Pele’s Prerogative (Part Ten)

“You got my guns?”

Jenny felt stupid for the repetition, but it was unlike Nate to get results so efficiently.

“Well, I don’t have them on me.”

That was more like it.

“This friend of mine thinks he’s gonna get paid.”

“How?”

“Says he’s got two nine-mills. He’s gonna keep one and sell the other back to the moke.”

“Who’s this friend?”

“Petey Kawabata.”

“Petey’s in over his head,” said Jenny.

She could say that without knowing the details. Like Nate, Petey was usually in over his head the moment he got out of bed, but he refused to learn.

“How’s he going to make the deal?”

“Friend of his at the car company got word to the malihini rented the vehicle.”

It figured that this rental company would have somebody like that.

“They got a meet set up for tonight.”

“Where’s Petey?”

Nate pointed toward the bar with his chin.

“Where else he gonna be?”

“Thanks, Nate. You did good.”

Jenny waited for Nate to climb out and called Coutinho again.

“I’m thinking we’ll wire Kenny and send him to the meet,” he said.

“That works.”

Kenny Lujan couldn’t relax off duty in a tank top and board shorts without mainland visitors sidling up to him and asking where they could get some of that good island pakalolo. The man from Vegas would take him for a sketchy local guy.

“Kenny should bring backup,” said Jenny. “A real moke would.”

“That’s a no-brainer. Sammy.”

The door to the bar opened.

“Here comes Petey. Bets on where he goes?”

“He’s going home,” said Coutinho. “Petey’s not smart enough to keep the guns anywhere else. I’ll meet you there.”

And when Coutinho pounded on the door to the apartment, Petey opened with his hapless expression already in place. He knew from experience what cops sounded like when they knocked. Coutinho had his stern father look on, although he didn’t have children of his own. Jenny gave Petey a little credit for catching on right away. He could give up the guns and slide on the charges related to breaking into the rental car. And he could stay alive. Dealing with the mob wouldn’t have gone the way he hoped.

In less than five minutes Jenny was carrying two nine-millimeter Glocks out to her car.

“It’ll be interesting to trace them,” said Coutinho.

But now their task was to catch the man from Vegas in a transaction for illegal guns.

“I’ll go put the fear of God into the rental company,” said Coutinho. “Maybe this will make them clean up their act. For a while, anyway.”

According to Petey, Fortunato had agreed to come to the parking lot of Lava Trees State Park outside Pahoa. Jenny wondered whether the mainlander knew what he was getting into. In Las Vegas darkness was theoretical. In Lava Trees the entire police department could lurk unseen just beyond the glow from the restroom building.

Kenny was jumpy, but that fit the character he was playing. Sammy was Sammy, always and everywhere, but his stoic front made him the perfect bodyguard. Coutinho had found them an ancient Wrangler to drive to the meet. Jenny couldn’t detect the vehicle’s color under its authentic coating of red Big Island mud.

She dawdled outside the locker room after the middle shift. She was about to conclude that Coutinho didn’t plan to take her on this midnight expedition, when he found her and told her to get into the black Ford Excursion with four members of the Special Response Team. The men in black didn’t talk to her, but they didn’t kick her out of the vehicle, either.

The park closed after dark, but access was easy. So was staking out the meeting. Jenny found a place behind one of the stone pillars that gave the place its name. During one of the many volcanic eruptions that had made this island, an ohi’a tree, wet from the constant rains, had cooled the lava abruptly enough to create a stone pillar that remained after the rest of the flow moved on. Centuries later the pillar towered over her, and she didn’t have to get down prone or even risk grass stains on the knees of her uniform trousers.

The night mist soaked her before she noticed it, but on this island the moisture warmed her. A Hilo native expected to get wet anyway.

The Wrangler lurched into the lot. Jenny approved of Kenny’s method acting. The vehicle parked, and the lights cut off. Jenny waited for her night vision to return and resolved to look away from Fortunato’s headlights when he drove in.

He arrived just five minutes later. Jenny closed her eyes before she could make out what kind of car the rental company had given him. When she looked again, Kenny and Sammy had climbed out to meet him. They left their doors open to keep the courtesy light on.

“Hell of a way to treat a guest on your island,” said Fortunato.

“What kind of guest brings guns?”

Jenny grinned in the dark. That kind of improvisation showed a new side of Sammy.

“I want them back.”

“It’ll cost you, and we’re keeping one of them.”

“The hell you are. I got a sniper with a bead on you.”

“The hell you do.”

“Think there’s only two guns on this island?”

Something had been lurking just out of sight in Jenny’s mind, and now it stepped into view. Why was Fortunato undertaking this expedition into unfamiliar territory alone? She had heard stories about mob assassinations. If he was here to kill Caleb, shouldn’t he have a driver and a spotter to confirm the target?

“We can do this easy, or we can do it hard,” said Kenny. “Easy is you give us five bills and we give you your gun. Hard, you don’t want to know. This is our territory.”

Jenny could almost feel the man seething.

“Deal. But if you ever come to Vegas, we’ll talk again.”

Fortunato reached into his back pocket and removed something. It could have been an envelope. Kenny took it from him and lifted the flap to check the contents.

“Five hundred George Washingtons,” he said.

The first president was the signal.

“Go,” said Coutinho somewhere nearby.

Powerful flashlight beams criss-crossed and settled on the group of four.

“Police! Don’t move!”

Fortunato’s reaction confirmed the many arrests in his file. He knew what to do when cops bellowed in unison. He froze and then followed each order until he wore the handcuffs.

Coutinho turned to Jenny.

“You take the gentleman in my car. I’ll ride with the SRT’s.”

The tactic was routine. Male suspects sometimes let things slip with Jenny, but Fortunato probably had rides with women cops on his resume along with everything else. He let the trip to Kapiolani Street pass in silence.

It was almost two in the morning—detective hours. Coutinho performed the booking chores and stowed Fortunato in Interview Two.

“I’ll give him an hour and go in,” said Coutinho, “but it won’t make any difference.”

Jenny was able to catch up on a couple of patrol reports. Then it was time to test Coutinho’s prediction. She watched the laptop screen, as Fortunato invoked his rights. Coutinho rejoined Jenny in the bullpen.

“Did your friend in Vegas give you anything?” she asked.

“He said there are rumors Fortunato is not the earner he used to be. He’s kind of on probation.”

Coutinho shook his head in unison.

“Costing the mob money used to be fatal. What are we coming to?”

Jenny suspected a deadpan joke, but she let it go.

“So maybe that’s why they sent him to take Caleb out,” she said. “To give him a chance to get right with the bosses.”

“And he just blew it. He might not want to go home.”

The commotion started around the corner and grew louder. The noise appeared in the form of Agnes Rodrigues.

“Who else?” said Coutinho.

Jenny expected him to look even more exhausted, but he seemed to perk up. Jenny grinned. Coutinho would never admit it, but he would miss Rodrigues when he retired. She would miss him too.

But then something occurred to Jenny.

“How did he know to get Rodrigues?”

“Maybe he did his homework before he came here.”

Coutinho didn’t sound as if he had convinced himself. But then Typhoon Agnes made landfall.

“Where is my client?”

Fortunato’s image was clear on Coutinho’s laptop screen, which suggested Rodrigues didn’t know him.

“Nice to see you too, Counselor.”

Coutinho never let the lawyer see him sweat. Rodrigues ignored the pleasantry.

“Interview Two,” he said.

Rodrigues turned and marched. Jenny noted that she trusted Coutinho to mute the sound. Some detectives she wouldn’t.

Someone came up behind Jenny.

“What do we have?” Rebecca Cordova asked.

She looked as fresh as she did during office hours. Jenny felt a need to check herself in the mirror to make sure she was keeping up appearances. Inside she was starting to drag.

Coutinho told Cordova about the night’s activities.

“I’m thinking this could get Federal,” said Coutinho. “He’s going to want WITSEC. The Vegas mob won’t be in a forgiving mood.”

“Let’s make sure before we wake up a U.S. Attorney,” said Cordova.

It took almost an hour, but Rodrigues came out and said, “My client wishes to speak with you.”

Cordova tossed her chin in a “Let’s go” kind of gesture. She aimed it at Coutinho, who turned and performed the same choreography with Jenny. Cordova stopped for a moment, as if she wanted to make an issue of Jenny’s inclusion, but she decided to maintain a united front for Rodrigues.

Inside, Jenny stood against the wall. No one was going to fetch a chair for her. She turned her attention to Fortunato, who wasn’t looking desperate for a deal. He looked more like a man with four aces.

Rodrigues nodded at her client.

“I want to walk on these bullshit charges,” said Fortunato.

“In Hawaii gun charges aren’t bullshit,” said Coutinho.

“I’m guessing you care even more about murder.”

“What murder?” Cordova asked.

“Caleb Otsaka.”

“He’s alive.”

“You want to keep him that way, you talk to me.”

“Are you here to kill him?”

“My client wants immunity on conspiracy and attempted murder charges,” said Rodrigues.

“Well, since he screwed that up anyway, we can let it slide.”

Rodrigues nodded her approval at Fortunato, who glowered at Cordova’s insult until his lawyer nudged him.

“I’m not the only one after him. There’s a freelancer in the picture. He got in my way, which is why I didn’t pull the job off.”

Jenny could have mentioned that leaving his guns vulnerable to theft had also contributed, but Cordova knew the story already.

“So who are we looking for?”

“All I know is, Abel something. From Vegas.”

“That’s not worth immunity,” said Cordova.

“It’s more than you had. You didn’t know he existed.”

Cordova glanced at Coutinho, who pointed at the door with her eyes. The prosecutor got up.

“Excuse us a moment.”

Jenny followed them out into the hall.

“Did we know anything about this Abel?”

Coutinho deferred to Jenny.

“Caleb Otsaka said his father called him Abel once in a while. He thought it was age-related confusion. So did we.”

“It didn’t occur to you that there was a real Abel to confuse him with?”

“Maybe it should have,” said Coutinho.

Cordova’s reprimand didn’t seem to ruffle him.

“I’ll call Vegas,” he said.

“And I’ll stall Rodrigues,” said Cordova.

Everyone knew who had the harder assignment.

Coutinho beckoned to Jenny and started toward his office. He waved her toward his partner’s vacant chair. Jenny’s eyes went to the wall clock, which read five o’clock.

“Eight A.M. in Vegas,” he said.

He picked up the phone on his desk and a moment later was deep in conversation with his detective contact.

“He’s going to call back with the latest info,” he said after ending the call, “but he told me right off—the cops know Abel Montes. Very bad boy, apparently.”

“That’s the name Cindy was using there.”

“It is,” said Coutinho. “All that trash talk about how horrible motherhood is—we never even considered that she might have done it twice.”

“Was he Langston’s son?”

“That we’ll have to find out. But Langston obviously knew him, or knew of him.”

“I’ll bet he’s here right now.”

“Like every other troublemaker on the planet.”

Coutinho breathed in and out a few times.

“A self-pity party is fun once in a while, but that’s enough for now. While we’re waiting on Vegas, let’s see what else we can get from Fortunato. Agnes will love it.”

As always, the thought of his favorite adversary seemed to improve his mood. He looked at the clock.

“I’ll handle that. Roll call soon.”

And with that Jenny remembered the patrol shift that stretched ahead of her on zero sleep. For a moment resentment flared. She was twenty-seven years old, not some college kid.

But she told herself to let it go. Detectives put in these hours all the time, and she needed to learn how.

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.