Chapter Eight, Part One




EIGHT
 
Foxes, Coyotes, and Dingoes
 
    The front door to the gallery was locked. The windows were still boarded up as they had been when we’d left. The back door, however, which lead right into the kitchen, was unlocked.
    “Not forced,” Reggie commented.
    “But I always—”
    “Yep. You do. Shhh!” He motioned for me to stay in the kitchen.
    He cocked his head and listened. He sniffed around the kitchen, upstairs, and then back towards the basement door, which had been left ajar.
    “Someone’s down there” he whispered. He crept quietly to the top of the stairs.
    “I know that scent,” he said, and rushed downstairs. He turned on a light, and yelled, “it’s Jack!”
    When I got to the basement, I saw that the room had been decimated. Empty cardboard boxes from when I had unpacked had been torn to shreds. I was immediately glad I’d kept all my family memorabilia (my children’s baby teeth, my father’s golf clubs, Carla’s wedding dress) upstairs in my room.
    “Dear God,” I shouted, “the whole place has been torn absolutely asunder.”
    “There’s no such thing,” Reggie snapped. “And this mess was mostly me. Sorry.”
    Seated on a chair in the middle of the floor, amongst this wreckage, was Jack Renard, struggling to get out from chains that had been wrapped around him. Reggie pulled a large wad of cloth out of the man’s mouth, then went to work on the lock.
    “Careful,” Renard said, “that lock’s—”
    Reggie yelped in pain, and swore like a bailiff.
    “Silver?” I guessed.
    Jack Renard cackled.
    “I tried to warn ya, mon frère,” he howled.
    “Sam, can you come over here?” Reggie asked. He stuck the tips of his fingers in his mouth and began sucking on them.
    “Fine, fine,” I said, walking towards him, “but I’ve never picked a lock in my life.”
    “That’s just royal,” Reggie said. “Maybe I can talk you through it. Take this hairpin—”
    “No need, mes amís,” Renard interjected. “There’s a key under one o’ the chair legs. It’s silver too, though. But your friend here could turn it jess fine.”
    Indeed, there was no difficulty to turning the key, once we’d retrieved it from beneath the chair. We brought Jack upstairs, sat him down, and asked him if there was anything he wanted to drink. Jack drank coffee, Reggie water, and I popped open a beer.
    “He safe?” Jack Renard’s features were almost a caricature of the werecanid “type”. He had bristly red hair and thick black stubble. His whole jaw jutted downwards from his face. His teeth seemed unnaturally sharp. His ears actually came to points. He looked a bit like a short, red-headed Leonard Nimoy. His penetrating eyes were such a light shade of brown as to appear yellow.
    He was a well built man, though like his son he was quite short. His hands were big and rough. His feet, which were bare, were quite hairy. His fingers and toes sported long, curved, menacing yellowed nails. He wore only tattered denim pants, and a black undershirt that showed off his powerful (and hirsute) arms and chest. Jack asked once we were settled, cocking his head towards me. Now that he was no longer howling with laughter at Reggie’s misfortune, I could see he wore the look of many night’s worry.
    “An interesting question,” Reggie replied. “All things considered, I’d say Samson Brown is more worthy of your trust than anyone I’ve known, especially me.”
    I smiled at this apparently earnest compliment.  
    “Y’know what I mean,” he said.
    “Sam’s aware of our lycanthropy,” Reggie answered. “And he’s not connected to the Dogcatchers or the Litter in any way.”
    “Good,” Jack snorted. “I’ve had ‘bout enough of them. We moved here t’get away.”
    “I thought Mrs. Renard said—” I began.
    “A hurricane,” Reggie interrupted. “Yes. I thought that was strange, since there wasn’t a particularly bad hurricane season preceding your move. I take it the societies are powerful in Louisiana?”
    “Could say that,” Jack said. “Didn’t used t’be. Used t’be jess campfire stories Pappy would tell about why our family left Europe. Ain’t jess stories no more. They gimme the choux rouge, but that ain’t what I wan’ to talk ‘bout.”
    Reggie nodded.
    “So,” Renard shifted in his chair. “I heard you’re some sort o’ detective my wife hired to find our son?”
    “Yes, Mr. Renard,” Reggie said, “I am.”
    “What’ve you found?”
    Reggie and I looked at each other. I didn’t envy Reggie. For the second time in twelve hours, he was going to have to tell a parent about the death of a child. Mercifully, Renard read the looks between us and figured it out on his own.
    “He’s not coming home is he?” Jack said, looking towards the floor.
    “No, Mr. Renard,” Reggie said. “Sam and I found his body last night. Notified the Sheriff’s immediately. They’re investigating.”
    “I need t’get. I’ll have a grievin’ wife and daughter, and a son t’mourn.” He shook as he began to rise from his chair. His face was hard, his jaw was set. It was the look of a strong man holding back weakness.
    “Wait!” Reggie said. “Who had you? Why’d they leave you here? Why the charade at the Pawn n’ Prawns?”
    “Bastards wanted t’search this place,” he said, nearly choking on the words as he sat back down. “I don’t know jess who they were, but they want somethin’ you have. Somethin’ ‘bout a book. You’re a thorn in they side, and they want you to get, out of this town, and leave matters here ‘lone. I heard one of them ranting while they thought I was out cold, saying ‘LaKino’ll screw up everythin’ we worked for.’ Then some nonsense ‘bout a crown? They had me pretty well drugged up, so I didn’t understan’ most o’ it.”
    “You don’t know who they were?” Reggie pressed. “You must have smelled them!”
    “No one I knew before. Now I need t’go.” Jack raised his voice, and his patience was clearly gone. He began to stand up again.
    “Wait, please,” Reggie begged. “Isn’t there anything more you can tell us?”
    “Ecoutez!” He slammed his coffee down on the side table next to him, spilling it all over. “I wan’ mon cher Noah! I wan’choo to find who did this!”
    “Do you have any idea who it could have been?” Reggie asked.
    “Can’t ‘magine anyone wantin’ t’hurt Noah,” Renard said.
    “Who would want to hurt you, or Lupé?”
    “They’d kill Noah t’get at us?”
    “It’s possible. The White’s son, as you know, is also missing. Is there anyone who would want to hurt both you and the Whites?”
    “Salazar.” The name escaped Jack Renard’s lips as a hiss and a growl, almost inevitably followed by expectoration. On my floor. He shoved the side table and the rest of his coffee went, too.
    “Salazar.” Reggie nodded. “Why does he want you off the land, Jack?”
    “He got some notion he’s gonna make a fortune selling it t’some developer. He’s a damned fool. Bigoted, racist murderer.”
    “Bigoted and racist we know for sure,” Reggie said. “Murderer we still have to prove. There’s one other thing to keep in mind, Jack. Your son, I assume, is a fox, like you?”
    “’Course.”
    “He was found with two gunshot holes in him.”
    “Gunshot—”
    “Neither bullet was found, but at least one of them must have been made of silver.”
    “Salazar knows? He’s one of them Dogcatchers! Must be! Musta been who kept me!”
    “It’s a possibility,” Reggie agreed. “I’d desperately like to know what Noah was doing the night he disappeared.”
    “I knew that?” Jack cocked his head and pulled his lips back from his teeth in a snarl, “I’da handed you Salazar’s spine already, one vertebra at a time.”
    “We have to find some kind of evidence that doesn’t require convincing a jury that it’s possible for a person to change into a fox under the full moon,” Reggie said. “Vigilante justice is unlikely to clear your name. It also doesn’t help anyone if we accuse the wrong guy. We need something Detective Street can sink her teeth into. Renard? Go home and take care of your wife and daughter. They need you. And—”
    “I won’ do nothin’ dumb,” Jack insisted. “I don’ wan’ t’go back t’jail.”    
    “No,” Reggie nodded. “Nobody wants that.”
 
    As Renard left, I ruminated on Reggie’s last few words to him. Was it true that ‘nobody’ wanted Jack Renard back in jail? I didn’t think so. Pat White still believed Jack was guilty. Street and Banks kept hounding him. Whichever secret society had held him for days certainly wanted to keep him confined for at least a while.
    I wondered whether Renard had been sincere, promising not to do anything dumb. The deaths of my wife and daughter had been accidental, and I’d spent days in pent up rage at the drunken fool who’d driven them off the road. If the other driver had survived would that rage have remained confined? What if the whole thing had been deliberate? I looked over at Reggie, who was stewing silently.
    “What’s on your mind?” I asked.
    “I just don’t get it,” he said. “Dogcatchers don’t let people go. But Renard would have known if it had been the Litter, he would have been able to tell by the scent. So who the fuck was holding him?”
    “And why did they leave him here?” I asked.
    Reggie nodded.
    “I’m going upstairs,” he said. “I need to get some of my things.”
    He hadn’t been gone for more than a minute when I heard him shout, and come flying downstairs like a greyhound.
    “What is it?” I asked, opening my second beer of the afternoon.
    “This was pinned to my pillow. To my pillow!” Reggie said.
    He showed me a business card with a strange symbol on it: a fanciful, interconnecting, quasi-Celtic set of initials. An “M” and a “J.”
    “There’s just no way,” Reggie insisted. “I know his scent. He wasn’t here. I would be able to smell him if he’d been here.”
    “Who?”
    “My Den Father.”
    “You’re in Cub Scouts?”
    “No, from Die Wurf. But the only weres that have been in here today are me and Renard, and his scent’s not up there. I smell—” He took another big sniff. “People. Just regular people. A man and a woman. No one I know.”
    “Well, whoever it is is long gone now,” I said. “I think I need to know a little bit more about this world you’ve sucked me into, Reggie.”
    “It’s story time again?”
    “Yes.”
    “Want lunch first?”
    “Yes.”
    “Me too,” he grinned. “I’ll whip something up.”