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Authors: Josh Lanyon

Murder in Pastel

BOOK: Murder in Pastel
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Ten years ago Cosmo Bari vanished, and with him, his legendary masterpiece,
Virgin in Pastel
. Since that day no one in the seaside art colony of Steeple Hill has heard from the eccentric painter.


Surrounded by an extended family of Cosmo’s colorful compatriots, mystery writer Kyle Bari believes he has come to terms with being abandoned by his famous father, until the day Adam MacKinnon arrives with his new lover, the beautiful but poisonous, Brett.


Brett has an unerring instinct for other people’s weak spots; soon the quiet colony is seething with hostility and suspicion as Brett hints he knows something about the missing artist.


Kyle doesn’t take Brett seriously until the long lost
Virgin in Pastel
is discovered hidden in an antique dresser. A few days later the painting has vanished again—and Brett is dead. Murdered...



Murder in Pastel

January 2015


Originally published under the pen name Colin Dunne


Copyright (c) 2015 by Josh Lanyon


Cover by Johanna Ollila

Edited by Keren Reed


All rights reserved


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.


ISBN: 978-1-937909-64-2

Published in the United States of America


JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.

3053 Rancho Vista Blvd.

Suite 116

Palmdale, CA 93551


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.



Table of Contents



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Murder in Pastel


Josh Lanyon

Chapter One



ad dreams.

Like your shadow, you never outgrow them. Waking in darkness, dry-mouthed and soaked in perspiration, heart banging away like a battered screen door…like the door to memory, blowing open then slamming back, no longer able to fasten tight…

That June morning was like all the other times. It took a moment to remember where I was: to realize that the tangle of sheets was all that held me prisoner; that the dreamed hand knocking on my window was in reality the clack of wooden blinds in the dawn breeze.

I lay there, watching the photographs on the dresser slowly materialize in the gray first light, like ghosts in the gloom. First my mother’s face, then my grandfather’s glowering disapproval, then my father’s rare grin.

It’s always the same dream. That’s the one thing I do remember. The same dream which starts with a rap on the window, a soft insistent tapping—a sound that can’t be ignored, like someone whispering in your ear. In my dream, I get out of bed and cross to the window.

The next thing I know, I am awake, drenched in sweat, with my heart thundering in my ears, the last terrifying images flickering through my brain: blood, a crescent moon, a woman’s face painted blue.

The clock in the hall chimed once, six thirty. I threw off the quilt, found my Levi’s, pulled them on.

It was cold for June. The salty bite of the damp air mingled with the perfume of flowers as I walked through the garden to the stairs leading down to the beach. I had the world to myself that gray morning, though we were past Memorial Day when the “summer folk” arrived. All down the coast highway, brightly hued umbrellas bloomed like giant flowers on decks; railings were draped with beach towels and swimsuits. Eventually the kids and dogs would find their way to our private beach. Then would follow a few weeks of the Sea and Ski crowd; of boom boxes and Frisbees and dune buggies, before our little corner of the universe was returned to us somewhat the worse for wear.

I didn’t have to look across the meadow to Adam MacKinnon’s cottage to know he was back; I knew, because I’d watched his headlights coming down the road last night for the first time in ten years. I’d waited to see the lights go on in his cottage and I’d watched them go off again. It had taken me a long time to fall asleep.

So it was a test of will not to look. I headed down the steps, as I had done nearly every morning of my life, bare feet scraping the sandy stone of the stairs built into the cliff.

I hit the beach and started toward the water, the pale sand squinching through my toes. I unbuttoned my jeans,
pop, pop, pop…

A few feet from the tumbling green water, I stopped dead.

Rising out of the waves, and striding toward me, was a man. A stranger. A perfect stranger: tall, golden, godlike. All that was missing was the giant oyster shell and winged attendants—the red Speedos were a nice touch though.

“Hey,” he called over the ocean’s boom.

“Hey,” I called back.

If there was a lack of enthusiasm on my part—and I’m sure there was, because I knew by then who he had to be—it didn’t faze him.

He strode right up to me as the waves sucked the sand out from under our feet. I was pleased to see he was a couple of inches shorter, though built like one of those
International Male

“Kyle, right?” he grinned whitely, and offered a hand. His skin was chilled from the surf, his grip of the manly-man variety. “Brett Hansen.”

Mist rose like steam off the water. Goose bumps rose on my skin.

“Glad to meet you,” I said, since I had to say something.

“I’m Adam’s lover. Adam MacKinnon. You remember Adam?” He was still grinning, cat-green eyes sizing me up.

“Yeah, sure.” It was kind of ridiculous. In maidenly modesty I clutched my Levi’s to me with one hand; he still held my other.

“We’re here for the summer.”

“I heard.”

“Adam’s idea. Not mine. I’m just along for the ride.” He laughed. “If you know what I mean.”

I thought I knew. I pulled my hand free.

“I’d invite you up to breakfast but Adam doesn’t like company before he has his daily dose of poison.” His tongue touched his upper lip like he could taste the poison—or maybe it was my reaction that was so sweet.

“Thanks anyway.” Wild horses, baby. I tossed my Levi’s to a patch of dry sand, my self-consciousness over.

Hands on his hips, Hansen watched me retreat toward the surf.

The shock of cold water, the sting of salt on my skin, felt good. Bracing.
Thanks, I needed that!
stuff. As I forged the first wave he called out, “See you around, scout!”

I choked on a swallow of salt water.


Striking out toward the point, I couldn’t resist one glance back to the shore. Brett and his Speedos sashayed toward the stairs in the cliff. He didn’t have to look back to know I was watching.


* * * * *


The path that leads from the back door of my cottage to Adam MacKinnon’s, rambles through a meadow waist-high in summer with white poppies and lupine. Beyond Adam’s cottage this same path disappears into the woods where Cosmo Bari, my father, vanished one soft summer’s eve ten years ago.

My bedroom window offers a perfect view of Adam’s bedroom window. Not that there’s been anything to see for years. But that morning the blinds were up and the cottage windows glinted in the morning sun. A metallic-colored Acura NSX was parked in the front yard as though on display. These were the sole signs of life as I returned from my morning constitutional.

I thanked God I was no longer a self-absorbed adolescent believing all the world watched me behind inscrutable windows.

Someone was watching me however. Micky sat on my porch steps smoking a cigarette and tipping the ashes into my peonies.

“You shouldn’t swim alone, kiddo,” she greeted me as I joined her on the porch.

“Uh huh.” The morning sun felt like a warm hand on my bare back. I stared out at the blue haze of ocean beyond the pastel clouds of flowers. The fog had dissipated like a magician’s trick.

Micky took another drag on her cigarette. “So. What did you think of Brad?”


“Is that his name? Yes, he looks like a Brett. So?”


“How young? Younger than you?”

“I’d say. Twenty, twenty-one.”


I shrugged. “Like a Ralph Lauren ad.

She gave one of those smoky laughs. “Leave it to you to think in terms of saddle sores. He’s a hustler. A New York City hustler.”

I resisted the urge to echo
New York City!
like someone in a salsa commercial. “No way.”

“Way,” said Micky, who’s fifty if she’s a day. “Joel knows him. In the Biblical sense. Joel introduced them.”

“How come I never heard this before?”

“It came out last night. Joel got drunk and spilled his guts. Literally and metaphorically.” She shook her silver head and tipped more ash into my garden.

I studied Micky. She’s still a lovely woman, her long blonde hair now paled to silver, her sea-green eyes crinkled at the corners with laugh lines, her body still slim and lithe thanks to the yoga she insists would be better for my heart than swimming and hiking. I used to wonder if Micky—Michaela St. Martin to the art world—didn’t bury herself here in Steeple Hill because of some unrequited thing for Joel.

I said finally, “They’ve been together a long time.”

“Two years is a long time to you?”

“I only mean, Adam must know. He’s not still hustling, right?”



A humming bird darted in for a closer look, and then zipped away through the cigarette smoke. I expected to hear a tiny cough.

“I’ve never seen Joel like that,” Micky commented.

“Like what? Don’t tell me he’s still got a hard—yen for the guy?”

“Is it so hard to believe?” She gave me a certain look, and I felt myself reddening. “Anyway, it sounded that way last night. It could have been the alcohol. He’s a melancholy drunk.”

In vino veritas?

“In six scotch and soda vomitus.” She looked up at the burned-blue sky. “Did he say how long they were staying for?”

“The summer.”

Silence while Micky puffed and brooded. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she said at last.


* * * * *


It seems like ever since I moved back to Steeple Hill, people—Micky for one, Joel, even Jen Berkowitz—have helpfully pointed out that I have no life.

My answer: Define “life.” Okay, maybe they do have a point. I get up the same time every morning, take my morning swim, sit at the computer all day, take my evening walk, and fall asleep reading around eleven o’clock. No wonder I have nightmares.

I don’t think it’s really about the hours I keep. I’ve noticed that you can have your health, you can be successful in your career, you can be happy as the day is long, but if you’re not married, engaged or seeing someone eligible, your friends are concerned. It’s no different if you’re gay.

BOOK: Murder in Pastel
4.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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