On a Maui vacation with his beautiful wife Sophie, retired entrepreneur Mark Yeager makes a gruesome and unwanted discovery. While eyeing the lush landscape of a dream property, he spots a dead body nestled between a dirt mound and the wall of a pickleball court.
In short order, Mark is considered one of the prime suspects. Detective Puna Pa’a and his sidekick, Akahi Mendoza, always think that the person who discovers a body is guilty until proven innocent, and this is no exception.
Ever the sleuth, Mark joins a pickleball game with three players, Ted Franklin, Lefty Kalama and Keone Ahuna, hoping to solve the pickleball court murder so he can clear his name. But things don’t go quite as planned. He is set up on a drug bust, his wife is kidnapped, and he gets crosswise with a local crime boss named Oana.
Mark isn’t sure which way is up. Clearing yourself of murder charges and rescuing your kidnapped wife are big enough problems, but he has to do so while staying clear of both Detective Puna Pa’a and the mobster Oana. To make matters worse, he is implicated in a second murder. Trouble follows trouble, as they say.
In this taut thriller, discover how Mark regains paradise using no small measures of ingenuity, street smarts, and deception. Sometimes finding the truth requires telling a lie.
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The flight from Denver to Maui did not go well for Mark Yeager. First, the airline mixed up the seat reservations for Mark and his wife, Sophie. Rather than sitting together, they ended up in different rows, and with the flight already overbooked and as much as Mark argued, he had no success at finding a way to convince the powers-that-be to reassign their seats together.
Once on the plane, neither of Mark's seatmates expressed any interest in changing seats. The two large men on either side of him only glared at him when he made the suggestion, as if he were trying to steal their firstborn child.
Then the snack pack meal ended up being stale crackers and some mystery salami that had indigestion, at the best, and ptomaine, at the worst, written all over it. The final indignity — being stuck in the middle section between those two beefy men who kept taking over the armrests — added nothing to his flight enjoyment. He only hoped the plane didn't have a problem, forcing the oxygen masks to descend from the ceiling. He could picture his two seat companions fighting to grab his mask as a backup while they elbowed him in the ribs and stuffed him down in his seat.
He watched the flight attendants scurry around to attend to a woman struggling to retrieve her carryon from the overhead compartment, almost dropping it on an unsuspecting older traveler. A man needed a blanket even though the cabin temperature must have been in the eighties, and a runaway child raced down the aisle as if the school bully was after him. In the row ahead a crying baby punctuated the cabin vibration, and behind him he received periodic kicks from an overactive child who was probably on a sugar high from too many Gummy Bears, one of which had flown over the seat and landed in Mark's cup of Cranapple juice. The bulk to the right sneezed every ten minutes, never once covering his face, and the hulk to the left coughed continually, also not covering his mouth. Mark pictured a hoard of germs fighting to determine which would be the first to infect him. Finally tiring of this form of entertainment, Mark only wished he had a magical shot to give to his seat companions to reduce them to normal size.
Two hours into the flight after having finished reading the airline magazine that had an article describing the multitude of Hawaiian celebrations planned for the upcoming holiday season of 2003, he squeezed out of his seat and moseyed back to find Sophie peacefully asleep. He decided not to bother her. She had a skinny older man and equally skinny young woman on either side of her. He shook his head at the inequity of their respective seating arrangements.
He visited the restroom, needing to do this much more often after his prostate cancer surgery a year and a half earlier. He thought back over all he had been through the last two years. Retiring from the company he had started, making enough money from the sale of that company when it was acquired that he wouldn't have to work again, settling into an uneasy retirement, only to be slammed by prostate cancer. He clenched his fists. But he had survived and now had a clean bill of health. He unclenched his fists, recognizing the gratitude at being alive. The last year had been a whirlwind. He and Sophie had considered taking this vacation a year ago, but Mark had fallen into a consulting gig helping a startup company in Boulder, Colorado. During the last year, he also had to take a hiatus from playing platform tennis during the reconstruction of the North Boulder Recreation Center and relocation of the platform tennis courts. Fortunately, he and his buddies had discovered pickleball during this period and took up this new sport, which he became hooked on quickly. He now played pickleball at least twice a week, the benefit of being sort of retired. On this vacation, he and Sophie had an opportunity to relax in a beautiful place for the first time since the fear of cancer spreading had been eliminated.
Shortly after Mark returned to his seat, a member of the flight crew announced that the scheduled movie, one that Mark had not seen and was looking forward to, would not be shown because of equipment failure. Equipment failure. If they had trouble with a simple movie system what did that say about keeping the engines running and the wings attached?
The announcement continued to say that there would be a contest to pick the time of the halfway point of the flight to Maui. After a few minutes, flight attendants headed down the aisle handing out forms for the contest. Mark took out a pen and prepared to make his best estimate. Another announcement came over the intercom giving the departure time, expected arrival time, distance of the flight, anticipated average speed for the first and second halves of the flight as well as head wind estimates.
Mark listened carefully and made notes on the cocktail napkin left over from his Gummy Bear infested Cranapple juice. After much thought and recalculation, he came up with his answer, convinced he would be in the running for the prize of a bottle of champagne. At least that might make up for the other inconveniences of the flight so far.
He noticed the brute to his left had slept through the whole project, while the equally large man to his right had quickly jotted down an answer without any of the elaborate calculations Mark had made.
Mark asked the man, "Came up with your answer quickly, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I've been on this flight before. Doesn't pay to over-think it." The man shut his eyes and turned away from Mark.
So much for friendly conversation.
Mark's thoughts turned to the time he and Sophie had vacationed in Acapulco. They had spent a wonderful week lying in the sun, parasailing behind a boat and watching the cliff divers. He smiled to himself at the memory of the luxurious meals, punctuated by some world-class love making. Ah, the good old days. Now they could have a similar experience in Hawaii.
Struggling through a few pages of a thriller, he eventually nodded off only to find himself in a strange dream: he hit the water feet first, the force of the fifty-foot fall momentarily stunning him. An explosion of automatic rifle fire burst around him. He yanked his arms in a strong underwater stroke to gain depth and felt bullets striking his head and back, spent by the mass of the ocean water, but still stinging like angry bees. He continued to swim underwater until he reached a rock outcrop before bursting to the surface to gasp for air. He was out of range of his pursuers, but he sensed they would be after him again. He was gasping for air when a tree branch struck him in the ribs.
Mark let out a loud, "Oof," and awoke to an elbow intruding in his personal space, well over the armrest and planted directly in his ribcage. Readjusting his position, he sighed loudly and shivered, even though the airplane cabin remained toasty warm. The dream seemed so real. He rubbed his eyes at the realization that his recent thoughts of Acapulco cliff divers had led to this strange dream of jumping off a high precipice into the ocean. But where had the image of being shot at come from? That had never happened to him. There's no way a fifty-seven year old retired entrepreneur should be in this situation — both the dream and the actuality of this gruesome flight. He hoped this was not a portent of things to come on this long overdue vacation.CHAPTER 2
Unfortunately, things didn't improve. When the announcement came for the winner of the half-way time to Maui contest, Mark's companion to his right won. The guy raised his left fist in the air, missing Mark's chin by inches, accepted the bottle of champagne, stuffed it in the pocket in front of him and adjusted his posture to lean even farther across Mark's armrest. Mark resisted the urge to tear the flight magazine in half.
After another hour of discomfort, the intercom crackled with the announcement to secure trays and return seats to their upright position. Mark obliged but then tried to spot the island destination. Unfortunately, in his middle seat, no matter how he contorted himself, he was unable to see anything distinct through the windows on either side. He could only spot a faint image of pale blue sky and white clouds. He unclipped his seatbelt and tried to raise himself to see past his large companions, only to be admonished by the flight attendant to sit down and attach his seatbelt. Back in jail.
The bumpy landing jarred Mark's teeth. He wondered if the pilot had left a dent in the runway. The plane continued forward without any further lurching, so, apparently, no tires had been ruptured.
Once off the plane, Mark's suitcase was nowhere in sight. After inquiring and completing the requisite paperwork, he received the news that the suitcase would be tracked, redirected to Maui when located and delivered to his hotel room. No estimate whether this is would be hours, days or weeks in the future. Mark had visions of wearing the same clothes for the whole vacation. The one consolation — being in Hawaii he could buy new swim trunks and get by most of the time in those. Fortunately, he had kept all his valuables in his carryon.
His frustration increased when the car rental agency had lost his reservation, and he and Sophie had to wait half an hour because the attendant indicated there were no cars available. After some more shuffling of paperwork and peering at the computer screen, the attendant announced that someone had turned in a dented dark blue subcompact.
Mark decided to cut his losses and take it. The attendant said he could have it cleaned within an hour, but Mark wanted to get going and as far away from this suitcase-eating flight as possible, so he said he would take the car in its current condition.
At that point, the car rental's computer reservation system went down, so he had to give his credit card and wait while the attendant used a paper form for the credit card. The man happily ran the card by hand, giving Mark a periodic smile as he wrote something on the carbon paper form. Obviously, this guy was in no hurry.
Sophie grabbed Mark's arm and whispered in his ear, "It's the island way. No rush. Don't let your blood pressure build up."
Right. After everything that had happened on this flight, Mark pictured his head being a pressure cooker and steam shooting out his ears.
After the attendant double-checked and triple-checked the paperwork, Mark grabbed the proffered keys and dragged Sophie and her suitcase to their not-so-magic carpet.
The car started on the second try, backfired, but after disgorging a black stream of soot settled in to hum like a dissonant preteen garage band. Mark happened to look in the back seat and spied empty chip bags littering the floor and some green goo that reminded him of melted Gummy Bears. The back seat had obviously been the residence of a kid like the one behind him on the plane. He wondered if that would be the theme for his vacation — the attack of the Gummy Bears. Maybe he should have waited an hour to have the car cleaned. Welcome to paradise.
Sophie stretched. "I had a good long sleep on the flight. And you?"
"Not so hot. I dozed briefly but most of the time tried to keep out of the way of overactive elbows on each side of me. I think my seatmates were either retired professional wrestlers or participants in an upcoming Maui sumo wrestling tournament."
She gave him a wifely pat on the arm. "It couldn't have been that bad. But in any case, we can turn our attention to relaxing on the beach."
"Except that my swim trunks are in the errant suitcase."
"I'll help you buy new ones at the hotel. I know you hate to shop, but I'll select something appropriate for you. By the way, the man I sat next to, Dexter Kwan, lives on Maui, is a real estate developer and said he would call the hotel to invite us to his house sometime this week."
Mark arched an eyebrow. "Some guy hitting on you?"
"No. Dexter said he and his wife like to entertain mainland visitors. That's all. My attention on this trip will be focused entirely on you. After the chaos of last year, it will be nice to concentrate on us in a beautiful location."
Chaos. That said it exactly. Mark thought back to what had transpired with his attempts to be an amateur sleuth after a murder on the platform tennis courts in Boulder. He had survived several attempts on his life, but his escapades had not been well-received by Sophie. That was one of the reasons for this vacation. He had promised her a trip, but then the consulting job came up and Sophie became consumed in her volunteer work. Finally, both agreed the time had come, and Mark had made the reservations. Here they were, the two of them without any distractions. Relaxation and sightseeing together. He owed that to her.
"Look out!" Sophie shouted.
An oncoming old truck veered into his lane, and Mark's eyesight became tunnel vision. He jammed the steering wheel to the right, missing the intruder by inches.
Mark took a deep breath to calm himself and slow his heart beat. "That was close."
"I guess you have to watch for erratic drivers here. Dexter also taught me some of the important words we should be familiar with while on Maui. Caucasians are referred to as haoles, and local residents are called kama'ainas. A woman is known as a wahine and a man a kane."
"You're a wealth of information. I'm now armed and dangerous with my Hawaiian vocabulary. What do you call the guy who swerved into our lane a moment ago?"
"I can think of some inappropriate four letter words, but Dexter gave me one other word. Pilikia. It means trouble. Enough of that. I'm so looking forward to swimming and lying on the sand. No worries, no schedule, no pilikia."
"I'm for that."
He was pleased that she had taken an interest in their destination. Of course, she had been the one wanting a vacation, and Mark had broken down, taken out his credit card and made the necessary reservations. He looked out the corner of his eye to see Sophie smiling.
"Did your new Maui friend have any suggestions on places for us to visit?"
"That he did. He said to be sure to see Iao Valley. It's very lush and scenic. He mentioned some beaches — Kaanapali and Flemings Beach on the west side of the island. He also recommended walking around Lahaina with its yacht harbor and shops." Sophie rubbed her hands together. "I won't mind doing a little shopping on this trip."
"As long as it's a little."
"Oh, don't be such a tightwad. I'm going to spend a lot of your money. We're on vacation."
"How about some less expensive sights?"
"I don't know what it costs, but Dexter said many tourists enjoy biking down Haleakala at sunrise. Imagine being on the top of a volcano that hasn't erupted since 1790."
"As long as it stays dormant during our stay. You received a history lesson as well as instructions on sights to see."
"Dexter is quite knowledgeable about Maui. But in regards to riding down Haleakala at sunrise, I'll leave that to you since I plan to sleep in every day."
"I don't want to do that by myself, and I don't plan to pick up any local wahines to join me."
"You better not. And one thing he said we shouldn't miss. He recommended taking the road to Hana. It's a long and twisty drive, but past Hana is a spot called 'Ohe'o Gulch'. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on the island — a cascade of pools."
"We have lots of tourist activities to look forward to. Too bad they don't have platform tennis or pickleball on Maui. I wouldn't mind getting in a game while I'm here."
"I'm sure you could play regular tennis. The brochure I read indicated there are courts right near the hotel where we're staying."
Mark sighed. "Regular tennis doesn't do it for me anymore now that I'm hooked on sports played on smaller courts."
"Oh, look." Sophie pointed. "There are two little dark blue cars ahead that look the same as ours."
Mark rolled his eyes. "We must have the popular local model. I wonder if the others also come with melted Gummy Bears."
"Oh, don't be such a grump. We'll blend right in. But there's another important thing we need to do while we're on Maui."
Mark waggled his eyebrows at Sophie. "I hope you're thinking what I'm thinking."
She batted his arm. "Behave yourself. We need to hunt for seashells."
"What I had in mind is more exciting, but I'm up for looking for shells as well. First, I need to have someone find my suitcase."
* * *
The good news, they made it to the hotel with no traffic accidents or assaults. When he went to check in and the clerk of the Maui Queen Hotel asked for his credit card, Mark discovered that he had lost his Visa card. Sophie came to the rescue with her MasterCard, but Mark had to spend an hour calling the car rental at the airport to see if they had found his card, which they hadn't. Then he had to go through the rigmarole of canceling his credit card and ordering a new one.
The only saving grace — they could rely on Sophie's MasterCard for the rest of the trip. That was only appropriate since she was the one who wanted to spend money. Not that it wouldn't eventually come from their joint checking account anyway.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Paradise Court"
Copyright © 2019 Mike Befeler.
Excerpted by permission of Encircle Publications, LLC.
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