Saturday, August 6, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Holmes & Moriarity by Josh Lanyon

Somebody Killed His Editor #1
The road back to bestsellerdom can be deadly.

Thanks to an elderly spinster sleuth and her ingenious cat, Christopher Holmes has enjoyed a celebrated career as a bestselling mystery writer. Until now. Sales are down and his new editor is allergic to geriatric gumshoes.

On the advice of his agent, he reinvents his fortyish, frumpy, recently dumped self into the sleek, sexy image of a literary lion, and heads for a Northern California writers conference to try and resurrect his career. A career nearly as dead as the body he stumbles over in the woods.

In a weirdly déjà vu replay of one of his own novels, he finds himself stranded in an isolated lodge full of frightened women—and not a lawman in sight. Except for J.X. Moriarity, former cop and bestselling novelist. The man with whom he shared a one-night stand—okay, maybe three—long ago. The man who wants to arrest him for murder.

A ruthless, stalking killer, or a hot, handsome ex-lover. Which poses the greater danger? It’s elementary, my dear Holmes!

Re-Read 2016:
I think I loved this even more the second time around. Kit and JX still aren't Adrien and Jake from her Adrien English series but they are definitely giving them a run for their money. Love the way they play off each other. Even knowing the mystery doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment. Somebody Killed His Editor, simply put, is just plain fun!

Original Review 2014:
I enjoyed this book although not as much as I enjoyed the author's Adrien English or Dangerous Ground series but it was still very good. You couldn't help but love Christopher as he found himself in the middle of a real life Agatha Christie style murder weekend. Considering he writes murder mysteries and yet has never had any "first hand" experience of the subject, he handled himself quite well.


All She Wrote #2
Giving screwball mystery a whole deadly new meaning.

A murderous fall down icy stairs is nearly the death of Anna Hitchcock, the much-beloved American Agatha Christie and Christopher Holmes's former mentor. Anna's plea for him to host her annual winter writing retreat touches all Kit's sore spots: traveling, teaching writing classes, and separation from his new lover, J.X. Moriarity.

For J.X., Kit's cancellation of yet another romantic weekend is the death knell of a relationship that has been limping along for months. But that s just as well, right? Kit isn't ready for anything serious and besides, Kit owes Anna far too much to refuse.

Faster than you can say Miss Marple wears boxer shorts, Kit is snooping around Anna's elegant, snowbound mansion in the Berkshires for clues as to who's trying to kill her. A tough task with six amateur sleuths underfoot, six budding writers with a tangled web of dark undercurrents running among them.

Slowly, Kit gets the uneasy feeling that the secret may lie between the pages of someone's fictional past. Unfortunately, a clever killer is one step ahead. And it may be too late for J.X. to ride to the rescue.

Warning: Contains one irascible, forty-year-old mystery writer who desperately needs to get laid, one exasperated thirty-something ex-cop only too happy to oblige, an isolated country manor that needs the thermostat cranked up, various assorted aspiring and perspiring authors, and a merciless killer who may have read one too many mystery novels.

Re-Read Reveiw 2016:
Still love Kit & JX! Even remembering the who, what, where, & why didn't diminish my enjoyment of this installment in the Holmes & Moriarity series.

Original Review 2014:
Even better than Somebody Killed His Editor! Amazing mystery, interesting characters, and of course even more of Holmes & Moriarity together. A must read for Josh Lanyon fans.


The Boy with the Painful Tattoo #3
It’s moving day at Chez Holmes.

Somehow, against Kit’s better instincts, he and J.X. are setting up house together. But while J.X. is off at a writing conference, Kit unpacks a crate that should contain either old books or new china.

It doesn’t.

Within the mounds of Styrofoam popcorn is a dead body.

A very dead body.

There goes the neighborhood.

Re-Read 2016:
Once again, even better the second time around.

Original Review 2014:
Not only does Kit have to deal with moving in with his boyfriend, JX but now he's dealing with a dead body and way too much intrigue that goes along with said body. On top of that, he seems to have acquired a stalker. How will he deal with it and which will bring him more stress, the dead body, the stalker, or the live-in lover? I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of JX's ex-wife but I love how Kit deals with the nephew, Gage. I applaud his attempt to deal with the ex, she doesn't make it easy or even really make an effort but Kit does, which is actually very "un-Kit" of him.

Once again, Ms. Lanyon has not disappointed her readers, definitely not this reader. So when can we expect #4? (hint, hint-hope, hope) I really enjoyed the cameo appearance of another of Josh Lanyon's star amateur detectives, Adrien English and his boyfriend Jake Riordan and Adrien's bookstore Cloak and Dagger.


Somebody Killed His Editor #1
Chapter One
I can understand suffering for one’s art—but dying? Not really my style.

But death did appear to be on the day’s program judging by the groaning sounds from the bridge beneath me. I grabbed for the rain-slick wood railing with my free hand and stared down. A churning brown froth of mud, rocks and tree branches battered against the sagging pilings. I made groaning sounds of my own.

My disabled silver Lexus sat on the opposite side of the swaying bridge—too far to turn back now. I clung to the rail as the bridge heaved. Rain came down in glinting needles. I squinted, trying to make out the opposite bank. I couldn’t see it.

As I hesitated, the decision was made for me. The bridge shuddered and then ripped partially away from its moorings. I had no choice but to race for the other side, clunk, clunk, clunking unevenly along in impractical Bruno Magli boots, and trying not to trip as my obscenely heavy suitcase banged against my knee, my bulging carryall bouncing from my hip to my butt.

I could hear the voice of Rachel, my agent, ringing in my ears. “It won’t kill you to dress up for once.”

Famous last words. Me and my career, both dead in one week.

Clunkclunk, clunkclunk, clunkclunk…

Over the roar of the flood I could hear the shriek of joints giving way (luckily not my own) and splintering wood. The slats beneath my feet seemed to fall away. I pictured myself as one of those cartoon characters, legs bicycling in empty air for a few seconds before gravity kicks in. I ran harder—like the cartoon characters always do.

I’d known this weekend was a mistake from the moment Rachel had suggested it. I’d known, but I had ignored my instincts. And now I was well in the lead for this year’s Darwin Award.

The bridge returned, rippling beneath my clattering feet.

Clunkclunkclunkclunkclunkclunkclunk… My boots telegraphed panic.

Nobody was going to believe this. Hopefully. Hopefully nobody would believe that I was this stupid. Well, first off, nobody was going to believe I’d voluntarily gone to a writers retreat. I was going to wind up as an episode in Unsolved Mysteries.

I could practically hear Robert Stack now, solemnly spelling it out for the at-home viewers.

“But questions remain. Why would Christopher Holmes choose to cross a rickety old half-flooded bridge on foot after deeming it unsafe to drive across? Why would the forty—er—thirty-nine-year-old author of numerous award-winning mysteries have agreed to visit a remote writers retreat in California wine country when friends and family agree Christopher loathed writers conferences and red wine always gave him a headache? And why would this reasonably intelligent and supposedly sane man have spent SO GODD***ED MUCH MONEY ON A PAIR OF BOOTS THAT WERE PROBABLY GOING TO PROVE THE DEATH OF HIM?”

Robert Stack’s God-like voice had to shout to be heard over the boom of water and eroding earth. I lumbered along like a drunken pack mule, listing from side to side under the weight of my luggage, and to my own astonishment I felt the wooden planks give way to…mud. Mud and grass. My toes sank into the turf like rock-climbing crampons holding my wildly teetering self safely in place.

I was on the other side.

I was alive.

I clambered up the uneven slope and turned back to see the wooden bridge that connected Blue Heron Lodge to the outside world half-submerged beneath the flooded creek. Brush, boulders and bedraggled saplings rammed against the fallen structure and spun away to be washed downstream.

My legs gave out, and I collapsed on top of my bags. Shock, I guess. Not to mention more exercise than I’d had in the past five years. Cold rain peppered my head and face. I clutched my bags as though they contained all my worldly possessions, which to all intents and purposes they did. Fortunately there were enough extra clothes stuffed in there to make shelters for a dozen refugees, which is what I felt like.

I checked my watch. Four o’clock. It seemed later thanks to the lousy weather. One thing for sure. I didn’t want to be wandering around here in the dark. I hauled myself to my feet. Why the hell hadn’t I thought to grab the map when I bailed out of the car?

The lodge was nowhere to be seen. That would have been too easy. I mean, why would anyone want to house writers within walking distance—or even sight—of a main road? You might have scribes going AWOL, fleeing rubber round steak and limp lettuce for local fast-food joints—or bars—skipping out on workshops given by equally desperate colleagues, or, God forbid, deciding that their time would be better spent writing rather than paying money to talk about writing.

A crooked dirt road led up and over a small pine-covered hill that seemed to vanish into the low, sullen skies.

I picked up my suitcases and hobbled toward the hill. The distant tang of the sea and the smell of wood smoke hung in the air.

After a few yards of my Long-John-Silver-on-a-Bender routine, it occurred to me that quite possibly I was carrying appropriate footwear in my suitcase. I abandoned the road, evading the branches of the pine trees. The canopy provided scant protection from the downpour, deadening the sound of the rain. Kneeling in a nest of pine needles, I snapped open the locks on my suitcase, fishing around inside a pile of clothes I didn’t recognize.

I didn’t recognize them because they were brand new and had been selected by a helpful sales associate at Saks department store while I’d occupied myself scoping “the competition” at the nearby Borders. When I say “competition”, I don’t mean men who are younger, buffer and have more hair than me—I mean writers with books on the Featured Selections shelf. Bad boys and pink ladies. Dick and Chick Lit.

The new wardrobe was all part of Rachel’s master plan that I should “reinvent” myself and thus resurrect my career. I failed to understand how multi ear piercings and a new ’do could persuade Steven “Satan” Krass, my new editor at Wheaton & Woodhouse, to reconsider his decision to dump me if my track record didn’t speak for itself (eleven NYT bestsellers and over twenty awards). I couldn’t imagine what argument black leather could make, but I was desperate. And scared.

From Boy Wonder to Has Been in one easy lesson. Well, maybe not easy, and it had taken sixteen years, but I was the victim of a kind of literary middle-aged spread—and I was barely forty.

“Steven feels that the sales on the last four books were…er…rather soft,” Rachel had tried to explain. “The numbers aren’t there.”

“What numbers? Miss Butterwith Closes the Case is already in its third printing.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They weren’t renewing us? They weren’t picking up my option?

“But that’s way down from, say, the first six months of Miss Butterwith Dispenses.”

I felt numb. It had never even occurred to me that the day would come when Miss B. and I could no longer hoist ourselves over the transom.

“But everyone’s sales are down, right? That’s what I keep hearing. No one is reading, that’s what everyone says. Everyone is watching DVDs and listening to CDs and playing computer games.” Cold sweat popped out on my forehead. I felt nauseous. I don’t take rejection well. Ask my ex.

“Not everyone’s sales are down,” Rachel said carefully. And the fact that she was being careful told me everything I needed to know. In New York publishing circles Rachel Ving is known as Ving the Merciless. “Look, Christopher, the market has changed. Miss Butterwith is—”

I couldn’t bear to hear it. I had to interrupt. Portly and unfashionable though she might be, Miss Butterwith was my baby, the child of my heart. I cried, “Miss Butterwith is a classic, she’s an institution. She’s right there with Miss Silver and Hildegard Withers.” I swallowed on the last word, a kidlike gulp. I went on arguing, as though it were Rachel I had to convince.

“The critics have compared her to Miss Marple. I mean, Miss Butterwith and Mr. Pinkerton have solved more crimes than—” This wasn’t just my livelihood, this was my—well, actually considering the fact that this was my livelihood was about all I could take in. I’d sold the first Miss Butterwith straight out of college. I’d been writing the series, three books a year, for sixteen years.

“Well, maybe we should think about spinning Mr. Pinkerton off,” Rachel said, trying to be helpful.


She was still thinking out loud. “Yeah… You know, it’s not a bad idea. Crime-solving cats are still popular. Look at the Cat Who books. Maybe he could get locked in a trunk of…of…I’ve got it. Weapons of mass destruction are being shipped to the States, and Mr. Pinkerton gets trapped in one of the crates.”

My shattered silence must have said it all.

She said awkwardly, “Or maybe not. This isn’t the end of the world. You’re a very talented writer. You merely need another platform.”

Platform? How about a window ledge?

“Simply because Wheaton & Woodhouse isn’t going to pick up your contract—”

“You mean Steven Krass isn’t going to pick up my contract,” I broke in bitterly. “It’s his decision, right? He’s the Editorial Director, right?”

“It’s business, Christopher. It’s nothing personal.”

“It ought to be personal. After all the money I’ve made for them. Do you know the offers I’ve had over the years?”

Well, yeah, Rachel knew. She was my agent. She also knew no one had tried to lure me away in recent memory, but instead of pointing out this painful fact, she came up with her brilliant scheme to have me ambush my former editor at Blue Heron Lodge where he was booked to bestow divine wisdom on acolytes all weekend long.

Rachel’s idea of ambush was different from mine—less likely to land me in Tehachapi Correctional Institution. In my best consummate professional manner—whatever the hell that meant—I was going to propose a brand new and absolutely brilliant series. Now all I had to do was come up with the idea for one.

“This is the perfect opportunity to try something new,” she urged.

“I don’t want to try anything new.”

“Well, you should. You’re a thirty-something-year-old man writing about a seventy-year-old spinster and her cat. That cannot be healthy.”

I was so flattered that Rachel thought I was still in my thirties that I didn’t put up half the fight I should have.

I managed to locate one Reebok tangled in a knot of silken jockstrap (what had that kid in Saks been smoking?), found the other rudely nudging the crotch of a pair of Kenneth Cole trousers, and managed to exchange my footwear in a kind of squatting fumble, sort of like a Russian dancer after a few vodkas. As I balanced there, one hand planted in wet pine needles, one hand tugging on my boot, I caught a flash of color out of the corner of my eye.

I sank back—barely noticing that I was sitting on a pinecone—and stared. A small building sat in a clearing a few yards from me. It looked like a miniature Japanese teahouse. The shoji screen door hung drunkenly from its frame, and a bundle of rags spilled out onto the ground.

I felt the hair prickle on the back of my neck. Suddenly the woods seemed deadly silent. A single diamond drop of rain fell soundlessly from the branch in front of me. Nothing else moved.

Slowly, I got to my feet and limped past a bronze statue of the seated Buddha. As I drew near the teahouse with its broken door, the pile of rags came into sharp focus. I could pick out the glint of gold, splashes of purple and rumpled khaki, and then I knew for sure that I was looking at clothes.

Clothes and hair.

A body.

I stopped a few feet away. It was a woman. A woman with blonde hair tumbled across her face. She appeared to be wearing plum-colored pajamas beneath a khaki trench coat. Her feet were bare. Small, bare blue-white feet with red painted nails and a gold toe ring.

I took another step forward and then stopped. She wasn’t breathing. She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t the right color. You don’t have to write crime novels to recognize a dead body when you see one.

A really good clue was the broken and bloody tree branch lying an inch from the tip of my boot.

All She Wrote #2
Chapter One
“I knew it,” J.X. said. “I knew you’d do this.”

I held onto my temper, although that’s a comment guaranteed to fry anyone’s fuse—and mine isn’t the longest to start with. My fuse, I mean.

“No, you didn’t. I didn’t know I’d do this. How could I have known this would happen? Anna didn’t know this would happen. If Anna had known this would happen, I’m sure she’d have done her best to avoid falling down those twenty-two flagstone steps in her garden.”

“And if your old former mentor hadn’t taken a tumble down the garden path and needed you to fill in for her with this writing seminar in the Berkshires, you’d have come up with some other excuse for why we couldn’t get together this weekend.”

I think it was more annoying because J.X. was using that vastly reasonable tone of voice on me. Like my predictability was almost amusing. But the main reason it was annoying was because deep down inside I knew he was right. I had been thinking of possible reasons for canceling before Anna’s phone call.

I said vehemently, “Bulls**t.”

“No, it’s not.” No trace of amusement now. “I wish it was.”

“Anna needs my help. She’s got a broken ankle and busted ribs. What was I supposed to tell her? No can do. I’ve got a hot date?”



“In three months we’ve seen each other three times—two of which times you had to cut the weekend short. It’s pretty obvious that this…relationship isn’t something you want to pursue.”

My heart sank like a stone. I could almost hear the lonely little plop.

“That’s not true,” I protested. “You’re not being fair. I’m just out of one relationship. Of course I’m proceeding cautiously.”

“That I could understand. The problem is, you’re not proceeding. Three times in three months is not proceeding. Your brakes are locked and your transmission is stuck in park. I think it’s bad timing, Kit. Again.”

J.X. didn’t sound angry. He didn’t sound hurt. He sounded resigned. A little wry. And I knew he’d been thinking about this—as he waited for me to cancel yet again—and that his mind was already made up.

And that was probably for the best, right? Because it was bad timing. It was too soon after David. I wasn’t ready to start up again—let alone with a guy five years my junior. It was doubtless a good thing that one of us had the presence of mind to see that it was not going to work between us. We’d had our shot and it hadn’t taken. That was that.

So why did my heart keep foundering in that arctic bath, trying vainly to gain some kind of purchase on the icy walls?

“What are you saying?” I asked. “I’m off your Christmas card list?”

“I’m saying…” J.X. took a deep breath and I understood that it wasn’t as easy for him as I’d thought. “I’m saying that if you ever…change your mind, give me a call.”

I opened my mouth, but the words didn’t come. Not because I didn’t want to say them, but I wasn’t sure I would be saying them for the right reason—and whatever J.X. thought, I cared too much for him to say them for the wrong reason. I was trying to make my mind up when he disconnected.

Like fine wine, I do not travel well. Sure, when I was young, fresh, low in acidity and not so tannic, I was a more adventurous spirit. But at forty, divorced—or as good as—and my career having been through the shredder and back, well, let’s say I had developed a taste for home and hearth. My own home and hearth.

Especially after being involved in a homicide investigation three months earlier. Of course every cloud has its silver lining, and the bright side of my being suspected of murder was that my books, featuring intrepid spinster sleuth Miss Butterwith and her ingenious cat Mr. Pinkerton, were once again hitting the bestseller lists. Well, some of the bestseller lists. As my agent Rachel kept reminding me, platform is everything in publishing these days, and my wobbly new platform was apparently that of amateur sleuth. Which was still an improvement over my previous platform of crotchety reclusive has-been. That platform had more closely resembled a scaffold.

Anna Hitchcock was one of the few people in the world I would break my no-travel rule for. Way back when I was a student in the MFA program at UC Irvine, Anna, already touted as the American Agatha Christie, had been my professor and my advisor. She had been more. She had been a mentor and a friend. I owed my writing career—and it had been a highly successful career until recently—to Anna. So when she had called to say she desperately needed my help, even I—famous for my lack of, er, helpfulness—could hardly refuse.

Even if I’d wanted to. And I hadn’t—not least because it gave me an excellent excuse to avoid another awkward weekend with J.X.

Which was something I didn’t want to think about as I staggered off the plane at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Anna’s estate was in the Berkshires. Nitchfield, to be exact.

From what I remembered, Nitchfield was a historic small town right there at the intersection of Routes 202 and 63. It was in the heart of a region that referred to itself as “America’s Premier Cultural Resort”. The Berkshires were popular for hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, white-water rafting, antiquing, wine tasting…you-name-iting. In the fall the area was famous for its gorgeous autumn foliage.

But this wasn’t the fall. This was dead winter. February. And Nitchfield was buried under a scenic blanket of snow. Did I mention I hate driving in snow? It should go without saying. I picked up a car at Budget Rent-A-Car and proceeded north to the Asquith Estate.

I’d been there once before, more than ten years earlier. The house, designed in 1908 by noted architect Wilson Eyre, was a registered historic place. Ten thousand square feet of hand-carved chestnut wood paneling, marble staircases, limestone fireplaces, hardwood floors, and French doors opening onto fifty acres of garden and landscaped woodland. It was an authentic classic English country estate complete with tennis court, pool, garden house and a guest cottage where the writing seminars were held.

In short, the Asquith Estate was proof that some people did still earn a nice living from writing fiction. All that it lacked was someone named Bunty and a corpse in the drawing room.

I felt qualified to apply for the part of corpse after I arrived shortly before dinner. What the idea is behind combining the serving of salty packets of dry snacks and overpriced alcohol might be, other than trying to turn airline customers into desiccated fossils, I can’t imagine.

“We haven’t met.” A tall, serious-looking young blonde woman greeted me as I stood studying the stately life-sized portrait of Anna which hung over the enormous fireplace in the entry hall. She offered a cool hand. “I’m Sara Mason. Anna’s PA.”

“Lucky Anna.”

I meant lucky Anna to be able to afford a PA, but Sara gave a weary smile as though she was getting rather tired of predatory men hitting on her day in and day out. “How was your trip, Mr. Holmes?”

My trips are always horrible. That’s why I strenuously avoid traveling. I spared Sara the gruesome details, restraining myself to a mild, “I don’t think any of the passengers will actually sue. And they did eventually find my luggage.”

Sara gave me another of those polite and automatic smiles. She was taller than me, and probably about my age—it’s hard to tell with women who take care of themselves. She looked younger than I felt at the moment. Her eyes were a steely gray and her hair was that shade of blonde that is closer to white. A snow princess. I half expected to hear the tinkling sound effects for ice crystals as she beckoned me to follow her.

“Anna is upstairs. She’s anxious to see you.”

“How is she?”


“What exactly happened?”

Sara’s direct gaze faltered. “An accident. She was on her way back from the guest cottage and she slipped on the garden steps. They’re icy this time of year.” She added huskily, “It was a miracle she wasn’t killed.”

My luggage had already been whisked upstairs by well-trained minions, but I wished I had time to splash water on my face, freshen up before I faced Anna. Not that I would dare demur once the chilly Sara had given me my marching orders.

I followed her across shining parquet floors and up a marble staircase past a gallery of oil-painted nobles who I happened to know for a fact were not related to Anna. We came at last to a walnut door in the private wing of the house.

Sara tapped politely, and I recognized Anna’s rich, cultured tones bidding us enter.

The room was furnished in soft grays and muted creams. At the far end were three banks of diamond-paned bay windows half veiled by gold and cream brocade shades and valences. The windows looked out over a frozen ornamental lake. There was a seating arrangement of chairs and loveseats in front of the windows. Against another wall was a large fireplace and across from that was a king-sized bed. Anna was ensconced in the bed. She was wearing some kind of lacy, sage-green peignoir, and she reclined against a mountain of satiny pearl-gray pillows. There was a tea tray on one side of her and a computer table on the other. But she wasn’t drinking tea and she wasn’t working at her laptop. In fact, she was staring moodily up at the delicate vines and flowers of the plaster ceiling overhead.

As Sara and I walked in, she turned to face us and a bright smile lit her tired face.

“Christopher, darling. Look at you, all grown up and sophisticated. I always thought they’d bury you in jeans and a flannel shirt.” She held out a hand in greeting. Of course I’d have had to climb on top of the giant bed to take it, so I settled for circling around and bending to kiss her cheek.

“Anna. It’s been too long.”

“And it would have been longer if I hadn’t played the guilt card.” She was chuckling, and I felt the old irresistible tug of her charm. Anna would be in her sixties by now, but you’d never guess it. Her hair was still that incredible shade of fiery copper, her eyes—always her best feature—were still wide and green and striking. Her hands and face and feet were meticulously cared for—I could tell because I could see her perfectly polished toes sticking out of the cast on her left ankle.

“How did it happen?” I asked, nodding at the cast—it had several signatures scrawled on its hard shell.

“So f**king ridiculous,” Anna murmured. I’d forgotten about her potty mouth. Anna always did swear like a sailor. The rumor was the irate student reports used to send shivers through the UCI administration. It takes a lot to offend the sensibilities of your average college English major. “But never mind that. How was your trip? Did the plane have to make an emergency landing? Was your luggage lost again?”

“They found it. And our takeoff was only delayed about an hour.”

Anna said to Sara, “Christopher has the most horrendous luck traveling of anyone I know. The only way it could be worse is if the plane actually crashed.” She gave that delightful chuckle again. “Do you still have to get plastered before boarding, darling?”

“I’m much more disciplined. I wait for in-flight service now.”

“Did you need anything, Anna?” Sara inquired.

“No, darling.” Anna waved her away. As the door closed behind Sara, Anna said, “That girl is a f**king jewel. My ciggies are on the table, darling. Would you?”

I retrieved her cigarettes from the low table in front of the gray velvet loveseat by the window. There were white roses on the table and more of them in a crystal vase next to the bed. I handed Anna her gold cigarette case.

“Lighter.” She nodded to the gilt table beside the bed.

I opened the drawer and blinked at the sight of a pistol nestled beside a couple of paperbacks—all Anna’s own—an enamel pill box and a tube of AHAVA hand lotion. The pistol was a Browning Hi-Power, which I recognized from my research for Open Season on Miss Butterwith.

“Is that thing real?” I asked.

“Absolutely. Guaranteed or your money back. Straight from the laboratories by the Dead Sea in Israel. The bath salts are amazing. My skin is as soft as a baby’s behind.”

“I mean the gun.”

“Oh. Yes. It’s real. Don’t worry. I have a permit.”

I handed Anna her lighter. “I don’t remember you packing heat before.”

“Things change. How’s David?”

“We’re not together.”

She raised her eyebrows, lit her cigarette and flicked shut the lighter. “Don’t tell me you finally left him? No. Of course not. Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.” She took a long drag on her cigarette and expelled a blue stream of smoke. “Let me guess. He ran off with your neighbor.”

“My PA.”

She laughed. I laughed too, although I didn’t really find it funny. I doubted if I would ever find it really funny.

“Seeing anyone new?”

I thought of J.X. “No.”

“Poor you. But you’ve still got Miss Butterwith. Although I’m surprised, frankly. I’d heard through the grapevine you’d been dropped by Wheaton & Woodhouse.” Her green eyes studied me shrewdly. It was the look that used to make it impossible to come up with a good excuse for handing papers in late.

“We took the series to Millbrook House’s Crime Time line.”

“Oh, they’ll do a lovely job. Such adorable covers. What kind of advertising budget are you getting?”

I shrugged. “It’s not extravagant, but it’s better than we were getting at Wheaton & Woodhouse.”

A sudden silence fell between us. I could feel something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on what or why. Anna was still smiling through the veil of cigarette smoke, still watching me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Wrong?” She gestured with her cigarette for me to pull one of the white velvet side chairs over to the bed.

I slid the chair across the glossy floor and sat down. “Not that I’m not flattered by your faith in me, but I don’t have any teaching experience, and you know plenty of mystery writers a lot more successful and well-known than me. Why did you call me?”

Anna smiled. “Perhaps I thought it would be good for you.”

“That’s flattering, but I can’t imagine you’ve given me more than the occasional passing thought in the last decade.”

“You don’t make it easy, Christopher. You’ve cut yourself off from everyone. You don’t do signings, you don’t do conferences, you don’t do book tours. You were the best and brightest of my students, and you’ve lived up to that promise to some degree—”

I snorted.

Anna shrugged, then winced in pain at the unwise move. “Do you deny it? Do you deny cutting yourself off from the old crowd?”

“No. I’ve been focused on building my career.”

“Haven’t we all.” Anna’s voice was bitter. “Listen, Christopher, I know what I’m talking about. My own ambition cost me my first two marriages.”

“Third time’s the charm?”

“There is someone again, yes.”

“Congratulations,” I said, surprised, although I guess there was no real reason for surprise. It’s not like Anna was in her dotage. Sixty is the new fifty, right? And fifty is the new forty, and forty is the new thirty. By the way, how come I didn’t feel thirty?

“Thank you.” She seemed preoccupied.

“I’m still not sure what I’m doing here.”

Anna sighed. “All right. The truth is, I read an article in People magazine about what happened to you at that writing conference in Northern California. How you solved that murder.”

“Wait a minute. You’re not saying—”

She gave a funny laugh. “I think I am, actually. That is, I’m not absolutely positive, but I think someone might be trying to kill me.”

The Boy with the Painful Tattoo #3
I had the freezer door open and was contemplating the fine layer of frost that had already formed over the box of chicken when the kitchen phone rang, startling me.

I answered cautiously.

J.X. said, “Hey, it’s me. I’m at the hotel. How’s it going?”

The sound of his voice had an unexpected effect. All at once I felt both cheerful and calmer. My overstrung nerves unclenched, released, smoothed out. The knot in my gut eased. Or perhaps that was the pizza inching toward the next phase of digestion. Whatever, I was happy to hear his voice.

“It’s good. The sprinkler is repaired and I’m unpacking…everything. How was your flight?”

“I spent longer getting through security than in the air. Did you have trouble…” His voice seemed to dip and then I heard female laughter and noise in the background. J.X. said distantly, “Very funny, give me my phone, Samantha.”

Ah, yes. Conferences. Networking. Socializing. Shenanigans. And more shenanigans. Shenanigans were how J.X. and I had met. Funny to think that it could have been Jerry Knight I met that weekend.

“Sorry about that.” His voice came back on, loud and clear. “Kit, I got a call from Nina. She sounded upset but I couldn’t understand what the problem was. I was thinking maybe if you went over there?”
My moment of serenity deflated like a runaway balloon pricked by the point of a weathervane.

“If I went over there…where? What? Where there are you talking about?”

“To Nina’s house. To see her. To see her and Gage.”

Nina was J.X.’s ex-wife. Gage was his nephew. J.X. had married Nina, his younger brother’s pregnant girlfriend, after Alex died in Iraq. He had done this for the sake of his very conservative family and her equally conservative family and the unborn kid. It was noble in a soap-opera-ish way, but it wasn’t the kind of nobility that I understood or approved of.

Also, though the gesture had been quixotic and J.X.’s feelings for Nina were platonic, the one time I’d met her—over Christmas turkey—had convinced me that Nina’s feelings were not so clear cut. Maybe not clear cut at all. She didn’t like me. J.X.’s parents didn’t like me either. Possibly for the same reason. And the kid, Gage, disliked me with all his little heart.

“And I would do that…why?”

“Because I can’t and you’re family. And…”

“And what?”

“And this would be a good chance for you to get to know them.”

I laughed, though it came out sounding slightly hysterical. “I hope you’re kidding because there is no way in hell I’m going over there. They can’t stand me. None of your family can stand me, and the last thing Nina wants is your gay boyfriend showing up.”

J.X. made an exasperated sound. “Kit, you’re family now. That’s important. A lot more important than whatever it is you’re thinking at this moment. I know it’s inconvenient and maybe a little awkward, but it’s also a perfect opportunity.”

I cannot pretend this little speech of J.X.’s, particularly the phrase a lot more important than whatever it is you’re thinking, did not irk the living hell out of me. So much so that I actually couldn’t speak for a few seconds.


I managed to choke down my anger before I expired on the spot. “Putting aside my thoughts—and feelings—for a second, I am up to my ears in boxes. Yours included. We’ve got the furniture company delivering the bedroom suite this afternoon. We’ve got the satellite dish people arriving any minute. There is no food in this fucking house. So whatever this unspecified emergency is with your ex—”

“She’s not my ex.”

“Yeah, actually she is. And if she can’t spell out what the problem is for you, it’s a good bet I can’t solve it for her. Even if I had the time—or inclination—which I don’t.”

There was a pause before J.X. said grimly, “That’s pretty blunt.”

“Not really. Blunt would be to point out that we’re not family. We’re living together. And it may or may not work out.”

I’m not sure what his response was—I’m sure he had one. I’d never known him to let me have the last word. But I got it through tactical superiority that time. I hung up.

Then I tottered over to the nearest stool—J.X.’s contribution to our kitchen furnishings were tall, bachelor pad bar stools of leather and steel—before my knees gave out. I was shaking with a crazy rush of anger and adrenaline and alarm.

Also shame. I was too old to be hanging up on people like an angry and inarticulate teenager.

Not my finest hour. Or even my finest one and a half minutes. But this was what I had been afraid of from the first. That we were going to commit to this madness and it wasn’t going to work out.

Of course it wasn’t going to work out! How could it possibly work out? We barely knew each other. And we didn’t always like the us we did know.

But it had to work out. There was already an offer on my former home. It was too late to turn back now.

I waited for J.X. to phone back. When he didn’t, I told myself I was relieved. I wasn’t sure. I hated arguing. I hated confrontation. But I hated cold silence worse. One thing about David, he had not been the strong, silent type. Far from it. He had been the yelling and shouting and punching and breaking things—inanimate things—type. Which had generally led to my yelling and shouting too. But I still preferred explosions to cold silence.

To keep from thinking, I began emptying the boxes in the kitchen. What was the alternative? No, J.X. and I were both tired. Short on sleep and stressed. We had committed to this course, and there wasn’t any retreat. That I could think of.

I dumped silverware in drawers, placed glasses on shelves, located J.X.’s toaster, and opened a box of little jars of spices I had never heard of. What was Tajin? What was Egyptian dukkah? Did we even eat the same food?

On the bright side, the mountain of boxes eventually dwindled to a molehill, speeded by my decision not to wash anything because it had all been packed in bubble wrap for less than 48 hours. The less-than-48-hours-in-bubble-wrap rule was well known in Southern California. And if it wasn’t equally well known in Northern California, J.X. could wash any mug he liked.

I came across the gin and tonic and the day looked a little less grim. And, to give J.X. his due, his refrigerator was much better at making ice than mine. The cubes in my glass crackled musically as the tonic fizzed over them.

Refreshed, I got my second wind and started stacking dishes on shelves. Plain white plates. Plain white saucers. Plain white cups, plain white bowls. I opened another box. Plain white square plates. Okay. That was a relief. I was beginning to think my true love was stuck in a rut. I put all the square white plates and bowls away. I opened another box.

Plain white plates.

All the dishes seemed to be J.X.’s. Where were my dishes? Down in the basement with my fridge?

Irritated all over again, I opened the door to the basement and started down the steps. I’d never lived in a house that had a basement before. This one was supposed to function as storage and laundry room. And we were certainly getting our money’s worth of storage. There were a ton of boxes down here—not to mention my sofa. And who had decided that?

Now thoroughly pissed off, I began to explore. On the bright side, the basement was immaculate. Not a cobweb in sight. Not even much in the way of dust. A couple of throw rugs and it could probably double as an additional room. Or a hideout. My TV was probably already down here. Possibly my stereo system.

Except…that smell. What was that? Whatever it was, it had to go. Backed-up plumbing? Overflowing garbage bins? Ye gods. I started looking for the source, and tracked it to a large wooden crate marked CHINA. My crate.

What the hell? Had the moving company helpfully decided to move my rotting garbage?

The lid had been hastily and none too securely hammered down, but it was anchored enough to resist my half-hearted efforts to raise it. I went back upstairs, located the fireplace hardware in the parlor, and returned to the basement with the poker. J.X.’s poker, for the record.
I levered the poker beneath the wooden lid and pried until it gave with a cracking sound.

I covered my mouth and nose with the crook of my arm as white bits of biodegradable popcorn floated up along with that ghastly odor. Sure enough I spotted a black trash bag. Instead of Oma’s vintage pale green china with gold trim, those lunatics had packed my garbage bags.

That’s what I was trying to tell myself. But I knew. Of course I knew. I was a mystery writer. No moving crew was that crazy. This could only be one thing. One terrible thing.

Carefully, gingerly, I reached out and pulled back the corner of the trash bag. A lifeless, dull eye gazed up at me.

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.


Someone Killed His Editor #1

All She Wrote #2

The Boy with the Painful Tattoo #3

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