Year of the Rat by Marshall Thornton

Book cover for Year of the Rat by Marshall Thornton

The first novel in the Dom O’Reilly Mysteries
The third novel, The Happy Month, is available for pre-order

Marshall’s Official Website

Purchase Year of the Rat Here

These are the things I tell people about myself: I was born in February of 1954. I grew up in the Detroit area. I went to U of M for two years, well, three semesters. I was in the Marines for four years. In the eighties, I was married to a woman and managed a Denny’s in North Hollywood. Most of the time I was married I had sex with men. Okay, all of the time. After my divorce I went through a bad patch, bartending in a couple of different bars in Silverlake. Then I met Ronnie Chen and he pulled me out of my slump. The only part that’s true is the part about meeting Ronnie.

I have at hand a number of things to say when people get too nosey. If I run into someone from Detroit, I say that my family moved around a lot and imply that we were constantly being evicted. No one wants to talk about your childhood of poverty. If I encounter a U of M classmate, I talk about how few classes I went to and how much drinking I did and how I was tossed out for being such a bad student. The Marines, well, I don’t know very much about them so all I ever say about the Marines is that I worked in intelligence as an aide to a general I’m forbidden to name. I really can’t talk about the work I did there. It was top secret, after all. People are often familiar with the Denny’s I claim to have worked at, but I’ve never meet anyone who knows anyone who ever worked there. And no one asks questions about my pretend wife. Her pain is too embarrassing to talk about. Sometimes even I feel bad about what I did to her. I’ve been lying about myself for a long time. It’s become a habit. Or maybe an addiction.

The Freedom Agenda was located in a single-story storefront, in between an art supply store and a struggling record store. There was a gay bookstore in the neighborhood somewhere, I knew that because I’d been once. I also knew the store was going to die because the neighborhood was a sort of no man’s land: no crowds, very little foot traffic. The rents were the cheapest you could get in Long Beach and there were a lot of Section 8 apartments nearby. Not the sort who frequent gay bookstores. Since it was clearly on its way out, I wondered if I should drive around until I found it again and go there instead of The Freedom Agenda. It would certainly make more sense.

Even though the job had stayed on my mind for two days, up to the point when I got into my Jeep and pointed it toward downtown, I didn’t believe I was going to meet Lydia Gonsalez again. At least, not about a job. But there I was parked across the street from her office. Most of me was ready to get out and cross the street.  My stomach, however, was ready to jump out of my body and run away screaming. I took a few deep breaths and a Tums to calm it.

All right, yeah, I had some experience. Maybe I was an investigator of sorts. A long time ago. Maybe I’d even liked it. It can be satisfying to work out answers to truly difficult questions—and murder is always a difficult question. It was also a terrible burden to look at the kind of things people did to each other. To know how easy it was to slip over the line and find yourself every bit as horrible as the people you investigated. Did I want to go back to that? No.

But maybe this would be different. Lydia’s clients were innocent. I assumed she would drop them if they weren’t. That was an interesting idea, walking away if you discover your client really is a homicidal maniac. Not that I didn’t believe even the guilty deserved a skillful and committed defense. I just didn’t see any reason why I had to be party to it. I liked the idea of righting wrongs much more than protecting the guilty from the abuses of the system. I put it down to having seen too many Disney cartoons when I was a child.

Finally, I got out of the Jeep and crossed the street. I walked into the office and a bell rang over my head, like I was walking into an old-time grocery store. Come to think of it, the building might have been exactly that at one point. I was in a kind of lobby where there were several wooden chairs, a wide desk and a pretty black girl sitting behind a computer. She looked over the monitor and asked, “Do you have an appointment?”

“Sort of. Lydia told me to come by.”

“Just come by? There was no Friday attached to that?”

“Yeah, I guess there was.” I shrugged. “Around lunchtime.”

Scowling, the girl picked up the phone and her finger hovered over an intercom button. “Can I tell her who’s here? Or is that a little fuzzy too.”

“Dom Reilly.”

She pressed the button, but before it rang Lydia came out of the office behind her. It was really too small an office space for an intercom system. You could hear everything through the walls.

“Dom! Come on back,” she said. She was chewing and had two napkins in her hands. Today she wore tailored slacks with heels and a loose white top. It was more flattering than the outfit she’d worn to La Bohéme but not by much.

She led me to her office, which was the second one down a narrow hall. Beyond the two offices was a large open space filled with a few chairs, several folding banquet-sized tables and a lot of cardboard boxes. Lydia’s office had a built-in bookcase on one wall. It was crammed from edge to edge with law books. She noticed me looking at it.

“I don’t know why I bother. They’re all on CD-ROM now. It’s just that I paid for them so I feel like I should show them off. Sit, sit.”

I sat in a leather chair across from her smallish wooden desk. It felt like a starter desk. One that would go by the wayside when she moved up to bigger cases, bigger offices, a bigger life. There was an aura around her that said that’s exactly what would happen.

On her desk were two Styrofoam clamshell containers. One was open and I saw that there were still two tacos, rice and beans inside. She picked up the other container and offered it to me.

“Chicken molé tacos. Amazing.”

“You bought me lunch? You didn’t know I was coming.”

“I had a pretty good feeling.”

“Why? I didn’t say anything remotely encouraging?”

“You took my card.”

“I could have thrown it away.”

“Then I’d have two lunches.”

Smiling, she took a bite of one of the tacos. She waved a hand at me that told me I should start eating. I opened the container and took out a taco. As I bit into it, Lydia moved a couple of fresh napkins to the front of her desk for me.

I hadn’t exactly dressed for an interview. I was in 501s, Vans and a black canvas shirt with a white undershirt underneath. I knew, from having taken a good look at myself that morning, that my salt-and-pepper hair needed a cut and I could probably use a nose job. My nose had been broken a couple of times in different bar fights and now looked like a deformed mushroom in the middle of my face. If I was more comfortable with surgery, I might get it fixed. It would be nice to breathe through it again. I looked a lot like what I was—a part-time bartender at a dive gay bar.

When she finished her second taco, Lydia took a break and started. “So, tell me about your work experience.”

“I spent about ten years managing a Denny’s in Hollywood. Then I catered for a few years before I started bartending.”

“And you were in the military?”


“Tell me about that.”

“I can’t. It’s classified.”

“Intelligence. So, you do have some skills.”

“Not really. Mostly typing. On a typewriter.”

“I see. Did you bring a resume?”

“No. Sorry.”

She was going to throw me out in a minute and that was fine. I could tell Ronnie I’d tried, and life would go back to what it was. Safe, predictable, manageable. I would be relieved. Eventually, I would be—

“It’s part-time,” she said, making her decision. “I know you have another job so we can work around that. It’s fifteen an hour. Pathetic, I know. If things go well, I may be able to raise that. If they don’t, we can consider a suicide pact.”

“Wait, you’re hiring me?”

Ignoring that, she took a bite of her third taco. The look on her face was straight out of a porno. When she was finished chewing, she closed the clamshell without finishing that last taco and said, “A licensed PI is thirty bucks an hour—if I get lucky and he’s kind of shitty. The fifteen I’m paying you will be taxed. I can’t pay you under the table, so don’t ask. You’ll be an employee just like my secretary, sorry, assistant. No paid sick days, no vacation days, no 401K. Am I making this sound appealing enough?”

“I really don’t think I want the job.” I knew that’s what I should say so I said it.

“You showed up.”

“I have a demanding boyfriend.”

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