Chapter Seven, Part One




 
SEVEN
 
Detectives Street and Banks
 
    Sheriff’s Detectives Street and Banks quickly decided that wading through vats of hog excrement was a job for New Mexico State Crime Scene Investigators. Because I asked, Street explained that the State Investigators were forensic technicians from the crime lab, and that the State wasn’t taking jurisdiction. They showed up an hour after the body came out of the waste, in three separate vehicles, with a warrant. They began taking the scene apart, and sifting through Salazar’s waste lagoons in big rubber wading pants that made them look like they were fly fishing.
    Street and Banks wanted to interview us right there, of course. We wanted to go home. They considered arresting us, but had trouble deciding what to hold us on.
    “Trespassing?” Banks offered.
    “After what Brown said at dinner,” Street pointed out, “I’m not even sure whose land this is.”
    That’s when it hit me, a little too late, that I’d made a huge mistake. I wasn’t just a retired attorney. I was an unlicensed one. I shouldn’t have been offering legal advice. But over diner my legal opinions had flowed out of me as quickly as the wine had flowed into me. Pride and alcohol are a dangerous combination. I resolved to keep my mouth shut from that point on.
    “We could hold them for interfering until the prosecutor says one way or the other,” Banks suggested.
    “But we’re cooperating,” Reggie said. “Besides, Sam here snores. And I turn into a monster under the full moon. So you might not want us spending the night.”
    “You’re material witnesses in two criminal investigations,” Street said. “We’re going to need to see you down at the station tomorrow.”
    “That’s fine with me,” I yawned, “but if you want me to be awake during the interrogation, we’re going to have to schedule for around lunch. You can take this guy downtown right now if you like, though,” I continued, gesturing to Reggie. “He’s not allowed in my car covered in… that.”
    “What?” Reggie said. “You’re turning me over to the cops because I’m covered in pig—”
    “Yes, Reggie,” I interrupted, “yes I am.”
    “That stinks, Sam,” Reggie said.
    “No,” I replied. “You do.”
    “That’s okay, Brown,” Street said. “I think he should go with you.”
    “No, you know what?” Reggie asked. “I think I will come with you ladies. Spend some quality time with my new colleagues.”
    “Not an option at this point, LaKino.” Street laughed. “I will need to see your PI license, though.”
    “Of course,” Reggie said. “I didn’t forget our deal. Here.” He wiped his hands on the deer grass, unzipped his dry suit, and rummaged in the pockets of his pants. Eventually he produced a piece of paper that he handed to Det. Street.
    “This is a provisional license,” she observed. “It’s temporary.”
    “Yep,” Reggie nodded. “And I’ll need to keep it, Detective. You can run the license number, though. It’s legit.”
    Street made a note, and handed the paper back to Reggie.
    “Here you go,” she said, “don’t spend it all on one case.”
    In the distance, lights came on in the ranch house. I could hear Mike Salazar cursing and screaming from a quarter of a mile away. Thankfully, the hog shit overpowered the smell of his cologne at this range.
    “Uh, you guys might want to get out of here,” Banks said. “Mike Salazar’s got a reputation as a shoot first kind of guy.”
    Reggie finished stripping off his dry suit, emerging relatively clean. I had done my best to wipe my hands clean in the stream. Despite these efforts, the interior of the Jag never smelled the same again.
    Driving home, Reggie tried to continue talking about the case. He was clearly wide awake, while I was getting tired. I’m not too proud to admit I was also getting cranky.
    “So,” he began, “I knew it had to be Noah because—”
    “Did I ask?” I sighed.
    “No,” Reggie answered. “And I was wondering why. I assumed you were just too tired to ask.”
    “I’m too tired to listen, Sherlock,” I said. “I just want to be asleep.”
    “So, you didn’t enjoy this today?”
    “If you want that answered sans sarcasm,” I grumbled, “you’re going to have to wait until I wake up.”
    “Okay, okay,” he said.
    “All I really want to know right now is whether my basement will hold you another night,” I said.
    “I didn’t have a problem last night, and the moon is just past full now, so I’m finally starting to come off the—”
    “It was a yes or no question,” I said.
    “Probably,” he answered.
    “Good enough.”
    When we finally got home, Reggie sulked down into his basement, clearly unhappy that I had pulled the wind from his sails so abruptly when he had been riding so high on his latest success.
 
*        *        *
 
    Eight hours and fifteen minutes later I got out of bed and put on my slippers. I walked downstairs, ignoring Reggie, who stood expectantly at the doorway to the main gallery floor. I marched into the kitchen, where coffee had been made for me. Breakfast, too, was on the table. Blue-corn pancakes, chorizo, and half a grapefruit. I was getting used to this. I suppressed a chuckle. I read my paper, and occasionally looked out the kitchen window. Despite sleeping in, I was up early enough to watch Packey walk through the alley behind the gallery, on his way to his corner. He was looking into every dumpster that he passed, and I felt a pang of guilt for enjoying my meal. I decided to buy him a hot dinner the next time I got the chance.
    Finally, half an hour and two cups of coffee after I first padded downstairs in my slippers, I walked into the gallery, sat down, and took stock of the plethora of equipment that Reggie had brought in.
    There were two large chalk boards in frames that rolled and swiveled. I recognized them as junk from the basement, but Regge had cleaned off the cobwebs and used them to write out some of his notes on the case. On my coffee table half a dozen eight-by-ten color glossy photographs were laid out, printouts from Reggie’s cellphone’s camera. He was lucky the forensics team had brought plenty of light. Reggie wore a pair of thick-rimmed glasses I knew he did not need, and carried a long pointer, as though he were a school teacher ready to give a lecture. Indeed, his jacket today was tweed, with a patch on one shoulder and one on each elbow. His pants were khaki. He wore no tie with his violently lavender shirt. Slowly, a smirk grew on my lips, and this time I let it happen. A grin became a smile, which became a snort, then a laugh, then a guffaw.
    “Alright, professor,” I said, laying my paper aside. “You have my attention. Explain.”
    “Royal!”  He cried, then put on a straight face and smoothed down the front of his jacket. “I concluded that the body in the waste lagoon had to be Noah Renard by process of elimination.”
    “Was this whole thing a setup for a pun?” I groaned. Reggie smirked, but otherwise ignored me.
    “Here, as you can see, are the pictures of the corpse. In this photo, wrapped. In this photo, unwrapped. It is the same length as Noah Renard, while the other missing boy is taller: Melvin White is closer to six feet tall.”
    “He could have been mutilated,” I suggested. “Cut up, to disguise the identity.”
    “Yes,” he said, “but then, whether it was White or Renard, it would have been closer to three or four feet. And I could feel the head and limbs as we lifted it out.”
    “It could have been Jack,” I pointed out.
    “Yes,” Reggie said, “based on the pictures in Lupé’s house, he and his son are similar in height and build, it’s true. Three problems come to mind, though. First, if it was Jack, then who would have killed him and dumped the body there? Not Salazar or White, since a probate of Jack’s estate might have brought attention to the adverse possession claim you discovered.”
    “Oh,” I said. “Right.”
    “Second,” he said, “as I told you before I went for my swim in the sewage, I had already concluded that Noah’s body had to be in those lagoons.”
    “But,” I interjected, “Both Jack and Noah could have been in the lagoons.”
    “That’s where the third problem comes in,” Reggie said with a grin. “Just as we were leaving the restaurant last night, while you were paying our bill (thank you, by the way)—”
    “My pleasure,” I said, automatically waiving off Reggie’s gratitude. He moistened his lips, and continued.
    “While you were paying the bill, I got this message on my phone.”
    Reggie had hooked his cell phone up to a small set of speakers. He fiddled with some buttons, and then pressed “play.” The voice that I heard was gruff, husky, and had a cajun accent.
    “My name’s Jack Renard. I can’t talk long. Th’ people who posted my bail wanna speak t’you. They’re willin’ to make an exchange t’morrow at noon at th’ Prawn shop. Bring your chauffeur, no one else.”
    “Chauffeur?” I said.
    “Obviously,” Reggie went on, “it would be too much to expect that White or Salazar has been able to contain a lycanthrope for all three nights of the full moon, unless they knew what he was beforehand,” Reggie said.
    “Did he call me your chauffeur?”
    “Even then,” Reggie said, “it would be difficult. I can get the leash on myself. But trying to put one on me by force is very risky. When provoked, the coyote comes out, and I claw, bite, the whole deal.”
    “Reggie,” I shouted, “He—”
    “Yes, Sam.” Reggie tore his glasses from his face and glared at me. “Whoever is holding him instructed him to call you my ‘chauffeur.’  I doubt they actually know anything about our relationship except that they’ve seen you driving me around. I don’t think of you as my chauffeur. If that helps.”
    I calmed myself down a little. “Alright.” I said.
    “I won’t even ask you to come, Sam. It’s obviously a trap, and I’d rather not put you in danger.” He put his glasses back on.
    “Wait,” I said. “You’re going?”
    “I have to,” he insisted.
    “No, son, you don’t!”
    “Sam,” Reggie said, “Lupé Renard hired me to find her son and clear her husband’s name. Her son’s dead. I doubt she’d be very happy if her husband ended up dead, too. Even if I did manage to clear him.”
    “Jesus,” I swore, a realization suddenly hitting me. “Has anyone told her about—”
    “Yes,” Reggie nodded. “I called her first thing this morning.”
    “She should have been told in person, and last night.”
    Reggie shook his head. “She and I were both an hour away from an uncontrollable transformation, Sam. There wasn’t time. A giant lycanthropic fox tearing apart the crime scene was the last thing our new lady friends needed.”
    “We could have driven out this morning,” I argued.
    “I also wanted to make the call before Street or Banks did. Besides,” he said, smiling at me over the rims of his glasses, “you were sleeping, and I don’t like you when you’re grumpy.” He pushed the glasses up his nose, laid down his pointer, and sat next to me.
    “The problem,” he said, “is that we’re supposed to be meeting Street and Banks at the Sheriff’s office at the same time the exchange is supposed to take place. I don’t want to stall them, but if there’s a chance of getting Jack back alive I can’t pass that up, either.”
    “We could invite them to follow along,” I suggested.
    “I’m not even inviting you along,” Reggie said. “It’s too dangerous. I think this is the Litter.”
    “That sounds so much more imposing in German.”
    “Not if you speak German, it doesn’t. In any event, the name isn’t what worries me. It’s the tactics. Whoever took Jack Renard knows how to restrain a lycanthrope, and that spells trouble. Now, I need to follow this through. If only for my own edification.”
    “I’m going, kid,” I said.
    Reggie’s face nearly split with smiling. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s see if we can go talk to the Sheriffs early, and still make the trap.”