dontravis.com blog post #341
|Artist: Maria Fanning|
I recently received the third edit of The Voxlightner Scandal from DSP Publications for my review. As this is the last opportunity to make changes to the manuscript, so I always read the third edit from beginning to end. Guess what? I always make changes. I think I will be making changes to my obit as they lower the casket into the ground. My philosophy is that a manuscript is never finished, it's just that you get so sick of it you can’t stand to read it again.
At any rate, I wanted to give you another glimpse of the sixth BJ Vinson mystery before it reaches the publication state. No date has been set yet, but likely sometime early next year.
The scene I’ve chosen opens Chapter 4 of the book when the matriarch of the Voxlightner family summons BJ to “the Castle.” Let’s take a look.
THE VOXLIGHTNER SCANDAL
When Paul and I went to the office the next morning after an early therapy swim at the country club, a surprise awaited us. Hazel waved a phone slip in my face the moment I came through the outer door.
“You have a call you need to return right away.”
I accepted the pink slip with a name and number printed in Hazel’s careful handwriting. “Lucinda Caulkins…. Caulkins,” I mumbled.
“She’s old Marshall Voxlightner’s daughter,” Hazel said. “Caulkins is her married name.”
“Ah.” No wonder my office manager was so animated. She either anticipated a client to pay for the work we were already doing or someone demanding that we cease doing it. Either way an advantage for the firm’s bottom line from her perspective. “Okay. I’ll give her a ring.”
Paul joined me as I placed the call and activated the speaker phone when someone answered the ring. I identified myself and was asked to hold.
Within a minute a calm, well-modulated voice came on the line. “My name is Lucinda Caulkins, Mr. Vinson. Thank you for returning my call. I wonder if it would be convenient for you to drop by and speak with my mother? She has a matter she would like to discuss.” The hint of a slow drawl reminded me she had lived for the last several years with a real estate developer husband in Virginia.
“Certainly. When would be convenient?”
“Would two suit your schedule?”
“See you at two.” At Paul’s frantic pantomime I hastily added, “Would it be permissible to bring an associate?”
A uniformed maid answered the door, but a slender woman with frosted brown hair stood behind her in the foyer. She stepped forward and offered a hand as the maid discreetly slipped away. Her simple but elegant outfit wasn’t off the rack.
As we exchanged greetings, I identified Paul as my associate. Lucinda Caulkins greeted him as politely as she had me before leading the way to a large, comfortable room. I would have called it a living room, but in this setting, it was more properly a drawing room. The outside of this stone-and-brick edifice might truly resemble a medieval castle, yet the interior was modern, with big airy rooms… although the effect was spoiled somewhat by furniture that might easily have come out of the Victorian age.
A small, thin woman I’d completely overlooked when we entered the room rose from the depths of a tufted wing chair with the aid of an ebony cane. Despite being emaciated she moved with alacrity. Her smile was welcoming, not formal.
“Mother,” Lucinda said, moving to the older woman’s side, “may I present Mr. B. J. Vinson and his associate, Paul Barton. They’ve come at our invitation. My mother, Mrs. Dorothy Wellbourne Voxlightner.”
“Of course. Welcome to Voxlightner Castle.” The frail hand she offered still had strength in it. I estimated she must be in her mideighties. Her voice reminded me of her daughter’s without the slight, acquired southern drawl. I’d heard stories about this woman all my life, and here she stood, without hubris, not a prima donna or misanthrope, but warm and charming.
She startled us with a tinkling laugh. “I used to be so self-conscious over such a pretentious description of our home, but Marshall was adamant about it. Over the years it’s become easier.”
“It is a castle, ma’am,” Paul put in, a smile dimpling his cheeks.
“I like this one,” the older woman said, taking his hand to shake and pat at the same time. “You must call me Dorothy.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips.
She drew him to a big camelback sofa and pulled him down beside her. “I didn’t know they made them like this any longer.” She addressed Paul. “Tea? Coffee? You don’t look old enough for highballs.”
“Thank you, ma’am, I’ll pass.”
After I also declined refreshment, Lucinda put things back on track. “Mr. Vinson, I understand you’re working with the police on Pierce’s murder, is that correct?”
“Both Paul and I are consulting with Detective Roy Guerra, the officer in charge of the investigation.”
“Then we have a proposition for you.” Lucinda glanced at her mother and received a small nod before proceeding. “As you may be aware, my brother, Barron, disappeared on Monday, March 15, 2004 and has not been seen or heard from since. We believe it is time to have him declared dead. We would like your help.”
I wasn’t able to hide my astonishment. At a minimum my eyebrows must have reacted. “I am surprised you haven’t taken that step before now. New Mexico law requires only a waiting period of five years. Five years elapsed in 2009.”
“My father wasn’t willing to live the scandal all over again. And any such petition was certain to raise it. Then, of course, that was the year my father died, and probating his estate occupied our attention. Since then we’ve honored his wishes.”
“Likely out of inertia,” Mrs. Voxlightner put in.
Distaste edged Lucinda’s voice when she spoke after a slight pause. “When Pierce told us he was going to recreate all the details with his new book, we objected. But he claimed he was going to expose the perpetrators and exonerate the family.”
“Did he identify these perpetrators?”
She shook her head. “No. He rudely refused to reveal anything. Said it was too dangerous. And given what happened to him, perhaps he was right.”
“You believe someone involved in the scandal killed Pierce Belhaven?”
Lucinda leveled a cool stare at me. “What other explanation could there be?”
I turned to Mrs. Voxlightner. “Are there children other than Mrs. Caulkins and Barron?”
She shook her head. “Barron was our only son.”
“All right. I understand the situation now, but you don’t need my services. As I understand the Uniform Probate Code, you are not required to conduct a search for your son. If he has not been seen nor heard from this past five years, that is sufficient. Your attorney can file a petition for a declaration of death.”
The tiny elegant woman sitting beside Paul on the sofa cleared her throat and claimed the room’s attention as she reached for a leather-clad folio on the coffee table. “I fear we’re not making ourselves clear. Because Pierce was so certain he could uncover the swindlers who looted the precious metals company, we want you to investigate his death and bring his murderer to justice. If in the process you determine exactly what happened to Barron, that would be a plus for us.”
She opened the folio and held out a photo in her graceful fingers. “This is the way the world last saw my son. It’s the final image of him I have as well. This is not acceptable to me.”
I took the FBI wanted poster of a wild-eyed image of Barron Voxlightner staring back at me. The legend read: Wanted for Murder and Grand Theft.
“This is not the way I want to remember my son. Nor do I want others thinking that of him. Locate Barron if you can. If not please see if you can determine what happened to him. When you are finished, we will have my son declared dead… if it’s appropriate.”
The room was still while I nibbled on my lower lip. “Mrs. Voxlightner, the police and a couple of insurance companies investigated that situation years ago. They had no luck, so it’s doubtful I can do better.”
The lady smiled at me. “But don’t you see? Pierce swore he uncovered something he believed would lead him to the answer to the mystery. Since you’re investigating his death, you just need to find what that was. While he did not share his information with us, I do know it was something he came across while he was with the New Mexico Power and Light Company.”
“You are aware his files were stolen and his computers destroyed, aren’t you?”
“Come now, Mr. Vinson, we have faith in you. I’ve made some inquiries and am satisfied you can uncover something for us. If nothing else, make certain Barron has truly vanished without leaving a trace. Please provide us with whatever contract you require, and we will give you an appropriate retainer.”
“On one condition, Mrs. Voxlightner.”
“And what, pray tell, is that?”
“You’ll call me BJ instead of Mr. Vinson.”
“Agreed. And I am Dorothy.”
I suppose every city, town, and village in the world has at least one family around which stories and myths and misconceptions swirl. The Voxlightners was one of Albuquerque’s which is one reason why BJ is so easily persuaded to take a look into a case that the police, the FBI, and others agencies had sought in vain to solve. But as so often happens—one murder leads back to another. Or does it?
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!
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