He didn’t look happy. In fact he looked mad as hell.
I rubbed my eyes and sat up, trying not to move my head.
‘Stay there,’ he barked.
I slowly looked around; memories came back. I was sitting on the wooden floor of the patio, next to the untouched table, still with the excesses of the previous night on show. A sweet coppery smell wafted past, and I heard a sound like raindrops. Behind me was the lounger, I swiveled around.
Stern was still asleep with a gaping slash in his neck and blood trickling down his shirt and shorts, leading to a pool dripping onto the patio floor.
‘Oh, fuck,’ I murmured to myself.
Forensics was on site. While the CSI was taking place, Patterson took me inside the beach house, sat me down in a deerskin lounger, and began the grilling.
‘You’re in deep trouble, kid. You know that?’ He showed me a Buck hunting knife in a plastic bag. ‘Guess what?’ he said.
I hung my head and groaned. ‘My fingerprints, right?
He nodded. ‘First thing we matched.’ He sighed. ‘And there’s evidence of illegal substances … cocaine traces.’
I gazed past Patterson to the kitchenette behind, where a forensic examination was in full swing. I doubted they’d find a syringe dumped in the garbage.
I sighed. ‘I was drugged.’
It sounded lame, and Patterson shook his head.
‘The way I see it, you were high on speed, had a spat with Mister Stern, and killed him.’
In the old days he would have run me out of town on a hack horse, and then sent a posse after me. When they caught me, I would have been strung up and left for the buzzards.
Old style justice...
But this was Hawaii in modern times. I was innocent, and I came back at him hard. ‘No way … Janet…’ I sat up straight in my lounger, looked around, a sense of dread enveloping my mind. ‘Where is she?’
‘Miss Taylor? No idea, I haven’t seen her.’
He let me call her cell, but no answer – nothing. He sensed my distress, poured me a glass of water, and ordered a patrol cop to check out her town address.
Between refills, I told him my version of the story - that Janet and I wanted answers from Stern; an explanation of his hundred grand payment to Linda Adams.
He stopped me in mid flow.
‘Whoa there, cowboy. Start at the beginning of the trail.’
I told him about the bank statements. He made a note, gestured at me to carry on.
‘Janet went inside to look around while I shook Stern awake from his siesta. I started to ask questions, but then I was attacked from behind, someone jabbed a needle in my arm and everything went black. I came around this morning with a splitting headache and a sandpaper mouth.’
But I didn’t tell him what Stern had said.
It was Van’s idea.
Or what I believed.
Le Chef had killed Stern.
Why? I had no idea. Nothing made sense, then.
He listened, making notes until I’d run out of steam; then the questions came.
‘What did Stern say to you?’
‘He gave me the finger, told me to fuck off. That’s all.’
Patterson was looking closely at me. He shook his head. ‘You sure that’s all?’
The wall clock struck twelve. Lunchtime. We’d been closeted up for a couple of hours and I needed to clear my head.
I need to stretch my legs,’ I said.
He stood up, snapped handcuffs on my wrists. ‘We’ll go together.’
We walked across the patio, down the steps, and followed the path through the garden area to the swing-gate that led to the beach, then stopped and gazed at the Pacific. Waves were beginning to form; large breakers ideal for surfing. When would I be free to take Janet out for another session? Could I beat this rap?
What was Patterson thinking?
He saved me the trouble. Lit a cheroot and took a large drag. Words filtered out through the smoke.
‘Kid, you shouldn’t have got yourself mixed up in all this.’
I kept quiet and waited.
But then his cell rang. It was the patrol cop. I heard enough to get the picture loud and clear.
Janet’s apartment had been broken into and looted. Her office - the studio room – had been trashed, so had the living areas. Janet was unconscious on the floor, paramedics had been called.
Janet – oh, no. Please.
When Patterson ended the call he stared at me.
‘It’s bad news.’ He sketched in a few details, made sympathy noises. I felt numb, but for Patterson it seemed just like another day at the office.
‘More I look at it, more it stinks,’ he said.
It hit home. So, it was the bank statements, and maybe also the cell phone “they” were after, but I had them safe in my backpack in my room at Sandy’s bar.
Unless “they” came calling.
Patterson was ahead of me. ‘Where did she stash the evidence?’
I had figured Patterson to be an overworked cynic – maybe he was – but he seemed able to cut diamonds out of glass.
He nodded as though he anticipated my reaction. He stubbed out his cheroot under the heel of his boot, and we strolled back to the patio. A patrol cop took me down to the station and booked me in.
Later, Smokin’ Joe visited. He wasn’t smiling his toothy grin and his voice was croaky.
He peered at me. ‘What happened?’
I told him the story, how Janet tried to call him. He seemed unhappy, opened his hands and gestured.
‘I was in the ring. Missed her call, brah. Five rounds of punishment followed by a long soak in the tub. I called her back from the locker room, no answer, went to voicemail.’
I felt empty inside. If only I had waited…
Now, Stern was dead, I was back in jail, and Janet was hospitalized. It couldn’t get much worse.
I was so wrong.