Pele’s Prerogative (Part Four)

The detective was a mostly Hawaiian man almost as big as Sammy Waga. Island ethnic mixing had given him the name Goldfarb.

“I just talked with Coutinho,” he said.

His tone gave her an idea of what was coming.

“I thought he’d want to come out and question her, but he says give it to you.”

Now he was looking her over in a way that usually meant a man was trying to imagine her naked. But he was searching her for detective chops, as if she wore them under her uniform. She found it refreshing, if also a little intimidating.

“You up for it?”

“Sure,” she said before she could think about it too much.

An interview room was an interview room, always and everywhere. She took a seat across from Cindy Otsaka and studied her. Jenny liked the way the woman wore the road miles on her face, but Cindy’s tita deadpan was less helpful.

“I think you’ve done this before,” said Jenny.

“Sat down with the cops? A time or two.”

“That’s interesting, because you have no record.”

“Try being married to Langston.”

“What was he into?”

“You saw his file. Pakalolo.”

Marijuana. The word took in a lot more than just growing a crop and selling it. Business disputes and general paranoia sometimes led to violence, despite Morrison’s efforts to keep things calm.

“It’s been a while, though. I got away from Langston ten years ago. I’ve been in Vegas too.”

“So you must know what Caleb has been doing.”

“We’ve got our own lives.”

That sounded cold to Jenny, but maybe Cindy had learned her indifference the hard way.

“Would it surprise you to hear he’s on the island?”

“He’s got to be someplace.”

“What would bring him here?”

“How would I know? Maybe his father’s money. A lot of people believe that bullshit.”

“So there was no money?”

“I never saw any.”

“What brought you back?”

“I finally had to face it. I’m a Hilo girl. Vegas is too hot. People work too hard.”

Jenny had heard that before, but it still wasn’t adding up.

“Why did you run from me?”

“I guess I just fell into my old island kine habits. That’s how I had to live with Langston.”

Jenny probed and feinted, but she got nothing more.

“Can I go back to work now?”

“Sit tight for a minute.”

She joined Goldfarb outside the room.

“I’d feel a lot better if we had Caleb to cross check stories,” said Jenny.

“Go out and get lucky again.”

She didn’t take the comment as a dig. Jenny had heard Coutinho say more than once, “We’d rather be lucky than good.”

“Cut her loose for now.”

Goldfarb started back toward his office, but he turned and said, “Nothing wrong with making your own luck, though.”

“I was thinking I might borrow Patsy.”

He grinned.

“She’s waiting for you in civvies. But I’m glad you thought of it.”

Patsy’s reputation must have accompanied her to Kona. She wasn’t interested in detective stuff, but she loved the action on the street. Nobody beat Patsy with a rifle, but right now Jenny cared more about her friend’s knack for tailing a suspect.

A team would have been better, but Hawaii County didn’t have the manpower for an operation that might drag on and yield nothing.

While Patsy followed Cindy, Jenny went back on patrol and contended with one of the major differences between Kona and Hilo. Here rental cars covered every square inch of the town. Responding to a call involved finding a slot to wedge her car into. Her blue cone protected her from tickets or tow trucks, but even illegal spaces were hard to find.

She was doing a welfare check called in by yet another daughter in Vegas, whose mother wasn’t answering the phone. Jenny dragged the mother out of bed, where she had spent the day with a boyfriend her daughter’s age. Jenny was still grinning when her own cell phone sounded.

“I dunno, girlfriend,” said Patsy. “She went straight back to her place. Hasn’t moved in a couple of hours.”

“The address she gave us?”

“Yeah. She’s living like a college kid.”

Many people in Hawaii lived four to a two-bedroom apartment, while working two jobs and a side gig to stay afloat.

“You seen any of the roommates?”

“Two young guys just left. The timing is right for restaurant dinner shifts.”

Patsy snickered.

“Wonder if she’s helping herself to any of that young stuff.”

“There’s a lot of that going on,” said Jenny. “I don’t suppose one of them was Caleb?”

“He’d be older than these guys.”

“Hang on a little, anyway,” she told Patsy. “See if anybody interesting shows up while she’s there alone.”

She drove some more, until her cell phone rang again.

“I had my sit down with Morrison,” said Coutinho.

She listened to his report.

“Interesting. Guess I need to talk to Cindy again?”

At the last moment she remembered to make a question of it. The words had escaped before she considered them. It was up to Coutinho to decide whether she should continue with Cindy Otsaka, but he let her get away with her presumption.

“Do it,” was all he said.

She called Patsy.

“Has she moved?”

“Nope. Are we going to go get her?”

Jenny told Patsy about her discussion with Coutinho.

“It would help if she made some motion,” said Patsy. “Sarge said he needs me back on patrol soon.”

“I’ll swing by. Maybe if we both think good thoughts, she’ll do something.”

Only a quarter mile from Cindy’s address a Malibu lurched out in front of Jenny. She could have pulled the car over for reckless driving, but instead she grabbed the legal parking space, which was even big enough to drive straight into instead of jockeying for five minutes.

Maybe she was getting her Kona chops. She found Patsy in a coffee place with a view.

“That’s the place. Second floor, far right.”

Someone had cloned the building from the hundreds of others in this town and dropped it where it would fit, although the land in Keauhou was disappearing fast. Jenny wondered whether local residents ever went to the wrong two stories and eight apartments, and how long they stayed before noticing their mistake.

The door opened, and Cindy Otsaka emerged carrying a knapsack.

“Good thoughts,” said Jenny.

“Coutinho says you make things happen.”

Jenny’s face burned with embarrassment or pride or both.

“Drop me at my car.”

“We’ll lose her,” said Patsy.

“I know where she’s going.”

Patsy gave her a skeptical look.



Now Jenny wondered where her certainty had come from. But she thought about it, and it fit.

“Radio the sergeant. Have him call Coutinho. They’ll work it out.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“Definitely. I want to beat her there.”

They both climbed into Patsy’s car in the coffee shop’s tiny lot. Patsy drove to Jenny’s Camry. If Jenny had been tailing Cindy Otsaka, she would have taken the blue cone off, but this time she wanted to stay ahead. She might need her flasher.

Coutinho would have Hilo Division officers stake her destination out, but Jenny wanted to get there in time for the action. She had just merged onto Highway 11, when her cell phone rang.

“She just left,” said Patsy. “Red RAV. You sure about this?”

“I’m sure.”

Five minutes later she got another call.

“You’re en route?” Coutinho asked as if he knew the answer.

“I’ll beat her there.”

She hoped her bladder made it, because she couldn’t afford the time for a stop. She had a pee bucket in the car, but it was for stakeouts, not high-speed contortions in the driver’s seat. She kept checking her mirror in case Cindy Otsaka defied the reduced limits in the small towns that lined the southern route around the island.

Jenny passed from Kona sun into Hilo overcast. An hour later the brief subtropical twilight yielded to night.

Instead of continuing to Hilo, she turned right on 130 toward Puna. She went left into the subdivision where everything had started and decided she had a minute to use her bucket. In mid-pee her cell phone rang. She caught the call just before it went to voicemail.

“What’s yours?” Coutinho asked.

“Two minutes away.”

“We’re inside. She won’t be interested in the house.”

She could have used the bathroom. Oh well.

Jenny’s weeks in Kona had reminded her that the Hilo side of this island did darkness like few places in the nation.

She joined three other cops watching the shadow through the window slats in the rear of the darkened house. The men weren’t much more than shadows themselves. The size of one of them could only mean Sammy Waga, and the bantamweight next to him had the body language of Kenny Lujan. Coutinho leaned closer to Jenny.

“Nothing down there.”

“That’s weird.”

“I mean there wasn’t, but there is now. We planted a duffel bag. Stuffed it with newspapers.”

“Can’t wait to see her face,” said Jenny.

“We left the ladder. We’ll let her go down and then take her.”

Nothing would take the fight out of the suspect more effectively than looking up from the bottom of a lava tube at four cops who controlled the ladder.

Cindy Otsaka must have driven like a cowgirl. Twenty minutes before Jenny expected her, a form darker than the darkness slipped around the house and moved toward the back fence.

One moment the form was there, and the next it was gone.

“Go,” said Coutinho.

She was already on her way out the back door, with Kenny right behind her. Sammy’s bulk made him lag a little, but he always made up for his lack of speed when he arrived.

Jenny looked around as she approached the fence, but everyone looked back at her. Wasn’t it time for somebody else to deal with man-eating holes in the ground?

Apparently not.

“Somebody hold my feet,” she said.

Kenny stepped behind her. She flopped down and crawled to the edge of the hole. Her flashlight was getting its exercise today. With Kenny holding her ankles, she played the beam downward and caught Cindy in the act of stepping off the ladder.

“Police,” said Jenny. “Don’t move.”

As Cindy turned toward Jenny’s voice, her left ankle nudged a large duffel bag. She ignored the item. That struck Jenny as J.D.L.R.

Just Doesn’t Look Right—the instinct that every cop developed. Wasn’t the bag what Cindy had come for?

“Come on up out of there,” Jenny told her.

“You’re getting to be a bad habit,” said Cindy.

• • •

Coutinho’s laptop showed Cindy sitting in Interview One and looking as self-contained as she had in Kona.

“You take her,” said the detective.

Jenny expected the assignment, which made her feel better about the whole thing. Coutinho might give her the dirty work in lava tubes, but he also trusted her to question a suspect.

Three detectives were hanging around, watching and doing a poor job of hiding their disapproval. Coutinho ignored them.

He was counting on her to have built something of a rapport with the suspect, but now she had to prove him right. She took a minute to construct a bullshit file, padded with papers from the recycling bin, to give Cindy Otsaka the idea that the cops knew everything.

She opened the door. Cindy looked up at her. The woman’s face still revealed nothing. Jenny took the seat opposite her.

“You’re not under arrest. We’re just talking. You can leave if you want.”

A veteran of interactions with the cops might do that. Jenny tried to imply with her tone that her feelings would be hurt, and weren’t they just girls in a boys’ world?

“It was a pretty good idea,” she said. “You figured the money would be in the place we had already searched. And you had Nate Cano telling the whole island there was nothing down in the tube. It was better than a safe.”

Maybe Cindy would even spill who had put the money down there. But the woman didn’t blink. Something still wasn’t adding up.

“But I’m not under arrest?”

“Well, maybe the money is rightfully yours. You can help us establish that.”

“If there’s money, it’s mine.”

“Was it your husband’s?”

“Must have been.”

Cindy had just given herself a motive for murder, but Jenny refrained from pointing that out.

“So why were you working behind a counter? You must have known we would find you.”

“I have nothing to hide.”

“We’re wondering who actually put the money there. You were on the other side of the island.”

Cindy could have made an all-night round trip and gone to work, but somehow Jenny didn’t think so.

The woman gave her more of her tita silence. Jenny decided on a diversion.

“We’ve been talking to Morrison.”

Cindy blinked. That was a start.

“That’s how he’s stayed in business so long. He knows when to make himself useful.”

“Why do I care?”

“I think you know. Morrison knew you way back, when Langston was running with the big boys from Honolulu. He told us a lot.”

Not a flicker.

“He told us you were the brains of the outfit. Not everybody knew that, but Morrison knows what he needs to know. So guess what else he told us.”

Jenny leaned in.

“He told us you didn’t raise Caleb.”


Jenny gave the woman a little space and softened her tone.

“Postpartum depression is the bitch. I’m not a mother, but obviously I have one. I know some mothers who have had it. I know it’s a terrible thing. Morrison told us Langston came to him. Even thirty years ago Morrison was running Puna. Keeping everything low key so the cops didn’t have to get involved.”

It raised questions about what Jenny had been doing when she spent the night with Morrison, but Cindy didn’t need to know about that. Neither did the detectives listening in. Morrison wouldn’t tell as long as it was in his interest to keep their secret.

“Langston told him he was desperate. He couldn’t leave you alone with the baby. He had to get Caleb away from you more than once. Morrison took Caleb and gave him to an ex-girlfriend.”

Trust Morrison to keep his exes on the kind of terms that made them useful. Jenny wondered when he would come to her about something.

“She was going to Vegas, and she took Caleb. Did you know that part, or did Caleb just disappear?”

“I knew. She was welcome to him.”

“Because he’d have a better chance at life.”

“Because I didn’t want him. I wasn’t depressed.”

Jenny considered the woman across from her. Cindy might be in denial, or she might just be a bad mother. In just three years on the job Jenny had seen more than enough of the phenomenon. Sometimes the relevant genes got deleted from the double helix, or the motherhood synapses just didn’t fire.

“Being pregnant wasn’t bad. Compared to what some women say, I had it easy. I wouldn’t have minded doing the surrogate thing to get paid for it. What the hell.”

Cindy sat and remembered.

“But he was the ugliest thing I ever saw. And Jesus, the noise, and the smell.”

“So let’s fast-forward thirty years. How did you connect with him in Vegas?”

“He came looking for me.”

“How did he know where to look?”

“No idea.”

“You didn’t ask?”

“I assume you want to make detective. In that case you need to be a better listener. I didn’t care enough to ask. I thought that was obvious.”

“Okay, whose idea was getting close to Langston?”

“I don’t know. It just came up. Caleb wanted to talk, and what did we have to talk about except Langston? And this money he supposedly had.”

“What was the plan?”

“Worm our way back into his life, what else? Langston bought it. What a pathetic old man he turned into.”

“So who hit him?”

“No idea.”


“Maybe. He’s stupid enough. If there was money, nobody had to kill Langston for it. We just had to take it and go. Who was he going to complain to about it?”

Cindy’s face closed down.

“I’m talking too much. Am I under arrest?”

“Well, there’s trespassing. But we’re not going to make an issue of it.”

Without another word Cindy got up. Jenny walked her to the exit in silence and watched the woman use her cell phone. Ten minutes later a Ford Escape turned into the station. Jenny knew the driver. Lanny Soares supplemented his meager earnings as one of the island’s few private investigators by driving for Uber.

She went back inside and found Coutinho.

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.