Today I am so pleased to welcome Gregory Ashe to Joyfully Jay. Gregory has come to share an exclusive excerpt from his latest release, Triangulation (which I totally loved and am reviewing later today). Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
THEY DROVE ARSENAL TO Kingshighway, then south, passing Uncle Bill’s Pancake House—refuge of drag queens in the wee hours of the morning—and a Schnucks grocery store with a crumbling brick facade. They passed strip malls with Walgreens that had digital signs flashing advertisements for the HPV vaccine and a sale on Camels. They passed four payday loan offices, one with a picture of the Statue of Liberty with enormous, verdigris breasts. They passed a sprawling complex of buildings that had once been standalones but were now connected by a maze of passages, the sign out front reading Pat’s Tats. Neon lettering spelled out two additional words, each letter lighting up individually, teasing out the words: Everything Pierced.
This was the south side of St. Louis. Shaw loved it. What Shaw didn’t love, however, was the Dodge Grand Caravan—1990, maroon, with an upsetting patch of upholstery in the back that always seemed to be wet and which smelled, as Pari had once memorably described it, like two old men had just helped a horse give birth in the back seat. And, to be fair, it did kind of smell like that.
“Bengay,” Shaw said, finally placing part of the smell. That, at least, explained the old man part of the equation.
“Yes. You’ve been gay your whole life.”
“That was cheap.”
“You set me up.”
“You can do better, though. Let’s try again. Bengay.”
“Jadon must have really twisted you into a knot last night,” North smirked. “Did you have to slather yourself up with Bengay because of the cramps?”
“That’s even worse. One more try. Bengay.”
“That’s what all the boys say when they see me. They say, ‘North, I bengay for you since the minute I saw you.’”
“Excuse me,” Shaw said, cranking down the window, leaning out, and pretending to barf.
“Well, it’s a shit setup.”
“I bengay my whole life.”
“Oh Jesus. Again?”
“They were definitely not gay. You’re proof of that.”
“No, I’m just—do you ever think about that? How you’d be different if you’d had different parents? I mean, take my parents, for example. My dad has the company, and that puts him pretty heavily in rich-white-man territory. But he’s also a barely reformed hippy. I mean, I know for a fact he’s smoked way more pot than I have. He still does, actually. And my mom teaches art. At Wash U. I mean, her entire portfolio is paintings of naked people, naked animals—”
“Yeah, you know: naked chicken, naked cow, naked monkey.”
“They’re animals, Shaw. They’re always naked.”
“Not if you put clothes on them. Anyway, my point is that when I came out, they were thrilled. Like, I think they were happier than when I got into Chouteau. They practically wanted a gay son. My dad set me up with his partner’s son while I was still in high school. I just feel so lucky. I mean, what if I’d had Beau’s parents?”
North adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. Then he said, “Everybody’s parents mess them up, Shaw. Everybody’s. It’s not the end of the world.” Then he turned on the radio, and a Taylor Swift song filled the car.
“I don’t think everybody’s parents—” Shaw began.
North punched the scan button, and the Caravan’s radio screeched before settling on the next station: conservative talk.
“I mean,” Shaw tried again, “I know for you, I know it was hard. I didn’t mean—”
Another shrill burst of static, and then Aretha Franklin came on.
With a sigh, Shaw settled into his seat, digging out his phone and tapping on the screen.
“I’m not going to talk about it anymore,” Shaw said.
North turned up the volume.
“I just wanted you to know I’m not going to talk about it. I’m letting it go.”
North gave the knob another twist. The bass carrying Aretha’s tune was so loud Shaw thought it might shake the Caravan to pieces.
After a recent case with a treacherous client, North and Shaw are ready to go back to work building Borealis Investigations. They’re also ready to go back to dodging their feelings for each other, with neither man ready to deal with the powerful emotions the Matty Fennmore case stirred up. Everything is getting back to normal when their secretary asks for help: her girlfriend’s boss has gone missing.
Shep Collins runs a halfway house for LGBTQ kids and is a prominent figure in St. Louis’s gay community. When he disappears, however, dark truths begin to emerge about Shep’s past: his string of failed relationships, a problem with disappearing money, and his work, years before, as one of the foremost proponents of conversion therapy.
When Shep’s body turns up at the halfway house, the search for a missing person becomes the search for a murderer.
As North and Shaw probe for answers, they find that they are not the only ones who have come looking for the truth about Shep Collins. Their investigation puts them at odds with the police who are working the same case, and in that conflict, North and Shaw find threads leading back to the West End Slasher—the serial killer who almost took Shaw’s life in an alley seven years before. As the web of an ancient conspiracy comes to light, Shaw is driven to find answers, and North faces what might be his last chance to tell Shaw how he really feels.
Gregory Ashe is a longtime Midwesterner. He has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. Aside from reading and writing (which take up a lot of his time), he is an educator.