Carved in Bone: A Henry Rios Novel

Carved in Bone: A Henry Rios Novel

by Michael Nava


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November, 1984. Criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios, fresh out of rehab and picking up the pieces of his life, reluctantly accepts work as an insurance claims investigator and is immediately is assigned to investigate the apparently accidental death of Bill Ryan. Ryan, part of the great gay migration into San Francisco in the 1970s, has died in his flat of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas line, his young lover barely surviving. Rios’s investigation into Ryan’s death–which Rios becomes convinced was no accident–tracks Ryan’s life from his arrival in San Francisco as a terrified 18-year-old to his transformation into a successful businessman. What begins for Rios as the search for the truth about Bill Ryan’s death becomes the search for the meaning of Ryan’s life as the tsunami of AIDS bears down on the gay community.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781733609104
Publisher: Persigo Press
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Series: Henry Rios Mystery Series , #8
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Michael Nava lives outside San Francisco with his husband. His Henry Rios mystery series has been awarded six Lambda Literary Awards and he is the recipient of the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in LGBT literature. He is also the author of an acclaimed historical novel, The City of Palaces, set in Mexico City at the beginning of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Additionally, he wrote and produced the Henry Rios Mysteries podcast which adapts the first Rios novel into an 18-episode audio-drama and is available on various podcast platforms including Apple I-tunes and Spotify. His small press, Persigo Press, which currently publishes his work will expand to publish other LGBTQ and writers of color who work in genres beginning in fall, 2020.

Read an Excerpt


Eden Plain, Illinois, June 1971

Marco caught his breath and grunted, "Is that all you got?" Bill lunged at the other boy, pile driving him onto the bed beneath a poster of a shirtless Jim Morrison in leather pants. Flailing wildly as Bill scrambled to pin him, Marco's hand smacked the wall and grabbed at the poster, ripping off a bit of Morrison's leg.


Bill released him. Marco showed him the crinkled paper.

"Dude! I can't believe you did that."

The poster was Bill's pride and joy but his father, when he had first seen it, had looked at it for a long time, and then at Bill. He said nothing but a hardness in his eyes demanded an explanation. Bill mumbled, "He's a rock and roll singer, Dad." His father replied, "You sure you want to keep that up there, son? People might get the wrong idea." Bill burned with shame but repeated, "He's just a singer." His father frowned and left. They hadn't spoken of it since but whenever Mr. Ryan entered his bedroom, the first thing he did was to pointedly glance at the poster, letting Bill know his explanation had not been convincing.

"It's your fault, squirt," Marco was saying. "You fight dirty."

"Don't call me squirt."

Bill was sensitive to the difference in their height, a gap that opened when they hit puberty and had only widened since then, so that he was now four inches shorter and twenty pounds lighter than his six foot, two-hundred-pound football playing friend. Marco looked old enough to buy beer without being carded. Bill was still a boy, kid brother cute, open-eyed, guileless and slender. Both his older brothers had played first string football at the high school they had all attended, but Bill was too small for the sport. He had earned his varsity jacket playing shortstop. At home games, he would scan the bleachers to see if his father had come, but more often than not, it was his mother, sitting alone, who waved at him. In Joe Ryan's opinion, baseball was, at best, a way to kill time until football season began. Football, his dad liked to say, that's a man's sport. Full stop.

Marco sneered, "Suck my dick."

Marco perched on the edge of Bill's bed, still holding Morrison's leg in his big hand. Bill was standing, his back to the window. It framed a freshly mowed backyard in a new housing tract at the edge of a small town that was becoming a suburb of Chicago's suburbs.

Shirtless and sweaty, they smelled like teenage boys whose hygienic practices, casual at the best of times, steeply declined in the summer. They had been wrestling like this since they were seven years old. They were eighteen now, recent high school graduates, spending a final boyhood summer together before the autumn took them their separate ways. Marco was bound west to play football for a second-tier team at a state university in a neighboring state. Bill was headed to the University of Illinois at Springfield to study business. Bill felt their coming separation like a constant, faint ache in his chest and Marco, too, sometimes seemed to be touched by the same sadness. But, having no vocabulary except the roughhouse language of American boys, they never spoke of this feeling of impending loss.

Suck my dick.

They had first flung the taunt back and forth when their penises were little pink worms with no minds of their own and the words were nothing more than another insult they had picked up from Bill's older brothers, like retard and spaz. But, while those words remained in their vocabulary of abuse — now supplemented by asshole and shithead — they rarely hurled suck my dick at each other and when they did, like now, the words seemed to have been infiltrated by the faintest note of questioning.

Since that morning two years earlier when Bill had awakened with semen-saturated BVDs and fading images of a naked Marco in his head, his feelings for Marco had sailed past best friendship into a swamp of confusion, desire and shame. On double dates — always arranged by Marco and his girlfriend of the moment because Bill was officially "shy" around girls — he struggled to keep his attention on Patti or Nancy or Suzy, but always it returned to Marco, to the hollow at the base of his throat, to his surprisingly slender fingers and the heavy curl of black hair that no matter how often he pushed it back, flopped to the center of his forehead. To Marco's eyes, so dark they seemed black but were, upon closer examination, a dark warm brown and lit from a depth that seemed to be the source of the mystery of Marco Ferreira.

That there could be any mystery at all about the boy he had known all his life confounded Bill. The casual horseplay they had engaged in forever had become freighted with meaning for Bill. The briefest brush of skin against skin when they wrestled was like the striking of a match that flared into yearnings in his chest and belly both exciting and terrifying. At night, the image of Marco showering formed in his head — his thickly muscled legs and chest brushed with dark hair, heavy cock bobbing in the bushy pubic patch, and the high, round butt — and Bill's hand groped for his cock. He jerked himself off quickly before self-loathing overcame his arousal but then lay there, his hand coated with semen, hating himself for what he wanted, but helpless against the want.

And this, more than wet dreams or jerking off to Marco's image, was how Billy Ryan knew he was a queer. Sometime after his pubic hairs sprouted and his father had haltingly given him the talk about sex, Marco had become mysterious to him in the same way he understood girls to be mysterious to other boys. It wasn't the mystery of sex — that had been reduced to crude talk about blowjobs and hand jobs and fucking pussy and who would or would not put out. Something more than sex held the boys in thralldom to the girls. It was as if the girls held the answer to a question the boys had not even been aware existed until puberty when the scales fell from their eyes and they saw that without a girl they were and would remain fundamentally incomplete. The question for them was: who am I? And the answer, blasted through speakers in the gym at school dances or wafting through tinny car radios or on hi-fis in teenage bedrooms all over Eden Plains, Illinois, in the pop songs they all listened to, was: I am no one without you.

When Bill Ryan looked into Marco Ferriera's eyes, his heart lurched and he knew he was no one without Marco. The feeling sickened him. No one had had to say it, but to be a queer was so far beyond the pale of Eden Plains, he was sure it would be better to be dead than to be that thing. More than once, he had considered steering his car into a tree or going off into the woods around the lake house with his dad's shotgun and blowing his head off. But he hadn't because apparently, he was a coward as well as a queer. Instead, Bill had tried to solve his problem by pushing Marco away when he grabbed him but Marco would not be deterred and, with his greater strength, he invariably pulled Bill into a roughhouse embrace. Only — and this is what really confused Bill — those embraces often seemed more like hugs than assaults, more affectionate than aggressive. It seemed to Bill, or was he only imagining it, that when they wrestled now, Marco pressed his body against Bill's a moment longer than he needed to and Marco's breath glanced his neck like a kiss. And once, when Bill dared to return the pressure of the embrace and look into Marco's eyes, he thought he saw an answering tenderness.

He thought he saw that tenderness now as he met Marco's eyes. The taunt — Suck my dick — which maybe wasn't a taunt after all, hung in the air between them, waiting for Bill to give the ritual reply, You'd like that wouldn't you, fag? But Bill had lost the power of speech as he gazed helplessly at Marco's olive-colored chest and his red gym shorts and his hairy legs and big, smelly feet. Say something! he told himself, his heart pounding in his chest, the air in the room suddenly thick and close. Then, as if in a dream, Bill took a tentative step closer to the bed, then another, until he was standing between Marco's splayed legs, so close to the other boy, he could feel the heat radiating from his skin. He dropped his gaze from Marco's eyes and waited for Marco to push him away but instead Marco closed his thighs around Bill's legs, skin against skin.

Bill met Marco's eyes. He saw fear and hope, heard Marco's anxious, stuttering breath, felt his warm flesh pressing his legs.

Then Marco whispered, "Go on Billy, do it. Suck my dick. Please."

It was the please, gentle, almost pleading, that convinced Bill Marco was serious. Still, he hesitated until Marco raised his hand, brushed it against Bill's arm and said, "It's okay, Billy. Don't be afraid. I won't tell anyone."

Marco parted his legs, hooked his fingers into the waistband of his shorts, lifted his butt off the bed and tugged the shorts to his feet, springing his thick, hard cock loose from its nest of wiry black hair. Bill had seen Marco's cock hundreds of times before in the gym showers but always with a furtive glance and never when it was hard. Now he studied Marco's cock and saw that the smooth head and veiny shaft and fuzzy balls were, like the rest of Marco's body, beautiful.

Nervously, Marco said, "Let me see yours."

The request startled him but then he understood. Marco had exposed more than his cock, he had exposed his desire for another boy, and he needed assurance that it was what Bill wanted, too. Bill pushed down his shorts and briefs to his ankles and stood naked before his friend. The room, so familiar that Bill no longer even saw the objects that furnished it, seemed suddenly different, strange, as if it belonged to another boy. A boy who collected baseball cards and pretty rocks, who was pictured with his dad in a framed photograph holding up his catch after a day's fishing at the lake, who slept beneath a plaid coverlet and kept his baseball bats in an imitation elephant's foot umbrella stand. Not a boy who now sank to his knees, wrapped his fingers loosely around his best friend's cock and opened a mouth that had, until that moment, been used only for eating and speaking.

The slightly rancid smell of sweat and moist cotton and Marco drove him closer to the beautiful flesh, but then he hesitated. While he had often imagined himself in this very situation, about to take Marco's cock in his mouth, he assumed he would have to steel himself to the task to overcome what he had been taught was the inherent nastiness of everything "down there" male and female. Taught by his parents and the nuns and priests who had guided his education from kindergarten to graduation, taught with words and gestures and expressions in a thousand ways that the openings and appendages that lay below the waist were disgusting and gross, the cause of man's fall and the occasion for sin, and to be used only for excretion or, out of sad necessity, for the making of babies.

Marco's fingers gently threaded his hair. Bill looked up and saw the uncertain grin and the soft, affectionate eyes.

"I want to do it to you too," Marco whispered in a thick voice.

Bill closed his eyes and took Marco's cock in his mouth. The taste was meaty, a little sour and salty, but it was not, as he had feared, disgusting. Rather, after the first shock of sensation, it seemed he tasted Marco not only with his mouth but his entire body and then not only with his body but his emotions as a wild excitement flushed his chest and turned his cock into steel. At that moment, all the proscriptions went out of his head. This is what he had wanted and, by some miracle, Marco had wanted it too, and now it was happening. He began to move his tongue and mouth around the steely thickness of Marco's flesh.

"Teeth," Marco warned softly.

Bill looked up and nodded, then returned to the licking and sucking. Marco gripped Bill's shoulders and stood up. He began to move his cock in and out of Bill's mouth and murmured, "That feels so good, Billy."

Bill struggled to breathe and once or twice pulled away with a cough and a gasp but then again took the other boy in his mouth, even as he blinked tears of exertion and spit dribbled from the corners of his mouth. Marco's pubic hair was surprisingly soft against Bill's face. He cupped his hands around Marco's butt and felt the flex of his glutes as Marco drove his cock into Bill's mouth. He experimentally let a finger trail into the crack of Marco's butt and lightly pressed it against his hole. Marco gasped and wiggled his butt and Bill's finger slipped into the dry heat of Marco's innards.

"Jesus, yeah," he mumbled. "Finger me."

His mouth stuffed with Marco's cock, his finger jammed into Marco's butt, Marco murmuring "feels so good baby, feels so good," Bill trembled with joy. Something half-thought and half-emotion passed through his mind, fragmentary and fleeting. He wasn't giving Marco a blowjob; he was making love to him with his mouth and his hands, expressing with his body everything in his heart. And he suddenly understood this feeling of love for Marco as he gave him pleasure was exactly what his father had told him sex was supposed to be like.

"Billy, I'm gonna ..." was as far as Marco got before Bill felt the hot gush of semen fill his mouth. He swallowed convulsively as Marco stroked his hair and moaned his name.

Bill sat back on his haunches, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and saw his father standing in the doorway.

"Dad —" he gasped.

His father's eyes were dark and terrible. As if blindly, his father grabbed a bat from the umbrella stand and strode across the room. In a moment, he was upon them. Bill's last glimpse of Marco was of the boy pulling up his shorts and running out of the room. Bill stumbled to his feet. His father swung the bat at him, catching him on the left side of his torso, slamming him to the floor. He lifted the bat over his head, his eyes still blank with fury.

"Daddy," Bill pleaded. "Daddy."

His father dropped the bat, hauled Bill to his feet and shoved him backwards against the window with such force the glass cracked.

"You do this shit in my house!" his father screamed. "Under my roof."

Bill, slumped beneath the window, his side bursting with pain, sobbed, "I'm sorry ... I'm sorry."

His father, too, was crying, but, Bill thought much later, one of the many times he replayed the scene, had he had touched his father's tears, they would have burned his fingers.

"I don't know what you are," he father said hoarsely, "but you're not my son."

The window glass had cut him and he was bleeding. His side shrieked with pain. He saw his father grab the Morrison poster above his bed and rip it down. He stomped out of the room. Clutching his side, Bill staggered to his feet, took a few steps, collapsed on his bed and sank into darkness.

Every Saturday, the night nurse played Casey Kasem's Top 10 countdown on her transistor radio at the nurse's station. When he had first come to, after surgery, he heard Carole King singing I hear the earth move under my feet ... This week she had been knocked off as number one by a song about Indians: Cherokee people, Cherokee tribe, So proud to live, so proud to die. Five weeks. That's how long he had been in the ward, long enough that the other six beds had turned over once, twice, three times. The broken ribs had begun to heal, the cuts to his back and shoulders from the glass had closed and the incision that marked where his spleen had been removed had gone from fiery red to pinched pink.

After the surgeon had inspected his handiwork, he asked a nurse, "Why is he still here? He can recover at home." The nurse murmured a long response of which Bill heard clearly only the words "family problems." The surgeon had cast a glance his way that Bill imagined was filled with revulsion. But then, he imagined that everyone who came near him knew all about the unspeakable thing he had done and was disgusted at having to breathe the same air as he did.

When he been returned to his bed after surgery and his mind was still scrambled by anesthesia, he had opened his eyes to see his father, wearing his work clothes, standing at the foot of the bed. Later, Bill thought he must have taken time off work to come to the hospital. He stood there for a long time, not speaking, not moving, his hands in fists at his side. His eyes were distant, as if he did not recognize the figure on the bed at whom he was staring. After a few minutes, he bowed his head, a gesture at once helpless and dismissive.

"Dad," Bill croaked. "I'm sorry."

His father turned and walked away.


Excerpted from "Carved in Bone"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Michael Nava.
Excerpted by permission of Persigo Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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