Billy Lusk was murdered on a Tuesday, shortly after midnight, and Harry Brofsky came looking for me that afternoon.
It was mid-July. Hot winds that felt like the devil's breath blew into Los Angeles from the desert, rattling through the shaggy eucalyptus trees like a dry cough. The city was golden, blinding, blasted by heavenly light. It was one of those days that made nipples rise and minds wander and bodies shiver with sensuality and inexplicable dread. The kind of day when the heat wrapped snugly around you and sent an ominous chill through your body at the same time, like the first sexual touch in a dark room from a beautiful stranger whose name you'd never know.
Harry found me in West Hollywood, bobbing my head to an old Coltrane tape and trying not to think about alcohol.
"Look who's caught up with me," I said to an empty room, when I saw Harry's car pull up. "My, my, my."
I was staying in a small garage apartment in a leafy neighborhood known for its irregular shape as the Norma Triangle, where quaint little houses crowded cozy lots and lush greenery crawled unrestricted over the rotting corpses of old wood fences.
My single room was up a wooden stairway at the deep end of an unpaved driveway, which ran alongside a neatly-kept California Craftsman, one of those finely beveled, wood-framed bungalows that sprouted up by the thousands during the building boom of the 1930s and 1940s. The owners, Maurice and Fred, had purchased the property in the late fifties, when West Hollywood had been a quiet community of middle-class families and well-behaved bohemians on the eastern edge of upscale Beverly Hills, and Maurice and Fred had been in the early stages of their four-decade relationship.
Thanks to their kindness, I was staying in the apartment rent-free, in exchange for performing odd chores. It wasn't the most dignified arrangement for a 38-year-old ex-journalist who had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. But not quite six years ago, in winning that coveted award, I'd destroyed any personal dignity I might claim, not to mention my career, in one dark and reckless act of fraud, so where and how I lived didn't matter all that much.
Nothing really did now, except somehow getting through another day, until all the days were mercifully used up.
Through the unwashed window of my room, I looked down on the rear yard, where a flowering jacaranda swayed like a lonely dancer in the restless breeze. Three plump cats lounged in the tree's shade on the patio, their tails barely twitching in the oppressive heat, watching a hummingbird dart among syrupy pistils of honeysuckle, while I watched them.
In the three months since Maurice and Fred had installed me in the apartment, I'd spent most of my time at this window, where I could see down the narrow driveway to the street, without anyone clearly seeing me. When Harry finally showed up, unannounced, I felt as though I'd spent most of those hours waiting for him.
I watched him wrestle his Ford Escort into a space at the curb and struggle wearily out. He mopped his round face with a handkerchief, found a cigarette, and adjusted his bifocals to check a scrap of paper for the Norma Place address. When he'd confirmed the numbers, he glanced up at the apartment, just long enough for me to see what the years had done to him, and to feel the gnaw of guilt.
I briefly wondered how he'd found me after all this time. Then I remembered that Harry had once been a reporter too, and a good reporter knows how to find people who don't want to be found.
© John Morgan Wilson
Read the first 18 pages HERE
Benjamin Justice #1
Author: John Morgan Wilson
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (RE-ISSUE)
Genre: GLBTr, Mystery, Suspense
When a pretty-boy cokehead is murdered outside a gay bar in a working class district of Los Angeles, and a young Latino quickly confesses to the crime, it appears the case is closed. Benjamin Justice, a disgraced former reporter with the Los Angeles Times, is lured out of his alcoholic seclusion to look more deeply into the murder. But why would a teenager confess to a brutal gang initiation killing he didn’t commit?
Only Benjamin Justice understands, but with his credibility shattered, no one’s listening. As Justice threads his way through a colorful gallery of suspects, he’s thrust back into the world of gay bars and haunting memories that he’s tried to put behind him since the death of his lover from AIDS six years earlier, an event that precipitated the Pulitzer scandal that destroyed his promising career.
With Justice teetering on an emotional brink, his reluctant new partner, Los Angeles Sun reporter Alexandra Templeton, must solve the riddle of Justice’s own dark past to save him. Together, with her deadline looming, they confront the real killer, using every bit of journalistic skill they can muster to pin that person to the crime.