Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Peek at The City of Rocks

Readers will know I try to showcase the wonders of my adopted state in my books. I wander off the reservation (so to speak) for the first time in The City of Rocks, the third book in the BJ Vinson series. When it becomes likely at least some of the answers to the mystery surrounding events on the Lazy M ranch lay in Florida, BJ and Paul head to Miami. This is Paul’s first trip. In the following scene, they arrive at the airport and are met by Bob Cohen, a local PI hired by BJ to assist in the case.
It was overcast, but no rain was falling as we exited the terminal and made our way to the short-term parking area. We stowed our bags in the trunk of Cohen’s black Malibu sedan and sat back as he maneuvered his way out of the sprawling airport. Keeping to the left, he took the on-ramp of SH-953 south toward Coral Gables. After that, I quit paying attention. Paul was in the back seat craning his neck this way and that.
“Man, it sure is flat down here,” he said.
“About the highest it gets is around forty feet above sea level, and that’s over on the west side,” Cohen said.
“Sounds like one good wave would drown us all. And this is hurricane country, too.”
Cohen laughed. “Sure is. Although we’ve never had a serious hurricane strike the city. Affect us, yes, but not hit us directly. And with the warm Gulf Stream to the southwest and the cold Atlantic current to the east, you’d think we’d be ground zero.”
“Is it always so hot here?”
“Muggy, but not really hot. The temperature doesn’t hit 100 very often, but the humidity makes it seem hotter than that. By the time you get settled into the hotel, we’ll get some sea breezes, and things will ease up.”
I spent the rest of the twenty-minute drive bringing Cohen up to date on the situation. He listened without interruption. When I finished, he chewed his upper lip before speaking.
“Kenny’s a cut-throat bastard, but he’d only cut your financial throat. I’ve never believed he had that damned duck stolen. I can see him taking advantage of it by showing up with a bird that couldn’t beat a crippled snail in a foot race. But that’s about as far as he’d go.”
“Would a two hundred fifty thousand dollar loss hurt him?”
“A quarter of a million dollar loss would hurt anyone. Especially now. Construction’s in the tank around here. I imagine he’s hurting some, and a loss that size wouldn’t be easy to swallow.”
“So the threat of a serious lawsuit might make him stop and think?”
“Maybe. Is that your strategy?”
“It might come to that before the interview is over, but I just want to see his reaction when I mention a couple of related murders.”
“Murders? Who got iced besides the fellow who took the duck? I know about the emerald mine owner down in Brazil, but that one’s a little far-fetched to tie into this mess, isn’t it?”
“A friend of Liver Lips Martinson named Elizondo Lopez was fed a drug overdose right after he was seen talking to me.”
“Somebody’s serious. You want me to come with you to see Hammond tomorrow?”
“No, but I’d appreciate any feedback you can get from Jackman after my interview. I’ll touch base with you later in the day.”
Cohen dropped us in front of the Ritz-Carlton, a hotel posing as an oversized Italian villa on Biscayne Bay. We passed into the clutches of a doorman who summoned a bellboy to handle our meager luggage. One wall of the marble-studied lobby where I registered was a huge pane of glass that looked out onto a garden courtyard. When we arrived in our room, Paul walked straight out onto the balcony to take in the view of the bay. One of those sea breezes Cohen had promised showed up to ruffle his hair.
Traveling, even in a sealed container with filtered air like the Boeing, always made me feel gritty, so we showered and then grabbed a badly needed catnap. We’d only snatched sleep where we could in airports and planes over the past twenty four hours. Paul slept a couple of hours before getting restless, so I dragged myself out of bed. We dressed and headed downstairs to the Bizcaya Grill.
Regular readers will know that BJ swims as therapy for a gunshot wound in his thigh, and his companion, Paul Barton, is a water bug. Paul swims both competitively and for pleasure. He is also a lifeguard at an Albuquerque country club. The following is his first dip in the ocean … any ocean … at Cramdon Park Beach on Key Biscayne.
But first, we strolled the long beach on the Atlantic side of the key. I plodded through the sand; Paul took off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and walked in the gently rolling surf. His excitement was contagious. He’d expected the ocean to be colder. He’d never seen water quite that color—turquoise. Were those coconut palms? Could we try the kayaks? How about the jet skis?
“Hey, man, now there’s a real lifeguard’s chair.” He pointed to one of the elevated towers strung out over the beach. “Makes me feel like an amateur.”
The bayside nature trails affected us differently. The Miami skyline lying just across the flat stretch of water reduced him to a gawking tourist. I was impressed; it took a lot to render Paul speechless. Soon enough though, he’d had his fill of dry land.
We changed into our suits and hit the water. The sea floor sloped gently so we waded quite a distance before it was deep enough to swim. Then he suddenly disappeared and surfaced again ten yards ahead of me as he used a steady overhand stroke to quickly carry him away. Then I lost sight of him. Seconds later, something brushed my belly. He surfaced behind me laughing aloud.
“This is great!” He punched a hand into the air. “Man, let’s move the whole state of New Mexico to the Gulf Coast.”
I paused and puffed, keeping a wary eye on the now-distant shore. “Then we’d lose the mountains.”
“Yeah, the mountains are great, but this is the ocean! I’ll catch you later, man, I gotta swim.”
“Don’t overdo it. There are currents, you know.”
“Yeah, pops. I know.” A gentle reminder he was his own man.
“I saw some wheelchairs for rent back there. Look for me there with the rest of the geriatric set.”
He laughed again and headed for deeper water. Resigned to the reality I wouldn’t be able to keep him on a leash, I settled into my therapeutic routine, alternating between various strokes. There were no laps to swim, so I kept to one set until tired, and then switched to another. I headed back to the shore on the backstroke. It took longer than expected.
I found our totes and pulled out a big beach towel. After drying off, I spread it in the shade of a palm—not close enough to be bopped by a falling coconut—and settled down to wait and maybe catch a few zzzs. I couldn’t see Paul, he could have been any of a number of dark heads bobbing out there in the Atlantic, but I had enough confidence in his ability and good sense not to worry—much.
I got in a nap before I woke to spot a familiar lanky, finely muscled body trudging my way. A giggling, sun-bleached blonde nymph walked at his side. She looked disappointed when he waved goodbye and headed in my direction. I tossed him a towel. “Good swim?”
“The best. Man, I could get addicted to this.”
Hope you enjoyed the visit.



Next week: A big mystery.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

He Only Came Alive …

Just a word as a follow-up to last week’s post, and then I’ll move on. My cough went away, so I guess washing my clothes the right way is important. My friend J gave me some red, press-on dots with instructions to put them on my washer to indicate which way is up. I will do that, but somehow I don’t think they’re idiot proof, and that what it will really take to save me from my washer. On reflection, married life was really much simpler.

Enough about that. What shall we do this week? I haven’t had any Oopsies worth blogging about (although J has a doozy and should do a post on it), so let’s get back to flash fiction.

“He only came alive when she was in the room.”
That line was the only part of a long-forgotten book that stuck with me. But stuck, it had. Every once in a while it would pop unbidden into my head, usually when I was bored and in need of distraction.
Like now in Professor Stood’s American Lit class. That’s Stood with O’s as in too, not as in wood. If the old windbag had the brains to spell it S-t-u-u-d, he wouldn’t have to correct everyone all the time. At the moment he was discussing the minimalist quality of Earnest Hemmingway’s writings. That was definitely boring. The only thing of Papa’s I liked was For Whom the Bell Tolls. The rest were just so many black ink marks sullying pristine paper. A Farewell to Arms fit particularly well into the latter category, so far as I was concerned.
So naturally, my eyes were playing the endless game of “Is-She-the-One?” I regarded Sara Tillingham across the room, her sharp chin resting in the palm of one hand, eyes (brown, I believe) fixed on the rotund instructor. She’d be wearing something that smelled of roses. Attractive but studious. Imagining her future conjured only images of ivy-covered buildings and classrooms. A teacher. No, a professor. A tenured professor regaling her students in a high, thin voice. Her spare time would be spent penning romances under a nom de plume. Sorry, but I couldn’t imagine her illuminating my life.
Wendy Williams, two rows behind Sara, was something else. Her aroma would be lavender. Definitely lavender. I shifted in my seat for a better look. From her appearance, you wouldn’t think she came from money, but I knew she did. Blonde, blue-eyed, pert, pug-nosed, and so packed with curves they verged on the vulgar, she was expensive trashy … by design. No classrooms in her future. More likely bedrooms. The picture of an expensive madam with a low, silky voice leapt to mind. Would she brighten my life? Nah.
Beth Hughes, just a row over and two seats ahead of me. Compact, wiry, a strong alto with lots of vibrato. A tennis phenom at the U, she always smelled of Wind Song … sometimes woody, sometimes floral. Pretty in a jock sort of way. It wasn’t hard to visualize her future: US Open, Wimbledon. Endless tennis courts … clay, grass, concrete. Keeping up with her would be demanding, and probably exciting at times. But she’d be too much of a competitor.
Everyone made ready to leave when Stood dismissed the class. I rose, stretched, and turned to grab my backpack hanging over the desk chair.
“Well, did you pick one?”
I glanced up to see Ricardo Alban grinning at me.
“Saw you checking out the women during the lecture.”
The smoldering, sloe-eyed stare of the tall young man with a throaty baritone, a hint of Brut … the Essence of Man … always clinging to him made me pause. As I took in the smooth olive skin and wavy black hair, my stomach dropped. My blood sang.
Maybe I’d have to alter that sentence from the long-forgotten book ever so slightly.

Once again, let me know what you think.



Next week: Depends on the weather ... or some such..

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oopsie … Again (or is it still?)

Anyone who is even an occasional reader of this blog knows how “oopsie-prone” I am. The Lord knows I’ve told on myself enough over time.

I always laugh it off and say I had a “senior moment.” While talking to my younger son, Grant, the other day, I forgot the word that was on the tip of my tongue and expressed that sentiment. He suggested something much better, and I’ve now adopted it. When I’m caught short these days, I merely shrug and say, “It’s the meds.” That lets me blame it on something external.

Well, the medications have gotten in the way a couple of times recently, one in a minor way (if you consider putting the milk in the pantry instead of back into the refrigerator to be minor) and the other one a little more significant.

By the way, the milk didn’t actually go into the pantry inasmuch as it never left my hand, but when I tore free of the meds, that’s where both my hand and the milk were. Up with the cans of soup and chili and beans.

The other one takes a little telling. I often do not sleep well (it’s the meds … well, unless it is the sleep meds, then I don’t have the problem). But I digress, as I am wont to do. All week, something else has been added into the mix of things that make me sleep-deprived. I have developed a tickle in my throat that is difficult to cough away. This is especially true when I go to bed at night.

My late wife, Betty, had all kinds of allergies (she was a redhead), but I have never been plagued by them. She often said it was only a matter of time before they crept up and grabbed me by the throat. She was no medic, but she had a lot of practical, common sense, and her predictions often came true. Perhaps this one was morphing into reality, as well.

This morning, I stripped the bed and put the sheets, along with my other laundry, into the washing machine and dumped in the proper detergent and spot remover. It was already set for a heavy load, so I started the machine. Everything seemed fine.

Regular readers will recall that when I got this machine after our 1967 Montgomery Ward washer died last year, I had a problem because the new Amana immediately went to “Final Spin,” and did its thing. When I called in a repairman to haul away the deficient machine, he asked me to demonstrate how I had washed that morning. We discovered I’d used the wrong end of the pointer thingy to try to select a light load and ended up instructing the machine to go immediately to Final Spin. Then there was the time I bought softener instead of detergent and used that to wash my laundry for a month.

This morning, the machine sorta acted like it had that time I’d embarrassed myself before the repairman. It filled up, but immediately spun dry. You guessed it. I’d gotten the pointer doodad turned roundabout once again and was instructing the machine to Rinse/Dry. Since I hadn’t changed the setting from the last time I washed, that’s all that had happened then, too.

My skin crawls at the thought of how much detergent my sheets and clothes still retained and what the heat of a dryer had done to it. Needless to say, I threw the clothes from my closet in with the rest and ran them through a full cycle. Tonight, we’ll see if I have allergies or not.

It is amazing how much age changes you. In my youth, I’d have been so mortified by my ineptitude, I wouldn’t have admitted it to a soul. Now I broadcast it to the world.

Thanks for visiting with me for a few minutes. I work hard to fulfill that old saw. You know, the one that says we all serve a purpose in this world, even if it’s only to be a horrible example.


Next week: Depends upon whether there are any more oopsies.

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

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You Ain’t Stout, Yer Vo-lup-chu-us

The Flash Fiction seems to be going over okay, so let’s try it again this week. Locals will recognize downtown Albuquerque, but I wanted to leave it vague enough so it could be your town, too.

Before anyone gets his/her/their nose (noses) out of joint, I’m not demeaning the plight of our homeless vets. Au contraire, as an army veteran, I understand and sympathize with our many ex-military members who are having trouble assimilating into society. I just wanted to show that every once in a while, they get a nugget, too.
You Ain’t Stout, Yer Vo-lup-chu-us
We was sitting at our usual place in the alley that ran between Central and Tijeras watching people pass by on Third Street. Mostly, it was woman-watching.
“Oh, man! Look at that one.” Iron Mike scrambled up and ran out to the sidewalk for a longer look. His name was really Mike Iron, but he got tagged that way over in Afghanistan, so that’s the name he carried. “She was something!” he said as he came back and sat in the dirt again.
“I don’t like them fat,” I said.
“Hell, Tanglewood. She wasn’t fat. She was voluptuous.”
“What? Vo … vo ….”
“What’s that?”
“Packed with curves, man. Big curves.”
I’d never heard that one before, and if I’d had a dictionary, I’d of looked it up. If he’d spell it for me, that is. But a down-and-out vet living on the streets don’t pack nothing he don’t have to. Library was just down the street on Fifth. Maybe I’d look it up later. I made Iron Mike write the word down on a piece of paper in the little notebook he always carried. Claimed he was living under the bridge because he was doing research for a book. Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t. But he was always scribbling in it.
Before going to the library, we had to hike over to the Baptist Church just east of the railroad tracks for a free meal. That’s where the soup kitchen was on Mondays. Then it’d move to somewhere else. Did that every day so a fella really had to stay on top of the calendar to keep up with the moving mess hall.
Anyway, it was probably close onto five o’clock by the time I got to the library. There was this woman that worked at the reference desk where the dictionaries was, and I always gave her a nod and a smile ‘cause she always give me one. She don’t shy away from greeting street bums like lots of folks. She wasn’t no bad looker, but she wasn’t no spring chicken. Course, I wasn’t neither. I done my fighting in Desert Storm and come outa Kuwait a dazed twenty-year-old in ’91, so that put me somewhere in my early forties. Kinda hard to remember exactly because I’d been in some of them big gas clouds. Desert Storm Syndrome the docs at the VA Hospital claimed. Plus, I guess I got some of that PTSD stuff from hauling a bunch of corpses outa a barracks that got hit by one of them Scuds.
I found the dictionary and took out Iron Mike’s piece of paper and started looking for the word I wanted. Found the “v’s” okay, and even the “vo’s.” but got a little lost right about there. So it took me a little time before I finally found a word that matched the one on Mike’s note.
Voluptuous: (vo-lup-tu-ous), adjective. Of a woman : very attractive because of having large hips and breasts.
There was some more, but that told me what I wanted to know.
“Can I help you find something, cowboy?”
The voice startled me, and I don’t take startling very good. I jumped sideways and brought my arms up ready to fight. I felt kinda foolish when I seen it was the librarian.
“Whoa, there. Didn’t mean to surprise you. It was just that you took so long, I thought you might be having trouble.” A soft, gentle voice like Mama’s. No, more like Jenny’s before … before ….
I closed the dictionary because I didn’t want her to see I’d been looking up a dirty word about women. “Thank you, ma’am. I found it okay. And I ain’t no cowboy. I’m army.”
“Yes, I can see you are. Army all the way.”
Her looking at me made me feel sorta funny. I straightened up and swiped at my shirt, sending dust flying.
“When’s the last time you had a bath, Army?”
“Last week … at the hospital.”
“I’ll bet you clean up real well.” She gave me a smile. She had nice smile lines. She smelled like violets from my dad's flower garden.
“Guess so.”
“Of course, you probably aren’t interested in stout women.”
I grinned and used my new word. “You ain’t stout, yer vo-lup-chu-us.”
“Well, aren’t you the flatterer.”
That night, after a long bath and a shave and the best meal I could remember, I found me some of that vo-lup-chu-us … in the flesh.
Thanks for reading my blog. Hope you got a chuckle out of it.


Next week: I’ll figure it out before then.

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

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