You accepted. We were to finalize it here.”

Rowden exploded, standing so forcefully, his chair pushed back a half yard.

“That’s bullshit, J.J. We settled on salary and bonus. I don’t think you can pull this crap!”

Curator Gillenhaal, calm and silent, continued stirring. He placed the cup down and rearranged his MontBlancs. He glanced out the window again appearing braced by the warm winter weather.

Rowden sat again. He shook in the shadow of Gillenhaal’s calm. Firebrands may explode over parapets, but if they fail to provoke, it’s no more than pissing in the wind.

Gillenhaal reached into a side drawer, and then flopped a document onto the blotter — a rather legal looking document. “Calm down, RG.” He pushed it across the desk.

“What’s this?” Rowden asked, perusing it. He knew full well. He was almost ready to see just how prepared the Board of Trustees was to assuage his ire. Call it pain and suffering.

“You see,” Gillenhaal said with the tedium of an old bureaucrat, “we will compensate you for your time and expectations. It’s a fair amount, I believe?”

Tick dock. Tick dock.

Rowden cocked his head. His eyes bugged. “It’s not about the money. I love what I do, and I do it well. I would do it best here. It’s my passion you’re fucking with, J.J.”

“I believe, in the end, it will be about the money,” J.J. said, shaking his head. He raised a finger to the side of his nose. Rowden gazed at the plethora of degrees and awards ensconced on the walls, the ever-present clock (Tick dock. Tick dock), and the precisely stacked collection of expensive fountain pens.

“You will hear from my lawyer, J.J.”

He tossed the agreement at his former teacher.

“Very well.”

Gillenhaal swept the agreement into the desk drawer, and then slid it shut. “There’s still time. You have three weeks to consider the matter. The settlement will be here, if you want it. However, one call from your attorney and it’s a memory.”

Curator Gillenhaal arose, went to the window and warmed his hands in the winter sun.

“Good day, Professor Gray.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Maloney's Law excerpt by Anne Brooke

Paul Maloney, a small-time private investigator from London, reluctantly accepts a case from his married ex-lover, Dominic Allen. Before he knows it, Paul finds himself embroiled in the dark dealings of big business and the sordid world of international crime. The deeper he pushes, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear. Can he solve the mystery and protect those he loves before it’s too late?

Maloney's Law
PD Publishing (2008)
ISBN: 78-1-933720-48-7


Chapter One

The glow from my ex-lover’s cigarette lights up the warm night air, and I catch a faint impression of his hand’s shadow before the darkness descends again.

In the silence, I sense rather than see his lips draw on the smoky pleasure, tingling tar and need into his waiting lungs. I don’t ask to share it and he doesn’t offer. More than anything this reminds me of the last time we almost had sex.

He coughs.

‘I suppose you’re wondering why I asked to see you, Paul,’ he says, and his voice makes me shut my eyes for a moment. In the deeper blackness I can see the strong, sensual lines of his face as clear as if it were daylight. ‘I mean why now? Not the greatest of meeting places for us, is it?’

‘You’re here, aren’t you?’ I reply and wait for him to speak. It’s 2.02am. I’ve picked a disused chapel in Hackney for this meeting, as it’s near home, it’s private, and it’s dark. Inside, it’s a good place for sex, if you’re desperate and don’t mind the broken glass. I thought he wouldn’t turn up, but I was wrong.
For a moment he seems to be trying to choose his words, then he says, ‘I need your help, you see.’

I laugh. There doesn’t seem any other way of responding.

‘I’m serious. It’s a business offer.’

At once I shut up. Money is money, whoever it comes from. And five years, ten months, and five days in my job as the proprietor of Maloney Investigations (anything considered) has taught me never to turn down business.

‘Go on,’ I say, and as I speak, a lone car swings into the street, its headlights illuminating our shapes and outlining the solid lines of the chapel that frames Dominic.

Instinct kicks in and I propel him back into the safety of the doorway. It smells of cannabis and urine. As the car approaches at a crawl, I shield him with my body, pull the cigarette from his mouth and kiss him. He tastes of nicotine and mint. The blokes in the car shout abuse out of the window but, thank God, don’t stop, and after a tense few seconds they drive off into the darkness. I don’t want to stop either, but when the danger’s past I’m the first to pull away.

When I do so, I wonder who he’s screwing now — some young, good-looking bastard, I bet. Yeah, I can just see it, and the look on Dominic’s face when he gets what he wants, too. Maybe I can try to mix business with pleasure? As he's the last man I’ve slept with, it must be three years, four months, and one week since I had sex at all. At least with someone else in the room. I wonder if that makes me unusual.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘Thought they might leave us alone if they didn’t recognise you. Cruisers only.’

He nods. ‘You were right. Can I have my cigarette back now?’

I pass it to him, my fingers lingering on his before he eases them away. He doesn’t comment. Instead he wipes the back of his free hand over his mouth, and I blink back tears.

When he speaks, he speaks quickly. ‘There’s a business I want to investigate, buy if the money’s right. Information Technology. They deal with Eastern European markets, but there’s something not quite right about them and I want to know what.’

‘What is it? Drugs? Porn?’

At once he shakes his head. ‘No. I’d know if it was. But I want you to look into it anyway, see what you can find. My business has to be clean; there can’t be any dirt thrown that might stick. Do you understand?’

‘Sure. Sounds simple enough. You say something’s not quite right, but you don’t think it’s serious. So what’s got you suspicious?’

‘Rumour only. You know what the business world is like. I want to be certain, that’s all.’

Again his answer is too fast and I don’t believe him.

‘Why don’t you use some of your own hot-shot investigators? I know you have them. Won’t they be able to do your legwork for you?’


‘Why not?’

He drops his cigarette and crushes it underfoot before lighting another. In the flash of fire, I catch the intensity of his gaze.

‘Even my own people have been known to talk, and I don’t want to give my competitors reasons for suspicion. Not at the stage of negotiations I’m at now. I want someone who, if they go down, won’t take me with them.’

His reasons are too slick, too unconnected, but his last statement makes me blink again. He was always honest with me, something I never got used to.

‘Yes, I know what you’ll say,’ he continues. Even though I have no idea what that might be. ‘You’ll say we used to fuck each other regularly, in spite of my situation, and that would be enough to crucify anyone. But no-one knows this, except you and me. And that time-waster assistant of yours. So if it becomes public knowledge, I’ll know who to blame, won’t I? And when I hold a grudge...’

He doesn’t have to complete the sentence. I’ve read enough in the papers about the boardroom — and backroom — battles fought and won by Mr. Dominic Allen to know the extent of his power. Oh yes, more than anyone I understand his strength compared to my weakness, and I’ve almost made up my mind to walk away from his problems, and my past, when he speaks again. This time his voice is softer.

‘And there’s another reason,’ he says. ‘You’re the only one I can trust. Please, will you help me?’


‘You don’t have to help him, you know. He’ll only screw you over, like last time.’

First rule of PI work. If you have to hire a secretary, or any staff, never get someone who knows you. They’ll only end up telling you stuff you don’t want to hear. And, worse, it might even be the truth.

‘No, he won’t,’ I say, wishing again for a way to afford more than my one-roomed office plus kitchen. ‘This time I’m wise to him. Anyway, it’s cash. I’d be crazy not to take it.’

‘You’d be crazy to do it, too.’ Jade stops staring at her computer screen and throws me one of her accusing looks from behind her blonde lashes. ‘You’ll just go stupid again.’

I grimace at Jade’s use of the phrase, “go stupid”. It covers the time, nearing the end of my eleven-month affair with Dominic Allen, and afterwards, when I stopped eating, left hundreds of pleading messages on his mobile, and lurked night after night outside his house in Islington waiting for one glimpse of him. After seven weeks of this, on the morning of Friday 1 June 2001, in the office, I’d smashed every single breakable item I owned in front of Jade’s horrified eyes. I’d then collapsed onto the floor and sobbed for an hour and a half without being able to stop.

It was a difficult time for us both and I can understand her concern. Now though, I’ll make sure it’s different. I’m older and calmer for one thing and my dealings, if any, with Dominic will be carried out in the light of this new maturity.
‘No, I won’t “go stupid”,’ I say with a smile. ‘He’s history. So much so that I was fine when we met last night. Or rather early this morning. It was–’

‘Did you snog him?’


‘You heard.’

‘No, don’t be silly. Of course I didn’t. He’s a client, or might be. I wouldn’t be that unprofessional, would I? What the hell kind of a question is that anyway?’

‘So you did then.’

‘But not in the way you think. I was carrying out my duties, protecting him from the greedy eyes of the public. You know he’s better known than Beckham. Almost.’

‘Enjoy it?’

I pause and feel my face redden. ‘Is George Michael gay?’

Jade nods, her lips pursed. ‘And while your tongue was reacquainting itself with his tonsils, did you happen to ask after Mrs. Allen and the two little Allens? Or did Mr. Allen’s wife and children not cross your mind?’

This is a dirty move and I don’t stoop to answer it. Second rule of PI work: don’t employ someone who’s moral. Jade has a Baptist background, though I’ve never seen her enter a chapel since I’ve known her, so that’s twelve years and ten months. But a religious upbringing can never be wiped away. It certainly hasn’t stopped her asking a knife-twist question, which I ignore. Instead, I drop the file I’ve been clutching onto my desk, fling myself into my chair, and flick through the papers to find the one I want.

It takes me longer than I’d anticipated. At the end of ten minutes, I still haven’t located it and, just as I’m wondering if it was one of the items I’d burnt After Dominic, there’s a slight cough. When I look up, Jade is standing in front of me holding out a mug of hot chocolate as if it’s about to explode. I don’t like hot chocolate, though I’ve never dared tell her this. It’s her usual way of dealing with a crisis; Jade counts gay men as honorary women, so I just smile and take it.

‘Sorry,’ she says.

Still unable to trust myself to speak, I nod, and she returns to her desk. While Jade starts tapping away on her keyboard again, I pretend to be looking at my file. It’s hard to concentrate on what Dominic told me last night, when all I can think about is either our past or the way his lips felt under mine seven hours ago. I wonder if he’s remembering, too, but it’s unlikely. He was never one to look back. All he’d done when I lunged at him was to tolerate my kiss before wiping it away and getting down to business. This was a shame as at 2.05am last night — or again is that this morning? — and indeed now, the most compelling thought in my head is the memory of how he and I first met. When–

‘Paul? Paul? You okay?’

At the sound of Jade’s voice, I jump, startled out of my thoughts, and look up to see her leaning over me, frowning. The scent of Anais Anais mingles with the now congealing hot chocolate.

‘Yeah, sure. I’m fine. I just need...I think I’ll go home for a while. I’ll take the papers with me, get to grips with some of the background. If anyone calls, tell them I’m on a case,’ I pause in the act of getting up. ‘In a way I suppose I am, if only for an initial read-through, so it won’t be lying.’

‘Okay,’ Jade thrusts a slim pale blue A4 folder into my hand. ‘You’ll be wanting this then, whatever you decide.’

I glance at the empty file with a fresh label on the top right hand corner, just where I like them to be. On it is typed: The Dominic Allen Case, 11 August 2004 to...Below it is my name in italics.

‘Thanks.’ I can’t help smiling. ‘You’re right, I’ll be wanting this.’

‘Thought so. You’ll be back later, before the end of the day?’

‘Sure, see you at 5.30.’

On the way out, I look back at her, and she gives me a little wave before the solid oak door with the central spy hole clicks shut.

The eleven-minute walk home clears my head. I’m glad I don’t have to commute; I hate the sweat and sourness of the bus in the morning, and it was a deliberate decision when I set up Maloney Investigations, to base myself as near to home as I could. Not that the office is much: just a one-windowed room big enough for two desks and a large, black filing cabinet and a narrow promise of a kitchen built along one end. But it’s mine, and Jade’s light touch with the Constable prints and seasonal flowers means clients, when they turn up, aren’t frightened away. Or if they are, it’s not because of the office.

Hackney’s changed so much in the seven years and five months I’ve lived here; it’s become leaner, darker at the street corners and at night when most of the drug-dealing takes place. During the day it’s brighter and more strident, filled with the sound of beggars and Indian women wrapped in saris the colour of desert, sky, or fire. It’s poorer, too, but that’s never bothered me. I hope it doesn’t bother the clients. Now my stride takes me along the familiar pavements lined with small squares of brown grass, leading in their turn up to countless flats carved out of Victorian houses once owned by rich people. The air is heavy with car fumes and the taste of undiscovered dreams.

At home, I drop my jacket on the mahogany hall table, next to the emergency cigarette packet, before heading into the box-shaped kitchen and pouring myself a Highland Park. Whisky is for home, for privacy. It’s medicinal. Besides, it’s turning out to be one of those days, so I deserve better than the Glenfiddich. Gazing at the golden liquid as it shimmers in the glass, I wonder. One breath, two. The smoky scent of it fills my head and I breathe out again. Then leaning against the metal coolness of the sink, I pour the drink away, swilling the drips with tap water. It’s too early for this. I promised myself once that I would never drink before 6pm, and it’s a rule I’ve always kept. Almost always.

Still the space in the day where I should have had a glass of whisky in my hand lies empty now so, clutching Jade’s file and my papers to my chest, I wander back through the hall and into the living room. The main room, to be honest. My income isn’t great. Even though I’ve lived here for so many years, today it’s as if I’m seeing it from a new perspective: the shabbiness, the old beige sofa with its light blue throw — a present from Jade — and the glass coffee table with its immovable scratches. Not to mention the pine dining table for four with the mismatched chairs, the scattering of crime novels and old newspapers, mainly The Independent, which hide the shortcomings of the carpet. Against all this and at the far end of the room is the magnificent Victorian fireplace and mantelpiece. Upon it stand my only ornaments: two Staffordshire dogs, which were a present from my mother for my eighteenth. God knows why.

What would Dominic see if he were here? The dogs he’d always hated, but what would he see that was different from three years and four months ago?

Answer: nothing. Nothing has changed, nothing at all.

Dumping the papers onto the sofa, I stride into my bedroom, where the deep green duvet still lies crumpled at the foot of the bed where I left it this morning. In the long mirror inside the wardrobe, my face gives nothing away.

I take off my clothes. Slowly, as if unpeeling the layers could remove the present. When I’m naked, I gaze at my image for a long time, trying to see myself as if I’m someone else. There are many things here that Dominic would remember: my face, thin and narrow, a throwback to my paternal grandfather; green eyes framed by short, almost black hair, a wolf on the hunt so another lover told me once; a long body, dark wavy chest hair leading down to strong, muscular legs; an average cock, not too small, thank God, though I’ve always wished it larger. Don’t we all? There are things here that he wouldn’t remember, too: a touch of grey around the hairline; a slight softening of the belly — must get to the gym again on a regular basis if I can afford it — and the scar on my right arm where two years ago a suspect knifed me. It still hurts a little in winter. My eyes are more cautious, too.

Would he find this attractive? Would he?

Damn it, damn me. Swinging away from the mirror, I drag my clothes back on, curse myself again, and head back into the living room for the comfort of the sofa and the papers I must read this afternoon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Death of a Pirate King excerpt by Josh Lanyon

Gay bookseller and reluctant amateur sleuth Adrien English's writing career is suddenly taking off. His first novel, Murder Will Out, has been optioned by notorious Hollywood actor Paul Kane. But when murder makes an appearance at a dinner party, who should be called in but Adrien's former lover, handsome closeted detective Jake Riordan, now a Lieutenant with LAPD -- which may just drive Adrien's new boyfriend, sexy UCLA professor Guy Snowden, to commit a murder of his own!

DEATH OF A PIRATE KING: The Fourth Adrien English Mystery
MLR Press & Loose Id (September 13, 2008)


Coincidence, if traced far enough back,becomes inevitable.

It was not my kind of party.

Sure, some people might think the dead guy made it my kind of party, but that wouldn’t be a fair assessment of my entertainment needs -- or my social calendar. I mean, it had been a good two years since I’d last been involved in a murder investigation.

I sell books for a living. I write books too, but not enough to make a living at it. I did happen to sell one book I wrote to the movies, which is what I was doing at a Hollywood party, which, like I said, is not my scene. Or at least, was not my scene until Porter Jones slumped over and fell face first into his bowl of vichyssoise.

I’m sorry to say my initial reaction, as he keeled over, was relief.

I’d been nodding politely as he’d rambled on for the past ten minutes, trying not to wince as he gusted heavy alcoholic sighs my way during his infrequent pauses. My real attention was on screenwriter Al January, who was sitting on the other side of me at the long, crowded luncheon table. January was going to be working on the screen adaptation of my first novel, Murder Will Out. I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Instead I heard all about deep-sea fishing for white marlin in St. Lucia.

I pushed back from the table as the milky tide of soup spilled across the linen tablecloth. Someone snickered. The din of voices and silverware on china died.

“For God’s sake, Porter!” Mrs. Jones exclaimed from across the table.

Porter’s shoulders were twitching and I thought for a moment that he was laughing, although what was funny about breathing soup, I’d no idea -- having sort of been through it myself recently.

“Was it something you said, Adrien?” Paul Kane, our host, joked to me. He rose as though to better study Jones. He had one of those British public school accents that make insignificant comments like Would you pass the butter sound as interesting as Fire when ready!

Soup dripped off the table into my empty seat. I stared at Porter’s now motionless form: the folds on the back of his thick tanned neck, the rolls of brown flab peeping out beneath the indigo-blue Lacoste polo, his meaty, motionless arm with the gold Rolex watch. Maybe twenty seconds all told, from the moment he toppled over to the moment it finally dawned on me what had actually happened.

“Oh, hell,” I said, and hauled Porter out of his plate. He sagged right and crashed down onto the carpet taking my chair and his own with him.

“Porter!” shrieked his wife, now on her feet, bleached blonde hair spilling over her plump freckled shoulders.

“Bloody hell,” exclaimed Paul Kane staring down, his normally unshakable poise deserting him. “Is he --?”

It was hard to say what Porter was exactly. His face was shiny with soup; his silvery mustache glistened with it. His pale eyes bulged as though he were outraged to find himself in this position. His fleshy lips were open but he made no protest. He wasn’t breathing.

I knelt down, said, “Does anyone know CPR? I don’t think I can manage it.”

“Someone ring 911!” Kane ordered, looking and sounding like he did on the bridge of the brigantine in The Last Corsair.

“We can trade off,” Al January told me, crouching on the other side of Porter’s body. He was a slim and elegant sixty-something, despite the cherry-red trousers he wore. I liked his calm air; you don’t expect calm from a man wearing cherry-red trousers.

“I’m getting over pneumonia,” I told him. I shoved the fallen chairs aside, making room next to Porter.

“Uh oh,” January said and bent over Porter.

By the time the paramedics arrived, it was all over.

We had adjourned by then to the drawing room of the old Laurel Canyon mansion. There were about thirty of us, everyone, with the exception of me, involved one way or the other with movies and moviemaking.

I looked at the ormolu clock on the elegant fireplace mantel and thought I should call Natalie. She had a date that evening and had wanted to close the bookstore early. I needed to give Guy a call too. No way was I going to have the energy for dinner out tonight -- even if we did get away in the next hour or so.

Porter’s wife, who looked young enough to be his daughter, was sitting over by the piano crying. A couple of the other women were absently soothing her. I wondered why she wasn’t being allowed in there with him. If I was dying I’d sure want someone I loved with me.

Paul Kane had disappeared for a time into the dining room where the paramedics were doing whatever there was left to do.

He came back in and said, “They’ve called the police.”

There were exclamations of alarm and dismay.

Okay, so it wasn’t a natural death. I’d been afraid of that. Not because of any special training or because I had a particular knack for recognizing foul play -- no, I just had really, really bad luck.

Porter’s wife -- Ally, they were calling her -- looked up and said, “He’s dead?” I thought it was pretty clear he was a goner from the moment he landed flat on his back like a harpooned walrus, but maybe she was the optimistic kind. Or maybe I’d just had too much of the wrong kind of experience.

The women with her began doing that automatic shushing thing again.

Kane walked over to me, and said with that charming, practiced smile, “How are you holding up?”

“Me? Fine.”

His smile informed me that I wasn’t fooling anyone, but actually I felt all right. After nearly a week of hospital, any change of scenery was an improvement, and, unlike most of the people there, I knew what to expect once someone died a public and unexpected death.

Kane sat down on a giant chintz-covered ottoman -- the room had clearly been professionally decorated because nothing about Paul Kane suggested cabbage roses or ormolu clocks -- fastened those amazing blue eyes on me, and said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. Violent death in the dining room? Generally not a good thing.

“Did Porter say anything to you? I couldn’t help noticing that he had you pinned down.”

“He mostly talked about saltwater big game fishing.”

“Ah. His passion.”

“Passion is good,” I said.

Kane smiled into my eyes. “It can be.”

I smiled back tiredly. I didn’t imagine that he was coming on to me; it was more…an actor picking up his cue.

He patted my knee and rose. “It shouldn’t take much longer,” he said with the optimism of inexperience.

They kept us waiting for probably another forty minutes, and then the doors to the drawing room opened silently on well-oiled hinges, and two cops in suits walked in. One was about thirty, Hispanic, with the tightly coiled energy of the ambitious young dick, and the other was Jake Riordan.

It was a jolt. Jake was a lieutenant now, so I didn’t see why he’d be here at a crime scene -- except that this was a high profile crime scene.

As I stared it was like seeing him for the first time -- only this time around I had insider knowledge.

He looked older. Still ruggedly good-looking in that big, blond, take-no-prisoners way. But thinner, sharper around the edges. Harder. It had been two years since I’d last seen him. They didn’t appear to have been a blissful two years, but he still had that indefinable something. Like a young Steve McQueen or a mature Russell Crowe. Hanging around the movie crowd, you start thinking in cinema terms.

I watched his tawny eyes sweep the room and find Paul Kane. I saw the relief on Kane’s face, and I realized that they knew each other: something in the way their gazes met, linked, then broke -- not anything anyone else would have caught. I just happened to be in a position to know what that particular look of Jake’s meant.

And since I was familiar with the former Detective Riordan’s extracurricular activities, I guessed that meant the rumors about Paul Kane were true.

“Folks, can I have your attention?” the younger detective said. “This is Lieutenant Riordan and I’m Detective Alonzo.” He proceeded to explain that while the exact cause of Porter Jones’s death was as yet undetermined, they were going to ask us a few questions, starting with whoever had been seated next to the victim during the meal.

Paul Kane said, “That would be Valarie and Adrien.”

Jake’s gaze followed Paul Kane’s indication. His eyes lit on me. Just for a second his face seemed to freeze. I was glad I’d had a few seconds’ warning. I was able to look right through him, which was a small satisfaction.

“I don’t understand,” the newly widowed Ally was protesting. “Are you saying…what are you saying? That Porter was murdered?”

“Ma’am,” Detective Alonzo said in a pained way.

Jake said something quietly to Paul Kane, who answered. Jake interrupted Alonzo.

“Mrs. Jones, why don’t we move next door?” He guided her toward a side door off the lounge. He nodded for Alonzo to follow him in.

Despite Detective Alonzo’s “undetermined causes” it seemed pretty clear to me that if the police were interrogating us they had pretty much ruled out accidental or natural death.

A uniformed officer took Alonzo’s place and asked us to please be patient and refrain from speaking with each other -- and immediately everyone started speaking, mostly protesting.

After a few minutes of this, the side door opened again and everyone looked guiltily toward the doorway. Ally Porter was ushered straight out.

“The performance of a lifetime,” Al January commented next to me.

I glanced at him, and he smiled.

“Valarie Rose,” Detective Alonzo requested.

A trim forty-something brunette stood up. Rose was supposed to direct Murder Will Out, assuming we actually got to the filming stage -- which at the moment felt unlikely. She wore minimal makeup and a dark pantsuit. She looked perfectly poised as she passed Detective Alonzo and disappeared into the inner chamber.

She was in there for about fifteen minutes and then the door opened; without speaking to anyone she crossed into the main room. Detective Alonzo announced, “Adrien English?”

Kind of like when your name gets called in the doctor’s office: That’s right, Adrien. This won’t hurt a bit. I felt the silent wall of eyes as I went into the side room.

It was a comfortable room, probably Paul Kane’s study. He seemed like the kind of guy who would affect a study. Glass-fronted bookcases, a big fireplace, and a lot of leather furniture. There was a table and chairs to one side where they were conducting their questioning. Jake stood at a large bay window that looked down over the back garden. I spared one look at his stony profile before sitting down at the table across from Detective Alonzo.

“Okay…” Alonzo scratched a preliminary note on a pad.

Jake turned. “That’s Adrien with an e,” he informed his junior. His eyes met mine. “Mr. English and I are previously acquainted.”

That was one way to put it. I had a sudden, uncomfortably vivid memory of Jake whispering into my hair, “Baby, what you do to me…” An ill-timed recollection if there ever was one.

“Yeah?” If Alonzo recognized there was any tension in the air, he gave no sign of it, probably because there’s always tension in the air around cops. “So where do you live, Mr. English?”

We got the details of where I lived and what I did for a living out of the way fast. Then Alonzo asked, “So how well did you know Mr. Jones?”

“I met him for the first time this afternoon.”

“Ms. Beaton-Jones says you and the deceased had a long, long talk during the meal?”

Beaton-Jones? Oh, right. This was Hollywood. Hyphens were a fashion accessory. Ms. Beaton-Jones would be Porter’s wife, I surmised.

I replied, “He talked, I listened.” One thing I’ve learned the hard way is not to volunteer any extra information to the police.

I glanced at Jake. He was staring back out the window. There was a gold wedding band on his left hand. It kept catching the light. Like a sunspot.

“What did he talk about?”

“To be honest, I don’t remember the details. It was mostly about deep-sea fishing. For marlin. On his forty-five foot Hatteras luxury sport-fishing yacht.”

Jake’s lips twitched as he continued to gaze out the window.

“You’re interested in deep-sea fishing, Mr. English?”

“Not particularly.”

“So how long did you talk?”

“Maybe ten minutes.”

“Can you tell us what happened then?”

“I turned away to take a drink. He -- Porter -- just…fell forward onto the table.”

“And what did you do?”

“When I realized he wasn’t moving, I grabbed his shoulder. He slid out of his chair and landed on the floor. Al January started CPR.”

“Do you know CPR, sir?”


“Ms. Beaton-Jones said you refused to administer CPR to her husband.”

I blinked at him. Looked at Jake. His tawny eyes were zeroed in on mine.

“Any reason for that, sir? Are you HIV-positive by any chance?”

“No.” I was a little surprised at how angry I was at the question. I said shortly, “I’m getting over pneumonia. I didn’t think I could do an adequate job of resuscitating him. If no one else had volunteered, I’d have tried.”

“Pneumonia? That’s no fun.” This also from the firm’s junior partner. “Were you hospitalized by any chance?”

“Yeah. Five fun-filled days and nights at Huntington Hospital. I’ll be happy to give you the name and number of my doctor.”

“When were you discharged?”

“Tuesday morning.”

“And you’re already back doing the party scene?” That was Jake with pseudofriendly mockery. “How do you know Paul Kane?”

“We met once before today. He’s optioned my first book for a possible film. He thought it would be a good idea for me to meet the director and screenwriter, and he suggested this party.”

“So you’re a writer,” Detective Alonzo inquired. He checked his notes as though to emphasize that I’d failed to mention this vital point.

I nodded.

“Among other things,” remarked Jake.

I thought maybe he ought to curb it if he didn’t want speculation about our former friendship. But maybe marriage and a lieutenancy made him feel bulletproof. He didn’t interrupt as Detective Alonzo continued to probe.

I answered his questions, but I was thinking of the first time I’d met Paul Kane. Living in Southern California, you get used to seeing “movie stars.” Speaking from experience they are usually shorter, thinner, more freckled, and more blemished than they appear on the screen. And in real life their hair is almost never as good. Paul Kane was the exception. He was gorgeous in an old-fashioned matinee idol way. An Errol Flynn way. Tall, built like something chiseled out of marble, midnight-blue eyes, sun-streaked brown hair. Almost too handsome, really. I prefer them a little rougher around the edges. Like Jake.

“Hey, pretty exciting!” Alonzo offered, just as though it wasn’t Hollywood where everyone is writing a script on spec or has a book being optioned. “So what’s your book about?”

A little dryly I explained what my book was about.

Alonzo raised his eyebrows at the idea of a gay Shakespearean actor and amateur sleuth making it to the big screen, but kept scribbling away.

Jake came over to the table and sat down across from me. My neck muscles clenched so tight I was afraid my head would start to shake.

“But you also run this Cloak and Dagger mystery bookstore in Pasadena?” Alonzo inquired. “Was Porter Jones a customer?”

“Not that I know of. As far as I’m aware, I never saw him before today.” I made myself look at Jake. He was staring down. I looked to see if my body language was communicating homicidal mania. In the light flooding from the bay window my hands looked thin and white, a tracery of blue veins right beneath the surface.

I folded my arms and leaned back in my chair, trying to look nonchalant rather than defensive.

We’d been talking for thirty minutes, which seemed like an unreasonable time to question someone who hadn’t even known the victim. They couldn’t honestly think I was a suspect. Jake couldn’t honestly think I’d bumped this guy off. I glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Five o’clock.

Alonzo circled back to the general background stuff that is mostly irrelevant but sometimes turns up an unexpected lead.

To his surprise and my relief, Jake said abruptly, “I think that’s about it. Thanks for your time, Mr. English. We’ll be in touch if we need anything further.”

I opened my mouth to say something automatic and polite -- but what came out was a laugh. Short and sardonic. It caught us both by surprise.