Monday, December 16, 2013

The Ninth Man excerpt by Dorien Grey

In The Ninth Man by Dorien Grey, we are advised to beware of strangers bearing gifts. A serial killer is on the loose, apparently targeting gay men at random for death by a most unusual means, and the homophobic police force seems much more interested in meeting its parking ticket quota than in bothering with a bunch of dead faggots. As the body count mounts, it's up to PI Dick Hardesty to find out not only to find what all the dead men had in common, but who killed them, and why

The Ninth Man, book #1 of the Dick Hardesty Mystery series, first appeared in 2001, and has recently been reissued in print, e-book, and audiobook.

The Ninth Man
  • Zumaya Boundless (June 25, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1612710867
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612710860


It was hotter than hell, the air conditioner hadn’t worked since the Titanic went down, and I was in no mood for the bleached-blond queen who came swishing across the room toward me after making an entrance that made me wonder whatever happened to Loretta Young. There were times when I almost wished I had a few straight clients, and this was one of those times. Still, I told myself, it isn’t the principle of the thing, it’s the money.
I stood up and extended my hand. As I expected, the proffered appendage was limp and vaguely clammy.
Mr. Rholfing.” I made it a statement, not a question. Clients, I’ve found, expect you to be decisive. Authoritative. Butch. It’s bullshit, but it works.
Yes, Mr. Hardesty.” Jesus, he sounded as nelly as he looked. “I’m so glad you could see me.” I felt his eyes giving my entire body a radar scan.
He was wearing one of those cloying perfumes/colognes that emanate an almost visible fog around the wearer.
Have a chair,” I said, indicating the one that would have been upwind if there’d been any movement of air through the open window, which there wasn’t.
I sat down behind my desk and watched as Rholfing fluttered down, with considerable butt-wiggling, and immediately crossed his legs at the knee. He was dressed all in perma-starched white, with a flaming yellow ascot which missed his hair color by about eight shades. He looked like a butter-pecan ice cream cone with delusions of grandeur. After the talcum had settled, I sat back in my own chair and forced myself to stare directly at my prospective client—mentally picturing a maraschino cherry and some chopped nuts atop the carefully coifed curls.
Rholfing leaned forward, crossing his wrists on his crossed knees, and said simply: “Someone has killed my lover.”
Why me, Lord? Why do I get all the cracked marbles?
We stared at one another in silence for a moment or two until I finally managed to remind myself that that’s what I’m in business for: to solve other people’s mysteries.
Any idea who?” I asked.
How should I know?” he said, exasperated, his manicured hands fluttering up a short distance from his knees, only to settle back, studiedly.
Well, at the risk of sounding a bit like a B movie,” I said, “isn’t this a matter for the police?”
Rholfing stared at me as though I’d just farted in church.
The police all but said that he committed suicide. The police,” he said finally, “eat shit. Somebody killed him.”
The thought flashed through my mind that anyone sharing an evening, let alone a life, with the character in front of me might well be a candidate for suicide. “Exactly what makes you think he was murdered?” I asked, choosing not to get into a long discussion of the merits and flaws of law enforcement.
Bobby was 27 years old, healthy as a horse—hung like one, too—and never had a sick day in his life, unless you count hangovers. Personally, I don’t. And all of a sudden he’s dead in some cheap, tacky hotel room without a mark on him and the police think it was suicide!”
I assume there was an autopsy,” I said. “What did they say about that?”
Oh, they said several things, none of which a lady cares to repeat. The gist of it was that while it was perfectly all right for a fruit like me to come down to the morgue to identify the body, since I was neither a blood relative nor his legal guardian, I had no right whatsoever to any information other than that he’s dead—which any fool could see, with him lying there on that fucking slab!”
And that was it?”
Rholfing took a small white handkerchief from his shoulder bag and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. He then carefully folded it, returned it to the bag, zipped the bag shut, and re-creased the already razor-sharp crease in his trousers with thumb and forefinger before finally re-meeting my gaze.
Not quite,” he said. “Two of the burly cretins took me into a small room and subtly asked me what my experience had been with poisons. Poisons! Me! I was tempted to tell them to drop by some afternoon for tea and I’d see what I could do, but I’d just had the fumigators in. Me! Lucretia Borgia! Can you imagine?”
As a matter of fact, I could.
Now, I may be a fairy,” he continued, smoothing down the back of his hair with one hand, “but I certainly am not stupid! Their refusing to tell me how he died in one breath and asking me about poisons in the next was about as subtle as a lighted match on the Hindenburg.
Bobby was murdered. There’s no question about it. And knowing how the police in this city feel about faggots, the only way anyone is going to find out who killed Bobby is for me to hire you. You come…” (he gave me a smile I’m sure he meant to be disarming, but came across outright lecherous) “…very highly recommended.”
Thanks,” I said, awkwardly. I never did learn how to accept compliments very well—even those without hooks in them. “Have you spoken to Bobby’s parents about this?” I asked.
What parents?” Rholfing asked, haughtily. “He told me he had a grandfather back in Utah somewhere, but he never mentioned parents, if he ever had any.”
So can you tell me anything about Bobby that might help?” I asked.
Well, he was a tramp—that much I know. He’d go home with anything in pants. I told him I was going to get him his own portable glory hole and put it out in the street in front of the apartment. At least that way I’d know where he was all the time.”
Did the police say anything about drugs?”
Rholfing thought a moment, lips pursed, nose wrinkled, brows knit, eyes looking upward at nothing. “I don’t think so. Just poisons.”
Did he use drugs?” I asked.
Rholfing sighed. “No, thank God. That was one of his good points—about his only one, come to think of it: he never got mixed up with drugs. Oh, he’d smoke a joint now and then, but I guess we all do, don’t we?” He gave me a conspiratorial wink—the kind you can see from the top row of the balcony—and that coy/lecherous smile again.
I didn’t say anything for a moment (that’s a bad habit I have; when I don’t have anything to say, I tend not to say anything—bugs the shit out of a lot of people), and Rholfing sat there looking more and more uncomfortable as the seconds dragged on. He pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from God knows where and began waving it gently back and forth beneath his chin. A tiny droplet of perspiration crept from his hairline and meandered its way across his left temple.
Finally, he couldn’t stand it. “Well? Will you take the case?”
Okay,” I said. “But I don’t have much to go on.” God! Where had I heard that line before?
Well, find something,” Rholfing blurted, revealing the rolled-steel interior behind that whipped-cream and lace facade. “You’re the big, strong detective. To the cops he’s just another dead fag, and good riddance—but nobody kills my lover and gets away with it.” He must have anticipated my next comment, because he hastened to add: “Don’t worry about the money. Daddy has five or six acres of downtown Fort Worth, and he’ll give me anything I want just for me to stay the hell away from there.”
I found myself in something of a quandary. I had—clich├ęs aside—very little to go on. Given Rholfing’s account of the circumstances of the death, however accurate or inaccurate they may have been, and despite his denial of his lover’s drug use, the obvious assumption was that it was very likely a routine drug overdose. But that’s why people hire me in the first place; if they knew all the answers, who’d need a detective? The police were notoriously uncooperative in anything that smacked of homosexuality. And I wasn’t exactly in a position to pass up a potential client—particularly one whose Daddy had five or six acres of downtown Fort Worth.
I thought of Tim Jackson, a sometime-trick and pretty good friend of mine who worked in the county coroner’s office. I’d never had the occasion to use his professional services, but maybe now was the time.
Okay, Mr. Rholfing; I’ll check it out,” I said. “But don’t expect miracles.”
I thought he was going to leap across the desk and kiss me. Fortunately, he didn’t.
Now, about my fee…” I began, but he cut me off by digging into his shoulder bag and coming up with a bunch of crisp, new $100 bills.
Will this be enough? For a retinue, or whatever in hell it is you call it?”
Retainer, and it’ll do just fine,” I said, making a conscious effort not to grab it out of his hand.
You will call me, won’t you?” he said, rising out of his chair as graceful as a hot-air balloon and again giving me the radar scan. “Even if you don’t have anything to report, I’d appreciate your keeping in… close…touch.” He used one hand to adjust his shoulder bag while the other made an inspection of the back of his shirt, pulling and tugging at imaginary wrinkles. “Perhaps you could stop by for a drink some evening?” He sounded like Delilah asking Samson to stop by for a haircut. “You do have my name and address, don’t you?”
I assured him I had written them down when he called for the appointment, resisting the temptation to speculate that every tearoom wall in town had his number. I rose and he, eyes glued to my crotch, offered me a dead hand at the end of a limp wrist. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to kiss it or shake it, so I took the latter course, and he turned on his little ballerina feet and swished to the door.
Oh, there is one little thing,” I called after him as his hand reached for the knob. He turned quickly, eyes sparkling coquettishly.
About your lover.”
Your lover. Bobby.”
Oh. Yes.” He looked disappointed.
It might help if I knew his last name.”


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Nice start. I suppose it's a typical Sam Spade office, dingy, smoky, dark, but certainly want to read more and find out what happens.

Victor J. Banis said...

delicious opening - Mr. Gray at his considerable best. You've got me wondering what happened, and that's the whole point, right? Thanks for posting this.

Kathy Kozakewich said...

Another excellent story in Dorien Grey's 'Dick Hardesty' series.
And I will say that the promise inherent in this intro to "The Ninth Man" is wonderfully fulfilled. It's been a while since I've read this book, but I still remember the journey the author takes us on and it's a total knockout.
Time to re-read it I think. :)

AlanChinWriter said...

Bravo, Dorien. Interesting characters from the first lines.

Lloyd Meeker said...

"He looked like a butter-pecan ice cream cone with delusions of grandeur." Not every picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case a dozen words creates a formidable picture.

Thanks, Dorien!