Death Mask of the Jaguar [A Rick Sage Mystery]
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by Murdoch Hughes
Description: Harley-riding PI, Rick Sage, follows his heart into darkness once again when he meets up with ten-year-old Pedro, a Mexican-American kid lost on the streets of Tijuana. Pedro hires Rick, with the two dollars and thirty-five cents he has left in his pocket, to find the gang of antiquities thieves who murdered his parents. Shadowed by a jaguar spirit Rick begins to believe is real, his promise to help the boy takes them on a trail leading from Tijuana to the Copper Canyon, then on to Mexico's Mayan ruins at Palenque, and down a jungle border river into Guatemala. Along the way, Rick and Pedro join up with a beautiful but mysterious redheaded nun, and a magical, fleet-footed Tarahumara shaman. Haunted by his own tragic childhood, Rick is determined to fulfill his promise to Pedro to find the murderers and recover the Jade Death Mask of the Jaguar Cult, as they are drawn deeper and deeper into a dark plot lit only by the beacons of a jaguar's eyes.
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: November 2004
28 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [290 KB]
Reading time: 197-276 min.
"This is a refreshing and 'can't put down' novel that I haven't been able to read or find in a very long time. You will love the character Rick Sage, as a modern day PI and a lost soul of sorts all in one. It also has other great characters such as Sister Denise, who you will love and admire immediately and then suspect of other doings all at the same time, then she shines through. The local FederÃ¡les are on the case also, and who to trust is like a roller coaster ride. From the beginning the suspense and mystery is as exciting as the ending, which has it's own twists and turns. You will not be disappointed, only by finishing the book. I hope this author continues with PI Rick Sage series as he is as complicated and interesting as some of the characters! He definitely has a past to look forward to reading about in future installments. 5 Stars"--Vicki Duby, www.scribesworld.com
"Murdoch Hughes writes a fast paced, interesting Indiana Jones type mystery."--Ann DellaCamera, Sime-Gen Reviews
JUST PAST ROSARITA Beach, the Ensenada-Tijuana Toll Road makes a right-angled curve, running along the United States/Mexico border for less than half a mile before dumping down into the swap market atmosphere of the tourist shops and taco stands overwhelming Mexico's side of the Tijuana border crossing.
Traffic was starting to stack up as I backed off the throttle to make the turn. It had been a nice open-throttle trip up the Baja peninsula from La Paz on my Harley Hog. I'd lost all sense of any reality except for the wind in my hair, the music playing, and the rumble of the twelve hundred cc's engine I straddled. It had been eight hundred and some miles of scenic wonder, semi-trucks, jackrabbits, potholes, crossing cattle, donkeys, endless species of cactus, arroyos, spiraling vultures, weird Boojum trees that existed only in Baja, and nights with a sleeping bag under stars so close and bright you could hang your hat on them.
But no place will bring you back into the real world faster than Tijuana and the border. Soon I'd have to break out the helmet I hadn't worn since crossing the border going the other way. Along this Mexican highway there are no radar cops. Just drop-off shoulders, narrow lanes and tight curves, and signs reading, "This highway was built for economic purposes and not for high speed driving." Going home to America del Norte meant more than reliable utilities. There were lots and lots of rules for your own good. Many more people received head injuries in automobile accidents than in motorcycle crashes, but they didn't make you wear a helmet in your car. Yeah well, if it's the government it doesn't have to make sense.
I braked as the traffic jammed up, and creeping along at fifteen miles an hour I had time to glance at the solid steel fence making the border a wall.
It was a little after one o'clock in the afternoon, but already a crowd was gathering along and on top of the wall, piled up like tumbleweeds against a fence, waiting to roll. They were making their run for the gold into the fabled land of plenty, and no army of Border Agents could hold them back for long. Only death would stop them, and as is often the case with the desperate, it sometimes did. If people will fight a war and die to defend an ideal, imagine what lengths they will go to in order to feed their own children.
I leaned the Hog into the far right lane and gunned it for fifty feet. Damn. My mellow mood had been ambushed. The border mess was upsetting, but it was a complicated problem I could do nothing about. I'm not a politician. My card reads: Rick Sage, Homicide Investigator, Private. I investigate violent death and sometimes catch murderers. Isn't that enough? I wasn't going to solve the world's problems. Not today anyway. Today I had only to get through this bull-rush traffic and meet my friend Ian for one last afternoon in Mexico, betting the sports book at Caliente racetrack here in Tijuana. Dropping a few bucks into the pockets of the Mexican Mafia certainly wasn't going to qualify me for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it would take my mind off my sore ass.
Yeah, and life goes on. I braked, wheeled around an overloaded taxi stopped in the middle of the road for who knows what the hell reason, made the turn on Revolución, and swerved through traffic down Tijuana's bar-lined street of dreams—mostly nightmares.
I'd called Ian the first thing this morning. He's a screenwriter from Santa Monica, but his first love is betting the horses. I'd missed the track since I'd been in La Paz, so I told him we could meet at Santa Anita for the last couple of races.
He had a better idea. He said he wanted to get down to Tijuana to absorb some color for a screenplay he was working on, so why not meet at Caliente? He said the horses weren't running there right now, just the dogs, but they had satellite wagering from all the California tracks, and if we won big they didn't hold back taxes.
It sounded good to me. I knew I'd be due for a rest by the time I reached Tijuana, and I'd wanted to see the track at Caliente. It was too bad they weren't running here. There'd be off-track betting broadcast by satellite from tracks in the U.S. though, like Santa Anita in Pasadena or Belmont Park back East. What the heck, I'd have plenty of time for the real thing when I got up north. This would be a nice warm-up.
The traffic was lighter as Revolucion turned into Agua Caliente Boulevard, and I passed the bullring. There were tents set up in front of it, and flashing lights, so I figured the bullfights were in season.
I've never seen a bullfight, but friends tell me it's an art form, not a sport. There's a fight, and one of the participants ends up in a pool of blood. Sounds like real life to me.
Shit! I hit the brake as the Bimbo Bread truck in the lane on my right front swerved all the way over to the lane on my left, without signaling of course. Luckily I have fast reactions, because a Harley Hog doesn't. The rear tire screeched—I gunned into the space the truck vacated—and I was clear.
I chuckled. What a way to die—to be run over by some Bimbo driver in Tijuana. Yeah well, it wasn't a joke worth repeating much.The thing about Bimbo is it's the Mexican version of Wonder Bread, with so many preservatives in it that it lasts for months. My friend Marilyn calls it 'the bread that never gets worse.' It's true.
I found the entrance to the Caliente track and turned in. I grabbed a parking place in a corner where some idiot would have to try hard to hit the bike, and headed for the stairway entrance.
I was surprised to find a zoo-like cage with a jaguar at the foot of the stairs. It was black, a panther. I'd read somewhere that jaguars are usually yellowish, but like leopards and tigers a litter sometimes had a black one, like black sheep. Only, a black one in the big cat family is called a panther.
I stopped to look at the jaguar because I'd never seen one. It's sad to see animals caged up—it always is—yet the Panther was beautiful, with its black fur and barely visible rosette-shaped spots. It would be something to see those greenish eyes peering down at you from some tree in the southern jungles of Mexico. No wonder the Mayans considered them gods, particularly the black ones. They certainly are god-like in their native habitat.
A primordial chill crawled down my spine as I took one last look, with the cat staring back at me—way back into me—and seemed to send a message.
I shrugged it off, turning for the stairs. As I reached them I felt something and glanced back. Sure enough, the black beauty was still following me with its eyes. Maybe it'll bring me luck. I disregarded the other dark shadows the jaguar conjured up, as well as the old black cat superstition. After all, I'd crossed its path.
Copyright © 2004 Murdoch Hughes.