Thursday, January 21, 2021

Whiz Quiz Washout (Part 3 of 4 Parts) blog post #482

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At the end of Part 2, Technical Sergeant Bley hung around even though he was off duty. He obviously wanted to talk privately to his second, Sergeant Bemis.




“Don’t you think it’s time to ease up on Corso?” I asked. “He’s handled everything you can throw at him like a trooper.”

“Shit no, Tom!” he snapped. “He’s a queer, and I want him out. And I’m gonna break him yet.”

I rose and stood in front of him. “No, you’re not. You’re going to treat him like everyone else. He gets his dose of bullshit, but no more. There’s not a shred of evidence the kid’s homo. He’s as much man as any of them.”

“How come you standing up—”

“I stand up for all my men. That’s my job! Yours, too, Staff Sergeant Biers. We’re not here to vent our private prejudices on these trainees. We’re here to make airmen out of them.”

“Shit, Tech Sergeant. To my mind, getting a hard-on for your Pecker-Checker is evidence.”

“Nothing like that happened, Wayne,” I sat back down and tried to ease things a little.

“You calling me a liar?” His redheaded dander was rising.

“No. I’m saying you misunderstood the medic. I talked to the man, myself.”

“Well, fuck, Tom. Never thought you’d take a pickle’s side against me!”

“I’m not taking anyone’s side. I’m just saying treat him like anyone else. Do you hear me?”

“I hear you. Loud and clear!”

It seemed to me he’d said that before.


Discord among TIs is not a desirable thing, but it happens often enough. We were both well trained, and I doubt any of the flight noticed the clouded air between us. They had all they could handle struggling with the PC final assessment, meeting Air Force personal hygiene standards, keeping spotless quarters, a second clothing issue, learning the military codes and courtesies, and drilling—endless drill pad marches, road marches, cross-country marches, parade marches. Handling all that and trying to satisfy two of the meanest motherfuckers they’d ever run into, their Training Instructors, gave us cover for our strained relationship.

I kept a sharp eye on Wayne, and while he tended to pick Corso for the shit details, the real harassment reverted to an acceptable level. After another week, I relaxed my vigil. I shouldn’t have.

At the beginning of WOT 4, I arrived for the morning set-up to find pandemonium in the dorm. I walked halfway through the bay before anyone noticed me and called the flight to attention. Then trainees in various stages of dress scampered for their bunks, abandoning the two men scrambling up off the floor. Corso and Flight Leader Windle had obviously been fighting. Wayne’s pet hadn’t been doing well. Windle nursed a split lip; Corso didn’t have a mark on him. I noticed that the two had been mixing it up down near Corso’s bunk. That meant Windle had approached Corso. When Biers breezed in, prepared to let out a bellow, I took charge, holding up a hand to stop Windle from returning to his bunk.

“Stay right there, Trainee Windle!” I disdained his title of Flight Leader to raise the man’s anxiety level. “I’m not going to ask what’s going on because I don’t want to know.” I raised my voice and acted like a TI, “I won’t have personal fights in my flight! Is that clear?”

“Sir, yes sir!” they shouted in unison.

“If you haven’t learned you’re a team by now,” I bellowed, “then I doubt you’ll ever learn it! Nobody…nobody…is going to disrupt this flight. I’ll ship the two of you out before that happens. Do you understand me?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“I can’t hear you, ladies!”

“Sir…yes…sir!” They would have made a good chorus; they sang on key.

“Nothing will go into the record…this time! But if there’s ever a next time, you’re dead meat. Now drop and give me twenty and then go get yourselves cleaned up!”

I caught the look in Wayne’s eyes and understood what had happened. He’d allowed his personal prejudice to poison his judgment. He’d probably told Windle about his suspicions and suggested that the Flight Leader take care of the problem. Corso hadn’t been willing to take shit from another trainee like he did from his TI. Good for Corso.

Wayne pouted for the rest of the day.


The chickens came home to roost near the end of the week. Wayne Biers had set things in motion by calling my attention to Justin Corso that first week, and now, damn his eyes, I was getting sucked in deeper and deeper. I found myself thinking about the good-looking trainee more than was normal. Fuckups usually dominated my time, but Corso was no screw-up. He was one of the best in the flight.

The Supply Officer issues and controls supplies, but most TIs store a few items for use during field training. I scrounged up a detail on Saturday and commandeered a truck for the two-mile drive to the Quonset hut housing the equipment. I’m not certain whether I brought Corso along by accident or design. Whatever the reason, he was one of the five trainees I tapped for the detail.




Are things coming to a head? Looks to me like it.


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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Whiz Quiz Washout (Part 2 of 4 Parts) blog post #481

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Last week we left Technical Sergeant Bley eyeball to eyeball with Trainee Justin Corso after the recruit admitted that although he had shy kidneys, he’d managed to pee in the cup. So technically he didn’t fail the Whiz Quiz. We pick up their conversation below.

What is it about the first paragraph lately. Again, the program failed to respond to my commands



I damned near violated the basic tenet of the TI code and laughed at his look of contrition, but I kept my face straight, staring into those deep, iridescent opal eyes. He stood a good inch under my five-eleven, but we were about a par in the weight department. One seventy.

“Then we’ll have our answer soon. Urinalysis tests are an important part of your life now, Trainee, so you’d better learn to piss on command. You’re gonna have a Pecker-Checker staring at your dong every time the Piss Bottle Man gets thirsty. Understand!”

“Sir! Yes, sir!”

“And you’d better start controlling that dick.”

Confusion twisted his handsome features. “Sir?”

“You keep getting an erection in front of your Pecker-Checker, you’re liable to get a fist upside your head!

The kid’s tan slowly flushed a bright crimson. “Sir! That didn’t happen, sir!”

“You calling your TI a liar, Recruit?”

Corso finally became flustered. “Fucking A!” He got control of himself before I could pounce. “Sir! No, sir. I wouldn’t do that, sir. But he wasn’t there. I did not get an erection, sir!”

As we left to catch up with Sgt. Biers and the rest of the flight, I looked over his gear. Expensive stone washed jeans. Good-quality linen shirt and standard New Balance white running shoes. This California sun worshiper did not come from a destitute background.


Biers leaned on Corso mercilessly. I didn’t interfere, because I was curious about how much he could take. Every trainee in the flight, all sixty of them were run ragged to the point they virtually had no time to perform all their duties, at least to the impossible standards we set. Corso came as close as any, even with the distraction of extra harassment. In my opinion, he should have been Dorm Chief, the trainee Flight Leader, but Biers wanted a man named Windle, claiming the kid’s two years of AFROTC had at least taught him his left foot from his right. There wasn’t much doubt about Windle’s reason for enlisting. He was aiming straight for OTS, Officer’s Training School at Maxwell AFB in Alabama.

Biers found fault with Corso everywhere we went: finance, personnel, career orientation. Wayne didn’t even like his haircut—and he was shaved damned near bald like every other trainee in the squadron.

Corso was a standout at PC, physical conditioning. His athletic form and crisply executed sit-ups and pushups drew the eye amid a mass of sweating, straining, sloppy young bodies. He’d built those muscles in a gym and kept them toned in the surf near his home in Monterrey. Unlike the punks from the Mean Streets of a dozen cities, his muscles were not for show, they had strength behind the definition. Windle, by contrast, would be doing good to pass his PC assessment during the third week of training.

Our Rainbows received their uniform issue and graduated to Baby Flight status, recognizable by the white running shoes they wore with their BDUs, battle dress uniforms—what used to be called fatigues. They’d live in the sports shoes a week before donning boots to accustom their tender toes to walking and marching and running instead of being carted everywhere by jalopies and convertibles and subways and escalators.

Corso was handling Wayne’s double load of shit more or less equitably when I conducted a graded inspection upon return from the drill pad during WOT 2, the second week of training. Biers took one side of the bay while I inspected the other. My attention was drawn across the room as Biers unleashed on Corso. He held the trainee’s clothing drawer in his hand, and I had just enough time to see everything looked to be folded and in its proper place before he upended it onto the floor. Then Biers tossed all the uniforms in the wall locker on top of the mess.

“Who taught you to stow your gear, Trainee?” Wayne roared in Corso’s ear. “If you ain’t learned the Air Force way by now, you ain’t gonna never learn it! Might as well pack up and ship out! Drop down and give me twenty!”

Corso’s jaw muscles worked overtime as he assumed the position, but he snapped off the push-ups quickly and cleanly before coming to attention again.

“You straighten up that mess right now! You hear me, Trainee Corso?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Well get to it! And I’m gonna inspect it again after chow. Understand?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

I let it go, but hung around for Wayne’s second inspection even though I was on short duty that day. There wasn’t a thing wrong with the clothing drawer, but Wayne dumped it on the floor again, anyway.

Now it’s a normal part of BMT to demand perfection when none can be achieved, but my junior TI was carrying it a little far. He had a hard-on for Corso, and nothing the kid could do was going to satisfy him.

During a break while the flight was scouring its bay, Wayne wandered into the orderly room.

“How come you still here?” he asked, removing his campaign hat and wiping his brow with a stubby hand. “Ain’t you got nothing better to do than hang around and mother your kiddies?”

“Nothing planned tonight,” I said. We both knew every TI put in long hours, especially during the early part of the six-week BMT course, and was jealous of every spare moment of free time.



Now Bley's altering his pattern of behavior.  What gives. Maybe we'll learn next week.

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Whiz Quiz Washout (Part 1 of 4 Parts) blog post #480

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I trust everyone made it through the holidays okay… although that’s a matter of great faith in these times. I lost one good friend—about whom I lamented on this site a couple of weeks ago. And the terrible pandemic sweeping through the world and robbing so many of their lives, seems to be gathering strength, rather than waning. We’re all betting heavily on the vaccines about which we hear so much and see so little.


This week, I’d like to start a four-parter. I call it the Whiz Quiz Washout. The reason becomes quickly clear. Let’s get started. (By the way, don't ask me why the first paragraph is different. That's just the way the Web Site gods decreed. Nothing I did changed it.)



A uniform is a powerful thing. Any kind of uniform: street cleaner, cop, army, navy—it doesn’t matter. But an airman’s uniform is something uber-special. Desert camo or dress blue, it doesn’t matter. Let’s face it, a uniform is just cloth and buttons and zippers until someone puts it on. Then it confers power and grace and beauty on the man or woman wearing it. That uniform is why I made the U. S. Air Force my career.

I had returned from a dispute with the finance weenies over my housing allowance to find Wayne Biers, my junior Training Instructor absolutely apoplectic. Wayne was a Staff Sergeant in the first of a three-year assignment with the Basic Military Training Command at Quarrels AFB. In my opinion, he was only marginally qualified to be an AETC Instructor. He came to the program from one of the NAF support units, and I’m not certain his Mississippi high school diploma, a requirement for a TI, was genuine. Oh, he was smart enough, but he tended to be narrow in his opinions. The incident that set him off this time was a case in point.

“He’s a fucking queer, I tell you, Tom!” He had left our Rainbow Flight standing at ease on the drill pad to come inside the orderly room and pour his homophobia out onto my desk. “Rainbows” is a time-honored term for Air Force recruits so new they haven’t even been issued uniforms. “Flunked his whiz quiz,” Wayne went on.

“He tested positive for drugs?” The question was perfunctory. We didn’t get test results back that quickly.

“Fuck no!” Wayne’s five-foot eight frame wiggled like it was infested with chiggers. “Couldn’t piss a drop and started getting a hard-on for his Pecker-Checker.” Outrage heightened his normally ruddy complexion. “Pulled a boner right out in the open. I say we wash the faggot out. Get rid of him before he infects the flight. Hell, the fucking squadron.”

I paused a moment, studying the slight man almost dancing in agitation in front of my desk. Was my assistant’s homophobia driven by fear? “Biers, you do know Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell is coming to an end, don’t you?”

“Hell, I know that. Fucking shame. Then they’ll be able to tell you even if you don’t ask. All the more reason to ship this guy before that comes down the flight path.

“You saw this with your own eyes?”

“Yes. No. Well, I seen he was having trouble pissing. And the tech told me about the hard-on later. I tell, you Gley, he was the last one outa there. Rest of the flight was in formation ‘fore he come out looking whipped.”

“What’s his name?”

“Corso. Justin O. Corso. I got him waiting in the dorm.”

“You get the rest of our pickles to their next appointment, and I’ll go talk to Corso. But you treat him just like everyone else until I tell you different. Do you hear?”

“Yes, Tech Sergeant. I hear. Loud and clear.”

“All right, get those Rainbows moving. I’ll bring Corso when I’m finished with him.”

He did an about-face and left, most likely figuring he’d got his lick in, and I’d fall into line. That was one of the things I didn’t like about him.

The comforting sound of TIs counting cadence and the more or less uniform stamp of marching shoes soothed my subconscious as I snatched a quick glance at the trainee’s file. Corso was twenty years old. Older than most Rainbows. College grad with a major in history. OCS material. So why had he enlisted?

When I entered my flight’s bay on the third floor of the big dorm, I got the shock of the day. It was an expression of my own prejudices that I’d expected a pasty-faced, androgynous creature cowering in fear. Instead, a sculpted, handsome, dark-haired young man snapped to attention the moment I blew through the door.

“Sir! Trainee Justin O. Corso, reporting as ordered, sir!”

The voice was deep and manly. He looked like a fucking Air Force recruiting poster—well built, handsome, masculine. Too damned handsome. I left him at attention. Hoping to take him off guard, I spoke without the normal TI bluster, probably the first time that had happened to him since he boarded the bus at the airport for the short ride here.

“I’m Technical Sergeant Thomas Gley, your Senior MTI…military training instructor. Staff Sergeant Biers tells me we have a problem.”

“Don’t know…uh. Sir, I don’t know what the problem is, sir!” He recovered fast.

In the best TI manner, I leaned forward and put my face in his. “What’s this I hear, Recruit?” I shouted. “You gonna be the first trainee in history to washout over the whiz quiz? What’s the matter with you?” I barely restrained myself from asking if he was gay. That wasn’t allowed nowadays…DADT wasn’t gone quite yet. “Well, answer me!” I roared.

“Sir, bashful kidneys, sir!”

“What?” I asked, rocking back on my heels, distracted by his musky aftershave. I took another look. Jeez, this kid was fucking beautiful. If I was queer, I could go for him, myself. I flashed back to a TDY in BFE where I’d shared some experiences with another young tech. BFE—Bum Fucking Egypt—but it had been a great place for me for those few months. I hadn’t thought about what happened over there in five years!

“Sir, bashful kidneys, sir. Have trouble pissing on command. Always have. Uh, sir.”

I took a deep breath and leaned in again. “You’re not trying to stall until some drugs clear your system by any chance? If you are, you might as well forget it. I’ve had every trick in the book tried on me, Corso.”

“Sir, no, sir! I gave a sample, sir. I complied with the requirement, sir.”

“So you managed to pee in a cup.”

He glanced at me through sheepish eyes. “Yes, sir. Finally managed it.”


Wonder what’s building here? As someone who had shy kidneys in the military, my sympathies lie with Airman Corso. Course, the way he looks doesn’t hurt any.

 I believe I forgot my mantra last week—the mantra that rat Mark Wildyr appropriated for his own use. Just kidding, I gave him permission. Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!

Tune in next week.

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See you next Thursday.



New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

WASTELAKAPI… Beloved (A Guest Post) blog post #479

I appreciate your letting me express some personal feelings in the last two postings. I promised to get back to regular postings this week, and wouldn’t you know it, Mark Wildyr has a January 20th publication date for his fifth book in the Cut Hand series. (I think he’s calling it the Strobaw Family Saga now.) At any rate, he’s so pleased, he asked if he could do another guest post, so I graciously allowed him to do it.

 Mark has shared part of the novel with us before. The following scene comes in Chapter 7. The players are John Strobaw (Medicine Hair), His sister, Rachel Ann Haleworthy (Indian wife of Captain Gideon Haleworthy), their two sons, Idea and Gabe, Winter Bird, a Lakota warrior who loves John, and Ité Waste (Pretty Facem whose American name is Ethan Alan) a young Oglala who is fumbling his way to the Win-tay life. Sheriff Landreth is an Indian-hating lawman who’s dealt John grief for years. The location is John’s Turtle Crick Farm in South Dakota. The time is the spring of 1891, several months following the Wounded Knee Massacre.




By Mark Wildyr

             Later that same afternoon, Rachel Ann and the boys joined me in the fields to do some desperately needed hoeing. I’d gotten a fair amount of work done before a rifle shot snagged my attention. I stood amidst some rapidly maturing pea vines and cocked an ear to the north. It wasn’t a signal shot. That would have come in threes. To warn off a varmint, perhaps. And then another loud report waved across the short prairie grass. And another. And then I heard the pop of smaller weapons.

I dropped my hoe and yelled for Rachel and the boys to get into the big house before snatching my Henry and running for Yellow Thunder. By the time we came pounding out of the corral, Ides was there to close the gate so the other animals wouldn’t get out. Both hounds raced along with me, yapping their heads off. As I cleared the fields, they halted and elected to remain at the farm.

I rode bareback, carelessly rushing to the last spot I’d seen the cattle. I was halfway to the breaks country along Trickling Water before I spotted some of the animals grazing calmly. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught another riding approaching at speed. Andre apparently heard the shots and was coming to help.

I hauled up beside Face, who was mounted on Star, his black gelding with a white spot on his forehead. He turned to acknowledge me.

“Rustlers,” he said. “Bird shot one of them.”

“How many?”

“Three. The other two had already cut out two head and were driving them toward the breaks. He’s on their trail.”

“Why aren’t you with him?”

“He told me to stay here. Said it might be a trick.”

“He’s right. Stay here. Come on, Andre. Let’s give Bird a hand.”

A quarter of a mile down the way, we came across a big gray that might have been a cavalry horse standing beside the body of a black man. Although the feelings were inappropriate, I was relieved Bird had shot a Negro. Landreth likely wouldn’t put up much of a fuss over him.

I urged Thunder ahead along Bird’s trail. At the mouth of the breaks country, we pulled up as we heard more shots. I motioned Andre across Trickling Water Crick. After he was in position, we both entered the breaks. Just a hundred yards in, I saw Bird sheltering behind a rock and throwing occasional shots at an unseen target in front of him. He turned at my approach and signed that two men had taken refuge in a shallow gully ahead. I caught Andre’s attention and motioned. He’d been around Otter long enough to read sign and apparently understood my arm signals. He dismounted from Scamp and crept forward slowly.

I dropped over the edge of the embankment and proceeded up the crick bed. Bird kept throwing lead to keep the hooligans’ heads down. Before long, I heard a shot from beyond the embankment and knew Andre had been spotted. But they likely didn’t know I was here. Not yet at least. I halted at what I judged to be the entrance to the shallow canyon where the thieves hid. The racking of a round into a rifle chamber told me I was exactly where I needed to be. Without stopping to think, I popped up and saw shock register on a gunman’s face before I shot him in the chest.

I dropped behind the earthen embankment as the second man was bringing up his rifle. His bullet showered dirt down on me. I stayed down as Andre opened up. When the firing stopped, I risked a look and saw both rustlers lying on the ground. Without taking my eyes off the fallen men, I climbed the embankment and whistled all clear to Bird as I examined the two men in the dirt. Both were dead.

We located their horses, along with two of our cattle, deeper in the draw and draped the dead rustlers’ bodies over their mounts. I had just recovered Thunder when we heard gunshots out on the prairie. Abandoning everything, we headed straight for where we’d left Pretty Face. Once we cleared the entrance to the breaks, I saw him standing his ground and throwing shots at half a dozen riders bearing down on him. The rest of the gang, likely.

We rode hard to intercept the hooligans, but it was obvious we wouldn’t reach them before they rode down Face. As a man, the three of us pulled to a halt and took careful aim with our rifles. We were lucky to hit anything at this distance, but one man pitched from the saddle, gaining the group’s attention. Another rider pulled the wounded thief aboard his mount and raced after the others who had turned south at a dead run. I prayed Rachel Ann and the boys had heeded my call to remain in the house.

I told Face to remain on guard and sent Bird back for the bodies while Andre and I kept on the trail of the fleeing rustlers. They rode breakneck through my cornfield and pounded through my yard. Before they made it over the wooden bridge, Rachel Ann and one of the boys – Ides, probably – were tossing lead at them. Once over the crick, the gang turned west. Andre fretted over Libby and Dex, but I was confident the group was on the run. They’d hole up in their hideout and lick their wounds for a while.

Bird was slow to bring in the bodies, so I headed north to intercept him while Andre remained at the house to lend my sister and her family support.

I found Bird and Face working to settle down the skittish steers. The animals hadn’t stampeded, but they’d spread far and wide. I joined their efforts, and before long, the memory of the recent excitement faded sufficiently in those bovine heads for the cattle to return to grazing. Only then did Bird and I gather the three bodies. I wanted a look at one in particular. There had been something vaguely familiar about a man I’d seen at the mouth of the draw. We found the horses with bodies sprawled over their saddles munching grass at the far end of the breaks. I looked at the cadaver, but still wasn’t certain. Death changes a man. The features go slack. I’d wait for Andre to confirm my suspicion this was one of Landreth’s deputies.

As I rode into the farmyard trailing three horses each laden with a dead man, Andre met me in front of the house, two excited boys at his side. Ides rushed in to examine what were probably the first human corpses he’d ever seen. Gabe hung back and clutched his mother’s skirts when Rachel Ann came outside. Her features told of the battle raging inside her. A mother’s instinct was to protect her sons from the sight of such violence. Her red blood won the struggle. This was all too common among tribal families, and often the bodies were of loved ones. Her sons needed to see the world they lived in.

Andre confirmed my belief that one of the dead men was Deputy Sheriff Fred Atchison. This raised the question of whether Landreth, himself, was involved with the gang. After some debate among ourselves, Andre and I took the bodies to town. I wanted to see Landreth’s face when he discovered his fellow lawman among the dead rustlers. I also wanted to see his reaction when he learned a red man killed a white deputy. If I had a problem, I needed to face it head on.

Hauling a body down a town’s street tends to collect attention. An Indian with three bodies gathers a crowd. Nobody seemed to focus on Andre trailing along behind. Everyone looked first at the dead men and then at me.

Landreth emerged from his office on stiff legs when we called him out. His beady eyes locked onto mine after they casually raked the three dead men.

“Rustlers, I said. “They hit us this morning. These three diverted our attention while six others bided their time and went after the whole herd.”

“They get the job done?” Landreth asked, his tone unreadable.

“Nope. Our guard on the herd stood his ground. They’d have overrun him except we showed up and winged one of them. They crossed Turtle Crick and headed west.”

Andre nodded to the horse closest to Landreth. “You oughta take heed of this one, Sheriff.”

The lawman stepped off the boardwalk and lifted the dead man’s head by the hair. He let go and stumbled backward. His wild eyes speared me. “Damnation, it’s Fred! You shot my deputy.”

Andre hawked and spat on the ground. “Didn’t know it was Deputy Atchison until we got him. He was busy tossing lead at me until John caught him exposed.”

“Maybe he thought you was one of the rustlers.”

“No, Sheriff,” I said in a level voice. “He was one of the rustlers. He was with these other two. They rustled two cows and made a lot of noise, so we’d go after them. They thought one man was on their trail, but Andre and I joined Bird and Ité faster’n they thought.”

Landreth went red in the face. “Son of a bitch! No wonder we been having trouble running those yahoos down. Fred was keeping us clear of them.” He went even redder as another thought hit. “Wait a minute. You don’t think I was one of them, do you?”

Andre spoke before I could. “Dunno. I guess what happens from now on will give us the answer to that.”


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And finally, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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 New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020


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First, thank you to all the readers who responded with sympathy and understanding regarding the loss of my friend Stan Rhine, which was the subject of last week’s post.

 Today is another moment of personal indulgence, although on a happier note. I wish everyone a happy holiday season. For those who celebrate Christmas or those who observe Hanukkah or those who follow other festivals have a great and reverent time. In the face of the pandemic, harsh political feelings, rising racism, and economic hardship, I extend my fervent wish… nay my prayers... that we all safely maneuver these troubled waters and come out safe and happy on the other side.

 I don’t have any fancy cards or emojis or things of that sort, but that doesn’t mean my wishes aren’t sincere. God Bless (in whatever form you recognize Him or Her) and stay safe.

 Next week, I’ll be back on a regular schedule… I promise.


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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Mourning the Loss of a Friend and Colleague blog post #477


 Allow me a moment of personal indulgence, please.

Today, I don’t want to post a story, or cite from a novel, or talk about the wonderful state of New Mexico. I want to tell you about a friend and fellow writer. Dr. J. Stanley Rhine was a retired University of New Mexico professor, whose field was Forensic Anthropology. He spent a good part of his career traveling the western states visiting archaeological sites, examining bones to determine how ancient peoples lived and what they ate. After the notorious riot in the New Mexico State Penitentiary that took place February 2 and 3 in 1980, he was called in to identify some of the thirty-three dead inmates, some of whom were horribly mutilated. I cannot help but believe the experience of viewing “fresh kills” for the purpose of identification was much more traumatic than examining the dry bones of yester-century, but given his intensely laid-back personality, I doubt if it raised his heartbeat an iota. In fact, I could see him become far more animated at discovering something new from a dusty old bone from the 1700s. Not that he wasn’t empathetic—he was—but he viewed things as a scientist.

Stan was a standout in a crowd. Tall and wiry, he stood ramrod straight with a shock of white hair worn in the Mark Twain style and a thick white Samuel Clements mustache and was instantly identifiable. He spoke in a soft, low voice that required close attention to keep from losing what he was saying… and usually when he spoke, what he said was worth understanding and retaining. He wrote in a similar manner, a tight, small, cramped hand that almost required a magnifying glass to read. In fact, he belonged to a luncheon group of writers who completed the meal with a series of round robin stories (where each member adds a sentence or thought and passes the story to the next reader for like treatment), and one of our members sometimes carried just such a glass to read Stan’s contribution. Stan unfailingly added a moment of wit to each such story.

Retired, he maintained an office at UNM where he wrote short stories with clever O. Henry twists. I often told him he spent seven hundred words just to deliver a ten-word surprise. He was a perfect blend of wit and wisdom.

A member of our Wordwrights Writing Group that met for years at the North Domingo Multicultural Center, Stan wrote authoritative articles on Western railroads and published two volumes of his short stories, Talking Dogs, Singing Mice and Other Shaggy Dog Stories and An Omnium Gatherum (both available on Amazon). The titles are a perfect expression of Stan’s complexity.

Part of that complexity is demonstrated by the fact that while he was quite loquacious when speaking of other people and their efforts, few among the group of around forty people or so who attended our Wordwrights class knew little about his personal life, he held those details close. His instructions for his own disposal after death were typical: No funeral, no memorial service, no nothing. But everyone… and I mean everyone liked and respected Stan Rhine.

Tragically, Stan suffered a fall on Wednesday, December 9, which resulted in a skull fracture. Other problems developed, and Stan passed away in the morning hours of Sunday the 13th. According to his wife Sue, he was sedated and in no pain.

He will be missed by all who knew and loved him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sue and his family. Rest in Peace, Stan.


A further note. This identical lament is posted in the Mark Wildyr blog as we both knew, respected, and loved Stan.

The usual jumble of links and sources have been deleted, although I’ve retained the mantra as it is something San agreed with wholeheartedly.


 I’ll be back to normal on the next post… I promise. But I had to say goodbye to Stan.

 My Mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links:



Twitter: @dontravis3

 See you next Thursday.


 New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Cutie-Pie Murders (Another Look) blog post #476

 Photo Courtesy of

On July 7, I posted part of Chapter 1 of my new novel now making its way through the Dreamspinner publication process. Inasmuch as I received the 3
rd Edit for my review today, we’re getting closer to a release date. Since this is fresh on my mind, I’d like to give you more of the novel.

 The following comes from the beginning of Chapter 2. You may recall that in Chapter 1, our hero BJ Vinson traveled to Santa Fe to visit an inmate named Zancon Zapata who made it plain he wanted to engage BJ to exact retribution for the murder of his nephew, Mateo (Matt) Zapata.

 In the passage below, Matt’s father, Juan Zapata visits BJ to engage his services to investigate the murder. Does he want the same thing as his imprisoned brother? Let’s see.



 Hazel Harris Weeks stuck her head through the door of my downtown private office. “Fellow here by the name of Juan Zapata. Says he has an appointment.” My office manager’s voice held a note of censure. One more thing I’d neglected to tell her.

I swung my feet off the corner of the desk and sat up straight. “Called him on the way back from Santa Fe yesterday.”

Hazel frowned. “Any relation to Zancon Zapata?” Hazel had taught alongside my parents in the Albuquerque public school system and had been my mom’s best friend. When I lost my parents to a car wreck, she’d appropriated the job of surrogate mother. Fortunately, her late-life marriage to my business partner Charlie Weeks eased that burden. Even though Hazel didn’t totally understand my lifestyle, she’d grown as protective of Paul as she was of me, and she knew every detail of what the Saints had done to him.

“Somebody killed Juan Zapata’s boy. He’s entitled to the same respect as any other paying customer.” The word paying would get to her faster than any other explanation. She nodded and disappeared.

A moment later, she ushered a younger, healthier version of Zancon into my inner office. The man’s overcoat was damp from scattered snowflakes falling outside. Thank goodness my trip to Santa Fe came yesterday. Today’s snowfall didn’t amount to much in the city, but if it was flurrying here, it was likely heavier in the mountains. I stood and gripped the man’s outstretched hand.

“I’m Juan Zapata. I understand my brother filled you in on my problem yesterday.”

“B. J. Vinson. Everyone calls me BJ. Zancon told me about your son’s death but gave me no details. Said you’d explain it.”

Juan flushed and took the seat I indicated. “Sounds like something he’d do. My son was gay, Mr…. uh, BJ. And that’s something Zancon can’t deal with.”

“Why don’t you fill me in?”

The man on the other side of my desk blew through his nostrils in exasperation. “I don’t know a hell of a lot. I misspoke saying Matt was gay. He was probably bisexual. He’s had a couple of girlfriends over the years, but I suspect he’s had a few boyfriends, as well.”

Score another one for Zancon. He not only wanted me to kill his gay nephew’s murderer, but he’d come to a gay investigator with the request. Probably figured it took one to know one. Some things never change.

“Let’s start with the basics,” I said. “Tell me about Mateo. I understand he was eighteen. Was he still in school? Live at home? Have his own place? Show me the young man before you tell me about his murder.”

Juan took me literally, dragging out his billfold and handing over a snapshot. The kid almost took my breath away. Beautiful eyes the color of rich humus. Curly hair so dark it was barely short of black. Thin nose, broad sensual lips. This guy was movie star handsome with enough irregularity to his features to render him sexy.

Juan sighed before starting down the road of his son’s short life. “Mateo… Matt… finished high school last year, a year ahead of most of his classmates and enrolled at the University of New Mexico. He wanted to be a commercial photographer. But I think that was just so he understood the camera. His real ambition was to be a professional model.”

“He had the looks for it. Did he live on campus?”

Juan shook his head. “Had a small one-bedroom apartment on Princeton. Half a block south of Central. Easy walk to his classes.”

I learned a lot about Matt Zapata while his father worked around to something obviously difficult to face, the thing Zancon hadn’t wanted to discuss yesterday. Matt was a swimmer. A tennis player. A whiz at poker. Popular with girls and guys alike. Played a mean guitar and had a decent singing voice. Finally, Juan hesitated. He’d arrived at his destination.

“Although I provided for his needs, Matt was always independent. He’d recently taken a job. I discouraged the idea, saying he ought to enjoy these college years, but he wouldn’t listen.”

He was dragging his feet again, so I cut straight to the chase. “What kind of job.”

Juan averted his eyes. “He never actually told me, but from what I can gather, he was an escort. He… ah, he was an amazing kid. He fit in any social circle you could imagine. And when he dressed up in a suit or tux, he was really something.”

“Who did he work for?”

Juan tapped the arm of his chair, a nervous gesture. “Best I can figure, he was freelance. He booked his calls through a phone service. He was new to it. Only had a few assignments before… before….”

“Did he die on one of those assignments?”

Juan Zapata dropped his head to his chest. “I don’t know. He… he was found on the West Mesa.”

He swallowed hard, but I could see he had more to say. “And?”

“My son was naked. At least that’s what they tell me. And….”

I spared him the agony of continuing. “Let me get a copy of the police report and talk to a couple of people, then we’ll discuss this again.”

“So you’ll take the case?”

“At the moment, I don’t see why not. Is there a question in your mind about it?”

He lifted anguished eyes. “My brother is someone you shot and put behind bars. My son might have been a call boy. So—”

Mr. Zapata… Juan, was Matt a good man?”

“To me he was.”

“And his life was taken from him. Tell me, are you looking for justice for your son or revenge?”

A startled look passed over his face before understanding dawned. “I am seeking justice, BJ. Find the bastard who killed Matt and get him tried, convicted, and locked up for the rest of his life.”

I thought for a moment. “Locked up in Santa Fe where Zancon is waiting.”

“Send him somewhere else, I don’t care. Just so he can’t slaughter someone else’s son.”

“The police can do that for you.”

Juan dry washed his face. “Zancon and I agree on one thing. The cops will take one look and consider it simply as some gang killing a queer. I want someone fighting for me. For Matt.”

“I need to clear this with a couple of people first, but who your brother is and what you think your son might have been will have nothing to do with my answer. I should be able to call you by Monday afternoon.”

“You haven’t mentioned your fees. Please rest assured I’m willing to meet them. And the funds will be mine, not Zancon’s.” He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I’ve taken the liberty of writing a retainer check. Please let me know if it’s adequate.

I glanced at the amount. “This will do just fine.”

After he took his leave, I talked to the two people who had to be consulted, Charlie and Hazel Weeks, the retired cop who happened to be my partner in Vinson and Weeks, Confidential Investigations, and my office manager. They expressed no reservations about the case. Hazel even smiled when I laid the retainer in front of her.


 It looks as if BJ is hooked. He’s willing to work with Matt’s father, but he wants nothing to do with the uncle who he put in prison several years ago. Can he keep the different interests of the two separate?

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

 The following are buy links for my BJ Vinson mystery The Voxlightner Scandal. The next one, The Cutie-Pie Murders,


DSP Publications:


Barnes & Noble:




Universal Link:

 My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old



Twitter: @dontravis3

 Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:





Barnes & Noble:

 See you next Thursday.



 New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.

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