Janet wouldn’t let on. Said she wanted to surf, so we drove down the blacktop to the rental shop while Smokin’ Joe headed off for a workout at his private gym.
Napoopoo beach was deserted, but breakers were starting to build. It would be safe enough for a while. Janet was a natural, rippin’ the waves; it seemed like everything came easy for her. I wondered why she never married, never had a boyfriend – maybe she was a free spirit, and didn’t need the hassle.
Yes, definitely a free spirit, hot in her wetsuit, even with her hair all tousled up and seawater dripping down her face. We paddled our boards back to the beach dog-tired but feeling high. It was another carefree day, one of several while Janet put her plan into action.
In Sandy’s bar, dried out and changed back into tee-shirts and jeans, she outlined it.
‘Kona Beach Resort is Stern’s baby. The effects of earthquakes in Japan reached
Hawaii last week. Several beach hotels got flooded, but nothing major. However, we leak a report to The Star that his resort was swamped by the Tsunami, needs a million bucks damage repairs and fortification.’
‘Stern won’t fall for that. He’d know.’
‘Not if we tell The Star it was a cover up. He’d have to check it out.’
It was worth a try. As I said before, Janet knew people that owed her favors. One was Wesley Hilo, a Star Advertiser reporter, who had the hots for her – and who needed a story.
Hilo’s fiction hit the front page and it had the desired effect of rattling Stern’s cage when he was asked to comment. Janet’s phone tap on his cell showed heavy traffic from his resort and back to Hollywood, and then success; a couple of calls to Fort Lauderdale airport.
‘He’s flying out on American Air,’ said Janet, who was checking the flights on her laptop at Sandy’s bar. She held up her hands for my high five. ‘Game on.’
Our plan was simple; we’d hijack him at the airport. Smokin’ Joe had a talent for persuasion.
We hadn’t thought it through.
I sat in my Dodge outside the arrivals terminal of Kona International Airport at eight at night waiting for Stern to emerge with Janet on one arm and Smokin’ Joe on the other. But when Stern appeared under the lights rolling a Samson traveling case, he was alone. He peered around, waved a skinny arm, and a resort limo glided up to the sidewalk. A heavily-built man clambered out to greet him.
I recognized him immediately.
The case was loaded into the trunk and they were gone. My two lieutenants appeared a few minutes later looking rather sheepish. They made their way over to my car and climbed inside.
‘Plan B,’ said Janet. Smokin’ Joe stayed quiet.
I had to ask.
‘Japanese tourists,’ said Janet. ‘Mobbed Mister Muscles for his autograph.
Smokin’ Joe growled out an apology. ‘I’m big in Japan.’
Another chill swept down my backbone; the dark menace had returned. People – witnesses – wouldn’t forget a man mountain like Smokin’ Joe too easy. I pounded my fist against the steering wheel.
Fuck the Japanese - fuck Le Chef – what a fuck-up.
I gritted my teeth while the referee started the count. At eight, I turned to Janet.
‘What’s plan B?’ I said.
Janet massaged my knee to calm me. ‘He’ll be staying at the resort while the mansion is being serviced … I’ll check it out.’
I could smell her perfume – it had a flowery scent – inside the Dodge it was intense.
I opened the window and breathed in a lung full of Hawaiian night. ‘What if he flies back tomorrow morning?’
Janet sighed. ‘He won’t.’
I must have looked puzzled.
‘His return flight ticket is for Monday.’
We had three days.
I dropped Smokin’ Joe off at the gym and Janet in town, before heading over to Sandy’s bar for a cheeseburger and fries. My night off.
Janet’s call came later while I was opening my third Bud.
‘He’s in his room. Meet me outside the resort.’
I flipped the top back on the bottle and told Sandy to stick it back in the ice-box. No need for alcohol, I was pumped up with adrenalin.
Twenty minutes later I met up with Janet, but no Smokin’ Joe.
Janet shrugged. ‘He’s not answering his cell.’
I couldn’t wait, so I made a decision to go it alone – in hindsight, without Smokin’ Joe watching our backs, it was reckless, but I wanted that motherfucker Stern so bad, it hurt.
Stern had a suite in a beachside apartment close to the sea. Waves crashed against the shore, which meant he wouldn’t hear us coming.
Or so I thought.
We switched off our cell phones and made our way around to the outside patio where Stern, dressed in a baggy Bermuda shirt and shorts was fast asleep on a deck lounger. Next to him, on a glass-topped bamboo table by his cell phone and an overflowing ashtray: a silver-plated Zippo lighter resting on a tin of Camel Rare - and a drinks server; Jack Daniels, empty glass, and an ice bucket.
The patio door was open, and Janet stepped inside to check it out. I couldn’t wait and shook Stern awake.
He rubbed his sniffer, opened an eye and looked at me, then sat up as if mesmerized by a phantom.
‘Remember me?’ I said.
His eyes darted around and he started to pull himself up out of the lounger. I put my hand on his chest and pushed the scrawny skeleton back down.
‘I asked you a question.’
Stern frowned. ‘Why aren’t you in jail?’
I ignored him. ‘I want answers.’
He croaked out a laugh. ‘Go fuck yourself,’ he said, giving me the finger.
I leaned in and whacked his face hard several times, until he held up a hand and started to sob.
He tried to curl up in a ball. ‘Leave me alone. It was Van’s idea.’
I heard a noise and then sensed a shadow behind me. I was gripped tight and a cloth was held across my nose and mouth - it smelled like chemicals. My eyes blurred, I felt drunk, and my legs sagged. I felt my arm sting.
It went dark…