His Name Is John [An Elliott Smith Mystery]
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by Dorien Grey
Description: Elliott Smith never considered himself to be anything special, if you didn't count having wealthy parents, whom he largely ignores. His profession is buying, restoring and reselling small apartment buildings around Chicago. Gay and contentedly single at 38, he has, in addition to his globetrotting parents, a devoted sister, a police detective brother-in-law, two nieces and a nephew. Everything in his life is going along perfectly fine until he wakes in the hospital after being hit by a car aware of being watched by someone who isn't there. Despite being sure what happens next can be attributed to his injuries from the accident, Elliott is reluctantly, inexorably, drawn into the search to find a name for the unidentified murdered man who died next to him in the Emergency Room--and who killed him. His investigation takes him on a trail that leads from photographs to motor homes, a body hidden behind a wall for more than sixty years, old neighbors and old enemies, and a nun with a secret she does not know she holds. Along the way, Elliott also finds himself on the threshold of a new relationship with potential he never would have imagined. Elliott invites you to join him on his search in this first book of a new series by popular mystery author Dorien Grey, whose Dick Hardesty mystery series has included four finalists for a Lambda Literary Award.
eBook Publisher: Zumaya Publications/Zumaya Boundlesss, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
61 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [409 KB]
Reading time: 263-368 min.
"Dorien Grey is one of the best mystery writers publishing today. This new work will surely please old and new readers alike."--Greg Herren, author of 2008 Lambda-winning Murder in the Rue Chartres
"Is a dead man haunting Elliott's dreams? Or is Elliot just losing it?
Acclaimed mystery master Dorien Grey has always been a thinking man's writer, whose novels offer more than the routine whodunit fare. Here, he departs from his popular Dick Hardesty mysteries with an eerie and compelling story that not only delves into the dual mysteries of who John Doe is and who murdered him, but the greater mysteries of life and death themselves. Who dies?
Like all first-rate fiction, this is one of a kind and ultimately unsettling. Several notches above the ordinary."--Victor J. Banis, multi-published author of Lola Dances and Longhorns.
"His name is Smith, Elliott Smith. Created by ever-clever Dorien Grey, the mystery world's newest novice sleuth is at once smart, sexy, and immanently likeable. His Name Is John is a lovingly crafted tale that is part mystery, part thriller, part romance, part modern-day ghost story. Keep this one on the night table, as it's sure to keep you reading long after lights out.
"Each chapter leaves the reader desperate for more pieces of the puzzle, as one of the most unlikely and unique duos of crime fiction maneuvers their way through a maze of lost memories, family secrets, mistaken identity, and murder."--Anthony Bidulka, Lambda Award-winning author of Flight of Aquvit
Waking up with a splitting headache and a throbbing shoulder, Elliott had no idea where he was. After he clamped his eyes shut and reopened them, he realized he was in a hospital room, with no memory how he'd gotten there.
He did know someone sat in the chair beside his bed, watching him. Yet when he managed to turn his head to see who it was, the chair was empty. He was alone in the room. Except he wasn't.
He drifted in and out of consciousness, roused with annoying frequency by nurses waking him up to do whatever nurses find it necessary to wake people up to do. Mostly, they said nothing and achieved their objectives with expressionless faces. Whenever he woke, he glanced over at the chair where whoever wasn't there watched him.
He gradually became aware that whoever was not in the chair's name was John, that John was dead and that John was, to say the least, confused and unable to grasp that he was dead. Elliott also sensed that John not only hadn't a clue as to how he died but no idea who he had been when he was alive.
Of course, on the subject of being confused, Elliott was hardly a poster boy for sharp thinking himself. He had no idea why he was in the hospital or, for that matter, which hospital. It wasn't until he saw Norm Shepard, an ER nurse who lived in his building, standing over him that he knew he was in St. Joseph's.
Norm smiled when he saw Elliott had noticed him.
"Welcome back to the world of the living," he said.
Elliott glanced over at the chair. John, he sensed, was not amused.
"I had to come up to this floor for some charts," Norm went on, "and thought I'd check in to see how you're doing."
Elliott opened his mouth to talk, but somebody else's voice came out; and Norm quickly raised a hand to silence him.
"No talk just yet," he advised. * * * *
Over the next few days, every time he looked at the chair Elliott knew John was there, watching him. When visitors stopped by--his sister Cessy came by a lot, as did several of his friends and Rick Morrison, a guy he had begun dating a few weeks before the accident--most stood by the side or at the foot of the bed. When anyone sat down, Elliott knew John wasn't in the chair--apparently, even though he was now noncorporeal, he didn't like being sat on.
At such times, Elliott would sense him by the window, looking out at the traffic on Lakeshore Drive. He never got the impression John was particularly interested in whoever else was in the room.
How he had ended up in St. Joe's he learned in bits and pieces. He was told he had been crossing Sheridan Road at Wellington a few blocks from the hospital around eleven o'clock at night, on his way home from dinner with friends and had been clipped by a car speeding around the corner. He'd hit his head on the curb, although fortunately his left shoulder had taken the brunt of the fall. He'd been unconscious then heavily sedated for several days, and was cautioned that he'd look a bit like a monk for a while after his release--they'd had to shave part of his head to stitch up a rather nasty cut on his scalp.
He did his best to convince himself that the concussion from the head injury accounted for John, and that "he" would just go away after a while.
But he didn't, and Elliott didn't dare mention him to anyone lest they decide to transfer him to the psychiatric ward for observation. He was nothing if not practical and logical, and John's intrusion into his life was neither. So, they kept their own counsel, John and he.
He still had the overwhelming sense that John was utterly confused over his current state and how it had come about. He also felt that, since he was the only one who was aware of John, John looked to him for help, though Elliott had no idea of what he could do for him.
Then, one night just before he was scheduled to be released, Norm Shepard stopped by again after his shift. Since his first visit, some vague memories of and after the accident had begun to return.
"I think I remember seeing you in the ER when I was brought in," Elliott said. "I guess I was in pretty bad shape."
"We weren't sure there for a while whether or not there was any bleeding into your brain, but there wasn't. You're a lucky guy."
Elliott sighed. "Considering the alternative, I guess you're right." Again, he was aware that John did not appreciate his humor. "But I vaguely recall they brought somebody in right after me, and you took off. I guess the other guy was in worse shape than I was."
"Yeah, you could say that. He didn't have a chance. Shot six times. It's a wonder he even made it to the hospital."
"Sorry about that," Elliott said, and meant it. "Who was he? Did I see a couple cops come in with him?"
"Yeah, they brought him in. Found him in an alley less than two blocks from here. No ID on him, and he died without fully regaining consciousness."
"So, did they find out who he was?"
"I have no idea," Norm said. "We admitted him as a John Doe." * * * *
John Doe! Was the presence in the chair the guy from the ER? He sensed no particular reaction from the direction of the chair; but if it was the same guy, had he somehow made some sort of link with Elliott in the few minutes before he teetered over the threshold between life and death?
Or, more likely, it was Elliott who had made the link. Maybe this whole thing really was just a psychotic episode his mind had created for reasons of its own. When he got home from the hospital, back in his own world with his own things around him, "John" would probably just fade away.
Although he prided himself on logical, linear thinking, Elliott found his thoughts in the hospital skipping over the surface of his mind like a flat stone thrown onto a calm pond. He'd start off pondering one thing and end up somewhere totally unrelated.
Contemplating his conviction that the presence in the chair was named John, he convinced himself he must have subconsciously heard someone in the ER referring to the "John Doe." From there, his thoughts inexplicably segued to the fact that names had always intrigued him, possibly because "Elliott" was not a name he would have chosen for himself. When he was a teenager, he liked to think of himself as more of a Tom, or perhaps a Mike. He always suspected that his mother, whose maiden name had been Von Eck, had chosen a high-gloss first name like "Elliott" as a way of compensating for his primer-coat last name--Smith.
But, being a very adaptable sort, he had grown used to it. He in fact prided himself on both his adaptability and his practicality, though he took a certain pleasure in his few minor idiosyncrasies. He collected trivia, for example, the way black pants collect cat hair. In addition to a penchant for remembering interesting but relatively useless information from everything he read, he enjoyed using his own observations to accumulate even more. He knew, for example, the height in stories of every building he passed regularly; he knew the number of steps between floors in any building in which he had occasion to use the stairs.
Now, bringing his thoughts back to the name John, he knew it was the second most common name for American men--more than four million--just as Smith was the most common American surname. He could bring to mind at least half a dozen Johns he knew personally.
Although his last name might have been common his resources were not. He had always been a little embarrassed that, by sheer chance, he was born into an extremely affluent family, not one member of which had done a real day's work in his or her life. He was hardly foolish enough to turn his back on the family money, but had done his best to avoid its pitfalls.
Possibly as an offshoot of his fascination with trivia, he had always had the innate ability to look at something and intuitively see how a minimum of effort and investment could produce the maximum results. It subsequently came naturally to him to support himself by buying, renovating and reselling small apartment buildings around the north side of the city, though he made an occasional concession to his wealth by retaining a few he couldn't bear to part with. It kept him busy, and he enjoyed it.
That night, and every night thereafter that he remained in the hospital, experiencing vivid technicolor dreams he could not remember later, there was one thing he could not forget, one thought accompanied by a sensation of sorrow and loss that repeated over and over.
--My name is John! * * * *