First, let me say thanks to Vicky at Sparkling Reviews for allowing me to guest post her blog to honor the release of my sixth BJ Vinson mystery novel, The Voxlightner Scandal. So thanks, Vicky, and thanks to Dreamspinner Press for publishing the work.
The novel’s blurb probably gives you a pretty good preview of the book:
No good deed goes unpunished, as investigator B. J. Vinson is about to discover.
Writer John Pierce Belhaven was murdered before he could reveal the name of another killer—one connected to the biggest scandal to rock Albuquerque in years. Two of the city’s most prominent citizens—Barron Voxlightner and Dr. Walther Stabler—vanished in 2004, along with fifty million dollars looted from Voxlightner Precious Metals Recovery Corp. It only makes sense that poking into that disappearance cost Belhaven his life.
But BJ isn’t so sure.
He’s agreed to help novice detective Roy Guerra reopen the old case—which the wealthy and influential Voxlightner family doesn’t want dredged up. But Belhaven was part of their family, and that connection could’ve led to his murder. Or did the sixty-year-old author die because of a sordid sexual affair?
I’ve selected a passage in Chapter 3 of the book to excerpt here. Following the murder of a local author named John Pierce Belhaven, BJ (our protagonist) and his partner Paul Barton, together with Detective Roy Guerra of the Albuquerque Police Department, have just finished interviewing Sarah Thackerson, Belhaven’s secretary and mistress. Now they go to the backyard of the Belhaven house to interview Spenser Spears, his lawn boy and reputed “bimbob.” Let’s see how it goes.
Belhaven’s secretary and researcher returned to her work as the three of us went outside to confront a hard-bodied young man with a small birthmark. Already handsome, the strawberry imperfection on his left cheek rendered him sensual as well. Here was the lawn boy, except Spencer Spears was no boy. He was a man in his midtwenties… and knew it. Masculine grace rippled across his shoulders as he cut the motor, ran a hand through thick hair as dark as roasted coffee beans, and regarded us warily.
“Spencer Spears?” I asked.
He nodded. “That’s me.”
“Yard and garden look great.”
“You the water police?” He referred to water restrictions imposed by the city fathers for the duration of the drought. I shook my head and smiled at his joke.
“What are your responsibilities here?” I asked.
He looked around the large backyard. “Everything outside the house is mine. I landscape, mow, mulch, fertilize, and trim. I also repair things inside the house. Electrical, mechanical, masonry, that kind of thing. I’m pretty handy.”
“Do you live on the premises?” Roy asked.
Spencer shook his head, setting dark curls to dancing. “Nope. Have my own pad. But there’s a room in a little building out back where I sometimes rest my head when something keeps me here late. My place is down by CNM. Just off Morris on Lagrima.”
“Is this your sole place of employment?” I asked.
“Mostly. I go to school there. Central New Mexico, that is. I’ve got the GI Bill, but Mr. B.’s gig—plus a few other customers—keep me solvent.”
“What branch were you in?”
“Army. Rangers,” Spence said.
“How long did you serve?”
“Enlisted right out of high school and saw service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Decided that was enough. Time to start working on my education.” A smile played at the corners of his broad mouth. “The kind I could talk about.”
Maybe a blunt question might shake him. “Where were you on the night Pierce Belhaven died?”
“Wednesday’s a school day. Like I said I usually work on Thursdays. Thursdays and Mondays unless Mr. B. called me in for some special job.”
“Happen often?” Roy asked.
“Enough. This neighborhood was built in the fifties and sixties, so the houses take some TLC. Anyway on that Wednesday, I had two classes, went to my place and did homework, wrote a theme… at least got it started. I went malling for a while until beer o’clock, then met some guys at the Hogshead Tavern up on Montgomery.”
“I’m not up on the local slang,” I said. “What time is beer o’clock?”
“Got there about eight. We closed the place down at two.”
“Witnesses, I assume,” Roy said.
“Yeah,” Spencer answered. “Sometimes two, sometimes three. They came and went.”
“But you stayed.”
“Same table all night… except for pit stops. The Hog has the best craft beer in the state.”
“What was your and Belhaven’s relationship,” I asked.
He didn’t even blink. “Employee… employer. Friends. Sometimes even companions when he let his hair down and acted human instead of like a Voxlightner. They’re in a world of their own, you know.”
Recognizing a ploy, I pressed on. “Define companions.”
“Buddies. We’d hoist a glass or two. I’d sit and listen to him go maudlin when he overdid it. Put him to bed once in a while. Next day we were employee-employer again.”
“So he left you two hundred fifty grand for putting him to bed a couple of times?”
Spencer regarded me through milk-chocolate eyes. “Okay. Far be it for me to sully a dead man’s reputation, but he asked a little more from time to time.”
He looked down his frame and spread his hands. “All of me sometimes.”
“Just to be clear, are you saying you were his lover?” Roy asked, his voice rising.
Spencer’s charming grin appeared again. “Don’t have an aneurism, man. No big deal. I already told you about it. But just on Thursdays and Mondays.”
“For five years?” I asked.
Spencer nodded. “Yeah. He picked me up in a bar—the Hogshead, as a matter of fact—and we fit so well together he wanted to meet again. We did, and it became a permanent thing. Why not? His wife was dead by then, his son wouldn’t talk to him, and his daughter lived in Grants with a husband Pierce couldn’t stand. The guy was entitled to some companionship, wasn’t he?”
I could see Roy was bursting to introduce Sarah Thackerson into the conversation. I preferred he didn’t at this point, but he was in charge.
“What about Ms. Thackerson?” he asked, his cheeks somewhat flushed.
“What about her? Oh. I see what you mean. She was his beard, I think the term is.”
“Are you saying she didn’t go to bed with him?”
“Sure she did. But I was the one who meant something to Pierce. She was merely his thing on the side.” He frowned. “Of course, he left her $250,000 too, so….”
We waited, but he didn’t pursue the matter further, although I could see from his eyes he was reevaluating the situation. After a brief grimace he smiled. “If he was playing around with Sarah, that’s all it was, playing around. Ours was the relationship that counted. Might sound strange to some ears, but Pierce loved me.”
“And you? Did you love him?” I asked.
“I was fond of him, and he knew it. I never tried to smoke him, and he appreciated that. Think he liked having a straight guy respond to him. Lots of gays do, I guess.” Spencer frowned. “Didn’t have any idea he was about to get the cosmic dope slap. Bummer.”
Paul must have heard my mental caution because he kept his mouth shut, although I saw his lips twitch.
“Anyway,” Spencer went on, “we had a good relationship. It satisfied both our needs.”
Paul broke his silence. “His emotional and your financial, I gather.”
Spencer smiled pleasantly at him. “Aren’t most unions based on economics? Husband works and feeds the kids, wife takes care of husband and family.”
Paul’s look turned dark, so I stepped in to avoid a confrontation. “That might be the way it worked in the last century, but not so much anymore. It’s more of a partnership.”
Spencer spread his hands. “That’s what I’m saying. Our partnership took care of everybody’s needs. The fact he loved me and I was fond of him was a plus, right?”
Paul and I left Roy to collect Spencer’s alibi witnesses and returned to the office.
My publisher insists I furnish bio information for these things. My life is so uninteresting, I’m using the bio from my prior blog: I’m an Okie born and raised who rambled around Germany while in the US Army and Denver and Albuquerque while in the business world. A tubercular child, I grew up in the library of my small hometown rather than on the sports fields. So what else should I do but write? I was a paint artist for a while—oils and still life mostly—but that didn’t scratch my creative itch like writing did. I put away the brushes and took up the pen… well, the computer. Finding myself widowed in 2009, I flirted with moving back to Texas where most of my family has resettled, but the pull of New Mexico proved too strong. Here is where I choose to be and here… I will remain.
I welcome contact by my readers, and the following are some personal links:
Here are buy links for The Voxlightner Scandal:
DSP Publications: https://www.dsppublications.com/books/the-voxlightner-scandal-by-don-travis-537-b
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-voxlightner-scandal-don-travis/1132632844?ean=9781640809260
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/4AxPDo
Let me close with another expression of gratitude to Vicky for hosting this guest post. Thanks.