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Lion's Head Revisited

Lion's Head Revisited

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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PI Dan Sharp sat with his back to the window. Behind him, the Don River murmured quietly after the previous night’s storm. His office on the top floor of a warehouse import-export business had long been a sanctuary for him. Currently, however, it was feeling a bit crowded.
The three people facing him looked to be in their late twenties. The blond had multiple piercings and tattoos on her arms. The young man, slender and bearded, was agitated. The third, a quietly attractive woman, watched him with gentle eyes. They were waiting for his answer.
“You have no choice,” Dan said. “You have to report it.”
“But we want to keep it private. At least for now,” the man insisted.
His face was ravaged with red eruptions, like a perpetual adolescent. While his concern was evident, it wasn’t anything Dan could agree to.
“It can’t be private, Eli. This is a police matter. Kidnapping is a criminal offence.”
“It might be a hoax,” the pixie-haired blond, Janice, argued. “We don’t know for sure if a crime has been committed.”
“Do you want to take that chance?” Dan asked. No one answered. “Why do you think it might be a hoax?”
Janice frowned. “Because when they called, they never mentioned Jeremy. They just said they were raising money for missing children. When I asked how much, they said a million dollars.”
“They were probably playing it safe in case someone was listening in,” Dan said. “Your son has now been missing for three days. The police found no trace of him on the trails up on the mountain or anywhere near the shore where you were camping. You’ve already had one phone call and soon you’ll get another. The only choice you have to make is whether you’re going to pay the ransom or not.”
Eli shook his head. “But what if it’s someone who heard Jeremy was missing on the news and is trying to extort money from us? We need to buy ourselves time.”
“Time is a luxury you may not have, but whether the kidnapping is real or fake, you need to let the police know.” Dan hoped he sounded sympathetic.
“But so far they haven’t found anything useful,” Eli persisted. “We don’t have faith they can help us, to be honest.” “Look — even if you think the police aren’t doing their job, the best I can do is run a parallel investigation. I can’t interfere with what they’re doing. If you know something, you have to tell them.”
“But we don’t know anything!” Eli exclaimed.
Janice put a hand on his arm. “No, Dan’s right. We do know something — we know that we were asked for money.”
Eli threw his hands up in the air. “And where do we get this blood money from? Is there some government fund for kidnap victims that we can apply for? Or maybe I should just ask my boss for a raise of, oh, I don’t know — a million dollars?”
He wrapped his arms around his chest and slumped into his chair. Dan had had enough of his petulance.
“Eli, I appreciate that this is difficult for you, but what you do now could make all the difference in getting Jeremy back safely.” He turned to Janice. “Did they say anything else?”
“Yes. They said not to mention the call to anyone.”
“That’s to be expected. How’s your back, by the way? I understand you had quite a fall coming down the escarpment.”
“She nearly got gored by a bull, but a crazy man came out waving a tea towel and chased it away,” Eli interjected.
“That was after I fell.” Janice gave Dan a rueful smile. “The doctor said I’ll live. Though I’m not sure I want to right at this moment.”
“Janice!” The rejoinder came from the other woman.
“Please! Let’s have none of that.”
Her speech was clipped, almost a bark.
“Oh, go to hell, Ashley!” Janice snapped, then she turned suddenly contrite. “I’m sorry. I have no right to act like this.”
Ashley nodded. “It’s all right. You’ve been through a lot.”
The name suited her, Dan thought. Lithe and willowy, with hair the colour of ash wood.
She turned her eyes to him. “We don’t know what to do. We need you to advise us.”
“Thank you. The first thing you need to do is report the call to the police. That’s what I advise.”
“Then what?” Eli asked, still sulking.
“Then we start looking. For now, tell me everything that’s happened.” Dan picked up a pencil. “Start with anything irregular or noteworthy you recall in the days before Jeremy disappeared.”
Janice nodded. “There was something odd. I saw an older woman outside the house twice right before the camping trip. She seemed to be waiting for something. I went out to see what she wanted, but then Jeremy came out with Ashley and she walked away.”
“Did she say anything at all?”
“She called me Kathy.”
Dan glanced up from his notepad. “Kathy?”
“Katharine is my first name, but no one ever calls me that. I go by my middle name, so I don’t know how she’d know that.”
“Can you describe her?” Dan asked.
“She was plain. Mousy looking. The sort of woman you barely notice even if she’s right beside you.”
Dan looked at the pert blond with triple ear piercings. There was no chance of not noticing her.
“Was she short? Tall? Slender? Overweight?”
“Average height. Dumpy, but not huge. A little bulky. She had brown hair going grey.”
“Was there anything memorable about her face?”
“Her eyes were sad. That was my first thought.”
“Good. Anything else?”
Janice shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Okay. That’s a start,” Dan said. He turned to the others. “Did either of you see her?”
Eli shook his head. “No.”
“I did. Briefly,” Ashley replied. “She looked exactly as Janice described.”
“Any idea who she was?”
“None. But what sort of monster kidnaps a child?”
Janice caught her breath and turned aside. Her shoulders shook.
“Give us a moment,” Ashley said, putting an arm around her.
“I’m fine,” Janice said, regaining her composure. “You were asking what sort of person would kidnap a child,” Dan continued. “That’s the most important question we need to answer right now. Why would someone target you?”
“Definitely not for the money.” Janice rubbed away a tear. “I mean, do we look rich? I work in an art gallery on commission. Eli’s a designer. Ashley isn’t working at the moment. We barely scrape by.”
“Apart from the money. Is there anyone who would be likely to do such a thing? Someone who might bear a grudge against any one of you?”
“What about Sarah?” Ashley prompted.
“Jeremy’s a surrogate child,” Janice said. “Sarah was his birth mother.”
“And you suspect the birth mother? Why?”
Eli snorted. “She was bad news from the beginning.”
“We couldn’t know that,” Janice said, her voice icy.
“It was obvious,” Eli said. “I warned you right at the start.”

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Funny Boy

Funny Boy

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
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Dan Sharp Mysteries 6-Book Bundle

Dan Sharp Mysteries 6-Book Bundle

Shadow Puppet / The God Game / After the Horses / and 3 more
edition:eBook
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Shadow Puppet

Shadow Puppet

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Prologue
2010: The Master

He felt like the world’s greatest puppet master. No matter who they were or where they came from, he could make them sing and dance. All it took was a little reassurance. With a gentle smile, he let them know he understood their suffering. The shame and fear, the condemnation and humiliation. Oh yes, all of that and more.

Best of all, he could make them weep.

That was when he felt most powerful, an avenging angel, as though he could scoop up their tears and wash away their sorrow. It was also when he felt closest to the lost lambs who followed him home and undressed for him, shedding their innocence along with their clothes. Giving up the purity that would take them to paradise. He stripped them of all of that.

***

The man over in the corner had been eyeing him across the bar for the past ten minutes. Light-skinned, a hint of facial hair. Muscular, but not too big. Just the right hesitation in his glance: Are you interested in me, brother?

Music pounded as video screens threw shadows across the room. He glanced back, gave a gentle nod: Yes, I am interested. Then he turned away, not to let the other get too cocky. The time would come to spark his confidence, to let him think he was in control. But not yet. Not right from the beginning, when his hands had deftly begun to pull the strings, bringing the puppet to life with each twitch and flutter.

The song ended and a new beat edged in. The two headed for the bar at the same moment, random atoms propelled by chance. The bartender, in black leather, looked up at the shaved-headed man.

“Dude?”

“A Molson Dry, please.”

He turned to the other. “For you?”

“Same, please.”

“Two Molson Dry coming up.”

As the bartender moved off, the larger man let his arm brush against the young man’s arm. The crowd was packed in so close there was no room to step aside, just the subtle warmth of skin touching skin.

“Habibi.” They were facing each other now. “You like this place?”

The younger man nodded shyly. The bartender returned, deftly clipped the caps off the bottles and pushed them forward where they gleamed under the lights.

“I’ve got it.” The larger man passed a bill across the counter and waved away the change.

The new acquaintances picked up their beers and made their way through the crowd to a pair of stools against the far wall.

“Chokron.” The younger man lifted his glass and swallowed long and hard.

“You like beer?”

“Yes. I like it.”

“That’s good. It relaxes you.” The shaved-headed man laughed and clasped him around the back of his neck, feeling the smooth skin and warm flesh.

“Tell me, where are you from?”

“I am from Iran,” he said. His eyes skittered nervously, knowing what it meant to discuss such things openly.

“A great country.”

Talk ensued. The older man had lived in Toronto for almost a decade; the younger had been there less than a year, he said. Do you get lonely? Yes, I miss my family all the time. All good men missed their families. They agreed and clinked bottles. Of course, the families did not know they frequented bars and drank alcohol and invited the devil into their beds.

“I am Joe. What’s your name?”

“Sam.”

“Good to meet you, Sam.”

“And you.”

“Back home I was a dentist,” the shaved-headed man said. But his certificate was useless in Canada. In a year or two, he said, he would go back to school and upgrade his papers. But everyone said that, the dream easier spoken of than accomplished.

They talked of being immigrants, of the ridiculousness of all things Western and the treacherous stranglehold the West had on world affairs. Their bottles were empty now. The younger man bought another round. He was already on his third, stumbling when he stood to use the bathroom.

“Let me help you.”

The older man took him by the arm and led him to the urinals. They stood side by side looking down, the older man’s hands lingering, stretching and letting go with a snap before the stream of piss came with an impressive splash.

He looked over. “We are friends, yes? Same-same? You and I?” He rubbed two fingers together in case the other hadn’t already got the message.

The younger man nodded, a lamb drawn to the slaughter. “Yes, brother. I like you.”

“Come, habibi. We’ve had enough drink. It is time for us to go and make ourselves better friends together, away from this place.”

***

Their walk took them through quiet streets. Despite the hour, people lingered here and there. Two men together in that neighbourhood would not be noticed.

The moon was full, its light obscured by an oncoming storm. High-rises towered above. A slate of new condos being erected showed how fast the city was growing. Rain began to fall, lightly at first then more heavily. The pavement glistened, the lights of passing cars picking up their silhouettes then sliding softly away.

Beware, they seemed to say.

The younger man stopped to lean against a street lamp, the silvery glare from above outlining his features. The older man put a hand on his shoulder, gently turning him till they faced one another. He leaned in. Their lips met. The younger man shivered and turned away.

“Please, I cannot!”

“It’s okay. I know what you want. No one will ever know.”

The wind was picking up, the leaves thrashing and turning overhead like startled birds trying to escape the storm that was nearly on them.

“Yes, it is true. No one will ever know.”

The younger man nodded, conquering his fears as the pair moved along.

The game was on again.

“Is it far?”

“Not far. Just another block.”

As they walked, the younger man spoke more openly about his family, how he’d grown up with goats, a backyard that opened onto the desert, relatives who lived in tents. More than anything, he talked of his father, who did not understand his desire to remain in the land of Satan. But a good father nonetheless, he conceded.

“I will be your father here,” the other claimed.

“You? But you are not old enough.”

“I am almost old enough. Or maybe just a big brother then. I will show you the sure way among the treacherous paths of the city. Would you like that?”

“Yes, I would.”

They all wanted something: fathers, brothers, sons, loyal friends to love them forever. He wanted to be all those things.

A walkway led to a three-storey affair recessed from the street. The light over the vestibule was burned out, all the windows facing the street darkened except for a dim glow in an upper right-hand frame. They could barely make out the building’s name: The Viking.

“Is this it?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve been here before.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Just a job I did once. It was nothing.”

Fingers manipulated the lock. The door snapped open onto a hallway that reeked of something gone off, like sour milk. The walls were rough, but recently painted. The floor tiled black-and-white harlequin.

A sign identified the superintendent’s apartment. A handwritten note had been pinned to the door — AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND — with an emergency number scribbled beneath. No one to see, no one to hear.

On the right, at the end of the hallway, a heavy industrial door was padlocked and secured. The smaller man’s footsteps scuffed drunkenly as they made their way to the apartment on the left.

A black filigree key slid easily into the lock. It was the sort of key that had secured thousands of doors like this until the middle of the previous century, but was now more likely to be a curio consigned to a dusty antique shop.

The door opened into a fresh-smelling apartment where they hung their jackets side by side in the hallway. Lights glowed softly as they passed into a living room. Heavy curtains shrouded the space. The furniture was hand-carved, intricately upholstered.

Against the far wall a row of faces leered at the newcomers, an army of puppets hanging limply from metal frames. The tiny audience silently watched the men enter, as though waiting for the cue to spring to life.

“You have friends.”

Fingers reached up to caress the wooden figures. Like the lock and key, they, too were old-fashioned, the sort of puppets only a master craftsman could make.

“Very nice. You made these?”

“Yes. I am a puppet maker.”

“Beautiful. Back home we had puppet makers, but I never met one here.”

“Please. Be at home.”

The younger man stumbled as the other pushed the drunken boy onto the couch, removing his shoes and socks for him. The boy giggled at the touch, but did not pull away from the hands caressing him.

The older man sat back on his heels and unbuckled his belt, pulling until it slithered free of the loops. “That bar we were in tonight — it’s a leather bar. Do you know what that means?”

Concern lit up the young man’s face. He eyed the belt. “No, I do not. What does this mean?”

“It means that men dress up in leather — like this.” He gripped his T-shirt by the bottom and pulled it smoothly over his head, revealing a muscular chest and a harness fastened behind his shoulders and under his armpits. The studs gleamed. “Habibi. You are lovely,” he said, rubbing the younger man’s thighs. “Do you like this?”

“Yes, I like it.”

“Have you done this with other men before?”

“Once or twice.”

“And did you enjoy it? Even though you know it’s wrong for our kind?”

“Yes, yes.” The younger man leaned forward and buried his face in the older man’s shoulder. “I want …”

“What do you want?” he asked, lifting the boy’s shirt over his head. “Tell me. I am going to be a good father to you.” “I want you to do it to me.”

“You want us to be together? Same-same?”

The look on the younger man’s face was pure intoxication, though fear still danced in his eyes. “Please. Shall we have another drink first?”

The older man ran a hand over his shaved head. “Of course.”

They had come so far; it was just a matter of time. Puppet masters were patient.

Drinks were poured and sipped, the glasses set aside. The older man unbuckled the younger man’s pants, ignoring his feeble protests as he tossed them on the floor. He slipped a condom from his pocket.

The younger man shook his head. “No. This is for gays.” His eyes pleaded with his companion. Only gay men get AIDS, they said. We are not gay. We are real men.

So be it.

 

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