dontravis.com blog post #499
Book Cover Courtesy of Dreamspinner Press
Time for more of the Cutie Pie Murders. The last time we looked at the novel, we were in Chapter 8 while BJ and Paul interviewed the manager of the upscale apartment house where BJ’s client’s son, a youngster named Mateo Zapata was murdered. Now they’ve gone up to the fourth floor to interview Wally and Willow, an openly gay couple living opposite the murder apartment last leased to a Burton Neville, who seems to have disappeared. Enjoy.
THE CUTIE PIE MURDERS
When Wally opened the door, the taller Willow hovering over his shoulder, I was struck by how cheerful and contented the two seemed to be. Here were a couple of guys not the least intimidated by the larger straight world hovering outside their door. They invited us in with broad, welcoming smiles. Wally ushered us to chairs while Willow rushed about pouring tea. All of five minutes elapsed before we were seated facing one another. Finally I was able to start asking questions.
“Any word from Burton Neville?”
Willow substituted a frown for a smile. “Nooo! And I’m beginning to worry. Especially since you asked about him.”
“It’s not like him to ignore old friends,” Wally said. “I know he’d be busy getting settled in a new job and a new home, but six months? We’ll give him the dickens when he finally remembers us. And we’ll let you know too.”
“Thanks.” I took out photos of the five victims and spread them on the coffee table between us. “Do you know any of these men?”
Willow’s eyes widened as he scanned the pictures. “No, but I’d sure like to. Can you introduce us?”
Wally favored his partner with a cocked eyebrow before turning back to the snaps. “Who are they?”
“Five murdered young men.”
Willow flapped a hand over his eyes. “Oh heavens! Poor babies. Who’d do such a horrible thing to beautiful boys like these?”
I tapped Zapata’s photo. “This one died right across the hall.”
“He’s the one murdered in Burton’s apartment?” Wally’s voice came out in sort of a gasp. “Lord, I hope I wasn’t sitting over here while that poor boy was dying across the hall.”
“It most likely happened during the day,” I said, without certain knowledge but to ease his mind. “You were probably at work.”
His frown turned into a weak smile. “Doesn’t change the poor boy’s suffering, does it?”
“No, but you won’t go around thinking that if you’d heard someone in the hallway you might have done something to help the victim.”
“Victim,” Willow said. “It sounds so… so clinical when you hear it on those television shows”—he gave a visible shiver—“but when it’s right across the hall….” He left the thought unfinished and turned away to stare out the window down on East Central traffic. “I wish I had known him. Said a kind word to him.”
Willow—and to a lesser extent, Wally—wore their emotions on their sleeves. Yet the moment seemed overdone. These two lived across the hall from the murder scene. Was it possible they had a key to Neville’s old apartment? Possible and plausible. The couple moved up on my list of suspects. I’d ask Charlie to check and see if either or both had been missing from work on the day Matt Zapata died.
I cleared my throat. “The last time we talked, you mentioned one of Burton Neville’s houseguests was a fellow named Jules. When I asked when you saw this Jules last, you said something like ‘ages.’ Can you be more specific? A week? A month?”
Willow turned from the window. “Oh heavens no. It was years ago.”
“Let me understand. Neville only lived at this address for six months or so.”
Wally took over the explanation. “Jules came around while we all lived over on Montgomery. Simply eons ago.”
“Like in 2000, maybe?”
“Possibly. We moved in the Montgomery complex in 1999, and Burton was already there. So, yes, that’s about the right time frame.”
“And you don’t recall Jules’s last name?” I pressed.
“He was just beautiful Jules to Wally and me,” Willow said. “And I do mean beautiful. Despite having Wally all to myself, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of Burton and Jules.” He laid a hand on Wally’s arm. “Sorry, sweetheart.”
Wally patted the hand. “Don’t be. I would have jumped his bones in a minute and confessed it later.”
“You don’t happen to have any pictures of Burton and Jules, do you?” Paul asked.
“No, but I wish we did. Come to think of it, we don’t even have one of Burton. Strange, isn’t it? Known him for years, and no snapshots.” Willow waved a hand in the air. “Guess it proves we’re not shutterbugs. Don’t even own a camera.”
“Sure we do,” Wally said. “On our phones.”
I stepped in before it became one of those parry and riposte sessions they seemed to engage in. “Does the name McClintock mean anything to you?”
Blank stares before both men shook their heads.
I tried again. “Jules McClintock.”
Willow moued his lips. “You know, that sounds right. Jules McClintock. I know it was ‘Mac’ something.”
Bingo. It was the Jules I remembered from the U. But what did it mean other than proving once again Albuquerque is an overgrown town where you run into people you know all over the place? Jules McClintock was thirty or so now… providing he survived his illness. Even so, I needed to run him down and mine his memory.
“Do you fellows have a key for 4201?” I asked.
“We did,” Wally said. “Not a key, of course, but a card. The locks are electronic.”
I recalled Hector Valdez had mentioned a key card when we questioned the maintenance man the other day. Now it made sense.
“The keyholes are a diversionary tactic,” Wally went on. “You know, so would-be robbers waste their time trying to pick a lock. Nice touch, don’t you think? It fooled you, and you’re a professional detective.”
I smiled. “That it did. This card, what happened to it?”
“We gave it back to Burton before he left. And he returned ours. We shared cards in case of emergencies.”
“You’re certain you returned the card?” I pressed.
“Oh yes. Handing over the card was virtually the last thing we did before Burton left. I remember it clearly. We were all bawling like babies. I can show you the card to our apartment he returned if it would help.”
“That won’t be necessary.” I hauled out Pierson’s photo. “What about this man? Was he one of Neville’s guests?”
Willow grabbed the picture while Wally studied it over his partner’s shoulder. Willow frowned. “Interesting. Not in the same class as those other boys, but it’s a good face. Nice planes and good eyes. Some people don’t like eyeglasses, but I think they lend character to a face. Intelligence.”
His scrutiny wasn’t going the direction I wanted. I hoped Wally didn’t….
“Oh, yes. Makes a person seem more intense. More sophisticated. Definitely—”
I cut Wally off. “Do you recognize the man?”
“No. Never seen him before to the best of my knowledge,” Wally said.
Could two fey, gay guys manually strangle a handsome, healthy young man to death? Probably not, but on the other hand, a debilitating drug had been found in Mateo’s bloodstream.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
A link to The Cutie-Pie Murders:
My personal links:
See you next Thursday.
New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.