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Authors: Linda O. Johnston

Fine-Feathered Death

BOOK: Fine-Feathered Death
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Table of Contents
 
Praise for the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery series
Nothing to Fear but Ferrets
 
“Linda O. Johnston has a definite talent for infusing humor in just the right places . . . Pet lovers and amateur sleuth fans will find this series deserving of an award as well as a place on the bestseller lists.”—
Midwest Book Review
 
“Another clever foray into the life and crime-beset times of Kendra Ballantyne . . . Be sure to read this pet lover’s dream of a book . . . You won’t regret it.”

Mystery Lovers News
 
 
 
Sit, Stay, Slay
“Very funny and exciting . . . worthy of an award nomination . . . The romance in this novel adds spice to a very clever crime thriller.”—
The Best Reviews
 
“A brilliantly entertaining new puppy caper, a doggie-filled who-done-it . . . Johnston’s novel is a real pedigree!”
—Dorothy Cannell
 
“Pet-sitter sleuth Kendra Ballantyne is up to her snake-draped neck in peril in Linda O. Johnston’s hilarious debut mystery
Sit, Stay, Slay
. Witty, wry, and highly entertaining.”
—Carolyn Hart
Berkley Prime Crime Books by Linda O. Johnston
SIT, STAY, SLAY
NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FERRETS
FINE-FEATHERED DEATH
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
South Africa
 
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
 
FINE-FEATHERED DEATH
 
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / May 2006
 
Copyright © 2006 by Linda O. Johnston.
 
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
 
eISBN : 978-1-440-67810-3
 
BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks belonging to
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

To bird lovers everywhere, and especially our thanks to the West Valley Bird Association for letting Linda enjoy a meeting and a macaw. Thanks also to Tiana Carroll, who entertained Linda and let her ask lots of questions at the bird show at the Las Vegas Tropicana.
 
And to Fred, through love and adversity, forever. This is mostly from Linda, but Fred has grown on Kendra, too.
 
—Kendra Ballantyne / Linda O. Johnston
Chapter One
THE SHRIEK SLAMMED into my ears. It radiated through my slouched, nearly sedentary body. My fingertips jerked on the computer keyboard, and the legal brief I’d been writing was suddenly full of gibberish.
Maybe it was already full of gibberish. Who knew? But the sudden surfeit of extraneous letters made it all the more incomprehensible.
Like my thoughts. Who’d screamed? Why? Where?
It was nearly ten o’clock at night. No one else was nuts—er . . . dedicated—enough to still be around the law offices of Yurick & Associates.
Or so I’d assumed an instant earlier.
The scream had sounded like someone inside this building. Someone incensed. Someone in pain. Someone hurt . . . dying?
Heck, there’d been too many murders around me lately. The usual person soars through her entire lifetime without encountering even one, but several had orbited my existence in the last few months. No wonder my imagination lent emotions to a sound that was probably in my head.
But I was a lawyer. What imagination I had was devoted to dreaming up winning legal arguments for clients, not screams in the night.
I couldn’t ignore the noise.
As if my shaking body would let me.
I stood, listening to the now utter silence, except for the rapid thud from my overly excited heart.
Should I dial 911? I reached for my purse, stashed in a desk drawer, and snatched my cell phone from it. I pushed in the numbers, but wouldn’t hit “Send” till I was sure something was wrong. Maybe someone had programmed some jarring mechanical gadget to turn on at this hour. Or I’d heard squealing tires outside on Ventura Boulevard, unidentified thanks to how intensely I’d been concentrating on my brief. Or—
I was rationalizing. What I’d heard wasn’t electronic, and it unequivocally emanated from inside. My shivering finger pressed “Send.” I prepared to identify myself, Kendra Ballantyne, attorney-at-law.
Except no one answered; a recorded message insisted that I hold. How could all 911 operators be busy? What if someone were dying?
I didn’t know that nobody
was
dying. Or worse, was dead by now.
What if someone had actually been attacked here? The assailant could still be around, intending to silence—permanently—whoever’d heard that scream. I hissed in my breath and held it . . . as I hung up, stuffed the phone into a pocket, and slipped carefully from my office, my ears on full alert.
Not for the first time, I wished I’d brought Lexie along when I headed back to work this evening. My Cavalier King Charles spaniel would have let me know if there was something to bark about.
At least I was dressed down that day, in a shirt tucked into casual slacks that wouldn’t restrict running should I seek to escape. Better yet, my blessedly quiet walking shoes didn’t make a sound as I slipped through the one-story office building.
I’d left lights on in the hall, which could be a bad thing if someone lurked in one of the darkened rooms whose doors opened off it. The offices of Yurick & Associates squatted in a structure that had once been a restaurant, and small, private offices had been built along the outer wall, with open cubicles for paralegals and secretaries in the center.
Outside the door to my comfy corner office, I stood still for an instant and held my breath. Heard nothing. Saw nothing that shouldn’t be in the hall. I started slowly along it, preparing to flee first, ask questions later.
I stopped when I reached the door three down from mine—a closed door. A rustling sound emanated from inside, like someone shuffling papers.
The office belonged to the firm’s newest associate—Ezra Cossner, who’d joined us just yesterday. Not that senior citizen Ezra was new to the practice of law. Heck, no. At thirty-five, I was about half the age of most of Borden Yurick’s new brain trust of attorneys.
Should I call out? What if Ezra was under siege from someone who’d hurt him? Would that person start shooting through the door?
Obviously I’d seen too many action films and cop-filled TV shows. Still, I edged away, my back along the wall. I pulled out my cell phone, preparing to send my distress call again—and ready to pray that a real person picked up this time.
More shuffling sounded from beyond the door. But no more screams. A good sign—wasn’t it?
I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what was to come. Then I called out, “Ezra? Are you in there?”
No response. No shuffling either.
“Ezra?” I tried again.
Still silence.
I scanned the closest cubicles for anything that might double as a weapon, should I need to protect myself. Sharp pens for stabbing skin? Computer keyboards for bopping heads? How about a stapler, to fasten my frayed nerves back together?
And now, after calling out, I’d even lost the edge of surprise.
Heck, Kendra. Are you a woman or a wimp?
Before I could berate myself with the best answer—both—I wrapped my fingers around the doorknob. Turned it. Shoved the door open.
And gasped at the immediate shrill string of squawks that accosted me.
I blinked. I grinned. I hurried inside, and flicked on the light.
Near Ezra’s empty desk crouched a huge cage. And in it was a beautiful, mostly blue macaw.
 
A COUPLE OF minutes later, I was still there, taking a break and talking to the bird. We were, after all, kindred spirits, the only living creatures occupying the Yurick law offices at this ridiculous hour.
And my relief that nothing was wrong, that no one was mortally wounded, made me giddy.
“I heard rumors that Ezra owned a macaw,” I remarked during a rare respite from her raucous cries. “No one mentioned that he might bring you here, though.”
This time, the bird talked back. Her dark-colored tongue appeared between the top and bottom of her sharply curved and perilously pointed black beak. “Gigi, gorgeous girl, gorgeous girl,” she rasped in her rough voice. She repeated it. And repeated it. And repeated it.
“Glad to meet you, Gigi,” I said over the din, assuming she was asserting her own name. “Can you say anything else? How about Kendra? Can you say ‘Hi, Kendra’?”
“Gorgeous girl,” she grumped, and I doubted her goal was to compliment me. Instead, she stopped speaking and stared suspiciously through the brass-toned spokes of her cage with one eye, then turned her head to glare at me with the other.
BOOK: Fine-Feathered Death
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