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Fiction Private Investigators

Shadow Puppet

A Dan Sharp Mystery

by (author) Jeffrey Round

Publisher
Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2019
Category
Private Investigators, Hard-Boiled, Gay
  • eBook

    ISBN
    9781459740624
    Publish Date
    Feb 2019
    List Price
    $6.99
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9781459740600
    Publish Date
    Feb 2019
    List Price
    $16.99

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Description

Private investigator Dan Sharp investigates the disappearance of three closeted gay men.

When a serial killer stalks downtown Toronto, private investigator Dan Sharp finds an unexpected link between the missing men that even the police are reluctant to investigate. A meeting with the chief of police confirms his suspicions, but does nothing to resolve the problem. Obsessed with uncovering the truth, Dan enlists a small group of friends to delve into illicit goings-on in the local sex industry. It’s only when the next man disappears, however, that Dan finds himself in a race against time to track down an elusive, manipulative killer who is a master of disguise.

About the author

Jeffrey Round is the Lambda-Award winning author of the Dan Sharp mystery series. Twice nominated for a ReLit Award for both poetry and fiction, he also penned the comic Bradford Fairfax mystery series and the stand-alone mystery Endgame, dubbed a “punk rock reboot” of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. His first two books, A Cage of Bones and The P-town Murders, were listed on AfterElton’s Top 100 Greatest Gay Books. You can find him on Facebook and at http://jeffreyround.com.

Jeffrey Round's profile page

Excerpt: Shadow Puppet: A Dan Sharp Mystery (by (author) Jeffrey Round)

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.

Editorial Reviews

It’s a cracking good tale … perhaps the best in the Sharp series.

Booklist

Round dramatically shows how homophobia, or at least apathy, can blind authorities to a monster victimizing a vulnerable community.

Publishers Weekly

Lambda Award-winning writer Jeffrey Round should be a household name not just in households that value gay detective fiction, but outside them as well. I, who am not a connoisseur of or an inveterate fan of detective fiction, don’t read Round merely for his tricks of suspense. I value him for his true literary motive: an exploration of human relationships within the circumscription of milieu, circumstance, and character — in other words, the exigencies of our lives, especially of gay lives, that (as Edmund White puts it) express the introspective advantages of the “outsider, of the foreigner and of the pioneer.’

— Keith Garebian, award-winning author of William Hutt: Soldier Actor

The story of Toronto’s Gay Village serial killer was far too macabre and mind-boggling not to be turned into fiction, and Jeffrey Round has done it justice. It’s the sixth of his series featuring P.I. Dan Sharp and the best of the bunch so far. He’s changed bits and names, and certainly the plot line has a new twist but, this is as good a whodunit as we’ll see this year.

Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail

Other titles by Jeffrey Round