Tuesday, 28 February 2017

White with Fish, Red with Murder available now.

Release day:

White with Fish, Red with Murder
by Harley Mazuk

available now.


San Francisco, 1948. Frank Swiver is a down and out private eye with a taste for wine and women, not necessarily in that order. Frank readily accepts an unexpected job offer from well-known wine connoisseur General Lloyd F. Thursby to find the murderer of his very good friend, Rusty O’Callaghan. Invited to attend an exclusive wine tasting on Thursby’s private rail car, Frank takes along his secretary-cum-lover Vera Peregrino to complete his cover. Thursby entices his guests with the promise of a taste of a rare California wine: the Ravensridge Blackbird Noir. 

All does not go to plan, though, when General Thursby is murdered before the wine tasting has even begun. Frank is caught up in the allure of his former lover, Cicilia, who also happens to be the dead Rusty O’Callaghan’s widow. Locked into the private carriage until the passengers reach their destination, the guests proceed to pull some corks and theorize who among them could be the killer.

When Vera is arrested for Thursby’s murder, Frank must change his perceptions and find the real killer, or lose both Cici and Vera . . . and maybe even his life.

Exclusive excerpt

Chapter 2:  Night of the Honeysuckles

Vera rose and announced she wanted to go to her room. That gave me an opportunity to get out of there and compose myself before talking to Cici, so I offered to escort her.

“You’re in number seven, Miss Peregrino,” said Fenwick. “And you’re in one,” he told me. The first cabin we came to had a 9 under a half-moon of three stars. I assumed that would be Thursby’s. We passed eight, and I dropped Vera at her room, telling her I’d come for her at seven.

“Nineteen hundred hours.” She saluted, mocking the general’s voice.

At the far end of the car, from the galley and the lounge, were a toilet and shower room and cabin number one. It had a sitting area, which could be converted into a single bed. There was a good-sized window, covered by venetian blinds, closed, and burgundy curtains, drawn open. It had a connecting door on the side of compartment two.
An envelope on the bed had my name on it. I unpacked my duffel, opened the blinds, and sat down watching the backyards of Oakland glide by while I slit the envelope flap.

It was from Thursby. Inside was a check made out to Old Vine Detective Agency for $150, signed by Nick Fenwick, and a note from the general. I recognized his handwriting from the note that accompanied my invitation.


Thanks for coming. Enclosed is a check for your retainer. Let me know when that runs out.

Two things—first, there are some tensions among the guests. I can still take care of myself, but I wouldn’t mind having someone I can depend on to watch my back. And second, the police are doing nothing in the O’Callaghan killing. They closed the case as an accidental poisoning. I’m sure it’s murder, but I need some kind of proof. I want you to find it. Rusty O’Callaghan was my friend.

I suggest you commence your investigation with the widow.


My stomach knotted up, and a dull garnet haze came between my eyes and the paper after I read the words “killing . . . murder.” I hadn’t known Rusty O’Callaghan, but I knew of him, and I thought he was a lucky guy who had it all. He had money, good looks, and wit. He had Cici.

And I had Vera. A few hours ago, we’d met in the office on Post Street to go to the train in Oakland together. We had a couple of glasses of cabernet together, and one thing led to another, as it often did for us. And after we’d made love, she whispered in my ear, “I love you, Frank.”

“It’ll be exciting to go along as an op, not just a secretary,” she said. Vera’s scarlet cocktail dress was folded neatly over the back of one of my client chairs; my suit was hung up, but the rest of my clothes were all over the floor, and we both lounged naked, face-to-face, legs intertwined, on the old leather davenport that I had alongside one wall. Not entirely naked, she still wore her red, high-heeled shoes, and I had my fedora on the back of my head. The light coming through the office window fell on the downy yellow hair on her upper thighs. Vera was about five eight. Her height and long legs made her appear slender and elegant, like a fashion model or a rich girl. Yet from another angle or in a different outfit she might look like an athlete who rode a bike to work, or a sinewy, but healthy, farmer’s daughter. She had golden brown hair that fell across her shoulders just far enough to cover her breasts if she ever decided to do a Lady Godiva act. But now her hair had fallen back to the sides and she lay there, breasts revealed, in all her wanton beauty.

I wanted to say, “I love you too, Vera,” but for some reason, I didn’t. I couldn’t because something felt different from that time I had been in love, in love with Cici.

I splashed a little water on my face at the washbasin, and started to shave.

I remembered when Rusty O’Callaghan had died. I’d even clipped the story from the Examiner at the time. It was only a couple of months ago. He’d died at home one morning, the apparent victim of a bizarre poisoning.

Then, in the mirror over the sink, I saw the connecting door to compartment two start to open. I thought I’d checked the lock, but maybe not—someone was coming in. Everything was close in the small train cabin. I turned and was about to shoulder the door hard, but a whiff of scent in the air made me stop myself. Cicilia O’Callaghan came into the compartment quickly and closed the door behind her.

“Hello, Frank.” Her voice was deep, with a dry whispery note. It was the kind of voice that an actress might use for a passionate love scene. It was the kind of voice that would make the actor play the sap for her.

“Hi ya, doll. Still using the same perfume as the old days?”

“Night of the Honeysuckles, Frank. It’s been a long time. I’m surprised you remembered.”

There are some things a man doesn’t forget, like the feeling I had when you threw me over for Rusty. “Yeah, it brings back old times.” My voice sounded hollow to me. Cici had slipped into my room without shoes. Minus her high heels, she was about five feet four inches—of trouble. Of all the compartments in the general’s private varnish, she had to have the one next to mine.

“Thank God you’re here tonight, Frank. I need help.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. So I said nothing and drank in Cicilia with my eyes. After fourteen years, they were thirsty eyes and she was as refreshing as a splash of Vouvray, and more intoxicating too. Her skin had a healthy golden-olive glow, as if she’d been in the sun. Her black dress was simple and elegant, but un-widow-like. The low cut only emphasized her ripe and voluptuous breasts. With my height advantage in the small compartment, I was practically forced to eyeball her cleavage.

She followed my gaze. “You like what you see, Frank?”

“You know I always did, Cici. Who wouldn’t?”

“Rusty, for one. He couldn’t have cared less.” She sighed. “It’s nice to be noticed again.” The train rocked, and Cici bounced against me.

“Oh, yeah. Rusty O’Callaghan. Tough break about your husband. A poison mushroom omelet? You were there, weren’t you?”

“Yeah. I’d thought they were chanterelles.” She blinked her eyes. “Well, at least it didn’t happen at the restaurant.”

“I can see how that might be bad for business, poisoning the diners.” Rusty O’Callaghan had opened the popular restaurant, Chez Cici, where he’d installed Cicilia, his new wife, as chef.

“You say you need help, doll?” Night of the Honeysuckles seemed to be entangled in the waves of her hair, just under my nose. My mind drifted back to those nights fourteen years ago, when Cici would finish her waitressing shift at John’s Grill and we’d leave together and hurry over to my single room.

In ‘33, I was a recent Berkeley grad, trying to crack into a teaching job. I happened into John’s one night, wondering if I could afford a sandwich and a beer. The beer was only a nickel, but I paid with a piece of my heart.

Cicilia Ricci had been a waitress there. She was about eighteen then, maybe seventeen and a half, when I met her, and she was the stuff young men dream about. Petite, with dark-brown, almost ebony hair, she had emerald eyes. You know the color of the sea off Monterey sometimes when the sunlight angles across it? Her eyes were that kind of sparkling green that had their own light, and when I gazed into them, they lured me deep into their sea-green abyss. I’d kept coming back to John’s, to sit at one of Cicilia’s tables, but I wasn’t coming back for the food. I watched Cici move around the tables, we talked, she winked at me, or licked her lips, and a burning would start deep down inside me.

Ronald “Rusty” O’Callaghan had been a rumrunner in southern California in the 1920s who had blown into town late in 1933 when Repeal dried things up for him. He started showing up at John’s Grill. O’Callaghan would dig into a twenty-four-ounce T-bone and drink a half-pint of Scotch whisky. He gave Cicilia rides in his Packard. He told her tales of gun-battles off the Catalina coast, of punching a shark in the nose while clinging to a floating wooden crate of gin, and of paying off the LA cops, while outsmarting the G-men. He carried a thick roll of banknotes and laughed loudly. Rusty O’Callaghan, a man of action who had an air of danger about him, brought excitement into the restaurant. Cicilia Ricci must have felt that excitement, and felt it was all for her.

I’d despised Rusty O’Callaghan when he took Cicilia out of John’s, and I’d envied him when he married her. That was in ‘34, the last time I’d seen either of them, and the first time I had that empty ache inside. Rusty O’Callaghan sure was a lucky guy, and I’d drawn a losing hand. Now O’Callaghan was dead. A police spokesman had termed the death “suspicious, but presumably accidental.” And I’d lived to read about it.

I was bitter about being dumped, but that passion I’d felt for Cicilia never quit burning inside me. There’s been a little pilot light on these last fourteen years.

I need money, Frank,” she said. “I’m a poor widow now, you know. Thursby owes me, but he won’t pay up.”

“Poor? I hear Chez Cici does good business.”

“Sure, Chez Cici does good, but doing good in the restaurant business just pays the bills. Owning one restaurant means working fifty-two weeks a year, and if you’re good, it’s a living, but that’s about all. It’s not enough. What I’ve got to do is expand. I want to open a branch in Sausalito.”

“So how’s the general owe you, doll? Did he run up a tab?” I breathed in the scent of honeysuckles warmed by body heat, maybe a little garlic and oil too, from all those hours in the kitchen, and a definite, undeniable undercurrent of muskiness, rising up from her center. It was making my head spin, but I sucked it in like a man struggling in the water takes air when he’s at the surface.

“Hardly,” she said. “Look, I found these in Rusty’s desk.”

Cicilia carried a little black bag on a thin strap over her shoulder, and she reached in and extracted a fistful of papers, half sheets, and some even smaller—the size of currency. She handed them to me as she spoke. “Gambling debts, Frank. They’re promissory notes for gambling debts.”

I flipped through them. Five hundred here, $1000 on another, $700, $2400. The same scrawl at the bottom of each one might have been “Lloyd Thursby.” It might have been the same hand that had signed the notes I’d received.

Cici kept talking, filling me in as I glanced through the IOUs. “Rusty used to go over to Thursby’s place four or five nights a week, around ten or eleven, and sit with the general and play cards for hours.”

“Looks like Rusty was a lucky guy.”

“Hah! Lucky?” She turned, sauntered over to the window, and peered out. “You couldn’t prove it by me. I never even knew he was winning, Frank. The soft-headed bum never brought home a nickel. He just took the general’s paper.”

“You show these to Thursby?” I followed her.

“Not yet. I just found them. But you can show them to Thursby. You can make him pay me. Thursby threatened me and had his goon throw me out.”

“His goon?”

“Fenwick.” Cici turned back to me. “That hairy wine-steward.” Fenwick—I didn’t like the picture in my mind of him with his paws on Cici, giving her the bum’s rush. Something told me the apeman and I weren’t going to get along.

I felt a tug at my trousers. I’d been reviewing the notes Cici had given me and musing over Fenwick. When I glanced at her again, I saw her black dress on the floor in a circle around her feet. She was squatting down in front of me, her butt on the seat, while her fingers worked at my fly.

“Jesus, doll. What do you think you’re doing?”

“Oh, Frank. I can’t help it. It’s been so long, Frank. I’m so hot. I want you to make me feel like a woman again.”

It’d been a long time all right. Fourteen years is a long time. Did Cicilia think she could just walk out of my life without so much as a fare-thee-well, then sashay back in fourteen years later and pick up where she’d left off? Now she rose to her feet, her green eyes flashing and locked on mine. Reaching behind her back, Cici undid the clasp on her black bra. She slipped it off, tossed it across the compartment, and shook her shoulders. The IOUs wafted to the floor as I cupped each breast with a hand and plunged my face down into their softness.

Maybe you’ve walked with danger and laughed and said, “Let’s go; you can’t beat me.” Maybe you know what it’s like to go without something for years, like maybe you were a boozer who lived through Prohibition without getting a drink. Then all of a sudden after all those years you can have it again, and it’s better than ever. If so, I guess I don’t have to tell you what I felt, lying with Cici across the Pullman bed of my compartment. And if you haven’t done anything like that, maybe you wouldn’t understand the feeling I’m talking about anyhow.

I checked my watch, and it was almost seven. It’s not that I didn’t know where the time had gone. It’s more like I didn’t know where I had been. Wherever it was, I liked it there, and I didn’t want to come back.

“Okay, Cici, I’ll take your case. I’ll talk to Thursby.”

“Be careful, Frank. He’s dangerous.”

“I laugh at danger.”

“I knew I could count on you. I’ll give you ten percent of whatever you collect.”

“Twenty-five dollars a day, doll. Plus expenses.” She knew she could count on me. Hell, Cici could have seduced Mohandas Gandhi into donning a suit and tie, and he would have eaten filet mignon to please her.

“Right now, we’ve got to get dressed,” I said. “It’s seven o’clock.” I yanked her off the bed to her feet and reeling her in, planted a long kiss on her lips. “There’s wine out there to taste.” I sent her on her way to her compartment with a smack on the butt. That bitterness from fourteen years ago—it wasn’t completely gone, but Cici had sweetened me up a little.

I had two clients, and two jobs to do. I needed the work bad, but could I give Cici what she wanted and help Thursby too?


White with Fish, Red with Murder e-book is available now:


Driven Press
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon AU

Paperback available from:




Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the son of a blue-collar worker, and majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio and Elphinstone College, Bombay U.

Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later toiled for the US Government in computer programming and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.

He began writing the Frank Swiver series of private eye stories in 2010 and has published four stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His novelettes and flash fiction have appeared in Dead Guns Press and Shotgun Honey.

Harley’s passions are writing, reading, his family, peace, Italian cars, and California wine. He and his wife Anastasia live in Maryland, where they have raised two children.

Find Harley at:

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Pre-order WORKING STIFFS for only $3.99 now!

Working Stiffs is now available at the special pre-order-only price of $3.99 until its release March 21, 2017. Don't miss this great deal and be ready to read Working Stiffs when it is sent to your device.


At a time when civil liberties have been eroded and unemployment has exceeded Great Depression levels, nanotechnology provides the ability to reanimate the recently dead. Far from zombies, but nothing like their former selves, “Revivants” are a ready source of cheap labor able to perform simple, routine tasks. Great news for some sectors, but for many, the economic and social impact is devastating.
Enter Joe Warren—an unemployed college dropout, who is self-absorbed and disinterested in the world’s problems. All Joe wants is a job, food on his table, and a cure for his girlfriend’s lingering illness. What Joe gets is a stint in jail with a bunch of self-proclaimed freedom fighters, and coerced to become an informant by federal government agents.
Joe is forced to examine his me-first attitude, and in the process learns that some things just might be worth fighting—or dying—for.

Working Stiffs . . . available for pre-order now!


[Regular price $5.99]

Buy links:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

More info:


and Goodreads:

Working Stiffs


The three dead guys on the freight elevator had a personal odor reminiscent of vomit with an undertone of road kill.

“You freaks need to stand in the rain, you know that? Take a shower.”

My formerly living companions swayed with the motion of the elevator but kept their thoughts on hygiene to themselves. One of three, his name tag read “Larry,” belched—an editorial comment or random gas bubble? Hard to say.

Sixty-seven more floors of asphyxiation. Why their owner didn’t wash down his Revivants was a mystery. They didn’t decay like regular dead people; if they did, body parts would be strewn around the city like the remnants of a jihadi bomb factory.

Take shallow breaths.

I adjusted my stolen waiter’s jacket to hide Grandpa’s old bullet-firing pistol. The weapon made my pants sag. Since I quit eating anything more solid than tomato soup prepared from ketchup packets, everything—including a sudden change in barometric pressure—made my pants slide down.

Dampness blotched the jacket’s red sleeve from the cold sweat off my forehead. C’mon, Joe, pull it together.

Two of the Revvies rode in silence. Larry, the talker, vaguely resembled a classic comedian from the early 2000s. The hell was his name? A funny guy, I’d caught some of his stuff in all the old bootleg videos Grandpa made me watch.

Jay Leno.

Unlike Jay, Larry knew only one joke.

The dead comedian leered over my shoulder and, in a zombie voice, moaned, “B-b-b-brainssss!”

“That wasn’t funny the last six times you said it. You’re not a zombie.”

Larry laughed, a sound like an old gas-powered car trying to start on a cold day. “Hhnh-hhnh-hhnh.” He wore a unisex coverall, once brilliant red, now faded to Pepto Bismol pink. The nametag curled, unstuck at one corner.

“Keep your day job,” I grumbled.

The elevator shuddered and clanked to a stop—the damned thing was older than Grandpa Warren’s firearm—and the doors ground open. Larry, hit of the graveyard comedy tour, stayed aboard and bared his gummy teeth in a grin. Since Revvies didn’t eat, I refused to speculate on what might be stuck in his incisors.

The two silent dead guys scuffed away in their worn shoes, heads canted to one side in that odd zombie-walk favored by the revived. Larry stayed with me on the empty elevator.

Me and the Walking Dud.

Hhnh-hhnh-hhnh. Braaaiinnnss.”

“Whoever programmed your nanos for comedy needs to be punched in the throat.” I hit the up button and focused on the groaning doors.

The gun poked my testicles. Grimacing, I resettled it, finger most definitely off the trigger. The gun hadn’t been fired since the second Ms. Clinton administration, but now was not the time to test it. Wish I’d thought of that before I left Ding’s apartment.

Soon, though.

Thirty more floors.

I tugged at the damp collar of my white dress shirt with its built-in bow tie.


“Shut up.” I stalked over and stabbed a finger in Larry’s chest. “Just shut up, okay? Every time I look at one of you, you know what I see? I see failure, asshole.” I poked the gaping Revivant again. “I never would have been put in this spot if it wasn’t for you!” I shoved Larry, and he swayed in place but didn’t fall. “Fuck it. Why am I even talkin’ to you?”

Larry grinned, his keyboard teeth spackled with mortar. “Hhnh-hhnh-hhnh.”

“Yeah, very funny. You don’t have to eat, don’t have to sleep . . . just work all day long without even a piss-break. You make people sick with your germs, give them fucking brain tumors . . . steal their lives.” My mouth snapped shut.

And how stupid am I lecturing a corpse?

The elevator shuddered to a stop, the P button flickering on the panel. The penthouse.


I adjusted the pistol and waited for the doors to part. They chunked open, showing a dingy white service corridor. Another pink-suited Rev waited by the doors, placid as a cow, carrying a black plastic trash bag in one immobile hand.

“Tah-rash,” it said.

The newcomer handed Larry the bag as I stepped around them.

“Tah-rash,” Larry repeated. He leered at me, churned out another creepy laugh. The doors closed on his grinning pumpkin face, shutting Larry away. Gears clanked, a spark flared, machinery whirred, and the elevator started down.

The remaining undead janitor wasn’t as chatty as Larry. He rotated in an old-man shuffle and tottered toward the door at the far end of the service corridor, his coverall yellowing under third-rate LEDs lighting the corridor. Who used LEDs anymore? Spared every expense, these guys.

Which is a good thing.

The financial straits of modern America in the year 2051 should work in my favor. For once.


Two doors flanked the service corridor on either side. One bore the label Mantenimiento. The other read: Seguridad. Security. Spanish language labels in Chinese-owned buildings. ¡Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos! Foreign spices seasoned the melting pot, sometimes creating a tasty stew, sometimes a bellyache.

“Well, let’s find out if this works.”

I fished the preprinted finger cot—it resembled a short condom—from my waistcoat pocket and slipped it over my thumb. Gingerly. Tearing it now would be bad. I had lifted the molded fingerprint from a Revivant in Moline, the former security chief of the Huateng Tower. Programmed to pick tomatoes, he kept trying to get back to the field, becoming more anxious the longer I held him down in the back of my van.

Which sounded pretty freaking sick, right?

When I let him go, he hustled off in jerky little steps, head cocked to the side, like the actor in the latest V-Real remake of Rain Man III.

“Thanks, Chief. I hope you’re enjoying the afterlife.” I placed my covered thumb against the biometric and held my breath. “All right, guys. Did you reprogram the locks, or were you having a sloppy day?” Buzzz-click. “Yes, baby! Score one for cheap and lazy.”

I palmed the door to the security room, one hand on the pistol in my waistband. If they left a human guard to watch the cameras . . . “Nope. Too cheap for that. Heh-heh.”

Monitors glowed. Light flickered. Computers hummed. Air circulated.

Anti-climax exhaled.

The main display fluttered to life when I pressed my fake thumb against the reader on the desk. Locking down the passenger elevators sucked up thirty seconds. Deactivating and memory-wiping the surveillance nodes took only a few minutes. The remaining building security devices went down one-by-one. Activating the signal-damping field required a little more time, but everything seemed simple enough. Tap-tap. Done.

Easy as pie. My comp sci minor, aborted upon my departure from college, would serve some use. At least I could find my way around a server.

“Time to get a little payback,” I murmured, dragging the antique pistol from my waistband. Joe Warren, gunslinger.

The damned thing was heavy. Steel and lead and grim death, all in a hand-sized package. Bright nickel finish, wood handle adorned by a stylized S&W medallion. A revolver, grandpa said when he showed me how it worked.

I settled the revolver in my waistband and buttoned my jacket over it.



Scott Bell holds a degree in Criminal Justice from North Texas State University, and has enjoyed careers in both asset protection as well as sales. With the kids grown and time on his hands, Scott turned back to his first love—writing. His short stories have been published in The Western Online, Cast of Wonders, and in the anthology, Desolation. Yeager's Law, published in 2015, was his first novel, with its sequel, Yeager's Mission, published in 2016. April's Fool was also published in 2016.
When he’s not writing, Scott is on the eternal quest to answer the question: What would John Wayne do?

Find Scott at: