Monday, February 10, 2014

The Serpent's Tongue excerpt by Dorien Grey

In Dorien Grey's The Serpent Tongue, the 15th volume in the Dick Hardesty series, Hardesty is hired to look into threats against former priest Dan Stabile, possibly from someone whose confession Dan heard while still in the priesthood.  It's just another case. Then, on a stormy Sunday, on a rain-slick road, Dan is killed, Dick’s partner Jonathan is severely injured, and suddenly, it’s personal. Was the accident really an accident…or murder? Dick learns Dan’s secret could involve a child murderer, and now it seems the man is stalking Joshua and tormenting Jonathan. The objectivity so vital to Dick’s role as a private investigator goes out the window as he pursues one lead after another, and it begins to look like Dan wasn’t the target after all.

The Serpent's Tongue
Zumaya Boundless (February 2, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1612711367
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612711362
  • ASIN: B00I7J4U20



Jonathan was not happy.

"Sugar Yums? Four hundred different kinds of cereals in the cereal aisle and you pick Sugar Yums?"

"I didn't pick them. Joshua did."

"Oh, now there's a surprise."

"I told him no, but he said he'd asked you if he could get them and you said he could," I said lamely.

"Half right. He asked, and I said 'no.'"

"And I'd know that how?"

"Sugar Yums? Come on! You know he plays you like a fiddle. Every time you take him to the store without me, he cons you into getting something you know he shouldn't have."

"Well, it's just a box of cereal," I said, hoping a casual approach might work. I knew it wouldn't, of course, and that I was only succeeding in digging myself deeper into a hole.

Jonathan looked at me intently, rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, and shook his head.

Although he was only six, Joshua was already an expert at playing Jonathan and me against one another when he wanted something. While we'd both been raising him since the death of his parents—Jonathan's brother and sister-in-law—two years before, because he was Jonathan's biological nephew I tended to acquiesce to Jonathan when we had a disagreement over minor child-rearing issues. And as Joshua got older, there seemed to be more of them. I wouldn't say it was putting a strain on our relationship, but it kept the waters more stirred up than either of us would have liked.

Our lives had done a 180-degree turn since Joshua entered it, and we were facing serious issues we'd never even considered before. For one thing, what would happen to Joshua if anything happened to either Jonathan or I? Jonathan was his legal guardian, but I had no legal rights when it came to him, and were something to happen to Jonathan…. We had begun talking seriously of adoption. But even though a new millennium was less than fifteen years away, gay rights had not extended to allowing adoption by same-sex partners. In fact, only recently had even single gays been allowed to adopt…and even then, not in all states. Fortunately, ours was one of them, and I planned to talk to Glen O'Banyon, a lawyer friend with and for whom I'd worked on numerous occasions to see what options, if any, we might have.

Jonathan was still active in the Gay Men's Chorus, which took up his every Tuesday evening, leaving me to ride herd on Joshua, and while the boy was a handful even when Jonathan and I were both there, I really couldn't begrudge Jonathan time for something he loved so.

One evening, after practice, he came home to announce that the chorus had two new members, one of whom, Dan Stabile, was a former priest who had officially left the priesthood only recently, partly to live openly with his partner, Byron Eads. Jonathan was particularly excited because he'd heard that Tony Mason, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church Jonathan and Joshua attended every Sunday, had hired Dan as assistant pastor.

While, as a resolute Agnostic, I did not go with them to church, I'd known Tony for many years. He had, in fact, played a small part in Jonathan and my getting together—a long story—shortly after the MCC opened Haven House for homeless teens, one of its many outreach programs.
And so life moved on. Things were going really well for us. I'd had a steady stream of clients, and Jonathan's freelance landscaping was reaching the point where he was looking forward to the time he could leave his regular job at Evergreen Nursery and go off on his own. But it hadn't quite reached that point, and he was reluctant to give up the health insurance benefits Evergreen offered its employees, which Jonathan had been able to expand to cover Joshua.

We had also, for a time, been seriously considering moving from our current apartment. Two new families and a single gay man had moved in within weeks of each other. The gay man, Paul Tweed, had a flower shop, so he and Jonathan quickly became friends. Of the two straight families, one was a nice young family with a thirteen-year-old young son, Denny, who had a severe case of Tourette's syndrome—which provided yet another teaching experience for us and a valuable learning experience in tolerance and understanding for Joshua. The problem arose, however, with the second family, the Wrennas, who moved into the apartment just above ours. They were in their late fifties or early sixties, and proved to be religious fanatics of the worst possible kind. Shortly after they moved in, the wife was coming out of our building just as I was coming home from work. She stopped me and handed me a clipboard on which was what appeared to be a petition, asking me to sign it.

"What is this?" I asked, noting that the only two signatures appeared to be those of her and her husband.

"It is to the landlord, demanding he evict the idolators."

I'd never spoken a word to this woman before, and thought at first she was joking.

"The who?" I heard myself asking.

"The idolators—the ones with the demon child."

What in the hell was this woman talking about?

She gave me a squint-eyed, conspiratorial look, nodding her head slowly up and down. "They are in league with Satan," she said solemnly.

"They what?

"The boy," she said. "He speaks with the serpent's tongue!"

I seldom am at a loss for words, but I certainly was this time. I just stood there, staring at her in disbelief, then handed the clipboard back to her, turned away without saying a word, and continued into the building.

Several times thereafter we found religious pamphlets slipped under our door condemning "the abomination of homosexuality." Jonathan wanted to go down and confront them, but I managed to talk him out of it on the grounds that nothing we could say would do any good. I did, however, call our landlord to tell him what was going on. He had received two other complaints and said he had started proceedings to have them evicted. In the meantime, we did our best to avoid them, and did not speak on the few times our paths crossed. 

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Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Oh no, with a neighbor like that there's certainly trouble up ahead...

At 6. 99 for Kindle might as well get the 12.95 paperback, might even start reading them from the 15th volume beginning! Good job ;)

Lloyd Meeker said...

Great set-up, Dorien. If I'm not mistaken, isn't this the first time you've given a firm time placement of your story?

Anyway, the pressure of impending change fills the atmosphere: move, custody of Joshua, growth of Jonathan's business. And plenty of brewing danger. Off to get my copy...

Victor J. Banis said...

Eric's right, this is a great way to start the week. And I must confess, I didn't know that Tourette's syndrome was the same as idolatry. Every day a new lesson.

AlanChinWriter said...

Lovely writing, and the story jumps right into escalating conflict. Wonderful.

Jon Michaelsen said...

Excellent, of course - but then, I'm not surprised. It'll be a while when I get to this once since I just finished #3! Something to look forward too, indeed.

Jacob Z. Campbell said...

Dorien, true focused storytelling and complex situation all slipped into my mind seamlessly, your "narrator" immediately allying himself with the "reader" (LOL, I mean "me") in a quick conversion of my indifference turned to fascination -- I was hooked quickly. The mention of a bit of information by the narrator spoken with reference to something "15 years" hence, establishes first person narrative distance in one of my favorite modes of 1st person narration. I would read just to be "talked to" that way. I enjoy your style immediately! (I write first person POV as my primary approach. I truly love reading writing theory and methods re: 1st person POV and narrative distance, voice, etc.) Reading your work is always happily educational to me.) great excerpt!