Pele’s Prerogative (Part Nine)

“We didn’t meet properly the other day,” the young man said. “I’m Ralph. I know. I don’t look like a Ralph. Everybody tells me that.”

“Jenny,” she said. “I guess you’re what a Ralph looks like.”

Participating in the demented dialog gave her a moment to think.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

“For what?”

“Getting rid of your problem.”

For another crazy moment Jenny though he meant sexual harassment in the police department. How could he know about that?

“One cop in this operation is enough,” he said. “Two would trip over each other. The way he just did over his own feet. Who knows what the hell he was doing here. Right?”

“I’ll try not to be a problem.”

“Good idea.”

“Was Cindy a problem?”

Where had that come from? Maybe it was just the contrast between Ralph and Jack. The role of killer had never sat well on Jack, but this new young man had just proved himself.

“She was a pain in the ass from the beginning.”

Jenny started to ask how Cindy had wedged her way into the operation, but that question would have to wait until she could act like a cop again. Right now she was a bad guy.

“Ready to see the facilities?”

“No, we’re good,” said Morrison.

Jenny blessed him, but Ralph gave him a suspicious look.

“You came all this way, and now you take my word for it?”

“My nose works,” said Jenny.

Just in time a puff of air brought the odors of meth from the hole in the ground.

“Well, that’s awkward,” said Ralph.

His right hand held a compact Glock.

And now Ralph’s plan hit Jenny all at once—get them all underground and kill them where no one would ever find them. Then become Mr. Pakalolo as well as Mr. Meth.

“Three of you all fall off the cliff?” said Ralph. “That raises some questions. But as long as there’s nothing to connect you with me …”

“Yellow,” said Jenny.

“Who’s yellow?”

She pictured Coutinho telling the tactical officers, “Go, go, go!” But she couldn’t afford to wait for them. They had some ground to cover.

Her chances didn’t look good. The rough ground could trip her a half dozen times as she tried to charge Ralph. The footing didn’t really matter, because distance would have been too far to cover even on flat pavement.

But she had to try.

“Think you’re going to help yourself to my pakalolo operation?” Morrison asked.

From his tone they could have been discussing the matter in Luquin’s over drinks.

“That’s the plan,” said Ralph.”

“Think I don’t have safeguards?”

“I don’t care.”

Ralph turned back to Jenny, and his gun hand started to rise.

“Ralph, what are you doing back here?”

It took Jenny a moment to place the voice. Then Hanson, the warehouse owner, appeared above them. Ralph’s head turned toward him. Jenny launched herself, but it was no good. Ralph’s gun hand didn’t waver. Even worse, she tripped and sprawled on the stony ground. Her mind flashed uselessly back to Langston Otsaka’s backyard. This case was giving her knees a beating.

Then the crisp brutality of a rifle round made her forget her bruises. Her stalling had allowed her backup to get close.

And somehow she knew the sound of that rifle. Nobody beat Patsy with a long gun, not even the men in black. Coutinho had kicked some ass to get Patsy included in the team.

Jenny stopped grinning as she watched Ralph writhing and moaning the ground. If he was in pain, he was alive, and the cops would get to question him.

Hanson joined her. The sight of his employee seemed to fascinate and repel him at the same time.

“Next time I find something in my warehouse,” he said, “I think I’m going to keep my mouth shut.”

“I hope you don’t, but I wouldn’t blame you.”

• • •

“Like I said, Cindy was a pain in the ass,” said Ralph, “but I didn’t kill her.”

He lay handcuffed to his hospital bed in Kona Community Hospital. The facility was new to Jenny, but she had already mapped out a coffee route for after the interview.

She waited for Coutinho to pick up the questioning, but he left it to her.

“Don’t even try it,” she said. “We’re supposed to believe you didn’t take out somebody trying to muscle in on your meth operation? We already know how you react to problems.”

“Okay, I probably would have killed her, but somebody beat me to it.”

“Jack?”

“I doubt it. He was useless about that stuff.”

“So what good was he?”

“He’s a good chemist. Gotta give him that. Nothing ever blew up on his watch.”

She probed some more, but her efforts yielded nothing. And she knew she was only postponing the task of putting what she knew into words. This time she led the coffee expedition, and Coutinho followed. She bought two coffees and got cream and sugar for herself, whether the detective approved or not.

“What’s on you mind, Officer?”

She should just stop trying to conceal her thinking from him.

“I hate this, but I believe him about Cindy.”

“So do I.”

Neither needed to say more. Jenny wasn’t even sure how she knew. They took their time over their coffee, but then they had to start the drive around the island. The trip had never seemed longer, and Jenny had never been less eager to see it end.

Mrs. Conyers opened the door as if she had been waiting. Maybe she had.

“Officer Freitas. You brought your friend.”

Jenny stifled an urge to look sideways at Coutinho. Were they friends? She had never thought about it.

“Come.”

To the kitchen, of course. They took the same seats as last time, and in the same order, with Jenny the last to remain on her feet.

“You know.”

Jenny waited a beat, but Coutinho was leaving it to her.

“Yes, Auntie, we know.”

“Some people just shouldn’t come back home. She was no good to begin with. The mainland made her worse.”

Jenny didn’t need it spelled it out. In her mind she saw the scattered stones of the traditional religious observance, and heard the auntie’s words,

“I see the old religion doing the young men some good.”

But she needed the complete story for the case record, even if she expected Mrs. Conyers to plead out instead of going to trial.

“Am I right that she came back and wormed her way into your life?”

“Couldn’t stop her, even when I knew what she was doing. She could manipulate like nobody else I know.”

“Including helping herself to your son?”

“He’s a grown man, but he’s still a boy. If you know what I mean.”

“Did Cindy ruin the shrine?”

“That I don’t know, but it would make sense. She just lived to wreck things.”

Spreading meth among the islands certainly qualified.

“So how did it happen?”

“She showed up at my door, hurting bad.”

“Did she say what happened?”

“She fell. Didn’t tell me where or how.”

Jenny and Coutinho exchanged looks. Cindy had been the champion tita of all time, if she could drive back to Hilo with the injuries she must have suffered in the fall in Hanson’s warehouse.

“She was sitting right where you are. Just assuming I would drop everything to help her again. All of a sudden I was sick and tired of it. I got up like I was going to make tea. Heals, all, right? But then I hit her with my best cast iron skillet. Had to get a kahuna to say some words over it before I could use it again.”

Mrs. Conyers fixed Jenny with a look.

“Yes, I’m a Baptist. But this is also Hawaii.”

• • •

Internal Affairs spent days fawning over Jenny, not that a civilian would have recognized their hours of questioning as deference. Hilo Division borrowed detectives from Kona with the official explanation that they would be more objective. But the IA investigators were pulling their punches. Callen had been a wrong cop all along, and the Hilo brass could have listened to Jenny and other women officers and saved the department a lot of trouble.

Now they were trying to talk her out of suing the department without actually mentioning the word “sue.”

It was a good thing they were treating her gently, because the better half of her brain insisted on working the Otsaka case.

An IA detective named Rivera had just worked his way up to the bar fight that Callen and Dumas had let Jenny handle alone.

“Yeah,” said Jenny. “I was getting my ass kicked, and the brotherhood in blue was leaning against the wall.”

She was enjoying the latitude to be crude that her position gave her this once, but something was interfering with the simple pleasures.

What was bothering her? She narrowed it down to the last phrase she had uttered.

Brotherhood. Brother. Brothers.

It gnawed at her but refused to come.

Until that night in bed, when she had one of her insomniac episodes. Sometime around first light she dozed off.

And came awake minutes later to the echo of Caleb Otsaka’s voice in her mind.

“Sometimes he would call me Abel.”

And everybody in these biblical islands knew what happened to Abel.

• • •

“Another son? Whose?”

“Most likely Cindy’s in Vegas.”

“How did Langston know about him?”

“Maybe he came looking for Langston like everybody else. And for the same reason.”

“The famous money.”

Coutinho thought about it.

“We need to place somebody else in Langston’s back yard, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s find out if Abel is real.”

“It would help if there was somebody we could talk to who’s still alive.”

“You’re hard to please.”

• • •

Sometimes Jenny was glad to leave the detective stuff to the detectives, generally when she saw no way forward with the case. Then the daily routine of a patrol officer regained its rookie fascination.

She answered lost cat calls and broke up the usual bar fights. And she took the never-ending burglary reports from visitors who left valuables in their rental cars.

This call came from a Hilo resident complaining about glass from a broken car window littering the street. Jenny found the Ford Focus still parked amid the shards, which didn’t look right. She walked around the car and inspected it. The license plate bracket belonged to a local company with a record of laxity on little things like verifying the identity of the customer.

While Jenny checked the seats through the windows, a man appeared around the corner. His two hundred plus pounds didn’t stand out in these islands, but his black suit and thousand-dollar loafers did. He hesitated, but she looked straight at him to make it clear she had seen him and connected him with the vehicle. He gave up on his idea of escaping and approached her.

“Your car?”

“That’s right, Officer. I already called the company.”

“But not the police.”

“What’s the point?”

“Reporting a crime is the point. Where are you from?”

“Vegas.”

“Can I see some ID, please?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m the police, and I asked to see ID.”

And because she wasn’t a hick. Like his car, the man just didn’t look right.

He stared at her until her gun hand tingled. Was he really going to start something on the street in Hilo? That kind of thing didn’t fly even in Vegas.

“Now, please.”

She watched his hands as they went into his pocket and emerged with a wallet. A moment later she was reading his Nevada drivers license. Carl Fortunato in the flesh matched his DMV photo. She made him watch as she recorded his information in her notebook.

“What’s missing from the car?”

“They’re welcome to my dirty underwear.”

“How about the guns?”

That was a guess, but his stony expression confirmed it.

“You need permits in Hawaii.”

“What for? Didn’t have any guns.”

She thought about telling him that the cops had been expecting someone like him to come for Caleb Otsaka, but she decided against revealing everything she knew.

She handed his license back.

“Enjoy your stay.”

He could have been a little more gracious about turning away.

“The other shoe,” said Coutinho when she told him about the encounter.

“We don’t really have anything on him,” said Jenny.

“He as much as confessed to bringing a gun. As close as the wise guys ever get to giving it up.”

“He also doesn’t have to be here for Caleb. He could be WITSEC himself.”

Urban folklore held that this island was one of the witness protection program’s favorite places to stash people. There was no way to verify the proposition, but it seemed plausible. The Big Islands had a limited number of entry points for the U.S. Marshals to watch for potential assassins, and anyone they wanted to protect could blend into the multi-ethnic population..

“If it’s Caleb they want, he’s making it easy for them, dropping out of the program and using his own name.”

“I think we can get Fortunato where we want him,” said Jenny.

Coutinho caught right on.

“Through the guns.”

“I’ll get Nate on it,” she said.

“And I’ll call Vegas about Fortunato.”

Jenny went to her Camry drove the short distance to the no-name bar, where she spent ten minutes sitting in the parking lot. Several mokes looked sideways at her before they went in. The island telegraph would take it from there.

Ten minutes later Nate climbed into her back seat.

“Nate, here’s how you earn some points with us.”

“Don’t need no points.”

“You know you will.”

His tough guy act made her feel tired, but she slogged onward.

“Somebody just got his hands on a gun. Maybe a couple of guns. We want them.”

“Okay.”

“This is serious, Nate. We know these guns are out there. Anybody tries to use them is in big trouble. That includes selling them.”

“I get it.”

It took two more days, but then Nate found her in the same parking lot. He made such a production of looking around before ducking into her back seat that every moke in Hilo probably noticed. Jenny drove around the corner and parked. Nate leaned forward.

“I got your guns.”

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.