Thursday, September 4, 2014

Another Look at The Zozobra Incident

Screwed up again, folks. Set it for PM, not AM, sorry.

This past Friday (August 29), the Burning of Zozobra described in my novel, The Zozobra Incident, took place in Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe. This year, the puppet was larger, bare-chested, and went to his doom on the Friday before the opening of The Santa Fe Fiesta rather than the traditional Thursday night conflagration. The authorities used drones to overfly the park and take a count of the crowd. They came up with a record figure of 40,412. And that didn’t include some 2,000 police and other law jurisdictions. We’ve had a pretty good monsoon season, so the monster burned and fireworks lit up the sky without too much worry about resulting wildfires.

Martin Brown Publishers have been promoting the book on Facebook recently, and that plus this year’s burning made me take another look at the novel.

The following is the beginning of Chapter 2. BJ, our intrepid investigator, decides to look for Emilio Prada, the male escort believed to be attempting to blackmail Del Dahlman, at the place Del first met the gay gigolo.


     A little after ten that night, I squeezed my anonymous white 2003 Chevy Impala between two extended-cab pickups in the overflow parking lot across the street from the C&W Palace. The C&W on East Central Avenue was Albuquerque’s biggest country and western boot-shuffling joint. This was where Del originally met Emilio, so it was a good place to start after a database search failed to turn up current information on him. That was no surprise; the kid probably lived around town with friends and johns.
      I pushed through the heavy door and ran into a wall of cigarette smoke, deafening music, and shrill conversation that turned the interior of the nightclub into a health nut’s worst nightmare. Bluegrass doesn’t go down well with many opera fans, and I was no exception. My parents, both of whom had been teachers, had exposed me to plenty of Offenbach, Mozart, and Verdi, and it took. The Tales of Hoffman and The Magic Flute and La Bohéme had preserved my sanity during the long convalescence after the shooting. A country-western band was a world away from those old masters—maybe even a galaxy or two.
     My snakeskin cowboy boots and white Stetson were sufficiently western to allow me to skip the mother-of-pearl studded shirt and the tight denim pants. It was a matter of comfort, not snobbery. Cowpoke duds, especially trousers, were too restrictive for my taste.
     After buying a vodka-rocks at the long bar, I circled the massive barn-like joint, stopping occasionally to talk to acquaintances. The C&W was a hetero place, but there was enough eye contact to spice up the evening, even though I had no intention of making a connection. One slender, athletic guy twirling a pretty coed around the dance floor caught my attention. I invested a few minutes in watching him as I tried to figure out where I’d seen him before. Eventually, I gave up and resumed prowling. After an hour of jostling by clumsy drunks and out-of-control dancers, I was ready to call it a night when—bingo. There he was.
     Emilio Prada wasn’t making much of an effort to hide. He looked like a million dollars dancing with a well-stuffed woman who could have been his mother. That roomy bosom was probably where he intended to rest his head for the night. I thought of Emilio as a kid but knew from his APD jacket he was twenty-two. He’d come up legally from Durango, Mexico and had a record for petty stuff, nothing that would get him deported. He didn’t seem to be married, and it apparently didn’t matter to him which way he swung, just so long as the swing was profitable. I guess that earned him a “bi” rating.
     The handsome shit was dressed all in black, including a ten-gallon hat shoved rakishly back to expose dark, unruly curls. A scarlet hatband, a red belt, and a bit of crimson on his alligator boots added the only traces of color to his outfit. On him, it was dynamite. He danced easily, confidently; the same way he’d behaved while he was living in Del’s room in my house. If Emilio harbored doubts about anything, it wasn’t apparent. He counted on charming his way out of any trouble hovering over the horizon.
     When the number ended, he gave his partner a hug and a peck on her plump cheek before leading her away through the crowd. I scrambled straight across the dance floor as a twang of guitars and a bang of drums announced the next song. Trying to elude the grasp of cowgirls bent on dancing—or more likely desperate for a companion for the night—I lost the odd-looking pair for a moment before spotting Emilio holding out a chair for mamacita, like the gentleman he was not. Then he took one of two vacant chairs across from her at a long table filled with Hispanics.
     Now, I’ve got bushels of Latino friends and don’t admit to a prejudiced bone in my body, but just as there are whites and then there are whites, there are Hispanics and then there are Hispanics. These guys were the latter. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and slipped into the vacant chair beside Emilio.


We’ll leave BJ walking into a dangerous situation. Hope he comes out of it okay.

Thanks for reading, and let me hear from you.


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

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