Molten Mud Murder

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Chapter 1

“Boiled? Boiled in mud?”

“No, ma’am. The chicken is sautéed, in chili infused oil.”

Alexa tore her eyes from the newspaper and stared blankly at the waiter of the Thai restaurant where she had stopped for lunch. She hadn’t realized she had spoken aloud.
“More water?” the waiter added.

A New Zealand Herald had been left behind on the next table over and she had grabbed it to keep herself company. Now it was all she could do to finish her curry. She was so absorbed by what she was reading that the wet wad of rice and lemon grass held midway from bowl to mouth slipped from her chopsticks and landed on her white t-shirt.

“Dammit.”

She dabbed at her breast with a cloth napkin dipped in water and resumed reading. The front page was filled with grisly details of a murder in Rotorua, the very place she was headed for her friend Mary’s memorial service. She had planned to call on Mary’s family this afternoon after checking in to a cottage she had rented for two weeks while she figured out a way to prolong her stay in New Zealand.
A body had been found yesterday half submerged in a Waiariki Thermal Land of Enchantment mud pool.
Boiled. Boiled in mud. The urge to finger her scar, to reassure herself, flashed like neon. She drank the water instead.
Rotorua, on the North Island of New Zealand, lay smack in the middle of intense thermal activity like Yellowstone National Park in the States. Alexa read that the temperature of the mud pools reached two hundred degrees Celsius. Hotter than water at the boiling point. What would be left of the body? Teeth? She ran her tongue across her own and thought back to three years ago at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation when she had completed a second Masters in odontology. Teeth were what had brought her to New Zealand.
Maybe teeth would be the reason she would stay.
An aerial view of the geothermal park took up half the page.

“Terrible, eh?” said a man leaning towards her from an adjacent table. He pointed to the paper while his companion, a woman roughly Alexa’s age, late thirties, nodded.

“Gruesome way to die,” Alexa agreed.

“Are you a Yank?” he asked, only it sounded like “yeenk.”

“I’m from North Carolina.”

The couple eyed her like she’d said ‘I’m from Mars.’ The woman was wearing conflicting colors and the balding man had on a tank and shorts that showed too much hairy leg despite the sixty degree breeze wafting through the open restaurant door.
“I’ve been working in Auckland for the past six months,” Alexa added.

“We went to Las Vegas, yeah,” the man said.

“Choice,” the woman said. “But wouldn’t want to live there. Crazy people.”
Alexa, thinking not all the crazies were in the States, went back to her newspaper, but the man wasn’t done.

“The dead guy must have royally pissed a Maori,” he said, stabbing her paper with his thick pointer finger.

“A Maori?” Alexa knew who the Maori were but she was taken aback by this man’s brashness.

“A native, eh. They used to boil the heads of their enemies.”
Alexa shoveled down a last bite, gulped more water, and tucked the paper into her tote. She rearranged her afternoon schedule on the spot. Check in to her rental cottage. Stop by the police station to offer her services. Then call on Mary’s family.

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