The last two days we’ve pretty much spent following up on all Alec’s leads.
We started with the guy who distributes the illegal pelts, Rick. There was some question as to how we were going to approach him. I assumed we’d be impersonating some brand of law enforcement like we always do — but then we pulled into a Nordstrom parking lot.
“He won’t talk to law enforcement,” Neal explained as we got out of the car. “So we’re going in as clients.”
It wasn’t until we walked through the Nordstrom doors into the air conditioned, perfumed air that I realized he meant buyers. We were going in as people who wear exotic fur. The worst kind of person, obviously, but the worst kind of person who wears very expensive clothes.
“What are you thinking?” Julian asked, surveying the wide span of racks, mannequins, and accessories distastefully.
“We’re rich douche bags looking for some animal cruelty to make our outfits look more expensive,” Neal said.
“That’s you, too,” Neal said to me. “This is more believable if we have a girl with us. Think Disney channel star going through her I’m a grown-up now phase.”
I blinked at him. “I get to come?” I said.
“You think you can handle it?” he asked.
“Does it matter what I say?” I said. “I mean you’ll know, regardless, right?”
“Shiloh…” Neal sighed, pushing a hand through his hair.
I have not gone easy on him.
I understand why he didn’t tell me initially. I have the supernatural ability to discern truth from lies is a tricky thing to lead with, fine, I accept that. But we’ve been in a car just the three of us for months at this point, and if you think I haven’t been lying in that time, you’re hilariously mistaken.
Take a day and really count the times you lie. I bet it’s more often than you think. And, hey maybe you tell the truth most of the time when you’re in most company. But I bet you anything that when you’re with a pair of attractive, older, people of your preferred gender identity, that amount of lying goes up just a little.
Not that I’m making up wild stories or anything. But listen, I spend ALL my time with them. ALL of my time. Do you know how many small lies are required to spare yourself embarrassment on any given day? Now, most of the time I recognize that it’s not a big deal, and I’m sure he’s used to people’s white lies and everything. But that doesn’t mean I want him to know every time I tell him period cramps are a headache!!!!
And that’s not even to touch on all the time I’ve spent trying to cover the fact that I’m having a total anxiety meltdown. Here I am trying to convince Neal to teach me to hunt monsters and it turns out every time I’ve said I’m fine when actually I’m on the verge of a total freak out HE’S KNOWN.
At any time he could have said, Hey Shiloh, every time you lie I can tell, so you should stop lying to me. Not difficult. Was he ever going to tell me???? Was I going to keep on lying to him forever????
“Look,” he said, and slid a black credit card out of his back pocket. “I get it, you’re pissed. You’re welcome punish me however you want, but after we finish this case.”
I snatched that credit card out of his hand and headed for the escalator.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a shopper. My mom and I were never like… impoverished or whatever, but we’ve always been frugal. I did a lot of shopping second hand because I always prefer to buy art supplies, and we just don’t have the money to indulge.
So already, this wasn’t my most comfortable environment.
But then the sales girls were all giving me weird looks. I kept catching them looking at me and then turning to talk to each other in hushed voices.
The weirdest things will make me feel totally unhinged. Like, these girls were basically my peers. If I were here with Tilly and Georgia they’d have been all smiles, but just me, by myself, in my ratty t-shirt and my greasy, grown-out bleach job, they were looking at me as if they were waiting for me to take a shit on the floor or something. More likely waiting for me to steal something.
For a second I was flattened by how much I miss Tilly and Georgia, and then with a wave of nausea, Madelyn. I pushed my fingers through the rows of clothes, not really seeing them. My heart was starting to do clench and race in that pre-anxiety attack way by the time one of them approached me.
“Is there something I can help you find?” she asked. She was really pretty. Her shirt had daisies on it. Just a normal college girl, living a normal life. She didn’t know anyone who could always tell if she was lying, or who was eaten by a gigantic hyena from another world, or who turned into a unicorn.
“Um,” I said.
She frowned. “Here,” she said, and I followed her bouncy ponytail to a row of leggings on the sales rack. “I bought one of these in every color, they’re so comfortable and they’re on sale!”
I wanted to cry. I still sort of do. I’m supposed to be writing a blog about monster hunting and instead I’m writing about the pretty girl who was nice to me in a department store.
I guess I’m just like… frustrated. Like I WANT to be here. I WANT to hunt monsters! I want to trust the Hawthornes and I want to be… I don’t know, one of their circle, I guess. It’s humiliating to admit, but traveling with them makes me feel… special, I guess?
I know they didn’t choose me or anything, I know I’m only here because they felt too sorry for me to leave me to the government, but still, they make me feel like I’m part of something important, like I have a sick ass secret, like I could help people, like I’m part of a really cool team.
And then I find out that two days ago when that BITCH Rosie asked if I had a thing for Neal and I started to deny it HE KNEW I WAS LYING. That’s so HUMILIATING. Partially for the obvious reason, but mostly because I thought I was… I don’t know, I guess I thought they trusted me. But no, I’m just the dumb kid Shiloh who they left at a rest stop once.
Anyways, I held up Neal’s black credit card and said, “I’m revenge shopping and this has no limit.”
The sales girl hesitated. “Is it… stolen?”
“No,” I said.
She smiled. “You know what I’ve been totally lusting after lately? Come look at this.”
It was a bad ass black leather jacket. Butter soft. $800. I spent the next 45 minutes trying on anything she brought me until I had the perfect costume, and at the end, I bought two of those leather jackets and gave her one. I love you, nice girl in the daisy shirt. I wore a whole new outfit out.
“Well,” said the girl in the daisy shirt when I came out of the dressing room wearing real, human clothes. “I’d say this is pretty successful revenge. I’d be terrified if you turned up pissed at me dressed like that.”
I could have kissed her. What a wonderful thing to say.
Neal and Julian didn’t say a word when they came to find me upstairs, and I didn’t give that credit card back.
Rick agreed to meet that afternoon. We even rented a sick car so that he wouldn’t see us pull up to his house in the rust bucket.
“How do I look?” Neal asked, bending to check himself in the side mirror.
“Douchey,” I grumbled.
“Perfect,” he said.
Rick the Poacher’s house was out in the woods, had a very tall gate, and although very plain from the outside, the garage was open and I could see he had a shiny, expensive looking car.
Rick himself was a boar of a man, with hairy knuckles and a really big smile. I could see the contempt all over his face when he greeted us.
“So what are you all looking for?” he asked, as we settled in the lawn furniture on his desk.
Julian smiled, stretched out in his lawn chair, and became the rich douche bag looking for some fur. One minute he was Julian, soft-spoken, self-assured, bookish — the next he was an ex frat boy making seven figures doing something that required little effort for his daddy.
“Rachel Dunelow told us about you,” he said. Rachel Dunelow is one of the rich ladies who died in the last couple weeks from wearing one of the toxic furs. “She was wearing the most beautiful ruff, said she got it from you.”
“That opal stuff?” Rick asked. “That what you’re talking about?”
“Yeah,” Neal said. “That’s the stuff.”
Rick rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I had another group come through asking about that stuff just a couple weeks back, showed me a sample and everything. Beautiful fur, can’t imagine where it came from. If they’re foxes they’ve got some serious genetic shit going on. Never seen anything like it before.”
“So none of your hunters have brought you any?” Neal asked, just a touch too inquisitively. Julian shot him a glance.
“Not that I’ve seen, no,” Rick said. “But what you’ve gotta remember — I don’t touch all the merchandise that comes through, alright. I might not have seen it.”
“If not you, then who helps you out?” Neal asked. “Would someone else know where I might find some?”
Rick sighed. “I had an assistant,” he said. “But she ah — well she passed away last week.”
“Oh, shit,” Julian said. “Sorry to hear that. Was it unexpected?”
“Anaphylactic shock,” Rick sighed. “I didn’t even know she was allergic to anything.”
“And there aren’t any other local distributors?” Julian asked.
Rick smiled thinly. “None around here,” he said. “I’ve made good and sure of that.”
I realized that this guy was like… a real life criminal. He deals dead animals illegally, who knows what else he’s into.
Julian glanced at Neal, who nodded. “Alright then,” Julian said. “In that case I guess we’ll get out of your hair. If any shows up, you let us know.”
“Hey now,” Rick said. “I might not have any of that particular product left, but I’ve got some really beautiful, rare stuff to look at, if that interests you.”
Neal was already standing up. “No,” he said.
“I shouldn’t fuck with this stuff anyways. My girlfriend’s vegan,” Julian added.
In the car, Neal said, “he wasn’t lying, not about not having seen that pelt, and not about not seeing all the product that comes through.”
“So it all comes together,” Julian said. “We know who trapped the minks, we know who skinned them, we know who probably distributed them, and we know who bought them because they’re dead.”
“Yeah,” Neal said. “Seems airtight.” But I could tell from his expression that he wasn’t convinced.
“Yeah,” Julian agreed. “Something feels off to me, too.”
We stopped by the dead trapper’s house but her family was inside. I could see a little boy sitting in the window, staring down at the street. When we knocked on the door a sixteen year old girl in cutoffs and a bandanna answered.
“What?” she said.
“We’re here to ask about your mom,” Neal said.
“Again?” she said and I saw the agony on her face. “Look, she’s dead, okay! Allergies! We’re all screwed and that’s the whole story, what more do you want from us?”
We left pretty quickly. We were able to break into the guy who supposedly skinned the poisoned minks and there was no evidence that he was even working with other trappers than the girl who had died. We made a few phone calls but everyone who had any contact with the fur was already dead.
By ten we were eating fast food in our motel room, frustrated as fuck.
“Why did they even call us here?” I groaned. “If there aren’t any other leads, why would they even call you?”
Julian and Neal glanced at each other.
“Alec must have known about you for years,” Julian said. “This seems like a small thing to blow such a big secret over, don’t you think?”
Neal took a long breath. “Fuck.”
“They haven’t lied at all?”
“No,” Neal said. “But I still don’t trust them.”