top of page
Shadow House.jpg

An unexpected visit from the daughter of an old mentor launches private detective Terry Luvello into one of the most intriguing cases of his career. Margaret Reasoner, the matriarch of one of Cleveland’s wealthiest and most politically connected families, has recently passed away.


Not trusting any of her children, Margaret had added a clause in her will requiring a private inquest should her death take place under suspicious circumstances. Hired to investigate, Terry spends a week at the Reasoner’s sprawling estate dealing with the increasingly hostile family as he unravels the mysteries of the mansion known as the Shadow House.


Terry recruits his partner and girlfriend, Cleveland police detective Hannah Page to aid in the investigation. The two uncover a web of secrets and lies that stretch beyond anything they have ever experienced. As the deceptions pile up along with the body count, a killer plans the ultimate revenge.


Terry’s ingenuity and uniquely wry sense of humor help him navigate this complex case while juggling the demands of his clinical transition about to enter its final phase. In a household where no one is innocent, Terry must decide just how far he is willing to go to find the guilty party.

Chapter One

I hate adultery cases—every private detective does. Tawdry and nasty by their very nature, they inevitably lead to pain for both the client and the accused. That’s true even if the accused is one of those rare individuals who isn’t actually screwing around.

So why do we take these cases? We take them for the same reason the men and women we follow choose to cheat. As cynical as it sounds, every private investigator knows that it’s sex, not love, that makes the world go round. The two occasionally have some direct relationship, but those instances are not our concern. A PI’s livelihood depends on the man who suddenly realizes his secretary is far more good-looking than his wife or the woman who decides she’s just a little too lonely, waiting for her husband to come home after work. Their wronged partners pay our bills, and we take a deep breath, sigh, and spend one more night peering through a high-def camera next to yet another dirty hotel window.


Fortunately for my sanity, I didn’t rely strictly on those cases. As Terry Luvello, PI, I had developed a good reputation for competence, much of that gained while assisting my police detective girlfriend on two high-profile cases.


Detective Hannah Page stayed with me through it all, though we had some rough moments after the conclusion of both investigations. We got back together after our last case on what Hannah called a “trial basis.” Our reunion overjoyed my mother and my best friend. Hannah’s parents—not so much.

Hannah had also stayed despite the complications and occasional wide-eyed stares caused by my transitioning to male. With just two months to go before my actual surgery, we were now living together in Hannah’s Cleveland Heights home.

I loved her more than I could say, and I believed she loved me back. That love did not keep her from reacting negatively to my latest assignment.


Staring at me before I left that evening, Hannah asked, “Why do you take these cases? Trying to catch those shitheads in the act just depresses you, and we really don’t need the money.”


She wasn’t wrong on either count, but I reminded her of our agreement. “When I moved in here, we said we would split the household costs. Like them or not, the adultery cases pay my part of those bills.”


Hannah shook her head before giving me a kiss goodbye. “Get the hell out of here, but don’t go getting any ideas. Just remember what I said I’d do if I caught you screwing around.”


She had, in fact, told me exactly what she would do, a starring role in that scenario played by the woodchipper Hannah insisted on keeping in our backyard. I shivered despite myself—the cost of a self-assertive girlfriend who wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without her Smith & Wesson.


Tonight’s carnal shithead was one Seamus O’Donnell, a man who differed from the other shitheads I’d chased, if only because he didn’t seem to be, on the surface, a shithead. A computer programmer at Cleveland’s NASA Glenn Research Center, Seamus was outwardly the perfect family man—beloved by his wife, his three young children, and even his golden retriever puppy. I looked through both public and private records and found none of the usual indicators of infidelity. There were no unusual hotel bills, no significant cash withdrawals, and no sudden changes in wardrobe or hairstyle. When I spoke with his wife one week prior, she said Seamus had always been a model husband. Still, she had doubts.


It began with the napkins. Handing me the two cheap paper cocktail napkins, his wife, Catherine, seemed almost guilty of her suspicions.

“Seamus is not the neatest man, and I often find candy wrappers and other crap in his pockets. Typically, it’s nothing unusual. Then I found these.”


I looked at the napkins. Both were for the Dorrance, a small dive hotel in Fairview Park. If Seamus was fooling around, he wouldn’t be the first guy to do so at the Dorrance. Still, it wasn’t much.


“Do you have anything else—unexplained absences, lots of late work nights, any unusual behavior? You said he seemed distant lately. When did that start?”


Catherine shook her head. “It started with the break-in. We went out to dinner with the kids about two months ago. When we came back, we noticed a broken window, and our TV and my spare laptop were missing—Seamus keeps his locked away in our bedroom. We called the cops, and they sent someone out to take a statement. Seamus has seemed unusually quiet ever since. I thought he was worried it might happen again. Now, I’m not so sure. You’ve got to understand”—she looked at me plaintively—“I’ve never seen Seamus even glance at another woman. I just can’t imagine him screwing around.”


Given her husband’s work at NASA, I wondered about an employment-related secret. I then dismissed the thought almost as quickly as it had come. Spy movie conspiracies rarely occurred in real life.


I spent the next week following Seamus to all his after-work destinations. Unlike the spy caper that had once played in my head, those destinations were, in a word, boring. Seamus drove straight home for six of those nights. On the seventh, he stopped by the local Giant Eagle to pick up what looked like a bag of snacks.


Tonight, I hoped my luck might change. Catherine had called earlier that day because Seamus had told her he’d be late coming home. When she asked why, her husband said something about completing a report for senior management—unusual, Catherine said, because such reports were not normally a part of Seamus’s job.


Hoping for a break, I pulled into a small drugstore lot across the street from a parking area used by NASA employees. My efforts were rewarded when Seamus exited the NASA building precisely at 5:00 p.m. Either he’d finished his report early, or the excuse he’d given his wife was, as she suspected, total bullshit.


The answer became clear as I followed Seamus for ten blocks down Lorain Avenue until we reached the gray concrete parking lot of the Dorrance Hotel. I parked just across the street and had a good view of Seamus as he exited his car and proceeded to an outside door on the hotel’s first floor. I had my location, and I knew my target. Now, all I needed were pictures.


Whatever you’ve seen in the movies, residents rarely forget to close the drapes when they’re in a hotel room. That maxim particularly held true when they’re having an affair, and Seamus O’Donnell was no exception.


To get around this problem, PIs resorted to gadgets. Like most detectives, I owned a variety of cameras, all used for different purposes. After taking several pictures of Seamus knocking on the hotel room door, I pulled out a different camera, a thermal imaging model used by contractors to determine the structural integrity of a building behind its existing walls. Thermal imaging can’t distinguish faces, but the camera’s photos did outline human shapes. That was true even when those shapes were, in the vernacular of my girlfriend, “doing the nasty” on a hotel room bed.

With daylight fading and Seamus behind a closed door, I crossed the street and positioned myself outside the room’s main window. I took several shots as Seamus and his unseen friend began screwing on the hotel bed. I took my last picture, but decided, for some reason, to take one more. I turned the camera back on, and that final image showed one figure, likely Seamus based on height, with his partner nowhere in sight. That was when things truly went south.


An older detective once cautioned me to listen to every word uttered by a client, particularly in adultery cases. Even if they were angry or lying, the person paying you still had a better idea than you what was truly going on. To be effective, that listening also needed to include a fair degree of interpretation—most clients weren’t aware of how much they truly knew. It was a lesson I remembered almost too late.


I was trying for yet another shot when the hotel room door opened. That alone wouldn’t have been a problem. If you followed enough carnal shitheads, you’d inevitably find yourself in a fair share of confrontations. The bigger problem—the right hand that emerged was carrying a gun.


My assailant was not Seamus O’Donnell. I’ve known only one other computer expert, and he’d never touched a weapon in his life. This hand belonged to a tall, well-muscled, half-dressed man in his mid to late thirties. I knew immediately what I’d missed.


Catherine O’Donnell had told me everything—I was just too dumb to put the pieces together. She said her husband never looked at other women, a statement I’d heard a hundred times before and discounted almost immediately. I never considered Catherine might be right. Her husband didn’t look at other women because he was, in fact, a homosexual.


Catherine also told me her husband’s behavior had changed after the police investigated a break-in at their home. A computer programmer might not know which end of a gun to hold, but a cop wouldn’t be without one. I imagined a casual meeting after work to discuss the case—a meeting that unexpectedly led to other things. Hannah would call me an idiot for overlooking something so obvious. That assumed, of course, I stayed alive long enough to tell her.


Cops are good at reading faces, and I was guessing he read the shock on mine. It was time to return the favor.

“It’s good to meet you, officer. I would at least button your shirt though. This March weather will kill you otherwise.”

His own shocked look told me I’d guessed correctly. He still hadn’t, however, put down his weapon, a Glock far bigger than my own. I needed to do some more convincing.


“Are you really going to shoot me with that thing? Seamus’s wife knows he’s having an affair, and she knows about the Dorrance. Who do you think hired me? My own police detective girlfriend also knows exactly where I was headed tonight and why. If I’m found dead somewhere, how long do you think it’ll take her to find witnesses who saw you and Seamus enter your room together?”


Suddenly tired, I called out, “Seamus, quit hiding behind the goddamned door and talk some sense into your boyfriend!”


A chagrinned Seamus O’Donnell reluctantly walked out of the hotel room and stood next to his lover. Not looking me in the eye, he said, “Does Catherine really know?”


It was time to be blunt. “I’ll give you one helpful tip—if you’re meeting your lover in a hotel room, don’t stuff the hotel’s napkins in your pants pocket.” I looked again at Seamus’s boyfriend, still holding his gun. “I need to talk with Seamus alone. Unless you’re still planning to shoot me, you need to take a hike.”


Finally coming to terms with the situation, my anonymous police friend returned to the hotel room to gather his things. He exited two minutes later, said goodbye to Seamus, and turned to me one last time.


“You try and shake him down, and you will answer to me. A private investigator who looks like you won’t be hard to find.”


I waved my hand. “Relax, big guy. I’m just trying to let Seamus know the way I see this going. If he makes the right decision, it may actually work in your favor.”


He finally left, and Seamus and I walked back into the hotel room. Seamus grabbed for his wallet, but I shook my head.

“While I don’t think you’re a bad guy, I work for your wife. She’s paying me to tell her if what she suspects is true. I will not lie to her, but I will give you twenty-four hours. If you’re smart, you’ll use that time to sit down and tell Catherine what’s going on.”


Seamus looked utterly defeated. Sitting on the hotel bed, its covers still pulled down, he pled his case.


“I still love her, you know. I never cheated on Catherine before I met Brad. I never even contemplated cheating. I didn’t know I was gay. Catherine and I—our sex life has never been great, but we were still active, you know? When I tell her, she’s going to want a divorce.”


He was probably right, but I felt like I needed to give him hope. I wasn’t sure why, but I tried nonetheless.


“Maybe you two can come to some sort of an accommodation, one that takes into account both sides of the life you’re now facing. I don’t know how agreeable your wife will be, but I do know this—if you wait until I tell her first, she’s going to divorce you for sure. I’ll hold off talking to her, but one day is my limit. After that, she gets the pictures and my full report.”


I stood to leave, but Seamus had a question.


“Do you really think she might stay with me?”


I had bet on the “how do you justify your shitty job” query I got from most of my wayward spouses. Seamus was one of the few carnal shitheads who didn’t believe in blame-shifting. The truth was, I thought he was screwed. Who knows, however. Crazier things have happened.

“Tell Catherine you still love her. Even more importantly, tell her you’re still attracted to her. In this situation, I suspect she’ll need to hear that last part the most.”

I left feeling hopeful. Seamus had asked the right question. With otherwise good people in just the right situation, guilt could be a cleansing thing. Those conditions were rare, but they occasionally did occur.

Far more often, I’d seen the opposite. Guilt left unaddressed could be a rot, a cancer that preyed on both the evil and the innocent.

For those caught up in that hell, sometimes death felt like a blessing.

bottom of page