To Die Fur (A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mystery)By: Dixie Lyle
But in the twenty-first century, royalty can be a strange, hybrid beast itself. Anyone with enough money and power can become a de facto ruler, especially if they have an army to back them up. That was the case with Augustus’s owner, a ruthless drug kingpin named Branco Gamboa. Gamboa controlled a meth-and-heroin empire that stretched over much of the southern United States, and died in a spectacular DEA raid on his sprawling ranch in Georgia. Searching the house and grounds afterward, federal agents found enough weapons to storm Normandy, over fifty high-end sports cars, a mountain of cash … and a private zoo.
Augustus appeared to have been well cared for. But the DEA was a little out of its depth when it came to housing and feeding a thousand-pound carnivore, and the local zoo admitted it didn’t have the facilities, either. A liger was nothing if not photogenic, though, so the press played the story up big-time. “White Liger” became an Internet meme about ten seconds later, and a Twitter hashtag ten seconds after that. Everybody weighed in on the debate, from the ASPCA to Siegfried and Roy, and ZZ was in the thick of it. When all the dust settled, the DEA had agreed to let her choose Augustus’s new home—as long as she took him off their hands immediately.
I kept a few outfits on hand in case I wanted to show up for dinner, and for tonight I selected a simple, mid-length black dress with low heels and a black jacket; classy, not too sexy, mostly business-like. Mostly.
Whiskey pointedly looked in the other direction when I dressed, an affectation I found endearing. I’d told him more than once that I didn’t care whether or not he saw me naked, but he insisted he was merely being polite and that there was nothing wrong with a little courtesy. I couldn’t argue with that, so I didn’t.
“What do you think?” I asked him when I was done.
[I think I have very little experience in wearing clothes, and even less in judging them.]
“Fair enough. How about if I can’t decide which bush to pee on?”
[Then my extensive experience and knowledge are at your disposal.]
“Good to know.”
We went downstairs, where the mystery of Tango’s whereabouts was solved immediately: She was curled up on a chair in the sitting room, a large, comfortable space with a fireplace at one end. She appeared to be asleep, so I didn’t call out to her.
Abazu and Karst were both seated on a sofa, Karst in the middle of some story involving waving his arms around, Abazu nodding and smiling. Karst had changed into a dinner jacket, while Abazu was dressed in the same suit he arrived in. Rajiv sat near them on a chair, his posture erect, wearing an honest-to-God tuxedo and looking like he was about to perform best-man duties to someone he barely knew. Zhen Yao stood over by the fireplace in a dress even more business-like than mine, clutching a glass of wine and looking uncomfortable. Luis Navarro wasn’t there.
I couldn’t see any of them as a killer—in fact, they all had good reasons for wanting to keep Augustus alive. I thought back to my conversation with Eli and tried to remember if he’d actually used the word murder. Maybe the threat to Augustus was disease, or an accident.
“Hello, everyone,” I said. I walked up to the bar and poured myself a drink. “I hope you’re all settled in and everything is to your satisfaction?”
There was a chorus of affirmations, nods, and smiles.
“Good. ZZ will be down in a minute. In the meantime, enjoy yourself and relax. That’s an order.” It was my standard joke, and it got the standard response of chuckles and grins. Except from Zhen, who looked confused.
I walked over to her. “How about you?” I said. “Everything okay?”
“Yes. It is fine. I am most satisfactory. Satisfied.” She took a largish gulp of wine, and spilled a little on herself.
“I’ll get some club soda,” I said, and bustled over to the bar with her in tow. She looked embarrassed and a little angry, but not with me. I managed to get the wine out before it stained, but there wasn’t much I could do to salvage Zhen’s mood.
Oscar showed up a minute later, wearing a stylish cream-colored dinner jacket over a pin-striped linen shirt. He went straight to the bar, as usual, and poured himself a healthy glass of twenty-year-old scotch. He drifted over to the conversation between Karst and Abazu and stood there with a slight smile on his face, listening attentively. Oscar was a bit of a social chameleon; he’d mastered the art of insinuating himself into the middle of conversations so smoothly and unobtrusively that it seemed as if he’d been there from the very start.
His mother, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. She liked to make an entrance—and did so now, sweeping into the room in a vivid purple gown with a wide smile on her face. She greeted everyone by name, asked Oscar to fix her a drink, commiserated with Zhen over her dress, told me to put some music on, and somehow enticed everyone onto his or her feet without expressly saying so. ZZ could throw a party just by showing up, and on her own turf she was pretty much unstoppable.
I did my part, chatting with each of them, talking about nothing in particular, doing my best to put them at ease. My first impressions didn’t change much: Rajiv remained formal, Karst was hearty, Zhen was uncomfortable, and Abazu was … well, intent but serene, somehow. More focused than the others.