Reggie’s hand had lengthened before my eyes, and became much harrier than normal. His fingernails curled into claws. I stole a look at his face. His usually black hair was now almost completely dirty blond. His chin and nose were jutting forward. He was changing.
“Should I be concerned?” I asked.
“I can hold it together for a few hours yet,” he said, contorting his face. His hand shrunk a little. “But we do need to find a place to stash me.”
“Shouldn’t we have addressed this hours ago?”
“Probably,” Reggie nodded. “But unless you’ve got a time machine—”
“Fine, fine. Um,” I frowned, “what do you usually do?”
“The leash thing usually works pretty well. But that’s with the drugs. Without them—”
“How about my basement?” I suggested.
“The wine cellar?” Reggie asked.
“No, it goes under the whole building. I haven’t done anything with it yet.”
“How’s the door?”
“Pretty solid,” I said. “Steel, I think. The previous owner had it put in so he could use the basement as a safe room when he had high priced stuff in storage.”
“And the lock?” he asked.
“Three deadbolts. You have to enter a code to get in.” I frowned for a moment. “But there’s a keypad inside, too.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Reggie said. “Coyotes aren’t that good with numbers.”
I woke only once in the night. I could hear the Noise emanating from the basement. I walked downstairs to check the door. I pulled on it to make sure the lock was holding, and the Noise ceased. I held my breath. With a thud, something hit the other side of the door and I jumped back. A throaty howl told me Reggie was still there. The howling continued for an hour, waking every dog for miles, but eventually I got back to sleep.
The next morning’s paper contained an “in-depth profile” of the White family. From it I learned several things that seemed of little or no import to the case at hand. Patrick White, for instance, was from a long line of Whites who had owned ranch land in the area going back to the end of the Civil War, when Lieutenant Colonel Alan White settled there and began raising chickens. The White name had been followed by tragedy, and some claimed the land was cursed. The ranch had changed hands often, but always remained within the family, passing to Patrick barely a year and a half ago, when his father Donald died at the age of 74.
Mr. White was, like me, a widower. Melvin was the product of his first marriage. Melvin’s mother, Vanessa, had given Pat two sons before being crushed to death in 1995 by an out of control rotary tiller she had rented to improve the family’s garden. Sheriff John Angelini, who at that time was Undersheriff, had taken special interest in the strange case, but eventually concluded it was a tragic accident. Pat Junior, Mr. White’s oldest son, suffered severe autism and epilepsy, and had been committed to a special facility for the developmentally disabled. Three years after Mr. White remarried, Junior was pronounced dead.
Patricia White, Melvin’s stepmother, was also no stranger to tragedy. She had previously been married to the late J.T. Cardew IV, owner and founder of a now national chain of southwestern themed sports bars called “Juegos.” He had committed suicide eight years ago. He left his entire estate to Patricia. Although Patrick White was rich by any measure (he was generally acknowledged as the Santa Fe Chicken King), no one would ever claim Patty had married him for his money. For one thing, he was incredibly handsome. For another, Patty White’s own fortune was by all accounts equal to or greater than Pat’s.
Melvin was a mathlete and ran track for his private high school. He was a straight A student, the president of the local 4-H club, and treasurer of the student counsel. He had once won a pie eating contest at the Santa Fe County Fair. He was a Pisces who enjoyed long romantic moonlit walks, jazz, candlelit dinners, and discussing the pros and cons of cow and chicken manure as fertilizer.
The whole article was fertilizer in my opinion, but I read it, in case any of it came in handy later. Perhaps it would be important to know that Patricia White (formerly Cardew, née Neilson) had won a beauty, riding, roping, and shooting competition to become Santa Fe County’s Rodeo Queen in 1974. Maybe we would need to know that Patrick White had won the city’s annual Chili Cook-off for three of the last five years running, or that Melvin White had written an essay in 7th Grade about his hero, “Great great great Grampa Alan White.”
“I doubt it, Sam,” was Reggie’s response when I told him all this. He had let himself out of the basement with the combination, and I woke to the smell of freshly made coffee and sizzling bacon. He’d wolfed his breakfast down (maybe he coyoted it?) and had disappeared into the basement again. I had finished the article, put down the paper, and started up the stairs in the hopes of getting some painting done when he emerged with a hand full of notes.
“Glad you’re taking an interest, though!” He smiled that big, bright smile at me, and slapped me warmly on the back. I felt like a loyal retriever who had pleased his master. “If you’ve got time,” he continued, “I thought I’d pick your cranium about some stuff Jack Renard’s PD said to me this morning.”
“You finally got in contact with the public defender, son?” I asked.
“Yep,” Reggie said, “pain in the ass kinda guy, though. I hate lawyers.”
“Ouch!” I said, clutching my hand to my chest.
“Present company excluded,” Reggie added with a grin.
“Does that ever make anyone feel better?”
“Anyway, Counselor,” Reggie said. “Bottom line is that the prosecutor dropped the charges down to trespassing, and Jack’s out on bail. But there’s still the ongoing investigation, so Jack’s still been advised to take advantage of that right to remain silent.”
“That’s assuming he didn’t already dig his own grave trying to talk his way out of it.” I said.
“That’s the thing,” Reggie said. “It doesn’t sound like there was much of an interrogation.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean that based on what the lawyer said, they only asked him perfunctory questions about the whereabouts of either of the boys,” Reggie replied. “Sharpe, that’s the PD, said he showed up to the interrogation room and the detectives were asking Jack about his landscaping business.”
“He been accused of hiring illegal workers?” I asked.
“Nope. Banks wanted to know about why her hibiscus keeps dying.”
“Don’t those need a ton of water?”
“Apparently. Anyway, the point being, they didn’t ask him anything relevant.”
“Royally weird?” Reggie suggested.
“Exceedingly,” I agreed.
“That’s what I thought,” Reggie said.
“That’s what you needed my legal mind for?” I asked.
“No,” Reggie said, “I just needed to think it through out loud. It helps me put facts in order, helps me draw conclusions based on what I know rather than what I feel.”
“And what conclusions have you drawn?” I asked.
“That it’s weird,” he said. “Exceedingly, royally weird.”
“Want to know what else Sharpe told me?”
“Jack’s bail was posted by a third party. He’s been out for two nights now, and he’s totally disappeared. Neither the County, nor I, nor Avery Sharpe, nor Lupé have any idea where Jack is right now.”
“Um.” I said.
“That was a pretty emphatic ‘um,” Reggie said.
“That’s how I feel about it,” I replied. “I feel an emphatic ‘um.’”
“I didn’t realize an ‘um’ could be that emphatic.”
“But it can. And it is.”
“Royal,” Reggie said. “Anyway, setting Jack’s mysterious benefactor and subsequent disappearance aside for just a tiny moment, it’s like Street and Banks are going through the motions of an investigation without really caring that much about it. They didn’t even interview Lupé until yesterday! And they don’t seem like the types to slack off.”
“No,” I said. “I got the impression yesterday that they really want to know where those kids are.”
“Me too,” Reggie nodded. “So why not ask Jack any probing questions?”
“And why’d the prosecutor drop the charges to trespassing?” I asked. “I mean, the trespassing itself’s pretty suspicious.”
“Maybe there’s something in Banks’ notebook, but I couldn’t read it, it was in some kind of code—” Reggie fumbled in his pockets, eventually producing the stolen notepad. “There,” he pointed.
“Hey, now,” I said. “I don’t want to have anything to do with that!”
“Come on, Sam,” Reggie stared at me with big, chocolate puppy-dog eyes. “We’re in this together, right?”
I looked at him, then looked down at the notebook. Reggie pointed at the middle of the page, where I saw a series of symbols.
“What do you suppose that is?” he asked.
“That?” I laughed. “You’re telling me you don’t read shorthand?”
“That’s what this is?”
“Yes. Banks must be pretty old fashioned.” I took a look at the script. “That can’t be right,” I said, at last.
“I can see wheels turning in your head, Sam. Don’t hold back on me.”
“It says, ‘Direct from JA: Investigate the White disappearance. Arrest Renard on suspicion of kidnapping, homicide, trespassing.’ I just don’t like it, Reggie.”
“It’s dated the morning Melvin went missing. It sounds like someone directed them to arrest Jack without any real, well, evidence. And now Jack’s completely missing?”
“Yep,” Reggie said.
“I don’t like it at all.”
“Did you know that Santa Fe Sheriff’s name is—”
“Did you know that Santa Fe Sheriff’s name is—”
“John Angelini,” I nodded. “‘J.A.’ I really want to come up with some alternative meanings for those notes.”
“But can you?” Reggie asked. “Anything that fits in context?”
I thought. I strained. I was up against a problem that I’d had in my practice several times: early conclusions create bias. I tried to explain this to Reggie.
“If you give yourself enough time,” I said, “anything can fit into the story you want to tell. But of course, new facts come out and there isn’t always enough time to reconcile them with the client’s version of events, and the whole thing begins to unravel.”
“We’re not advocates here,” Reggie said. “We’ve been hired to find the facts, not to spin them. The scientific approach is to form a hypothesis, and then try to disprove it.”
“But Mrs. Renard is paying you,” I pointed out.
“She’s paying me to find out what happened,” Reggie countered. “If she came to me to make up facts, she came to the wrong detective.”
“But, isn’t that what you’re good at?” I said. “Making things up? Telling stories? Isn’t that what your rap sheet’s all about?”
“That was my old job,” Reggie said. “This is my new one. You have to believe me on this, Sam. I really want to find the truth here.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Look, I’m not hiding anything from you, Sam. But you can’t expect me to just,” he snapped his fingers, “transform into an open book. I don’t even know why I do everything I do. I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”
I took a deep breath, and decided I could let him tell me in his own time.
“Fine,” I said. “What else is in there?”