Ex-girlfriend. Her missing sister. Violent white supremacists. Ah, Albuquerque!
Join K.C. Fontero in this, the inaugural volume of the New Mexico series. Winner, 2009 GCLS award for one of three best lesfic mysteries. Also a 2009 Lesbian Fiction Readers’ Choice award-winner.
K.C. Fontero left New Mexico in the wake of a bitter breakup to take an academic fellowship in Texas. With a doctorate in sociology and expertise in white supremacist groups, she’s well on her way to an academic career. But a plea for help from her ex, Melissa, brings K.C. back to Albuquerque to find Melissa’s troubled younger sister. Megan has disappeared with her white supremacist boyfriend and K.C. knows she has the expertise to track the mysterious group, and she knows she’ll be doing a public service to uncover it. What she doesn’t know is how far into her past she’ll have to go to find both Megan and herself and the deeper she digs into the group, the greater the danger she faces.
Winner, 2009, Golden Crown Literary Society award, best lesfic mystery
Winner, 2009, Lesbian Fiction Readers’ Choice award, lesfic mystery
Homicide. Homophobia. Hell of a case. Ah, Albuquerque!
The body of a young gay man buried along the Rio Grande leads Albuquerque police detective Chris Gutierrez down a path of dark secrets and old hatreds. In spite of the other detective assigned to the case — the sexist and possibly homophobic Dale Harper — Chris tracks the killer to an older unsolved case, and to the doors of a local megachurch and a popular minister with ties to ex-gay groups. Enlisting the research skills and networks of sociologist and best friend K.C. Fontero, Chris works to build the case and make an arrest before the killer strikes again, even as she must also face her growing feelings for attorney Dayna Carson. Struggling with the complexity of a difficult case, Chris is drawn into an ominous and potentially deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a man who might kill to protect his own secrets.
Dead man. Dark Spirits. Deep Trouble. Ah, New Mexico!
When the Albuquerque paper reports that an unidentified white man was found dead along a remote stretch of road on the Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico, UNM sociology professor K.C. Fontero thinks she might be able to use the case as an example of culture and jurisdiction in one of her classes. But it’s soon apparent that this dead man might have something to do with a mysterious letter that River Crandall, brother of K.C.’s partner Sage, recently received from the siblings’ estranged father, Bill. What does the letter and Bill’s link to a natural gas drilling company have to do with the dead man? And why would Bill try to contact his son and daughter now, after a decade of silence?
From the streets of Albuquerque to the vast expanse of the Navajo Reservation, K.C. and Sage try to unravel the secrets of a dead ma while Sage confronts a past she thought she’d left behind. But someone or something wants to keep those secrets buried, and as K.C. soon discovers, sometimes beliefs of one culture jump the boundaries of another, threatening to drive a wedge into the relationship she’s building with Sage.
Voted one of five fave lesfic mysteries of 2010 by the Lesbian Fiction Readers’ Choice Awards.
Murdered man. Missing woman. Malicious intent. Ah, New Mexico!
When a man is shot to death in his house near Albuquerque’s Old Town, homicide detective Chris Gutierrez is called to the scene with fellow detective Dale Harper to investigate. They soon discover that the murder victim may have been involved in human trafficking over the Mexican border, and that he may have attracted enemies in an underground network with its own code of honor. Did someone in that network kill him? Or did his past finally catch up with him? As Chris works to find answers, she also draws the attention of a local anti-immigrant blogger who will go to any length to post damaging and personal information about Albuquerque law enforcement officers, and she knows that her partner, prosecutor Dayna Carson, will be part of that campaign if the blogger discovers their relationship. She has to find a way to watch her back and keep Dayna and her friends and family safe from the blogger’s large audience and prying eyes, even as he dogs her every move.
From Albuquerque to El Paso, Chris is on the trail of a killer who seems to be able to disappear into the cultures on either side of the border, like a ghost or desert wind. Those along the border protect their own, Chris knows, but she has a job to do, even as she draws closer and realizes that sometimes, things aren’t what they seem.
“I’ll pay you.”
I stared at her as if she had just offered to pay me for sex.
“No,” she said, realizing how it must have sounded. “I mean as a researcher. I know you’ve done that in the past. I’ll pay your going rate for research.”
I continued to stare at her. She might as well have just slapped me.
“Plus room and board? Please. It would mean a lot to me. You could use it for your next book. You’re doing research this fall semester, anyway.”
My stomach lurched. “How did you know that?”
She looked away.
“How did you know that?” I said again. She had been tracking me and it bothered me. Why didn’t she just call? Because she knows it’d be harder to say no to her in person. I clenched my teeth, feeling used.
She stood, slightly flustered. “I checked. I needed to know where I could find you.”
“It’s not on my website,” I said, testing her.
“I called the department.”
I stood as well and stared out at the fields. By the sun, it must have been almost three o’clock. Somewhere in the heat and haze I heard a tractor. And somewhere further away than that I heard the engine of Melissa’s Toyota Camry as she drove out of my life and into someone else’s sunset. Don’t burn your bridges, I heard someone saying. ’Cause you might have to cross the river again.
“On the off-chance—” I started, keeping my eyes on the field, “that there was some other way for you to do this, would you have done it?”
“Yes.” No hesitation.
I shifted my full attention back to her. “What exactly does this entail?”
“So you’ll do it?”
“I didn’t say that. I want to know what it is you’re expecting.”
She went into professional mode. “I want to know who Cody is, what group he’s with, what they’re planning to do, and where they might be.”
“Once you get that figured out, I’ll take the next step myself. If she really does want to leave and he’s forcing her to stay, I’ll get the proper authorities involved.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “I don’t want your money, Melissa.”
“I’m hiring you to do research.”
I wondered if Hillary had bought Melissa the same way she was trying to buy me. Here ya go. Money’ll fix it. I’ll buy your heart and give you a new one. A mouthful of bitterness accompanied my thoughts. How much is your sister worth? How much am I worth? I tugged my left earlobe, staring out across the fields again. “If I do this, I don’t want your money,” I said stubbornly.
“Will you at least let me provide the place to stay? And help with expenses?”
“If I do it.” I sounded petulant.
“I’m not sure. Let me think about it.”
“Thanks for hearing me out.” A faint smile lifted the edges of her mouth.
I nodded, feeling numb and cold inside, like I’d been left out in an early fall snow. The silence stretched between us until Melissa broke it when she opened the screen door. “Walk me to my car?” She raised her right eyebrow quizzically, almost playfully, like when she used to flirt with me. I guess I could still fall for it because I examined the outline of her back as she pulled the screen door open and stepped into the kitchen. Even underneath the T-shirt, I could envision her wiry muscles plunging below the waistline of her shorts. I quickly glanced away. Misdirected lechery, I attempted to convince myself as I grabbed my hat and followed her through the house.
Grandpa rocked slowly on the front porch, his eyes closed. The heat of the day weighed heavily on him and the dogs. Barb and Dan gave Melissa only a cursory once-over as she stopped to say goodbye to Grandpa, thought better of it, and quietly descended the five steps.
I took my time putting my hat back on, waiting for her to slide into the driver’s seat and shut the door, saving me from any inadvertent physical contact. Sinking my hands into my pockets, I maintained a respectful two-foot distance from the Lexus. She twisted in her seat and fumbled through something on the floor in back. She must have found what she wanted because she resumed appropriate driving posture and fastened her seatbelt before directing her attention at me. Automatically, I stepped closer.
“It’s good to see you,” she said with what sounded like genuine pleasure, though tinged with sadness. She was holding a business card and she wrote something on the back with a black pen. “I know you might think differently, but I’d like to maybe talk sometime.”
She handed me the business card. “I know you’ll think about this. And I know you’ll call me either way.”
I took the card, glanced at it and shoved it into a front pocket of my jeans. She started the engine. It purred smoothly, powerfully.
“Nice rig,” I said softly. “You must be doing okay.”
She smiled and slipped her shades on before resting her right hand on the steering wheel. I heard Bonnie Raitt issuing from the vehicle’s sound system.
“K.C.,” Melissa said firmly, over Bonnie’s voice, “no matter what you decide, I’m glad I saw you.” She smiled and shook her head in a “well, hell” motion. “I used to think you were a damn good-looking woman, and I didn’t think it could get any better.” Even through her shades, I could see her eyes sweep over me, from the toes of my boots to my hat. “I was wrong.” And she was backing up before I could retort.
Damn her. Damn ex-girlfriends in general. Dammit. I watched the Lexus until it turned left onto the main road, heatwaves swallowing the sound of its engine.
She was gone again, leaving me staring after her. I guess there were a few ghosts that needed to be put to rest. Out of habit, I glanced skyward. Evening was coming on. I had to finish with the alfalfa.
CHRIS SQUATTED BY the shallow grave. A cold late January breeze ruffled her hair as she studied the body within. He lay face-down, hands tied behind his back with what looked like electrical cord. The odor of human decomposition wafted under the edge of the bandanna she held against her mouth and nose and she automatically stopped breathing through her nose.
A crime scene tech ducked under the yellow tape that surrounded the perimeter of the clearing, fastened to trees. He carried a clipboard and a plastic tackle box. If only this was a fishing trip, Chris thought as he set his box down near the perimeter and started writing on the form attached to his clipboard.
Dale Harper hunched across from her, pressing a handkerchief to his face. Two crime scene techs were engaged a few feet away, carefully screening the dirt that a third tech was gingerly removing from around the body with a small trowel and emptying into a stainless steel pail.
“Nasty,” Harper intoned. Chris’s fellow detective spoke with the accent of the upper Midwest, a blend that sounded like Chicago-meets-Canada. He rubbed the fingers of his left hand on his knee, as if the fabric of his trousers was some sort of cleansing agent.
Murder always is. Chris didn’t vocalize the thought, waiting for him to make an inappropriate comment about the naked man in the grave. He seemed to have a penchant for doing that and it grated on her nerves. Gallows humor was one thing. Harper’s comments were another.
He shifted his weight forward to get a better look, careful not to dislodge soil from the grave’s edge. “I’m guessing sexual assault,” he began, holding the handkerchief over his nose. “Probably a gay thing. No normal guy would end up like this.”
“No normal guy goes out and kills another guy, either, and then leaves him naked in a hole in the bosque.” The cloth blunted the hard edge in Chris’s voice. She didn’t look at Harper, instead continued studying the dead man between them, silently apologizing to him for Harper’s remark, as if he still lived, and was only sleeping or comatose. As if he could still care what anybody said about him. She apologized to him again anyway.
“Well, I seriously doubt a chick killed him,” Harper muttered with what sounded like distaste.
Chris stared at him. “We don’t know that yet.”
He shrugged. “Oh, right. Women can do everything men can do.”
Typical male cop crap, trying to get a rise out of her, most likely. Chris counted backward from ten before responding. “Yeah, we can. Unfortunately.” She looked down at the body again. “But I agree that the perp in this case is most likely male. Still, the evidence isn’t in.”
“Body found on Navajo Reservation near Shiprock.”
THE HEADLINE CAUGHT my eye as I skimmed through the local news round-up in the Albuquerque Journal waiting for the coffee to brew. I read the brief paragraph, shifting into research mode. An unidentified white male, possibly mid-late fifties, found dead about ten miles outside the reservation town of Shiprock. Authorities speculated that he’d been dead for a few days and that he’d been hit by a car. He was wearing blue jeans and a red flannel shirt and he carried no identification. Anyone with any information was encouraged to contact Navajo Tribal Police or the Farmington Police Department.
White guy. I puzzled over that for a bit as I leaned on the counter, coffeemaker gurgling next to me. Not to suggest that white guys weren’t allowed on the Navajo Reservation. It just struck me as odd that this guy was out there. Even that close to Farmington, the Navajo Reservation had few roads, fewer people, and a lot of lonely space. What was a white guy doing walking around on the Rez in such a state that he was hit by a car and left to die?
I wondered who he was and the logical part of my brain clicked through a myriad of possibilities. Most likely he got himself into a bit of trouble with local rednecks who roughed him up a bit, drove him to the Rez, took his wallet, and rolled him out of a battered pickup along with several cans of beer. Maybe he was drunk and might have tried to get help but instead got the front end of either that truck or a different one. Regardless, whoever hit him kept going.
Nice. What pleasant pre-breakfast thoughts. I placed the newspaper on the kitchen counter, making a mental note to check for more information on this case. It was just the kind of thing I was looking for to include in my lesson plan for one of the courses I was teaching, the Sociology of Crime. I ran a hand through my hair, reminding myself again that it was just three weeks before fall classes started at the University of New Mexico. Where the hell does the time go?
I glanced at the coffeemaker. Almost done. I stirred the eggs and turned the sausages over in the frying pan and adjusted the burner heat while I thought some more about the unidentified man. Whoever he was, I didn’t envy the investigators charged with the task of trying to uncover his identity. Because he was white, he’d be autopsied. Because he was found on Indian land, his journey to the medical examiner’s table in Albuquerque might take a while. A dead white guy on Indian land made for bad press for the Navajo, especially if more than just stupidity and callousness was involved here. Like, say, if a Navajo had taken him there and dumped him. Or hit him and kept going. Plus, the traditional tensions between tribal and non-tribal law enforcement sometimes hamstrung investigations of crimes committed on Indian land. Unless the guy was killed elsewhere and just dumped on the Rez.
CHRIS PUSHED THROUGH the knots of people gathered in the street to watch the aftermath of whatever tragedy had befallen the person in the house, now blocked from trespassing by crime scene tape and cops. Mostly neighbors, she figured, wearing jackets in the chill of a late October night. The neighborhoods just west of Albuquerque’s Old Town were made up of family and friend networks, largely native Hispanic though newer transplants from Mexico and Central America also called this area home. Most of the houses were on the small side, built around World War II or slightly after, though some were older than that by a couple of decades. People knew each other here, whether by contact or sight, but they might not want to talk to the police because of a customary distrust of law enforcement.
Harper stood near the front door to the house, talking to one of the uniformed officers. He wore a department issue jacket and jeans and work boots. Most of the time,Chris saw him in casual man-slacks and penny loafers. Tonight he looked like a truck driver originally from a state like Ohio.
She moved her jacket aside to show her badge—clipped to her belt—to a uniformed officer standing at the tape and the woman pulled it up a bit so Chris didn’t have to stoop so low to get under it.
“Hey,” Detective Dale Harper said in his flat Midwestern accent. “Glad you could join us.”
“Yeah, well, not like people sleep at this hour on a Sunday or anything.”
The cop next to him snorted.
“What’ve we got?” she asked.
Harper looked at his pocket notebook, mostly out of habit. He had probably already memorized what the cop had told him. “Our DB is a Hispanic male, late twenties, early thirties. Gunshot wounds to the head, chest, and groin.”
“Anybody hear anything?”
“A Mrs. Marquez, next door.” Harper gestured at a nearby house with his chin.
The porch light was on.
“Is she outside?”
“Not anymore. But she did say she heard something after twelve-thirty. Doesn’t speak much English.”
That was almost an hour ago. Chris put her hands in her jacket pockets to warm them up. “Who talked to her?”
She nodded, satisfied. Lauren’s Spanish was good. “Okay.” She looked at the uniformed cop. “Could you find Lauren and tell her I want to talk to her?”
“Sure thing. You got this?” He glanced at Harper, as if he was in charge. A guy thing, Chris knew. Unconscious, but it irked her.
“Yes,” she said, reclaiming the lead. The cop shrugged and walked away. She took a pair of latex gloves out of a baggie-full she carried in her jacket pocket, and put the baggie back before she snapped the gloves on. Harper had his own, and he had already put his notebook and pen into his back pocket and was pulling his pair on. He handed her a pair of booties and she slipped them over her shoes while he did the same with his.
“Shall we?” he said, motioning at the door.
She stepped inside and stood for a few moments. The front door opened directly into a living room. A dark brown couch that sagged slightly in the middle stood against the opposite wall. A coffee table was upended in front of it, probably overturned by the now-dead man as he fell or was driven back from the force of the bullets that had killed him. He was sprawled on his back in front of the couch, arms spread, left knee slightly bent, right leg straight. He wore jeans, a white T-shirt now stained with blood, and black sneakers, the kind hip-hop artists sported.
“Was he found with that on him?” Chris gestured at the Día de los Muertos painted papier mâché skeleton, about a foot long, that rested on his chest. It was female, dressed in a skirt and blouse. The figure wore a sombrero and held a guitar. Ammo belts criss-crossed her chest.
“I’ll check.” Harper left through the front door and Chris stared down at the dead man. It looked as if the figurine had been placed carefully on his chest, so it wouldn’t fall off, its body positioned so it lay vertically on the victim’s torso. A message, but to whom?
“Yeah,” Harper said from the doorway. “Body was found with that on there, just like that. What do you make of it?” he asked when he re-joined her.
“It’s a variation of La Catrina.”
He looked at her with his “so?” expression.
Chris pulled her smartphone out of her pocket and did a search for the famous lithograph of Catrina, created by Mexican artist José Posada around 1910. In that image, Posada depicted a skeleton that was supposed to represent a once-elegant female figure from the shoulders up. A large feathered and flowered bonnet graced her grinning skull. Harper looked at it and nodded.
“Oh, yeah. I’ve seen this. Practically every Day of the Dead festival. What’s the significance here?” He handed her phone back.
“I don’t know. Posada did a lot of these calavera lithographs around the time of the Mexican Revolution. They were designed to poke fun at politicians and the class system without overtly naming anyone.” She gestured at the figure on the dead man’s chest. “Since then, she’s represented as an elegant, wealthy woman, but other depictions of her have come up, like this one, in less formal dress, with different props.”
“And that all means what, exactly?”
She shrugged. “She’s become kind of a beloved folk image in Mexico. She represents death as the great equalizer. After all, she’s a skeleton, and all her wealth didn’t change the fact that being human means you’ll die eventually.”
Andi Marquette is a native of New Mexico and Colorado and an award-winning mystery, science fiction, and romance writer. She also has the dubious good fortune to be an editor who spent 15 years working in publishing, a career track that sucked her in while she was completing a doctorate in history. She is co-editor of All You Can Eat: A Buffet of Lesbian Erotica and Romance. Her most recent novels are Day of the Dead, the Goldie-nominated finalist The Edge of Rebellion, and the romance From the Hat Down, a follow-up to the Rainbow Award-winning novella, From the Boots Up.
When she’s not writing novels, novellas, and stories or co-editing anthologies, she serves as both an editor for Luna Station Quarterly, an ezine that features speculative fiction written by women and as co-admin of the popular blogsite Women and Words. When she’s not doing that, well, hopefully she’s managing to get a bit of sleep.