Monday, September 9, 2013

Enigma excerpt by Lloyd Meeker

In Enigma by Lloyd Meeker, who’s blackmailing the high-profile televangelist whose son was famously cured of his homosexuality fifteen years ago? Now in 2009, that ought to be ancient history.

It seems there's no secret to protect, no crime, not even a clear demand for money—just four threatening letters using old Enigma songs from the 90's. But they’ve got Reverend Howard Richardson spooked.

Proudly fifty and unhappily single, gay PI Russ Morgan has made peace with being a psychic empath, and he’s managed to build a decent life since getting sober. As he uncovers obscene secrets shrouded in seeming righteousness he might have to make peace with a sword of justice that cuts the innocent as deeply as the guilty.

Enigma, a Russ Morgan Mystery
Wilde City Press (August 28, 2013)
ISBN: 978-1-925031-00-0


Denver PI Russ Morgan has been hired by the arrogant attorney acting for Rev. Richardson. As instructed, Russ reports to the attorney’s office to examine the threatening letters.

The next morning at ten minutes to nine, I entered the hushed LoDo palace of glass, metal, thick gray carpet, and perfect understatement that was Stelnach, Kommen and Breyer.

The sleek receptionist behind the minimalist desk asked me to make myself comfortable, which I did, and looked around. Original artwork on the foyer walls, western and mountain themes. Regional Estes Park gallery stuff, but top end.
At 9:01, an adorable young man with scrubbed-pink cheeks, sandy hair, and elfin green eyes appeared and introduced himself as Colin Stewart, one of Mr. Kommen’s assistants. On his invitation, I followed him down the hall.
I couldn’t help admiring the way he walked. Sweet butt of youth, I thought, apologizing half-heartedly to Tennessee Williams. I was pretty sure Mr. Williams would have enjoyed the view, too. Colin ushered me through a glass door set in a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, and into a small conference room furnished with laminated wood grain furniture. He sat me down and handed me the folio of letters.
“I’m going to have questions,” I said opening the folio, wishing I wasn’t curious whether Colin was gay. He was a quarter century younger than I was. “Are you the one to answer them?”
He sat down across from me, polite and sweetly enthusiastic. “That’s what I’m here for. Mr. Kommen briefed me for it.”
I looked at his aura, full of genuine goodwill and inexperience. He’d do his best.
Still, as sincere as he might be, Colin was another layer of insulation holding me at distance from those who had direct knowledge of these events. That annoyed me and stirred shadows of self-doubt. I relied on my psychic contact with people who had first-hand knowledge or experience. Without that, I was traveling blind.
There were four letters in all. Not really letters—poetry. None of them contained a specific threat or a clear demand. Maybe they were coded so only the Richardsons would understand them.
I knew the physical messages had been handled by a lot of different people, but I held them for a moment, hoping I could connect with their origin. It took a while, but then I got something. Rage. The kind of fury that can lead to serious harm. So the danger was real. That was a good start.
"Mr. Morgan, are you okay?” Colin Stewart’s voice pulled me back. “Do you want a glass of water or something?” I looked up. He hovered, half out of his chair.
“Hm? No, I’m fine. I was just thinking. Sometimes I go far away when I think.”
“Sure. Of course.” Colin’s puckish grin showed slightly uneven teeth. He sat back down, looking eager again, all worry erased. “All the time you need.”
“Your boss mentioned that somehow these letters are intended to blackmail James Richardson. How did he come to that conclusion?”
“Well,” Colin said, blushing, “they’re poems. Mr. Kommen thinks they’re from an old lover of Reverend Richardson’s son.”
“On the assumption that if they’re poems, this must be about James Richardson’s gay experiences. Because poetry is just so gay.” I shook my head, disgusted by Kommen’s knee-jerk analysis. That wasn’t analysis, I corrected myself. It was mere prejudice.
Colin had referred to James as Rev. Richardson’s son, and so had Kommen. Was that who James Richardson was to these people, even though now in 2009 he was a thirty-three-year-old husband, father of three, and a successful businessman? Maybe he was little more than a potential chink in Rev. Richardson’s armor to them.
I spread the letters on the table and scowled at Colin. “Why would an old lover wait sixteen years to send him poems?”
Colin looked uncertain. “It’s a long time to wait, isn’t it?”
“I know I wouldn’t wait that long. Unless something happened only recently to open an old wound.” I looked at the first one again. Laser printer, black ink, standard size Times New Roman. Nothing unusual, except it was 24-pound paper. Enigma liked nice paper.

April Fool’s Day, 2009 -- but you can’t fool God!
This is The Cross of Changes

There followed several lines of free verse, part New Age vision, part Delphic warning, talking about universal justice. Signed Enigma.
It didn’t sound like something from an old lover to me. It felt more like an allusion to wrongdoing. Illegal money? Sexual harassment or maybe an affair? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in the history of church leaders. “Do we have any input from the Richardsons about the letters?”
“Not that I know of. Mr. Kommen just said they were really bad poems.”
“That’s it?” I looked up at him, amazed. “You’ve had these things for weeks and no one thought to find out more about them?” Colin squirmed, but kept silent.
“C’mon. Let’s find a terminal.”
Colin logged me into the library computer and sat in an adjacent chair, holding the letters. I found Google, pecked in “This is the Cross of Changes” and hit return. A page of links to lyrics for a song called “The Cross of Changes.” By a group called Enigma. A few more clicks. The album was Cross of Changes, released in 1993, the very year young James Richardson had been sent away to be cured of his deviant lust.
I pointed to the screen. “You think that might be relevant, Colin?”
The poor kid flushed scarlet as he read. He looked down at the letters in his lap. He had nice eyelashes. He was almost certainly straight, and even if he wasn’t, he was way too young for me. But he had pretty eyelashes just the same.
“I think we should have a little chat with your boss, don’t you?”
His eyes popped wide. His mouth opened, but it took him a couple of seconds to speak. “Please wait here while I see if he’s available, Mr. Morgan.” He disappeared into a stairwell. A few minutes later he came back, looking frazzled. I guessed Andrew Kommen disliked being interrupted.
“He says he can give you five minutes. Please come this way.”
We took the stairs up two flights, and Colin swiped us onto the floor with his badge.

* * * *

Andrew Kommen’s office was vast. He sat on a little throne behind about fifty square feet of carved mahogany desk, its dark gleaming expanse unblemished by anything resembling work. Other than the big desk, the room was sparsely appointed—bookshelves, conference table, expensive, cool artwork. Classic unimaginative power-attorney decor for a temple of litigation. Nothing personal, not even a family photo. The big space felt barren to me.
He didn’t invite me to sit, so I stood. As I began talking, he leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers against the tip of his chin. If he thought that made him look clever, he was wrong. It made him look silly.
I wrapped up. “The album was released in 1993, the year James was introduced to the joys of heterosexual orientation. I’m amazed your earlier investigators didn’t learn that.”
“In fact, we did know it.”
“What?” I shifted focus. The muddy spikes in his aura said he was lying through his teeth.
“I said,” he repeated, voice dripping with condescension, “we did know that connection.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “Mr Kommen, you’re lying. You didn’t know.”
His eyes narrowed. He pulled in a sharp breath and sat up straight. “How dare you!” He was clearly not used to being challenged by contract labor.
“How dare I? It’s easy, believe me. I have a sixth-sense kind of thing that goes off when someone lies to me. It’s very valuable, very reliable. You just made it ring, big time.”
I dropped the letters on his desk. “Find someone who doesn’t mind your bullshit, because I don’t have the patience for it. I’ll send your check back by courier this afternoon.”
“Wait.” He leaned forward, pushed the papers back toward me. “What I meant was that we were confident there was a connection to James Richardson’s past.” He paused. “It’s true, we didn’t actually know about the connection to the music album.”
“Still not interested. You don’t bother taking the most obvious step of researching the text of the letters, then you obstruct and mislead the efforts of the people you hire to help. I can imagine you’ve gone through investigators like shit through a goose. No wonder you finally ended up in my office.”
I turned toward the door and caught sight of Colin standing behind me, slack-jawed, eyes as wide as a spooked horse.
“What will it take to keep you on the case? I’ll double your fee.” The voice from behind the big desk actually sounded frightened.
I stopped, and turned back. “I don’t want double your fee. I want your cooperation. No more games. That’s what it’ll take. Starting with in-person interviews with the Richardsons. All four of them.”
“Very well.” Kommen sounded contrite. His aura sparkled with fear.
I pointed to the letters. “By themselves, these don’t constitute blackmail. There’s no demand. There’s not even a target. How do you know James is being blackmailed?”
“Reverend Richardson is convinced it’s aimed at him. I’ve just assumed he has good reason to do so.”
“And what does James think?”
Kommen hesitated only for a second. “He agrees.” 
“I look forward to confirming that. If you jerk me around again, Mr. Kommen, I will quit, and you will pay me two weeks additional fees as the cost for your bullshit games. Please amend my engagement letter to say if I quit, you owe me two weeks.”
“Very well,” he repeated.
“Set up the Richardson interviews as soon as possible, please. I want to meet with each of them separately. Let me know when and where.”
I picked up the letters. “Colin, can you make copies of these for me?” I followed him out of Kommen’s office without looking back.
After he’d made the copies, Colin and I walked to the elevator together in silence. Once the doors closed, he grinned at me. “You’re pretty gutsy. I’m impressed.”
I shook my head, and a wave of sadness washed through me. Or maybe it was just fatigue. “No, not really gutsy. Just beat up enough to know there are things that leave bigger holes in your life than money, if you lose them.”
I could tell he didn’t really get it. But then when I was his age, neither had I.
“Still,” he said looking at me sideways with a bashful smile. “I liked it. Kinda hot.”
Had he batted his eyelashes on purpose? Oh, damn. Don’t, Morgan. Bad idea.

* * * *

On the thirty-minute walk back to my office, I thought more about what I’d told Colin. I knew something about those larger holes firsthand, the ones left by integrity and love, when they’ve been lost.
I’d been sober just over fifteen years now—the same length of time, I realized with a start, since James Richardson’s conversion. We’d both started a new life in 1993.
Whatever he felt about his, I was grateful for mine. I’d worked hard to find a new sense of myself as a human being, one that I could live in with a little contentment.
I’d always told myself that I drank to insulate myself from the constant bombardment of other people’s auras, and that was probably true, at least in part. A few stiff drinks served as insulation that would last all night. The problem wasn’t that big a deal until I came out and began my new life. Somehow, suppressing my sexuality had also kept my sensitivity damped down. When the door to what I’d kept locked in the basement finally blew off its hinges I found not only did I have to build a new life, but cope with new receptivity that made me very vulnerable.
 I had no idea how to keep some distinction between me as an individual, and those wild sensations that could literally bring me to my knees without warning, usually when I was near someone in rage or grief. I ended up on my knees a lot. Alcohol numbed me at first, which was helpful when I felt overwhelmed. Eventually alcohol taught me not to care at all, and that’s when it stopped being helpful.
I finally made it to AA and learned that an alcoholic could rationalize his drinking six ways from Sunday. Whatever the given reason was never as important as the behavior it sought to excuse, and the resulting wreckage it caused was just as terrible.
In my own case, I’d driven away a smart, gentle, loving partner by hiding in a bottle, and hadn’t seen much of love since I crawled out. Maybe I never would. But I wanted another chance at it now. I may have been fifty, flawed, and a little psychic, but I was as real as I’d ever been in my life. Some nights I wanted another chance at love so badly, the longing was a metallic tang along my tongue.

As tasty as Colin looked, he was an hors d’oeuvre, not a full meal. Above the belt, I knew very well he wasn’t what I was hungry for, but if he made it clear he wanted to play, I wasn’t convinced I’d be strong enough to say no. Sometimes a snack is better than no meal at all.


Victor J. Banis said...

Boy, I'm really on a roll these days. Like Lori's book last week, I had the good fortune to read this one while it was in progress. It's another fine example of Lloyd's tremendous talent - one I recommend heartily.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

That's what I love, an alcoholic cop in AA, and tough to boot. An excellent intro.

Jon Michaelsen said...

At terrific excerpt, Lloyd! Pulled me right in, and your subtle way of showing the PI's personality in his mannerisms is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful excerpt, Lloyd. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the whole thing.

Joe DeMarco

Lloyd Meeker said...

Thank you all -- Enigma was fun to write, and I like Russ Morgan as a character--lots of potential. I'm already making notes for another installment.