Thursday, July 30, 2015


Have you ever met a crusty old soul you don’t like, but can’t say you dislike him (or her), either? Meet Sam Dunkard, the manager of a Giant Service Station in Farmington, New Mexico. When you run across someone like him, you wonder if he hates his fellow man or if he’s just so dedicated to minding his own business it gets in the way of being helpful.

In the following scene from Chapter 15 of THE BISTI BUSINESS, our PI, BJ Vinson, and Aggie Alfano are following up on a lead in their search for Aggie’s younger brother, Lando.

Sam Dunkard, the old crab who managed the Giant Service Station on Main a few blocks from the Trail’s End, rightly assumed he didn’t need to talk to us because he’d already told everything he knew to the “effing” Sheriff’s Office. To make matters worse from his standpoint, Plainer had been by to ask his own questions. The attendant, somewhere in his mid-fifties, got as much out of his five-four frame as possible by standing ramrod straight in scuffed high-heeled cowboy boots. Thumbs hooked in old-fashioned yellow suspenders gave him an air of defiance. It took some patience on my part and some pleading by Aggie to get him to give us the time of day.
“I dunno why I gotta go to the trouble of doing this three times. Twice oughta be one too many.” But he was weakening.
“Because this man’s brother is missing and may be in trouble. The sheriff is looking for him, but Mr. Alfano would appreciate anything we can learn on our own.”
“Told them two law dogs the only reason I recall the guy is because of that flashy car. A fella could spot it coming a mile off even if it was dirty as hell.”
“You know, dusty; kinda like the kid driving it. His eyeballs matched his car; you know, orange. Looked like he’d been driving all night. Figured he drove ten…twelve hours straight from somewhere or the other.”
“But he looked okay? I mean, he wasn’t hurt or anything?” Aggie fished around in his pocket. “I’ve got a picture of him. Could you confirm he was the driver?”
“Don’t need it,” Dunkard said. “Looked a whole lot like you. Like a clone that didn’t grow up as big as you.” Finally, the man glanced at the picture. “Yep, that’s him.”
“And this was when?” I asked.
“Fifteenth,” he said after thinking it over. “My brother-in-law spells me at noon on Wednesdays, so I recollect what day it was.”
“What time?”
“Early morning. Maybe eight…nine.”
“And he was alone?”
“Yep. All by himself.” Sam Dunkard studied us a moment. “Nervous as hell, he was. Kept looking over his shoulder. Made me think it mighta had something to do with the fella asking about him a little later.”
“Asking about my brother?” Aggie said.
“Asking about the car. He wanted to know if I’d seen an orange Porsche.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Said, sure. Not more’n an hour ago. Man claimed he was supposed to meet his friend but got held up by a detour on the way down from Colorado. I never heard of no detour. Course, coulda been up the road apiece, I suppose.”
“What did this man look like? Blond, around the same age as the driver?” I fed him a vague description of Norville.
“Naw. Older. Hard-looking customer. Don’t recall him too much, but think he was sandy-haired, but thinning. Probably somewhere around forty. Stocky.”
“What was he driving?” I asked.
“Don’t remember. Something bland. Brown Ford or something.”
“Any nicks, dings, dents, decals—anything that stood out?”
“Naw. It was just a plain manila envelope”
“I don’t suppose you noticed his license plate,” I said.
“Sure did. It was a New Mexico plate. And he claimed he drove down from Colorado way.” Sam Dunkard frowned. “Could of, I guess, if he was on a trip.”
“How can you be so sure about the license plate?” Aggie asked. “You aren’t even sure what kind of car it was.”
“License plates is my hobby; son. Cars, ain’t. Be surprised how many of these United States I can count every day.”
“Do you remember the plate number?” I asked.
“Hell no. That ain’t part of the game.”
“Did you tell Detective Joe about this man?”
“Sure did. Told Lonzo all of it.” He gave a sour look. “Maybe I held out on that other fella, that BLM man. Too smooth by half.”
By the time we got back into our rental, Aggie looked ten years older than when we had met a few days back. He was silent, and I left him alone.

You wouldn’t think an orange Porsche would be so hard to find, would you? But it deals BJ a great deal of trouble as he chases it clear across this great State of New Mexico.

Keep up the reading. I might be old-fashioned, but I think that still the best way to get information … and some pleasure.

Be happy to hear from any of you who’d like to make contact.

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Don Travis: MIRIAM, MIRIAM QUITE CONTRARIUM: This week, lets try some short fiction again. Something light I wrote without any deep meaning. Just for enjoyment. ***** MIRIAM, MI...


This week, lets try some short fiction again. Something light I wrote without any deep meaning. Just for enjoyment.

I loved the name Miriam. The genesis of today’s Mary or Maria, it appeared in the first book of the Bible – Genesis, appropriately – as the name of the older sister of Moses. Etymologists cited the name as ancient Hebrew, but disagreed as to its root. Some said the word derived from marar, Egyptian for beloved. Others cited the name’s origin as mara, a word that meant something quite different: rebellious, disobedient.
It is quite possible I fell in love with Miriam’s name before I fell in love with her.
I first laid eyes on the attractive brunette six months ago when I joined a table of friends at a local watering hole called the Oak Barrel in the northeast heights area of Albuquerque. I walked up just in time to hear a spirited rejoinder by a pretty woman with truly lovely emerald-green eyes tell George Hardesty, who can sometimes be an obnoxious ass, that her name was Miriam, not Mary.
“Miriam, Mary, what’s the difference?”
I butted in. “Respect, George. That’s the difference. The lady says her name’s Miriam, then you should show a little respect.” I leaned over the table. “Miriam, my name’s Henry. Henry Leatherton.”
The pretty stranger held out a delicate hand. Her beautiful eyes sparkled with mischief. “Then you won’t mind if I call you Hank.”
From that moment on, no one else at the table mattered. I ended up taking Miriam home that evening. She’d ridden to the pub with a friend, so we didn’t have to worry about a spare car. No kiss, no hug, no endearments of any kind occurred that night, but it was clear we were simpatico. Before the month was out, Henry and Miriam were an item. A week after that, we first made love.
I cannot possibly describe the event. It was earth-moving, stupendous, a totally new experience although not the first for either of us. It was exhausting, exhilarating, frightening. Frightening because by the end, I was certain I would die of a heart attack. A hundred heartbeats later, I was trying to figure how soon I could climb that mountain again.
And it proved, at least to my satisfaction, the root of her beautiful name derived from the Egyptian word, marar … or beloved.
On the day we went on a picnic on Sandia Peak, I parked in a public area on the lower slopes, threw a black, merlot-trimmed wine tote over my left shoulder, hefted the basket of packed food, and started up an easy, well-traveled trail. My destination was a secluded redwood table with a nice view about a mile ahead of us.
A gentle west wind blew out of a clear summer sky and swept up the slope of the mountain, playing noisily in swaying tree branches, disturbing a pair of quarrelsome squirrels, and raising the sharp scent of evergreen resin. At this altitude, the sun’s bite wasn’t bad, although I felt sweat pop out on my scalp beneath a visored ball cap. I kept a wary eye out as I walked with Miriam on my heels. Well-traveled or not, we humans still share these mountains with wild critters, not the least aggressive of which were the mountain sheep that populate the place. But they were generally up near the peak and shouldn’t be a problem.
I heard Miriam’s call from behind me and turned to find her halted at a side trail that led down into a canyon.
“Let’s go this way.”
“It’s a tougher climb. Steeper. Footing’s not as good. Anyway, I want to show you the view up ahead. It’s gorgeous.”
“I want to go this way. We’ll go to yours later.”
“I don’t think …”
But she was gone. Disappeared down the side trail.
“Stay on the pathway.”
I scrambled back down the hill in an effort to reach her, but by the time I arrived at the side-trail, she was no longer in sight. I caught up with her two minutes later as she stood on a rock promontory and gazed out over a shallow but steep-sided canyon.
She slipped a slender arm around my waist as I halted beside her.“Isn’t it beautiful? I’ll bet your view isn’t better than this one.”
I glanced around. “No good place to spread out the lunch.”
“Who’s interested in food? If you’re tired of carrying it, just put it down and we’ll pick it up when we come back.”
“Come back? Where are we going? Besides, I don’t want to come back and find a bear munching on our liverwurst.”
Her laugh mirrored the sound of a golden gong. “Hah! I’ll bet if a bear wanted your basket, you’d hand it over quickly enough.” Without waiting for a response, she started down a faint, steeply graded pathway. “I want to see where this goes.”
“Wait! That’s too steep. You’ll –
She emitted a small yelp and disappeared from view. I dropped the basket – unmindful of glass and hard-boiled eggs – and rushed to where she’d disappeared.
Twelve or so feet below me, she was getting up off her pretty little rump and dusting off her jeans. She was on a small ledge with nowhere to go but down. She hadn’t chosen a path, just a graded drop-off leading to nowhere.
“Oh, Hank! I don’t know if I can get back up.”
“Don’t worry, fair lady. Hank Leatherton to the rescue.”
Her face closed down. “Don’t make jokes. Get me out of here.”
She didn’t have to be so curt. After all, she’s the one who got herself into this mess. After I warned her, too. She didn’t seem frightened standing on that narrow ledge, just petulant.
I tried lying on my stomach and reaching down to her. She was a petite woman of about five-foot-two, and although I had long arms, all we could manage was to touch fingertips. I’d have extended my belt to her … if I’d had one. But years ago, I’d gone to elastic-banded waists and discarded those annoying strips of leather.
I extended my legs over the edge, but she absolutely refused to climb up my back. Too afraid of slipping and falling backward into the canyon, she claimed.
Eventually, I ended up sliding down that same scary, scree-lined embankment that had gotten her into trouble to land beside her on the ledge.
“That’s what you should have done in the first place.”
I ground my teeth and left my retort unstated. I placed my back to the bluff face and cupped my hands. She put a dainty foot in my palms, grabbed my shoulders, and lifted herself up. She was amazingly light – in fact the food basket resting on the promontory above us had seemed heavy by comparison. However, she seemed a bit heftier when she grabbed my head, dislodging my favorite NY Yankees cap and sending it floating out into the ether as I lifted her with my arms until she stood on my shoulders.
“I can’t reach the top,” she complained. “You’ll have to lift me more.”
Without warning, she lifted one clodhopper and placed it on top of my head. Then she raised  the other foot so that  all half-ton of her was supported by my neck. As I grunted aloud and my spine creaked less audibly, I heard her say she couldn’t quite reach it yet. More to relieve the painful weight on my neck than for any other reason, I grabbed her ankles and shoved my arms straight over my head.
Miriam gave a little shriek and vanished from my sight. Startled, I glanced down, halfway expecting to see her tumbling into the void. Instead, I heard her delighted voice above me.
“I did it!”
I put a hand to the back of my neck and tentatively rotated my head. Beyond a click and a clack, everything seemed okay. Then I began exploring ways to extricate myself from the situation I’d – no, she’d -- gotten me into.
I saw no way out. Twelve feet straight up or fifty feet straight down. No, not straight. The cliff wall angled a bit. After a careful inspection revealed a series of small ledges, I made a decision.
“Miriam, no way I can climb, but I might be able to make my way down to the floor of the canyon.”
“No! Come up here. I don’t want to be left alone.”
“Just go back down the trail to the car. I’ll meet you there, but it’ll take me a lot longer going back this way. You’ll have to wait for me.”
“Hank, climb up here. I insist! What if that bear comes?”
“What bear?”
“The one you said wanted the picnic basket.”
“There isn’t a bear. Just walk back to the car.”
“Oh, all right!” I heard her stumble away.
Jeez, wasn’t she even going to wait to see if I got down safely? Screw it. I’d make it with or without her.
I reached the ledge below me in a semi-controlled fall. Actually, I skied on a jumble of loose stones, almost pitching over into the void when I came to an abrupt halt on solid rock. I managed to restore my balance by waving my arms wildly. Or perhaps recovered despite my flailing arms. I repeated the process twice more without too much difficulty. Perhaps it was overconfidence or just kismet, but on the last fifteen-foot slalom, I twisted my left ankle and tumbled onto my face as I hit the bottom of the canyon. 
           After spitting out pebbles and dirt, I tried to stand, but promptly fell over again. My left ankle wouldn’t support my weight. I examined the injured joint. It didn’t seem to be broken but was badly sprained. I managed to stand and take a couple of lurching steps. I didn’t fall again, but it was painful going. As I hobbled down the rough, uneven floor of the canyon wondering if I would make the two miles back to the car, I had another thought.
Would Miriam take the food basket back to the car with her? I shook my head and winced from a sore neck. It was too heavy for her. Oh, well, what’s a $64 Veranda Collection Willow Picnic Basket and a $50 Picnic Time Wine Country Tote in the total scheme of things? Plus cutlery and linen and food, of course. I hoped the bears would appreciate the feast.
A mile into my agonizing and ungainly trek, I reconsidered. Maybe the genesis of Miriam wasn’t the Egyptian marar, after all. Perhaps it was mara.

A little longer than I wanted, but I hope you got a chuckle or two out of it. Or maybe a recollection from your past.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Guest Post: THE EAGLE'S CLAW by Donald T. Morgan

On rare occasions, I've had guest blogs, and today we have another. Donald T. Morgan, another Albuquerque author has published an Ebook on Kindle. I liked the story and the writing, so I asked if I could publish the Prologue to the novel as my post this week. He agreed, and the following is the result:
By Donald T Morgan
The Edge of Mountain Apache Reservation, Southern New Mexico, June 1946

Sleep brought a restless dream. Rather, it was the stitching together of a memory by the boy’s subconscious from scraps collected and then forgotten over the years. There was a man in the dream, a tall Indah with brown hair and sad, gray eyes. A small, tawny woman with long, black hair and a beautiful smile was in it, as well. The izdan, well past school age, yearned to be able to read and write. The man, who taught at the Indian school, helped her learn. They were together often. They talked and laughed and grew toward one another.
They left the reservation and were married in the white man’s way. The woman often returned to her mother’s wickiup, but the schoolteacher never came. This was good because a man gazing upon his mother-in-law risked blindness. The young wife blossomed with health and happiness and child. Strength and pride replaced the longing in the man’s eyes.
One day, more Indah brought a rodeo to the reservation. The Tinneh loved a rodeo. It was great fun to watch the gaunt, pale men flop around on bucking horses. Some of the People rode, too. The crowd cheered whenever a cowboy rolled in the dust, no matter he was white or tribesman.
Then a hush fell over the stands. A magnificent roan pranced into the arena. A devil horse with fire-eyes and a black mane writhing like a nest of serpents. Its great hooves struck sparks from the earth.
No one could ride him, hooted the rodeo hands. No one ever had. No one ever would. They offered the bribe of money to any who succeeded. The Apache men stirred restlessly, but advised by diyi—the shamans among them—they refused the challenge even though the prize was hefty.
One man stepped forward. The white man with gray eyes. A teacher didn’t make much money, and he had a family on the way. He would claim the reward.
Death stalked the arena. Evil corrupted the air. The cowboys’ flesh turned green from it. The roan danced in savage glee. The smell of horse sweat and manure and hot dogs and dust hung heavy over the crowd. Invisible owls screeched. Whippoorwills cried, and coyotes cackled.
From the uneasy safety of his dream, the boy watched the man mount the haughty horse. The chute gate flew open. The roan shot out, bucking and whirling in a frenzy. The Indah rode him! He rode the wicked beast.
Enraged by the humiliation, the roan flung himself against the fence. The man was hurt. His fingers loosened. The animal twisted savagely, and the rider fell. The demon horse wheeled.
The woman with the beautiful smile ran into the arena, waving her arms to turn the frothy beast away. The horse charged on, driven insane by talons of monster owls buried in his withers.
The man was dead. The dreamer thought the woman was, too, but she moved. Her body strained in birth even as she died.
            And he knew he had seen himself born.
I was struck by Don's Prologue because I've always been told dreams are a no-no, especially to open a book with one. But I think this one works well to set the tone for the story. Hope you'll check out the book, and perhaps buy a copy. As yet, it is only available as an Ebook. 
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Photo Courtesy of
Creative Common-3
During a recent Monday afternoon writing class, we discussed how engaging the five senses -- sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch -- enriches a scene and helps ground the reader. One of the class members responded that she becomes offended when this technique is used as an all-too-obvious tactic.

Her remark caused me to review some of my favorite writers’ works to see how they approached this matter. After taking a very swift and superficial scan of their published books, I tended to find action stories went light on portraying the senses except to heighten tension in dramatic moments. However, one of my favorite authors isn’t the least bit shy about engaging the senses. James Lee Burke paints beautiful word pictures using the senses. A short passage from his CREOLE BELLE demonstrates what I’m talking about.
“In the dream, the wind was balmy and smelled of salt spray and seaweed and shellfish that had been stranded on the beach by the receding waves. It also smelled of a Eurasian girl who spoke French and English and lived on a sampan in a cold on the edge of the South China Sea, her skin like alabaster traced with the shadows of palm fronds, her nipples as red and inviting as small roses. He could see her walking nude into the water, her hair floating off her shoulders, her teeth white while she smiled at him and extended her hand.”
Nice and natural, right? Nothing forced, and it gives the reader a clear picture of this scene.

I also like the way a local author goes for it in another peaceful, pastoral scene. The following excerpt is from Mark Wildyr’s homoerotic, historical novel, RIVER OTTER.
“I was tired. It had been a long, demanding day. The shooting of a human being took its toll on any caring, feeling man, and I considered myself to be of a sympathetic nature. I picketed the two horses on opposite sides of camp to double the chances of detecting unwelcome visitors. Patch was trained to give warning of predators. The Mare was a shadow jumper.
I settled on the coarse blankets of my bedroll and breathed a silent song to the Great Mystery. The spread of the heavens—shot through with glittering stars, both noble and mean—made a vast dome of the black sky. I studied the Seven Persons, which Billy had called the Big Dipper. A faint breeze cooled my face and carried the comforting rustle of swaying boughs gently to my ear. The heavy fragrance of pines on the hummock—so different from the scant perfume of cottonwoods along the crick bank—laid the sharp taste of resin on my tongue, or so it seemed. I stilled my doubts, calmed my breathing, and closed my eyes to slip away into sleep.”
Also nice, but to be honest, not as suave and subtle as the master, Mr. Burke. But it was a good try.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hyphenated Friends and Acquaintances

Some more random thoughts this week. I am seldom introspective, but when I fall into such a mood, I tend to get into trouble. The following ruminations will probably put me there again.


The historic events we watched unfold in the last few weeks made me re-examine some of the basic beliefs I hold about myself. I speak, of course, of the killings of so many individuals by police and others. And I refer to the Supreme Court decision declaring the act of marriage to be fundamental right guaranteed everyone under the constitution. I also include increasingly strident calls to remove the Stars and Bars from statehouses and state flags.
I was raised from birth until young adulthood in a small triangle bounded by Broken Bow, DeQueen, and Texarkana … Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, respectively. That might have spanned three states, but it was more or less a single culture. I was an odd duck in that tight, insular society. Tuberculosis at the age of six. Averse to physical activity. Library habitué. I learned my pronunciation and patterns of speech from movies … and was told I talked funny. That really does things to your popularity, I can tell you. Others played baseball and basketball and football. I played chess … and a little tennis when pushed.
We lived at the top of a hill, behind which lay what we called “Colored Town.” I watched its inhabitants walk back and forth between their community and downtown and utterly failed to understand why friends and family called them ugly names. Images of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which we identified as the symbol of Dixie, adorned quite a few windows and bumpers of homes and vehicles in town, although it was nowhere near as evident as during the backlash against the later Civil Rights Movement. I considered it nothing more than an anachronistic symbol of pride in my southern homeland.
Emotionally, I rooted for the Rebs during a movie or literary battle, but intellectually, I understood “Right” and “History” were not on their side. Gone With the Wind was probably my favorite book, although I cherished The House Divided, which presented the other side of the equation.
By the time I left for TCU all the way over in Fort Worth, I was well-established (at least in my own mind) as a social liberal. This attitude was tested a few times, especially by a young woman who referred to herself as “African-American.” She was likeable, and I considered her a friend, although she wore her welcome thin rather quickly with her constant, in-your-face reminders that she was different.
I occasionally played tennis with a young man of Hispanic heritage who was raised in the Fort Worth area and worked hard at developing a friendship with him. The effort was successful – up to a point. When he very naturally included his circle of friends in our developing relationship, I immediately felt ostracized, uncomfortable. We continued to play tennis and enjoyed one another’s company on the court, but that was it. Not only that, but somehow he’d become a Mexican-American in my thinking.
One of the guys in our dorm (an old army barracks housing about 20 individuals) was a homosexual, and he announced that fact if you didn’t figure it out for yourself. I liked Bruce. He was an interesting, intellectually active man, but his constant harping on how different he was from the rest of us tended to grate on the nerves. So he became a Gay-American.
Although I lived in Indian Country, I can remember no Native American friends or acquaintances.
At any rate, those were my hyphenated friends and acquaintances.
Later in life, one of my closest friends was a Hispanic, but I was seldom consciously aware of the fact we were from different cultures because he didn’t take the trouble to point it out. In the army – in boot camp, as a matter of fact – I formed a friendship with a black college instructor who had been drafted. (You guys under the age of fifty go look that one up.) We went everywhere together, and I was so blind to his “difference,” I often suggested we go to the movie in town instead of on base. He always tactfully declined. I’d forgotten that in El Paso, Texas he would have been relegated to the balcony while I sat downstairs.
While serving in Germany, I formed a friendship with a fellow named Lloyd. The only time I recall being acutely aware of his being of Japanese ancestry was in the middle of Denmark when we ran across three Chinese tourists. At that time, Orientals were so rare in that part of the world, they stared at one another in passing so hard we almost had a massive bicycle crash in the middle of an intersection.
Even later, I formed a friendship with a Comanche-Kiowa man that lasted for years. Yet I never thought of him as Indian-American until he got too far into his cups and declared he was a warrior.
These latter individuals were my non-hyphenated friends and acquaintances. In looking back on things, I believe the difference between the two sets of people was that the former – those who were hyphenated Americans actually put the hyphenation on themselves.
Now before I get a storm of protests, let me say I’m speaking from my own experience, I’m not speaking for anyone else. I am fully aware many people are infected by racism (remember my childhood puzzlement as to why others were shouting insults at passing blacks?) I have witnessed undeserved hostility and demeaning behavior to others who were different. I personally believe such actions and attitudes are driven by fear. The point is, I had thought myself immune from such infection. Yet, perhaps I wasn’t entirely free of the “disease.” But I believe – in my case – when it surfaced, the other individual was at least partially complicit in the commission.


Hope you won’t be motivated to “take after me with a claw hammer,” as my grandfather used to say. Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you – so long as you keep it civil.

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

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