To Die Fur (A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mystery)By: Dixie Lyle
In my head, though, I said, Smell anything interesting?
[Mmm. Yes. A species of herb indigenous to southern Africa. An industrial cleaner used by many airlines. And quite a wide array of spices, oils, and chemicals common in starchy, deep-fried snacks such as potato or corn chips, which I surmise is from crumbs caught in the cuffs of his pants.]
I wondered sometimes about the olfactory library Whiskey could access. How was it organized? What did it look like? Was it ranked from most stinky to least, or by some other factor? I always wound up picturing a huge room with floor-to-ceiling shelves and rolling ladders that went right up to the top, filled with slender volumes that emitted wavy smell lines when you opened them. And down below, dogs sat in overstuffed chairs with their legs crossed, books propped open in front of them, tiny smell-spectacles—smellacles?—positioned over their nostrils—
[Foxtrot. Focus, please.]
What? Oh, right. Sorry. “Follow me, please, Mr. Chukwukadibia.”
“I’ll have your things put in your room,” said ZZ. Abazu nodded and smiled, but he was already moving.
Whiskey kept pace with me, as he usually did. “Did you have a pleasant flight?”
“Oh, my, yes. To see the sunlight on the tops of clouds is both humbling and amazing. I could watch it for hours.”
“I know what you mean.”
[I don’t. Birds are fundamentally insane.]
“How is Augustus?” Abazu asked. “Did the journey upset him? Is he eating well?”
“He seemed very calm when I saw him. Our vet, Caroline, was about to feed him when I left—we can see how it’s going for ourselves.”
It wasn’t a long walk from the house to the liger enclosure, but Abazu peppered me with half a dozen questions before we got there: How long had Augustus been on the road? What was he fed while traveling? Had he had a bowel movement since he arrived? I did my best to answer the ones I could and told him Caroline could probably give him information on the rest.
Then we arrived, and Abazu stopped talking.
Augustus’s appetite hadn’t suffered from the journey; he was tearing into a haunch of beef in one corner of the enclosure, trapping it between his paws and ripping great chunks of it out with his mouth. He glanced over at us casually, then went back to his meal.
Abazu had come to a dead stop, about ten feet away from the enclosure. The look on his face was one of wonder. “Oh, my,” he whispered. “He is … magnificent.”
“He is that,” I agreed.
Oscar was nowhere in sight, but Caroline was still there. She walked up to us and said, “He’s settling in well. Went for a swim, checked out the pool.”
“Caroline, this is Abazu Chukwukadibia. He’s one of our guests.”
Abazu tore his gaze away from Augustus. “A pleasure, madam. You are in charge of his well-being?”
“That’s right,” Caroline said.
“He is healthy? Free of parasites, not injured?”
“I haven’t had a chance to give him a full physical, but he appears to be perfectly healthy.”
“Very good. Very good. A tremendous responsibility. You know this, yes?”
Caroline nodded. “I do, Mr. Chukwukadibia. I take it very, very seriously.”
He studied her for a second, then broke into a wide grin. “Yes, I can see that you do. That is most fine. I shall return later, yes?”
“You’re most welcome to do so.”
“But first, I have a few things I would like to ask.”
As Abazu questioned her, I caught Whiskey’s eye. He seems a little starstruck, don’t you think?
[That’s one way to put it.]
You sound less than impressed.
[Cats in general don’t impress me. The more cat there is, the more there is to be unimpressed by. I am currently confronted by a great deal of cat.]
That’s one way to put it.
When Abazu was finished his interrogation, he thanked Caroline profusely and indicated he’d like to return to the house to freshen up. He was quiet on the way back, apparently lost in his own thoughts, and didn’t even glance around his room when we got there. He told me he’d see me at dinner and closed the door.
The last guest to arrive was Luis Navarro.
He pulled up in a very new, very black Mercedes. ZZ had gone back inside by then, and I was the only one around. I walked forward, Whiskey at my side, to greet him.
He took two hard-shell suitcases out of the trunk as I approached. He was tall, broad in the shoulders, with an immaculately tailored dark suit that managed to look casual and dressy at the same time. His hair was shiny and black and cut short. He had that boyish look to him some Latin men have, his lashes just a little too long and his cheeks just a little too round, but he balanced that with a strong jaw and piercing eyes. He gave me an easy smile when he spotted me. “You must be Foxtrot,” he said. His voice was warm and deep. “Hello.”
“Hello. You must be Mr. Navarro.”
“All right, Luis. Everyone else is already here; if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”
And that was all he said as he followed me into the house and up the stairs. I kept talking, of course, but he kept his replies to nods and polite murmurs and offered no comments of his own. I got the hint and didn’t push; some people are uncomfortable with small talk, and trying to engage them is the wrong approach.