We were sitting in Janet’s office drinking Kona coffee, having made it out of the hotel without raising any suspicions. Billy hadn’t been on duty, must have finished his shift. As Janet had said, her place was as good as any; it was big enough, and I could sleep on the couch in the living room.
Sleep on the couch?
My mind wandered. If I could read what was going through her mind — was she really gay?
Janet prodded my arm. ‘That part makes sense. I could buy that.’
My mind clicked back into gear. ‘Why not let me take the rap for Ms Swain’s death? That would get me off his back, without implicating him.’
Janet seemed doubtful. She glanced at her watch and frowned.
‘Maybe it goes deeper than that,’ she said. ‘What if they wanted to find out who hired you?’
I shrugged. ‘Could have beaten the shit out of me.’
Janet shook her head. ‘Mr. Lo is a whole lot smarter. He’s not going to raise alarm bells and frighten off the big fish.’ She paused while she sipped her coffee. ‘He wins either way. You get sent down, business as usual. You escape the rap, he’ll be keeping tabs where you go … and who you meet.’
For some reason, that last part worried me. I couldn’t put a handle on it, but a warning shiver slithered down my back.
‘More coffee?’ I said.
Janet shook her head and eased out of her seat. ‘Not just now. I have appointments lined up.’
The wall clock ticked towards lunch.
I stood up. ‘I’m hungry,’ I said.
‘You want me to bring back a takeout?’
‘No, just give me a spare key. I need to see if my disguise holds up.’
Janet stared at me. ‘And if it doesn’t?’
I laughed. ‘Then you can go back to your day job.’
She moved closer and gave me a hug. ‘Shayne … take care.’
It was over too soon, and I wanted more. Maybe if…
Janet was hoisting her bag over her shoulder. She tossed a set of keys at me. ‘Office door. Apartment door. Back entrance.’
Then she was gone.
I locked up the office, and walked through to the living room; sat on the couch, kicked off my shoes, lay down, sat back up again, and stood up. Her bedroom: double bed, one pillow rumpled, a soft doll laying on the other side. Bathroom: one set of towels and one toothbrush in a glass tumbler. Kitchen: one plate, one mug, and one set of cutlery on the dish rack.
She lived alone.
The office phone rang. The answering machine had picked up the call by the time I opened the door.
Janet … you there? Pick up the call, damn it. Please, I miss you so much…
A woman’s voice. Seemed familiar, somehow. Sounded like my age, early thirties, at a guess. Then more pleas and promises of everlasting love.
I relocked the door on her crying, went back into the living room, slipped on my shoes and walked out of the apartment.
I got a burger and fries to go, walked to the beach, and found a rock in the shade of a nearby palm to eat. A few surfers were paddling out to the big breakers; my board was stacked at Sandy’s bar, a no-go area.
I bit into my tasteless burger, the fries were cold, and my spirit was at a low.
My cell buzzed. I flipped it open, hit the button, and heard his deep baritone.
‘Brah, I got bailed out.’
Smokin’ Joe had a way about him that was always positive. Maybe that’s why he was one of life’s winners. And it rubbed off while I brought him up to speed. I crumpled up the container and dumped it in a nearby garbage can, turned away from the Pacific and what might have been with Janet, and walked back into my life.
To a meeting with the big fella in the steak house at the 5-star Hilton Waikoloa Village hotel. A sixty-two acre complex.
His idea. His celebration. His tab.
The biggest compliment I could pay Janet was that Smokin’ Joe had to look twice at me before he recognized my smile.
He shook his head. ‘Brah, that’s somethin’ else,’ he said.
He was on his own, no cop in sight, and I’d already planned escape routes. ‘Anyone tail, you?’ I said.
He waved a hand in the air. ‘Jameson took care of that. Threatened to sue if I was harassed; my reputation … big bucks. The D.A. backed off.’
I wasn’t confident it would stick for long. Detective Hennessey was out for my hide, whatever it took. We made our way to the table; a waiter hovered with a drinks menu. I opted for a large vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred. The big fella gave me one of those ‘who you kidding?’ looks and settled for a soda.
‘T-bone, medium,’ said the big fella to another pinstripes and a bowtie waiter. Then he looked at me.
I nodded; I was on an adrenalin high being a fugitive — could have eaten a mule. ‘Make it two. Mine’s rare.’
Smokin’ Joe made one of his deep growling noises that passed for a laugh. ‘Taste for blood, huh, brah?’
I nodded. ‘That’s if I can locate the son of a bitch who set me up.’
We ate our steaks, plus the add-ons — Caesar salad and fries topped with ketchup — while listening to piped in background music. Shared a few thoughts on what I should do next; decided to let Janet make the play, with the big fella taking on the Mr. Muscles role.
I glanced around the restaurant again from my vantage point facing the entrance, my back to a wall; fire escape past the johns at the back. Ten — no, now eleven tables of subdued voices blending in with Sinatra’s version of ‘Beyond the Sea’. Nobody paid me any attention.
Until the cops arrived.