"Absorbing . . . unexpected twists and turns . . . and the activities of her irrepressible best friend, Cordelia Thorn (a treasure of mystery fiction), will keep the reader guessing." Publishers Weekly
"A judicious balance of long-term development and short-term storytelling; even readers who come for the ongoing characters will stay for the mystery." Kirkus Reviews
"An engrossing mystery with captivating characters" Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Lesbian sleuth Jane Lawless confronts one of her most frightening situations: children gone missing. Seamlessly integrating enough backstory to orient readers new to the series, Ellen Hart also quickly establishes restaurateur Lawless's professional skills as a part-time PI as she deftly secures the details pertaining to the disappearance of Eric and Andrew's hot-headed, charismatic twelve-year-old son, Jack, and develops a search strategy. Jack has previously masterminded risky situations with his less volatile cousin, Gabriel, who is troubled, having recently consented to genetic testing since his father died of ALS. But have the boys escalated their adventures?
Jane's first impression of the case isn't goodin fact, she's not convinced the boys ran away at all. She thinks they may have been abducted . . . or worse.
Ellen Hart is a five-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery and a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction.
About the Author
ELLEN HART, “a top novelist in the cultishly popular gay mystery genre” (Entertainment Weekly), is also a Lambda and Minnesota Book Award winner. The author of twenty previous mysteries featuring Jane Lawless, she lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Taken by the Wind
By Ellen Hart
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Ellen Hart
All rights reserved.
Like bloodthirsty mosquitoes to bare arms, Jack and Gabriel were drawn to the old RV parked in the grass behind the farmhouse. It didn't matter that the guy who lived in it, Jack's great-uncle, Truman Lindstrom, was scary as hell. That was the point.
Standing at the edge of the front porch, Jack gave Gabriel an unexpected shove.
"Hey, quit it," whispered Gabriel, whirling around, his baseball cap nearly flying off his head.
Above them, the sky exploded with thunder. Raindrops began to pelt the dry spring dirt.
"It's your turn," Jack whispered back. "I ran up and touched the door last time."
"Touching his door is totally lame," muttered Gabriel. "We need a better plan."
It was just after dark. Gabriel was staying over at Jack's place, as he often did on Saturday nights. Jack and Gabriel were cousins, and had been best friends since third grade, when Gabriel and his mom had moved back to Winfield. The boys were both twelve now, recently graduated from seventh grade. Gabriel seemed older than Jack because he was bigger — taller and a good twenty pounds heavier — but also because he was more of a jock, one who liked math and science, was generally serious about school, and spent a lot of time reading. Jack's likes and dislikes were less set in stone, with a few exceptions: he was drawn to trouble, didn't like grown-ups, hated the word "no," and detested hearing his two dads fight, as they were doing more and more these days. Jack stayed out of the house as much as he could, especially at night, when the arguments seemed to heat up.
Squatting down next to the arborvitae, Jack whispered, "Let's climb the ladder on the back of the RV."
"Why would we do that?"
They were so close, Jack could smell the Fritos on Gabriel's breath. "Maybe there's some way we can see inside. Don't you want to know what he's doing in there?"
"You mean like torturing animals?"
They'd both seen the animal carcasses in the woods. Since the farmhouse sat on twenty acres, with a wooded area bordering the rear of the property, it wasn't unusual to find dead critters around, though not gathered like that. "Truman's evil."
"Not good evil either. Bad evil," agreed Gabriel. "The guy's got rattlesnake eyes."
"I've never been on an RV roof before," said Jack, rising from his squat. "It would be cool."
"What if he catches us?"
"Don't be a wimp. He won't." Jack charged across the grass, feeling his thin cotton jacket billow like a sail in the wind. He liked running about as much as he liked anything. When he'd hear his dads start to fight and he got that sick feeling inside his stomach, he'd sometimes take off out the back door and run until he was bent over double, panting, exhausted. One pain replaced another.
"I am not a wimp," called Gabriel, adjusting his hat and racing after him.
They huddled together behind the RV as a bolt of lightning lit up the night sky.
"I'm going up," whispered Jack. "You can stay here or you can come with. But if you come, wait until I get up top before you follow me. Got it?" He figured that the two of them together might weigh the back of the RV down and alert Truman that he was under attack.
Gabriel gave an uncertain nod. His gaze traveled up the ladder.
Jack grabbed the side rail and hefted himself up onto the first rung. When he reached the top, he saw that the roof was made of some sort of rubberized material. He stood up, feeling like he was on top of a mountain, then motioned for Gabriel to follow.
When they were both up top, they crawled slowly past a vent to a skylight toward the front.
"There he is," whispered Jack. He could hear loud music blasting from inside.
Truman was sitting next to a weird, angled table, looking through a microscope.
"What's he looking at?" whispered Gabriel, ducking reflexively at another crack of thunder.
It came to Jack out of the blue. "Germs."
"He's into chemical warfare. Or maybe he's making a bomb. You ever heard of the Unabomber?"
Maybe, thought Jack, but there was something wrong with Truman. Ever since he'd arrived in his RV months ago, Jack had sensed it. The guy wasn't normal.
"I don't like it up here," said Gabriel. "The storm's getting bad. We could be blown off."
"Then go back down." Jack wanted to stay and watch a while longer.
Gabriel was halfway to the ladder when Jack called, "I think he's smoking weed."
"Really? How can you tell?"
Weed was a subject of great interest to both of them.
On his way back to the skylight, Gabriel caught his shoe on one of the vents and landed flat on his stomach.
"Crap," said Jack. Truman was up and out of his chair, staring up at the skylight. "We are so busted."
Jack scrambled down the ladder with Gabriel in hot pursuit. As they ran toward the woods to find a place to hide, the rain grew heavier. Cracks of lightning helped them see their way to a thick section of brush. Hunkering down, Jack felt his heart beat like the bass on his dad's Black Sabbath CDs.
"I lost my hat," whispered Gabriel.
Jack put a finger to his lips. A minute went by. Then two. When he figured they were safe, he said, "Do you think he saw us?"
"He did," came a deep, menacing voice.
Jack shook so hard his teeth rattled. Looking up, he saw Truman part the leaves with a baseball bat. A flicker of lightning lit up his face, all slick with water, his curly dark hair plastered to a monstrous head.
"We didn't mean anything," said Gabriel, grabbing Jack's arm.
"I hate kids."
Jack tried to speak, but nothing came out. He couldn't believe Gabriel was handling this. He was the brave one, not Gabriel.
"You got no right to spy on me."
"No, sir," said Gabriel.
Jack felt Gabriel's wet hat hit his chest.
"If I see you anywhere near my RV again —"
"You won't," said Gabriel. "We're sorry. We've learned our lesson."
Truman looked fifty feet tall. Raising the bat, he held it aloft, a soaked marijuana cigarette dangling from his lips.
Jack squeezed his eyes shut. And waited. When he finally worked up the courage to open them, Truman was gone.CHAPTER 2
Six Weeks Later, Wednesday
Rolling over onto his back and pulling a thin cotton blanket up over his head, all Eric wanted from this bright mid-June morning was a place to hide. Now that Andrew had moved out, something Eric had never wanted, he felt as if he were slogging through each day with such a heavy weight on his shoulders that at night, all he could do was drop into bed and seek a small piece of oblivion in sleep.
Eric and Andrew had been together for sixteen years. They'd tied the knot up in Thunder Bay four summers ago. Growing up in Winfield, a small town about seventy miles southeast of the Twin Cities, they'd gone to the same high school. Andrew had been two years older, so they hadn't run with the same crowd, though Eric had certainly noticed him. It would have been hard not to. Andrew's claim to fame at school had been his musical ability. He played guitar and piano, had an amazing voice, and even wrote songs for the band he and three of his buddies had formed his junior year. Lots of people thought he'd be famous one day. Not that Eric was all that interested in fame. He was, however, very much interested in male beauty.
Andrew dressed like he cared about his looks, all clothes selected to show off his lean, muscular body. At five foot six, he was shorter than most of the other guys, and yet he carried himself with such casual assurance that Eric doubted anybody noticed. It was his eyes that were the most arresting — not just the color, a warm gold, but the way he would fix them on the person he was talking to. He was never in a rush. Always willing to listen. If he was with you, you felt his presence. He was very much in the moment.
From an early age, Eric had known he was different, calling himself gay, albeit only inside his mind, since he was thirteen. He would have bet money that Andrew was gay, too, although nobody ever said things like that out loud back then.
Lying in bed on this hot summer morning, Eric was mentally playing with a stupid game show scenario. In front of a crowd of clapping onlookers, he'd been shown two doors and asked to pick one. The first door allowed him to live with Andrew and be unhappy. The second door meant he'd live without Andrew — and be unhappy. There was no door number three. The crowd seemed eager for him to choose, egging him on with calls like "Number one is better" and "Two, man. Pick two!"
Outside the bedroom window, a crow made its usual morning racket. "All right, all right," Eric grumbled, struggling out from under the blanket. "I'm up."
After pulling on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt with the logo of his restaurant — LINDSTROM BAR & CAFÉ — on the front, and pushing into a pair of flip-flops, he made his way past a large hole in the hallway wall downstairs into the kitchen, where he found his sister, Suzanne, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, staring through half-glasses at a copy of the Koran. Suzanne had been the associate pastor, family outreach coordinator, and choir director at Winfield Grace Fellowship, a nondenominational Christian church, for the last four years. She had a key to his house, not that it was strictly necessary. The doors were rarely locked.
"You thinking of switching religions?" he asked, getting down a mug.
"Just checking out the competition," she said, turning a page.
"Weren't you reading some Buddhist something or other on meditation last week?"
"Are the boys up yet?"
"Haven't seen them."
Suzanne was Gabriel's mother. She lived in Winfield with her second husband, Branch Born, currently an unemployed landscaper. She'd no doubt come by to pick up Gabriel. Separating the boys, especially when Gabriel was at the farmhouse, was always a hassle.
Jack and Gabriel had spent the night in a tent in the backyard. They explained they were zombie hunters, intending to sleep outside to toughen themselves up until they went back to school in the fall. Eric was amused and decided not to interfere with their plan. Knowing how headstrong Jack was, there wasn't much point. Also, ever since Jack had run away several weeks ago, right after Andrew had moved out, Eric tended to treat him more gently. He was going through a rough patch, as were Eric and Andrew. "Would you like some breakfast?"
"I could be coaxed."
"Driving up to Prior Lake for a job interview. This one looks promising."
Branch was a sweet, towering tree trunk of a man in his early forties. Suzanne's first husband, Sam McKibben, had died of ALS when Gabriel was just seven — almost six years ago. Because Suzanne had taken the death so hard, and because of her painful loneliness, Eric had been thrilled when she'd been hired by the church, which allowed her to move back home to Winfield. Six months later she'd fallen head over heels for Branch and had married him the following year. Suzanne was a warm, outgoing woman, a natural caregiver, and Branch, far more reserved, was a guy who seemed to need a little extra TLC.
Glancing out the window over the sink, Eric thought about taking Jack with him when he went in to work today. As a boy, Eric had spent many summers working at the restaurant. His grandfather Lars Lindstrom had opened the place in 1948. His dad, Henry, had taken it over in 1974. Eric hoped that Jack, who had once loved going to work with him, happy to help with anything and everything, would one day spend his summers at the café. And yet, in the last year or so, Jack had begun to grouse when Eric took him along. He maintained that he was old enough to stay home alone, and that if his fathers didn't allow it, that meant they didn't trust him, which wasn't fair. Jack was upset by injustice of any kind, especially when it came to the way people treated him. Under ordinary circumstances, leaving him alone wouldn't have been a problem, and yet after his runaway attempt, Eric was worried that he might get it into his head to try it again.
"I'm going out to wake up the kids," said Eric. "They'll be hungry. Maybe I'll make pancakes."
"I'll scramble some eggs," said Suzanne, closing the book and smiling up at him. "I wish Andrew was here."
"I also wish you'd talk to me about what's going on with you two. I thought you were doing great. Did I miss something?"
"Probably. You've been so preoccupied with what's happening at your church for the last year that sometimes I wonder if you even know what day it is."
"Then fill me in. Tell me why Andrew left."
Eric and Suzanne, fraternal twins, were blond haired and blue eyed, but that's where the similarities ended. While Suzanne was philosophically inclined, an extrovert but also a thinker, Eric was the pragmatist, the realist, a guy who'd rather act than analyze. It took the hard knocks of adult life for them to understand the weaknesses in each position, and yet neither had changed much.
"I'm here for you," said Suzanne.
"In your capacity as pastor, or as my sister?"
"Does it matter? I love you — both of you. Maybe I can help."
Ignoring her, as he often did when he didn't know what to say, he went outside, taking a moment to reel in the garden hose. He didn't like being asked to talk when he didn't feel like it. In that, he was probably more like his son than he cared to know.
Standing outside the tent, Eric called, "Anybody in there hungry?" When he didn't receive an immediate response, he opened the front flap and looked in.
Wondering where they'd gone, he walked around the side of the farmhouse, calling, "Jack? Gabriel? Breakfast. I've got some raw bear meat for you, just what fearless zombie hunters crave." He continued on to the garage. "Jack? Answer me." Raising the heavy door, he saw that the bikes were next to the wall. "Where the hell?" he whispered. He called their names one more time, standing in the center of the yard, hoping they'd come racing out of the woods or up from the meadow. When they didn't, he gave up and returned to the kitchen.
His sister looked up from setting the table. "Tell them to wash up, okay?"
"Can't find them. What time did you get here?"
"Half an hour ago, maybe."
"You didn't see them?"
"I assumed they were asleep in the tent."
"Well, they're not."
Suzanne and Eric exchanged semianxious glances.
"I talked to Gabriel last night," said Suzanne. "He knows I've got meetings all day, that he had to be ready to leave here by nine. Like I said, Branch's got that job interview. He was planning to take Gabriel on a picnic when he gets home, maybe do some fishing off the pontoon."
The deal was, Jack was supposed to tell Eric if he went anywhere. It was nonnegotiable after he'd taken off on his bike, intending to ride to a friend's house a good twenty-five miles away, where he planned to hide in the garage. It wasn't much of a plan. When his front tire went flat about six miles out of Winfield, he gave up and hitchhiked back to the farmhouse, admitting under pressure what his intentions had been. They'd driven out to pick up the bike, Jack refusing to talk about why he'd left. Not that it was necessary. It was all about Andrew leaving and they both knew it. "I better go find them," said Eric.
"I'll come with."
"Let's split up. We can cover more territory that way. You check the woods. I'll take the car and head into town."
"I don't get it," said Suzanne, nervously pulling a lock of hair behind her ear. "Gabriel wouldn't just leave."
"He would if Jack made running away sound like an adventure."
"'Running away'?" she repeated, her eyes widening.
Eric hated being the kind of parent who always jumped to the most extreme conclusion right off the bat, and yet he couldn't stop himself.
"Wait. Let me try his cell," said Suzanne.
"Gabriel has a cell phone?"
"Branch bought it for him. Apparently Gabriel had been after him to buy him one for months. It's cheap, looks like a toy, but it works." She stepped over to the counter and picked up the cordless, waiting through several rings. "He's not answering," she said, her frown deepening.
"Look," said Eric, grabbing his keys and billfold off the kitchen counter. "If you find them, call my cell. I'll do the same." He was worried, for sure, but he was also pissed. Both he and Andrew had talked to Jack about why Andrew had moved out. They'd made it as clear as humanly possible that their problems had nothing to do with him — that they loved him and always would. They stressed that running away was never a solution. Since the split, Andrew had spent every weekend with Jack. In many ways, he was spending more time with him now that he'd moved out than when he was living at home. They were both bending over backward to make their separation as easy as possible for Jack, though they knew it was still taking a toll. It was at moments like this that Eric hated Andrew.
Hurrying down the back steps to his BMW, Eric glanced toward the long RV parked at the back of the yard. He wondered if Truman had seen the boys this morning. It seemed unlikely since Jack and Gabriel gave him such a wide berth. They'd both made it clear that they thought Truman was freaky. Eric agreed that Truman was an unusual man, although because he didn't know him well, and because he was family — his dad's brother — he tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Excerpted from Taken by the Wind by Ellen Hart. Copyright © 2013 Ellen Hart. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's 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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Table of Contents
Cast of Characters,
Six Weeks Later / Wednesday,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Horrible gay characters.