Monday, December 26, 2011

Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries excerpt by Marshall Thornton

In Boystown, a collection of stories by Marshall Thornton, a former police officer turned private investigator, Nick Nowak is haunted by his abrupt departure from the department, as well as, the traumatic end of his relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty. In these three stories set in Chicago during the early eighties, Nick locates a missing young man for a mysterious client, solves a case of arson at a popular nightspot, and goes undercover to prove a dramatic suicide was actually murder. When he isn’t detecting, and sometimes when he is, Nick moves through a series of casual relationships. But his long suppressed romantic side surfaces when he meets Detective Bert Harker. Will he give love another chance? Or, will he continue to bury himself in the arms of strangers?

Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries
Publisher: Torquere Press (June 8, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1610402332
ISBN-13: 978-1610402330

Excerpt: (from Little Boy Fallen, the third story in the book)

Always be careful who you trick with. I should have that tattooed on my forehead so I can see it every morning when I shave.

The woman was waiting for me when I got to my office. She looked to be in her late forties, thick around the hips, busty. There was lot of red lipstick caked onto her lips, and her hair was done up in a way that had probably gotten a lot of attention during the Eisenhower administration. At first, I thought she was a patient of the dentist down the hall, but when I pulled my keys out and started to unlock the door, she came over.

“Are you Mr. Nowak?” she asked.

A few weeks shy of my thirty-third birthday, I didn’t much like being called 'mister' by anyone who wasn’t still in grammar school. “You can call me Nick.”

I opened the door and led her into my tiny office. The furniture was crammed together, and still I had room left over for a dead corn plant in one corner. The window was big, taking up most of the outer wall. Eight floors below was LaSalle Street. Across the way stood an ultra-modern, steel and glass building that was so tall it cut out most of my light.

“He said you were nice,” she commented, while making herself comfortable in my guest chair. She wore a red cloth coat with a white fox collar. Instead of a purse, she carried a photo album, clutching it tight to her chest.
I hung my suede jacket on the back of my door and pulled a box of Marlboros out of the pocket.

I decided not to ask who ‘he’ was. Not yet. Instead, I asked, “What’s your name, ma’am?”

“Helen Borlock.” I sat down at my desk and lit a cigarette while she talked. “He told me to come. He said you’d help. You can help, can’t you?”

“I don’t know if I can help,” I said honestly. “I don’t know why you’re here.”

She gave me a confused look, as though I should know why she was there. “Bobby told me to come. He said you’d help.”

“Bobby who?”

“Bobby Martin.”

I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Bobby Martin and said so.

“Bobby was my son’s roommate. One of them, I mean. There were four of them living there. Sweet boys, always laughing. The apartment is on Clark and Fullerton. They did it up nice. Every room a different color.”

I still hadn’t a clue who she was talking about.

Abruptly, she held out the photo album. “This is my Lenny.” To be polite, I took the album. “I never wanted to name him Leonard. My husband insisted. He’d had a friend, in the Marines. Wanted to name his son Leonard, after his friend. The friend died, you see.”

I flipped the album open. There was Helen with an infant. I was right. In her day, Helen had been a looker. I flipped a few pages and Lenny began to grow up. Looked like he was on his way to being a looker, too.

“What is it Bobby thought I could help you with?”

She glanced out the window like she suddenly needed to check the weather. It was overcast and threatening to rain or, worse, throw in one last snowstorm for the winter. After a little sigh, she said, “Three weeks ago, my son was murdered.”

“Mrs. Borlock, I’m a private investigator. I don’t investigate murders. The police do that.”

“They don’t care. Lenny is just another pervert to them.”

I waited a few moments, considering. I was telling her the truth. It wasn’t the kind of thing I did.

Or at least tried not to do. Mainly I did background checks, skip traces, once in a while a little surveillance. That was it. Murder was different. Yes, I used to be a policeman, but I’d only worked a beat. I’d never been a detective. In the nearly six years I spent on the job, when it came to murder I’d never done much more than secure a crime scene and make sure witnesses stayed put.

“Can you afford a private investigator?” I asked her.

“Yes. I always put a little aside for Lenny. Ever since he was a little boy.” She stared at her hands, which seemed particularly empty now that I was flipping through the photo album. “I used to think I’d give him the money on his wedding. He was sixteen when I figured out that was never going to happen, so for a while I thought I’d give him the money to go to college. But he was never book smart. Last couple of years, I’ve been waiting to see, did he maybe want to start a business or get a nice beau and buy a house.” Her voice turned bitter. “I should have given it to him. Should have let him spend it on whatever he wanted.”

She looked like she might break down, but fortunately she didn’t. I took the final drag off my cigarette and stubbed it out. Against my better judgment, I said, “Tell me what happened to Lenny.”

“Someone pushed him off the seventh floor of the atrium at Water Tower.”

That seemed pretty cut and dried. “Were there witnesses?”

“It was a little after ten in the morning.”

“No one saw him being pushed?”

She shook her head.

“So, how do you know he was pushed?”

Mrs. Borlock pursed her lips. Tears popped into her eyes and threatened to spill over onto her cheeks. “You’re going to tell me my boy killed himself, just like the police.”

“Right now, I’m not telling you anything. Right now, I’m asking questions. How do you know he was pushed?”

“I just know,” she spat. “I know Lenny. And he wouldn’t kill himself.”

“Why wouldn’t Lenny kill himself?” I was expecting a lame answer, like she’d raised him as a good Catholic, and, since it was against God’s law, he wouldn’t do it. But she didn’t say that. She said something completely different.

“Lenny was the happiest person I ever met.”

To purchase, click here

Monday, December 19, 2011

SALVATION excerpt by Lloyd Meeker

In the short story Salvation by Lloyd Meeker, a closeted and deeply religious man is rescued from a life of torment in a surprising encounter with an angel.

Erotica Exotica: Tales of Sex, Magic, and the Supernatural, Richard
Labonté, ed.
Bold Strokes Books (October, 2011)
ISBN: 978-1-60282-570-3


The California synod he had traveled to attend had finished on a high and sacred note, but tonight William would dance for the devil. He stared at his reflection with disgust. He looked young, in a blond, Midwest collegiate way, even though he was 31. Fit, slender, just a little too pretty for comfort. Like Dorian Grey—a comely shell housing a deformed soul. He dismissed himself, turning away.

He’d searched the online guide for the place he could get to quickly tonight—must get to. Google maps had given him the street grid to memorize, and William was ready.

He was going out for a long walk, he’d told his elderly hosts, just to get a better feel for their neighborhood. He’d reassured them he would be perfectly fine on his own, and urged them not to wait up for him since they’d given him a key. Dear Mrs. Griffin had just looked up at him from her crossword and smiled, chirping out her usual goodbye. “Angels watch over you, dear.”

He almost jogged to the street corner and over to a thoroughfare, where he flagged down a cab and gave the driver the address. Adrenaline made his limbs taut and ready, his breathing quick, his senses electrified, acute, as if he were a jungle cat hunting its prey.

Hunting for abomination, he admitted without flinching. Phrasing it more nicely didn’t matter—he was already lost. His body was starving again for the sin that would send him to hell. He had prayed and struggled, but his flesh had beaten him yet again. There would be plenty of time for remorse later, for the too-familiar self-loathing and anguished repentance. Again. William sat in the cab, trembling, watching the passing streets as if they were breadcrumbs he was leaving behind in a darkening forest.

He felt serene even as his heart hammered in his chest; he had surrendered control to his body. He was a mere observer of his flesh, which like a drug addict was stealing him again to get its fix. He would have a drink or two first, make it easier to bear the shame. Temporarily.

The cab stopped. William paid, got out and started walking. Herndon Street would be the next intersection. Ten o'clock and the streets still radiated a sensuous warmth from the summer sun. The air was soft with promise, heavy and metallic, intoxicating. Like the taste of the gun barrel, months ago, he realized. This smoggy air had the same ugly sweetness to it.

But William had been a failure in suicide as well as a failure in faith. He’d really wanted to die that winter night back home in Minneapolis, but somehow couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. He’d paused when he imagined some angel had whispered to him to stop—that his particular road to hell would be paved not with good intentions or even his sins, but with his own brain tissue splattered across the bathroom wall. At the time he’d told himself the voice had been divine wisdom, but he knew deep down it had been mere cowardice—one more weakness to despise in himself. He’d sold the gun at a pawnshop the next day.

562 Herndon Street—he’d arrived. The website listing had promised this place had a dark room downstairs. His gut twisted and coiled. William knew with certainty who and what waited inside, beyond the battered black door only partly lit by the stylized neon phallus above it. The door may as well have been the hell-mouth for the morality play he’d produced back in seminary, inscribed with the grim words over its lintel: "FORSAKE ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE." Shaking with need and excitement, William entered.

He strode to the bar, quickly downed a scotch and then ordered a double before turning to check things out. He looked for the dark room. There, that must be it—behind those black strips of vinyl. Oh! William stopped breathing. The man standing next to the entrance… damnation had never looked so hot. William suppressed a snort at the perfect irony. He walked over to the curtain, pulled the strips aside and looked down into the abyss. The odor of amyl nitrate and male sex surged up, grabbed him by the throat. He coughed, and let go of the plastic as if seared by brimstone.

“It’s not as scary as all that,” rumbled a voice right behind William. “I can show you, if you want.” Damnation Man was standing so close that William could feel his body heat pushing through his shirt into his spine. He turned, and slowly backed away until he bumped against the wall. Damnation Man advanced, and then there was no escape. But William didn’t want escape. He stared at Damnation Man’s bearded face. He wore a conqueror’s smile–confident, enigmatic, ruthless. William looked down. The man was wearing heavy-soled black work boots, Levis and a snug white athletic undershirt. Dark hair curled over its neckline, and a brilliantly colored dragon clawed its way out from behind the cloth, winding across one shoulder. Handsome devil.

“Show me?” William swallowed. His voice was strangled, barely audible.

“Sure. I’ll show you anything you want to see,” the man whispered, raising the back of one hand to brush William’s chest, knuckles dragging down to his stomach, landing to hook heavily on his belt and pulling his hips forward. “What do you want, boy?”

Need so urgent it was almost nausea blocked William’s throat. His tongue flattened, pushed his mouth open, but no sound came out. He shuddered. With a brash honesty all its own, his hand reached out and grasped the denim-covered bulge in the dragon man's crotch. Oh, that sweet firmness, the mysterious softness, the wild, smoldering promise…

“Yeah, I’m gonna give you what you need, boy,” dragon man muttered, cocking his head toward the dark room. “Let’s go.” He turned and disappeared behind the curtain without looking back. William lurched to follow, down stairs he could barely see, keeping his eyes on a white athletic undershirt descending into the darkness in front of him. He angled away from the stairs, and stopped when the shirt stopped. William could barely make out Dragon Man leaning against the wall, unbuttoning his jeans.

Spellbound, William approached to stand between the man’s splayed legs. Again, he reached down to grasp. This time he found the electrifying heat of silken skin, the scrape of pubic hair. William knelt in worship, his reverence ancient as a tribal drum. The scent of Dragon Man’s crotch was incense to carry away his devotion. Leaning forward, William filled his mouth with the man’s hardening cock, pushing back the soft mystery of foreskin with his lips. He reveled in the veined skin sliding, and the wild salt on his tongue was unspeakably sweet. He steadied himself against the man’s thigh, and reached to fondle his balls. They rolled heavy and slow in his hand, the most exquisite things on earth. In a frenzy of need, William dove forward, sucked and tongued and tasted and gagged.

“Hey! No teeth!” the Dragon Man commanded. He reached down and shoved a bottle against William’s nose. “You need to loosen up some, boy. Here.”

Stinging fumes broke the spell. Coughing out the man’s penis, William let go and stood, terrified. “No! No!” was all he could gasp. William bolted—up the stairs, out the hell-mouth, into the street.

Carrying the scent of popcorn, fast food, garbage and cigarettes, the soft night air curled around him, cooling his slimy lips, banishing the popper fumes. He stood rooted to the cement, panting, unable to think of what to do next. But he had escaped. Angels were indeed looking after him. Finally his feet came free and he began to walk.

A familiar harsh voice shamed him. What had he been doing in a bar like that? A man of God, caught in the devil's snare, risking everything now and forever for brief and sleazy pleasure. William shuddered, disgusted. He whispered a prayer of thanks and headed for Beach Avenue.

Bright light from behind a wall of glass flooded the palms in planters on the sidewalk ahead of him. Yes—safety, a decent hotel. William pushed through the revolving doors into garish, startling normalcy. So much light, clatter and chatter. No danger. So many people here, simply being normal. William headed for the bar. He needed something to calm him down, and to celebrate his deliverance.

A waiter with extravagant blond-streaked hair passed in front of him and smiled. “Good evening, sir,” he said, and moved on. William sighed. The waiter was obviously gay, but William didn’t mind. He was safe in this busy brightness. He sat and ordered scotch.

Oh, God. The handsome guitarist on the tiny stage had winked at him. William knew the wink had been for him, because his heart had begun to pound frantically again the moment their eyes had met. That smile meant new danger. Was there no such thing as safety? Transfixed, William sat and drank, hopeful, hopeless. When the set was over, the guitarist came over and sat without asking permission.

“Hi there, I’m Rafe,” he said in a voice as strong and gentle as his music had been. “What’s your name?”

“Uh, William.”

Rafe seemed to think something over for a moment. “Yes, William. Thank you for not lying to me.”

William recoiled, afraid and suspicious. “Lying? How could you possibly tell?”

“Oh, I can tell lots of things, William.” Rafe grinned like a farm boy whose hog had just won first prize at the county fair. He pushed shoulder-length auburn hair behind one ear. “F’r instance I can tell you’re one hurtin’ unit tonight, that’s for certain.”

“How on earth…” William began in protest, but stopped, held in the beauty of Rafe’s gaze.

“What can I say?” Rafe shrugged. “I got the Gift. Bothersome, sometimes, but I came to terms with it long, long ago.”

“Long ago? But you’re even younger than I am!”

Rafe laughed, a knowing, tender laugh, throwing his head back so the long hair escaped his ears and tumbled around his shoulders. “Well, maybe in some ways.” He shook his head. “Not so much in others”. He leaned forward, his flowing hair framing high cheekbones and coruscate eyes, eyes that bathed William in kindness. “I can lift your torment from you, if you want.”

William’s stomach convulsed as if to vomit. “What?” he gasped, swallowing hard. “What do you know about me, about what I’m feeling? You can’t possibly make a promise like that!”

Rafe shrugged and leaned back in the chair. “It’s part of the Gift. I’m a healer. I know exactly what you’re fightin’, bro. I can help.” He leaned forward again, patted William’s hand gently. “But you got to decide. You gotta decide if you really want to be free of that pain, no matter what.” Rafe stood, smiling down. “Tell you what—you sit here while I do my last set. If you’re still here when I finish in thirty minutes, you and I can go to my place, and I’ll heal you. That’s a solemn promise, guaranteed.”

William sat. Rafe’s music washed over him, playful, sweet, enchanting. When the waiter came around, he ordered water. He knew what he wanted, more than anything. He wanted his torment—and its cause—taken away.

Rafe popped the case latches shut on his guitar and came over to sit next to William, draping an arm around his shoulders. “You’re a good man, William. I can tell. Brave. Worthy of healing. Let’s go.”

William stood, tentative, looking for signs of menace in Rafe’s face.

“Naw, William. I for sure ain’t gonna hurt you. You have my solemn word on that.”

Blushing, William nodded, still unable to speak, and followed Rafe out into the sultry night.

They walked in silence for blocks. With alarm William realized he had lost his way, that the street grid he had carefully memorized was now useless. “Is it far? I mean, your place. Is it near?”

“Yup, we’re here,” Rafe chuckled, pointing ahead at a modest apartment block—white stucco, red tile and wrought iron, one of countless others like it, decently lit. They climbed stairs to the third floor, past big pots of bougainvillea, jasmine and bird of paradise. Rafe unlocked his door. “C’mon in, William. This is it.”

Inside the apartment, Rafe put down his case, took off his jacket and kicked off his shoes with a sigh. William stood just inside the door, mute, tense, ready to flee.

“I’m sorry, Will. My manners are plumb terrible. Don’t get enough visitors, I guess, to keep me in practice.” Rafe waved to the sparsely furnished living room. “Make yourself comfy! Would you like a glass of water? I don’t think I’m gonna offer you any booze. I want you clear-headed for the healing.”

“Water would be perfect, thanks.” William sat on the edge of the couch, and looked around, pretending his heart wasn’t beating like a madman’s drum.

“So tell me…” Rafe’s voice floated over from the open fridge. “When did you first have sex with a man?”

William jumped up from the couch, panicked. “What did you say?”

“Now you just set yourself back down, Will.” Rafe’s voice was friendly and firm—patient, as if explaining something to a child. “I told you I knew, didn’t I?” He came out of the kitchen, two tumblers of ice water in hand. “It’s all good—but I heal folks only when they want healing.” He shook his head in sad disbelief. “You’d be amazed how many people don’t really want healing, though. Most just want fixin’, and I surely ain’t no mechanic.”

William sat. He liked being called Will. Nobody ever had, until now. It sounded right to him. Real.

“So when was your first time?” Rafe asked, more gently this time, handing him one of the glasses.

“In seminary. Eleven years ago, now. One of my teachers.”

“Seminary, huh? Those people—sometimes I just…” Rafe shook his head and looked away, swallowing hard. He turned back to William. “The sex, though. You liked it?”

“They were the most wonderful, magical, moments of my life. Even though I knew it was a sin.”

“You loved him?”

“I adored him.”

“And then it got complicated.”

The burn of shame made his throat constrict. “Yes. Very.”

“And then he told you that it had to stop.”

“How did you know?” William stared at Rafe and took a long drink of ice water. “Yes.” He put down the empty glass, feeling lost. “He said that it was wrong and we had to stop seeing each other.”

“You were betrayed, bro.” Rafe sat beside William, holding his eyes with a fierce stare. “Do you want that wonderful magic back again? Without the pain?”

William’s answer caught in his throat. Sobbing, he dropped to his knees in front of Rafe. “Oh, Rafe—can you really make me normal? I’ve hoped and prayed so hard, wept, begged to be made whole! Can you really take this awful sickness from me?”

Rafe eased William off his lap, stood, then drew him up to face him. “Now listen to me, Will. This is real important. I said I could lift the torment from you. But the Good Lord made you the way you are. I’m surely not gonna try to undo what God has done—that’s plumb against my nature. Besides, you’re already just right the way you are. What you got in mind is gettin’ fixed accordin’ to some goofy ideas that just ain’t true. What I’m offerin’ you is true healing. The real McCoy.”

To purchase, click here

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

To purchase, click here
or to purchase on Amazon, click here

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Model excerpt by Serena Yates

In The Model by Serena Yates, Alessandro, a famous fashion model with the perfect body, hopes to find love but people never look beyond his appearance. Is it possible to find someone interested in the man he is deep-down?

Off camera, Alessandro is Fabio Bonardi, a man tired of loneliness and drama. His modeling career is great, but in a world where image is everything, no one is as they seem. When the first wrinkle appears, it's time for Plan B. He wants to start a business and enlists Edwin Zachary to help. The shy financial consultant looks below the surface and connects with Fabio, surprising them both.

Not everyone is happy with this development. A mysterious stalker tries to drive Fabio and Edwin apart. Will he succeed? Or can they overcome the obstacles and build the lasting relationship they both so desperately want?

The Model is #6 in the Workplace Encounters series, standalone stories with the same theme of 'blue collar' workers and/or unusual jobs. Excerpts from The Elevator Mechanic, The Chauffeur, The Ship Engineer, The Carpenter and The Truck Driver will follow in ensuing weeks.

The Model
Silver Publishing
ISBN: 9781920502294


"What the fuck?" Fabio Bonardi stared at his image in abject horror. It may have been a fairly low quality hotel mirror and his eyes didn't quite want to open yet. But even at five in the morning he was awake enough to recognize a catastrophe when he saw it.

There, just below his right eye, was unmistakable evidence that he was getting old. Shit! Of all the things that could go wrong just before an early morning shoot, finding his first wrinkle was... hell, it wasn't even on the damned list! He closed his eyes. Maybe this was a nightmare. Surely, at twenty-eight, with the careful, not to say paranoid, way he took care of his skin, there was no way wrinkles would have a chance. Seconds later, not able to wait any longer despite his fear, he opened them again. Damn! The thing hadn't disappeared.

He bent forward and stretched his skin, hoping it might magically spring back into its previous un-wrinkled shape. Weren't Mediterranean genes supposed to help you look younger? Apparently, his luck had just run out. The wrinkle was still there and not even his otherwise blemish-free olive skin could hide it.

"Double fuck!" He hit the marble basin with enough force that pain raced up his arm. "Ouch." Talk about adding injury to insult. Or was that the other way around? He shook his head as he looked for his special moisturizer. It would have to do until Adair could work his magic. He was the best damned make-up artist in the whole business and almost reason enough to like coming to New York for a shoot. Almost.

Going through the motions of getting ready for a five-thirty pickup to the studio, he let his mind wander. He'd always known this day would come. Taking care of the money he made, carefully investing it so it would still be there once nobody wanted to hire him any longer, was second nature to him. He'd amassed a nice nest egg and it looked like it was time to use it to set Plan B into motion.

With a last admiring look at the figure he cut with his broad shoulders, narrow hips and long legs, he left the hotel bathroom to get dressed in client-supplied underwear, blue jeans, and one of his oldest and most comfortable sweatshirts. Packing only took a few minutes, because he only needed to make sure his stuff was in his carry-on bag, not think about what to take. He hated travelling with a lot of baggage, and he didn't need a big wardrobe when he posed for fashion shoots all day, only to return to the hotel late at night for a quick salad before he dropped into bed.

The glamour of modelling? A total myth. Inexperienced guys might fall for it, but he'd been at this for ten years now and knew better. Paris, Milan, and New York were good places to have on his resume, sure, but they weren't any more fun on his sort of schedule than Timbuktu or Hicksville, Tennessee would have been.

With the last shirt stuffed into the duffel, closely followed by his two bags of toiletries, he closed the luggage, picked it up, and left his room. He'd already checked his mail, updated his Facebook status, and sent a few tweets to fans who'd contacted him, so he was good to go. It was time to face today's music. He sighed as he waited for the elevator to make it to the twenty-second floor to pick him up. He was so hungry, but breakfast was out of the question. So were most other meals. He needed his figure to be perfect, now more than ever. He'd work out later in the day if he was lucky, and would allow himself some food, maybe a salad and some chicken, after that.

Checking out of the hotel consisted of dropping off his key card, the agency that had organized the shoot would take care of the bill. The cute little guy working at reception gave him a radiant smile and he grinned back. There was little harm in being friendly to someone he'd never see again and who couldn't bother him with any requests for an autograph, or his picture to be taken next to the famous Alessandro, his working name. He walked away with a little wave of his hand that made the receptionist blush redder than the plush crimson carpet on the floor of the hotel's entrance hall.

"Good morning, sir." The uniformed driver of the limo opened the door for him with the same cheerful efficiency as he'd shown the last two mornings. He was clearly more awake than Fabio.

"Morning." God, he needed coffee so badly. His head was going to kill him if he didn't get his next ration of caffeine soon. The coffee in his hotel room had been good, but only a start as far as he was concerned.

He entered the dark blue limo, sinking into the leather seats while the driver closed the door, slid behind the wheel, and made his way into the early morning traffic. At least Fabio was ranked high enough on the global list of top models to be given his own car, so he had another twenty minutes or so to close his eyes and doze.

No sleep would come.

He pulled his BlackBerry from his pocket and composed an e-mail to his personal assistant. Lisa lived in LA and hadn't come with him this time, since it was only a three-day shoot for an underwear manufacturer he'd worked for before. He hadn't expected to need her help during this trip. Now, he would put her in charge of researching financial and small business consultants. He knew what Plan B was, but he needed help with the details. Lisa was just the woman to find him what he needed.

"We're here, sir." The driver's voice returned him to reality and he nodded his thanks before leaving the car.

The chaos once he entered the huge open-space studio on the second floor was reassuringly familiar. He'd seen a few remodelled warehouses in his career, but this was one of the biggest. Instead of putting up separation walls to give different areas a separate identity and space, the architect had kept it all open, with only the occasional supporting wrought iron pillar to break up the space. There was a catering area to his right with tables stretching out along half the wall, the make-up and changing areas were in the back and included both corners, and there was a model rest area against the left wall. The corner to his left and most of the area in the center of the room was set up with various groupings of furniture, lighting screens, cameras, and assistants with notepads running around like headless chickens.

Most of the other models were already there, gossiping in the back and providing the ever-present buzz any shoot worth its name would create over time. They waited for their turn in make-up, and those who weren't online using various types of smart phone to stay in touch with their fans were drinking what must be vegetable juices and herbal teas. Most of them were sipping water and looked famished as they glared at the tempting doughnuts and Danishes on the long buffet table. None of that was for them, but the equipment guys, lighting people, and various clothing assistants all wanted to eat. Nobody cared what sort of cravings it created for the models.

Coffee was also available and Fabio made a beeline for it. At least it was good quality. Ian Cery, one of his favorite photographers, knew him and his preferences well and always made sure the juice of the gods was high quality. Never mind some health nuts said it was bad for the skin. He needed it almost more than to be wrinkle free, and that was saying something!

Where was Ian, anyway? Fabio shook his head. He was sure to appear at some point, the man was nothing if not professional. Fabio took a small cup of coffee and sank into one of the easy chairs in the waiting area at the back, sitting as far away from the other models as possible. None of them were in his league, so there was nothing to be gained by pretending to be friendly. That was all it could ever be between rivals who'd fight each other to the death to get the better shoot, the more famous photographer, or the more up and coming client. He snorted, quickly covering up the sound with a cough. Everything in the business was so damned artificial, it wasn't funny.

A few odd glances from the other models later, he had finished his coffee and started looking around to see where Adair might be lurking. After all, there was no point in facing Ian until Adair had seen to his newest disfigurement. That thought made him sit up.

Disfigurement? A wrinkle? Now that he was fully awake and caffeinated it suddenly seemed a little dramatic to be thinking that way. It wasn't as if he had a damned scar like that kid had got a few years back. What was his name? Kyle something? The poor guy had only been eighteen when he was in a horrible accident and he'd vanished from the scene faster than a photographer could press the releaser. Rumor had it that the damage to his face was extensive and he'd certainly never appeared on the cover of another magazine.

Fabio shuddered. Now, that was a real problem. He wasn’t quite there yet, thank God, but the writing was on the wall since his horrible discovery this morning. He couldn’t wait to hear from Lisa. Plan B had suddenly become a true priority.

“Ah, there you are.” Xavier, Ian’s newest assistant, smiled and showed off a row of perfect white teeth. “Adair wants you in make-up straight away. Your first session isn’t until eight, but they want to do some test shots with you at seven.”

“Sure.” Fabio rose from his chair and followed the little guy into the back section. Where did Adair find these eager little college kids? He went through them at an alarming rate, none quite good enough to stay on, but there was always the next one to take the fired one’s place. Maybe there was a nest of them somewhere around here. The thought made him chuckle just as he entered Adair’s domain.

“Someone is in a good mood today.” Adair stood with his hands on his hips, his jean shorts barely protecting his modesty and the hole-y T-shirt giving everyone who cared to look a great view of lots of upper-body skin. His hair was as unkempt as ever, but his eyeliner, mascara, and foundation were immaculate. The dusky rouge accentuated his steel gray eyes and the lip gloss was outrageously shiny. The man looked good enough to be on a magazine cover himself.

“Not really.” Fabio shook his head as he took a seat in front of the mirror. “Just no longer a totally foul one.”

“Oh? Tell me more.” Adair shook out a protective cape and placed it around Fabio’s shoulders. “We haven’t had any good gossip all morning.”

“Well, this one is highly confidential.” Fabio frowned at Adair, quickly smoothing his face back into a bland non-expression when Adair tsked at him. Right, he didn’t need even more wrinkles. “Top secret in fact!”

“Classified enough so you’d have to shoot me if anything leaked?” Adair looked delighted, eyes bright with joy. “I’ve always wanted to know one of those.”

“I bet.” Fabio sighed and sat back, trying to relax and failing abysmally.

So, tell me already.” Adair bent forward until one ear was at Fabio’s mouth. “Come on, I really want to know.”

Fabio shook his head.

“What?” Adair stood back up and pouted. “Not fair.”

Fabio silently pointed to the area below his eye where he knew the offending wrinkle to be. He couldn’t even bear to look at his face in the mirror. His looks were all he had. How the hell was he going to make significant money without them? He may have a plan for what to do next, but fuck if he knew whether it was going to work. He needed that appointment with the financial and business wizard as soon as possible. Yesterday would be good!

“No!” Adair’s gasp was loud enough for several of the assistants and other models to turn their head.

Fabio hid his face in his hands. More attention. So not what he needed. Normally he craved it, but not with a weakness like that exposed for all to see. Ridicule and bullying were sure to follow. He remembered those awful days in kindergarten when he was fat and ugly. The other kids had been merciless. His parents had shrugged and told him the other kids were right, he was a disgrace to the family. He’d almost starved himself to lose weight, but all they’d said was he shouldn’t have gotten fat in the first place. All of that had happened before he was ten, but he remembered it as if it had been yesterday.

“Honey, I am so sorry.” Adair had gone straight into his fluttering state. He rushed around the room to collect different products, some brushes and other tools of his trade, before he returned to Fabio. “I’ll make it go away, don’t you worry.”

“Permanently?” It was too much to hope for, but he suddenly wanted Adair to be a miracle worker.

“Sorry, sweetie, no can do.” Adair took Fabio’s chin in one hand and tilted his head this way and that. “I can hide it very effectively for a few more months, maybe, but only Botox or laser therapy or something similar can completely remove it.”

“Shit!” His voice was way too loud and a few grins were sent his way before the two other models being powdered looked away. Man, people are nosy around here.

“I agree.” Adair picked some foundation and started applying it across Fabio’s face. “It’ll be expensive, but it can be done.”

“No. Can’t do it.” He couldn’t even think about it without his stomach turning.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” Adair paused for a second before returning to his task. “They’re getting very good at this stuff.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. Well, not entirely.” He shook as goose bumps appeared across his body.

Adair just looked at him with his ‘come on, give it up’ expression and Fabio had no choice but to tell him. After all, he might still need the man’s advice to find a less invasive method for ‘ironing out’ this wrinkle.

“Well?” Adair stopped working and leaned back, making Fabio decidedly uncomfortable.

“I have a fear of needles…” Anything doctor or medical-related, in fact. He didn’t know what had caused it, but it had been this way ever since he could remember, so it must be due to something that happened when he was extremely young.

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry to hear that.” Adair squeezed his shoulder. “Have you tried therapy?”

Fabio nodded.

“It didn’t help?” Adair shook his head. “Must be really bad.”

Fabio nodded again. Even his wrinkle and its message about aging weren't scary enough to get him to revise his belief about the medical profession. He knew it was stupid, but he’d rather accept the wrinkles than subject himself to a doctor’s care.
To purchase, click here