Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mouse – A Short Story


dontravis.com blog post #357

Courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net
Back to storytelling this week after an interesting poem last week. Probably more meaningful to me than to most readers since I was a subtle subject of the work.

This week’s short story was inspired by… nothing. I just sat down and dreamed up a rat and a mouse. Voila, a short story resulted.

*****
MOUSE  

          I’m here to tell you, life as Rat Flanagan’s younger brother ain’t easy. Especially, when his moniker earns you the nickname of Mouse. I’m actually Ralph; he’s Finn, but when he went tough guy and got slapped with “Rat,” “Mouse” just came along automatically.
          My brother’s the leader of a local street gang, not by dint of leadership, but by being the meanest, nastiest guy in the neighborhood. The same way he got his nickname, come to think of it. But he’s always been good to me. Looked out for me, you might say. Took me under his wing.
          Until lately. You see, there’s this chick I met down at the college library where I’m struggling through my sophomore year. Roseanna’s her name. Blonde, blue-eyed, and stacked. Smart too. I made the mistake of bringing her around to meet some of the guys, and Rat went gaga over her.
          “She’s too much woman for you,” he said to me after I came home later that same day.
          “Naw. She’s exactly the right amount of woman,” I countered as a worrying flutter began in my stomach.
          He waved a scrap of paper in my face. “We’ll see.”
          “How’d you get her number?”
          “How else, Rose gave it to me.”
          “No way. And her name’s Roseanna.”
          “She’s a rose to me,” he said before turning and walking away.
          The flutter in my gut became a cramp.

          
          My next date with Roseanna wasn’t reassuring.
          “Course, I gave it to him,” she said as she concentrated on buffing the nails on her right hand. We were sitting in my ’98 Cougar in front of the college library.
          “Why?”
          “Why not? He’s your brother. If your mama asked for my number, I’d give it to her, wouldn’t I?”
          “My mom’s interest isn’t Rat’s interest.”
          “I don’t like that name. I like Finn better.”
          “You don’t have a problem calling me Mouse.”
          “Ralph’s such a plain name. Besides—” She tweaked my nose. “—Mouse is such a cute name.”
          The rest of the date did not go well. She seemed to enjoy her malt at the SUB and dancing at the Disco, a nearby college hangout, but I spent the evening fighting an increasingly rebellious gut.

        
          Things came to a head when she told me she couldn’t go out Friday night because “Finn” had asked her to a movie.
          “I thought we were going together,” I said.
          “Nothing official,” she answered, admiring her glittering scarlet fingernails. It looked like a professional job to me, and she couldn’t afford a manicure like that.
          “Nice nails,” I opened my gambit.
          She beamed. “You think so? I think it’s ultra!”
          I went from subtle to blunt. “How much did it cost?”
          Roseanna gave me her sweetest smile. “Have no idea. Finn paid for it. Wanted me to look nice for our Friday night date.”
          I went from blunt to self-destructive. “You can’t date two brothers.”
          “No law against it.”
          “My law. You gotta choose.”
          “You sure you wanna say that?”
          “I’m sure.”
          She tossed her head, sending blond hair spraying in all directions. “Well, Mouse, Seems to me a rat’s superior to a mouse, so what do you think.”
          “So you like the tough guy thing?”
          “I like macho, sweetie. And Finn’s got it in spades.”
          I left and retreated to my figurative corner.


          No way was I gonna give up Roseanna without a fight. And fight with Rat was something I’d never done, had no idea how to do it. So I sulked through their Friday night date and through the weekend. By Monday, I’d figured out how to proceed. I waited about a block away from the shack on an otherwise vacant lot that served as the Rodent’s headquarters—Rodents… get it? Rat, Mouse—until Neal came along. Neal, alias Pudge, was more or less Rat’s second in command, although there wasn’t really a command structure.
          “Hey, guy,” I joined Pudge on the sidewalk as he made his way toward the Rat’s Nest, which was our shack. Rat carried the theme all the way through, I’ll say that for him. “Sorry about the other day.”
          Pudge lumbered to a halt. “Sorry about what?”
          “Sorry my brother dissed you in front of the others like he did.” Rat had noted that Pudge was packing on the pounds.
          “Aw, that’s just Rat being Rat.”
          “If you say so. Just sayin….”


          I caught up with Billy—gang name “Goat”—as we broke up that afternoon. He was a skinny tough with a sharp chin.
          “Sorry about my brother dissing you today.” Rat had said in the club house just a few minutes earlier that a real goat would have chin whiskers. Goat probably couldn’t raise whiskers anywhere.
          “Dissing me?”
          “You know about the whiskers.”
          “He didn’t mean nothing. You know how he is.”
          “Yeah, I know. Puts us all down.”

          There were six of us in the club, and by the end of the week, I’d talked to all of them except for Gene, who went by the name of Randy. And if you want to know what I think, he was “randy” for Rat. He idolized my brother, and a couple of times I thought Randy’s britches got fuller when he was gazing adoringly at Rat. Wouldn’t surprise me if my bro wasn’t letting Randy have his way once in a while, but that’s not my business. Course it would make things simpler if Rat paid more attention to Randy and less to Roseanna.
          Things were a little tense around the house, especially when Rat went on a second date with my girl. We didn’t talk to one another so much that Mom asked what was the matter? We both brushed it off.


          I made my move at our Monday meeting. We hung around together every day, but on Monday, Rat insisted we have a “meeting” to plan the week’s mischief. Since he’d gotten so wrapped up in Roseanna, he wasn’t doing so much planning, which fit right into my plan.
          “I got something to say,” I announced after Rat finished spouting a lot of nothing.
          He gave me the fish-eye. “And what’s that?”
          “Things aren’t going too good lately, Rat. Not since you got so pussy-whipped.”
          Rat turned red in the face. “What the hell you talking about?”
          “If you’re gonna spend so much time with your chick, somebody else oughta lead the club.”
          “Somebody like you, for instance?”
          “Well… yeah. Me or Pudge. We both got ideas of how to make things better.”
          “Like what?”
          “Well, we all oughta have one of them telephones you carry around with you. Those cell phones. And the club oughta pay for them. And what kinda name is ‘Rodents’ for a club?”
          “You got a better one? And how’s the club gonna pay for six cell phones?”
          “You’re making my point for me,” I said. “You used to come up with ways for us to turn a few coins, but not no more. Now I got a few ideas that’ll keep us in beer for a while.”
          He raised an eyebrow. “Like?”
          “Like if I tell you, you’ll claim it was your idea. Like you always do. You diss us all, Rat, and we’re tired of it. It’s time for a change.”
          “And that change is you, huh?”
          I shrugged. “Why not? At least I got some leadership qualities besides beating everybody into line. And we’re sick of that, Finn.”
          “So what are you gonna do about it?”
          “We’re gonna have a meeting and choose a new leader, that’s what.”
          “You’n who else, little brother?”
          I got up off the crate I was sitting on and planted my feet. “Who’s with me?”
          Everybody got up and came over to stand behind me except for Randy. Rat looked shocked but he didn’t put up a fuss.
          “From now on, we’re the Hustlers, and I’m the leader. I got a sign we’re gonna put over the door that says so. And that’s what we’re gonna do, hustle our asses and make some money. Old man Maloney’s got a yard full of junk he says we can cart off and sell. It’s got lots of metal in it, and I know where to take it. That oughta get us our telephones. Then I’ll figure out how to pay for the service. What do you say to that?”


           Finn didn’t have much to say, which surprised me. And he wasn’t Rat anymore, which meant I could become Ralph. When I caught up with Roseanna in the library, she already knew something was happening.
          “Rat isn’t Rat anymore,” she said.
          “Nope. He’s Finn. And I’m Ralph, and I don’t care how plain you think that name is. It’s me, you hear?”
          “Sure, Mo… uh, Ralph.”
          “No more Finn. Make up your mind about which brother you want.”
          “That’s easy. I want you.”
          There’s something to be said for being tough… up to a point.

*****

Brains over brawn, they say. Worked for Ralph. Wish I could get it to work for me. Hope you enjoyed the story.

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don



Thursday, October 10, 2019

Comeuppance—Nicely Delivered


dontravis.com blog post #357
 
Courtesy of Pxhere.com
Dennis Kastendiek and I co-teach a free writing course called Wordwrights at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center in Albuquerque every Monday afternoon. It’s a nice group of people. We’re an open class, so anyone is free to attend at any time… or skip sessions if life interferes.

The last hour-and-a-half of the two-hour course is given over to comments on material submitted by class members for review… be they poems or fiction or memoir or essay. After a reading to the class by the author, our members are invited to give their comments. We get caught up in writing rules and how to break writing rules and does the material grip the reader… the usual things one would expect in a writing class.

But every once in a while someone comes along and puts us in our place by reminding us that everyone does not march to the beat of the same drum. Our class member, Joe Lovato—a quiet, unassuming, talented writer—delivered the class its comeuppance with the following poem he’s graciously permitted me to reproduce in my blog.

*****

THE WRITING CLASS
By Joe Lovato

As he sat and scribbled crazy thoughts
He wondered what the sane would think.
Will he love it, will she hate it, does it stink?

Two kind shepherds tried to
guide one lost lamb
out of the forest of doubt.
The lamb asks the trees for help.

And they said:

“I liked it, but that part
was a little vague, and redundant
I didn’t understand,
It stopped me,
I had to think.”

And the lamb bleated:

“Why must we
try to reach everyone,
have conflict at all costs,
always advance the story,
bleach thought with clarity?
You don’t have to be literal to be literate.
Why must the blood on the rose be edible?
Cookie-cutters don’t make the cookies taste better.

We’re not going to make it to the bigs.
If we did we’d be like that old ball player,
the luckiest man on the face of the earth guy
who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Anyway, success might be more glorious… posthumously.”

And they said:

 “We criticize the work not the writer,
 but we can’t let one little pig build a straw house.”

And the lamb bleated:

“I’m a lamb!  This isn’t calculus it’s ego therapy. 
Don’t cry to be understood
understand what you’re feeling.”


The furrowed boughs on the frowning ferns
revealed their stoic thoughts.

The lamb thought, I’ve used the word thought too much.  
They won’t like it, but it’s a good word,
deserves recognition.
This probably took them out of it,
at least I’ve killed their apathy.

The lamb turned away shaking his shaggy head.
He pitied the pedantic poets
lost in the throes of perfection.

But then he thought,
crazy lambs never understand
why they’re not understood.

*****

Like I say… a comeuppance—nicely delivered. Good job, Joe

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don


Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Moon and the Sun, (Conclusion)


dontravis.com blog post #356

Sun-Moon Eclipse
Courtesy of Pixabay.com
Here’s the rest of Mark’s short story. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s one of his best. Let’s see how he ends the work. We take up right where we left off at the end of installment one.

*****

THE SUN AND THE MOON
Part 2
By Mark Wildyr
The notebook slipped from my fingers as the truth struck me. Jesus! “Sunshine!” Every morning he called me “Sunshine.” Helios, the sun! He’d used sun in the Greek and Roman and Egyptian personifications. Among all the other nationalities flowing in my veins, those were the ones we had talked about most! And that “green Phoeban fire”…bright green fire? I had green eyes. And I would singe his touch, shrivel his kiss, turn his passion to ash!
Oh, my Lord! Mike loved me! Loved me in a different way! I always missed the hell out of him when the Laniers went to their cabin on the lake each summer, but his yearning went beyond what I’d understood. Eros! He mentioned Eros. That was the god of Love. And Apollo, he wasn’t only the Sun god, he was handsome and desirable. Mike always told me how handsome I was, but he did it in such a way that I never suspected. “Gee, Mitch, you look like a million bucks today” was one of his favorites.
Thus is Venus fated to orbit second in his precious vortex.
Venus, the second planet from the sun. He knew that someday I’d get married, and he’d be second forever in my life. Venus? Wasn’t the she also the goddess of something? Love. He cast himself in the female role.
Did I really know Mike Lanier so little? Was he a total stranger to me? No! I knew him better than anyone in the world, his family included. We shared secrets they’d never know. How could I have been so dense?
I picked up the notebook and sat back in my chair. How would I have reacted? Right at the moment, I’d give him anything he wanted! Come back, Mike, and I’ll surrender it all. Give you everything! That was easy to say, even easy to mean. He was in the grave. Back then I’d probably have exploded and told him to grow up.
Moving in a trance, I collected my notes and his book and left. Halfway down the library steps, I almost dropped everything. I hadn’t considered the second part of the poem! Luna…the Moon. Had there really been a male Luna in his life? I plopped my butt down in the grass beneath a tree and opened to the poem again.
This sibling of Eros accepts my touch, my kiss, my timid caress.…
Yes, there was a Moon in his sky. And they got together. They... they made love.
 Enriching my aura with a molten, milk-white nimbus.
I fought with my stomach, amazed such a fierce jealousy gripped me. Jealousy, not revulsion. “Oh, Mike! Why didn’t you let me know?”
The answer was crystal clear and unerringly on the mark. Because he knew me too well. He knew me better than I knew him. Sadly, I went back to the poem.
Selene’s time is tender but fleeting. Then again Hyperion’s son ascends…
Hyperion was a Titan and the father of Helios and Selene and Eros. “... obscuring my silver-footed king whose taste is oh so sweet, except… he is not my Roman Sol.”
Overcome by unidentifiable emotions, I closed my eyes and wept silent tears, uncaring who observed them. I wished I’d known he wanted something more; it would have been easy to accept his touch at that moment. Maybe that would have banked the fire.
After the school year ended, I worked up the nerve to ask Mike’s parents about the lakeside cabin where they usually spent the hot season. Still broken up over the loss of their son, they weren’t ready to return to the place where he’d spent his last decent summer, but they generously offered me the use of the place. After thinking it over for a week, I accepted. So instead of working as planned after my freshman year, I headed to a mountain lake or “tarn,” as my poetic friend would have termed it, on a sojourn for the truth.


Coming to the lake had been a mistake; Mike was everywhere in the cabin. There were pictures of us in his room. His twenty-two-rifle hung over the fireplace, his fishing rod and reel, his floppy hat, his very spirit inhabited the place. I masturbated that first night with a photo of a laughing, handsome Michael Lanier before me. What would it have been like with him in person? Then I tossed until I finally slept, waking once in the night to the eerie feeling of a presence in the room. Unafraid, I grinned lazily into the inky darkness and went back to sleep.
I used the Lanier’s canoe to visit everyone on the incredibly beautiful mountain lake. It was a smooth, blue-gray mirror about a mile wide, set in a small valley crammed with towering mixed conifers. I found a few handsome people, but none I could picture as the “silver-footed king.” Gradually, I wormed my way into the heartbeat of the small summer community to pursue my quest. I met a girl whose folks probably saved me from starvation since I’m not much of a cook. Julie was fun and knew all the summer folks. On the second Monday of my stay, I gnawed barbecue ribs while perched beside her in their lawn swing.
“You’ve met everyone.” She was doubtless exasperated I seemed more interested in others than in her. “Except Sam, of course.”
“Sam?” My ears pricked up.
“Sam Pritchard. He lives here year-round and takes care of the cabins over the winter. He always goes to visit his dad for a week or so after most of the summer folks arrive. He’s everybody’s handyman. Most of us can’t even turn on our own water pumps, much less repair them. So when everyone’s settled in, he takes off.”
“Doesn’t sound like my guy.” I relaxed muscles I hadn’t realized had gone taut.
“Your guy? You’re looking for someone in particular?”
“Just someone who was friends with Mike.”
“Mike was friends with everyone. He was a good guy Anyway, Sam just back to the lake.”
I smiled and changed the subject. It was easy; we just talked about Julie.
Meeting this errant caretaker proved no problem at all. The next morning, as I was trying to fry my third egg over easy without turning the yolk into something like dried plaster, a knock drew me to the front of the cabin. Who in the hell could that be?
I opened the door and stood face to face with Mike’s Artemis.


*****

Mark ends his story here, leaving us to wonder if Mitch and Sam discovered anything between them. I’d say Mitch was primed, so who knows? A great story.

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Moon and the Sun, A short story in two parts


dontravis.com blog post #355

Sun-Moon Eclipse
Courtesy of Pixabay.com
Inasmuch as I’ve been sorta under the weather this week, Mark Wildyr agreed to guest post one of his stories this week. It happens to be one of my favorites. Thanks to Mark, and I hope you readers enjoy the story as much as I do.

*****

THE SUN AND THE MOON
Part 1
By Mark Wildyr
Michael Lanier was my best friend and next-door neighbor. Had been since forever. At the El Rey Community College, the initials M&M didn’t represent chocolate candy but Mitchell George and Michael Lanier. Yet we were so different nobody understood why we were such buddies—probably me least of all. I was physical; Mike, cerebral. He nurtured me in the classrooms, and I protected him on the playing fields. I was a healthy, popular, golden-haired blend of many cultures and bloods; he was a dark-haired, pale, enigmatic Celt. We got along like the opposite poles of magnets. If I could keep him out of his notebooks, he was a great guy. He had volumes of the things filled with his constant scribbling. They were part diary, part observation, and part poetry.
How close we were was brought home hard when his cancer showed up last year. I hadn’t understood how much of a hole he would leave in my life, my heart, my soul. The last time I saw him was etched into my brain for eternity.
“Sunshine,” he had wheezed weakly.
God! “Hello, Sunshine.” That was his way of greeting me each morning. Thereafter it was Mitch or Mitchell, but always the first time of the day was “Sunshine.”
“Hi, Tiger. How you feeling? I saved you a place on the soccer team.”
He gave a shadow-smile. “Gimme a week, okay?”
Damn, I hoped I could get through this without bawling. I didn’t mind him seeing me cry. I just didn’t want him to know how scared I was—for him.
“Mitch, I want to give you some things, okay?” He nodded to the table beside the hospital bed. That sentence wore him out and tore me up inside.
I damned near lost it when I saw what was there, going blind in spite of my resolution not to weep. The silver Celtic cross he’d worn around his neck for as long as I could remember lay atop a thick, blue binder, one of his famous notebooks.
“The cross is to remember me by.” He clutched my hand, surprising me with his strength. “The notebook is to know me by.”
“I know you, Mike. Better’n anybody.” I gouged my eyes with my palm to clear away the tears so I could see.
“Maybe. But promise me you’ll read it. Might take more than... once.”
“I’ll read it until I can recite it,” I swore.
“Don’t go nuts on me, Mitchell.”
Michael Roger Lanier died that same night. I didn’t know a jock could blubber so much, but that’s what I did in the privacy of my room. My parents understood and left me alone to work through my grief.
Now the cross hung around my neck where it will remain forever. I read through the notebook twice simply because I’d promised, sobbing over some parts and laughing over others. Someday he would have been an author or a poet or a journalist or all three. His writing reflected him so perfectly I felt we were reading it together.
But I was still puzzled by his last words to me in the hospital. There was nothing in the book I didn’t already know except for one poem or poetic essay that I did not understand. He’d gone mystic like he sometimes did in real life. Determined to figure it out, I sat down in my bedroom and reread the piece he’d written just before they discovered the cancer about a year ago.
Naught but a distant star, I am Venus glittering low in a sun-starved, moonless hemisphere, one of a myriad of astral motes slung carelessly across the distant cosmos.
The hair on the back of my neck rose, unbidden, unexplained. I glanced around the room, freaked out by my own skittishness.
The Helios of my universe cuts bright and blinding across my path, nourishing even as he eclipses my luminance with his green Phoeban fire. Oh, how I long for this enervating, nurturing Apollo, this Greek Charioteer, this beautiful Egyptian Ra, would not his glowing incandescence sear my caress, shrivel my kiss, and turn fevered passion to pale ash. Thus is Venus fated to orbit second in his precious vortex.
I whirled about in my chair, convinced I was not alone. But I was. Hackles raised, I rubbed my puckered forearms as if they were cold. I swallowed and resumed reading.
Then comes Luna to my sky, whose shimmering beauty merely bedims my glow with his shaded shine. This Artemis, this brother of Helios, this sibling of Eros, accepts my timid suit, my kiss, my shy caress, enriching my aura with a molten, milk-white nimbus.
Selene’s time is tender but fleeting. Then again Hyperion’s son ascends, obscuring my silver-footed king whose taste is oh so sweet, except… he is not my Roman Sol.
I finished reading, uncertain why my upper lip was touched with sweat. Whatever the cause of my unease, it receded as I closed the notebook. I was alone again. Of course, I was; I had been all along.
No doubt this was the piece Mike intended me to “know him by.” I’m a jock not an intellectual, but this was something he’d asked me to do, so by damn, I’d understand this piece if it blew out all the circuits in my brain. So I dragged my fanny down to the library and took a stool before the biggest, fattest dictionary in the place and started making notes. An hour later, I moved to a reading table to assimilate what I had learned.
Venus, of course, was the second planet from the sun, moonless and the brightest star in our solar system. And Mike equated himself with Venus in his poem. Helios was the ancient Greek god of the Sun, sometimes known as Apollo. The Egyptians called him Ra; the Romans, Sol. Okay, so Mike had a sun in his heavens. So far, so good.
And the sun turned off the stars. Shit, he’d have my ass for thinking like that. The sun obscured the stars, or eclipsed them, as he put it. And it was both enervating and nourishing, like the real sun, I guess. It was necessary to nourish life, but if it got too hot, it drains you. So this sun made the planet feel inferior. Okay, got it.
Then comes Luna to my sky.…
Luna was the Roman Goddess of the Moon, sometimes known as Diana or Phoebe or Selene or the silver-footed queen. And Artemis was another name for the moon goddess. Hey! The guy found himself a girl. The devil had fallen in love and never even told his best friend.
But wait! Something was wrong. I hauled out the notebook and read:
Luna bedims my glow with his shaded shine.
His shine? The goofball mixed up his genders. He meant her shine. I frowned as I reread something else. Artemis the brother of Helios? ‘Silver-footed king?’ Uh-uh. Mike wouldn’t have made one mistake like that, much less three! He’d turned the moon goddess into the moon god.
The notebook slipped from my fingers as the truth struck me.

*****

What has Mitch discovered about his friend Mike? That Mike loved him? Not much question about that, but there more? Tune in next week and find out.

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Cutie-Pie Murders


dontravis.com blog post #354

Courtesy of StockFreeImages
Since my sixth BJ Vinson murder mystery is put to bed and scheduled for release by Dreamspinner Press on November 19, I figured it was time to begin the next novel. So I want to show you my opening efforts and ask you to let me know if it stirs any interest. I’m soliciting comments, people.

*****
THE CUTIE PIE MURDERS

Prologue


          The young man strutted up East Central, aware of—but not reacting to—the admiring looks thrown his way. After eighteen years of being first cute, then handsome, and finally sexy, he was accustomed to more than his share of attention. The street address he was looking for should be one of those new apartments in the next block. Cool. Fancy apartments meant money.
          He paused at the big brass double doors, scanned the communications panel, and with a heart playing pitter-patter in his chest, pushed the proper red button. After a moment, a pleasant baritone reverberated through the speaker.
          “Yes?”
          “Hi, this is—”
          A buzzer interrupted him as the interesting voice caressed his eardrums. “Fourth floor. Door’s open. I’m getting in the shower but won’t be a minute. Go down the hall to the bedroom on your right and make yourself comfortable.”
          Excited by the timbre of that voice, he couldn’t resist. “How comfortable?”
          “As comfortable as you want to be. I’ll look forward to learning your definition of the term.”
          Smiling, the youth pushed through a heavy door into the vacant lobby and called up the elevator. His date was a man. This was only his third call. The first had been an attractive lady a bit older than he liked. The second was a good-looking middle-aged man who’d kept himself fit. In all honesty, he enjoyed the second date more. Now another man. And wow! If the dude matched the voice on the intercom, it was full speed ahead.
          As promised, the door to 4201 stood slightly ajar. He eased into the vestibule and looked around. Nice. How long before he’d be able to afford a place like this? Probably about a bazillion years. He paused to take in the rich furniture in the living area and inhale the faint sensual scent of lavender hanging in the air before turning right and heading for the big bedroom at the end of the hall. From somewhere, he heard a shower shut off. How much time did he have before his client showed? He closed the bedroom door, wanting his client to open it and get a sudden, stunning glimpse of what he was buying.
          Standing beside the king-sized bed, he ran a hand over the satiny yellow and cinnamon spread… or was this a duvet? Whatever, it felt nice against his fingertips. He eased off his loafers while debating over how comfortable to get. He’d heard some people liked to undress you, but maybe he should go all the way and display what he had to offer. And without being smug about it, that was considerable.
          He shrugged out of his slipover shirt, careful not to muss his hair. After hesitating briefly, he slipped out of his trousers and lay back on the bed. A second later, he kicked off his briefs and lay naked except for his socks, Plumping a pillow, he looked down his torso to admire his abs and six-pack. How would he look to the guy who was coming through the door any minute now? He nodded to himself. Probably pretty good. Everybody said he had the face of a beautiful girl, but his body was all man.
          When the door opened, he threw up his hands and shouted, “Surprise!”
          The fine baritone sent shivers of anticipation down his back. “Surprise, indeed! Aren’t you a cutie pie!”

Chapter 1

          New Mexico State Penitentiary, Santa Fe, Thursday, March 8, 2012

          I stepped through the prison’s full-body X-ray security system and addressed a corrections officer. “B. J. Vinson for Inmate José Zapata, Number 79805. His attorney arranged my appointment.”
          The officer scanned a list of names on a clipboard and made a check mark. “Yessir, I’ll have him brought up.” He nodded to a man standing nearby. “This officer will take you to the interview room. He’ll remain with you at all times.”
          I grinned. “Not my first time at bat. I know the rules.” I took another look at the man’s ID badge. “Simmons. Weren’t you with APD a few years back?” I referred to the Albuquerque Police Department where I served for ten years before getting myself shot in the right thigh and receiving a medical discharge.
          “Yessir, it’s Detective Vinson, isn’t it?”
          “Not since 2005.”
          The man loosened up a little. “I remember you getting plugged while you and the commander were apprehending a murder suspect.”
          “Gene Enriquez wasn’t a commander then. He was a lowly detective just like me. And now you know why he’s in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division and I’m not.”
          Simmons laughed. “Yeah, he let you take the bullet instead of him.”
          “Got it… the first time around.”
          My escort, a young corrections officer named Pierce, and I reached the start interview room a few minutes before Zapata arrived.
          The former bigwig in the now-defunct South Valley gang called the Santos Morenos—the Brown Saints—arrived in restraints and with his own escort, as was required for Level VI prisoners. This man played a prominent role in the case file I'd labeled The Zozobra Incident. José Zapata had kidnapped Paul Barton--the human being I treasured most on this earth--and attempted to kill him before I literally dropped from the heavens and put a bullet in Zapata's guts and killed Puerco Arrular, the gang;s leader, before they could accomplish that deed. Now Zapata looked more like a sick old man than the forty-four-year-old thug I knew him to be. My bullet apparently hadn’t digested too well.
          “Vinson,” he said in a gravelly voice stronger than I expected, given his appearance.
          “Zancon.” I addressed him by his nickname out of habit. He earned the moniker by virtue of his long legs and lanky frame.
          We settled at a bolted down metal table with Pierce taking up a position behind the inmate.
          “Thanks for coming,” Zancon rumbled.
          “Surprised to get a call. Even more surprised it came from Brookings Ingles. Didn’t know you went for the most expensive defense attorney in the state.” Brookie Ingles was long rumored to be a lawyer for the mob.
          Zancon waved an emaciated arm. “Not my trial shyster. I was a cooked goose there. But he takes care of things a man can’t take care of hisself. You know, when he's locked up like this.” He leveled black eyes that looked to be filmed over with something… exhaustion, disease, hopelessness? “I got a brother with some coins, and he helps me out with that.”
          The arched eyebrow the guard couldn’t see told me Zancon had managed to hide some of his loot. The brother was merely managing the inmate’s assets.
          “Juan’s got a problem. Hell, I’ve got a problem. Whole family has. But I figure you owe me, so I’m the dude putting the question to you.”
          “I owe you nothing, Zancon. Juan… that’s your brother?”
          The inmate nodded.
          "If he has a legitimate problem, I’ll listen to what he has to say.”
          Zancon flushed before relaxing and spreading his hands over the table. “Fair enough. Everbody was shooting at everybody that night, but I’m the one who can’t eat or take a crap like everbody else because of the lead poisoning you give me.”
          “Now that’s out of the way, what’s your brother’s problem?”
          “Some son-of-a*bitch offed his boy. And I want him to pay.”
          I leaned back in the uncomfortable chair and sighed. “A gang killing?”
          He shook his head. “Naw. Kid wasn’t into gangs. My bro ain’t either. Stayed righteous while I was outlawing.”
          “So what happened?”
          Zancon looked uncomfortable. “Juan’ll give you the details. He’s waiting for your call.”
          My antenna went up. “Look, if you’re not straight with me, then I can’t—”
          “I’m telling it like it is. No gang stuff. Mateo wasn’t in no gang.”
          “Mateo. That’s your nephew?”
          He nodded and suddenly seemed tired. “Yeah. Mostly went by Matt.”
          “How old was he?”
          “Eighteen. Wasn’t but eighteen.”
          “Give me some details.”
          I got the warning look again. “Okay," I said, at least tell me where he was killed.”
          “Albuquerque,” he answered.
          It was my turn to spread hands over the table. “Hell, you don’t need me. ADP will take care of it.”
          Zancon gave a sour smile. “Yeah, right. They’ll see what you seen. Another gang member offed. Good riddance.”
          “That’s not the way things work, and you know it. They’ll give it their best shot.”
          He leaned forward and tapped the table with a long fingernail. “Maybe so. But you’ll be another set of eyes and ears. I know you, Vinson. You’re a damned good detective. And I want you to finish him. You know, like with Puerco.”
          Now it was clear why Zancon wanted me on the case. Zancon didn’t want APD to find the killer. He was offering to hire me to settle up with the murderer. Why did these guys always judge others by their own lights?
*****

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