Landry Carran gave his ass a rub and grinned at the resulting ache. His boyfriend and Dom, Detective Gage Roskam, had delivered a stupendous spanking less than an hour earlier, and Landry was still glowing—physically and mentally. He gave a happy jig then bounced down the stairs from the apartment he shared with Gage to Treasure Trove Antiques, which occupied the ground floor of the building and was his place of gainful-ish employment. The two cups of strong coffee and bowl of sugar-laden cereal that he’d had for breakfast ensured his current energetic state would last for at least an hour, which was when his best friend and assistant, Petey Templeton, would join him. Landry didn’t usually have to open the store alone, but Petey had finally given in to a nagging toothache and had an early dental appointment.
“Such a wuss,” Landry muttered. “Can’t believe I had to bribe him to go.” Worth it though. An assistant who doesn’t want to eat baked goods is no use to me at all. That globe he had his eye on was a small price to pay. Petey had a thing for maps and had fallen in love with a battered globe that dated back to the nineteen seventies. It was about as accurate as a Fox News report, but Petey liked finding the mistakes. Landry had gotten so fed up of Petey whining about his tooth, he’d promised Petey the globe if he put aside his phobia of dentists and got it taken care of. Landry had also persuaded Carson, Petey’s boyfriend, to act as escort and make sure he made his appointment. Carson had been happy to help because, as he’d put it, “a boyfriend who cries when you kiss him does not boost a man’s confidence.”
Bopping and humming as he went, Landry unlocked the door between the building’s stairwell and the store. As he entered the cavernous space, piled high with antiques and collectables, he took a deep breath. The familiar scent of beeswax polish, old wood and leather always settled him and put him in the right frame of mind for a day at work. He moved around the store, turning on an eclectic mix of lighting—mainly old lamps that were for sale because his boss, Mr. Lao, insisted that they were more attractive to potential buyers when lit. Of course that meant that whenever they sold one, a corner of the store would be in the dark until Mr. Lao obtained a new one to replace it, but Landry didn’t mind because part of Treasure Trove Antiques’ charm was its nooks and crannies. He knew the stock inside and out but loved seeing the wonder on customers’ faces when they spotted something unique or unusual hidden behind an aging armoire or balancing on top of a bookcase stuffed with rare tomes. He glanced around, checking that all was as he’d left it the previous evening. Everything was as it should be. Not that there was any reason for him to think otherwise, but there had been an incident with a mouse once when somehow, the tiny rodent had set up home in a basket of vintage tablecloths and had nibbled a hole through two of them before he was spotted. It had taken a humane trap and enough peanut butter to feed a raccoon, let alone a mouse, to catch the beast, so Landry was constantly on the lookout for any sign of critters in the store.
He grabbed the long pole he needed to lift the security shutter into place then went back into the hall. He left the building then crossed the yard to the alley gate. After his usual fight with the padlock, he rounded the corner of the building to the street. His friend Prisha, whose dad owned the Eastern Emporium opposite Treasure Trove, was outside brushing down the sidewalk with hot soapy water. Landry gave her a wave before jogging across the road.
“Hey, Prisha, what’s going down?”
“What came up, more like.” She grimaced. “Somebody deposited the contents of their stomach on the sidewalk last night. So gross.”
Landry wrinkled his nose. “Better you than me, especially first thing in the morning.”
“Hey, if you want to do a girl a favor, I’d be happy to hand over the broom.”
“No can do.” Landry grinned. “Petey’s at the dentist so I have to open on my own this morning. Gotta go before hordes of voracious customers start beating on the security shutter.”
“Yeah, I can see where they’re lining up around the block.” Prisha went back to brushing. “I’ll come over on my break later. You can buy me a coffee.”
“Deal. Have a good morning.” Landry skipped back across the street, managing not to trip over his pole. He had less trouble opening the security shutter than closing it because he didn’t have to get the hook on the end of his pole through the tiny D-ring that allowed him to draw it down. It was way above his head and like trying to thread a needle while standing on the deck of a pitching boat. Opening up just meant using the pole to push the shutter back into place once he’d released the padlock that locked it to a concealed ring in the sidewalk. A padlock that was no longer in place.
Landry frowned. He distinctly remembered snapping it shut the night before because he’d scraped a knuckle doing it. “Fuckety-fuck. What the heck is going on?”
There was no sign of vandalism or any other damage to the shutter. Landry shrugged, slipped the pole into place then pushed. The shutter rolled up of its own accord, only needing a shove for the last couple of feet. Landry unhooked the pole then gaped. In the recessed store doorway was a person, huddled in a ball, facing away from him.
“What on earth…? Hey, padlock thief, you can’t stay there.” He groped in his pocket for a few dollars. “Go get yourself some breakfast.”
Whoever it was didn’t move. With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Landry propped his pole against the store window then leaned over his visitor. He touched his shoulder, gave it a little shake and the man rolled toward him.
“Holy fuck!” He was dead. Completely and absolutely deceased. Blood stained the front of the beige trench coat he wore. There was a blue tinge to his skin and his eyes were open, staring.
Landry danced back a few steps as he stared at the corpse. “No, no, no… This is not good for business. I mean, poor guy, but why my shop doorway?” His cell was inside so he turned and waved frantically at Prisha who dropped her broom before running across the street. “Call 911! I found a body.”
Prisha, who was always good in a crisis, did a quick turn and rocketed into the Eastern Emporium. She was soon back with her dad at her side.
“The cops are on their way,” she said, putting an arm around Landry’s now shaking shoulders. “You should call Gage. Here, use this.” She handed over her cell, but Landry’s hands were trembling too much to punch in the number. Prisha grabbed it back. “Tell me the number. I’ll call him for you.”
Landry reeled it off without thinking. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dead body and his bloodstained clothing.
“Gage, it’s Prisha. I’m here with Landry and… Yes, he’s fine but the dead guy he just found behind the security shutter isn’t looking so good.”
“What?” Landry heard Gage’s yell even from where he was standing. He took the cell back.
“Can you come home, Sir?” Landry used the honorific without thinking, defaulting to his role as Gage’s submissive rather than his boyfriend in his stressed state. “There’s a b-b-b…body. A real-life body, I mean it’s a dead body but it’s real. An actual genuine, honest to God, not breathing, corpse. And it’s in the shop porch blocking the door and there’s blood. Gage, why is there a dead person in my shop doorway?” Tears welled in Landry’s eyes and he sniffled.
“I’m not really in a position to answer that question yet, love. Stay put. Sancha and I are on our way. Who’s there with you?”
“Petey’s at the dentist and Mr. Lao isn’t here but Prisha and her dad have come over.”
“Stay with them. I mean it, Landry. You are not to go anywhere on your own.”
“Not going anywhere,” Landry mumbled as Gage ended the call. “How can I go anywhere when there are dead people?”
“It’s one dead person, Landry, not a massacre.”
“Where there’s one, there might be others. That’s logical.” Landry glanced around in case more corpses littered the place.
Prisha gave him a comforting hug. She and her dad had been joined by the guy who had been cleaning windows at the café next door to Treasure Trove and the crew of a passing garbage truck. The manager of the café arrived with a tray of coffees and a plate piled with Danish pastries.
“Someone came into the café and said there’s a body out here. I know it doesn’t seem appropriate,” she said, “but a hot drink and something sweet will take your mind off what’s going on, Landry. It’ll help with the shock.”
“Thanks, Mary.” Landry discovered that shoving a cherry Danish in his mouth made all the difference. A new infusion of sugar and caffeine into his system helped him see things in a more clinical light and stop thinking about how on earth a dead man had gotten behind the security shutter. “The padlock,” he said, spraying crumbs. “When I came to lift the shutter earlier, the padlock was gone. I wonder where it is.”
The small crowd started searching up and down the sidewalk and it wasn’t long before there was a shout from one of the garbage crew. “Found it!” Landry, coffee in hand, walked over to look at where the guy was pointing. The padlock lay in the gutter, partly covered by a discarded banana skin.
“I guess we should leave it where it is,” Landry said, “in case of fingerprints.”
“That’s right. I’m Elton.” The garbage guy held out his hand, which Landry shook, hoping that his fingers wouldn’t be crushed in the process. Elton was built like a linebacker.
“Nice to meet you, Elton. Shame it couldn’t have been under better circumstances.”
“You’d be surprised how many bodies we come across in our line of work,” Elton said, sounding philosophical. “We get training on what not to do when it comes to possible evidence. We were about to empty the dumpsters along the street when we saw what was going on, so we’ll leave them until the cops get here. They may want to keep the contents to search through for clues.”
“Well, I never thought of that.” Landry was fascinated.
“I don’t suppose antique selling is a job that gets you involved in much crime,” Elton said.
Landry thought about the last few months, the adventures he and Gage had had, first with his lucky cat and then the gilded mirror. “No, not really. Old stuff is tame.”
“I wonder if there are any pastries left.” Elton ambled toward the café where Mary was eyeing him like a piece of prime beef. Landry shook his head. “People sure do meet under the strangest of circumstances,” he muttered, watching Elton get coy and stutter in front of Mary.
Sirens announced the arrival of the cops and not long afterward, Gage’s Jeep screeched to a halt next to a patrol car. He and Sancha jumped out and while Sancha went over to the uniforms, Gage headed straight for Landry.
“Again? Really?” He drew Landry into a tight hug.
“So not my fault,” Landry mumbled into the hard planes of Gage’s chest. “It’s not like I have a sign up saying ‘leave your dead bodies here’, is it?”
“You attract trouble like a magnet.”
Landry nuzzled against Gage’s body. He could feel the warmth of his skin through his shirt and smell the gel he’d used in the shower that morning. “Do not.”
“Someone cut off the padlock. It’s in the gutter over there. They must have lifted the grill, dumped the body in the porch then pulled it down again.”
“I want you to go sit in the café,” Gage said, “while Sancha and I get the investigation started.”
“Will you be assigned the case?” Landry asked.
“If the captain doesn’t think I have a conflict of interest, it’s quite likely.” Gage steered Landry toward the café. He gestured for Prisha to come over and asked her to stay with Landry.
Landry didn’t want to leave the safety of Gage’s arms but knew he had to let him do his job. Once he’d settled at a table in the café with Prisha next to him, he took a deep breath and eased some of his tension with a roll of his shoulders. He slurped his coffee. “Here we go again.”
“Are you ready for another adventure?” Prisha asked.
“It’s not like I had a choice the first time, or the second. Hopefully this will amount to nothing.” Landry didn’t need Prisha’s skeptical expression or his own gut feeling to tell him that amounting to nothing was the least likely outcome of the morning’s events. He wondered if impending doom merited another pastry.