The Compleat Kepler: Love Don’t Mean A Thing

cover-smallerLove Don’t Mean a Thing

This story was originally written for an anthology called Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes, edited by Michael Bracken. Unfortunately for Michael and the rest of us who contributed, the publisher pulled the plug in a fit of reorganization. So after two years of waiting, the story reverted back to yours truly. I turned around and submitted it to Thrilling Detective. Needless to say, editors Gerald So and Kevin Burton Smith were happy to have a story that was already largely edited by the time it came over the transom.

When it was accepted, one of the first things Kevin told me was that Kepler does a damn fine Humphrey Bogart in this one. And with the last line in the story, I have to agree.

The original impetus for this story was sex. Now, Nick has no problem hooking up, as evidenced by Northcoast Shakedown and Second Hand Goods. In the latter, he not only is seduced by his client, but he and Elaine…  Well, maybe I’ll wait until Bad Religion is released to tell you more about that.

But sex was never central to the story, except maybe in “Roofies” (which was about sexual assault). The anthology had “sex” right in the title, so this story was going to be about sex. Since I was doing these shorts chronologically, this story ended up occurring about a month before Northcoast Shakedown. In that one, Nick is meeting with Tanya, a witness to one of his cases, at his favorite watering hole. A red-headed waitress named Audrey gives Nick a dirty look for bringing this glamorous blonde into “her” bar. I decided to build on that dirty look.

I’d attempted to do a couple of stories about Nick and Audrey before, never successfully. When this story came about, with sex as its reason for being, I decided that Audrey had always had a crush on Nick. But this being a crime story, there needed to be a crime. But did the crime need to happen before the story began? This was not a mystery. It was noir, and there is nothing more noir than a divorced man who doesn’t understand that his marriage is not only over, but it’s over by court decree. So Audrey marches into the bar, divorce papers in hand, very hungry to devour a man. It just so happens Nick is game and agrees to be Audrey’s dessert.

It’s not unknown that ex-husbands (and ex-wives and ex-lovers) often stalk those who dumped them. Audrey’s ex is one such unbalanced person and sneaks into his old house, gun in hand, ready to teach a lesson to his “unfaithful” wife and the man encroaching on his “property.” Oh, friends and neighbors, this is not something Nick Kepler tolerates, not even when he’s caught in the nude at gunpoint. He manages to subdue the wayward ex and proceeds, with considerably less guilt than before, to repeat some of the events of “A Walk in the Rain.” Yes, our wayward ex-husband goes into the trunk, but he’s alive for the trip to a remote beach out near Cedar Point, the coaster mecca 60 miles west of Cleveland. There, Nick releases him from the trunk, but, at gunpoint, tells him to walk to Canada. It’s night. It’s freezing. It’s Lake Erie.  Our boy will drown before he even reaches the breakwall. Nick relents and strands him out in the middle of nowhere, then dumps his car on the freeway.

But was Audrey just after a good time? Or did she know her ex would come after her if she brought a man home? Was there a reason she decided to sleep with a man with a reputation for bringing the abuse back to abusers?

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