Read Parrot Blues Online

Authors: Judith Van Gieson

Parrot Blues (10 page)

“Maybe he's depositing the instructions
he takes the ransom,” Terrance said.

Maybe, I thought.

“He has to key in some amount to make a deposit. Right?” he asked Charlie.

True,” Charlie replied.

Wes Brown took several bills and a deposit slip out of the backpack, put them into an envelope and deposited it. We couldn't read the bills from here. Maybe the deposit slip contained instructions for Deborah's and Perigee's return. Maybe not.

“Should I get someone over there to pick up the deposit?” Charlie asked.

“Wait a minute,” said Terrance. “Let's see what he does next.”

What Wes Brown did next was take his receipt and his ATM card and put them into his jeans pocket. He didn't ask for two hundred thousand dollars. He didn't ask for anything. He straightened his hat, shouldered the backpack, turned around and walked away. My eyes followed him into the door of Midnight Cowboy. Terrance got right on his C phone and told all his security men to go to the mall and tail him.

“Why's he walking away from the money?” Charlie asked.

“Your security man scared him off,” I said.

“Then why did he deposit the instructions?”

“We don't know yet that he did.”

“See that guy going into Midnight Cowboy?” Terrance asked.


“He's mine. He's a professional. Something else scared Brown. He'll be back at the machine. He's not gonna walk away from two hundred thousand dollars.”

“If you say so,” Charlie said.

“He looks just like anybody else, right?” Terrance asked.

A man dressed in jeans and a cowboy hat was going into the bar just as Charlie had said, but he didn't look like a cowboy to me; his upper body was too well developed. This was a guy who pumped iron. His jeans were old and baggy, and he held a C phone in his hand.

“Cowboys don't carry cellular phones,” Charlie said.

“Sure they do. Ranching is a business just like any other.”

“Do you want me to send someone to pick up the deposit now?” Charlie asked.

“That'll scare him into the next county,” Terrance replied.

While they argued the point, my attention was drawn to the Tramway monitor. Someone wearing a black cowboy hat identical to Wes Brown's, a long duster of the type cowboys wear in bad weather and gauntlets approached the ATM on Tramway. That cowboy, looking at the ground and hiding behind the hat, walked up to the machine, reached into the duster with the kind of quick and furtive gesture that produces a piece, pulled out a card, and inserted it.

“Look at your monitor, Charlie,” I said. “Is a PIN number coming up on Tramway?”

Yeah. Two-four-seven-three, and the machine is accepting it. He's keying in two hundred thousand.”

“Goddamn,” Terrance said, “look at that.” The cowboy's face was still shadowed by the hat brim. The hair was hidden under the hat. The cowboy looked up into the camera, but all we saw was a mask made of feathers with holes for the mouth, nose and eyes. Some of the feathers were dark and bristly, others were soft and light. They could have come from parrots, they could have come from hawks, they could have come from sparrows. It was impossible to tell in the grainy black-and-white image of the surveillance camera. The mask had a frightening and primitive power. There was nothing behind it but the white wall, the darkening sky and the mountains where the coyotes yap all night.

Terrance was immediately on the phone, giving orders to his security men. “He's at Tramway. Tail him,” he barked, but they had followed his previous instructions and left for Midnight Cowboy. Terrance turned apoplectic as the masked bandit collected the money, two hundred thousand-dollar bills, and put them into a money belt hidden beneath the duster. No doubt there was a pistol or a semiautomatic under there, too. Nobody walks around with two hundred thousand in cash and no protection. The machine did its duty and asked if the customer wanted another transaction. Feathered mask punched the No button, tipped the hat to the camera, turned around, bent over, slipped the mask under the duster and walked away, presumably to a vehicle that was out of camera range. The transfer had been made. Terrance had kept his part of the bargain. The question now was whether Wes Brown had kept the other part and left instructions for the return of Terrance's wife and bird. The answer was to be found in the deposit envelope. Feathered mask was not going to be tailed and, in fact, was long gone by the time Terrance's security men got back to Tramway. They never even discovered what kind of getaway vehicle had been driven—or flown.

Charlie got on
phone. “Now I'm getting someone to Midnight Cowboy to pick the deposit up,” he said.

“You do that,” answered Terrance, sinking into his chair. He'd lost his money and a suspect. The starch was going out of his shirt. What do you expect from minimum wage security men? I was tempted to ask, but it hadn't been their fault. They'd only been following Terrance's orders.

“How many ATM cards did Deborah have?” I asked Charlie.

“We only issued one, but the magnetic stripe can be copied easily enough. Brown used the original, his accomplice used the copy, or vice versa. It doesn't really matter. They were both capable of putting money in and taking money out. Well,” he said to Terrance, “I'd say your kidnapper had an accomplice after all.”

Or a betrayer.

While we waited for the deposit envelope, Terrance burned up the airwaves talking to his security
who had nothing better to do than go back to Midnight Cowboy and spy on Wes Brown. “He's picking up a waitress,” Terrance said.

“What are your men going to do if he takes her home?” I asked.

“Follow him. Maybe he'll connect with the mask somewhere. I'm not letting Brown out of my sight until this is all over.”

“It'll be hard to follow anybody to Door without being made,” Charlie said. “No cover there.”

The bank employee arrived eventually and handed Charlie the deposit envelope. “Thanks,” Charlie said. He slit the envelope with a letter opener, put tape over the tips of his fingers and slid the deposit slip and money out. Terrance and I leaned over his shoulder to see. The money added up to two hundred dollars in twenty-dollar bills.

“Phew.” Charlie wrinkled up his nose. “That money stinks.”

It did have a moldy, earthy smell.

“I never heard of a kidnapper giving money back before,” Terrance said.

“Beats me,” said Charlie.

He examined the deposit slip. Brown had penciled in the amount, two hundred dollars, on one side. The other side was as blank as the wall behind the Tramway ATM. Terrance shined the black light on it; hand-printed letters rose to the surface with a yellow glow. “Send your lawyer Rte. 270, Mile Marker 62 Sunday night with two hundred thousand in hundred-dollar bills. No police, no phones, no security guards. Your valuables will be returned.”

“Shit,” I said.

“Hundred-dollar bills will be harder to carry, but easier to come by,” Terrance said.

“Two-seventy is the road that will get you to Door,” said Charlie.

“You'll do it, won't you?” Terrance asked me.

“I don't know,” I responded. Acting as a ransom courier struck me as going above and beyond the call of duty.

“I'll double your fee,” said Terrance.

“Um,” I replied.

“Someone has to rescue Deborah,” Charlie said. “Her life is in danger.”

And Perigee, I knew, was dying without his mate. “Oh, all right,” I said while asking myself why. For the money? For the love of adventure? For the sake of the woman and the bird? I'd already risked my life once for a bird, and I hadn't regretted it. “But only on one condition. I'm not going alone.”

“No police or security guards,” Terrance parroted the note.

“Not them. I'm taking a weapon, and I'm taking a friend.” The person I intended to take was the Kid, the one friend I had whose taste for adventure was as keen as mine. The weapon was my LadySmith

“Is this person reliable?” Terrance asked.

A lot more reliable than his security guards, I thought. “Yeah,” I said. “And he knows all about birds.”

“All right,” Terrance said. “Do you have a cell phone?”


“Take mine.”

“The note said no phones.”

“Leave it in the car. I want to outfit you with a minicam so we'll have some evidence to use against Brown.”

“What's a minicam?”

“A tiny video camera, about half the size of your thumb. Police departments hide them in their helmets. It'll work inside a cowboy hat.”

“You want me to wear a cowboy hat at night?” I asked.

“It'll keep you from getting moonstruck,” Charlie said.


the Kid and I share is maps. We read them the way some people read legal thrillers. The places we haven't been are the unsolved mysteries. The Kid always keeps the two Mexicos, old and new, folded up in his glove compartment, and one Argentina in case he ever gets back. He folds his road maps carefully, keeping to the original creases as if to make sure that the roads and towns won't be mixed up when he opens them again. He brought his New Mexico map inside my apartment, spread it on the floor and located Door, a tiny circle at the far edge of Grant County with a dotted line (a dirt road, the kind of road that makes a car old before its time) leading to it from State Highway 270. Door was near the Gila National Forest, the first designated wilderness area in the U.S., land the Apaches once roamed. There are fewer people living in parts of the Gila now than there were when the Apaches and the cavalry were battling over it. The fact that a place merits a dot on the map means that somebody lived there once, not necessarily that anybody lives there now.

“There was a
in that town,” the Kid said.

“I know.”

“Did you know that the New Mexico
lived around there?”


“Not many people know that. They were illegals,” he smiled. “They ate piñones. Sometimes you see them in Mexico now, but there are not many left.”

“What do they look like?”

“They are this big.” He held his hands about fifteen inches apart. “They are green with red here…” he tapped his shoulders, “…and here…” he tapped his forehead.” They call them thick-billed parrots in this country.”

“What happened to them?” It was a question I should have known better than to ask.

ate them.”


They eat
in Mexico too. People there think they are good food.
are always together, they are
muy ruidoso…

Very noisy.

“They are easy to catch. The ones the
didn't eat were food for the

The pigs. “That's disgusting.”

are gone now, but so are the birds. They kill everything in a place and then they leave. Crazy, no?”


“There is a man in Arizona now, trying to bring them back.”

“Good,” I said.

“Where is it exactly that we are going?”

“Mile marker sixty-two on Route Two-Seventy.”

We found 270 on the map. I measured sixty-two miles in scale from the border. The Kid measured the distance in kilometers. We arrived at the same place, a few miles north of Door near an area marked Cotorra Canyon.

means parrot,” he said.

“I thought
meant parrot.”

“It does, and it is more common than
cotorra. Cotorra
also means a … how you say it? … a woman who talks too much.”

“A chatterbox?”

“I also hear it called Chatterbox Canyon.”

“You know about that canyon?”

“Yes, but I never went there. It's a place the

“Sixty-two miles from the border?”

He shrugged. “Why not? The police are more careful near the border. Look,” he pointed to the map, “there is nobody around.”

He was right. There wasn't another town for thirty or forty miles, and that town was an equally tiny dot. Door would be a good place to hide a woman or a bird or a couple hundred thousand dollars. “Why is it called Cotorra Canyon?” I asked.

“Maybe it is on the path the Indians used to trade parrots. The Indians here liked the red Mexican

“Maybe it's a place they are traded now. According to Terrance Lewellen, Wes Brown is a parrot smuggler.”

“Maybe there is an
there,” the Kid said. “The voice of one woman is the voice of twenty.”

“There's only one way to find out,” I said.

We had calculated that Door would take us four hours, so we left at one-thirty to allow time to get lost and time to get ready. We brought along my aunt Joan's birding binoculars, which were worth more than my car. I was packing my Punch and my LadySmith .38. The Kid went unarmed. I knew he'd come, and I knew he'd come unarmed. His feeling is that if you can't take care of yourself without a gun, you
be able to do it with one. We had a different attitude toward weapons, but the same love of adventure. Maybe the Kid and I weren't a perfect match in society's eyes, but there had to be some connection deep in the threads of our DNA. Also, this adventure would take place in former Apache country and, if all went as planned, we'd be coming back with a rare and beautiful bird.

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