Body Art: A Thriller
Jordan Castillo Price celebrated the audiobook release of Body Art: a Thriller by reissuing this classic M/M novella with hot new cover art. Readers new to JCP who enjoy mysteries and contemporary stories will find this gripping, hair-raising suspense a great entry point to her work.
Genre: Contemporary M/M Thriller, M/M Suspense
Length: Novella – 30,150 words – 108 page PDF
Cover artist: Jordan Castillo Price
Does everyone have a certain “type” they end up with…whether they want to or not? If Ray Carlucci’s ex is anything to go by, Ray likes his men gorgeous, rebellious, and chock-full of issues. But now that Ray is single again, he has a shot at a fresh start—a very fresh start, since his tattoo shop was gutted by repo men and he can fit all his belongings in the trunk of a taxi.
Ray’s shiny new chauffeur’s license lands him a job as a driver for an elderly couple on Red Wing Island. It’s a cold fall, and since the Michigan island is the summer home to snowbirds who fly south for the winter, it’s practically deserted—save for Ray’s new household and a sculptor named Anton Kopec, who works day and night twisting brambles and twine into the distorted shapes of macabre creatures. Compelling, bizarre, and somewhat disturbing…not just the sculptures, but the artist, too. Ray has a feeling Anton is just his “type.”
Despite their scorching chemistry, when a dead body is unearthed by some workers and a freak ice storm traps them all on the island, Ray can’t say for certain that his new flame isn’t capable of murder.
Driver, Red Wing Island. Must speak English and have current Michigan chauffeur license. Room, board, and stipend provided. Single gentleman over 35 preferred. Smokers need not apply.
Was it still legal to discriminate against smokers? I wasn’t sure, but I thought it might give me an edge. I read the ad through again. I had a brand-spanking-new piece of plastic that entitled me to drive a cab, bus, or limousine. I was also flat broke, in debt up to my eyeballs, and I sorely needed somewhere to stay. Oh, and I spoke English too.
I’d followed the Guide to Gainful Employment to a tee. New haircut. New shirt. New slacks. New tie—new to me, anyway. Even polished my shoes for the first time in my life. The final tip, according to the Guide, was to be sure to address the interviewer by name, using a mnemonic device, if necessary, to do it.
It hadn’t mentioned what to do if there were two interviewers. Damn.
Two women turned up for the interview in the back office of the employment agency. There was an old one—eighties, I’d guess—and a younger one, a handful of years older than me. Maybe forty or so. A stocky, sturdy forty, with hair cropped short and gray at the temples. No makeup. The daughter? Maybe. She didn’t look like an accountant or a lawyer, that’s for sure. She glanced down at her paper, and asked me, “If a drawbridge does not have a signal light or attendant, how many feet away must you stop and check if the draw is closed?”
That was just on my test. “Fifty.”
I’d been so excited to know the answer to that one that I’d leaned forward and allowed my tie to slide out of place. The missing button midway down the shirt gaped. I hadn’t noticed it at the thrift store. I’d just been glad to find a dress shirt for less than three bucks that didn’t need to be ironed. I covered the buttonhole with the tie. And then I realized the gesture had caused my sleeve to ride up and show a glimpse of my ink. Damn it. Maybe they hadn’t noticed. They were looking me in the face, weren’t they? Both of them? I hoped so—the kind of hope where your stomach twists up and squeezes itself ’til you’re sick. Because I really, really needed that job.
The old woman, Mrs. White, which was easy to remember—white hair, white pearls, Mrs. White—reached over and tapped the other one on the forearm. My guts twisted against themselves harder. She’d seen. And decided I wasn’t the sort of man she wanted living under her roof.
I couldn’t dream up a neat mnemonic trick for the younger woman, Ms. Friedman, but I figured I could handle two names. She nodded vaguely and shuffled her questionnaire. “Do you have any family nearby, Mr. Carlucci?”
I itched to tell her to call me Ray, since I was only “Mr. Carlucci” to the legions of bill collectors I’d been picking off my sorry hide over the last year, but I figured it wasn’t my place to dictate who was called what during the interview. “Parents in Florida.”
Mrs. White spoke up. “Any wife? Children?”
And then I remembered the ad. Single gentleman preferred. Which seemed about as politically incorrect as specifying a nonsmoker. “No. Never married. No kids.”
Queer as the day is long, actually. But right now? A single gentleman. It made me sound a lot ritzier than I was, but I supposed I fit the bill.
“On your application,” said Friedman, “you wrote down ‘business owner’ as your last job. What was that?”
An answer I’d prepared for. “Custom art.” Because tattoo parlor didn’t have quite the same ring.
“And you list the reason for leaving as financial.”
I did my best to sound mild, but inwardly, I steeled myself against the possibility that they’d poke at some old wounds that hadn’t quite closed yet. And I reminded myself to take it like a man, sit up straight, and make sure that damn buttonhole didn’t show.
Friedman said, “I had a catering business before.” Her gaze went inward, just for a second. “So much work—sixty, seventy-hour weeks. And then the check for a wedding bounced….” She spread her fingers in a “poof” gesture. And I looked at her, really looked at her, and nodded again. Because I could tell she understood that sometimes we fail—grandly, spectacularly—through no fault of our own. It gave me hope.
I didn’t feel like I could afford to cling to that hope, though. I nodded.
Friedman’s cheeks flushed. “Those are all the questions I have.” She turned toward Mrs. White. “You?”
White leaned forward and squinted. Her eyes had the cloudy, watery cast of age. “He looks fit. How tall are you?”
“Six-three,” I said. Not one of the interviews I’d sat through in the past several months had asked me if I had kids or how tall I was.
None of them had called me back afterward, either. Until this one.
Ray Carlucci is a talented tattoo artist, but unlucky in business and love so it appears. He lost his shop, Body Art, due to a self-obsessed boyfriend, and is in debt because of him and having to flee the mainland to escape his creditors.
He gains a position as a driver for the Whites, who live on the semi-deserted Red Wing Island. It is a small summer place, where only a few inhabitants stay all year round. The Whites are one of those permanent families. Because Mr. White has dementia, his elderly wife needs more than a driver. She needs additional muscle to cope with her husband’s mishaps and wanderings, and Ray is good-natured enough to help out. He learns that the previous two drivers left without a word. Dead animals show up on Ray’s front door step and the creepiness sets in.
On the plus side, Ray meets—and is immediately attracted to—local artist and ‘recluse’, Anton Kopec. They hook up within days, but it’s more than just hot and steamy sex. There’s a definite connection between these two guys. Ray’s life seems to be on the up at last when a body is unearthed and suspicion falls on Anton.
JCP expertly builds the atmosphere as the story progresses, with strange happenings and tense scenes in the woods, casting suspicion on many of her well-portrayed characters.
As JCP says, “I’ve gone with the talented Gomez Pugh yet again as my audiobook narrator. His performance on this story was swoon worthy.” I couldn’t agree more. Gomez’s narration is superb and complements JCP’s fabulous story-telling.
“What are you doing?” I called.
He trailed the branch he’d cut behind him as he crossed the clearing. It dragged through the fallen leaves with a shish-shish-shish. He walked like a runway model, all attitude and hips. And when he stopped in front of me and tossed his dark hair over his shoulder so he could get a look at me, I forgot how to breathe. He was breathtaking, in a wasted sort of way. All soulful eyes and long sideburns and five o’clock shadow.
“I’d tell you,” he said. “But then you’d think I’m crazy.”
I was forming a fast opinion of him, all right, but crazy wasn’t the word that sprang to mind. Hot. That was more like it. Because straight men didn’t walk that way, and no matter how much I told myself not to notice, my eyes kept raking him up and down. “Try me.”
A full smile then, wide enough that moonlight glinted, bluish, off his teeth. His teeth had character. Not quite straight, a hairline gap between the front two. Very white.
“What am I doing? Trying to make sense of the world. Just like everybody else.”
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price writes paranormal sci-fi thrillers colored by her time in the midwest, from inner city Chicago, to rural small town Wisconsin, to liberal Madison. Her influences include Ouija boards, Return of the Living Dead, “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” and boys in eyeliner.
Jordan is best known as the author of the PsyCop series, an unfolding tale of paranormal mystery and suspense starring Victor Bayne, a gay medium who’s plagued by ghostly visitations. Also check out her new series, Mnevermind, where memories are made…one client at a time.