Back at the gallery, Jack Renard had apparently let himself in. He sat in my brown chair, drinking my beer. His wife Lupé, and the boy Melvin White stood next to him. Melvin’s dark hair now had a tinge of auburn to it that grew more pronounced as the moon waxed. He wore thick glasses, wrangler jeans, and a plaid shirt with mother of pearl buttons on its pockets. He’d stuffed his hands about as deep into the pockets of his jeans as they could go. He slouched next to Jack as though trying not to offend the short Cajun with his height.
“We got some things to talk ‘bout. N’est pas, mes amis? Pull up the chairs. And the beers.”
Reggie and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and did as Jack suggested.
“Let me be the first t’announce that Melvin here has recently asked me for my daughter’s hand. He’ll be asking her tonight, wonchoo boy?”
“Yes, sir,” Melvin said. He stared at his feet. Lupé straightened the boy’s shirt, and smiled.
“Congratulations!” Reggie and I cried at once, and reached forward to shake his hand. He seemed confused and not sure how to react, but eventually decided it would be customary to extend his own hand to shake ours.
“Second,” Lupé chimed in, “Melvin would like to apologize for any damage he caused either of you two weeks ago, right Mel?”
“Y-yes,” Melvin said again. “I’m very, very sorry sirs. I want to make it up to you.”
“The ‘torney’s giving him a nice fat allowance from his pappy’s estate,” Jack said. “He’ll be writing you a check, Brown, for repairs to that fancy car o’ yours.”
“Well he doesn’t—” I began, but Reggie rolled his eyes at me, and I realized what I was doing. “Thank you,” I said at last. “That’s very kind.”
“You’re one o’ us now, kid,” Jack said, addressing Melvin. The boy hunched his back even further, in an effort to disappear into his boots. “No more slinkin’ ‘round wit’ Sofia behind the scenes. You gonna have to own it.”
“He was never been ashamed of us, Jack,” Lupé insisted. “It was his father he was afraid of.”
“I s’pose,” Jack grunted. “There’s just the one las’ matter to clear up. Melvin, you wanna go warm up the truck?”
“Yes, sir,” Melvin said, and left.
“I wasn’t abducted,” Jack said, after Melving was out of earshot. Reggie looked unsurprised that Jack had completely dropped his Cajun accent. “There’s something you need to understand, young Mr. LaKino. You talk about ‘the Litter’ like there’s only one. Like Die Wurf der Wilden Jagd is the only Litter on the planet, and that just isn’t true.” Reggie arched an eyebrow, and Jack went on. “The Litters are independent groups. Sure, Marcus June and his boys like to make believe they’re the only cocks in the henhouse, but there’s quite a few more, dating back to— well I’m not sure exactly. Anyhow, not every Litter acts like Die Wurf. Take the La Littre del Zorro, for instance. My Great Great Great Grand Pappy started that up a century ago just to keep the Dogcatchers off the continent. Didn’t work too well. But I’m the head of it now, and it seems like my family’s expanding. Looks like I’ll be a grand pappy myself here, soon.” He looked at the door Melvin had left through.
“I’m the Big Dog around here, so to speak,” Jack continued, “being a landscaper and all, you wouldn’t think it. But I had some friends of mine pay my bail with Litter money, and I kept myself out of the can, and out of sight. That crap I fed you about hearing rumors of you messing something up was true, though. Die Wurf’s been poking around, and they don’t like you being here. I don’t like them pissing on my tree stumps if you catch my drift. So I want you here, as long as you don’t make trouble for me. And as long as you do make trouble for them. I had to be sure I could trust you first. You understand.”
Reggie looked at Jack Renard for a moment, considering things.
“You’re telling me, if I get this right,” Reggie said, “that you’re from a Litter that opposes Die Wurf?”
“And you aren’t asking me to swear any silly oaths?”
“Nope,” Jack shook his head. “I’m no evangelist.”
“And you want to get Marcus June out of Santa Fe?”
“In the worst way.”
“In the worst way.”
“He’s infiltrated your operation.”
“I know it,” Jack nodded. “One of my normy employees. Man named Chuck. I let them think I don’t know. I keep him under control.”
“I’ll think about it,” Reggie said, taking a sip from his beer.
“June’s men aren’t the only ones swarming around,” Jack said. “Dogcatchers from all over. I think your ‘client,’ Bonami was in with them.”
“I’m beginning to suspect that myself,” Reggie said.
“Then all that’s left to be done is for me to give you these.” Jack handed Reggie two envelopes. “The thick one’s your fee for helping my family out of a jam. Thanks for coming to the memorial, by the way. It meant the world.”
“What’s the other one?” I asked.
“That’s for Reginald. From a friend.”
“This handwriting doesn’t belong to any friend of mine,” Reggie said.
“That may be true,” Jack said, standing. “But I assure you, that letter will be of use to you.”
“Hopefully we will see more of you?” Lupé asked.
“Perhaps,” Reggie said, opening the envelope of cash.
“I hope so.” I said. A thought had been cooking slowly in the back of my mind, and as Reggie was counting out his fee, I decided to speak up.
“I don’t want to pry, and I know that I’ve been pretty worthless throughout this whole adventure. I know I didn’t help you much when I told you about my daughter’s death, but I can’t bear to see you make the mistakes I made.”
“Such as?” Jack asked, tapping his foot.
“While she was alive, I doted on my daughter, the artistic child. I ignored my son, the practical one. Now he and I hardly speak. He thinks I see him as inferior to his sister in some way. I’m afraid—” I frowned, and looked at my feet. “I’m afraid he might be right. Love Sophia for who she is, flightiness and all. Encourage her photography. And love your soon to be son-in-law, and any grandchildren, on their own merits. Melvin’s not a replacement for Noah. Don’t be like me.”
“That makes sense, Mr. Brown,” Jack said. “But like many things, is easier said than done.”
My eyes, however, were on Lupé. Hers glistened, and tears streamed down her cheeks, but she threw her arms around me.
“Thank you, Mr. Brown.” Lupé said, and left a damp spot of tears on my shoulder. Before they left, she did the same to Reggie.
“I hope this new romance with Melvin and Sophia breaks the curse,” I said, chewing the carne guisada Reggie had made to celebrate his dropped charges, his license, the arrest of Patty White and Mike Salazar, and his own returning health. I had tried once more to convince him to let me order a congratulatory pizza, but he had insisted.
“You can’t be serious, Sam. There’s no such—”
“—thing. Right. I’m not so sure about that. I mean, I don’t think that old woman in the story had any mystical power. But damn it, kid, not even I take everything as literal as you do. Fact of the matter is, for however many generations, the daddies in that family treated their kids with fear and suspicion, expecting to be killed. And in the end, those expectations were met.” I slapped some beans onto one of Reggie’s home-made tortillas, and took another bite. “Some things have power past what you can see and measure.”
“I don’t know about that, Sam.”
“Reggie, you’re a mystery to me. You’ve got your own kind of curse. Something you just have to live with. But you cant accept anything else that seems out of the ordinary.”
“Maybe. Whatever.” Reggie chewed for a while in a heavy, passive aggressive silence I remember from my son’s teenage years. Eventually, he spoke again. “You know, I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m not really progressing as a detective.”
“Oh, don’t start the pity parade again, kid.”
“I’m serious. I started out in Santa Fe finding my neighbor’s lost pug, and I feel like this case is no different. Like whatever I do, I’m still just looking for little lost dogs.”
“So you don’t believe in curses, but you’ll believe in destiny?”
“That’s not what I’m saying, Sam.”
“You sure about that?” He just looked at me. We ate again in silence for a while. Eventually a memory floated to the top of my head as I started in on my third glass of wine.
“Aren’t you going to open that letter?” I asked.
“Later,” Reggie said, looking out the newly installed window on the gallery floor.
“Jack seemed to think it was important.”
“I don’t want to deal,” he said, suddenly agitated. “It’s been a long month.”
“It has. What do you have on tap for tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. Sam, have you ever thought of getting a New Mexico license?”
“What, to practice law?”
“I don’t want to make you and Street bend your rule-abiding ways. But I don’t want to have to watch you do charades with Banks again, either.”
“You want me to be your legal advisor?” I chuckled.
“Yes. I told you that first morning at the Brew Hound, I want you to help me. You— you mean a lot to me.”
“If you’re going to be my employer, you’d have to pay my Bar fees,” I said.
“Sure, that’s fine.”
“And put up with me while I study to take the test.”
“Can’t you waive in or something?” he asked.
“I’ll look into it,” I said. “Don’t think so. Either way, I have one more condition.”
“Fine, what’s that?”
“We put all this in writing. And get you a written lease.”
“Isn’t that what you want me to be?”
“Not such an easy mark after all, are you?” Reggie said.
“Maybe not. If you’re going to afford me,” I said, “you’ll need more clients. I expect to see you at the Brew Hound tomorrow morning.”
“Fine!” Reggie waived his hand.
“Maybe these will help,” I said. I got up and walked across the room. I reached into a drawer and pulled out something that I’d bought while he’d been recuperating at the Renards’ estate.
“Sam,” Reggie said, opening the box, “these shades must’ve cost two hundred bucks!”
“Someone once told me,” I said, “that the only reason to wear two hundred dollar shades is to impress someone. Go impress some clients. Find some more lost dogs.”
“Meanwhile,” I said, “I believe I promised to show you some paintings.”