David Cole's
THE KILLING MAZE
Deception is Everywhere
 
 
 
 
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THE KILLING MAZE
Chapter One
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I'd never seen a parrot in my life, and suddenly twenty or thirty of them plunged from the treetops in front of me. They flocked and shoaled like iridescent green fish through yuccas and teddy-bear cholla, finally settling in a stand of blue palo verdes.

"Mostly greens," a woman said behind me.

I turned in surprise, thinking I was alone on the path. I don't like surprises.

"Parrots," she said, her face drawn and tight underneath wraparound sunglasses. "Green parrots. It's a breed." A black sweatband partially covered long, black hair, pulled severely back into a ponytail. She wore a long-sleeved mauve silk shirt, buttoned at the neck, dark blue slacks, and low-heeled shoes. Her left hand slowly worked a rosary between slender, veined fingers, while her right hand dipped into a Louis Vuitton shoulder bag.

"I've been tracking them all over Tucson. Lost them last weekend, near Reid Park. But somebody told me that they'd come here to Tohono Chul."

She pulled a handful of sunflower seeds from the shoulder bag.

"Who's that?" Tigger's voice said in my ear.

"Don't know," I said, talking into the microphone clipped to my blouse.

The woman stepped backward, clutching the seeds tightly in her fist.

"You a cop?"

"No."

"They've been hassling me. Somebody living near Reid Park made a complaint. Said I put out so much birdseed that pigeons came around and crapped on their cars. If you're not a cop, why do you have that portable radio?"

"It's a cell phone. See?" I showed her how the earpiece and mike were plugged into the phone clipped to my jeans pocket. I smiled, wondering if she was my client. "I'm talking to a friend."

The woman drew back her arm and cast the seeds in a wide, graceful arc. The parrots preened and sang and one by one dropped to the ground to eat.

"There's some canary-winged parakeets in there, if you look close," she said. "And that cherry-headed guy is a long ways north of where he'd like to be. Look, look. He's feeding those two babies."

My mouth opened in wonder and I started to laugh at the babies as they pushed each other aside to get to the large male's mouth.

"The one with the red forehead is a thick build parrot. Ugly little fellow, right? Must be worth six, eight thousand dollars."

"Where did he come from?"

"Sonora. Mexico. Down in the Alamos Forest, about five hundred miles south of here. You can see all kinds of birds down there. Like, say, lilac-crowned and white-fronted Amazon parrots."

"That's wonderful," I said. "Listen, umm..." Trying to interrupt her.

"The Amazon." Her eyes had that faraway stare of a fanatic, as she worked her mind through places she'd once seen or imagined. "Not so much riparian forest. Much greener. Lush monsoon country. Snakes, oh Jesus. There was this boa constrictor -- "

"Are you here to meet somebody?" I asked abruptly.

The woman eyed the cell phone, her fingers working deliberately along the rosary beads as though she was counting the parrots.

"I am a fool for women," she said finally, turning away. "But not today, I think."

Tohono Chul is a nonprofit Tucson park, dedicated to showing and preserving Sonoran desert vegetation. Spread out over forty-eight acres, with several parking lots and many looped trails, I could guarantee privacy when talking to clients. I rarely meet clients face-to-face because I don't like them seeing me. But this time was an exception and it was making me nervous. I passed a water fountain and, bending over to drink from the spray, I fingered my belt pouch, wanting to take another Ritalin or two, just to keep me focused. Sliding the zipper open and closed, open and closed, trying to resist the pills.

And it was morning. Another thing I don't like, being away from my computers before noon, when the Internet gets totally clogged in the Southwest. This morning was particularly frustrating because I'd started my weekly searches to see if the federal arrest warrants were still out for Laura Winslow. It was a weekly thing I did, but today I had to leave the house before the search was completed.

I quickly pulled out two Ritalin pills and washed them down. The water was tepid and metallic and I popped some bubblegum in my mouth to get rid of the taste.

"She's at thirty-seven," Tigger said. "But she's not alone."

"Who else?"

"A teenage girl. Mexican, punk red hair, silver rings everywhere."

"What are they doing?"

'The client sat down, patted the bench beside her. The girl just sat down also."

"I'm coming over."

Tigger's real name was Tigist. She was Ethiopian, scarcely five feet tall, with luminous kohl-blackened eyelids and intense ocean-green irises, the eyes set deep over a long, slightly hooked nose in the exact middle of a thin face. Since few people remembered how to pronounce her name, she'd started calling herself Tigger after reading a Pooh book to her son. And the name fit, since both the fictional and the real Tigger were always nervous, excited, bouncing up and down with relentless energy.

Tigger was a Fugitive Recovery Agent. She tracked down bailskippers, arresting them without any help except assorted stun guns. I never met a client without having Tigger look them over first, then staying out of sight during the meeting so she could track the client back to a vehicle and make sure it left before I did. It's part paranoia, I tell you, but I've got fixed rules about security. And the first rule is to make sure that clients are exactly who they claim to be. Another rule is to avoid letting them know things about me, which was why I disliked personal meetings...

THE KILLING MAZE
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Accessory to Murder, from HarperCollins, at MysteryNet.com: The Online Mystery Network,
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