Emerald Flash

John Caine Novels (Volume 3)

Charles Knief

Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books

 
Emerald Flash
1
The first time I saw Margo Halliday she was stark-naked, running for all she was worth down a Honolulu alley in the middle of the night.
A big man chased her. Every thirty feet or so he’d stop and fire a round from an automatic pistol. The woman was in more danger of stepping in broken glass than getting hit by a bullet. The big guy’s heart wasn’t in it. Unsteady on his feet, just tipsy enough to be overcautious, he would come to a complete stop, carefully aim way to the right or way to the left, and pull the trigger. He’d watch the bullet powder brick on either side of the alley, then start chasing her again. It reminded me of a cat chasing a mouse. A lot of fun for the cat, sure, if he felt sadistic, but the mouse would just as soon prefer to be otherwise occupied.
This time neither party appeared to be having fun. The man cried as he chased her, mouthing unintelligible words, tears streaking his cheeks, his nose running. He looked like a wounded man, the way a man can only be wounded by a woman. And for all his pain he looked grimly intent on inflicting pain of another kind on the source of his misery.
I’d just left the back room of Chawlie’s Chinatown restaurant, where he’d beaten me once again at Go. That made it about twenty-five gazillion to two, and I was very proud of those two.
The big man jogged past and I dropped him with a flying kick. He went down easy but refused to let go of the pistol, so I broke his wrist and he gave it up. All the fight went out of him. He deflated like an octopus brought up on a lure and dumped into the bottom of a canoe, when it knew it was going to die.
I released the pistol’s clip and eased back the slide. A bright brass 9-mm cartridge popped out. The gun was a Glock, one of those new automatics that carry half a box of ammunition. Load it up in the morning and shoot all day. It was good for those unsure of their marksmanship, or for those loonies who imagined themselves facing hordes of enemy lurking between their homes and the corner 7-Eleven. I stuck the gun, safed, in the hip pocket of my shorts.
“Is he dead?”
The naked woman had returned. She stood near the big man, who lay curled against Chawlie’s back wall. Hip slung, she presented an explicit representation of female anatomy.
“Not unless he’s had a heart attack.” I squatted and felt the big neck. The slow, strong heartbeat was reassuring. “He’s okay,” I said, looking up. She had moved closer and my face was now in direct proximity to her sex.
I stood and pulled off my sleeveless SKI THE VOLCANO sweatshirt and handed it to her. The sides gapped, but if she kept her arms down it would cover her. She was not a particularly small woman, but it was an XXL.
She silently accepted the sweatshirt but held it against her thigh. She stood naked in the filthy Chinatown alley, as still and as beautiful as a Grecian statue. And as unremarkable. All flesh is equal, regardless of its age or condition. Her body was one I could admire as I would admire a work by a master sculptor, but like a statue, no heat radiated from it, and I was not drawn to her.
“Put it on,” I said.
“Oh.” Her eyes focused suddenly. She had been far away, but she came back from wherever she’d been and shrugged the shirt over her head.
“Thank you,” she said her voice shaky. Now she looked scared.
“You know this guy?”
She nodded, her arms wrapped around her body, long fingers gripping the gray sweat cloth. “He’s my husband. Or was. We’re divorced. Have been for years. But he keeps coming around, making demands.”
“Come on,” I said, reaching for her. She flinched away.
“Where?”
“In here. It’s a restaurant.” I pointed to Chawlie’s back door. “There are people in there. Other women. They’ll take care of you. Get you some clothes. Then you can decide what to do.”
She nodded again. “What about him?”
I looked down at the man. He still lay against the wall. I couldn’t tell if he was unconscious or if he was faking. It didn’t matter.
“What about him?”
“He’s hurt,” she said. “Shouldn’t we do something for him?”
“Why?”
She thought about it. Then she nodded again and I knew she was going to be all right.

 

 
“John Caine. You only man I know who can walk out the door and come right back with naked woman,” Chawlie whispered, his smile large and generous, his eyes twinkling.
We lounged at his bar sharing one more beer. His bar girls had taken charge of Margo, wrapping her in silk and taking her back to Chawlie’s private quarters. Eventually one of the girls returned with much ceremony and giggling to present me with my sweatshirt.
“Anthony checked man in alley. His arm broken, he no move. Next time he look, man gone. You do him, eh?”
“He was chasing the woman and shooting at her with this.” I pulled the automatic from my hip pocket and handed it to Chawlie.
“Grock.”
“Yeah. A Grock. He was shooting, but he didn’t mean to hit her. He aimed wide.”
“This her husband?”
“Ex-husband.”
Chawlie shook his head. The lack of clarity and the vagaries of haole relationships were alien to him. He offered me the gun.
“You keep it,” I said. “I don’t like those things.”
He laughed. “You old-fashioned.”
“A nine’s too small,” I said.
“You like what you like. Forty-five your gun.” Chawlie examined the automatic again. “Expensive,” he muttered, and put it away behind the bar. “You know this man? You recognize him?”
“Who? The woman’s husband?”
“Yes.”
“No. Do you?”
“Never saw him before,” said Chawlie, sipping his Tsing-tao. “Just wondered. All you haoles look alike to me. Especially in the dark.”
“Funny, Chawlie.”
“You see bruises on young woman’s face? Or you just looking at her tits?”
I hadn’t seen any bruises, but it was dark in the alley.
“So what you going to do, John Caine? You going take young woman home, be her big hero? Hope to get lucky, or what??
“Somebody’s got to take her home.”
“I send girls and a couple of my people. She feel safer that way, I think.”
Chawlie was trying to get rid of me. That meant there was something he could use to his advantage. And he didn’t want me involved.
That Chawlie would send the woman home with his girls was certain. He might be a criminal, he might break the law, but unlike most of those who craft the laws, he is a man of his word. Although I didn’t know her name at the time, Margo Halliday was safer than she’d ever been in her life. Whatever advantage he might gain by assuming the responsibility for the woman’s safety would not adversely affect her in any way.
“I’ll take that hint,” I said, sliding off the barstool, “and go home.”
“Leave by front door this time.”
“Good night, old friend.”
“Good night, John Caine. If you find any more strays tonight, you keep them.”
That was the first time I’d ever seen Margo Halliday. It would not be the last.
The next time I was aware of her was seven months later, when news of the murder was the Advertiser’s lead story, her photograph prominently displayed on the front page, her features instantly recognizable, bringing back the events of that warm summer evening. Her ex-husband had been shot to death in her Hawaii Kai condominium. Police wasted no time in charging her with a variety of crimes, curiously excluding any of those indictments that can be brought when one human being takes the life of another. The crimes were all misdemeanors and minor felonies and she made bail with the help of a high-priced defense attorney from Bishop Street.
The paper reported the sanctioned police statement that they were investigating and would have further announcements. It didn’t look good for the woman I’d briefly met in that dark, dirty alley.
I remembered her. In great and specific detail. Curiously, I was not aroused by the memory.
I read through the newspaper again and found a related story. My old friend Lieutenant Kimo Kahanamoku was in charge of the case. It made me feel better. Regardless of the facts, Margo Halliday would get a fair shake. If she didn’t do it, no harm would come her way. If she did it with malice aforethought, Kimo would bring her to justice. If it had been done in self-defense, he’d see to it she would be released without further charges, and possibly drop the ones already in place. Kimo had a wife to whom he was strictly devoted, and he didn’t like wife beaters.
The paper built its own case, reporting of two restraining orders out on Halliday, one here in Hawaii and one in California. The orders would have been explicit, carefully drawn by expensive attorneys and approved by well-meaning judges. Yet it looked like Halliday was dead because she still had to defend herself with a gun.
The article continued, describing Halliday’s business activities in Hawaii and on the Mainland. He’d had some modest successes and he’d had some spectacular failures, one of which concluded with Mr. Halliday’s spending a little downtime in a federal correctional institution over what his attorney had described as “a few minor bookkeeping oversights.” He’d had more ups and down than an elevator, but it looked as if he’d just pushed the up button before he’d been killed.
In recent weeks Glen Halliday had received a humanitarian award from the Crippled Children’s Fund and been feted at a Cancer Research dinner for his generous support. A photograph showed him shaking hands with the President and the First Lady, and mentioned he had been one of those heavy campaign contributors who had once spent the night at the White House. That was a difficult picture to harmonize with the man I’d fought in the alley, the mean drunk waving a pistol, chasing the naked ex-wife through a dark and humid night. Kimo wouldn’t be surprised. He was good, one of the best. He’d cut through the crap, and eventually my name would crop up.
So there was no surprise when Kimo came to visit a few days later, clumping down the dock in his size 14 double-wide sandals and 3XL Aloha shirt. Olympia settled noticeably when he came aboard, climbing over her teak railing. Light dimmed as he eclipsed the sun, peering down into the engine compartment access hatch, where he found me.
“Hey, Kimo,” I said, looking up from my tight little space, wedged between the diesel engine block and the hull, “come aboard.”
“I’m already here.”
“I noticed. You’re supposed to ask permission, and then I say ‘Sure, come aboard,’ and then you climb up there and say hello and then I offer you a beer. I was just trying to bring you up to speed.” I held up my hand, covered in grease to the elbow, but he waved it off.
“Where’s the beer?”
“Ah, a man with a mission. In the fridge. Help yourself. I’ll be finished in a minute.”
His brightly hued bulk disappeared from the engine hatch. When he reappeared he held an Edelweiss Dunkel.
“Your boat’s broke?”
“Just maintenance. It could get kind of inconvenient if it breaks out there on the deep briny.”
He smiled. Kimo was a waterman, too, sprung from a long line. “Crank up the iron sail, huh?”
“When I need to.” I finished tightening the last nut, checked for loose tools and foreign objects, and backed out of the engine compartment. I was sweating, soaked from head to toe from my hours in the hot, tight space. I wiped the grease from my hands with a rough rag. The breezes flowing off Pearl Harbor’s placid surface felt good and I wanted to stay outside. Kimo beckoned me to the cabin and I reluctantly climbed down into the lounge.
“Here.” Kimo handed me a cold beer as I slid behind the table.
“Thanks. Buy me one of my own, eh?”
“I’m a policeman. Can’t afford this kind of luxury.”
“With ten kids, who could?”
“Got two at U of H, one over at Stanford. Lucky they all on scholarships; I’d be destitute.” He glanced out the porthole, darkened by the shadow of the concrete structure overhead. “Doesn’t the new bridge bother you?”
While I was in-between boats, the Navy had built a bridge to Ford Island almost directly over my slip. I’d been afraid that the traffic might make too much noise but, like everything else, it quickly assimilated into the background. Pearl Harbor was a peaceful place, regardless of the massive war machines and the constant preparations for war that required their existence.
While I’d been gone they also moved in the USS Missouri and berthed her next to the Arizona Memorial, just across the water from the Rainbow Marina. Pearl Harbor was rapidly becoming a tourist attraction.
“Not anymore. This about Halliday?”
He nodded. “Heard you met the happy couple.”
“A few months back.”
“You and that Chinese criminal.”
“I don’t remember, Kimo.”
He shook his head. “You got a better memory than that, Caine. I know you hang out with Chawlie. What I want to know is how he knew Halliday.”
The conversation had moved into dangerous territory. Kimo wasn’t making mere conversation.
“Don’t know,” I said, which was the truth. I wouldn’t pretend to know everything and everybody Chawlie knew.
“Information I got was that Mrs. Halliday was escorted like royalty by some of his goons. Everywhere she went.”
“Got that from the condo doorman?”
“Lots of people recognized the car, knew the driver, who he worked for.”
“And were willing to talk to the police about it. This happen a lot?” I drained the bottle, replenishing my fluids, not wanting the big cop to see my face.
“From what I hear, Mrs. Halliday and the crook had a regular thing going. Your friend seems to have a lot of energy. That’s the rumor.”
“It’s a small island.”
“And folks have big mouths. Except you, John Caine.”
“Aw, shucks,” I said.
“You know something,” said Kimo in his cop voice. “You working the case? Or hope to?”
“Not working at the moment.” I didn’t need to. According to this morning’s paper, Petersoft, Ltd, topped 38-1/4 in trading on the NASDAQ and was expected to top forty before an anticipated split. Claire’s little bonus had been sweet. I had to admit being intrigued by this case, but Chawlie’s presence was enough to keep me out of it.
“You and Chawlie are pretty tight. You helped him a couple of times. But I don’t think you know what you’re into.”
“I’m used to it.” I wasn’t into anything yet, but there was nothing to be gained by useless denial. Kimo wouldn’t believe me, anyway.
“I think Choy had Halliday killed. I think he had some business dealings with him on Kauai. I think he had something going with the ex, and Halliday became too big of a pain in the ass.”
“Interesting. And you don’t think Mrs. Halliday killed anyone.”
“That's—” He cut himself off, placing a big hand over his mouth. “Forgot who I was talking to.”
“Save it, Kimo. I really don’t want to know anything. Depending on what I already knew, I might tell you just to help you out. And you’re right. Chawlie’s a friend. But this time I’m a blank.”
“You broke Halliday’s arm. That’s not relevant?”
“Not really. And Chawlie didn’t hire me to kill him.”
“Not that you wouldn’t.”
“I’m mellowing. It’s not like that.”
The big cop pursed his lips, concentrating on the teak bulkhead.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“No.” He drained the last of his beer, got up and started for the ladder. “But if I think of anything else I’ll let you know.”
“You’re my friend, too.”
He paused on the ladder and looked down at me, a hard stare, the cop look. “The first time we met, you were a suspect. You got involved with a good cop who was killed when she got between you and your quarry. You might have saved her, but you waited until you were sure you could kill the guy. I never forget that.”
He shook his head sadly. “I’m never sure just where you stand, Caine. I’d hate to have to stake my life on it.”
Copyright © 1999 by Ildi Co.