The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery) (4 page)

BOOK: The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery)
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“And,” he went on, “I couldn’t get anybody in Florida on the horn, but I got to Christian at the Ohio Zoo. He says we’re aiming for the shoulder or the outer thigh. Otherwise we’ll injure it without doing any good.” Typical, but good to be sure. These primates didn’t have many concentrated muscle masses to make for good darting targets, and those that existed were small. Making it all the better that Lance had reached Olivia first on the phone.

“And try not to let the animal see the darts. It probably knows what they are.”

I thought that last thing would be impossible. “Thank you,” I said and hugged him tight. Any minute now, I expected to wake up again and have to redo the whole morning because this had all been a dream.

Lance returned the embrace. “We’re good together,” he told me. I wondered,
In general or with run amok apes in particular?

I shouldered one of the rifle straps and Lance took the second from the wall, along with my second dart. “Let’s go.”

Out in the barn, I realized we had another problem. With the big doors closed, I had lost my visual on the animal. I placed a quick call of my own to Olivia. “Is it still there?” I asked her. “Can you tell?”

“Yes” she squeaked. “I see it in the rearview. Its butt is sticking out. My whole truck is rocking. Noel, can that thing get to me in the cab?”

“You should be safe where you are.” I didn’t add,
As long as it doesn’t notice you.
Because if the orangutan decided it wanted in the front of the truck, window glass wouldn’t be much of a bar to its gaining entry. Olivia didn’t need to know that.

I hung up and outlined a plan to Lance. “We’re going for the outer thigh,” I said. “Let’s go out the back door and try to come up from behind.”

“Great!” Art said. I hadn’t even heard him join us.

“Great what? You sit tight and don’t put your body in danger.”

My annoyance with his attitude must have shown, because he adopted a more serious tone to say, “I’m going around the other way. I’ll distract it so you and Lance can get a clear shot before it sees you have darts.”

“Art, no!” I snapped.

“Noel,” he said. “I haven’t completely lost my mind. I was far too excited, and I put all of us in danger. If I had settled down and waited for the rest of you, it would have sat there tearing up its crate for another twenty minutes at least. We would be able to do this without further stress to the animal or danger to ourselves. This is my fault. Let me make it right.”

I might have argued him down, but Lance said, “Fine, it’s not a bad plan. You carry out half that watermelon you were so busy hacking up and throw it away from the barn, then run back to the door. We will signal you on the
radio
when you need to do it.” Lance reached over and turned Art’s radio on before patting him on the shoulder. Then he repeated, “Let’s go.”

Trudy stood inside, holding the sticky back door almost shut so we wouldn’t have to either leave it wide open or fight the frame and knob if we had to beat a fast retreat.

Lance and I circled around one side of the barn while Art went the other way. We moved quickly. The primate noise down below us had reached cacophonous levels. The chimps in particular were screaming warnings to everyone in their vocal radius. We didn’t think silence on our part was either necessary or particularly prudent. Olivia sounded terrified. She needed rescue, and she needed it quickly. As soon as we split off from Art, Lance and I started running. He was polite enough to slow his feet to a trot so I could keep up, but we still moved fast.

We could smell the orangutan long before we came around to see it. That rotting fecal odor was unmistakable. By the time we arrived, it had foiled the truck’s simple padlock (via the expeditious method of ripping the padlock off) and let itself into the back to have at the fruit. It was still distracted, all right, but now it was a much harder target to reach, and a mobile one to boot. Its hindquarters, which should have been conveniently facing us, were disappearing into the truck’s open bay as we arrived.

My cell phone rang right then, the noise falling into a momentary silence in the ruckus. I answered without looking away from the truck. Olivia whispered, “It’s in the back now. I heard the door go up.”

“Yes,” I said. “It is. You should be able to see us, too.” And I hung up on her. Lance waved.

At the sound of my ringtone, the orangutan stuck its head back out the door. Apparently, cell phones meant something to it. It was easy to imagine that the animal’s head was a giant pancake as it glowered at me, thanks to those cheek pads. But my pancakes had never looked at me like
I
might be on the menu. It squinted as it stared, and I held my gun behind me. I thought now I might be able to hit a shoulder.

“Art,” Lance had his radio. “Watermelon.”

The ape jerked, now looking at Lance.

“Oh! Right! Hang on there,” Art crackled back.

Two things happened simultaneously. Art popped around the other side of the building, the melon held aloft in both hands. I could see him in the distance, but I tried not to lose my focus. At the same time, the orangutan brought out one of its massive hands from the back of the truck. It held a melon of its own, this one a cantaloupe.

“Hey, big guy!” Art shouted. “Dinner’s on me!”

Art and the ape threw at the same time. Art hurled the melon as far as he could make it go, then took off rapidly in the other direction, exactly as Lance had instructed. But I had already been unnerved by the way the animal was looking at me. Long before it threw the cantaloupe, I had to let it see my dart gun, pulling it up to make a rapid shot. The gun jerked as I squeezed the trigger, and I missed my shot entirely. The cantaloupe sailed over and smacked the ground right at my feet, knocked only slightly off course by my dart, which met it halfway to its destination. I groaned.

Art’s champion hurling days, if he had ever had any, were clearly several years in his past. The watermelon only went a few feet before it splatted on the pavement. But it was a sufficient distraction that the ape jumped down and shambled off to investigate the fruit, the fetid aroma increasing as it presented us with its dreadlocked back.

Beside me, Lance’s rifle popped softly, and the second dart took wing. “Damn, I should have waited,” he said. The dart made contact somewhere around the animal’s buttocks and bounced off its fecally-armored dreadlocks. If the orangutan even noticed, it didn’t show. It pursued the watermelon exclusively, having reached accessible food at last. Although orangutans are geared up to explore their meals, the wide open watermelon appealed to the ape even more than the closed cantaloupe it had thrown from the truck.

While it ate noisily, Lance signaled me to keep an eye on the animal and sped over to Olivia’s passenger door. He mounted the running board and knocked on her window. A few seconds later, she emerged and they ran to me. The orangutan never lost interest in Art’s melon. Lance even had time to run over and shut the truck’s back door. It wouldn’t stop the orangutan from climbing back in, but it might slow it down a little, maybe long enough to target its shoulders, which weren’t clotted with feces.

Although the orangutan looked up briefly when Lance pulled the truck closed, it didn’t get up to act, and we all three ran back the way Lance and I had come. “Art, we need two more darts,” Lance said into the radio as the three of us sped around the building again. “We both missed.”

“You didn’t,” I puffed, stretching my legs to their fullest to keep up with his easy jog. Olivia had outpaced both of us, fear spurring her on to safety as soon as we came around the side of the building and she saw Trudy standing at the back door waving us in.

“Might as well have,” Lance replied.

“That poor creature.”

“I know. I could smell it when we were down by the gate. I could
see
it. But we were all more concerned with Art then. The full impact didn’t hit me. I hate to admit it, but I can almost understand why Art tried to let it in like that.”

I said, “Almost.”

Back indoors, Art said, “Let’s do this differently.” Trudy had taken Olivia under her wing and led her into Lance’s and my office to sit out the shakes. And Lance had explained how his dart had simply failed to penetrate the thick layer padding the animal’s whole lower back. Art continued, “I think we need to step back. We aren’t going to catch it this way. We’re going to stress it out, and possibly expose it to the heat of the day when we don’t have enough muscle between us to get it inside. We need to lead it off a ways so we can get our lunch crew in here safely, and pretty soon we need to get lunch out to the enclosures.”

He outlined a perfectly reasonable plan delegating lunch details, explaining how staff should go about safely delivering food to the enclosures, and fleshing out a process to lure in the orangutan in the evening. We would set out a series of tempting treats and blankets, then dart it when we had a better chance of making our shot. “So,” he wound up, “Lance, you and Noel go get your marriage license so we can have a ceremony tomorrow.”

“What? We can’t
leave
right now!” Lance protested. “We have to work as a team to get it to go far enough away so we can unload the truck and Olivia can get out and everybody else can get in.”

“We’ll be fine,” Art said. “Please. I’ll be so sad if something stupid
I
did stops the two of you from getting married tomorrow.” As he spoke, he tilted his head and opened his eyes wide, so he looked already bereft. When Art had that expression on his face, I knew who was going to win.

C
HAPTER
4

In any case, I agreed with Art. If we didn’t get out of here, the wedding we were so concerned about wasn’t going to take place. “You should still call Florida,” I said. “The Ohio Zoo gave Lance good tips for darting an orangutan.” Perhaps the Ohio Zoo could house this big guy for us until transportation to Florida could be arranged.

“Very right,” Art agreed, his countenance lightening as soon as he saw that we would comply with him.

“But Noel and I need to be setting the bait out with you,” Lance protested, not at all distracted by this talk of who needed to be informed and who might help.

“Not nearly as important as getting married!” Art said. His smile returned. “The ape arrived in a crate. It is conditioned to humans. We will be able to lure it with food.”

“But . . .,” Lance began.

“Art’s right,” I said. “If we don’t get that license today, the whole thing is off. And honey, we have a hundred things we need to be doing right now, starting with that planning lunch at my parents’ and ending with our houseguest invasion.”

“Oh, right.” Lance’s face fell a little.

We had been lazy planners in general, but the list of things we needed to finalize seemed infinite. We had ordered chairs, and tables and tents to set up around my parents’ yard for the reception. But we needed to go out and buy or rent at least twenty centerpieces to go on those tables, get started assembling those, and at some point rehearse the whole ceremony. The afternoon was going to be full. We needed to face the wedding.

“Ugh.
Alex,
” I said. Lance groaned, too, and I knew we would not be looking for Art’s orangutan this afternoon or any other time. If we delayed our wedding, it was unlikely to happen at all, and really, we were too far committed to the event to back out now. We were simply formalizing something for our families that was already real for the two of us. So why was my stomach in knots about it?

“Everything OK?” Art said.

“Yes, fine,” I told him.

Lance added, “Bub decided to come to the wedding after all.”

“Oh dear,” Art said. He knew who Alex was. “Do you need my guest room?”

He knew. Without being told or asked or anything else, Art knew how unlikely Lance or I would be to either throw Alex to the hotel wolves or stay overnight in our own house with the younger Lakeland brother. “No, we’re probably staying with my parents,” I said.

“If you change your mind, you’ve got the key,” Art said. “Now, Lance, help me draw our hairy friend off with food so you two can get going.”

While the two of them went out back, I commandeered Trudy and Darnell on the phones. We got in touch with everyone scheduled to come in for lunch, and I spent a couple of minutes in conversation with the slowly calming Olivia.

“It scared the devil out of me,” she said. “I almost didn’t even answer my cell, except I was parking and your people closed the doors instead of opening them. I tell you what, I didn’t even feel it climb up there, but it must have jumped on.”

“Maybe you were going over a speed bump,” I suggested. “When you wouldn’t have noticed it.”

“I guess so,” she said. “But I’m sure I’ve never been so glad in my life as when your knight in shining armor ran up to my cab.”

I filed Olivia’s description away to amuse Lance later. Then Lance himself returned with Art, both of them shaking their heads. “That was pointless,” Lance grumbled.

“Looks like it grabbed a few more melons off your truck and took off for the woods on its own,” Art explained, nodding to Olivia. “We couldn’t see it anywhere.”

“Couldn’t smell it very strongly either,” Lance added.

“OK, let’s go then,” I said.

Trudy said, “Yes, do!” with such force that we all turned to look at her.

“What?”

“I’m sorry if I’m speaking out of turn here,” she said. “But you are the weirdest people I’ve ever met!” Trudy was our only intern who stayed for the summer. She had spent nearly as much time up at the center as we had for the last two weeks, so I didn’t see how she had any room to talk about people with too much work dedication. She went on, “When my sister got married last month, she took the whole
week
before the wedding off. I’ve got other friends who didn’t do anything for a
month
except get married. I don’t
get
you.”

Art laughed at her little tirade. “Oh my goodness, Trudy,” he said. “You won’t meet anyone stranger than those two.”

I restrained myself from saying,
Except maybe you, Arthur.

BOOK: The Marriage at the Rue Morgue (A Rue and Lakeland Mystery)
6.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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