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Lost Diamond

A Darke and Flare Mystery Prequel


Parker Avrile


©2018 by Parker Avrile & Paris April Press

All rights reserved

His hot new boyfriend asks an infatuated New Orleans police detective to locate a missing diamond, but it's hard to find a precious gem when you're caught in a web of deception.

This 8,000-word short story is a prequel to the Darke and Flare gay romantic suspense mystery series. Please do not upload my story to free, sharing, or pirate sites, and do not sell or give it away as your own work. This work is fiction, and no real persons or events are described therein.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter One

“...Less than three days.”

A trick of the acoustics caused the low, husky voice to sound as if the speaker was whispering into my ear. I paused in a ray of light cast through the open door, blinking to orient myself in the historic dark of a French Quarter theater that had been built, burned, rebuilt, burned, rebuilt, flooded, rebuilt again over the course of the years since its original construction in 1786. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, already over a decade in the past, must have been the last time a man climbed high on a ladder to paint a single layer of twenty-four karat gold leaf over the rococo gingerbread of the ornamental molding.

An old-fashioned ring of metal keys rattled behind me, the security guard who'd opened up for me vanishing back into the street. The door closed, and the ray of light vanished. There was a time when April in New Orleans wouldn't have demanded air-conditioning, but that time was long past, and the building was actually a little chilly.

No one was rehearsing today. It was just me and the two figures talking quietly together at the foot of the stage. Tyler, playing the part of a plain brown sparrow from the chorus line, was dressed down in skinny jeans and white tee-shirt, his tousled hair caught back in a tiny man-bun. There was something actorly I was beginning to recognize about the way he leaned into people to cater to their egos. Pretending to be plain was something only a truly beautiful man could carry off.

Today, he was leaning into the theater's current headliner, Beyonce imitator Lotta Guise. Only five years or so older than Mrs. Carter, Lott's long bare legs displayed beautifully in the once-notorious leather shorts.

They turned. I extended my right hand, and Lotta shook with a firm grip that surprised me, coming as it did from that theater world of hugs and air kisses.

“I'm Darke Gauthier.”

“Of course. Tyler has told me so much about you, and I appreciate you coming in like this on your day off so, so much, Detective. As I was just telling him, this case is a matter of the utmost urgency.”

Three days to find a diamond ring. Not an impossible deadline. You'd either find it in three days, or you'd never find it at all, not in one piece, anyway. Still, I did shoot some side-eye at my beautiful boyfriend. He looked back, eyes wide and innocent as only an actor's or a salesman's eyes can be once you've turned twenty-one. He wanted me to help Lotta, who in turn would help him rise from the chorus line. It was the kind of quid pro quo I felt uneasy about getting involved in as a police investigator, even when I was off duty.

Off duty or not, I was a public official, and I had a responsibility to say all the right words. “If the matter is truly urgent, Miss Guise, I strongly advise you to report the theft as soon as possible to NOPD. You'll have to do it sooner or later, or your insurer won't even consider your claim.”

She closed her eyes a moment. This early in the morning, she hadn't applied any product to her lids, but I caught a glimpse of mica from last night's shimmer-gold shadow. “Look, honey, I've been around the block a few times. If I report this robbery, what are the odds the police doesn't even send out a crime unit? They'll ask me a few questions and assign me a police report number over the phone. That's it. Then I can pay for the full report so I can send it to my insurance company. That's all they'll do. That's what they call an investigation.”

Lotta wasn't wrong. The theft of somebody's diamond ring simply couldn't be a matter of public urgency in a city with one of the highest per capita murder rates in the nation. Her precious gem's disappearance would be nuisance paperwork for NOPD, not the focus of a large-scale investigation.

“You have to find Lotta's diamond. I promised,” Tyler said. “And we both know NOPD is allowed to take off-duty jobs. Your partner does it all the time.”

The things we'll do to impress a younger man. I was over thirty now. Thirty-one. Just barely over that hill but still on the wrong side. “Tyler, honey...” I wanted to say he shouldn't be making promises in my name, but we didn't need to have this discussion in front of a third party. And maybe I didn't have the willpower to have that discussion at all, not when I was looking at the full curves of his inviting lips. “Honey, those off-duty jobs are usually patrolling neighborhoods or escorting funerals. Not investigating cases.”

“You're my only hope,” Lotta said. “I have three days to find this diamond, or there's going to be hell to pay with my great-grandmother.”

I didn't ask what was going to happen in three days. The flood of pain in my heart told me before Lotta could. Holidays when family gathered― especially this holiday when family gathered― were something I blocked out of my mind ever since my parents and sister were wiped out by a drunk driver on spring break in Florida. Easter Sunday. Chocolate eggs, morning mass, a big family feast with all Lotta's large extended family spread around her.

Not that large families were always an undiluted blessing.

“I've already been written out of the will twice,” she said. “The old hag is ninety-seven. Three times won't be the charm.”

“So it's her diamond.”

“On extended loan, as the museums say. Grandmere thinks I live a crazy, careless, sloppy life, and she was testing me. It went unspoken, but I knew damn good and well it was a test. I took such damn good care of that damn ring too.”

“You have to help her.” Tyler was working me with his amber-flecked eyes. The man-bun, a style he seldom wore, made those big brown eyes even bigger.

Grandmere wasn't the only one giving people tests. Tyler was testing me. Testing to see if I could say no. To see if I could deny him anything.

“There's another thing,” Lotta said. “Police records are public. Anybody can download them for the cost of a lookup fee. If I report the theft, some asshole reporter could end up tweeting the whole story for the ten o'clock news. That is so not the way I need my grandmere to find out her six-carat diamond vanished in a puff of a smoke.”

Lotta Guise getting robbed was hardly the Bling Ring, but it might be worth thirty seconds on a local station if it was a slow news night. Still, how the fuck did she expect me to investigate a robbery nobody was supposed to know ever happened?

I repressed a sigh. “I'll do my best to be discreet, but there's a limit to discretion. I can't investigate a crime without asking questions.”

“My party guests are not going to talk to the press. Not without permission from my publicist.”

She trusted her guests not to yap, but she didn't trust them not to steal. Got it. “Moving on. You weren't mugged. You were hosting a party, maybe having a few drinks, maybe letting your hair down. How do we know the diamond isn't just misplaced?”

“Oh, for fuck... for sugar's sake, honey. I did not, did not merely misplace my grandmere's six-carat diamond ring.”

Tyler took my arm. “Please, Darke. I've told Lotta so much about you. How smart you are. All the bad guys you catch.”

Translation: Tyler had boasted about his latest catch, one of New Orleans Police Department's few openly gay detectives. I should have been annoyed, but I was proud to be somebody worthy of Tyler's boasting.

What beauty does to us. All my experience as a police officer was telling me to refuse this job. And yet I couldn't walk away.

My turn to close my eyes. My turn to look inside. At last, I nodded. “Miss Guise, before we finalize this assignment, I need you to acknowledge you understand my limitations when I'm working off duty. I can't use NOPD resources for a private investigation. Crossing that line could cost me my job.”

Lotta touched my arm, leaving another fleck or two of glitter. “I don't expect you to do anything to put your job at risk, Detective. But it would be everything if you could get my grandmere's diamond back.”

“This investigation will be good for you,” Tyler said. “It will give you something to focus on besides...” He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't need to.

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