The Ghost Had an Early Checkout Sequel to The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks
by Josh Lanyon Genre: LGBT Mystery
To live and draw in L.A.
Now living in Los Angeles with former navy SEAL Nick Reno, artist Perry Foster comes to the rescue of elderly and eccentric Horace Daly, the legendary film star of such horror classics as Why Won't You Die, My Darling?
Horace owns the famous, but now run-down, Hollywood hotel Angels Rest, rumored to be haunted. But as far as Perry can tell, the scariest thing about Angels Rest is the cast of crazy tenants--one of whom seems determined to bring down the final curtain on Horace--and anyone else who gets in the way.
A scream split the hot autumn afternoon.
Perry, precariously perched on the twisted limb of a dying oak tree, lost his balance, dropped his sketch pad, and nearly followed its fluttering descent into the tall, yellowing grass growing on the other side of the chain-link fence that was supposed to keep people like himself from trespassing on the grounds of the former Angel’s Rest hotel.
The voice was thin and hoarse, sexless. There was no sign of anyone, but the cries bounced off the chipped gargoyles, crumbling stairs, and broken fountains, echoed off the pointed towers and mansard rooftops of the eight-story building.
Recovering his balance, Perry scooted along the thick branch until he was safely over the barbed top of the fence, and then jumped down into the waist-high weeds and grass.
Heart pounding, Perry ran toward the voice—or at least where he guessed the voice was coming from. He still couldn’t see anyone.
This back section of the property had never been landscaped. Thirsty scrub oaks, bramble bushes, webs of potentially ankle-snapping weeds covered a couple of sunbaked acres.
When he reached the wall of towering, mostly dead hedges, he covered his mouth and nose with the crook of his arm and shoved his way through, trying not to inhale dust or pollen.
Small, sharp dried leaves whispered as they scratched his bare skin, crumbling against his clothes. He scraped through and found himself in the ruins of the actual hotel garden.
Which meant he was…where in relation to the voice?
Without his leafy vantage point, he had no clue. Rusted lanterns hung from withered tree branches. A couple of short stone staircases led nowhere. An ornate, but oxidized, iron patio chair was shoved into the hedge, and a little farther on, an overturned patio table lay on its back, four legs sticking straight up out of the tall weeds like a dead animal. A black and white checkered cement square was carpeted in broken branches and debris. A giant gameboard? More likely an outdoors dance floor.
Too bad there was no time to get some of this derelict grandeur down on paper…
Finally, he spotted an overgrown path leading through a pair of moribund Japanese cedars—so ossified they looked like wood carvings—and jogged on toward the hotel.
The voice had fallen silent.
Perry slowed to an uneasy stop, listening. His breathing was the loudest sound in the artificial glade. Should he go on? You couldn’t—shouldn’t—ignore a cry for help, but maybe the emergency was over?
Or maybe the emergency had gotten so much worse, whoever had been yelling was now unconscious.
Far overhead, the tops of the trees made a distant rustling sound, though there was no breeze down here in the petrified forest. He could see broken beer bottles along the path, cigarette butts, and something that appeared to be a used condom.
At last—well, it felt like at last, but it was probably no more than two or three minutes—he reached the bottom of the first of three wide, shallow flights of steps, which surely led to the back entrance of the hotel.
Aside from his own footfalls and raspy breathing, it was eerily silent.
He began to feel a little foolish.
Had he misunderstood those cries? Maybe he’d been fooled by the noise of a bunch of kids roughhousing. Maybe what he’d heard had been the rantings of a crazy homeless person. There was a lot of that in LA.
“Just do it,” Perry muttered, and started up the steps toward the hotel.
Halfway up the first flight, a scrape of sound—footsteps on pavement—reached him. Perry raised his head as three figures crested the top. He froze. His breath caught. His heart seemed to tumble through his chest as he stared in disbelief.
Three figures. They wore long black capes and skeleton masks. They carried swords. Swords…
The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks
by Josh Lanyon
His romantic weekend in ruins, shy twenty-something artist Perry Foster learns that things can always get worse when he returns home from San Francisco to find a dead body in his bathtub. A dead body in a very ugly sportscoat -- and matching socks. The dead man is a stranger to Perry, but that's not much of a comfort; how did a strange dead man get in a locked flat at the isolated Alton Estate in the wilds of the "Northeast Kingdom" of Vermont? Perry turns to help from "tall, dark and hostile" former navy SEAL Nick Reno -- but is Reno all that he seems?
There was a strange man in Perry’s bathtub. He was wearing a sports coat — a rather ugly sports coat. And he was dead.
Perry, who had just spent the most painful and humiliating twenty-four hours of his life, and had driven over an hour from the airport in blinding rain to reach the relative peace and privacy of the chilly rooms he rented at the old Alston Estate, stood gaping.
His headache vanished. He forgot about being exhausted and starving and soaked to the skin. He forgot about wishing he was dead, because here was someone dead, and it wasn’t pretty.
His fingers still rested on the light switch. He turned the overhead lights off. In the darkness, he heard rain rattling against the window; he heard his breathing, which sounded fast and scared; and from the living room he heard the soft chime of the clock he had bought at the thrift store on Bethlehem Road. Nine slow, silvery chimes. Nine o’clock.
Perry switched the light back on.
The dead man was still in his bathtub.
“It’s not possible,” Perry whispered.
Apparently this didn’t convince the corpse, who continued to stare at him from beneath half-closed eyelids.
The dead man was a stranger; Perry was pretty sure of that. It — he — was middle-aged and he needed a shave. His face was sort of greenish-red, the cheeks sunken in as though his features were slipping. His legs stuck out over the side of the tub like a mannequin’s. One shoe had a hole in the sole. His socks were yellow. Goldenrod, actually. They matched the ugly checked jacket.
The stranger was definitely dead. His chest wasn’t moving at all; his mouth was ajar, but no sounds came out. Perry didn’t have to touch him to know for sure he was dead, and besides that, nothing on earth would have made him touch the corpse.
He couldn’t see any signs of violence. There didn’t seem to be any blood. Nor water. The tub was dry and empty — except for the dead man. It didn’t look like he had been strangled. Maybe he had died of natural causes?
Maybe he’d had a heart attack?
But what was he doing having a heart attack in Perry’s locked apartment?
Perry’s glance lit on the mirror over the sink, and he started, not immediately recognizing the pale-faced, hollow-eyed reflection as his own. His brown eyes were huge and black in his frightened face; his blond hair seemed to be standing on end.
Backing out of the bathroom, Perry closed the door. He stood there trying to work it out through the fog of weariness and bewilderment. Then, eyes still pinned on the closed door, he took another step backward and fell over his suitcase, which was still sitting in the center of the front room floor.
The fall jarred Perry’s thoughts into some kind of order — or at least action. Scrambling up, he bolted for the apartment door. His fingers scrabbled to undo the deadbolt.
He yanked open the door, but it banged shut as though wrenched away by a ghostly hand, and he realized the chain was still on. Fingers shaking, he unfastened that too and slammed out of the apartment.
It seemed impossible that the hall should look just as it had when he had trudged upstairs five minutes earlier. Wall sconces cast creepy shadows down the mile of faded crimson carpet leading to the winding staircase.
The long lace draperies stirred in the window draughts. Nothing else moved. The hall was empty, yet the disturbing feeling of being watched persisted.
Perry listened to the sound of rain whispering against the windows, as though the house were complaining about the damp, the wood rot, the mustiness that permeated its aged bones. But it was the ominous silence on the other side of his own door that seemed to flood out everything else.
What was he waiting for? What did he expect to hear?
Despite his desperation to get downstairs to lights and people, he felt peculiarly apprehensive about making the first move, about making a sound, about doing anything to attract attention — the attention of something that might wait unseen in the dim recesses of the long hall.
He had to force himself to take the first step. Then he barreled down the hallway, narrowly missing the half-dead aspidistras in their tall marble planters. Despite the reassurances of his rational mind, he kept expecting an attack to launch itself from the cobwebbed corners.
Reaching the head of the stairs, he hung tightly to the banister to catch his breath. His knees were jelly. Uneasily, he looked behind himself. Nothing but the twitching draperies stirred the gloom. Perry headed down the stairs. Fifteen steps to the next level; he took them two at a time.
Reaching the second floor, he hesitated. Ex-cop Rudy Stein lived on this floor. An ex-cop ought to know what to do, right?
Mr. Watson had also lived on this floor, but Watson had died a week ago in Burlington. His rooms were locked, his belongings collecting dust waiting for a man who would never return.
Not that Perry believed in ghosts — exactly — or was too chicken to face another dark, drafty hallway, but after that moment’s hesitation, he continued down the rest of the grand staircase until, at last, he reached the ground floor which served as the lobby of Mrs. MacQueen’s boarding house.
Someone was just coming in the front door, pushing it closed against the sheets of rain. Overhead, the chandelier tinkled musically in the gust of the storm’s breath, throwing eerie colored red shadows across the man’s figure.
He wore a hooded olive parka, and for a moment, Perry didn’t recognize him. In fact, he couldn’t see any face at all in the cowl of the parka, and (his nerves shot to hell) he gasped, the soft sound carrying in the quiet hall.
Shoving the hood back, the man stared at Perry. Now Perry recognized him. He was new to Mrs. MacQueen’s rooming house, an ex-marine or something. Tall, dark, and hostile.
Perry opened his mouth to inform the newcomer about the dead man upstairs, but the words wouldn’t come. Maybe he was in shock. He felt kind of funny, detached, rather light-headed. He hoped he wasn’t going to pass out. That would be too humiliating.
“What’s with you?” the man said. He was frowning, but then he was always frowning, so there wasn’t anything in that. He actually wasn’t that tall — a little above medium height — but he was muscular, solid. A human Rock of Gibraltar.
Finally Perry’s vocal cords worked, but the man couldn’t seem to make out his choked words. He took a step closer. His eyes were blue, marine blue, which seemed appropriate, Perry thought, still on that distant plane.
“What’s the problem, kid?” the man asked brusquely. Obviously there was a problem.
Breathlessly, Perry tried to explain it. He pointed upward, his hand shaking, and he tried to get some words out between the gasps.
And now the corpse upstairs was the second problem, because the first problem was he couldn’t breathe.
“Jesus Christ!” said the ex-marine, watching his struggle.
Perry lowered himself to the carpeted bottom step of the grand staircase and fished around for his inhaler.
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.
Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first Male/Male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan's annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male/Male Series in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads M/M Hall of Fame award.
Although The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out is Male/Male Romantic Suspense Mystery-Romance, the things I love best about classic mystery-romance are universal. Here are five of my very favorite things about the genre.
1 - Spooky Settings. Whether the action takes place in a castle in the desert, a crumbling mansion on the misty moors or a creepy, formerly luxurious apartment in a nearly abandoned building on the bad side of town, setting is paramount in romantic suspense.
2 – Quirky Characters. Happily, contemporary romantic suspense has largely done away with a tendency to turn anyone with a disability or from another culture into a freak. We have supporting characters from a variety of backgrounds dealing with a variety of challenges. There’s an emphasis on humor and whimsy versus shock value.
3 – Handsome Brooding Heroes. Let’s face it, a lot of those morose and laconic heroes populating mid-century romantic suspense were clearly suffering from clinical depression. In contemporary romantic suspense the heroes are no less handsome—and they do have a tendency to take themselves too seriously—but they’re MUCH better about talking out their feelings and even getting the help they need.
4 – Vulnerable Heroes. Yesterday’s trembling heroine is today’s smart and sassy—but still vulnerable--heroine OR smart and sassy—but still vulnerable—hero. The perfect foil for the handsome brooding romantic interest who, let’s face it, is usually the last to figure out what evil lurks beneath the surface of his ancestral home.
5 – A Dangerous Secret. At the heart of every tale of romantic suspense is a Dangerous Secret. Usually the secret is not nearly as dangerous as the people willing to kill to keep their secret…er, secret. But that’s the way these things go. Whether it’s a hidden emerald necklace, a missing wife buried in the woods, or Great Aunt Agatha’s lost will, characters in romantic suspense novels have a fatal tendency to keep what they know to themselves until it’s too late…
I’m happy to say The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out has all these necessary ingredients and more.
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