Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Preview of The Voxlightner Scandal


dontravis.com blog post #352

Maria Fanning, Artist
I notice this is the 352nd blog post. If my math is correct, that represents ten straight years of blogging at dontravis.com. In fact, it’s longer than that, since I did not number the earliest blogs and I missed a few weeks’ worth of blogging when I was in the hospital following back surgery a few years ago.

As I’ve announced repeatedly, Dreamspinner Press has announced a publication date of November 19 for the latest BJ Vinson mystery novel. So I’d like to give you one more look at The Voxlightner Scandal before publication. I’ve chosen the middle of Chapter 4 for the excerpt.

*****
THE VOXLIGHTNER SCANDAL

The Charlie Weeks part of Vinson and Weeks, Confidential Investigators was involved in another assignment, so Paul volunteered to help me go through Belhaven’s appointment books. We settled down at the table in the corner of my office, where we started with the newest and worked backward. APD found no diary, but Pierce had made comments in his appointment books, virtually rendering them into a journal.
I quickly found the note that had insinuated itself into my memory. On Monday, January 10, of this year Belhaven circled a comment in red ink: Meter readings are key! That’s what he meant. Okay, what meter readings? And who is the “he” Belhaven referenced. I alerted Paul to watch for any notation referencing meter readings.
When one does not know what one is looking for when reviewing nine years of another man’s hen scratchings, the process grows tedious and boring rather quickly. At times my eyes glazed over, causing me to go back and review a page or two all over again. A chink in Paul’s investigative armor appeared when he all too readily bailed on me when Roy Guerra called and invited us to accompany him on an interview with the AFD arson supervisor. I recognized Paul’d had his fill of donkey work for the day—his disco leg had jiggled for the last half hour—and agreed he should go with Roy while I kept at the drudge work. Despite the feeling I was searching for a raindrop in a drought, there was something here, and I was determined to find it.
Pierce Belhaven wrote in a precise hand except when he was tired. The morning notations were clear, but as the day wore on, his writing became more difficult to read. He apparently possessed an acerbic mind. After some of his appointments, he categorized a certain individual or individuals with either gushing or caustic comments. He also changed his mind about some of his associates, as one time they would be a “fine fellow” and at others a “stodgy clod.”
I found one entry referencing Paul and some issue at SouthWest Writers. I smiled at his characterization: A toothsome handful! If the old boy only knew.
By the time Paul returned with Roy, I was down to the last couple of books without finding much of interest. The unread books covered the years 2003 and 2004, the period when the scandal occurred. Nonetheless I was wiped out and gratefully put aside the examination of the appointment-cum-diary books to hear the results of their interview with Lanny Johnson, the AFD lieutenant in charge of arson.
“Didn’t learn much,’ Roy said as he claimed a chair in front of my desk. “The fire was deliberately set using book matches tossed on Belhaven’s gasoline-soaked clothing.”
“Matches? Plural?”
“Yep. Ignited a whole book of them and tossed them on the body. Gasoline caught and toasted Belhaven but didn’t do much damage to the garage.”
“How much gasoline was used?” I asked.
“Enough to cover the body,” Paul said.
“Anything else on or around the body?”
“Just the remnants of a burned-up rag. You know, like mechanics use to wipe their hands on. Wasn’t much of it left.”
I rubbed my tired eyes and sat back in my chair.
Paul read me pretty well. “What are you thinking, Vince?”
Roy scowled. “What’s with this Vince business? I thought everybody called you BJ.”
“There are always contrarians,” I replied, unwilling to explain it was a pet name. “Why the arson charade?”
“Trying to make Belhaven’s death look like an accident,” the detective responded.
“Obviously. But why? Roy, did Belhaven have life insurance?”
He nodded. “Multiple policies, I understand.”
“Who are the beneficiaries?”
“The son and daughter. Two-point-five mil each.”
“Which probably contain double-indemnity clauses in case of accidental death. This is just speculation of course. Have to see the actual policies to know my premise holds water.”
“I get it,” Paul said. “The arson was to make it look like an accident.”
“How old were the policies, Roy?”
“Haven’t viewed them yet, but I understand they have gray hair.”
“Have you found the murder weapon?”
“Nothing in the garage looks plausible. Office of the Medical Investigator says it was probably metal, although the condition of the corpse makes that iffy.”
“Something like a wrench?” Paul asked.
“Yeah. Or an aluminum bat. And we didn’t find either one of those. Found some tools in a shed at the back, but none of them tested positive.”
“Was the skin broken on his head? Enough so there was blood?”
“Couldn’t say for sure… you know, because of the fire. No obvious evidence of it.”
After another fifteen minutes of hashing and rehashing the situation, Roy took his leave while Paul and I tackled the appointment books again. Paul picked up the blue-clad volume for 2003. Within five minutes he let out an “Aha!”
“What?” I asked.
“You said Pierce mentioned readings? I got meter readings.”
He shoved his book over to me. Under August 2003 Belhaven had made a terse comment: May-1800 kWhs; June-1825 kWhs; July-1829 kWhs. What the hell is up?
I took kWhs to be kilowatt hours. There was no name or meter number or address, but the numbers had been significant enough to catch Belhaven’s attention. Why? Had his responsibilities involved monitoring accounts to watch for unusual readings? Did he keep an eye on friends or family? Was this part of his job, or was he simply a snoop?
I got up from the table and went to my computer where I pulled up the New Mexico Power and Light bills for my home. After reviewing a number of monthly invoices for the past year, I reached the following conclusions: my average usage was around 700 kWhs and according to the utility company, the average household usage was around 650 kWhs. Belhaven spotted someone using around three times the voltage for a period of three months. Given the readings were spotlighted in his journal, he clearly believed the level of usage was unusual, and he knew the individual the meter belonged to. The penned comment “What the hell is up?” led me to that conclusion.
I picked up the phone, dialed, and argued my way through a secretary to speak to an old golfing buddy of mine. He agreed to a meet.



*****

I hope you found BJ’s latest mystery to be interesting. In Voxlightner, BJ finds himself and Paul the targets of an unknown killer… involving some close shaves.

Dreamspinner’s publishing date for my next BJ Vinson book, The Voxlightner Scandal, is November 19, 2019. A buy link follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

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See you next week.

Don

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


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