A warm welcome to my dear friend, Michael Rupured and congratulations on your new release The Case of the Missing Drag Queen! Drag queens are quite popular in my house. My son and daughter are HUGE RuPaul fans. They have a standing Thursday night text debate critiquing the queens performances on Drag Race. The fact she’s so well know and respected is a testament to the amazing changes in the LGBTQ community over the past decade. Thirty plus years ago, things were so very different. Thank you for sharing your new release and an exclusive excerpt here today, Michael.
Best wishes! Lane xo Much of the action in The Case of the Missing Drag Queentakes place in a gay bar in 1982. After nearly four decades of field research, I am somewhat of an expert on gay bars. In my opinion, the late 1970s and early 1980s were the high point—a sweet spot between the 1969 Stonewall riots credited for launching the gay liberation movement and the arrival of HIV.
When I came out in 1979, our gay lifestyle outside of work was getting together with friends to get ready to go out, going out, and then hitting afterhours parties until the sun came up. Gay bars were crowded six nights a week. On Sundays, if there wasn’t a party, we drove to a city where the bars weren’t closed.
That world was wild, crazy, and largely underground. Society was more homophobic than not. Unmarked entrances granted access to gay bars for those in the know.
Oh, the stories I could tell….
And do. That’s what’s fun about writing fiction. Nobody knows the difference.
The Case of the Missing Drag Queen
Series: Luke Tanner Mysteries, Book One
Publisher: DSP Publications
Genre: Mystery, LGBT Fiction
Word Count: 60K
Cover Artist: Alexandria Corza
Broke, saddled with a mountain of debt, and dependent on his Aunt Callie’s support, aspiring writer Luke Tanner has returned to Kentucky to put his life back together after a failed five-year relationship.
On his twenty-fifth birthday, Luke meets diminutive Pixie Wilder, a long-time performer at the Gilded Lily. After headliner Ruby Dubonnet doesn’t show up, Pixie takes her place as the star of the show—a motive that makes her a suspect in Ruby’s disappearance.
Luke reluctantly agrees to help his new-found friend clear her name. He and Pixie set out to find the missing drag queen, and in the process, put themselves in danger.
Michael Rupured writes stories true enough for government work about gay life from the 1960s to today. This life-long Southerner was born in Fayetteville NC, grew up in Lexington KY, and after 18 months in Washington DC, moved to Athens GA where he’s lived since 1999. By day, he’s senior faculty in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia. He’s an avid fan of the Georgia Bulldogs, the Kentucky Wildcats, and any team playing the Florida Gators. In his free time, Michael tinkers with his garden, plays with Toodles (his diabetic chihuahua), and keeps up with his many friends around the country. Previous novels include Until Thanksgiving(thriller), No Good Deed(mystery/thriller), Whippersnapper(regional), and Happy Independence Day(historical). Visit his website, follow on Twitterand Goodreads, like his Facebook page, or shoot him a message (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Chapter 2 (Click here for Chapter 1)
Friday, October 22, 1982
The ringing wouldn’t stop. Luke squeezed his eyes shut, covered his head with a pillow, and curled into a fetal position beneath the covers. All he wanted to do was sleep, but the ringing continued and apparently wasn’t going to stop until he answered the telephone.
He threw back the covers and squinted at the wind-up alarm clock ticking loudly on his dresser. Almost two o’clock. He reached for the phone, inadvertently knocked the handset off the cradle to the floor, and when he bent to retrieve it, bumped his head hard against the corner of the bedside table.
“Dammit!” He rubbed his tender scalp and checked his hand for blood. None. Just a concussion. At least the ringing had stopped. He grabbed the handset and put it to his ear. “Hello.”
“I called to wish you a happy birthday, but that horse has obviously left the barn.”
“Aunt Callie,” Luke said, scratching himself and wishing he’d thought to remove his toxic underwear before going to sleep. He sat on the edge of the bed and palmed his forehead. “Sorry. I didn’t get home until three o’clock in the morning.”
“Anybody out that time of day is up to no good if you ask me.”
Luke rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I worked late.” He started to tell her he’d made almost two hundred bucks, but kept his mouth shut. On top of past-due bills, a mountain of credit card debt, and a car loan, he owed her a small fortune for rescuing him from a life on the streets of Atlanta after Mr. Wrong booted him out of the condo they’d shared for nearly five years with little more than the clothes on his back and a shoebox of old photographs. A few more nights like last night and he could start paying her back.
“Well,” she continued, “I didn’t call to fuss. Hard to believe you’re twenty-five years old.” She sighed. “I remember when you were born. Your parents and I were so excited. Nathan was thrilled to have a son, and Sally….”
Luke didn’t know what to say. Memories of the parents who’d disappeared on a cruise to celebrate ten years of marriage were fuzzy and dim. Having lived longer without them than with them, he’d adjusted. Life went on.
“After all this time, I miss her every single day.” She sniffed and blew her nose. “We still having dinner together tonight?”
“Yeah,” Luke replied, like he knew what she was talking about. He vaguely recalled her saying something a couple of weeks earlier about dinner on his birthday but couldn’t remember any details and didn’t want to have to ask.
“Our reservation is for six thirty. Don’t be late,” she said. “The Brougham House is always busy on Friday nights.”
Luke breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ll be on time, I promise.”
“I hope so,” she said. “See you tonight.”
He hung up the phone and stretched. His birthday had completely slipped his mind. Understandable. All the good ones were behind him—reaching double digits at ten, becoming a teenager at thirteen, driving at sixteen, voting at eighteen, and drinking at twenty-one. The rest would be depressing reminders of his advancing age and impending death.
So much for sleeping until time to return to the Gilded Lily. Spending his birthday alone in bed all day, though sadder than sad, was all he wanted to do. But first, his bladder demanded attention.
On the way to the bathroom he glanced around his depressing, messy apartment. He’d covered the picture window with an old, rust-stained sheet. The ugly sofa and uglier easy chair he’d found at the Goodwill store were piled high with laundry done or waiting to be done—he no longer knew which was which and relied on smell to tell the difference. Mail and important papers were piled up around a well-used manual typewriter on the card table set up in the eat-in kitchen.
Good thing Aunt Callie was meeting him at the restaurant. No need to worry about her coming in—or anyone else for that matter. The guys he’d run around with five years earlier had left town, and since returning to Lexington, he’d found no new friends to replace them.
He flushed the toilet, washed his hands, and stepped into the kitchen, ignoring the sink full of dirty dishes. Though not exactly bare, his cupboards and refrigerator offered little in the way of food, and nothing he hadn’t grown tired of eating. Dinner at Lexington’s fanciest restaurant would be a treat and a nice change. Without bothering to heat it up, he settled on the remnants of a frozen pizza and headed back to bed.
The moment his head hit the pillow, the telephone rang again. Luke groaned, sat up, and reached for the handset. “Hello.”
“Yes.” Luke didn’t recognize the voice.
“Millicent Maxwell in Apartment 3. My toilet isn’t flushing properly. Mr. Sinclair said to call you.”
“Okay. Be right there.” Luke sighed. In exchange for half off his rent, he managed the eight-unit Sinclair Arms for Buddy Sinclair. He slid into a pair of jeans, pulled on a T-shirt and tennis shoes, and stepped across the hall to Mrs. Maxwell’s apartment.
Forty-five minutes later, Luke could feel her breath on his neck. She stood so close, he feared she might fall when he went in for a closer look. He braced himself in case he had to catch her, leaned forward, and sighed with relief when she didn’t lose her balance. He flushed again and watched the tank empty.
Mrs. Maxwell pointed an arthritic finger at the bowl. “Still didn’t go down.”
Luke folded his arms across his chest and stroked his chin as he studied the porcelain fixture. He’d done everything he could think of, but after two dozen flushes, most of the Toasted Oats he’d dropped in the toilet had gone nowhere.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life.” Mrs. Maxwell clucked several times. “My granddaughter couldn’t stop crying, bless her little heart.” She put her hand over her mouth, shook her head, and whispered, “Said she’d flushed and flushed.”
“Sorry.” Luke jiggled the floating device for the umpteenth time and peered inside the tank again. “Everything works the way it’s supposed to.” The cereal hugging the side of the bowl mocked him. “Obviously, something’s not right.”
“Can you fix it, or not?”
He placed the lid back on the tank and faced her. She obviously didn’t think he could. He had doubts as well. Admitting he had no idea what was wrong or how to fix it wouldn’t help. He smiled and nodded. “Yes, ma’am!”
She placed her hands on her hips and peered over her glasses at him. “When?”
Luke cleared his throat. “Um. Soon.”
Her arms dropped to her sides. “In the meantime, what am I supposed to do about that?” She gestured toward the Toasted Oats clinging to the side of the bowl.
“I’ll take care of it.” He reached down and, without gagging or retching even once, plucked the cereal from the toilet and dropped the soggy O’s into a frilly trashcan covered in the same flowery fabric as the shower curtain. He held up his wet hand and moved toward the sink. “Mind if I wash up?”
“Please do.” She pulled a worn hand towel from a vanity drawer and set it beside the basin. “Don’t leave soap in the sink, splash my mirror, or dirty up my good towels, you hear?”
Her watchful look suggested she didn’t believe him—about keeping the bathroom tidy or fixing the toilet. Luke lathered up with all the care he could muster. He dried his hands, mopped up around the sink, and dropped the towel she’d provided onto the vanity. “I’ll fix it in the next day or two. I promise.”
“I sure hope so.” She studied Luke’s face for a moment. Her expression changed to one of concern. “Have you seen Ruby Dubonnet this morning?”
Luke furrowed his brow. “This morning?” Why would he have seen her this morning and why did she ask?
“Yes.” She nodded. “She lives in Apartment 2.”
Mrs. Maxwell nodded.
“No.” Luke shook his head, more confused than before. “Haven’t seen her.” If he had to guess, she was probably shacked up with the big tipper.
“We’d planned to take the bus over to Turfland Mall this morning to do a little shopping before having lunch at the Blue Boar cafeteria.” Mrs. Maxwell wrung her hands. “I’ve known her for years, and she’s never even been late without calling. I waited for thirty minutes after leaving her a message before knocking on her door, but she didn’t answer.”
Luke wasn’t sure what surprised him more. That Millicent Maxwell and Ruby Dubonnet were longtime friends or that Ruby lived in the apartment next door. He’d never seen her around, nor was her name on the list of tenants Mr. Sinclair had given him. “I’m sure she’ll turn up soon.”
Mrs. Maxwell nodded but didn’t seem convinced. “I hope you’re right.”
She closed the door before he could say more. Not that he had anything to add. He heard the deadbolt slide and the chain falling into place and knew she watched him through her peephole as he let himself into his apartment and closed the door behind him.