Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday's Series Spotlight: The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon

Fatal Shadows #1
One sunny morning Los Angeles bookseller and aspiring mystery author Adrien English opens his front door to murder. His old high school buddy (and employee) has been found stabbed to death in a back alley following a loud and very public argument with Adrien the previous evening.

Naturally the cops want to ask Adrien a few questions; they are none too impressed with his answers, and when a few hours later someone breaks into Adrien's shop and ransacks it, the law is inclined to think Adrien is trying to divert suspicion from himself.

Adrien knows better. Adrien knows he is next on the killer's list.

A Dangerous Thing #2
Suffering from writer's block and frustrated with his tentative relationship with hot but closeted LAPD Homicide Detective Jake Riordan, gay bookseller and mystery writer Adrien English travels to northern California where he finds a body in his front drive. By the time the sheriffs arrive the body has disappeared, and Adrien once again finds himself playing amateur sleuth. But when the game turns deadly, Adrien turns to Jake. Jake may be confused about some things, but keeping his lover alive is not one of them - no matter what the cost.

The Hell You Say #3
Demons, death threats...
and Christmas shopping.
It's gonna be one Hell of a Holiday.

In the third in the popular Adrien English series, the "ill-starred and bookish" mystery writer has to contend with a Satanic cult, a handsome university professor and his on-again/off-again relationship with the eternally conflicted LAPD Detective Jake Riordan.

And, oh, yes, murder...

Death of a Pirate King #4
Gay bookseller and reluctant amateur sleuth Adrien English's writing career is suddenly taking off. His first novel, Murder Will Out, has been optioned by notorious Hollywood actor Paul Kane.

But when murder makes an appearance at a dinner party, who should be called in but Adrien's former lover, handsome closeted detective Jake Riordan, now a Lieutenant with LAPD — which may just drive Adrien's new boyfriend, sexy UCLA professor Guy Snowden, to commit a murder of his own.

The Dark Tide #5
Like recovering from heart surgery beneath the gaze of his over-protective family isn't exasperating enough, someone keeps trying to break into Adrien English's bookstore. What is this determined midnight intruder searching for?

When a half-century old skeleton tumbles out of the wall in the midst of Cloak and Dagger Bookstore's renovation, Adrien turns to hot and handsome ex-lover Jake Riordan -- now out-of-the closet and working as a private detective.

Jake is only too happy to have reason to stay in close contact with Adrien, but there are more surprises in Adrien's past than either one of them expects -- and one of them may prove hazardous to Jake's own heart.

Stranger Things Have Happened: An Adrien English Write Your Own Damn Story #6 

Book store assistant and all around bad boy Robert Hersey has been murdered -- and you are the #1 suspect! To clear your name and get your life back, you must figure out who killed your best friend and first love.

What happens next in the story all depends on the choices YOU make. How will the story end? It's all up to YOU. And the best part is you can keep reading and choosing until you've written your perfect ending.

So This is Christmas #7
God Help You Merry Gentlemen…

Arriving home early after spending Christmas in jolly old England, sometimes amateur sleuth Adrien English discovers alarming developments at Cloak and Dagger Books--and an old acquaintance seeking help in finding his missing boyfriend.

Fortunately, Adrien just happens to know a really good private eye…

Fatal Shadows #1
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
Absolutely brilliant! Even knowing the outcome, it just doesn't get much better than Adrien English and Jake Riordan.

Original Review 2013:
Very intriguing mystery. Well written characters, some you love to love, love to hate, and hate to love.

A Dangerous Thing #2
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
I upped the rating to 5 stars with this re-read. I never added any thoughts with my re-read in 2015 but I am now. I actually found it even better than Fatal Shadows this time around. The mystery was equally as good, even knowing the outcome, as for Adrien & Jake, well I loved their interactions. Yes, they both need to have their heads knocked together but they just fit. They balance each other out, even if they have a way to go before they find true happiness.

Original Review 2013:
I thought this was a good entry in the series, not quite as good as the 1st one. I had a little harder time getting into the story for the first few chapters but after that, I was hooked. Great mystery, interesting characters, at times you want to really bang Adrien and Jake's heads together. Adrien for being too stubborn to not listen to Jake and Jake because he's too afraid to fully accept who he is. But you can't help but love them. Still a very good story.

The Hell You Say #3
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
Being able to fall even deeper in love with a story, a mystery especially, when you're reading it for the third time, speaks volumes to the talent of the author and that is exactly what Josh Lanyon brings. Talent and respect for the written word.

Original Review 2013:
Another great entry in the Adrien English Mysteries! The mystery is wonderfully complex and yet still easy to follow along with. I really want to just knock some sense in to Jake for refusing to admit who he really is. Adrien is as stubborn as ever and now he's getting a new family since his mother is remarrying. His sisters-to-be are an interesting trio, the youngest, Emma, seems to be the most level headed and likeable, but the other 2 are just as fun to read, especially Arien's inner monologue when it comes to his interactions with the young ladies.

Death of a Pirate King #4
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
So much Adrien/Jake goodness, I just hated to see it end again. Off to re-read #5.

Original Review 2013:
Another great entry in the Adrien English Mysteries. I enjoyed the interactions between Adrien and Jake now that 2yrs has gone by since they stopped whatever it was they actually had. The mystery was well developed with interesting and intriguing revelations. Truly a great read!

The Dark Tide #5
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
Even better the 3rd time around. I just love the dynamic between Adrien and Jake, I have throughout the whole series but now that Jake is officially out of the closet, the way the two are with each other is just priceless. As for the mystery, it's a great blend of history and contemporary that had me enthralled even though I remembered the whos, whats, and wheres. Great from beginning to end.

Original Review 2013:
Another great installment in this series and it has left me hungry for more. Thru searching a 50yr old murder, recovering from life-altering surgery, and a couple visits from his past, Adrien has a couple epiphanies of his own, but is it too late?

Stranger Things Have Happened: An Adrien English Write Your Own Damn Story #6
Talk about a throwback to my childhood!  I loved reading choose-your-own stories growing up and Josh Lanyon just brought a bit of fun to the whole Adrien English series.  That's not saying there isn't tons of fun already but Stranger Things Have Happened will bring a smile to your face when you sit down with this read on a dreary weekend afternoon, or a not-so dreary weeknight.  I can't believe I haven't read this one before now.  Just have fun with it.

So This is Christmas #7
I hate to say the words "what a great ending to a fantastical series" because I dread the idea of it being the end.  Whether this new Christmas novella is an end or not, it is still great and I am already looking forward to re-reading this one for many holidays to come(and all other series long re-reads).  There may not be the relationship drama that has often followed Adrien and Jake in So This is Christmas but that alone shows how far the couple has come as well as the growth they've experienced as individuals.  Of course, that's not saying the bantering between the boys is non-existent because you can't have Adrien and Jake without at least some of the back-and-forth they are known for.  This is just an an all around great addition to the series(end or not) and to my Christmas library.


Fatal Shadows #1
Cops before breakfast. Before coffee even. As if Mondays weren't bad enough.

I stumbled downstairs, unlocked the glass front doors, shoved back the ornate security gate, and let them in: two plainclothes detectives.

They identified themselves with a show of badges. Detective Chan was older, a little paunchy, a little rumpled, smelling of Old Spice and cigarettes as he brushed by me. The other one, Detective Riordan, was big and blonde, with a neo-Nazi haircut and tawny eyes. Actually I had no idea what color his eyes were, but they were intent and unblinking, as though waiting for a sign of activity from the mouse hole.

“I'm afraid we have some bad news for you, Mr. English,” Detective Chan said, as I started down the aisle of books towards my office.

I kept walking, as though I could walk away from whatever they were about to tell me.

“...Concerning an employee of yours. A Mr. Robert Hersey.”

I slowed down, stopped there in front of the Gothic section. A dozen damsels in distress (and flimsy negligees) caught my eyes. I turned to face the cops. They wore what I would describe as 'official' expressions.

“What about Robert?” There was a cold sinking in my gut. I wished I'd stopped for shoes. Barefoot and unshaven, I felt unbraced for bad news. Of course it was bad news. Anything to do with Robert was bound to be bad news.

“He's dead.” That was the big one, Riordan. He Man.

“Dead,” I repeated.


“You don't seem surprised.”

“Of course I'm surprised.” I was, wasn't I? I felt kind of numb. “What happened? How did he die?”

They continued to eye me in that assessing way.

“He was murdered,” Detective Chan said.

My heart accelerated, then began to slug against my ribs. I felt the familiar weakness wash through me. My hands felt too heavy for my arms.

“I need to sit down,” I said.

I turned and headed back towards my office, reaching out to keep myself from careening into the crowded shelves. Behind me came the measured tread of their feet, just audible over the singing in my ears.

I pushed open my office door, sat down heavily at the desk and opened a drawer, groping inside. The phone on my desk began to ring, jangling loudly in the paperback silence. I ignored it, found my pills, managed to get the top off and palmed two. Washed them down with a swallow of whatever was in the can sitting there from yesterday. Tab. Warm Tab. It had a bracing effect.

“Sorry,” I told LA's finest. “Go ahead.”

Chan glanced at Riordan.

The phone, which had stopped ringing, started up again. “Aren't you going to answer that?” Riordan inquired after the fourth ring.

I shook my head. “How did---? Do you know who--?”

The phone stopped ringing. The silence was even more jarring.

“Hersey was found stabbed to death last night in the alley behind his apartment,” Chan answered.

Riordan said, without missing a beat, “What can you tell us about Hersey? How well did you know him? How long had he worked for you?”

“I've known Robert since high school. He's worked for me for about a year.”

“Any problems there? What kind of an employee was Hersey?”

I blinked up at Chan. “He was okay,” I said, at last focusing on their questions.

“What kind of friend was he?” Riordan asked.


“Were you sleeping with him?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

“Were you lovers?” Chan asked, glancing at Riordan.


“But you are homosexual?” That was Riordan, straight as a stick figure, summing me up with those cool eyes, and finding me lacking in all the right stuff.

“I'm gay. What of it?”

“And Hersey was homosexual?”

“And two plus two equals a murder charge?” The pills kicking in, I felt stronger. Strong enough to get angry. “We were friends, that's all. I don't know who Robert was sleeping with. He slept with a lot of people.”

I didn't quite mean it that way, I thought as Chan made a note. Or did I? I still couldn't take it in. Robert murdered? Beaten up, yes. Arrested, sure. Maybe even dead in a car crash--or by some autoerotic misadventure. But murdered? It seemed so unreal. So...Film At Eleven.

I kept wanting to ask if they were sure? Probably everyone they interviewed asked the same question.

I must have been staring fixedly into space because Riordan asked abruptly, “Are you all right, Mr. English? Are you ill?”

“I'm all right.”

“Could you give us the names of Hersey's-- uh--men friends?” Chan asked. The too polite 'men friends' put my teeth on edge.

“No. Robert and I didn't socialize much.”

Riordan's ears pricked up. “I thought you were friends?”

“We were. But--”

They waited. Chan glanced at Riordan. Though Chan was older I had the impression that Riordan was the main man. The one to watch out for.

I said cautiously, “We were friends, but Robert worked for me. Sometimes that put a strain on our relationship.”


“Just that we worked together all day; we wanted to see different people at night.”

“Uh huh. When was the last time you saw Mr. Hersey?”

“We had dinner--” I paused as Chan seemed about to point out that I had just said Robert and I didn't socialize. I finished lamely, “And then Robert left to meet a friend.”

“What friend?”

“He didn't say.”

Riordan looked skeptical. “When was this?”

“When was what?”

Patiently, long-suffering professional to civilian, he re-phrased, “When and where did you have dinner?”

“The Blue Parrot on Santa Monica Blvd. It was about six.

“And when did you leave?”

“Robert left about seven. I stayed and had a drink at the bar.”

“You have no idea who he left to meet? A first name? A nick name?”


“Do you know if he was going home first or if they were meeting somewhere?”

“I don't know.” I frowned. “They were meeting somewhere, I think. Robert looked at his watch and said he was late; it would take him ten minutes. If he had been heading back home it would have taken him half an hour.”

Chan jotted all this down in a little notebook.

“Anything else you can tell us, Mr. English? Did Mr. Hersey ever indicate he was afraid of anyone?”

“No. Of course not.” I thought this over. “What makes you think he wasn't mugged?”

“Fourteen stab wounds to his upper body and face.”

I could feel the blood drain out of my face again.

“Those kind of wounds generally indicate prior acquaintance,” Riordan drawled.

I don't remember exactly all they asked, after that. Irrelevant details, I felt at the time: Did I live alone? Where had I gone to school? How long had I owned the shop? What did I do with my spare time?

They verified the spelling of my name. “Adrien, with an 'e',” I told Chan. He almost, but not quite, smirked.

They thanked me for my cooperation, told me they would be in touch.

Before he left my office, Riordan picked up the empty can on my desk. “Tab. I didn't know they still made that.”

He crushed it in one big fist and tossed it in the trash basket.

* * * * *

The phone started ringing before I could relock the front door. For a moment I thought it was Robert calling in sick again.

“Adrien, mon cher,” fluted the high, clear voice of Claude La Pierra. Claude owns Café Noir on Hillhurst Ave. He's big and black and beautiful. I've known him about three years. I'm convinced he's a Southland native, but he affects a kind of gender-confused French like a Left Bank expatriate with severe memory loss. “I just heard. It's too ghastly. I still can't believe it. Tell me I'm dreaming.”

“The police just left.”

“The police? Mon Dieu! What did they say? Do they know who did it?”

“I don't think so.”

“What did they tell you? What did you tell them? Did you tell them about me?”

“No, of course not.”

A noisy sigh of relief down the phone line. “Certainement pas! What is there to tell? But what about you? Are you all right?”

“I don't know. I haven't had time to think.”

“You must be in shock. Come by for lunch.”

“I can't, Claude.” The thought of food made me want to vomit. “I--there's no one to cover.”

“Don't be so bourgeois. You have to eat, Adrien. Close the shop for an hour. Close it for the day!”

“I'll think about it,” I promised vaguely.

No sooner had I hung up on Claude than the phone rang again. I ignored it, padding upstairs to shower.

But once upstairs I sank down on the couch, head in my hands. Outside the kitchen window I could hear a dove cooing, the soft sound distinct over the mid-morning rush of downtown traffic.

Rob dead. It seemed both unbelievable and inevitable. A dozen images flashed through my brain in some macabre mental slide show: Robert at sixteen, in his West Valley Academy tennis whites. Robert and I, drunk and fumbling, in the Ambassador Hotel the night of the Senior Prom. Robert on his wedding day. Robert last night, his face unfamiliar and distorted by anger.

No chance now to ever make it up. No chance to say good-bye. I wiped my eyes on my shirt sleeve, listened to the muffled ring of the phone downstairs. I told myself to get up and get dressed. Told myself I had a business to run. I continued to sit there, my mind racing ahead, looking for trouble. I could see it everywhere, looming up, pointing me out of the lineup. Maybe that sounds selfish, but half a lifetime of getting myself out of shit Robert landed me in had made me wary.

For seven years I had lived above the shop in “Old” Pasadena. Cloak and Dagger Books. New, used and vintage mysteries, with the largest selection of gay and gothic whodunits in Los Angeles. We held a workshop for mystery writers on Tuesday night. My partners in crime had finally convinced me to put out a monthly newsletter. And I had just sold my own first novel, Murder Will Out, about a gay Shakespearean actor who tries to solve a murder during a production of Macbeth.

Business was good. Life was good. But especially business was good. So good that I could barely keep up with it, let alone work on my next book. That's when Robert had turned up in my life again.

His marriage to Tara, his (official) high school sweetheart, was over. Getting out of the marriage had cost what Rob laughingly called a 'queen's ransom.' After six years and two-point-five children he was back from the Heartland of America, hard up and hard on. At the time it seemed like serendipity.

On automatic pilot I rose from the sofa, went into the bathroom to finish my shower and shave, which had been interrupted by the heavy hand of the law on my door buzzer at 8:05 a.m.

In the steamy surface of the mirror I grimaced at my reflection, hearing again that condescending, 'But you are a homosexual?' As in, 'But you are a lower life form?' So what had Detective Riordan seen? What was the first clue? Blue eyes, longish dark hair, a pale bony face. What was it in my Anglo-Norman ancestry that screamed 'faggot?'

Maybe he had a gaydar anti-cloaking device. Maybe there really was a straight guy checklist. Like those “How to Recognize a Homosexual” articles circa the Swinging Sixties. Way back when I had one stuck to the fridge door with my favorite 'give-aways' highlighted:

Delicate physique (or overly muscular)

Striking unusual poses

Gushy, flowery conversation, i.e., “wild,” “mad,” etc.

Insane jealousy

What's funny about that? Mel, my former partner, had asked irritably, ripping the list down one day.

Hey, isn't that on the list? 'Queer sense of humor?' Mel, do you think I'm homosexual?

So what led Detective Riordan to (in a manner of speaking) finger me?

Still on automatic pilot I got in the shower, soaped up, rinsed off, toweled down. It took me another numb fifteen minutes to find something to wear. Finally I gave up and I dressed in jeans and a white shirt. One thing that will never give me away is any sign of above average fashion sense.

I went back downstairs. Reluctantly.

The phone had apparently never stopped ringing. I answered it. It was a reporter: Bruce Green from Boytimes. I declined an interview and hung up. I plugged in the coffee machine, unlocked the front doors again, and phoned a temp agency.

A Dangerous Thing #2
She was young and she was lovely and she was dead. Very dead.

And this was bad. Very bad.

What had once been Lavinia was now an ungraceful sprawl of long blonde hair and long white limbs-and then Jason's horrified brain recognized what his eyes had refused to see: Lavinia's slender arms ended in two bloody stumps.

I stopped typing, read it back and winced. Poor Jason. We had been stuck discovering Lavinia's body for the past two days and we still couldn't get it right.

I hit the delete key.

Lousy as was Titus Andronicus, my second Jason Leland mystery, Death for a Deadly Deed, was even worse. I guess basing Jason's second outing on Shakespeare's infamous play was only the first of my mistakes. I was still brooding when the phone rang.

“It's me,” Jake said. “I can't make it tonight.”

“It's okay,” I said. “I wasn't expecting you.”


I let it stretch, which is not like me, being the civilized guy I am.

“Adrien?” Jake asked at last.


“I'm a cop. It's who I am. It's what I do.”

“You sound like the lead-in to a TV show.” Before he could hit back, I added, “Don't sweat it, Jake. I'll find something else to do tonight.”


I realized I'd deleted too much from my manuscript. Was I supposed to hit Edit and then Un-do? Or just Un-do? Or Control + Z? Word Perfect I am not.

“Have fun,” Jake said pleasantly, and rang off.

“See ya,” I muttered to the dial tone.

These dreary dumps I call my life.

For a moment I sat there staring at the blinking cursor on my screen. It occurred to me that I needed to make some changes-and not just in Death for a Deadly Deed.

I went downstairs to the shop where Angus my assistant (and resident warlock) was slicing open a shipment of books with a utility knife.

“Angus, I'm going out of town,” I announced as Angus gazed entranced at a best-selling cover featuring a blood-spattered ax.

I wasn't sure if I had a dial tone or not. He didn't blink. Angus is tall, rawboned and pale as a ghost. Jake has a number of unkind sobriquets for him, but the kid is smart and hardworking-I figure that's all that is my business.

“Why?” he mumbled at last.

“Because I haven't had a vacation in years. Because I can't write with all these distractions.”

At last Angus tore his bespectacled gaze from the gory dust jacket. “Why?”

After a couple of months I was becoming fluent in Anguspeak.

“The way it is, man. Can you keep an eye on things?” Keep the Black Masses to a minimum and not eat all fifty boxes of gourmet cookies in the storeroom?

Angus shrugged. “I guess. Class starts back up in two weeks though.”

I've never been able to ascertain exactly what Angus is studying at UCLA. Library Science or Demonology 101?

“I'll be back by then. I just want to get away for a few days.”

“Where are you going?” This was the most interest in my actions Angus had shown in two months.

“I own property up north in Sonora. Actually outside of Sonora, near a little town called Basking. I thought I'd drive up there.” I added, “Tonight.”


“It's four-thirty now. It shouldn't take me more than six or seven hours.”

Angus mulled this over, absently testing the point of the utility knife with his thumb.

“It's not like you to be impulsive, Adrien,” was his verdict. “What do I tell that cop of yours?”

I said peevishly, “He's not my actual personal property. He's a public servant. Anyway you won't have to tell him anything because I don't plan on seeing him anytime soon.”

“Oh.” Angus looked down at the knife with a small smile. Tiffs among the faggots were apparently the stuff of quiet merriment.

I left Angus with visions of dismemberment still dancing in his head and went to pack. It didn't take long to throw a pair of Levi's and a toothbrush in my Gladstone. I emptied the fridge into an ice chest, dug out my sleeping bag and tossed computer disks and a couple of CDs in with my clothes and laptop.

By a quarter after five I was fighting the workday traffic as I headed the Bronco out towards Magic Mountain and the 5 Freeway. Over the pass it was bumper to bumper, but what the hey, I had a thermos full of Gevalia Popayan coffee, Patty Griffin's Flaming Red rocking on the CD player, and I was heading out on an adventure.

Had I But Known, as they used to say in a certain school of mystery writing...

* * * * *

Outside Mojave I pulled in for gas at a quaint filling station surrounded by Joshua trees and stacks of old tires. An enormous purple gorilla balloon floated overhead as an advertising gimmick. I pumped gas and enjoyed an Apocalypse Now sunset while the giant balloon bobbed gently on the desert breeze. For some reason the grape ape reminded me of Jake.

Jake. If only it were as easy to leave the thought of Jake behind as it was to leave the city lights now twinkling in my rearview mirror.

Two months earlier Detective Jake Riordan had saved my life in what the papers unimaginatively called the 'Gay Slasher Killings.' When it was all over, Jake had received an official reprimand from the LAPD brass, and I had received an overture of sorts from Jake, a homosexual cop buried so deep in the closet he didn't know where to look for himself.

Riordan was tough and smart and handsome; and, other than that self-loathing hang-up, pretty much all I could have asked for in a potential mate. But gradually little things, like the fact he couldn't bear to touch me, began to take their toll.

Okay, I exaggerate. He did put an arm around my shoulders once when we were watching a PBS documentary on hate crimes against gays, and he had taken to hugging me good-bye. It wasn't that Riordan was a virgin. Far from it. He was heavily into the S/M scene. But when it came to face-to-face, eye-to-eye, mouth-to-mouth, the Master turned into a schoolboy.

Witness our first and only necking session.

Riordan's mouth was a kiss away from my own when he gave a strange laugh and pulled back.

“Shit. I can't do this.” He ran a hand through his blonde hair, looked at me sideways.

“Can't do what? Kiss me?”

He shook his head and then nodded.

“My mouthwash isn't working? What's the problem?”

Jake laughed but didn't answer.

“Why Jake?” I asked quietly.

He blurted out, “I open my eyes and I see the pores of your skin-your skin's okay, don't take this wrong-but you've got five o'clock shadow. You smell like aftershave. Your lips-” He gestured briefly and hopelessly. “It's just-you're not a chick.”

“You noticed.” I sounded flippant but I was thinking hard. “So this is a new experience for you? You have sex with guys but you don't-”

“It's nothing like this,” Jake interrupted. “This is like dating. This is...weird.”

Yeah, and whips, chains, scourges and blind folds were normal?

“I could let you tie me up and beat the shit out of me, but will you still respect me in the morning?”

“I don't want you that way,” Riordan said. “I know you. It wouldn't be the same.”

Swell. He preferred humiliating strange men in costume to kissing a man he knew.

“Let me get this straight. You don't want to have sex with me?”

“Obviously I want to have sex with you.”

Obviously. What was I thinking?


Riordan said impatiently, “I don't know! Why don't we watch a video or something.”

We watched a lot of videos. I became an expert on the films of Steven Seagal. We went out to dinner a couple of times (though Riordan fretted some of his copper pals might spot him fraternizing with a known homo). And we talked. No heart to hearts. Jake talked about his work and his family: Mom, Dad, two brothers (one in the Police Academy) all under the delusion that James Patrick Riordan was as straight as the proverbial arrow.

Mostly I listened; Jake occasionally asked me questions which I labeled under the general heading of 'gay lifestyle.' How many times a month did I have sex? When had I come out? Even though Jake was older and probably more experienced, I sometimes felt like his gay mentor or Fag Big Brother or something. A month of keeping company and then a month of excuses and canceled engagements.

It was over before it began.

“Look,” I told him one night when he arrived four hours late for dinner, “You're just going through the motions. Why bother?”

That tawny gaze lit on mine. Jake said bluntly, “I never meant to get involved with you, Adrien.”

“Rest easy; you're not.”

“Yeah, I am.” And he put his big paw over mine.

Pathetic, but this is the kind of thing that kept me holding on. I use the term 'holding on' loosely, because for the most part life went on exactly as before, with the exception of the funny flutter my heart gave when I'd hear Riordan's voice on the other end of the phone-and for all I knew that was incipient heart failure.

It sure as hell wasn't love, because I refused to do something so self-destructive as love a man who hated himself for being homosexual (which, by extension, probably meant he subconsciously hated me too). I reassured myself that although I liked Riordan, I wasn't closing any doors, wasn't missing out on any opportunities; I was still open to meeting new people, making new friends and lovers.

So why the frustration and anger, sure, even hurt, when the big guy pulled the plug as he had this evening?

* * * * *

Outside Bakersfield I made a pit stop at a rest area. I walked around and stretched my legs, bought a stale blueberry bagel from a catering truck and rechecked my Thomas Guide in the cab light of the jeep.

The full moon shone brightly, illuminating rolling hills dotted with oaks and occasional farmhouse lights. Miles of nothing but empty highway and starry skies. Miles of nothing but miles as I headed north with the big rigs once more. I was doing about seventy-five, kicked back on cruise control with nothing to do but think and remember.

It was twenty-four years since I had last seen my Grandmother Anna's ranch. That was the summer before she died. I was eight years old, and summer vacations with Granna were the happiest times of my life.

Granna was kind of a family legend. One of those Roaring Twenties gals, she had left her husband and returned to her birthplace to raise horses and hell, as the mood took her. I remember her as tall, rail thin, with a silver bob and deeply tanned skin. My granny rolled her own cigarettes, rode like a bronc buster and swore in Italian-which was the language of her childhood nanny. It must have been some childhood judging from the frequency and fluency of her swearing.

Anyway, there was no hint that particular summer that it was to be the last. But two weeks after I returned to my mother's fretting bosom, my grandmother had been killed in a fall from a horse. To my mother's chagrin Granna had bequeathed her entire estate to me. True, Granna's estate was nothing to rival the fortune left in trust to Lisa by my dear departed dad, but it was enough to ensure financial necessity would never tie me to Ma's apron strings.

I inherited half that money when I turned twenty-one, and I had spent it purchasing what was now Cloak and Dagger Books. I would inherit the balance when I turned forty, which around tax time seemed like a lifetime away. As for Pine Shadow Ranch, I'd had some furniture shipped down to me but had never gone back, preferring to remember it as it had been. There was a caretaker who kept an eye on the holdings, but for all I knew the place could have fallen to rack and ruin by the time I decided to take my 400 mile drive down memory lane.

* * * * *

It was nearly eleven by the time State Highway 49 had narrowed to pine trees and mountains. I cracked the window, and the night air was startlingly cold and clean with the bite of distant snow.

I spent about eighty miles of winding road sandwiched between one of those monster trucks (high beams trained on my rearview) and a battered pickup with the license plate URUGLY. At five-mile intervals we would come to another blind curve and the monster truck would swing out in the opposite lane in a playful gambit of vehicular Russian Roulette. And thirty seconds later he would drop back into formation in time to avoid plowing into an oncoming car.

At last he made his big play, risked his all, and roared off around a bend, just missing a head-on with a logging truck. He vanished into the diesel-scented night.

Now it was just me and the 45 mile an hour wit in the pickup. Emptying the last of the Popayan coffee into my thermos cup, I fiddled with the radio trying to find a station that varied the thematic content of tears-in-the-beer, crying-on-the-shoulder-of-the-road, and hanging-onto-nothing-but-the-wheel. Despite the caffeine overload I was beat and my eyes felt ready to drop out of my head.

Fast approaching the stage of exhaustion where I wasn't sure if I was still driving or if I was only dreaming I was still driving, I nearly missed the turn off. The next ten miles were a challenge to the Bronco's shocks as well as my own, but at last I recognized the landmark of Saddleback Mountain and knew the Pine Shadow Ranch lay right around the next bend.

I downshifted as we began our descent. The jeep rattled across a cattle guard. Ahead, the ranch lay motionless in the bright moonlight; from a distance it seemed untouched by time. Despite the dark windows and empty corrals I could almost convince myself that I was coming home, that someone waited to welcome me.

As I drew closer I discerned the sign mounted on wooden posts above the open gate. Wood-burned letters had once spelled out, Pine Shadow Ranch. I slowed; the Bronco's high beams picked out a number of forms in the darkness: the barn behind the house, a windmill, a swing hanging from one of the trees-and something on the ground.

I braked. I was so wired I was willing to believe my eyes were playing tricks, but as I waited there, the Bronco's engine idling, the thing on the ground showed no sign of disappearing.

Too tired to be cautious, I climbed out of the jeep. It was no trick of light, no play of shadows. A man lay face down in the dirt.

I walked around him, my footsteps unnaturally loud in the clear night. From across the yard I could hear a broken shutter banging. The wind rustled the tall winter grass. I knelt down beside him in the headlights.

His face was turned to the side, so I could see his eyes were wide open, but he wasn't alive. His breath didn't cloud the cold air, his shoulders didn't rise and fall. There was a neat little hole the size of a quarter between his shoulder blades.

I sucked in my breath. This wasn't my first contact with murder, but I still got that sensation of watching from a separate solar system, which usually precedes passing out cold. It was like one of those party games where you have thirty seconds to memorize a dozen objects; inevitably you see details instead of the big picture.

The dead man looked to be in his sixties maybe. His hair was thin, plastered to his head. He was grizzled, his fingernails were dirty. He wore faded jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and cowboy boots. I had never seen him before, or if I had I didn't recognize him.

Reaching out to touch his wrist, a shock rippled through me like I had not been properly grounded.

He was still warm.

I jerked my head up and stared at the silent house. I looked to the surrounding hills, the sentinel trees.

The wind whispered in the pines. Otherwise nothing moved. All was still. In fact, too still.

Staring into the windswept darkness I became convinced someone was out there watching me. The hair prickled at the nape of my neck. My heart began to give my ribs the old one-two; a left and a right and then a left left left.

I don't have time for this, I warned my uncooperative ticker as I slammed back into the Bronco. I reversed in a wide arc and put the pedal to the metal, bumping and banging down the pot hole-riddled road back the way I had come.

While I bounced along the road I felt around for my cell phone. I found it at last and dialed emergency.

It took awhile but I got through to a sleepy someone in the Sheriff's Department who finally seemed to understand what I was squawking about and promised to send help.

True to her word, the dispatcher did send the cavalry. A black and white four wheel drive met me at the mouth of Stagecoach Road twenty minutes later, lights flashing, siren blaring.

“What seems to be the trouble, sir?” The man in uniform was middle-aged, well-fed, and a different species from the cops I'd come to know in the past few months.

I explained what the trouble was.

“Okay dokey,” said Sheriff Billingsly, scratching his skunk-striped beard. “You hop in the truck and we'll go have a looksee at this alleged dead man.”

I piled in the cab with the sheriff and his waiting deputy who was introduced to me as 'Dwayne.' Dwayne looked like he had just walked off the set of Dukes of Hazzard. He shifted his chaw to his other cheek.


“Hi,” I said through teeth starting to chatter with cold and nerves.

Dwayne put the truck in gear and we headed back down the road.

“It was up here,” I said as we clattered over the cattle guard. “Just outside the gate.”

“Right along here?” the deputy asked, slowing as we approached the gate. The headlights fell on empty dirt road.

“Stop,” I ordered. “It was along here that I found him.”

The deputy braked hard and the three of us lurched forward and then back.

“Here?” the sheriff demanded.

The three of us stared at the lone tumbleweed somersaulting across the deserted yard.

“He was right there,” I said.


“Well he ain't there now,” said the sheriff.

The Hell You Say #3
The voice on the phone rasped, "Bones of anger, bones of dust, full of fury, revenge is just. I scatter these bones, these bones of rage, enemy mine, I bring you pain. Torment, fire, death the toll, with this hex I curse your soul. So mote it be."

I handed the receiver to Angus, who was facing out the 'We Recommend' stand by the counter, and said, "It's for you."

He took the receiver and put his ear against it as though expecting an electric shock. He listened, then, hand shaking, he replaced the receiver and stared at me. Behind the blue John Lennon specs his eyes were terrified. He licked his pale lips.

"Look, Angus," I said, "Why don't you talk to Jake? He's a cop. Maybe he can help."

"He's a homicide detective," Angus muttered. "Plus he doesn't like me."

True on both counts, but I tried anyway.

"He doesn't dislike you, really. Besides, you've got to talk to someone. This is harassment."

"Harassment?" His voice shot up a notch. "I wish it was harassment! They're going to kill me."

Someone lurking in the Dell map backs coughed, and I realized we were not alone in the bookstore.

I gestured to Angus, and he followed me back to the storeroom that served as my office. So far we'd had a grand total of three customers browsing the shelves on this gloomy November day. I half shut the door to the office and turned to Angus.

"Okay, what the hell is going on?" I sort of knew what the hell was going on, so I added, "Exactly."

I thought my tone was pretty calm, but he put his hands out as though to ward me off. "I can't talk about it," he gabbled. "I mean, if I talk about it, if I reveal the secrets of the-"He swallowed The Word. "They'll kill me."

"I thought they were already trying to kill you?"

"I mean physically kill me."

"Uh huh," I said, and realized I sounded like Jake.

Angus caught the skeptical note in my voice. "Adrien, you don't understand. You've never-they know where I live. They know where I work. They know where Wanda lives. They know where Wanda works. They --"

"Why don't you leave town for a while," I interrupted. "It's nearly Christmas. Why don't you... take a little vacation?"

"It's November."

"It's after Thanksgiving."

Angus had worked at Cloak and Dagger Books for the past year, but I still knew very little about him beyond the fact that he was finishing up an undisclosed undergrad program at UCLA which seemed to entail an awful lot of courses in folklore, mythology and the occult. He was twenty-something, lived alone, and was a decent if somewhat irregular employee. Lisa, my mother, insisted that he was on drugs; and Jake, my sometimes lover, was convinced that he was a nutcase, but I tended to believe he was just young. I studied him as he stood there in his baggy black clothes like an ... émigré... from the dark side. He was shaking his head in a hopeless kind of way as though I still didn't get it.

"Yeah," I said, warming to the idea. "Why don't you take Wanda and split for a week or two? Let this all blow over." I was digging through the desk drawer for my checkbook.

Not that I believe throwing money at a problem solves the problem-unless the problem is lack of money. And not that I ordinarily recommend trying to run away from your problems, but this particular problem rang a few bells for me. Or so I thought at the time.

Angus was silent while I wrote out the check and tore it off. When I handed it to him, he stared down at it. He didn't say a word. Then, as I watched, a tear slid down his face and dropped on the check. He gave a great shuddering sigh, and started to speak.

I cut him off. "Listen, Harry Potter, do us both a favor. Crank calls from the Psychic Hotline is bad for business." I headed for the door.

* * * * *

"You did what?" said Jake.

I had been about ten minutes late meeting him at the car dealership on East Colorado Blvd. My ten year old Bronco was on its last legs, and Jake seemed to believe that I was incapable of making an informed buying decision unless he was my informant.

"Gave him eight hundred bucks, and told him to take Wanda Witch away for the holidays." I gazed at the rows of sleek sports cars and efficient-looking SUVs gleaming in the tequila sunset. Palm trees rustled overhead. Tinny Christmas carols issued from the loudspeakers in not so subliminal messaging.

I could see Jake's reflection in the nearest windshield, big and blonde and buff. "Eight hundred bucks? You have eight hundred bucks to throw around?"

I shrugged. "I'll write it off as his Christmas bonus."

"Uh huh." I could feel him studying my face. "Well, Mr. Trump, is there any point in our going inside?"

"Did you never hear of the great American tradition of financing?"

He snorted. I met his tawny gaze. "How the hell is running away supposed to solve anything?" he asked, and for a second I thought we were talking about something else entirely.

"I wasn't looking for a long term solution." And before Jake could say anything, I added, "I doubt if I need one. They're kids. They have the attention span of ... what is it? One minute for each year of life. We're looking at twenty minutes of terror. Tops."

Jake's lips twitched, but he said, "And these kids are all part of some witch's coven based out of Westwood?"

I stroked the hood of a silver Subaru Forester. "New meaning to the word 'Teen Spirit,' huh?" I checked the sticker price on the window. "From what I've picked up, they all took part in some class on demonology or witchcraft about a year ago. I guess somebody inhaled a little too much incense during the lab."

"They went off and started a coven?"

"I'm guessing. It's not like Angus has been forthcoming on the subject. Revealing Count Chocula's secrets carries a stiff penalty."

Red and green Christmas lights strung across the lot flashed on. They reminded me of glowing chili peppers, but maybe I was subconsciously influenced by the Mexican restaurant across the street. I remembered I hadn't stopped for lunch. My stomach growled. I wondered if Jake could take time for dinner. We hadn't seen much of each other lately.

"You shop around, you compare prices, you get the vehicle right for you," he observed, watching me linger over the Forester.


"You don't need another gas guzzler. How about something in a coupe? How about something pre-owned?"


Reluctantly I moved down the aisle of cars to a blue two-door. Tinted windows, power sun roof, Bose speakers. The price was right, too. 'Climate controlled.' What did that mean? Air conditioning?

Jake said suddenly, grimly, "Believe it or not, this kind of thing can get way out of hand. Hollywood PD turned up a Jane Doe in the Hollywood Hills about a month ago. Word is she was the victim of a ritual killing."

"You mean, like, Devil worshipers?"

I was mostly kidding, but Jake said thoughtfully, "I kind of wish you hadn't sent the kid out of town. I'd have liked to talk to him."

"You can't think Angus is involved in anything like that," I protested. "He's a little odd, granted, but he's a decent kid."

"You have no idea what he is, Adrien," Jake, a ten year veteran of LAPD, said in that cop tone he got when I exhibited signs of civilian naïveté. "You've employed him for a few months, that's all. You hired him through a temp agency. You think they ran any serious security check?"

"You think it's necessary for working in a mystery bookstore?"

He wasn't listening. "There's this whole Satanic underground we've been hearing about since the Eighties. There may not be evidence of an organized movement like some religious groups claim, but we've seen plenty of injuries and deaths resulting from people taking this stuff seriously. And plenty of people turning up in psyche wards. It's ugly and violent, but a lot of kids are attracted to it."

"So hopefully this scares the hell out of Angus, and he gets it out of his system." I tried to picture myself behind the wheel of the coupe, gave it up, and headed back to the silver Forester.

* * * * *

When I finished signing the loan docs, Jake and I went across the street and grabbed some dinner. I had just traded in the Bronco, and since the dealership was going to install a stereo system, I needed a ride back to my place. Jake let himself be coerced.

While we waited for our meal I watched him put away two baskets of tortilla strips. He munched steadily, as though he were being paid by the chip, gaze fastened on a wall planter bristling with plastic bougainvillea.

"Everything okay?"

Still crunching, he paused in mid-reach for his Dos Equis. "Sure. Why?"

"I don't know. You seem preoccupied."

"Nope." He swallowed a mouthful of beer, eyes on mine. "Everything's cool."

Our relationship was not an easy one. Jake was deeply closeted. He claimed it was because he was a cop, but I'd come to believe that it was more complicated than that. Jake despised himself for being sexually attracted to men, and though he had been a good friend to me and was a physically satisfying lover-when he was around-there was a certain tension between us that I sometimes was afraid could never completely be resolved.

Which was a damn shame because I cared for him. A lot.

When I'd first met him he'd been active in the S/M scene, but I thought, though I didn't know for sure, that he was less active in the clubs these days. What I did know for sure was that he was dating a woman, a female cop named Kate Keegan. He'd been seeing her longer than he'd known me, and I didn't think it was just a cover relationship. But he didn't discuss it much with me.

"So I hear Chan's writing a book."

A few months earlier Jake's partner, Detective Paul Chan, had joined Partners in Crime, the weekly writing group I hosted at the bookstore.

"Yeah, a police procedural."

"Is it any good?"

"Uh, well... "

Jake laughed, and shoved the basket of chips my way.

* * * * *

The next day, Friday, I had to prepare for a book signing with bestselling author, Gabriel Savant. Savant wrote the Sam Haynes occult detective series, sort of an update on the old Jules de Grandin and John Thunstone pulps. I'm not a big fan of horror, but I had skimmed Savant's latest in an effort to facilitate discussion should the question and answer session peter out too fast. Not that I expected a problem; after an initially lackluster career in the Eighties, Savant had reinvented himself and his work, and was now something of a media darling. Hustling around in anticipation of a big turnout that evening, I wished ungenerously that I had delayed saving Angus till after the weekend.

I was arranging the front display of Savant's latest, The Rosicrucian Codex, and wondering if I had enough bottles of four dollar champagne, when I received another call from the dark side.

"Smitten, battered, beaten, torn. I prick at thee as if a thorn --"

"Speaking of pricks," I interrupted, "You're wasting your time. Angus doesn't work here anymore."

"Wh-?" He-the voice was male-caught himself. There was a pause, and then a click as the receiver slammed down.

I tried call return but the number was blocked. Not a surprise, I guess. I knew of course that it wouldn't end there.

Sure enough, later that afternoon I got another caller requesting 'Gus.' This time the voice was feminine and dulcet-toned. In all the time Angus has worked for me, I've only known one female to call him, and that's his girl friend Wanda. Wanda is not dulcet-toned. She sounds like she was weaned on unfiltered Marlboros.

"Sorry," I said in answer to the query. "He's not here."

"Oh gosh," she fretted. "I've just got to talk to Gus. It's, like, an emergency."

"Like an emergency, but not?"


"Forget it." I said, "Look, he's gone. For real. Spread the word."

A pause. Then she faltered, "I'm not sure... ?"

I decided to try a different approach. "Can I get your name? Maybe he'll phone me once he gets settled. You're a friend of Angus's?"

She laughed a tinkling little laugh, a party-girl laugh. "Well, ye-aah! Of course! And I've just got to talk to him. He wants to talk to me, believe me."

"Oh, I do," I said with equal sincerity. "But he's gone. Skipped. I'd like to help, but... hey, why don't you leave your name and number, and if he gets in touch with me, I'll let him know you called."

Another little hesitation. Then she said coolly, "Sure. Tell him Sarah Good called. He knows the number."


She replaced the phone gently. I followed suit. I caught a glimpse of my rueful expression in the mirror across from the counter. 'Sarah Good.' One of the first of the Salem witches to be hanged. Cute.

Well, on the bright side, at least the kids were getting some history at school.

* * * * *

By six thirty it was standing room only in the store. I realized I had seriously miscalculated both the champagne and how much help I would need. I'd never seen so many teenagers in black lipstick-boys and girls-or chain mail jewelry on middle aged men. I ran next door and offered time and a half to the girls closing up the travel agency, if they would lend me a hand behind the counter.

By seven fifteen our illustrious author was officially late, and the natives were getting restless. One of the local reporters tried to interview me about my involvement in a murder case the previous year. I resisted the impulse to finish off the last of the drugstore champagne and hide in the stockroom.

At seven thirty there was commotion at the front door and several people, clearly part of an entourage, entered the store. Three leggy ladies dressed more like incubus than typical mystery readers entered. A plump bespectacled man drew me aside and introduced himself as Bob Friedlander, Gabe's handler.

Handler? Nice work if you could get it, I guess.

I didn't catch most of what Friedlander said, because the next instant the Prince of Sales had appeared. Gabriel Savant was over six feet tall and built like a male model-in fact, he looked like the male half of the illustration on a historical romance: unruly raven hair falling over his tanned forehead, piercing blue eyes, flashing white smile. Were there rhinestones in his teeth? There was certainly something shining in his right ear lobe. He wore leather jeans and a black cape. And the most amazing thing was that nobody laughed.

"But this is charming," Gabriel assured me, as Friedlander navigated his star in my direction. "Of course it's not Vroman's, but it's very nice."

"Ambiance," Friedlander said quickly. "Wonderful ambiance."

"We try," I said.

"Of course you do," Gabriel encouraged. He glanced at his handler. "Bobby, is there anything to drink? I'm parched."

Friedlander cleared his throat uneasily. Along with that musky aftershave of Gabe's wafted a mix of mouthwash and bourbon. Mostly bourbon.

"There's some brand X champagne making the rounds," I said.

You'd have thought I offered milk to a vampire. Gabe blanched and then swallowed hard. "Oh, God, let's get this over with." He strode over to the antique desk I had set up. Enthusiastic applause from the waiting audience echoed off the dark beams.

"This book tour has been grueling," Friedlander told me by way of apology. "Twenty cities in thirty days... radio interviews at four in the morning, cable talk shows, book club luncheons, sometimes three bookstores a day... Gabe is exhausted."

"I bet you both are."

He laughed. Behind the glasses his mild eyes were unexpectedly alert. "A little. I understand you write also."

"A little." Not enough, thank God, that anyone wanted to send me out on the road.

"You're too modest. I've read Murder Will Out. Very witty."

Either this guy did his homework like nobody I'd ever met before, or he was gay. My books don't attract many mainstream readers.

"But you need a gimmick," he said.

"You don't think a gay Shakespearean actor amateur sleuth is enough of a gimmick?"

"No. Look at Gabe. He wasted years producing beautifully written critically acclaimed literary fiction that no one wanted to read, and then what happens? He comes up with Sam Haynes the Occult Detective. The rest is history."

History, occult and romance all spelled out in purple prose, I thought as Gabe read from his latest novel. But the audience loved it. When he finished reading, he took questions. Lots of questions. His fans wanted to know everything from where he got his ideas (at which he turned up his elegant nose and requested the next question) to was he seeing anyone.

"I'm seeing everyone," Gabe drawled, and tapped his forehead, either to indicate the Third Eye or that his busy social life was giving him a headache.

Maybe the bubbly helped, but the fans gobbled it right up.

Friedlander listened and ate pizza rolls like they were going out of style. Every so often, like when Gabriel graciously referred to me as 'Andrew,' he would smile nervously in my direction.

And then someone asked what Gabriel was working on now. Apparently this was the question he'd been waiting for. He rose to his feet, shaking back the cape.

"As you know, I've made a fortune telling stories about the occult and its practitioners, but my current project is not a mere work of fiction. During my research I've uncovered evidence of a real life secret and sinister cult which has preyed upon the young and naïve for the past two decades. A cult right here in this very city. In my next book I plan expose that cult and its leaders to the world."

Bob Friedlander dropped his paper plate, and pizza rolls scattered across the hardwood floor. I stooped to help retrieve them and saw out of the corner of my eye that Bob's knees were knocking together. I glanced up. His round face was white and perspiring; he looked terrified.

I turned. Gabe Savant was beaming at his audience, most of whom were smiling and chattering, delighted to learn that another of those pesky cults was soon to be history-and a best selling book. At the back of the room, however, stood a small group of young women. They were dressed in black, lots of leather and lace, makeup and hair inspired by Halloween. Elvira: the Early Years. They appeared to be hissing at Gabe.

* * * * *

"I love this house," Lisa sighed. "I've been very happy here."

The first Saturday of each month I had brunch with my mother, at the ancestral ruins in Porter Ranch in the North San Fernando Valley.

The brunch tradition began when I left Stanford and broke it to her that I would not be returning to the nest. It shouldn't have come as a shock-or even as bad news-but, choosing not to remarry after my father's death (despite a legion of eligible suitors), I was all Lisa had in the world. As she rarely failed to remind me.

"It's a beautiful house," I agreed.

The house smelled of pine trees and cinnamon and apples. It felt warm and Christmassy. In some ways it still felt like home. I'd taken my first steps in the marble foyer (an initial attempt to make a break for it). I'd learned to drive in the quiet surrounding streets. I'd experienced my first fumbling sexual encounter in the upstairs bedroom beneath the fake open beams and poster of Robert Redford in The Natural.

"Although it really is too large for one," she said, as though she had only noticed those additional sixteen rooms.

"Maybe you should think about moving," I said heartlessly.

I had underestimated her as usual. "If I were to... move... do you think the house would suit you and Jake?" she inquired innocently.

I inhaled my white chocolate pear tartlette, and spent the next few moments wondering if the last thing I saw would be the mental picture of me and Jake picking china at Neiman Marcus.

"Darling," Lisa was gently protesting when I could breathe again, "You shouldn't talk with your mouth full."

"You're not serious about Jake and me moving in here," I said.

"Why not? You seem awfully fond of him, and he's-he's-"I could see her searching for something nice to say about Jake. "He's a very efficient sort of person."

The 'why nots' were so many and varied that I was speechless. The worst part of it all was that for one split second I seriously considered it.

Seeing my moment of weakness, she moved in for the kill.

"It's wonderful that you're feeling so well these days, Adrien, but it doesn't do to push yourself too hard."

"I'm not."

She shook her head a little as though it were all no use. "The economy is so dreadful right now, especially for small businesses." As though Lisa had the foggiest idea about the challenges of running a small business. "And when you talk about needing to expand, I simply can't help worrying about the stress and strain of an additional mortgage on you, darling. Whereas this house is paid for free and clear."

Like a fool I said, "Even so, there's no way I could begin to afford the upkeep."

Her violet eyes widened at my naiveté. "You're going to be very wealthy one of these days, darling," she chided. "I know I could prevail upon Mr. Gracen to arrange something with your trust fund."

"Don't start that again." Funny how that money was absolutely untouchable when it was for something I wanted that Lisa didn't approve of, but right there at my fingertips if I'd give in to something she wanted for me.

"If your poor father had realized that you would end up sacrificing your health struggling to make ends meet-"

"Lisa, where is this going?" I broke in. "Are you thinking of selling the house? Is that what this is about?"

I was sort of amazed to see her turn pink.

"Um, sort of," she said. A very un-Lisa-like comment.

When she didn't continue, I prodded, "And?"

"Actually, I'm thinking of getting married."

Death of a Pirate King #4
It was not my kind of party.

Sure, some people might think the dead guy made it my kind of party, but that wouldn't be a fair assessment of my entertainment needs-or my social calendar. I mean, it had been a good two years since I'd last been involved in a murder investigation.

I sell books for a living. I write books too, but not enough to make a living at it. I did happen to sell one book I wrote to the movies, which is what I was doing at a Hollywood party, which, like I said, is not my scene. Or at least, was not my scene until Porter Jones slumped over and fell face first into his bowl of vichyssoise.

I'm sorry to say my initial reaction, as he keeled over, was relief.

I'd been nodding politely as he'd rambled on for the past ten minutes, trying not to wince as he gusted heavy alcoholic sighs my way during his infrequent pauses, my real attention on screenwriter Al January, who was sitting on the other side of me at the long crowded luncheon table. January was going to be working on the screen adaptation of my first novel Murder Will Out. I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Instead I heard all about deep sea fishing for white marlin in St. Lucia.

I pushed back from the table as the milky tide of soup spilled across the linen tablecloth. Someone snickered. The din of voices and silverware on china died.

“For God's sake, Porter!” exclaimed Mrs. Jones from across the table.

Porter's shoulders were twitching and I thought for a moment that he was laughing, although what was funny about breathing soup, I'd no idea-having sort of been through it myself recently.

“Was it something you said, Adrien?” Paul Kane, our host, joked to me. He rose as though to better study Jones. He had one of those British public school accents that make insignificant comments like Would you pass the butter sound as interesting as Fire when ready!

Soup dripped off the table into my empty seat. I stared at Porter's now-motionless form: the folds on the back of his thick tanned neck, the rolls of brown flab peeping out beneath the indigo-blue Lacoste polo, his meaty, motionless arm with the gold Rolex watch. Maybe forty seconds all told, from the moment he toppled over to the moment it finally dawned on me what had actually happened.

“Oh, hell,” I said, and hauled Porter out of his plate. He sagged right and crashed down onto the carpet taking my chair and his own with him.

“Porter!” shrieked his wife, now on her feet, bleached blonde hair spilling over her plump freckled shoulders.

“Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Paul Kane staring down, his normal unshakable poise deserting him. “Is he-?”

It was hard to say what Porter was exactly. His face was shiny with soup; his silvery mustache glistened with it. His pale eyes bulged as though he were outraged to find himself in this position. His fleshy lips were open but he made no protest. He wasn't breathing.

I knelt down, said, “Does anyone know CPR? I don't think I can manage it.”

“Someone call 911!” Kane ordered, looking and sounding like he did on the bridge of the brigantine in The Last Corsair.

“We can trade off,” Al January told me, crouching on the other side of Porter's body. He was a slim and elegant sixty-something, despite the cherry red trousers he wore. I liked his calm air; you don't expect calm from a man wearing cherry-red trousers.

“I'm getting over pneumonia,” I told him. I shoved the fallen chairs aside, making room next to Porter.

“Uh oh,” January said and bent over Porter.

* * * * *

By the time the paramedics arrived it was all over.

By then we had all adjourned to the drawing room of the old Laurel Canyon mansion. There were about thirty of us, everyone, with the exception of myself, involved one way or the other with movies and movie-making.

I looked at the ormolu clock on the elegant fireplace mantle and thought I should call Natalie. She had a date that evening and had wanted to close the bookstore early. I needed to give Guy a call too. No way was I going to have the energy for dinner out tonight-even if we did get away in the next hour or so.

Porter's wife, who looked young enough to be his daughter, was sitting over by the piano crying. A couple of the other women were absently soothing her. I wondered why she wasn't being allowed in there with him. If I was dying I'd sure want someone I loved with me.

Paul Kane had disappeared for a time into the dining room where the paramedics were still doing whatever there was left to do.

He came back in and said, “They've called the police.”

There were exclamations of alarm and dismay.

Okay, so it wasn't a natural death. I'd been afraid of that. Not because of any special training or because I had a particular knack for recognizing foul play-no, I just had really, really bad luck.

Porter's wife-“Ally,” they were calling her-looked up and said, “He's dead?” I thought it was pretty clear he was a goner from the moment he landed flat on his back like a harpooned walrus, but maybe she was the optimistic kind. Or maybe I'd just had too much of the wrong kind of experience.

The women with her began doing that automatic shushing thing again.

Kane walked over to me, and said with that charming, practiced smile, “How are you holding up?”

“Me? Fine.”

His smile informed me that I wasn't fooling anyone, but actually I felt all right. After two weeks of hospital, any change of scenery was an improvement, and unlike most of the people there I knew what to expect once someone died a public and unexpected death.

Kane sat down on a giant chintz-covered ottoman--the room had clearly been professionally decorated because nothing about Paul Kane suggested cabbage roses or ormolu clocks--fastened those amazing blue eyes on me, and said, “I've got a bad feeling about this.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. Violent death in the dining room? Generally not a good thing.

“Did Porter say anything to you? I couldn't help noticing that he had you pinned down.”

“He mostly talked about salt water big game fishing.”

“Ah. His passion.”

“Passion is good,” I said.

Kane smiled into my eyes. “It can be.”

I smiled back tiredly. I didn't imagine that he was coming onto me; it was more…an actor picking up his cue.

He patted my knee and rose. “It shouldn't take much longer,” he said, with the optimism of inexperience.

They kept us waiting for probably another forty minutes and then the doors to the drawing room opened silently on well-oiled hinges, and two cops in suits walked in. One was about thirty, Hispanic, with the tightly coiled energy of the ambitious young dick, and the other was Jake Riordan.

It was a jolt. Jake was a lieutenant now so there was no reason why he'd be here at a crime scene--except that this was a high profile crime scene.

It was like seeing him for the first time--only this time around I had insider knowledge.

He looked older. Still ruggedly good-looking in that big, blond, take-no-prisoners way. But thinner, sharper around the edges. Harder. It had been two years since I'd last seen him. They didn't appear to have been a fun-filled two years, but he still had that indefinable something. Like a young Steve McQueen or a mature Russell Crowe. Hanging around the movie crowd, you start thinking in cinema terms.

I watched his tawny eyes sweep the room and find Paul Kane. I saw the relief on Kane's face, and I realized that they knew each other. Something in the way their gazes met, locked, then broke--not anything anyone else would have caught. I just happened to be in a position to know what that particular look of Jake's meant.

And since I was familiar with the former Detective Riordan's extra-curricular activities, I guessed that meant the rumors about Paul Kane were true.

“Folks, can I have your attention,” the younger detective said. “This is Lieutenant Riordan and I'm Detective Alonzo.” He proceeded to explain that Porter Jones appeared to have been the victim of some kind of poisoning and they were going to ask us a few questions, starting with who had been seated next to the victim during the meal.

Paul Kane said, “That would be Valarie and Adrien.”

Jake's gaze followed Paul Kane's indication. His eyes lit on me. Just for a second his face seemed to freeze. I was glad I'd had a few seconds' warning. I was able to look right through him, which was a small satisfaction.

“I don't understand,” the newly widowed Ally was protesting. “Are you saying-what are you saying? That Porter was murdered?”

“Ma'am,” Detective Alonzo said in a pained way.

Jake said something quietly to Paul Kane, who answered. Jake interrupted Alonzo.

“Mrs. Jones, why don't we move next door?” He guided her towards a side door off the lounge. He nodded for Alonzo to follow him in.

A uniformed officer took Alonzo's place and asked us to please be patient and refrain from speaking with each other-and immediately everyone started speaking, mostly protesting.

The side door opened again and everyone looked guiltily towards the doorway. Ally Porter was ushered straight out.

“The performance of a lifetime,” Al January commented next to me.

I glanced at him and he smiled.

“Valarie Rose,” Detective Alonzo requested.

A trim forty-something brunette stood up. Rose was supposed to direct Murder Will Out, assuming we actually got to the filming stage-which at the moment felt unlikely. She wore minimal makeup and a dark pantsuit. She looked perfectly poised as she passed Detective Alonzo and disappeared into the inner chamber.

She was in there for about fifteen minutes and then the door opened; without speaking to anyone she crossed into the main room. Detective Alonzo announced, “Adrien English?”

Kind of like when your name gets called in the doctor's office: That's right, Adrien. This won't hurt a bit. I felt the silent wall of eyes as I went into the side room.

It was a comfortable room, probably Paul Kane's study. He seemed like the kind of guy who would affect a study. Glass fronted bookcases, a big fireplace, and a lot of leather furniture. There was a table and chairs to one side where they were obviously conducting their questioning. Jake stood at a large bay window that looked down over the back garden. I spared one look at his stony profile, then sat down at the table across from Detective Alonzo.

“Okay…” Alonzo scratched a preliminary note on a pad.

Jake turned. “That's Adrien with an 'e',” he informed his partner. “Mr. English and I have met.”

That was one way to put it. I had a sudden uncomfortably vivid memory of Jake whispering into my hair, “Baby, what you do to me….” An ill-timed recollection if there ever was one.

“Yeah?” If Alonzo recognized there was any tension in the air, he gave no sign of it, probably because there's always tension in the air around cops. “So where do you live, Mr. English?”

We got the details of where I lived and what I did for a living out of the way fast. Then Alonzo asked, “So how well did you know Mr. Jones?”

“I met him for the first time this afternoon.”

“Ms. Beaton-Jones says you and the deceased had a long, long talk during the meal?”

Beaton-Jones? Oh, right. This was Hollywood. Hyphens were a fashion accessory. Ms. Beaton-Jones would be Porter's wife, I guessed.

I replied, “He talked, I listened.” One thing I've learned the hard way is not to volunteer any extra information to the police.

I glanced at Jake. He was staring back out the window. There was a gold wedding band on his left hand. It kept catching the light. Like a heliograph.

“What did he talk about?”

“To be honest, I don't remember the details. It was mostly about deep sea fishing. For marlin. On his forty-five foot Hatteras luxury sport-fishing yacht.”

Jake's lips twitched as he continued to gaze out the window.

“You're interested in deep sea fishing, Mr. English?”

“Not particularly.”

“So how long did you talk?”

“Maybe ten minutes.”

“Can you tell us what happened then?”

“I turned away to take a drink. He-Porter-just…fell forward onto the table.”

“And what did you do?”

“When I realized he wasn't moving, I grabbed his shoulder. He slid out of his chair and landed on the floor. Al January started CPR.”

“Do you know CPR, sir?”


“Mrs. Beaton-Jones said you refused to administer CPR to her husband.”

I blinked at him. Looked at Jake. His tawny eyes were zeroed in on mine.

“Any reason for that, sir? Are you HIV-positive by any chance?”

“No.” I was a little surprised at how angry I was at the question. I said shortly, “I'm getting over pneumonia. I didn't think I could do an adequate job of resuscitating him. If no one else had volunteered, I'd have tried.”

“Pneumonia? That's no fun.” This also from the firm's junior partner. “Were you hospitalized by any chance?”

“Yeah. Five fun-filled days and nights at Huntington Hospital. I'll be happy to give you the name and number of my doctor.”

“When were you discharged?”

“Tuesday morning.”

“And you're already back doing the party scene?” That was Jake with pseudo-friendly mockery. “How do you know Paul Kane?”

“We met once before today. He's optioned my series character for a possible film. He thought it would be a good idea for me to meet the director and screenwriter, and he suggested this party.”

“So you're a writer,” Detective Alonzo inquired. He checked his notes as though to emphasize that I'd failed to mention this vital point.

I nodded.

“Among other things,” remarked Jake.

I thought maybe he ought to curb it if he didn't want speculation about our former friendship. But maybe marriage and a lieutenancy made him feel bullet-proof. He didn't interrupt as Detective Alonzo continued to probe.

I answered his questions, but I was thinking of the first time I'd met Paul Kane. Living in Southern California, you get used to seeing “movie stars.” Speaking from experience they are usually shorter, thinner, freckled, and blemished. And in real life their hair is almost never as good. Paul Kane was the exception. He was gorgeous in an old-fashioned matinee-idol way. An Errol Flynn way. Tall, built like something chiseled out of marble, midnight-blue eyes, sun-streaked brown hair. Almost too handsome, really. I prefer them a little rougher around the edges. Like Jake.

“Hey, pretty exciting!” Alonzo offered, just as though it wasn't Hollywood where everyone is writing a script on spec or has a book being optioned. “So what's your book about?”

A little dryly I explained what my book was about.

Alonzo raised his eyebrows at the idea of a gay Shakespearean actor and amateur sleuth making it to the big screen, but kept scribbling away.

Jake came over to the table and sat down across from me. My neck muscles clenched so tight I was afraid my head would start to shake.

“But you also run this Cloak and Dagger mystery bookstore in Pasadena?” Alonzo inquired. “Was Porter Jones a customer?”

“Not that I know of. I never saw him before today.” I made myself look at Jake. He was staring down. I looked to see if my body language was communicating homicidal mania. In the light flooding from the bay window my hands looked thin and white, a tracery of blue veins right beneath the surface.

I folded my arms and leaned back in my chair, trying to look more nonchalant than defensive.

We'd been talking for thirty minutes, which seemed like an unreasonable time to question someone who hadn't even known the victim. They couldn't honestly think I was a suspect. Jake couldn't honestly think I'd bumped this guy off. I glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Five o'clock.

Alonzo circled back to the general background stuff that is mostly irrelevant but sometimes turns up an unexpected lead.

To his surprise and my relief, Jake said abruptly, “I think that's about it. Thanks for your time, Mr. English. We'll be in touch if we need anything further.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but what came out was a laugh. Short and sardonic. It caught us both by surprise.

“Gosh, you look terrible!” Natalie exclaimed.

I batted my lashes. “You always know the right thing to say.” I flipped through the day's sales receipts.

I'd acquired Natalie two years ago when Angus, my former bookstore employee, split for parts unknown. After a string of temps I let my mother-against my better judgment- persuade me into hiring Natalie.

Natalie, at that time, was my brand new step-sis. After thirty-odd years of widowhood, my mother Lisa had suddenly decided to remarry, and with Councilman Bill Dauten had come three step-sisters, in order of appearance: thirty-something Lauren, twenty-something Natalie, and twelve-year-old Emma.

They were the nicest family in the world. I kept a watch out for the insidious undercurrents, the clues that all was not as it should be, but nope. Nothing. Okay, maybe Bill overdid the Yagermeister on the holidays and got squirm-makingly sentimental, and I could have done without Lauren and her many crusades--and Natalie had the worst taste in men I'd ever met outside of myself--but Emma was a pip.

“Where've you been? I was getting worried.”

I replied vaguely, “It took longer than I expected.” Anything I told her would hit the familial newswire within the hour, and for now I needed this to be an exclusive.

“Did you have a good time?” She really wanted to know; she really hoped I'd had a good time. This was one of the things that I found hard to get used to in having an extended family. It was nice but it was strange.

After all these years of it being just Lisa and me-okay, actually being mostly just me-all these interested and involved bystanders made me uneasy.

I glanced without favor at the boyfriend du jour: Warren Something. He lolled in one of the club chairs near the front desk, looking bored. Straggly hair, emaciated body, and one of those wispy goatees that made me yearn for a sharp razor--and not so that I could give him a shave. He wore a T-shirt that read Chicks Hate Me. Supposedly he was some kind of musician, but so far all he seemed to play was on my nerves.

Hiring Natalie turned out to be one of my better decisions. My only problem with her was she kept trying to persuade me to hire Warren.

“It was okay,” I said. “Aren't you two going to a concert or something?”

Warren showed signs of life, “Yeah, Nat, we're going to be late.”

“Lisa called four times. She's really upset you went out so soon after getting discharged. You better call her.”

I muttered something, caught Natalie's eye. She chuckled “You're still her baby.”

Warren laughed derisively.

Yep, I was definitely getting tired of old Warren.

“I'll give her a call. Lock up, will you?”

Natalie assented, and I went upstairs to my living quarters. Years ago I bought the building that now houses Cloak and Dagger Books with money I inherited from my paternal grandmother.

I turned on the lights. The answering machine light was blinking red. Eight messages. I pressed Play.


Lisa. I fast forwarded.


Fast forward.


Holy moly. Fast forward.


Jeeeesus. Fast forward.

Fast forward.

Fast forward.

Fast forward.

Guy's taped voice broke the silence of the apartment. “Hello, lover. How'd it go?”

Guy and I had been seeing each other since Jake and I parted ways. I hit stop on the machine, picked up the phone, but then considered.

If I called Guy now it wouldn't be a quick call and I didn't have the energy to deal with what I was feeling, let alone his possible reaction.

I replaced the phone and went into the bathroom, avoiding looking at my hollow-eyed reflection in the mirror. I didn't need a reminder that I looked like something the cat dragged in. I felt like something the cat dragged in-after he chewed on it for a few hours. My chest hurt, my ribs hurt. Coughing really hurt, but suppressing the cough was a no-no because my lungs had to clear. A truly delightful process.

I took my antibiotics and stretched out on the couch. Fifteen minutes and I'd call Lisa and then I'd call Guy and tell him about the party and Porter Jones and Jake. Guy wouldn't be happy about any of it, especially the part about Jake. Not that I'd ever really gone much into my relationship with Jake; but Guy had been the prime suspect in one of Jake's murder investigations, and it had left him with not very friendly feelings towards cops in general and Jake in particular.

I thought about the party at Paul Kane's. Not that “party” was exactly the word for the afternoon's events. I tried to pinpoint exactly when I'd met Porter Jones. Paul Kane, who had been mixing cocktails behind the bar, had introduced us. He'd handed me a glass that had been sitting on the bar for a few minutes, and said, “This is for Porter. My own special blend.”

I'd handed the glass to Porter.

Of course Porter had had a lot of drinks that afternoon. A lot of glasses had passed his way.

* * * * *

When I woke, the buzzer was ringing downstairs.

I sat up, groggy and a little confused with weird dreams . The corners in the room were deep in shadow. Just for a moment it looked like someplace else, someplace strange, someone else's house. It looked like the home of whoever would live here years after I was gone.

The clock in the VCR informed me that it was eight o'clock. Shit. I'd stood Guy up for dinner.

The buzzer downstairs rang again, loud and impatient sounding.

Not Guy because he had a key.

No way, I thought. I started coughing like I'd inhaled a mouthful of dust. Dusty memories maybe.

I got up, adrenaline zinging through my system like someone had flipped a switch. Heading downstairs, I flipped the ground level lights on. I crossed the silent floor of towering shelves and strategically placed chairs, my eyes on the tall silhouette lurking behind the bars of the security gate.

Somehow I knew--even before he moved into the unhealthy yellow glow of the porch light. I swore under my breath and unlocked the front door. Pushed the security gate aside.

“Can I come in?”

I hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure.” I moved out of the way. “More questions?”

“That's right.” Jake stepped inside the store and stared around himself.

The previous spring I'd bought the building space next door, and between the bookstore and the gutted rooms next door was a dividing wall of clear, heavy plastic. Otherwise it didn't look too different: the comfortable chairs, the fake fireplace, the tall, walnut shelves of books, the enigmatic smiles of the kabuki masks on the wall. Everything as it was. Myself excluded. I had certainly changed.

I remembered when I'd first met him, when he'd been investigating Robert Hersey's murder. He'd scared the hell out of me, and I wondered now why I hadn't paid attention to that first healthy instinct.

His eyes came at last to rest on me. He didn't say anything.

“Déjà vu,” I said, and was relieved that my tone was just about right.

It seemed to annoy Jake though. Or maybe he was annoyed at being forced to remember there had ever been anything between us besides criminal investigation.

He said flatly, “I want to know what you were holding back when we interviewed you this afternoon.”

That caught me off guard. “Nothing.”

“Bullshit. I know you. You were hiding something.”

Now that really was ironic. “You think?”

He just stared, immovable, implacable, impossible. “Yeah.”

“I guess some things never change.”

“Yeah,” he drawled. “Two years later I find you smack in the middle of another murder investigation. Coincidence?”

“You think not?” I started coughing again, which was annoying as hell.

He just stood there watching.

When I'd got my breath again, I rasped, “If I were hiding something I guess it was the realization that you and Paul are already... acquainted.”

He didn't say a word.

“Same club, old chap?”

“You sound jealous, Adrien. And bitter.”

Did I? The thought startled me.

“Nah. Just curious.”


I lifted a shoulder. “Not really my business.”

“You've got that right.” He was curt. After a moment he said slowly, “So that's all it was? You guessed that Kane and I…knew each other.”

“In the Biblical sense?” I mocked. “Yeah.”


After we'd parted company he'd called twice when I hadn't been there to take his call. Or maybe I had been there, but just hadn't picked up. Anyway, I knew who the hang up calls were from because my machine was programmed to recognize that particular blocked number.

And then eleven months after the whole thing was over he'd called and actually left a message.

It's Jake.

Like did he think I'd forgotten his voice along with his number?


It'd be nice to talk to you sometime.

Uh huh. As he himself would have said.


Dial tone.

What did he think we'd talk about? His marriage? Work? The weather?

“So are we done?” I heard the tension crackle in my voice, and knew he heard it too. I didn't have the strength to keep fencing with him. I didn't have the energy to keep standing there pretending this wasn't getting to me, that it wasn't opening up a lot of wounds that weren't as well-healed as I'd believed.

He said flatly. “Yeah, we're done.”

“I don't believe it,” Guy said. “There's something wrong with my karma.”

“Check the expiration date,” I suggested.

He paused in setting out little white cartons of rice and shrimp in lobster sauce to give me the finger.

“Two words,” I said. “Sounds like duck flu.”

His smile was reluctant. His eyes, green as the curl of a wave, studied my face and narrowed. “You overdid it today, lover.”

“I'm out of shape. I find murder tiring.”

This reminded him of the thing I kept hoping he'd forget. “And of all the cops in all the world, why the hell would that asshole Riordan show up today at Paul Kane's? It's fucking unbelievable. I thought he was a lieutenant or something?”

“He is. I think he knows Paul Kane. It's a high profile case. There's liable to be a lot of media attention.”

“You don't honestly think they-he-thinks you're involved?”


Guy poured wine for himself and mineral water for me. He sat down at the kitchen table and began to eat, scowling. “You don't plan on-”

“No. I don't.”

He relaxed a little.

I said, referring to the murder case where Guy and I first met, “When you talked to the cops about Grimaldi, you kept me out of it, right?”

“As much as it was possible.”

“What's that mean?”

“It means that Detective Riordan had a pretty good idea of where I got my information.” He studied me. “He didn't push it, and neither did I since you'd asked me to keep you out of it. I couldn't help noticing…”


“He has this little muscle in his jaw.” Guy gestured to his own lean jaw. “And every time your name came up, the muscle moved.”

“It was pretty much a permanent twitch by then.”

Guy didn't laugh.

I reached my hand across the table. “Hey. Guy, I'm sorry this is bringing back bad memories for you. I'm not involved. I have no intention of getting involved.”

He took my hand, but he was still not smiling.

“You're not the one I'm worried about. I don't trust that bastard Riordan.”

* * * * *

Lisa phoned as we were lying in bed watching Michael Palin's Palin's New Europe. Actually Guy had been watching, and I had been dozing. Ever chivalrous, Guy took the bullet for me.

I listened gratefully to his side of the conversation.

“He's fine, Lisa. Just having an early night.”

Did she think we were in separate rooms? Sleeping in bunk beds? I lowered the TV volume with the remote control. The TV in the bedroom was Guy's idea. He found watching TV together more companionable than reading; not that we generally spent a lot of sheet time in intellectual pursuits.

“Yep, he's taking all his meds.”

“Oh my God,” I said.

Guy's eyes laughed at me.

“He's eating. He's resting. He'll give you a call tomorrow. I give you my word.”

I raised my brows at this. Guy raised his own in reply.

Folding my arms behind my head, I stared at the street lamp shining behind the lace drapes over the window. Not that I would have admitted this to anyone, but my lack of energy scared me. I knew it was normal after pneumonia, like the sore ribs and the ugly cough, but the fatigue and shortness of breath brought back unpleasant memories. As had the hospital stay.

When my number came up I wanted it to be lightning bolt fast. I sure as hell didn't want to end things struggling for breath in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines and stuck full of needles.

“Sweet dreams,” Guy cooed and leaned over to replace the handset on its hook.

“I owe you, man.”

“She's a doll really.”

“Mm. Bride of Chucky.”

He chuckled and leaned over me, his breath light and cool as his mouth touched mine. “Say the word and I'll make running interference a permanent part of my job description.”

I kissed him back lightly.

“No?” He raised an eyebrow.

I sighed.

“What's it take to convince you I'm here for the long haul?”

“Maybe I'm just too set in my ways,” I said. “I've been living on my own a long time.”

“You're thirty-five, Adrien. It's not like your best years are behind you.”

They felt behind me, I thought tiredly, with my heart beat fluttering in my throat as it did more often now. But I couldn't tell Guy that. I couldn't tell anyone that.

“You know I love you,” Guy said. “Right? So what's the problem?”

“I don't know. I guess I'm the problem.”

“No. You just need time.” He kissed me again. “That's okay, lover. You take all the time you need.”

* * * * *

Natalie and I were having a little debate about inventory loss control--Natalie taking the view that stealing books was not really a crime so much as a cry for help--when Detective Alonzo showed up the next morning with Jake in tow.

“Can we talk to you for a few minutes, Mr. English?” Alonzo asked over the din of power tools from behind the plastic curtain.

I looked at Jake. His face gave nothing away.

We went back to my office. Jake leaned against the wall as though he was strictly there in his official capacity as observer in a training exercise for Alonzo.

Alonzo said, “We were wondering if you'd had a chance to remember anything else after you made your statement yesterday.”

“You mean like, did I remember I killed Porter Jones?”

He smiled, a genial cat to a smart-ass mouse. “Something like that.”

“Not that I know of.”

He looked interested. “What's that mean?”

I'd been debating since the evening before whether to mention the thing about handing Porter his drink before we went into lunch, and I concluded that it would be easier-safer-to have it out now. I said, “It means that if he was poisoned, then I think I probably handed him the drink that killed him.”

“You think he was poisoned, Mr. English?”

“I think I'd have noticed if he'd been shot or stabbed.”

Alonzo looked towards Jake as though seeking confirmation. “You got a little bit of an attitude, Mr. English, if you don't mind my saying so.”

“I don't mind.”

His black brows drew together.

“I guess you won't be surprised to hear that the coroner's preliminary findings indicate that Mr. Jones was poisoned.”

“I see.” And I thought I did.

“We've found the glass that was probably used to administer the poison. It was broken in a bag of trash, but there was enough to lift fingerprints.”

“Let me guess. Mine.”

“Jackpot,” said Detective Alonzo. He did seem to enjoy his work.

I reminded myself I'd been through police questioning before and that I had nothing to hide. “I did say I might have inadvertently given him the poison. I passed him his glass right before we went into lunch. There should be other prints on the glass as well.”

“The vic's.”

“Paul Kane's fingerprints should also be on the glass.”

“Well, it's his house,” Alonzo pointed out.

Jake said, “The interesting thing is the poison.”

I had avoided looking his way till now. His gaze was impassive.

Alonzo asked, “Do you have a heart condition, sir?”

Jake's gaze shifted pointedly to Alonzo.

I nodded.

“What medications do you take?”

“Digoxin and aspirin.”

“Digoxin. That's a form of digitalis, right?”

“Right. It slows and strengthens the heart beat.”

“You take tablets or injections or what?”

“I take tablets.”

I waited. I knew what was coming.

“You'll find this interesting. The autopsy results indicate that Mr. Jones died of a massive heart attack brought on by a fatal dose of some form of digitalis.”

They both stared at me.

Two or three murder investigations ago I might have panicked. As it was, I studied Detective Alonzo, perplexed.

“The glass was sitting on the bar for a few minutes. It was crowded, especially by the bar. Any number of people could have slipped something in that drink.”

“How would they know whose drink it was?”

“How would I? Paul Kane picked it up and said it was Porter's drink. I handed it to Porter.”

“You need a prescription for digitalis, right?”

“No. That is, it's a cardiac glycoside found in the foxglove plant, which is pretty common.” I thought of Lisa's house in Porter Ranch surrounded by a classic English cottage garden full of graceful spires of foxglove. “The entire plant is toxic, but the leaves especially so.”

“You seem to know a lot about it.”

“I watch a lot of TV.”

“And you're a mystery writer. I bet you know a lot about poisons.”

“Enough. I'm also a heart patient, so if I was going to poison someone I'd choose something that wouldn't immediately make me a suspect.”

Detective Alonzo gave Jake another one of those looks as if seeking guidance.

“You know, I've got to say, Mr. English, I've interviewed a lot of suspects, and usually people react a lot differently when they're questioned in a homicide investigation. Innocent people, I mean.”

“It's not my first homicide investigation.” I replied. I turned to Jake. “Maybe you should fill him on how we know each other.”

He didn't move a muscle. “He knows.”

“Really?” I smiled crookedly. “Everything?”

Not a flicker of an eyelash. “Everything relevant.”

He waited for me to say it. My heart sped up as I pictured myself speaking the words, betraying the secret he had protected for forty-two years. I could hurt him every bit as badly as he had hurt me-and the hurt would be lasting, permanent, devastating everything he cared about and valued from his career to his marriage. I could wreck him with a couple of sentences, and he knew it. He could see I was considering it.

He expected me to say it. His eyes never left mine, but there was no asking for quarter and no fear. He just…waited.

I said to Alonzo, “Then you know that I understand how this works and that I have confidence in the process.”

Alonzo, who had been looking from Jake to me, put his hand to his jaw like I had sucker punched him.

Jake straightened from the wall and said, his voice unexpectedly husky, “Thanks. I think that's about it.” He looked to Detective Alonzo who said, “Uh, yeah. I guess that's it for now. Thanks for your time, Mr. English.”

“What was that about?” Natalie demanded as soon and the front door closed behind Jake and Alonzo. “Were they police?”

“Yeah. It's just routine,” I told her. “Someone died at the party I was at yesterday; so they're just checking with people to see if anyone noticed anything suspicious.”

“Oh, wow! You mean, like a murder?”

“Maybe.” I was purposely vague. Natalie is a mystery buff and she's often lamented that she wasn't around to “assist” me the last few times I was involved in a homicide investigation.

“Oh, hey, a bunch of calls came in for you. Lisa really needs you to call her.” Here she gave me the look that managed to indicate sympathy while still spelling disapproval that I was dodging my filial responsibilities. “Your doctor appointment is confirmed for three o'clock. And Paul Kane phoned.”

“What did Paul Kane want?”

Natalie gave a disbelieving laugh. “He didn't say. But he wants you to call him right away.”

I nodded, returned to my office and dialed Kane's number.

I expected to have to go through at least one personal assistant, but Paul himself answered on the third ring. “Adrien, how are you?” He had a great voice. Smooth and sexy. I wondered if he had ever considered recording audio books. “I can't apologize enough for yesterday.”

“Is that a confession?”

“Is that a-?” He laughed. “You've been chatting with the coppers. Apparently I'm their number one suspect.”

“I didn't get that impression.”

“No? I did. Look, are you free for lunch? I've got something I want to discuss with you.”

All I wanted was to lie down and sleep for an hour or two. I was so damn tired all the time. But I wanted this film to be made. The bookstore expansion was costing a fair bit, and I was still five years away from inheriting the balance of the money left to me by my grandmother.

“I'm free,” I said. “Where would you like to meet?”

“I'm working on the lot today. What about the Formosa Café? Shall we say one o'clock? I've a proposition I think you'll find rather intriguing.”

The Dark Tide #5
"To say goodbye is to die a little..." -- Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

It began, as a lot of things do, in bed.

Or, to be precise, on the living room sofa where I was uncomfortably dozing.

Somewhere in the distance of a very weird dream about me and a certain ex-LAPD police lieutenant came a faint but persistent scratching. The scratching worked itself into my dream and I deduced with the vague logic of the unconscious that the cat was sharpening his claws again on the antique half moon table in the hall.

Except... that boneless ball of heat on my abdomen was the cat. And he was sound asleep--

I opened my eyes. It was dark and it took me a second or two to place myself. Moonlight outlined the pirate bookends on the bookshelf. From where I lay I could just make out the motion of the draperies in the warm July breeze in the front room of the flat above Cloak and Dagger Books.

I was home.

There had been a time when I’d thought I would never see home again. But here I was. I had a furry heating pad on my belly, I had a crick in my neck, and I had--apparently--a midnight visitor.

My first thought was that Lisa had called Guy, my ex, and that he was dutifully looking in on me. But that furtive scraping wasn’t the sound of a key, it was more like someone trying to…well, pick the lock.

I rolled off the sofa, dislodging the sleeping cat, and staggered to my feet fighting the dizziness that dogged me since my heart surgery three weeks earlier. I’d been staying at my mother’s home in the Chatsworth Hills, but I’d checked myself out of the lunatic asylum that afternoon.

If Guy had dropped by, he’d have turned on the light in the shop below. There was no band of light beneath the door. No, what there was, was the occasional flash of illumination as though someone were trying to balance a flashlight.

I wasn’t dreaming. Someone was trying to break in.

I felt my way across the darkened room to the entrance hall. My heart was already beating way too hard and too fast and I felt a spark of anxiety--the anxiety that was getting to be familiar since my surgery. Was my healing heart up to this kind of strain? Even as I was calculating whether I could get to the Webley in the bedroom closet and load it before the intruder got the door open, or whether my best bet was to lock myself in the bedroom and phone the cops, the decision was made for me.

The lock mechanism turned over, the door handle rotated, and the door silently inched out of the frame.

I reacted instinctively, grabbing the rush bottom chair in the hall and throwing it with all my strength. “Get the hell out of here,” I yelled over the racket of the chair clattering into the door and hitting the floor.

And, surprisingly enough, the intruder did get the hell out.

Not a dream. Not a misreading of the situation. Someone had tried to break into my living quarters.

I heard the heavy thud of footsteps pounding down the staircase back to the shop, heard something crash below, heard another crash, and then--as I tottered to the wall light switch--the slam of a distant door.

What door? Not the side entrance of the shop below because I knew that particular bang very well, and certainly not the front door behind the security gate…it had to be from the adjacent structure. The bookstore took up one half of a subdivided building that had originally, back in the thirties, housed a small hotel. The other half of the building had gone through a variety of commercial incarnations, none of which had survived more than a year or so, until I’d finally been in position to buy it myself the previous spring. It was currently in the expensive and noisy process of being renovated, the two halves divided by a wall of thick plastic.

Possibly not the greatest security in the world, although the contractor assured me the perimeter doors were all guarded by “construction cores” and that it was as safe as it had ever been. He obviously wasn’t familiar with my history, let alone the history of the building.

I leaned back against the wall, trying to catch my breath and listening. Somewhere down the street I heard an engine roaring into life. Not necessarily my intruder’s getaway car fleeing the scene, but this was a non-residential part of Pasadena, and at night it was very quiet and surprisingly isolated.

There was a time when I’d have intrepidly gone downstairs to see what the damage was. But that was four murder investigations, one shooting, and one heart surgery ago. I picked up the phone, slid down the wall, and dialed 911.

I was having trouble catching my breath as I waited--and waited--for the 911 operator, and I hoped to hell I wasn’t having a heart attack. My heart had been damaged by rheumatic fever when I was sixteen. A bout of pneumonia had worsened my condition and I’d been in line for surgery even before getting shot three weeks earlier. Everything was under control now and according to my cardiologist I was making terrific progress. But the ironic thing about the surgery and the news that I was apparently going to make old bones after all was that I felt mortal in a way that I hadn’t for the last fifteen years.

Tomkins pussyfooted up to delicately head-butt me.

“Hi,” I said.

He blinked his wide, almond-shaped green gold eyes at me and meowed. He had a surprisingly quiet meow. Not as annoying as most cats. Not that I was an expert--nor did I plan on becoming one. I was just loaning a fellow bachelor my pad. The cat--kitten, really--was also convalescing. He’d been mauled by a dog three weeks earlier. His bounce back was better than mine.

I stroked him absently as he wriggled around and tried to bite my fingers. Apparently there was some truth to the wisdom about petting a cat to lower your blood pressure, because I could feel my heart rate slowing, calming--which was pretty good considering how pissed off I was getting at being kept on hold in the middle of an emergency.

Granted, it wasn’t much of an emergency at this point. My intruder was surely long gone.

I chewed my lip, listened once more to the message advising me to stay on the line and help would soon be with me. Assuming I’d still be alive to take that call.

I hung up and dialed another number. A number that I had memorized long ago. A number that seemingly would require acid wash to remove from the memory cells of my brain.

As the phone rang on the other end I glanced across at the clock on the bookshelf. Three oh three in the morning. Well, here was a test of true friendship.

My heart jerked again as the phone rattled off the hook.

“Riordan,” Jake managed in a voice like raked gravel.

“Uh... hey.”

“Hey.” I could feel him making the effort to push through the fog of sleep. He rasped, “How are you?”

That was pretty civil given the fact that I hadn’t spoken to him for nearly two weeks and was choosing three in the morning to reopen the lines of communication.

  I found myself instinctively straining to hear the silence behind him; was someone there with him? I couldn’t hear over the rustle of bed linens.

“I’m okay. Something happened just now. I think someone tried to break in.”

“You think?” And he was completely alert. I could hear the covers tossed back, the squeak of bedsprings.

“Someone tried to break in. He took off, but…”

“You’re back at the bookstore?”

“Yeah. I came home late this afternoon.”

“You’re there alone?”

Thank God he didn’t say it like everyone else had. Alone? As though it were out of the question. As though I were far too ill and helpless to be left to my own devices. Jake was simply looking at it from a security perspective.


“Did the security alarm go off?”


“Did you call it in?”

“I called 911, but they put me on hold.”

“At three o’clock in the morning?” He was definitely on his feet and moving, dressing it sounded like, and I felt a wave of guilty relief. Regardless of how complicated our relationship was--and it was fairly complicated--there was no one I knew better at dealing with this kind of thing. Whatever this kind of thing was.

Which I guess said more than I realized right there.

Jake said crisply, “Hang up and call 911 again. Stay on the line with them. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I said gruffly, “Thanks, Jake.”

Just like that. I had called and he was coming to the rescue. Unexpectedly, a wave of emotion--reaction--hit me. One of the weird aftereffects of my surgery. I struggled with it as he said, “I’m on my way,” and disconnected.

* * * * *

I went down to meet him, taking the stairs slowly, taking my time. From above I had a birds eye view of the book floor. I could see where the bargain book table had been toppled. Otherwise everything looked pretty much as normal: same comfortable chairs, fake fireplace, tall walnut shelves of books, same enigmatic smiles of the kabuki masks on the wall.

I unlocked the door, pushed open the security gate, which he’d knelt to examine. “You didn’t have to come down. I’d have gone around to the s--” Jake broke off. He rose and said oddly, “Déjà vu.”

I didn’t get it for a second, and then I did. Echoes of the first time we’d met; although “met” was kind of a polite word for turning up as a suspect in someone’s murder investigation.

Uncombed, unshaven, I was even dressed the same: jeans and bare feet. I’d thrown a leather jacket on partly because, despite the warmth of a July night, I felt chilled, and partly because I didn’t want to treat him to the vision of the seam down the middle of my chest from open heart surgery. Not that Jake hadn’t seen it when he visited me in the hospital, but it looked different out of context. The bullet hole in my shoulder was ugly enough; the incision from the base of my collar bone down through my breast bone was shocking. I found it shocking, anyway.

 I said awkwardly, “Thanks again for coming.”

He nodded.

For a moment we stared at each other. These last weeks couldn’t have been easy on Jake, and not because I’d asked him to give me a little time, a little space before we tried to figure out where we stood. He’d resigned from LAPD, come out to his family, and asked his wife for a divorce. But he looked unchanged. Reassuringly unchanged. I think I’d feared…well, I’m not sure. That he’d be harrowed by regret. For his entire adult life he’d fought to defend that closet he inhabited. Been willing to sacrifice almost everything to protect it. I couldn’t help thinking he’d take to being out like a fish to desert sand.

But he looked okay. No, be honest. He looked a lot better than okay. He looked…fine. Fine as in get the Chiffons over here to sing a chorus.  Big, blonde, ruggedly handsome in a trial-by-fire way. He was very lean, all hard muscle and powerful bone. Maybe there was more silver at his temples, but there was a calmness in his tawny eyes that I’d never seen before.

Under that light, steady gaze I felt suddenly self-conscious. It was weird to think that for the first time in all the time I’d known him there was nothing to keep us from being together but the question of whether we both really wanted it.

He asked matter-of-factly, “Do you know why the alarm didn’t go off?”

“It wasn’t set.”

A quick drawing of his dark brows. He opened his mouth, but I beat him to it. “We haven’t been setting it while the construction has been going on next door.”

“Tell me you’re kidding.”

He already knew I wasn’t. “The city threatened to fine me because we had too many false alarms. The construction crew usually arrives before we open the shop and they kept triggering it. So I thought…just until the construction was completed…”

 His silence said it all--happily, because I was pretty sure if Jake got started we’d be there all night.

“I think he must have come in from the side,” I said, turning to lead the way.

He followed me across the front of the tall aisles. I pointed out where an end cap had been knocked over. “Only the emergency lights were on and he crashed into that.” I nodded to the fallen bargain table, the landslide of spilled books. “And there.”

We reached the clear plastic wall dividing Cloak and Dagger Books from the gutted other half of the building. Staring from one side to the other was like peering through murky water. I could just make out the ladders and scaffolds like the ribs of a mythological beast. I directed Jake’s attention to the long five foot slit through the plastic near the wall.

“Good call,” he said grimly.

I’d have happily been wrong. “The contractor told me that that side of the building would be secured with special locks. Construction locks.”

He was already shaking his head. “Look at this.” He stooped, pushing through the slit in the plastic and I followed him into the darkened other side of the building. It smelled chilly and weird on that side of the building. A mixture of fresh plaster, new wood, and dust. We picked our way through the hurdles of drop cloths and wooden horses and cement mixer to the door on the far wall. It swung open at his touch.

“Great,” I said bitterly.

“Yep.” He showed me the core in the center of the exterior handle. I could just make out that it was painted, though I couldn’t actually make out a color. “See that?”

I nodded.

“It’s a construction core. That’s a temporary core used by contractors on construction sites. They’re all combinated the same, or mostly the same, which means that if someone gets hold of a key, they’ve got a key to just about every construction core in the city.”

“Better and better.”

He shut the door and relocked it. “As security goes, this is one step above leaving the door standing wide open.”

I swallowed. Nodded.

“Whoever broke in may have been watching the place and was aware that no one’s been here at night.”

I said, “I already checked the register and there’s no sign it’s been tampered with.”

“It might have been kids prowling around.” He didn’t sound convinced and I knew why.

“Trying to break into my flat was…”

“Pretty aggressive,” Jake agreed. “But, again, I think that probably gets back to the mistaken belief that no one was here. No one has been here at night for three weeks, so it was a reasonable assumption.”

I absorbed that. “This might not have been the first time he was prowling around in here.”


“I don’t know that Natalie would notice the slice in the plastic wall. Hell, I don’t know if she’d have noticed a cartoon silhouette of someone bursting through.”

Sort of unfair to Natalie; Jake snorted, grimly amused.

All at once I was exhausted. Mentally and physically and emotionally drained dry. I didn’t seem to have much in the way of physical resources these days and this break-in felt like way more than I could begin to handle.

Jake opened his mouth but stopped. Through the dirty glass of the bay window we watched a squad car pull up, lights flashing, though there was no siren.

Better late than never, I guess.

I felt Jake looking at me. “You okay? You’re shaking.”


“And heart surgery.” He took a deep breath. “Go upstairs.  I’ll take care of this.”

There it was again. That weird new emotionalism. The littlest things seemed to choke me up. Like this. Like Jake offering to talk to the cops for me.

Except this wasn’t a little thing. Jake, who had hid his sexuality from his brother law enforcement for nearly twenty years, who had been unwilling for people to even know we were friends, who had very nearly succumbed to blackmail and more to keep that secret…was offering to stand here in my place and talk to these cops -- and let them think whatever they chose to about us and our relationship.

I’m not sure what was stranger: the fact that he was making the offer or that I was ready to start crying over it.

I cleared my throat. “I can handle it.”

He met my gaze.  “I know you can. I’d like to do this for you.”

Fuck. He did it again. It had to be that I was overtired and still shaken by the break-in. I worked to keep my face and voice from showing anything I was feeling, managing a brusque nod.

The cops, a man and a woman in uniform, were getting out their car. I turned and started back through ladders and wooden horses and scaffolds.

* * * * *

I was sitting on the sofa, sleeping, with the cat on my lap, when Jake let himself into the flat.

I must have been snoring because the soft sound of the door shutting seemed to come like a clap of thunder in wake of a windstorm. The cat sprang from my lap. I sat up, closed my mouth, wiped my eyes, and when I blearily opened them Jake stood over me looking unreasonably alert for four in the morning.

“Was that a cat I saw running into your bedroom?”

I cleared my throat. “Was it?”

“It looked like it.” He sat down on the sofa next to me, and every muscle in my body immediately clenched tight in nervous reaction. I didn’t feel ready for…whatever this was liable to be.

I said lightly, “Maybe the building is haunted.”

“Could be.” He seemed to study my face with unusual attention. “Your burglary complaint is filed. Tomorrow, first thing, you need to tell that contractor to get real locks on those doors. In fact, I’d advise you to change all the locks on both sides of the building.”

I nodded wearily. “I’ve been trying to think what he was after.”

“The usual things.”

“Then why not break into the cash register?”

“An empty cash register? Why?”

Good point. No point robbing the till after the day’s bank drop had been made. I must be more tired than I thought. Jake apparently had the same idea because he said, “I thought you’d be in bed by now.”

“I’m on my way. I just wanted to thank you…”

He said gravely, “Don’t mention it. I’m glad you called me. I’ve been wondering how you’re doing.”

My gaze fell. “I’m all right.” There was so much to say and yet I couldn’t seem to think of anything. “I’m getting there. The worst part is being tired all the time.”

“Yeah.” I knew he saw right through me.


When I didn’t continue he said, “I know. I know it’s a lot to ask. Probably too much, although I won’t pretend I’m not hoping.”

Forgiveness. That’s what he was talking about. Forgiveness for any number of things, I guess. I was talking about something completely different.

I shook my head. “It isn’t... I don’t know how to explain this. It’s not you, though. It’s me.”

He waited with that new calm, that new certainty in his eyes. He was expecting me to drop the ax on him. I could see that. He had been expecting it since the last time we spoke in the hospital and I’d asked him to give me time. That’s what he had expected when he answered my cry for help tonight--what he still expected--but he had come anyway.

Was that guilt or love or civic responsibility? He was the best friend I’d ever had--and the worst.

I said, “This isn’t going to make sense to you because it doesn’t make sense to me. I know how lucky I am. I do. I know I’m getting a second chance, and even though I feel like utter shit at the moment, I know I’m getting well and I’m going to be okay. Better than okay. That’s what my doctors keep telling me, and I know that I should be really happy and really relieved. But I-I can’t seem to feel anything right now.”

Nothing from Jake. Not that I blamed him. What was he supposed to make of that speech?

I concluded lamely, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

 “There’s nothing wrong with you.” He wasn’t comforting me; it was more like one scientist debating another’s hypothesis. “You feel what you feel. You’re allowed.”

It was getting harder to go on, but I felt I had to be honest with him. “I was happy enough with Guy, but I don’t want Guy. I don’t want... anyone. Right now.”

There was another pause after he heard me out. He said, “Okay.”

Apparently it was that easy. I wasn’t sure if what I felt was relief or disappointment.

I heard myself say, awkwardly, “I just felt like I should--”

“Got it.” Was there an edge to his tone? He still looked calm. Actually, he looked concerned. He said, “Why don’t you go to bed, Adrien? I’ve seen snowmen with more color in their faces. You need sleep. So do I. In fact, I’m going to spend what’s left of the night on your couch.”

I said, despite my instant relief, “You don’t have to do that.”

“I know, Greta. You vant to be alone. But unless your need for space prohibits a friend crashing on the sofa, that’s what I’m doing.”

I didn’t have the energy to argue with him--or myself. I nodded, pushed off the sofa and headed for the bedroom. “There are blankets in the linen cupboard.”

“I remember.”

A thought suddenly occurred to me. I paused in the doorway, turning back to him.


He was in the process of tugging off a boot. He glanced up. “Yeah?”

“Downstairs. With the cops. Was it okay?”

It seemed to take him a second to understand my concern. He smiled--the first real smile I’d seen from him in a very long time.

“Yes,” he said. “It was okay.”

Stranger Things Have Happened: An Adrien English Write Your Own Damn Story #6
"Bring the prisoner to my cabin," Captain English drawls, sliding his cutlass into its scabbard and absently straightening the snowy cuffs of his linen shirt.

(Psst! YOU'RE Captain English! Remember? Don't just stand there gaping. This isn't a movie.)

You saunter ahead of your men as they hustle the still struggling, big, blond, Royal Naval officer across the rolling deck and down a narrow stairway. The scent of timber and tar mingle with sweat and gunpowder. The ship murmurs to herself in anticipation. The battle has been fought, the spoils won.

You reach your cabin, throw open the door, and your prisoner is hurled inside your richly appointed quarters. Watery blue light filters through the three sides of massive windows, hundreds of glittering prisms created by diamond-shaped panes of glass. Your prisoner sprawls and lands face first on the sumptuous purple Persian carpet. The chart table is littered with rolled and unrolled maps, your compass, your spyglass. Carved and lacquered chests are brimming over with books, for when you're not marauding the high seas, you like to curl up with a good murder mystery.

You nod for your men to retreat. They hesitate, but you wave them off impatiently. In addition to your cutlass, you carry a pistol in the pocket of your greatcoat. You're not worried about whether you can handle one slightly-the-worse-for-wear salty sea dog.

The door closes quietly behind First Mate Angus Gordon. Your prisoner lies where he has fallen. You watch the slow, steady rise and fall of his broad, muscular back beneath the torn and blackened rags of his shirt. Under those dashingly tight black breeches, the man's arse is taut and perfectly formed. Hunger flicks to life inside you. If you're perfectly honest, thathunger never fully sleeps.

"Welllll, my treasure," you say in a voice that isn't quite as steady and hard as you might wish. "Would you like to tell me your name?"

Your prisoner raises his head. His hair is guinea gold, his eyes are the green gilt of ancient Venetian beads. "Lieutenant James Patrick Riordan," he rasps in a voice like rough velvet.

"Ah, Irish," you murmur. "I've no quarrel with the Irish."

"But I've a quarrel with you, Captain English. I'm a servant of Her Majesty the Queen," Riordan says.

He appears to be serious. His eyes glitter dangerously as they meet yours. Your smile widens.

"I see. Well, you know how this works. You can join up with me and my crew -- if I may say, we do offer one of the finest benefit packages this side of the equator, including comprehensive health care and retirement plans -- or I can slit your gullet here and now. Your choice."

"Feel free to try and slit my gullet," Riordan says and jackknifes into a fighting position.

Not again. Maybe it's your presentation? Maybe PowerPoint would help?

Riordan sidesteps and begins to circle you.

You sigh. He's a large man. Shoulders wide as a gangplank. Fit. Very fit. But as you've noted over the years, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. You drop to your haunches, and yank the carpet out from under his big flat feet.

Lieutenant Riordan crashes down just like the mast of his ship fell beneath your cannon ball. He conks his handsome golden head against the sturdy leg of your chart table and it's lights-out for all hands.

By the time your prisoner regains consciousness, you have him tied and spread-eagled on your big comfy pirate bed. He tugs experimentally at one of the silk scarves looped around the carved bedpost.

You finish lighting the lamps, undress, and join him in the soft cloud of plum lambs wool blankets and paisley satin sheets. Tiny flames dance in the frosted amber globes, casting warm shadows over his sleek, limber body.

"Don't even think about it," Riordan warns. His voice is low, fierce.

You stroke a delicate finger over the curve of his buttock, and he shivers. "But I have been thinking about it. I've been thinking about it ever since I saw you slit my midshipman's throat," you purr.

Riordan chokes out, "You seem to have an unseemly preoccupation with slits and slitting, Captain English."

A bubble of laughter rises in your throat. You swallow it. You haven't had such fun in a long while. "How very right you are, Lieutenant."

If you want to sail ahead to the part where the pirate ship appears on the horizon, turn to page 28

Or you can always turn to page 50

So This is Christmas #7
Chapter One
“You don’t remember me, do you?” 

I looked up from the latest love note sent by the California State Franchise Tax Board and offered what I hoped was a pleasant smile. Between the taxes, the jetlag, and the unwelcome discovery that my soon-to-be-demoted store-manager stepsister was using the flat above Cloak and Dagger Books as some kind of love shack, pleasant was about the most I could manage. 

Medium height. Blond. Boyish. As I stared into an eerily familiar pair of green eyes, recognition washed over me. Recognition and astonishment. 

“Kevin? Kevin O’Reilly?” I came around the mahogany front desk that served as my sales counter to give him a… well, probably a hail-fellow-well-met sort of hug, but Kevin didn’t move. He grinned widely, nodded, and then— unexpectedly— his face twisted like he was about to burst into tears. 

“Adrien English. It’s really you.” His voice wobbled. 

“Hey,” I said. I was responding to the wobble. My tone was a cross between warm and bracing. Alarmed, in other words. 

Kevin recovered at once. “It’s only… I figured it couldn’t be the right store. Or if it was, you’d have sold the business and moved to Florida.” 

“Moved to Florida?” Did anybody move from Southern California to Florida? Did Kevin remember me as an elderly Jewish retiree? No. Kevin was just talking, mouth moving while he stared at me with those forlorn eyes. Trying to make his mind up. 

About what? 

He looked… older, of course. Who didn’t? And thinner. And tired. He looked unhappy. There was a surprising amount of that during the holidays. And even more after Christmas. Which is what this was. The day after Christmas. 

Boxing Day, if we had stayed in London. 

Which we hadn’t. 

“Wow. This really is a surprise,” I said. “Is it a coincidence? Or were you actually looking for me?” 

“Yes.” Kevin hesitated. “No.” 

I laughed. “Good answer.” 

Kevin opened his mouth but changed his mind at the thump of footsteps pounding down the staircase to our left. 

Natalie, my previously mentioned stepsis and soon-to-be-demoted store manager, appeared, looking uncharacteristically disheveled— though I’ve been duly informed that smudged eye makeup and “bed head” is a real thing and supposedly sexy. Angus, my other business investment mistake, was on her heels. Right on her heels. In fact, they nearly crashed down the staircase in their hurry to stop me from whatever they thought I was about to do. 

“Adrien, it’s not what you think!” Natalie clutched the banister as Angus lurched past her.

Why do people always say that? 

I spluttered, “Seriously? Really? Are you kidding me, Nat?” Angus, having avoided knocking Natalie down, promptly tripped over Tomkins, the beige alley cat I’d rescued six months earlier. The cat was apparently also fleeing my wrath, though he’d been the only innocent party at that… party. 

I held my breath as Angus managed to hurdle the last three steps and deliver a barely qualifying 12.92 landing on the ground floor. 

I glared at him. “And you. You stay out of my sight.” 

He shrank inside his gray hoodie like a retiring monk, which he was demonstrably not. Note to self: next time hire a headless monk. 

“I’m fired?” he gulped. 

Natalie gasped. “

Hell no, you’re not fired. In the middle of the holidays? Wait. Maybe you are fired. I have to think about it. Meantime maybe you could bring yourself to reshelve the week’s worth of books sitting on this cart?” 

Angus leaped to obey. 

“It’s not a week’s worth,” Natalie said with a show of defiance. “You haven’t been gone a week. That’s two days’ worth, and we didn’t have time to reshelve because we were busy selling books.” 

“And you were busy not selling books. But we’ll discuss it later.” 

“Fine. Okay. Yes, Mr. Scrooge, we did take Christmas off.” 

“And other things too, it seems, but like I said, we’ll discuss later. Right now we have customers.” 

She looked at Kevin.

“Not him.”

“Where?” she demanded, mutiny in her blue eyes. Flecks of green glitter dusted her model-like cheekbones. 

Right on cue, the bells on the door chimed in silvery welcome, and I had to smother a grin at her irate expression as a pair of elderly, male professorial types wandered in, each clutching what looked ominously like bags of books for return. 

“Want to grab a cup of coffee?” I asked Kevin, who had observed the last three minutes in astonished silence. 

“Sure,” Kevin said. 

“We’ll let these two get their story straight before I cross-examine them.” 

“Oh, so funny,” Natalie muttered. 

I did laugh then, although she was right. It wasn’t funny, and Natalie + Angus was an unexpected and unwelcome equation both in the work place and every other place I could think of. Which is why it seemed like a good idea to step away before I said things I might regret. 

Plus I desperately needed caffeine. To add to their other offenses, Natalie and Angus had pinched every last coffee bean in the building. I’d had to choose between coffee and nine more minutes with Jake that morning. Which went predictably. My gaze veered automatically to the clock on the faux fireplace mantel. Jake ought to be walking into his meeting about now. He’d headed out to meet a client as I’d left for the bookstore. We were hoping to rendezvous for lunch— and just the idea of that, of being able to casually meet Jake for lunch, instantly warmed me. 

We left Natalie distractedly greeting customers, and I led the way out of the store into the damp, chilly Monday morning. The smell of last night’s rain mingled with street smells. The gutters brimmed with oily water, and the street was black and slick. The fake evergreen garland and tinsel-fringed boulevard banners looked woebegone and windblown— like they’d gone to bed without taking their makeup off. 

All the same, it felt weirdly festive. Like the dark side of Christmas.

“Is it always like that?” Kevin asked as we jogged across the already busy intersection. 

“More or less. I prefer less.” I threw him a sideways smile. His brows drew together. “You haven’t changed at all.” 

“Now there you’re wrong.” 

“No, but I mean you look exactly the same. You look great.” 

“Thanks. It’s the Wheaties.” And the successful heart surgery. Being happy probably didn’t hurt either. I pointed down the street at the blue and white umbrellas crowding the sidewalk in front of the indie coffeehouse, and we veered from the crosswalk and hopped the brimming gutter, just missing getting splashed— or worse— by a Mercedes who didn’t notice the crosswalk or us. 

I said, “How long has it been? Three years?” 

“About. It feels like thirteen.” He looked like it had been thirteen. There were shadows beneath his eyes and lines in his face even though he couldn’t be much more than twenty-eight. Out of college and doing archeology for a living? Could you make a living doing archeology? 

Probably as easily as you could selling books for a living. 

“So how’ve you been?” I prodded his sudden and complete silence. “How was your holiday?” 

His face twisted again. “If you’d asked me last week—” 

We’d reached the coffeehouse. I held the short, wrought-iron gate for Kevin, and as we reached the glass door entrance I gave him an encouraging shoulder squeeze— hold-that-thought! The life-affirming fragrance of hot coffee and baked goods wafted out. 

“Find us a table.” I headed for the mercifully short line. “What do you want?” 

“I don’t care,” he said. “A tall, pumpkin spice latte with caramel drizzle and no foam.” 

Uh-huh, as the philosophers say. 

“Got it.” 

I placed our orders and eventually located Kevin at a tiny table behind a large potted tree festooned with red bows and white fairy lights. He had his head in his hands, which is never a good sign in someone you’re planning to have coffee with. 

I pulled out the chair across from him. “Something tells me this is about more than not getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” 

The words came out muffled behind his hands. “I don’t know where to start.” 

I sighed mentally. I’m all for extra helpings of comfort and joy this time of year, but I was more than a bit sleep deprived, and I was worried about the situation with Natalie and Angus. Still. 

“Start at the beginning. What are you doing in my neck of the woods? Are you visiting family?” 

“No. My family’s all up north.” He raised his head and took a deep breath. “I’m looking for someone.” 


“Ivor. I’ve checked the hospitals, the morgue. The police won’t help because his family won’t report him missing and he’s an adult. They say he’s got a right to disappear if he wants.” 

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “Ivor is…?” 


“Right. I mean, who or what is Ivor to you?” 

“He’s my boyfriend.” 

“Oh, that’s great!” Possibly I sounded overly enthused, but as I recalled, Jake had not taken kindly to Kevin’s, er, boyish interest in me. Or mine in him. Not that I’d ever really been interested in Kevin.

Anyway, it was all a long time ago. 

“Yes. It was. Is. And that’s why—” Kevin broke off as the barista brought our coffees and a couple of pastries on a tray. 

In a mystery novel, that would have been the point at which a silencer would have appeared through the branches of the potted tree to take out Kevin, but in real life we just waited politely until she departed. 

“Have some baklava,” I said, “and let’s walk this back a few steps. Ivor is your boyfriend, and he came down south to spend the holidays with his family, and now he’s missing?” 

“Yes. Right. Exactly.” Kevin reached for a slice of baklava. 

“And his family is saying… what?” 


“Meaning they won’t talk to you or they don’t have any information?” 

Kevin chewed like a threshing machine and spit out, “Both.” 

“It can’t be both.” 

“First they said he wasn’t there. Then they stopped talking to me.” 

“Ah. So you think—” 

“He didn’t change his mind about us! I know he’s there. Something happened while he was down here visiting them.” 

Yep. And that something had led Ivor to change his mind about being with Kevin. Been there and done that. And honestly, it had all turned out for the best. As painful as it had been getting dumped by Mel, I didn’t regret a minute of that heartbreak because my path had ultimately led to Jake. 

I didn’t try to tell Kevin that, though. I didn’t tell him if it was meant to be, it would happen. I didn’t reassure him about all the fish in the sea. Because it doesn’t help when you’re in love with a particular fish. 

“What do you think happened?” I asked. 

“I don’t know.” 

“Realistically, I mean.” 

“Realistically, I don’t know. Nothing they could say would make any difference to him. I know Ivor. I know he loves me.” I have to admit his absolute certainty was convincing. Or maybe it was just poignant.

I said tentatively, because sometimes hearing it aloud jolts you back to reality, “Do you think he’s being held against his will?” 

“Maybe.” He said it more in challenge than in belief. 

“What do you think would be the purpose of that?” 

“Maybe they would try to force him into conversion therapy? They’re really conservative. I mean like something out of the nineties.” 

“Uh…” Presumably he didn’t mean 1890s. 

“I didn’t even think normal people could feel that way now,” he said all wide-eyed and shocked-looking. Seven years wasn’t a generation, but Kevin had grown up in a different world than me. Certainly a different world than Jake. 

“I’m not sure how normal they are if they’re really holding their son against his will so that they can force him into conversion therapy.” 

“I mean normal-seeming. People who live in the real world. Who’ve been to college. Who have jobs. Friends. Who have money.” 

That caught my attention. “They have money?” 

“A lot of money.” He said it with complete disgust. 

“What’s Ivor’s last name?” I asked. 


“Arbuckle? As in Candace and Benjamin Arbuckle?” 

Kevin watched me, torn between hope and unease. “Right. Why? Do you know them?” 

“My mother knows them. I went to school with Terrill.” 

I hadn’t thought of Terrill in years. And I’d have been happy to go on never thinking of him. 

Kevin was staring at me expectantly. I admitted, “I vaguely remember Ivor. There was a sister too, I think.” 

“Jacintha. Yes.” Kevin continued to wait for my pronouncement.

I didn’t have a pronouncement. If I did, it would be something along the lines of Run for the hills! Terrill and I had been doubles partners on the tennis team back in high school. He was a good player but a total prick off the court. Happily, once my health had sidelined me, I’d never had to deal with Terrill again. As in literally never. I’d never seen or heard from him again after I got sick. 

Terrill Arbuckle as an in-law was something I wouldn’t wish on anyone— or at least not the Terrill Arbuckle I’d known back then. And I couldn’t imagine the rest of the clan was any better. That was an assumption. I didn’t know it for a fact. Maybe Ivor was the white sheep of the family. 

Kevin gazed beseechingly at me with those wide green eyes. He said huskily, “Do you— could you— can you help me, Adrien?” 

“Me? Well, I don’t know how much help I’d be. I do know—” 

“You saved me,” Kevin broke in, and he sounded startlingly passionate about it. “I’d have gone to prison for murder if you hadn’t stepped in three years ago. Nobody else believed me. Only you. Well, also Melissa. Anyway, I never got the chance to tell you. Never got the chance to say thank you.” 

“That’s okay. You didn’t have to.” 

“When I saw your bookstore, it was like a sign. I mean, I know that probably sounds crazy, but I was driving around feeling so— so desperate and alone, and then when I saw you, I knew it would be okay. I knew you would help. That I’d managed to find the one person who could help.” 

“Okay, but wait,” I said quickly. “First of all, you’re welcome for three years ago. I couldn’t have done that on my own, though. And really the same goes for now. I’d like to help, but probably the most helpful thing I can do is put you in touch with someone who can get you some answers.” 

“Who?” Kevin asked blankly. 

I smiled. Because even in these not very cheerful circumstances, knowing I could call on Jake for help, could count on Jake now and forever, filled me with… happiness. 

Yeah. Happiness.

“Jake Riordan,” I answered.

Author Bio:
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.


Fatal Shadows #1

A Dangerous Thing #2

The Hell You Say #3

Death of a Pirate King #4

The Dark Tide #5

Stranger Things Have Happened:
An Adrien English Write Your Own Damn Story #6

So This is Christmas #7