The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery) (22 page)

BOOK: The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery)
5.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

After a little while of sitting in silence, Lance said, “We need to talk to your brother if we’re going to have a chance of saving those apes.”

“You think there’s some
he can do?” Carmichael asked, slowly sitting down.

I let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding. Until that moment, I was still unsure. I had known it when we all looked at each other, but I only felt certain right then. “A great deal of good,” I said. “He knows more about those animals than anybody else right now.”

“Look at it this way,” Lance said. “When you’re trying to find a criminal . . .”

“A suspect,” the detective said.

“Right,” Lance said. “You interview members of the family first, don’t you? Friends, people the suspect knows. And you’re not only looking for somebody who might be hiding the guy.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

Lance looked over the detective’s shoulder at the cluttered wall behind him. “Watched a lot of TV,” he muttered. “All wrong?”

“No,” Carmichael said. “You’re right. We’re looking for people who would know his habits and behaviors.”

I had to bite my tongue on an irrational urge to add
“or her!”
Instead, I said, “An animal like an orangutan is no different. We need to talk to your brother because he was these animals’ keeper. He’ll know what foods they like best, what beddings they like to nest with, anything at all that we could use to attract them to us.”

“Last time I knew for sure, he was living back home, and he’s long since moved away.” Still moving slowly, without showing any sign of our urgency or expressing any curiosity about how we knew to ask
the detective pulled his cell phone off of his belt clip. He stared at the phone, but said to us, “You know, he was in Iraq. Hasn’t been the same since he came home. I guess it’s PTSD. Maybe he’s got it under control. Whatever it is, he got picked up for marijuana a while back. I reckon he’s still on probation.” Carmichael shook his head. “Well, anyway. I’ll start with Dad.” He dialed. Presently, he asked, “Is Mom there? Good. Naw, I didn’t want to talk to her anyway.”

We could only hear the detective’s end of the conversation, but it sounded like he was having a difficult time. “I need Ace’s number, Dad.” After a pause, where we could hear his father speaking but couldn’t understand his words, Carmichael said, “Yeah, I know it’s been a long time. No, I don’t see him and me mending any fences. About the closest we’re liable to get is online.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose and rested his elbows on the desk. He said, “I won’t lie to you, I think he’s in a lot of trouble.” Another pause. “No, he’s gone and done something stupid, Dad. No, I can’t talk about it. But I think there’s a chance for him to make some of it right before he gets run in.”

He leaned back in his chair and shifted his hand so he was massaging his own temples with one hand. “Dad, I can’t talk about it. I need his number. He’s going to have cops at his door as soon as we get through some jurisdictional stuff . . . Yes. I know he’s been doing so well these last few years. I know how much progress he’s made. It’s not drug related, Dad. I can tell you that. Ace is going to have police at his door soon, if they aren’t there already. Dad, I need that number.”

And finally, “Thank you.”

When he hung up, he gave a long sigh before he wrote down the phone number and then picked up his desk phone. “Hey, Hugh. I got Ace’s number.” He recited the digits, hung up, and dialed out on his cell again, without ever looking at us. Lance and I held our breaths to try and hear the other end of this conversation. What if nobody answered? What if Aldiss had his brother’s number blocked? What if he simply wasn’t near the phone? Then Detective Carmichael said, “Ace, it’s Drew. Yeah,
Drew. You know any other ones? How you doing, man? No. No, it’s never something good when I’m the one on the line, is it? Listen, I’ve got some people here who need to talk to you.”

Evidently, his brother tried to say something, but Carmichael went on quickly. “They’re going to call you back in a couple of minutes, and you better answer them right.”

He hung up and pushed the phone number across to Lance. “I’d rather know as little as I can. I am not formally a part of this investigation. But you ought to phone him now, before he gets preoccupied with something else.”

Armed with the number, we returned to our truck. Lance put his cell on speaker and dialed.

“What do you want?” Ace demanded.

Lance snapped, “Art Hooper.”

“What?” Ace said.

Lance repeated, “Art Hooper. You’ve been e-mailing with Art Hooper at Midwest Primates. He’s my boss. He’s . . .” I thought Lance might say “dead,” but instead he changed the direction of the conversation. “Listen to me, we need to know everything you can tell us about the orangutans running around our property right now.”

Aldiss started, “I don’t know what . . .”

This time, I was the one who cut him off midsentence. “No, there isn’t time. You took those apes to save them, am I right?”

After a long silence, Aldiss said, “Yeah. I picked them up right at the start, when those boys turned all our animals loose. I didn’t know who to give them to. And then I couldn’t give them to anybody.”

“You saved them. You did. But now you’ve put them right back in harm’s way. And if you can’t tell us the truth about what to do with them, that’s all going to be a waste, because the police are going to shoot them.”

“I guess Mr. Art would know better than me,” Aldiss said.

“Art Hooper is dead, and if you don’t help us find those animals, they’re likely to be shot for killing him.”

“No!” Aldiss cried out. “Chuck and Lucy aren’t like that. They’re wild animals, for sure, but they wouldn’t . . . he’s dead? Who
take care of them?”

I wanted to say
not us.
Instead, I asked, “Why did you dump them like that?”

He groaned. Finally he said, “Look. I never meant that to happen. I couldn’t keep them any longer. Chuck knew how to get out of the shed . . .”

” Lance interrupted. “Like a
garden shed.

“I tried to tell Mr. Art I didn’t have anyplace worthwhile to keep them animals. He thought because there’s a run attached to it . . .”

Again, Lance interrupted. “What do you mean, a run?”

“Like a dog run,” Ace said. “It’s maybe six by six feet. But that male, Chuck, he was all the time bending the wire. And then he started letting himself out of the shed at night. I woke up Thursday morning, and he was hanging upside down off the roof outside my window looking at me, and that was the last thing. I thought, ‘Next time, it won’t be
he’s looking in on.’

“So I played the radio to get him to go back in the shed and I spent the rest of Thursday making up a couple of crates out of some two-by-fours and those skids they use for stacking boxes. And then come Friday, I turned up my truck radio real loud and opened up the shed. They always did like to go for car rides, so they climbed on up and got right in my little boxes. Even let me bang lids on them.

“And they almost made it all the way there to Mr. Art’s place. But I guess they was getting bored, because I looked back, and they were busting out of my little crates like I’d built them out of paper plates or something.”

I interrupted him to ask, “You didn’t
them breaking out?”

“No. I left the radio up so they could hear it. But they didn’t want to listen, I don’t guess, because I don’t think I’d hardly pulled in Mr. Art’s little road when Lucy jumped right off the side.” Lucy. The female was Lucy. Ace went on, “And then Chuck came busting out of his crate, and he didn’t act none too happy, so I hightailed it out of there.” Chuck. Lucy and Chuck. It felt good to know the animals’ names.

Now that Ace had finally started talking, he had a lot more to say to us. He went on, “I done all I can. And Mr. Art said he wasn’t going to report me to . . .”

“Art Hooper is
” Lance repeated. “And if you want those primates to live, we need to know as much about their habits as you can tell us. Like, is the female pregnant?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Ace said. “Her junk’s all messed up anyway.”

I didn’t want to hear that, and Lance didn’t either by the sound of his expelled breath. We had gone from one uninvited orangutan to two and a half in a very short time span. “
pregnant,” I asked.

“Um, they get together the same as you and me,” Ace began.

“We know how they mate. How
has she been pregnant,” I clarified.

“Oh. I guess if she wasn’t already when she came to my house, then not that long after.”

I did the math in my head from the animals’ escape last October to the present circumstances this June. I knew chimpanzees’ gestational period was roughly eight to nine months. Not that different from a human’s. Like any responsible rescue, we don’t breed. We manage our animals’ fertility with birth control pills and careful monitoring. But Lance and I both had seen animals through pregnancies, as several of them had come to us pregnant. If an orangutan fell into the same category as a chimp, and I had no reason to believe it didn’t, we would soon have three lives in our hands, if we didn’t already.

“You said they come to music,” I pressed. “What kind do they like?”

“Oh, you know. The older stuff. Ciara, Li’l Wayne. They don’t mind the newer ones like by Kanye and stuff. But it’s the crunk they want most of the time.”

I didn’t have a chance to argue with him that my idea of “older stuff” didn’t include anything produced in this millennium, because my own phone started chirping in my pocket.

I glanced at the caller ID, planning to answer only if the sanctuary was on the other end. But the name on the LCD screen was Olivia Johnstone, and I found myself climbing out to say, “Hello?” I hoped her fruit truck hadn’t sustained any permanent damage from Chuck’s assault on the back door the day before, and I hoped her peace of mind had returned.

As soon as she started talking, I knew I wasn’t about to get so lucky. “I’m sorry I’m calling you at your wedding, but they don’t answer at your center, and you have to help me!” she squealed, in a voice so panicked that I had an idea of what had happened even before she launched into her breathless explanation. “I heard the door slide up and down when I hit the speed bump on my way out yesterday. But I thought . . . I wanted to think it was because I don’t have a way to lock it right now. That it was loose in the tracks and banging on its own. And I didn’t want to stop and tie it until I was off your land, so I kept going. And then the door didn’t do anything again, and I kind of forgot it, and everything was fine. I got home and tried to forget the whole thing.

“I took the kids down to the park this morning, and when we got back, that door was open again, so I figured neighborhood kids had been messing with it when we were out. But then I went to put my youngest down for her nap today, and I looked out the window, and there’s an orangutan swinging around on my big boy’s jungle gym, and Noel, here’s the worst part.
It’s a different animal.

She kept talking, but I didn’t hear her. I held the phone away from my ear and shouted back into the truck. “Something’s
in the world for once. Lance, we’ve found Lucy! Let’s go before she moves on.”

“What?” At the same time as Lance popped out the door of the pickup, Detective Carmichael’s head emerged from the front of the sheriff’s building. Seemed he wanted to know a little more than he let on if he was standing inside the front door watching us.

I was torn between fear that telling someone in the sheriff’s department would be an invitation to getting my orangutan shot and an even greater fear that I needed the man’s help. And when, I wondered, did it turn into “my” orangutan? Was this how Art had felt? I didn’t have time to dither. “Olivia, we’re coming. Stay inside and call your neighbors to warn them.”

I hung up without waiting for more information from her.

“Detective,” I said. “Did you wind up with any of Christian’s dart guns?”

He shook his head. “All those went to the cops on the ground. I’m no longer . . .”

I didn’t let him finish. “I was afraid of that.” I paused, wasting in thought moments I needed for action. I knew where Olivia lived. It was a residential area some ten minutes from the sheriff’s office and nearly twenty minutes from the sanctuary. We didn’t have twenty minutes for Christian to get out to Olivia with a crate and dart gun. And Olivia said they weren’t answering at the center. We didn’t even really have ten minutes for Lance and I to get there ourselves. And without reinforcements, Lance and I were limited in what we could do.

I glanced quickly at Lance, who nodded. He was thinking along the same lines I was. “I think,” I finally went on, “that we need a police escort, Detective. And I wonder if we might borrow your animal control van.”

“Dunno about that. But we’ve got the paddy wagon right here. That do for one of those big apes?”


Crowded into the detective’s squad car like a couple of criminals, Lance and I tried to brainstorm. “We’ve got to make the truck appealing,” I said.

“Detective, wait, stop at the grocery,” Lance called out as we swung around a corner and sped past Hannah’s shop and the other businesses on Main.

“I don’t think we have time to be tourists,” Detective Carmichael argued.

“We need bait,” I said. “We’ve got to make the inside of that vehicle attractive.”

So the detective swung into Grocery on the Go with his lights blazing and siren wailing. Because it was following us, the paddy wagon swung in behind. “Hurry up,” the detective shouted, jumping out and throwing open our door.

Lance leaped up and smacked his head on the ceiling. I scooted past him and ran into the store. By the time I reached the produce section he had caught up, still rubbing his sore scalp. I elbowed past Mrs. Jane Eggers, one of Nana’s canasta buddies, without so much as an apology. I had seen her at the wedding shower this morning, and now she wheeled around and stared at me with wide eyes. “Sorry, emergency,” I said.

BOOK: The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery)
5.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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