Stolen Iraqi Artifact Recovered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That could have been a headline in Don Travis’s novel, The Lovely PinesAnders, thanks to you and Divine Magazine for hosting a guest post for my BJ Vinson novel, The Lovely Pines. This is not the first time you’ve been kind enough to do this for me.
Let’s allow the Pines blurb to set the tone of the novel for us. By the way, the DSP Production people are aces at coming up with just the right verbiage. And how about Maria Fanning’s artwork above? Great job, guys.
When Ariel Gonda’s winery, the Lovely Pines, suffers a break-in, the police write the incident off as a prank since nothing was taken. But Ariel knows something is wrong—small clues are beginning to add up—and he turns to private investigator BJ Vinson for help.
BJ soon discovers the incident is anything but harmless. When a vineyard worker—who is also more than he seems—is killed, there are plenty of suspects to go around. But are the two crimes even related? As BJ and his significant other, Paul Barton, follow the trail from the central New Mexico wine country south to Las Cruces and Carlsbad, they discover a tangled web involving members of the US military, a mistaken identity, a family fortune in dispute, and even a secret baby. The body count is rising, and a child may be in danger. BJ will need all his skills to survive because, between a deadly sniper and sabotage, someone is determined to make sure this case goes unsolved.
When I sat down to begin my fourth in the BJ Vinson mystery series, I did what I always do: considered what part of New Mexico I wanted to visit next. As I’m always saying, my adopted state is one of the continuing major characters in all these novels. But this time, a particular name started bugging me, and the acceptance that I wanted Ariel Gonda, the Swiss national Treasurer of Alfano Winery, to surface again, my locale grew clear. We met the name but not the man in my second BJ Vinson novel, The Bisti Business. Once he agreed to relocate from California to New Mexico (these characters have minds of their own, you know. Well, if you’re an author you know), I had my locale and the kernel of a plot, the wine country north of Albuquerque and a mysterious intruder in his winery.
I’ve excerpted a scene from the beginning of Chapter 17 to give voice to the book. BJ is talking to Del Dahlman, an attorney friend, about representing Diego C de Baca, the son of the former owner of the Lovely Pines Winery who is on the run from two former military buddies. Diego is in possession of a stolen artifact, a 1,000-year-old clay statuette of the Lady of the Euphrates, which the three of them stole while serving in Basra. Diego has had a change of heart and is seeking to turn over the relic and get himself out of trouble. BJ seeks assistance from Del in safely retrieving Diego from his hiding place at the winery. Sharp-eyed readers will note that Del calls BJ by the name Vince. They are former lovers, and this is Del’s pet name for him.
Del stared at the figurine standing in the middle of his desk for one long minute before lifting his eyes to mine. “That mud ball is worth how much?”
“Several hundred thou.”
He snorted. “I don’t believe it.”
“Remember Mildred Muldren’s duck?” I referred to a case last year that was labeled the City of Rocks in my files. “I didn’t believe she was worth two hundred fifty thousand either. But people got killed over her just the same.”
He chuckled. “Quacky the Second.”
“Quacky Quack the Second, if I remember correctly.”
“Okay, so what do we do with this thing?” Del asked.
“Turn it over to the authorities, presumably so it can be returned to Iraq. At the same time, I want Diego C de Baca to surrender himself in order to get him out from under a death threat.”
Del arched his left eyebrow. “For ratting out his confederates?” I’d already filled him in on the details. “I doubt that’ll do the job.”
“It will if they’re in custody.”
He sighed. “Hope they don’t end up in the same prison block.”
“You’re going to keep that from happening.”
“How do I do that?”
“You’re going to get Diego off.”
“Vince, I am not a criminal lawyer.”
“Maybe not, but some people would disagree.”
He raised both eyebrows at my play on words. “And what do you mean by that?”
“Forget it. I want to turn Diego over to Gene Enriquez. He wants to talk to Diego because of the attack on German C de Baca.”
“Yeah, but Gene will just let him go. He didn’t attack his brother, so there’s no reason for APD to keep him. This is federal. Why not go straight to them?”
“Two reasons. Gene will have my ass if I don’t give him first crack. He’s had a felony committed in his jurisdiction, and he wants it cleaned up. So do I. If Gene gets Natander and Pastis, he’ll hold on to them until the feds can act.”
“That’s one reason. What’s the other?”
I scratched the bridge of my nose. “Because Gene will tell them Diego turned himself in voluntarily with the stolen artifact. And if another officer of the law attests to that fact, it’s less likely to get lost in the paperwork. As a matter of fact, Roma’s going to want to talk to him about breaking into the winery, so that gives us two jurisdictions attesting for him. Even better.”
“You don’t trust the feds?”
“I don’t know the feds. I know Gene. Besides, do you trust them?”
Del didn’t deign to answer. “All right. Bring him in, and we’ll walk him over to APD.”
“That won’t work. There’s a trained sniper out there looking for Diego. If he goes to the police, Natander might figure the artifact is lost to him anyway, but killing Diego will keep him from naming them as the perpetrators.”
“How will they even know? If I understand you, they can’t find him.”
“They know he’s somewhere in the vicinity of the Lovely Pines Winery. They’ll be watching everyone who comes and goes.”
“So how do you want to handle it?”
“There’s a wine tasting at the Lovely Pines—”
“But you said that’s where his two trackers are looking for him. Why pick him up there?”
“Because that’s where he is. I’d rather take him out in a crowd than try to slip him past Natander and Pastis again.”
“So when’s the tasting?”
“In about an hour and a half. And I want us there. We’ll buy a case of wine that someone from the winery will put in our trunk. A couple of someones. And Gonda will walk with us to the car too.”
“I see. In all the confusion—”
“Diego, who’ll be one of the someones, will slip into the back seat of the car and lie on the floorboard.”
“And then we’ll drive the artifact and the fugitive to APD.”
“No, the artifact will be locked in your safe here at Sloan, Hedges, Blah, Blah, Blah.”
Del snorted through his nose. “You’ve got to stop that. It’s disrespectful.”
“You didn’t object before you became one of the partners.”
“Well, I am, soI do. Don’t turn my part of the name into Blah. Why do you want to leave the artifact here?”
“Gene doesn’t need or want it. I’d rather have it in your safe than in the APD evidence room. Not because it might be stolen, but because it might get broken. You can turn it over to the feds when they’re in the picture.”
He sighed. “All right. If we’re going to the wine tasting, we’d better get a move on. Your car or mine?”
“Yours. I don’t want mine shot up if things go wrong.”
“Typical,” Del said dryly.
We arrived a few minutes early, so Del obviated the need for next Tuesday’s appointment with Gonda by reviewing New Mexico’s liberal grandparental visitation statutes with him. If either or both parents were dead, any grandparent of the child could petition for privileges, which should be enough to provide us the location of Zuniga’s vanished son. Del agreed to start the legal proceedings to enforce the Gondas’ rights as quickly as possible. They would consider whether or not to apply for visitation, custody, or adoption once we knew the circumstances.
Two couples, as well as some singles, joined Del and me at the six o’clock wine tasting at the Lovely Pines. Two of the singles were my old APD partner, Gene Enriquez, and his last riding partner before he made lieutenant, a tall blond detective named Don Carson. They drove up to be on hand in case of trouble. Del argued that made our presence superfluous, but I knew the deadly accuracy of a military sniper better than he did and shut him down.
Gene, however, voiced his own ideas when time came to depart the winery and insisted we make a change in plans. Carson would ride with us in Del’s Volvo while Diego, wearing Carson’s hat, sat beside Gene in his departmental Ford as we pulled out the front gates of the winery. I made the detective lie on the floorboard of the back seat so Natander and Pastis wouldn’t see more people leaving than arrived. I was pretty sure they knew who I was and would be keeping a close eye on me. The fact that two of the other couples who’d been at the wine tasting left the property at the same time we did made me feel a bit easier.
Ninety seconds after turning out onto the main road, Carson popped up and slid onto the seat. “I’m too damned tall to crouch down on the floorboard. This is better.”
“Get back down,” I warned. “We’re too close to the—”
Just as Del touched the brakes to avoid hitting a squirrel running across the road, both rear passenger windows shattered. Del almost lost control of the Volvo, slowing even more.
“Don’t stop!” I yelled. “Get us the hell out of here!”
Del stomped on the accelerator, and the powerful automobile shot forward. Then the rear window exploded.
As noted, The Lovely Pines is the fourth in the series. The first three are The Zozobra Incident, The Bisti Business, and The City of Rocks. Abaddon’s Locusts is due for release by DSP Publications on January 22, 2019. The sixth book, The Voxlightner Scandal is taking form in a document in my Dell PC.
The rules of the game dictate that I tell you something about me. Okay, I’ll tell you something. I’m boring, which is probably why I gave up oil painting and returned to writing (been doing it since childhood). I can’t become a banana or a piece of driftwood or anything I happened to be painting, but I can walk alongside the characters flowing from my head and participate in exciting events. An Okie, I meandered to Texas for my education, Germany (with the US Army) for my enlightenment, and found New Mexico for my enjoyment. To give back to the community, I teach a free writing course every Monday afternoon at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center. There it is. Boring stuff, right?
Over the years, I’ve developed a mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. You’ve got something to say…so say it.
I like contact with my readers, and the following links will allow this:
Once again, thanks to Anders and Divine Magazine for this opportunity. And thanks to DSP Publications for handling my work.