This Friday, before my dentist’s appointment and helping a friend move (thanks for waiting for me to help move the big furniture..yes, that was sarcasm), I was sitting trying to think of a topic for this week’s blog. Then, there’s a knock at the door. My cat dashed off to the bedroom to hide (that’s just his nature). When I opened the door, a woman stood there.
“Hi, I’m Amy Bennett, and I’m an author.”
I looked at her hands and all she’s carrying is a sheet or three of paper. “No doughnuts?”
She looks at me, then at my stomach which has grown a bit since my new job, and raises her eyebrows.
“Well, then,” I said, “what do you have?”
She smiled, stepped inside and, like so many authors before, sat down at the computer and started typing. When she was finished, she smiled again, and left.
“Next time bring dougtnuts,” I called after her, but I don’t think she heard me. Sigh!
When I set out to write my Black Horse Campground mystery series—having decided to set it in the semi-rural areas of south-central New Mexico—I naturally undertook to add as much local flavor to the setting as I could. While I’ll use a future post to talk about “flavor” in a more pleasant way, today I’ll talk about an element that I introduced into “At the Crossroad” that is quite common in the area around my home and fictional Bonney County as well.
“Descanso” is the local term for a roadside memorial. While they are by no means exclusive to New Mexico or the Southwest, the term used here means, literally, “rest”. In former times, especially in rural Hispanic communities, the funeral procession (which was usually on foot) would stop at intervals on the way to the grave site in order to give those carrying the coffin a break from their heavy burden. A cross was placed at the location where the procession rested to commemorate the event. Nowadays, crosses or other memorial markers are placed where a person met the end of their earthly life, usually by automobile accident, even if the victim died at a hospital or someplace else. Often these markers are decorated with artificial flowers and religious items and it’s not unusual for the loved ones of the deceased to continue to decorate and keep up the site through an extended period of time, even years.
In New Mexico, there is no law protecting a “descanso” from being removed should the highway department find it necessary to do construction or road work, but Department of Transportation crews will usually avoid altering them or else will place them as close to the original spot as possible once the work is completed as a courtesy.
In “At the Crossroad”, a “descanso” in the opening scene sets the mood for the rest of the story. Later on in the story, three wooden crosses turn out to have far more grisly stories than a tragic car accident….
“At the Crossroad:
A Black Horse Campground Mystery”
Trouble often comes in threes. It’s no different at the Black Horse Campground.
On his first day as detective with the Bonney Police Department, J.D. Wilder finds three cold case files on his desk—three women who have disappeared over a fifteen year period at five year intervals. It seems that no one has ever taken the cases seriously… or even properly investigated them.
Then J.D. receives a visit from two former colleagues who inform him that he’s about to receive another visitor; a woman from his past who is in trouble and needs his help. Again. The timing couldn’t be worse, since he’s finally about to ask Corrie on a date, but then Corrie also has a visitor from her past show up… someone who’s hoping for a second chance with her. In the meantime, Sheriff Rick Sutton has his hands full dodging his ex-wife, Meghan, who insists on discussing personal business with him… business that has to do with digging up a painful past.
When three bodies are discovered that prove the missing women were murdered, J.D.’s investigation reveals that all of their visitors have some connection to the victims. But which one of them killed three women… and is prepared to kill again?
When trouble comes to Bonney County, Corrie, Rick, and J.D. band together to protect each other and their community. But can they solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again?
Amy Bennett’s debut mystery novel, “End of the Road”, started as a National Novel Writing Month project in 2009. It went on to win the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery Contest and launched the Black Horse Campground mystery series, followed by “No Lifeguard on Duty” and “No Vacancy”, which have both been awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. “At the Cross Road” is the fourth book in the series.
When not sitting at the laptop actively writing, she works full-time at Walmart of Alamogordo (not too far down the road from fictional Bonney County) as a cake decorator and part-time at Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso (where you can find some of the best wines in the state of New Mexico, including Jo Mamma’s White!) She lives with her husband and son in a small town halfway between Alamogordo and Ruidoso. Visit her website at www.amymbennettbooks.com and The Back Deck Blog at http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com
Excerpt from Chapter 14
J.D. returned to the Black Horse more wide awake than he had been in days. Amato’s words rang in his ears, while a voice in his head warned him that if he didn’t get some rest, he was going to be completely useless when the time came to have his wits about him and his energy. Still, a night spent in mostly inactivity wasn’t going to allow him to rest. He went into his cabin and changed into his running clothes. He needed to release some tension and energy if he was going to rest at all.
He slipped out of the cabin, casting a glance toward the campground store. It was almost six thirty a.m. and Corrie’s apartment light was on but the store’s lights were still out. He had missed the Friday night fish fry dinner, but he hoped to be back once she was open and be able to talk to her more. And get a decent breakfast.
He started out, following the path he’d taken a couple days earlier. The cool morning air was amazingly refreshing, helping clear his mind while invigorating and relaxing him at the same time. His breathing eased as his strides became more purposeful. He was near a breakthrough in the cold cases. He could feel it. Officer Amato had information that could help reveal the truth about what happened to the three women. After that… he’d have to wait and see.
He rounded the curve where he had seen the small cemetery the last time he had run this path and he slowed to a stop. He had pushed it to the back of his mind and had all but forgotten about it until this moment. Now was as good a time as any to pay his respects. His run had already accomplished its purpose. He knew he’d be able to sleep when he got to his cabin and he’d probably stroll back to the campground after this. He allowed himself a grin as he left the path, picking his way through the tall grass and brush to where the grave sites were.
Unlike most small cemeteries he’d encountered, there was no fence surrounding this one. In fact, there were only three wooden markers, crosses, all of them uniform but in different stages of weathering. He stopped when he got close enough to make out the lettering and suddenly the breath rushed out of him, leaving him feeling weak and dizzy with shock.
The first marker, the most faded, bore the name Carla Sandoval. The second, Rosalie Edwards. The third, the one with the least amount of weathering and the least faded lettering, read Benita Rojas.
Beside the one for Benita Rojas was an open grave. A plain wooden cross lay nearby. Both looked recent. Only a few days recent.
J.D. stumbled back, afraid that his eyes were playing tricks. He fumbled for his cell phone and let out an expletive when he realized he’d left it in his cabin when he changed his clothes. He reached the path and took off at a dead run back to the Black Horse Campground.
He’d been right; there had been more to the disappearances than what was common knowledge.
He hated it when he was right.