ONE MAN’S TRASH: Opening Excerpt
Today, I thought I’d share an excerpt of the opening chapter of ONE MAN’S TRASH, which comes out in just four days!! (I’m seriously freaking out about this one. I have a feeling you’ll either love it or hate it.) Also, the audiobook, narrated by Joh Solo, is DONE. It should be available for purchase any day now.
You can learn more about ONE MAN’S TRASH here.
Scroll down past the picture for the full excerpt.
Warren’s scars ached.
It made no sense. How could scars earned in a war almost fifteen years earlier suddenly start hurting again just because he was low on sleep?
Logical or not, driving home from work at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, they throbbed in time with his heartbeat. One across the bridge of his nose, one along the right side of his jaw, another intersecting his left eyebrow, each one telling him he needed at least eight uninterrupted hours of dreamtime.
As if he didn’t know that already.
Working all night was nothing new. The way he made his living often called for odd hours. Warren kept his left hand on the steering wheel and used the fingers of his right hand to rub each scar in turn, trying to quiet them down. All it really did was make him think about the horrible morning in Afghanistan when he’d earned those scars.
His phone rang as he communed with his past, and he groaned. Probably another client calling him away from the nice soft bed he had waiting at home, but a glance at his phone told him the caller was one of the few people he called “friend.”
“Good morning, Phil.”
“Oh, is yours good? Because so far, mine sucks. I could kind of use your help.” Phil was a pharmacist at a local Denver hospital. He was small and trim and ruthlessly neat. He also wasn’t the type who asked for help easily. Warren’s curiosity was piqued despite his weariness.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s easier if you see. Can you meet me at the hospital? I’m parked around back, in the employee lot.”
Ten minutes later, Warren found Phil squinting into the late February sun, leaning against a bright red Audi Cabriolet that looked like it’d just participated in a demolition derby. Warren climbed out of his car and removed his sunglasses to look at it.
All four tires had been slashed. The windows, headlights, taillights, and side-view mirrors were in pieces. The hood looked like it’d taken a few hits from a chrome baseball bat, and Warren thought he detected the ripe scent of urine coming from the interior. “Jesus, you sure must have rubbed somebody the wrong way.”
“Apparently,” was all Phil said. His attention seemed to be more on Warren than the car. “Why are you dressed like a cop?”
“I’m not.” Except he kind of was. He wore dark slacks, and a dark shirt with a shield-shaped gold insignia on the breast. It was just enough to look like a uniform to somebody who didn’t know better, but not enough to get him busted for impersonating an officer.
“I see,” Phil said. “One of those things I don’t want to know, then.”
“Probably. So when did this happen?” Obviously not before work, since Phil hadn’t driven it this way. Warren studied him. His blond hair was in need of a cut, which was unusual for Phil. His unzipped jacket revealed a wrinkled shirt, dark circles shadowed his eyes, and it wasn’t even seven thirty in the morning. “You working graveyards now?” Warren asked.
“As of last month.”
“Don’t you have enough seniority to get out of the shitty shifts?”
Phil pushed his hair out of his eyes and cracked a bare hint of a smile. “I did, until some doctor with an ego the size of a house came down to the pharmacy to tear me a new asshole.”
“And you didn’t bend over and take it like a good boy?”
This time, Phil really did smile. He always reminded Warren a bit of Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties when he did that. “Do I ever?”
Warren shook his head, letting the obvious double entendre pass. Instead, he pointed to the ruined car. “You think that’s who did this? Some doctor with his nose out of joint?”
“No. They may be arrogant assholes, but no doctor I know would sink to something so juvenile. This seems like real rage, not just a bruised ego, know what I mean?”
“I guess so.” Warren eyed the car. “So, what exactly do you need me to do?”
“I called for a tow.” His gaze moved over Warren’s shoulder. “Ah. Speak of the devil.”
Warren hung back while Phil dealt with the tow truck driver. Once he’d signed the last bit of paperwork, Phil turned to Warren.
“Give me a ride home?”
They climbed into Warren’s 4Runner. It was old and beaten, the paint faded and flaking, but it got him from point A to point B. Warren started the engine. “So why didn’t you call Gray?”
Gray was a mutual friend, and a cop. He would’ve been the logical choice, but Phil shook his head. “You know how Gray is. When it comes to his job, he always toes the line. He’d want me to file a report and press charges. All that bureaucratic bullshit. And the guy who I think did this? I don’t want him arrested.”
Warren raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You want me to rough him up?” It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been paid for that service, but he would never have expected it from Phil.
“Of course not. Frankly, he’d probably like it if you did.”
“Okay.” Warren was a bit relieved that wasn’t where this was headed. He turned south, angling toward Phil’s neighborhood. “So what’s this guy’s deal?”
“He’s a mess. That’s the thing. He’s just a kid, and he’s as fucked up as they come. He doesn’t need Gray harassing him. He just needs to be straightened out.”
“Who is he?”
Phil sighed. It took him a moment to answer. “He went by the name TJ, although I don’t think that’s really his name.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He never answered to it right away. Like he kept forgetting that’s what he’d told me to call him.”
“You still haven’t told me who he is exactly, or how you know him.”
“He lived with me for about three weeks. He’s…well, he’s a hustler, basically.”
Warren turned to look at Phil in surprise, then had to remind himself to keep his eyes on the road. “You had a whore living with you for three weeks?”
“See, this is the other reason I didn’t call Gray. Because he gets all judgy about shit like this, and I thought I could count on you to be a bit more diplomatic.”
Warren found himself chuckling. “Okay. So, you had a rent boy temporarily residing at your domicile. Does it sound better that way?”
“It does, actually.” He laughed. “Look, I know it sounds crazy—”
“Not ‘crazy.’ Just not like you. You usually kick them out two minutes after the festivities end.”
“I know. I don’t really even know how it happened. We met at a party. I took him home for the night. Left for work the next morning, and when I got home, he was still there. Seemed odd, but I wasn’t going to complain about getting to go another round with him. And after that, he just sort of stayed.” Phil shrugged and pushed his hair out of his eyes. “He basically traded sex for room and board. And it was good for a while. The kid’s hot like you wouldn’t believe, and he’s dynamite in the sack. So it worked, you know? Things were good, right up until they weren’t.”
Warren nodded. “Funny how it works that way.” He could think of a dozen instances in his own life that fit the same bill. But he wasn’t in the mood for a repeat performance of “All the Shit That’s Gone Wrong in My Life.” He focused instead on the other part of what Phil had said.
Dynamite in the sack.
The thought of taking home anybody who might earn that type of comment from Phil was enough to trigger a warm glow of arousal in Warren’s groin. And goddamned Phil had always been like a bloodhound when it came to sniffing out arousal. He grinned over at Warren.
“You’re wound up tight, aren’t you?”
“I am not.”
“Yes, you are. Don’t think I can’t tell. When was the last time you got laid?”
“A fucking lifetime ago, if you must know.” Or at least that was how it felt, although it’d probably only been a few months. But there was more to his edginess than that. “I’ve been working security. That’s where I was all last night.”
“Security?” Phil blinked over at him. “Where?”
“Not where. More like who. It’s personal security for some girls, you get what I’m saying?”
Phil’s innocent little white-collar eyes went wide. “You’re pimping?”
“Do I look like a pimp?”
“Hm.” Phil propped his chin on his fist and pretended to study him. “Kind of. You just need a velvet top hat.”
“Fuck off.” But it gave him a laugh at least. “These girls work freelance. They’re mostly college students or single moms, just trying to make ends meet. They like to have some muscle along in case things get ugly.” And they liked Warren as their escort because he looked scary, but the only payment he asked for was a few crisp green bills. He never requested or expected service from the girls he protected. “I spend the whole night standing outside motel room doors, listening to people fuck.” He squirmed a bit in his seat, thinking about it. He generally preferred men to women, but sex was sex. It was hard to be that close—close enough to smell it and hear it—and not end up aroused.
“Wow. I was right. You really are wound tight.”
“Thanks for the reminder, Captain Obvious.”
Phil smiled. “Any time.” But then his smile devolved into confusion. “Wait. How does dressing like a cop help you guard hookers? Don’t you just scare off their clientele?”
“If they were walking the street, yeah, but they don’t. They work out of a motel. They set the appointments up ahead of time by email or text, and they tell the johns not to mind the Rent-A-Cop by the front door.”
“Okay. But why dress like a cop at all?”
“A couple of reasons. First, before the customers go in, I tell them the rules, and I let ’em know what exactly will happen if they break ’em. Something about having a big guy in uniform lay down the law, they tend to listen a bit more. Even knowing I’m not really a cop, there’s this little voice in their heads telling them this is serious, you know? Second, the area these gals work isn’t exactly prime-time real estate. It’s a shady, fucked-up neighborhood in a shady, fucked-up world. Whatever vice you’re looking for, somebody down there’s selling it.” Drugs. Guns. Stolen MacBooks and iPhones. He’d once had somebody offer to sell him an eight-year-old boy. Warren didn’t call the police often, but he had that night. “When I first started this gig, I’d go in street clothes, but I’d be lucky to go fifteen minutes without somebody propositioning me in one way or another.” He shrugged, turning the corner into Phil’s upscale neighborhood, which backed up against a lake on one side and a golf course on the other. It felt a million miles removed from where he’d spent last night. “When I’m dressed like this, they see a guy who looks like a cop guarding a motel room, and they decide it might be best to take their business elsewhere.”
“Wow.” Phil shook his head. “You’ve put a surprising amount of thought into this, haven’t you? Ever thought about directing that attention to detail toward something a little more legitimate? Something a bit more on the legal side of the law?”
He didn’t have to look at Phil to know Phil was grinning at him. “When was the last time you talked to your uncle Bill?”
“When was the last time somebody told you to shut the hell up?”
“You told me to fuck off a few minutes ago. Does that count?”
“Apparently not, ’cause you’re still talking.”
Warren pulled up in front of Phil’s house. It was nicer than Warren’s, by a long shot. Then again, Phil came from money, and he made decent money too. Phil spent a minute scrolling through his phone, and a second later, Warren’s phone dinged a couple of times.
“I sent you a picture of TJ, and the address he had me leave him at back when we parted ways.”
Warren checked the picture. He was a damned good-looking kid, maybe about twenty-two, with delicate bone structure that was almost feminine. “You think he’s upset about your breakup, or what?”
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine why. It was pretty casual to begin with, and it ended weeks ago. It’s not like we ever had anything deep, but I can’t think of anybody else.” He shrugged. “I could be way off base. See what you think. If you tell me it wasn’t him, I’ll believe you.”
“And if it is? You never said what you wanted me to do to him.”
“I don’t know exactly. Use your best judgment. Just make sure he’s persuaded to stay away.”
“You got it.”
He watched as Phil unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of his car. Phil was a good-looking guy too, all white bread with the crusts cut off, neat and tidy and fit. He reminded Warren of a wound-up spring, and there was an aristocratic edge there that was tempting. He was the type who always had to be in control, and Warren suddenly wanted to break that control in the best possible way.
Phil was halfway up his front walk when Warren rolled down the passenger-side window. “Hey, Phil?”
Phil turned. “What?”
“How about you let me come in for a bit? I could tie you down, spend a few hours making you forget about those arrogant doctors.”
Phil laughed, as Warren had known he would. “There you go again, always trying to put me on the wrong side of the rope.”
Warren debated going home and changing. Then again, the not-quite-cop getup might be good for what he had to do next. He did, however, stop for coffee on the way.
It was just after eight when he pulled up in front of the address Phil had given him. It was a duplex—two identical dwellings attached by a central carport. One front window had a Confederate flag as a curtain, and the other a rainbow flag. It was a safe bet which door Warren had to bang on.
It took a fair bit of knocking before somebody came to the door, although it wasn’t TJ. This man was in his late twenties, with a shock of black hair falling across his forehead. He opened the main door but left the storm door closed between them.
“Can I help you?” he asked through the screen, still rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Warren flashed his badge. Like the uniform, it was completely fake, but most people didn’t bother to check it. “What’s your name, sir?”
Warren blinked at him. “Are you serious?”
Harry rolled his eyes. Warren suspected he’d heard that question a thousand times before. The jokes probably got old. “It’s a family name. Blame my granddad.”
“I’m looking for TJ.”
His eyebrows came together in what seemed to be genuine confusion. “Who?”
Warren pulled up TJ’s picture on his phone and held it up. This time, Harry’s face showed obvious recognition, along with a flush of what Warren thought might have been shame. “Oh. He told me his name was Tom.” He crossed his arms, looking suddenly defensive. “Did he report me? Is that what this is about? Are you here to arrest me?”
Curiouser and curiouser. “I suppose that depends on what you have to say.”
Harry moved closer to the screen, glancing behind Warren as if to see if he had backup with him. “Look, I didn’t mean to hit him, okay? I know that sounds pathetic. It’s probably what all abusive men say. I’m sure you don’t believe me, but, I swear to you, I’ve never done anything like that before.” He shook his head adamantly. “Never. It was awful.”
“I suppose he was asking for it.”
“Yes! Wait. Did he tell you that?”
Warren’s stomach turned. What exactly had Phil gotten him into? “So is he here?”
“No. That was two days ago. I asked him to leave.” To Warren’s surprise, the man seemed about to cry. He brushed angrily at his eyes. “I’ve never hit anyone before. I don’t want to be in a relationship like that, you know? I don’t think I can be with somebody who pushes me to do something like that.”
Warren debated. He wasn’t sure whether he believed this guy or not. Then again, it didn’t matter. His purpose here was finding TJ, or Tom, or whatever the kid’s name was. Handling domestic disputes several days after the fact was definitely not his domain. “Do you know where he might be?”
Harry chewed his lip for a minute. Finally, his cheeks blazed red. When he spoke, his voice was so low, Warren had to lean his forehead against the screen to hear him. “There’s this place downtown. It’s kind of a sex place, you know? They have booths and—”
“You mean Leroy’s?”
The relief on Harry’s face was almost comical. “You know it?” Then he eyed Warren’s uniform. “I guess maybe not the same way I know it.”
“I’m not here to harass you about where you go to get your rocks off. I just need to find TJ.”
“Well, sometimes he works the back, you know? That’s where he was the last time I saw him.”
“The glory hole?”
Harry’s head jerked in a nod. “Yeah.”
Wow. This was definitely turning into an interesting morning. “Okay. Thanks for your time.” He turned to go, but was caught short by the Confederate flag in the neighboring window. “That guy ever give you a hard time?”
“Who, Frank? Not since he learned I vote Republican. I play poker with him every Friday night.” He laughed. “I usually win too.”
Warren didn’t necessarily understand, but he didn’t need to. His friendship with Phil, Charlie, and Gray had taught him to appreciate the outliers. Whatever had gone on between TJ and Harry, Warren found himself smiling. “I like a guy who can think outside the box.”
Leroy’s didn’t open until ten, and if anybody had told Warren he’d spend his Saturday morning waiting for that dive to unlock its door, he would have told them to go to hell. But he’d made Phil a promise and he had every intention of following through.
He debated going home for a shower, but the temptation to fall into bed after that would be too much to resist. Instead, he stopped at a greasy spoon for breakfast. He polished off a plate of eggs and hash browns, and chased it with another cup of coffee. He sat there rubbing his aching scars, and thought about what Phil had said.
Yeah, he was wound up tight. A roll in the sack would do him a world of good, but it was hard to balance what he liked against what was safe.
Or against just how unsafe he wanted to be.
Weekend traffic had increased dramatically by the time he left the diner, and parking downtown was always a bitch. It was just after eleven when he finally pushed through the front door of Leroy’s.
The front section was old-school: racks of magazines; a wall full of assorted battery-operated sex toys, each one in plastic packaging that’d practically require a blow-torch to open; shelves of lotions and lubricants; and a few blow-up gag gifts in the corner. Leroy himself sat behind the counter.
“Warren. Jesus, man. I haven’t seen you in a hundred years.” Leroy was pushing fifty, bald on top, with long gray fringe pulled back in a sad ponytail. He eyed Warren’s uniform. “Why are you dressed like a cop?”
“I’m not.” Warren leaned against the counter. “You got a kid working in back?”
Leroy squinted at Warren and tucked his New Yorker magazine under his arm. “Am I in some kind of trouble here?”
“No trouble. I’m just trying to round this kid up. I hear he might work the back for you sometimes. His name’s TJ?”
Larry shook his head. “I don’t know any TJ.”
Warren sighed. He pulled out his phone and showed Leroy the picture. “This is the kid I’m looking for.”
“Ah. Yeah. He goes by BJ here. Not exactly subtle, but it works.”
“Is he here now?”
“You sure I’m not in trouble?”
“I’m not a cop. You know that.” In fact, Warren had done a few odd jobs for Leroy over the years. “Like I said, I just need to have a few words with him.”
“Yeah, he’s back there. He brings in a good crowd too. Do me a favor and don’t scare away my customers.”
Warren didn’t make any promises.
The back hall was dark, and God, did it smell like sex. The floor seemed to suck at Warren’s shoes. He did his best not to think about what exactly had soaked into the carpet. Closed doors lined each side, with an open one punctuating the end. Four men stood in line, ranging in age from early twenties to late fifties. As Warren got closer, he heard the moans of whoever was currently being serviced. Those waiting had arrayed themselves across the hallway just outside the door, all of them straining to watch the show.
“Out of the way, gentlemen.” Warren pushed between them, cutting short protests of “Hey, wait your turn!” by holding up his badge. That got rid of three of the four.
So much for not ruining Leroy’s business.
The bathroom had only two stalls, with the glory hole in the wall between them, but the two participants had foregone the idea of anonymity. One knelt on the dirty floor while a man in a perfectly clean pinstriped suit took his pleasure. It was a sexy sight, no two ways about it. The guy being serviced might not have been anything special, but the kid on the floor was giving it all he was worth. If his enthusiasm was fake, he was one of the best damned actors Warren had ever seen. He certainly put most of the men in porn to shame. He looked like he was in heaven, there on a dirty bathroom floor, sucking the cock of a man at least twice his age.
Warren figured the least he could do was let the guy finish. He crossed his arms and stood back to watch. Unfortunately for the man in the suit, he opened his eyes halfway through his orgasm, saw what he assumed was a cop, and just about jumped out of his skin.
He pushed past Warren and the one waiting customer to run down the hall, still zipping up his pants.
And finally, Warren found himself facing TJ. The kid didn’t even get off his knees. He just looked up at Warren through long eyelashes that accentuated his delicate, china doll features. A faint bruise colored his left eye. He didn’t bother wiping the cum off his chin as he smiled up at Warren. “Impatient, aren’t you? I promise, I’m worth the wait.”
For half a second, Warren debated taking the kid up on the offer, but this really wasn’t the time or the place. He took TJ’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “I need to talk to you.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“Yeah, sure.” Warren turned him toward the wall and fished the kid’s wallet out of his back pocket. The name on the driver’s license wasn’t TJ or Tom or BJ. “Taylor Gavriel Reynolds.” Twenty-four years old, listed as five-seven, one hundred thirty pounds, brown hair, brown eyes. Warren might have called the hair dark blond, but otherwise, the description pretty much matched the kid in front of him. Warren slid the wallet back into place. “You’re coming with me.”
Warren dragged him out of the stall, past the last customer who called after them, “So, I don’t get my turn?” and past Leroy, who hid his scowl behind his magazine.
“We’re consenting adults,” Taylor said as they went through the front door. “It’s not illegal.”
“Either they’re paying you and you cut Leroy a portion, or they pay him and he cuts you a portion. Either way, yeah, it’s illegal.” Whether or not it should have been wasn’t up to him.
He opened the passenger door of the 4Runner and placed TJ, or Taylor—whatever his name was—inside, then went around to climb into the driver’s seat.
“You can’t arrest me.”
“Because you’re not a cop. Your uniform’s fake.”
Score one for the kid who gave blow jobs. “I just want to talk.”
“That’s what they all say, three seconds before they undo their pants.”
“You know a guy named Phil Manderson?”
Taylor opened the glove compartment and came up with a napkin. He used it to wipe his chin. “I know a lot of guys.”
“I’m not asking about ‘a lot of guys.’ I’m asking about Phil. He said you lived with him for a few weeks.”
Taylor sat back in the seat, his eyes flicking from side to side as he searched his memory. “Phil? Is he a big guy?”
“No. He’s a pharmacist.”
“Oh yeah!” Taylor’s face broke into a broad smile. He was damnably cute. “The kinky pharmacist. I remember him. He was one of the nice ones. That was one of those deals I sort of kicked myself for ruining.”
“Ruined how? What did you do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.” He couldn’t meet Warren’s eyes as he said it, though. “I always piss them off eventually.” He shrugged, looking down at his napkin. “I’m kind of high maintenance.”
“Where were you last night?”
“At a club. Tracks. You know it?”
“Yeah, I know it.”
Taylor’s smile turned flirtatious. “I thought you would.”
“Tracks closes at two. Where were you after that?”
“I went home with some guy.” Another shrug. “I don’t know his name. He had an apartment in LoDo. He was quick. Finished in about three minutes flat, then passed out cold. I stayed at his place until around seven, when he woke up and started panicking about his girlfriend coming home. He gave me cab money, though, so I left. Found some coffee and breakfast. Then went to wait at Leroy’s.” He leaned closer, resting his elbow on the console between the seats. “So you’re a friend of Phil’s, huh?”
“You into the kinky stuff too?”
Warren thought about his and Phil’s shared past. They’d never been lovers, but they had plenty in common when it came to what got them off. “Maybe.”
Taylor leaned back in the seat, spreading his legs, letting the fabric of his jeans stretch tight across his groin. He ran his fingers over the bulge there, and grinned when Warren couldn’t keep from watching. “Interesting.”
That was one word for what was going through Warren’s head. The kid was distracting as hell, but he didn’t strike Warren as the vindictive type.
And like providence, Warren’s phone rang. He wasn’t surprised to see it was Phil calling. “What’s up?”
“Hey.” Phil sounded as tired as he had in the hospital parking lot. “Listen. I’m an idiot. I sent you on a wild-goose chase.”
“You don’t think it was him?” Warren didn’t bother using a name.
“I just got a call from the hospital. It turns out there’s an administrator there who’s in the middle of a nasty divorce. Want to guess what she drives?”
“Apparently her soon-to-be-ex called to gloat about ruining her brand-new Cabriolet, but of course, her car wasn’t ruined. So she put two and two together and now I know I sent you after TJ for no reason at all. I’m sorry.”
“Did you find him?”
Warren eyed the boy in his passenger seat. “I did.”
“You didn’t do anything mean to him, did you?”
“Good. Tell him I’m sorry for thinking he did it.”
“Don’t worry. We never really got that far.”
“Good.” Phil sighed. “Jesus. Fuck my life. I’m going back to bed.”
“Good idea. I can be there in thirty minutes to tuck you in.”
Phil laughed. “You’re not my type, and I’m not yours. Besides, I’ll be dreaming by then anyway. In the meantime?”
“Go get laid.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Warren slid the phone into his back pocket, his eyes still on Taylor. “Looks like I dragged you out of the office for nothing.”
“It was a nice way to add a bit of excitement to my morning.” He leaned close again. “Where to now?”
“Me? I’m going home. You can go back to Leroy’s, if that’s what you want.”
Taylor grinned. “How about if I go home with you instead?”