Pele’s Prerogative (Part Eleven)

After four years on the job Jenny knew how to tune the radio out until it said something she needed to hear. This time Dispatch was patching Patsy through.

“Got a possible on that BOLO.”.  

Patsy was back in Hilo too, now that the brass had no need to camouflage Jenny’s exile to Kona. Patsy recited an address in Langston Otsaka’s neighborhood.

Jenny knew the place. Abel must be staying with her old friend Hez Kekua.

“En route,” she said.

She was turning into Otsaka’s street when the radio spoke up again.

“Suspect is on the move,” said Patsy. “Red Wrangler. I’m about to do a stop.”

“You need backup on this one,” said Jenny.

She was probably closest, and she didn’t plan to wait for Dispatch to make it official. She cut a U-turn and floored the accelerator.

But close wasn’t close enough. Adrenaline flared when Jenny rounded the corner and saw Patsy flat on the blacktop next to her Malibu with the blue cone on the roof.

“Officer down.”

A tiny corner of Jenny’s mind congratulated her on the level tone of her voice. The more stressful the moment, the more a cop strove for professional detachment. She turned the flasher on and parked behind Patsy’s vehicle. Jenny got out and drew her service weapon. No one else was in sight, but a chain link fence flanking the road needed clearing. It was draped with the usual vines and creepers, which could conceal an attacker. She led with her gun as she approached and ventured a quick look over the fence.

Nothing. She leaned over the fence again and scanned the whole area. Now she could go to her friend. Patsy was drawing her knees up in preparation to roll over and get to her feet.

“Stay, girlfriend,” said Jenny.

“Moke is quick,” said Patsy. “Never saw it coming.”

She felt her jaw.

“Where you hurting?” Jenny asked.

“He punched me in the face. And I hit the back of my head on the car on the way down. Don’t even remember doing that, but I must have.”

Sirens were sounding. Kenny Lujan was the first to arrive, with Sammy seconds behind him. Then came Sergeant Silveira just ahead of an ambulance. Jenny suppressed a pang when she noticed that Jack Holloway was missing from the EMT crew.

In the press of uniforms a large man in a tank top and board shorts stood out.

“Howzit, Officer?”

“Howzit, Hez.”

“She gonna be okay?”

“I think so. How long has he been around?”

“Abel? Been on the island a few weeks, but he came to me a couple of days ago. Told me his last place fell through. He ain’t a moke you tell no.”

“You didn’t think to tell us?”

“I’ll punch it out with anybody, Officer. But Abel skips the fists and goes straight to his knife.”

“How do you know him?”

“I was in Vegas for a while, trying to get in with the casinos. My cousin knew Abel. Not that he was happy about it.”

“What brought Abel here?”

“What else? Langston’s money.”

“Did he mention anybody else he knows here?”

“He said about six words to me. Just drank my beer and ate my grindz.”

“Okay Hez. If he turns up again, this time you call.”

“If I can do it without getting stuck.”

Coutinho was just climbing out of his Camry. He spoke with Patsy as she sat in the rear of the ambulance and then listened to Jenny’s report.

“Abel believes in the money too,” she finished.

They stood there thinking like a couple of detectives.

“I’m guessing he had a backup place to go,” said Coutinho.

“Guys like that usually pick on a woman.”

Coutinho looked sideways at her, but he didn’t dispute her conclusion.

“He started out here only knowing Hez,” she said, “but he’d have been planning to move on to something better.”

As a cop with her share of domestic calls, Jenny knew which women were in no position to say no to a man. Waitresses. Bartenders. Hookers.

Even as stressful a situation as an officer down ended with Jenny back on patrol. An hour later she was driving the length of Banyan Drive looking for anything out of place on Hilo’s prime hotel and restaurant strip.

Sally Pineda wasn’t exactly out of place in her tank top, short shorts and high-heeled sandals. Hotels were her natural habitat, but Jenny decided to lower Sally’s comfort level a little. She pulled over to the shoulder and stopped facing the wrong way. It didn’t make much difference, because traffic was light, and street parking was always available on Banyan. Visitors sometimes remarked on the pleasant reminder of what life on all the islands used to be like.

Jenny rolled her window down.

“Howzit, Sally?”

“Howzit, Officer.”

“What happened to your eye?”

“Ran into a door.”

“Come on. You can do better than that. Was it Rodney?”

Her longtime boyfriend/pimp.

“Ain’t with Rodney no more.”

“But you’re still doing this.”

Jenny waved at the hotels.

“Girl’s gotta make a living.”

“So who’s the new Rodney?”

It would never occur to Sally to get free of Rodneys in general.

“Abel.”

Could it really be that easy? Jenny probed, and the man with the fists sounded like the one the police were looking for.

“Where’s Abel now?”

“You asking me to roll on my man?”

“You want some time to think about it? In a cell?”

“You got nothing on me.”

“Don’t embarrass yourself, Sally. You’ve got warrants.”

Jenny hadn’t checked, but Sally’s reaction confirmed the guess.

“He’s at my place.”

“Where you staying these days?”

“Out past the blacktop.”

Cops always took the Special Response Team out that way, even when their objective wasn’t as dangerous as Abel Montes. Aloha for the police was in short supply.

Jenny called Coutinho.

“Got lucky again.”

“Don’t knock it,” he said. “Come back and join the fun.”

By the time she reached headquarters, Coutinho had assembled a team of six men in black plus Patsy with a rifle. Jenny had the impression that her friend was going to find herself included in more of these missions. Patsy’s smile said, “Bring it on.”

“Guess there’s no concussion,” said Jenny.

“Nah, I’m good to go.”

As everyone packed into the Ford Bronco, the SRT’s accepted Patsy as one of them, but they eyed Jenny with skepticism.

Stealth was impossible. Every inhabitant of this neighborhood had eyes for the cops, and no one would keep quiet. Only speed would work.

The Bronco spun off mud as it roared down the center of the road. It slid to a stop in front of Sally’s house, which, like many dwellings here, wasn’t much more than a shack. The men in black piled out and made straight for the only door. Patsy jumped out and cut to the right, where she surveyed the neighborhood with her rifle pointed at the mud for now.

Last came Coutinho with the no-knock warrant, and Jenny.

The first man through the door tested the knob. It turned, as Sally had promised.

The operation didn’t take long. Three minutes later the men in black came out with a young man in handcuffs. Abel Montes smiled tolerantly, as if a neighbor had asked a favor at an inconvenient moment.

Now the Bronco was really crowded. Jenny sat in the third row, crushed between two large men. Since she had nothing to do but ride, she studied the back of Abel’s head for clues to his thoughts. His face wouldn’t have revealed anything more.

No one spoke the entire trip.

Coutinho followed the detective manual and put Abel alone in an interview room to marinate in his own anxiety. It worked with suspects who felt anxious to begin with, but this one gave the impression that he hadn’t even cried as an infant. Coutinho, Jenny and the prosecutor Cordova watched the young man on Coutinho’s laptop screen. The three of them filled his tiny office.

“I’m not going to get anything,” said Coutinho, “but I have to show the flag.”

“Let Freitas try,” said Cordova.

Jenny fought an urge to turn and gape at the prosecutor. When had this woman become a fan? Coutinho nodded as if he had been about to suggest the same thing.

“Okay,” said Cordova, “what’s the plan?”

“Play up to him,” said Coutinho. “You have the equipment. Use it.”

The female equipment. Jenny told herself that a man who let his hormones put him in prison deserved what he got, but the whole idea still left a bad taste.

Coutinho handed her a file folder.

“From my friend in Las Vegas.”

Abel’s file was extensive, if short on arrests and convictions. Local bad guys dropped dark hints about his part in heists and extortions, but they refused to say more. Their fear of this young man clung to the scanned and printed pages like greasy fingerprints.

“Game face,” said Cordova.

That was usually Coutinho’s line.

Jenny nodded and pushed through the door. The young man eyed her flagrantly up and down.

“I love this island.”

The smirk on his handsome face changed the plan in an instant. Abel Montes was used to getting over on women. Jenny decided to play it like the only woman on earth who didn’t buy his act. She thought he might take her as a challenge, but if she failed, Cordova would rip her a new one. Coutinho would defend her, and that would feel even worse.

Jenny took her seat across from him. Abel reminded her of a certain A-list Hollywood actor who was supposed to make her heart flutter but didn’t.

“So what brought you back here?”

He opened his mouth for another smart remark. Jenny held up her hand.

“Wait.”

She had two reasons to read him the Miranda warning. He was in custody, and she wanted to control the rhythm of the interview.

“You were going to say?”

“I wanted to get back to my roots. Mom told me a lot.”

“About your father?”

“My father was in Vegas.”

“Who was he?”

“He’s dead.”

The short answer threatened to become silence. Jenny dropped the question for now.

“So what did she tell you?”

“The usual. It’s paradise. Nobody works too hard. Not as hot as Vegas.”

“How about your brother?”

“Didn’t know I had one until just recently. Mom talks a lot, but she doesn’t always say much.”

Jenny could corroborate that. And now she could identify the source of her wrong-footed feeling. Abel’s voice echoed his mother’s, and her personality animated his face in a way that didn’t happen with her other son. This young man had grown up in Cindy’s gravitational field.

“How did you find out about Caleb?”

“She decided to tell me.”

“So she spills something like this that she could have told you anytime in the past twenty years? How did you handle that?”

“The way I handled everything she did. I could take it or leave it. I usually took it.”

“You’re very well known in Vegas.”

“That’s one way to put it.”

“Was it getting too hot for you there?”

“It’s always hot.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I can’t speak to that. My lawyer back home would kick my ass.”

Jenny didn’t intend to ask about his lawyer on this island, if he had one. She Who Must Not Be Named, aka Agnes Rodrigues, might arise from the grimy floor of this very room in a cloud of infernal smoke.

“What did your mother want you to do here?”

“Nothing.”

“We have witnesses to put you at Langston Otsaka’s house. More than once. More than twice.”

“I didn’t know anybody here. He was somebody to look up if I needed anything.”

Jenny decided it wasn’t time to spring the topic of Langston’s money on him.

“You strike me as pretty self-sufficient. What did you need from Langston?”

“I slept on his couch a couple of nights.”

“How did you introduce yourself?”

“Friend of a friend.”

“What friend?”

“I forget.”

“So how did you end up in the warehouse?”

Her change-up didn’t faze him. He had done this kind of thing before.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t try it. We found your prints up there in your man cave. You like beef jerky, I guess. I think it’s disgusting.”

“It’s okay. Haven’t had it in a while.”

“Your mother understood what you like. She knows men, doesn’t she?”

“What are you saying?”

“She knows how to get what she wants. Everybody I talk to says you’re a user. A taker. But with your mother, you’re the one who gets used.”

“You better watch your mouth.”

 “Or what? You’ll knock me off the shelf the way you did with your mother?”

Abel gaped.

“You didn’t know who it was climbing up to you in the dark? I can’t believe that. I think she came to you in the dark a lot.”

It was all improvisation, and if she was wrong, Abel would put on his superior look, and the cops would never get another word out of him.

Albert Tucher_headshot_Color2018

Albert Tucher is the creator of sex worker Diana Andrews, who has appeared in more than one hundred stories in venues including SHOTGUN HONEY and the anthology THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2010. Her first longer case, the novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, was published in 2013. In 2017 Albert Tucher launched a second series set on the Big Island of Hawaii, in which BLOOD LIKE RAIN is the most recent entry. He lives in New Jersey, and he loves NJ Turnpike jokes.