The kitchen had three exits. One led to the outside, and we had just come through it. Another led into the living room. The third led back into the bedroom space. In my estimation, anything incriminating, or even potentially embarrassing, was most likely to be in the bedrooms. I resolutely planted myself in the doorway to the hall that led back towards the living quarters of the house.
“Where’s your uh, your,” Det. Banks lowered her voice to a stage whisper, “your bathroom?”
“Right down that hall,” Mrs. Renard said, “behind Mr. Brown there.” She jerked her chin towards me. “Careful,” she added. “There have been problems with the plumbing.”
“Thank you so much,” Banks said, approaching me, and trying to angle around me. I, of course, refused to move. I felt I had a duty to Mrs. Renard that I would not compromise simply because a woman pouted her lips at me.
“Um, would you, uh, excuse me?” She asked. I could have sworn she fluttered her eyelashes at me, but the side-ponytail negated the effect.
“What?” I pretended not to know what was going on. It wasn’t hard.
“I need to get through?”
“You’re asking me?”
“Um, no,” she insisted, “I’m telling you. I need to get through.”
“You need to go through here?”
“Yes. I really need to get to the little detective’s room back there.” She bounced up and down a bit, impatiently.
“Oh, well,” I sighed, defeated. Her logic was airtight. “Alright.” I let her pass. As I did so, I noticed a pile of dirty laundry in a hamper at the kitchen’s other exit. Very dirty laundry.
If I were Detective Street, I thought, I’d make something of those dirt and grass stains. Someone has been digging. Digging what? Maybe a grave for the teenager next door?
“So, let me see if I have this right,” Det. Street continued. “You’re saying you’re more neighborly with the Whites than with Mike Salazar?”
“Yes,” Lupé said. I was only vaguely aware of the conversation going on. How was I going to draw attention away from the laundry basket? I considered sitting on it, but decided against it. I had blocked the entrance to the hallway, and that had been about as useful as a humidifier in the Okefenokee.
“And did your husband share this view?” Street asked.
Based on my previous failure, I decided that the best course of action was to stand as far from the laundry as possible. I tried sidling again. Slowly, inching my way behind Reggie, whose back had been towards me this whole time, I moved away from the hall, away from the laundry, and towards Mrs. Renard at the sink.
“Oh, definitely. Actually,” Mrs. Renard chuckled a bit, “that is one of the other things that gets under Mike Salazar’s skin. I said that Pat White would ask Noah to do odd jobs around the ranch? Well, it was usually Melvin who did the asking, but Pat was the one behind it. He was the one who paid in the end. And sometimes Jack would go along to help with things. Eventually Salazar started asking, too, and was very upset when Jack refused, and refused to even let Noah do it. Salazar hates Pat. He has for years, and I am not too sure why.”
When I had gotten around the table, Det. Street noticed me, and arched her eyebrow in my direction, apparently distracted from her line of questions for a moment. It was working!
“Do you remember what it was that Jack refused to do?” Reggie asked.
“Mr. Salazar wanted some help mending a fence,” Mrs. Renard said. “I remember that. He also asked my son to help guard the pigs from coyotes and foxes, but Jack did not even let him do that for Mr. White’s chickens. Think of it! My boy out there in the middle of a field at night, with a gun! No, never. And they are just such pretty creatures. Yes?”
“Chickens?” Street asked, apparently baffled.
“Foxes and coyotes.” Mrs. Renard said.
“Well, I don’t —” Street began.
“They’re both lovely, Mrs. Renard,” Reggie cut in, and smiled at her. They shared a glance. Det. Banks came back into the room.
“You been doing some gardening, Mrs. Renard?” she asked, looking at the laundry basket.
“Oh, I just noticed you got some mud on your jeans here, and grass stains on this blouse. And more here on this pair of shorts, and this skirt is filthy!”
Damn it! I thought.
“Yes,” Mrs. Renard glared. “That is the laundry basket.”
“So, what have you been planting?” Banks asked.
“Oh!” Lupé’s face lit up. “Tomatoes, and squash, beans, peppers, corn, lettuce, amaranth, cabbage, spinach. Some herbs, rosemary, basil, cilantro, oregano. And of course all sorts of flowers for the butterflies and bees!”
“You certainly seem to get excited about gardening,” Banks observed.
“It is my life.”
“You do this for a living?” Street asked.
“Yes. In summer I sell food at the farmer’s market in town,” Lupé said. “We live off of it for most of the year. The food, not the money.”
“What do you do for meat?” Street asked.
“We do not eat much meat,” Lupé said. “Special occasions, maybe once a month or so.”
“You’re mostly vegetarians?” Banks asked.
“Sort of. I mean,” Lupé glanced at Reggie, “we do need protein, we eat some meat, but we get most of what we need from our garden.”
“And remind us again,” Street said, “what is it that Mr. Renard does?”
“He is a landscaper,” Lupé replied.
I had just noticed a young woman stand up from a chair in the living room and begin walking toward us. She must have been Sophia Renard. She looked like a teenage version of her mother, but with black fingernail polish, lots of spiked jewelry, and black mascara running down both cheeks. The only exception to her dreary appearance was a single gold pendant hanging around her neck. It looked like a locket. She was just closing it with her right hand as she stood up. In her left hand she held the morning’s newspaper with a hole cut in the front. I’d spent the morning staring at the paper while I waited for Reggie. I was pretty sure I knew exactly what was missing from the front page, and I was thankful I was the only one who had noticed Sofia stand up.
I had finally found something that Reggie would not want the detectives to notice. Perhaps I’d overreacted about the hallway to the bedrooms. Obviously there had been a ready and innocent explanation for the dirt on the laundry. But if they saw that Sophia had put Melvin White’s picture in her locket, there would be a lot of explaining to do.
As she approached us, I made eye contact with her, and put my finger to my lips, and shook my head. She stopped, and looked at me quizzically. I looked meaningfully towards the back of the trailer, towards the bedrooms, and she crept quietly away. I smiled to myself.
“Is there anyone else who lives in the house?” Street asked.
“My daughter, Sophia,” Lupé said. “She is 16 and very difficult.”
“Can we talk to her?” Street asked.
“She may have known the missing boy,” Banks observed.
“I hope so,” Mrs. Renard insisted, “they are siblings.”
“The other missing boy,” Street said.
“No,” Lupé said with some authority, “she did not.”
“Well,” Street smiled, “maybe she did, and didn’t tell you.”
“What are you implying, Detective?” Lupé bristled again, and a snarl began to form on her lips.
“Well, Melvin’s about her age,” Street said. “What high school does Sophia go to?”
“Well, Melvin’s about her age,” Street said. “What high school does Sophia go to?”
“Santa Fe Public.”
“Ah,” Street said. “Melvin went to, let’s see here, St. Leonidas’s, didn’t he, Sandy?”
“Yeah,” Banks replied, patting her pockets as though looking for something, “I think so.”
“Okay,” Street said. “We may be back. Thank you for your time.” I sighed with relief.
“Oh, it was my pleasure,” Lupé said, without sincerity. She seemed to think better of it, though. “Wait!” she called. “Detectives? I’m sorry. I dearly hope you find both boys. Alive.”
“So do I, Mrs. Renard,” Det. Street said, looking over her shoulder from the door. “So do I.”
Reggie, the two detectives, and I walked out of the trailer in single file. Detectives Street and Banks walked to their car, the ten year old white Impala I’d noticed earlier. Reggie approached them.
“Detectives,” he said. “I came on a bit strong. Call me a zealous advocate. But an advocate for the truth. And I know that’s what you’re digging for. You won’t be pursuing Jack Renard long. He’s not the man you want. You have my card. Give me a call when you’re sick of the game playing.”
“Mister,” Street said, exasperated, “I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t? Oh well. Have a good day.” He mimed tipping an ornate hat — the kind with a long, fluffy feather sticking out of it that you see in high school productions of Romeo and Juliet — and turned away. Det. Street started her car as we were walking towards ours. I glanced over my shoulder because I was getting the unpleasant feeling that the car was following only feet away. Reggie waved at me to look away from them.
“Thank you for back there, Sam,” he said.
“For what?” I asked. “I felt utterly useless!”
“You’re not useless!” Reggie said with a ‘tsk, tsk’ tone. “For an attorney you’re particularly bad at the whole deception thing, but you’re far from useless. You were a great distraction!”
“If you hadn’t kept Banks standing in front of me, I’d have never gotten her notebook.”
“Reggie, don’t tell me you took a detective’s notebook.”
“I picked it while you were blocking the door to the bathroom.” He shrugged.
“Oh, this is not good,” I moaned, looking over my shoulder again at the approaching car.
“I’ll get it back to her. Just calm down from now on, okay? Anyway, the trailer was clean.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
He touched his finger to his nose and smiled.
“This nose knows. This nose, c’est quelque chose.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Coyote, remember? Hello Detectives!” He said, sticking his hand high in the air and waving.
Banks and Street had swung their car around and pulled even with us. Street leaned out the driver’s window. Banks looked uncomfortable.
“Going our way, boys?” Street asked.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Reggie said, his face taking on a false earnestness. “But our mommies told us never to take rides with women we didn’t know.” He sneezed.
“Stranger danger,” I nodded, sagely.
“If you don’t show me a valid, New Mexico issued, private investigator’s license by tomorrow,” Street said, “you’re going to be riding with us, no matter what your mommy says. Right down to the station.”
“As much as I would truly love to be in your back seat,” Reggie said, “I’m going to have to decline. Nothing personal, I just can’t be confined with someone covered in hair from three cats. I’m allergic.”
“Guess you’ll have to get me that license then.” Street smiled.
“Yup,” Reggie said.
The two of them drove off, and I suddenly realized that Reggie was wrong. The trailer had not been clean.
“It’s a good thing they didn’t talk to Sophia, right?” I said.
“What do you mean?” Reggie asked.
“Well, what if they had found out?”
“Well, you know she’s in love with Melvin White, right?”
For only the second time since I’d met him, I had the utter pleasure of seeing the look on Reggie’s face when he was taken by surprise. The startled eyes that turned toward me now were the funniest thing I’d seen all day. I burst out laughing. I explained that I’d noticed Sophia had cut out the picture of Melvin White from the front page of the newspaper and placed it in her locket. He insisted that this wasn’t conclusive, but all the same, he seemed quite pleased that Det. Street hadn’t gotten a hold of Sophia Renard for questioning.