Monday, January 25, 2010

Mute Witness excerpt by Rick R. Reed

Sean and Austin's perfect world shatters when Sean's eight-year-old son, Jason, vanishes.

Mute Witness
MLR Press (October 2,2009)
ISBN-10: 1608201082
ISBN-13: 978-1608201082



It was one of their rare lazy evenings. Summer, and the evening air was fresh and clean after an afternoon thunderstorm, with just a hint of a breeze. Normally, Sean and Austin were so busy that if they weren’t trying to change something about the little Cape Cod on the Ohio River they had bought a year before—adding a deck, putting in a new kitchen, stripping away years of white paint from the woodwork downstairs—they were too tired to do anything but crawl into bed and pass out, usually before eleven o’clock. Lovemaking, since they had bought the money-and-time-sucking house, had become relegated to weekend afternoons and the occasional early morning.

But today, Thursday, had been an easy one. Austin had called into work, the Benson Pottery, where he was a caster and taken a mental health day. Things had just been too damn busy lately and he needed the break. Waiting until Saturday was out of the question. Sunday seemed farther away than the next millennium.

Sean, a reporter for The Evening View, the local thrice-weekly compilation of ads sandwiched in with a little editorial, had had the day off. The couple had spent the day in Pittsburgh, at the Andy Warhol museum, then had an early dinner at The Grand Concourse (the best Paella on the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers), beat the brutal thunderstorm home, made love (acrobatically, in the kitchen, atop a Butcher’s block), and now the two were curled up in front of the TV. Sean had rented Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and, after a bowl of Jamaican and a couple of vodka and tonics, the two were teary-eyed with laughter.

Sean looked over at his younger boyfriend and thought how lucky he was to have found Austin, especially in a town the size of Summitville, where the population hovered just above ten thousand. Even better, Austin was his fantasy man, with a broad, beefy body that his mother and her friends would have called strapping, sandy blond hair, and the bluest eyes he had ever seen. When Sean had first met him, he thought Austin’s eyes had to be fake: enhanced by those tinted contacts that never looked real. But he found quickly that the young man was simply blessed with arresting eyes to go along with his broad shoulders, dimpled chin, and infectious smile. He wore that smile right now, coming down from a fit of inappropriate laughter after hearing Elizabeth Taylor tell Richard Burton, “I’d divorce you if I thought you were alive.”

A sick sense of humor was yet another thing the pair had in common.

It was what they both would have agreed was a perfect day. Well, Sean might have had one more item to add to the “perfection” list. Having his son, Jason, around for at least part of the time would have been all it would have taken to make the day ideal, but these days, Jason was for the weekends only.

In any case, this was close enough to nirvana. He closed his eyes and let his head loll back on Austin’s shoulder.

Sean was just thinking about slowly undressing Austin and then leading him into the bedroom for round two when the phone rang. Its chirp startled both of them out of the cocoon of warmth that had surrounded them, a cocoon built from good sex, supreme relaxation, and the afore-mentioned Jamaican weed.

Austin: sleepily from under Sean’s arm on the couch, “Don’t get it. Please don’t get it. Just let the machine pick up. I don’t want to talk to anyone. And I don’t want you to, neither.” Sean eyed the little answering machine next to the cordless, wondering when they would enter the 21st century and use voice mail like everyone else. But, unlike voice mail, the machine did allow them to screen calls and for two men who appreciated their privacy, this feature had voice mail beat all to hell.

Sean let the phone ring its customary four rings, although his tendency would have been to answer it. But if this would make Austin happy, then he was willing to do it. Especially since he had things in mind for Austin that did not involve the telephone. Things that would erase their fatigue and perhaps keep them up the better part of the night. Sean grinned.

On the fourth ring, Sean pressed the pause button on the remote control and sat up straighter to listen.

“Whatever it is, it can wait,” Austin whispered in Sean’s ear, flicking his earlobe with his tongue and giving his crotch a playful squeeze.

And then the moment shattered.

Shelley’s voice, almost unfamiliar under the veneer of tension that made it higher, quicker, came through. Shelley and Sean had been married once upon a time and their union had produced Jason, the best little boy in the world. As soon as Sean heard Shelley’s voice he thought of his son, who shared his dark hair, green eyes, wiry frame, and his fascination with stories.

“Sean? Sean, I hope you’re there. This is important. Please pick up.” There was a slight pause. “It’s about Jason. He...”

Before she could say anything else, Sean sprinted for the phone in the entryway. “Shelley? Sorry, I was...”

“Jason is missing.”


And then Sean heard her begin to sob and the relaxation in all of his muscles vanished, replaced by a tightness that felt like steel bands snapping taut across his muscles. Blood rushed in his ears; his heart began to pound. A queasy nausea rose up in his gut.

“Jason never came home tonight,” Shelley sobbed. “I don’t know where he is. Please say he’s with you.”

Sean sat down on the little oak chair in front of the desk. Well, collapsed into the chair was more like it. “Shelley, I’m sorry, but he’s not here. Don’t you think I would have called if he had come here? How long’s he been gone?” Sean rubbed the back of his neck, his mouth curiously dry. He glanced out the window at the complete darkness.

“I went to work at six and he wasn’t home yet.” She blew out a sigh. “But, you know, we just thought he was horsing around in the woods or something and lost track of time. Then I called Paul and...”

“Wait a minute, Shelley. It’s a quarter ‘til eleven.”

“I know. I know.”

“Why didn’t you call sooner? You mean to tell me you’re just starting to look? Christ, he’s eight years old.”

“I thought he would’ve come home while I was on my shift. Paul was here and he fell asleep and...”

“Paul. Great.” Sean rubbed his sweaty palms against his thighs.

“Please Sean, it’s not the time. I fucked up. Okay? Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I need some help finding our son.”

She was right. In spite of the thoughts running through his head, most of them centering around how he and Austin would have been better parents, but the courts couldn’t see that, all they could see was a little boy growing up under the wings of two queers, Sean knew she was right.

This was an emergency.

He looked over at his partner, who was sitting up, alert on the couch, concern making his fair features somehow darker, eyebrows pulling together, mouth open as if to say something. Austin mouthed, “What’s wrong?”

“Just a minute, Shelley.” Sean covered the receiver with his hand. “Jason has disappeared. They haven’t seen him since this afternoon.” Sean closed his eyes to try and center himself; this was feeling unreal, like a nightmare come to life. The room shifted, like he was drunk. He wished away any high the Jamaican he had smoked earlier brought on, but it wasn’t that easy. A feeling of giddy dread pulsed through his veins, electric.

This is how it feels, he thought, to be totally helpless.

Austin got up from the couch and began rubbing the cords in Sean’s neck, which had tightened into iron.

Sean swallowed, trying to summon up some spit. “You haven’t seen him all day?”

“That’s right and I don’t need the accusations. You know how it is around here in the summertime. Kids play outside until it starts getting dark. It was like that for you. It was like that for me.”

“I’m sorry. Listen, we’ll be right over.”

“‘Kay.” There was a pause. “Sean? Would you mind just coming alone? Paul...”

“For Christ’s sake, Shelley.” Sean hung the phone up.

“I’m going over there. See what I can do to help.”

“Let me throw something on.” Austin stood, his blue eyes alive with concern and sympathy.

“No.” Sean practically winced at the look of surprise on his lover’s face. He bit his lower lip and added, “I mean, maybe you should stay here in case anyone calls.”

Austin frowned.

“Like Jason, Austin. Like Jason.” Sean groped in a desk drawer near the front door and pulled out his cell. “I’ll have this on me so you can reach me. Okay?”

Sean was out the door before Austin had the chance to offer any sort of rebuttal.

* * *

By the time he pulled up in the driveway, Sean was hoping, without much optimism, that Jason would have come home during the time it took him to drive over to Shelley’s. He even had a vision of his knobby-kneed little son running out the back, screen door slamming behind him, and calling, “Daddy!”. He ran a trembling hand through his close-cropped dark hair and yanked on his mustache. Even under the best of circumstances, he didn’t particularly like going in that house: Paul and Shelley had done their best to make sure he never felt comfortable there. When was the last time he’d been inside? He couldn’t remember. Usually, he just gave a couple of toots on the horn when he picked up Jason and out the boy would run, nylon weekend bag in hand.

It had been easy. Unlike his divorce from Shelley six years ago...

But thoughts like that were for another time. Weren’t crises supposed to draw people together?

He took the back porch steps two at a time and could see them both waiting through the screen door. The light in the kitchen seemed unusually bright and the silence of his ex-wife and her husband, sitting at the table, heads bowed, erased any hope that Jason had already returned home.

Sean gave a couple taps on the screen door to alert them to his presence and went inside.

Shelley stood. “Sean! God, I’m so glad you’re here.” Then she glanced over at Paul to see how he would take what she had just said, but he was looking at once bleary-eyed and dour. “I mean, Paul and I have been worried sick.”

“Have you called the police and reported him missing yet?”

Paul stood. “Of course we did that. As soon as Shel got home from the diner. What do you think?” Paul’s large frame looked imposing. He was the kind of man at whose hands Sean had always received taunting and torture. A man’s man, with no tolerance for sissies like him. He had heard from Jason the names Paul had called Sean, the snide remarks about his masculinity, and the none-too-subtle hints that he, Paul, would make a fitter father for Jason.

Sean ignored the big man, with his glowering good looks and the smell of beer and perspiration that wafted off him. Sean caught his ex-wife’s gaze. “What do you say we take a little ride? Check out his favorite haunts? Just do a little searching on our own?”

Shelley was already heading toward the door. Paul was behind her. Shelley stopped and turned at the sound of his footfalls. “No.”

Paul’s mouth dropped open.

Shelley grinned, the little half smile looking sickly on her pale, worried features. Sean wondered then if he ever beat her. “I mean, someone has to be here in case he comes home or the police call.” She then turned back to Sean. “They’re on the way over here right now. Paul, you’ve got his school picture, right?”

Paul consulted the ceiling. “It’s right where you left it, dear. On the kitchen cabinet.”

Sean could see the 5 x 7 color photo lying near a stack of newspapers.

“Just give them the picture. The guy I talked to on the phone said they could make signs.” She paused. “If necessary.”

* * *

As Sean drove through the night, he battled a feeling of sick helplessness. If something horrible had happened to Jason, he couldn’t bear the thought of it. The loss would rob him of more than just an only son, it would rob him of a life.

He didn’t know how he could go on.

He had to fight back accusatory words, so he turned the radio on. He pushed the button that was set on the classical station in Pittsburgh and the car was filled with trumpets: Pachelbel’s Canon. Shelley had always despised his love of classical music, but tonight he thought she might find it soothing.

And it gave them a way to deal with the silence and the anxiety, which thrummed in the car like a third presence.

“Have you checked the woods across from the house?”

“Paul went out there a little while ago, with a flashlight. He knows right where Jason has his little fort built.” She brushed away a tear. “There was nothing there, except for his iPod and a couple apples in a plastic bag.”

Sean bit his lower lip. “He would never leave the iPod. He loved it. Loves it.” Sean and Austin had given him the iPod Shuffle just last Christmas and the little boy went everywhere with it.

“I know,” Shelley whispered. “I know.”

“How about his friends? I suppose you’ve called around.”

Shelley answered in a voice barely above a whisper. “Friends, classmates. Christ, practically everyone he’s ever bumped into in his whole life.”

“No luck?”

“Yes, Sean, I had a lot of luck. Actually this is just a ploy to get you alone. I thought I’d take another crack at seeing if I could convert you.”

Sean sighed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. It’s just that I’m so damn worried. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Sean pointed the car toward the river, deciding not to call Shelley on saying that it was the worst thing that ever happened to her. She was upset; her terror and anxiety wafted off her like a scent. The Ohio curved along the town of Summitville and even though Jason had been warned, over and over, to keep away from its muddy banks, both parents were certain that wouldn’t keep him away. Parental warnings had failed to keep generations of boys, including Sean, away from the allure of the river.

Both grew silent, thinking things they didn’t want to: the number of boys over the years who had been claimed by the Ohio’s treacherous and unpredictable currents.

Would they find Jason washed up on a bank? Or worse, would the current carry his body downstream, to turn up days later when everyone concerned would be fragile from lack of sleep and worry?

Sean steered the car down a bumpy road, filled with potholes, and headed toward the river. In front of the two of them, cooling towers from Summitville Power, one of the nation’s first nuclear power plants, rose up against the night sky, tiny lights on the towers blinking in the darkness. The towers, sentinels against the dark and starless night, gave an almost surreal feel to their venture. Wafts of steam came off the tops of the two towers, to be snatched up by the wind.

After they had passed the small neighborhood filled with decrepit tiny homes, sheathed in peeling paint or tarpaper masquerading as brick, called Little England for as long as anyone could remember, Sean pulled the car over to the side of the road. Just ahead of them, the road dead-ended. Beyond where the cinders ended was a large grassy field that backed up to Summitville Power. For as long as Sean could remember, kids had been coming here: as prepubescents to explore the tall grassy fields nourished by the river and later, to smoke and make out.

Sean swallowed hard. If Jason was in this field, there was no way they would find him safe. Sean was gripped by a numbness that made his movements those of an automaton, doing each action separately, right down to putting one foot in front of the other.

He wished he had some optimistic words for Shelley, wished he had some optimism for himself. But what answer could there possibly be for an eight-year-old boy, smart and always well-behaved, to be out now, after a thunderstorm and hedging in on midnight? Still, he kept a part of his mind open for something he hadn’t thought of.

The air, after the storm, had a slight chill to it. Shelley wrapped her arms around herself and Sean noticed, for the first time, how much she still looked like a child. Her thin build, barely clinging to a frame little more than five feet tall, gave her a waifish appearance. The baggy T-shirt and jeans she wore did little to dispel the illusion that Sean had a child along with him. Her reddish brown hair was pulled back away from her face, a face unlined, but now creased by worry and dread.

“It’s going to be okay,” Sean said to his ex-wife. “There’s got to be something we’re not thinking of.”

Shelley said nothing as the two of them stepped over a chain that supposedly barred anyone from entering the field.

The ground beneath them squished with each step they took and as they progressed, their feet sank deeper into the mud, causing them to have to pull their feet out sometimes, with a loud sucking noise once the foot was freed. An odor of fish wafted up from the river.

“He’s not here,” Shelley said. “This is pointless. We should be home so we can talk to the police when they get there.”

“Paul can handle that. Besides, I’ve got my cell phone and I assume you do, too.”

Shelley looked at him then, her eyes bright with tears in the darkness. She didn’t need to say anything.

“Let’s hurry.”

Movement was tough, what with the damp and the sliver of a moon hidden behind slate gray clouds.

As their gaze roamed the darkened empty fields, Shelley grabbed Sean’s arm suddenly. “There! Oh God, do you see it?”

And Sean followed Shelley’s gaze and her trembling finger to what he first saw as just more high, yellowing grass and weeds. And then he noticed how some of the vegetation was tramped down.

And then he saw the little red Converse shoe.
To purchase direct from the publisher, click here
To purchase from Amazon, click here or Kindle version, click here

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Nan Tu (The Southern Migration) - Southern Swallow Book II excerpt by Edward C Patterson

“We all lived in the shadow of K’ai-feng’s ashes now. No denying it. However safe we felt, the world hung by a silken thread.” So begins the second book of the Southern Swallow series — The Nan Tu (The Southern Migration) by Edward C Patteron, and like the first book, The Academician, it is told by K’u Ko-ling, servant to the Grand Tutor, Li K’ai-men. The Emperor Kao has proclaimed that his court and government will migrate to the south, a progress filled with adventure, intrigue, war and tragedy, thus setting a series of events in play that shaped the Middle Kingdom.

Set on the broad canvas of Sung Dynasty China, The Nan Tu is a tale of love, separation and sacrifice. Yet heroes emerge from the ashes and restoration is within their grasp. From the mountain lairs of bandits to the sweep of the fleet at sea, The Nan Tu will transport you to a world that should have never been forgotten. Still, there are more important things than empires and history. There’s love and destiny — the destiny of Li K’ai-men’s relics and the enlistment of his helpmates to guard over the membrane of time.

The Nan Tu - Southern Swallow Book II
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 1449994202


Chapter One
The Dragon’s Teeth

We all lived in the shadow of K’ai-feng’s ashes now. No denying it. However safe we felt, either under the cold towers of Ch’i-chou or within the remnant palaces at Ying-t’ien, the world hung by a silken thread. The barbarians were poised to cut that thread. Who could prevent it? The new emperor, my lord, Prince Kang? He ascended the throne like a parrot in a cage, looking for a nod to do so. My master, Li K’ai-men? He had a clear eye, a keen mind and a bag of paranormal tricks, but he couldn’t stay the tide. Would it be the generals? They proclaimed their worth and vitality. Yet, not one could guarantee our safety.

I did know one thing. This vast land — this land in disunion and turmoil would not be put to rights by me — K’u Ko-ling, poor son of a cowcumber farmer from Gui-lin. I had already lived several lives beyond most piss ant farmers, and now was set to take my ease on the battlements, watching the world crumble. When it did, I would touch my master’s hand and find some recourse in his secret magic, but as long as he remained the Grand Tutor to the Emperor Kao, I was stuck in the latrine.

There’s no easy exit for those who serve . . . not even for a boy prince now elevated to the dragon throne. Heaven chooses her sons, but Heaven leaves them to find their own way. It seems unfair to me. I mean, it’s like being struck by lightning and putting out the fire with your own piss. Not a keen prospect. Still, if we were to survive these times, we depended upon this youth, who preferred riding to ruling.

I am an ignorant fool, never expected to understand the contours of politics. All I needed was my daily bowl of noodles and a woman once a week, now that my fat-ass wife was off with my mistress in the wilds at Nan-chang. Still, I had seen too much to put aside my instincts.

These men — the Emperor, my master, the hive of generals, the sea of misguided bureaucrats, officials and academicians — they all looked for approval. Heaven usually intervened with a comet or the birth of a three-headed cow, but the only unusual occurrence was the absence of unusual occurrences. With the Jurchen still hovering across the northern border and a rival dynasty nominally ruling at K’ai-feng, the world looked for legitimacy. The world looked to the wilds at Nan-chang, to that wily fox — the old Dowager Empress, the only legitimate creature in the Empire by dint of her long-standing maternity as the Mother of the Nation.

Now I scarcely recall my real mother, but if the Dowager Empress were my mother, I would have spent my days hiding in the latrine. What must have gone through His Majesty’s head while he waited for the blessing of this woman? And to think that my mistress and my master’s heartfelt companion, Fu Lin-t’o, were hostages at Nan-chang, along with my fat-ass wife. But the less I say about her, the better.


In the central hall’s dim light, the Dowager Empress sat in silent thought, playing with the dragon’s teeth, although she knew they were two small pearls dangling from a golden pendant — this pendant pinned to her robes. Yang Yu-yuan saw that the assembly waited upon her, the full Nan-chang court hushed in her presence. Tao Fan stood like a statue, casting a long shadow across the hall. Nearby, Lady Lin and the Princess Chia sat on cushions. And there were others — some summoned and some not, but all waiting on the Imperial silence while the Empress pondered her finger, caressing the dragon’s teeth.

A wintry wind blew through the gray hall, making it too cold to sit long without shivering, or so Fu Lin-t’o thought. He was among the summoned, sitting behind his mistress, Mei Lin, Li K’ai-men’s wife. Fu had sat for two watches, the chill creeping into his feet — feet that still ached from his injuries. He had been managing to walk with the aid of Chou Bei, the steward. However, Chou Bei was not there today, remaining behind with the household women. So Fu Lin-t’o’s support came from Mei Lin, who was heavy with child and barely able to buttress a full-grown man. Mei Lin’s son, Li Pao-xien was also present and squirming. In fact, many children had been summoned, including three-year-old Prince Meng.

Why did the old lady want the children? Fu Lin-t'o thought.

There was yet another sitting on the cushions — Lady Lin, a scion of the original founding bloodline, and her son, an older boy, perhaps four, who constantly broke the silence with his chirping lip-bubbles, amusing Fu Lin-t’o, who called the boy Sparrow. Sparrow was regal despite his age and conduct. He was the Count of Wei. Every one of the Count of Wei’s chirps elicited a grumble from the Dowager Empress, who still pondered in the silence and played with her twin pearls.

“You must be quiet,” Lady Lin whispered to her son. “Be like Prince Meng.”

Fu Lin-t’o was thankful that Prince Meng was quiet today. He was usually a handful, and Li Pao-xien was generally loud. Fu felt like a child, waiting in this unnatural silence. If he could run, he would have attempted it, but the hall was stocked with grim warriors — local generals who mourned for the loss of the capital. The Dowager had summoned some, although others just drifted in from broken commands.

Finally, the Dowager stirred, her formidable headdress nodding to Tao Fan. Her ermines shimmered in the dim light. Tao Fan approached her, bowing to catch his mistress’ whispered command. Then, the eunuch turned about, his pruny, gloomy face directed at Mei Lin. He approached her, his baton pounding. Fu Lin-t’o stirred, and prepared to stand. However, Tao Fan noticed the attempt and squelched it.

“I suggest, Master Fu, that you take your ease.”

“As you wish, Lord Tao.”

“I am not a lord, nor will I ever be one.”

Tao Fan’s voice carried through the hall, the entire assembly hugging his every word. He turned to Princess Chia.

“My mistress wants the child.”

Princess Chia nodded, and then stood. The amah followed her as she shuffled to the throne.

“The other one too,” the Dowager commanded.

Tao Fan glanced at Lady Lin and the Count of Wei. She too was upstanding, guiding her son toward the formidable woman.

“The Grand Tutor’s lady also, and his spawn.”

Tao Fan nodded. Mei Lin gathered herself and Li Pao-xien with difficulty. Fu Lin-t’o disregarded Tao Fan’s command. He tottered to those misshapen things that once he had called feet.

“You must stay,” Tao Fan said.

“Mistress,” Fu said, ignoring the eunuch. “Give me my nephew’s hand.”

Mei Lin complied, and then together they trundled toward the throne.

“Desist,” Tao Fan shouted, pounding his baton twice upon the floor. He evidently had forgotten that Fu Lin-t’o had saved his skin in their flight from K’ai-feng. It was always the way with the palace vermin. Fu ignored him, fully expecting the next pounding of the baton to be across his back.

“Let him come,” Yu-yuan croaked. “It is befitting that the paramour should lead the brat.”

Once they reached the first step beneath this icy lady, they bowed deeply, awaiting her bidding. Li Pao-xien squirmed under Fu’s grasp, but Fu pulled him firmly forward. It was not easy, because the pain in his injured feet, especially the right one, was excruciating. Fu did all he could to maintain proper form. Still, the Dowager held them in her gaze, staring to each in turn, all the while fiddling with those damned pearls.

I would dearly love to tear that pendant from her chest and stick it up her ass, Fu Lin-t’o thought.

His eyes shifted to Mei Lin, who trembled. Was this fear or the cold? Probably both. Finally, Her Majesty, the immortal Dowager Empress Yang Yu-yuan, stood. Everyone knelt, a relief from the standing. Fu heard armor clattering, brocades rustling and an anticipated murmuring that, after two full watches, the great woman was about to let the commandments fly.


“Is Prince Meng well?” she asked Princess Chia.

“With all my heart, Your Majesty. He is as healthy a baby as you could ever see.”

“Ugly then, is he not, the gods cursing us.”

The Princess smiled, and then nodded.

“Ugliest child under Heaven, Your Majesty.”

“Good. The descendants of T’ai-tsung always have been wretches and always shall be so.” She turned toward Lady Lin. “And how is your son?”

“Blessed with good health, Your Majesty.”

“Ugly also?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“But less so than Prince Meng,” the Dowager suggested. “A fairer child and thus drawing Heaven’s jealousy.”

“Fairer than his cousin,” Lady Lin confirmed.

“It has always been the way with the descendants of T’ai-tsu that they are fairer and thus losing their turn in line. Still, the two great lineages stand before me as I look to Heaven for the signs.”

Suddenly, she gazed at Mei Lin. Her hand went to the pendant again.

“When Heaven favors a new claimant of the mandate, there are signs,” the Dowager continued. “I have searched my heart for such signs. The Emperor Ch’ing still lives. It was unfortunate that he retired me to this fortress instead of allowing me my place at court, but he still lives. Thus, we have an Emperor still . . . and a dynasty.”

The audience murmured again, especially the military component. Fu Lin-t’o thought these words might have stirred them to some cause — a common thread among them. The Emperor may have been captured. He may have been dragged off with his father and the entire court, save one. However, that didn’t mean his reign was over. In fact, a new reign period had not been proclaimed.

Suddenly, the murmur increased. A gentleman drifted through the rear portals, his arms held high like trophies. It was Xie K’o-chia, the Councilor of the Left Bureau of Military Affairs, long associated with the Dowager Empress. In fact, Li K’ai-men once told Fu Lin-t’o that Xie K’o-chia was a creature of that woman — that woman who would control the world.

“Councilor Xie,” Yang Yu-yuan said, and then sat again.

The man came forward, his entourage few and dusty; his sandals muddied and his coat not the finest. He smelled of horse. He evidently did not observe protocol before delivering his tidings, although he was two watches late. He bowed.

“My lady,” Xie K’o-chia said. “May Heaven watch over your sacred heart. May the wisdom of the House of Chao stir from your tongue and give us peace.”

“Peace,” she said. “Peace is the one thing we do not have. Tell me. Does Chang Pang-chang and his flatulent dynasty still stand at K’ai-feng?”

“It does not, my lady. General Tsung Tse has retaken the capital.”

Yu-yuan smiled for the first time since she called this court gathering.

“Chang Pang-chang is dead then?”

“He lives.”

She stood, her arm sweeping the air, her finger pointing to her creature. Xie K’o-chia squinted, but did not budge.

“I demand that Chang Pang-chang be executed at once,” she shouted.

“My lady,” Xie said, his demeanor respectful, but firm. “Please forgive my boldness, but as your councilor I must remind you that such a proclamation is reserved for His Majesty, may he live ten thousand years.”

The Empress spit, returning to her seat with a thump.

“Who rules here? In this place, Xie K’o-chia, who rules here?”

“Within these walls, my lady, you do. Within this aging heart, you do. But as for all-under-Heaven, that is a question on which we solicit your grace to consider.”

“Well, at least, I rule your heart, Xie K’o-chia. I will rest easy tonight knowing that. As for my brother-in-law’s children, I believe we have an issue that will not disappear — unless we have a sign that Heaven favors one of them.”

Xie K’o-chia bowed again.

“My lady, might I suggest that we do have a sign.”

The hall murmured again. Breastplates rattled. Fu Lin-t’o prepared for the worst. If this sign acknowledged that the captured Emperor was still the Son of Heaven, this woman would proclaim herself regent in his absence. Fu was sure of it.

“Speak,” she said, fidgeting with the pearl pendant.

“That K’ai-feng was taken and the House of Chao deflowered,” Xie Ko-chia said, “is a sign of Heaven’s intemperance with your nephew, the Emperor Ch’ing. Prince Kang, the Duke of Ch’i is the only free remaining son of the retired-Emperor Hui. Again the succession goes to a brother.”

“He is too young,” Yu-yuan snapped.

Or not young enough, Fu Lin-t’o thought.

“He was declared Emperor by the northeastern divisions under Han Shr-chung,” Xie Ko-chia said.

“So he has teeth behind his claim.”

“I have heard, my lady, that he’s reluctant to ascend the dragon throne, but the signs are with him.”

The Empress stared at the Princess Chia as if to say this is your fault. You have given us an alternative, but alas you are here instead of with your husband.

“Signs? You keep saying there are signs, but you only tell me of human frailty and the strength of arms. Heaven does not speak in such terms.”

She rubbed the pendant.

“He was proclaimed in the shadow of Mount T’ai,” Xie said.

“Mere geography.”

“Then, we must also consider the number. The number . . . nine.”

Yu-yuan’s face puckered. She appeared disturbed, as if a cricket made a nest in her robes.


“Nine, my lady.”

“Yes,” she whispered. Her face brightened to its full dimness. “Yes. Nine.”

“Nine dragons seen across the sun.”


“Nine Emperors have ruled the Great Sung.”

“Nine, indeed.”

Yu-yuan’s husband was number seven; unlucky number, that.

“Prince Kang is the ninth son.”

Yang Yu-yuan twitched at this. A grin blossomed across her face, but then vanished as she slowly stood, stretching to her full stature, her ermines cascading to the floor.

“The ninth son,” she said. “That he is. The ninth and the one I loved most. The one I nurtured at my breast. Indeed, that is the sign, Xie K’o-chia.” She turned to Tao Fan, who slammed his baton to the floor three times. “Let the royal seal be offered to the ninth son of my brother-in-law, the retired-Emperor Hui. And may we hold true to the will of Heaven and the nine dragons that have dotted the sun.”
To purchase, click here

Monday, January 11, 2010

NIGHTLIFE excerpt by Dale Lazarov & Bastian Jonsson

NIGHTLIFE, written and edited by Dale Lazarov, drawn by Bastian Jonsson and colored by Yann Duminil, is a collection of three gay erotic comics set in different kinds of nightlife. The first story is “Hard Cases” in which two very sexy singer-songwriters — the guys on the cover of the book — meet at an open mike in a gay bar and hook up to take their creativity and skills into the bedroom. In “Layover”, a young handsome businessman and a leonine muscledaddy meet at an airport bar. When all flights are cancelled, they turn the setback in their travel plans into an overnight affair to remember. The third and last story in the book, “Closing Time”, features a hot, scary biker bouncer and a muscly/hairy/scruffy punk boy.

Publisher: Bruno Gmunder Verlag GmbH(November, 2009)
ISBN 10: 3867870446
ISBN 13: 9783867870443


To purchase, click here (Amazon) or here (bookdepository - PayPal, free shipping, 36% discount)

Monday, January 4, 2010

LA Boneyard excerpt by P A Brown

In the third book in the L.A. series, featuring Christopher Bellamere and David Eric Laine, evil is pursued from a shallow grave in Griffith Park, to the streets of West Hollywood and into the dark heart of the gang-infested streets of East L.A.

Detective David Eric Laine is no stranger to violence and brutality, but even he is taken back at the sheer viciousness of the murder of two pregnant Ukrainian women. This was just the beginning of a baffling case which would lead from their shallow grave to a bucolic bungalow community in West Hollywood, tree-lined and tranquil, to the heart of the gang-infested streets of East Los Angeles, and points in between.

LA Boneyard
MLR Press (November, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-018-4 (ebook)
978-1-60820-017-7 (print)


Friday, 8:20 AM, Vista del Valle Drive, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Something had done a number on the corpse.

The early morning call-out had been brief and to the point. Griffith Park. Shallow grave. Mutilated arm. Probably wild animals.

LAPD homicide detective David Eric Laine hoped it was animals. He crouched beside the makeshift grave, behind the screen of freshly broken branches and crushed vegetation, studying the exposed arm with the manicured nails and winking diamond ring; the animals had nearly worked off the bone. Wondering what her final moments had been like. Knowing it had been ugly. He looked beyond the grave, visualizing. Had he raped her? Had that been the last indignity she had suffered, before the ultimate one?

Overhead, dense black clouds roiled across the western sky, a late Pineapple Express had roared in last night, straight from Hawaii, promising more rain in an already wet spring. The chaparral and Ceanothus had started their seasonal bloom, thin green shoots emerging from what had once been desiccated limbs. Under foot the moisture retaining hydro-mulch, spread after the ravaging 2007 and 2008 fires, soaked his feet, chilling his skin. The steady thump-thump of the LAPD airship called in to do an aerial survey echoed his heartbeat, driving him relentlessly, as unforgiving of failure as he was.

David scanned the ground, taking in the fresh horse tracks, and the fading coyote spore. The animals had scattered when the woman who found the body nearly rode her horse over them. She stood with her shoulder touching her horse’s neck, the animal’s reins still held in her gloved hand. Blindly she touched the burnished chestnut coat, seeking comfort. David turned away; he had nothing to give her. His promises were for the dead. They didn’t ask for guarantees. They didn’t get angry when he was called away in the middle of the night to do his job.

“So what have we got?” he asked.

The first officer on the scene, Donald Lessing, pulled out his notes, “I received a call at seven-fifty-six AM that a body had been discovered in a shallow grave. My partner and I were dispatched, and arrived about fifteen minutes later.” He indicated his partner, a paunchy, silver-haired Asian, who was adding a second loop of barrier tape to keep out the curious, then indicated the equestrienne, “We found Mrs. Rosenfield right about where she is now. She was pretty upset.”

“I’m sure the last thing she expected to find was a dead body on her morning ride.”

“Yes sir.”

Nothing could be done to process the crime scene until the photographers had taken their shots. Everything had to be kept intact to preserve possible evidence. They had the time; the body wasn’t going anywhere. In the distance, thunder rumbled. He amended that, maybe they didn’t have so much time.

David studied the dark, crouching clouds, and wondered if Chris would get over his snit long enough to close the windows against the coming rain. Otherwise their newly refinished oak floors were going to get a soaking. One more thing for Chris to get pissed at. He retraced his steps and approached the horse and rider.

He pulled out a notebook and twisted his arm around to check the time, only to discover he wasn’t wearing his watch. Right, he’d stuffed it into his jacket pocket after he’d left an angry Chris in bed this morning. Chris always seemed to be angry these days. He got that way when he was between jobs.

He drew out the Rolex Chris had given him for his fortieth birthday and wrote the exact time, the crime scene location, and his own name and rank. David studied the watch ruefully. He had told Chris a gift like that was too extravagant, but Chris wouldn’t listen. “You deserve it,” he had said. “You put up with me for four years, didn’t you?” Still, David took it off when he could; out of sight of Chris, who took it as a personal affront when he didn’t wear it all the time. David was a Timex kind of guy. Even after four years he never got comfortable with the easy wealth Chris displayed.

Mrs. Rosenfield looked young. David doubted she was more than twenty-five. Under normal circumstances she would have been attractive—large, doe eyes, soft hair flying loose from under her riding helmet. But now her face was pale, and her eyes were glassy with shock. David pushed aside his sympathy and assembled his cop face; the one Chris hated so much, claiming it made him look cold and robotic. Well, there were times when cold and robotic was the right way.

She wore a tailored riding outfit and boots that gleamed, even in the sunless light. A pulse beat in her throat, like a wounded animal.

“Mrs. Rosenfield,” he said. “I’m Detective David Eric Laine. Could I have your full name, please?”

“Danielle,” she said. “Just call me Danielle.” Her gaze darted toward the grave. “Who is it? Do you know—?”

“No, ma’am, Danielle, we don’t know that yet. Can you take me back to when you first spotted something out of the ordinary?”

“S-sure.” She visibly collected herself, her hand going out to stroke her horse’s neck. “Toby and I were on our morning ride, when these coyotes came racing right out under our noses—I thought they were attacking us at first. You hear about how bold they’ve gotten over the years.”

“Yes, ma’am.” What coyotes could do was frightening. What people could do to each other was so much worse. “What then?”

“Once they ran away I realized they were just as scared as we were. I was going to head back home. I’m supposed to be to work at ten.” She shook her head, a strand of hair falling over her eyes. She swept it aside with a kidskin gloved hand. “I guess I should call my boss. I don’t think I’ll be in today—” Her voice broke.

“Yes, ma’am,” David said gently. “What was the first thing you noticed before the coyotes appeared?”

“Toby spooked.” Rosenfield grimaced. “I guess when he got wind of them. He nearly dumped me. That was when I saw the arm. I screamed. That must have scared them away without taking...taking it with them.” The grimace deepened and the flesh around her mouth whitened.

More thunder cracked, closer this time. She looked around uneasily.

“Anything else you can recall about your ride?” David asked even more gently, knowing she was very close to losing it. “Before you noticed anything amiss?”

”We rode by the Roosevelt Municipal golf course,” she said. “I go that way all the time. Usually it’s so peaceful...”

“You see anybody on the links?”

“Two players, and a caddie.” Rosenfield squinted as she recalled her morning. “I don’t pay much attention to the golfers, unless they’re driving carts. Sometimes they spook Toby.”

“Would you recognize the golfers if you saw them again?”

“W-what? You don’t think they had anything to do with this, do you?”

“It’s just standard procedure,” David assured her. “Look, I know this is tough. Even cops can have a hard time stumbling across something like this. If you like, I can give you the number of a victim’s support group. They can help you with this, if you want.”

“T-thank you. I don’t think that’s necessary...”

David handed her the card anyway. “You might change your mind. I hear they’re good.”

She slipped the card into her jacket pocket. He knew she wouldn’t call. He’d seen it before. Misplaced pride would keep her from seeking help. “What did you see then?” he prompted.

“I didn’t know what it was at first, then I thought it was a mannequin.” She gave a short bark of laughter, quickly stifled. “That someone had stolen a storefront dummy and was playing a gag. It was only after I saw the teeth marks that I knew.” She swallowed convulsively and David wondered if she was going to be sick. The human arm had been heavily gnawed by strong jaws. He distracted her as smoothly as he could.

“I need you to come down to the station, to make a formal statement. I can send someone out to get you if you like—”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll drive myself. Will I have to go to court?”

“I won’t lie to you. It depends on the D.A., and whether a suspect is found, and it all makes it to court. But I’m sure someone from the prosecutor’s office will be in touch with you if it becomes necessary.”

David watched her stiffly remount her horse and urge it back onto the trail. They broke into a fast trot before they were out of sight. He very much doubted she would ever ride this peaceful trail again.

Out of the corner of his eye, David saw a white Pontiac Firehawk, splattered with debris from the previous night’s rain, pull up beside the LAPD crime scene van. It was driven by a lithe, dark-skinned Latino man, with that young urban scruffy beard thing going on. Chris, always quick to adopt new fads, had tried it once, until David complained that it was like kissing five o’clock shadow, all day long, and he reluctantly shaved it off.

The Latino climbed out of the low-slung car. He surveyed the scene of controlled chaos with dark eyes, taking in everything in a sweeping glance, before he shrouded them with a pair of Ray Bans. He looked like he just stepped out of GQ, sharp creases on his wool dress pants and sedate black and blue tie. He wore his gold detective’s badge on a chain around his neck. David caught a glimpse of his Beretta nine under his LAPD blue nylon wind breaker. Incongruously, he wore a pair of hand-tooled black and blue Tony Lamas boots instead of the usual military gear most new detectives favored. David wouldn’t be surprised if he had a closet full of Levis and Stetsons at home. He was a tall man, though not as tall as David’s six-four, dark-skinned, with high cheek bones. His eyes were dark and dangerous. Too dangerous for David’s taste.

The guy was going to spell trouble.

Already the eyes of the two female SID criminologists kept straying his way. David had heard rumors about the guy, even before he was assigned to Northeast; he’d ignored them at the time, like he ignored all the trash talk around the squad room. In the stories the guy was a wannabe actor. David had heard — and dismissed — the story about his involvement with a producer’s wife that had ended messily. The tabloid press had been all over it. Maybe the guy had a problem keeping his dick in his pants. Maybe he was only guilty of bad judgment. He wouldn’t be the first. Cops and badge bunnies went together like chili and fries.

David extended his hand and introduced himself. Might as well give the guy the benefit of a doubt, he didn’t like it when people jumped to conclusions about him. Being one of the few openly gay detectives carried its own baggage. “Glad to have you on board.”

“Thank you, sir,” the detective said. “Detective Jairo Garcia Hernandez.” He pronounced it Yairo. “Most gringos call me Jerry.” His smile was all teeth and David knew he was being tested by the new D.

He’d nip that one in the bud before it went south. “I think I can handle Jairo.” He gave the word a Spanish lilt. The guy wasn’t going to catch this gringo ignorant of the language. Good looking or not, he was just another rookie D.

Jairo saw the Rolex on his wrist and whistled. “Nice watch. Your wife give you that?”

“No, I’m not married,” David said. Deciding to make small talk, he ventured,“You?”


“How’s that going for you?” Cops loved marriage; so many of them did it so often.

“Fine.” Jairo grew defensive. “You gonna tell me that’s gonna change? Already got that from my smart-ass sergeant first time I showed up for roll-call.”

“It’s hard,” was all David said. “Marriage is a work in progress.”

“So you were married? She divorce you?”

David shrugged. He finally slipped the Rolex off and tucked it back into his inner pocket, over his heart. It would be safer there, away from nosy rookies. “It’s complicated.” Then he saw Jairo had noticed the plain gold band he wore on his left ring finger. The gold band Chris had given him following the first year they had lived together. He closed his hands into fists, but made no attempt to hide the thing. What was the use? He was almost as notorious in the LAPD as Mark Fuhrman.

Jairo’s disingenuous eyes widened. “You’re the... you’re him.”

David saw something glitter on the ground at the entrance to the crime scene, and crouched down to study it. It was a bottle cap. Still, he signaled a photographer over to take a picture. Sometimes the littlest things proved useful. Sometimes they were just litter. All around them crime scene techs were placing evidence flags, and doing their best to catch everything, before the skies opened up. He was glad to see that the victim’s hands had been bagged, covering the ring he had seen earlier.

“You can say it, you know.” David stood up and brushed debris off his pants. “I’m the gay cop.”

Jairo flushed and looked away. “Yes, sir.”

Now what was that all about? Surely as soon as he knew who his latest senior partner was going to be, Jairo would have known all about David’s sordid “secret.” He would have found all kinds of officers eager to share the scuttlebutt about who he’d been saddled with. “That’s Detective, Hernandez.” David was already beginning to miss Martinez, his partner of ten years. He had been reassigned to South-Central, for the next six months, to work a gang detail. They had forged a tight partnership; a partnership that even David’s abrupt outing over four years ago had not disrupted. David wasn’t looking forward to breaking in the new kid, even if he was, as rumor also claimed, top of his graduating class. Good grades, like good looks, weren’t everything.

He moved around to stand beside the grave again. A tarp had been laid over the torn earth to protect against the coming storm. He thought he could still see the outline of the arm. He glanced sideways when a flash of lightning illuminated the dense brush. He almost felt sorry for the boots who was going to have to guard this site all night.

He turned back to face the grave and its nameless victim. Jairo came up to stand beside him. David kept his eyes on the tarp, ignoring the man beside him.

“I’ll find him,” he promised.

To purchase ebook, click here
To purchase in print, click here for Amazon, or here for Barnes & Noble.