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Checking the Traps: Meet My Next Victim

For the next couple of weeks, I will be running posts that appeared in blogs by my fellow authors and others. Here is one about the victim, Cary Moore,
in my latest mystery, Checking the Traps. This one appeared in author Sue Barnard’s blog http://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.com/. Like what you read? Here’s how to buy the book on Amazon: https://mybook.to/checkingthetraps

My mysteries always have a victim. And it’s Isabel Long’s mission to find out what really happened to that person.

Isabel, a longtime journalist turned P.I., focuses on solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. In the first, Chasing the Case, a woman had disappeared 28 years earlier. In the second, Redneck’s Revenge, a junkyard owner supposedly died in a fire because he was too drunk to get out.

And in Checking the Traps, the victim is a highway worker by day and a poet by night. The official ruling was that Cary Moore jumped from a bridge known for suicides. His half-brother, Gary Beaumont, doesn’t believe it. For years, Gary has been trying to get someone to look into it, and now that Isabel has solved two cases, he turns to her for help.

It’s not as if Isabel and Gary have had a friendly relationship. After all, he and his brother, Larry, are drug-dealing bad boys who terrorized Isabel a bit in her last case.

But Isabel has a fondness for those men who take care of the roads, especially in snowy winters.

Plus, she is intrigued by the story of a poetry-writing truck driver. Cary hand-wrote his poems in composition books, and as Isabel goes through them, she sees a vast improvement. Perhaps that is the influence of the famous poet who was his neighbor. And as the case goes on, she finds the poems he wrote as gifts to people.

His poetry certainly reflects the person Cary was. Here’s an excerpt:

As I read Cary’s poems, I get an image of the self-taught poet. Or perhaps he was a natural and only needed practice to get it down. He wrote about the world around him. I smile when I read in one he calls “Close to Home” that he’s never traveled more than a hundred miles from where he lives and doesn’t feel he needs to go any farther.

Cary wrote about cutting wood, apologizing to these grand beasts, as he calls the trees on his land, but his family needs to keep warm this winter. In one poem, he finds a pair of old skates in his barn and remembers as a child, gliding on ice, if only life was still that easy.

Cary was married to a woman, Cherie, who runs a hair salon in their home. They were expecting a child when he died. He was a handy guy and a hard worker. But he’s also a bit of a boozer and drug user, so he’s got problems. And as it turns out, he was a bit naïve, especially concerning his famous neighbor.

In this scene, Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother, Maria — visit Cherie. Isabel wants to know more about her late husband’s poetry. Cherie works on Maria’s hair while they talk.

 “I think he got ideas for poems when he was drivin’ truck for the town, especially when he was plowin’ in the winter. He’d keep his eyes on the road, but his mind would wander. He started keepin’ a notebook in the cab of his truck, and on his breaks, he scribbled stuff down.” She laughs. “The other guys on the crew kidded him about it, but he didn’t care.”

“When did he write?”

“At night usually, on the weekends some. He did it at the kitchen table. He wrote on paper. He didn’t use a typewriter or computer. When he was finished with a poem, he’d write it down in one of his notebooks.”

“Did he show you his poems?”

“All the time. He read them out loud, too. They changed over the years. You’ll see. They get more serious.”

“One of the notebooks looks like it caught on fire.”

“I came home one day and saw Cary throwing it into the woodstove. I grabbed the book and put out the fire. I think he was going to burn ’em all. He wouldn’t tell me why, but he was upset about somethin’.”

“How long was that before he died?”

She holds the scissors above a strand of hair as she thinks. She turns, blinking toward me.

“It was a few weeks before. I hadn’t thought of that.”

 

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Breaking Bad Habits

I am going solo for the next six weeks or so. That means I can be a selfish writer. I can tackle those home projects I’ve put off. And I can watch what I want to watch, which in this case is the entire series of Breaking Bad.

I wrote in December I was starting with the first episode and working my way through. Like a lot of hit TV shows, I missed being a part of this one. But I didn’t get too far, only midway into the second season. I got too busy and Hank didn’t buy into the show. 

So I decided to return to the second season and see Breaking Bad to the end. I’m now on the second half of season four. I average one or two episodes a night. I get home, make dinner, write, treat myself to some Breaking Bad, and then write again.

I read recently Breaking Bad tops the list for binge-watchers. I can see why.

Of course, the show is set in my state of New Mexico, but south in Albuquerque, a much bigger and badder city it would appear than Taos. That has a lot of appeal.

I am taken with the characters, Walter, Jesse, Gus, etc. and the plot. I am an astute reader and movie/TV watcher. I can usually see what’s going to happen next but I’ve been delightfully surprised, such as the death of Combo and how that was resolved story wise. Or brother-in-law Hank’s near-demise. Resolution. That’s another good attribute of this show. Story lines come around. Characters change, or for those who don’t, their circumstances do.

And, there are no commercials.

So far there has only been one stinker, the episode called The Fly. Walter White is obsessed about a fly in the lab. Frankly, I didn’t care and fast-forwarded to the next episode.

Like a zillion other TV viewers, I watched the show’s final episode so I know what’s coming for Walter and Jesse. But it doesn’t matter. I have a lot of good Breaking Bad still ahead.







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Okie From You Know Where

Neighbors. Sometimes you have good ones, like I do now, and sometimes you have bad ones and can’t do anything about it, especially when you are renting and your upstairs neighbor is the landlady’s brother.

I was in my senior year in college, pregnant and married to my first husband. We moved from an attic apartment in a student slum after a rat fell in the beet soup left on the stove. The next morning I discovered red footprints on the kitchen floor. Yuck. So we left.


We moved to a conservative town close to the college, where the local draft board and a chapter of the John Birch Society were once located. But the rent for the one-bedroom apartment on the first floor was cheap. 

The man who lived on the top floor didn’t like us. That was clear the evening we arrived home and he cranked the song “Okie from Muskogee” through their open windows. Full blast. In case you forgot the county standard by Merle Haggard, it begins, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee; We don’t take no trips on LSD.”


Here was a message. He thought we were hippies. He certainly wasn’t. But the joke was — outside the double negative on the second line — we didn’t smoke marijuana or take LSD. But I bet he didn’t believe it.


One time, the man, I don’t remember his name, came downstairs and knocked on our door. He was drunk. He wanted to know what we did down there. Uh, nothing mysterious.


Another time, he shot his gun out the window.


I don’t know why our neighbor felt so threatened by a couple living  below him he had to be so threatening. But it wasn’t worth finding out. We didn’t stay much longer after that.




 

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Perfect Strangers

I was out of the car when I heard Hank yell. He accidentally shut the driver’s side door on the ring finger of his left hand. Hank was in too much pain to do it himself so I popped open the door. He was writhing in pain. The top of his finger was mangled and bleeding badly.

That’s when the woman sitting in her car in the Whole Foods parking lot in Santa Fe got out. I am a nurse and a healer, she told me. She took a look at Hank’s hand. You need to get him to urgent care, she told me. His finger will need stitches.

That’s when a man wearing a black cowboy shirt and bolo stopped. He wanted to know what happened. His advice: get some ice.

The woman asked the man: Could you do that?

Not sure if the man responded, I ran inside to the fish counter for ice, but when I returned, I found the man indeed brought a bag of ice. The woman had written directions to an urgent care office.

I thanked them both and got the car started.

I found the place although I don’t know Santa Fe very well. (I did have to stop once at a bakery to check directions when I got lost briefly.) Hank’s finger needed six stitches but thankfully no bones were broken. He felt no pain after it was numbed.

I can recall many times when I’ve been helped by perfect strangers, like when our VW camper van slipped into a ravine in the middle of nowhere in Mexico or a Vietnamese restaurant owner in Paris had no work but a free place to stay. Then, there are the more mundane experiences like someone giving up their seat on a bus in Boston or stopping to help with a flat tire.

We will likely never see those two strangers again. But I am grateful for their help. Thank you.

For more of my writing, this time on food, visit http://joanlivingstoncooks.blogspot.com/





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Brick by Brick

Saturday morning I joined a crew of mostly women to help build an adobe house for Habitat for Humanity of Taos. Actually, we were building it for a single mom and her two children so they could have their own home.

The adobe home being built

The home’s exterior walls of adobe brick were up. The interior walls were framed. The crew, led by a supervisor, worked on the parapets and the roof for the porch, sanded and sealed boards, and made adobe bricks for the next house to be constructed. It was part of Habitat’s Women Build Week.

Habitat uses adobe brick in Taos rather than stick framing because the materials are cheap and the labor by volunteers is free.

Clay-rich dirt used for adobe

 

And so I was there with other women, using a hoe to mix the right proportion of materials in a wheelbarrow — water, clay-rich dirt, sand, and straw. I worked with the homeowner’s sister to get the right consistency, pushing and pulling the hoe together as the adobe began to thicken. Sometimes we had to add more dirt.

I decided quickly there was nothing romantic about making adobe bricks. It’s tough work and out loud I admired the people long ago who created homes and villages from the materials at hand.

Using gloved hands, we scooped the adobe into wooden frames on the ground. We pressed it down so there would be solid blocks

Adobe bricks in process

when the frames were eventually pulled and the bricks were allowed to dry in the sun.

When we used up the available frames, we found something else to do. I carried long pine boards to the women using electric sanders to smooth boards spread over saw horses. I stacked the boards in the center of the saw horses, so the women could pull them down for sanding.

In the midst of the hubbub of power tools and hammering, I was reminded of when we built our first house in Western Massachusetts. We already had a large family when we bought a piece of land and then used its equity to get a construction loan. (In all, we spent $60,000 for the land and home.)

The money went farther because Hank and I discovered people were either willing to give us a deal or work for free on the weekends because they wanted us to own a home. Hank is a skilled carpenter who worked alongside most of them.

My job was to bring coffee and pastries in the morning, and then lunch, and beer for after work. Some people confided they did it for the lunch.

On Saturday morning I admired the effort of my fellow volunteers to help a woman who wanted to own a home for her children. And as she worked alongside them, smiling, I knew how she felt.







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