I fidgeted uncomfortably, looking around the room at the dark wood paneling and various bookshelves, brown leather chairs, and the rich oak desk that Mr. White sat down behind. The décor in the room seemed at odds with the open, brightly colored spaces that occupied the rest of the house, as though this room was Pat’s last refuge against his wife’s interior decorations. The wall behind the chairs Reggie and I occupied was entirely taken up by a very large flat screen television. There were speakers inconspicuously placed about the room. It was, to me, a clever combination of an old style “study” and a high-tech “man-cave.” Reggie and Pat White started a conversation that I hardly seemed necessary for.
“Mr. White,” Reggie began, as soon as the man entered, striding to the chair behind the desk and taking his seat. “I apologize for barging into the middle of this mess.”
“You work for the Renards?” Pat asked.
“Mrs. Renard asked me to look into her son’s disappearance. It happened about the time Melvin went missing.”
“Then I’m afraid you’ve chosen the wrong side Rick. Randy?” he stopped short and rolled his eyes up into his head, “I’m sorry my wife told me your names but—”
“Reginald LaKino. And I promise you, Mr. White, that I did not choose any side. Mrs. Renard chose me. I’m sure you see me as a mercenary. But I’m just as interested in finding your son, alive, as you are.”
“And why is that, ‘Reginald’?” Pat asked.
“Well, Mr. White, it would certainly be good news for Mr. Renard if Melvin was found safe. He’d be off the hook. In any event, I have already promised the Sheriff’s office my full cooperation. I intend to work with the Law, Mr. White, to—”
“It’s Pat, damn it.”
“Pat,” Reggie repeated. “Thank you. You can call me Reggie, and this is Sam.”
“Hi,” I waved, feeling out of place.
“Has anyone ever made any threats against you or your son, Pat?” Reggie asked.
“Well,” he laughed. The anger and despair on his face contorted into grim humor. “Salazar threatened to burn my whole house down with my family inside about a month ago. My brother, those environmental freaks, my first wife’s mother. People blame me for things and threaten me. No one means it. I have ranch hands with shotguns around my property at night. They’re there to take out any fox who tries to get into the hen house, Reggie. For my own house I have an alarm system and an armed security guard.”
“An impenetrable fortress,” Reggie nodded. “I understand, Patrick. A man’s home is, after all, his castle.”
“Yes,” Pat said. “And all other clichés. Melvin and his stepmother are my most valuable assets. They will be safe, and any breach of their safety will be punished,” he sneered. “Tell your client that from me. I’m not afraid of them anymore. I’m angry. Tell them that.”
“Any idea how a kidnapper would have gotten in?” Reggie asked.
Pat White’s eyes narrowed.
“I’m looking into it,” White said. Reggie chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, then continued.
“Would you mind telling me where you were the night Noah Renard disappeared?”
“When was that?”
“Last Tuesday,” Reggie said. “The 31st?”
Pat White put his fingers to his temples, and thought for a moment.
“I was at home, with Patty,” he said, finally. “We watched the news, and went to bed.”
“And Thursday, when Melvin disappeared?”
“The same. Well, Patty was out with her friends that night. But I was here.”
“I have other questions,” Reggie said, “but I can probably just ask the police. I assume they asked all the usual stuff about his friends in school, grades, after school projects, that sort of thing.”
“Yes,” Pat replied. “Melvin was a model student.”
“He would have to be” Reggie said. “I can tell you’re a highly intelligent man. Well read, good head for figures. You must have passed that on to him.”
“That’s good. You must be proud. We’ll find him, Patrick.” Reggie said, bowing his head slightly. “I know we will.”
Mr. White paused, considering this.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Of course.” Reggie stood up, and I followed suit. “Oh, by the way. I hate to go all Columbo on you, but there’s one more thing.”
“Go ahead,” Pat said.
“Does your son have a girlfriend?” Reggie asked.
“No,” White replied. “That’s the one way he doesn’t take after me.”
“You were a bit of a lady’s man, I take it?”
“You’ve seen my wife, Reginald.”
“Yes,” Reggie smiled. “I see what you mean. Good day.”
As we were leaving the house, Reggie stopped once more on the threshold. Mr. White had remained in his study, while Mrs. White had shown us to the door.
“Patty,” Reggie said, “I’d like to take a quick look at Melvin’s room?”
“Of course, dear. It’s just down this hallway.”
Mrs. White — Patty — led us to her stepson’s room. On the way, Reggie continued his interviewing.
“Patty, where were you the night Noah disappeared?”
“Oh, that would have been, what? Tuesday? Yes, because Lupé came over asking about it on Wednesday. Tuesday night I was here. I watched a movie, and then went to bed.”
“Really?” Reggie said. “And where was your husband?”
“Pat was out with the ranch hands, guarding the henhouse. He shot a fox that night, I believe.” She smiled. “He’s such a good shot.”
“But—” I began. I quickly felt Reggie give me a look, and I shut my mouth.
“Thank you, Patty,” Reggie said. “And Thursday night?”
“I was out on the town,” she said. “So I don’t know. Ah, here we are.”
We’d arrived at Melvin’s room on the second floor. Reggie spent a good deal of time looking around at pictures on the wall, at the boy’s dirty clothes, and under the bed. Patty White put her hand on my arm again, and I went stiff.
“So how long have you been a P.I., sweetheart?” she asked me.
“Oh,” I said, stumbling, “I’m not, that is, I’m more of Reggie’s—”
“Actually, Patty,” Reggie said, “he’s my landlord. But I don’t hold that against him.”
Reggie laughed at his own joke. Patty joined him, and I, nervously, laughed along with the crowd.
“Hey,” he said. “Has Mike Salazar been around?”
“No,” Patty replied. “Mike never comes here.”
“Strange. Sam, I think you got some of his cologne on you.”
I spent the walk back to the car sniffing parts of myself.
Driving home, as the moon appeared above horizon, I could see that Reggie was straining to keep himself in check.
“Bad moon rising?” I asked.
“Just a bit,” he grunted.
“Would it help to talk about the case? Take your mind off of things?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Sure.”
“What did you find in Melvin’s room?” I asked.
“He’s a socially awkward but good looking young man, with, as his father told us, good grades. He has a few very close friends, a love of nature, an appreciation of ‘Victoria’s Secret’ catalogues, and a secret stash of photographs his mother doesn’t know about. I didn’t get a chance to look at them, but when your manly charms distracted Patty, I snuck a few.”
“Not the prints,” he insisted, “just the negatives.”
“When he’s found alive I’ll give them back. If he’s not found alive, well,” Reggie shrugged. “Patty doesn’t even know they’re there.”
“Great.” I rolled my eyes.
“Say, where am I sleeping tonight? That guest bedroom of yours isn’t as secure as I’d imagined.”