Thursday, September 24, 2015


Occasionally something so ridiculous happens that I just have to share the event. You know, confess personal foibles, weaknesses, sins, etc. Oh, yes. Contrary to the conviction of some of my acquaintances, I’m human with a vulnerable heart, sympathetic mind – and a creaking, rotting, failing sense of balance.

On the morning of Saturday, September 12, I drove to Smith’s Supermarket just up the street to pick up one non-essential but coveted item. As I parked adjacent to a handicap-reserved spot, I saw that a brand-new Cadillac Escalade occupied that space. As I got out of my puny little Buick LaSabre with 116,000 miles on the odometer, I noticed there was no handicap placard hanging from the rear view mirror on the big boat.

Now, I’ve already declared I have a human heart and sympathetic mind, but if there’s one thing that hardens my heart and unsympathizes (oh, look, a new word!) my mind, it is the rich (and/or the famous) ignoring laws and conventions simply because they are rich (and/or famous). This apparent infraction of the rules took on the importance of felony murder in my suddenly fevered brain. How dare the rich bastard flaunt the laws and deprive some poor, banged-up individual (who was probably driving a Ford Fiesta even older than my Buick) of a convenient parking place where he (or she) could hobble painfully into the store to spend his (or her) last food-stamp dollar on a meager supply of life-sustaining nutrients for the day.

Wait! Sometimes people put their placard on the dash rather than hang it from the rear view mirror. But this $70,000 hunk of metal and plastic and rubber was so tall I couldn’t see if that was the case. Now thoroughly committed to running this scofflaw to ground, I walked up to see if the distinctive New Mexico-issued blue and white permit was in sight.

I’ve reached the age where I normally walk with my eyes on the ground, scanning back and forth for things that might reach out and try to trip me. But this time, my attention was glued to the Caddy’s dashboard. All of a sudden, my right foot struck something solid, (the berm in front of my own car) and over I went onto solid asphalt and concrete. Hard.

Now I am an experienced faller and realized I needed to keep my head from bopping any surface more solid than it is. I also had to keep from falling on my back. A tumble resulting in back surgery three years ago had taught me that much. I succeeded, but in the process everything else was pretty much ruined. I suspect my right knee will never look the same again. Both of them bear scars that refuse to go away – the gifts of other similar events – but this one is spectacular, running halfway down my leg. My left palm … Ah, well, no need to run down the list of wounds, except to say that two of the strangest were small, bloody, painful scrapes on the tips of the middle fingers of my right hand. That will make the completion of my next novel dicey.

As I rolled to a sitting position to take inventory, I realized I could not get up. While I’d avoided falling on my spine, I’d somehow wrenched my back. So I sat there, hidden between two cars (one a huge boat and the other one my own vehicle) until a couple young enough to have the capacity to help finally came by and answered my plaintive call for assistance.

They eventually got me to my feet, and as I thanked them and protested that I didn’t need an ambulance, I noted the license tag on the offending Caddy Escalade. The vehicle had a bright new plate sporting the image of a wheelchair proclaiming its owner to be handicapped.

Mind your own business, Don.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Last week, we visited THE BISTI BUSINESS and got a glimpse of Las Cruces. This week, let’s continue to look at New Mexico through BJ Vinson’s eyes and view the University of New Mexico as he sees it. In the following scene from Chapter 6 (Page 57) of THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT, our PI protagonist is tracking down one of Emilio Prada’s johns. Compromising photographs taken by the gay hustler have been used to blackmail BJ’s client, a prominent attorney.

I phoned the office, but as Hazel had nothing pressing, I decided to tackle the next name on Prada’s list. According to the cross-reference directory in my trunk, one of them, Stephen Sturgis, was a professor at the University of New Mexico with a Far Northeast Heights home address. UNM was closer.
I entered the campus at Central Avenue and Stanford where John Tatschl’s bronze of the university’s Lobo mascot stood in eternal vigilance in front of Johnson Center. As a lifelong history buff, I knew UNM had opened in 1892 with a total of 25 students in a Victorian-style building isolated on the desert east of Albuquerque. Now it occupied approximately eight hundred acres totally engulfed by the city’s inexorable march to the heights.
The famed Santa Fe architect, John Gaw Meem, designed many of its original buildings in the Pueblo style. Today, the campus is an eclectic, enchanting potpourri of primitive and modern design styles: California Mission, Spanish Territorial, modernist, and postmodern. Exposed vigas, sloping exterior walls, and rammed-earth balustrades in warm tones stood adjacent to raw concrete and steel girders. Extruded aluminum facings and colored glass walls coexisted with a Kiva and the Estufa. Smith Plaza’s broad tiered levels and massive stone fountain drew the campus together as a cohesive unit of higher learning.
A lady in the administration office consulted a directory and sent me to the Communication & Journalism Building near the northwest corner of Central Avenue and Yale. Sturgis was a professor in the School of Journalism where Paul Barton was a student. Another coincidence?
That’s the bad part of this job; it feeds paranoia. We all have some, but it seems a generous dose is virtually a prerequisite for a PI license. Unable to contact the professor, I left my card with a message asking him to phone. Then I spent the remainder of the day attempting to run down more of Emilio’s johns.

The purpose of this exercise is to paint a picture of UNM as a visitor would see it for the first time, not to engage the reader in any breathless action sequences. I sometimes ignore the advice to “leave out the parts no one wants to read” to indulge in creating word pictures. Forgive me for the weakness.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015


After last week’s weird post, let’s return to my novel, THE CITY OF ROCKS, for a visit to Doña Ana County. In the following passage from Chapter 2 of the book, our hero, BJ Vinson answers a midnight call and learns the man he’d interviewed earlier that day about a theft has been killed in an automobile accident. BJ is still not clear on the concept of why his client, a respected attorney, has him hounding a man named Liver Lips about the ducknapping ... er, theft of a duck. Our PI leaves his comfortable bed and his companion to head south and see if there’s any sign of the stolen property. The duck.

Las Cruces, the county seat of Doña Ana County, was a city of around seventy-five thousand perched on the Chihuahuan desert flats of the Mesilla Valley. This flood plain of the Rio Grande boasted pecan orchards, as well as onion, chili, and other vegetable fields. The city was also a rail center and the home of the state’s only Land Grant School, New Mexico State University. The stark, striking Organ Mountains rose abruptly to the east.
I parked in front of the East University Avenue headquarters of State Police District Four around 8:00 a.m. I wanted to follow protocol and have Dispatch let the officers on the scene know I was on the way.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled in behind a swarm of activity. Emergency flares blocked the westbound lanes of the highway. I pulled up to the uniformed patrolman diverting traffic to the eastbound lanes and identified myself. He used his shoulder unit to announce my arrival and then waved me over onto the shoulder. It looked as if the crime unit had about finished with their work. In the distance, I could see a banged up black Dodge Ram pickup upside down snug against the corridor fence. A man in civilian attire detached himself from a small group and started for me as soon as I got out of the car.
“Mr. Vinson?” I nodded. “Dispatch told me a PI from Albuquerque was on the way.”
“Detective Montoya? Good to meet you. I suppose OMI’s already taken Martinson away.”
“Yeah, the medics have come and gone. They took him a couple of hours ago. Forensics is wrapping things up now.”
“Why are they here? I thought this was an accident.”
“In my opinion it’s a crime scene. The investigating patrol unit spotted a second set of tires and what they thought might be foreign paint on the pickup.”
“He was forced off the road? Are you thinking homicide?”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking, but I don’t know if it was negligent or intentional. The stray paint’s hard to spot because it’s black, too. But it was enough for the patrol division to call us in on it.”
The detective was a small neat man with swarthy skin and piercing black eyes who looked as if he'd be more at home in a uniform. I judged him to be a couple of years older than my thirty-five. I’d be willing to wager he’d spent his entire adult life in the service—probably the military before going over to the state police.
“What’s your interest in Martinson?” he asked.
“He was suspected of theft. I questioned him briefly in Albuquerque yesterday afternoon. When my client called me last night and told me about the wreck, I came down to see for myself. Uh...was there anything unusual in the pickup?”
That got his interest. “Like what?”
“This is going to sound nuts, but he’s accused of stealing a duck. A very valuable duck, as it happens.”
“Quacky? He’s the one who swiped Mud’s bird?” He didn’t crack a smile. Apparently, they took ducknapping down here a little more seriously than I did. Of course, a homicide tended to wring the humor out of it—whether or not Liver’s death was connected to the duck.
“You know about that? I thought it took place over in Hidalgo County.”
“Yep, but the news is all over this part of the state.” The radio unit in his left hand blared. He spoke into the thing and then turned to me. “They’re removing Martinson’s vehicle now. They’ll be releasing the crime scene after that. You can walk it with me if you want.”
Black rubber on the shoulder marked where Liver’s vehicle had left the Interstate. It appeared to have gone airborne for a short distance before landing hard and rolling a couple of times, coming to rest against the fence. The detective pointed out a second set of less noticeable skid marks on the shoulder.
“I figure this is the vehicle that forced him off the road. Either that or some heartless SOB stopped after the accident and didn’t have the decency to call for help or try to render assistance. Of course, it wouldn’t have done any good. Martinson was dead before the pickup stopped rolling.”
Montoya led me over the verge and halted at a dark spot in the grass. “Martinson was ejected and landed here. He was probably traveling at a pretty good rate of speed. I noticed he was all bandaged up.”
“Yeah. The duck scratched him up pretty good; gave him a blood infection. I interviewed him at the UNM Hospital yesterday. What time did the accident happen?”
“Probably sometime after dark, but nobody spotted the wreckage until around midnight. Nobody mentioned a duck with a broken neck, but I’ll check with the forensics people.
Montoya got on the radio and determined the criminalists had found no sign of a duck or a feather or anything else indicating there had been a bird in the pickup. When he finished the conversation, he asked me to go back to Cruces and make a formal statement.

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Arizona Bark Scorpion
photo courtesy of Wikipedia

An email from a friend arrived the other day that read, in part:

I stepped on a f… scorpion this morning and got stung.

I, of course, replied with:

Thank goodness it wasn’t an A or B or C or D or E scorpion. I understand they’re much more dangerous.

That bit of mild levity out of the way, I made sure she was okay and not in need of medical attention. It develops this is the third or fourth time she’s been stung, so she knows how her body reacts to the venom.

Or does she?

That question prompted me to do a little research on scorpions. I tried looking them up as insects, but since they have eight legs, they’re part of the arachnid family along with spiders and ticks, of all things.
These venomous, exoskeleton invertebrates live almost everywhere except in artic climes. Deserts, rain forests, prairies, grasslands, mountains, caves, ponds, seashores – it doesn’t matter to these carnivores. They eat insects and small rodents, killing in two ways: crushing smaller prey with pincers (called pedipalps) and injecting venom with a stinger usually hovering over the scorpion’s head as if ready for instant action. Most of these hunters range in size from half an inch to around an inch long and range in color from black to brown to tan to red to yellow. All predators have predators, and shrews and other scorpions are these fearsome creatures' bête noire.

According to Wikipedia and Desert Exposure and other references I consulted, there are over 1,700 species of scorpions, all venomous – to varying degrees – but only about 25 with a toxin deadly to humans (most of these belong to the Buthidae family). Fortunately for us, although the US teems with scorpions, none are known to be deadly to healthy adults. The result of a sting by a scorpion is normally similar to a bee sting, painful but usually not requiring medication. Children and the elderly and those known to have allergic reactions to such venom definitely need to seek medical attention.

Twenty-one to twenty-five species of scorpions call New Mexico home, only one of which is considered really dangerous (although apparently not classified as deadly). The Arizona bark scorpion lives in loose bark beneath cottonwood trees, under stones, and in old, abandoned buildings. It is found in only three New Mexico counties: Catron, Grant, and Hidalgo.

One of the most wicked-looking  whip scorpions is commonly known as a vinegaroon. Although a member of the scorpion family, when alarmed, this fearsome animal is reduced to releasing a vinegar-like spray as its only protection. It appears to be the exception to the rule that all scorpions are poisonous. And while my recently stung friend apparently can co-exist with the usual scorpion, she shivers at the thought of a vinegaroon’s big, dark, seriously ugly appearance and strong odor.

My friend, by the way, is okay. She was stung on the heel but it was the middle toe on her foot that turned red and got sore. But what if it had been an Arizona bark Scorpion? Or another type of scorpion with a stronger venom. Or what if she had an allergic reaction? Guess not. She’ll survive the sting okay – unless she runs across one of those nasty vinegaroons sometime soon.

Thanks for reading the sometimes strange thoughts dribbling from my mind. Not always an easy thing to do.

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

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