Chapter Five, Part Three




    Buoyed by this rare triumph, I agreed to drive Reggie to interview the neighbors on either side of the Renard property. We had watched Street and Banks drive off towards the Whites’ property, so we headed the other direction, toward Salazar’s. On the way we passed five college-aged kids with oversized camping packs walking down the highway. They were probably all living off their parents’ bank accounts, but they dressed like they had to scrounge for food like Packey the panhandler. I could virtually smell the sweat and patchouli oil on them. Reggie cocked his head to one side and watched them carefully as we passed.
    The Salazar property was surrounded by a high fence made of tall, slender, vertical logs strapped closely together. I grimaced as we got out of the Jag and I caught my first whiff of the Salazar industrial pig farming operation. If Reggie was right, and the Renards were werefoxes, then they must be bombarded by this malodorous perfume all the time, even with several acres between them and Salazar.
    I expected Reggie to engage in the same eccentric and thorough examination of the property that he had at the Renards’, but instead he simply walked beside me as we approached the main house of the Salazar compound. Once or twice he paused to examine something, but then shrugged and moved on.
    Reggie had told me to keep my mouth shut, and my eyes open, and after my embarrassing performance at the Renards’ I was determined to obey his instructions. Mike Salazar himself was, as Lupé Renard had suggested, quite a boor. He was a powerfully built man, nearly six feet tall. He had auburn hair, gray at the temples, pale skin, and blue eyes. Based on his last name I had assumed he was Mexican, but looking at him I realized I was wrong. The slight twang to his speech told me he had been raised in Texas. My first impression, though, was not of his appearance or his voice, but his cologne. The scent asserted itself, reaching my nostrils despite the overpowering manure-tainted breeze outside. The aroma may not have been so offensive had there been less of it.
    “More goddamn questions!” He shouted when Reggie introduced himself. “I don’t see any reason why I should answer yours.” He looked Reggie up and down. “Damn half-breed lookin’ piece of hogshit. I told the police everything.”
    “Can we talk to your staff, then?” Reggie asked.
    “My staff? You mean the goddamn ranch hands?”
    “Yes, sir,” Reggie replied.
    “Yeah, fuck it. Ask them whatever the fuck you want. They don’t know shit, they barely talk English.”
    “Thank you,” Reggie said. He and I turned to go, but Salazar stopped us.
    “Hey! I don’t want to be seeing you anywhere on my property half an hour from now. I told those damned hippies and I’m telling you! My hunting rifle’s loaded and I got a permit for trespassers. Stay off!”
    “Yes sir,” Reggie replied, and we left.
    Though some of the staff did speak decent English (better than Mike Salazar did anyway) Reggie soon revealed another talent: he conducted the interviews in Spanish. In the half hour we had been allotted, he conducted seemingly thorough interviews with half a dozen ranch hands and two or three members of the household staff. My Spanish was pretty limited, and they didn’t seem to be ordering food, or asking directions to the toilet. So I waited, assuming Reggie would explain things later.
 
    Our next stop was the White compound, which sat much further back from the highway than either Salazar’s or the Renards’. I took a wrong turn onto a dirt road, and soon had to brake sharply to avoid a giant sink hole.
    “Whew,” Reggie whistled. “I can’t see the bottom.”
    “Is that police tape?” I asked.
    “Looks like,” Reggie nodded.
    “Maybe they think one of the boys is down there,” I said.
    “Maybe they want to remind themselves not to drive into the pit,” Reggie responded.
    After turing the car around, we located the proper route to the residential portion of the property. The fence around the home where the family lived was eight feet high, and required keyed entry through a gate, or the permission of a security guard. The Whites, luckily, were more cooperative than Mike Salazar, and we were allowed through. It was sunset by the time we arrived, and I asked Reggie whether he was going to be alright.
    “Yep, I can usually hold it together almost until the moon reaches its zenith.”
    “At midnight?”
    “Usually. The cycle depends on—”
    “Basically, you’ll be okay ‘til moon-noon?”
    “Yep.”
    Mrs. Patricia White greeted us at her front door and welcomed us in. She was about ten years younger than me, with platinum blonde hair, a fluorescent smile, and the kind of body guitar anthems are written about. She did nothing for me.
    Unlike the Salazar home, which had been a low lying adobe hacienda, the White’s house was thoroughly modern looking. The interior was black and white marble, with chrome accents and occasional bold color choices. An empty red vase stood on a black pedestal in the entryway, and brightly-colored modern abstracts hung on the walls.
    “After Patrick’s father died,” Mrs. White said, giving us the tour, “we had the old house converted to a stable, of course. Melvin loves to ride. I hope they find both boys soon. Isn’t it terrible the way they jumped on Mr. Renard? The whole thing is monstrous, monstrous.”    
    “You don’t share your husband’s opinion about the Renards’ involvement then?” Reggie asked.
    “Oh, no, Pat and I—”
    “I’m sorry,” I said, “your husband is Patrick?”
    “Yes,” she replied.
    “And your name is Patricia?” I asked.
    “Yes, Pat and Patty,” she smiled gaily. “Why, when he was courting me—”
    “Anyhow,” Reggie broke in, “You were telling us that you disagreed with your husband’s suspicions, Mrs. White.”
    “Call me Patty,” she said. “We don’t always agree, Pat and I, that would make such a boring marriage, don’t you think Mr. Brown?” She glanced at my wedding ring, “I’m sure that your marriage is full of little disagreements that just make it all the sweeter?”
    “It was,” I nodded.
    “You see there?” she said. “It’s like that whole thing with those activists. He wants them off the property, but they’re not doing anyone harm, and I told him that.”
    “The activists are here now?” I asked.
    “Well sure, honey. Mike— you, know, Mike Salazar? He finally convinced them to leave his place, and so now they’re out on our land. Really, they aren’t on our land exactly. They weren’t on Mike’s, either. They’re camping out there on Forest Service land. They just needed our permission to cross, and well, I just gave it to them. Now Pat’s all mad, and he’s following after them to make sure they don’t linger.” She laughed, and put her hand on my arm. “He’s all in a huff. Anyway, here we are at my husband’s study. He should be back in moments. I’ll let him know you’re waiting.”
    “Thank you, ma’am.” I said. She shut the door, and I sat in one of the large chairs facing the desk in the corner of the study. Reggie walked nonchalantly around the room, looking at the framed pictures on the desk and picking books out of the bookcases.
    “Were you just flirting?” he asked abruptly.
    “What?” I sat forward my chair. He turned to me, arching an eyebrow.
    “You know I can read your pheromones like a comic book, right?”
    “Really?” I said. “That’s amaz—”
    “No,” he said. “But you are pretty transparent. And you don’t do a very good job of hiding your reactions.”
    “I wasn’t trying to—”
    “Just don’t let her husband catch on,” he said, finally taking a seat in the chair next to me. “Okay?”
    “You’re not listening,” I began to defend myself, but at that moment the door opened, and Mr. White entered. He was a slim, tanned, sinewy man, who would have towered over me, even if I had not been seated. His hair matched his surname, and his   handshake was a bit painful. His eyes were grey.