The PI and the Prof
Private investigator Sal Cochran is hired to find Tim Murphy, a missing college student. Before he can, Tim's body turns up--drowned. At first Sal believes it was just an accident, until he begins to dig deeper and discovers that Tim is the fifth young man to have died the same way within the past two months.
With the help of his older lover, Professor Greg Ferguson, Sal starts searching for the serial killer he believes is murdering gay young men. Will Sal be able to convince police detective Ethan Park there really is a serial killer on the loose? And, more to the point, can Sal find the man before he kills again, and not become one of his victims in the process? Only time will tell.
"Whoever invented Halloween should be shot at sunrise," Sal grumbled when the doorbell rang yet again. Setting down his beer, he went to answer it, picking up the bowl of candy from the entryway table on the way.
"Trick or treat," a youngster in a pirate costume said, holding out a plastic pumpkin. At least Sal figured he was supposed to be a pirate from what he could see of the costume not covered by the boy's warm jacket. The eyepatch was the biggest clue.
"Please?" A little girl, dressed as a princess and wearing a pink winter jacket, added, looking at what Sal presumed was her brother. "Mommy said..." She held out a pink goodie bag.
"Please?" The pirate rattled the half-full plastic pumpkin.
Sal dropped a couple of miniature candies into each container, smiling when they said "Thank you," in unison. He was about to step back inside when he saw three more kids approaching the house. Five minutes later, having dealt with them and another set, he was free to go back the TV show he'd been watching.
By nine, the stream of kids had dribbled down to a couple every fifteen minutes or so, and his candy bowl was empty, so he turned off the porch light. My own damned fault for turning it on in the first place. I'm a sucker for kids, I guess. Well, once a year, anyway.
"I see you survived the terrors of Halloween," said Tara, Sal's Girl Friday aka receptionist and secretary, when he got to work Monday morning.
"That, yes. This"--he waved a hand toward the window in the waiting room--"not so much." He meant the snow that was drifting down and, according to the weather forecasters, was expected to get worse by the end of the day. "How the hell can it be fifty last night and thirty this morning?"
She shrugged. "Polar vortex? The jet stream? Bad luck? Global warming?"
"Let me tell you. It ain't warm out there."
"No kidding. Danny suggested this morning that I get out our thermal underwear."
Taking off his overcoat, Sal hung it in the closet next to his office before saying, "I don't suppose--"
"I made coffee? Open your eyes." She pointed to the table along the far wall that held a coffeemaker--with a full pot sitting on it--as well as creamer and sugar for their clients.
"You're a doll, doll."
"Oh, God. You're going into Sam Spade mode."
He laughed, shaking his head, then got a cup from the shelf above the table. After filling it, he took a drink before heading into his office. "Let me know when Mr Malcolm gets here."
"Naw. I think I'll keep him out here to entertain me."
"I'm telling Danny," he replied in a sing-song voice, earning him a grin and a lifted finger from Tara.
By noon, Sal had seen two clients--one of whom he gave a final report on their case. He filled the other one in on what he'd found out about the man's three employees, one of whom the client was certain was stealing from him. The man just couldn't pin it down to which one, which was why he'd hired Sal. In the interim, between meetings, Sal had run background checks on potential hires for another regular client who owned five retail stores in the city.
"I'm heading to the deli," he told Tara. "Want me to pick something up for you?"
He asked the same question almost every day, getting the same reply ninety-nine times out of a hundred. "Thanks, but no thanks. I'll go when you get back."
"Don't say I didn't ask," he replied while putting on his overcoat and pulling the collar up against the inclement weather. "I'll be back in thirty or less."
Greg heard his office door open and looked up from the paper he was grading. Laura Murphy, one of his colleagues in the Natural and Health Sciences department at the university, stood there. She seemed worried, even close to distraught, he thought.
"What's wrong?" he asked, nodding to the chair by his desk.
"It's Tim. He's... He hasn't come home."
Greg knew that Tim was her son and a senior at the university. A single parent since her husband's death two years ago, Laura was doing her best to support Tim until he graduated.
"Sit and tell me," Greg replied, again nodding to the chair. "Do you mean last night?" he asked when she did.
"It's been two nights now. He...he was going out with some friends to celebrate one of their birthdays that fell on Halloween. Nate, his best friend, said that when Tim left the bar he was..." She hesitated.
"He'd had a bit too much to drink?" He frowned. "Is he even old enough to go to a bar?"
She sighed. "Yes. He turned twenty-one three months ago."
"I presume you've tried calling him."
"Of course. He must have his phone turned off."
"Did this Nate say if Tim left alone?"
"Yes. He says he made Tim promise to call a cab instead of driving. He doesn't know if Tim did. The rest of the group--those who were still there--left soon after, since it was closing time. Nate said he didn't see Tim, so he figured he'd found a cab."
"Have you talked to the police?"
She nodded. "This morning. They... Since he's of age, there's not much they can do, according to the officer I talked with. He asked if Tim might be with a girlfriend. I told him it would be a boyfriend, if he had one--not that it matters, of course. But, anyway, the officer suggested I get in touch with Tim's friends to see if any of them have seen him."
"Which you did, I presume."
"Of course. None of them have. He wasn't in any of his classes this morning, either. It's like he's vanished off the face of the earth." Laura looked at Greg. "I know I shouldn't be putting any of this on your shoulders, but I thought, maybe...because your boyfriend..." She smiled weakly. "Man friend?"
Greg smiled. "Either one works. You hope maybe Sal can help you find Tim?"
"Do you think he'd be willing to try? I can pay him--if he's not too expensive."
"Why don't I call and see? If he is willing, I can set up an appointment for you."