by Emma Perez
Electra Campos has kept her life cleanly divided. By week she tends to her academic duties and her students. Weekends she frequents the Down Under, a Chelsea sex club for women.
When her spiteful ex Isabel Cortez issues yet another petty threat, she brushes it off—until she finds Capital College’s dean in a pool of his own blood. At first, NYPD Detective Carolina Quinn seems concerned only in Electra’s details of finding the body. Then the interest grows intensely professional…and personal.
Why would the police think Electra had a motive for murder? She had no personal interaction with Dean Johnson. But his wife was no stranger to the Down Under, and Detective Quinn is extremely curious about every detail of Electra’s other life.
Bella After Dark title!
Electra’s Complex is a sexy romp through queer New York and the groves of academia from a writer who knows the landscape and is a confident and engaging guide. Emma Perez’s book is a pleasure!
—Michael Nava, critically acclaimed author of the seven-volume mystery series featuring gay attorney Henry Rios.
—Michael Nava, critically acclaimed author of the seven-volume mystery series featuring gay attorney Henry Rios.
“Drive a blade in my back and I’ll return the favor.”
I had just fastened my mouth to a woman’s labia, a woman I’d barely met, at the Down Under, the sex club that I fell into weekly, when I heard a former lover’s voice. I was poised topless in my black boots and jeans with the woman’s legs on my shoulders, her body naked on satin crimson pillows that provided the necessary height. Her wrists were haloed above her head and tied with blue suede straps and the way her torso writhed encouraged me to pursue fresh techniques. I was looking forward to an hour of indulgence—she tasted like my favorite lavender soap—but when I heard the familiar voice, I tripped backward, gripping the woman’s ankles to anchor me.
“What the fuck, Isabel?” I asked.
“You heard me.” She spun around and darted out of the dungeon.
Isabel Cortez claimed title to the place that transformed every Saturday to this hip, queer sex club. After she introduced me to the place, I’d become one of the die-hard regulars in what was once a seedy but now brightly lit side of Chelsea in New York City. After a dreaded vacation, when she drove a metaphoric knife into me, twisting the blade until my entrails spilled and dragged on the ground, I’d refused to go anywhere with her ever again. Doesn’t matter, I’d thought. I’m free of her.
I resumed my pleasure with the woman whose thighs ironed my ears, despite knowing full well that Ms. Cortez was capable of doing far more harm than good.
It was Monday morning. Two days after my weekly recreation at the Down Under and I had forgotten my ex-lover’s hollow threat. Well, almost forgotten. Let me fill you in. There’s more to me than occasional Saturday jaunts to the sex club in Chelsea.
I’m a middle-aged history professor at a financially fraught New York City college. On this Monday morning, I arrived on campus at six thirty a.m., long before high-level administrators, staff, faculty or students inhabited the hallways. As I entered the Administration building to deliver my application for a long over due sabbatical, I thought I saw none other than “drive a knife in my back” Isabel Cortez slithering past the dean’s office. At first I thought I imagined her silhouette, but when I turned my head, I could have sworn her speckled brown eyes gazed upon me for a split second. But she was gone. It was as if a ghost in a baseball cap had flown through the hallway. Minimally rattled, I refused to believe she was anywhere near, so I ignored my imaginings and proceeded to the dean’s office, planning to slip my yellow manila envelope under his door. The deadline for the application was five p.m. on the previous Friday. Since the dean’s secretary left her office at four fifty each day to catch her five p.m. bus, she wouldn’t have been present to receive my application. That minor technicality would grant me the evidence to prove the damn thing wasn’t late.
As I approached the dean’s office, I stepped in a pool streaming out from under the door. I wore my favorite black Italian leather boots and the idea of water ruining the shine pissed me off. I tugged my trousers up, hoping not to get them wet, and that’s when I spotted a red sheen on the floor. It was blood. Blood had trickled from under the door, but more disconcerting was that the door was cracked open and I saw the dean’s head lying on his desk as if he were taking a nap. When I drew nearer, his bulging eyes stared eerily at me. I tiptoed closer and tripped over a computer cord that jiggled his chair and as it rotated, his head plunged forward, dropping his chin on his collarbone. That was when I saw a wound in the vicinity of his heart. The blood was still damp on his cotton shirt and more blood dripped on the floor at the bloody pool’s edges around his desk chair. His fly was open and his penis poked through his pants, which had a round wet spot near where the penis’s head rested.
“Fuck,” I whispered. “What the fuck were you thinking, Johnson?”
I fumbled for the office phone and dropped the receiver on his lap, splattering beads of blood on the desk. Impulsively, I snatched up the receiver and smeared cold blood on my palm.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
I punched nine-one-one.
Before I could panic properly, the New York City police department arrived in droves.
A seasoned type began to question me, making me feel even more suspect than I already felt. What was it about authority that made me imagine I was guilty when I wasn’t?
“Is this how you found him, ma’am?”
The older detective who grilled me resembled a caricature of Columbo, the 1970s TV detective. He wore a wrinkled, stained trench coat and attempted an unguarded manner. But I wasn’t fooled. His gray, bushy hair was uncombed and he squinted beady blue eyes that were set so close he looked like one of those one-eyed monsters in fairy tales.
“This is how I found him.”
“Begging your pardon, ma’am, what’s your name?”
“Electra. Electra Campos.”
“Well, Miss Electra. Is it Mrs. or Miss?”
“Ah. Excuse me, Professor Campos. What time did you arrive on the scene?”
“Exactly six thirty.”
“Why were you in the dean’s office at this early hour?”
“I was delivering a packet.” I pointed to my manila envelope on the floor a few centimeters from the fresh blood.
“And this packet, why couldn’t it wait until normal office hours?”
“I had to meet a deadline.”
He looked at his watch. “At six thirty a.m.?”
“Friday afternoon’s deadline.”
“I see.” Colombo snickered and shook his head.
“Am I under arrest, uh—?”
“Detective. Detective Swift.”
“Detective Swift?” I nearly snickered.
“You college types love my name.”
“I don’t love it, Detective. Just amused.”
“I get that a lot.” He inspected me from head to boot. “How well did you know Dean Johnson?”
“As well as anyone on campus. I attended a few mixers at his home. He wasn’t bad as far as deans are concerned.”
I was lying. The man was duplicitous. But then again, I was prone to harsh judgment when I regarded high-ranking administrators.
“Anyone you know who might’ve wanted him dead?”
“Oh, any number of faculty from the sciences.”
“You want to say more about that, Professor Campos?”
“He funded a new building in the arts. That pissed off the scientists. Oh, the engineers weren’t too happy either.”
One of the lesser detectives approached him and whispered in his ear. Detective Swift walked back inside the office to the center of the crime scene, scribbled in a three-by-five notepad and returned to me. I stood outside in the hallway, avoiding the vision that was the poor fuck of a dean.
“My men said somebody tampered with the crime scene. You know anything about that?”
I was annoyed that he called his group of detectives “men” when the one who had whispered in his ear was obviously a woman. A striking Latina at that. I notice such details.
“That’s funny,” I said.
“Your detective doesn’t look like a man.”
“I didn’t say she did.”
He squinted, his eyes becoming beady blue slits. He must have been somewhat handsome about twenty years ago and his habit of squinting probably helped him get the girl. Occasionally.
“Like I was saying, Professor Campos, the crime scene was compromised. You say this is exactly how you found the body when you entered the room?”
He sighed. “Would you mind telling me why you touched the body?”
“I didn’t touch the body. I stumbled on a computer cord and the seat jerked and half-turned. That’s when I saw blood. And his penis hanging out of his pants.”
“You yourself did not move the chair?”
“I myself did not move the chair.”
The Latina detective lingered at the doorway listening and I sensed her amusement each time I answered. I found myself answering too boldly. Trying to impress a female detective, I thought. Stop it, pendeja.
“Professor Campos, you got a murdered dean here. You want to give me some straight answers.”
Unexpectedly, my gut churned and I sprinted across the hallway to the bathroom. Remnants of a meager breakfast emptied into the toilet. When I came out of the stall, the female detective blocked the bathroom door, her tight skirt highlighting curvaceous hips. Black leather knee-high boots gave her height, but she was probably no more than five-five in bare feet. The light-caramel flesh of her neck was so tempting I wanted to lick the vein that popped faintly above her collarbone.
“You all right?”
I bent over the washbowl and splashed cool water on my face. “Did he send you after me? That’s embarrassing.” I wiped my face with a coarse paper towel. “No, wait, he sent you in because he thought I would escape.” I pointed to the window that was large enough for a toddler to squeeze through.
She grinned and my gut cramped, warning me to stay away. This woman was far above my pay grade. She came closer and I stepped back, but she sloped in tighter and wiped my leather jacket’s lapel.
“Blood,” she said.
“Huh?” My suave demeanor disappeared.
She gazed straight through me. “It’s hard the first time.”
“The first time?” I didn’t know what she referred to. We’d barely met.
“A dead body. The first time I saw one I nearly lost my breakfast.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“That’s why you make a good detective and I’m a history professor.”
“History, huh? Never was my favorite subject.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
She grinned again and I felt I was getting somewhere, until I realized I was coming on to a police detective in a college campus bathroom after seeing my dean dead with his dick hanging out of his pants. A knock on the door saved me from my cavalier antics.
“Hey, Quinn, everything all right in there?”
“It’s all good, Dan.” She stepped aside. “Ready to see the world again?”
“Irish father, Latina mother.”
“Ah. Pretty common, I guess.”
“You’re saying I’m common?”
“I would never make that mistake about you, Detective Quinn.”
I opened the door and faced Swift, who barred the exit.
“Just a few more questions, Professor.”
“Sure, but can I sit down somewhere?”
“I won’t be long.”
He wouldn’t move and I felt Detective Quinn’s breath subtle on the back of my neck, swirling inside my shirt collar.
“You say you tripped on a computer cord?”
“Yeah. I tripped.”
“Where’s the computer?”
“Must be in the office.”
“There’s no computer.”
“I tripped on a computer cord, I know I did.”
“You sure it wasn’t a lamp cord, Professor Campos?”
“No. It was a computer cord. It was thick and white.”
“My men,” he cleared his throat, “I mean, my detectives can’t find a cord or a computer. Makes me wonder how you tripped.”
“May I go in?” I gestured toward the dean’s office, which had been roped off with tacky yellow crime scene tape.
“Be my guest, Professor. Be careful not to disturb anything this time.” I heard sarcasm in his voice.
I tiptoed into the office, apprehensive that I might bloody my boots again. I stood in the middle of the room and saw no cord and no computer.
“I swear I tripped on a cord, Detective Swift.”
“Please, Professor, feel free to call me Detective. Just Detective.”
I was being set up and this guy was more concerned with hierarchical formalities.
“Does this mean you’re going to arrest me?” I wasn’t feeling debonair anymore.
“Not yet. For now, we’re trying to get the facts straight.”
My body twitched in that scared shitless sort of way.
“I have one more question and then you can leave, but don’t go far. We may need you again.”
“I won’t board a plane to Buenos Aires, if that’s what you mean.”
“Did you see anyone else in the building?”
“No one? Not even a janitor?”
“That’s all for now, Professor. Here’s my card.” He rummaged in his trench coat pocket and brought out a grimy card, frayed at the edges.
“Seeing a dead body. Never easy,” he said.
“So I’ve heard.” I looked around and saw Detective Quinn whispering with other detectives. I turned to leave and had an urge to look back but didn’t want to appear too eager. I knew her name and where to find her. What was I thinking? Okay, stop it, pendeja.
I was headed to the Administration building’s exit when I heard footsteps behind me. Fuck. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t told them about the phantom in the hallway. They wouldn’t have believed me. Or they maybe would’ve thought I invented suspects to ward off suspicion.
Detective Quinn’s steady hand caressed my shoulder. Okay, maybe not a caress.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said.
“We aren’t interested in framing you. We’re looking for the right answers.”
“As opposed to the wrong answers?”
“Look. Maybe we can talk later. Here’s my card. Call if you think of anything.”
Her card was clean, crisp and taupe with bold lettering.
“Did Swift put you up to this?”
“I don’t just take orders, Professor. Someone like you would know that.”
This wasn’t good. Already she was charming me and disarming me. I’m in trouble, I thought.
“Thanks for the card. I’ve got to get to class.”
I glanced at my watch and noticed that more than two hours had passed. It was close to nine thirty.
“May I walk you to class?”
“I thought I’d walk you to class. You seem edgy.”
“I’m not going to class yet. I’m going to my office.”
“You said you had to get to class.”
“I do. At noon.” We had barely met and already I felt like she was being forward. She was a cop, for Christ’s sake. I couldn’t trust a cop. My father was rolling in his grave.
She hung back. “Don’t hesitate to call. For any reason.”
I scrunched my forehead, stumped because she moved faster than me. That was a come-on, I thought, and rushed across a chilly campus on what had become a bleak November day.