We pulled up just in time to see Patty White get out of a white Cadillac Escalade and walk into the Sheriff’s office.
“Do you think they found Melvin, too?” I asked.
“I seriously doubt it. But I do wonder what she’s doing here.”
The Sheriff’s Office was a big, modern building. It had lots of long hallways and very secure doors with locks that required either a key card or someone on the other side willing to “buzz you through.” Detectives Street and Banks had desks in a large room filled with other detectives at other work stations. Street’s desk and Banks’ faced each other. As we were led over to them, I could easily guess whose was whose.
Street’s desk was neat, clean, and organized, with an air of efficiency that was only slightly hampered by the piles of paperwork spilling over from Bank’s desk. The only personal touches were three small, framed pictures of cats.
Banks’ desk was a rat’s nest of wayward papers, half-full styrofoam coffee cups, and New Age trinkets. I should have wondered how this person could have become a detective in the first place. I was helping to hide a werecoyote from two murderous secret societies, however. I had bigger things to be incredulous about.
Neither Banks nor Street was actually present. Reggie and I sat waiting for several minutes. I was getting fidgety when we heard Patty White’s voice. She sounded like she had been sobbing.
“You don’t understand, John,” she said, stepping out of Sheriff Angelini’s office. She looked utterly disheveled. She had clearly left the house without doing her hair or putting on makeup. It appeared that most of her cover-girl appearance required hours in front of a mirror. I thought fondly of Carla, who was always at her most beautiful first thing in the morning. “His face! That face just won’t leave my mind.”
“It’s fine, sweetheart,” Sheriff Angelini said. He was a rotund man, with a belly that stuck out further than my own. He was gray around the temples, but with dark, black hair on top that began so abruptly I had trouble believing it wasn’t a toupee. His great red nose was spongy, and his glasses magnified his eyes several times. “We’ll send someone out there. Ain’t your husband got security?”
“Incompetents,” Patty spat. “Oh, God, John, if you don’t catch him, he might come back!”
“We’ll do our best, Patty.” He caught us looking at him, and straightened his shirt with his sausage fingers. I noticed a rather flashy red gemstone on the ring finger of his right hand. “Mrs. White, we’ll do our best. We take stalkers very seriously here in Santa Fe County.” He glared at us before returning to his office, and shutting the door.
Eventually Street and Banks rounded the corner in casual conversation. Street was carrying a ceramic mug with a badge image on it, and Banks was carrying yet another styrofoam cup. Upon arrival, Street took a coaster from her desk drawer and placed her mug on it. Banks pushed aside papers, and rearranged a few pieces of junk, but the whole pile seemed to resettle and absorb any clearing she managed to make. Finally she sighed, heaving the padded shoulders of her jacket up and down. She took one of the half-full cups and emptied it into another, then put her fresh cup inside the empty one.
Street gestured to a couple of spare chairs next to their desks and we all sat down.
“Before we get started,” Det. Street said, “I want to thank you, Mr. LaKino, for waiting until this morning to notify Lupé Renard. You could have easily created a scene by telling her last night, and that would have made our investigation much harder.”
“I live to serve,” Reggie said, smiling.
“And it’s a good thing you two got out of there when you did,” Banks said. “Salazar was not happy! He came up, screaming about his lawyer. Tried to say whatever we found, ‘them damned protesters musta put it thar!’” Banks’ imitation of Salazar’s Texan made me laugh in spite of myself. This made her giggle at her own joke. Street rolled her eyes.
“So, the first thing we want to know,” Street said, “is how you knew Noah Renard’s body would be in Mike Salazar’s waste lagoons.”
Reggie smiled his wide, toothy smile, and looked at me for a moment.
“He wasn’t anywhere else,” he said.
“He could have been far, far away,” Street pointed out.
Reggie considered this for a moment. I wondered how he would explain that Noah’s parents would have been able to track him anywhere else. How would he justify looking where he did without having to first convince the authorities that he and the Renards had superhuman noses?
“I had a hunch,” he said.
“I get those!” Banks smiled. Street leaned forward and looked Reggie right in the eye. She was a little taller than him. Even seated, this showed.
“You need to start being straight with us, or I’ll—”
“Okay,” Reggie leaned back. “Alright.” He smoothed the front of his lavender shirt. “I never believed that either of you had stopped looking for Noah Renard. You two put up a good act when we interviewed Lupé, but I didn’t buy it. I decided to start my search on the theory that you had already been conducting a thorough one, albeit discretely, and perhaps,” he lowered his voice, “without the full cooperation of the Office.”
“How’d you know—,” began Banks, but Street kicked her in the shin. After a pause, Reggie kept talking.
“Jack Renard is a seasoned hunter and tracker. If Noah had just gone into the wilderness, Jack should have been able to find his own son. But he hadn’t. If Noah’d been picked up and taken into the city, you should have had a lead. But you didn’t. So I assumed a worst case scenario, and thought like a bad guy.”
“Must have been hard work,” Street said.
“If I had killed a child, and wanted to make sure no one would find him, where would I take him? The farther you move a body, the more clues you’re likely to leave behind. The smell of rotting flesh is conspicuous, and so is a murder of crows feasting on carrion. But in the waste lagoon? Even a trained bloodhound wouldn’t find Noah there.”
“You’ve had all night to think of excuses,” Street pointed out, “and the best one you can come up with still boils down to, ‘that’s where I would have hidden the body if I were the killer’?”
“See, Sam?” Reggie asked. “I told you people don’t like to hear the truth.” His point would have been made more effectively if he had actually been telling the truth.
“I took the liberty of checking up on the status of the background check for your permanent PI license, Mr. LaKino,” Street said. Reggie sat up a little straighter in his chair.
“We were wondering what the hangup was,” Banks said. “It turned out you had a bit of a rap sheet.”
“We also talked to some of our colleagues at the city Police Department,” Street added.
“Summers and Harris,” I muttered involuntarily.
“Oh you’ve met them, Mr. Brown?” Street asked.
“I have,” I admitted.
“They told us all about Reggie.” Banks said.
“I’m sure they did,” Reggie began, “but—”
“At this point,” Street said, standing up from her chair, “we’re going to need to split the two of you up, to finish this interview. Sandra, check the computer to see if anyone’s booked the conference rooms for today.” Street smiled a little. “I’ll go see if the interrogation rooms are open, as a backup.”
Street walked away without looking back at us, while Banks began staring blankly at the computer screen.
“Where was it?” she whispered to herself.
“Can I help?” Reggie asked.
“Oh, I just don’t remember where to look,” she said.
Reggie knelt next to her. “Is it there?” he asked. “On the calendar in Outlook?”
“Oh! Right,” Banks beamed. “Thanks!” She tried to swivel around in her chair to smile at Reggie but he was a little too close. The side of the chair ended up catching him in the abdomen and he stumbled slightly to one side, putting his hand out to catch himself. In his attempt to grab the desk he knocked over one of the styrofoam cups, spilling coffee all down my pant leg. I leapt out of my chair a little too late. I was just glad the coffee had been cold.
Reggie pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and handed it to me.
“Sorry, Sam, are you okay?”
“Well, I—” I began.
“Can you get us paper towels?” Reggie asked Banks.
“Oh, well, yeah!” She quickly disappeared.
“I really, really am sorry, Sam,” Reggie said. He gave me a pat on the chest as he stopped dabbing my crotch with his hanky. He didn’t look as concerned as he sounded, though. He was too busy rifling through Banks’ paperwork, and fiddling with her computer.
“What are you—” I lowered my voice and tried to yell and whisper at the same time. “You did that on purpose!”
“Yes,” Reggie said. “That’s why I apologized. Twice. Now be quiet.”
“But if you take—”
“Shhh! I’m not taking anything. I just want a look.”
“Reggie,” I tried to lower my voice further. “The room’s full of cops. If they see—”
“So stop drawing attention by whispering to me,” he said, speaking calmly. “I need to do this fast. Damn, Bank’s desk is just horrible.”
I looked around. There were five other detectives in the room, all of them staring at computers or going through paperwork. An occasional uniformed officer walked through. Nobody paid us much attention. There were, however, security cameras placed in various parts of the ceiling.
“You’re on tape, Reggie,” I said, as casually as I could.
He looked around at the ceiling and winced.
“Wish I’d found something,” he mumbled. “Don’t know how Banks can keep track of anything in that mess.”
“Well, why didn’t you just flip through the files on Street’s desk?” I asked.
“Because— what files?”
“Because— what files?”
“They’re marked: ‘Renard,’ ‘White,’ and ‘LaKino,’ respectively,” I said.
“Oh. Keep an eye out, would you?”
“What?” I said, and watched as he slid a file out, and held it under the desk. From where he was sitting the camera probably couldn’t see what he was doing, but my heart-rate did a Keith Moon impersonation nonetheless. “Fine,” I concluded, and did my best to keep an eye on a whole room full of detectives at once.
Reggie got less than thirty seconds with each file before I jabbed him in the ribs to let him know Banks was coming back with the paper towels. He put the files back right where they belonged, but I had no way of knowing whether he’d learned anything useful. Street was right on Banks’ heels.
“Sandra, did you find— what happened to your desk?”
“Oh,” Reggie offered, “I was clumsy. Spilled some coffee on her papers, and on Sam.”
“Right.” Street’s eyes shot to her own desk, and I held my breath. “All but one of the interrogation rooms are in use,” she continued, making eye contact with Banks again. I exhaled as slowly as I could.
“Oh, right,” Banks said. “I was checking the conference rooms.”
“Yes,” Street said.
“And, um,” Banks was momentarily startled to look at her computer and see that the calendar on her Outlook was already pulled up, showing the full schedule for the conference rooms. “Oh, it looks like conference room C is free.”
“Wonderful,” Street said. “You take Mr. Brown to room C, I’ll be in Interrogation 2 with LaKino.”
“Alright, hey!” Banks noticed her own notebook sticking out under the keyboard of her desk. She picked it up, shaking her head. “Things turn up in the darnedest places.”
Reggie licked his lips. I should have known he had a scam in mind.