Tales from The Trail – A Duke’s Mixture

On tour I have a little rolling Rick Steves bag that my mother would say contains a “Duke’s mixture.”  The term meant a little bit of everything as she used it, and I always assumed it had something to do with British royalty.  It turns out, I was wrong, and I think Evie, my mother, would be surprised to know that it was actually a brand of tobacco used for rolling your own cigarettes.

For me the bag’s Duke’s mixture is made up of an oddball collection of necessary stuff that needs to come into the hotel with us each night—electronics, special pillows, big containers of hair spray, hearing aid batteries, charging cords, extra scrunchies, a new packet of makeup remover towelettes, and my nightgown.  In other words, it contains a collection of necessary but unrelated items. And this week’s blog/newsletter will be the same thing—a Duke’s mixture.

In all the uproar of touring, the paperback edition of Proof of Life showed up on sale without my making note of it or informing my DTRs that it was available.  Sorry, guys.  The book is out there. This is your official notice that Beaumont is back, and I should have let you know about that in a more timely fashion.

I had hoped to announce that Duel to the Death made the NYTimes list.  We didn’t.  Missed it by one.  And being #36 on the USA Today list is a pretty reasonable showing.  Thanks to everyone who bought early and often.

Audio readers often write to me asking about how to access those early books in my series.  Tricia Clapp from Mostly Books in Tucson sent me the following information which I’m copying here so the links will work:  “I have asked Libro.fm to create 4 playlists, one for each of your series.  They have done so.  Here is the link:  https://www.mostlybooksaz.com/librofm-playlists.  Any indie store that has signed up with Libro.fm can add them to their site.”

Moving on, in last week’s blog I recounted how, at a signing in Mesa, I met up with a woman related to a serial killer from Tucson in 1970.  My first husband’s encounter with him is what ultimately compelled me to write my first never published mystery.  In that blog I promised another book tour miracle this week, and here it is.

At the signing event in Sedona, a man came up to the table, held out his hand, and said, “I’m here, and it’s a God thing.”  I wasn’t at all sure what was coming next.  Book signing encounters can be disturbing to say the least.  Years ago, a man approached me at a signing table and asked, “Are you the lady who writes the mysteries?” I told him yes.  “I’ve just been acquitted of murdering seven people,” he continued. “Do you want to write my book?”  NO, THANK YOU!!!!  And I was concerned the “God” man would turn out to be a similar kind of nut job.

He motioned to a woman standing at the end of the table.  “I want to introduce you to Douglas Davis’s first fiancée, Mary ….”  Those of you who have seen me at events know that I have a hearing loss that hearing aids don’t quite overcome.  In the uproar of people around the table I never did catch the last name.  There was a long line of people waiting to have their books signed, so I asked him if he would mind stepping aside and waiting to the end so we could visit.

People who have read Beaumont # 21, Second Watch, know that Doug Davis was a real person—a bright, handsome, wonderful guy from Bisbee, Arizona, who was valedictorian of the BHS class of 1961.  He went from Bisbee High to West Point, West Point to Ranger School, and Ranger School to Vietnam where, on August 2, 1966, he died in the Pleiku Highlands.  With the help of Bonnie Abney, the woman who was engaged to Doug at the time of his death, I intertwined Doug’s real life into Beaumont’s fictional one in a book called Second Watch.  At the end of the book is an essay called “The Story Behind Second Watch.  At the front of that essay is a photo of Doug that was taken by one of his West Point classmates on July 30, two days before his death.  It was a picture that was located and sent to both Bonnie and me only after the book was written.

I think you could say I was gobsmacked by the God man encounter.  Doug had another fiancée?  Really?  I remember him as an entirely honorable guy. The idea that he might have been two-timing Bonnie was unthinkable, and yet the whole time I was signing books in Sedona, that was exactly what I was thinking.

At last the signing ended, and I had a chance to speak to the couple in private.  It turns out Mary hailed from Bisbee and was a neighbor of Doug’s family up on Quality Hill.  She was several years older than he was.  They began dating and became engaged while Doug was at West Point.  She told me that during his Junior year, when she was visiting him and they were discussing wedding plans, she should see that something was wrong.  “I don’t think your heart is in this,” she told him, and he allowed as how maybe getting married was a bad idea.  They called the whole thing off in an amicable manner but only on the condition that Doug tell his mother, Bena Cook.  Mary and Bena remained friends.

So there was no overlap between first and second fiancées.  Bonnie didn’t meet Doug until a year and a half later.  When he died, Mary wrote to her mother in Bisbee asking if she should come to the funeral.  “No,” her mother told her, “there’s another young woman in his life now.” So Mary graciously stayed home.

The husband, whose name I never did catch, recounted how, when he was out of town on a trip, he picked up a copy of Second Watch.  When he turned the page and saw that photo, he immediately called Mary and said, “Our Douglas is in a book.”

That’s how they both referred to him as “our Douglas.”   The man especially seemed overwhelmed by emotion.  “I wish I’d had someone like him as my commanding officer,” he said.  He told me that he’d had a half-written e-mail to me sitting in his computer for months.  I hope he finishes and sends it, because I’d like to know more.  And I’d like to be able to put Mary and her husband in touch with Bonnie.  More that fifty years later, they’re all still grieving over losing him.  Mary said she had some photos and mementos that she’d like to pass along to Bonnie, and I hope we can make that happen.

As for how this couple from somewhere else happened to show up at my book signing that day?  They came to Sedona to visit some friends staying in a time share, and the friends happened to mention that I was going to be in town that afternoon.  See there?  The man was right—it really was a God thing—what Bonnie and I like to refer to as a Second Watch miracle.  Having that photo of Doug show up in Bonnie’s and my e-mail accounts was another one.  And having someone in San Antonio recognize Doug the moment he saw Michael Reagan’s Fallen Heroes portrait made from that photo was yet another.

I wrote Second Watch hoping to make sure that Doug Davis, or Lennie D, as he was known in the Army, was not forgotten.  And that Sunday encounter  in Sedona with his “first fiancée” continues to provide proof positive that he is not.