Authors: Judith Van Gieson
Judith Van Gieson
I'm very grateful to the following for their help with my research: Bobbie Holaday; Terry Baker; Jeff Hobbs; Chip Owen; Janice Steinberg; Dr. Steven G. Tolber; Shirley and Jim Tanzola; Mona and Jim Tanzola; Irene Pepperberg and Alex; Gwen Campbell, Susan Stacey and Patti Ferris of the Avian Propagation Center at the San Diego Zoo; Warren Illig at the Phoenix Zoo; and Noel Snyder.
Although many of the places depicted in this novel clearly exist, none of its characters represents or is based on any person, living or dead, and all the incidents described are imaginary.
Copyright Â© 1995 Judith Van Gieson.
This book may not be reproduced in whole
or in part, by other means, without permission.
First ebook edition Â© 2013 by AudioGO.
All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN 978-1-62064-464-5
Library ISBN 978-0-7927-9493-6
Cover photo Â© Roberto A. Sanchez/
T BEGAN WITH
the sound of high-heeled shoes. It ended with the sound of a hand shuffling money, but that was many miles away. The heels clipped the sidewalk to a staccato beat. They were stilettos, maybe, or spikes, heels that left their impression on the pavement. A key turned in a lock, a dead bolt snapped from its chamber, a door swung open. There was a gasp and then a woman's angry voice asked, “What are
doing in here?”
“What do you think?” a man answered. “You're coming withâ¦” He left the sentence unfinished, slurring his words from laziness, possibly, or drink.
“No, I'm not.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“Stop it, you're hurting me.” A slap was followed by a thud, then the sound of wings beating furiously. Someone or something screeched.
“You can't take Perigee. Terrance will be livid.”
“Fuck Terrance. Ouch. Goddamn it. He bit me.” The laziness left the man's voice once he got bit.
“What did you expect?” the woman asked.
There was another, lighter thud. More wings began to beat, the screeching escalated; the cry of one annoyed individual became the cacophony of a pissed-off flock. It was a whirlwind of sound, but words floated to the top like feathers riding the airwaves. “Hello-o?” queried the voice of a tentative woman. “Call my lawyer,” demanded a deep-throated man. “I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too,” cackled the wicked witch of the West. “Start me talkin', babe, tell you everythin' I know,” growled a whiskey-soddened blues singer. “Pretty boy, pretty boy,” a new voice croaked. The next word, “
” was a vindictive hiss.
“Move it,” said the man.
“I'm coming,” answered the woman. “Stop shoving me.”
The cacophony stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The door slammed shut. Boot heels scuffed the pavement, mingling with the pointissimo of the high-heeled shoes, but the snap had gone out of that step. The cassette player whirred. I struck a match, lit a cigarette, blew out the match. My client, Terrance Lewellen, who was sitting on the other side of my desk, reached over and clicked off the cassette player. It was a sleek, black, expensive model that belonged to him. He took the cassette out and placed it on my desk.
I made you a copy,” he said.
“That sounded like it was taking place in the next room.”
“I use a Marantz extended-play recorder; it's the best in the field.”
What field was that? Electronic surveillance? Bugging? Whatever you call it, it's illegal without the consent of the people involved.
“Actually,” my client continued, “the incident took place at the Psittacine Research Facility my wife runs at UNM.”
“Your wife wears high-heeled shoes to work?”
“My wife wears high-heeled shoes everywhere; her arches shrunk, so she can't wear anything but. Her name is Deborah Dumaine. She works with Amazon parrots and has taught them to do things no one ever believed parrots were capable of. If you ask them how many blue blocks are on a tray, they'll tell youâwhen they feel like it. They're smart. They're also first-class mimics. You have to watch what you say around an Amazon; you're likely to hear it repeated â¦ over and over and over again.
“Ha. Ha.” Terrance Lewellen laughed a big man's double-barreled laugh. He wasn't a big man exactlyâhe was about five feet five inches tall, a few inches shorter than me, and I never wear high-heeled shoes. But he took up a lot of cubic space. His shoulders were broad, his belly big enough to hide his belt buckle. His hands had the thick, doughy shape of a bear claw pastry. His eyes were deep set and grayish green. They could twinkle when he laughed, glitter when he got mad, turn as opaque as one-way glass when he sat back and waited for a reaction. His shirt was undone a couple of buttons, revealing gray chest hair that didn't match his brown piece. It was a bad piece, but nobody ever sees a good one. It was the same hair that middle-aged actors and newscasters wear, not big hair, TV hair. If Terrance had gone natural, he might have looked distinguished. The piece made him look like a late-night infomercial salesman, which could have been exactly the effect he intended. Terrance was a successful businessman, a seasoned and wary corporate raider. He never revealed his hand if he didn't have to, and he didn't leave much to chance. He took out a cigar and lit up. I hate the smell of cigar smoke, but my own cigarette butt was burning in the ashtray, which limited my right to complain.
“Were those the Amazons screeching?” I asked.
“Yes. Deborah's grad students have let them get out of control. They're spoiled rotten.”
“How many were talking?”
“It's hard to tell. One Amazon can do many voices, and many Amazons can do one voice. They sound just like people, they sound like dogs, they can sound like the dishwasher if they want to. That last parrot voice on the tape was Perigee, my male indigo macaw. The macaws are bigger and better looking, but they don't have the vocabulary of an Amazon and they're more likely to talk in their own voice than to imitate.”
That was the one that said â
“Do you know what that means?”
“Malinche was the Indian girl who became Cortes's mistress and interpreter in the new world. There are those who believe she betrayed her people, and
means traitor to them. She's still a figure in pueblo Indian ceremonials.”
“How 'bout that?” Terrance Lewellen leaned back, stretched his legs and exposed a pair of scaly cowboy boots, expensive but ugly. Ostrich hide? I wondered. Snake? “The Amazons belong to Deborah's lab; the indigo macaws belong to me,” he continued. “When I got to the lab, Perigee was gone. He's one tough hombre and he put up a hell of a fight. Feathers were all over the floor.”
There was a sleek leather briefcase with a combination lock on Terrance's lap. He keyed in the combination and snapped the briefcase open, giving me a glimpse of his cellular phone. He took out a long, thin feather and handed it to me. I thought indigo was the color of jeans after they've been washed a few times, but the feather was a turquoise that was as deep and iridescent as the Sea of Cortez.
“It's a tail feather. Beautiful, isn't it?” asked Terrance.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Thanks.” I stood the indigo plume in an empty glass on my desk and it arced gracefully over the side, a hit of beauty whenever I needed a break from my sun-baked Albuquerque lawyer's life.
“The Latin name of the indigos is
Terrance said. “They are extremely rare in captivity, damn near extinct in the wild and very, very valuable.”
Some people are collectors by nature, some are dispersers. My own personal motto is to never own anything you can't afford to lose; it's too much trouble. “Where did the indigos come from?” I asked Terrance.
“The Raso in Brazil.” His eyes sparked. “I cannot believe that Deborah allowed Perigee to be taken.” He smashed the fist of one large hand into the palm of the other.
“It didn't sound like she had a choice.”
“She had the choice of not associating with Wes Brown, a worthless human being if ever there was one.”
“The voice on the tape?”
“That's him. Those were his boot heels, too. He grew up in Southern California, but he thinks he's a cowboy.”
Terrance, I knew, had grown up in West Texas, which gave him a license to wear boots.
Macaws have the bite of a snapping turtle,” he continued. “I hope Perigee got a chunk out of Wes Brown's hide.”
“What is Deborah's connection to him?” It wasn't quite the question I wanted to ask, but timing is of the essence in law and interrogation, and the time wasn't ripe for my question yet.
“He's a smuggler. He contacted us on occasion and tried to sell us smuggled parrots. We refused. Deborah hated his guts, but she encouraged him. She had a notion that she would learn something useful about his smuggling operation.”
“I doubt it.”
get the indigos?” Parrots that were very rare and very valuable were also likely to be very illegal, one explanation for why Terrance had come to me with his story and not the police or his corporate law firm.
“I used to be in oil exploration and was doing some exploratory drilling for Petrobras in the Raso in the late sixties and early seventies. I like to bring something back from all the places I drill. On my first trip there, one of the natives offered me the indigos, and I accepted. They were a hand-raised pair, too tame to survive in the wild. That was before Brazil signed an export ban, and it wasn't illegal to take indigos or any other parrots out of the country. Things have changed.”
Considering the exchange rate between the third-world cruzeiro and the oil-world dollar, and the escalating pace of parrot extinction, the macaws had probably turned out to be a better investment than the oil.
“Deborah and I met in the Raso,” Terrance said. “She's a linguist. She was studying the language of the indigenous people before they become extinct, too. While she was down there, she got interested in parrots. She tried teaching the macaws to speak, but that didn't work, so she turned to Amazons. Now that she's famous for her work, she's become the adrenaline queen. She never sleeps. She travels all the time. The birds don't like it.” He peered into an ornate scroll of silver and turquoise on his wrist, found the time, snapped open his briefcase and brought out a small bottle with a long neck. He removed the plastic cap, squirted once into each nostril and sniffed. “Goddamn allergies,” he said.