The Bottle Ghosts (A Dick Hardesty Mystery, #6)(paperback) by Dorien Grey

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ISBN: 9781611878400
Pages: 300

Hired to find a missing man—an alcoholic—Dick Hardesty discovers that an unusual number of alcoholic gay men have vanished within a relatively short period and never heard from again. Clues lead him to a support group for gay couples, where one partner is alcoholic and the other is not. Dick and his partner Jonathan infiltrate the group by claiming Jonathan is an alcoholic. When two more men from the group appear to suffer the same fate as the previous victims, Dick is determined to find out why…and who is responsible.


My 9:30 appointment had called the day before, sounding pretty distraught. I don’t like to go into too much detail over the phone, particularly in a first-time call from a prospective client. You can learn a lot more about what’s going on when you can sit down face to face and watch the other person’s reactions as well as listen to his voice. He did tell me, however, that his lover had apparently disappeared and, perhaps not surprisingly, he wanted me to find him. When I had asked how long the lover had been gone, he said five days. My immediate reaction was that the guy had just taken off for whatever reason, but I set up an appointment to discuss the possibilities in greater detail. I’d halfway expected the guy to call back saying the lover had shown up, but he didn’t.

Which probably accounted for the knock on my office door at nine-thirty sharp the next morning. I hastily shoved the paper with its unfinished crossword puzzle in a bottom drawer of my desk and got up to open the door.

Yeah, I know I could just as easily have yelled “Come on in!” but it always pays to start things off on a more accommodating note.

I opened the door to find a nice-enough looking guy about in his early-to-mid thirties, about my height, slightly receding hairline, wearing a brown suit, a mustard-colored tie, and a worried expression.

“Mr. Bradshaw,” I said, extending my hand, which he took. “Please, come in.”

I showed him to the chair closest to the open window, from which a pleasant breeze managed to flow over the still-not-working air conditioner, which I was seriously considering turning into a planter.

“Would you like some coffee?” I asked before attempting to sit down. That was another change in my life—a new addition to the office. Jonathan had bought me a coffee-maker with his first paycheck from the landscape nursery where he now worked.

“Thanks, no.”

He looked mildly uncomfortable, which I guess might be expected considering the circumstances which brought him to me in the first place. 

I moved quickly around the desk and sat down, turning my chair slightly to be able to face him head-on.

“So tell me how I can help you.”

He cleared his throat, making a quick tracing of his lower lip with his thumb and index finger.

“My partner, Jerry, didn’t come home Friday night.” 

His voice reminded me of an old steam locomotive just leaving the station: very slow, deliberate words at first, then a definite closing of the gap between the words as they increased in speed and power to reflect the urgency of what he was saying.
“He hasn’t been home since. He hasn’t called and none of our friends have heard from him, and nobody in any of the bars he frequents when he’s drinking has seen him, and I’ve called everywhere I could think of, and even the jails and the hospitals, and…”

He was at full steam, now, and I could almost see the mental pistons, like fisted arms bent at the elbow, pumping the adrenalin through him. Well, he’d been building up all this pressure for several days now, after all.

“Have you been to the police?” I asked as casually as possible, hoping my tone would give him a second to put on the brakes.

Apparently realizing what he’d been doing…and that he’d unconsciously been edging himself forward in his chair as he talked…he stopped abruptly and readjusted his position before continuing at a more controlled pace. But first he sighed and nodded.

“I called them after I’d checked everywhere myself. They wouldn’t even take a report until the third day, and when they did they weren’t very encouraging. He’s an adult, he’s a drunk, and he’s a faggot: he can fend for himself—they didn’t say that in so many words, but that’s clearly what they meant.”

“Your partner’s an alcoholic?” 

He looked at me oddly. “Yes. Didn’t I tell you that when I called?”

No, he hadn’t, as a matter of fact. That little bit of information put a whole new light on the situation. Drunks get drunk and disappear. They sober up and come back.
“Uh, no, I don’t think you did.”

“Does that make some sort of difference?” he asked, a little defensively—and I suddenly realized I certainly couldn’t blame him. I’d never been personally involved with an alcoholic, so I had no right to make any sort of judgment.

“Not at all,” I hastened to add, rather ashamed of myself. “Please, continue.”

He had looked there for a moment as if he were going to get up and leave, but I could see him relax slightly, and he picked up where he’d left off. 

“The officer who filed the report gave me the impression this sort of thing happens all the time. He asked if Jerry were suicidal, if he’d been having ‘problems at home,’ as he put it, or if he was in trouble with the law or with somebody in particular, or if he had any serious medical condition. When I told him ‘no’ on all counts, he made it pretty clear that this wasn’t exactly what they consider a top-priority case, so unless his body shows up somewhere, there really isn’t too much of an incentive to do much of anything. He said they’d put out the information, but…that’s when I decided to call you.”

“Has he disappeared before?”

“Yes, but not like this. He’s a serious alcoholic and he goes on binges like clockwork. Usually, it’s every three months—that’s as long as he can hold out. He did go six months, once, but…I always know when they’re coming on, and I do my best to help him avoid them, but he can’t. And then he goes off for a day…sometimes two, but never more. We agreed that when he’s drinking, he can’t come home. I won’t be around him when he’s drunk. And he always calls me from wherever it is he finds himself when he sobers up and I go get him. And then we start all over again.”

“Does this fit the three-month pattern?”

Bradshaw shook his head. “No, and that’s another thing that tells me something’s wrong—well, more wrong than usual. It’s been less than a month since his last binge. And I didn’t really see this one coming.”

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