In my novel, THE CITY OF ROCKS, BJ Vinson can’t quite take his newest investigative case seriously. It involves the stealing of a duck, of all things. But this is a valuable duck with a large insurance claim riding on her fate. Still, he has trouble keeping a straight face while asking questions about a kidnapped bird. Until the thief dies under mysterious circumstances, that is. In the opening of Chapter 3, he’s located a friend of the murdered Liver Lips Martinson. Together, BJ and the man named Lopez decide to go search through Martinson’s small shack and see if the woman BJ saw there earlier is still on the premises.
THE CITY OF ROCKS
Lopez surprised me by agreeing to go check out the mystery woman. Within two minutes we were at Martinson’s front door. No one answered our knock. Lopez fished around underneath a rock beside the step and came up with an old-fashioned skeleton key. You wouldn’t catch me sticking my hand down there. Might find something beside a little scrap of metal.
The two-room shack was deserted. Liver Lips apparently had done his furniture shopping at the local dump. The sofa was ripped and worn. Dingy, once-white stuffing spilled out of both pillows. The threadbare arms were ten shades darker than the rest of the couch. A sagging chair and an ancient boom box on a listing, unpainted table completed the décor. There was nothing on the bare planking of the walls other than a big calendar still turned to last December.
The bed was the only piece of furniture in the other room. At first, I thought the mysterious woman was hiding under the covers, but the lump proved to be the mattress piled with a jumble of old clothes.
While I looked for something that might tell me why the late Liver Lips had stolen a duck, Lopez searched for something else. After a few minutes, he stood in the middle of the almost bare living room and swore in Spanish. Then he turned to me.
“Ain’t no woman here. Sure you seen her?”
“Talked to her standing right there in the doorway. What were you looking for?”
“Liver always had a little weed stowed away.”
“Maybe the woman took it.”
“Dammit, I coulda used that.”
I didn’t associate emaciation with pot smoking. Liver Lips and Lopez both looked more like meth users to me, and I told him so.
He cut his eyes at me. “No way.”
“I don’t really care. I need to figure out why Liver Lips would steal Mrs. Muldren’s duck.”
Lopez gave a mirthless laugh. “That what this is about? Old Mud Hen’s duck? That’s rich.”
At least, someone besides me saw the ridiculous side of this affair. “Why would he take her?”
“Who said he did?”
“He did. Told me that yesterday afternoon. Said he’d given her to somebody who wanted to play a trick on Mud Hen. But it scared the hell out of him when I asked who wanted him to steal the duck.”
Lopez’s nod was almost imperceptible. “Yeah. That sounds right.”
“Does that mean you know who put him up to it?”
“Don’t mean nothing. Nothing except Liver Lips was afraid of his shadow.”
“I hear Mud Hen’s a tough old bird, but he wasn’t afraid to go after her prize duck.”
“Look, man. What you want from me? I don’t know nothing about it. He stole her, that’s his business.”
“I just want to know what you can tell me about him.”
“Me’n Liver hung out some, you know, to smoke now and then, but he done his own thing. And I don’t know nothing about no duck stealing. Now I got to go. You coming?”
“Yeah. Nothing else here. Unless….” I glanced through a filthy window. There was an unpainted shack at the rear of the property. “Unless you want to check out that shed.”
“Might’s well. But he didn’t never use it.”
The shed was a bunch of boards thrown together and placed on the bare ground without a foundation of any sort. It was empty except for a block of wood with an axe imbedded in it. Nonetheless, Lopez was wrong. Liver Lips or someone had used the place recently. There were white chicken feathers on the ground near the blood-stained block. At least, I took them to be chicken feathers.
“Well, shit.” Lopez grinned. “Guess you found old Mud Hen’s duck. Leastways, what’s left of her. Good eating, I bet.”
Good Lord! Is Quacky Quack II done for? Plucked and eaten before the story even gets underway? One thing you can be certain of is that this mystery taking place down in New Mexico’s Boot Heel
country isn’t over.
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