Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Deadly Mystery by Victor J Banis

Deadly Nightshade #1
Straight cop, gay cop, and a woman who "isn't real." Tom and Stanley are on the trail of a drag queen serial killer, and along the way, they find themselves engaged in a more intimate pursuit, trying to resolve another mystery: their unexpected attraction to one another.

Deadly Wrong #2
The police say "involuntary manslaughter," but a tragic accident turns out instead to be murder, plain and simple. And San Francisco Homicide Inspector Stanley Korski, on leave from the force and his unrequited love for fellow detective Tom Danzel, walks right into a murderer's web of treachery. Wrong, Stanley. Deadly wrong.

Deadly Dreams #3
A painful past. A mysterious stranger. Footsteps vanishing in the fog. All Stanley wants is just to hear Tom say, "I love you." All Tom wants is Stanley safe. And the stranger? Ah, there's the rub--what exactly is it that he wants?

Be careful what you wish for, fellows. You may get it. Dreams can be deadly.

Deadly Slumber #4
The House of the Dead: a mortuary whose directors are drop dead gorgeous and terminally horny-and one of them up to mischief. Stanley and Tom try to separate the naturally dead from the murdered dead and find themselves awash with coffins-until they come to the one Stanley's name on it.

Deadly Slumber indeed.

Deadly Silence #5
The hospital says it was an accident. Patience Pendleton says someone is trying to murder her father - but who? Her demented twin, Prudence? Or Farley, the jilted fiancee, who thought he would be marrying money? Or Zack, the queer brother threatened with disinheritance? Or, might it be the ghosts of past evil...?

A Deadly Kind of Love #6
Nothing bad is supposed to happen in Palm Springs. At least that's what San Francisco private detective Tom Danzel and his partner Stanley Korski believe. But when their friend Chris finds a dead body in his hotel room bed, Tom and Stanley drive out to help the local police investigate. What they discover is a gangster's plot, a rather nasty green snake, and an elegant hotel that offers delicacies not usually found on a room service menu. The two detectives are going to have to rely on their skills and each other if they're going to survive this very deadly kind of love.

Deadly Nightshade #1
     Tanya had a job to do. That's all this was. Nothing personal. Just a job. Or, really, a prelude, the first step to the real thing. But it was an important first step. She had to do it right.
* * * * *
     It was unreal, like a dream, a fantasy date. Gordon Hartman was drunk, a little too. Not so drunk he didn't know she was beautiful, in a cheap kind of way. That was okay. He liked them cheap. He liked them petite, too, with long dark hair that spilled, like hers, all the way down to that pouty little butt that was practically in his face. She was ahead of him on the stairs. He could have leaned a little forward and taken a bite out of her buns if he wanted. Her skimpy skirt lifted with each upward step she took on those skyscraper heels, giving him off and on glimpses of lace edged panties. Pussy pink. A favorite of his.
     His impatient hand reached for her butt, fondled it. When she looked over her shoulder, grinning down at him, that long hair tickled the backs of his fingers. His cock tented his trousers, so hard it was almost painful.
     She paused near the top of the stairs, turned toward him. Excited, he took her in his arms and kissed her, pushing his aching dick against her, his hands getting bolder as his breath got more ragged. She reached down to give his throbbing erection a squeeze.
     Jesus, she was as hot as he was. He almost shot a load there and then. He loved it when they got all hot and bothered over him, over his dick. His hand got bolder still, felt between them.
     Suddenly he took his mouth from hers, his eyes wide, surprised. "Shit, you're not a real-" he started to say, but she jerked his head down, kissed him again, stemming his words. He felt something against his chest, something hard wedged between them, but there was scarcely time for it to register before she shot him.
     The gun was small caliber, only a twenty-two, but at this close range, aimed as precisely as it was at his heart, it was enough to kill him instantly. The sound was muffled between their bodies, came out little more than a pop, hardly any more noise than a balloon bursting.
     She held on to his jacket to keep him from toppling down the stairs, let him drop slowly, almost noiselessly to the tiled steps, on his back, his chest with the bullet hole and the blood beginning to flow turned upward, before she let go. She didn't want him tumbling to the bottom, messing up her handiwork.      Finally, she turned, stepping over his body, hurrying down the stairs.
     She was in the building's central atrium, a long rectangle open to the sky. It was a big, sprawling apartment complex, apartments on three levels, tiled walkways past the doors, stucco half walls overlooking the atrium. The building's main entrance opened from the street into a foyer off the atrium, and hallways ran from the foyer in both directions to the side gates at the opposite ends of the complex. It was the sort of building in which delivery people and new tenants got lost.
     "Break out the bloodhounds," the manager said a lot. It was an old building joke.
     She was halfway across the atrium when she heard the front gate in the foyer close with a wrought-iron clang. Someone coming in from the street. She stopped dead-still by the gently splashing fountain, waiting, heard footsteps cross the foyer in her direction.
* * * * *
     Jeremy Clark came through the open arch into the atrium, was halfway across the atrium, looking down, before he became aware of her and looked up. She still had the gun in her hand. His eyes went straight to it, and widened.
     She burst into movement, ran past him, her heels clattering on the tile floor. He was too startled, or maybe too frightened by the gun, to try to stop her. He only stared after her. The tattoo of her heels faded down one of the side corridors. A metal gate clanged.
     Above him, at the top of the stairs, a door opened, and Jake Acheson said, "I thought I heard a shot..."

Chapter One
     Stanley Korski was small for a cop, five eight max, with oversized hands and feet that gave him an almost clownish look. His face was babyish, framed with hair the color of wheat ripening, his eyes wide, ice blue, innocent looking. He had a kewpie doll mouth, so red it didn't look natural.
     Jesus, he must get carded every time he steps into a bar, Tom Danzel thought. And how did he get on the force in the first place? You could take one glance and know the kid was as queer as a three-dollar bill.
     As if he'd read his thoughts, Stanley said aloud, "Affirmative action."
     "Huh?" It caught Tom off guard.
     "You were thinking I looked queer. I am. I was part of the last affirmative action hire."
     "Well, yeah, Stan, see, I already knew you were queer."
     "Stanley. Stan sounds too, oh, I don't know, too blue collar, don't you think? And you aren't happy about it. About my being queer, I mean. About being partnered with me."
     Tom let out a noisy sigh. "Bingo," he said. "You hit the nail on the head, Stanley."
     Stanley shrugged. "You'll get over it. It's not like we're on a date, or anything-although I wouldn't mind, if the idea appeals to you. You're kind of cute, in a Neanderthal way."
     "Please don't start telling me I'm cute, Stanley, and what the fuck is that anyway, a Neander-you-call-it?"
     "It just means you're a big hairy brute," Stanley said with a grin, and winked.
     Which really pissed Tom. He hated fags. Well, no, he didn't exactly hate them, live and let live, the way he saw things, but he hadn't jerked off with the other guys when they were kids-except for that one time, and they'd all been stoned, so that didn't count-and he hadn't even thought about that sort of thing since then. He didn't care what fags did, particularly. He just wanted nothing to do with them himself.
     Especially, he didn't want to be partnered with one. It was one of those things he felt sure he would never live down in the department. You work with a queer, other guys were going to get funny ideas. It was inevitable, wasn't it? And that was what he really hated, the idea that the other guys on the force would think he was queer. How had this happened to him, anyway? What had he done to deserve it?
     "What, you want me to say pretty please?" the Captain had asked when Tom protested, grinning the kind of grin at Tom that suggested he already thought there might be something there.
     "How did the guy get a homicide, anyway? There's guys wait years for the job. How long has this guy been on the force?"
     "A week."
     "He's uniquely qualified for the assignment. The word came down straight from the chief. Who got it direct from the mayor. Just do it, Tom. That's an order."
     Which had totally rubbed him the wrong way. Now, here he was, with a fag wannabe detective grinning at him like he was waiting for a big, smoochy hello kiss.
     "Knock it off," he said to Stanley. "You're right, it isn't a date, and it's never going to be, and get any fucking ideas like that clear out of your head, right from this moment, okay? Don't talk about anything but business when we're together. Don't even think about anything but business."
     "That's what I was doing," Stanley said, eyes innocently wide. "I'm betting you have a really nice business." He gave the bulge in Tom's crotch a meaningful glance.
     "That's it, I'm out of here." Tom turned toward the door. "They can put somebody else on the case. They can can me, if they want. I don't give a good rat's ass."
     "Jesus Christ in a hand bucket, get a grip, why don't you?" Stanley said behind him. "You fucking straight guys, you're a howl, you know that? What in the Sam Hill makes you think I'd be interested in you, anyway, you dumb shit? You think I wanted to be partnered with some ugly goon? There's a Labrador Retriever in my building that turns me on more than you do."
     "Yeah, well I don't do dogs, either. You know what I mean? I like pussy, period."
     "Hooray for you. There's a Siamese in the building, too. I'll see if I can fix you up. Meanwhile, there's a murder everyone wants solved, Partner. A county supervisor. The supervisors don't like that, it interferes with their graft collection. Plus, this one was a cousin of the mayor's. And a according to the witnesses, the supervisor was killed by a drag queen. That looks bad for all those closet queens on the board. So everybody's in a lather to see this cleared up in a hurry. And they thought I might bring some special insights to the investigation."
     "Let me guess. Because you wear dresses."
     "Only when I'm cleaning. Actually, if you want to know, it's because for five years I was liaison between the Gay Lesbian Council and the police department. Send a queer to catch a queer, is how the brass sees it."
     "So how about me? How did I end up on this case?"
     "I asked for the best detective on the homicide squad. Your name rose to the top, like cream-oh." He put a hand to his cheek in mock dismay. "I'm not supposed to talk about cream, am I?'
     "You're pretty cute, aren't you?"
     Stanley winked again. "Some men think so. The ones who don't drag their knuckles when they walk. Look, sweetie, we have been assigned to a case together. I don't know about you, but my interest is in solving it, quickly, efficiently so I can move on to something-and someone-more interesting. Why don't we both just focus on that, okay?"
     He extended a hand. Tom looked at it for a moment, as if he thought it might be there for some purpose other than shaking. Finally, reluctantly, he took it.
     "Okay, deal," he said. "Just don't go trying to cop any feels, all right?"
     "Oh, dear, I just washed my hands, and I can't do a thing with them. Come on, we're in luck, lover boy. I'm told we've got witnesses, two of them. How often do you strike it rich like that? It never happens in the movies. Let's go see what kind of song they sing."
     The other detectives in the squad room had been ignoring their exchange with thinly disguised interest. Tom shot a look around the squad room. Most of them looked away, although he got a couple of quick smirks before they did so.
     Man, what a load of crap. Anybody started making cracks, someone was going to be eating a knuckle sandwich. He glowered around the room but no one noticed.
     "Let's go," he said. They left the room, starting down the hall, Tom walking fast, marching, actually, Stanley trailing slightly behind. Tom was afraid to look, afraid he'd catch the fucking faggot checking out his buns.
     Which was exactly what Stanley was doing, in fact, thinking that they were quite splendid indeed, such a lovely baroque shape to them, not the little melony type that did nothing for him. He liked buns with some substance to them, something to hang onto when the action got going. And they were hard, too, you could see that just looking at them, like they were carved out of granite.
     Plus, he'd bet everything he owned that this lovely butt was virgin. And he was equally willing to bet that some lucky guy, some lucky day, was going to change its status. He could always tell, at a single glance. More often than not, it was the super macho type, too. He usually knew long before they did. Had many times gambled the bank on it, in fact, and pretty much always won. Okay, one loss, two draws. Not bad when you considered the number and quality of the wins.
     Of course, he wasn't about to tell that to the Neanderthal, nor mention what an incredibly sexy hunk he was, with those mile-wide shoulders and that big chest with the hair thick on it where his shirt lay open. To say nothing about what might have been a large salami in his pocket.
     None of which he intended to say anything about, period. This gig was going to be difficult enough, without complicating it. He sighed aloud. He really hated homophobes. Especially killer hot ones.
     This was his first homicide, his first case, period. He'd spent a week as a uniform, and hated it. He really wanted this one. He had to prove himself. If he solved it in record time-and how difficult could that be?-maybe they would actually let him stay in homicide instead of sending him back to the beat. He felt pretty sure he could get Tom's drawers around his ankles if he put his mind to it, but he was equally sure that would end up making things more difficult. Which, really, was too bad. He sighed aloud.
     Tom steadfastly ignored him.
* * * * *
     They didn't talk again until they had checked out a company car, a Ford Crown Victoria.
     "You want to drive?" Tom asked.
     "Oh, I think that's the man's job, don't you?"
     Tom grunted and got behind the wheel. The silence fell again. He drove out of the garage, onto Van Ness, merged with the endless stream of early morning San Francisco traffic. It was a bleak, rainy day, the lights from the buildings they passed-offices, store fronts, apartments overhead-bleeding into the gloom, spilling in puddles on the wet sidewalks. The windshield wipers tsk-tsked monotonously. The air in the car was damp, over warm. Stanley cracked a window.
     "You married?" he asked.
     "I'm not. It was a long time ago. High school sweethearts sort of thing. You know, the first piece of ass you get... well, I guess you wouldn't know about that..."
     "I might."
     Tom shot him a sideways glance, decided not to pursue that line. He fumbled in a pocket for a pack of gum, managed to unwrap a stick one-handed and popped it into his mouth, chewing noisily.
     "You didn't love her?" Stanley asked. Tom shrugged. "What about her?"
     "She was a poor little rich girl. She loved the idea of marrying a cop, hated being a cop's wife. All those nights at home alone, me never there. Women hate that."
     "Policemen work long hours."
     He snorted, chuckled faintly. "I was fucking around on her. Almost from the start."
     "Was that fair?"
     "I don't remember asking you to rate my marriage, Stanley." The gum popped angrily. "Anyway," after a minute, "it was a long time ago. Besides, she fucked the best man the day of the wedding. It wasn't a marriage made in Heaven." He looked across at Stanley again. "I guess you're single. Any family?"
     Stanley hesitated for so long, Tom thought he wasn't going to answer. "A sister," he said finally. "She lives in Sacramento. Husband, three kids. We don't see each other much."
     "Your parents still around?"
     "My mom's dead." The pause this time was even longer. "My dad's still alive-if you can call it that. Lives in a so-called rest home. Home Gardens, up in Petaluma. I doubt that he gets much rest. Or that he knows the difference."
     Tom grunted. The silence crowded back into the car.
     "You from around here?" Tom asked, the effort of sociability sounding in his voice.
     "Petaluma. Before that, the Midwest. Iowa. You?"
     More silence, the kind that just sits there between two people who don't know one another and don't know what to do about it.
     "You into sports?" Tom asked.
     "I've done a few laps."
     "Stanley..." in a warning voice.
     "Swimming," Stanley said. "I was on the swim team. Dive team, too, but I never lettered. I did a beautiful pike, though."
     "What's that?"
     "You lift your legs in the air, touch your toes with your fingers, butt turned up. I could demonstrate it for you some time. It's a useful position."
     Tom glowered across at him.
     "For diving," Stanley added, smiling sweetly. "Jeez, you have a dirty mind. I never could manage a swan dive, though. Almost missed the pool. A total belly smacker. You have to float to do a good swan. Like a butterfly, sort of."
     "Sounds like a natural for you," Tom said.
     Stanley giggled, sounding more like a little kid than a would-be homicide detective. "I'll bet you were football, weren't you?"
     "Mister Touchdown." Stanley sighed. Like everyone else in his high school, he'd had a crush on the team quarterback. He was one of the few, it seemed, who had done nothing about it. "I never did get that swan dive."
     More silence. After a bit, Stanley asked, "Are you happy?"
     If Tom thought it a peculiar question, he didn't say. He gave another of his grunts and a shrug. Stanley was beginning to realize he did that a lot. "Okay. You?"
     "I'm not happy, but I'm not unhappy about it."
     Tom chewed on that for a moment. "I'm not a philosopher type," Tom said. "I'm a cop."
     They were turning onto Market, slipping through traffic around a rattling green-and-cream F car, a taxi honking impatiently at them, when Tom asked, casually, like it had just crossed his mind and not been bugging him since it had been said:
     "So, you really think I'm ugly?"

Deadly Wrong #2
Chapter One
     "Quit? No way, Korski, no way you're quitting the force."
     Stanley Korski suppressed a sigh. It just went to prove, the way he saw it, you could never please some people. For starters, he certainly had known when he hired on some months ago with the San Francisco Police Department, as part of an affirmative action hire (and giving up a perfectly good interior decorating job), that they didn't want him in homicide. That prospect hadn't even seemed likely when he joined the force. San Francisco PD had gay officers, certainly, but none quite so openly and evidently gay as Stanley. The transfer to homicide had happened later, and no one had made any pretense of being happy about it. Certainly not Police Lieutenant Mallory, head of the homicide detail.
     Now, they didn't want him to quit.
     Lieutenant Mallory held a big brown cigar in his fleshy mouth. City ordinances prevented his lighting it. There was no smoking anywhere in the building. He chewed on it instead and rolled it from one corner of his mouth to the other, the pink tip of his tongue occasionally making a sly appearance.
     Staring at it, Stanley Korski found himself thinking of a brown penis. A kind of small one, admittedly, but he'd had enough experience to know that the myth about the enormous phalluses of Negroes was largely that: a myth. You ran across them here and there, but there were plenty of black men with teensy weenies, too, porn fantasies notwithstanding.
     The shape and the color were right, though, and he found it surprisingly easy to imagine the Captain's thick lips wrapped around one, rolling it to and fro, his tongue flicking at it from time to time.
     Stanley fought back the grin that threatened, knowing full well he would never be able to explain what he found so amusing. He was having enough trouble explaining things as it was.
     For years, Stanley had dreamed of joining the police force; specifically, of becoming a homicide detective-Homicide Inspector, as SFPD called their detectives-something, he had felt pretty certain all the while, the powers that be in San Francisco's homicide department wouldn't want him to do.
     He had made it, though, eventually, by way of his work as a gay liaison with the police department, that affirmative action hire, and, most of all, a politically charged murder with gay overtones, that, people higher up had decided, was right down his alley.
     Now he was trying to quit the police force, and they didn't want him to do that, either. Worse, Stanly Korski couldn't tell his Lieutenant why he wanted to quit. That was something else he'd never be able to explain. He had given a weak excuse instead: "I don't think I'm cut out for it."
     "Not cut out for it? Are you kidding me, Stan?"
     "Stanley," he said automatically. He hated being called Stan.
     "Whatever." Mallory took the penis-oops, the cigar-from his mouth and used it as a pointer, stabbing in Stanley's direction with it. "The point is, you did good. You did great, actually. Your very first case, that drag queen killer-"
     "Actually, she was-" but the Lieutenant waved away his objection.
     "Tom says it was you worked the whole thing out, too, beginning to end. And that's from Danzel, he's one of the best detectives on the force. If he says you're good... well, Christ."
     "Tom's just being modest," Stanley said.
     What he couldn't say was that Tom Danzel was the reason he was quitting the force. He wasn't about to explain to the Lieutenant that he had fallen in love with his partner on their recent murder case. Even if he had been tempted to explain it, he knew Tom would never forgive him. Tom was so far in the closet the back door probably opened onto the African continent. Maybe even Nepal. China, at the least.
     He puzzled over that for a moment. Which was actually further, Nepal or China? Whichever it was, he was sure it wasn't far enough to encompass Tom Danzel's closetedness.
     And Stanley knew without a shadow of a doubt that Tom would wring his neck if he ever breathed a word to anyone on the force about what had happened between them in the course of that investigation.     Happened three times. Four, if you counted a practically spontaneous eruption. He had barely gotten Tom's erection in his hand that time when it blew up, after which Tom had promptly passed out, dead drunk. So, make it three and a third, maybe. Three and a quarter, at least. But who counted?
     The important thing, the key point, was that it was not-Tom had made this clear-was not going to happen again. Not ever. Zero. No way, Josefina.
     Which, of course, Stanley could not comment on at all in the present circumstances, even if he'd been tempted. And fear for his life overrode all temptation. Tom would kill him, literally. His would be the department's next murder to investigate. No question. It even made him nervous to remember those three and a half occasions while he was pleasuring himself in solitary fashion-not enough to make him forget about them, but it made him nervous. What if Tom somehow found out about his masturbatory fantasies? The man was a detective, after all.
     "Even so, you saved his life, didn't you?" the Lieutenant insisted, fortunately oblivious to Stanley's fantasies. "And you put yourself in grave danger while you were at it, which proved everybody wrong, the shit they'd been saying about you." He had the good grace to look momentarily nonplussed as he realized what he'd said, practically admitting the bias that had existed in the squad room toward Stanley.
     He went on, talking quickly, like Stanley might not have noticed. "Plus you got yourself a broken arm, nailing your perp. Hell, you're a bona fide hero, Stan. The boys all look up to you. Everybody says, you're a natural born detective."
     He said the last with gusto, as if he really meant it, although both of them knew it was a bald faced lie. The others snickered when he came into the homicide room. They looked at him with barely disguised loathing. That, he could have endured. What queen hadn't suffered snickers, if not far worse? The very day he'd taken his first baby steps, as he'd heard it, an uncle had said, "He walks funny, don't he?" and people had been laughing since. Who cared? That sort of scorn just made gay men tougher. People thought of straight men as tough, all the Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone stereotypes, but the truth was, your average gay man was far tougher than those swaggering he-men.
     What he could not endure-what he hadn't the courage to face-was that the next time they met, Tom Danzel might look at him the way the other detectives did, might himself snicker in scorn.
     "It was all luck, my figuring things out. It was all about gays. I came to it with a background none of the others had. That's all."
     The Lieutenant grew serious, the cigar stationary for a moment. "Look, Stan, we leapfrogged you into homicide, you know what I'm saying? There's guys wait years for homicide, and you got assigned in, what, two, three weeks?"
     Stanley didn't know what to say to that. Didn't know what he could say. It was true. He knew he ought to be grateful they had promoted him the way they had, right past lots of guys who should have made the cut. Which was another reason for the others to resent him. Resent him? Hell, they hated his guts.
     He knew, too, that his sudden and miraculous promotion hadn't happened out of any respect for his intelligence or for any innate detective talent the higher ups might have sensed in him. He had only gotten assigned to that murder case because the victim, the first victim, had been a county supervisor, and gay, and a cousin of the mayor to boot. And they had promoted him overnight from rookie patrolman to homicide inspector because the killer was a drag queen. Stanley had no illusions about why they had chosen him either. It was not just that he was gay. They had plenty of those on the force, in and out of the closet. They chose him because he was a bona fide queer, a three dollar bill. Just the sort, as they had seen it in their straight, we-don't-understand-you-people minds, to track down a drag queen killer. Or, as they saw it, though political correctness would have prevented anyone's saying it: send a sicko to catch a sicko.
     The point was, they had wanted the murder solved fast, and they thought his "special insights," which was how it had been phrased at the time, would be useful. As it turned out, they had been right, but still... special insights? It sounded like he designed lingerie for cross dressers.
     The Lieutenant looked at him steadily for a moment, and sighed. "Listen, I'm going to put it to you straight. The word came down from on high: keep Korski in homicide. You walk, my ass is in a sling."
     That, however, the image of the Lieutenant in a sling, was more than Stanley's imagination could summon up. He sighed too, and shrugged. He'd have been willing to bet money when he had walked in here today that they would be deliriously happy to accept his resignation. Certainly the other detectives, who had made no secret of their animosity, would be. Turning cartwheels, he'd have imagined.
     "Okay, Stan..." The Lieutenant leaned forward on his elbows. Paused to loosen a purple and acid green tie that threatened to choke him.
     "Stanley, tell you what. You went through a serious ordeal, your first case, and it was a dangerous one.      First cases are always tough, and this one was a bitch, I know that. I can see why you'd be kind of freaked out, having to jump off a balcony to save Danzel's life-"
     "It wasn't actually-"
     "Here's what I think. Why don't you take some administrative leave? Say, a month. Hell, make it six weeks. Give some serious thought to what you want to do. Then, you come back and see me again. If you still want to quit the force, well, okay, it's your decision. But think about it some first, okay?"
     "I guess it can't hurt to think about it," Stanley agreed, but without enthusiasm. As if he hadn't already thought about this very issue for weeks, without coming to any satisfactory kind of conclusion other than just quit.
     It wasn't that he hadn't liked solving a murder case, or that he wouldn't have liked to solve another one, although he had discovered that the idea of homicide detective was more fun than the reality had been.     What he had known before he got that case was only what he had seen in movies and read in books. In real life, it hadn't turned out to be very much like that. In real life, for instance, there were actual bodies to deal with. Dead bodies. What was the fun in that? The last guy he had picked up in the Castro had been as dead as a doornail, even if he was still breathing. He'd been no fun at all, as it turned out. Which was pretty much how he felt now about homicide.
     Moreover, he was willing to grant that he wasn't really cop material. He got scared, too scared, too easily. He was a devout coward. That was a problem for a policeman.
     That was a technical matter, however. The really big problem was, if he came back to homicide detail, one of two things would happen. Either they would team him up again with Tom Danzel, and nothing would make Stanley happier, except that Tom would be furious. He had made it abundantly clear he did not want that to happen, that he didn't want to work another case with Stanley as his partner.
     One case, as Tom had explained it all too plainly, everybody will forget about it soon enough. If I continued working with you, though, well, pretty soon, people would start to wonder, they'd think maybe there was something going on between us.
     Never mind the assorted pastimes that actually had occurred on those three and three fourths occasions. There was no denying Tom could be a real asshole. Even being in love with the man, Stanley wasn't blind to that fact. But, as Stanley had explained to his best friend, Chris, "He's an asshole with possibilities."
The alternative scenario for his return to the force was that they'd team him up with one of the other inspectors, none of whom wanted anything to do with him, never mind that he himself would spend the whole time wanting to be with Tom and looking over his shoulder in case whatever detective he was partnered with decided to do something about his homophobia. This was the kind of dilemma he couldn't exactly share with the Lieutenant, however.
     "Great. Let's leave it at that. Six weeks." He came around the desk to clap a hearty hand on Stanley's shoulder. "We'll talk again after that. I'm betting money you'll change your mind."
     "Maybe," was all Stanley would say.
     Heads did not exactly turn as Stanley walked out through the homicide section, but he knew that everyone was watching him regardless, trying to decide if he was going or staying. He had learned earlier, a homicide squad room was more gossip prone that any ladies' bridge club.
     Tom Danzel was seated at his own desk in a far corner. More than anyone else in the room, he studiously avoided looking at Stanley. Several pairs of eyes watched covertly to see what notice he might take of Stanley's departure. Stanley watched him too, covertly as well, but not the slightest flicker of an eye indicated that Tom was even aware of Stanley's passage through the room.
     So much for that hope. Which, really, hadn't been much of a hope at all. Tom had made his feelings clear-it was all about the other detectives: I don't want to look at them and see in their eyes what-well, what's in their eyes when they look at you, if you want me to be honest. Quote, unquote. Stanley had listened to those words repeatedly in his head, remembering every single one of them, could diagram them, tell you exactly what syllables got the accents. Could probably set them to music. He resisted the urge to hum a melody.
     And Tom's words represented, Stanley thought, probably more honesty that the situation warranted-personally, he felt honesty was sometimes overrated. Every once in a while, maybe a big fat lie would be better for everyone concerned. Better for him, anyway.
     But there it was; the very horns of the dilemma. If he came back to the department, he would definitely not be working with Tom. And whoever else he worked with was not going to welcome him with open arms. In reality, he could well be in more danger from his fellow detectives than any criminal they might go after. Being a cop did not make you homophobia free. And homophobes could be hazardous to the health of someone as obviously gay as he knew he was. To a three dollar bill, cop homophobes were especially dangerous.
     Outside the Hall of Justice, he sat in his car, trying to think what he wanted to do. A vacation, he thought, and then thought about his bank balance. Homicide detectives by whatever title did not make anywhere near the money a good interior decorator could.
     Okay, a vacation some place cheap. Something he could afford-but what would that be? The ferry to Sausalito? A movie at the Metreon? A stroll through Golden Gate Park?
     No, of course, it had to be someplace far enough away that he wouldn't be carrying Tom Danzel with him.
     So, then, what did it cost to get to Mars? Or, at the least, the moon? He was pretty sure that was further than Nepal, and he was absolutely convinced Nepal wouldn't be far enough. Or China either. He made a mental note to look at an Atlas when he got home. Which of them was further, anyway? Once he'd acquainted himself with what lay south of the border, he'd lost any further interest in geography.
     He adjusted the mirror so he could see himself in it, and did not like what he saw. I never knew how pathetic you are, he told himself.
     What I did for love.

Deadly Dreams #3
Chapter One
     "Gone?" Her voice went up on an ascending scale, like an opera diva's in full song. "What do you mean, gone? They took him?"
     He shook his head, trying to get his mind clear. Too much pot, and he was pretty sure the last joint had been laced with something, PCP maybe. His thoughts refused to settle, drifting like the acrid clouds of smoke that swirled in the room's cold drafts.
     "It must have been them. The baby was right there when I went into the john." He pointed at the crib. You could see, or certainly imagine, the indentation where the baby had been. "And when I came back, they were gone, and the baby too. I ran outside but their taillights were clear down to the crossing, and then they disappeared. Just..." he shrugged, and finished lamely, "gone."
     She stared at the crib, empty now of even the blankets the child had been wrapped in, and lifted a hand to the bottom of her throat, as if choking off the anguish rising up in her. "The woman," she said. "Delia, her name was. She said what a sweet baby he was."
     "Such a sweet baby," Delia said, while they were in the kitchen, getting beers. While the men talked man-business. Drug business.
     "Yes. He's very quiet." Preoccupied. Wishing she were in the other room, wanting to be sure things were handled rightly. She couldn't completely trust him, not when he was smoking.
     "I lost mine." Delia said it flatly. "No more than two weeks old."
     "Oh, I'm so very sorry. That must have been horrible."
     "Yes." Her voice, her look, was vague, distant.
     "Delia, her name was. She just lost a baby. A month ago. She told me that in the kitchen, when we were getting the beers."
     He moved toward the telephone, lifted the receiver from the cradle. She crossed to him in three long strides, snatched the phone from his hand and slammed it back on the base.
     "What on earth are you doing?" Her eyes wide.
     "Calling the police. We've got to..."
     "The police? Are you crazy? Do you know how much pot you've got there?" She jerked her head in the direction of the black plastic bags sitting on the floor. "You want the police to see that?"
     "We'll... well, we'll hide it. We'll put it in the trunk of the car, and..."
     "And tell the police what? Tell them we had a trio of Cubans, probably illegals, over for the evening? Big time drug suppliers, from Miami? How do we explain who they were, or what they were, or what they were doing here?"
     His face screwed up with the effort of thinking. "We could tell them, we could say, they were friends. Or, like, friends of friends, just passing through. We don't have to mention drugs."
     "Great. And if the police find them, find them with our baby? What do you suppose was in that car of theirs, that big shiny Caddy they were so proud of? You think they came all this way to deliver dope to you and nobody else. I'm betting the trunk was full of goodies. A lot more than grass, I'd guess. Anyway, what kind of people do you think those men are? Use your head. Those were some bad honchos. You send the police after them, you think they're not going to come back at us? Them, or their friends?"
     He sagged-face, shoulders, everything drooping, like wet laundry. "Don't you care, they've stolen our baby?"
     "Care? Don't talk crazy. Of course I care. I care a lot." She paused, swallowed hard, looked again at the crib where her baby should have been sleeping, and back at him. "But I care about staying alive, too. And we won't, if you call the police." She went to one of the chairs, sank heavily into it, taking tight hold of the arms as if it might try to shake her loose, like a bucking horse, like her thoughts were bucking. "We've got to think this out carefully."
     "And, do what? We just let them do it, get away with it? With stealing our baby?"
     She thought for a long moment. "Christ. I don't see what else we can do. Even for the baby." Thought for a moment more, looked again, hard, at the crib. "Besides, think about it, they took the blankets. They must mean to take care of him, they wouldn't have taken the blankets if they didn't. That woman, that Delia, who's to say she wouldn't take good care of him? Better than we could, anyway, if we were dead."
He went and sat on the stool next to the coal stove, fighting back the tears that threatened, and shivered despite his proximity to the heat. The glow from the stove gave his tortured face a hellish look. "People will know. People will ask, where's the baby?"
     "Who? Your mother? She hasn't set foot in this house since the baby was born. You know how she feels about the drugs. I'm surprised she hasn't turned us in before now. Probably for the baby's sake. If she knew he was gone, you can bet she wouldn't hesitate for a minute."
     "What about, well,... your Mom?"
     She gave him a look of withering scorn. Her mother had never been here, inside this house. Only once since her marriage had she been to her mother's home, and that only to confirm what she already knew in her heart-she was glad to have escaped. It was not just the poverty. Her mother lived no leaner than they did, probably she was better off, if only marginally; the difference was, her mother could never deal with the reality of her life, never would. She was the sort of woman who lived her life through the men in it.     Now she was widowed, her beloved son dead in an incomprehensible Mid-East skirmish; what could her daughter be but a disappointment to her?
     Which, she was painfully aware, was all she had been, while her mother wrapped herself in homilies, carefully stored up like the jars of green beans in the dusty cellar: "Darkest before the dawn." "God never goes out but what he comes back in." "His eye is on the sparrow."
     Drowning in artificial sweetness. It had driven her away. Better present misery than a pretense of happiness. Her mom had been just as happy to see her go away. And stay. She didn't need a daughter to remind her of the lack of male presence in her life.
     She stood up as abruptly as she had sat down, began to pace the small, smoke filled room, in and out of the pale light from the bare bulb overhead. He watched her face darken, glow, darken. With each pass, she looked at the empty crib. A freight train mourned in the distance, where the tracks cleaved the town, the "haves" on one side, with their grassy lawns and tree lined streets; "have-nots" on the other, with... she looked around the room. With... she glowered at the table, at the boxes shoved against the wall, at the uncovered pine floor... with this.
     They were like a cancer, those tracks, they ate at her, weighted her soul, always had. If she didn't have them to remind her who they were, what they were... life might be something different, then, mightn't it?      If she were only shed of those damned tracks. Of living a life on this side, and not the other.
     A chunk of coal popped in the stove, an exclamation mark to her thoughts. Like a snap of fingers, it brought her to a sudden standstill.
     "We'll leave," she said, decision made in the instant, no doubts or confusion. "We'll just disappear. Go somewhere. Florida, maybe. Or California, that's further still. Not one of the big cities, some place smaller. Your mom'll never find us. She's not that sharp. And it takes money to look for people, especially if they're a long ways away, if they don't want to be found. What's she going to do, come looking for us? California's a big state."
     "California?" Something that might have been excitement penetrated the fog in his brain, made the incipient tears in his eyes glitter. "I always wanted to go to California."
     "We'll leave tonight." Talking quickly now, determined, everything settled. "Just take what we can carry in the car. Who cares about any of this junk?" A sweep of her hand took in all the shabby drug-man's furnishings-wooden crates for tables, beat up unmatched chairs, wooden boards on bricks to make a bookcase, bed sheets for curtains. "We'll write her a note, leave it in her mailbox, say you got a job offer somewhere. Not California, we'll throw her off. New York City, say, or Detroit. Yes, Detroit, that sounds right. Tell her we'll be in touch. By the time she gets suspicious, starts wondering, the trail will be stone cold."
     "I guess," he said, torn. "It's just... my baby. My son. Don't you care?" he asked again, his tone plaintive.
     "Don't say that," she snapped. She came to stand over him. For a moment, he thought she meant to hit him and he shrank away from her. "It pisses me off, when you say it like that. I'm trying to think for both of us, damn it."
     She took a deep breath and turned away, pacing again. "Listen to me. The baby is safe with them. They won't kill him. They wouldn't have taken him to kill him. Why would they? It's the woman. She wanted a replacement for the baby she lost. Probably, he'll be just fine with her, maybe better than he'd have been with us. They've got money, plenty of it. The Caddy, and the clothes they were wearing. And that what's-his-name, Julio, did you see that ring of his? Biggest diamond I ever saw." She came back to kneel on the floor in front of him, put her arms around him.
     She'd always been the stronger one. He'd always deferred to her. He moved into her embrace, lowered his head to her shoulders. "You're right, I know it. But, fuck, my son, though."
     "We'll have others." She paused, thoughtfully, and added, "Maybe sooner than you think."
     It took a moment for her meaning to sink in. He pulled back, looking into her face. "You saying...?"
     She gave him a sly smile. "I think so. I'm pretty sure, actually. Which means we have to think about him, too, don't we? We need to keep him alive. He's got to come first now. This is best, you'll see."
     He sighed, managed to give her a watery smile. "You're right," he said with more conviction.
     "'Course I am. Come on, let's get packed up, get out of here, tonight."
     "What about the pot?"
     She glowered at the plastic bags. "'We can't leave it here. And we can't take it with us. Too risky. If we got stopped for something... that taillight's still not working. If they pulled us over, searched the car..."
     "We have to dump it?"
     She thought about that, shook her head reluctantly. It would have been nice to have it for a nest egg, wherever they were going; but, no, it was just too dangerous. If they were going to do this, they had to disappear, completely. Getting stopped by some fool highway patrolman in Nebraska, or wherever you went through to get to California. And them without the baby. They'd call his mom, most likely. She'd say something about the baby. The fool woman never could keep her mouth shut. Then there'd be an investigation. No, it was too dangerous.
     "Yes. We'll have to dump it. We'll go along the ridge road on our way out of town, toss it in the gully.   There's lots of dopers out that way. One of them will find it, probably, think he's died and gone to doper heaven. Come on now, help me get our shit in the car. We've got to be out of here by morning."
     He grinned, happy to let her take charge, excited despite himself by the prospect of hitting the road. He loved going, going anywhere, just for the sake of movement. Itchy feet. She'd always said he had itchy feet. And California-he'd dreamed all his life of California.
     "And goodbye Iowa," he said, smiling at her, tears gone, the crib with its silent accusation all but vanished from his mind.
     "Forever." She smiled back at him with a kind of tender scorn. He was such a baby. Men were. Thank God she'd gotten him settled down before he did something really tragic. The police? We'd be dead before Christmas.
     Despite everything she'd said, she hadn't quite forgotten the empty crib herself. She glanced at it past his shoulder. She'd thought, in their brief conversation, that Delia was a little round the bend, but that could have been just the loss of her baby. It occurred to her that Delia had not said how she lost the baby.   She frowned, and quickly pushed that thought aside. Women did lose their babies. It didn't say anything about them. It didn't mean she couldn't be a good mother.
     Anyway, what could she do about that, about any of it? Nothing was what. She had them to think about now. Them, and the baby they'd have in time. It hadn't been quite a lie she had told him. Anyways, it was easy enough to make it true. Maybe even by the time they got to California. It would be another boy. To make up for the son he'd lost. In time, he'd forget all about the other one. It would be as if that child had never been, just one of his pot dreams.
     She wouldn't forget, she couldn't, but she could live with it. Women were stronger that way. You did what you had to do. That's what life was. Life had to be lived. The only question was how.
     Later, there'd be time enough to cry. She could feel the tears inside her, wanting to come out, but she took them in a fierce grip and put them away, for a time when they could be wept in private. It was better that way. Someone had to be strong.
     "Come on," she said, "get those boxes off the back porch, start putting stuff in them."
     "For Christ's sake," Julio said, taking a curve at high speed, the tires squealing. Putting distance behind them as fast as he could. What if that fool came after them, looking for his baby? Julio hadn't seen a car parked by the house, but that didn't mean there wasn't one, in back maybe. "Why'd you have to take their...?"
     "My baby." She hugged the little blanket wrapped bundle to her bosom, patting him tenderly. "He's my baby."
     "He's not-"
     "He's my son." She said it ferociously, her eyes flashing dementedly in the silver blue glare of the dashboard lights. "My son."
     He bit back a retort, glanced in the mirror at the still unpenetrated darkness behind them.
     He thought, not for the first time, that she was probably crazy.
     Women. Christ. And now a baby, to get in the way. To hold him back.
     It wasn't good for a man to be burdened.

Deadly Slumber #4
Chapter ONE
     The House of the Dead.
     He hadn't known, when he made the appointment, how appropriate that old sobriquet would be before the day, before the hour, even, was out.
     That's what they had called Bartholomew's Mortuary when David Solomon was growing up just a few blocks from here—never dreaming that one day he would be standing outside like this, looking up at the pseudo-Italian palazzo, and summoning his courage to go inside for a job interview.
     "You're going to work at the House of the Dead?" his sister Rose had asked, laughing.
     "I hope. And live there too, if I get the internship."
     "Won't you feel, you know, icky? All those dead people?"
     "Dead people are just dead, Rosie. You want icky, I'll take you to a gay dinner party or two. You'll come to welcome a non-bitchy corpse."
     He'd been so used to seeing the building, though, that as anachronistic as it was here in San Francisco's near-Mission, midst crumbling mansions and almost mansions, he had long since ceased to take any particular notice of it.
     Today, however, perhaps because it had taken on a new significance in his life, or maybe it was only a trick of the early morning sunlight, but when he came around the corner from 17th Street, he saw it with new eyes, the way you catch sight of a different you in a store window's glass. Pausing outside to really look at the mortuary's facade, he could suddenly fully appreciate it for the beautiful monstrosity that it was, in a way he'd never done before.
     Built for a gold field millionaire whose fortune had vanished as quickly as it accrued—apparently before he'd spent so much as a single night in his new mansion—the palazzo looked, as wags sometimes put it, "about as Venetian as an amusement park funhouse." It was generally said, though, with an affectionate scorn. It was bastard architecture, to be sure, but fascinating in its own way.
     The millionaire who'd commissioned the building had quickly vanished into obscurity, and the palazzo's subsequent history had been checkered: an expensive bordello, a brief and unsuccessful stint as a hotel (Victorian era guests apparently shied away from sleeping in a former bordello), a gambling casino, a speakeasy, a bordello again ("A whorehouse," some insisted this time), and for a year or so a boarding house, after which it had sat empty for ten years or more before Percy Bartholomew Senior, looking about for a place to establish a business, had seen it and said, "There, that will be Bartholomew's Mortuary."
The building was enormous, and for years Bartholomew's had needed only the first floor. The top three floors were used for storage and an apartment in which the thrifty Percy lived when he was not hard at work, which was seldom. It had been then a one-man operation, Percy serving as his own embalmer, funeral director, grief counselor, maintenance man, and accountant.
     That remained the case for years, and might have continued for the life of the mortuary, had it not been for one twist of fate: the AIDS epidemic.
     "It's an ill wind," Percy had been fond of saying, though this wind did not blow until after his demise.
When the AIDS plague first struck, many mortuaries did not want to deal with the bodies of its victims. The families of many of those who died conspired with the funeral homes in ordering hasty cremations, often with no kind of service, often without even posted obituaries. People just disappeared. They were there and then they weren't.
     "No services," was the order of the day.
     Enter Bartholomew's. Percy Bartholomew Junior, son of the now deceased founder, made a momentous decision, which he trumpeted throughout San Francisco's gay community: "Bartholomew's will provide full funerary services for AIDS victims, just as with any other deceased." An announcement, as it happened, heard round the world.
     The ill wind of AIDS had been the making of the mortuary's fortunes. Additional slumber rooms, in the old fashioned terminology still in use at Bartholomew's, were opened. A growing list of interns came here to work for little more than slave wages while they finished their schooling, and served their apprenticeships.
     Even when an intern did not eventually join the firm, everyone knew that an internship at Bartholomew's was worth its weight in gold at any mortuary anywhere in the country.
     "Be gay," was a sort of unofficial motto for those applying for internship. It was generally understood, though rarely discussed openly, that being gay was a bonus for an applicant. At the very least, one must be fully comfortable with gay clients. Being especially good looking, and gay oriented, was practically a call to apply.
     David Solomon, having completed his first year in mortuary school, and blessed with the sort of good looks that made passersby stop on the street and stare after him, had heard the call.
* * * * *
     The first of the tour busses was just pulling up outside Mission Dolores, down the street. The early morning breeze was strengthening to a wind, tossing David's dark curls, and making his blazer billow out behind him.
     He pushed his way through the wrought iron gate, climbed the wide, shallow steps, and shoved open the elaborately carved front door. The vestibule in which he found himself, and that he had never seen before, was no less fantastic than the building's exterior. Elaborately inlaid marble covered the floor in an intricate pattern of sand, ocher and umber. In the very middle of the space, an airy staircase of black wrought iron spiraled upward, and when he glanced up he saw, four floors above, a domed ceiling painted in garishly impressive frescoes.
     He stood for a long moment, craning his neck to study with a guilty sense of pleasure what surely must have been inspired by the Sistine Chapel, if it had fallen well short of its inspiration. It reminded him of the cheap plastic replicas of Michelangelo's David that one saw in the tawdrier souvenir shops at Fisherman's Wharf, but on a much more grandiose scale. Kitschy, but not unlikable. Like the building itself, really.
     Someone cleared his throat. David tore his attention from the artwork overhead, and looked to his right. A tall man, whose good looks were just beginning to fade, with pale blond hair so carefully arranged and with so bright a sheen that it might have been made of ceramic, came from behind an ornate teak counter.
     "Mister Solomon?" he said.
     "Yes." David came forward, hand outstretched. "I'm David Solomon."
     "Cyril Bartholomew." Cyril Bartholomew looked him up and down, seeming pleased with what he saw. "Jewish."
     "Yes. Non practicing." And was immediately embarrassed to have said it. What did that have to do with anything? It was something entirely private, wasn't it, whether or not he practiced his family's religion?
     "I don't think we've had a Jewish director before. Our directors, of course, are chosen for qualities other than their religious practices. Or non practices, as it may. My Uncle Percy will be interviewing you this morning. He's the managing director of the firm. Come with me, please." He turned in the direction of the reception desk and the doors that opened behind and on either side of it, and hesitated.
     "Normally," he said, "we'd take the elevator or the stairs from the business wing. But, this being your first visit, perhaps you'd prefer the scenic route, through the public spaces?"
     "I would, actually."
     Cyril nodded, as if in approval, and led the way to the curving stairs.
     "What are they?" David asked.
     The blond man paused with one foot on the first step. "I beg your pardon?"
     "What are the qualities for which your directors are chosen?"
     Cyril took a moment to look him over again, slowly, from head to toe, and back. He might have been smiling faintly, but his face was a mask. It was difficult to be sure. Certainly there was a gleam in his eye that came from something more than the gilded chandelier above them.
     "You have the look," he said, and started upward.
     David followed, resisting the temptation to take another glimpse at that outrageous ceiling overhead, and kept his eyes instead on Cyril Bartholomew's ramrod straight back. Cyril was ahead of him up the stairs, though, with the result that his buttocks were practically on a level with David's eyes. David found himself looking at them, then, rather than Cyril's back.
     Nicely sculpted buttocks they were, too, as David was altogether aware, with lush curves like a ripe peach, a similarity enhanced by the tawny silk of the trousers encasing them. David could not help thinking that, like a peach, they invited one to sink one's teeth into them. He was mesmerized by the play of muscles as their owner climbed upward, and found himself actually leaning toward them. He caught himself with a start.
     What a way that would be to begin his experience at Bartholomew's, he thought, laughing silently at himself—biting into the butt of one of the directors! He wasn't altogether sure, though, whether that would be a bad thing for his career, or a good one. The invitation they offered did not seem entirely unintended. It appeared to him Cyril Bartholomew wore nothing between his flesh and the silk of his trousers.
     He made a mental note to observe if this state of dress was unique to Cyril alone, or indicated a style suggestion for staff members. After all, he very much wanted to fit in—if he got the job. And, he thought his own buttocks were rather nicely shaped. They'd look just fine, he felt sure, in tightly fitted silk, without the hindrance of underthings. He wished in fact that he'd thought of that beforehand. Everyone in the industry understood looks mattered when it came to Bartholomew's, and he had a notion that his own butt was one of his best features.
     Once, Cyril looked back over his shoulder and smiled, and David had the impression that he was not at all unaware of the sight he was presenting to the young man following him up the stairs.
     They reached the second floor. David had a glimpse of a chapel, filled with flowers, the perfume of roses and lilies and chrysanthemums seeming to flow out the open door like a fog of scent.
     "Our original slumber rooms are on the ground floor. Of course, everyone wants them. The selection room is there as well, and the embalming room. I'll skip that for today. The newer parlors are here, on second," Cyril said, waving a hand at the second floor corridor. "They're a bit smaller, but also more up to date. Depending upon your interview, we can look at those later. The offices and the staff rooms are on the next level, along with a small kitchenette and cafeteria for our employees, and a quite good coffee shop for our guests." He started up another flight of stairs. "The top floor, that would be the fourth, is the dormitory for our interns."
     David was suddenly aware of the silence that surrounded them. It seemed total. The thick carpet on the stairs swallowed up their footsteps, and when Cyril spoke, it was in little more than a whisper, though it had the effect almost of a shout. No breeze stirred the thick forest green brocade of the draperies. The air was not just still, it seemed gelid, as if they moved through it only with effort.
     His mother would have said his imagination was running away with him. The atmosphere here was supposed to be hushed. Except in ghost stories, the dead weren't given to clatter.
     They reached the third floor and went down a long corridor, past an open door where two or three well-dressed and handsome men were having coffee. They glanced at David with some interest as he went by but no one spoke, and Cyril did not pause for introductions.
     He knocked at a tall mahogany door at the corridor's far end, waited for a respectful moment, then knocked again, a little louder. Finally, he pushed a door open, tentatively.
     "Uncle Percy?" he said, stepping into the room, and then, in a sibilant whisper, "Oh, Jesus!"
     Crowding in behind him, David first saw the enormous desk centered before the two green draped windows, the morning sunlight streaming in so boldly that for a few seconds he was all but blinded. It was another moment before he followed the direction of Cyril's wide-eyed gaze, and saw the man stretched out on the roan leather sofa against one wall.
     He was dead. Even with only a year of training at the San Francisco Mortuary College, David could tell that at a glance. Eyes were open but unseeing, and a small trail of vomit had trickled from his mouth, staining one cheek. His shoes were on the floor beside the sofa, and near them, a large liquor bottle, on its side; a smaller bottle also, with a prescription label on it, too small to read at this distance, an empty glass and—tellingly—a syringe.
     Cyril Bartholomew stepped to the corpse. One hand clutched a sheet of paper. Cyril took it from the lifeless fingers and, unfolding it, glanced at it briefly before folding it again and slipping it into the pocket of his suit jacket.
     "Suicide?" David said.
     "Obviously," was the answer. "You'd better go down to the reception desk. Take that elevator there, it'll be quicker. Matt's office is just behind reception. Tell him to come here. And stay there yourself, to welcome any guests. Mister and Mrs. Bunderson are due shortly. Escort them into the front parlor, the Rose Room, and make them comfortable. There's a bell pull there. If you need anything, coffee or whatever, ring for Armando. He'll take care of it."
     David knew then that he had gotten the job.

Deadly Silence #5
     He knew, and knew why as well. For a fluttering moment, he thought of pushing the little button to summon the nurse, or even crying out. Something, anything to resist.
     But why? What would be the point of resisting? It would happen, if not in this moment, then another, and not so far distant in time, either. You could not forever deny justice, and he was not so great a fool he did not know this was it.
     He looked into the eyes regarding him and saw in them the cold loathing of knowledge, a knowledge he'd always dreaded seeing. From whence had it come? Or had it always been there, and he had just failed to see it.
     "Are you awake?" The whisper was so faint he might almost have imagined it, had he not felt its breath touch his cheek. Close. So very close. And so far, too. "Really awake?"
     Awake enough, the whisper meant, to know what is happening. He closed his eyes, managed a sighed, "Yes." To both questions.
     "I'm going to kill you."
     "Yes," he said again.
     It was no more than he expected. And no less.

Chapter One
     Stanley Korski was happy to hear the telephone ring. Business had been slow, and that left him too much time to ponder things. Just at this moment, there were things buzzing about in his mind that he really did not want to think about. That little voice inside the head—how did one get that to shut up, when it just insisted on nattering on and on? About stuff that you truly did not want to contemplate.
     "Danzel and Korski, Private Investigators."
     "Which one have I gotten?" a woman's voice asked, a little coldly, Stanley thought, but really, though they hadn't been in the business a terribly long time, he'd already learned that people were rarely chatty and warm when they were calling private investigators. Usually, they were in some kind of a jam. For sure, the season notwithstanding, this woman whose voice he did not recognize wasn't calling to wish him Merry Christmas.
     "This is Stanley Korski."
     "My name is Pendleton. Patience Pendleton. A mutual acquaintance, Molly Mullins, suggested I call you."
     Stanley didn't remember a Molly Mullins, but that counted for next to nothing. People also apparently needed excuses to call on detectives. Sometimes they made their excuses up.
     "You need a detective?" Stanley nodded in his partner's direction and switched the phone to speaker, so Tom Danzel could listen to the conversation as well.
     "Yes." The voice hesitated. "It's my father. Abe Pendleton. Albert. Someone has tried to murder him."
     "Really?" Stanley Korski took a few seconds to absorb that statement and fling a questioning glance in Tom's direction. Despite the movies and detective books, private investigators didn't usually get this kind of call. "Uh, have you talked to the police about this attempted murder, Miss...Pendleton, did you say?"
That was greeted with a snort of derision. "I talked to them. For all the good it did."
     "Well, then..."
     "They think I'm playing drama queen. And the nursing home says it was an accident. But they would say that, wouldn't they? If you're running a rehab house, you wouldn't want it known that somebody was trying to kill your patients. Though personally I can't see how they'd come across any better if it was an accident. Sounds careless, you know what I mean?"
     "How can you be so sure it wasn't an accident?" Tom asked.
     "Is that Mister Danzel? I can't be sure, not one hundred percent. If I knew...but, that's why I'm calling you." She sounded a little impatient that they didn't automatically grasp that. "That's what I want you to find out. I want you to look into the incident. If it was an accident, which I seriously doubt, that's one thing. But if someone tried to kill him, then that's very much a horse of a different color."
     "I understand, only, there must have been something that roused your suspicion," Tom said.
     "There was. I talked to the nurse right after it happened, and the nurse was convinced he'd given his patient the right dose. It was Father's insulin, he'd gotten way too much, and it put him in a coma. But the nurse insisted he'd given him just the prescribed amount. He was so clear on that point."
     "Still, accidents do happen," Stanley said. "Even a competent nurse can make a mistake. And, he wouldn't want to admit it, would he?"
     "That's true. But he was so certain. And that's not all of it, either. I tried to talk to him again, and he'd disappeared."
     "Disappeared?" Tom echoed.
     "Just like that." A muffled sound over the phone that might have been the snap of fingers. "Gone. I asked the administrator at the home how I could get in touch with him, and what I got was a big fat runaround. At first, they said they couldn't give out private information like that. Then, when I threatened to get our lawyers involved, they changed their tune, said the nurse in question had left without giving them a forwarding address. Doesn't that make you suspicious? A patient goes into a coma, nearly dies from a massive overdose of his medicine, and a day later, the person who administered it has vanished. And we're talking about a nurse. What's he going to live off if he plans to vanish from the face of the earth? Nurses have to register, don't they?"
     Tom didn't really know but he thought that was probably true. Anyway, he had to admit what she said did make him suspicious too, at least a little. "What hospital was this?"
     "Bella Vista, overlooking the Castro. And it isn't a hospital, it's a nursing home."
     "What's the difference?" Tom asked.
     "The doctors don't do surgery," she said in the tone of voice one would use with a somewhat slow child. "There's no intensive care. Patients come there when they're past the critical stages in their recovery. It's more in the nature of rehab."
     "And your father was there because...?"
     "It's almost ridiculous, if it hadn't grown so serious. He went into Saint Sophie's for a routine knee replacement, that was three months ago, and he ended up with MRSA. They've been treating him with daily antibiotics, but his insurance wouldn't continue to pay for that in the hospital, so he was moved to the Bella Vista two weeks ago. He could have come home, but he's bedridden with that knee, and he needs the daily injections. Belle Vista was a better choice."
     "You said an insulin overdose?"
     "Yes. He's diabetic. They've had him on an insulin IV. But something went way wrong with the dosage. He went into a coma. If someone hadn't reacted very quickly..."
     "Who, exactly?" Stanley asked.
     "The same nurse."
     "Look," Tom said, "how about if we get together to discuss this? Would it be convenient for you to come to our offices, and..."
     "No. I take care of my sister. She's...well, you'll no doubt see for yourself. It's not convenient for me to go out and leave her alone with just our housemaid, and I don't have time to get someone in. I want you to come here, to our home. We're in Pacific Heights. The address is..."
     Stanley took down the address, and they agreed to be there that afternoon at four. When they'd finished the call, he phoned his friend Chris, a nurse, to ask what he knew about Bella Vista Nursing Home.
     "Pricey," Chris said. "Has a good reputation. I know the administrator, if you want an intro."
     "I might," Stanley said. "I'll meet you later, at The Cove. You can tell me all about the place."
     "So you think there really is a case in this for us?" Tom asked when Stanley was off the phone.
     "Honey, that address. Big money. Big fees. Santa could be very pleased."
     He also thought, but did not say, we'll be very much occupied for a while. Which ought to give that voice in his head something different to natter about.
* * * * *
     On the way, Tom made a stop at the San Francisco Homicide Bureau, to check in with his one time colleague, Homicide Inspector Bryce.
     "Pendleton," he said to Bryce, "Albert Pendleton, Pacific Heights, currently in a nursing home above the Castro. Had anything called in?"
     Bryce checked. "I'm not supposed to share this kind of information," keying information into the computer even while he said it.
     "I promise I'll keep it to myself." Bryce was right, of course, and they both knew it. But they both knew too that Bryce was a deeply closeted homosexual with a case of the hots for Tom—a fact that Tom had taken advantage of before with no qualms, and didn't hesitate to do so again. It was one of the perks of the good looking, and even the scars on the left side of his face, the results of some severe burns he'd suffered in an earlier case, hadn't seemed to diminish his appeal for Bryce in the least. Tom had learned that somewhat cynical lesson early on in his career: a successful detective used whatever tools he'd been handed.
     In the past, when they had both actually worked in the homicide detail, Tom had taken almost no notice of his fellow Inspector. His relationship with Stanley, however, had broadened his perspective. Now he could look at Bryce and see what he wouldn't have noticed before; that he was an attractive man, even without himself feeling an iota of attraction to him.
     That man-on-man desire was something Tom felt only for Stanley, and that had more to do with the simple fact of his being in love with Stanley than with his being gay—he didn't actually believe he was, despite the undeniable intensity of their relationship. It was just a matter of him and Stanley, some special chemistry that had developed between the two of them. It had nothing to do with gay in general.
     Still, he could see that a gay man would find Bryce appealing. His body was compact, almost stocky, but hard muscled. Clearly he worked out regularly. His face was boyish, slightly freckled, his sandy hair spilled over a wide brow. His mouth was sharply outlined. Clinically, Tom thought it was what was called kissable. But he felt no desire to kiss it. None of it aroused any particular desire in him.
     He had wondered more than once if, had he not found himself engaged with Stanley, he and Bryce at some time or other might have found a way to one another. He knew that Bryce obviously thought so, but Tom had never imagined a scenario in which that seemed even remotely likely.
     He could suppose that, even had Stanley not come into his life, it was possible that a desire, a need, for man on man sexuality might have awakened at some time or other within him, aroused by some other male whose path crossed his. But even supposing that, he would probably never have acted upon it, and certainly not if it had been someone also on the force with him.
     He'd seen relations begin between members of the force, in all gender variants, and he knew that they invariably foundered, to the detriment of both careers. Affairs based on nothing more than lust or boredom, or a craving for some new kind of thrill were doomed from the onset, in his opinion. It was a miracle, one that he preferred not to question too closely, that he and Stanley had somehow managed thus far to work things out between them.
     Even when he had recognized his sexual desire for Stanley, and that had been a major shock to him, he had broken the relationship off, and it had not begun again until Stanley was gone from the force. He was not so great a fool that he didn't recognize the unfairness of that. It was why, despite the fact that he had loved his job and was good at it, he too had resigned from SFPD, opting instead for sharing a detective agency with the man who was now his life's partner. But that was a role Bryce could never have filled for him, however handsome he might be, and however much he might want to.
     Bryce lifted jade green eyes from the computer, met Tom's questioning gaze searchingly. "Nothing in the computer. Why? What makes you ask?"
     "His daughter called us, seems to think someone tried to off Daddy."
     "Did they?"
     "Can't say yet. We're checking. I just wondered how serious she was."
     "Not serious enough to give us a call." Bryce swung his chair away from the computer and looked at his watch. "Hey, how about a coffee downstairs. Haven't seen you in a while."
     "Thanks, but Stanley's waiting in the car."
     "Oh." Bryce's disappointment was undisguised. He made no secret of his resentment of Stanley.     "Well..."
     "Some other time."
     "Sure. Maybe when you're alone."
     "That would be nice. Next time, I promise. I'll give you a call." Tom had gotten the information he'd come for. He felt it was only fair to offer his would-be suitor a ray of hope in return.
     Bryce smiled hopefully. "Do that," he said.
     Which, Tom thought with a pang of guilt, was a little too much like a dog grateful for a pat on the head. Unfortunately, in this case, the dog was never going to get the bone he was longing for. Probably he should just flat out tell Bryce that. But he didn't.
* * * * *
     "Whatever she thinks," Tom told Stanley, "she didn't call in the police."
     "That's odd," Stanley said. They were on their way to the address Patience Pendleton had given them.   "She told us she'd called them and they shined her on."
     "Which tells me she's not really all that sure. But she has some reason for wanting us to think she is."
     "Well, really, common sense says it's far more likely it was an accident, just as the nursing home says. And if the nurse was so quick to discover the problem, that the patient had gone into a coma, it could just be because he realized right away what he'd done, that he had made a mistake."
     "I'm no medical expert," Tom said, "But it doesn't seem like the most logical way to murder someone."
     "You're forgetting Hannah Hunter. Up in Bear Mountain. That's how she killed her mother. But she'd set that up in advance. And, of course, Ms. Pendleton's father wasn't actually killed, was he? I mean, we're thinking, either accident or murder, but it might not have been either, exactly."
     Tom frowned, steered around a stopped bus on Van Ness. "Meaning, what then?"
     "A warning?"

A Deadly Kind of Love #6
Chapter One
“WHEW. That was quite a party!” Chris Rafferty breathed a weary sigh and leaned back against the car’s headrest, letting his eyelids drift closed. “I’m just past the next bend.”

“Sweet.” The car leaned gently around a final curve. “Whoa, you’re staying here?” the driver, Eddie, exclaimed. “At the Winter?”

“Umm hmm.” Chris’s reply was heavy with threatening sleep. He was having trouble staying awake. “Is that special?”

“Special?” Eddie whistled faintly under his breath. “Gosh, the Winter Beach Inn is like the top place to stay in Palm Springs these days. The top gay place, for sure. I don’t know, maybe the top place period.” He turned his head to look at Chris in the pale greenish glow from the dashboard. “So, are you some kind of millionaire, or what?”

“Me?” Chris laughed. “Hardly. I’m a nurse. I told you earlier. Did you ever hear of a millionaire nurse?”

“No, but I don’t know many nurses who could afford to stay here either. It’s mostly rich, older queens. Let me guess, you’ve got a sugar daddy, right?”

Another laugh. “Not me. My best friend, Stanley Korski, he works sometimes for this big name decorator in San Francisco, Wayne Cotter, and Wayne drops enormous bucks here whenever he comes to town. He might even own a piece of the pie, I don’t know. Anyway, when I said I was coming to Palm Springs, Stanley called Wayne, and Wayne called the Inn, and voilà. I got a room on the house.”

“Talk about lucky.” The car slowed. “So, what suite are you in? They’re all named for movie stars, right?”

“Right. I got the Jeanette McDonald. Oh, no, wait, they switched my room. Just as I was coming out tonight, as a matter of fact. I was headed for the door and stopped to powder my nose, and I realized my toilet had backed up, and as quick as you please, they moved me lock, stock, and barrel to the Alice Faye. I didn’t even have to lift a pinkie. You can drop me here.”

They pulled up by the massive gates—locked at this late hour. Eddie switched off the headlights. “You sure you don’t want to, uh… you know?” he said. He glanced upward. The sky was still dark, but with the opalescence that foretold the morning. “We could greet the dawn, so to speak.”

“Ah, thanks, um,” Chris mumbled the name, afraid he wouldn’t get it right. “I would, but I’m beat. I’m not as young as I used to be. Next time, okay?”

“Sure.” Eddie sounded disappointed, but not too. “I’m kind of ragged myself, to tell the truth. You wanna have lunch tomorrow?”

“Too early. I’m going to sleep in. Let’s say dinner. Why don’t you call me? Only, not before noon, okay?”

“Sounds good. Hey, you know what, can we eat here? I’ve always wanted to see inside this place. This is probably the only chance I’ll ever get.”

“Absolutely. The food’s good too.” Chris leaned across the seat to give his companion a quick peck, which turned into something a bit more prolonged. They rubbed together for a long moment, lips locked.

“Sure you don’t want to change your mind?” Eddie asked when they came up for air.

“Trust me, it would be a futile gesture,” Chris said. He opened his door to slide out. “Tomorrow, okay? Not too early.”

He used his key card to let himself through the gates, took the yellow brick path about the main building. During the day the swimming pool was sometimes so crowded with bodies that you could hardly see the water, but now it was empty, a huge turquoise kidney, smelling of chlorine. The fronds of the palm trees overhead rattled like ghostly castanets. A white napkin, missed by the cleaners, blew past his feet in the desert breeze, caught on the leg of a chair, a linen tumbleweed.

He got to the door of the Jeanette McDonald suite before he remembered he had been moved and half staggered to the next door over. He’d had way too much to drink tonight, plus smoking a couple of joints, and what was that pill he’d taken, anyway? Not to mention he had danced until his legs actually felt shaky.

“Getting old, Christopher,” he told himself, letting himself into the Alice Faye suite.

The room was dark. From his earlier brief inspection, he remembered blue ruffles and lots of frills, and a parasol for a lampshade. More frills, maybe, than he wanted to face just at the moment. He didn’t bother turning on the lights. The faint glow through the curtains was enough to show him his way to the bathroom door, a first stop his bladder was absolutely demanding. Always listen when your bladder demands, was his motto.

In the harsh glare from the bathroom’s overhead light, he blinked and glowered at his disheveled appearance in the mirrors that covered all the walls—eyes bleary, hair in disarray, a big stain of some sort on the front of his shirt. Multiple appearances, he corrected himself. You could watch several of you, or maybe several of somebody else, take a leak.

He smiled sleepily, thinking of a friend or two who would find that pleasantly kinky—but at the moment, business was more urgent than admiring, or not admiring, himself. His little playmate popped out of his trousers just in time for a noisy pee that went on and on and on. It was definitely blessed relief. He sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. There were times he honestly believed it was better than an orgasm.

Flushing, he avoided looking at the mirrors again. One glimpse was enough to remind him he was no longer a kid and that late night carousing took its toll in ways it hadn’t ten years earlier. His wool-coated teeth really needed a good brushing, but he was too tired. He flipped the light off before he opened the door and went out.

After the brightness in the bathroom, the bedroom was dark as pitch, nothing to be seen but the pale rectangle of the window across the room, the blue-green light from the swimming pool leaking through. He felt his way in what he thought was the right direction for the bed and, bumping into it, dropped down on it with a noisy, “oof.”

In a minute or two, he told himself, he would get up and strip off his clothes and get under the covers like a civilized man. For the moment, though, he just wanted to lie there, catching his breath, savoring the memory of a great night on the town.

His breathing slowed. He did not, after all, exactly feel like going to all the trouble of getting up and undressing. He thought instead he’d just snooze for a little bit. There was always time to take your pants off, wasn’t there? It wasn’t like there was somebody with him to take them off for.

Which reminded him briefly of the young man who had dropped him off at the gate. Eddie, was that his name? Cute. Japanese, with almond skin and soft dark eyes and lips of velvet, sweet to the kiss. And horny, certainly, despite the late hour and all the entertainment. Maybe he should have…?

Too late for that, he told himself sternly. And he didn’t think he had the energy to masturbate, either. He really was getting old. He turned onto his side, let one arm flop limply across the bed—and discovered there was something in the bed with him.

One hand went tentatively up and down. Yes, it was just what he’d thought at first, a body. As if his horny thoughts had conjured it up—a male body, lying on its back; it took only seconds of exploration to confirm the gender. A naked male body, which made the confirmation much easier than it otherwise might have been.

Even drunk and tired as he was, he thought there was something to be said for having a warm naked body in bed with you. Pleasant to contemplate, certainly. There was just one slight problem with that scenario, however.

This body was not warm.

Author Bio:
I've been writing all my life, but professionally for half a century, with more than 200 published books and many shorter works. Publisher's Weekly credited me with "the master's touch in storytelling." I was born in Pennsylvania but the family moved to Ohio when I was a baby. I grew up in a small town there but lived most of my adult life in California, both Southern (The Los Angeles area) and northern (San Francisco) - but now I live and write in West Virginia's beautiful Blue Ridge.   At age 75, I'm in a sort of semi-retirement, but still do the occasional story when ideas pop into my head - the most recent was Cooper's Hawk, available on Amazon, a bittersweet story of long time love. I'm presently working to get my backlist uploaded to Kindle and some of the books on audio.


Deadly Nightshade #1

Deadly Wrong #2

Deadly Dreams #3

Deadly Slumber #4

Deadly Silence #5

A Deadly Kind of Love #6