Monday, December 12, 2011

A Body On Pine excerpt by Joseph R.G. DeMarco

In Joseph R.G. DeMarco's A Body On Pine, when Marco Fontana enters his friend's spa on Pine, he doesn't find the peaceful retreat he expected. Brad, the masseur, is missing. The spa is splattered with blood and a dead client lies sprawled on the floor. After a thorough search turns up more questions than answers, Marco calls the police. They find Brad's body a short distance from the spa and before long Marco understands that what appears to be a simple case of murder is anything but. The police want Marco off the case. However, when the body of a popular journalist is added to the death toll, Brad's case gets sidelined. Marco refuses to allow his friend's death to be ignored and convinces an overwhelmed young police detective to bring Marco into the hunt for the killer. He finds plenty to keep him busy. Abusive ex-boyfriends, stalker clients, politicians, scheming businessmen, and Eastern European mobsters swirl together in a dangerous mix which finds Marco in some of the most serious trouble he's encountered so far. Life at home doesn't stop for Marco, either. While he searches for Brad's killer, Marco's stripper troupe, StripGuyz, brings him face to face with a stripper's abusive boyfriend and, with Jean-Claude, a new member of the troupe who innocently comes between Marco and Anton, upsetting the fragile balance existing between them.

A Body On Pine
Lethe Press (2011)
ISBN: 978-1-59021-345-2


I tried forgetting Stinky and his sordid life as I climbed the steps to my office. Sometimes being a P.I. makes you feel as dirty as your clients. But, the Stankowitz case was over and done with. A long, hot shower would wash it all away.

Anton stood at the top of the stairs, arms folded across his broad chest, like a sentry on duty. Tall, blond, and square-jawed, he looked down at me and smiled. I hadn’t seen him much in the past three weeks since I’d been on stakeout and I felt happy at the sight of him. Anton is my right-hand when it comes to running StripGuyz, the male stripper troupe I own, so it was no surprise finding him outside my office at Bubbles, the bar we use as the troupe’s base. The strippers and my work as a P.I. bring in enough money to pay the bills but both jobs keep me running. Having Anton manage the dancers and their schedules makes a big difference.

“Marco! You’re early. Did you give up on Stinky?” Anton had dubbed my target “Stinky.” It was a name that fit.

“You know me better than that.” I reached the landing and every knotted muscle the stakeout had caused, tightened painfully. “Stinky is history.”

I took Anton in my arms and planted a kiss on his mouth. Surprised at first, he responded wrapping his arms around me and pressing me close. His warmth felt good and I wanted more but Anton had his rules and I had no choice. We stayed in each other’s arms a while, then he gently pulled back.

Turning toward the closed office door, he swung it open.

“The office is all yours.”

Walking into the small room, I felt liberated after the long stakeout. It wasn’t my regular office, which was bigger and lots more comfortable, but this one would do for now. I moved to the desk, dropped into the chair, and let out a sigh. The battered old desk chair felt like heaven after a couple of weeks bent behind a steering wheel or peering out the car’s window. Sam “Stinky” Stankowitz, the sex-addled whacko, slipped into more places more quickly than anyone I’d ever followed. I was right behind him every minute, watching, taking pictures, and making notes.

“So, you’re all finished with the Stankowitz case?”

“Stinky’s not gonna give his wife a problem ever again.”

“He’s not… um… you know…?” Anton paused. “…is he?”

“The slime ball is still alive. But once his wife gets my report, Stinky will probably want to be on a slab somewhere.” A sharp pain stabbed at my leg. Leaning down, I massaged my left calf which had a knot the size of Kansas. Grudgingly, the muscle relaxed. Eventually, it’d be back and with friends.

“Think you can lend a hand and massage a kink or two out of my shoulder?” I smiled then winced feeling the pain in my calf again.

Anton tossed me a sympathetic smile, moved behind me, and placed his hands on my shoulders. He gripped them gently at first and I leaned back and sighed.

“Feel good?” Slowly he began to press and squeeze until I felt an exquisite but painful relaxation of the muscles. “Got yourself all scrunched into knots.”

“F-feels…unh… feels great…,” I drew a sharp breath when he hit a particularly sore spot. “Ow…”

“Sorry, big boy…”

“No… Feels… feels great… yeah… yeah… do that again.” In seconds, my shoulder muscles turned from angry to blissful.

“Now that you’ve finished snooping and taking whoopee photos, you’re turning them over to his wife? Poor woman.” He gave me an extra hard squeeze to punctuate his remarks and I yelped. Anton knew the investigative drill but something about this aspect of P.I. work rankled him.

“Snooping is such an ugly word. I was gathering intel. Besides, Mrs. Stinky hired me and demanded color close-ups. She can have them. I’m glad I won’t have to see Stinky’s face again. I’ve had enough of him to last three lifetimes. I won’t miss the little porker.”

It’d be satisfying pulling Stankowitz out from under his rock, watching him blink in the sunshine. Satisfying but not much fun because everybody gets hurt. The wife, the kids, even Stinky himself, not that I had a speck of feeling for him.

Spying on cheating partners wasn’t my favorite kind of gig, too much pain and trouble. But those cases brought in the dough. Since I’d moved my investigative offices to a newer building, I needed better cash flow.

“Until he comes after you for destroying his marriage,” Anton said and massaged my shoulders more gently.

“Hey, he’s the one who destroyed his marriage.” I said. “When he decided to cheat on his wife with any and every man he could find, he made his marriage moot.”

“You just took pictures to illustrate Stinky’s drama.” Anton smirked.

“It pays the bills. Anyway, his wife deserves a good settlement when they divorce. She’ll have three kids to raise all on her own. Those illustrations will help her case. Stinky’s a chiropractor with money coming out of his ass.”

“I guess you know what you’re doing, Marco.” He gave my shoulders a few more gentle squeezes then stepped around to the front of the desk again.

“Guys like Stinky are slime. They want it all no matter who gets hurt. I’m helping him face reality.”

“Here’s some reality for you, boss man: there’s a truckload of things going on right here at Bubbles. Maybe you remember us? Weeks staked out in your old BMW made you forget your responsibilities here, right?” Anton affected a world weary look.

“Like?” I played innocent but knew full well what was coming.

“The Campaign Express is rumbling through Bubbles and you graciously agreed to co-host the event. Hot politicians trying to get the gay edge in the primary are gonna be all over you. After they crawl out the door, there’s the Amateur Competition.”

“I only recall promising to play with the politicians.” Stan, the bar’s owner, had roped me into doing the political event. With the primary a few weeks away, some candidates were visiting the bars on their “I Love Gays” tour. That’s what I called it. Love was the furthest thing from their devious political minds. Votes were what they craved. The sincerity behind their gay pub crawl wasn’t high but it was better than having them ignore us completely.

“You’re right, you didn’t promise to help with Amateur Night. I’ve already got a host lined up,” Anton said, a dazzling smile spreading across his face. “Good thing you put me in charge of scheduling and managing the guys. Especially since you spend so much time taking dirty pictures.” He winked at me. Anton was as good at keeping the schedule running smoothly as he was at managing the StripGuyz dancers.

“The politicians are all I can handle tonight. Three weeks tailing Stankowitcz was torture. I never realized how cramped my car is. There’s no way to get comfortable in that tin can.”

“You could find other kinds of cases.” Anton smiled innocently. “Or buy a bigger car.”

“Not complaining. But I’m looking forward to the massage I scheduled with Brad tomorrow.” I smiled thinking about Brad, who’d been my masseur for several years. I scheduled myself for a massage twice a month, which never actually happened twice a month because cases always got in the way. Not only was Brad a great masseur, he was a good friend who was never bothered by my quirky schedule and last minute cancellations. I intended to keep this appointment no matter what. My screamingly knotted muscles would never forgive me if I cancelled. As if to remind me, the arch of my right foot developed a painful spasm, curling my foot and making me cringe.

“Brad again, huh? Sounds like you’re getting more than a massage with him. I’ve known lots of masseurs. When they advertise a deep massage they’re not just talking pressure.”

“Jealous?” I winked at Anton who also knew Brad. “What happens at Brad’s spa stays at Brad’s spa. That’s what I always say.” I glanced at Anton and noticed a strange expression cross his face. “Don’t worry. Brad and I are as chaste together as you and I.”

“Why should I worry? You’re a free man, tiger.”

I didn’t comment. Those words were loaded and I wasn’t about to light that tinder box.

“Brad’s totally professional with me. Whatever he does with other clients, I don’t know and don’t care. All I want is a good massage and that’s what I get.”

“All I know is,” Anton said wistfully, “when you’re on his table, he gets to see more of you than I ever have.”

“Uh, correct me if I’m wrong, handsome, but I’m not the one holding out. Am I?” I looked up innocently. Anton wanted the whole package: monogamy, cozy nights at home, a white picket fence. Short of that, we could kiss and cuddle but that was all.

Settling down sounded so permanent but at the same time, appealing. Half of me wanted to dive right in but there were issues I needed to resolve and I refused to give Anton false hope. I had strong feelings for him but something stood in the way, something in me. Maybe I was a fool thinking he’d wait.

I kept having doubts, kept thinking about all the bad relationships I’d seen. I’d watched too many broken hearted guys trudge through my office. Did I want to create one more situation like that? Even more important, did I love him? Strong feelings aren’t love but maybe that’s how love starts. Anton was important to me, more than important. I needed to know if I loved him before I did anything. And before Anton decided to move on.

“Let’s not go there right now,” Anton said. “We’ve got politicians to coddle.”

“Who’s on the Campaign Express?” I asked.

“I think Stan has a list. He’ll fill you in.”

On my way out, I took Anton in my arms again, felt his muscular form relax against me. Our lips were about to touch when someone knocked on the door. As we slowly pulled apart, the door edged open.

“Anton? Oh! Pardon!” Jean-Claude, one of our newer dancers, stood in the doorway. The yellow office light brushed his wheat-colored hair giving him a sleepy-soft, seductive look. Tall, muscularly slender, with light brown eyes, Jean-Claude was a transplanted French-Canadian who’d started work a few months back. “Oh, desolĂ©. I will come back.” Jean-Claude’s French accent laced his words.

“Hold on, Jean-Claude. We’ve got to talk about the contest. Marco was just leaving,” Anton said. “He’s got politicians to meet.” Glancing first at me then at Jean-Claude, Anton’s demeanor shifted from wistful to welcoming.

“Right.” I moved toward the door. “Can’t keep the pols waiting. See you later?” I looked at Anton.

“I’ll be here,” he said. “If you need me, just call.”

“Will do.”

Jean-Claude moved into the office. Suddenly they were all business and I felt invisible.

“Try and have a good time, Marco.” Anton said over his shoulder. “I’ll be swamped with this contest. We’ve got a lot of wannabes coming in and…”

“You should pay this man more, Mr. Fontana.” Jean-Claude looked admiringly at Anton. “He works too much.”

Anton smiled at me. “See? Someone appreciates my work.”

The sound of manipulation clunked in the background as I watched him try to push me into a pay-raise corner.

“Times are tough, Jean-Claude. Anton knows how much I value what he does… and him. See you guys downstairs later?”

“Uh, I… I don’t think so, Marco,” Anton said. “Got a lot to do before the contest.”

“Me neither,” Jean-Claude said. “I’ll help Anton before I get ready to go onstage.”

“I’ll face the politicians myself, then.” I laughed.

Anton and Jean-Claude quickly got back to work. Anton obviously needed an assistant, especially since I wasn’t around enough, and Jean-Claude seemed more than willing. The way he looked at Anton, though, made me feel vaguely uneasy.

I closed the door, squared my shoulders, and got ready for the political parade downstairs. Stepping into the main bar, the music hit me like a jackhammer. People laughed and talked. An air of excitement suffused the place.

“Marco!” A short guy in an expensive gray silk suit, stuck out his hand. I had no idea who he was as we shook hands. “Hey, how are you?” I said noncommittally.

“You don’t remember me, do ya?” He winked at me. “I was involved in that case you handled in South Philly coupl’a years back. The one with the widow…?”

“Oh, right. Right!” I remembered everything now. Shorty was a deep pockets businessman who’d been helping out a boy toy he’d taken under his wing. I presumed he’d dug into those same pockets to back one of the candidates tonight. “How’s… um… your friend?”

“Y’know, I can’t remember his name either. We split a while back.” He didn’t seem bothered by the break-up. “I’m here supportin’ Nussbaum. Been in that seat a long time and I wanna keep him there.” He winked again.

“He’s got a tough young opponent, from what I hear.”

“That’s why I’m spreadin’ some cash around.”

“Gotcha,” I said and moved off into the crowd.

None of the politicians had arrived and it was getting late. I wondered who’d organized this whole thing. I found Stan yuckking it up with some patrons, waving his hands like an old helicopter. He loved owning Bubbles and the high profile it gave him.

“Ready for the Attack of the Politicians?” I asked.

“The Campaign Express, Marco. We gotta play the game. It’s not every day politicians come begging to gay voters.”

“Yeah, like we really matter,” said a guy I didn’t recognize. He rebalanced himself on his barstool and gulped his drink.

“Who’s supposed to be here?” I asked.

“Somebody named Nancy has a list, she’s organizing it. Far as I know, most of the heavy hitters like Terrabito, Kelley, Nussbaum, Clarke and some newbies. Nancy what’s’ername hinted some surprises might even show.”

“And I’m supposed to do what?” I asked. Stan knew my feelings about political soirees. I hoped he also knew how much he’d owe me after this event.

“Turn on the charm with Nancy. Help her introduce the big dogs to us regular slobs. Schmooze with them. Let ‘em see that gay people are real live voters, too. I’d do it but you’re a hell of a lot prettier and you know more people.”

“When’s this happening, Stan?”

“Right about now.” He glanced at his watch then peered at the entrance.

A tall, neatly coiffed man entered accompanied by a small, grandmotherly woman. Helen Bell was the State Representative for the district. One of the few politicians I almost trusted. She was running unopposed but never missed an opportunity to meet constituents.

Some well-dressed guys trooped through the doors one or two at a time. Too stiff and slick to be patrons. I had to admit, though, some political types were attractive, even hot. I’d could enjoy the eye candy and ignore the hot air.

“Who are these jokers? I don’t recognize any of them.” I nudged Stan who shrugged.

One suit after another entered gazing around tentatively. All of them dressed in clothes that cost more than I made in six months. The older ones looked like lost sugar daddies, the younger ones seemed ready to bolt. They wore their suits like armor, ready to fend off unwanted passes.

“I don’t know their names, Marco. Hell, I don’t even know their faces. I was countin’ on you…”

“Must be the advance team paving the way. Or staffers.”

“You’ll have to get their names, introduce them around. Where’s Nancy? I don’t see Nancy.” Stan shot glances all around then gave me a gentle shove in the direction of the nearest suit, a dark-haired number, wide-eyed and nervous.

I stuck out my hand. “Marco Fontana,” I said and smiled. His spicy cologne floated over the odor of stale beer but wasn’t overpowering.

“Josh Nolan.” He shook my hand. His palm was sweaty but his grip was firm.

“You’re running for…”

“Running? No… funny. No. I’m Senator Terrabito’s chief of staff. Got here ahead of him I guess. You haven’t seen him, have you? I didn’t get to the other bars. I thought he’d be here.” The words tumbled out with an edgy quality.

“Never been in a gay bar before?” I asked as soothingly as I could. “How about a drink? That’ll help.” I signaled the bartender.

“Th-thanks. And no, I haven’t ever been in a gay bar before.” Despite the slight edginess, his voice was like thick honey.

“It’s the same as any other bar except it’s different. If you know what I mean.”

The bartender slapped down a napkin. “What’ll it be?”

“How about a Long Island Iced Tea?” I winked at the bartender.

“That should do it.” Nolan seemed grateful for the suggestion.

“It’ll settle your nerves.” It’d more likely knock him for a loop. “On the house.”

The bartender gave me a knowing smile. I knew from experience just how the powerful drink could sneak up on you after a while. I was betting Nolan knew it, too. Maybe he wanted to loosen up for some reason. If he could stand after a couple of Long Island Iced Teas, he might even have a good time.

“Comin’ right up.” The bartender turned and got busy.

“Been a long day,” Nolan said. His eyes betrayed his attempt at seeming calm and nonchalant.

The bartender placed the drink on the bar and Nolan slipped him a five. Which raised him a few points in my book.

“When’s the Senator getting here?” I asked, trying to relax him.

“Truthfully,” Nolan glanced at his watch, then snatched his drink from the bar and took a long gulp. “I thought he’d be here by now. He said he had some business to clear up and would meet me here.”

“He’s not the only one who hasn’t shown,” said a stubby man who’d sidled up to us. His suit was as expensive as the others but looked like a cheap tablecloth marred by wrinkles and stains.

“Marco Fontana,” I said sticking out my hand again. “You are…”

“Stu Henderson, on the Governor’s staff.” He turned to Nolan. “How you doin’ Nolan? You’re lookin’ a little green around the gills.” He laughed, a sandpapery sound, and it seemed he’d already had more than the legal limit. “Don’t worry, kid. Anybody makes a pass at you, tell ‘em I’m your boyfriend.” He laughed louder this time.

Nolan said nothing, gulped more of his drink.
Open for Submissions: Mysterical-E

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Victor J Banis said...

Ah, I make this another solid winner from the multi-talented Mr. De Marco. Listen up, kiddies, this guy means business

Anonymous said...

Thank you Victor! Much appreciated.
And than you Eric for doing all this.

Joe DeMarco

Lloyd Meeker said...

Loved Murder on Camac, and this feels even stronger right out of the gate. De Marco is a terrific read - thoughtful, lively and satisfying, adroit at mixing the comic and the serious.