Reggie and I spent the next half hour going over Banks’ notebook. Not everything was useful. Banks had written her shopping list in along with the rest. Whenever she spoke with a man she noted whether she thought he was wearing boxers or briefs. She had suspected that Jack Renard was going commando.
We did confirm Reggie’s belief that Street and Banks had been following up other avenues of investigation, some of it outside of business hours. Banks might not have been as clueless as she pretended about the Noah Renard case. There were notes that they’d pulled in some favors from city cops in Santa Fe and some of the other towns in the area. No one had leads on either boy. They had investigated the sinkhole on the White property, finding nothing but a few torn pieces of Melvin’s shirt.
There were also some insights into the White family that the paper hadn’t revealed. Patty White’s first husband had a severe gambling addiction that ate into his business profits, but he died in the clear. Pat White had been investigated several times for shady lending practices and improper accounting. Mike Salazar was apparently a briefs man.
“I would like to follow up on the Bonami stuff today,” Reggie said, after we’d exhausted his memory of Banks’ notes. “Would you mind going with me to the jail? I can walk, but I know I’ve kind of been keeping you at arm’s length on that. I think it’s because some part of me knew she was a setting me up.”
“How could you possibly have known that?” I asked.
“I actually do get some impressions from pheromones,” he said. “Not, like, comic book clear, but they’re there. And I’m a pretty good liar myself. So I know when people are lying to me.”
“Oh really?” I smiled.
“Like I said,” he grinned, as he grabbed his black satchel. “This nose, c’est quelque chose.”
I laughed, and drove Reggie to the jail where I’d picked him up a few days earlier.
The trip to the jail was fruitless. They had no record of an Angela Bonami, and wouldn’t even look up Randall the fiancé without a last name. Finally, I convinced Reggie we would have to call Lt. Summers, who wasn’t in. Reggie left a message.
We drove back to Bonami’s condo, where Reggie knocked and knocked like a ‘74 Ford Jalopy but there was no response. He tried the knob and the door swung open on what was perhaps the emptiest, cleanest apartment I’d ever seen. Pinned to the far wall was a single sheet of paper with the words “you’ve had yours.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Every dog has his day,” Reggie said. “The Dogcatchers have been here. There’ll be nothing else to see.” He shook his head. “Let’s go back to the Renards’. I want to sniff around.”
He’d had such a futile day so far, I just couldn’t argue with him. When we reached the turnoff onto the Renards’ dirt road, Reggie asked me to pull over.
“I need another favor from you,” he said. “This one you’re going to love, though. It’ll make you feel like you’re 25 again.”
“Reggie,” I said, “I’ve already done you a load of favors today. And by the time I was 25, I was spending all my time in law libraries with my nose in a book.”
“Oh really?” he said. “Well, then this will be exhilarating for you!”
Four hours later I looked up from a stack of paperwork at the County Court’s reading room with a triumphant smile on my face.
“It’s a matter of public record, Reggie,” I gloated. I checked myself, however, and shifted in my seat. I had met Reggie at a restaurant after having left him six hours earlier at the Renard property. He had traveled considerable distance since then, but preferred to hear what I had to say before divulging where he’d been. What was making me uncomfortable was the presence, at our table, of the Detectives Street and Banks.
They had entered the dimly lit dining room just as I’d placed my order. Reggie, to my surprise, had waved at them and encouraged them to sit with us. They were dressed more casually than they had been the day before. Banks was, anyway. Her hair was down (though it still swept to the left because of her customary side-ponytail). She wore a turquoise dress with a brown wrap over her shoulders, and a necklace with a large crystal on it. Street was still dressed professionally, though perhaps more colorfully than when she was “on the job.” Their badges were not on display.
Once they were seated and had placed their orders, Reggie motioned me to begin again. I took a sip of my third glass of wine, and launched back into my tale.
“I started, as you requested, at the County Office, and I reviewed the records at the Assessor’s and the Recorder’s. Here’s a photocopy I made of the property lines.”
“Well, this is old,” Street observed. “It doesn’t show the Renard property on here at all.”
“That confused me at first, too,” I said. “But then I remembered what you’d said about the land dispute. I went to the Courthouse. Almost all court cases are public, so I was able to establish fairly quickly that Salazar and the Whites have each sued the other in Quiet Title over the same strip of land. Both parties allege that the strip of land for 100 feet on either side of the stream belongs to them. Including the Renard property where the stream forks.”
“Again, it must have been an old case,” Street insisted.
“Well,” I said, feeling boastful again, “if you’ll check the dates on these, you’ll see that the property assessment that doesn’t show the Renards’ land is only five years old. And the Complaint and Counter Complaint in the lawsuit are both dated around the same time as the assessment.”
“But,” Banks said, “the Renards say they’ve been on the land for—”
“Fifteen years,” I said. “I know.”
“They’re trespassing?” Street asked.
“That’s far from clear.” I smiled, in spite of myself. I took another sip of my wine. “Have you ever heard of ‘adverse possession?’”
“Um, no,” Banks admitted. “Is it important?”
“It’s a legal doctrine,” I explained. “It says that, within certain parameters, if you’ve been on a plot of land that isn’t yours without permission, for 10 years or more, you’re not a squatter anymore, you’re the owner.”
“So they’re not trespassers?” Banks asked.
“Maybe. I said ‘within certain perimeters.’ ‘Pairometers.’ ‘Parameters.’” I pushed my wine glass away. “You have to meet several factors to prove adverse possession. And the Renards would have to enter into the lawsuit if they wanted to claim it. But the Renards haven’t even been notified. And about two years ago, both sides joined in a Motion to Continue for no stated reason. The case has only been kept inactive,” I shook my head slightly, “sorry, kept active through a series of repeated, and frivolous, motions.”
“And all that means?” Banks asked.
“And all that means?” Banks asked.
“Any attorney who got wind of a party that might have a valid legal claim in an ongoing land dispute would be ethically bound to notify the Court and the party about it,” I said. “Both sides have put five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars into this litigation. And then they suddenly stop?”
“I still don’t see what this has to do with Melvin White’s disappearance,” Banks said. “Or Noah’s,” she added, after a sharp look from Reggie.
“But consider motive,” Reggie said.
“We don’t need to prove motive if we have enough hard evidence,” Street insisted.
“Not my point,” Reggie pushed on. “My point is that Salazar and the Whites both had motive to frame the Renards. To get them off the property.”
“So that they don’t have to start the suit all over again,” I said, finishing my wine.
“Precisely,” Reggie agreed.
“It would be a hell of a lot cheaper not to have to file amended petitions and responses,” I added.
“So, let me get this straight, Mr. Brown,” Street said. “You spent how long at the County building and the courthouse?”
“Three, four hours,” I said. “Why?”
“You do realize that most of that stuff’s online?” Street said. “It could have been done in 15 minutes.”
I rapidly turned the color of my Malbec.
Street smirked, but steered the conversation back towards business, and away from my inefficiency.
“What does it mean, though?” She said.
“Mostly that there’s more going on here than you might think,” Reggie smiled.
“Oh, well we don’t really—” Banks began, but Street cut her off.
“We haven’t reached any conclusions, Mr. Renard.” Street said.
“Royal!” Reggie proclaimed. “Here comes the food! We’re all off the clock now, right?”
We all nodded, agreeing that we needed a break from the case. Banks dominated the conversation. She explained the significance of the crystal she wore around her neck. Apparently a guru in Sedona had told her that it had some mystical Dead Sea powers. Street rolled her eyes at this, but didn’t interrupt the story. I imagined she had been forced to hear this exact speech on a daily basis, and was all too happy to share the pain.
“There’s no such thing,” Reggie kept repeating.
“So you think!” Banks would respond, and then plunge into an explanation about how she’d been on a spirit quest at a Native American Church when the guru, who just happened to be her late second husband, suggested they do a Vortex hike nude.
“And then he fell off the top of Coffee Pot mountain,” she concluded, the smile fading briefly from her face. “I really miss him. Oh, look, the dessert tray!”
After dessert Banks offered to read Reggie’s aura, and Reggie suggested we leave. It was only when I looked back at the table on our way out that I noticed nobody else had ordered anything to drink.
After fueling my car again at my insistence, Reggie directed me to drive out to the Salazar ranch. I’m no hardboiled detective, but even I could spot Street and Banks in a red Subaru tailing us the whole way. I mentioned it to Reggie but he seemed unconcerned.
“That’s her personal car,” Reggie said. “They really are off the clock. But they think we’re going to see Jack. We’ll show them something more interesting, if they care to follow.”
The night was clear. The moon, barely past the full, still shone out at us, a giant spotlight giving the vast desert landscape a silvery sheen that could have been newly fallen snow. Piñon and Juniper glittered at us as we passed. Every now and then, the black silhouette of a cow or bull would cast a shadow on the road, but for the most part, the rangeland appeared devoid of life.
We turned off of Salazar’s main driveway and onto a dirt road that closely paralleled the river. After we parked, Reggie led me straight to the sewage lagoons of the Salazar pork operation, adjacent to the waterway. Industrial hog ranches like Salazar’s create industrial sized amounts of pig manure. This is then diverted to large on-site lagoons for storage. The lagoons can be smelled for miles.
“So that’s what I was smelling when we talked to Mike Salazar?” I asked.
“Yep,” Reggie replied. “This smell is so bad, even Detective Harris would have caught a whiff if he’d been with us. This close to the lagoons, my nose is useless. I can’t smell anything but the waste.”
“So then why are we walking towards it?” I asked.
“I had an idea,” Reggie said. “Lupé and Jack Renard, both werefoxes with acute senses of smell, had been all over the area looking for their son, and not been able to find him.”
“Right,” I said.
“I couldn’t pick up a scent of him, either,” Reggie said.
“Right,” I repeated.
“So that meant that Noah must be somewhere even a werecanid literally cannot smell him.”
“Right. Oh,” I said, as it hit me. “You mean he’s—”
“He’s in the pig shit.”
“No idea. Want to draw straws?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not going in.”
“I thought you said we were in this together,” Reggie said.
“That was before ‘this’ referred to an Olympic sized vat of swine excrement,” I said.
“What’s the matter,” Reggie teased. “Afraid you’ll catch the flu?”
“Among other things. Mostly the other things, actually.”
“Fine.” Reggie reached into his satchel and pulled out a bulky nylon jumpsuit of some sort.
“What the hell’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a lightweight dry suit,” he said. “Kayakers use them.”
“You just happened to have one on you?”
“Of course,” Reggie said, grinning, and putting it on over his clothes.
The vats themselves turned out only to be a few feet deep. The “liquid” barely reached Reggie’s waist. Even so, there was a long smelly time before his search produced any results. At last, he bent over and pulled up something wrapped in sheets of linen. The bundle was more than five and a half feet long, and it took both of us to lift it out of the lagoon and lower it onto dry ground. It had been weighted down with rocks before being dumped. Despite my best efforts, I got covered in liquid pig droppings as I gripped the slimy, cold bundle.
Two flashlights turned on a quarter of a mile from the lagoons. In very little time Street and Banks were upon us, telling us to take our hands off the bundle. Street kept her eyes on us while she instructed Banks to go unwrap what we had found. Momentarily, we heard Banks gasp.
“It’s—” Banks mumbled, but her breath was caught short. Street dropped her guard and looked over her shoulder.
“It’s—” Street said, then fell silent. I walked over and saw a cold, grayish brown face, streaked with detritus, one curly lock of matted wet hair falling down in front of the open brown eyes, which stared unflinchingly ahead.
“It’s—” I began.
“It’s Noah Renard,” Reggie announced, not bothering to look.