Monday, September 21, 2009

Murder on Camac excerpt by Joseph R.G. DeMarco

In Murder on Camac by Joseph R.G. DeMarco, author Helmut Brandt is gunned down in the street, his life ebbs away and puts a chain of events in motion placing P.I. Marco Fontana on a collision course with Church and community. Brandt’s research into the decades old death of Pope John Paul the First made him serious enemies within the Catholic Church. As Fontana digs into the case, he finds Brandt also had rivals in his work and in his love life. Rivals with motives for murder.

Dueling with the Catholic hierarchy and combing through seedy gay hangouts, Fontana encounters dangerous characters and powerful forces intent on stopping him. When Fontana himself is attacked, he knows he must find answers before any more lives are lost. The web of intrigue and deceit is intricate, tangled, and deadly.

Will the solution uncover a decades old plot to kill a pope or will Fontana find that jealous rage or academic rivalry caused Brandt’s death? The only thing Fontana can be certain of is that Brandt's enemies have killed once and won't hesitate to murder a private eye who gets too close to the truth.

Fontana deftly balances his work as a P.I. with his position as owner of StripGuyz, a troupe of male strippers; he must also negotiate the intricacies of love and relationships which he has been avoiding all too long. Along with Anton and Luke, Olga his secretary, a host of male strippers, and other denizens of his world, Fontana manages to navigate his way to a surprising conclusion.

Murder on Camac
Publisher: Lethe Press (August 22, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1590212134
ISBN-13: 978-1590212134


“Fontana,” I said, fiddling with the file.

“Someone’s trying to kill me,” he said. No introduction, no nothing. My antennae went up.

“Who is this?”

“My name is Helmut Brandt.” I noticed a slight German accent. The name seemed vaguely familiar.

“I’m listening.”

“Someone… you must believe me, Mr. Fontana. This is no joke.”

“Believe what?”

“Someone wants me dead. For what I’m about to expose in a book I’m writing.”

“How about coming in to my office to talk?”

“Have you heard of Opus Dei, or P2, or the Roman Curia?”

I’d heard of two out of three. Not bad.

“These are the people trying to kill you?” If he thought so, I knew exactly which shrink to refer him to.

“Someone wants me out of the way. I’m in possession of documents which people would kill to keep secret.”

“Has there been an attempt on your life?”

“You’ve got a right to be skeptical, Mr. Fontana, but I assure you I’m telling the truth. Look me up on Amazon or Wikipedia, you’ll see why certain people want me buried. Maybe you’ll find that more convincing.” He paused and I heard him breathing. “I’ll come to your office tomorrow. Ten in the morning.”

He hung up. I didn’t really want to talk to him again, let alone take his case. I’d had my fill of paranoid nut cases. But he’d given me homework. Something about his voice and his name made me curious about why he’d have potentially lethal Christian organizations trying to skin him alive.

As I was about to type his name into Amazon’s search bar, the phone rang again. I wondered why Olga put yet another call through without asking, then I heard the voice.

“Marco, we’ve got a minor problem which you apparently caused.” Anton said.

When Anton used the word ‘minor’ I knew it meant trouble. What he considered minor was usually an eight point five on anyone else’s earthquake scale. His unflappable nature was why he helped manage StripGuyz my other source of income. StripGuyz, an ever-growing troupe of male strippers and go-go boys, was a business I’d started a few years back.

“Cal’s being a diva again? The baby spots are not the right color or what?” I felt happy to have something other than paranoid people to deal with.

“Cal and Bruno are sulking and it’s almost showtime. They both expect to be the Feature this weekend. Said you promised them. Did you promise both of them, Marco?”

“Me? Anton, you know I nev…”

“What I know is, that when a pretty boy bats his eyes at you, you kinda forget the promises you made to the pretty boy who came before.” Anton’s tone was world-weary and accusatory.

“And I thought you liked me. Just a little.”

“I keep hoping you’ll like me. Marco. But that’s another story.”

It certainly was another story. Anton was interested in a relationship. With me. And I was equally interested. All right, maybe not equally. But I was interested. The timing wasn’t right. There were too many unsettled things in my life. I also had to be sure. Trouble is with Anton it was all or nothing. We could date but he wouldn’t allow us to sleep together. Kissing, cuddling. Everything but rolling in the hay. He wouldn’t let that happen until I was ready to commit. It was actually sweet and one of the things I liked about the beautiful hunk.

Anton was far and away the favorite with the crowds when he danced, which was rare now. He was my first dancer and had become my right arm in the business. Even as my manager, Anton was still popular. How could he not be? His sultry, golden, Eastern European looks almost literally hypnotized men. He’d had his share of guys. But no one ever tempted him to settle down. Except me. And I just wasn’t ready.

“Anton, you know how I feel about you.”

“Anyway, Marco, I need you here.” A wistful note threaded its way through his words making me feel small and alone. “Both Cal and Bruno are threatening to go on strike. I’m not sure they know what the word means but they’re threatening. They might take others with them. If you don’t get down here and fix things, we’ll have an empty stage tonight.”

“I’m on my way, Anton.”

I hung up the phone, stashed the file, and found my cell phone hiding under some papers. On the way out I grabbed my jacket, October was colder than expected but I enjoyed a chill in the air. It woke me up, brought me to attention.

“You are going to stripping guys?” Olga kept her eyes glued to the computer monitor.
“Another emergency is arising and they need Daddy to handle?”

“I’m not old enough to be anybody’s daddy,” I said and opened the door. Unless thirty-two was daddy territory, I was still safe.

“You will be back?”

“Not tonight. It’s almost seven. I’ll deal with the boys at Bubbles then get something to eat. Why’re you here so late?”

“Is personal project,” she said.

I took the stairs to the street. The too small elevator was not quick enough. The peeling paint and cracked walls reminded me that I’d promised myself to look for a new office as soon as I cleared a few more cases.

It was chillier than I thought which made me glad that Bubbles, the bar where StripGuyz is based, wasn’t far. The suede jacket I wore was more fashionable than warm. I’d struck up a friendship with Stan, the owner, several years before. When I started the troupe, he was only too glad to let Bubbles become my base of operations. My guys brought in business. Lots of business. Like my office, the bar was smack in the middle of the gayborhood. With four floors of fun, a restaurant, lounges, and a small twenty-four hour cafĂ©, Bubbles was as complete a setting as you can imagine.

My StripGuyz office occupied a small, microscopic was a better word, space at the rear of the second floor. There was also a large locker-dressing room with lots of accoutrements to keep the boys happy. The dressing room was near the back stairs which only my guys were allowed to use to move from floor to floor without being disturbed.

Ty, the afternoon bartender, was setting things up for the night shift when I walked through the first floor bar. Short and muscled, he had a face like a prize fighter who’d been at it a long time. The rough manly look made him wildly popular.

“Hey, Marco.” Ty turned to smile at me. “Situation upstairs?”

I always unconsciously touched my face when I saw his broken nose and this time was no different.

“Yeah, Ty. Too many divas and not enough stage. That’s why I want you to work for me.” I wasn’t joking. Ty was a natural. His innate grace along with his dark hair and olive complexion made his rough exterior even more appealing. I could see him pulling down a few hundred on weekend nights. No problem.

“I might just be another diva.” He winked and continued stacking glasses.

Nearing the locker room, I heard the buzz of angry voices. I entered without knocking. The glare of dressing room mirror lights was calculated and necessary. These boys needed to see their flaws so they could figure out how to fix or disguise them before going on stage. Some just loved seeing themselves. I squinted until my eyes adjusted.

“Marco!” Cal turned from his place at one of the mirrors. No shirt, smooth chest, low rise jeans revealing the flattest of stomachs, he had a fresh, innocent face. Cal was anything but. He was nice enough but was savvy, could be manipulative, and never let anyone best him. He threw an arm around my shoulder and seductively pulled me to him.

“You’re gonna clear this up, right, Marco?”

“Yeah, you will clear this up,” Bruno rumbled from a far corner. His dark Puerto Rican looks made him appear fierce and wildly sexy. At that moment he smoldered with anger. He was usually polite, courteous, and a willing worker. But anyone could see that beneath the civil exterior, there was more going on, a suppressed slow burn.

“Marco’s a great fixer.” Anton smirked.

I didn’t remember promising feature status to either guy, yet each had the impression I’d given him the nod. Being the feature meant more money. A bigger paycheck from me as well as a lot more in tips. Everyone wanted to be featured. I had a system for rotating them. Usually. Something went wrong this time. Boy, had it gone wrong.

I had to come up with something quick.

“Well, Marco?” Anton smoothed his hair and stared at me as if I had the magic answer. Sure enough it came to me. Maybe it was his stare, maybe I’m just used to talking my way out of things.

“Someone’s not remembering something,” I said.

“You got that right.” Bruno’s soft accent and lingering anger colored his words.

“Doesn’t anybody remember that tonight is Auditions? We never have a Feature on Audition night.” Which was true. I had five guys who’d applied to become dancers. I let applicants work for tips to see how they performed. Not everyone could hack it. Bruno made a ton of money when he’d auditioned.

“Oh, auditions! Right. How could I forget?” Anton fell in with me. Not to save my ass, I was sure. He wanted to keep the dancers happy and working without a lot of unproductive competition.

“Saturday and Sunday are Amateur Nights. We don’t do a Feature those nights either,” I said and heard Cal sniffle softly in the background. “But I’ll tell you what.”

“Yeah, boss man?” Bruno said.

“I’ll let you and Cal have top billing Saturday and Sunday. You can host the Amateur contests and dance between their sets. I’ll make sure Anton schedules each of you for your own feature-weekends later. How’s that?”

Bruno grunted; even his grunts were seductive. The man exuded a sexual power that drew the customers to him like few other dancers. Cal sniffled and hiccupped which I took for agreement.

I knew they were happy, they just had different was of displaying it – after a while you get to know your guys well. They’re great at hiding things from an audience – even though they bare it all for a living. But privately, when they get to know and trust you, there’s little they can hide or want to. With all my own trust issues, lots of people had no trouble trusting me and I never violated that confidence. Having people trust me was paramount. It ranked right up there with loyalty. In the stripper troupe, trust was all there was at times. The guys had to confide in someone and they knew they could count on me. I was something between a house mother and on-scene psychologist. They came to me with all their problems. It was nice being needed.

“Great,” Anton said. “In fact, Marco, you and I will work on that schedule now. Right?” Anton raised one eyebrow, a trick I’d never mastered.

“Yeah, sure. We can work it out right now.” I agreed. Anton hated handling diva moments. I knew my office was going to feel a lot smaller once he got started in on how I needed to manage the group better.

Anton moved to the door. Holding it open for me, he said, “After you, boss.” I didn’t like the way he emphasized the word ‘boss.’

He unlocked my office and held the door for me again. I was in for a lecture.

“Well,” he said, leaning on the door, leaving me no escape. “Quick thinking, Marco. Even I have to admire that. But you weren’t here when it all hit the fan. I was. I had to listen to Cal whine and Bruno rumble like an old car.”

“I’m sorry… really.” I moved closer to him, which wasn’t saying much since the office was like a sardine can made for two. “How can I make it up to you? Tell me what I can do.” I took him in my arms and was about to kiss him.

“Here’s what you can do,” Anton said, not pulling away, but not accepting the kiss, either. “Promote me to Manager.”

“Of the whole shebang?” I was taken aback. Anton was good but I wasn’t about to give up complete control of StripGuyz.

“No, tiger.” Anton said and stroked my cheek with one long finger. “Just of deciding schedules and features. That way, I won’t have to call you for every little thing. We won’t have to have auditions when we didn’t plan to. And you won’t be allowed to make promises you can’t keep. Sound fair?”

I had to admit it was fair. It would take a lot off my back. Anton liked keeping things orderly. Not that I ran a sloppy show. I just had a different management style, kinder and gentler, you might say. After working with some of the low life types I met in my investigative work, dealing with my strippers allowed me to indulge an entirely different side of my personality.

“Sure, it sounds fair. But I can’t promise I won’t interfere once in a while.” I laughed. Pulling him tighter to me I nuzzled his neck and savored the clean fragrance of his flesh.

“But…,” he moaned, a small guttural sound filled with longing. Then he caught himself and cleared his throat. “But not often. Promise?”

“Promise,” I said and made my smartest Boy Scout salute.

He pecked me on the cheek, pulled away, and opened the door.

“What? You’re going?”

“Why? Is there more to discuss?” He was all business.

“I thought maybe we could have dinner?”

“I’ve got a lot to do before the show tonight.” He was almost out the door when he turned. “Give me the list of the guys who want to audition. I’ll call them. Curtain’s up in three hours.”

“Sure. I told them we’d call when we were ready.”

I wanted Anton in my arms but he had his rules and even my saddest puppy-dog look wouldn’t have made a difference. We stood awkwardly outside my office, me wanting to hold him and cover him in kisses and me wanting to pull back and tell myself to slow down. It was tough being me.

Before I could move, Ty rushed up the stairs, his face drained of color.

“There’s been a shooting. On Camac. Some guy was killed…” Ty was breathing heavily and sat down on the top step. “This is crazy. That’s the way I go home every night. It coulda been me. Shot dead on the street.”
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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

great beginning, makes me want to read on. Thanks to both for an excellent start to the week.