I’d sunk into a deep depression in the four days I’d been locked up waiting for Janet to regain consciousness and clear my name - but after Smokin’ Joe had visited me and gave me some advice, a burning rage took over. I wanted – needed revenge. My waking hours were occupied with finding ways to locate Le Chef, but this time I’d take Mister Muscles with me.
That was if - I could beat this rap.
I tightened my grip on the cell bars. What was Patterson thinking?
He explained. ‘It doesn’t add up. Stern’s homicide linked to Miss Taylor’s injuries has moved this case into irregular territory. You’re lucky again, kid. Not even you could have been in two places at once.’ He paused; seemed to struggle with the notion. ‘Could be there’s another killer on the loose.’
But I was only half listening. My thoughts were with Janet. I wanted to see her.
He gave me a look. ‘She’s not pretty anymore,’ he said. ‘Took a beating…’
Tears welled up; I brushed my arm against my face and stared into his eyes; black pits that must have witnessed a lifetime of inhumanity.
I choked out the words. ‘Janet will always be pretty to me. I owe her that.’
He nodded, took hold of my arm to steady me. ‘Okay, kid. Let’s go...’
Later, a debriefing was held in the large interview room: attending were Jameson Taylor, Smokin’ Joe, Patterson and me. All of us sitting quietly around the table, drinking a cop’s version of Cappuccino out of paper cups. All of us concerned about Janet.
Her condition was far worse than I imagined. Bandaged head with slits for eyes and mouth; on life support with drips being pumped into her bruised arms. She’d had emergency surgery to clear a massive brain clot. Prognosis: anywhere between full recovery and vegetative state...
Patterson explained Stern’s demise. ‘We had a 911 call from the housemaid assigned to clean out his room. She was in shock … described two dead bodies on the porch. When we questioned her, she first thought the one on the floor was Stern’s companion … a man with a Pulaski moniker.’
Taylor cut in. ‘Have you traced this man?’
‘We’re working on it.’
Taylor wasn’t going to be stonewalled. ‘This monster abducted my sister and tried to kill her.’
I exchanged a glance with Smokin’ Joe; then coughed. It was time I came clean. ‘He’s Le Chef … works for Van Grossman.’
Patterson frowned, threw me a look. ‘What?’
I told them what had happened at the airport.
Patterson’s face reddened – he got heated. ‘Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?’
‘It’s personal,’ I said.
Before Patterson could say anymore, Smokin’ Joe spoke. ‘My brah’s right on the nail, boss. He’s in the ring with the one guy who can fuck with his life … it’s personal, all right.’
Patterson muttered some obscenity before answering Taylor. ‘Since we have a fresh lead,’ he said, glancing at me, ‘we’ll pull out all the stops.’
Taylor grimaced. ‘Platitudes,’ he said.
It started to get intense, with us all chipping in our two cents worth until Patterson raised a hand. ‘I want a quiet word with the counselor … in private.’
He and Taylor left Smokin’ Joe and me with a fresh pot of coffee, and time to cool our heels.
‘Janet,’ I said. It was all I needed to say. Smoking Joe clenched his ham of a fist.
‘No one on this goddamn planet’s going to stop me bringing in this killer.’ He looked around, maybe to check for a hidden bug, but seemed satisfied. ‘You hear me, brah?’
I bumped his fist to seal the deal. ‘Loud and clear,’ I said, but then I realized.
‘Shit. Patterson’s going to bust my ass … this time for good.’
Smokin’ Joe sounded upbeat. ‘Don’t you worry, none, brah. Mister Taylor works miracles.’
I wasn’t convinced. And I don’t think he was, either. We sank back down again, lost in our own thoughts.
It seemed hopeless - until Patterson returned with Taylor.
Patterson waved his hand at me, as if I was a pesky fly he wanted to shoo away. ‘You’re free to go,’ he said.
I nearly fell off my chair.
Taylor explained. ‘We had a session with the Police Chief. Under the particular circumstances of this unusual case, we feel your arrest for Stern’s murder is unsafe. The DA has already been consulted; conditions of bail are unchanged.’
That, in short, meant the police had backed off.
Not that it let me off the hook. There were stipulations. I had to report into the station on a daily basis and comply with an evening curfew; or else.
“Or else” meant being locked up until my trial – a great incentive - I’d had enough of that to last me a lifetime.
I exchanged a half-hearted smile with Smokin’ Joe. Now we knew how to play the system, we would be a lot more careful.
The meeting broke up, I was released, and Taylor insisted we leave with him.
It was an eye-opener.
We cruised south along Highway 11 in his Land Cruiser doing a steady fifty-five with the sound of “Teardrops on my guitar” echoing from the CD player by Taylor Swift; I guessed he liked the name.
But it wasn’t a happy song.
Smokin Joe sat in the back and seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts while I gazed out of the window trying to work out where Taylor was headed. The road climbed up the slopes of the Hualalai volcano, passing a string of tiny villages and small coffee farms.
Taylor stopped at the Mountain Thunder plantation, touched me on the arm.
‘Janet told me you like Kona coffee ... this is the best,’ he said.
We stepped out into the cool air and stretched, then made our way over to the spacious bamboo-roofed visitor center.
I was wrong, yet again.
After we had sat down with steaming cups, Taylor gave us the low down. He motioned around.
‘No bugs, no surveillance, we can talk freely.’
Smokin’ Joe blinked, and I felt a cold shiver return as I looked into Taylor’s eyes – eyes that seemed to search out my soul. No emotion showed; he continued.
‘Patterson set you loose because he figures you’ll lead him to the killer.’
I choked on my coffee. ‘What?’
‘With Linda Adams, he thinks he’s got a strong enough case to lock you away for life, but he’s an old-fashioned cop who believes in justice.’
Smokin’ Joe snorted. It sounded like a strangled cat. ‘Mister, ain’t no such thing. All Patterson cares about is his-self.’
I had to agree. Patterson wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, not fade away and fizzle out. ‘He’s setting me up as bait, right?’
Taylor took his time. I could almost see his mind ticking. Finally he seemed to come to a decision. His eyes swept between us. ‘Do you want to see justice done?’ His face contorted, his hands shook; a single teardrop broke through his stone facade. His voice was a whisper.
‘Help me nail Janet’s attacker.’
Then he slapped a private investigator’s badge on the table.
I stared at it. So did Smokin’ Joe.
It was a no-brainer.