In the city of Nis, things often aren’t what they seem.
Derwin is a bounty hunter gifted with the Oddity of superhuman strength and agility—perfect for hunting down fugitives and demons who roam the streets. One killed his boyfriend two years ago, and Derwin won’t stop until he finds out who. Police suspect it was someone he sent to prison, but he can’t shake the idea that they’re missing something.
Elliot is a rentboy who’s been living on the streets since his parents disowned him. He mistrusts everyone and, given his uncontrolled ability to Read Objects and a client list that includes a major gang boss, despairs of ever having a normal life.
Derwin and Elliot meet in a storm of lust. Derwin’s Oddity is fed by the pain of others, but he only wants what’s freely given. Elliot loves pain, but needs safety and a way off the streets before he can allow it. They may be able to solve each other’s problems . . . if they can survive long enough to work together.
A Terrible Night
Derwin Bryant never quit in a chase.
A light rain was falling on the city of Nis, turning the neon lights of the porn shops and drugstores into pretty reflections on the asphalt. Derwin avoided a puddle as he ran down an alley and then swerved around an overturned trash can. He grimaced at the stench of rotting food and old beer. It’d be nice if his heightened senses blocked unpleasant things like that.
Up ahead, the alley was a dead end. No way would ol’ Jack escape this time.
The fugitive Derwin was pursuing was an Oddity—annoying because the guy could read minds. He knew exactly where Derwin was. Derwin’s own unusual abilities couldn’t compensate for such an advantage, even though he’d powered up before heading out.
Derwin slowed to a walk to check the shadows in doorways. He lifted lids of garbage containers to be sure Jack wasn’t hiding there, and kept his pepper spray in his left hand, ready to fire at the first sign of the mousy guy. Jack Rapper was short, only five foot two, with dark skin and a gold-capped tooth. He was also quick, but Derwin was quicker, thanks to his own Oddity. And with his larger size and muscles honed daily at the gym, Derwin was a match for just about any criminal in a fight.
Satisfied that Jack couldn’t be hiding nearby, Derwin broke into a run from the last garbage canister to the brick wall at the end of the alley. No Jack Rapper. He turned and cursed. Where had the guy gone?
He scanned the closed doors, wondering if Jack had managed to get one open. As he reached to try the first door, his cell phone buzzed in his pocket, the single pulse of a text. Swearing under his breath, Derwin pulled out his phone with one hand while he jiggled the doorknob with the other. The door was locked.
On a whim, he glanced up, in case his skip had suddenly developed the ability to climb walls, but there was nothing above him other than a laundry wire several stories up, where an abandoned T-shirt dripped in the rain. It appeared Jack had managed to escape. Not surprising for a guy who had managed to hide his special powers from police. Derwin probably should tell the cops about Jack’s Oddity, but he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t betray a fellow Oddity, even a low-life, criminal one like Jack.
Derwin flipped open the phone and tapped on the text, just in case it was important. In his line of work, anything could happen. He didn’t recognize the number, but he recognized the tone and the awful spelling: Lloyd Brunson, one of his past fugitives out on parole again.
You fucker. I shuld kill you and yur pretty boyfriend fur putting me away like dat.
Derwin shook his head, fuming. It wasn’t right that Lloyd had threatened Grady, who had nothing to do with Derwin’s job. Lloyd had been a good chase as well, mostly because the guy had a knack for stealing fast cars. He had a temper too, but as far as Derwin knew, he wasn’t the violent sort. Derwin shoved his phone back in his pocket; he’d warn the guy off later, once he was certain Jack was out of reach or in custody.
Cans crashed at the other end of the alley. He crouched, mentally cursing Lloyd for the interruption. Had Jack managed to trick him somehow? Maybe he hadn’t gone into this alley at all. Derwin began walking toward the noise, readying his pepper spray once more.
His phone buzzed again.
He was going to kill Lloyd for the stupid interruptions, and then shut off his phone. Yet when Derwin glanced at it this time, he recognized the number.
It was from Grady.
Come home. Hurry.
Derwin halted in alarm. He ran a hand through his wet hair, pushing the long strands out of his eyes so he could verify what he’d read. Grady wasn’t the type to send a cryptic message.
Cursing under his breath, Derwin tapped the button to call his lover. One ring, two, three, and then it went to voice mail. Coldness spread from his gut up his spine. After a text like that, he couldn’t imagine why Grady wouldn’t answer. Unless he can’t.
“Call me,” Derwin growled when the voice mail beeped, and then put his phone away. Still no sign of Jack, but he couldn’t worry about that now. With one last look at the alley’s dead end, he ran back toward his car. Grady had to be all right. Even if Derwin called the police for help, what would he tell them? Plus, working as a bail bondsman had taught him that the cops would only screw things up, and anyway, he didn’t have a lot of friends on the force.
Ten feet from his upgraded black muscle car, Derwin clicked the little key fob to turn off the alarm and start the engine. It paid to have a ride ready to go when his fugitives fled.
It took only a second to climb into the seat, strap himself in, and shift into drive, stomping on the gas to blast forward into the empty streets. Over the rain-slicked asphalt, past hookers on street corners and young men hanging out near liquor stores, Derwin headed east, away from the seafront and toward the less crime-ridden areas.
The broken-down stores and apartments soon gave way to modest condos and shops wedged between large financial buildings and parking garages. Each red light taunted Derwin, whispering to him: You’ll never make it in time if he’s in trouble.
His hands shook on the wheel, though he fought to remain calm. Maybe it wasn’t an emergency. But the fact that his phone hadn’t rung yet made him step on the gas harder, urge more speed out of the vintage car.
It took twenty-two minutes to reach his condo. It seemed like an eternity.
He swerved around another car, ignoring the blare of horns as he pulled into an open space in front of the brownstone building he called home. It wasn’t a huge place, just one bedroom and a moderate-sized kitchen and living room, but it was his. Theirs, actually. Grady had moved in a year ago, after they’d been dating for almost three years. Grady, with his open smile and his hair like sunshine. He was one of the best things that had ever happened to Derwin.
Derwin fumbled his car door open and got out, grasping for the gun at his hip—no bothering with pepper spray this time. The little window beside the entrance was broken. Glittering shards of glass littered the ground. The front door hung slightly open.
He ran to the door and took the steps two at a time. His hand touched the doorknob, then he stopped. Should he call out for Grady? Or would that warn the intruder? The seconds ticked by while he stood undecided.
Better to call out, on the chance that Grady was hurt or in a hostage situation.
“Grady!” He shoved the door open and pressed his back to its solid surface as he scanned the hallway, where a potted plant had been knocked over, its soil spread across the carpet. He couldn’t hear anything from the living room beyond. To his right, the kitchen was undisturbed.
Gun raised and ready, Derwin crept down the hall. “Are you okay?” There was a small click and then a hiss—the slide of a window, perhaps. He rushed around the corner to find the living room empty, though in disarray. A chair lay overturned, next to a bowl of popcorn that had been spilled onto the floor. And something was missing from the entertainment center—Grady’s gaming system had vanished, the cords left hanging loose. There was still no response from Grady. Derwin’s heart pounded in his ears.
He quickly crossed the room to put his back to the wall and check the stairs, but the silence continued. The little downstairs toilet was empty as well, but its window was open. Should he check to see if a possible burglar had escaped? Or find his lover?
There was no choice really, although frustration tore at him. Derwin glanced out the window, but there was no one there. He hurried up the stairs, keeping his gun ready in case it should turn out that the intruder had tricked him. The bedroom door was closed. He didn’t bother shouting this time, but kicked it in.
It took a second to process the sight: blood on the carpet, a ransacked room, papers littering the floor from the computer desk. And finally, slumped in the desk chair in front of the bed, his boyfriend, throat slashed, with a knife stuck in his chest.
Derwin’s vision darkened; he couldn’t breathe. A moan escaped him, a painful sound, like a wounded animal. “Grady . . . No. No!” He pounded his fist against the doorframe, closing and then reopening his eyes, but the sight in front of him remained the same. Too late. I got here too late.
He approached the chair slowly, forcing himself to hold back and not touch the knife, even though he longed to gather up Grady into his arms and pull out that knife. Gently, even tenderly, he placed two fingers at Grady’s carotid artery, checking for the pulse he knew he wouldn’t find. What tore him the most was that Grady’s skin still felt warm. He counted the seconds, waiting, hoping despite the evidence of his eyes. Rage and anguish combated inside him, making his vision blur. Not even a hint of life.
Grady—he’d been alive this afternoon! He’d been alive to send that text. And now Derwin would never hear him laugh again, never look into those intelligent blue eyes. Never hold his willowy frame in his arms once more.
With a shaking hand, he trailed his fingertips over Grady’s cheek. Grady’s eyes were already closed, thankfully. Derwin clenched his hand into a fist, backing away so that he didn’t disturb anything, stepping over the slowly spreading red stain. He dropped to his knees on the soft carpet, shuddering with sobs. He’d been too late. His special strength, his speed, so good for catching bad guys, hadn’t helped him at all. Had Grady called out for him? Had he suffered, hoping to be rescued in time?
Blinking away tears, Derwin grabbed his phone. The silence in the room was deafening. He’d be alone tonight. Alone, for many, many nights.
He even laughed at my stupid margaritas joke. Tears choked Derwin, but he couldn’t mourn just yet; he had to function a little while longer. Hands shaking, he dialed the emergency services.
Whoever had done this was going to pay.
To celebrate the release of Murder Once Seen, one lucky winner will receive a $20 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on December 17, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
About the Author & Links:
J.T. Hall has been writing for many years under this name and others, and has appeared in magazines, anthologies, and online books. She earned her BA in creative writing from the University of Arizona, her master’s in education from Argosy University, and works as an independent technical writer for state and federal programs. In her free time, she volunteers for the LGBT community and is active in the leather scene. She has a teenage daughter and a partner of over ten years. They live in sunny Arizona with three adorably cute dogs, three black cats, and a hamster who loves peanuts.
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