Hold Him Close, by J.P. Bowie
General Release Date: 18th May 2021
Word Count: 50,528
Book Length: NOVEL
Sometimes love and loyalty are all you can count on.
Ten years ago, John White Eagle, then a film extra and stuntman, met Detective Mark Rossi and sparks immediately flew, despite the fact that Mark had just arrested John as a suspect in a murder case.
Fast forward ten years and John, now a private detective, and Mark, recently promoted to detective sergeant, are happily married, even if they still have to deal with those on the wrong side of the law.
Alex Vasquez, an old friend of John’s, is being blackmailed. When the blackmailer turns up dead and Alex skips town with his boyfriend, things look bad.
Penny Andrews hires John to find her missing brother, Sam, even though she fears he has been murdered, perhaps by their own father. John discovers that Sam is very much alive, in Afghanistan, searching for Jareem, the man he loves but had to leave behind.
Hindered by liars and hired assassins, things don’t look too good for John and Mark. Can they find Alex before the police do? And can they keep Sam and Jareem safe from those who believe in honor killing and are determined that Jareem will be their next target?
John White Eagle parked his Harley outside the building where he rented his office space and sprinted up the stairs, glancing at his phone as he took the steps two at a time.
“Good morning, John.” Millie Barnum, his secretary, greeted him with a bright smile.
“Morning, Millie. Anything urgent?”
“Just the message I’m guessing you’re reading on your phone right now.”
“Huh. You’re right. But I just left Mark at home. What can he want already?”
“That’s not for me to speculate on.” Millie, gray-haired, bespectacled, her appearance more suited to a school principal’s office than his slightly less-than-upscale space, stared at him with sparkling blue eyes. “What you boys get up to is certainly none of my business, thank goodness.”
“Riiight. You’d love it if I gave you the deets on what goes on at Chez Rossi/White Eagle. But that’s not going to happen. Mark and I are not taking the place of the characters you read about on your Kindle. At least not with an audience.”
“I like your hair grip,” Millie said, ignoring his comment about her love of male romantic fiction.
“I found it in a box when Mark and I moved into the new house in North Hollywood. My grandmother made it for me and I’d forgotten I even had it still.” He slipped a hand to the back of his head and fingered the intricate pattern of small beads. “It’s neat, isn’t it?”
Millie got up to take a closer look. “It’s beautiful. She must have had such a delicate touch.” She sighed. “And you have hair that’s far too lovely to be on a man. Anyway, you’d better get in touch with Mark right now. He sounded irritated that you hadn’t returned his call.”
“How the hell can he be irritated within the space of a half-hour since I left him?”
Millie pursed her lips. “Did you perhaps forget to kiss him goodbye?”
John chuckled. “As if. We might’ve been together for ten years, but he never lets me outta the house without savaging my mouth first.”
“Oh, my.” Millie clutched at her bosom. “The vision that just conjured up. Savaging, oh my.” She did a pretend stagger back to her desk, making John laugh. How did I ever get so lucky as to find a woman like Millie? Totally efficient on the computer and phone, but also unfazed by the high and the very low life that sometimes waltzed through the doors of JWE Investigations, looking for some kind of help, legal or otherwise. Then there was the fact that John just happened to be a gay man.
He’d explained that to her when she’d answered his ad and met him for an interview. “Just so you know, I’m gay and Native American,” he’d told her. “If you have a problem with either one, say so now.”
“I’ll have you know I am neither a racist nor a bigot,” she’d replied. “In fact, when I was a young girl, I used to cheer for the Indians in those old westerns…still do, when they repeat them on late-night TV.”
She’d been less impressed with his office and had suggested that he give it a good coat of paint. “I have some nice prints I can bring in, and a couple of plants by the window will certainly give the place a little more ambience, don’t you think?”
“I think I’ve been taken over by a formidable force,” he’d told Mark when he’d gotten home that night. Mark had laughed but had helped him paint the office and given his full approval of Millie’s efficiency, and the set of Norman Rockwell prints she’d brought with her to brighten the walls.
She’d fallen in love with Mark at first sight. Not that John could be surprised by that. His husband was an amiable man, and movie-star gorgeous. They’d met when John had been set up to take the fall in a murder perpetrated by Greg Mathis, a then-famous actor who’d told John he was being blackmailed. Mathis had convinced John to go with him to a motel room to confront the blackmailer. Except, unbeknownst to John, the blackmailer was already dead, in the bathroom tub.
Mathis had told John the blackmailer hadn’t shown, but he’d coerced John into bed after handing him a drugged beer. Unaware of the beer being drugged, John hadn’t needed much coaxing into the offer of sex with Mathis. He’d been young, horny and still starry-eyed about his involvement with such a big celebrity, even admiring the man’s acting ability. In addition, Greg Mathis had been one of the most gorgeous men on the planet. As a matter of fact, he’d been nominated The Planet’s Sexiest Man more than once in a popular magazine. Alone with him in the room, John had wondered at Mathis’ eagerness to be fucked by him, insisting on going through with it even though John had been aware he wasn’t enjoying it at all. That look of pain had never morphed into one of pleasure.
When John had regained consciousness, the police had been hammering at the motel room’s door. The arresting officer, Detective Mark Rossi, had appeared to believe John’s story under interrogation, even if he wouldn’t divulge the name of the man he’d been with. John had been convinced no one would believe that Greg Mathis, super-macho movie star, could possibly be involved in such sleaze, but he’d reckoned without Mark totally seeing the truth in John’s story.
John had never dreamed that being arrested by Mark would later result in a dinner date with the handsome cop, and the mind-blowing sex that had followed. Those first bleak days when it had looked as if John were the only suspect, and the evidence against him had grown stronger, had only been tempered by Mark’s insistence that he’d believed John’s story.
Sometimes he wondered why his mind dwelled on that incident so often. He supposed it was because it had been the defining moment in his life. Mark had been with him throughout the ordeal, even when things had taken a decided downturn the day forensics had called Mark with the news that the sperm in the condom they’d found in the dead man’s rectum was a match for John’s DNA. It had been a measure of Mark’s faith in John’s innocence that he’d believed in him, despite that damning evidence.
His cell chimed with Mark’s ringtone. Oops, now he’ll be more than just irritated.
“John!” Millie’s voice from the main office held an accusatory tone. She knew Mark’s ringtone too. “Haven’t you called Mark yet?”
“Picking up now! Hi, sweetie, what’s up?”
“Don’t ‘hi, sweetie’ me.” Mark sounded pissed, and not improved by John’s quiet chuckle. “Hey, I’ve called a dozen times at least.”
“No you haven’t. Three times by my reckoning.”
“Then why the hell haven’t you responded? Don’t you know what day it is?”
“Uh, it’s Thursday, isn’t it?”
“It’s my dad’s birthday, smartass.”
“Fuck. Why didn’t you say something before I left the house?”
“Because…because I forgot about it, too—till about twenty minutes ago.”
“Oh good. That makes me feel better.”
He could almost feel the heat of Mark’s glare through the phone. Oh, that hot Italian blood. His cock pulsed in his briefs at the thought of Mark’s lush lips on his. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be flippant. Call him and say we’re taking him out to dinner—and how on earth could he have forgotten? I’ll pick up a card and a bottle of his favorite Scotch.”
“Okay, you are redeemed in my eyes. What about the restaurant?”
“I’ll leave that to you. He doesn’t like fancy, remember.”
“Perfect. Okay, man I love above all others on earth, I have to make like I’m working. Let me know the time I need to meet you.”
Mark chuckled. “You sure know how to blow some hot air up my ass.”
“That’s not all I know about what to do with your ass,” John said slyly. “Your mighty fine ass…an ass that belongs on the body of a much younger man, I might add.”
“Thank you, I think.”
“You can compliment my ass later. Gotta go. Ciao.”
“Ciao, baby. Love you.”
“Love you too.” From the start of their relationship, John had insisted they end their phone conversations with that sentiment. Not that he wanted to be morbid, but Mark’s career did involve an element of danger and it would kill John if something happened to Mark and he hadn’t heard those words that day. I’m a sentimental sap, I know, but there it is…
Millie sighed happily in the outer office.
“You shouldn’t eavesdrop, you know, Millie. It might sully your innocence.”
She barked out a sardonic laugh but didn’t say anything. John heard the door open and Millie say sweetly, “How can I help you?”
“Is Mr. Eagle in?” The voice was female and tentative.
“Do have an appointment with Mr. White Eagle, my dear?”
“No, but if he’s busy I can come back…”
“Just one moment.”
Millie stuck her head around John’s door. “You want to take this?” she whispered. “She looks sad.”
John groaned mentally. Most likely another suspicious wife wanting to find out who her errant husband was screwing when he was not at home with her and the kids. Some said that kind of investigating was the bread and butter of the business, but John hated it. There were so many disappointed and unhappy couples out there. It often made him feel guilty that he and Mark were so happy…most of the time. One thing was for sure—if the impossible ever happened, and Mark cheated on him, he wouldn’t have to hire a private detective to find out.
Swallowing his inappropriate laughter, he said, “Okay, I’ll come out.” He got up from his desk and followed Millie as she approached the young woman standing nervously by the door. She was very young—early twenties, John guessed—and pale. Pale skin, pale blonde hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Very little makeup. She wore a rose-pink blouse and a gray skirt, and clutched at a large bag slung over her left shoulder. A quick glance told John she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. So maybe not the problem I first thought she had.
“Hi.” He held out his hand. “I’m John White Eagle.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she put her small hand in his. “P-Penny Andrews. I don’t have an appointment, but I wondered if I could speak with you for a few minutes?”
“Of course. Come on through. Would you like some coffee? Millie makes a wonderful cup.”
“Just some water, please. It’s a little warm outside today.”
“I’ll get that for you,” Millie said, walking over to the cooler.
John shepherded Miss Andrews into his office and indicated the seat opposite his. He waited until Millie had set a glass of water in front of her then left before he asked, “So how can I help you?”
“My brother is missing, and I think someone may have killed him.”
John stared at her for a moment. Thar was not what he’d expected her to say at all. “What makes you think that?”
“I haven’t seen him or been able to contact him in over a week.” She took a Kleenex out of her bag and passed it over her face briefly.
John had noticed the fine beads of sweat on her forehead and upper lip. Maybe she isn’t feeling well. “And that’s unusual?”
She nodded. “Yes. We are really, really close. We have been all our lives. Even when he was married, hardly a day went by that we didn’t talk at some point. We also meet up at least once a week for lunch. He works for Brennan Finance, downtown. I only work part-time, at a bookstore, so I take the bus to meet him.”
“And did you have a lunch date he didn’t show for?”
She nodded. “I wasn’t able to reach him for two days, but I went to our favorite diner near his office building on our regular day, and he didn’t show up. I called and called and went round to his apartment in Silver Lake. He didn’t answer my knocking. I asked his neighbor who he does some chores for if she’d seen him, and she said not since Friday, when he took her trash out. That was a week ago today.”
“Have you contacted the police to report him missing?”
“Oh, no. They’d most likely want to contact my father and I’m afraid that if they questioned him, he’d go ballistic.”
John frowned. “Why would he go ballistic? Would he not be worried like you are about his disappearance?”
She hesitated then said, “Sam and our father don’t get along. In fact, they hate each other. I’m afraid they might have gotten into some kind of fight. That happens a lot. They both have a temper, but our father can be violent. Not so much since Sam has grown up and can defend himself, but it used to be bad, and now…”
“Are you afraid of your father, Miss Andrews?”
She looked away and passed the tissue over her eyes, then nodded. “Sometimes. I don’t think he’d ever hurt me physically, but he yells when he’s mad…and he says some terrible things.”
“Like I killed my mother. She died as a result of giving birth to me, he says. I was three when she died, but he said she was never the same after I was born, that she’d gone through hell in labor and he’d known she’d never really recover from the trauma.”
Jeez… John already hated Mr. Andrews. What kind of a creep throws that in his daughter’s face? Especially as the girl had lost her mother at such an early age. And from the sound of it, he’d been doing it for a long time. He could see the toll it had taken on the young woman. She was so frail and nervous. Verbal abuse could be as hurtful as the physical kind. Detective Mark Rossi could attest to that from the countless abuse cases he’d dealt with.
“The truth is, Mr. White Eagle…” Her posture and voice seemed to shrink as she continued. “Although I pray he did not, I think my father might’ve killed Sam. Perhaps not deliberately, but by accident during one of their rows. Like I said, he has a terrible temper. He might have struck out at Sam. Perhaps not really meaning to kill him, but somehow…it happened.”
“That’s some accusation, Miss Andrews.” John frowned. “Could it not be that your brother simply wanted to get away for some personal reasons? Girlfriend trouble, maybe? Didn’t want anyone to know until he was ready to talk about it? There could be a hundred reasons why.”
She shook her head. “He wouldn’t want me to worry about him. He would tell me if was just going away for a time.”
“You seem so sure about that.” John drummed his fingers on the top of his desk. “Do you know everything about your brother’s state of mind, or his personal life?”
“I know enough,” she replied sharply. “Enough to know he has no girlfriend.”
She shook her head again. “He’s not gay. He was married at one time, for a year.”
John wasn’t about to give her a lecture on the ‘low-down’ so many married men indulged in when they wanted a brief time out from their marriage. Instead he asked, “You’re sure? I thought that might be the reason you want to employ a gay private detective.”
“No. I came to you because of an article about you in Vanity Fair, where you were instrumental in finding a young girl who’d been missing for several weeks. You succeeded where the police could not.”
“That’s not exactly true,” John said. “I had a lot of help from a detective sergeant in the LAPD. It was a joint effort.”
She nodded. “A detective sergeant who worked off the clock to help you…your husband.”
“That’s correct. VF tended to downplay Mark’s involvement—at his request, I might add. Nevertheless, it was a joint success, and might have ended differently had he not been at my side.”
“The article was better than some of the books I’ve read.” Miss Andrews was almost gushing. She gazed at John through watery eyes. “Will you please take my case? Find out what has happened to Sam?”
“I will,” John assured her. “But what makes you think your father might have actually killed your brother…his son? What could your bro have possibly done to bring that kind of reaction from your dad?”
“I really don’t know. Sam didn’t say anything about having a recent argument with him, or that they were more at odds than usual. Sam works for our father at his company. Father bought out the owners of Brennan Finance a couple of years ago. It might have had something to do with work. Sam tends to regard Brennan as being a bit cutthroat toward some of the less affluent clients, and also as secondary to what he really loves doing, but he would’ve told me if there’d have been a problem there.”
“What is it he really loves doing?” John asked.
She smiled. “He’s a bit of an adventurer. Loves going to foreign lands, researching cultures, that kind of thing.”
“So, couldn’t that be what he’s doing right now?”
“Yes, but as I said, he wouldn’t just go off without letting me know, especially if it was out of the country.”
She seemed pretty certain about this, so John thought it best to switch the line of questioning. “Have you asked your father if he knows where Sam is?”
“Yes, and he sort of fluffed it off. He said he didn’t have a clue. Then he added that he didn’t really care either. It was as if it didn’t matter to him.”
She dabbed at her eyes again. “No, he’s not a nice guy, Mr. White Eagle. He’s my father, but I’m afraid there isn’t much of a loving father-daughter relationship between us. I couldn’t pretend otherwise.”
Clutching at the large bag she held on her lap, she bit her lip. “Oh, I’m sorry. You certainly don’t need to hear about any of that. Please find my brother, or find out what happened to him. I can pay your fee, whatever it is. It’s killing me not knowing where he is.”
“All right.” John was okay taking the case, but she had to know he couldn’t proceed without confronting Andrews Senior. “However, I have to warn you that the first person I’m going to talk to is your father. In my opinion, he has got to know something about your brother’s whereabouts. They work together, or rather your brother works for him. Would he not have run by your father the fact he needed time off?”
She frowned. “He won’t like you asking questions.”
John smiled. “I’m kinda used to that aspect of the job. Let me have your brother’s cell number, and do you have a photo of him, by any chance?”
“Uh, yes, but it’s the only one I have in my bag. I hate to give it up.”
“That’s okay. Millie will make a copy for me.”
“Oh, okay.” She rifled through the contents of her bag then produced a business card from her wallet and handed it to John. “His cell and office numbers are on the card…and here’s his photo.”
Whoa… John involuntarily widened his eyes as he gazed at the photo Penny had given him. The guy was a looker, without a doubt. Blond, like his sister, but with stronger features, clear blue eyes and full lips that were parted in a killer smile that showed off straight, white teeth.
“He’s handsome, isn’t he?”
John flicked his gaze back to Penny Andrews. “Yes, he is. Okay, I’ll take on your case and I’ll do my best to give you peace of mind about your brother. I’ll need a check up front for two days of my time, but Millie will take care of all that for you. If I find out where your bro is within a day, I’ll refund half the check amount. If it takes more than two days then it’s on a daily basis, but I’ll keep you apprised of my progress each day.”
“That sounds fair.” She followed him to Millie’s desk to write the check and waited for Millie to photocopy her brother’s picture. “Thank you for taking this on. And please, find Sam for me…safe and sound if possible.”
John smiled and held out his hand, taking hers gently. “I’ll do my best, Miss Andrews.” He showed her out then returned to his desk. He fingered Sam’s business card for a beat or two then picked up his phone and called the man’s cell number. No harm in trying… After a couple of rings, he was directed to Sam’s voicemail.
“Oh, hi. My name is John White Eagle. I’m a private detective, and your sister, Penny, hired me to find you. She is concerned for your safety. Please, either call her or return my call so that I can verify your whereabouts with her. Would appreciate a prompt reply. Thank you.”
Okay, so his phone is still active…let’s see if he still is.
“So, what do you think, Millie?” he asked, after he’d given her a quick rundown of the conversation with Penny Andrews.
His secretary sighed. “From what you’ve told me, I think she’s a very unhappy girl, something I saw in her before she even spoke to you. If it turns out that her brother has been killed, it will be devastating for her. But don’t you think she’s far too dependent on him? This over-insistence on how close they are seems strange to me. Could she be holding something back?”
John nodded. “Yeah, I got that too. Interesting case. I think my first course of action will be to pay a surprise visit to the creepy father.”
“Better you than me,” Millie said snippily. “I can already tell that he and I would not have a friendly conversation.”
John grinned. “Know what you mean, but I’ll try not to be too in his face.”
About the Author
He emigrated to the States and worked in Las Vegas, Nevada for the magicians Siegfried and Roy as their Head of Wardrobe at the Mirage Hotel. He is currently living with his husband in sunny San Diego, California.
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