dontravis.com blog post #600
Image Courtesy of Dreamspinner
It’s been a while since I’ve discussed my books on the website.
Dreamspinner Press has published seven in the BJ Vinson Murder series, and I’d
like to take the time to remind you of them. Burleigh J Vinson (any question
why he uses his initials BJ?) and his life companion, the handsome Paul Barton appear
in each book, and over the term of the series, their bond merely grows and
strengthens. Paul graduates college (University of New Mexico), takes a master’s
degree, and becomes a freelance journalist while BJ continues to run his
private investigations business (although he picks up a partner, the retired
cop Charlie Weeks). And, of course, Hazel Harris Weeks, Charlie’s wife,
continues to run them all ragged as the office manager.
The books are as follow:
The Bisti Business
City of Rocks
Always in need of sales, I’d like to give you another look at Cutie-Pie,
the last of the series. At the beginning of Chapter 5, BJ and Paul are talking
to the Baca family, whose son Petey, is the fourth of the murderer’s victims. The
passage is sort of long, so please stick with me.
THE CUTIE-PIE MURDERS
The Baca family’s house looked to be in mourning.
The dirt-brown stucco reminded me of a tomb. The Moroccan arch leading onto the
front porch and the equally crescent-shaped walnut carved door both brought gravestones
to mind. The woman who answered the door Wednesday morning did nothing to relieve
the impression. Small and walnut hued, she looked damaged but enduring.
I let Paul take the lead. He had such an open
and sincere attitude that most people reacted favorably to him.
She nodded mutely.
“My name is Paul Barton, and this is my friend
B. J. Vinson. May we offer our condolences about Petey? I wonder if we could talk
to you about him?”
“Are you the police?”
I spoke up to spare Paul from explaining he
was a journalist, which might not have gone over too well with a grieving mother.
“I’m a confidential investigator, ma’am.”
“Why are you asking about Petey? Are you looking
for his killer?”
“We’re investigating a series of killings of
young men, and your son’s death seems to fit the circumstances.”
“I read something about that. You think that
horrible serial killer murdered my Petey?”
“It’s possible. And I want to put a stop to
“Come in, and let’s see if I can help you.”
The “and him” she added in a whisper probably referenced her dead son.
From what Roy and Glenann had told me, the Bacas
were solid middle class, but their modest home in a not-so-affluent Southeast
Heights neighborhood reflected both frugality and pride of ownership. Afghans in
bright colors covered inexpensive furniture in a sitting room obviously used only
for visitors. A vase of pink roses on the mantelpiece surprised me until I figured
out they were probably plastic. The delicate attar permeating the room was likely
an air freshener. The family lived in other parts of the building. In fact, I heard
a child, probably Petey’s little brother, somewhere in the back of the house.
Once we were seated and served with particularly
good cups of hot tea, Mrs. Baca leaned back in her chair and waited expectantly.
I took a sip and placed the cup on the small
coffee table in front of me. “Is your husband home?”
She shook her head. “He’s at work. He works
for the public school system. And lately, he’s been putting in long hours. You know,
to take care of expenses we didn’t know were coming.”
I understood her to mean Petey’s funeral expenses.
I cleared my throat. “Could you introduce us to Petey? Let us see him for the young
man he was?”
With a great deal of dignity, Mrs. Baca led
us through Petey’s brief life. Bright, quick to anger but rapid to forgive, he appeared
to be a decent youth willing to work hard and keep his nose clean. He’d been both
patient with and exasperated by his little brother, Jimmy. Although the murdered
youth had been in his freshman year at UNM, he lived at home in order to save money.
And as Jules’s nosy neighbor had told me, Petey often picked up little Jimmy at
his math tutor’s house when the older boy had no classes that interfered.
As Petey’s life unfolded between tears and sniffles
and frequent photographs of the two boys, I grew even more incensed at the heartbreak
and misery this killer spread over Albuquerque. Even seasoned lawmen often became
so wrapped up in seeking justice—or retribution—for the killer’s victims, they sometimes
missed the tragic effects on the victims’ families. Murder not only brought death,
it also rent families apart, ruined ambitions, and caused health problems and heartbreak.
My resolve to bring this to an end stiffened and brought back the memory of my exchange
with Charlie the other day. I’d said, “Nothing illegal.” Now I was willing to reconsider.
I wanted this bastard found and put away.
Once Mrs. Baca had purged her soul talking about
her son’s life, I started with the questions. The first one was about Matt Zapata.
She scanned the picture and said she’d never seen him.
“Of course, Petey might have known him at the
university. He was a freshman, you know.”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s a possibility. Did he have
any friends at an apartment house in the 4200 block of East Central known as the
Her brows knitted, deepening the crease between
them. “Not that I know of. But….”
“Yes,” I finished for her, “he might have known
someone from the U.”
“You said you called his friends. How about
friends from the university? You know any of them?” Paul asked.
“He talked about one or two of them, but he
never brought them home. Maybe my husband knows some names. Is it important?”
I placed my card on the coffee table. “It could
be. Perhaps you’ll ask your husband and let my office know if he comes up with any
names. What about girlfriends? Was he going with anyone?”
“He did in high school. Got quite serious, but
her family moved to Las Cruces. They tried to keep in touch, but you know how it
is at such an age.”
“Did Mr. McClintock ever tutor Petey?”
“Heavens no. Petey was always a good student.”
She looked abashed at her outburst. “Of course, Jimmy is too, except in math. But
Mr. McClintock has helped him a great deal.”
Jimmy ambled into the room with a football under
his arm and stopped dead still. He stood for a moment without speaking before blurting
out, “Who’re you?”
“Don’t be rude, Jimmy. These men are investigators
asking about your brother. They want to help catch the monster who killed him.”
Paul reacted faster than I did. “I see you’re
a football player. What say we go outside and throw some passes while your mom and
Mr. Vinson finish up.”
“Be careful of traffic,” Mrs. Baca called as
they headed out the door.
That told me Jimmy and his friends played ball
on the residential street in front of the house. When the door closed behind them,
I turned back to the grieving mother.
“Did Petey ever spend any time with Mr. McClintock?
You know, go over early or stay late when he was picking up his brother?”
“Not that I recall. Sometimes I had to poke
at him to get him to get over there in time to pick up his brother.” She frowned
again. “Most of the time he went directly from his classes or the library at school
to pick up Jimmy. It’s quite a drive from here, and Petey saved on gas that way.
He didn’t want to be a burden. He worked evenings at a café not far from here to
help pay his expenses at college.”
“Was he able to contribute much?”
“More than I thought. He waited tables, you
see, and was usually tipped decently. Petey had a good way with people. They liked
him, so they left him good tips.”
“Ma’am, I’m going to ask you a question that
might offend you, but it has to be asked, and I’m doing it in the most respectful
way possible. You’ve told me about Petey’s girlfriends. Did he have boyfriends?”
“Of course he had boys as friends. He—”
“No, ma’am. Did he have boyfriends?”
Her mouth dropped open. “Dios no! He went to church with us regularly.
Went to confession. He… wasn’t like that.”
Her unconscious prejudice saddened me a little.
The coming enlightenment hadn’t reached everywhere. Maybe someday.
“Thank you, Mrs. Baca. It was something I had
to ask. But think about it for a moment. It’s not something he would have admitted
or made obvious. Are you certain?”
She gnawed her lower lip for half a minute,
telling me her mind was flashing back over her late son’s life from birth to death.
She’d give me an honest answer.
“There was a boy who lived next door a few years
back. They were close, like brothers, really. But I’m certain there was nothing
like that going on. No, definitely not.”
“Again, thank you, ma’am. What can you tell
me about the day he disappeared? A Thursday, I believe.”
Maria Baca swallowed audibly. Her eyes moistened.
“Yes. Thursday. I was at work all day. I housekeep for some families up in the Heights.
I came home and found his car in the driveway with the hood up. He’d been working
on it, you see.”
“What did Jimmy say about it?”
“Jimmy was still at school. When he got home,
he said his brother had been having car trouble. So we assumed he was off getting
a part he needed.”
“Petey wasn’t in class that day?”
“He only had morning classes on Thursday.”
“And when he didn’t return home?”
“I didn’t start to worry until after dark. Then
I called all his friends, but no one had seen him all day. So I asked the neighbors.
Mrs. Samuelson next door saw him start up the street toward the Gas Mart. Waved
to him in fact.”
“When was this?”
“Around two, the best she could remember.”
“Aside from calling his friends, what did you
“I called the police station over on Louisiana
Street, but they told me there was nothing they could do. He hadn’t been gone long
enough. Promised to keep an eye out for him, but that’s all.”
“That’s true, ma’am. Then what?”
“I called our church. Petey’d been to confession
the Sunday before that, so I thought maybe the father could tell me if he was disturbed
about something. Of course, he couldn’t tell me anything, but I wanted to know if
Petey was worried about something. He… he said no, Petey seemed okay. His usual
self.” A tear spilled from her right eye. “My husband and I spent a sleepless night.
Even called his father up in Denver to see if he’d heard anything.”
“Your husband isn’t Petey’s father?”
She shook her head. “We were divorced. But my
husband’s been Petey’s father for the last six years. He loved Petey as much as
he loved Jimmy.”
“Had your ex-husband heard from Petey?”
“He hadn’t.” Her voice almost failed. “And then…
and then the next morning, they called and told us… they’d found him.”
I allowed her to recover before spending another
fifteen minutes asking questions that gave me nothing new. I terminated the interview,
and when we stepped to the porch, she smiled—the first one I’d seen from her—at
the sight of Paul throwing passes to an obviously delighted and coltish Jimmy Baca.
Her voice sounded strong when she called out
to her son. “Time to go to the school bus, Jimmy.” In a near whisper, she added,
“Time to move on.”
I felt a touch of nostalgia as I perused the book to locate this
segment. I’m gonna have to give BJ and Paul another mystery to solve one day
safe and stay strong.
mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say…
so say it!
to The Cutie-Pie Murders:
See you next Thursday.
New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.