dontravis.com blog post #396
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If you’re reading this, then I suppose the Prologue to the Cutie-Pie Murders did its intended job. Seriously, I hope it worked for you.
Now we go to Chapter 1 of the novel, and I warn you, it’s a long read. But I hope you’re drawn in. If you want more, it might help the process if you emailed Dreamspinnerpress.com and told them to hurry up and publish the full book.
Now to Chapter 1.
THE CUTIE-PIE MURDERS
New Mexico State Penitentiary, Santa Fe, Thursday, March 8, 2012
“B. J. Vinson, you’re an idiot!” I told myself for the umpteenth time. Why in the hell was I driving up to the state penitentiary to see an inmate I remembered well and detested vehemently?
Why did Jose Zapata want to see me? The lawyer who called last week to make the arrangements claimed not to know, said he was merely passing on a request. Not sure I bought his answer. In order to gain access to a Level VI prisoner, I either had to be on Zapata’s visitor list or his attorney’s investigator, neither of which was true.
Zapata—better known by the tag of Zancon because of his long legs and lanky frame—had been the underboss of a vicious gang called the Santos Morenos, or Brown Saints. He’d played a prominent role in the case file I’d labeled The Zozobra Incident. José Zapata had kidnapped the human being I treasured most on this earth, my life companion Paul Barton, and attempted to murder him before I literally dropped from the heavens to put a bullet in Zapata’s gut before he could accomplish the deed.
Committed now, I sighed aloud and put the car in gear. When traveling from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, I normally drive straight up Interstate-25 for a pleasant trip of something under an hour, but the prison lay fourteen miles south of the state capital on the Madrid highway—better known as the Turquoise Trail—so I pointed my Impala’s nose east on I-40 through Tijeras Canyon and picked up State 14 North. Two lanes instead of four; a twisting drive rather than one as straight as the proverbial arrow but also more interesting.
For the first leg of the trip, I turned on the car’s stereo to catch Kelly Clarkson warbling “Stronger”—or what I knew as “What Doesn’t Kill You”—and a newscast dominated by speculation of whether oil restrictions would end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Wary of icy stretches of mountain road where the sun didn’t reach—something unforeseen—I snapped off the radio to concentrate on driving.
I manfully resisted stopping in Madrid, a former coal mining town now turned artist’s enclave. Shortly thereafter I had to quell a desire to take a turn around the tiny square of yet another old western town called Cerrillos before eventually pulling into the visitor’s parking area at the penitentiary.
Upon successfully maneuvering the prison’s metal detector, a piece of equipment no self-respecting airport would accept as adequate security, I addressed a corrections officer. “B. J. Vinson for Inmate José Zapata, Number 79805. His attorney arranged my appointment.”
Although this was the new state penitentiary, iron bars threw the same ragged shadows as in the old one, as if emphasizing the blackness hiding in every man’s soul, be he inmate or custodian. I mentally shook my head to clear photographic images of the riot at “Old Main” on Cerrillos Road I’d been required to study at the Albuquerque Police Academy.
Thirty-three inmates died and two hundred suffered injuries in February 1980 in the worst prison insurrection in US history. Endless streams of scholarly studies and airy articles and outright fiction vied to describe in minute detail the overcrowding, poor food, official incompetence, and lack of training that birthed the uprising. I’d gone to school with a kid whose father died in the bloodbath. The family subsequently moved out of town because of harassment. People can be real shits… even grade schoolers.
The officer I’d addressed scanned a list of names on a clipboard while metal doors clanged in the distance and voices echoed up and down the hallway. A prison was never silent.
The man made a check mark on a list he was holding before responding. “Yessir, I’ll have him brought up.” He nodded to a man standing nearby. “This officer will take you to the interview room.”
Nodding, I told him this wasn’t my first time at bat before taking another look at the man’s ID. “Simmons. Weren’t you with APD a few years back?” I referred to the Albuquerque Police Department where I’d served for ten years.
“Yessir, it’s Detective B. J. Vinson, isn’t it?”
“Not since 2005.”
The man loosened up a little. “I remember you getting plugged when you and the commander were apprehending a murder suspect.”
“Gene Enriquez was a lowly detective just like me back then. And now you know why he’s in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division and I’m not.”
Simmons laughed. “Yeah, he let you take the bullet instead of him.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
My escort, a young corrections officer named Pierce, took off down the hall, pulling me along in his wake. The absolute absence of odor in the stark hallway tempted me to believe the institution was pristine and sanitized… but I knew better. In the bowels of this concrete and metal beast, the intestines would stink. We reached the interview room a few minutes before Zapata.
When the inmate arrived in restraints and with his own escort, as was required for Level VI prisoners, I struggled to tamp down a surge of sudden anger. Not only had he manhandled Paul, his gang had killed a young man named Emilio Prada by hacking him to death in Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park while thousands of people gathered there for the annual Burning of Zozobra ritual. Emilio had been a hustler, but he didn’t deserve to die.
Now Zapata looked more like a sick old man than the forty-four-year-old thug I knew him to be. My bullet apparently hadn’t digested well. In the place of healthy—if malignant—swagger, I now detected decay.
After the inmate was seated, his guard checked Zapata’s handcuffs, leg shackles. and belly chain to assure himself the prisoner was properly restrained. Then he and Pierce took up stations on the other side of the interview room door.
Zapata didn’t wait for them to exit before speaking. “Vinson,” he said in a gravelly voice stronger than expected, given his appearance.
I settled into a chair on the other side of a bolted-down metal table and addressed him by his nickname out of habit. “Zancon.”
“Thanks for coming.”
“Surprised to get a call. Even more surprised it came from Brookings Ingles. Didn’t know you went for the most expensive defense attorney in the state.” Brookie was long rumored to be a mob lawyer.
Zancon waved a cuffed hand. “He wasn’t my trial mouthpiece. I was a cooked goose then. But now he takes care of things a man can’t take care of hisself. You know, when he’s locked up like this.” His black eyes looked filmed over with something… exhaustion, disease, hopelessness? “I got a brother with some coins, and he helps me out with the lawyer’s bills.”
I took that statement to mean Zancon had managed to hide some of his loot. The brother was merely managing the inmate’s assets.
“I got a problem. At least, my brother Juan has. But I figure you owe me, so I’m the dude putting the question to you.”
“If you’re referring to the slug I put in your gut, I owe you nothing. But if your brother has a legitimate problem, I’ll listen to what he has to say.”
Zancon flushed, showing a trace of the hood he was before he relaxed and spread his hands over the table as far as his restraints would allow. “Fair enough. Everbody was shooting at everbody that night you’n the cops ambushed us, but I’m the one who can’t eat or take a crap like everbody else because of the lead poisoning you give me.”
“Now that’s out of the way, what’s your brother’s problem?”
“Some son-of-a-bitch offed his boy. And I want him to pay.”
I leaned back in the hard chair. “A gang killing?”
He shook his head. “Naw. Kid wasn’t into gangs. My bro ain’t either. Stayed righteous while I was outlawing. He’s got a car lot offa South Coors.”
“So what happened?”
Zancon looked uncomfortable. “Juan’ll give you the details. He’s waiting for your call.”
My antenna went up. “Look, if you’re not straight with me, then I can’t—”
“I’m telling it like it is. No gang stuff. Mateo wasn’t in no gang.”
“Mateo. He’s your nephew?”
He nodded and seemed suddenly tired. The prematurely old man was ascendant now, but the gutter snipe was still in residence. “Yeah. Mostly went by Matt.”
“How old was he?”
“Eighteen. Wasn’t but eighteen.”
“Give me some details.” The warning look returned. “Okay, at least tell me where he was killed.”
It was my turn to spread hands over the table. “Hell, you don’t need me. ADP will take care of it.”
Zancon gave a sour smile. “Yeah, right. They’ll see what you seen. Another gang member offed. Good riddance.”
“That’s not the way things work, and you know it. They’ll give it their best shot.”
He leaned forward and tapped the table with a long fingernail, determination back in his eyes again. “Maybe so. But I know you, Vinson. You’re a damned good detective. And I want you to finish him.” He dropped his voice. “You know, like with Puerco.” He referred to the Saints’ top man whom I’d shot to death the night I wounded Zancon.
Now it was clear why this hood wanted me on the case. He wasn’t interested in APD finding the killer. He was offering to hire me to settle with the murderer. Why did these guys always judge others by their own lights?
Zancon studied my face and must have assumed he was losing me. “Talk to my brother.” He held my gaze for a long moment before dropping his eyes. “Please.”
“All right. Do I work through Ingles?
“Naw. All I wanted the lawyer for was to get you in to see me. Work with my brother. Juan’s a straight-up guy.”
From what he’d told me, Juan Zapata was a used car dealer, and I wasn’t sure the two things held together. But maybe I painted with too broad a brush. We’d let time determine that factor.
“Do you know who killed your nephew?”
“Naw. One day he was doing good at the university, you know, UNM, and then the next he was dead.
“Okay. How do I contact your brother?”
Zancon lurched to his feet and cited a telephone number before shuffling to the door and tapping it with his knuckles.
The same clank of metal, the same hollow, echoing voices, the same ghosts from Old Main followed me all the way out of the prison. I took the quick way back to Albuquerque—Interstate 25.
“Why would you give that creep the time of day?” Paul asked later when I told him of my meeting. “Forget about him nearly shooting me, I damned near choked to death on the gag he stuffed down my craw.”
When I’d found Paul that night almost six years ago, he’d been trussed up with a rag in his throat held in place by a handkerchief over his mouth. I grinned at the handsome hunk glaring at me with hands on hips, stance wide. “Maybe Zancon is right. Maybe I do owe him.”
Paul’s mouth fell open and he dropped into an easy chair in our den. “Huh?”
I reached out and tousled his dark brown hair. He batted my hand away. “If he hadn’t kidnapped you, I couldn’t have ridden in on my white horse and saved you, earning your everlasting love and gratitude.”
“Ha! Ha! I was scared, Vince.” Paul called me Vince. The rest of the known world addressed me as BJ.
“As I recall, you were spitting mad.”
“That too. But why do Zancon a favor?”
“Not a favor. A job. Remember, there’s an eighteen-year-old kid lying on a slab somewhere. I don’t like killers, particularly those who kill youngsters before they’ve had a chance to try their wings. Believe me, I’ve seen more than my share of adolescent corpses.”
My lover gave me an uncertain smile. “Can’t cure the world, Vince.”
“No, but maybe I can catch whoever did this one killing. See he doesn’t do it again. Regardless who pays for my time, it’s Mateo Zapata I’m doing it for… providing I take the case.”
“Mateo, huh? I remember him as a little guy.” Paul was a South Valley kid who’d avoided joining a gang, and like most of the neighborhood, grew up to be a decent, law-abiding citizen. “Matt was nine or ten years younger than I was. Cute kid. Smart.”
“How about his father, did you know him?”
Paul brushed a stray lock from his brow. “Juan? I remember him as a solid citizen. He’s about ten years on the other side of me.”
“Was he close to his brother? To Zancon?”
“Yeah.” He thought over his answer. “In some ways. Always got the feeling he stayed away from the Brown Saints. Skirted the gang stuff as much as he could.”
“And now he’s a used car dealer.”
“Last I heard. Who knows? Maybe he got his start pedaling cars the Brown Saints stole.”
Sure hope that caught your attention and motivated you to contact Dreamspinner and ask for the novel. Feel free to let me know what you think of the book so far.
Next time? Who knows at this point.
The following are buy links for my last BJ Vinson mystery The Voxlightner Scandal.
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-voxlightner-scandal-don-travis/1132632844?ean=9781640809260
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/4AxPDo
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!
My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:
See you next week.
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