Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Little Something from the Fourth Novel in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series

Given that DreamSpinner Press is into the publication process for the BJ Vinson Series (the first book is due out somewhere around September with the other two to follow at four-month intervals), I thought I’d give you something from the fourth book with the working title of THE LOVELY PINES. 

This novel, presently a work in process, takes place in 2009 and is set in and around the Albuquerque area of New Mexico. The story begins as our intrepid sleuth, BJ Vinson, receives a visit from an individual he had run across but never met during the Bisti Business. Ariel Gonda, a Swiss national, has left the Alfano Winery operation in Napa Valley and purchased the Lovely Pines Winery in the tiny, fictitious settlement of Valle Plácido a little north and east of Albuquerque. He has come to see BJ because of a break-in at his winery.

 I chose this scene from the beginning of Chapter 2 because it shows some of the history of the area… a subject that is terribly interesting to me.

     I drove to Valle Plácido directly from the house the next morning, saving a trip downtown and then a run back north. In a bucolic mood, I took the old Highway 85 to Bernalillo about fifteen miles north of Albuquerque.
     Bernalillo was an interesting town, at least to history buffs like me. The area had been more or less continually inhabited for probably close to 1,000 years, first as an indigenous Anasazi town, and later by the Spaniards when they arrived in the Sixteenth Century to claim it as a trading center and military outpost. The settlers who founded Alburquerque—somewhere along the way, the city lost an “R” from its name—had begun their historic journey from here.
     In one of those odd coincidences, Albuquerque is the governmental seat of Bernalillo County, while Bernalillo is the seat of Sandoval County. Go figure. Today, some 7,000 or so souls reside there, about seventy percent of whom trace their roots back to Hispanic origins. My father was fond of telling me that in the old days every bar in the town—and there were plenty of them—was adjacent to a service station because it was illegal to sell liquor on Sundays back then. Of course, the filling stations remained open, and a thirsty motorist was usually able to get something besides oil and gas. The present day town fathers like to say Bernalillo is the gateway to the Jemez Mountain Range to the west and the Sandias to the east.
     At the north end of town, I hung a right on Highway 550 and crossed over I-25, climbing steadily toward the mountains. Before long, I passed through another former Anasazi settlement renamed Placitas, which meant Little Town. With its large adobe homes tucked into folds in the foothills or hanging on the slopes, Placitas had managed to bring some of the famed Santa Fe style south.
     Shortly after leaving the town limits, I entered an even smaller settlement about whose history I had no knowledge—Valle Plácido. All I knew of the place was that people had been growing grapes and making wine here for centuries. New Mexico was one of the earliest wine making centers in North America.
     As instructed by Ariel Gonda, I turned north on a well-graded gravel road and saw the Winery about 500 yards ahead of me. My first impression was of a French chateau plopped down in the middle of New Mexico. As I grew nearer, the image was reinforced. I passed over a cattle guard behind an impressive black, wrought iron gate anchored to a solid four-foot stone wall stretching off in both directions. I assumed it enclosed the entire place, or at least the ten acres of the winery. The wall would probably have stopped a tank but provided little protection from stealthy intruders afoot. The vineyard sat off to the east.
     Up close, the stately house did not seem so foreboding, less of a Gothic manor harboring psychopaths and star-crossed lovers. House, of course, was a misnomer. It truly was a chateau, even though it was small by European standards. I judged it to be three floors of around 1,500 square feet each. The gray stone from which it was constructed wasn’t native rock. The copper Mansard roof had a cloudy, green patina. Doors, windows, and the roofline beneath the gables were all framed in brown brick.

It is amazing how often we drive down familiar roads and streets giving little or no thought to what has happened on those roads before our passage. Not every site must have seen a famous battle or sparked a revolution to have significance. The fact that the small New Mexico town of Bernalillo was founded and abandoned a thousand years ago by an indigenous people, reclaimed by Spanish settlers, and then come under the authority of Anglo conquerors is meaningful. Many New Mexicans, both native and adopted, have little appreciation of the fact that our state is one of the oldest wine-producing areas in what is now the United States. Fascinating.

I’ll make a deal with you. You keep reading, and I’ll keep writing. Feel free to contact me at

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Who Changed? Me or the Movies

creative commons,
I was often unable to find anything of interest on television during our recent holiday season, so I found myself watching a number of old movies, including three Thin Man flicks on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. I remembered them as marvels of sophisticated comedy based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. I had always liked William Powell, and Myrna Loy was “Woman” for me when I was growing up. To my amazement, I only managed to watch one complete film and about ten minutes of the other two before realizing that either someone had futzed around with these classics or else my idea of sophistication… not to mention comedy… had changed. Chasing around after an alcoholic drink no longer filled the bill. And the mystery seemed to solve itself when no one was watching… including William Powell.

However, the activity called up a memory from July 2004 when I was lying in the Albuquerque VA hospital recovering from the prior day’s exploratory Laparotomy, which is a fancy way of saying the surgeon ripped me open from stem to stern and yanked out 20 cms of my jujunium. The only thing I understood about the last part of that sentence was “20.” That’s simple enough, but what the hell is a jujunium? I never knew I had one, much less 20 cms of it. Was there anything left? Would they have to install some kind of pump to handle all my juju juice? But back to my suffering.

Pain-wracked and lethargic, I huddled on my bed imprisoned by raised and barred sides. A myriad of needles pierced my right arm. One was for a saline drip, another was for something that escapes me, a third held a big gadget that let them take blood samples without sticking a big hypodermic needle in me every time some vampire got hungry and needed a sip of blood. The fourth one, in my opinion, was simply to piss me off.

To fully comprehend my situation, there are a couple of things you need to know about me. First, I am needle-phobic. Point a needle at me and my skin cells become so tense a nurse must make at least two... and more often three… tries before striking the desired vein. Add to that the fact that I have an extremely low tolerance for pain. By way of example, there have been times when I equated waste elimination with the pain of childbirth. My wife tried to disabuse me of that, but she had no idea of the agony I was enduring at the time.

And finally, there’s my relationship with blood. Blood is just fine when it stays where it’s supposed to be, snug in some vein or artery and properly covered by a thick layer of epidermis. I can remember people speculating on why veins (even the word makes me queasy) appear blue when they are filled with bl… uh, that red stuff. I never cared to learn the answer. Veins can choose any color they want so long as they remain leak-proof.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, blood isn’t as bad as needles or the pain of sutures or the other stuff because while I have an unpleasant moment or two upon its appearance, that is generally followed by a more or less instantaneous nap. And even if the sight of the thick, oozing stuff doesn’t render me totally unconscious, at the very least I’m in that never-never land where I don’t really give a crap.

But enough of that. Back to the experience I was about to reveal. A day or so after my life-threatening surgery, I was lying back in my bed bored to tears, suffering quietly and heroically with my blood safely coursing through its proper channels… when suddenly, something captured my attention. My total attention. A great big bubble of air detached itself from the saline bottle and plopped into my drip-line.

That’s where the old movies kicked in. How many times have we watched a sinister film character make his (it’s almost always a he) way into some sleeping innocent’s room to inject air into the patient’s IV and then sneak out without being seen? Shortly thereafter film pandemonium breaks out. An ominous screeching of monitors. A horrified nurse screaming as if she’d never seen a hospital emergency before. Raucous Codes Blue or Red or Dead.

Anyway, as I watched this humungous blob of air lazily make its way down the line, my initial reaction was calm curiosity. That didn’t last long.  I was watching Death approach. I didn't have time for calm. I sat up… which diverted me momentarily from my panic… and fumbled for the call button. Couldn’t find it. Should I yell and disturb the poor sap in the other bed? Jerk the needle out of my arm? Oh, crap no! That would hurt. So I calmed down and took matters into my own hands. I very deliberately flicked the hose to break up the bubble.

I succeeded. That ominous thing exploded into a thousand tiny fragments that wouldn’t harm a fly. I slumped back, weak but proud. I had done what the U. S. Army had taught me to do. Take decisive action. I clearly remembered from back then that every time I recovered from a swoon, I’d been able to staunch the flow of that strawberry colored stuff gushing from a splinter in the finger or a scrape on the knee.

Then I took another look at the IV. A funny thing was happening. As the cloud of tiny air pockets drifted down the line, they started to collect. Just a few at first. One joined with another to make a bigger bubble. Then others melded with that one. Good Lord! It was going to end up bigger than ever.

I closed my eyes and awaited the arrival of Fate. How long would it take to kill me after entering my bloodstream? Was this a vein or an artery. A vein. That meant it would go directly to my heart. Wouldn’t have to go through my toes and fingers before reaching the Grand Old Pump. Arm to heart. Splat! Would it hurt much? Damn those old movies, anyway. I wouldn’t have known what was coming had it not been for them.

As the re-formed pocket of air… seemingly much larger now… finally disappeared from sight, I closed my eyes and tried to compose a prayer. Better to go out that way, wasn’t it? But all I could think of was “don’t let it hurt!”

I woke up an hour or so later when the nurse came in to take a blood sample. I was tempted to let her know about eluding the tentacles of Fate, but decided Gary Cooper would have kept his escape from Death to himself. So that’s what I did.


Hope I didn’t horrify you with that absolutely true spine-tingling tale of death and danger. You probably have some of your own to relate. But I seriously doubt yours were as perilous as mine.

Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting. If you feel like it, drop me a line at

See you next week.


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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

DSP Publications Begins Work on Republishing The BJ Vinson Series

As regular readers of this blog know, DSP Publications acquired the rights to the BJ Vinson mystery series during last year’s holiday season. They have already begun the process of getting the basics out of the way (learning about the author, general thrust of the series, type of series -- these are associated, stand-alone books featuring continuing players which can be read in any order -- and that sort of information).The beginning of the editorial procedure on the first book is set for May 10. I understand publication follows the editorial process by around four months. So hopefully, we’ll see the new Zozobra Incident somewhere around September or October of this year. Except, it probably won’t be The Zozobra Incident by then. DSP has already alerted me they may change the titles of the novels.

At any rate, I chose a scene from Chapter 12 of The Zozobra Incident for this week’s blog post. BJ is uncomfortable with his recent suspicions about the new man in his life, Paul Barton. In the following scene, a telephone conversation with Gene Enriquez, his former APD partner, he’s relieved to learn that a witness has not been able to identify a photo of Paul’s as a suspect in the case. When he asks for the photo back, BJ discovers all may not be well, after all.


“Yeah. Will you return the pictures to me? I need Prada’s for the file, and I’d hate for Paul’s to get into your system for no good reason.”
“He’s already in it. Don’t tell me you didn’t check for a sheet?”
“Of course not!” Then I screwed up my standard of ethics by asking why he was on record.
“Nothing serious. Drunk and disorderly at an off-campus beer party. Got into a fight with another guy, barely missed being charged with assault.”
“Oh, crap. Is it still pending?”
“Naw. He got fingerprinted, mugged, and slammed into a cell overnight. But the judge let him go with a warning.”
“When was that?”
“A year back. Nothing before or since.”
“Thanks. I owe you.”
“Man, do you ever. But there’s more. One of the guys in the Gang Unit tells me Barton flirted around with one of the gangs back in high school. There’s no evidence he actually joined, but there was some sort of blood connection, I gather.”
“Which gang?” I asked with my heart in my throat.
“Probably the Santos Morenos. That was their turf, even back then. I can check it out if you want.”
“No, thanks. Let me do it.”
I hung up and processed what I had learned. The system snares a lot of young men for one thing or the other, and Paul’s charges hadn’t been serious. A wake up call was probably what he needed at the time.
The other thing bothered me, but maybe it shouldn’t. Every kid in Albuquerque was exposed to a gang like the Saints sooner or later. And in Paul’s part of the South Valley, half the people were related by blood or marriage. The fact Gene’s contact was vague about the details was both good and bad: Bad because whatever brought Paul to his attention was enough for him to remember it years later. Good because it meant Paul hadn’t been seriously involved with the Saints or any other gang.

Hope you enjoyed the glimpse into Zozobra. As always, let me close by urging you to keep on reading and by inviting you to contact me.

See you next week.


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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

PI Clients Are Not Always Pleasant

Let me start off by repeating an alert from Michael Goddard, Software Engineer for Google Friend Connect:
An update on Google Friend Connect

We encourage you to tell affected readers (perhaps via a blog post) that if they use a non-Google Account to follow your blog, they need to sign up for a Google Account, and re-follow your blog. With a Google Account, they'll get blogs added to their Reading List, making it easier for them to see the latest posts and activity of the blogs they follow.

Then he adds that this change will take effect on January 11, 2016.

I chose the following scene from near the beginning of Chapter 1 of THE BISTI BUSINESS for this week’s post for a couple of reasons. BJ is working late one evening when he receives a phone call from an individual looking for his son who is overdue from a vacation trip to the great State of New Mexico. The passage makes plain that confidential investigators occasionally end up dealing with clients they don’t personally like and just as in any other profession often come face to face with bigotry. It also points out that PIs generally prefer to deal with attorneys as clients because lawyers realize what the rest of us do not: PI’s are information gatherers, not detectives who go around solving crimes… except in fiction… such as THE BISTI BUSINESS. The scene also allows me to highlight some of New Mexico. Enjoy.


“How about Norville?”
“That bastard’s a dyed-in-the-wool pansy, and he’s contaminating my son.”
I bit my tongue at the sophomoric outburst. “For your information, Mr. Alfano, I’m pretty ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ myself. I think you need to call someone else.”
“Now wait a minute.” Anthony Alfano obviously was not accustomed to getting the brush-off. “I know all about you. And except for that—nonsense—you’ve got a good reputation. You can move in both the straight world and the gay world. You’re the one I want. Find my son, Vinson, and send him home to his mother and me.”
“It’s Mr. Vinson.” Might as well set the bigoted SOB straight right at the beginning.
“All right, Mr. Vinson, score one for you. Are you sure you’re gay? You don’t sound it.”
“Does your son?”
“No, but—”
“But in your dreams he’s not twisted, right? How about Norville? Am I looking for a flaming queen?”
“Of course, not. Lando wouldn’t hang out with someone like that. No, I’ve got to admit, looking at Dana Norville, you wouldn’t suspect.”
“Then how can you be certain?”
“I did a quick background check on Norville when the two of them started bumming around together, and the guy was clean. But when they…uh, got close, I took another look and found the man Norville had been shacking up with before he latched onto my son.”
“Very well, Mr. Alfano, I’ll look into the matter. I’ll do it for Orlando and Dana, but you’re going to be footing the bills.”
He promised to have his secretary in California call Hazel tomorrow with the credit card information for my retainer and to provide anything else we requested. I asked him to email color photos of the two men. If they were as close as he believed, there would be a few around somewhere. He also gave me his son’s cell and pager numbers.
After hanging up, I tapped my desk blotter with a gold and onyx letter opener fashioned into a miniature Toledo blade. I sighed aloud. The Alfano case had all the hallmarks of developing into a nightmare. Working for attorneys was easier; they understood the process. Private individuals had a warped idea of what a PI did, which was nothing more or less than gathering information. But I was committed, so I might as well make the best of it.
I returned to the visual meditation of the landscape outside my window. As nature’s glow dimmed, man-made lights came alive: amber lampposts, white fluorescents, flamboyant neons, yellow vehicle headlights reflecting off wet pavement, and far in the distance a tiny spot moving slowly across the sky—one of the aerial trams hauling patrons up Sandia Peak’s rugged western escarpment to the restaurant atop the mountain.
By leaning forward, I caught the faint, rosy underbelly of a western cloudbank, the lingering legacy of a dead sunset. Was that what had drawn Orando and Dana to the Land of Enchantment? Spectacular scenery and surreal sunsets? Or was it our rich heritage of Indian and Hispanic art? The two were history majors, and Albuquerque had a long history. It was approaching its 300th birthday, while Santa Fe and many of the nearby Indian Pueblos had longer lifelines.
 As previously noted, BISTI, along with THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT and THE CITY OF ROCKS will soon be published by DSP Publications, an imprint of DreamSpinner Press. The titles of the novels may be changed, but they will still represent the adventures of BJ Vinson and his partner, Paul Barton.

Keep on reading, guys. I always look forward to hearing from you.

See you next week.


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

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