Read Parrot Blues Online

Authors: Judith Van Gieson

Parrot Blues (9 page)

“Anything that could explain Deborah's disappearance and tell me where she is. Terrance is responsible. I know it.”

It wouldn't be the first time a husband had faked a kidnapping to get rid of an annoying wife. It was an idea I wouldn't have given voice to myself, but I didn't stop him from doing it.

“He's a power-hungry man. He hates Deborah, and he'll do anything to get out of the marriage. Anything. Especially if he thinks it'll save him money.”

Anybody could fake evidence and clip the
Journal,
I knew, and Terrance's money could buy a digital voice changer just as fast as Wes Brown's.

“Where'd you get the feather?” he asked, pointing to the one in the glass on my desk.

“Terrance gave it to me.”

“If you know where Deborah is or what he's done with her, tell me, please.”

“I don't know where she is,” I said. “And that's all I can tell you. Terrance is my client, and I am not at liberty to talk about his affairs with you or anyone else.”

“Do you have to tell him I was here?”

“Yes. Now unless you have something pertinent to say, I want you out of here. I have work to do.”

“Do you always work this late?” Some of his hair had fallen out of the ponytail and curled around his face. He brushed it away. I was close enough by now for our eyes to quickly meet and quickly dart away. I handed him back his glasses. Had the circumstances been different, we might have been friendly. We might even have flirted. He was only a few years younger than the Kid, but they were a critical few, and the Kid's background aged him, in my eyes anyway.

“Not always, but I had a drink with a client at La Posada, and there's a job I have to get done tonight so I came back here.” If I hadn't, the back door would have been open all night, and who knows
who
we'd have found sleeping in our chairs in the morning.

“Was Deep Purple playing at La Po?” he asked me.

“The blues band?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes.”

“I like the blues. They have a lead singer who sounds just like Janis Joplin.”

“She's grittier than Janis Joplin was,” I said, thinking that Janis Joplin had been oil-town gritty.

“You were lucky to have lived through the sixties. The music was better then.”

True enough. Some days I felt like I was walking around with a big six-o branded into my forehead. “Right. Tell me about Deborah,” I said since he seemed to feel like chatting.

“What do you want to know?”

“How did she feel about Terrance?”

“She loved him, then she hated him, then she loved to hate him. It always was a difficult relationship.”

“Does she have a big ego?”

The flash in his eyes made him look downright appealing. “And why shouldn't she?” he asked. “She's accomplished a lot.”

“And Alice? Has she accomplished a lot?”

“No, not as much as Deborah anyway, but she's good with birds.” Talking about Alice had brought a blush to his cheeks. He put the granny glasses back on.

“Go for it,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

“Cut your hair, stop trying to be smarter than everyone else and go for it. Alice would notice.”

“How do you know?”

“I'm a woman. Trust me. I know. And get rid of the glasses.”

“These are John Lennon glasses.”

“John Lennon could sing. Can you?”

“No.”

“Then get rid of the glasses. Stuff the sixties. Find your own style and music.” That was my advice for the evening. I like to give advice as much as anyone, but I had a collateral agreement to bang out. “Now get out of here; I have work to do.”

“Thanks,” he said.


Por nada,
” I replied.

6

T
ERRANCE'S COMMENT ON
the break-in was, “I'll deal with him later.” He got to Charlie's office before I did on Friday evening, and he'd kept his part of the bargain by delivering the Lochovers.
Gila Bend
was already hanging on the wall next to
The Bosque.
The other two were leaning in the corner. The paintings on the wall were perfectly matched in every way, like two strands of DNA, like a pair of Russian figure skaters, like Perigee and Colloquy. The early
Bosque
seemed even more beautiful with the late
Gila
at its side. They complemented each other in color and in spirit.
The Bosque
had the subdued reds and browns of winter.
Gila Bend
was autumn's old gold. And under the leaves of each, the blue water flowed. Up close both had a feathery attention to detail that from a distance became something else. After seeing these paintings together, I couldn't help thinking that separating them would be a crime.

Charlie stood under the ceiling fixture that highlighted the gold and silver in his hair. “They're a pair, aren't they?” he asked me.

“Yes.”

“Take care of my paintings,” Terrance said.

“Taking care of assets is my business,” Charlie said.

When I walked in the men had been arguing about the use of security people to monitor the money drop. They resumed the argument. Terrance's plan, he said, was that his men would pick Wes Brown up at the ATM and tail him until Terrance got his property back.

“We do have a federal and a local police force with experience in these matters that your tax dollars are paying for,” Charlie said.

“They'll screw it up.” Terrance stuck to his guns. “My guys are good. They could follow Brown into the bathroom without being made.”

“Where'd you get them?” Charlie asked.

“ABC.”

“That place will hire anyone who'll pack a piece.”

“Who do you use?”

“A-1.”

“They'll hire anyone who'll work for minimum wage. You get what you pay for.”

“Not always,” said Charlie.

“I'm not going through with this without my men,” Terrance said.

C
harlie looked at his watch. “It's too late to change the plan now. Let's get on with it.” He led us down the hall to BankWest's electronic surveillance room, where TV screens were mounted on the wall to monitor the ATMs.

I've never thought much about surveillance myself; when you've got nothing, you've got nothing to hide. Until the Circle K murder I believed ATM cameras came on when the customer accessed the machine. The Circle K case taught me that the camera is always on, and it records whatever happens to step in front of its eye.

We sat around the table in the windowless room that was command central and watched the monitors. It wasn't quite eight yet, but the cameras were already reporting back from the selected ATMs. Someone had left an ashtray on the table, a good thing; this could become a two-pack night. I lit up and watched the customers as they approached the cameras. Their faces widened as they got close, like curious fish. We might have been scientists observing them through a porthole. The customers were as silent as deep-sea dwellers too, but every now and then one of them mouthed an angry word because after eight the machines refused to take any card but Deborah Dumaine's.

“The kidnapper will go to the mall.” Terrance spoke with his know-it-all executive authority. “They like to collect ransoms with lots of people around. Besides, it's right next to the Midnight Cowboy. He can always hang around there unnoticed until he's ready to collect the drop.” Unless, of course, he was a good-looking cowboy; they never go unnoticed. I hadn't asked Terrance how good-looking the suspect was; when it came to Wes Brown, Terrance Lewellen had blinders on.

Our eyes turned toward Monitor Number 1, where the mall camera was recording and timing all that it saw. The door to Midnight Cowboy was visible in the background, but nobody happened to be going in or out. A woman who was wearing a squash blossom silver necklace walked up to the machine, inserted her card, punched in her PIN and blocked our view of the Midnight Cowboy door. She stepped up close and squinted, apparently trying to read the out of service notice. “I'll be damned,” she mouthed and turned away.

I'd driven around that morning, scouted the various drop sites and made my choice. “He'll go to Tramway,” I said. “It's more isolated.” That ATM was tucked into a lonely corner of a supermarket parking lot in the foothills of the Sandias. “He'll have more time to collect the money without being noticed. How's he going to do that at the mall?”

“He'll create a diversion,” Terrance said.

Alone? I wondered.

Our eyes turned toward the Tramway monitor. The camera was registering no customers at the moment, just a guy hanging around in the background. There was a blank, white warehouse wall behind him and beyond that, barely visible on the screen, the base of the Sandias. The only way he could have
been
more obvious was if he'd been wearing the turban of a Sikh security guard.

“No kidnapper's going to use that ATM with your security man in the background,” I said. “You'd have to be down more than a quart—you'd have to be running on empty—to collect a drop with that guy there.”

“You get what you pay for,” Charlie said.

Terrance walked up close to the screen, took a good look, got on his cell phone and called his security.

“Get some cover, you asshole,” he snapped.

The security guard obeyed Terrance's orders and stepped out of sight—of the camera anyway.

“Ever since Laura Simonson got held up at that machine, women won't use it,” Charlie Register said. “We're thinking about shutting it down.”

“How's she doing?” I asked.

“Not good. The robber knocked her to the ground and gave her a concussion.” Another victim of Albuquerque crime. We see them nightly on the six o'clock news.

“My choice would be Page One,” Charlie said. “That's a busy area; women like that machine.”

“We're not looking for a woman,” Terrance said. “We're looking for a man.”

“Wherever you find a woman, you'll find a man,” said Charlie.

Page One Bookstore is the Times Square of Albuquerque. If you hang out there long enough, sooner or later everybody you know in town will show up. As we watched the Page One monitor, a woman in a baseball cap, white leggings and running shoes came up to the machine, inserted her card and smiled for the camera. She tried it twice, not believing the machine had rejected her.

“Shit,” she fish-mouthed, taking back her card.

My eyes turned back to Midnight Cowboy, where a guy in a fedora slouched up to the window, glanced at his reflection in the screen and straightened his hat brim. “What about him?” I asked.

“He's not Wes Brown,” Terrance said.

“An accomplice?”

“Naah. Brown's a loner.”

That ATM rejected the slouch as it had everyone else. “Screw you,” fedora mouthed.

“Nice hat,” I said.

“Good way to hide a bald spot,” said Charlie.

“Um,” said Terrance.

“This operation is costing me, Lewellen.”

“Me too,” said Terrance, eyeing his Lochovers.

Seeing the world through the ATM cyclops was entertaining for a while, but it was the same thing
over
and over; a face appeared at the screen, got rejected, went away. Fedora showed up again at Page One and got even more pissed than he had at Midnight Cowboy. I didn't blame him. Who'd want to spend their evening visiting ATMs? A lot of people went to Page One and Midnight Cowboy, only a few to Tramway, and all of them were male: a couple of skateboarders in turned-backward hats, a policeman in uniform, a cowboy. I'd never make it as a police officer or a cowboy myself; it's too hard to make the transition from slow boredom to quick terror.

Terrance grabbed my arm. “That's him,” he said, pointing toward the Midnight Cowboy machine, where a cowboy was sauntering up to the screen. “Goddamn.”

The cowboy looked at the ground as he walked, and his face was shadowed by a black hat, the kind of hat, the Apaches say, that fries your brains in the summer sun.

“How can you tell?” I asked. “All I see is the crown of the hat.”

“I know his walk,” Terrance said.

The suspect did have a distinctive, shuffling walk. Had there been any dust, he would have been kicking it. He wore a cowboy's wide-striped shirt (I could see a pack of cigarettes in the breast pocket), jeans that hadn't yet had the stiffness washed out of them, and a backpack. The clothes cowboys put on to come to town tend to be newer than other people's, giving them an untouched-by-civilization look. This cowboy walked up to the ATM, hitched up his pants, reached into his hip pocket and took out a card. He tipped his hat back, stared at the screen and gave us a good look.

The cowboy's hair was straight, thick and shoulder length. It could have been gray, it could have been blond. It was hard to tell on the black-and-white screen. His face turned as wide and white as a fish's belly as he closed in on the camera, but before it did I could see that he had the even features of a good-looking cowboy and the hangdog expression of a lonesome cowboy, a combination many women cannot resist. Wes Brown appeared nervous. He brushed his nose with a finger, straightened his hat, hitched up his pants and inserted the card into the machine. Deborah's PIN number—2473—came up instantly on the monitor Charlie had hooked up to tell him when Deborah's account was accessed.

“There goes your money, Lewellen,” Charlie said.

Terrance made a fist and punched it into the palm of his other hand. Kissing two hundred thousand dollars good-bye wasn't easy.

Wes Brown looked over his shoulder, then he keyed in the amount of two hundred dollars.

“He's missing three zeros,” Terrance said. “I told you he was dumber than dirt.”

“He's making a deposit,” Charlie said. “Not a withdrawal.”

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