Chapter Nine, Part One




NINE
 
The Stalker
 
    “You snore like a werebasset with a nasal infection, Sam.”
    I was jolted awake with these words early the next morning. Reggie was fully dressed, sitting at the foot of my bed, and drinking a cup of steaming coffee. A full travel mug sat on my bedside table, along with a glass of orange juice. I smelled bacon, eggs, and fresh tortillas wafting up from the kitchen. My breath tasted as though the dust bunnies under my bed had crawled into my mouth and fornicated.
    “Wah?” was the only response I could manage.
    “I need a ride out to the Renards’ side of town. I got a call from someone who wanted to remain anonymous. He said if we searched Renard’s land we’d find something interesting.” As he spoke he stood up and walked to the head of the bed. Without warning he cruelly flipped on the bedside lamp. He was wearing his tight black jeans, with a baby blue tee-shirt that had a bright, red and gold spiral sun motif on it.
    “Huuuhhhgg,” I responded. The light broke on me like a brick. Not like the proverbial “ton of bricks,” which would, of course, crush a man and cause instant, merciful death. This felt more like a single block of red clay hurled in a tight spiral by a professional quarterback straight at the space just above my nose.
    “Drink your juice, Psycho,” Reggie admonished, lifting the glass to my lips and pouring it down my throat. “We need to get going.”
 
    “How much did I drink last night?” I inquired, turning the ignition with my right hand while I gripped the egg and bacon burrito Reggie had made me with my left.
    “Three beers and a glass of tequila.”
    “You mean ‘shot’.”
    “No,” Reggie said. “I don’t.”
    “Oof. That’ll do it.”
    “Can’t drink like you used to, eh?”
    “I never could drink like I used to, actually,” I said. It was still an hour before sunrise by the time I had dressed and gotten into the car. I’d already guzzled one mug full of coffee and Reggie had given me a refill. Half of me balked at the earliness of the hour, while the other half found the lack of sunlight a blessing. I fumbled for my cheap sunglasses, just in case.
    It was nearing dawn by the time we arrived at the Renard trailer. Once more, I was forced to park my car by the stream. We got out and hiked the last quarter mile in on the narrow banks. The fragrance of Lupé’s garden rushed up to meet us. Floral and herbal aromas filled the early morning air. I shivered. Reggie inhaled deeply.
    “I hate cold trails,” he commented. “There’s been rainstorms, countless cops, livestock, and wild animals through here. Nothing to track. I went over all this land two days ago. There was nothing”
    “Well,” I yawned, scrambling behind him as he walked past the Renards’ trailer and over a small rise in the terrain further upstream, “I wish you’d found whatever it is we’re here for. You wouldn’t’ve had to wake me so godawful early this morning.”
    “At least Street and Banks aren’t out here today,” he continued, ignoring me. “The last thing I need is someone trying to read my Chakras and align my Chi. You know, maybe it wasn’t Ms. Bonami that tossed my room the other day. It could have been those cops, Summers and Harris,” he shook his head. “But, I didn’t get their scent at your place yesterday. There’s so many people involved in this!”
    “Maybe they’re all ‘in cahoots!’” I joshed. Reggie turned and pointed a long finger at my nose.
    “You laugh,” he cautioned, “but believe me, it’s all connected! The Dogcatchers are well known to have members inside police in at least eight major cities in Europe. It’s not impossible that they—” the wind shifted slightly, and suddenly a look of deep concern grew over my companion’s countenance. “Well that’s not good,” he said, spinning one hundred and eighty degrees and galloping off into the brush. I followed, huffing and puffing, as fast as I could. I resolved that I would either rid myself of Reggie entirely or join a gym.
    I had almost given up, believing I was lost, when I noticed three large black birds circling overhead nearby. I reasoned Reggie might have headed in that direction and I was right. When I caught up with him, he was kneeling beside a cat’s claw bush, by a bundle of clothes. Two vultures with bare red heads still circled overhead, and the third was already perched on a tall manzanita.
    “This can’t be more than hours old,” Reggie said. “Do you smell that?”
    Indeed, as I approached the rank odor of decay met my nose, and I slowed.
    “You might not want to see this, Sam,” he cautioned.
    “Well what in— oh hell.” I nearly lost my burrito, along with the previous night’s lo mein. I had ignored Reggie’s warning and come up beside him, only to find that what I had mistaken for a bundle of old clothes was part of a man. The legs had both been severed, one above the knee, the other at the ankle. The left arm was nearly intact except for the hand, which was missing entirely. The right shoulder was a stub of sinew covered bone. There was blood everywhere, drying in the morning air, soaked into the fabric, in clumps around the wounds, seeped into the ground. The head was missing. Worst of all, a big, gaping cavity where the neck should have been exposed the ribcage and organs.
    “Remember what I said about not wanting the Sheriffs here this morning?” Reggie asked. “I’ve changed my mind.”
 
    “Doesn’t this kind of look bad for our client?” I whispered to Reggie as Detectives Street and Banks approached us nearly an hour later.
    “What?” Reggie shrugged. “Do you mean the fact that the body was discovered on her property? Or the fact that it turned up less than 24 hours after Jack’s reappearance? Or how it’s been just over a day and a half since Jack’s son’s body was discovered? Or maybe—”
    “Any or all of it,” I said.
    “I’m hopeful that we’ll find an explanation.”
    “One that makes your client happy?”
    “No.” Reggie waved. “Good morning Detectives!”
    “Barely,” griped Banks.
    “Nice shades, Brown,” Street said.
    “Thanks,” I grumbled.
    “Kinda early for them, isn’t it?” she asked.
    “You have no idea,” I replied.
    “You boys found another one, I see,” she said.
    “Does this mean John’s going to want us to haul Renard in again?” Banks asked.
    “Well,” Street said, beginning looking down at the new victim. “Is he home?”
    “He got back yesterday,” Reggie said. “I told you this on the phone. Don’t know if he’s home now, though.”
    “Oh my God!” Banks cried as she reached the corpse.
    Reggie muttered under his breath. I didn’t quite catch it, but I suspected he’d said ‘no such thing.’ I’d never realized atheism could be such a compulsion.
    “Now, LaKino,” Street said, “what lead you to this one? Another hunch?”
    “No,” Reggie answered, “I got a phone call.”
    “What?” Banks asked. “From who?”
    “And you didn’t call us?” Street said, pushing her index finger into Reggie’s chest.
    “Whoever it was didn’t give a name,” Reggie shrugged. “I could play the recording for you.” He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, set it on speaker, and hit play on his voicemail. The three of us gathered around the phone could hear the voice clearly.
    “Howd- ah, hey there, ah, Man, y-you might wanna come out here, Man, and take a look at Jack Renards’ back yard, Man. There’s something cray-ay-azy going on. Man!”
    “Wow,” Street said. “Doesn’t hide his accent very well, does he?” The message was clearly intended to be in ‘hippie-speak,’ but Mike Salazar’s Texan accent rang through on every word.
    “I called you as soon as I knew I wasn’t wasting your time,” Reggie said.
    “You could’ve, you know, tampered with the scene,” Banks said, tilting her head so that her ponytail stuck straight up. “How do we know you didn’t?”
    “Scout’s honor?” Reggie grinned, holding up two fingers close together.
    “You forget I’ve seen your rap sheet,” Street smiled.
    “That doesn’t mean I wasn’t a scout,” Reggie retorted.
    “But it tells me a little bit about your sense of honor,” Street said. Reggie sighed. “Oh,” Street smiled, “That’s right, you want to cooperate.  I suppose you won’t mind submitting to a quick pat-down then?”
    “What?” I said, “On what basis?”
    “On the basis of your permission,” Street said. “On the basis of Mr. LaKino’s honor.”
    “Fine with me,” Reggie grinned.
    “You can’t be serious,” I said.
    “Relax, Sam,” Reggie said. Grudgingly, I agreed to the search. Street directed Banks to frisk me, while she examined Reggie.
    “You’re in a mood today, aren’t you Detective?” Reggie asked, as they began patting us down. I’d never been frisked before. It wasn’t as frisky as I’d imagined.
    “I’m just beginning to like you two, that’s all. You’ve found two bodies for us in less than 48 hours.” Street pulled something out of Reggie’s jeans. “What’s this?”
    “That? That’s nothing,” Reggie said.
    “They look like negatives,” Street said.
    “Yep.”
    “Do you always carry negatives around with you when you’re out for a hike?”
    “Maybe.”
    Street held some of them up to the light.
    “These look like vacation snaps. Is that— Where’d you get these?”
    “Detective,” Reggie pleaded, “can I have those back?”
    “No. You took these from the White’s place, didn’t you?”
    “I was planning on putting them back,” he said earnestly.
    “If you want your background check with the Board to come out clean, you may not want to get charged with tampering in an official investigation, LaKino,” Street said.
    “Call me Reggie?” he asked.
    “No,” she said.
    “You’re not going to keep those, are you?”
    “Yes,” Street said. “They’re evidence now. Ah. Here comes the rest of our team.”