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First pages


"Christ! The moon is way too bright. I don't know if we can pull this off." Twelve men were quietly attempting to slip onto the presidential palace grounds. Recruited from countries diverse as Ukraine, South Africa, The United States, and Kenya, they were part of an elite unit that had taken part in over a dozen successful operations. Their employer, Cobra Security Solutions, contracted the group out for missions too tricky for most governments, paid them well, but couldn’t guarantee complete protection if they were caught.

“I’m fed up with not having adequate intelligence.” The former U.S. Army ranger leading the group was complaining in a whisper to his second in command.

They had disposed of two guards. Money had neutralized a few, but still the unit would face at least two dozen more on the grounds while they made their way towards their objective.

As they moved through the shadows, the group knew they were the spearhead for an attack on this government. Everything was in place. The coup was going to be announced in the media within the hour. Their job was to eliminate the president’s access to the outside world. Three members of the unit were stationed at the local power station, ready in fifteen minutes to cut all power to the presidential palace. The local satellite provider had already agreed to block all wireless transmissions.

Six members had just separated and moved toward the other side of the compound when the commander’s earbud came alive. “Abort mission! Abort! Abort the mission!”

Before he had a chance to react, heavy machine gun fire crushed the silence, and lights, lights that seemed bright as the sun, illuminating everything in the courtyard, nearly blinded him. An order blared first in French, then English. "Intruders, drop your weapons and raise your hands immediately or be killed. You are surrounded and cannot escape."

The men had little choice. With the lights on them, they could not see who or how many were out there. The commander quickly moved to avoid casualties by dropping his weapons and stepping forward. The rest of the group slowly complied. At first the commander thought the other six would escape, but they gradually emerged from hiding too. The unit had been found out, somehow betrayed--probably by their own mistakes.

So ended the coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea. Over fifty of their comrades were picked up in Zimbabwe. All charged with conspiring to overthrow the government of Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Though prison conditions were rotten, on the very night of his arrest the commander would be assured by Steven Thomas Brandon, the security chief from corporate headquarters, that within the week he and his comrades would be released. There would be a vacation, and then he’d probably be on his way back to Iraq, unless Cobra Security Solutions found another market for his work.

Chapter 1
A Few Months Later

It was an overcast day. The air was heavy. The pressure seemed to dull my wits. Coming into Cleveland along the lakeshore, watching the blue water glisten in the filtered sun, I didn't have the air conditioner on. Until it gets up into the high 90's, I still prefer the windows wide open, the warm breeze smacking into my face. This was summer by one of the largest lakes in the world. I just couldn't stand closing myself into a tin can car, wasting energy for some kind of pseudo comfort. I was looking forward to a long lazy July weekend after my gig in Pittsburgh and my run up to Erie.

I was also marveling at how these two formerly industrial cities, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, full of smoke and pollution for so many years, had morphed into such beautiful places. Whenever in Pittsburgh, I stay at Eddy’s. Eddy is one of the founders of The Second Step Program for men who batter. And we’ve worked and played together many times. He and his current lover, Adam, are now leading activists in the gay community. His house is in a section of Pittsburgh that’s been somewhat gentrified. It is on a hill that used to overlook one of the steel mills. Eddy grew up there with his sister, while his dad spent most of his time down at the mill. Now, since the mills are gone, there is a fantastic view of the Ohio River. It’s beautiful. I was just thinking of how grateful I had been for that view, when it happened.

I always listen to public radio, and there was a break for the local news as I reached the West Shoreway. “In a top local story, Cleveland police have reported that the body found on the bank of Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park has been identified. He is reported to be Stanley Brandon, a thirty-six year old Cleveland resident and unemployed truck driver.”

“Stanley? Oh no!” I spoke out loud to no one. Stanley Brandon was a former client. Certainly I’d heard of other former clients who had died. Besides, Stanley quit therapy over two years ago, but this was still a weird coincidence for me. I had just read a week ago about some of his family's property being excavated for a new shopping center development in Lakewood, and had been thinking a lot about him. On top of that, the presentation I’d done in Pittsburgh in the morning had been about distinguishing between post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder in adolescents, and I’d used Stanley’s case, properly camouflaged, to make a point. It was hard to get my head around the fact that Stanley was dead. Dead!

Stanley had attempted suicide at fifteen years old, and been placed in Hanna Pavilion, in The University Hospitals system. The doctors there decided, based on the stories he told them, that he was delusional. After a detailed history was taken, he was given a provisional diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder. Hanna Pavilion has a fine reputation for evaluating and helping adolescents enter the mental health system, but like the rest of us, the professionals there make mistakes.

It’s always been sort of an irony to me that this place of healing is evidently named for Mark Hanna or his family. The millionaire Cleveland industrialist made William McKinley president at the end of the nineteenth century. Anti-worker, anti-union, anti-farmer, pro-war man, Hanna had been one of the bogey men of my working class youth. My great uncle, a former steelworker who taught history at Cuyahoga Community College, used to come over to our place with a bottle of scotch at least once every couple weeks to spend the evening talking with my mom and sometimes my dad about the guys he called the “parasites on the body of America.” I guess because of the Cleveland connection, Mark Hanna came up many times.

Like so many of the robber barons of the late nineteenth century, Hanna’s name has now come to be associated with philanthropy and works in the public interest.

Anyway, at fifteen Stanley entered the mental health system. After his hospital stay, he was permanently placed on anti-psychotic drugs and put in a group home for mentally ill teenagers. His family not only didn’t protest the idea, they actively encouraged it. According to what he told me, for the next three years Stanley was in constant trouble. He regularly refused to take his meds and ran away from the home a dozen times. He might have ended up stuck in the mental health system for decades if not for a psychiatrist that Stanley called gutsy, who evaluated him when he turned eighteen. The psychiatrist didn’t change the diagnosis, but he declared that Stanley was capable of living on his own. According to Stanley, his family, who were quite prominent in Lakewood (a middle class suburb of Cleveland), protested and demanded another evaluation. The second evaluation was inconclusive. So Stanley was free to start his adult life without interference from his family.

“That psychiatrist saved my life!” I still remember the grateful look on Stanley’s face when he recalled that. I still remember his smiling face. And now he is dead.

I pulled into our driveway at about seven-thirty, hardly noticing the silver Lexus with the tinted windows parked across the street. The sun was moving out of a cloud bank as it was falling slowly toward the horizon. And it looked beautiful. Neither of my housemates were home. So I stopped in long enough to say hello to the cats and shed my duds in favor of shorts and a tank top. I pulled Molly’s bike out of the garage and headed for the lake.

The brakes on mine have been giving me trouble, and I never seem to get around to taking care of things like that. Jack’s seat is too high for me, and Molly actually prefers running, so her bike is in great shape.

It’s only a ten minute cruise to Lakewood Park from our place; less than five minutes over to Edgewater State Park with its beaches and docks. All three of us love our location. In many ways it feels like a resort area. We’re actually in Cleveland, but we’re right on the border with Lakewood. We live two blocks from the lake. Of course we can’t see it. The fancy houses on Edgewater Drive block our view. This is the heart of Cleveland’s gay community, and it’s also one of the most cosmopolitan neighborhoods in the area. So many different kinds of people walking past our house all the time, Jack says it‘s relaxing. Molly considers it exciting. I think it’s both. We all feel more than comfortable in the area. Our house is great too. Neither Molly nor I had ever lived in places we totally loved. As long as I’ve known Jack, he’s been very conscious of his environment, and about five years ago we were looking for a house to share when he happened to be driving by and saw the for sale sign.

Built back in 1910, the place had been turned into a rooming house for years before a splinter group of Hari Krishnas got hold of it and turned it into their feast house. By the time we saw it, the Krishnas had refinished all the wood. They had even taken some of it off the walls and dipped it. It was a beautiful pin oak, like none I‘d ever seen in a house, and it was everywhere. It was a knockout. All three of us had a great feeling about the space. The Krishnas, who don’t eat meat, had purified it. For three vegetarians this was a real treat. Since this was their feast house, they had also remodeled the kitchen, and had three different sinks and yards of counter space for food preparation. This alone was a deal maker for me because I love to cook. They had planted a number of trees and had begun to fix up the yard. Both Jack and Molly loved the chance to finish it. The whole house looked great to me, except for the sponged pink dining room where they had their shrine with their statues.

These folks also had a pretty elaborate security system because the other part of their group was constantly trying to break in and steal the statues they had taken. However, with a cop in our gang, we never bothered to reactivate the system once we got in.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking of any of this as I dragged Molly’s bike onto the rocks at Edgewater. I was thinking about Stanley. The news hadn’t said what the cause of his death was. None of the bridges in Rockefeller were high enough to jump off. I didn’t believe that he had any health problems. I wondered for a moment if he had drowned. He had always been afraid of water.

Stanley had been afraid of a lot of things. He told me he was afraid of men, but he made an exception for me because he thought he could look into my eyes and not feel threatened. For almost two years we worked together. I felt we established quite a bond. He opened up on so many issues. He shared his pain and his fears, and his rare feelings of connection or joy. He worked so hard to heal. He was a very bright guy. However, like so many survivors of trauma, Stanley was employed at jobs well below his capabilities. He maintained no close friendships, and had engaged in only one deep romantic relationship, which he told me ended ten years before we met. He was in love with his hobbies. They were his passion. Collecting rare coins and researching Cleveland history are what got Stanley out of bed every morning. He was also communicating with people around the world on the internet. Short order cook was his usual occupation, but he also was a short haul trucker. He had all the certifications for long haul over the road driving too, but had not yet gotten into it when I knew him. I had no idea what he’d been doing lately. And now he was dead.

I felt sad as I sat there on the rocks. There are so many people struggling to live, so many risking their deepest fears, to feel a moment of security, to have one day when they’re not panicked, to have one night slept through without the terrors. Stanley had worked so hard, and----now he was dead, and I figured I would probably never know why.

As I pulled out of the park a half hour later, I noticed a silver Lexus with tinted windows that reminded me of the one I’d seen across from the house. I remembered I’d never cared much for those cars.

It was getting dark when I arrived back at home. Jack and Molly still weren’t back. I’d prepared dinner for two nights before I left on Thursday morning. I was a little irked that neither had gotten home to put the finishing touches on this evening’s meal. I knew that probably meant that they were both eating out, but I had prepared them such a delicious dinner! I went through my mail while warming up the vegetable pilaf. Jack’s Law & Order magazine was mixed in with my stuff. There was a newsletter from the Ohio Domestic Violence Coalition, a dues statement from the Ohio Psychological Association, my new Ms. Magazine, a few overdue bills, a subscription letter from Mother Jones, my license renewal application from the state board, which reminded me I had to leave town again at the end of next week for a workshop in Niagara Falls. If you’re going to have a workshop in mid-summer, The Falls is one of the best places to have it.

There, at the bottom of the pile, it had probably come Thursday, was an oversized envelope with the words “private” and “confidential” written on it. Very curious, I immediately ripped it open as a cell phone and a key tumbled onto the counter. I was shocked to find a note from Stanley. He wrote the following:


“Josh (Doc),

I may be in a lot of trouble. If so, I need your help. Please hold on to this key and call me at the number below. I will tell you what to do with it.” That’s all he wrote except for this quote at the bottom of the page.

“The answers are in the future. The future is now. Each moment is the next best opportunity to engage. H. F. (1986)”


The number Stanley listed didn’t look like the home number I still had for him. I immediately put the phone to use, magically thinking for a second that maybe I would actually reach him. Stanley’s voice answered. “If you’re calling this number, you are either Henry Francis or Joshua Miller. Please leave a message telling me where we can meet before Friday night. It is a matter of life and death.” The beeper went off, but I had nothing to say. This was Friday night, but Stanley Brandon would not be meeting me anywhere.

I was shocked. What was going on? Could Stanley have been murdered? Why would anyone want to do that? Maybe he had become paranoid. Certainly his post-traumatic anxiety made him overly sensitive to certain kinds of stimulation--noises late at night, people walking outside his apartment, someone gazing too long in his direction. Maybe he had psyched himself out and ended up killing himself inadvertently. But then what was the key for? Who was Henry Francis? The name sounded vaguely familiar. Why would anyone be after Stanley?

I went over to the Convenient to get a newspaper, hoping to find some information. The clerk, a young woman I’d talked to over and over again, without getting her name, seemed excited that they had just one copy of The Plain Dealer. “With the pennant race and all the murders and everything, you’re lucky we had one left.”

Not so lucky. The paper wasn’t much help. Had I thought it through, I wouldn’t have bothered. It had been published before Stanley had even been identified. I couldn’t understand what Stanley would have been doing in Rockefeller Park. That was all the way across the city from where I had known him to live. Rockefeller Park had been part of old John D.’s land before he moved his operation to New Jersey and New York, to avoid Ohio taxes and corporate rules.

Also, while the article did give a little more detail than the brief radio report, instead of clearing anything up, it made things more confusing. The paper said that a note was found on the body, and a gun had been discovered nearby.

I couldn’t believe Stanley had changed so much in two years. In therapy he had expressed a terror of guns. Both his father, who had been with the police force and the Special Forces in Vietnam, and his great uncle, who was a judge, had threatened him numerous times with their guns. I could see pills or a high dive. He had tried to hang himself in the past. Shooting himself just didn’t fit with the Stanley I knew.

I couldn’t wait for Jack to get home. Jack’s been working as a nurse now, but he was on the police force for years. I hoped he could help me get more information about this. I knew it was possible that I was just making something out of Stanley’s death as a way to not fully face my feelings about it. I’ve worked with many people who, to avoid facing their feelings in response to a tragedy, fixated on some minor issue, and that way could get totally caught up in stuff that didn't matter.

Because of the client base I work with, I’ve known at least a couple dozen folks who have attempted suicide. Only one succeeded while she was my client. Anny was a recovering alcoholic, a schizophrenic on medication, and a survivor of extreme trauma. She’d been seeing me for about a year. She lived on the seventh floor of an apartment building, and every day she had thoughts of jumping out the window. Now this was a woman who had survived for many years on the street and had prostituted herself for food or alcohol hundreds of times. She had been hospitalized for extended periods for injuries suffered during violent rapes. She couldn’t remember how many times she thought she was going to die as someone put a gun or knife to her head. This woman had been raped with wine bottles, a lug wrench, and a table leg! But she survived.

Anny had almost no memory of her childhood when she started seeing me. As we processed her adult trauma and her feelings about the four children she had birthed and abandoned at various times, she slowly started getting flashbacks of her early years. She remembered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by both her mother and father. As we progressed, she talked more and more about wanting a drink. She promised to use her AA buddies and me to help her keep herself straight. One Wednesday she called to cancel because of a scheduling conflict. I thought nothing of it. Then she didn’t show up the next week. I called and left a message for her to get back to me. I didn’t hear from her. I never noticed the two paragraph report in the paper. Finally, one of her friends, whom I had seen in therapy briefly, contacted me. Anny was dead. The friend explained that about two weeks earlier Anny started obsessing about the window. She moved herself into a friend’s apartment on the second floor, but still she obsessed about the window. She talked about it at AA meetings. The folks encouraged her to call me or go to the crisis shelter or the hospital. Instead, she went to the bar. Once she started drinking, she went on a three day binge, and when she came to her friend’s apartment, she took all her antipsychotic and anti-anxiety meds and went to sleep. She never woke up.

Fortunately, as of Friday, none of my clients seemed to be in any crises they couldn’t handle. So my focus could be on Stanley. Stanley seemed to have such a good heart. He liked to help strangers. He didn’t like to talk to them, but he was the kind of guy who put money in expired parking meters as he walked down the street. However, if anybody did anything for him, he was immediately suspicious. His primary abuser was his great uncle, but every significant adult in his life had abused him during his childhood. His great uncle died about ten years ago, but he still had the sense that the man was somehow going to get him. Uncle Bob had sexually assaulted Stanley from pre-kindergarten years until Stanley’s suicide attempt at fifteen. He was convinced that the man would have continued if he’d had the chance. Stanley was also terrified of his grandmother, who was still alive when I last saw him. From his description, she was the authoritarian matriarch of an extended family of police, prosecutors, bankers, and judges from Cuyahoga and adjoining counties. The woman was around ninety, but he was still convinced that she could punish him at will.

Some people might wonder if Stanley had reported his great uncle’s abuse to his mom or dad or his grandmother, since they all lived together throughout much of his childhood. His father moved out when Stanley was eight, but his mother stayed with the in-laws. When we ended therapy there were still gaps in Stanley’s memory, but one thing he remembered vividly was his grandmother’s reaction to the sex abuse. There were at least a half dozen times when his grandmother walked into the attic room where Uncle Bob frequently took Stanley. When she saw Uncle Bob forcing Stanley to perform oral sex on him, she would become enraged and attack Stanley, shouting, “I told you to leave him alone!” She would beat Stanley with whatever she had in her hand, shouting, “When are you going to learn!”

During the time Stanley was working with me, he still attended the weekly extended family dinners hosted by his grandmother every Sunday because, he told me, he was afraid not to.

Stanley was pretty sure he had told his mother about the abuse, and had asked her to move with him and his little sister. However, she never moved until Stanley was almost ready to come out of the group home and her daughter had already run away. Besides, while in therapy he began to remember what seemed to be sexually abusive incidents that included his mother, too.

As I write this I still don’t know what causes some people to pass on their abuse and some people to go out of the way to avoid victimizing others. I’ve seen many abusers for therapy. In fact, my old partner, Jane, and I used to run a group in the local prison for women who had been convicted of sexually abusing children. I’ve found that every abuser I’ve ever worked with for any amount of time has been abused him or herself. However, hardly any survivor of childhood sexual abuse I’ve known has become a consistent victimizer. And, while we have a lot of theories in our field, we still don’t know why some people abuse and others don’t. Stanley wouldn’t abuse anybody. At least that’s what I thought until I saw the local news that night.

I was suddenly jarred out of my thoughts by a horrendous clanging. Molly had come in the side door and dropped about ten pounds of something noisy.

“A little help here, please!“ She was struggling up the hallway steps carrying who knows what. “I need a strong woman or a beautiful man!”

“I’m coming, Sweetie.” I helped the would-be love of my life up the steps into the kitchen, forgetting I was annoyed about the dinner.

As we put things away Molly explained to me that Jack had a double shift at Lakewood hospital. So, the two of us relaxed on the couch together while I caught Molly up on what had been going on for me, and coincidentally, we switched on the local news just as Stanley’s picture came up on the screen. They were reporting that a body had been discovered in Stanley’s apartment. A woman had been found in bed, apparently having been shot by the same gun found with Stanley. Of course the speculation was that Stanley had done a murder-suicide. Stanley!

I’m really glad I was with Molly when I heard the news. She’s a mental health agency administrator by day and a well-respected performance artist the rest of the time. She’s also someone who knows me well. When I was plainly in disbelief about Stanley killing that woman, Molly said, “I’d trust your gut, Josh. You’re good at reading people. We really need to talk to Jack about this.”

So Molly and I talked while we waited for Jack. Mostly we talked about Stanley, but we also talked about her next gig. This would be her biggest venue yet. She was performing her new piece at Cleveland Public Theatre in about three weeks. Of course I promised I’d be there, as I always was.

Our cats were demanding attention. Eugene Debs was the most demanding. He has this habit of howling at the ceiling when he’s not happy. If that doesn’t get your attention, he rips paper. Sojourner was pretty obnoxious too. She uses her head to bump you relentlessly if you’re not paying enough attention. She’s really in love with Jack though. She saves her hardest bumps for him.

Jack was pretty exhausted when he got in, but he patiently listened to my tale of Stanley. He checked in with me to see if I wasn’t just avoiding dealing with Stanley’s death. He promised to make some calls in the morning even though he said, “Look, when it comes to this stuff, things usually are what they seem to be. Your client probably really did what it looks like he did.”

He said that the letter to me and the key certainly were cause to question the obvious, but it probably was just the work of Stanley’s paranoia. I didn’t argue, but the more I thought about Stanley, the more I was sure something else was going on

Chapter 2

I was startled awake as the fan was knocked out of my window. The wind was pummeling the house and the tree right outside. A light rain was spraying all over the floor. It was still dark. I couldn’t see the clock, but I knew it was almost dawn. I’d had a fitful sleep. First I dreamed about Stanley being pistol whipped by his father. Then I dreamed that an old client was stalking me. In my fifteen years of doing this work, I’d had two clients directly threaten to harm me. I’m pretty sure the one I was dreaming about was this twenty-two year old college student who had told me about his older brother violently sexually abusing him during our second session. He had supposedly come to me because he was lonely. Although he was quite attractive by contemporary standards, he reported that he had a hard time getting dates. Even when he did, the women would not want to go out with him after the first date. So, I had worked on some simple socialization skills with him in our first session, and I expected to do more when he suddenly started telling me the story of his brother’s violent sexual abuse of him. He was very upset as he spoke, and I tried to comfort him. About three quarters into the session he suddenly jumped up, saying, “I can’t do this,” and bolted out of my office. I never saw him again. I tried to reach him, but had no luck.

About six months later, I got a call from him on my machine. He was calling from his hometown in Indiana. He told me if he ever saw me again he was going to kill me. He thought I was an a--hole, and the advice I had given him “about getting girls wasn’t worth sh-t.” He told me I better spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder because when I least expected it, he was going to nail me.

It’s funny; none of the prisoners--rapists, murderers, abusers I’ve worked with ever seriously threatened to hurt me. Instead, for over ten years I’ve lived with the thought that Gregory the shy college student is going to take me out.

The storm had stopped as quickly as it evidently came up. The sun was starting to rise as I went downstairs to our super kitchen to get a glass of cold water. I saw Stanley’s letter, phone and the key on the counter. I grabbed them and headed for the swing on the porch. I’d slipped on my nightshirt before I went downstairs, so the birds wouldn’t get offended by my nakedness. It would usually be about an hour before a lot of action on the street. We live next to an apartment building on Clifton Boulevard. That’s the main drag through this area. Our block just has houses and apartment buildings on it, but the blocks on either side have boutiques, pastry and coffee shops, restaurants, bars and a couple banks. The shop employees would be dragging themselves along soon, still recovering from Friday night festivities.

With all the stuff about Stanley, I had almost forgotten I was supposed to meet Peg for a late breakfast up at It’s It Deli. I knew I’d have to make a note of it. I longed to be beside

 her, inside her again. I could feel myself getting aroused at the thought, but I also knew I was preoccupied with other things that weren’t so pleasant.

I sat there for awhile rubbing the key between my thumb and fingers over and over again. It was as though I was trying to get a message from Stanley through the key. What was he thinking when he held this? What was he feeling? Was there terror? I remembered how afraid he could get. Periodically, every three months or so, while I knew him, he would change his locks. He said he drove his building manager crazy. He was convinced that sooner or later his family was going to get him.

But what about this dead woman? There was no information about whether there had been a sexual attack. Stanley was a little weird sexually. He refused to touch his own penis. He told me that he masturbated by concentrating on the corpuscles in it. He said he was very successful at reaching orgasm. There was no way he would do it in any other manner because every time he touched himself sexually, he would flashback to his great uncle masturbating him. He told me he was very attracted to men, and occasionally had some kind of sexual relationships, but couldn’t stand them touching him. He didn’t like women touching him either because of his mother.

Could he have killed this woman in his bed? It was just about as likely as him shooting himself. This stuff just kept rumbling around in my head for a while, until the sun was fully up. Happy that I had stopped smoking as part of the agreement of moving in with Molly and Jack, I retreated back up to my bedroom and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Chapter 3

Jack startled me as he came bounding into my room and began tickling me. “Wake up sleepy head! We’ve got people to do and places to see!”

I was slowly coming around, “What’s so important?”

“Come on. I’ve got us a meeting downtown with one of the guys who caught your Stanley’s case. Get a move on. We’ve got to be there by 11:30.”

As Jack walked back out of the room I got a look at my watch. It was quarter to eleven. I’d been in my deep sleep for five hours. It took me fifteen minutes to shower and dress. By the time I got down to the kitchen, he was on his way out the door.

“No breakfast for you. Eat this.” He tossed me an orange. Of course I knew if I didn’t prepare the breakfast, there wasn’t going to be any breakfast anyway. Molly was long gone. She’d had her run and now was off at a meeting organizing the next Iraqi demonstration.

“They’re going to want Stanley’s letter” Jack surprised me. For some reason it hadn’t dawned on me that the police would want information from me. I was looking to get my questions answered. “And the phone and the key. Did you bring them?”

I protested that we didn’t know that what Stanley sent to me had anything to do with his death. After all, the last report described his death as a suicide. Jack said that if we wanted cooperation from the police, we’d have to show them that we’d cooperate. So, after a little negotiation, we agreed to get the key and the letter copied, and off we went.

I’ve never quite felt at ease in police stations. As a working class teenager in a gang oriented neighborhood, I was harassed scores of times by the local boys in blue. I’d also been scared by, and resented their violent behavior towards my friends in Act Up. In spite of the fact that I have since worked with dozens of police on cases, have had many officers as clients, and a couple of my closest friends have been on the force, I still don’t feel comfortable around them when they’re in a group. Of course Jack and I weren’t going to just any police station either, we were visiting police headquarters at The Justice Center--a very scary place for a lot of people. Needless to say, I wasn’t totally on my game.

I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be so impressed with the detective. She had been Jack’s co-worker in the narcotics unit, but had since been promoted to homicide.

“Jackson Smith! How’s the blood and bones business?”

“About as much fun as this shoe leather gig you got.” They were kidding each other in some playful game they’d invented. They actually got together every few months and talked regularly. Shanandra was his closest friend still with the department.

Shanandra Ferry reminded me of my late aunt Caroline as she moved to shake my hand. Tall, about six foot, Sinewy build, quick moves, in between a sort of loping casualness. Cornrowed hair, tight to her scalp and large light blue eyes set against a light bronze skin. Caroline never had cornrowed hair, but otherwise they looked and moved the same.


About me

A widely published poet and author, I am a community based psychologist who has written many books, including A Conspiracy to Love and The Power Handbook. A feminist-systems therapist, my clinical work has focused on post-traumatic stress, gender roles, LGBTQ issues and relationship healing. As a lifelong resident of The North Coast, I am a former commentator for WCPN-FM (NPR), a guest columnist for The Plain Dealer and The City News. I now write for Liberation Brew TV and

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
The story is inspired by the experience, the struggles, the challenges of my working class mental health clients. Other inspirations are our nation's dysfunctional reactions to security concerns and our fascination with corrupt corporate leaders. The rich history of Cleveland also inspired me.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
I learned that writing a mystery is a blast. I didn't know how it was going to end until I'd written 2/3's of it. I've authored and edited many kinds of books, but have never had so much fun. I've decided to make it a series featuring Cleveland, and have developed ideas for the next three books.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
Alice Walker, Marge Piercy, Maya Angelou, and Kurt Vonnegut have inspired my storytelling. In the mystery field, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, James Patterson, Robert Ludlum, Anne Perry, and John Grisham inspire me.