Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Don Travis today, here with a new BJ Vinson Mystery, The City of Rocks. Welcome, Don.
Many thanks to Stella and Melanie at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words for hosting this guest post, the third they’ve been kind enough to publish. This one is for The City of Rocks, the third in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series. The first two were for The Zozobra Incident and The Bisti Business. Get ready, Stella and Melanie, The Lovely Pines is coming down the road next March, and Abaddon’s Locusts is burning up my desk top. May I also give a tip of the hat to DSPP, my publisher.
They tell me I’m now supposed to bore you with a few facts about me. Okay, here goes. I’m an Okie who contracted tuberculosis at the tender age of six years, which meant I grew up thinking I couldn’t do what other youngsters my age usually did. Therefore, I took refuge in a library. I was a 100-pound private in the army toting a machine gun up and down the mountains of southern Germany when I discovered I could do anything any other GI could do, but by that time It was too late. My life was cast. I was hooked on reading. I turned to painting to satisfy a creative urge but ultimately returned to penning short stories… and then novels.
I do a weekly blog about my writing and recounting some of my personal peccadillos on dontravis.com. A member of SouthWest Writers, I give back to the community by teaching a free writing class at Albuquerque’s North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center.
City’s blurb reads as follows: investigator B. J. Vinson thinks it’s a bad joke when Del Dahlman asks him to look into the theft of a duck… a duck named Quacky Quack the Second and insured for $250,000. It ceases to be funny when the young thief dies in a suspicious truck wreck. The search leads BJ and his lover, Paul Barton, to the sprawling Lazy M Ranch in the Boot Heel country of southwestern New Mexico bordering the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
A deadly game unfolds when BJ and Paul are trapped in a weird rock formation known as the City of Rocks—an eerie array of frozen magma that is somehow at the center of the entire scheme. But does the theft of Quacky involve a quarter-million-dollar duck-racing bet between the ranch’s owner and a Miami real estate developer, or someone attempting to force the sale of the Lazy M because of its proximity to an unfenced portion of the Mexican border? BJ and Paul go from the City of Rocks to the neon lights of Miami and back again in pursuit of the answer… death and danger tracking their every step.
For a look at the book, I chose a scene in Chapter 17 where BJ and Paul take a horseback ride out to the Lazy M’s City of Rocks. This is Paul’s first visit to the Boot Heel ranch abutting the Mexican state of Chihuahua. We pick up the scene when they first spot the formation.
“Is that it?”
“Yep. The Lazy M’s own City of Rocks.”
“Man, that looks weird out there all by itself. Even weirder than the big one up at the state park.”
“New Mexico’s full of weird. You think you’re standing on the moon at the Bisti Badlands. And then there’s Carlsbad Caverns, Tent Rocks, White Sands, and those eerie lava beds in the Malpais.”
“I gotta get out of Bernalillo County more often,” he said.
We went silent, falling increasingly under the spell of ghostly monoliths as we approached the City. The horses plodded between the first two hunks of mute rock on the north-northwest side. The “street” that opened up before us was a broad avenue strangely devoid of plant growth. I saw no human footprints, but wind whistling through the alleyways raised weak, wispy dust devils. Footprints in the sand would not last long out here. Our mounts’ hooves no longer clopped; now they made a huffing sound. We could have passed through a portal separating two worlds.
“That big boulder in front of us looks like a hotel. An old western hotel.”
I stared at the hulking mass. “Why? It’s just a big rock.”
“Come on, where’s your imagination? It’s a couple of stories high. It’s kinda square. It looks like those pictures of a frontier hotel minus the balcony that runs around the second story. And that’s Muldren City’s saloon over there.” He pointed to the right.
I fell into the spirit of the thing. “Okay, then that’s the bank. And the telegraph office.”
He laughed, obviously delighted I played along. “Let’s go see if we can find the freight office. Then the town’s complete.”
“Oh no. Not without the jail, it isn’t.”
“Right. I forgot the sheriff’s office and the jailhouse.” He twisted in the saddle and pointed. “There it is, right across the square from the hotel.” Paul dismounted and looked for a place to tether Streak. “They forgot the hitching rail. No western town’s complete without a hitching post.”
He tied his reins to the only bit of green in sight, a small mesquite bush. “Hope that holds. I’d hate to walk back to the ranch house.”
I joined him on the ground and dubiously tethered Lucy to the same puny plant. While he scrambled up the side of the “hotel,” I searched for evidence of human habitation.
“Watch out for snakes,” he yelled, already out of sight atop the boulder.
In a natural alleyway at the side of the jailhouse, I found impressions like miniature buffalo wallows. The small lane was sheltered from the worst of the wind. People had rested here, smoothing out the dust and dirt to make a bed, probably for an overnight stay. A pile of debris and tumbleweeds lay against the end of the small passage where the rock walls met again. I nudged the garbage with my boot… all food related: greasy sandwich or tortilla wraps and crumpled Styrofoam containers for coffee or posole.
The human coyotes probably hid illegal immigrants here while they stocked up on water from the windmill in the distance. Then, before the morning light came, they would spirit their charges across the desert onto the highway where someone waited to pick them up. A natural—and obvious—spot. I was willing to bet the smugglers had not remained with their human cargo during that long, anxious wait. They probably camped somewhere in the near vicinity, realizing the Border Patrol would be aware of the City’s potential for hiding illegal aliens and other contraband.
A muffled shout from Paul drew me out of the mental drama playing out in my head. I walked back to the plaza but found no sign of him.
“Vince,” he said from above me. I looked up to find him squatting atop the hotel. “There are people out there.”
“Walking across the hardpan. I think they’re headed here.”
“Keep out of sight. I’m coming up.”
He guided me to a fold in the rock that provided easy toeholds. When I pulled myself to the top, he lay prone, holding his hat in front of him to shade his eyes. “There’s ten, fifteen dudes out there. All on foot.”
I lay on my belly beside him and looked where he pointed. The distant figures walked one behind the other, Indian style. The column spread out like a military unit. I wished for my binoculars. The man in front carried something I thought to be an automatic rifle. As we watched, he turned south, heading directly for the City. Two of the men separated and made north toward the windmill. The group probably planned on remaining here overnight.
I rolled onto my back and took out my cell phone. Dialing 911 reached the emergency operator, who put me in contact with the Border Patrol in Deming. Within a minute I was speaking to an agent named Ramirez. He heard my report and ordered me to get out of there—without being seen, if possible. As I turned to tell Paul to get back to the horses, he grunted.
“Uh-oh. They got company.”
Two mounted outriders came in from the east, passing on either side of the column and halting to speak with the point man. After a brief conversation, they galloped straight for the City.
As you can imagine, their casual, exploratory horseback ride rapidly becomes deadly.
Here are some links to me and my writing:
- Blog: dontravis.com
- Email: dontravis21gmail.com
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- Twitter: @dontravis3
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Thanks again Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words!