dontravis.com blog post #588
Last week, I told of a conversation wherein I was asked my favorite (other than the protagonist and supporting cast) characters in the BJ Vinson series. I settled on Jazz Penrod, the gay, half-Navajo-half white teenager first introduced the second book in the series, The Bisti Business. He also shows up in the fourth book (Abaddon’s Locusts). In part one, we examined Jazz in Bisti. Today, I’d like to compare him in Abaddon.
In Chapter 1 of the novel, BJ has just returned home from his office. As he prepares a meal, the doorbell rings.
His deep voice came up out of his nether regions. “Wasn’t sure you’d remember me.”
“How could I forget the guys who helped me solve a case. Is Jazz with you?” His quick frown told me he was about to deliver bad news. “Come on in.”
We settled in the den with a couple of jiggers of Scotch. He laid what appeared to be a sleeve for a laptop computer on the floor beside his chair and took a sip before speaking. “Jazz is gone.”
“Gone?” My hand tightened on the rocks glass halfway to my mouth. That free spirit was too young and lively to be… gone. “You mean—”
“Naw, not hit the dust. Just disappeared. Poof. And that ain’t like Jazz.”
Jasper Penrod, who dubbed himself Jazz as soon as he was old enough, was Henry’s mixed-blood half-brother. The two helped me solve a case I mentally called the Bisti Business up in the Four Corners area three years ago.
I rubbed my chin, trying to recall what I knew of Jazz’s situation. “Are you sure? Way I understand it, he spends some of his time on the Navajo Reservation and some in Farmington. Hard to keep track of him.”
“Yeah, he bounces around, but he don’t go outa touch for long. He calls me regular-like. If he can’t reach me on my cell, he leaves a message at the chapter house. I didn’t get worried until I saw his Uncle Riley in Farmington and found out Jazz hadn’t called him or his mother either. Been three… four weeks since anybody heard from him.”
“Do you have any idea why?”
“Not sure, but this might have something to do with it.” Henry leaned over and picked up the canvas case. He hesitated after pulling out an Acer laptop computer. “Man, I sure hate to show you this.”
My raised eyebrows probably expressed my surprise better than my spoken “Why?”
“You’ll see a Jazz you ain’t seen before. Hell, I ain’t seen before. You gotta understand. Jazz being like he is, you know gay and all, it’s not easy for him up in Farmington. When he was growing up, he didn’t mind casual… affairs, I guess you’d say. Until he saw what you and Paul had together, he didn’t believe nobody was out there for him. Permanent, I mean.” Sweat formed on Henry’s upper lip, attesting to how hard it was to talk about his brother’s homosexuality.
I called to mind an image of the uncommonly handsome, unabashedly gay, and friendly-as-a-puppy kid I’d come to admire. All his life he maneuvered successfully in an environment of miners and oil field workers normally hostile to his lifestyle, thanks in large part to the aggressive protection provided by Henry, their Navajo father Louie, and Jazz’s Anglo Uncle Riley.
Henry drew a deep breath and let it out. “Anyway, he started looking for a steady. Someone he could build something with. And there wasn’t nobody in Farmington. Nobody he could attach to, at any rate. Not on the rez neither. He’d try with this guy or that but didn’t find what he was looking for.” Henry gave an insincere laugh. “Jazz looking like he does, lotsa guys you wouldn’t even expect would go with him for a while. Some might even have stuck, but they wasn’t what he was looking for.” Henry’s face twisted in perplexity. “You want the truth? I think he was looking for another you. He really dug you.”
“There was never anything between—”
He waved a hand. “I know. He told me he offered, and you said you already had somebody. That really impressed him. That’s what he was looking for. A guy who’d turn down an offer because they belonged to him.” Henry ran an agitated hand through thick black hair. “Aw, I’m screwing this up. All I’m saying is he was looking for love. Just like I do, but on the other side of the bed.”
“You’re doing fine. Tell me something. What do you really think about your brother being gay? I know you won’t stand for people picking on him, but how do you feel about it down deep?”
“I don’t understand it. I look at a guy—hell, I look at you—and ask myself what would Jazz see?” Henry shrugged. “He’d see mutton stew while I see cactus. Sometimes I sorta understand when I remember that it’s the same as me looking at a woman. At least to him, it is.”
Despite just being called a cactus, I nodded. “Now show me what you came to show me.”
He fired up the laptop and stared at the blank screen as the device went through its booting up process. “How’d you get his password?” I asked as we waited.
“It’s taped on the back of the computer. Jazz was private… but not secretive, I guess you’d say. I felt like shit going through his stuff,” he added in a low voice. “But I’m glad I did. I found these.”
He handed over the machine. Jazz used aol.com for his Email, and Henry went to the Sent section to select a message. “That’s the first one I found. After you read it, scroll up to the next one. Jeez, I need to go for a walk or something while you do that. Okay?”
“Leave the door unlocked. Just come in when you work it off.”
Henry had selected the first Email message where his brother responded to a contact from someone named Juan. They apparently connected through a site called nm.lonelyguys.com. Unwilling to switch back and forth between Jazz’s Sent and Trash containers, I searched his My Folders until I spotted one labeled Juan. Upon opening that file, I found messages between the two stretching back about four months and ending five weeks ago right after they exchanged Skype addresses. The pair started off using Aesopian language, but as time went one, they became more direct.
The first photograph in the Email file was a bust shot of Juan showing an attractive, smiling Hispanic on the shy side of thirty with a white blaze in his dark hair. He wore a bright yellow polo shirt. Jazz responded with a photo of himself standing beside the old ‘91Jeep Wrangler ragtop I’d helped him buy during the Bisti case. He wore a pair of walking shorts and a blue, sleeveless pullover that clearly showed his six-pack.
Juan responded with a request for a headshot, a close-up to see if he was as “beautiful as he seemed to be.” Jazz’s next photo was a wowser, as I used to say when I was a kid. Jazz qualified as stunningly handsome, and the camera wallowed in it. The half dozen messages led me right where I feared this was going. Juan’s second photo was shirtless; Jazz matched it. Long before I reached the modest naked and the stark-naked shots, I knew what happened to Jazz Penrod. The internet swept him into a sex ring. Grateful his brother was out walking off his frustration, I considered my conclusion for a minute before acceptance came. The Jazz I knew was open and honest, and if you couldn’t take him the way he was, he’d write you off. He wasn’t venal. Money had its place, but it wasn’t that important to him.
When Henry returned, I set aside the laptop
He balked at my conclusion. “No way! Jazz ain’t… whata you call it? Promiscuous. He had sex with guys, but he didn’t spread it all over the place. He wouldn’t go to bed with nobody he didn’t like.”
“Which is why this Juan—probably not his real name—took his time. He reeled Jazz in like a deep diving trout… playing him and teasing him until he landed him. As soon as Jazz sent him his first picture, Juan knew he had a winner. So he played him, feeding him more and more. That’s what the pictures were all about. Getting Jazz to commit deeper and deeper to what he thought was a kindred soul.”
Jazz leaned on the handle of his Bully Tools weed cutter, taking pleasure in watching Klah’s wiry, graceful figure swing his scythe-like implement. Jazz’s chest swelled with an emotion that defied definition. Nonetheless, he kept edging toward calling it what it was. But recollections of Juan’s betrayal got in the way every time. He smiled to himself and started swinging his weedwhacker along the barrow ditch on his side of the road. The sharp smell of the cut weeds and the dust his weedwhacker raised was somehow pleasing to him.
Klah had managed to get them work with the Alamo School Board clearing ditches alongside the busier roads on the reservation. Jazz mentally shook his head. The school board, for crying out loud. It not only ran the school, it was also responsible for roads. Klah told him the school board was the biggest employer on the reservation. They even employed the only policeman on the place.
Despite the heat of a late summer sun, Jazz enjoyed the work. That is, he enjoyed the exercise. He’d stopped running daily and now re-learned that exercise, along with the diet Dibe and Hosteen Platero laid out for him kept his cramps… and usually his nausea at bay. He still craved the crack, but he’d come to understand that was a mental thing that sometimes utilized his guts to make itself known. Still, there was no question in his mind he was getting better, and swinging a weedwhacker daily helped.
It didn’t take long for Jazz and Klah to learn that walking to the far end of their assigned section and working back toward the settlement eliminated a long walk home at the end of the day. Now judging the work shift to be over, they hoisted tools to their shoulders and headed for the school board. After putting their equipment away, they wordlessly walked to the wellness center where they showered and changed into clean clothes they packed with them.
Afterward, they resisted the urge to grab a prepackaged sandwich at the minimart, instead returning to the trailer so Klah could fix a stew with the ingredients Jazz needed for his damaged system. Jazz came to hate green tea, but then perversely decided he liked it. The vitamins and minerals he required were expensive. Even so, they found it more convenient to get most of them in tablet form. Klah’s cooking skills weren’t sufficient to utilize all the natural sources of everything Jazz’s recovery required.
Tired but restless, along about sundown, they wandered to the minimart. They didn’t need anything, but it was something to do. They gave the little store the once-over to make certain Cheese and his buddies weren’t around before entering. Because they were working men now, they splurged on a couple of strawberry soft drinks and went back outside to lean against the side of the building to sip at them.
“Good pop,” Klah said.
“I always liked Cokes, but you got me hung up on strawberry now. What have you done to me?”
Klah grinned, something Jazz enjoyed watching. “Improved your lifestyle. Uh-oh.” He pursed his lips, blushed red by the strawberry, and nodded.
“Girl I used to know. And she’s got her sister with her.”
Jazz turned to watch two women in tight slacks walking toward the entrance. One of them did a double take and headed straight for them.
“Klah! I heard you come back. Why didn’t you look me up?”
“Hello, Thunder Thighs,” he responded.
She turned sideways and posed with one hand behind her head. “You can’t call me that no more. I lost my baby fat.”
“So I noticed. But you’ll always be Thunder Thighs to me.”
“All right, but only you. Nobody else can call me that. Who’s that with you?”
“Bicycle, this here’s Clarise Mockingbird, but I call her Thunder Thighs.” Klah looked over her shoulder. “Is that little Maudie I see?”
“Except my sister ain’t so little no more. Come on over here and meet Bicycle.”
Jazz caught Klah’s quick frown but didn’t quite understand it. Was his lover going to hold on so tight there would be no room for anyone else in their lives?
Maudie offered a soft hand, prompting Jazz to accept it. She held on a moment as he confirmed his pseudonym. He felt compelled to explain.
“He named me that because he found me right after I had a bicycle wreck on I-40 and can’t remember who I am.”
She batted big black eyes. “You don’t know who you are?”
“Well, sorta. It’s a weird story.”
“I like weird. Tell me all about it.”
“But you gotta buy us sodas first,” her sister said.
After Klah returned with two bottles—a Coke for Thunder Thighs and a grape for Maudie—they settled in the dirt at the side of the building. After staring at the ground for a minute, Jazz came up with a story.
“This old ram got away. I couldn’t catch it on foot, so I grabbed a bicycle and started after it.”
“Got away from where?” Thunder Thighs asked.
He ignored her. “He got out on the highway, you know I-40, so I chased him right up the blacktop. Then this big semi roared up behind me and knocked me in the ditch. Don’t remember much after that.”
“Aw, that’s a big tale,” Maudie said.
“All right, it was a Big Foot. You know, one of those sasquatch things.”
Maudie slapped his arm playfully. “Either you’re trying to make fools of us or else Coyote’s making a fool of you.”
“We really did find him riding a bicycle on I-40 after dark. And a semi did roar by. The wash from passing threw him right off the road. Knocked him silly.”
“That’s your version,” Jazz said. “I like mine better.” He noticed Maudie’s little hand still rested on his forearm.
“What the hell’s going on here!”
The booming voice startled all of them. Jazz glanced around to see Cheese Apachito advancing on him. Without another word, the man clapped him up beside the head. He saw stars, but managed to roll over and come to his feet.
“What was that for?” he demanded as he set his stance.
“Nobody fucks with my woman.” Cheese’s flushed face turned dark with blood.
“Didn’t know she was your woman,” he said.
“I’m not. He’s just being a big bully. Like he always does.”
Cheese lunged at him. Jazz sidestepped, missing a good chance to ring the man’s bells with a chop to the ear.
“No need for this, man,” he said. “I’m not—”
Cheese came for him again. Jazz didn’t know where it came from, but he dropped into a squatting stance and deflected the other’s blows with his forearms. When he saw an opportunity, he lashed out with this left and caught Cheese on the nose. The man grunted and came back with a solid blow to Jazz’s left shoulder. It rocked him. But he let go with a right, catching his opponent’s injured nose again. Cheese instinctively put his hands to his face, and Jazz doubled him over with a jab to the stomach. That ended things. Maudie and Thunder Thighs went to help the bully while Klah urged Jazz toward home.
“Man, you rang his bell. Where’d you learn to fight like that?” Klah asked after a few minutes of silence.
“Dunno. Think maybe my brother taught me.” He frowned. “Or maybe it was my uncle.”
“You have a brother and an uncle?”
“Yeah. Seems like I do. Sounds right in my head, anyway.”
“My brother is. Uncle’s not. Leastways that’s the way it seems.”
Yeah, I’d say Jazz has matured.
Stay safe and stay strong. And stay out of the clutches of human traffickers.
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!
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