About the Author

Jeffrey Round

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.

Books by this Author
After the Horses

After the Horses

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Dan Sharp Mysteries 2-Book Bundle

Dan Sharp Mysteries 2-Book Bundle

Lake on the Mountain / Pumpkin Eater
edition:eBook
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Dan Sharp Mysteries 3-Book Bundle

Dan Sharp Mysteries 3-Book Bundle

Lake on the Mountain / Pumpkin Eater / The Jade Butterfly
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Dan Sharp Mysteries 4-Book Bundle

Dan Sharp Mysteries 4-Book Bundle

Lake on the Mountain / Pumpkin Eater / The Jade Butterfly / After the Horses
edition:eBook
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Death in Key West

Death in Key West

A Bradford Fairfax Murder Mystery
edition:Paperback
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Endgame

Endgame

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : suspense, crime
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Lake on the Mountain

Lake on the Mountain

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback eBook Audiobook
tagged : gay, crime
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P-Town Murders

P-Town Murders

A Bradford Fairfax Murder Mystery
edition:Paperback
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Pumpkin Eater

Pumpkin Eater

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: Audiobook Paperback
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Shadow Puppet

Shadow Puppet

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

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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The God Game

The God Game

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

Things weren’t going well for private investigator Dan Sharp. He had just spilled coffee on his new suit, and he sat dabbing ineffectually at the stain with a damp cloth. Just five minutes ago, he’d learned the warehouse that housed his investigations office would close permanently come summer, to be gutted for condominiums. This was prime real estate overlooking the Don River; it was bound to happen sooner or later. Like it or not, he had three months to find a reasonable substitute for the place he’d thought of as a second home for the past five years.
On top of that, the food for the wedding had come in priced at nearly twice what he was expecting. They’d already tossed out the idea of flowers as an unnecessary expense, but this was a gay wedding and food was a must. It went without saying that theirs had to be a spectacular menu.
Weddings were not Dan’s idea of fun. Not because he was afraid of commitment; he just didn’t like circuses, whether three-ring or of the domestic variety. For Dan, a vow meant giving your word and sealing it in your heart. Ceremonies were for the crowning of monarchs, the consecration of altars, and the opening of shopping malls and theme parks.
Getting married was Nick’s idea. At first, Dan had laughed. He thought his partner was joking. They’d barely known each other a year then. He shook his head and said, “Thanks, but I’m not the marrying kind.” Nick had stared him down. “Well, I am.” Then he got up and left the room, leaving Dan sitting there dumfounded.
That wasn’t the end of the subject. Not by a long shot. Dan wasn’t sure whether they were having an argument or just a difference of opinion. Nick could be garrulous one moment and silent as the grave the next. Something about him demanded attention. Put it down to all the police training. Even off duty, cops commanded authority; they didn’t confer it on others. Any time they disagreed, Dan felt as if he were being given the third degree by an officer of the law investigating with probable cause.
For Dan, it boiled down to whether he wanted to buy into an institution that had long denied the validity of non-traditional relationships. But he hedged, couching it in material terms when they next discussed it: “It’s a racket, Nick. Thousands of dollars for what? To say ‘I love you’ in a church?”
“How much is my love worth to you?” Nick asked.
Low blow,” Dan countered. Still, he knew better: to give Nick an inch was dangerous. He went in for the kill. “As an institution, marriage is conservative and backward thinking. I’ve given you my word. Do you need to own me on paper like some sort of real estate transaction?”
“It’s a statement, Dan. A very radical statement. It says we’re willing to stand up and be counted in a world that denies our legitimacy. They hate us. They outlaw and kill us in many places around the globe. Why not say we’re proud of who we are in one of the few countries where we can do that? And in case you’re wondering, I wouldn’t marry just anyone. It’s you or no one.”
In the end, they had compromised: a small ceremony, but legal. Not much pomp and lots of standing up to be counted among those who mattered to them. Which still didn’t mean Nick was willing to settle for cheap, Dan reminded himself. And that was why he found himself staring at a quote from a very chic catering company offering a menu created by a three-Michelin-starred chef for twenty-five people at four hundred bucks a plate. Maple-glazed bison on black truffle pasta, grilled Mission figs stuffed with Stilton and wrapped in prosciutto, wild boar meatballs in almond sauce, an arugula-walnut-cranberry salad, and lemon tiramisu with white chocolate lace pastry to finish. All this with hand-selected cheeses and wines. Nothing but the best. Yes, it was more than impressive, but was it worth it? Dan struggled with that. Ten thousand dollars would go a long way toward paying for his son Kedrick’s education, for instance. Or feeding a homeless person or getting LGBT youth off the street and into safe living conditions.
Being conscientious had its price.
Dan pushed the quote aside and picked up the phone to tell Nick they needed to find another caterer. He was interrupted by a knock. A shape hovered over the frosted glass like a milky alien outline. Cold calls were rare in Dan’s world. Most first-time clients were either fearful of consulting a private investigator or else so obsessed with their privacy that they contacted him by phone or email.
This one apparently wasn’t put off by such concerns. The door opened on a big man with a bulky torso, bristling with energy. On seeing Dan, he entered without waiting to be asked and offered a large, furry hand. “Peter Hansen.”  The name sounded vaguely familiar.
“Dan Sharp.”
Hansen’s gaze went around the office, gauging and appraising: old furniture, raw brick, original art, classic texts on the bookshelf. A man in a hurry. Better to make your assessment first and then decide what you want.
“You come recommended,” he said, seemingly satisfied. “Yeah, you’re the one I want.”
It wasn’t much of a compliment, but Dan could tell a man like Peter Hansen wouldn’t have come had the recommendation been half-hearted.
He named a client Dan had worked for several years previously. The case hadn’t been unusual or noteworthy, but Dan’s results were both quick and decisive. That, more often than not, was why people kept coming to him.
Hansen placed a valise on Dan’s desk, snapped it open, and slid a black-and-white photograph under Dan’s gaze.
“My husband,” he said in a tone that suggested a deep ambivalence.
Dan looked down at a thin, handsome face whose expression hovered somewhere between uncertain and fearful. A man trying to escape notice.
“Name?”
“Tony Moran.”
“How long has he been missing?”
Peter regarded him warily. “How did you know he was missing?”
Dan looked him up and down. “You don’t look like the kind of man who would pay someone to sort out his domestic affairs if you thought you could do it yourself.”
“Fair enough. Tony’s been missing since the weekend. Friday, probably. I was away for the evening. He wasn’t home when I got back in the early hours on Saturday.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I don’t want sympathy. I want you to find him.”
Dan overlooked Peter’s abruptness. “Do you suspect foul play? Kidnapping? Anything dire?”
Peter shook his head. “Not at this point.”
“Where do you think he might be?”
“He’s got a fear of flying and he doesn’t drive, so chances are he’s right here in the city. I’ve cut off his credit cards.”
“Any obvious reasons for disappearing? An affair, perhaps?”
“No.” Peter paused. “Maybe. We had an argument. Over money.”
“Did you hit him?”
Hansen made a face. “No.”
Dan pushed the photo back and looked at Peter. “Well, then that pretty much covers it. My guess is he’ll come home when he cools off and runs out of places to stay.”
“I’m not so sure,” Peter added. “He’s a gambler. He lost a lot of my money and doesn’t want to have to confront me over it.”
Nor would I, Dan thought. “How long have you been married?”
“Three years.”
“I still say he’ll be back when he’s ready.”
Peter stabbed Dan’s desktop with an angry finger. “I came here to hire you.”
“And do you want your husband back or just the money?”
Peter bristled. “Just find him. Please. Before he causes me any more embarrassment.”
“Have you been on my website? Do you know my terms?”
Peter nodded. “I have. I do.”
“Okay. I’ll take a look around. If I agree to take on the case, I’ll draw up a contract and we can set up a time to go over it together in the next couple of days.”
Peter shook his head. “No contract. I don’t want anything on paper.”
Before Dan could protest, Hansen put up his hand. “I’m in politics, Dan. My boss is a high-profile minister at Queen’s Park and there’s an election coming up. I can’t have a whiff of this hitting the street. I want no paper trails. I need your absolute discretion.”
He reached into his case, drew out an envelope and placed it on the desk.
“Here’s your retainer. I don’t want a receipt. All I care about is results. Everything you need to know about Tony is in here.” He glanced down at the caterer’s quote on Dan’s desk. His eyebrows went up. “Thinking of getting married?”
Dan nodded.
“My advice? Don’t do it. They’re always more trouble than they’re worth.”
He turned and strode to the door. Then, with one hand on the knob, he looked back at Dan. “If you need more money, let me know.”
The door opened and closed. The whirlwind subsided.  Dan waited till Hansen’s footsteps receded, then slit open the envelope. He thumbed through a pile of thousand-dollar bills, ten in total, wrapped in a sheet containing Tony Moran’s particulars. His eyes ran down the page. Tony was a high school graduate, with a further couple years at a business college. A few of his past jobs were noted, including a stint as assistant manager of a Wendy’s franchise.  Not a big achiever, then.
Dan glanced at the picture again. Despite Tony’s good looks, there was something skin-deep about them suggesting he might attract a certain type of partner quickly, but not stay the term. His polo-shirt-and-sweater combo smacked of conservative taste, but with a narcissistic undertone. Then again, he had a low-rent sort of sex appeal. The sort of man a Peter Hansen might look on as material for moulding, someone to impress with a helping hand out of the gutter. Pygmalions were a dime a dozen.
Three local addresses were listed at the bottom of the sheet. Dan suspected they would turn out to be gambling dens. He picked up the bills again. It was a lot of money, far more than what he normally asked for as a retainer. It seemed Peter Hansen was serious about wanting his husband returned. Maybe Nick would have his chi-chi caterer after all.

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The Honey Locust

The Honey Locust

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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The Jade Butterfly

The Jade Butterfly

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Vanished in Vallarta

Vanished in Vallarta

A Bradford Fairfax Murder Mystery
edition:Paperback
tagged : gay
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