Cover image for Traggedy Ann
Title:
Traggedy Ann
Author:
Browning, Sinclair.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Dell Books, 2003.
Physical Description:
388 pages ; 18 cm
General Note:
"A Dell book."
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780553586398
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

SEX, LIES, AND MURDER Trade Ellis's high-country Vaca Grande ranch is just a car ride away from a world that couldn't be more different--a city of flash and glitter, poverty and hurt. Trade is happy making her living with Brahman cattle, but an occasional P.I. case in Tucson offers her good cash, a little adventure, and sometimes a date or two. Now she's been hired by an artist whose specialty is creepy paintings of wounded dolls. And this case will offer a little too much of everything: too much sex, secrecy, and murder. Trade's client is the sister of a local news anchor who has gone missing--after getting inside information on the slaying of a musician with a hidden life in a sex cult. Soon Trade finds her way into one of the cult's underground orgies, a scene that shakes and stains her part-Apache soul. Suddenly, to find the missing woman, Trade Ellis must not only match wits with a savage criminal, she must duel with demons--the kind that haunt…the kind that hurt…the kind that kill. From the Paperback edition.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1 SEX ON A RANCH IS OFTEN TAKEN FOR granted. At any given point something is usually screwing something else. So I really don't have to look farther than my yard to find my dogs in a rousing game of Hump Dog. If Petunia, the potbellied pig is involved, it becomes a bit kinkier. In the pond in the summer, Colorado River toads make love, leaving long threads of eggs attached to one another looking like strings of black pearls, while mallard drakes dart lustfully after fast-swimming hens. What happens underwater is anybody's guess. At night the roar of mating cats--both domestic, and if we get really lucky, the mountain lions up in the hills--can be heard. Out in the pastures of the Vaca Grande Ranch, the bulls kick up dust and challenge one another over girlfriends. In the desert, the rattlesnakes make love for hours on end with one of their two penises. Seems like an excess to me, but it's sort of a spare tire thing, I guess. Not long ago, when Cori Elena, my foreman Mart'n's squeeze was here, there was actually some people sex going on too. But then that got out of hand when she had a fling with the brand inspector and ended up moving off the ranch and in with him. So not too many people are fooling around at the Vaca Grande these days. Hell, I haven't had a date for months. Neither has Mart'n. His daughter, Quinta, broke up with a guy a few weeks ago, and if Mart'n's dad, Juan, at eighty-one is getting any, he's wisely keeping his mouth shut. Guess he probably doesn't want to turn us green with envy. But sex was on my mind tonight. I guess because of my cousin Bea. Bea's a news anchor for Channel 4 TV and she has no problem, no problem at all in the Sex Department. She's always got some guy hanging around, his tongue dragging on the floor, happy to be in her shadow if she'll just give him the time of day. Unfortunately Bea's pretty quiet about the intricacies of these affairs, so even my vicarious sex life is shot to hell. Still, when I'm at her townhouse I get a kick out of opening up her freezer and checking the number of glass vials stored there. In each is a single piece of paper, frozen in water with the name of a past enamorata in it. Gone, but not forgotten. Bea's gorgeous face was now filling my television screen during the ten o'clock news. Some people say we look alike with our dark eyes and hair and somewhat exotic looks--courtesy of our half-Apache mother--but Bea's a lot more glamorous than I could ever hope to be. If she's Cosmo, I'm Field & Stream. I'm not a television lover, but I turned the volume up on the set. At least a couple of times a week I try to catch Bea's evening newscasts. Sitting next to my cousin was Terez Montiel, one of the weekend anchors who was filling in for Michael Boyd. Bea had just handed the broadcast over to Montiel, who was talking. "And in an interesting development in the Cordelia Jones murder investigation today, detectives indicate that the young woman may have been involved in some sort of sex cult here in Tucson." Mrs. Fierce, my cockaschnauz, whined at my feet and licked my hand. "I know." I reached down and petted her. "A sex cult. Some girls have all the luck." The dog put her head back down on the Saltillo tile floor and farted. I turned up the volume and muttered, "The cops always get the good ones." I'm a private eye, but I've never had anything as titillating as a sex case. "Early Tuesday morning, Cordelia Jones's body was found in a west-side neighborhood. What appeared to be a random act of violence may now have its roots in the occult." Terez's face was replaced by a photograph of Cordelia Jones, a tall, pale, plain-Jane brunette in a long flowing black robe with some kind of purple triangle thing on it. She did look a little spooky. "Channel 4 News has learned that Jones may have been a high priestess in a worldwide secret cult, known as the OTO, or Ordo Templi Orientis." A video clip quickly replaced Cordelia's photograph. A tall man with silver hair took over. "This is a ritual magick group primarily, instead of a worship group, as in Wicca." The font superimposed on the video identified the speaker as Dr. Thomas Burkett of the University of Arizona. "Ritual magick entails invoking certain words or incantations," he continued, "and perhaps holding your body in certain ways in order to produce a change through magick." I raised my hands over my head and shook them, closed my eyes and sang, "Woo, wooooooo." Nothing happened. When I opened them I found that a chunky Hispanic detective named Hernandez had pushed the professor offstage. He was standing outside the house where I presumed Jones had been killed. "Miss Jones's involvement in the occult is definitely part of the police investigation at this time," he said. And that was the end of sex in my house for the evening. I waited up for the weather. Mid-nineties was the forecast for the week, not unusual for the middle of September. Then I toddled off to bed with Mrs. Fierce and Blue, my Australian cattle dog, in my wake. I WAS CLEANING OUT the tack room the next morning when Quinta came in with a glass of prickly pear iced tea for me. "What are you doing up?" I asked. "The bar wasn't busy last night so I got to come home early." "So you're into takeout now?" I asked, taking a slug of the tea. Her response was to look out the door. Then she leaned in close. "I heard a pretty good rumor." "I'm all ears." I grabbed a paper towel and wiped off the sweat that was threatening my eyes. "Hildy Peters was in the Riata last night." Hildy was a cowboy who rode for the B Spear Ranch north of here. "You know he's good friends with tata Alberto?" I nodded and swirled the ice cubes around in the magenta-colored liquid. Alberto was Quinta's maternal grandfather who lived on the Double A Drag up near Oracle. She sighed heavily. "He says my mother's getting married." "Shit." The shit was not meant because of the news. I'd never been overly fond of Quinta's mother, Cori Elena. Ever since she'd shown up a year or so earlier, she'd really been nothing but trouble. Having her married and permanently off the Vaca Grande was probably good news. No, great news. The shit was for Mart'n. "What do you think Dad will do?" Quinta asked. "I don't know, but it's not like she's living with him or anything." "She is such a bitch." Since I'd known her, Quinta had never been overly fond of her mother. They had a lot of rocky road behind them. "Gee, maybe I'll get to be a flower girl," I said. She attempted a smile. "I'm assuming the lucky groom is Jake Hatcher?" This time the smile was full blown. "AQua suerte, no?" Cori Elena had had a rather remarkable fling with our local brand inspector while living with Mart'n. She'd been living with him for a while now, so the news was not entirely unexpected. "Will you tell him?" I handed her back the empty glass. "Yeah, I guess someone better." As I watched my foreman's daughter walk across the dusty corral, I found that I couldn't hate her mother. After all, without Cori Elena, there would have been no Quinta. 2 AFTER LUNCH I JUMPED INTO PRISCILLA, my three-quarter-ton Dodge pickup and headed to my office, which is located in an old stage stop about a mile from the ranch house. I had settled in, returned my phone calls, and was working on my billing when my cousin Bea called. "If it isn't the Doctor Ruth of Channel 4," I said. "Very funny." "Hey, I'm jealous. Why do you get all the good ones?" "Because I have good people working with me." "So what's the deal with the sex cult?" "Don't know yet. Terez Montiel has been working on it. All I have to do is look cool on camera." I knew that was only partly true. In spite of having several reporters to pursue contacts and leads, Bea did a lot of her own scut work. "Well if you can string it out, you'll keep up your ratings." "Trade, suck it up, your cynicism is showing." "What happened to, 'If it bleeds, it leads'?" She laughed. "How about an early dinner tomorrow? Say, El Mezon del Cobre at six?" "Shall I bring your pig?" I asked in an ongoing joke. Bea's potbellied pig, Petunia, was living at the ranch. "I wasn't really thinking barbecue," she said before hanging up. LATER THAT AFTERNOON I spotted Mart'n at the barn loading salt blocks into his old truck. I wasted no time in getting out to the barn. "Dropping salt?" "Seguro. The cows are going through a lot of it." They always did in the hot weather. I helped him finish loading the fifty-pound blocks and then jumped in the passenger side of the truck. He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as we drove out. WE'D DROPPED SALT at two water tanks and were almost to the third when Mart'n's cell phone rang. "ABueno?" I glanced over and saw that he was smiling with the phone clamped tightly against his ear. Whoever was on the other end of the phone must have been doing all the talking, for he was silent as we bounced and lurched over the rutted dirt road. Maybe it was a new girlfriend. That would sure soften the blow I was about to deal him. We'd gone to two tanks and were headed to the third when I finally brought up the dreaded subject. "Have you seen Cori Elena lately?" "She never writes, she never calls," he said with a smile. "I don't theenk she loves me anymore." He put on his fake Mexican accent. "And you're OK with that?" It was a pretty direct question, but then Mart'n is like my brother, so cross-examination has never been a problem between us. He shrugged. "It is what it is." Mart'n pulled the truck up to the north tanks and jumped out. He dropped the tailgate and grabbed a salt block. So did I. A Hereford bull and a couple of cows and their calves were bedded down under the mesquite trees. They didn't move as we dropped the salt. "Mart'n." I touched his arm and looked him full in the face. "I hear Jake Hatcher and Cori Elena are getting married." He looked like a horse had just kicked him in the gut. "ACasado?" "Maybe it's just a rumor," I offered in an effort to soften the blow. "She's marrying Jake?" "That's what I heard." He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and I couldn't tell if it was because of the sweat running off his face or if he was crying. "AChingado madre!" To say he wasn't happy would have been an understatement. "I'm sorry, but I thought you'd want to know." He nodded and slammed the tailgate closed. "Vamanos." When we got back in the truck he grabbed his phone and turned it off. I guess he didn't want to talk to whoever had had him smiling. He didn't talk and neither did I on the drive back to the ranch house. SIX O'CLOCK THE NEXT afternoon found me sitting on a wooden chair in the El Mezon del Cobre on First Avenue. Bea and I were each nursing a twenty-four-karat margarita made with 1800 anejo, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice. "This thing Terez is working on is really getting interesting," Bea said. "The sex cult." "Uh-huh." Her fingers rubbed off some of the salt lining the rim of her glass. "It's looking like we're going to end up with an investigative series on it." "So what's the deal?" "Cordelia Jones was a very interesting young woman. It was like she was leading two lives. Did you know she played with the Old Pueblo Symphony?" "No." "She was a cellist." "But her strings were being pulled elsewhere," I said in an attempt at a weak joke. "Looks that way. On the one hand she was a perfect straitlaced young woman, deadly serious about her music . . ." "And on the other?" "She was involved in some sort of sordid sex thing. But here's what's curious. Her life was compartmentalized. When Terez and the cops interviewed her musician friends, they had no clue that she was even interested in sex, much less to the extent of OTO and all of that." "That's the thing the professor mentioned, right?" She nodded. "I'll get back to that. So all of her straight friends thought she was just like them. They didn't have a clue that she was into the other kinky stuff." "How about her family?" "Same thing. As far as they knew she went to school, waitressed on the side to earn extra money, and played in the symphony. They'd never heard any of that sex cult high priestess stuff." "I saw that on TV. What was that all about?" "OTO. Known as the Ordo Templi Orientis." "Never heard of it." "It's a cult that dates from the turn of the twentieth century. Very complicated stuff that's gone through a number of reincarnations. The latest guru was a guy named Aleister Crowley. Have you ever heard of him?" I had to confess I hadn't. "Some people called him an intellectual mystic, others the anti-Christ. What they all agree on was that he was an expert on altered states of consciousness and opposed organized Christianity." "So where does the sex stuff come in?" The ancient waitress was nonplussed as she sat our huge Aztec plates of tampique-a, top sirloin thinly sliced with red chile cheese enchiladas and guacamole, on the table in front of us. "He devised a complicated system of sexual magick using rituals. And lots of sexual debauchery." "And Cordelia Jones, classical cellist, was involved in all of that?" "Allegedly," Bea said carefully. "Terez found out last week that Cordelia had actually been kicked out of OTO a year or so ago. Several of the local OTO members left with her." The restaurant was starting to fill up, mostly with Mexicans. The El Mezon del Cobre is still fairly unknown among Tucson's general population, which is a good thing, or they'd never be able to hold all the patrons. "So you think she was killed because of something to do with this OTO?" "There were also drugs involved." "Ah, the altered states?" "Right. Aleister Crowley believed in enhancing his experiences with heroin and cocaine." Excerpted from Traggedy Ann by Sinclair Browning All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.