Meet Artie Harper, single mom, former Marine, and unfairly dismissed mainland cop. Forced to take a job as head of security for a Hawaiian hotel chain, she’s suddenly in the spotlight when a body is dumped at the hotel, and her underling is arrested for murder. When her libidinous frenemy, Detective Sargent Ma, lets on that he’d be eager to implicate her as well, Artie realizes she has to solve the homicide on her own.
Her only ally appears to be Katie Kyler, a Fed who never says exactly what branch of the government she works for, and whose interest in Artie is at least partially romantic. Artie must clear her man and avoid indictment herself, but she needs to overcome her tendency to get into trouble because she's not quite as tough as she thinks she is, and the shadow of her past, before she uncovers the forgotten crime that made more murder inevitable.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.52(d)|
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It's a long life nowadays, if you're average lucky, and a person's got time to be a lot of things. I'd already held two deadly jobs and survived both when I set foot on the island for the first time. I was taking employment with a place I'd never seen, nothing but a suitcase and a rental car voucher in my hands, and even though I was still on the fair side of forty, I was thinking that if anybody deserved a soft occupation and a tranquil life on the beach from that point forward, it was me.
People who are below average lucky are still around, though. In places like Aleppo and Afghanistan they might even comprise most of your neighbors, but those people at least know they've been dealt a bad hand. The odds say that at least some of those fated types have to live out here, though, where the sun dazzles the sand white and the ocean blue, and where we have the longest lifespan of any American state. It's especially dangerous for unlucky people to live in paradise, because existence under the postcard palms that sway in the scented breezes we really do have, and get nearly every day as sure as Nome gets snow in the winter, might tend to make them forget that God or Darwin can chop short their stay on Earth at any time.
Also, they can spread that bad luck around. Meaning you can get to be one of them.
They found the crushed Micronesian four hours after I went off duty. At first, they thought it was an accidental death, even though he looked pretty bad for having merely fallen down the steps. He looked like he'd been hit by something heavy, in several critical places. A uniform speculated out loud that it might have been a car in the hotel garage. He speculated further that the victim had been sleeping off a drunk down there.
No one upbraided him for racial profiling. A lot of Marshallese live here, a peaceful lot of them mostly, but they do like their alcohol. Maybe they drink to forget about the US government blowing up a couple of their home islands to see if our brand-new hydrogen bombs had enough thump in them, back in the nineteen-fifties. When they're drunk, they'll pass out anywhere. Gallup in the Pacific is what the place seems like sometimes. A tourist who had downed a couple Mai Tais too many himself could have run over the guy thinking he was a speed bump; the victim could have just woken up long enough to have wandered into the stairwell before his hemorrhaging organs bade him lay down for his eternal rest. Or he could have fallen from one of the hotel's twenty-six stories and gotten up and decided to take the stairs back up for a constitutional, he was feeling so brisk. People who are at the real end of their lives don't always realize it, like people in the movies do. There's a final act of denial.
Not much bleeding, only from the mouth. Maybe the guy thought he was just having the stomachache of a lifetime. That meant a fall from one of the lower stories, if a fall it was. Little people hit softer than big people, so maybe we'd have to check rooms up to the fifth floor. Higher than that, he'd be too broken up to do much wandering.
John Ma, a sergeant with HPD's Criminal Investigations Division, was willing to go with either theory. Larry Amarnick, the hotel manager, didn't like either one. Number one meant one of our pampered guests was going to be investigated for manslaughter, which was not mentioned as one of the hotel's attractions in our brochure. Number two meant we were going to be knocking on a lot of rooms with Do Not Disturb signs posted on them before the sun came up. Amarnick woke me so I could deal with Ma.
"Stall him until the breakfast buffet is open at least," he implored me. He didn't want our customers going hungry as well as sleepless just because some Micro had fallen off the building, was my guess. The image of the resort always came first.
Forensics, in the person of Francis "Kim" Chee, was already sniffing the sand for blood tracks and trails. A moon only a day or so from full was about to dip into the ocean. I made Ma and the rest of the cops coffee in one of the sixty-cup buffet pots. Cabangang glared at me, like he always did when I made enough coffee for a table and only drank two cups. "Dere's instant on da back shelf," he said.
Getting up at three AM every morning of his adult life had put Cabangang in a perpetually bad humor. The hotel could spare the coffee. Chee was too busy for a cup, but the uniforms, who had nothing to do other than to see that no one disturbed the scene, which wasn't much work an hour before sunup, accepted the coffee eagerly. I served it on the dinner china, and broke open a fresh bag of sugars and a quart of cream. Cabangang looked at me as if I had killed the victim myself, just for an excuse to raid his larder.
"This is where we have "Hospitality with Aloha," I said, reminding him of our fluffy hotel slogan. They just changed it from "Where Aloha Means Hospitality," following some murky corporate directive. Cost them almost seventy thousand getting everything reprinted, I heard.
"Styrofoam cups next to da fucking instant," he snarled, and went off to break some eggs for what I assured him was going to be an early breakfast rush.
"No ID, naturally," Ma said glumly.
"His people will know him." The Micronesian community lived close by, in walk-ups that huddled around the hotels and the condo towers, supplying the high-rise residents with maids, busboys, and burger-flippers.
I passed him the roster of registered guests, twelve pages of dot matrix. I knew he'd be asking for it. "Doubt it." I'd already glanced through it. No Micronesian names.
He took it anyway. "Maybe he was seen at Toddy's?"
"Maybe. I'll ask. It closed hours ago, though." Toddy's was our barefoot bar. The biggest and best on the beach, it nonetheless shut down at twelve-thirty AM, an hour and a half before state liquor laws required. Pressure from the hotel to keep unpleasant late-night drunks off the premises.
"Maybe he's been here for hours." Ma was trying to make his job easier. A direct line from a night of boozing to a regretfully fatal accident.
"Room service uses this stairway all the time. They're in business an hour after Toddy's. Maybe they got no orders, but ..."
"But not too likely."
"We can find out."
"Go ahead," Ma said, in a resigned tone that meant he already knew the effort would be useless. The guy was a fresh kill. Not much more than an hour ago. They go bad fast, in this climate. The stairwells aren't air-conditioned. Probably still eighty degrees at the crime scene, even though it was approaching dawn. You can practically watch the remains deteriorate, when someone's managed to check out in one of the standard ways. "Who did find him?"
"Guest. And his friend. Decided to take the stairs. Were worried we were going to start enforcing the posted rule about no visitors upstairs after midnight." Both Ma and I knew we'd never do that. What hotel can survive without romance? We just used the rule to keep out the worst of the hookers, the ones who'd rather steal than service, and the cross-dressers.
"So, a guy and his date? How are they? She hysterical?"
"Both guys. Both hysterical."
"I left a pint of tequila with them. Possibly they've calmed down some by now."
"They asked for it. Remember, I'm employed here, where we have Hospitality with Aloha. Or the other way around. You ready for them?"
"Let's go." The hotel's guest was Peter Athman, thirty-eight, an electronics engineer from Palo Alto. His friend was Simon Matsuoki, twenty-four, who gave his employment as an entertainer and an address in Pearl City that I, for one, would bet he hadn't seen the inside of in weeks. High summer season, when the California tourists arrive, the hustling is always good. Simon was still sniffling a bit. He looked like he'd put back most of the tequila. Athman sat there, composed, legs crossed, looking like Matsuoki was beginning to annoy him more than finding the dead man in the stairwell.
Ma was going to do the talking. "What time was it when you found the victim?"
"Just now," Matsuoki said.
"Did you look at your watch?"
Matsuoki looked at his wrist as if he was surprised to find his watch still there. "No, but we called 911 right away."
"Did you move him? In any way? Take his pulse? Attempt to resuscitate him?"
"No." Matsuoki looked briefly guilty. "Should I have?"
"No. Was the stairway door locked before you entered through it?"
"Yes." Athman spoke. "I had to use my key."
Ma didn't like that. Not likely a dying man would be able to produce a key and use one, if he had it. And he likely didn't; I could tell that from the look on Ma's face, the face of a man who sees his workload piling up like a chain accident on a foggy freeway.
"Did you know the deceased?"
"I'm just a tourist, here." Athman said. He was a blonde man with thinning hair, tall and bony, with the blush of fresh sunburn on his face and arms. He wore a Rolex and a matching ingot ring. I was willing to bet that none of his fellow engineers knew he was gay. "Was he Hawaiian? He didn't look Hawaiian."
"Oh, you thought I was Hawaiian," Matsuoki said. "Half Japanese, half Portagee," he added, as if he didn't want us making detective about his roots.
"I don't think I've seen a single live Hawaiian here," Athman said.
"You haven't seen a dead one, either," Ma told him. "Victim appears to be Marshallese."
"What's that?" Athman said.
"They come from another set of islands. East and a little south of here. So neither of you knew the victim?"
"He looked Mexican," Athman said.
"Was he killed, then?" Matsuoki asked.
"We don't know. Maybe just a fall."
Ma had the personal information already written down. "How long are you staying on Oahu, Mr. Athman?"
"Two more days."
"Here if we need you?"
We left them to themselves. Ma looked down the corridor. "I'm twisted around," he said. "Which fire escape was he found in?"
"Ewa side. Other corridor. We're on the fourth floor. Start here?"
"Good as any. Maybe we'll get lucky."
There's six rooms on each floor, on each side of the hotel. Seven each across the front and back. Two of the rooms on the fourth floor were already empty. We knocked up no one interesting. Sleepy tourists. Honeymooners with hangover breath and sheets wrapped around their nude bodies. I apologized to all of them on behalf of the hotel. Ma thanked them each crisply. We went up another floor. The sun was higher. The rays that stabbed into the hotel through the corridor window blinds carried not only light but also heat. Maid carts rattled in the hall as the housekeeping staff started looking for vacant rooms to clean. Ma glared at me. If it developed he was going to need blood or fiber evidence on this one, he wasn't going to get it unless he got it soon. The maids would be vacuuming and wiping it away before he had a chance at it.
I shrugged. Hotel had to go about its business. Wasn't anything about the dead man at that point to suggest anything more than the accidental death of a trespasser. The corner room on the third floor was opened by a shaven-headed black man dressed in a suit and tie. Two others, similarly dressed and shaved, watched us impassively but alertly from the suite's chairs. You could tell Ma was startled, after the run of bleary-eyed, half naked people. He consulted the name on the printout and his almond eyes went as wide as I've ever seen them.
"Sorry to disturb you," he said quickly, although the men in the room looked completely undisturbed, as if putting on their coats and ties in the early AM for a visit by the police was a part of their daily routine.
"Why didn't you tell me he was here?" Ma hissed at me, as soon as the door closed.
"We got to keep real low-key about them. Otherwise, we get much more trouble than we can handle." Trouble that would spill over onto the Police Department, but I didn't need to say that.
"I thought he was in Yemen."
"He's baaaack," I said. "Wants some tropical R&R, I guess, before heading back to the mainland proper."
"He's facing a slew of Federal charges, I hear."
"Not legal to go to Yemen. He's been playing grab-ass with some of the Syrians, too."
"Why don't the Feds pick him up here?"
I shrugged. "Maybe they're not going to pick him up at all. Making a martyr of him probably a bad idea."
"And you people let him rent rooms?"
"Hey, he's got a MasterCard, same as everybody else. I notice you didn't question him very acutely."
"What would he have to do with a dead Micro in the stairwell? We got a dead rabbi down there, maybe I need to talk it up with him."
"I think you were just star struck. Why didn't you ask him for his autograph?"
"Fuck you. I got a bored stiff beat reporter hanging around downtown right now, looking for dead bodies to write about. You want, I'll have a squad car bring him out for pictures and a little chin with the head of security here, that would be you, about dead people lying around possibly murdered in this hotel."
I shrugged. "One thing about most of your business coming from an average of five thousand miles away, it takes a lot of bad publicity to really screw up your market share. One dead body's not going to make much of an eddy in the cash flow."
"You got a sweet job here, you know it?"
"You could have had it. You must have clinched your pension by now." I figured Ma was well past the middle of middle age. "So, how you going to write it? Accidental?"
"Thought you didn't care how I wrote it," he snapped. "I was thinking, maybe a random mutilation murder by an escaped mental patient with a hard-on for this hotel chain."
"Chances of it even being a murder are the square root of zilch. You know that."
"It ain't going accidental, though. Not yet. Let Forensics finish up. And, oh yeah, maybe we ought to identify the guy. Death under suspicious circumstances. By the way, you ever see him before?"
"No, of course not. I would have told you."
"Maybe. You let me walk into the Imam's room with my eyes shut, so I thought I'd better ask."
I went back to the Revered Elijah Kwame's suite as soon as Ma let me alone. Nobody we had talked to admitted having a Micronesian visitor during the night. Kim Chee was busy looking for blood on the steps and on the cars in the hotel garage. Even as he was looking for scrapes on bumpers, cars were being driven in and out of the parking structure. He looked fairly disgusted at the hopelessness of the task.
Unlike earlier, Kwame himself didn't open the door. Another of the shaved heads in suits did. Kwame emerged from one of the bedrooms. He had bloodshot eyes, deep-set in a suspicious squint.
"HPD forgot to ask you if you had any late-night visitors," I told him.
He said nothing, just took my measure for a moment. "You are not the police," he said.
"Not any more. I'm head of security for this hotel now. Save you another visit from the real cops, though, if I can tell them you answered a few questions."
"You were a cop, though." Kwame looked as though he wanted to spit. "Where?"
"In California, not here. The hotel wishes its guests to be as little disturbed as possible..."
"Where in California?"
"Los Angeles. But if you'd rather have HPD return ..."
"Where in Los Angeles?"
"Ramparts," I said, knowing as soon as I spoke the word Kwame was going to clam up immediately.
"I thought I recognized you." Kwame had been one of the troublemakers that had popped up after the scandal broke, like mushrooms popping out of shit, taking the opportunity to shove his face and scream his invective in front of America's TV audience once again. We called them outside agitators. The TV said they were community leaders.
"It didn't involve me."
Kwame snorted. "You weren't caught, you mean."
"I mean I didn't do anything wrong. HPD will be happy to come take your statement." I tried to back out of the room.
"Wait." It came across as a command, which he was perfectly free to issue, as a VIP guest. "This deceased person ... was he black?"
"No." Frig if I was going to give him a boost up on his soapbox.
"Not all black and white out here, Imam. It's not Washington, DC. He was Marshallese."
"Yeah, I guess." No guesswork about it. All the Micronesians were dark-skinned.
"So, Third World, then."
"US trust territory, I think."
"Worse yet. A colony. An American colony. You and your gorillas probably killed him yourselves, when you caught him trespassing. Like you and your fellow thugs did in Ramparts. No surprise to the victim, though. Like all members of repressed peoples, I doubt he ever expected anything better than to be murdered."
Excerpted from "Pineapple Crush"
Copyright © 2017 Richard Cahill.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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