I’d like to return to The City of Rocks for this week’s post. In the scene that follows, which takes place in Chapter 1, BJ Vinson, our intrepid PI, heads to The University of New Mexico Medical Center to find a man named Richard Martinson – nicknamed Liver Lips. The man is being treated for scratches on his arm which have become infected. BJ is tasked to question the man about the “kidnapping” of a valuable duck taken from a ranch down in the Boot Heel Country of southern New Mexico. Our PI is half-irritated and half-amused at being drawn into something he has trouble taking seriously.
I do not like walking into a situation I don’t understand, and I damned well didn’t understand this one. But I had no trouble locating Martinson in the waiting room at the hospital. Liver Lips. The young man's nickname described him perfectly. His thick, purple-hued, oral projections drew my eye like a magnet. It was only later I noticed he was skinny, seedy, and carried a generally disreputable air. Gray eyes darted here and there as if he were constantly searching for a bolt hole. The man’s scalp glistened through thin strands of frizzy blond hair. Whether talking or listening or simply idle, his dark tongue periodically snaked out to wash those heavy lips. Seldom had I been so thoroughly repulsed by another’s physical appearance.
He looked at me blankly after I handed over my card and introduced myself. “Who’d you say you are?”
I tapped the card he held in his hand. “I’m B. J. Vinson.”
“A private eye, huh. What you want with me?”
“I need to ask you a few questions.” I nodded at the bandages covering his forearms. “What happened?”
“Had a fight with a thorn bush. Frigging bush won.” He went for humor, glancing up through thin, colorless lashes to see if it had worked.
I pointed to the red veins snaking up out of the white bandages just short of his elbows. “Thorn bushes didn’t give you that infection. That’s blood poisoning. How’d you get it?”
“Tangled with the wrong bush, I guess. Then didn’t get it treated. Turned bad on me, I guess.”
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride down to my office where we can talk in private.”
“Ain’t got time. Gotta get outa here. I been here six frigging hours.”
“Okay, I’ll call Lt. Eugene Enriquez down at APD, and we’ll have this talk in his office.”
He blinked rapidly three times. “No cops, man. Don’t need no cops. I ain’t done nothing, so leave me alone.”
“What are you doing up here? You live down in Deming, don’t you?” I drew on the thin biography Del had provided.
“Ain’t no law against a man visiting the city. I guess that’s why they do all that advertising on TV for. You know, to get me to come up here and spend my money.”
“You want to tell me about it?”
“About what?” He seemed genuinely perplexed by my question.
“About stealing a valuable…bird.” If I’d said “duck” I’d have burst out laughing.
“Don’t guess I know what you’re talking about.”
“You do a lot of guessing, Richard. But I don’t think the Sheriff of Luna County would have sicced me on you if he was just guessing.”
“Hidalgo,” he blurted.
“Sheriff of Hidalgo County.”
“Okay, now that you’ve admitted you know all about the theft, tell me about it.”
“Didn’t admit nothing.”
“You know where the abduction…uh, theft took place. Stop wasting my time. What did you want with a prize duck named….” I stopped, unable to call a bird by that ridiculous name.
“Quacky Quack, the Second,” he said. “That’s what old Mud Hen calls her. Ain’t that a hoot?”
“Millicent Muldren. Everbody calls her Mud Hen.”
“She’s the duck’s owner?”
“Yeah. She’s run the Lazy M Ranch since her old man died.”
“Why’d you steal her duck?”
“Who says I did?”
“About everybody in the countryside,” I improvised. “Police chief, sheriff, Ms. Muldren. There’s a warrant out for your arrest. Talk to me, and maybe I can do something about that.”
Old Liver Lips wasn’t as dumb as he looked. Those blood-suffused appendages quivered a couple of times before he squared his thin shoulders. “Ain’t nobody gonna arrest me for nothing, I guess. Who’d press charges on something like that?”
“Well, Mud Hen for one, and the insurance company for another.”
“You didn’t know the owner had insured her property.”
“Shoot, I guess there ain’t no insurance company in the world that’d insure a frigging duck.”
I didn’t know much more than he did, but I couldn’t let up on him now. “Then you’d guess wrong. They’ll insure soap bubbles if you pay the premiums.”
Liver Lips wiggled in his chair, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “Uh…you said something about a warrant?”
BJ starts taking the “ducknapping” seriously when people begin turning up dead.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and let me hear from you.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.