Read The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery) Online
Authors: Jessie Bishop Powell
Sophia’s willingness to make herself comfortable in Lance’s and my guest room in the days leading up to the wedding had initially given me hopes for a less tense relationship. But my hopes of her acceptance faded considerably when the first words out of her mouth off the plane last week were, “He’s finally gotten you to change your name, has he?” Nor had she been happy to learn that my name would still be Noel Rue, even after my title became “Mrs.” I had not reached middle age without becoming firmly attached to my own identity, and I didn’t plan to change the paperwork on everything from my driver’s license to a bevy of graduate degrees.
Lance clearly hadn’t thought of who would be portrayed how and in whose eyes, should Alex be consigned to a hotel. In fact, it was doubtful he had thought of seriously turning his brother down at all. More than likely, he had said anything to get his younger, more athletic, more financially successful sibling off the phone so he could come break the news of the arrival to me.
“Where is he now?” I asked. “How long do we have to come up with something?” It was always possible he had flown in at the more distant Dayton, or even Cincinnati, airport, not up the road in Columbus.
This time, Lance didn’t say anything. He looked around me. Then his hands went down to his sides and our eyes finally met.
“He called you from our house, didn’t he?” I asked.
Lance nodded once, an infinitesimal slump of the head, and then he resumed his examination of the food bucket.
“Which means,” I went on, “it’s a good bet that whatever
say, your mother has already counteracted it.” We’d invited Alex to the wedding as a courtesy to Lance’s parents, and now that he had accepted our grudging offer at the last possible moment, I wanted to move back in time and rescind the invitation.
Now, Lance put his hands in his pockets and nodded.
I blew out a loud breath, trying to decide if anything could be done. Nothing came quickly to mind, and instead I looked over at the monkey I was trying to socialize. Maybe
had some ideas.
Darting glances at the humans, the rhesus crept over to the food I had so recently delivered to his bowl. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as he slid a hand into the mix. He checked again to make sure neither of us planned to snatch his selection back. Lance assumed the same nonchalant pose that I had suddenly adopted, pretending to look at everything
the monkey. It scurried over to the cage’s far corner to eat, and I tried to think rationally about my future in-laws.
“If Alex contributed to this guy’s normalization, I might be willing to forgive him quite a lot,” I finally said. “Maybe I could stay the night with my folks.”
Lance sagged in total defeat. “Maybe that would be best,” he said quietly. Then his shoulders came up again. He said, “If you do, I think I’ll come with you.” It was the first time since I’d seen him coming down from the barn that he’d looked even remotely happy.
“Seriously?” I asked.
I had hoped my question contained a hint of
are you crazy?
But Lance missed my tone or chose not to hear it. “It’s perfect!” he said. “Mom hasn’t spent a night in the same house as Bub since he left for college. We’ll leave the two of them alone and see who comes out alive.”
I hissed, then picked up my bucket and headed toward the other cages, where hungry primates hooted and warbled in anticipation of their meals.
Behind me, Lance continued, “Maybe she’ll . . .” He trailed off, seeming to realize I’d walked away.
I called back, “Great. That’s going to fix everything.”
The squirrel monkeys twittered and scolded while I filled their bowl and shook some crickets on top. If we didn’t mix their diet up on a regular basis, they would get bored and stop eating.
Lance caught up to me and said, “It’s not like he’d seriously hurt his own mother. Bub isn’t the same guy we used to know.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Don’t you
tell me how fabulous he suddenly is.” Now I felt as frustrated as Lance had looked when he first arrived beside the rhesus’s cage.
We stared at each other across the squirrel monkey feed for a few more moments. I picked the bucket up, but Lance took it out of my hand. He set it down behind him, out of my reach. “It’s all going to be finished tomorrow,” he said. And then he kissed me.
I had seen the kiss coming, but I still nearly lost my balance when he pulled me toward him. He’s quite a bit taller than I am, and his arms encircled my shoulders as he drew me in close. I wrapped my own arms around his waist and felt my initial flush of surprise turn into one of desire. A lot of our friends seemed startled when we opted for a ceremony to formalize the union we had known was permanent for a very long time. But when I imagined kissing Lance like this, in front of our assembled relatives, colleagues, and comrades, I knew it was exactly the right thing for us.
When we finally broke apart, Lance said, “Allow me, madam,” as he bowed down to collect my bucket for me.
“Oh!” we both said.
Lance had put the bucket entirely too close to the spider monkey enclosure. Although none of them could reach it with their arms or legs, a very determined tail had crept down to wind around the bucket’s handle. The little animal was now straining mightily to lift the prize it felt it had won. Lance deftly unwound the tail and pulled the food out of reach. I rewarded the intrepid explorer by feeding that group next. Then, Lance still carrying my bucket, we headed over to the colobus area.
Before we could deliver to that group of primates, Art came on the radio. “Sally, Lance, Noel, Trudy, Gary, Janie, Allen, Pat, Linda, all of you, whoever’s here today, get up to the entrance fast.”
“Art,” Lance said, “what’s wrong? You’re paging last spring’s interns. And Sally and Gary both graduated!”
“Never mind that!” Art shouted. His voice breathy, and urgent, he went on, “There’s an orangutan up here!”
Lance dropped the bucket and started up the hill, trying to raise Art again. I raced along in his wake, but his long legs easily outpaced my short ones.
“Art! Arthur!” Lance said. “Can you hear me? Is anybody closer to the gate than I am? Noel and I are under the barn down by the chimps.” Under the barn was our quaint way of describing much of the sanctuary’s property. The barn was at the highest point, and everything else sloped down from it. The phrase most commonly referred to the area down around the enclosures, where the barn was always directly visible. We were past the chimps now, rapidly moving up to the barn doors.
Trudy, the only intern on Art’s list who was still with us over the summer, came on. “I’m inside. I was getting lunch together, but I’m going to the gate as soon as I can find keys.” It didn’t matter that it was only ten a.m. and I was currently delivering the last round of breakfast. Food prep was probably the biggest job we did at the center. Trudy was working up lunch so our next round of volunteers would be able to step up to a table and start chopping as soon as they arrived around noon.
One of our daylong volunteers, Darnell, entered the conversation. “I’m on my way up there now. I can’t see anything but the trees yet.” For a moment, he went silent, though we could hear his engine rumbling in the background as he failed to let go of the “send” button. Then he said, “Oh . . . man. You gotta . . . Art! Turn your sound back on!” Another pause, then, “He sees me talking on this thing and he’s waving me to put it down. He’s out of the cart.” The cart would be one of the center’s two golf carts, which we frequently used to move around the property. Darnell continued, “He’s exactly right. There’s an orangutan outside the gate, and it’s loose.”
“Get Art back in his vehicle!” Lance shouted. “Carry him if you have to.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Darnell said. “But he’s got the gate open.”
“Who opened the gate?” Lance demanded.
did,” Darnell said. “Art did. Just now. And he’s walking toward it.”
Lance said, “Get Art in
vehicle if you can.”
Darnell didn’t answer, perhaps having finally obeyed Art’s instructions. Lance reached the barn and fought with the door, too impatient to treat the frame as gently as was required to open it rapidly. I took his hands off the handle, jiggled it gently, then twisted and pulled.
The outside smells gave way to contrasting odors of hay bales and veterinary disinfectants as we passed the clinic inside the barn. Although we shared our veterinarian with the animal husbandry department at Ironweed University, most of our larger primates were conditioned to present their body parts for shots, blood drawing, and light wound care without leaving their enclosures.
The clinic’s antiseptic smell faded and Lance strode in ahead of me. “What does Art think he’s doing?” He jammed his radio back in its holster. “If there’s seriously an ape . . . and if it isn’t in a cage . . .” he spluttered to a halt in front of Trudy, who was holding her keys up, waiting for us. She jingled the set, and the two of them walked out of food prep together.
Lance continued, “He cannot confront an orangutan on his own. How can he think of opening the gate and letting it in?” There was no time for me to answer
because he’s Art, and when has logic or common sense ever stopped him from doing whatever crossed his mind?
“Come on!” Lance took the keychain out of Trudy’s hand, but then seemed to realize what he’d done and handed it right back. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t . . . we can’t . . .”
“I know,” Trudy said. “We’re in a rush. Come on.”
Neither of them even mentioned Lance’s and my truck, the keys to which were in my pocket. I took a different route, detouring to the offices beyond the food prep tables. I grabbed a smaller key and motioned them both to the other golf cart, the one Art hadn’t taken with him to the gate. “If Art has the radio off, it’s for noise. Our cars are going to be too loud. If Darnell didn’t already spook it in that SUV, we’d be sure to if we came roaring up in Trudy’s . . . car.” I’d nearly called Trudy’s worn sedan a wreck.
“We need to ensure our own safety!” Lance pointed out.
“Then we’ll climb in with Darnell,” I said. “Do not stand there arguing.”
Trudy jumped in beside me, and Lance ran ahead to open the larger sliding doors that we use to get vehicles into and out of the barn. As Trudy and I drove by him, Lance jumped onto the rack we normally use for carrying food or sedated primates to and from the farthest enclosures. We didn’t waste time closing the doors as we hurried down the service road.
Our preserve is located in an old-growth forest with a lot of burr oak and maple trees. So our ride was a shady one, spent in the company of trunks and loamy earth. A golf cart goes at about fifteen miles an hour even when it is absolutely racing. So, in spite of my jamming the accelerator pedal to the floor, it felt like eons before we pulled up behind Darnell’s tan SUV.
Darnell’s SUV completely blocked the view in one direction, and the trees crowded in on either side, preventing us from assessing the situation from our distance. Once I stopped the cart, we all sat for a moment. “What now?” Trudy whispered.
Lance swung down from the rack and moved ahead on soft feet, motioning Trudy and I to stay put. “Now, we wait,” he whispered as he passed us.
“Damned machismo,” I muttered, and climbed out to follow him, Trudy close behind.
He stopped to the left of the SUV’s hood, arms raised like he wanted to grab Art and pull him back. I had to peer under one of those lifted arms while Trudy stood on her tiptoes behind me and tried to look over his shoulder. To our right, Darnell still sat at the wheel, doors shut, windows up. He was so focused on the scene unfolding in front of him that he didn’t seem to notice our arrival from behind.
And really, it was impossible not to stare. Darnell was right on both counts. Art’s orangutan was real, and there was nothing separating us from it, because Art had opened the gate. Art walked slowly forward, beckoning in gentle welcome. A textbook case of why we don’t invite tourists on the premises, but the behavior was coming from the facility director. Good that the animal was too busy pulling apart the wooden crate it had apparently been transported in to pay attention to much else. It seemed the arrival of our vehicles hadn’t signified anything worthwhile. Which meant we might have time to get Art back to safety. He knew we couldn’t walk up to an unknown ape and strike up a friendship.
We interact with our primates, but we do it in a controlled way. And we
do it without the safety of a solid enclosure or cage between ourselves and our charges. We also don’t handle orangutans at all, and I only seemed able to remember tidbits about them. So much of my recent knowledge came from experience with other species. What I needed right now was a good book. Or, that failing, an orangutan handler. But aside from zoos, the only accredited facility in the US that handled these great apes was in Florida.
Art murmured to the orangutan as he moved. I could hear his voice, but not the words, though I knew from his tone the things he would be saying. “Poor guy, looks like you’ve had a rough day. Bet somebody took you out for a ride and then left you here. But it’s fine now, because I’m here. I can help you out.” It was the kind of thing he said to every primate that came into our care. The kind of thing we all said to our new charges. The rest of us said the words to focus ourselves and establish some kind of vocal interaction. Art said them for the animals.
Art meant the orangutan to hear and understand him, even though his intellect must have been telling him that he needed to shut up and get in, if not Darnell’s SUV, then at least the golf cart he had driven down to the gate. But he didn’t even look behind him, and the SUV sat sandwiched between the two golf carts on our little service road, quite as if it had been parked there for the long term.
Earlier, I had thought that this kind of behavior was Art at his most batty. Now, I thought it was Art returning to his childhood. When he was a boy, Art’s mother gave him a monkey for his birthday. By the time the creature was a few years old, it had to wear a muzzle except when it was caged. Realizing that his parents were planning something dire, the young Art ran away to the zoo with it. He happened onto a sympathetic keeper who made room for Art’s little animal. And from the day he met that kindly zoo director, Art had been on his way to a career in primatology.