Reginald LaKino Investigates
Reggie turned to Lupé, clearly as surprised as I was that Jack Renard had already been released from jail.
“Yesterday?” he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I did not know!” Lupé stuttered for a moment. “Where is he?”
“How would I know?” Det. Banks shrugged.
“We were actually hoping you would tell us that,” Det. Street said.
“You let him go, and you did not call me to pick him up?” Lupé shouted. “He could be anywhere! How am I going to find him now?”
“I believe Mr. Renard has been provided with a public defender,” Street said. “Mr. Avery Sharpe. Hopefully he knows his own client’s whereabouts. Sandra, do you have his number?”
Both detectives started searching their notes. During this brief distraction, Reggie leaned over to me.
“Do you think you can convince Lupé to calm down a little?” he whispered. “I’ll never get anything out of Street and Banks if they think of me as an enemy.”
“I’ll try,” I said.
“Get her to just go with it,” Reggie said.
I moved as quietly and unobtrusively as I could over to where Mrs. Renard was standing. I sidled past the two detectives. There’s no other word for it. I sidled, like I was in a Western. I sidled better than I had ever sidled in my life, if I’d ever sidled before, which I’m not sure I had. I sidled past them and placed my left hand on Mrs. Renard’s shoulder. So stealthy was my sidling that I went completely unnoticed while the two detectives were still searching for the lawyer’s phone number. Reggie was now in between Lupé and myself on the one side, and the detectives on the other. Lupé turned to me with what had been big brown puppy dog eyes yesterday, but were suddenly angry fox eyes filled with rage and dire hate. I imagined that I could see the same animal soul behind those eyes that I had tried to ignore in Reggie’s. I leaned in close and whispered.
“Reggie needs information that these detectives won’t want to share with us, Mrs. Renard,” I said. “The only way he’s going to get it is to either make them want to give it to us, or make them drop their guard, and the best way to do either of those is to make them think we’re their friends. So, please, just, ah, ‘go with it?’”
As Banks finally found the number and read it off to Reggie, Mrs. Renard bit her lower lip, looked at me, and nodded silently. She dried a tear from her eye. Reggie made eye contact with me and I, too, nodded as covertly as I could manage.
“Alright,” Reggie continued. “That seems to be in order. I’ll call Mr. Sharpe as soon as I get a chance. Now, Mrs. Renard, would you mind terribly stepping inside to fix the five of us some tea while we look around out here?” Mrs. Renard silently nodded, and went inside.
The four of us walked around the trailer. For Reggie this was a fairly energetic activity. He often got down on all fours to examine some seemingly minute detail. He would occasionally back up to look at the trailer from a distance, then run right up to the structure and appear to sniff around it like a dog looking for a bone. Sometimes he would walk backwards the way we came, then hurry to catch up.
Det. Street simply rolled her eyes, and made notes on a few interesting points. The trail for Melvin White was, after all, already one day cold, and Noah had been gone for more than a week.
Reggie’s outgoing and friendly approach seemed to work. Det. Street pointed out the home across one fork of the stream to the Northwest, where the White family lived. She pointed out the pork raising operation across the other fork of the river to the East, run by a man named Mike Salazar.
“Apparently,” Det. Street explained, “there’s some kind of land dispute between the two, and neither side likes the Renards very much. I hear Salazar has tried to buy them out of this land a couple of times. For considerably more than it’s worth. No idea why he wants it, it’s practically a swamp by desert standards. There were rumors about building a shopping mall, but in this econ— You’ve got to be kidding me. A magnifying glass?”
Reggie had, indeed, produced a magnifying glass from his suit pocket and was examining the baseboards of the Renards’ home. I, meanwhile, kept trying to catch Reggie’s attention, because I had some important information for him. With all of his energy, this was difficult, and I failed utterly. Soon there was a whistling of the tea kettle from the trailer, and before I knew it, Reggie was standing at the door asking whether we could all come in.
I never practiced criminal law. Mostly I handled corporate stuff: transactions, contracts, a little intellectual property. Early in my career I’d done a lot of divorces and custody cases. I remembered law school well enough, however, to know that inviting a detective into your home, when you or a family member is a suspect, is not particularly prudent. You see, without a warrant or probable cause, police are like vampires. They can’t enter unasked. Once invited in, though, their powers expand dramatically. Anything in plain sight is fair game, and you’d be surprised at how easily things find their way into “plain sight.” I gave Reggie a look that I hoped conveyed all of this, but he waved me off, and before I knew it, Mrs. Renard was nodding her assent, telling us to all come in and sit down and have a cup of tea.
As we stepped into the trailer we entered the kitchen. Reggie and the two Detectives sat down and waited to be served. Lupé paced around the kitchen, serving tea, cleaning, and avoiding eye contact. Her constant pacing made me even more nervous. I, meanwhile, kept my eyes very much peeled for anything that could possibly look bad for Mrs. Renard. Or her husband.
“Mrs. Renard,” Det. Banks asked, “how well do you know your neighbors?”
“Not very,” she responded. “The Whites have always been nice enough, Melvin’s stepmother sends us a pie on Thanksgiving and a card on Christmas. Mr. White was fairly withdrawn after his first wife passed on, but since he married Patty he has been a bit better. He used to offer Noah odd jobs around his ranch.”
“Noah?” Banks asked.
“My son?” Lupé said, slamming a plate full of freshly baked green chile cheddar biscuits on the table, scattering crumbs everywhere. “The one who disappeared? The one who you told me on the phone was probably off camping with friends or at a girl’s house? The one who I have been calling you about every day?” She left the biscuits on the table and went over to a cupboard to start rearranging mugs.
“Right,” Street cut in. “Okay, go on. What about Mike Salazar? Do you get on as well with him?”
“Him? Ha!” Lupé said. “He keeps trying to buy us off the land. First he tried to scare us. He claimed that we did not have a right to be here, and that he was going to call the police. Well, obviously, he never did.” She sniffed. “We have been living here for fifteen years. He did not seem to have a problem with us until a couple of years ago. Jack wrote a letter to the newspaper about how the waste from the pig farm is getting into the water and killing fish, killing the stream. Barely anyone read it, but a small group of environmentalists did, and they have been protesting the Salazar operation ever since. And of course Mike Salazar blamed us for it.” She laughed.
“Before that he did not seem to care much,” Lupé went on. “I mean, he gave us dirty looks in the street. He called us names, because he is rich and we are not from around here. He used to call us ‘trailer trash,’ and me ‘mama jambalaya,’ I guess because I’m Creole? He called Noah ‘blackened catfish’ once. I am not even sure what that is supposed to mean. I think he was drunk.”
“And you say now he’s trying to buy you off the land?” Street asked.
“Yes,” Lupé nodded. “I guess he is sick of arguing about it, and he keeps offering us money, but this is where our children grew up. This is the home they know. This is my home. Why do we have to move?”
“How much has he offered you?” Street asked.
“What does that have to do with Noah? Or even with the White boy?”
“Uh, what did you call him?” Banks interjected.
“Mr. White’s son,” Lupé said. “The White boy. What?”
“Nothing,” Banks giggled. “I thought you meant— never mind.”
“Mrs. Renard,” Street continued, “we just need to cover all the bases here. Now, how much did Mr. Salazar offer you?”
“He was talking to my husband, and thought I could not hear, but it was $500,000.”
“That’s… an amazing price,” Street stared. “You could move somewhere else. Anywhere else.”
“We like it here.”
“Alright.” Street said. “Can you tell me where your husband was on the night Melvin White disappeared? What he was doing?”
“The same thing he was doing every day this week!” Lupé shouted. “Looking for Noah! Because you will not!” She finally sat down, and put her face in her hands, shaking.
“I’m sorry this is so painful, Mrs. Renard, but we have to ask these questions. What about you? What were you doing that night?”
“I was here! Taking care of Sophia. Pretending that I could sleep. Pretending I was not dying inside!”
Unaccustomed as I was to detective work, I felt useless, and tried to make up for it by keeping an eye out for potentially incriminating evidence. During the conversation I had scanned every inch of the kitchen to ensure that nothing in the room looked suspicious. I remembered how my friends who did criminal work complained that the police would try to turn anything into evidence if they got half a chance. I examined the sink, the cupboards, and the table. It all looked innocent enough. I finally decided that what I really did not want was for Street and Banks to make their way into the rest of the trailer and start poking around.