Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Snow & Winter by CS Poe

The Mystery of Nevermore #1
It’s Christmas, and all antique dealer Sebastian Snow wants is for his business to make money and to save his floundering relationship with closeted CSU detective, Neil Millett. When Snow’s Antique Emporium is broken into and a heart is found under the floorboards, Sebastian can’t let the mystery rest.

He soon finds himself caught up in murder investigations that echo the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe. To make matters worse, Sebastian’s sleuthing is causing his relationship with Neil to crumble, while at the same time he’s falling hard for the lead detective on the case, Calvin Winter. Sebastian and Calvin must work together to unravel the mystery behind the killings, despite the mounting danger and sexual tension, before Sebastian becomes the next victim.

In the end, Sebastian only wants to get out of this mess alive and live happily ever after with Calvin.

The Mystery of the Curiosities #2
ife has been pretty great for Sebastian Snow. The Emporium is thriving and his relationship with NYPD homicide detective, Calvin Winter, is everything he’s ever wanted. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Sebastian’s only cause for concern is whether Calvin should be taken on a romantic date. It’s only when an unknown assailant smashes the Emporium’s window and leaves a peculiar note behind, that all plans get pushed aside in favor of another mystery.

Sebastian is quickly swept up in a series of grisly yet seemingly unrelated murders. The only connection tying the deaths together are curiosities from the lost museum of P.T. Barnum. Despite Calvin’s attempts to keep Sebastian out of the investigation, someone is forcing his hand, and it becomes apparent that the entire charade exists for Sebastian to solve. With each clue that’ll bring him closer to the killer, he’s led deeper into Calvin’s official cases.

It’s more than just Sebastian’s livelihood and relationship on the line—it’s his very life.

The Mystery of the Moving Image #3
It’s summer in New York City, and antique shop owner Sebastian Snow is taking the next big step in his relationship with NYPD homicide detective, Calvin Winter: they’re moving in together. What should have been a wonderful week of playing house and celebrating Calvin’s birthday comes to an abrupt end when a mysterious package arrives at the Emporium.

Inside is a Thomas Edison Kinetoscope, a movie viewer from the nineteenth century, invented by the grandfather of modern cinema, W. K. L. Dickson. And along with it, footage of a murder that took place over a hundred years ago.

Sebastian resists the urge to start sleuthing, even if the culprit is long dead and there’s no apparent danger. But break-ins at the Emporium, a robbery, and dead bodies aren’t as easy to ignore, and Sebastian soon realizes that the century-old murder will lead him to a modern-day killer.

However, even with Sebastian’s vast knowledge of Victorian America and his unrelenting perseverance in the face of danger, this may be the one mystery he won’t survive.

**Free Read Codas**
New Year's Eve #1.1
The Inner Workings of Sebastian Snow #1.2
Little Moments #2.1
Chost of Durango #3.1

The Mystery of Nevermore #1
When Sebastian Snow comes into his antigue shop one morning he can smell something isn't right and when a heart is found under the floorboard, suddenly his life is changed.  When Calvin Winter and his partner are sent to Snow’s Antique Emporium to investigate a heart under the floorboard he never expected to find his life changed.  Will Snow and Winter find a connection beyond the murders straight out of Edgar Allan Poe and will they even survive?

I'm just going to jump out of the gate and say WOW!!!  How this series has slipped my reader radar I have no idea but now that I found it I am loving it!  I'll admit that Snow & Winter may not make my annual re-read list but I do know that I will pay them another visit down the road๐Ÿ˜‰ They may not be at the top of my Top 10 Crime-Fighting Duo list but they certainly made the list and to be completely honest the notches between numbers 4, 5, & 6 are so small I would never want to place a bet on something so minute.

Edgar Allan Poe has been the basis for many book mysteries and I have yet to read any that aren't uniquely done.  The books and stories the writers use may have been used before but there is so much room for interpretation with Poe's work that they are always originally done and CS Poe has put her own intriguing spin to it.  That's all I'm going to say towards the mystery side of The Mystery of Nevermore except I will add that I was guessing all the way to the reveal and that alone makes this a keeper as I am rarely surprised right up to the end anymore because I have been reading/watching mysteries for nearly all of my 44 years on this earth.

As for Snow and Winter themselves, well what's not to love?  Sebastian Snow is an antique dealer that has an unlikely(or not so unlikely in fictional settings) ability to find himself in the middle of trouble.  Who knew antiquing could be so dangerous? I love his respect for history and his determination to discover what's going on.  As for Calvin Winter, he may not be out of the closet yet but he knows that Seb is a special person even if he is a trouble magnate who doesn't exactly listen.  Together they have the potential be extraordinary.

The Mystery of the Curiosities #2
Sebastian Snow is trying to decide what kind of date night to come up with for his first Valentine's Day with Calvin Winter when Snow’s Antique Emporium front window is smashed with a note attached.  When the vandalism appears to be connected to PT Barnum's lost museum will Seb be able to stand to the side as Winter and his partner investigate or does the assailant have other plans?

Once again, Snow and Winter find themselves swept up in crime.  Again I ask who knew antiquing could be so dangerous?  I found myself fascinated with the whole PT Barnum connection that has drawn Seb in, so intriguing, original, and fun.  Okay, "fun" might be the wrong word for crime and murder but I'll be honest, CS Poe has made it fun.  I love how she continues to blend history into the contemporary mystery via Snow's love of antiques.

Not really a whole lot more I can say that I didn't say in my review for book 1 when it comes to Snow and Winter themselves except that as their relationship continues to move forward I think I fell in love with them even more.  Even if Seb hasn't really learned anything about staying out of it๐Ÿ˜‰  The Mystery of the Curiosities is just pure entertaining from beginning to end.

The Mystery of the Moving Image #3
When Sebastian Snow receives one of the most unigue items he probably has ever seen, a working kenitiscope with a film reel he is completely confused as there is no information who sent it or why.  Upon viewing the film he sees something he never thought possible, footage of a live murder from over 100 years ago.  Can Calvin help him solve the century old murder and will solving Seb's case lead to solving the murders happening since receiving the film?

I didn't think it possible but I loved The Mystery of the Moving Image even more than the first two in the Snow & Winter series.  Perhaps it's the movie lover in me that felt more connected to this one.  Whatever the reason, Moving Image is brilliant!  Intriguing, interesting, unique, and once again fun.  That's right, CS Poe has made antiquing and murder fun๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‰

I won't say anything more about the plot and as far as Seb and Calvin's relationship goes I love how they keep moving forward.  Calvin knows that Seb probably won't listen to him when he tells him to stay out of it and although this probably frustrates him he just takes a deep breath and does what he can to minimize the fallout.  They balance each other out in so many ways.

As I just found this series I was able to read them one right after the other but I fear now that I will have to wait a while for the next installment but I know it will be well worth it and I eagerly await the wonders that Seb finds at his door next.  I suppose technically each book is a standalone as the mystery begins and ends within the covers but I highly recommend reading them in order as the relationship between Seb and Calvin grows and there are minor mentions to the previous cases.


The Mystery of Nevermore #1

I didn’t mean in a figurative sense. I meant something smelled like it was decaying.

“Shit,” I muttered. I stood at the door of my antique shop, hand to my nose.

Tupperware. It had to be an old lunch.

It was a wintry, miserable Tuesday in New York City, two weeks’ shy of Christmas. The snow was coming down heavily at seven in the morning, blanketing the city and producing an eerie, muted effect. I had shown up early to my business, Snow’s Antique Emporium, in downtown Manhattan, with the intention of going through some newly acquired inventory. Instead, I was dripping melted snow onto the welcome mat and trying to pinpoint that god-awful stench.

I quickly hung up my jacket and hat and changed out of my boots into an old pair of worn loafers beside the door. I ran my fingers through my unruly hair and smoothed the front of my sweater while walking down the tiny, crowded aisles. I stopped to turn on old lamps as I followed the smell. The glow of the lights was subdued, creating a cavernous look for the shop.

At the counter that had an old brass register on it, I took the step up onto the elevated floor, scanning the shop. It smelled even worse here. I reached into my sweater pocket and replaced my sunglasses with black-framed reading glasses. Turning on the bank lamp, I winced and looked away from the light.

I stared at the door standing ajar to my right. It was a tiny little closet that served as an office, with a computer and chair and mini fridge all tucked away for my use.

Does forgotten Thai food smell like death after two days?

I walked in, opened the fridge, and hesitantly sniffed a few cartons. Okay, I needed to do some serious cleaning, but what seemed like a half-eaten burrito was not the source of the odor.

I walked back to the register, groaning loudly as I looked around. Something had to have died—a rat, perhaps? I cringed at the thought of finding a New York City rodent in my shop, but I crouched down and started shoving aside bags and boxes used at checkout while I looked.

The front door opened, the bell chiming overhead. “Good morn—what’s that smell?” my assistant, Max, called. “Sebastian?”

“Over here,” I grumbled.

Max Ridley was a sweet guy, a recent college grad with an art degree he realized rather too quickly wasn’t going to pay his rent. He was smart and knew his history. I’d hired him the same day he’d come in to fill out an application. Max was tall and broad-shouldered—a handsome young man who was maybe bisexual or maybe just out to experience it all. I’d heard enough stories over morning coffee, reading mail, and pricing antiques to know Max’s preference seemed to be mostly anyone.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a one-man sort of guy.

“God, the weather sucks today. Do you think it’ll be busy?” Max asked as he strolled through the shop.

“Usually is,” I said, looking up over the counter.

“What did you leave sitting out?”

“Nothing. I think a rat died or something.”

“Can I turn on more lights? It’ll be easier to find.”

“I already have a headache,” I said absently. I crouched back down to finish moving out the supplies from under the counter.

I was born with achromatopsia, which means I can’t see color. We have two types of light receptor cells in our eyes, cones and rods. Cones see color in bright light, rods see black and white in low light. My cones don’t work. At all. The world to me exists only in varying shades of gray, and I have a difficult time seeing in places with bright lights because the rods aren’t meant for daylight purposes. Usually I wear sunglasses or my special red-tinted contacts as an extra layer of protection….

“I forgot my contacts. And the snow was too bright.”

“Even for shades?”

“Yes. Damn, where is that smell coming from?” I asked while standing.

Max motioned to the register. “Smells the worst right here.”

“Yeah.” I walked back to the steps and promptly fell forward when the creaky floorboard underfoot skidded sideways.

Max lunged out and grabbed me before I could plant my face on the floor. He held me tight, my face smooshed against his armpit. “Did you have another fight with Neil last night?”

“Why?” I asked as I pulled myself free from his hold.

“You’ve got some bad mojo following you around this morning.”

“It wasn’t a fight. It was—you know, I’m not talking about it while the smell of rot continues to permeate my shop.” I turned back to the step and bent to examine the floorboard that had become free.

Bad idea. The stench of decay filled my nostrils, and I fought back the urge to gag.

“I think you found it,” Max muttered, looking down over my shoulder. “I’ll get a bag.”

I nodded silently, holding my nose while I looked into the opening under the floor. It—the thing—wasn’t dark, like a dead rat. It didn’t appear to have fur, but I’d be lying if I said I had great vision when it came to close-up details.

“Max? Come here.”

“What?” His voice came from the office before he joined me with a garbage bag. “What’s up?”

“Look in there.”

“Oh come on. You don’t pay me enough for that.”

“No, I mean, I don’t think that’s a rat.”

Max got down on one knee and glanced inside before quickly pulling back. “What the hell!”

I stared at the floor. “Tear up the planks! Here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

“What is that?”

“Poe,” I replied.

“God, you’re so weird, Seb,” Max muttered.

“What else am I supposed to say?” I asked, pointing at the rotting flesh. “It’s a heart.”

“Who did you kill?”

“I’ll call the cops.”

HAVING TO explain to the dispatcher that I needed police not because of a dead body, but there was a body out there missing an essential part, was certainly the strangest thing I’d done in some time. I’ll admit the situation piqued my interest, but there are 101 things in life I simply don’t have the patience for, and finding someone else’s rotting heart in the floorboards of my shop just about topped the list.

Max sprayed nearly an entire can of air freshener while we waited after the phone call. “Smells like fresh laundry,” he stated while reading the can.

“Oh good,” I said.

“Laundry and death,” Max corrected after a pause. “Sometimes I want to die instead of dragging my dirty clothes to the Laundromat.”

“Max.” I sighed.


I crossed my arms, looking toward the back of the shop at the piles of boxes that had been left there. When new inventory arrived, it needed to be carefully inspected, priced, and arranged in the shop. If it was too priceless for the shop, it needed to be listed for auction, not sitting in a damn box on the floor. Those and several more were collecting dust in my apartment. So much for finally getting around to it all this morning.

There was a rap at the door, and I walked over to unlock it. “Good morning.”

“Sir,” one of the uniformed officers said. “We got a call—”

“There’s a body part in my floor,” I quickly answered, leading them through the aisles toward the register.

It was pretty clear they’d been sent to dispel whatever fear or confusion the dispatcher thought I was experiencing, yet they followed without complaint or comment. The first officer removed his cap as he bent down to the opening I pointed at. He only glanced inside before shaking his head and rising.

“Brigg,” he spoke to his partner, and the woman approached.

I watched them confer briefly before she got on her radio. “So,” I said, “do we need some hazmat team or something?”

“Can I get your name, sir?” the officer replied as he removed a notepad from his belt.

“Sebastian Snow.”

“And do you run this business?”


“Own the building?”

“No. I wish.”

He looked up. “Approximately when did you suspect something was in the store?”

“You mean—that?” I asked while looking down at the floor. “When I opened the door this morning, I could smell it. It was about seven.”

“Does anyone else have access to the store?” The officer looked over my shoulder at Max.

“Max has keys, but only I and—only I have access to the security code,” I explained.

The truth was, my partner of four years, Neil Millett, also had keys and the code, but mentioning his name around cops was a bit tricky. He was a detective with the NYPD’s forensic investigations unit, and very much in the closet. So much so that the only people who knew we were living together were Max and my father. Neil didn’t want other officers knowing he was gay, and when I was twenty-nine with a heart all aflutter for a sexy detective, I didn’t mind. Now I was thirty-three, and it was wearing me out.

The officer wrote down a few notes. “Do you have cameras? You have a lot of expensive-looking items in here.”

“I have one, but it’s been on the fritz for the past month.” I had been suffering from a lack of mental stamina lately and just hadn’t found the energy to give a shit about a number of things, camera included.

It wasn’t like me. I knew that.

Neil made a point of bringing up my recent attitude. A lot. It only pissed me off more.

The officer continued taking down my contact information, then asked for Max’s as well. A few more basic questions followed, and then Brigg led two plain-clothed cops from the front door toward us. Glancing around the now congested aisle, I saw yet another woman entering, carrying some sort of medical kit.

The overhead lights, which I never used, were switched on without warning, and the entire room was washed out of sight. I hastily covered my eyes and turned away, stumbling and reaching around the countertop. Max went to the other corner to avoid the police and the heart, grabbed my sunglasses, and handed them over just as someone spoke my name.

“Mr.… Snow, is it?” a woman asked.

Turning as I put on my shades, I was confronted with the two new cops. The woman who spoke was maybe my age and couldn’t have been an inch over five feet, with a strong build and closely cropped hair. The other, a man, was tall and big and filled out his suit with nothing but muscle. He looked older than Neil, who was thirty-seven. His hair was light, so I guessed it was what I have been told is blond.

I squinted to better study him. He had freckles. A lot, actually. I kind of had a thing for guys with freckles. Cheeks, nose, forehead—he had freckles all over, and it gave him a sort of sweet look initially. Maybe his hair was red instead.

“Sebastian Snow,” I agreed.

The woman took the lead, extending her hand to shake. “I’m Detective Quinn Lancaster, and this is my partner, Detective Calvin Winter.”

“Uh, hi.”

Lancaster smiled. “How’s business been, Mr. Snow?”

“Fine,” I said, confused. It was strange to be looking down at such a short figure of authority, but she had an air of confidence I wasn’t willing to question.

“What can you tell me about your clientele?” Lancaster continued.

I shrugged while crossing my arms. “Regular folks, some with big money, some looking for curiosities. Corporate types, hipsters—I get a little of everyone in here.”

She nodded. “Would it be all right if you removed your sunglasses, sir?”

“I can’t.”

Lancaster looked up at Winter briefly before asking, “Why’s that?”

“I have a light sensitivity. If you turn the overheads off, I will,” I said while pointing up.

Winter turned away and gave an order to one of the uniformed officers. The lights died and the shop was once again illuminated by the strategically placed lamps.

“Better?” Lancaster asked, her tone not mocking or unkind.

I pulled the sunglasses back to rest on my head as I put my regular glasses back on. “Thank you,” I said briskly.

“That’s called photophobia, isn’t it?” she asked.

“I have achromatopsia.”

“I see.” She didn’t bother for more details. “Has anything out of the ordinary happened in the past few weeks?”


Lancaster frowned. “Who found the body part?”

“I did, when I came in. I smelled something awful and started looking for it.”

“Have there been any break-ins or stolen items?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “What’s this about? I’m assuming something bigger is at play here, otherwise you two wouldn’t be grilling me.”

“Why do you say that?” Lancaster asked.

“I live with a cop” was what I wanted to say. Four years of stories from Neil had, admittedly, given me an unhealthy interest in whodunit mysteries.

Instead, I just shrugged.

Winter spoke for the first time. “Do you know Bond Antiques?”

“Yeah, on Bond Street and Lafayette,” I confirmed.

“How is your relationship with the owner?”

“I fail to see what that has to do with anything,” I responded. “Mike Rodriguez and I have known each other for a while.”

“How do you get along?” Winter asked.

“He’s competition,” I stated. “What’s going on?”

“Sebastian!” called a familiar voice.

Ignoring the towering mountain that was Detective Winter, I looked around him to see Neil walking through the shop, shaking snow from his coat. I was immediately both happy and frustrated to see him, which didn’t seem like the right response. I hadn’t called to tell him what happened, so there should have been no reason for his appearance.

I turned to the counter. Max raised his hands up defensively and shook his head.

“What’s going on?” Neil asked upon reaching us. He looked at the two other detectives and removed a badge from inside his coat. “Detective Millett, CSU.”

Lancaster didn’t seem interested. “Detective Lancaster, homicide,” she replied with a nod. “My partner, Winter. We haven’t requested forensics yet.”

“Homicide?” I echoed. I mean, sure, I guess technically a heart without a body could mean something more sinister was at work besides a medical cadaver showing up to class and some poor student flunking when he had no heart to dissect.

I looked at Neil. He seemed concerned and maybe nervous, and for a minute, I was happy because he was worried about me. The annoyance I had been harboring toward him all morning suddenly washed away, and I had the urge to reach out for a hug.

“Sebastian is—a friend,” Neil said.

“Friend,” Winter repeated in a tone I didn’t like.

“He called me.”

Goddamn it, Neil. He was so convinced he’d lose his shield for having a life outside his job, that after four years I was still just his friend in public.

“We’re in the middle of asking Mr. Snow some questions,” Winter said before looking back at me. I swear his gaze was intense enough to strip me down to bare bones. “Mr. Rodriguez’s business was broken into Sunday night.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I answered, turning away from Neil. “Was anything stolen?”

“The investigation is still underway. He pointed a finger at you, though.”

“M-Me?” I asked in surprise. “What—Mike thinks I broke in?”

“Why would he say that?” Winter asked.

“I have no idea,” I quickly answered.

“Where were you Sunday night?” Lancaster asked. “After eight.”

I could feel Neil’s desperation rippling off his body. I had been at home with him. I believe around eight we had been fucking, which had ended prematurely and dissolved into an argument until about nine. That’s where I had been.

“Home,” I said simply. “Look, I’m not answering any more questions without a lawyer, if that’s what I need. I called because I found a human heart in my shop, and now you’re accusing me of robbing someone.”

Neil’s hand was on my elbow next, and he was excusing us while dragging me away. Stopping near the back of the shop, he let go and turned to tower over me. “What the hell is going on?” he whispered.

“What’s going on?” I repeated. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m a cop, Sebby—”

“Don’t call me that.”

“What human heart? Why didn’t you call me?”

I honestly hadn’t thought to ring Neil. Maybe a year or two earlier, the first reaction I’d have had would be to call my cop boyfriend to come solve this peculiar little problem. Now, he hadn’t even crossed my mind. It was disconcerting.

“Nice lie you told, by the way,” I said instead. “I called you? Why the hell did you come if it wasn’t to be here for me?”

“Stop it,” he ordered in a harsh whisper. “We’re not having this argument again.”

“Go back to work, Neil. Everything is fine,” I said stubbornly.

“You didn’t….” He hesitated.

“Tell them about you? No. I know the drill.”

Neil gritted his jaw. He looked angry. He turned back to the other detectives before saying, “Is that Calvin Winter?”

“What? Yeah, why?”

“Be careful what you say to him.”

“Why, Neil?” I repeated.

“Because I hear he’s a homophobe,” Neil said.

Without thinking I replied, “You’re a homophobe.”

Neil looked back at me with a strange expression I couldn’t place. “Real nice, Sebby,” he said after a moment.

I couldn’t take it back, but when I stared up at Neil, when all of our recent arguments over the past month came rushing back, I didn’t care and didn’t want to take it back.

“Go back to work,” I said again. “We’ll talk at home, behind locked doors.”

I was making him angry, and I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t know what had gotten into me lately. Neil and I had been at each other’s throats for weeks. I provoked him, or something he said got under my skin in ways it never did before.

Neil didn’t say another word. He turned while zipping up his coat and brushed by the other detectives in silence on his way out.

I took a breath. It was shaky. I was being cruel to the most important man in my life.

I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose as Lancaster left the woman with the medical supplies and walked toward me with a smile.

“Good news, Mr. Snow.”

“Oh boy.”

“It’s not human.”

Who, Neil? “The heart?”

“It’s a pig’s heart,” she replied.

“A minor relief.” I took another breath, working harder than necessary to calm myself. “So can I open for business?”

She spread her hands. “There’s been no foul play, although it seems like someone wanted to pull a prank on you. I highly suggest you invest in some tighter security.”

No foul play. My gut said otherwise. Two detectives—from homicide, no less—had shown up right away, and I played twenty questions regarding the unfortunate pig and Mike Rodriguez, the latter of which I found extremely strange. Why would time be wasted to send out detectives for something that proved to be nothing? And it still didn’t explain how the pig heart ended up in my shop to begin with.

Lancaster thanked me for my time, to which I muttered some pleasantry. She turned to leave with the medical examiner.

Winter, however, approached me. “Your friend seemed upset.”

I frowned while looking up. I was on the shorter side, only five foot nine, and both Neil and Winter stood a good half a foot taller. Neil was a leaner build, like myself, which was a stark contrast to the brick body that was Detective Winter. He was close enough again that I could study his freckles—which to me actually looked like gray blemishes. They’d be clearer if I invaded his personal space or looked at his skin with a magnifying glass.

Neither of those do I recommend doing to someone you’ve just met.

In comparison, his light-colored eyes were so brilliant and sharp, it was almost unnerving. They reminded me of minerals on display at the Museum of Natural History. They were gorgeous, but also maybe just a little weary. They looked like they’d seen something that had hardened and tired him considerably.

Winter swallowed up the air around me. He was both intimidating and somewhat comforting to be in the presence of. He smelled nice too. Some kind of spice—really different from Neil’s cologne.

“I didn’t break into Mike’s shop,” I said again. For the record.

His gaze shifted slightly to the boxes behind me. “What’s all this?”

I looked over my shoulder, then back at him. “New inventory.”

“From where?”

“Bond Antiques,” I retorted. “Jesus. It’s from an estate sale.”

He reached into his suit coat next, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he pulled his gun with the way I was shooting my mouth off. Instead, he handed me a business card. “Should you conveniently remember something.”

“Like slaughtering some pigs?” I shoved the card in my pocket.

“Have a good day, Mr. Snow.” He turned and walked out of the shop.

THE STORM seemed to have scared off the day’s foot traffic, which on any other afternoon would have worried me, being so close to the holidays when the sales are needed. But I couldn’t concentrate on anything business-related. My salad sat beside me at the register, half eaten and getting soggy as it settled into the pool of vinaigrette dressing. I held a magnifying glass to the mail as I read.

“Why not get bifocals?”

I looked up to see Max staring at me, pulling up the spare stool to sit. “What?”

“The magnifying glass is sort of silly. You pull them out of pockets like you’re an old-timey detective.”

“I tripped down the stairs wearing bifocals when I was younger,” I answered while setting the glass aside and stacking the junk and bills together. “Broke my arm.”

“Yikes.” Max reached out to push my salad around with the fork. If he planned on scalping my meal, the sogginess must have changed his mind. “So why was Neil here?”

“I don’t know.” I stood, brought the mail into the office, and dropped it on the desk.

The morning had been resting heavily on my mind. Usually I was closed on Mondays, but holiday demands often changed my schedule, so I had been open yesterday. When I closed the shop last night just after six, it gave someone a thirteen-hour window to break inside. Max and I had spent the remaining hours of the morning going through the Emporium, and from what we could tell, not a single item had been misplaced.

It was that concept that puzzled me the most. Why break into an antique shop, get past the security alarm, only to steal nothing?

So someone came in, put a decaying pig heart under the floorboards, and hightailed it without taking so much as an old button?

More upsetting was the matter with Mike Rodriguez. I had worked for Mike for a few years before going into business for myself. I respected his knowledge and the success of his shop—he’d been in this line of work for over twenty years now—but he was a cranky old fuck. He hadn’t liked me all that much when I worked for him, and I’m certain he felt slighted, to say the least, when I took everything I had learned to open the Emporium.

Mike specialized in higher-end antiques. Georgian and Victorian furniture, clothing, paintings, and other works of art. It wasn’t where my interests were, and the Emporium was cluttered and stuffed instead with books and old documents, maps, photos, and every little gizmo and gadget from another century. People enjoy the odd and bizarre, like Victorian glove stretchers or tear bottles. The Emporium was doing very well after only a few years of business, and I suspected Mike was insulted.

I walked back out of the office, leaned against the doorframe, and crossed my arms. Mike and I weren’t exactly on friendly terms these days—we certainly weren’t mailing each other Christmas cards—but how the hell had he come to the conclusion that I should be looked at as a possible suspect? Had he waited three years to seek revenge against me? And it wasn’t even revenge so much as insulting my integrity and character.

“Man, look at it coming down,” Max murmured as he stared out toward the front door, watching the storm continue.

“Jingle Bells” started to play on the shop’s speakers. Dashing through the snow, all right. The city was getting buried.

“Why don’t you get out of here early, Max.”


“Yeah. The subways are going to be a wreck, I bet,” I said while walking to the counter.

“Are you leaving?”

Honestly, I wanted to swing by Mike’s place and ask him what was going on, but it didn’t seem like the smartest idea. Maybe I’d give him a call. That was less threatening. As much of an asshole as he was for accusing me of doing something like breaking into his place of business, we had a long history and I did want to make sure he was okay.


“I’ll walk out with you, then,” Max replied as he stood and started cashing out the register for me.

The shop phone rang, and I reached to take it off the receiver. “Snow’s Antique Emporium.”

“It’s me.”

Neil. I collected myself. “Hey.”


“We’re closing up early. The weather’s getting bad, and Max has to take the subway to Brooklyn.”

“I’m ducking out,” he replied. “I’ll swing by for you.”

“I can walk home.”

Neil took an aggravated breath. “Sebby, please don’t argue with me just once this month, okay? Let me pick you up.”

Why was I getting angry at him for wanting to drive me home instead of making me walk in this nasty weather? “All right. Thanks.”

“Want me to grab anything for dinner?”

“I thought I’d cook,” I said offhandedly. I was getting sick of takeout. Neil couldn’t cook to save his life, so it was up to me if we wanted a homemade meal.

“That sounds great,” he replied happily. “I’ll be there in twenty, tops.” He hung up, and I put the phone down.

“Neil’s coming to pick me up,” I said to Max. “I’ll finish closing. Why don’t you get out while you can.”

Max laughed and finished his counting. “Thanks, Seb.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow if the weather looks like we may have trouble opening.”

“I’ll plan to come in unless I hear otherwise.” He was out the door within moments, disappearing into the storm.

I locked the front door and collected my belongings. I packed my laptop into my messenger bag. On the off-chance we stayed closed, I could at least start cataloging the inventory I had at home. Of course, I’d been telling myself that for two weeks and never seemed to have the energy for it.

By the time I’d shut off the lights, secured the shop, and changed into my winter attire, Neil’s black BMW was parked out front.

The car had been another source of aggravation between us. I don’t have a license because of the amount of work those with achromatopsia have to go through in order to be permitted to drive. It isn’t worth the headache when I live in a city with such incredible public transportation. That being said, I had agreed to buy a car with Neil and pay for it together so we could vacation out of New York every once in a while.

Neil has expensive taste. He wouldn’t settle on anything less than a new luxury coupe. I didn’t understand the point—we’d save so much money with a decent used car. That argument had ended with me saying that I’d refuse to help with the payments, to which he had stubbornly agreed and told me to fuck myself. Out of childish spite, I had tried to refuse every ride offered thus far.

The car was warm when I opened the door and sat in the passenger’s seat. The windshield wipers worked hard to keep the heavy, sticky snow off the glass. Neil was listening to some Christmas tunes and looking like his cool, sexy self. I had to admit he looked good behind the wheel of this car.

He smiled. “Ready?”


Neil pulled back onto the road, taking it slow down the streets already buried in snow and brown slush. “You may get snowed in tomorrow if this keeps up like the weather predictions claim.”

“Will you have to go in?” I asked.

“Public servants don’t get snow days. Warm enough?”

I muttered a response and fell silent. We lived in a cramped, too-small-for-two Manhattan apartment not far from my store. It wouldn’t usually take so long to reach, but the road was completely buried, and cars ahead were already slipping and sliding. Neil wasn’t taking chances by driving fast.

I looked at his profile, seeing the same handsome face I’d known for years. He told me he had brown eyes and sandy brown hair, comparing it to coffee with too much cream in it. Whatever the color, he had always been attractive to me, and he aged wonderfully. I saw the man I had fallen in love with, staring at him.

Why had we been fighting so much?

My good old dad said it was because I was losing my mind being shoved back into the closet for the sake of Neil’s paranoia. I had denied it for years, that it would eventually make me nuts, but lately it seemed like Pop had been on to something. I had been out since college, and I was proud of who I was. Neil had been my first serious relationship, and it had thrown me for a spin to learn he wasn’t out.

It still threw me.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

“For what?”

“For giving you attitude this morning.” I stared at my hands. “Why did you come to the Emporium?”

He sighed. “I was in the right place to overhear detectives being dispatched to the address. I thought something was wrong—something happened to you.”

“Thanks for being worried.” I snorted and shook my head. “That sounds weird.”

“I get what you mean.” He removed one hand briefly from the steering wheel to pat my thigh.

NEIL DROPPED me off on our street and went to find a place to park. I let myself into the building, hiking the three floors of old, rickety stairs to our one-bedroom apartment. The pipes were clanking loudly as the water heaters were turning on. I hung up my coat and hat and put my boots in the closet. I dropped my bag on the foot of our bed before turning on a few lamps around the apartment.

I know Neil didn’t like living in such a dark home, but he was polite and dealt with it without a word of complaint so I didn’t need to wear sunglasses inside. I had tried to keep my condition a secret from him for a long time. It got really hard when he’d ask something like “Could you grab my navy blue button-down for me?” or “Pass the green salsa?” while eating Mexican. It ended up coming out when he found my collapsed walking stick in my bag one evening while searching for a condom.

I laughed quietly to myself, opening the fridge in the kitchen. That had killed the mood. I thought then and there he’d break up with me. Both boyfriends I had had before left me because of my condition. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was a burden, I guess. Neil had stayed with me, though, and that mattered.

I heard Neil at the door, removing his coat and shoes while I was chopping onions and peppers in the kitchen. I tossed the diced veggies into a pot to let them cook while I opened two cans of tomato sauce.

“Spaghetti?” Neil called, the smell familiar.

“We need to go shopping,” I answered. “Not many other options.”

He stepped around me and opened the fridge. “Want a beer?”


He popped the tops off two bottles, set one on the counter beside me, and leaned back against the opposite side. “So tell me what happened this morning.”

I recited the story again for what felt like the hundredth time while I doctored up the sauce with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and whatever spices I could find deep in the cupboard. “But it wasn’t human. It was a pig heart.”

“What did the detectives say?”

I shrugged. “Lancaster told me to open for business and get better security.”

“And that Winter fellow?”

I looked over my shoulder. “Why don’t you like him?”

“I told you why.”

“He let the questioning about Mike drop and left.” I had turned back to stir the sauce, but paused and looked at Neil. “You haven’t heard anything about that, have you? Mike’s break-in?”

Neil shook his head before taking a swig of beer. “Someone else’s case, not mine.”

“Why do you think Mike would accuse me of breaking into his store?”

“Because he’s a prick.”

“Yeah, but—”

“But nothing,” Neil interrupted. “He’s always had it out for you, Seb.”

Taking a drink of beer, I considered my next comment. “I was thinking about giving him a call tonight.”

Neil stared at me as if I’d grown a second head. “You’re not stupid, are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sebby, stay the hell out of it. Let the police investigate what happened to Mike, and don’t be an idiot and harass him.”

“Who said anything about harassment? I was just going to see if he’s all right.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Neil replied. “The police don’t need to see you’ve been contacting him after he pointed his finger at you in the first place, okay?”

Neil had a valid point, of course, and who would know better what a cop would think than another cop?

Taking a drink and giving dinner my full attention, I zoned back in when I heard him saying my name.

“Seb, promise you won’t stick your nose where it’s not supposed to be.”

“Why do you think I will?”

That question made Neil laugh. “Because you like the thrill. The two hundred mystery novels on the bookcase in the living room say so.”

“I don’t have two hundred,” I said defensively. But so what? I liked a good brainteaser.

“Seb,” he said again, more sternly.

“I won’t,” I insisted, getting annoyed. “I get it.” Before Neil could say another word, I said, “How the heart ended up in the shop has yet to be explained.”


“How’d a pig’s heart get under the floorboards, Neil?” I asked while turning. “I didn’t put it there, and I was the one to close up last night. I didn’t forget to lock the gate or set the alarm.”

“It was probably a prank,” he said simply, shrugging.

“A prank?” I echoed. “By who?”

“I don’t know. Kids—teenagers. Someone sick in the head. Come on. You’ve been busy as hell at the Emporium. You and Max can’t keep an eye on everything all the time.”

Again, what Neil said could have very easily been true. Minus today, we had been slammed since before Thanksgiving. There was always a handful of customers roaming about at one time, inventory coming in, items going out for auction—I couldn’t always watch everything.

“But what’s the point?”

“What’s the point of a hotdog-eating contest?” Neil countered with a laugh. “People do stupid things sometimes, Seb.”

“I guess. It’s a little dramatic, though. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’”

“The what?”

“Poe,” I said. “It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

“Oh, yeah, I think I remember reading that in school,” Neil replied thoughtfully.

“An old man with a blind eye is murdered and cut up. The murderer thinks he hears the heart under the floorboards where he put the body,” I explained. “He goes mad with guilt while the police are there looking into a possible disturbance.”

“Well, damn.”

“Good thing I’m only legally blind,” I said sarcastically.

NEIL AND I watched some police procedural drama while we ate, which really was just Neil complaining for forty-five minutes that the forensics team was handling the scene incorrectly, and no one got DNA results back that quickly. Disgruntled, he ended up channel-surfing before finding Home Alone and settling on that.

“I always wanted to do this,” he said as we sat in the dark, sipping wine later in the evening.

“Be Macaulay Culkin?”

“Catch bad guys,” Neil replied.

“You do,” I pointed out. “Just with big-boy toys. You’re a little too old for tar on the stairs and BB guns.”

Neil wrapped an arm around my shoulders, and I got comfortable in his embrace. It was nice to be enjoying the evening together and not fighting about stupid shit. Neil must have been thinking the same thing, because he leaned close and kissed the top of my head.

“Hey,” he murmured.

“Hey, what?” I responded, looking up. Believe it or not, my vision was considerably better in the dark. Neil’s finer details were easier for me to see here.

“Why don’t we hightail it out of here?”

“To where?” I laughed.

“The next room over.” Neil leaned forward, setting our glasses on the coffee table before getting to his feet.

I stood, taking Neil’s offered hand, and let him lead me into our cramped bedroom.

He stopped to put my bag against the wall and shut the door.

“Afraid someone will see?”

He paused before turning to look at me. “To keep the cold air out, Seb,” he corrected in that voice I’d come to learn as the Sebastian, you’re being irrational tone. I did not like it, because he used that tone on me whenever a discussion of his sexuality reared its ugly head.

Neil reached out, grabbed my waist and the back of my head, and kissed me hard. He tasted a little sweet and a little bitter, which about summed up our relationship. He had lost his suit coat and tie since arriving home, but I quickly helped with the remaining shirt and trousers. Neil was busy tossing aside my slacks and sweater when he laughed against my mouth.


“You dress like a grandpa,” he whispered.

“I like that sweater.”

“It’s older than you.”

“I’m not trying to win a fashion contest.”

Clothes shopping was stressful for me. Department stores were so bright, and there was apparently a concept of clashing colors. My idea of adding new options to my wardrobe was heading out to secondhand shops with Pop, letting him grab a dozen items in dark colors he says won’t hurt anyone’s eyes if I mix and match, then we’re out in ten minutes.

“We’ll get you a nicer sweater,” Neil said, kissing my neck.

“I like that one,” I replied.

“It’s from Goodwill.”

“So? I don’t need some three hundred dollar Ralph Lauren sweater when that one does a fine job of keeping me warm,” I said defensively.

“Are you done, Sebby?” Neil asked, pulling back to stare at me. “Do you really want to argue right now?”

I didn’t, of course not. I was sick of fighting, tired of every conversation ending in one of us getting frustrated with the other. Staring at Neil in the near dark, a familiar and awful thought came to mind again.

I wasn’t what he really wanted.

It was stupid shit like the sweater. What did it matter if I wore something a little frumpy? He wanted to have me wear something chic and fashionable, like the damn car.


I shook my head, wrapped my arms around his neck, and kissed Neil, trying to get back into the mood.

When was the moment our relationship turned?

He pushed me down onto the bed, kissing and sucking down my chest and stomach.

When we moved in together, maybe.

I was turned onto my belly, and the snap of a bottle preceded a warm, oily finger pressing into me.

When had I grown so defensive? So bitter and resentful toward my partner?

Neil’s hands were on my hips, raising me up before he pushed in roughly.

I gritted my teeth as he started thrusting.

I didn’t like who I had become.

The Mystery of the Curiosities #2
TUESDAY MORNING began with a brick through the Emporium window.

The seconds that followed were strangely silent. Nothing but the gentle patter of frozen February rain. Then my heart remembered to keep beating, and I could hear its thud, thud, thud in my ears. A few pieces of glass cracked from the top of the large bay window frame and fell to the wooden floor. The sound of New York City traffic invaded my quiet, cozy cave of a shop.

“What the fuck!” Max shouted. He moved to run by me at the counter, but I grabbed his shoulders.

“Be careful,” I said, pointing at the ceramic coffee mug I’d dropped when the shattered glass scared the ever-loving hell out of me.

Max jumped over the mess and down the steps from the register. He motioned wildly at the window. “What the fuck?” he declared again.

I’ll say.

I walked down the stairs and studied the scene. Glass was everywhere and rain was coming in. “Grab a trash bag from the office.”

“The glass will just slice—”

“To put over the displays before they get soaked. Go.”

Max ran to get the bags.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and took a deep breath. What a way to start the week.

Pushing my glasses up, I went to the door, threw it open, and stepped out into the miserable morning. Rain splattered my lenses and dampened my sweater. My breath puffed around me while I looked up and down the sidewalk, as if I’d find the vandal hanging out and waiting to be caught. A couple paying the meter nearby were looking at the window in horror, and a man walking his tiny dog had to pick the animal up to avoid glass on the sidewalk.

Max was spreading out trash bags on nearby displays. “Did someone spray-paint a dick on the door too?” he called.

“No,” I answered before going back inside. “Why?”

“Add insult to injury. Should I move this stuff away from the window?”

I tugged my phone from my back pocket. “Hold on. Let me get some pictures before we move anything.” I snapped photos of the window and floor before motioning him to continue.

When I stepped away from the immediate area, I noticed the brick across the room. I went over, crouched down, and picked it up. It was just an ordinary brick. With a rubber band wrapped around it. I set my phone on the floor beside me and turned it around to see a folded piece of wet paper on the other side.

Hell. There were easier ways to get in touch with me. There was this great invention called the telephone.

Even a carrier pigeon would have been better. Because a pigeon would just crap on my inventory and be gone. A pigeon didn’t require a police report, insurance paperwork, and my jerk of a landlord coming down to inspect this mess.

I yanked the rubber band free and unfolded the paper. I don’t know what I had been expecting as I held it close to read, but it wasn’t I know you like mysteries.

“What’re you doing?” Max asked.

I glanced over my shoulder. “Someone attached a note to the brick.”

“What does it say?”

“‘I know you like mysteries.’”


“No, that’s what the note says,” I replied while waving the paper over my shoulder. I picked up my phone again and stood, knees cracking like I was an old man and not just a crabby thirty-three-year-old. I turned around and saw Max had gone very still. “Are you okay?”

“This isn’t going to be like Christmas, is it?”

Duncan Andrews had thoroughly fucked up my holidays. He’d been responsible for the death of my former boss, had harassed and stalked me, and had shot Detective Calvin Winter.

“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head. “Duncan is rocking an orange jumpsuit now.”

“What about a copycat?”

“Poe never hurled bricks into antique shops. It’s okay, really.”

I told Max to finish with the displays and gave the police a ring to report the vandalism. Two officers arrived after I had gotten off the phone with Luther North, my landlord, who gave me more than an earful about the window, as if I had been asking for punks to hurl bricks at it.

“Do you have insurance, Mr. Snow?” the male officer asked. He’d introduced himself as Officer Lowry and had uncomfortably reminded me of Neil: same build and hair, same strong face and handsome features. But thankfully, there was no relation.

“Yeah. And the landlord is on his way now,” I answered. A cold breeze blew in through the gaping window, and I shivered while crossing my arms over my chest.

The woman officer smiled and pointed at me. “I was here two months ago.”

“I’m sorry?”

“When there was a pig’s heart in your floor.”

“Oh.” I nodded and had to resist the urge to look over my shoulder at the spot in question. “No dismembered body parts this time.”

She laughed quietly. “That’s good.”

Lowry, who had been writing notes, asked me a few more questions. Did I have any disgruntled customers lately? Had I received threats prior? But no. The entire event seemed completely unprovoked. To the point that I had considered someone threw the brick through the wrong window.


I know you like mysteries.

“Wait, before I forget,” I said suddenly. “There was a note wrapped around the brick.” I pulled the folded paper from the pocket of my sweater. “Here.”

The female officer accepted the note. “Does this mean anything to you?”

I shrugged. “Not really. Unless the person who broke my window is judging me for my reading habits.”

Among other things.

She handed it back. “We’ll see if any businesses across the street have surveillance videos we can look over, but you should know that the chances of catching who did this are very slim.”

“I figured,” I replied. “Worth a shot, though.”

Luther walked into the shop as the officers left. He spoke with them briefly at the door before working his way through the cramped aisles toward me. His big belly pushed objects around on their displays as he moved through, and Max came up behind him to fix everything.

“Sebastian,” Luther said with a bit of a wheeze. “What happened?”

“Exactly as I said on the phone, Mr. North. Someone threw a brick through the window.”

“Why?” he asked, yanking a wadded pile of tissues from his coat pocket to dab his face.

“I didn’t think to ask them,” I answered.

“There you go with those smart-aleck responses. And before this, it was that creepy queer kid! He’s in jail now, right?”


Luther paused from wiping his face. “Er—no offense with the queer thing.”

“My fragile ego is still intact. Mr. North, it’s currently raining in my store. How soon can this window be fixed?”

“Oh, well! It’s simply not that easy, Sebastian! I have to file a claim with the property insurance.”

“Which they’ll pay. Vandalism by an unknown assailant isn’t worth their time to investigate.”

“Yes, but it still takes a few days.”

“It’s raining in here,” I stated again, in case he hadn’t noticed.

“I can get a tarp.”

“Not exactly going to keep the riffraff out.”

“That’s why stores have metal gates,” Luther pointed out, as if I were dense.

“That’s fine. But I have books in here that are worth up to five grand. If they get warped or damaged—”

“I’ll have my boys come down and put up some sheets of plywood!” Luther growled. “Happy?”

“I’ll be happy when I have a new window.”

I DIDN’T want to spend the day cleaning up broken glass, wiping down and checking antiques that had gotten wet, and listening to the sexy voice of Frank Sinatra get drowned out by three of Luther’s construction guys nailing plywood over the empty window frame, but I did. And I wasn’t pleased about it. Leaving the shop for the night with such bulletproof security made me nervous.

Not that I could be blamed.

Explaining to Luther just how much my inventory was worth caused him to stay behind and personally oversee his workers.

I guess I should have been flattered.

But frankly, by the time I got home, kicked off my shoes, and dropped my coat on the floor while heading for the kitchen, I was tired. And cranky. I had a headache that was still in sync with the echo of hammers. I popped off the cap to a beer bottle and took a swig. I tugged a take-out menu free from under a fridge magnet, brought it closer to read, and took another sip.

I had gotten as far as sweet-and-sour chicken and was deciding over dumplings or fried rice as a too-greasy side dish when there was a knock at the door. I raised my head and listened. I heard a key push into the lock and the door get nudged open.

Thank Christ.

I stepped out of the kitchen. “Hey. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

Calvin smiled as he shut and locked the door behind him. “Did you just get home?”

“Few minutes ago. I thought you couldn’t make it tonight?”

“Want me to go?” he countered.

“Don’t even try.”

Calvin tugged off his coat and hung it up. “How was your day?” he asked, walking across the room toward me. He took my face into his big hands, leaned down, and kissed my mouth.

“Better now,” I murmured, kissing him again. “Catch any bad guys?”

“Sure did.” Calvin threaded his fingers through my hair. “You okay?”

“Headache. I just listened to the Hammer Symphony in E Minor for the last hour.”

“Come again?”

“Someone broke one of my windows today.”

“You’re kidding.”

I shook my head. “Nope. Threw a brick through it. My landlord had some plywood put up. It’s really classy.”

Calvin moved his hands to squeeze my shoulders. “Sorry to hear that, baby.”

“It’s fine. Worse things have happened.” I tugged him down by his tie. “Come here. I’m not done with you yet.”

A smile crossed his face once more, and his warm mouth touched mine. Calvin tasted like home, if home were his trademark flavors of coffee and cinnamon mints and male, at least. I hadn’t seen him in a few days, and I starved for him when we were apart. Nothing could fill that emptiness but Calvin himself.

We had officially started dating just before the New Year. It was both terrifying and perfect.

He was perfect.

I pushed his suit coat open and tugged it from his shoulders. Calvin helped, tossing it onto the couch. He broke away long enough to unbuckle his shoulder holster and take his weapon off. Setting it aside with his coat, Calvin then grabbed the back of my head, pulling me into another hot and heavy kiss.

My stomach growled loudly.

I stilled, and Calvin laughed against my mouth.

“Shut up,” I muttered.

He grinned and stroked my cheek. “Let’s eat first.”

My face felt flushed as I took a step back. “The needs of my stomach aren’t as strong as the needs of my dick.”

“I believe you,” Calvin said as he moved by and walked into the kitchen. “Chinese?”

Damn it. If Calvin hadn’t eaten today, as he was prone to doing while working, I’d definitely lost my chance at a quickie.

“Did you eat?” I asked, following him back to the kitchen.

“Not yet.”

Calvin was staring at the open menu when I walked in. I leaned against the doorframe, hands in my pockets, studying him. Even though we’d been together for a month and a half, this was still surreal as hell. Sometimes I thought my vision was getting worse, and I’d watch him extra hard, as if to be sure he wasn’t a trick of the eye that would slowly dissipate.

But Calvin was real.

Real and breathing and mine.

When I first met Calvin, it was frightening to come to the realization that he was my soul mate. It was a nightmare when the world around us seemed insistent that we would never be an item. It had broken my heart, frankly. It’s pretty fucking melodramatic, but there was a brief moment last year when I didn’t know how I would live without loving Calvin.

A bullet really changes things. It makes you realize how short and precious life actually is.

And it gave Calvin the courage to come out at his age. To his family, who had all but locked him out of their homes and hearts, to his partner, Quinn Lancaster, to my dad, and to the world in general, really. And I know it must have scared him.

But he did it for us.

“Are you staring at me?” Calvin asked, not looking up from the list of food.

I blinked and straightened. “Sure am.”

“Why’s that?”

“You’re pretty.”

He snorted and glanced at me. “I’ll order. What do you want?” Calvin pulled his phone out.

“Sweet-and-sour chicken.” I walked into the kitchen and wrapped my arms around him from behind, resting my forehead against his back as I listened to Calvin call the restaurant and place our order for delivery. “I hope my fortune cookie says I get lucky tonight,” I said as he hung up.

Calvin laughed as he put his phone away. “I wouldn’t worry too much about what the cookie says.”

FOR HOW shitty the day started, it certainly ended on a high note: cheap food, a few beers, and classic Buster Keaton films on the couch with Calvin. I liked old black-and-white movies. They were easier to watch, what with never being overwhelmed by the mess of tones and colors blending into one another that represented modern cinema. Plus, silent films were underappreciated. Keaton was by far more brilliant than most of today’s actors, and I don’t care how old and crotchety that statement makes me sound. I sat cross-legged, cardboard container balanced on my knee. Snapping a pair of chopsticks apart, I dug into dinner.

“What’s this one called?” Calvin asked, pointing at the screen.

“Sherlock Jr.,” I said between bites. “One of my favorites.”

“It would be.”

“Don’t tease.”

Calvin laughed quietly. He took a few bites of his food, which really meant he cleaned out half of the container, before asking, “So what happened with the brick?”

“The brick,” I muttered in annoyance. “Some asshole failed to recognize that I have a telephone.”


I waved the chopsticks in my hand while finishing the bite I’d just taken. “Sorry. There was a note attached to the brick.” I turned to look at Calvin in the dim light, realizing I had his full and undivided attention. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh?” he repeated.

“You went from Calvin to Detective Winter real fast.”

He frowned. “What did the note say?”

I leaned over to set the takeout on the coffee table before pulling the folded note out again. I opened it and handed it over. “‘I know you like mysteries.’”

Calvin took the paper, narrowing his eyes as he looked it over. “I’m assuming you filed a police report?”


“Did you tell them about this?”

“Yeah. They didn’t really seem to think much of it.”

Calvin handed it back. “Sounds personal.”

“I guess.” I set the note on the coffee table before turning to Calvin. “But what am I supposed to make of it? I read Christopher Holmes’s mysteries, so sue me.”

“And Christie, Doyle, English—”

“All right, all right. I read a lot of mysteries. I get it.”

Calvin put a hand on my knee. “Nothing else out of the ordinary has happened?”

“No.” I put my hand over his, running my fingertips along his knuckles. “Max brought up an interesting point, though.”

“What’s that?”

“A copycat.”

Calvin slowly shook his head. “No, I don’t believe that’s the case. A copycat tries to emulate the original criminal, so he or she wouldn’t have acknowledged you in such a forward fashion in this case. Andrews couldn’t rationalize the world outside of Poe’s writing. I’d suspect anyone else attempting to pick up where he left off would at least reproduce his form of communication.”

“That’s more or less what I figured,” I replied. “Still. It’s… weird.”

“I’ll make some calls tomorrow,” Calvin said. “Check in and see if he’s had any visitors.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.”

“Of course, sweetie.” Calvin resumed eating again before he asked, “Promise me one thing?”

I leaned over to grab my food from the table, but paused and looked sideways at Calvin. “What’s that?”

“You won’t take it upon yourself to investigate, if something else were to happen.”

“Very funny,” I muttered, taking my carton.

“I’m being serious, Seb.”

“I’m well aware of who the detective is in this relationship.”

Calvin grunted.

The only murders I was trying to solve these days were in the paperbacks I’d read a dozen times already. I admit that hunting for clues and piecing a real-life mystery together was a thrill I could easily become addicted to, but in the end, I wasn’t one for violence. The thought of firing another gun in my lifetime was more than enough to rein me in.

We all have our strengths and should stick to what best suits us. Calvin was made to fight bad guys. It was in his DNA to be a hero, to save people, to solve crimes. Me? I’m a hoarder of information. I know the history of picture buttons and of Victorian mourning clothes. I know how to spot fake tin types. And I liked what I did.

Antiques suited my temperament just fine.

Besides. Solving crimes Calvin-style meant being extremely fit, and I was more of the second-slice-of-cake sort of guy.

After Sherlock Jr., we watched Buster Keaton’s Cops, which got quite a number of laughs from Calvin. We were about halfway through Steamboat Bill, Jr. when the effects of greasy food, beers, and a dark room began to get the best of me. I felt Calvin pet my head and I opened my eyes.

“Want to go to bed?”

“Did I fall asleep?” I asked in return, yawning.

“Dozed off.”

I blinked a few times and sat up from where I had been leaning against Calvin’s shoulder. The sound of heavy rain could be heard over the slapstick music.

Calvin reached for the remote and turned the film off. “Come on.”

I nodded, got to my feet, and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take out my contacts. When I came out again, Calvin had already turned off the lights and locked up for the night. I went into my bedroom and changed for bed while he took his turn in the bathroom.

We definitely weren’t living together, but Calvin did prefer to spend what little time he had at my place instead of vice versa. My apartment was bigger, for one, but I think, more importantly, it had a homey feel. My place was well lived-in, whereas Calvin’s felt like a glorified hotel room. And because he tried to spend at least an evening or two a week with me, a few extra garments had found their way into my closet.

It was always a bit exciting to see one of his suits hung up beside my crappy sweaters. It was an ever-present reminder that Calvin wasn’t a vivid hallucination. He was real, he was wonderful, and he wanted to be with me.

I yawned again, plugging my phone into the charger and beginning to set the alarm clock when Calvin walked in. I glanced over, watching as he unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it into my dirty laundry. Strong muscles flexed as he continued undressing, and I realized it’d been nearly a week since I’d gotten to dig my fingers into his back and arms.

Calvin sat on the right side of the bed—his side—before leaning over and kissing the back of my neck. “Lay down,” he whispered.

“What time do you need to be up?” I countered, hand still on the alarm clock.

“Worry about it later,” Calvin said, trailing a hand down my back and under the ratty T-shirt I’d thrown on.

“Copy that, Major,” I answered, hastily setting my glasses aside and turning to face him.

He rolled onto his back, wrapped a hand around my neck, and tugged me toward him. I climbed on top, legs on either side of Calvin’s hips, and leaned down to kiss his mouth. I moved my hands up and down his bare chest, fingertips practically buzzing as they caressed warm skin and hair. Calvin’s own hands moved along my back as he kissed me, then slid down to cup my ass.

“I want to suck your cock,” Calvin growled.

“Yeah?” I whispered.

He grinned against my mouth. “Yeah, baby. Come up here.”

I nodded and sat up, letting Calvin help me out of my pajama pants and toss them somewhere in the dark. I moved to rest my knees on either side of Calvin’s chest, leaning over him. “Like this?”

He hummed in contentment, reaching up to stroke me slowly. “Look at how big and beautiful. I want your entire dick down my throat.”

It was a good thing it was dark, otherwise Calvin was sure to see I was blushing like an idiot. He was so sexy, everything he said and did turned me on to no end, but he’d been trying to get me to reciprocate with the dirty talk lately and I failed miserably at it. When a hot and horny mountain of a cop tells you to beg for his cock, you beg. But really, what exactly was he begging for when I tried?


I shook my head. “What?”

“Something wrong?”


“You’re getting soft.”

God, this was embarrassing. “N-Nothing, really. I… just… feel stupid trying to talk like you.”

Calvin scooted up a bit, resting on his elbows. “Sebastian, you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“It’s just talking, though,” I said lamely.

“That doesn’t matter. Do you want me to stop?”

“What? No. I love it when you do it,” I said, feeling my entire face heat up. I took his hand and guided it back to my cock. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to kill the mood.”

“It’s okay.”

“Can we try again?”

In the faint gray light that came in through the bedroom window, Calvin appeared to be nodding before he lay back down. “Come here.”

I leaned over him, the head of my cock bumping his lips. Calvin’s tongue darted out, warm and wet, and I sighed and closed my eyes, rocking my hips gently.

“That’s right,” Calvin whispered. “Come here. Fuck my face.” His hands came around to cup my ass again, pulling me toward him. He opened his mouth and took my cock, sucking eagerly.

“Shit,” I swore quietly.

Reaching back to grab his hands, I yanked them up above his head and held them firmly. I rolled my hips again, a bit more enthusiastically when Calvin moaned in response. Watching him work my length with his throat was so goddamn hot.

I let go of one hand and wrapped mine around the back of his head, holding him in place. Even though I felt insecure as hell, I knew Calvin wanted me to talk. He got off on it, and sex was a two-way street. He couldn’t do all the work and let me have all the fun.

So I manned up and told Calvin, “Take it all.” I shoved in rougher, and he groaned loudly around my dick.

He reached down with his free hand to stroke himself quickly in time with my thrusts.

The wet, tight heat of Calvin’s mouth after a week of not touching him was enough to send me over the edge like an inexperienced teenager. A prickle of sweat broke out across my body, and my stomach muscles tightened as I felt my orgasm coming.

“Oh God…. Cal…!” I let go of his other hand and gripped his hair in both hands, fucking his face hard and fast, like my very life depended on coming down his throat. “Fuck! I’m gonna—!”

I lost all capability to form thoughts at that point. It was too much. Calvin’s mouth, his tongue, the heat between our bodies, but then a fingertip pressed gently into me, and I came with his name on my lips. My entire body shuddered as Calvin swallowed, and when I managed to pull free from his thoroughly fucked mouth, he tensed and came in his hand.

Moving down his body, I slid my arms under his, holding Calvin close as we both came down from that incredible high. “Jesus,” I muttered. “I think I forgot my middle name.”

His deep voice rumbled in his chest. “Speaking of, did you ever notice your initials spell SAS?”

“What are you trying to say?” I raised my head to look at him, brushing damp hair from Calvin’s forehead.

“Aptly named. You’re always a bit sassy,” he teased.

“Uh-huh.” I rolled off, taking a few deep breaths.

Calvin chuckled as he leaned over me, kissed my chest, and grabbed a tissue from the bedside table. He wiped himself clean before settling onto his side.

I rolled over and pressed up against his back, snaking an arm around his waist. I fell asleep like that. Blissful and content.

The Mystery of the Moving Image #3
IF THERE was one thing I’d taken away from the last six months of murder and mystery, it was to expect the unexpected.

Max Ridley and I stared at a four-foot-tall wooden crate that had been delivered to the Emporium that morning. Neither of us had spoken for a good minute.

“Five bucks says there’s a dead body inside,” he finally said.

I shook my head. “We’d smell decomp.”

“A normal person wouldn’t say that,” he replied, not looking away from the box.

“Normal is relative.”

“Let’s not get into a philosophical debate before 10:00 a.m.”

I took a step forward and snatched the shipping label from the plastic envelope slapped on the front of the crate. I unfolded it and held my magnifying glass up to the small print.

“Who’s it from?” Max asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“Should I call 911?”

I glanced up. “The last time we did that, they sent a vigilante who tried to kill me.”

“That’s true.” Max held up his cell. “But I know three cops and an FBI agent by proxy, so we have options.”

“Calm down.”

“I don’t trust mystery packages, Seb. Not anymore.”

I looked at the label again. “It came from a shipping company on the Upper East Side.”

“But no name?”


“Is it addressed to you?”

“Owner,” I clarified.

“I’m calling the cops.”

I looked at Max, reached out, and put my hand over his cell. “Calvin probably just ordered something for the apartment.”

Ah yes, that had been one bit of good to come out of losing my home to an explosion back in February. It’d taken just over two months of searching and Realtor harassing, but as of yesterday, Snow and Winter were the new tenants of 4B—a loft apartment in the East Village above a coffee shop and hippy-dippy clothing store. And despite the insurmountable odds, I was able to tick off every single one of my neurotic must-haves and still keep to a rent that wouldn’t bleed me and Calvin dry. I mean, it was by far more expensive than my old, cozy, rent-controlled place, but seeing as how I was putting my name on the bills with a guy I liked a lot—yeah. Seemed worth the extra cash.

“Call him and ask,” Max replied.

“He’s busy with manly stuff,” I answered.


“Unpacking, lifting heavy things, inserting tabs into slots….”

“I’ll quit.”

“Jesus, Max—”

“Just call him.”

I let out an annoyed huff, took my phone from my back pocket, pulled Calvin up in the recent contacts, and called.

“Hey, baby,” Calvin answered.

“Hey,” I said. “Got a second?”

“For you? Several.”

“Aren’t you cute.”

Calvin laughed. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. I just had a package delivered here at the Emporium and was wondering if you’d ordered something big—like, a chandelier—for the apartment?”

“And had it shipped there?” he asked, sounding unsure.



I frowned and glanced sideways at Max. “I’ve got a four-foot-tall mystery box in the middle of my showroom.”

“Since when has that ever stopped you, Hercule?”

I smiled a little. “Ohhh….”

“Like that?” Calvin asked.

“I do.”

“I knew you would.”

I laughed, much to Max’s displeasure. “Figured I’d check in with you before cracking it open. I tend to get a lot of junk this way. People cleaning out grandma’s attic ship me garbage and say ‘keep it until it sells,’ like I’m a warehouse.”

“No return address, then?” Calvin asked, and in the background, I could hear tape being torn off a cardboard box. I’d offered to close the Emporium to help him finish unpacking the apartment, but he’d politely kissed my forehead and shoved me out the front door that morning.

“Some shipping and supply office way the hell uptown.”


“Were you expecting a housewarming gift?” I tried. Not that anyone in Calvin’s family even knew we’d moved in together. They’d completely stopped talking to him at Christmastime when he’d come out—the exception being Calvin’s Uncle Nelson. Nelson was a sweet old guy. I’d said hello on the phone a few times. He was nothing like the impression I had of Calvin’s father, a retired military man who hated me on principle alone.

“No,” Calvin answered.

“I’m going to tear into this crate.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” I said.

“I’ll be the big sweaty guy in the house,” Calvin replied.

“I love when you’re sweaty.”

“Boss,” Max interrupted, and I swear I could hear his eye-roll.

Calvin was laughing over the line. “Bye, sweetheart.”

“Bye.” I stuffed my phone into my pocket.

“When’s the honeymoon?”

“Stop it,” I muttered.

“It’s not Calvin’s, then?” Max asked.

I shook my head. “Nope. Would you grab a hammer from the office?”

“All right,” he answered a bit reluctantly. Max left my side, hiked up the stairs, went past the register, and disappeared into my closet-sized office. “But if there’s anything inside that’s dead, dying, or threatening to kill either of us, I’m burning this place to the ground because it’s totally cursed.”

“I’m not sure whether you’re trying to save me or screw me over,” I said, mostly to myself, but Max heard me.

“Saving you, believe me,” he replied. He jumped off the stairs and approached with the hammer. “Move aside.”

“You want to open it?”

“Maybe if I’m the one to do it, it’ll negate any potential chaos that would otherwise befall you.”

“You’re so sweet.” I took a step back and crossed my arms.

“Is that guy from the Javits Center’s Antique Fair still coming by today?” Max asked as he stuck the back of the hammer under the wooden lid and pushed down on the handle. The nails squeaked loudly as they were pulled free.

“He’s supposed to.”

“He was supposed to on Saturday.”

“And Sunday,” I clarified. “Then I canceled yesterday so I could move. If he doesn’t come today to pick up my items for the show, they can kiss my ass next year when they’re looking for sponsorship money.”

“Seriously.” Max laughed, then moved the hammer and hoisted the lid once more. “So how’s the new place?” He glanced over his shoulder at me.

I winced as more nails screeched free from the wood. “Good. I’m hoping our bed will be delivered today. Spent last night on the living room floor.”

“At least you had a hunky ginger to keep you company.”

“Very true.”

There’d been a lot of change in my life as of late. Mostly for the good, of course.

Business was going great, despite the seemingly bad luck the Emporium had in terms of being a target in the Nevermore and Curiosities cases—but we’d all escaped those with our heads still attached. And after a long line of bad-for-me boyfriends, I’d just moved in with a guy who was my soul mate. Friends and family were healthy, happy—I was even a pet owner now.

So yeah, a lot of things were good.

But I guess that’s why I’d also been sidelined by anxieties lately. I wasn’t expecting old self-doubts when I was on top of the world.

Like, one too many of Calvin’s compliments had gone to my head, and when my clothes had been torched in the fire, I’d purchased a new wardrobe for the first time in… at least a decade. No more secondhand crap. I now owned formfitting, colored clothes. I thought they’d finally give a boost of confidence to my appearance, an insecurity I usually hid with self-deprecating humor, except it’d turned out to be nothing but dread since day one.

And I knew how… stupid it must have sounded. But until someone has been intensely uncomfortable in their clothes, I didn’t think people realized just how much a wardrobe could make or break them. Yeah, the secondhand shit didn’t fit, was old and worn-out, but it was safe. I didn’t need to check a color wheel before putting something on. I disappeared into a crowd. Now every morning was approached with a certain level of trepidation. Were people staring because I clashed and was an eyesore? Were they staring because I wasn’t the best-looking guy and these clothes made me stand out when I used to blend in? They must wonder what Calvin was doing slumming with a guy like me.

Of course I hadn’t said any of this out loud.

Hell would sooner freeze over.

Max lifted the top from the crate, set it on the floor, then peered inside. “Lots of padding. Looks like a piece of furniture.”

I took a few steps forward to see for myself. Wedged between the object and the crate wall was a smaller wrapped item. I tugged it free. “Pull the front of the crate off, will you? We can’t lift that out.”

“Sure thing.” Max took the hammer and went at more of the nails.

I set the smaller item down on a nearby display table and carefully removed the bubble wrap. Nestled within was a round metal canister. I carefully picked it up. There was weight to it.

“You know,” Max said, around the tearing of wooden planks. “If we go through all this and it’s some fugly television from the 1950s….”

I stared at the canister for another moment. “Not a television,” I murmured.

“What?” Max tore off another piece of wood.

“It’s not a TV,” I said again, turning to look at him.

He glanced at the crate and motioned to the item within. “It’s hard to see through the wrapping, but it looks like one of those with the built-in cabinet.”

I walked back to the crate, reached inside, and yanked away the padding. “This is—” I caught myself from finishing, almost like I didn’t want to jinx it. I tore out layer after layer of careful packaging, revealing a spectacularly well-preserved cabinet. “Jesus Christ,” I swore.

“What is it?”

“A Kinetoscope.”

“A what-o-scope?”

“Kinetoscope. A one-person movie viewer, patented by Thomas Edison,” I said, looking at Max. “This was before they’d figured out how to project a moving image to a large audience.” I leaned into the crate and pointed. “See here, you look through the peephole on top. There’s a bulb inside that backlights the frames, and the film is spooled through the cabinet.”

“It’s original?” Max asked.

I rubbed my bristly chin and stared hard. “I think so. Help me pull it out. And for the love of God—”

“Be careful,” Max finished for me.

“The Kinetoscope wasn’t around very long,” I said as we walked the cabinet out of the crate. “As the film industry grew, inventions became obsolete fairly quickly.”

“How did these work, though?” Max asked. “I mean, people didn’t have them in homes, right?”

“Oh no. You’d go to a Kinetoscope parlor. There used to be one here in New York, you know. Taking inflation into account, Edison was charging the parlors somewhere around six hundred dollars for the reel of film.”

“Hell of a businessman.” Max began picking up the mess once we’d gotten the Kinetoscope situated in an empty space of showroom floor. “What was in the little package?”

“A film reel,” I said, hands on my hips as I made a slow circuit around the case.

“Really?” he asked excitedly.

“Niche market makes this difficult to price. It’d be the historical value—”

“Seb. Home movie. Focus.”

I glanced up. “What about it?”

Max made exaggerated gestures at where I’d left the canister. “Let’s see what’s on it.”

I dropped my hands from my hips and went to the table. “I doubt it’s in any sort of salvageable condition.”

“Why do you say that?” he asked, going to the register counter and retrieving a pair of cloth gloves.

“Films simply weren’t well preserved back then. Acid ate away at the celluloid. Sometimes there were studio fires, or old reels were just destroyed. They had no intrinsic value at the time,” I explained.

Max offered the gloves as he joined me.

I put them on. “This would have also been before silent film stars like Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd began protecting their work.” I picked up the canister again and held it close, studying the front and back side.

Max leaned against the table and crossed his arms lightly. “I remember watching Fred Ott’s Sneeze in my Film History class. That was Edison’s, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, first copyrighted film in the United States,” I murmured. Fred Ott had been a gentleman who worked for Edison, who by all accounts had a particularly memorable sneeze. It was one of the test reels shot by W. K. L. Dickson, Edison’s assistant, who was the brilliant inventor of the Kinetograph camera and Scope viewer. “But even that film didn’t survive,” I continued. “It was submitted to the Library of Congress as a series of still images, later reanimated into a movie.”

“How do you know this?”

“I took notes in college.” I carefully removed the canister lid.

“You’re the guy at the cocktail party everyone regrets striking up a conversation with.”

“Yeah, probably.” I set the lid aside and stared at the spool of film. It looked… okay. Better than okay. Intact. Playable, even. “This is incredible. Look here—it has the perforations along the side of the frames.”

Max leaned close, reached out, and hovered his finger above the strip of film I held. “So, what, those holes feed in the Kinetoscope, right?”

“Right. Edison patented that concept as well, but it was Dickson who came up with the idea to slice 70mm film in half and make perforations. Afterward, the company was able to submit custom orders for film stock with these exact specifications for their machines.”

“Hundred-twenty-year-old movie,” Max said with an astonished tone. “It’s going to be either porn or cats.”

I laughed and took the film canister with me to the Kinetoscope. I stooped, opened the cabinet, and studied the mechanical setup.

“Are you going to try to play the film?”

“Sure.” I looked back at Max. “You want to see what it is, right?”


We sat in front of the Kinetoscope, studying old patent schematics I brought up on my phone, and tried to duplicate the arrangement with our mystery film stock. After about twenty minutes of “Be careful,” “No, the other way,” “The other, other way,” and the classic, “Oh shit,” we got it fed through the long system of spools.

Max was tearing through the crate’s packaging once again.

“What’re you doing?” I called, carefully shutting the cabinet.

“Looking for a note.”

“Is there one?”

“No.” More shuffling followed, and then Max peered down over the top of the cabinet at me. “This has to be from someone you know, don’t you think?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Trusting you with such a rare artifact.”

“I do love a good ego stroke,” I muttered before getting to my feet.

“Not to mention that shipping a crate is expensive, even if it’s just from one end of the city to the other,” Max concluded. The shop phone rang and he left my side to answer it.

“I’ll call the shipping company today,” I said, mostly to myself once Max started talking on the phone. “See if they can provide me with the client’s contact information….”

“Boss,” Max said. He wove in between displays, reaching the phone out. “It’s Pete-Ain’t-Never-Gonna-Show from the fair.”

My shoulders dropped a bit. I took the phone. “Pete?”

“Hey! Snow! I got your message about the pickup.”

I pursed my lips. “I left that message on Sunday. It’s Tuesday.”

“Well, yeah, but you weren’t open yesterday.”

“You were supposed to be here on Saturday, Pete. I’ve had my stock for the fair boxed and waiting since last Friday.”

“Look, I’m sorry about missing the pickup window, but it’s been a busy week of prepping for the event. We welcome our sponsors to drop items off at the Javits Center themselves.”

“I don’t drive,” I replied. “And I shouldn’t have to trek to the ass-end of Hell’s Kitchen myself when I’m paying a sponsorship level that includes the pickup and delivery of all inventory on display for the fair.”

Max winced, I think on Pete’s behalf.

The antiquing community didn’t have a lot of thirty-three-year-olds in it. And there were some members who didn’t enjoy taking a young’un like me seriously. Most had no idea how hard I’d worked to get where I was in the business.

I’d gone into debt to obtain an MFA and put in several years as a sort-of apprentice under one of the biggest assholes in the industry, my late boss Mike Rodriguez. I took pride in my shop and had labored for three years to cultivate and bring attention to obscure relics of our past. Now, my clients returned time and again because they knew the knowledge, inventory, and attention to detail they’d receive from me was top-notch. Snow’s Antique Emporium has since become the sort of business that the Javits Antique Fair reaches out to, requesting I sponsor their event.

So I might have been one of the younger members of the community, but God save the poor bastard who took my hard-earned money and didn’t meet my expectations in return.

“I’m coming by today,” Pete answered, sounding rather unfazed by my agitation.

“The fair opens tomorrow.”

“And that’s why I’m coming today,” he reiterated, like I was the dense one.

The bell above the Emporium’s door chimed. Max and I both turned to see Beth Harrison standing in the open doorway. She was my business neighbor and the owner of Good Books, was about Pop’s age, and had long ago lost her last fuck to give.

“Good morning!” she declared, walking toward us with something in her hands.

“When will you be here?” I asked Pete as Max left me in favor of Beth.

“Oh… should be between eleven and… threeish?”

“Traffic across town must be a real bitch,” I answered, deadpan.

“You’ll be there when I stop in, right?”


“Good. I’ll need you to sign a few forms.”


“Will you be at the fair tomorrow?” Pete asked next.

I looked up. Beth was giving me a curious expression. Max was staring at his phone. “Let’s just focus on today first, shall we?” I muttered a goodbye and ended the call.

Beth walked forward. “Someone’s got his grumpy pants on this morning.”

“I’m actually in a good mood,” I corrected. “That was Pete White from the fair. He was supposed to be here four days ago to pick up my collection for the show.”

“How professional,” she said sarcastically.

Max raised his head and turned his phone to show me the screen, even though I was too far away to make out the image. “Marshall’s Oddities is a sponsor, and he’s already set up at the Center.”

Marshall’s Oddities, owned and operated by copycat Greg Thompson, was my only real competition in the city. I said “competition” because he’d basically stolen my shop’s image of “curious and bizarre” and still tried to pilfer my customers whenever possible. I was more than happy to supply the names of fellow dealers to my clients if there’s something they want outside my wheelhouse, because in turn those businesses sent customers to me. But not Greg. He’d never once scratched my back.

Frankly, I didn’t want him to. Or trust him to.

We did not get along, and I was okay with that being the entirety of our relationship. Although… it might also be partly due to the fact that last December I suspected Greg was the nutjob behind the Nevermore murders. But hey. Honest mistake.

“How’d you find that out?” I asked.


I grunted.

Max put his phone away.

Beth held up the plate in her hands. “So… how’re you boys on this fine May morning?”

“Why are you so chipper?” Max asked. “You’re talking like a fairy godmother.”

Beth snorted. “I am not. You’ve just spent too much time around your boss, whose good moods resemble most people’s bad moods.”

“They do not,” I grumbled.

“Be nice,” she responded. “I’ve got cookies.”

“Were you going to share?” I asked. “Or were you just taking them for a walk?”

“I don’t know why the hell I put up with you sometimes, Sebby.” Beth handed me the plate. “I come bearing gifts and you give me sass.”

“It’s my default setting,” I replied. I picked up a cookie and took a bite.

“Well, you’d better watch it,” Beth continued, “or that’s the last cookie I share with you.”

I held the plate out of reach. “No take backs,” I said around a full mouth.

Beth was always complaining that customers were stealing her pens. I noted she had three or four stuffed into her bun that morning but decided to let her find those on her own. She was wearing a feline-inspired top, although subtle today—just a cat nose and whiskers—but she also wore leggings with creatures on them that looked half-taco, half-cat, so… a typical wardrobe day for Beth.

“Are you dating a mechanic?” I asked, pointing at her clunky boots.

Beth looked down briefly. “My cat barfed in my Birkenstocks this morning.”

“Charming,” I answered.

Beth put her hands on her hips and walked toward the Kinetoscope. “What have you got here?”

“This is a whatchamacallit,” Max said, pointing at the cabinet.

“A what?” Beth asked.

“Kinetoscope,” I said around the final bite of cookie.

“What does it do?”

“It’s a one-person movie viewer,” Max answered, parroting my explanations back to Beth. “It even came with a 120-year-old film.”

“You don’t say?”

“My money is on porn or cats,” he continued.

“I like those odds,” she agreed.

I set the plate on a nearby table and wiped crumbs from the front of my sweater-vest.


I looked up. “Seb, Beth. Seb.”

She ignored me. “You look so handsome in green.”

“I thought this was blue.”

She and Max shook their heads.

“Christ,” I muttered to myself, looking back down.

“Seb was about to turn the Kinetoscope on,” Max said, almost like he’d caught my it’s-not-blue anxiety and changed the subject. “Want to stay for the big unveiling?”

Beth clapped her hands together. “Oh yes! Let’s see what you have.”

I stepped back to the cabinet and gave the Kinetoscope a final once-over before daring to power it on for what might have been the first time in over a hundred years. But against all odds, the machine came to life, the wheels inside making sound as the film was set into a continuous loop. I moved around to the front and glanced in the peephole. The bulb illuminating the projected stills was bright, and I had to squint as I watched.

It turned out the mystery footage wasn’t Victorian porn or cats, but instead, a boxing match. And one I recognized, at that.

The Leonard-Cushing fight of 1894. It was sold by Edison as an authentic fight, but the truth was, it was staged and filmed at his studio, Black Maria, in Jersey. Regardless, it was the first boxing match to be recorded, and of the six reels that were once for sale to the Kinetoscope parlors, less than a full round still existed today. The knockout footage—naturally the most popular round with customers—hadn’t survived.

At least, it hadn’t thirty seconds ago.

Because I was watching it now.

Leonard won. I knew he would, but no one in modern times had ever seen it.

I opened my mouth to say… something, but there was a weird blip in the film, some distortion, and then the scene was different. It was outdoors, the image dark and grainy. Some odd lighting, just above two figures in the scene, illuminated a street that otherwise would have been engulfed in nighttime. The figures appeared to be men—neither from the prior boxing scene. One had very distinctive muttonchops and a bit of a gut. The second man was pretty nondescript. They seemed to be arguing, but the frame rate the movie had been shot at was different from what was used today, making their motions quick and dramatic-looking, so it was hard to tell.

Without warning, Muttonchops pulled something from inside his coat, and the motion blurred as he lunged. Nondescript Man held his neck and then crumpled to the ground. Muttonchops stared down at him for a few seconds, dropped whatever he had been holding, and ran.

The scene looped and brought me back to the fight.

“So?” Max asked excitedly.

I raised my head, looking at him and Beth. “I… think I just witnessed a murder.”

Author Bio: 
C.S. Poe is a Lambda Literary and EPIC award finalist author of gay mystery, romance, and paranormal books.

She is a reluctant mover and has called many places home in her lifetime. C.S. has lived in New York City, Key West, and Ibaraki, Japan, to name a few. She misses the cleanliness, convenience, and limited-edition gachapon of Japan, but she was never very good at riding bikes to get around.

​She has an affinity for all things cute and colorful and a major weakness for toys. C.S. is an avid fan of coffee, reading, and cats. She’s rescued two cats—Milo and Kasper do their best on a daily basis to sidetrack her from work.

​C.S. is a member of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Her debut novel, The Mystery of Nevermore, was published by DSP Publications, 2016.


The Mystery of Nevermore #1

The Mystery of the Curiosities #2

The Mystery of the Moving Image #3