dontravis.com blog post #600
Image Courtesy of Dreamspinner Press:
It’s been a while since I’ve discussed my books on the website. Dreamspinner Press has published seven in the BJ Vinson Murder series, and I’d like to take the time to remind you of them. Burleigh J Vinson (any question why he uses his initials BJ?) and his life companion, the handsome Paul Barton appear in each book, and over the term of the series, their bond merely grows and strengthens. Paul graduates college (University of New Mexico), takes a master’s degree, and becomes a freelance journalist while BJ continues to run his private investigations business (although he picks up a partner, the retired cop Charlie Weeks). And, of course, Hazel Harris Weeks, Charlie’s wife, continues to run them all ragged as the office manager.
The books are as follow:
The books are as follow:
The Zozobra Incident
The Bisti Business
The City of Rocks
The Lovely Pines
The Voxlightner Scandal
The Cutie-Pie Murders
THE CUTIE-PIE MURDERS
The Baca family’s house looked to be in mourning. The dirt-brown stucco reminded me of a tomb. The Moroccan arch leading onto the front porch and the equally crescent-shaped walnut carved door both brought gravestones to mind. The woman who answered the door Wednesday morning did nothing to relieve the impression. Small and walnut hued, she looked damaged but enduring.
I let Paul take the lead. He had such an open and sincere attitude that most people reacted favorably to him.
She nodded mutely.
“My name is Paul Barton, and this is my friend B. J. Vinson. May we offer our condolences about Petey? I wonder if we could talk to you about him?”
“Are you the police?”
I spoke up to spare Paul from explaining he was a journalist, which might not have gone over too well with a grieving mother. “I’m a confidential investigator, ma’am.”
“Why are you asking about Petey? Are you looking for his killer?”
“We’re investigating a series of killings of young men, and your son’s death seems to fit the circumstances.”
“I read something about that. You think that horrible serial killer murdered my Petey?”
“It’s possible. And I want to put a stop to it.”
“Come in, and let’s see if I can help you.” The “and him” she added in a whisper probably referenced her dead son.
From what Roy and Glenann had told me, the Bacas were solid middle class, but their modest home in a not-so-affluent Southeast Heights neighborhood reflected both frugality and pride of ownership. Afghans in bright colors covered inexpensive furniture in a sitting room obviously used only for visitors. A vase of pink roses on the mantelpiece surprised me until I figured out they were probably plastic. The delicate attar permeating the room was likely an air freshener. The family lived in other parts of the building. In fact, I heard a child, probably Petey’s little brother, somewhere in the back of the house.
Once we were seated and served with particularly good cups of hot tea, Mrs. Baca leaned back in her chair and waited expectantly.
I took a sip and placed the cup on the small coffee table in front of me. “Is your husband home?”
She shook her head. “He’s at work. He works for the public school system. And lately, he’s been putting in long hours. You know, to take care of expenses we didn’t know were coming.”
I understood her to mean Petey’s funeral expenses. I cleared my throat. “Could you introduce us to Petey? Let us see him for the young man he was?”
With a great deal of dignity, Mrs. Baca led us through Petey’s brief life. Bright, quick to anger but rapid to forgive, he appeared to be a decent youth willing to work hard and keep his nose clean. He’d been both patient with and exasperated by his little brother, Jimmy. Although the murdered youth had been in his freshman year at UNM, he lived at home in order to save money. And as Jules’s nosy neighbor had told me, Petey often picked up little Jimmy at his math tutor’s house when the older boy had no classes that interfered.
As Petey’s life unfolded between tears and sniffles and frequent photographs of the two boys, I grew even more incensed at the heartbreak and misery this killer spread over Albuquerque. Even seasoned lawmen often became so wrapped up in seeking justice—or retribution—for the killer’s victims, they sometimes missed the tragic effects on the victims’ families. Murder not only brought death, it also rent families apart, ruined ambitions, and caused health problems and heartbreak. My resolve to bring this to an end stiffened and brought back the memory of my exchange with Charlie the other day. I’d said, “Nothing illegal.” Now I was willing to reconsider. I wanted this bastard found and put away.
Once Mrs. Baca had purged her soul talking about her son’s life, I started with the questions. The first one was about Matt Zapata. She scanned the picture and said she’d never seen him.
“Of course, Petey might have known him at the university. He was a freshman, you know.”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s a possibility. Did he have any friends at an apartment house in the 4200 block of East Central known as the Park House?”
Her brows knitted, deepening the crease between them. “Not that I know of. But….”
“Yes,” I finished for her, “he might have known someone from the U.”
“You said you called his friends. How about friends from the university? You know any of them?” Paul asked.
“He talked about one or two of them, but he never brought them home. Maybe my husband knows some names. Is it important?”
I placed my card on the coffee table. “It could be. Perhaps you’ll ask your husband and let my office know if he comes up with any names. What about girlfriends? Was he going with anyone?”
“He did in high school. Got quite serious, but her family moved to Las Cruces. They tried to keep in touch, but you know how it is at such an age.”
“Did Mr. McClintock ever tutor Petey?”
“Heavens no. Petey was always a good student.” She looked abashed at her outburst. “Of course, Jimmy is too, except in math. But Mr. McClintock has helped him a great deal.”
Jimmy ambled into the room with a football under his arm and stopped dead still. He stood for a moment without speaking before blurting out, “Who’re you?”
“Don’t be rude, Jimmy. These men are investigators asking about your brother. They want to help catch the monster who killed him.”
Paul reacted faster than I did. “I see you’re a football player. What say we go outside and throw some passes while your mom and Mr. Vinson finish up.”
“Be careful of traffic,” Mrs. Baca called as they headed out the door.
That told me Jimmy and his friends played ball on the residential street in front of the house. When the door closed behind them, I turned back to the grieving mother.
“Did Petey ever spend any time with Mr. McClintock? You know, go over early or stay late when he was picking up his brother?”
“Not that I recall. Sometimes I had to poke at him to get him to get over there in time to pick up his brother.” She frowned again. “Most of the time he went directly from his classes or the library at school to pick up Jimmy. It’s quite a drive from here, and Petey saved on gas that way. He didn’t want to be a burden. He worked evenings at a café not far from here to help pay his expenses at college.”
“Was he able to contribute much?”
“More than I thought. He waited tables, you see, and was usually tipped decently. Petey had a good way with people. They liked him, so they left him good tips.”
“Ma’am, I’m going to ask you a question that might offend you, but it has to be asked, and I’m doing it in the most respectful way possible. You’ve told me about Petey’s girlfriends. Did he have boyfriends?”
“Of course he had boys as friends. He—”
“No, ma’am. Did he have boyfriends?”
Her mouth dropped open. “Dios no! He went to church with us regularly. Went to confession. He… wasn’t like that.”
Her unconscious prejudice saddened me a little. The coming enlightenment hadn’t reached everywhere. Maybe someday.
“Thank you, Mrs. Baca. It was something I had to ask. But think about it for a moment. It’s not something he would have admitted or made obvious. Are you certain?”
She gnawed her lower lip for half a minute, telling me her mind was flashing back over her late son’s life from birth to death. She’d give me an honest answer.
“There was a boy who lived next door a few years back. They were close, like brothers, really. But I’m certain there was nothing like that going on. No, definitely not.”
“Again, thank you, ma’am. What can you tell me about the day he disappeared? A Thursday, I believe.”
Maria Baca swallowed audibly. Her eyes moistened. “Yes. Thursday. I was at work all day. I housekeep for some families up in the Heights. I came home and found his car in the driveway with the hood up. He’d been working on it, you see.”
“What did Jimmy say about it?”
“Jimmy was still at school. When he got home, he said his brother had been having car trouble. So we assumed he was off getting a part he needed.”
“Petey wasn’t in class that day?”
“He only had morning classes on Thursday.”
“And when he didn’t return home?”
“I didn’t start to worry until after dark. Then I called all his friends, but no one had seen him all day. So I asked the neighbors. Mrs. Samuelson next door saw him start up the street toward the Gas Mart. Waved to him in fact.”
“When was this?”
“Around two, the best she could remember.”
“Aside from calling his friends, what did you do?”
“I called the police station over on Louisiana Street, but they told me there was nothing they could do. He hadn’t been gone long enough. Promised to keep an eye out for him, but that’s all.”
“That’s true, ma’am. Then what?”
“I called our church. Petey’d been to confession the Sunday before that, so I thought maybe the father could tell me if he was disturbed about something. Of course, he couldn’t tell me anything, but I wanted to know if Petey was worried about something. He… he said no, Petey seemed okay. His usual self.” A tear spilled from her right eye. “My husband and I spent a sleepless night. Even called his father up in Denver to see if he’d heard anything.”
“Your husband isn’t Petey’s father?”
She shook her head. “We were divorced. But my husband’s been Petey’s father for the last six years. He loved Petey as much as he loved Jimmy.”
“Had your ex-husband heard from Petey?”
“He hadn’t.” Her voice almost failed. “And then… and then the next morning, they called and told us… they’d found him.”
I allowed her to recover before spending another fifteen minutes asking questions that gave me nothing new. I terminated the interview, and when we stepped to the porch, she smiled—the first one I’d seen from her—at the sight of Paul throwing passes to an obviously delighted and coltish Jimmy Baca.
Her voice sounded strong when she called out to her son. “Time to go to the school bus, Jimmy.” In a near whisper, she added, “Time to move on.”
I felt a touch of nostalgia as I perused the book to locate this segment. I’m gonna have to give BJ and Paul another mystery to solve one day soon.
Stay safe and stay strong.
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:
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See you next Thursday.
New Posts every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. US Mountain time.