Pele’s Prerogative – Part Three

“Interesting that the lava tube didn’t take Langston Otsaka by surprise,” said Jenny. “That supports the homicide theory.”

“Here’s Caleb.”

Coutinho showed her a standard LinkedIn profile and corporate portrait photo. Jenny studied it for a resemblance to the infant Langston’s wife had held, but who looked like a baby picture?

“We can put a BOLO out,” she said. “On him, and his mother too. Just in case.”

“Done,” Coutinho said.

“Oh. Right.”

She tried to suppress her blush reflex, which of course dialed it up.

For three days the BOLO on Caleb or his mother accomplished nothing. The airlines didn’t ping them, and they didn’t hitch a ride with any of the local companies running small plane or helicopter tours.

Then Dispatch sent Jenny to another street in Otsaka’s subdivision.

“See the woman.”

Jenny found the right whitewashed island box of a house and knocked. A woman opened.

“Mrs. Conyers?”

In spite of her name, the caller was a mostly Hawaiian woman in her fifties, and obviously old school in her billowing mu’u mu’u. Jenny felt her own body language adjust to the properly respectful posture.

“You real police or just playing?”

Jenny controlled her expression. What especially annoyed her was how often this reaction came from women. Ten or twenty years from now, age might give her some gravitas, but that didn’t help now.

“I’m for real.”

“Okay, then. Somebody messing with the old kine religion.”

“Where’s this, Auntie?”


The woman closed her door behind her and started leading Jenny makai, downhill toward where the ocean met the sky like an enormous painting. The street dead-ended in scrub brush and tall grasses about Jenny’s height.

 Mrs. Conyers parted the grasses and revealed an informal trail worn into the red island dirt. They walked for three minutes and came upon a clearing. The woman pointed at four large flat stones scattered on top of the grass. The stones didn’t belong to this landscape. A stream bed had worn them smooth long before someone gathered them and brought them here.

Adherents of the traditional Hawaiian religion used stones like these in their rituals. All over the island Jenny saw the stones stacked three or four high. But someone or something had knocked this shrine over.

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act extends to other indigenous groups, which made this vandalism a federal offense.

“Me, I’m a Baptist,” said Mrs. Conyers. “But I see da old kine religion doing the young men some good.”

She paused.

“I wouldn’t mind if my son got involved with them.”

Jenny couldn’t think of anything helpful to say to that.

“Did this just happen?” she asked instead.

“Last couple of days. No idea who did it. Might be better all around if the police found them first.”

Jenny started to walk around the clearing. It was something to do while she thought.

“Don’t fall in,” said Mrs. Conyers.

And of course it had to be another hole in the ground.

“That just opened up,” she added. “Pele don’t like ugly.”

“Somebody should have told us,” said Jenny.

“Telling you now.”

Jenny was already tired of crawling on the ground, but it had to be done. As she turned her flashlight on to peer into the hole, she felt maternal hands take her ankles.

“Careful there,” said Mrs. Conyers.

Jenny blinked away the tears that came to her eyes. She had a mother, a very good one, but nobody’s mother could be everywhere at once.

She put her mind on business and played her beam around the bottom of the hole. Mrs. Conyers must have felt Jenny tense, because she asked, “Not good?”

“Some people,” said Jenny. “No damned respect.”

She wondered where that had come from. Maybe Mrs. Conyers’s hands on her ankles were transmitting traditional sentiments. Or maybe Jenny just didn’t like people who trashed her island. Someone had eaten a KFC lunch down there and failed to police the area. She also saw a ladder lying flat on the bottom of the tube, which raised questions.

Was someone still down there?

She raised herself to her hands and knees. Mrs. Conyers released her ankles. Jenny took her radio from her belt and called Dispatch.

“I need backup and rescue to my location.”

“Anything else?”

Jenny thought about that. Nate had mentioned that Otsaka’s tube covered a lot of distance. This might be the same tube. She told the dispatcher the address of Langston Otskaka’s place.

“Send a backup to stake out the skylight in the back yard. And notify Detective Coutinho.”

* * *

As Jenny expected, Coutinho took one look and called out the Special Response Team, which led to more waiting. The men in black arrived in a departmental Ford Excursion. They grumbled as Fire Rescue lowered them into the tube.

“I’m betting it’s the same tube,” said Coutinho.

“That would make it a big one.”

“We’ll end up sending the rescue guys to the Otsaka place to haul the SRT’s out again.”

Almost an hour later his radio crackled. He listened and nodded in satisfaction.

“We called it.”

He went to the fire crew and told them where to go. He returned to Jenny.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here,” he said.

But then he waited for Jenny to say it.

“Somebody’s looking for the money.”

“Lot of commotion over money that doesn’t exist.”

“Unless it does.”

* * *

“You’ve been busy, Nate.”

He hadn’t complained about being brought in again, but now he gave Jenny a suspicious look.

“What you mean?”

“You need to stay out of holes in the ground.”

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

She believed him. That was the thing about Nate. He couldn’t pull off even the shortest con, because his face showed every thought that crossed his mind. Jenny probed and tried to confuse him with change-ups and curve-balls, but he stuck to his story.

She joined Coutinho in the hall.

“I don’t see Nate messing with the religion. Good way to get his butt kicked, for one thing.”

And even local non-believers would get a superstitious tingle at the idea of destroying a shrine.

“But,” she said, “people who spent enough time on the mainland might lose the old attitudes.”

“Vegas was on the mainland, last time I checked.”

“We need to find Caleb.”

That could be a problem. This huge island was a good place for hiding out, which could be done in two ways. Some legendary fugitives had lived off the grid in the rainforest, but Caleb Otsaka probably hadn’t picked up skills like that in the casinos.

The other way involved the Kona side of the island, where the vacation time-share jungle could hide a fugitive for months. But the BOLO was out, and finding anyone on the sunny side of the island was up to the cops of Kona Division.

Until Sergeant Silveira called her aside after roll call.

“Freitas. Got a once in a lifetime opportunity for you.”

She waited.

“We’re gonna lend you to Kona for three months.”

“Kona? Why?”

“Don’t let the sun get to you. It only feels like your hair is gonna catch fire.”

Hilo natives like Jenny and the Sergeant shared a horror of the island’s dry side. But the way he evaded her question gave Jenny a bad feeling.

“Inaba’s going too. To hold your hand.”

“Just let her try it.”

 But Patsy Inaba came from Kona originally. Jenny could expect some trash talk about the Hilo-Kona divide.

“What’s this about?” Jenny tried again.

“The brass don’t tell a sergeant.”

She had her suspicions. This was about removing temptation, the temptation being Jenny. Patsy would come along to camouflage the purpose of the operation, never mind the effect on Hilo Division manpower. And the men who couldn’t treat women as colleagues would end up looking like the victims.

Jenny swallowed her resentment. There was nothing concrete to point to, even if she wanted to start the grievance procedure.

She and Patsy both used their personal vehicles on patrol, which meant they had to drive separately around the island. Jenny preferred the southern route, which had her favorite ocean views and the best coffee stops. She and Patsy met up in Kona Division headquarters.

“Glad you didn’t get lost,” said Patsy.

“I thought about trying it, but who’d believe me?”

People called this “the easy island.” It oversimplified things only a little to say there was one ring road around the whole island. Stay on the pavement and it was hard to go wrong, but the bad guys had a habit of taking to the mud roads around Hilo and moonscape dirt tracks of the Kona side.

So now the Kona Division had to find something for Jenny to do, and she hoped her assignment would keep her in the town of Kailua-Kona. She had been there before, and the learning curve would be shorter.

She also wouldn’t mind getting the middle shift to start. It would help her ease into the new assignment, but right away her new sergeant put her on mornings. On her first day that meant dragging herself away from a poor night’s sleep on a cot in the women’s locker room and making breakfast out of bad station coffee and two donuts left over from the night shift.

Only cops could ruin coffee in Kona.

So she had two things to look for—real breakfast and a better place to crash.

“Freitas, Inaba, you’re in Keauhou.”

The next town to the south of Kona was ground zero for the condo explosion.

“Good news, girlfriend,” Patsy told her on the way to their cars. “My uncle owns a two-bedroom right there, and he had a cancellation. Rent’s a bargain for two, and the other bedroom is yours if you want it.”

Kona and Keauhou also had restaurants. For a week Jenny tried one after another, but this side of the island got most of the visitors, and visitors minded these prices less than locals. It started to look as if Jenny was going to have to start scrambling eggs at five in the morning.

By the start of the second week she had resigned herself. She decided to enjoy one last breakfast out, and she chose Island Lava Java on Ali’i Drive, with one of the best views of Kailua Bay.

Most of the businesses in Kona employed college kids taking their summer break or a year off from school. The middle-aged woman behind the counter would have stood out a little under any conditions, but Jenny was already carrying a mental picture of Cindy Otsaka. The woman was older now, but Jenny had no doubt.

Since she usually changed into her uniform at the station, she was wearing civilian khakis and a white shirt draped open over a tank top. Looking like just another local young woman might help her get close to the woman.

But as she stepped up, Otsaka turned to the young man sharing counter duties with her. Her words got lost in the breakfast hubbub, but Jenny had no trouble reading her lips.

“Take over for a minute.”

Otsaka’s body language was too nonchalant as she made for the rear of the building. Jenny left the store by the front entrance and picked up her pace as she rounded the building. When the rear door opened, Jenny confronted the woman. She didn’t bother to hold her shield up.

“We need to talk to you.”

“I guess you do.”

“Have we met?”

“I know a cop when I see one.”

Jenny made a mental note to ask someone whether she had started looking like the job.

“Where’s Caleb?” she asked.

“How would I know?”

“I’m going to detain you for questioning.”

Jenny got her cell phone out and requested backup. Her cuffs were in the car. She settled for watching the woman’s hands as she waited. Ten minutes later a middle-aged uniformed officer with the disheveled look of night shift cops everywhere rounded the corner of the building. His name tag said, “Alvares,” in case he didn’t already look Portuguese enough.

“Hey, new kid. Whatcha got?”

He looked at Cindy Otsaka, and his eyes widened.

“No shit. Good catch.”

“I was just looking for breakfast, and there she was.”

“Never ate here,” he said. “Guess I should splurge once in a while. Okay, I’ll take her in.”

He gave her a fatherly look.

“You look hungry. Go.”

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.