June is Pride Month, so we are featuring only #LGBTQ books this month for our #samplesundays at both Driven Press and BDP, as well as offering them at a discount.
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Today we're previewing MM Erotic Thriller Torn and Frayed by Rodd Clark. Torn and Frayed is Book 2 of the Gabriel Church Tales series.
Please enjoy this sample chapter from the book . . .
EVEN THOUGH IT was a state-governed office, there was nothing sterile or briskly efficient inside the halls of the Criminal Investigative Division for the Washington State Police. As Detective Scott Keen could attest, it was nothing more than peeling paint and cracked linoleum, where an inescapable odor of testosterone and stale brewed coffee wafted out of every office he passed along his route to reach his desk.
He couldn’t help but imagine it as pledging a fraternity, where listless Sunday mornings each man paid a toll for a previous night’s party or where feet were dragged and men stumbled through their morning routines like recovering freshmen hauling their bodies through a.m. classes. The type of men who only appeared revitalized whenever an opportunity arose where they might goad or bait another weaker, unsuspecting colleague.
“Hey, Autumn Boy . . .” someone yelled behind his back as he passed, “are you making headway on the Schoolgirl Murders yet?”
Like most detectives, Keen had been given a nickname. His moniker of Autumn Boy was a double reference. Autumn was a subset category of cases applied to those with little chance of resolution or arrest. The seasonal terminology was the description of a cold-case file, one where a hard freeze was all but imminent. A simple cop’s idiom to show an investigation had reached its highest pinnacle for success or that there was little hope for a suspect’s arrest or that the file would ever get presented to the DA’s office. The word Boy had been intended as an insult because of Keen’s baby-faced features, though it’d been years since he graduated from the academy and was about the same general age as nearly all his associates.
“Certainly more than you could, Simmons . . . so screw ya!” he shouted over his shoulder without slowing down or glancing back to even acknowledge his detractor.
Keen didn’t mind the childish taunts from his coworkers. He did, however, require their respect. He’d worked hard to achieve the status he’d attained, and his reputation for solving cold cases had become a trait that few could question. He did the necessary legwork and viewed every suspect with fresh and critical eyes, and more often than not he brought life back to his dead or dying files. But for him it was more than just satisfaction of bringing closure to victim’s families. It was winding up a case where others before had failed the task. It became the primary reason for his tenacious efforts and why he used every available resource at his disposal.
And when he was successful and the potentiality of arrest whispered just above the horizon, he’d walk the corridors in the Belltown Station like a king who sported a crown of gold. He was always smugly confident when he headed to his captain’s office, clutching a once dead file that now breached with surprisingly new life. He counted every triumph as a personal achievement above his associates, which may not have made him the most highly regarded among his peers but certainly a man worthy of recognition. And that became the coin that Keen treasured above all others as he shuffled through his daily grind.
One of his open cases was fast becoming known around the station as “The Schoolgirl Murders.” It was justifiably big news at the moment and the subject of great interest to families, reporters, and the politicians currently soapboxing on that very issue. It had begun with the abduction of two young girls who’d been taken in broad daylight and on a public street. Regrettably the term Schoolgirl Murders had been coined by a beat officer then sadly picked up later in the papers. Keen particularly hated the practice of giving nicknames to a killer or their victims. He knew it might be easier to categorize when working in closed groups, such as investigators, but it minimized the tragedy when “cute” monikers were given to unsubs or their act or even as in this case, the victim profile. Keen knew how widespread it was, particularly with male serial killers. The public had been doing that since before there was even a term serial killer, remembering that time in the mid-eighteen hundreds when the public titled Edward Rulloff, The Educated Murderer.
Keen had been given the case only after the girls’ bodies were recovered in a field in the city’s industrial section of town. With almost no physical evidence and an absence of eyewitnesses, it was proving to be a difficult case for Keen. Being as his former partner had been recently reassigned, it meant he would be working alone. With the double homicide drawing public scrutiny, Keen was juggling more than he’d have liked. He used to tell his wife, Carol, that by the time he got a case, most of the witnesses had died, moved out of state, or were currently incarcerated for other unrelated charges. It was typically the type of problem he enjoyed tackling. He had only recently transferred from Homicide to the Criminal Investigative Division, or CID, and even though his solve rate had dipped during the interim, he was finally catching his footing. That was until he was bestowed the more noteworthy double homicide to close.
Keen knew he had the general perception of being an amiable enough fellow around the water cooler, but his often-brusque exterior and single-minded focus could be a tad off-putting to some detectives. It was another reason his diminutive title came into being then later stuck after others saw how much their newcomer loathed it. In part, it had been their way of drawing him and even welcoming him into their collective, while simultaneously and subtly reminding him that it wasn’t his age that bothered them but his lack of tenure in the group. Keen understood all that, though in his mind he could’ve hoped to get a cooler nickname. Autumn Boy seemed so haphazard in his mind. But like jet fighter pilots, no one gets to choose their call sign, and around the station Keen was simply Autumn Boy. It was a handle he hoped to grow out of as quickly as he could.
“There you are, Scott. Been looking for you,” a female detective said when she encountered him in the hallway.
Where Keen’s baby-faced features may have instilled his most hated epithet, it was just as much an equal draw for the women in his office. All of them knew Keen had a wife. Some had met Carol, and on occasion, she had even charmed one or two. But that didn’t stop them from looking, or coquettishly batting their long lashes in his direction.
“What’s up, Erin?” Keen asked cordially. “Did you need me downstairs?”
Erin Franks was a second-tier Lieutenant, currently assigned to the high-tech unit of the CID. Besides being attractive, smart, and flirtatious, she was an excellent contact for Keen and had become invaluable as a resource whenever he needed record searches or IP traces. He’d allowed her artful advances and, oftentimes, over-the-edge teasing to get slightly out of hand, but he knew the importance of balancing a favorable connection with someone in her skillset. Though, out of all the detectives on site, Erin was the one he wouldn’t have liked Carol to meet or become acquainted with.
“Well, not yet,” she said with a suggestive lilt in her words. “I just have that vehicle records printout you requested. Of course, Scott, you’ll need to drop by and get it at your leisure, since I don’t carry it around on the hopes I’ll just bump into you.”
Laughing to shatter the mood, Keen said, “Sure thing, detective. I’ll stop by later when I can.” Then as quickly as she’d met him casually in the hall she was gone, with a trail of soft perfume trailing in her wake. She smiled briefly before she sauntered off, her shoes clicking across the tile. Erin’s reputation always preceded her wherever she went, mainly because she was one of the few females on the force who had the chutzpah to wear fashionable, yet inappropriate heels to work. And much like all the male detectives at the station, Keen saw her as one highly attractive woman. Though in his head he had to wonder how she thought her choice in footwear might enable her to race after a fleeing suspect.
Keen was an old-school detective. He still utilized a murder board even in these technical times. His familiar whiteboard, with its green and blue pen-scrawled notes, represented every possible suspect and timetable relating to each crime. He only erased the board completely after he’d presented a suspect to the pretty law grad in the DA office. Her name was Connie, and she saw every file prior to submitting it to the District Attorney or his associate attorneys.
Keen had only just sat down at this desk when his captain popped his head around the corner and knocked on his open door. “Hey there, detective. Can you squeeze in one more cold case . . . maybe sometime before your next public appearance?” His captain was gruff as he dropped the sheet assignment on his desk and walked out, not waiting for his answer.
Keen knew he was referring to the media for the Schoolgirl Murders that he’d been tasked to solve. His superiors didn’t like giving away the types of cases that brought the most notoriety to the precinct. At least, not until they were personally involved in the outcome and could stand center stage during a press announcement or generally take their sizeable chunks of credit for everything the detectives had finished prior to an arrest.
The sheet the captain had given him was informational. It coded to a particular banker’s box held in storage, where every box consisted of old investigative notes and minor evidence packets. Each cardboard box comprised the sum of a particularly stale homicide that hadn’t been closed to date. It was Detective Keen’s primary claim to fame, and his most stalwart commission inside the CID.
After retrieving the evidence box and skimming the contents, Keen learned it was the murder of a young woman who’d lived in a run-down apartment in a less than reputable quarter of Seattle. Her name was Shea Baltimore, he read. Her lifeless corpse had been discovered in her own residence, and the attached crime scene photos displayed her limp and frail figure positioned on a bright-red sofa, which he presumed had to be the victim’s.
Immediately, Keen was seized by the way her tiny frame was placed in the photos. Even though her head was slumped awkwardly to the right, in her final moments of death, she could’ve almost appeared as if she were sitting on her couch comfortably. Keen suspected she’d been positioned in that manner and possibly situated there post mortem. That suggested another possibility, one where she might’ve been killed at another location and then moved there. But whoever sat her upright in her seated position, with her back against the pillows, had done so with seemingly kind and gentle hands. Or maybe it was just a gesture to show a killer’s remorse. And if true, that would speak volumes about her assailant. Even without knowing any of the particulars of the investigation, Keen was already defining his suspect pool. One he knew would chiefly consist of all the victim’s friends, family members, and lovers.
The young woman’s death was initially thought to be a sexual attack gone awry. But that was just supposition first responders had suggested to officers after seeing no telltale clues to suggest otherwise. It wasn’t a robbery, they’d said, and there hadn’t been any sign of a break in, with nothing disturbed at the scene as far as anyone could ascertain. Sexual assault was just as quickly discarded from their line of possible inquiry when the medical examiner’s office found no evidence of rape. Miss Baltimore’s remains were absent the necessary DNA that might’ve resolved the case more quickly, and there were no physical signs of assault still lingering on her body. This was why the case had gone tragically cold, Keen figured—first responders weren’t detectives. Even those seasoned investigators previously assigned to the case had, in Keen’s opinion, failed their victim. He wouldn’t be burning through his afternoon, elbow deep and buried in a cold case evidence box, if they hadn’t. He also wouldn’t be trying to decipher through the hen-scratched notes of their early investigation with reports strewn across his desk.
Shea Baltimore’s grisly resolution had yet to be transcribed onto a new murder board, but it appeared it would be necessary. Sometimes seeing a photograph of a victim taken by CSI could spark an outrage that worked to skewer the case directly into a detective’s head. But looking at a candid photo of the victim had always worked best for Keen. It served as his motivation by keeping the outcome of that nearing finish line somewhere within his reach. He knew what most investigators knew: that it was hard to not find yourself motivated whenever the victim’s face couldn’t be shaken from your mind.
Such was the case with his latest acquisition still perched on the corner of his desk. So he flipped his whiteboard over to the clean side and begrudgingly put the Schoolgirl Murders on a temporary hold. The detective began scotch taping photographs to the top of the board, and with a marker he jotted down the highlights of the known analysis under a double underlined title that he’d written in capital letters: THE SHEA BALTIMORE HOMICIDE. Next to that declaration he included the date and time of death he’d found listed in the ME’s report.
Sometimes family presented law enforcement with a photograph of the deceased to use during their investigations, because it wasn’t just detectives who understood what the sight of a fresh face smiling bright with vitality could do to drive and inspire. It was the very first connection, which more often than not became forged between a family in grief and the champions they turned to in their search for their loved one’s killers. But Keen couldn’t find any real photos of Shea Baltimore when he rifled through his evidentiary contents. He did find an old high school picture buried inside near the bottom of the box, which for his purposes was fairly useless, but he found nothing more recent that he could use on his murder board, making him strangely curious.
Skimming through the investigative notes, Keen read Miss Baltimore had already lost her mother and was survived by her only living relative, her father. From the scrawled assessment the investigating detective had made of DeWayne Baltimore inside the margin edges of his notepad, their first meeting had been less than promising. He’d already been informed of his daughter’s death by the black and white’s who’d first entered the apartment. Keen wondered right off the bat why it’d been police officers who made the death notice visit and not the investigative agents who arrived next. His question wasn’t addressed in the notes he currently possessed, so he quickly decided to investigate that anomaly the following morning.
The first of many discrepancies he wanted to address. The notes went on to describe the father as being a heavy drinker by the sight of empty, crushed aluminum cans surrounding his chair when they stopped by for their initial visit. It was protocol to meet the family to establish their relationship and learn anything they could about the victim, while surreptitiously asking about their own alibis, under a guise of concern and compassion in those heartbreaking, worst of moments. Keen knew as well that he too would be introducing himself to DeWayne Baltimore in the very near future, because he wanted to know why the man hadn’t given police a photo of his daughter that wasn’t years before she’d been murdered. It was nothing more than a question but the first of many in a long line of puzzling incongruities.
His concentration was broken when Detective Gilroy peaked around the corner to ask, “Hey there, Scott . . . whatcha doing?”
“Just messing around with photos of dead folks,” Keen replied over his shoulder.
“Well, do you have to do that now?”
“Well, when I do it at the park, people stare,” Keen said with a light chuckle.
Then Gilroy chimed back. “No, buddy, I mean the captain wishes to see you.”
Putting his murder board aside, Keen turned to the big man and asked, “So now you’re a messenger for him? Well congratulations on the promotion, Dennis. Let’s hope with the small pay increase you can finally afford the stomach staples.” His smile was warm yet cutting as he patted the man’s belly. Then he whisked up his suit jacket and headed down the hall for his meeting.
THE PALMETTO Inn was visible from the highway, leaving Gabe to pull through the parking lot to gauge each access road in and out of the motel. His instinct turned to second-nature, and he wasn’t always even aware he was performing the tasks that might one day save his life. He was always checking for exits whenever he entered somewhere new. And whether conscious of it or not, it became a habit he’d taken for granted for far too long. When he was satisfied with the layout, he parked his truck and grabbed the duffle he kept behind the seat. After pulling out a phony ID, he headed inside to rent his room.
The desk clerk was of Indian descent. He spoke a funny version of English, and being as Gabe had grown up in both the hills of Kentucky and the sticks of Tennessee, it couldn’t have been any more awkward an exchange. He was as white bread as was possible to bake. The exchange was awkward, and with some effort, he made it more so in his attempt to distract the clerk from inspecting the phony ID for flaws. Even a hillbilly such as himself had his own charms, and he dazzled with every feigned miscommunication. Not that the clerk seemed to care if his papers were legitimate or not.
Gabe convinced him to accept cash but left a copy of his stolen credit card to ensure the deposit. He’d asked for a room to the rear of the parking lot, and he chose to back into a space before heading off to locate his room.
He found it surprisingly spotless, bright and airy, at least as far as cheap motels along the highway tended to be. Tossing his duffle on the bed, he closed the curtains and immediately began undressing. It had been two days since his last hot shower, and he figured he was going to take full advantage of one immediately. Ever since he’d left Seattle, showers and clean linens had become a luxury he couldn’t always afford. But the memories of that drew him back to his time at that fancy-schmancy Mayflower Park Hotel, where Chris and he had stayed. Maybe it was the weird sensation he felt holding the same tiny bar of Ivory soap or the clean tiles under his bare feet, but he felt yanked backward in time to where the two of them had spent all their time fucking and drinking and discussing Gabe’s childhood back in Tennessee. He remembered always waking up slower than usual, naked and still wrapped around Christian like a cocoon. His whole adult life had been comprised of wasted, empty moments of time—those long strings of nothingness stretching through his days and the thing he worked diligently to kill before it’d take his mind. But that time with the writer had felt different; it had somehow had purpose without a purpose.
For the first time in his life all that freedom felt more like he was relaxing on a beach somewhere without any care in the world. But prior to meeting Christian, it had been nearly unbearable as an existence. The sluggish periods between the killings had felt endless, as if he were actually sleepwalking through his days like a zombie. The weighted gaps of days were like stones tied around his neck, dragging him down and burying him in that black, empty abyss. Gabe knew how real people lived. Some would probably be envious of his life, no ties or responsibilities to hold him down or imprison him, but he knew better. He had lived that life and knew the consequences of that freedom. Some might be envious or think it would be emancipation, but for him it was different. It could just as easily steal your mind and make you seriously insane.
It was different with Chris. He knew that to acquire that transformation all he had to pay him was his time. In exchange for feeling whole again, he’d only have to suffer through the spilling of his details and the examination of his soul. Though at times it felt exhausting, having to dissect his childhood and expose its weaknesses, in the end he didn’t mind. He liked watching Chris as he excitedly wrote down his notes, forgetting he was naked and still sitting on the floor, the bottle of 90 proof sitting beside him, which they both were sharing. He’d stacked his little notes like firewood and eagerly begged for more. And even when it felt invasive, like he’d been strip-searched, his cavities explored, it was still to him a bargain. He was beginning to realize how much he would have traded just to keep those moments flowing.
Even though he’d set out to have his story told, there were times when he regretted it. It was embarrassing having to relive parts of his childhood and damned near impossible to explain his motivation. He knew there were those who he sought to tell who’d only stare back at him with astonishment, their eyes frozen wide in fright and disgust, and merely just sit there perplexed and blank as the horrors of his life were spilling off his tongue. But Christian had urged him forward, and he could see how the writer tried not to judge him as he scrawled out notes, which as it occurred to him, he’d never gotten to read after it was all said and done.
“I could use a drink,” he’d said one afternoon, crawling out of the hotel bed they shared. He’d given a resounding slap to Christian’s bare ass cheek before plodding off naked into the front room to find the bottle of bourbon the writer had brought with him.
“And I would support that notion,” Christian muttered as he left the room. It was his way of asking for a cocktail, he presumed, and Gabe found himself smiling his faint half-grin as he’d walked away. He liked that man.
At the time, maybe neither of them knew just how truly those emotions had been ingrained into his life. It was in the small gestures, the ones the other man didn’t see, that cemented their attraction. Like the secret pleasure Gabe felt every time the writer said something astute or clever. But real men didn’t talk about their feelings like pre-pubescent schoolgirls. They were just there and remained as something unsaid and somehow understood.
Standing in the tiny shower at the Palmetto Inn Motel, as Gabriel rubbed a soapy washcloth over his hairy frame, he suspected if anyone ever wrote out his obituary, Christian’s name would surely have to be there. Then he became morose at the prospect the only person who could write his obit was Christian, and he doubted that he’d ever see the writer again, despite the fact he wanted to.
Leaning back and allowing the spray to hit his chest and face, he rested against the tile and wallowed in the hot mist. Not that he deserved that much relaxation. But it did help him to forget. He had considered a nap before clubbing but thought also about hitting a gym for an hour or so and working out his kinks. He knew San Antonio wasn’t that big and saw how eventually all roads led to Mecca. If you wanted sex you headed to the bars, to the gyms, or to the baths. With so few places to choose from, and in a town with a decidedly closeted military presence, Gabe presumed he knew their blueprint well. They would labor under the pretense of pumping iron, as seductions began with long, lingering glances from across the floor. They’d nod and smile when they noticed one another in the locker room heading to and fro the showers, with the steam and sweat making slick mirrors along their muscular builds.
They’d strut around like proud fighting cocks with towels draped around oversized necks, wearing only olive drab military-issued boxers, or nothing at all. Their privates bouncing erotic and free under the white cotton fabric in a hint of promise of grander things to come. Time would seemingly stand still then; the males loitering uneasily as they slowly changed into, and out of, their street clothes. And whether straight or gay, it didn’t matter to most, as long as each man drowned in that sea of overstuffed jocks, perfectly round cherry tomato asses, and testosterone sinew stretched across overworked frames. It was a game of understanding, even with contrived and methodic gestures as they meticulously shaved or primped their hair. There was always finite comprehension to an endgame they both shared. Both knew to gap the minutes from one departure and the next. But each knew they’d end up in the parking lot where a better introduction would culminate in them sharing a bed somewhere for an afternoon of furious bare-assed fucking as their reward. It would be over just as quickly as it began, but at least they carried their salacious memories with them as they headed back to their jobs and offices.
Before he stepped out from under the showerhead, he’d already decided the best defense against old memories was to make newer ones. First a nap, then he was determined to hit the nearest club or dive bar and order a tall drink, then many others to follow. He felt reasonably confident there would be someone that’d strike his fancy wherever he ended up. And whoever got the lucky nod would be dragged back to his room at the Palmetto, because Gabe was certain he’d get his wick wet sooner than later, and residents in the adjoining rooms would be hearing his raucous fucking and tasting the bitterness of envy on their salivating tongues.
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