In Derek Milman’s debut novel, Scream All Night, the estranged son of a cult horror filmmaker reluctantly returns to the creaky environs of Moldavia Studios, just long enough—or so he thinks—to say goodbye to his past for good. His sophomore, Swipe Right for Murder, explores a different kind of fright. Teenaged Aidan’s one-night stand in a swanky NYC hotel room leads to a disastrous series of events, which starts with a dead body and a seriously unfortunate case of mistaken identity, and propels him into a new life on the run from a ruthless cyber-terrorism organization.
We’re honored to reveal the cover of Swipe Right for Murder—which its author describes as a “Hitchcockian LGBTQ thriller” (!!)—along with an exclusive peek at the book’s first chapter.
It’s late afternoon at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and we’re splurging on ridiculously overpriced tea and discussing sudden death.
Unfortunately, the topic is all too relevant at the moment.
Spring break during my final year at Witloff Academy took something of a turn when two things happened.
The first thing was that my Aunt Meredith, who I barely know, was injured by a Vegas Hotel Death Ray.
They built this new hotel in Vegas. But the Swiss “starchitect” who designed the thing was apparently more concerned with his ego than the desert sun’s relationship to the concave shape of the building and how it might reflect off the glass front. They’re calling it a “solar convergence,” but let’s be honest: death ray sounds way cooler.
Everyone who was on the pool deck at noon caught on fire like caterpillars trapped under a magnifying glass. Okay, maybe not literal flames, but my aunt is hospitalized in Nevada with second-degree burns, and now we have to go visit her.
“It was hot enough to melt plastic cups, Aidan,” my mom told me on the phone, muffling a histrionic cry over a sister who she talks to once every seven years. Before I had a chance to consider how depressing it was that people were drinking out of plastic cups at a high-priced resort in Vegas, she added (as if she realized she hadn’t been judgmental enough yet): “I wish she would make better choices. And stop all that gambling. Vegas? Alone? She does these travel tours with endless casino stops. She just can’t stop moving.”
The second thing that happened involves my heart.
I’ve been having these stomach issues. I have a lot of stress at school and the nurse thought I might have an ulcer. So I saw a doctor in town who prescribed antacids and for the hell of it gave me an EKG, which yielded an “abnormal result,” meaning they thought my heart might be enlarged or something.
Of course my mom freaked out, because that’s what she does. She’s always been something of a high-functioning hysteric, but her freaking definitely got more severe after I hit seventh grade; it’s been on a downward spiral ever since. Immediately, specialists were called, tests arranged, appointments scheduled. I can’t count all the emails over this.
“Aw, your heart’s too big for this world!” my best friend Jackson told me, laughing.
Right off the train this morning, I cabbed it to a hospital on the Upper East Side for my echocardiogram. This involved a very nice lady pressing a transducer into my chest for half an hour.
I could hear my heart beating on the monitors—not the dull thud you’re used to. It had a liquid whipping sound, like a stingray moving through the sea. When the test was over, they gave me a towel to wipe away the cold gel smeared all over my chest (which reminded me of a rushed sexual encounter) and showed me my own heart on the monitors, pointing out all four chambers.
“Oh, look at that,” I said, seeing this muscle that’s been keeping me alive for seventeen-and-a-half years. And I wondered, then and there, if I would ever see it again. Hopefully not, I guess. So I spent a second or two watching it do its thing and feeling grateful for all its work on my behalf.
I won’t know if there’s a real problem with my heart for another week, when I see our family cardiologist and he interprets the echo results. But that’s cool because now the world has this romantic gloss to it. I mean I might die young.
I might die young. My heart, you see.
I’ve been practicing that line in my head.
We were supposed to go to a fancy-schmancy resort in Maui but now we’re not because of my burned-up aunt. And that’s okay. I mean about Maui, not my aunt. Although I swim, I’m not as athletic as the rest of my family. Sometimes that can get pretty annoying on family vacations what with the surfing and the tennis and the hiking and shit.
In Puerto Rico last year, we went horseback riding along a beach. The rest of my family galloped off like they were in Red Dead Redemption, but my horse just lumbered along, sticking to the edges, eating every weed in sight. I finally gave him a sharp little kick and was like, C’mon, buddy, let’s move! The horse stopped munching and slowly turned his head to look back at me with this expression like: Bitch, please.
I wound up stumbling back to the hotel hours later, covered with dust and grit, to find the rest of my family glistening and supine, tanning by the pool, lazily swirling straws through bright yellow drinks with little pink umbrellas. “Oh, Aidan, honey, did we lose you?” said my mom, sitting up a tad and only slightly lowering her sunglasses from her novel—the second Fifty Shades of Grey book.
The bronze-skinned pool boy gave me a sympathetic smile. I found him later stacking chairs, and felt vindicated when we hooked up in a blue-and-white-striped changing cabana while my family ate a late-night coconut-shrimp dinner without me (I was still pissed) at the only passable restaurant at the resort—Sunrise Passion.
The pool boy’s name was Santiago. I remember that while he kissed me, I gazed through the cabana flap into the dark pool. The water reflected squiggles of light from all the hotel windows above. Between kisses, I mouthed his name because I liked it.
Jackson taps my knee, exposing that impressive bicep of his. The jagged edge of his red lightning-bolt tattoo peeks out from under his cobalt-blue, short-sleeved button-down.
“Should we get more hot water?” he’s asking me, gesturing at one of the waiters framed by the tall windows. The view is amazing: Central Park splitting the beige glittering buildings of New York City like a vegetal invasion climbing out of the planet’s core. Tatiana, Jackson’s girlfriend, is nodding, texting, reaching for a mini-pastry on a tier of plates. The sandwiches are gone already. “Yes, please,” she says.
Jackson and Tatiana are the perfect couple; both of them black, gorgeous, super-smart, athletic, total Renaissance types. Jackson got into M.I.T., where he will probably stay for a year and create the next Facebook. Tatiana is already at Harvard. Pre-law. They met on a secret Tinder-like app that only accepts people who are a certain level of attractiveness and intelligence. I’m not kidding. Digital eugenics. It’s happening.
I look practically homely next to them. At least three people (that I know of) already walked up to Jackson today, revealed themselves as modeling scouts, and dropped business cards in his lap. I get why. Jackson is tall, toned, has an amazing smile and perfect bone structure. I call him “Rational Erik Killmonger.” He calls me “the flaxen-haired ghost of a J.Crew heir who died choking on an almond croissant.”
He has no interest in modeling. But he smiles at anyone who asks.
Sometimes I think my feelings for Jackson might go deeper, but I don’t want to complicate our friendship, so I never let my mind fully go there.
I gaze down at the cars racing around Columbus Circle. Being so high up makes the world seem quiet. I snap a few photos. I use Instagram, but not as much as everyone else does. I prefer to upload photos to my Tumblr. It makes me feel like a serious photographer. I number and title every photo.
I look at Jackson. “Is Leo coming?”
“Leo is flaking,” says Jackson. “Surprise, surprise.”
Leo is our other friend. Half Asian. Hipster. Coder. Puppyish. Flakes a lot. Goes to Comic-Con. Total stud anyway. Loves Minecraft, Fortnite, and Tarantino (but nothing after Inglourious Basterds). Heading to Brown next year. Full scholarship. Will probably create the next Snapchat or go into finance.
Yes, all my friends are intelligent and attractive. It’s just nice in a world of dust, blood, and fire to always have something lovely to look at. And I like being intellectually challenged.
In the fall I’ll be attending a small liberal arts college in New England. I don’t like telling people which one because then I get put in a box and people think they know me. Not that it matters. I’m sure everyone there will be named Aidan, too. Liam or Aidan. A sea of Liams and Aidans wearing Sperry Top-Siders and cardigans with catalogue colors like “heather” or “toast.”
That’s my big fear, I guess—that I’m a clone; that I’ll never be different; that my whole future is just mapped out for me and I essentially have no free will at all.
I grew up in a Rhode Island suburb where church bells chime at the top of the hour and everyone drives a Volvo SUV. People become lawyers and doctors like it’s written out in their DNA. My dad is a pediatrician on his way to retirement and my mom is a periodontist. So freakin’ normcore, I know.
I guess that’s why, when I finally left my hometown, I made sure I was not going to be friends with other boring, belching white dudes who watch ESPN obsessively and think The Chainsmokers are a really deep band. I pretty much hated my (highly rated) public school. There were definitely specific factors behind my wanting to get the hell out of there. I mentioned my unhappiness at school—painting it more as a general malaise—only once to my parents, in passing, while we were in a department store. I mused out loud about maybe going away to a boarding school. And then boom, off I went—shipped to Witloff at sixteen. TO BECOME A MAN.
“So this dude Drew,” Jackson is telling me.
I run my fingertip around the rim of the teacup. “Drew.”
Right: our sudden-death conversation. Jackson is telling this story because of my heart and my aunt. In the theme of: bad random shit can just happen.
“My cousin Alex goes to Amherst with this dude named Drew,” he says. “And Drew took a semester abroad. And he was skiing in the Swiss Alps during winter break last year. And he died. In an avalanche.”
“That’s terrible,” says Tatiana, clapping a hand to her throat.
“Amherst dude named Drew died in an avalanche while skiing in the Swiss Alps during break?” I say, leaning forward.
“Yep,” says Jackson.
“So basically the preppiest death of all time.”
“Basically.” Jackson covers his mouth with his hand.
“Don’t laugh at that.” Tatiana waves her finger at me, mock-scolding.
“Yeah, don’t,” says Jackson. “Could be you.”
Tatiana gives him a look. “Don’t tell him that.”
“What? His heart could explode!”
“I could go at any minute,” I say, flopping back, making the sound of a flatline.
“I wonder what started the avalanche,” I say. “Do you think Drew stopped skiing to make a really loud phone order to Lacoste or something?”
“His questions about Slim Fit versus Regular echoed too loud and then whoosh,” says Jackson.
“This is not funny!” Tatiana protests.
Jackson calls her Tats. And I call him Jacks. And she’s right. Sometimes we can be assholes.
“His family,” she says, looking stricken. “Can you imagine?” She looks around, trying to get the waiter’s attention. “The service here could be a lot better.”
“Yes,” says Jacks, rolling his eyes, “we know. Tea service is better in Singapore.”
Tatiana gives me a look like Can you believe this is who I’m dating? I take her hand in mine to commiserate. I like Tats. She grew up in Singapore. Something with her dad’s corporate job, I don’t know. But she loved it there. Misses it. Says it was beautiful and perfect. Everything always sucks because we’re not in Singapore.
She does go on about that a lot.
I never mention the fact that you could go to prison for being gay there.
I surreptitiously check my phone, but there are no new calls or texts. I even more surreptitiously check a certain hookup app under the table and find out pretty quickly this hotel is Cruise Central. I look around but see no immediate possibilities. There’s some sort of bridal shower happening in one corner of the lounge. A gaggle of tourists with shopping bags from the Time Warner Center hold court at the low Chinese table in the center of the room. An elegantly dressed older lady wearing an eye patch walks by clutching an orange Hermès bag. I snap her photo. I always snap a burst, so I can meticulously choose the best shots later. “Lady With Hermès” is the working title of that one.
They finally refill our hot water and do it with a smile. Personally, I think the service is fine. They’re just busy. The entire lounge stops and stares as Jackson gets up to stretch. Literally, there’s a hush. His arms go over his head in one smooth motion like a dancer, and he turns left then right, his shirt lifting just a bit so you can see the thin band of white underwear poking out from his skinny jeans.
Tatiana seems oblivious to this little display. But I know Jackson. This is the kind of shit peacocks do. He likes to be noticed. He knows the power of everything about him that works. And perfect as the two of them may be, or close to it anyway, I know for a fact that Jackson has a wandering eye.
Jackson lives in northern New Jersey. Like mine, his family isn’t super-rich or anything. But he’s staying the night with Tats (whose family is, and has an apartment in TriBeca) because he has a ton of interviews for high-octane summer internships—Vogue, The New Yorker, Vice, various tech start-ups and consulting firms, the freakin’ U.N.
I’m telling you, man, you get singed if you stand too close to his flames.
My parents put me up for the night at the Mandarin because it’s popular with a lot of kids from Witloff stopping through New York. The echo test is done now, so I have most of tomorrow to kill (“go to the Neue Galerie, honey, see the Klimts”) before we all have dinner somewhere downtown at 5 p.m. sharp, like the rock stars we are.
“What are your plans?” Tats is asking me.
“Don’t look so scared,” she says. “Not your life. Just for the rest of the day.”
“Yeah. We have to bounce,” says Jackson as he pats down his jeans, which is what he always does before he bounces. It happens very suddenly. You think you’re hanging out, you think it will last somewhat longer, but then there’s the jean pat-down, and he’s gone—off to the next great adventure.
“We’re having an early dinner with my parents,” says Tats. “And tomorrow morning he’s interviewing with Deutsche Bank.”
“Nice,” I say, staring into my lap. I haven’t been on top of this whole summer-internship thing as much as everyone else has, apparently. Personally, I think they’re bullshit. But maybe they aren’t. My uncle is a Hollywood script doctor and there were some vague plans for me to go out to L.A. for a few weeks, be a pseudo research assistant for him, and “meet people.” The movie business sort of interests me (although so does a lot of stuff), my uncle is gay too, and for five seconds I thought maybe I could be the next Dustin Lance Black. That’s as far as I got with my summer. Now I wonder if that’s lame. “I’ll probably just take a nap,” I say, softly.
“We were up pretty late,” says Jackson.
“He made me watch a movie,” I tell Tats. “Forced it on me, really.”
Maybe I’m the only one in the world who finds Netflix stressful. Granted, I find fairly mundane things to be stressful, but how is it fun to spend hours cycling and arguing through their limited selection of mostly second-tier Elijah Wood projects and then be unable to pick something decent? The good stuff you’ve already seen. So what happens is—I mean what happened last night is—you just give up in the end and wind up streaming a Dutch lesbian movie called Loving Klara. And then it’s ninety-four minutes of two Dutch ladies with strange haircuts running down a rocky beach while one of them keeps shouting: “Klara! Wait! No! Klara!”
That was the whole goddamn movie.
“We were up past three,” says Jackson. He explains the plot to Tats. “It kind of sucked. And it was very foreign. But I wanted to see what happened in the end.”
“And what happened?” she asks.
“Klara jumps off a cliff,” I say.
“Why?” Tatiana’s hands hover over her cheeks; she looks so stricken.
“Because she’s Klara. And that’s what Dutch lesbians named Klara do, I guess,” I say.
Jackson signals for the check.
“Poor Klara,” says Tatiana, shaking her head, looking even more stricken. She’s good at looking stricken.
We pay the ginormous bill. Or Tats does, anyway, saying the tea is on her. Jackson gives me a bro hug—slingshot into the body, sharp slap on the shoulder, and then a quick pivot off. Tats gives me a hug and air kisses me on both cheeks because she’s way cool and that’s what they do in Singapore.
“I’m so glad we got to see you,” says Tats.
“Yeah, well, thanks for coming all the way up here,” I say, trying to quell an unexpected surge of anxiety that I’m about to be alone in a hotel in New York City.
Jackson whispers in my ear. “I might go out later. Friend of my cousin is hosting a warehouse party. Bushwick. Want to come with?”
“Wait. What about Tats?”
“What about her? She falls asleep early.”
“Don’t be worried about that test. I’m sure your heart is fine.”
“I’m not that worried.”
“If I don’t see you, have fun with your folks tomorrow.”
“And sorry about your aunt.”
“She’ll be okay.”
“I hope my story didn’t freak you out.”
“Drew. The avalanche.”
“I don’t really like skiing, so…”
“Shit does happen.” He squeezes my shoulder. “But not to you.”
I smile. “Be good.”
“No. You be good.” He sticks a gold toothpick in his mouth. Only he could pull that shit off. He points at me. “And you know what I mean.”
I do know what he means. But I probably won’t behave.
“Later, gator,” says Jacks.
Then they bounce. Like beach balls.
I take the elevator to my room, where I still haven’t unpacked. I throw myself on the bed, wanting to do something productive. So I read a little of this book I like called The Age of Wonder. It’s about all these cool scientific discoveries made in the late eighteenth century leading into the Romantic period.
I think history is pretty cool. All those different time periods, each characterized by a different tone, different values, and different ways of thinking. Maybe the Romantic period could get exhausting with everyone swooning and being emotional, but I bet the Renaissance was a pretty badass time to be on this planet—maybe a little cliquey, though, if you weren’t sculpting enough.
Now, the Age of Enlightenment I’m not sure about. You couldn’t complain at all. People would be like: Wait, you didn’t love the second season of Westworld? It’s amazing! And you’d be like, eh, too many minor characters, and everyone would go on about you needing to be more enlightened about the character arcs in Westworld. You’d probably have to pretend you thought The Chainsmokers were prophets or something.
But the freakin’ Dark Ages? People gave zero fucks. And it lasted forever! The Roman Empire was in ruins; you could die in the Crusades, catch the Black Death, get burned alive if you pissed off the wrong guy. And all those medieval torture devices? Holy shit. You probably had no idea if you would survive any given week. And people would be like: What? Your dad is giving you shit about using the car? This is the Dark Ages, dude. I just beheaded my whole family with an ax because I felt like it.
You could get away with anything.