QSFer Xenia Melzer has a new queer paranormal mystery out: Arthropoda.
Detective George Donavon doesn’t plan to stay in Charleston long. Skeptical and by-the-book, he’s on the fast track to the top, and he won’t let anything derail his career. Especially not Andrew Hayes, his grumpy, awkward new partner—and not the chief’s secret order to find out how said partner solves even the most difficult cases.
George and Andi can’t agree on anything except their mutual dislike, but when three dead girls turn up at a storage unit, they must put their differences aside before the suspected trafficking ring claims another victim.
There is no crime without witnesses. Andi knows George suspects his always-right “hunches” point to corruption, but he doesn’t care. All that matters is catching a killer… and keeping his secret. But with leads on this sprawling conspiracy drying up, he has no choice. He just can’t let his partner find out how he’s getting the information.
Andi’s on the verge of losing his life, his mind, and his career. He could take George down with him….
If the violent criminals who are always one step ahead don’t get to them first.
GEORGE DONOVAN maneuvered his shiny new Escalade into the parking lot of the Charleston Police Department on Lockwood Drive. His appointment with Amanda Norris, the chief—his new boss as of today—had been postponed till lunch. This was good, since it allowed him to find a parking space. The officer who had called him about the change of time had warned him about the lack of parking, and for a moment, George had even contemplated walking there since his apartment in West Ashley wasn’t that far from the station and he would get a better feel for the city that way. After poking his nose outside into the hot, humid air, he decided meeting his new boss without sweat stains under his armpits took precedence over acquainting himself with his new home. Not that George planned on being in Charleston for longer than two or three years. The city was merely a steppingstone on his way to the top, and when the opening for a homicide detective here had popped up, he had decided it was time to quit Narcotics and applied for the job. Luckily for him, there had only been ten other applicants, none of them with a resume to rival his own, which meant the job had landed in his lap without too much effort from his side. If everything went according to plan, he would use his time here to get intimate with the proceedings of yet another police station and how they handled capital crimes so he could start looking for openings as a police lieutenant. The city of Charleston was definitely not the worst place to be, it even ranked among the top ten cities to live in the US, whatever that was supposed to mean, and the surrounding area promised great opportunities for outdoor sports, which he was a big fan of. He couldn’t wait to go hiking and kayaking, as soon as he got used to the climate, which was very different from his hometown in Boston.
Once he had found a suitable parking space—unfortunately not in the shade—he got out of his car, locked it, and went to the main entrance of the Charleston PD. A young man at the front desk handed him a visitor’s pass, even though he was scheduled to get his official ID after his meeting with the chief. Amanda Norris’s office was on the second floor, at the far end of an impressive bull pen, where the hectic noises of at least twenty people working were accentuated by the rustling of cellophane and the telltale screeching of plastic spoons dragging over takeout boxes. The smell was a mixture of stale sweat, lemon detergent that was probably used to keep the old linoleum floor in a semblance of cleanliness, though it was a lost battle, different kinds of food, coffee that was strong enough to make even the most hardened criminals beg for mercy, and a cacophony of colognes and perfumes that could kill one’s sense of smell faster than any aniseed bomb. In short, it smelled familiar, if a bit exotic.
George ignored the curious looks on his way to the office, where bold white letters announced “Amanda Norris, Chief of Police,” and knocked. He was immediately asked inside, and a short glance at the glass walls confirmed his suspicions that this was privacy glass—the people inside the office could see what was going on outside, but not the other way around. Amanda Norris got up from her chair and shook his hand in greeting. She was a tall woman, around six feet to George’s own six three, with a generous build that gave her an appearance of being motherly when she was anything but—as George’s discreet investigations had shown. Amanda was as career-driven as he himself, and she hadn’t gotten the position of chief by being nice. She was forty-three, African American, mother to a fourteen-year-old son, and married to an artist who was still waiting for his big break. At least there was always somebody home for the child.
“Detective Donovan, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m so glad you could accommodate the change in time. I’m afraid I was swamped this morning.”
“No problem, Chief. It’s not like I have signed another contract.” George made his voice sound light, the tone he had learned to adopt in small talk from a young age. It didn’t fail to work on Amanda Norris, who smiled broadly at him before gesturing at the comfortable-looking chair in front of her desk.
“Please, Detective, have a seat. I’m afraid we have a lot to talk about.”
George furrowed his brows. He had anticipated something minor, like lack of a signature somewhere or that his badge wasn’t ready yet. The way the chief’s tone had changed told him it was more serious. She sat down in her own leather chair, steepled her fingers on the desk, and cut right to the chase. “There’s no way of easing you into this. Your assigned partner, Michelle Stevenson, called me this morning to tell me she has to take a leave of absence, starting now, because of a family emergency. I don’t know when she will be back, which means you’re technically without a partner at the moment.”
George thought about this. Now he certainly understood why his meeting with the chief this morning had been postponed. What worried him, though, was the way she had phrased the second part of her announcement. “What do you mean ‘technically’? I’d say I either have a partner or I don’t.”
A brief smile flitted over Amanda’s face. “I knew you were a smart one. Now, I’m pretty sure you already know that I’m rather new to this position.”
George nodded. “You started six months ago.”
“Exactly. And until last month, the former chief, Harry Renard, was still here to help me with the transition.” Her gaze went to the glass walls and the bustling outside. “I was very grateful for his help, but we didn’t see eye to eye about one thing. Or rather, one person.”
George lifted a brow. He knew the chief wanted something from him, and he was more interested in what she was going to offer in exchange than in what she was going to ask of him. From the way she was dancing around the subject, he already had an idea that it had something to do with personnel.
“You see that guy over there, in the left corner, next to the printer?”
George turned in his seat to look in the indicated direction. A man was standing there, staring at the printer as if he was waiting for a miracle. From this angle, George had a good look at his profile, and he was close enough to pick up details. Like the way the man’s hair was a bit too long to be considered professional, or how he wore jeans a bit too big and a bit too shabby for the precinct, or that his shirt was a washed-out white with a slight hint of red, suggesting he didn’t sort his laundry before putting it in the washing machine, or how his skin was nicely tanned but seemed ashen nevertheless. All in all, the man looked more like somebody who should sit in an interrogation room about to be questioned regarding his habits of substance abuse than be out wearing the badge he had currently clipped to a frayed leather belt that surely had seen better days, even if it was a long time ago.
“Yes, ma’am. I see him. Doesn’t look like he belongs here.” George usually didn’t make a habit of talking people down without getting to know them first, especially not in front of superiors, because such things could easily come back to bite you in the ass. In this case, though, he already knew Amanda had a problem with this guy, and he figured feeding into that would get him brownie points.
The quick expression of disgust on her face told him he had played his cards right. “No, he doesn’t. That’s Andrew Hayes. The detective with the highest crime-solving rate in the entire city, if not the state.”
Her sour tone made George a bit wary. “If he’s that good, I don’t understand the problem. I mean, having a detective like him should thrill you.”
Amanda sighed. “Normally it would. Don’t get me wrong, his performance makes the whole precinct look damn good.”
“But that’s just it. How can he be so good? He works alone, apparently always has, and he breaks cases nobody else can. He even solves cold cases sometimes, when he runs out of recent ones.”
George was getting impatient. He knew the chief wanted something from him, and now he knew it had to do with Andrew Hayes. “Again, I fail to see the problem.”
Amanda massaged her temples. “I’m telling you all this, hell, I’m only talking to you about this because you’re the new guy and this is my one chance to have Andrew Hayes discreetly watched without making it look as if I don’t trust my best detective. I don’t want IA all over this place, especially should it turn out my gut feeling was way off the mark.”
“I gather your gut feelings are usually spot on?”
Amanda shot him a glare that told him to tread more carefully. Yes, she needed him, but no, she wasn’t desperate.
“They are. And my gut tells me there’s something wrong with Andrew Hayes. I want you to watch him for me, to see if there’s something fishy going on. I don’t wish to jeopardize this entire precinct because of the actions of one man. If he’s clean, fine, I’ll follow Chief Renard’s shining example and just let him be, but before I can do that, I need to know if he’s legit.”
“Which is where I come into play. What a happy coincidence that Michelle is gone.”
“Believe it or not, that’s indeed a coincidence. But I’d be a fool to let such a chance slip through my fingers. I’m not asking you to get into his personal business; I just want you to be his partner and see up close how he works, how he handles evidence, if he follows protocol. That’s all. And in a few months, when you have solved a crime or two, we can see about either getting you another partner or even letting you do solo work as well.”
“Sounds fair. Now what’s in it for me?”
Amanda leaned back in her chair. “I did some digging about you as well, Detective Donovan, and I see a man who wishes to reach certain heights. If you do this for me, you’ll have my full backing once you wish to move on to greener pastures.”
George held Amanda’s gaze. What she was propositioning wasn’t exactly legal, but it wasn’t illegal either. She was asking him to watch a fellow detective who might become a problem for the precinct. If anything came of his little side investigation, he would even get some credit. And if it turned out to be nothing—then IA wouldn’t be the wiser and Amanda still owed him a favor. It was win-win all around. He held his hand out to her.
She shook his hand. “Deal.”
They both looked through the glass wall at Andrew Hayes, who was still standing in front of the printer, waiting for only God knew what.
Amanda rose from her chair. “I’d better get him. He won’t like this.”
Xenia Melzer was born and raised in a small village in the South of Bavaria. As one of nature’s true chocoholics, she’s always in search of the perfect chocolate experience. So far, she’s had about a dozen truly remarkable ones. Despite having been in close proximity to the mountains all her life, she has never understood why so many people think snow sports are fun. There are neither chocolate nor horses involved and it’s cold by definition, so where’s the sense? She does not like beer either and has never been to the Oktoberfest—no quality chocolate there.
Even though her mind is preoccupied with various stories most of the time, Xenia has managed to get through school and university with surprisingly good grades. Right after school she met her one true love who showed her that reality is capable of producing some truly amazing love stories itself.
While she was having her two children, she started writing down the most persistent stories in her head as a way of relieving mommy-related stress symptoms. As it turned out, the stress relief has now become a source of the same, albeit a positive one.
When she’s not writing, she teaches English at school, enjoys riding and running, spending time with her kids, and dancing with her husband.