A Deadly Deception

an excerpt

Chapter One

Nick Fallon looked up from the paperwork he was working on when his partner Jeff Stevens strode into the office they shared. He grinned as Jeff flung himself into his chair, glaring moodily across the office at him, his handsome face unusually glum.

"Bad start to the day?" Nick asked.

"You could say that. Don't ever live with an artist!"

"Oh, oh." Nick leaned his long frame back in his chair, and waited.

"Now he wants to open a gallery in San Diego," Jeff growled. "Like the one here in town isn't enough to keep him busy, night and day."

"San Diego, that's not so far."

"Nick, Peter and I hardly see each other anymore as it is." Jeff gave his chestnut brown hair an impatient swipe. "What with his schedule and mine, it seems like every hour of every day is filled with stuff that keeps us away from each other. You have it easy. Eric has regular hours at the gallery. He's at home every night when you get there-candles lit, cocktails poured, dinner in the oven. Don't deny it."

"I'm not denying-"

"But me," Jeff continued to rant, "I get home to a dark and empty house and maybe, just maybe, there's a note saying something to the effect that he's in conference or got a sitting, or..."

"Well, he's a successful-"

"Or, he's having dinner with some high-powered business people that want him to design a mural for their fucking office."

"You should be proud of-"

"And that's not all. The other night-get this, he told me he might go to Europe for three months!"

"What for?"

"Some school in Paris wants him to coach their more gifted students."

"But surely that's quite an honor, Jeff. You should be proud of him, buddy."

"I am proud of him!" Jeff slumped back in his chair with a heavy sigh. "I'm behaving badly, aren't I?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah, something like that."

"Well, don't be so quick to agree, partner mine. You won't like it when he asks Eric to manage the gallery in San Diego."

"He's going to do that?"

"Of course he is. You know he thinks the world of Eric's management skills. Never stops telling me what a great choice he made in hiring your sweetie."

"Well, San Diego's hardly at the ends of the earth."

"Yeah, but he's going to be driving back and forth till they get it up and running," Jeff told him. "And then," he added with a degree of triumph, "He won't be at home ready with your pipe and slippers!"

"I don't smoke a pipe."

"That's beside the point. You know what I mean. You and I are going to be on our own, alone-outcasts!"

Nick threw his head back and roared with laughter. "Oh my God! You are becoming the biggest drama queen of all time. What happened to the stable, levelheaded guy who begged me to team up with him? If you'd behaved like this then I'd have told you to take a hike-no way would I have been your partner. What are we talking about here? You not getting enough nookie?"

"Excuse me?" Jeff assumed an affronted expression. "That's rather personal isn't it?"

"But I bet I'm right, right? Go on," Nick goaded, chuckling. "You can tell me. Don't be shy."

Jeff groaned. "Oh, for Pete's sake. Well, as a matter of fact..."

"I knew it!" Nick crowed.

"No you don't. I was going to say that, as a matter of fact, Peter goes out of his way to ensure that I, um, that we...well, you know..."

"Get some. So what's the beef?"

"Nick, there is more to a relationship than just sex, you know."

"There is?"

"Cut it out." Jeff looked at his partner's grinning face. "What I mean is-" The phone ringing in the outer office cut him short.

"I'll get it," Nick said. "Monica took an early lunch." He picked up the phone. "Stevens and Fallon Investigations, this is Nick Fallon."

"Oh hi, Mr. Fallon. Uh, my name's John Hammond."

"How can I help you, Mr. Hammond?"

"Well, I'm not sure, but I think a friend of mine was murdered."

"Have you contacted the police?"

"Uh, no. I mean, I'm not sure if I should."

"Well, the police always welcome any information from any source when they're investigating a murder," Nick said patiently. "Quite often, that's how they manage to solve a crime."

"But I don't really know very much, that's why I'm calling you. I wondered if you would take the case. I can pay... Can I come see you to talk about this?"

"Sure. What about this afternoon, say around two?"

"That'd be great. I'll see you then."

Nick put the phone down and looked at Jeff. "Here's a guy who thinks his friend was murdered, but he doesn't seem to know how or when."

"Sounds like a challenge."

"Yeah. So okay, Mr. Overreacting, if it's not the lack of sex, what is it you're really bitching about?"

"Quality time, Nick, quality time. We used to have loads of it."

"That's because Peter had loads of time on his hands," Nick interrupted. "You used to tell me he'd get pissed because of the time you spent working. Now, what with people lining up to commission him, the gallery and his private classes for young artists, he's a busy guy-even with Eric to help him. What you need to do, instead of getting all irritable about it, is to sit him down, and tell him your tale of woe." He opened his arms expansively. "Tell him you're lost and unhappy."

"You're making me sound like a weenie."

"You're making yourself sound like a weenie," Nick said, chuckling. "Come on Jeff, you're a big, tough guy, and from what I've seen, Peter is putty in your hands most of the time."

"Oh, yeah?" Jeff laughed wryly. "That's what you think. Peter comes across so sweet and noble-"

"You're saying he's not sweet and noble?"

"Well, yeah, he is most of the time. But when he gets a bee in his bonnet about something he wants to do, watch out." He glared across at Nick. "What are you laughing at?"

"I was just picturing Peter with a bee in his bonnet," Nick chortled.

"Yeah, well...right now, nothing I can say or do will persuade him to take it easy-and it's driving me crazy."

"Jeez, here we go again with the drama," Nick sighed. "Look, call him up right now. Tell him you're taking him to lunch, and that you need to talk. And don't take no for an answer."

"Is this is how you deal with Eric? You overpower the poor guy with your macho maleness?"

Nick smiled, and leaned back in his chair. "Yeah, that's right. You gotta show 'em who's the boss."

"Hmm. Remind me to ask Eric about that some time."

"Uh... Well of course, he'll deny it."

"That's what I thought."

John Hammond pushed his way through the glass doors that led into the reception area of Nick's office. He returned the pretty Asian girl's smile as he approached her desk.

"Can I help you sir?" Monica asked him.

"I have a two o'clock appointment with Mr. Fallon."

"Oh yes, Mr. Hammond." She put a finger on the intercom button. "Nick? Mr. Hammond is here."

"I'll be right there, Monica."

"Would you care for some coffee, soda, or water?" Monica asked.

Hammond shook his head. "No thanks. I'm good."

A second later, Nick opened the door to his office and gestured for the other man to enter. They shook hands briefly then Nick indicated Hammond should sit in front of his desk. Nick sat opposite him and looked at him appraisingly for a moment. He judged him to be around thirty, about five-ten and in good shape, physically. Thick, blondish hair, cut well, expensive navy blue blazer, good sense of style-obviously not short of money.

"So, Mr. Hammond..." Nick opened a file and inserted a cover sheet. On it, he wrote 'John Hammond.' "You live in Laguna?"

"Yes. I moved here about a month ago, from LA."

"Like it?"

"Very much."

"Can I have your address and phone number?" Nick wrote down the information as Hammond recited it to him. "So, how can I help you?"

"Well, I brought this with me." He handed Nick a page from a newspaper. "I still get the LA Times to keep in touch with what's going on, and I came across this report which kind of startled me."

Nick looked at the grainy photograph of a pleasant looking young man under which the name, Robert Landon, was printed. "This is your friend?" he asked.

Hammond nodded.

The header read Body of Man Found in Laurel Canyon Identified. Nick scanned the report that stated police had released the name of a man found by some children playing in the woods in Laurel Canyon. He had been dead for approximately three months. Foul play was suspected. At present, there were no suspects.

"Mind if I make a copy of this?"

"No, go right ahead." Hammond looked relieved. "You'll take the case then?"

"Just a sec..." Nick got up and took the page to Monica for her to make a copy. He sat down at his desk, and studied Hammond for a moment. "What is it exactly you want me to do? The cops already have the case."

"I just want to know how this happened to him."

"Call LAPD."

"I did already, right after I talked to you. They wouldn't give me any information. They asked me a bunch of questions, and when I couldn't answer any of them, they wouldn't give me the time of day."

"Just how well did you know this Landon guy?"

"Not well, really." Hammond looked embarrassed. "We...uh, we met in a bar in West Hollywood. He seemed really nice. We talked up a storm and then-well, I'm not into casual sex, so I asked him if he'd like to have dinner at my place. He said yes, so we fixed up a date for about three days later. He seemed pleased about it. I fully expected him to show up."

"But he didn't."

"Right. I was kind of surprised. I mean, not that I'm any kind of a catch, but we just seemed to get along, you know."

"Did you call him?"

"Yes. I left a message on his cell that night-then I tried again the following day. He didn't return my calls, so I just presumed he'd lost interest, so I kinda just shrugged it off." He paused for a moment, looking away. "I did go back to the bar where we met, thinking maybe he'd be there and I could call him a jerk. Or just maybe he had a good excuse, been taken ill or something. But he wasn't there on the two occasions I went back, so I gave up."

"Which bar is this?"

"Uh, The Racket on Sunset. Anyway, my transfer to Laguna was in the works at the time, so when it came through, I guess I forgot all about Robert, until I saw that report in the paper. It struck me as shocking, that he might have been on his way over to my place when he disappeared."

"Did you tell the cops that?"

"Uh, no. I'm a little wary of letting the police know of my sexual orientation."

"But you don't mind telling me?"

"Well..." Hammond seemed embarrassed. "I figured from your ad in the local paper here that you and your partner are both gay. I felt I could trust you, if you know what I mean."

"You're half right. My partner, Jeff Stevens, is gay, but I'm not."


Nick chuckled. "Sorry, my sense of humor."

"Oh, okay."

"You're not out?" Nick asked.

"Not totally, not at work, anyway. And the cops-they don't ever hold anything back. They're just liable to come barging into my office, and start asking all kinds of questions."

Nick shot his prospective client a knowing look. "You sound like you've had some experience of this."

Hammond nodded. "I got arrested in Griffith Park a year ago. It was humiliating. They made me feel like I was the lowest thing on earth."

"Yeah." Nick grimaced. "They have a way with them, sometimes."

"Will you take this on then?" Hammond looked anxious.

"Why do you care about this guy, Mr. Hammond?" Nick asked. "Why are you so keen to find out what happened to someone you barely knew?"

"I guess it's the not knowing what happened to him that night. This is going to sound juvenile I know, but I really liked Robert. You know when you feel that first spark, and you just can't wait to see him again? That's how I felt about Robert. Can you understand that?"

Nick was quiet for a moment or two, reading the seeming intensity in Hammond's eyes. Then he nodded. "Yeah, I can understand that. I've been there. Fortunately for me, it worked out and we're still together."

"That's great."

"Yes, it is." Nick stood and walked to the window, looking out for a moment. "Okay, I'll do some snooping around, talk to my contact at the LAPD, find out what's going on, if anything. If it looks doable, I'll go ahead. You should know our terms."

Hammond shrugged. "Whatever it costs."

"Nevertheless, take a look." Nick pushed a printed form toward Hammond. "We like our clients to know upfront what it'll cost them. Traveling expenses are extra, but I'll check in with you about that."

"That's fine." Hammond gave the paper a cursory glance. "Seems reasonable enough."

"Good. Okay, Mr. Hammond..."

"Please call me John."

"Fine, John. But I'm still Mr. Fallon."


"Just kidding, John-again." Nick held out his hand. "Jeff, my partner, tells me I have the worst sense of humor of anyone he's ever met. See...?" he added as Hammond shook his hand. "Didn't even make you crack a smile."

Hammond chuckled. "I think the term for you is 'dry.' As far as the sense of humor goes, that is."

Nick grinned as he showed Hammond to the door. "I'll be in touch, soon as I have something."

"Thanks, Nick." He smiled at Monica, who gave him a little wave along with a sweet smile.

"Is he gay?" Monica asked after Hammond had closed the door behind him.


"Wouldn't you know it?" Monica complained. "Why is it that all the good looking guys turn out to be gay?"

"Hey, your guy Reg is good looking," Nick teased her. "Are you telling me something here?"

Monica laughed. "No. I guess there are some who are spared for us poor women."

Nick picked up the copy of the report John Hammond had brought. "Thanks for doing this," he said. "Did you read it?"

"Yes. Sounds like a really sad story, for sure."

"Right-and just how sad, I hope to find out."

Driving his Lexus into his garage, the silver-haired man sighed with exasperation as his cell phone jangled on the seat beside him. Glancing at the name of the caller on the ID screen, he barked, "What is it?"

"Did you see the paper this morning?"

"Didn't have time."

"They dug up Robert Landon's grave."

"Oh, yes? Now what?"

"I don't know. They ID'd him from his driver's license."

"I should think they'd have to. The body must've been in pretty bad shape by now."

"So, what d'you think?"

"Leave it alone. There's really nothing to connect him to me. Did you cover your ass?"

"I talked to the other guys. They said they were good with the story if the cops question anybody."

"Good. Keep me informed-and keep your mouth shut."

"That's not what you used to say."

"I'm saying it now." He snapped his cell phone shut and climbed out of his car, slamming the door behind him.