“I’m tellin’ ya, he dunnit!”
“Suck an apple, ya little squealer.”
Pyotr Pig’s face reddened. “Did you hear that? DID YOU HEAR THAT? HE’S RACE-BAITING ME!”
Al rolled his eyes. “Says the swine who called me a suitcase.”
Slylock held back the pig who’d become fully hysterical. “YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID! YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID!”
“All right, Pete, this isn’t helping get your family back,” the fox told him.
Al Gator opened his mouth, smirking, but choked on the words forming in his throat when he saw Slylock’s glare. Instead he shrugged, cool as ever.
Pyotr broke down sobbing onto Max’s shoulder and the mouse patted his back, desperately trying to keep his footing.
“Now then,” Slylock sighed. “Where were you last night?”
“Just down here keepin’ warm, brah. Still a bit nippy topside nights, ya know?”
“I know.” The great change may have increased most species’ intelligence and language faculties, but as a rule reptiles remained cold-blooded. “Can anyone vouch for you?”
Al blinked slowly. “Matter of fact, yeah. Cecil swam on up to tell me about some pinky he saw offshore. Wearing one of those get-ups.” He gestured to his face.
“Swimming mask, yeah.”
Damn it, he mused. Al could be pretty shady at times, but Cecil “C” Turtle was a stand-up guy. And Pyotr, while a solid member of the community, still held some of the old prejudices. It’s hard to forget that your not-too-distant ancestor was lunch for your neighbor’s great-great-whatever. As a predator himself, Slylock had run into the same attitudes plenty of times.
Sly turned to Pyotr, who had mostly pulled himself together. “I’ll ask again, Pete, what evidence do you have? Accusing one sentient of eating another is a serious matter.”
“You saw my house! B.B. Wolf didn’t exactly blow my door down!”
Slylock crossed his arms and waited.
“I… I’m sorry, Sly. You know I have the greatest respect for canids. They’re among my best friends, I enjoy lunch with Sir Hound every other Tuesday, weather permitting.”
He counted to ten before replying. “Indeed. And yes, I did examine your lovely brick home. There were no alligator tracks anywhere. And I already checked with the weather bureau, it almost got down to freezing last night. If Mr. Gator had decided to drop by, he’d just now be thawed out enough to move again.”
“Not that I would,” Al interjected, peering up at the late-morning sun. “Ya know what? Imma pop out for a quick bask.”
As he slithered up into the toasty bed of his black low-rider, Slylock eyed the gator’s belly. No pig was in there, waiting to digest over the next month.
“But… but… That’s it!” Pyotr cried. “He carried them away in his truck!”
Sly noticed the morning’s paper under the tire. “Mind pulling it forward, Al? I’d like to get that tire print. So we can rule you out as a suspect.”
Al shrugged. “Same tire you got a cast from last year. But whatever floats your goat.”
Once Al had gotten behind the wheel Slylock stepped on the paper to keep it from flying away in the early spring breeze. “Go ahead!” He also scanned the bed. And smelled… blood? “That’s good!” Al shut off the engine and Slylock bent to retrieve the paper. “Decent print. Thanks.”
“You know me, Detective, always happy to help.”
He folded the paper and slid it into his coat pocket. “All right, Pete, let’s call Chief Mutt and ask him to sniff around the place. I have the greatest respect for Deputy Duck, but, well…” He tapped the side of his nose.
“As a consummate truffle hunter, I understand completely.”
Al smiled contentedly in the warm sun when Slylock turned back. “Oh, one last thing, Al. When was the last time you drove your truck?”
The reptile tapped his chin. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe three, four days ago.”
Sly tapped his cap. “Thanks.”
“Oh, but Sally did go to the Carniceria this morning. Picked up a side of beef.” He stared at the pig. “Ethically sourced, of course. Gotta eat something.” Pyotr’s fists clenched. “Y’all wanna come down, grab a bite? We’re slow-cooking it, so it’s still nice and juicy.”
“Thanks for the offer,” Sly told him, “but we do have several missing persons to find?”
“Right, right. Tell you what, Pete. I’ll check my ‘underground’ sources, okay? See if I can turn anything up.”
The pig’s eyes narrowed and Slylock held his shoulder. “You know my number,” Fox told Al, who lay back down and sighed happily.
The three trudged back to the bus stop. Something nagged the back of Slylock’s mind, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe talking it over with Chief Mutt would help.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, Al slid back into the sewer where Big Brad Wolf waited for him. “Took ya long enough.”
“I’m a gator. I bask. It would’ve looked suspicious if I came right back down.” He swam through the water as Brad walked along the concrete. “Can you believe the pinkies used to flush their dung through these things? What a waste.”
“It’s a good job they did. Runs under every street, up to every house. Makes our job so much easier.”
“But that’s kinda my point, ya know? This whole waterway system, they coulda used boats like in that one city, Venus? But no, they ran fertilizer through it night and day, just to pour it out into their drinking water. Even the old dumb gators knew to piss downstream.”
Brad just shrugged. Dinner was waiting and he hated philosophical debates on an empty stomach.
They reached the Gators’ wading room where Cecil was squeezing fresh lime onto his taco which was overflowing with cilantro. Sally Gator scraped sizzling meat into a bowl and placed it next to the piping hot soft corn tortillas. “Welcome back, boys. Pull up a seat, the big game’s about to start.” Al admired the side of beef tenderizing in the deep pool next door but Sally swatted his snout with her spatula. “Hey. What’s the point of cookin’ this stuff if you’re just gonna eat raw?”
“Sorry, Babe.” He began to fill up his plate. “You know I appreciate all you do to make us civilized.”
“That’s right, you’d be out there hittin’ on some sunken log if it wasn’t for me.” She removed her apron and opened the cooler. “All right then. Beers for everyone?”
As they settled in front of the TV, Al took a big whiff of his food and smacked his lips. “I do love carnitas.”