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Authors: Abigail Padgett

Tags: #Mystery, #Native American, #Social Work, #Southern California, #Child Protective Services, #Shark, #ADHD, #St. Louis

Moonbird Boy

BOOK: Moonbird Boy
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Moonbird Boy
Bo Bradley [4]
Abigail Padgett
Mysterious Pr (1996)
Rating:
***
Tags:
Mystery, Native American, Social Work, Southern California, Child Protective Services, Shark, ADHD, St. Louis

There has never been a place like Ghost Flower Lodge, Bo muses while recovering from a bout with depression. Located on 5,000 barren acres in the high desert land of the Neji Indian reservation, the Lodge has lived up to its reputation as an innovative psychiatric healing center. At Ghost Flower, Bo finds renewed strength and cherished friendship in the company of fellow lodgemate Mort Wagman, a brilliant young stand-up comic. But Bo's solace is shattered the day Mort's bullet-riddled body is found on the rim of nearby Yucca Canyon. Concerned that Mort's orphaned son, Bird, will be abandoned to the court system, a devastated Bo vows to find the boy's relatives - and his father's murderer. Was Mort shot by some random drunk roaming the desert? If not a meaningless crime, then who would want to kill the personable, harmless Mort? And who would have known how to find the canyon, accessible only by foot? The road to truth proves more treacherous than any desolate desert path. First Bo is plagued by a series of mysterious phone calls. Then she discovers that Mort had been a man of many strange secrets. His life may be the key to his death as Bo slowly realizes that his murder is somehow connected to unknown forces out to destroy Ghost Flower Lodge. Now Bo is locked in an impossible battle as she finds herself fighting an enormous power with the wealth and clout to vanquish anything that stands in its way...including a persistent investigator.

MOONBIRD BOY

NOVELS BY ABIGAIL PADGETT

Child of Silence

Strawgirl

Turtle Baby

Moonbird Boy

The Dollmaker’s Daughters

Blue

The Last Blue Plate Special

Bone Blind

ABIGAIL PADGETT

First printing: April 1996

10 98765432 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Padgett, Abigail.

Moonbird boy / Abigail Padgett.

p. cm. ISBN 0-89296-613-0 (hard) I. Title. PS3566. A3197M66 1996 813',54—dc20 95-40540

CIP

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To Mary Daly for discovering in Gyn/Ecology the dark history that gives this book its lurking viper.

To Michael Burleigh, Reader in International History, London School of Economics and Political Science, for the inspiration of his scholarship.

To Laurie Weir, Principal with Arkhos-Tekton, Inc. of Los Angeles, for technical advice on the architecture of rammed-earth dwellings.

To anthropologist Florence Connolly Shipek for sharing information amassed during her lifelong commitment to the Kumeyaay.

To the Kumeyaay, for surviving.

Author's note: While numerous bands of Kumeyaay Indians survive and even thrive on reservation lands within San Diego County, the Neji Band and their beloved Ghost Flower Lodge are entirely fictional.

MOONBIRD BOY

Prologue

The shark was old. Forty-two years had passed since she writhed from the body of her mother in the same shallow coastal waters where she now lazily observed a young California sea lion playing too far from the offshore rocks. At birth the shark had been only four feet long and weighed less than fifty pounds. Now she approached seventeen feet in length and weighed two tons. Her milky underside had prompted another, equally predatory species to name her grand requin blanc, grande squalo bianco, Weisshai. The great white shark.

Her ancestors had roamed Paleozoic seas nearly four hundred fifty million years before that other species, a landlocked ape, saw its own opposable thumb, grabbed a stick, and quickly assumed its place at the top of the terrestrial food chain. The human.

Its sweetish, fatty meat held little culinary interest for the great white. Like all sharks she preferred the more familiar taste of aquatic flesh. Only the blood of the little ape, its chemical composition similar to the seawater in which its distant origins lay, could create more than a passing attraction in the huge olfactory bulbs of her brain.

A quarter-mile from the safety of the rocks now, the young sea lion felt something in the water far beneath him. A shadow, moving away and then turning back with terrible purpose. The shadow arched its head toward the sparkling surface of the water and lowered a massive jaw. Three curved rows of triangular, serrated teeth, two rows in the lower jaw and one above, reflected the sun's light. The sea lion felt a consuming fear.

The shark's eyes, the only surface of her body not covered with an armor of overlapping, toothlike denticles, were rolled back in her skull. The sea lion raced through sunlit surface swells toward the impossibly distant rocks, using every resource of his immature body. His terror was a metallic scent in the water as his efforts failed. And then he wasn't in the water but airborne against the blue sky, catapulted above the water's surface by a massive flick of the shark's double-lobed tail as she turned abruptly to the south.

Blood! There was blood in the water less than three miles away. Molecules of hemoglobin and serum albumin, quickly dispersed by ocean currents, wafted through powerfully sensitive nasal sacs inside the shark's nostrils. The scent notified her brain to choreograph a sequence of events five hundred million years in development. All ten of her gills automatically pumped an extra surge of oxygen-laden water and then closed flat against her body, providing near-perfect streamlining as she moved swiftly toward the source of the attraction.

In minutes she was there in a cloud of red, her jaws wide and then clamped with thousands of pounds of pressure on something in the water. Twisting violently, she shook the thing, then released it and swam away to await its death. When it didn't move, she attacked a final time, tore a dangling segment of its body into her mouth, and swallowed. Then she turned away and moved into deeper water.

The sea lion, dazed but safely panting on the wet rocks, watched the surrounding sea for a hurtling shadow. He would watch for it now, forever.

Chapter 1

Bo Bradley adjusted her nest of rumpled blankets at the end of a battered leather sofa and eyed the TV with practiced cynicism. A window containing a digital time and date readout appeared annoyingly on the screen every five minutes. Her disinterest in the fact that it was 5:47 p.m. on a Tuesday in October was boundless. A perfect match for her disinterest in everything else, although she was improving. The worst of the depression, she acknowledged, was past, leaving in its wake wide stripes of crankiness and torpor. The newscaster's voice, stripped of regional accent, sounded mechanical and phony in the dim living room of Ghost Flower Lodge.

"Police and experts from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography confirm that the tragic death of San Diego heiress Hopper Mead this afternoon was the result of a shark attack," the man announced. He was trying to sound appropriately somber, but in the slight flare of his nostrils Bo saw another feeling. Fear. Safe in a studio four miles from the nearest saltwater, he could not hide his terror of sharks.

"Wimp," Bo whispered at his profile. The news broadcast made her irritable. But then so did everything else.

On the screen, footage of a tanned, blond woman replaced the image of the newscaster. She was dressed in a tailored gray business suit and appeared to be receiving an award from a gaggle of politicians standing on risers. Bo noticed the young woman surreptitiously glance at her watch as she matched the insincerity of her smile to those of the politicians. Hopper Mead at only twenty-five, Bo thought, had been nobody's fool.

"Mead founded the well-known philanthropic organization called Mead Partnerships," the newsman went on in voice-over, "making significant contributions to numerous San Diego charities. Ms. Mead is seen here only two months ago receiving the Weinerth Award for Outstanding Civic Contribution. Surviving Ms. Mead is a brother, Randolph Mead, Jr., head of the locally based Mead Policy Institute. Mr. Mead has asked that in lieu of other remembrances, donations honoring his sister's life be made to the Mead Institute's charitable trust. The funeral will be held privately."

Bo found the television's remote control wedged in her blankets and pressed the mute button. A thirteenth-century painting of a shark devouring an out-of-proportion sailing vessel filled the screen. The painting carried a message she'd been fighting against for weeks. An awareness that life with its endless, dreary demands possessed no purpose whatever. Clinical depression.

Bo knew her condition's name but retained a suspicion that behind the name it was probably just the truth. Sharks might eat ships or svelte young heiresses with equal aplomb. Everything alive simply chewed its way back to the abyss of meaningless absence from which it had come. The melodramatic ideas were a good sign. They meant she was climbing out of the pit, getting better. In celebration, Bo allowed herself a long, shuddering sigh.

"Oh, Bo," Estrella Benedict said, shifting sideways on the couch to touch her friend's shoulder, "we're right here and whatever you're thinking isn't really the way it is. Dr. Broussard said it would take a while for you to get over this. I don't think you should focus on things that... that upset you. So let's turn the TV off, okay?"

Bo looked at the Spanish-speaking investigator with whom she'd shared an office at San Diego County's Child Protective Services for over three years. A friend who knew about Bo's manic-depressive illness but who had never seen this, the hollow shadow that gave the illness half its name. Nor, Bo realized, was Estrella seeing it now. She was just seeing Bo with stringy hair and mismatched clothes, sitting on a couch in a psychiatric facility ostensibly sighing over a bad painting of a fish. Nobody could really "see" what clinical depression entailed except those with the rotten luck to experience it. A fate Bo wouldn't wish on a shark, much less her best friend.

"Hey, are we ever going to eat?" Mort Wagman yelled from the adjacent game room where he was listening to a CD of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" while hustling Estrella's husband, Henry, for pocket change at the lodge pool table. "Television news is a Mideastern plot to eradicate whatever intelligence remains in the Western psyche. You owe it to your nation to resist. Let's go eat!"

Mort was already a patient at Ghost Flower Lodge when Bo's psychiatrist, Dr. Eva Blindhawk Broussard, drove Bo there from the hospital and checked her in. A depression had flattened Bo after the gentle and carefully managed death of Mildred, her faithful old fox terrier, only a month ago. And Mort had understood. Had stayed up nights with Bo reciting poetry and the weird stand-up comic routines he performed in clubs, reassuring Bo that her grief was honorable and sane.

Bo liked Mort Wagman even though he was only twenty-six and prone to an incessant patter that might be a symptom of his schizophrenia or might just be who he was. It didn't matter. They'd become friends.

"A shark ate somebody for lunch today," Bo yelled back as Henry missed a seven-inch sidepocket shot and glared accusingly at his cue. "That's where an obsession with food can lead."

"Everything's relative, Ms. Morose," Mort answered over booming cannon from the stereo, grabbing the chalk cube with short fingers that trembled from the medications he was taking. "Did you know there's an old maritime belief that sharks will eat anything but pilot fish, who are their friends, and birds. To sharks the presence of feathers is sacred. So ask any chicken which species is innocent of murder—the shark or the human?"

As usual, Bo felt the murky cloud of depression in her mind diminish a little at Mort's remarks. His riddles were like flickers of light, points to navigate by in a sea of darkness. Or maybe it was just his caring that pulled her back toward life. Either way, it worked.

As Estrella turned the TV sound back up, Bo imagined a cathedral full of sharks. Above the altar a dazzling stained-glass chicken held sunlight in its feathers. She could do a painting of the scene, she thought. Watercolor, of course.

"Mead was attacked while swimming near her anchored yacht, Minerva" the newsman went on. His voice was barely audible over Tchaikovsky's celebration of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow blasting from the game room. "Authorities can only conjecture as to the reasons for this, one of surprisingly few shark-related human deaths on record."

The shark story concluded, the newscaster began an uninspired think-piece on rumors of organized-crime involvement in San Diego's Indian gambling casinos. A fuzzy police surveillance photo of a man with light hair and a dark mustache, reportedly an out-of-state gambling kingpin, filled the screen. But the shark snagged in Bo's brain and sat there. Millions of sharks and people inhabited the planet, she thought. Confrontations between the two nearly always involved the death of the shark from pollution, entrapment, or the deliberate savagery of hunting. Sharks were, in fact, so decimated in number by human predation that the ocean's food chain was dangerously unbalanced. Bo had watched a PBS special on the subject with Mildred only weeks before the little dog's death from an inoperable cancer. Sharks were slaughtered by the thousands, but very few times in the recorded history of human-shark

BOOK: Moonbird Boy
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