dontravis.com blog post #587
The other day, I
was talking with an author friend about characters we’ve created in our own writings.
When she asked which of the individuals (outside of the protagonist and his
supporting staff) in the BJ Vinson Murder Mystery Series was my favorite, the
answer came right away, Jasper (Jazz) Penrod, the sassy, openly-gay-and-don’t-give-a-damn-how-you-feel-about-it,
half Navajo-half white teenager I introduced in the series, The Bisti Business.
Had to be, I built another book (Abaddon’s Locusts). Bisti was the
second book; Abaddon, the fourth. That got me to thinking about how
characters mature from one book to the other. As a result, I’d like to take a
brief look at Jazz in both of the novels to see how he’s grown.
BJ is in Farmington, New Mexico with a young man named Aggie Alfano (son of a California wine mogul) trying to locate his gay brother Lando and Lando’s lover Dana, who have disappeared while traveling the state. BJ picks up a hint of trouble between the two young men that might involve someone named Jazz Penrod.
He checks with his Farmington Police contact Sgt. Dixie Lee to see if she knows the kid:
The kid had first come to the department’s attention the day he turned thirteen when he broke a bottle over his father’s head during a drunken domestic brawl. The prosecutors decided he was acting in defense of his mother, so no juvie charges were filed. Within a month, he was back in their sights when a cop caught a twenty-two-year-old man in a compromising position with him. Since Jazz was a minor, the entire weight of the law fell upon the adult, who was charged with child sexual abuse. The next time it was a high school senior basketball player who suffered the consequences.
“There’s not much here except for sexual liaisons and the beer bottle incident with his father,” I said. “Just a shoplifting charge last year that was dismissed.”
“Yeah. We looked into it, and it was clear the accusation was payback when Jazz spurned some guy’s advances.”
“No fighting. Nothing like that,” I continued. “That’s unusual, especially the lack of fighting. I’d think an obvious gay would be in scrapes all the time around here.”
“Probably would be except for his older brother and his uncle. He’s got protectors on both sides of the family. Henry Secatero, his half-brother, is more of a father than Louie Secatero ever was. Henry’s a tough guy, and if anybody plows into Jazz….” Dix faltered, apparently tripping over on her choice of words. “That is, if anybody attacks Jazz, they have him to deal with. Henry’s been in trouble more than once over situations like that, but it’s never anything serious enough for more than a night in jail.”
“How old is Henry?”
“Around twenty-eight or so.”
“Native American, I take it,” Aggie interjected.
“You take it right.”
“You said something about protection from the other side of the family, too,” I said.
“His mother’s brother, Riley Penrod has always been protective of his nephew. Riley’s been in a few fistfights over Jazz. Not as much and not as violently as Henry, but enough so you’d sit up and take notice. So word got around pretty quick not to lean on Jazz.”
She did that thing with the curl of hair at her shoulder. “Of course, Jazz does all right on his own. He looks like an angel, but he fights like a devil.”
I tapped the folder in her hand. “Nothing about that in there from the quick glance I saw.”
“No, he’s always been the victim. That is to say, the other guy threw the first punch, but Jazz gets in his quota. You wouldn’t think it from looking at the kid. He’s long and lanky, but he’s got a set of muscles hidden under his shirt. Here, take a look for yourself.”
Even the kid’s mug shot, taken for the bogus shoplifting charge, was something. A spectacularly handsome adolescent peered out from the image through dark, smoky eyes. Full, blushed lips. High, smooth cheeks. Gracefully arched brows that ended in a slight, upward twist, giving the teen an impish look. Raven hair spilled down on his neck in an ebony halo, slightly wavy and looking silky to the touch. Jazz Penrod was saved from androgyny by an Adam’s apple and the defined, definitely male slope of his shoulders. I got the feeling that in person, the kid was graceful, maybe even excessively so, but not a mama’s boy. I could understand how he came by his reputation. With those sultry, exotic looks, he’d get plenty of action by just crooking his little finger—or better yet, lifting one of those eyebrows. There was little of his mother in the image; he probably resembled Louis, his father.
He and Aggie find Jazz the next day. BJ is speaking.
“Look across the street. The kid walking west.”
“It’s him. It’s the Penrod kid, isn’t it?”
“Think so, but I can’t be sure.”
“Let’s go talk to him.”
I pulled out and turned back toward our rooms. “We will. But I don’t want to spook him.”
“What are you going to do?”
“The kid’s gay. He’s receptive to the attention of presentable men, so—”
“Hell, we’re presentable. Let’s go.”
“Not we. Me. You look too much like your brother. You wait in my room while I try to pick him up. If I can, I’ll bring him back for a chat.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
I let Aggie into my room and drove out onto Main. For a moment, I thought I’d lost Penrod, but then I spotted him far down the street. That long-legged gait ate up the distance.
I drove past, confirming it was Jazz. Pulling a U in full view of him, I approached at a crawl. His stride shortened as he eyed the car. I halted ten paces in front of him and leaned across the seat so he could get a good look at me.
The “stare” is a standard move for a lot of gays on the make, but in New Mexico it is a complicated maneuver. Many Native American cultures have an eye avoidance custom, considering it rude. Gangbangers take it as dissing, a challenge to their machismo. A lot of straights feel it’s an invasion of their space; it makes them uncomfortable. Jazz Penrod didn’t have a problem with it; his gaze locked onto mine.
“Morning.” His smile displayed a row of straight, sparkling white teeth. “Can I help you?”
“Maybe you can. I’m new in town. Just here for a couple of days. You look like a fellow who can tell me where the action is.”
“Depends on what kind of action you’re looking for.”
“Why don’t you get in the car, and we’ll discuss it. Maybe we can go back to my motel room to talk at leisure.”
“Where you staying?”
I motioned with my head. “Down the street. Trail’s End.”
He did a half turn and looked toward the motel. “Don’t see why not.” He stepped off the curb, grasped the door handle, and slid into the passenger’s seat. “My name’s Jazz.”
I accepted the handshake, noting the strength of his grip, which argued Jazz Penrod worked for his living, although exactly what kind of work seemed to be a mystery.
“BJ. Up from Albuquerque for a visit.”
“BJ. Like the initials?”
“Here on business?”
“In a way.”
As I pulled out onto the street, his eyes raked me. “Go in the back way,” he directed. “I know the girl who works in the office there.”
“You mean Melissa? She seems like a decent sort.”
“She is, but….” He left the rest unsaid.
I turned away from the office and circled around behind the building in order to reach my room. Jazz got out of the car and waited until I unlocked the door. As I moved aside, he stepped into the room where he abruptly halted.
“What is this?” He backed up, bumping into me. “I don’t do threesomes.”
“Not asking you to.” I applied pressure to his broad shoulders. “Just want to talk to you for a few minutes.”
“No, thanks. I gotta be someplace.”
I managed to close the door and lean against it, blocking his way. “Hear me out, and then you can leave if you want. Won’t take but a minute.”
Jazz stepped forward, giving me some room. He motioned toward Aggie sitting on the edge of the bed. “I know you. Well, I mean….”
“Looks just like his brother, doesn’t he?”
“You’re Lando’s brother?”
“I’m Aggie Alfano.”
“Look, man, Lando and Dana came on to me. I didn’t—”
“Nobody’s pissed, Jazz,” I assured him. “We just need some answers. Dana and Lando are missing, and we’re trying to find out what happened to them.”
“Yes, and their car went over the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos the other day, although neither of them was in it.”
“No shit? That Porsche? Man, that was a bitchin’ ride.”
“Sit down,” I indicated one of the two chairs at a small table. “Let’s see if we can figure out a couple of things.”
I examined the young man as he strolled to the table and settled into a seat. Although the photo Dix Lee had shown us looked vaguely androgynous, the flesh and blood Jazz Penrod exuded a powerful masculinity. But there was something else at work, too. Some sense of vulnerability, approachability. This guy could probably raise the pulse rate of half the men and women in town. He tossed his head, throwing his shoulder-length hair back. Seductive as hell, and he wasn’t even trying.
“When did you meet Lando and Dana?” I asked.
“I don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was a Sunday night a couple of weeks ago.” His voice was a light baritone with a husky quality. The inflection on some of his words was different—he almost swallowed the final syllables. Yet, he came across loud and clear.
I took out the calendar I’d worked up for Lando’s trip and made a notation. “That would have been August 12, right?”
He shrugged. “I guess. I know they’d gone to the Aztec Ruins that day because they talked about it.”
“You met them at the Sidewinder?”
“Yeah. We got to talking, and they bought me a drink or two.”
“We understand Lando and Dana got into an argument at the bar. Was that over you?”
Jazz smiled. “Nope. They were arguing about where to go the next day. Lando wanted to go see the Bisti Badlands, but Dana wanted to try the Salmon Ruins.”
“That was it? That caused an argument?”
“Not really an argument, but,” Jazz cut his eyes to where Aggie sat on the bed, “Lando did this Italian thing. You know, getting earnest when he talked.”
Aggie chuckled aloud. “You got him down pat, Jazz. That’s my brother. Italian.”
“So did you go back to the motel with them when they left the bar?” I asked.
Jazz shook his head. “No.”
“Look, we need the truth, okay?”
“Uh-uh, I didn’t go to the motel with them, but they gave me a ride back to town and dropped me off at my place. It was their decision, not mine,” he added. “They were pretty much into each other—that night, anyway.”
“But you saw them again and decided to get between them.”
“Not exactly. I mean, I saw them again. I went to the Salmon Ruins with them the next day, but I wasn’t trying to cause trouble.”
“But that’s the way it turned out, right?” I asked. The skin around those expressive black eyes tightened; I recognized stubbornness when I saw it. “Jazz, those guys might be in real trouble. We need to know everything that happened. Some trivial little detail might turn out to be important. You caused some trouble between them—right or wrong?”
“Okay. Yeah, Lando caught me flirting with Dana at the pueblo. Pissed him off, but he got mad at Dana, not me.”
I decided to push. “Come on, Lando was a good-looking guy. He owned the car, and he was the guy with the money.”
Jazz came halfway out of his seat. “Hey, man, I’m no whore. I only go with guys I like.”
I nodded at Aggie. “What’s not to like? And from the picture I’ve seen, Lando’s even better looking than his brother.”
“Yeah,” the kid said, settling back in his chair again. “He was fucking beautiful. But Dana was, too. And I like guys who don’t look like me. You know, with the same dark hair, dark eyes—like me.” With a sideways look at Aggie, he gave a grin. “I’d go for you before him. That’s cool hair. Brown, but not really brown either. Reminds me of coffee with cream in it. And I like green eyes—you know, like emeralds.”
“Thanks for the compliment. I understand how it went now. So Lando got steamed?”
“Yeah. They got in an argument—a real one this time. I guess I shoulda felt bad, but I didn’t.”
“You like two good-looking guys fighting over you?”
“Well, yeah. Who wouldn’t? But it wasn’t like that. Lando didn’t get his nose outa joint because I didn’t come on to him; he just didn’t want Dana to get with me. They argued all the way back to town. But you know after awhile, I got the feeling they weren’t really arguing about me. Something was bothering them, all right, but it wasn’t me.”
“They never said what it was?” He shook his head. “But you went back to the motel with them, didn’t you?” I said.
“Yeah. I got out in front of the motel to walk home, but I heard Lando say he was going down the street to take care of some business at a gallery. Something about a painting he wanted to buy.”
“And he left you alone with Dana.”
“Not really. Like I said, I got out in front of the motel and started up the street, but when Lando pulled out alone, I went back—you know, to apologize to Dana. He invited me inside.”
“So you got together with Dana?” Aggie’s voice held a trace of anger.
The insolent grin returned. “Yeah, we did it.”
“And Lando caught you?” Aggie pressed.
“No, but it took longer then we planned, and I was just walking up the street when the Porsche came back. Lando might have seen me on the sidewalk, but I’m not really sure.”
Aggie and I exchanged glances. That explained the fight that almost came to blows Melissa had described.
Next week, Jazz in Abaddon’s Locusts. Has he changed?