At the Brew Hound
The next morning I woke up, dressed, and bought a newspaper from a man on the street. I walked through the borders of Santa Fe Plaza, the center of the city. It was full of art galleries, historic buildings, boutiques, bars, and coffee houses, every one with an adobe façade. It was touristy, but to Carla and I it had been a favorite getaway. Moving here was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. As I passed under the shadows of a Spanish cathedral, and the abstract adobe curves of the convention center, beneath the turquoise sky, my mind cleared and my spirits lifted.
I soon reached the Brew Hound, a coffeehouse and café I’d been eyeing for days. I had told Reggie that I’d been hoping to try out a “place down the street from mine.” I suppose I had given him my business card with my address on it. What I had not done was tell him the name of the café. I want to make that clear. Anyway, I purchased my skim milk, dry, double cappuccino with nutmeg and honey and made my way to the back patio. The outside seating area had a garden atmosphere, with potted plants in corners and flowering vines crawling up the adobe wall. I sat down with the paper and began to read through the cheap sunglasses Reggie had loaned me. That’s when I heard his voice.
Reggie wasn’t talking to me. He was seated, his right flank towards me, talking to two young women his own age. He was better dressed than I would have expected. In fact, he was wearing a suit. The crisp black pants and matching jacket hung on his figure perfectly, as though they had been tailored. He was wearing a pink collared shirt with a blood red silk tie. It was hard to imagine that a few weeks ago he had been wandering luggageless, and apparently meansless, on the side of the desert highway. The only hints of the vagabond that I knew were his shoes and hair. His shoes were black leather, admittedly nicer than the work boots I’d seen him in before. He’d shined them, but the toes were so scraped and scuffed that the shine there didn’t hold. The contrast made them look all the more dusty and tattered. His hair maintained its customary chaos: he looked like he had stuck his finger in an outlet, and then allowed his hair to go limp, hanging down almost to his eyes.
One of the women sat stroking a small dog. She was blonde, with loose, wavy curls, and bangs that teased the tops of her eyebrows. She was thoroughly made up with glossy cherry colored lipstick and dark eye shadow. The long, red fingernails of her left hand dug lightly into the flesh behind the ears of the little dog, whose eyes were closed in a state of pure canine bliss. Reggie’s eyes were on the dog. As I peeked over my newspaper, I had to pry my own eyes away from the young lady’s ample bosom, on display in a v-neck turquoise top. Looking away from that décolletage felt like tearing my tongue from a frozen flagpole. Eventually I managed, and got a good look at the blonde’s friend, a dainty brunette with fluttering eyelashes, deep chocolate brown eyes, and burgundy lipstick that matched the silk scarf she had wrapped around her neck. Her mascara was running down her pallid face, she was shaking and she constantly dabbed her cheeks with her scarf. She gasped for breaths between small, shallow sobs, and looked at Reggie like he was the most important person in the world.
“Anyway,” Reggie was saying, apparently to the brunette, though he was still looking at the dog, “I don’t have time to go turn the hotel room inside out for you, but my guess is it isn’t there. What time did you say you woke up this morning?”
“Oh, about, um, five o’clock. I heard the door slam. And it was just gone! Please, you have to help me! If I don’t get that ring back, Randall will be furious! He’ll break off the wedding, and—”
“Okay, okay.” Reggie took a sip of coffee. “Please, Ms. Bonami, I’m not throwing you to the dogs,” he said, finally making eye contact with the lady speaking to him. He extended his hand and rested it on top of hers. “You have to understand, you’re not the only case I have right now. But if you can help me help you, I’ll do my best. Here.” He scribbled something down on a piece of paper. “I want you to go to each of these four shops, and tell me if you see your ring there. If you do, don’t confront the shopkeeper, just call me at this number, and don’t leave the store ‘til I get there, okay? If you don’t want Randall calling off the wedding, you need to move fast. If it’s not at one of those stores, give me a call anyway, and we’ll see what else we can do, okay?”
“Please, Mr. LaKino,” she said. “I need your help.”
“And I’m trying to give it to you,” Reggie said. “I have some appointments to keep this morning. Don’t worry, Ms. Bonami, I’ll do everything I can to find your ring. I doubt it’s gone far.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. LaKino. Cheryl told me you could find anything!”
“Well,” Reggie smiled, and the woman’s tears stopped as she looked into his eyes and smiled back, “I don’t know about ‘anything,’ but we’ll do our best, okay?”
She sniffled. “Okay.”
“Royal,” Reggie said, standing up as the two women did. He gave each a hug, and patted the dog, lovingly. The tip of Reggie’s tongue briefly shot out to his lips, but retreated, and he bit his bottom lip softly before turning to the blonde again. “I hate to ask now, Ms. Nassau, but we had discussed a reward for the dog?”
“Oh, yes, of course, Reginald, honey.” She had a slight twang that made me think of home. “Here you go.” She handed him an envelope, which he stuck inside his breast pocket, before giving her another hug. She gave him a swift peck on the cheek, and then the two women and the dog turned to go out the patio’s back gate.
Once they were out of sight, Reggie took a huge gulp from the glass of water that sat on the table in front of him. Then he turned to me, and winked.
“Hey Sam,” He smiled. Had he seen me enter? “Told you we’d do coffee!”
“Yes,” I stood up, grumbling, trying to remain gruff and stern, despite being intrigued by the situation. “You also said you’d have an explanation for why the police are so interested in you.”
“I do, if you’ll be patient.” I tried to interrupt, but he just kept going. “I’ve got another client coming in a couple minutes, though.”
“Client?” I asked.
“Yep. This was all your idea, remember? I’m setting up as a private detective. I figured you were right, I had a talent for noticing things, and I like solving problems, so, I put the word out.”
“You put the word out?” I repeated.
“You saw Cheryl and Angie, right? I found Cheryl’s dog, and she told Angie I was good at it, so now Angie wants me to find her ring. And I told a few bartenders around town last night. And the owner here is a friend of mine from years and years ago, so he let me reserve the patio for the morning!”
“Reserve the—” I looked around and noticed we were the only ones outside. In fact, the door I’d entered through now stood shut. “But there was no sign when I came through, and that door was open.”
“I kind of hoped you might try this place out, like you said. So I told him to let you through when you came in.”
It disturbed me that my arrival had been so well orchestrated without any participation on my part, but I tried not to let it bother me. That’s pretty much all I had been able to do since I saw Reggie for the first time.
“Anyway,” Reggie continued, “Angie Bonami lost her engagement ring last night at a hotel. She says she woke up this morning and heard the door shut, and looked at the bedside table, and it was gone. She wants me to find it before her fiancé gets back in town.”
“Wait,” I said. “She lives here?”
“What was she doing in a hote— oh.”
“Yep,” Reggie grinned, “she was kinda vague about that. Claimed no one else was in the room with her, claimed she never saw the face of the guy who took the ring. Seemed pretty sure it was a guy, though. Anyway, I gave her the names of the four closest pawn shops to that hotel.”
“What makes you think the ring would have been pawned?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t,” Reggie said. “I’m trying to get her to open up a bit. I figure if I make her participate, she’ll stop holding out on me. You know?”
“Ah,” I frowned. “Is this like the dog thing? Think you’ll get to see the inside of that hotel room?”
“I just need her to give me a description of the lowlife who she slept with last night so I can track him down,” Reggie insisted.
“Hey, I’m not the one who mentally undresses every woman who walks past.”
“I do not—”
“Oh, come on,” Reggie said. “That pick pocket had you hours before she even met you, when she put on those cutoff shorts!”
“At least I’ve never kidnapped a dog to get a date,” I said.
“I was after the food, not the girl. I’m interested in more than just what’s on the surface!”
“So am I! If you’re implying that all I’m interested in is looks, then you should have met my wife.”
“Not exactly a looker?” Reggie smirked and took an infuriatingly smug sip of his coffee.
“She was not only the prettiest woman I’d ever met but also—”
“Sam, I don’t need to know about your wife. I’m sure you had an excellent marriage. Can we stay focused?”
“Alright,” I said. “What were we talking about?”
“My new business. What do you say, Psycho, do you wanna help?”
“I don’t know that I’d be much use,” I said, but Reggie shushed me.
“Here comes the next client,” he said. “Have a seat. Act like you’re reading the paper, like last time. Whatever you do, don’t say anything.”
“Hey!” I started to argue but before I knew it the gate was opening and I found myself once again seated, paper in front of my face, eavesdropping.
Reggie’s next client, a small old woman with an Eastern European accent, insisted that her next door neighbor was a werewolf.
“There’s no such thing as werewolves,” Reggie laughed, and then proceeded to point out that all the symptoms the old lady had described could easily be explained in a more mundane fashion. The secrecy, the nocturnal comings and goings, his fuller beard once a month, accompanied with strange noises, and howling, all pointed toward one solution, Reggie insisted.
“He is a werewolf,” she said, “I am telling you!”
“No, Mrs. Plotkarz,” he remarked calmly. “He is simply having an affair.”
“No, no, no,” she shook her head. “He is single.”
“Then perhaps he is the other man?” Reggie suggested. “His lover probably lives in another city or another state, and comes to visit once a month. During that weekend they stay in during the day, only go out at night, and he doesn’t take the time to shave. In fact,” Reggie thought for a moment, “it’s entirely possible that the man with the full beard is actually the lover, not your neighbor at all.”
“Man?” Mrs. Plotkarz put the tips of her fingers to her lips in a delicate gesture. “Do you mean—”
“Perhaps,” Reggie smiled.
“And the noises? What about the animal noises I keep hearing?”
“Well,” Reggie glanced at me knowingly for a moment, and I had to suppress a chuckle. He played it safe, “perhaps this lover has a dog?”
“But he’s afraid of crosses!” she said. “I invited him to my dinner party once, and I have a cross in my entry way, and he couldn’t seem to get away from it fast enough!”
“Mrs. Plotkarz, I believe aversion to crosses is more closely connected with the myth of vampires than with werewolves. As I said, he may be a homosexual. I would suggest that sometimes gay men find themselves discriminated against by certain segments of the Christian faith. So perhaps he overreacted, but this may be understandable. Now, did he stay for dinner?”
The neighbor had, in fact, stayed for dinner in spite of the cross in the entryway, and had eaten with the rest of the guests, who had all used Mrs. Plotkarz’s finest silverware.
“Did you say silverware?” Reggie asked. “That, I’m afraid, clenches the matter. Every story about werewolves I’ve ever heard says they can’t stand silver. If a werewolf had put a silver fork in his mouth, I’m quite sure it would have blistered up and he’d have been unable to eat. So you see, Ma’am, your neighbor cannot possibly be a werewolf. Besides, as I said, there’s no such thing.”
Eventually, she had to admit she had been silly, and in fact she even seemed excited at the prospect of having “a real, honest-to-God, gay neighbor, like the women on all the sitcoms.” As she left (after paying), and passed out of earshot, Reggie gave me a sly look, and we both simultaneously burst into laughter. I tried to speak, but I couldn’t get a breath in between laughs. Reggie again waved at me to be quiet, and the patio gate creaked open.