Even the cops?
‘Payback time,’ said Van Grossman. ‘What’s it feel like?’
I must admit, as far as stunts went, it was effective. Beat my Subaru trick at Sandy’s bar, hands down. Then, Van Grossman had been stumped for words. Now he had exacted his revenge. I made a mental note not ever to rattle his cage, which left me wondering, what was his game?
I didn’t have to wait long. Robert dismissed his entourage as if they were playthings, which I suppose they were, and settled down to gorge himself.
He ate in silence, apart from his slurping noises, and I wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of admitting my discomfort. We exchanged glances. He frowned, I frowned. He smiled, I smiled back. After about ten minutes of mind games, he relented and released my handcuffs.
‘Don’t try it, kid,’ he said.
So it was back to the kid again. ‘Robert, push too hard with the kid moniker and it won’t be your ass I kick.’
He gave me the benefit of a nod. ‘Okay, Mr. Reeves, I can see you got spirit, and you’ll need it. He jabbed a piece of salami and pointed it at me. ‘Tell me about Mr. Lo.’
So he’d finally got around to the business end.
He’d seen the news — pictures of the bereaved relatives — read the press reports, knew I was on the run, so I gave him an abridged version of my Kandoo visit. Told him that Lo had set me up for Ms. Swain’s murder. And then I revealed to him what Janet had found out about their shareholdings in Kandoo.
He repeated most of what Janet had warned me about Lo and added some more. ‘My deal with Lo is purely recreational. He supplies quality, I pay top dollar. That’s as far as it goes, and as far as I want it to go. Understand?’
So he was warning me not to implicate him in anything I might try. But why was he telling me?
‘Fat chance of pinning anything on Lo,’ I said, finally picking up my chicken leg and chewing it. ‘I’ve reached a dead end.’
He poured a glass of water from a pitcher, took a slug and belched. ‘I hired you to find out who was creaming me. That still holds.’ He wiped his mouth with a white napkin. ‘My stockbroker has a summer house here in Kona. If there’s a personal connection ... a motive … between Ms. Swain and Mr. Lo, he would know.’
I frowned. ‘How’s that going to push me any further?’
He held up both hands. ‘Could be I’m reading more into it than it warrants.’
I shrugged, but he had only paused.
‘His name is Kenneth Swain.’ Robert explained. ‘Ms. Swain’s brother. Goldfinger, they called him. Several years back, he was headline news. Allegedly he had sole access to insider knowledge that made a fortune for his very satisfied clients … including me.’
‘Ah,’ I said, and swallowed another glass of water. I was beginning to see light penetrating the fog. Possible illicit share deals, possible blackmail, fraud — any number of variations involving big bucks that wouldn’t be chump change. ‘How do I get to see this dude?’
Van Grossman smiled. He’s expecting you … rather, a Mr. Smith.’
After lunch, I was presented with a new set of clothes — including a black getup suitable for funerals — plus Swain’s address, and a cheery wave as I drove off in my Chevy. I couldn’t fault his hospitality or generosity, but I still felt used.
Swain was not the sort of man I could take a shine to if I lived to be immortal. He had a reptilian look about him — bald, long body and short legs — and a slimy handshake. From the way his hooded eyes blinked at me, I guessed he thought the same.
But he was polite; probably needed Van Grossman’s business and he invited me onto the kitchen terrace that overlooked Kona bay.
‘Take a seat Mr. Smith, while I fix drinks. What’s your poison?’
I was still suffering from the night before, but I heard a percolator bubbling inside. ‘Coffee’s fine. Make it strong and black.’
He rubbed his palms together. ‘Wise choice, Mr. Smith. Coffee is a shrewd investment right now.’
When he returned with our coffees and we had settled down, I tried to be as polite in my new role. ‘I’m sorry about your sister’s death, Mr. Swain.’
‘Very distressing,’ he said, without looking particularly distressed. ‘But I assume you haven’t come here merely to offer condolences.’
I didn’t have an easy way in. I showed him my P.I. badge and told him I needed background about his sister and Kandoo; hinted that Van Grossman had an interest — he was being ripped off with excessive maintenance charges. It sounded lame, and Swain was sharp enough to find the flaw.
‘Let’s drop the act, Mr. Smith. I’ve seen your mugshot on TV. Robert’s patronage is the only reason I haven’t called the cops.’ He sipped at his coffee. ‘What do you want?’
I told him.
I misjudged Swain, and I’m sure it wasn’t croc tears he shed. I wasn’t about to jump into the pond with him, but once he found out that I wanted to nail his sister’s killer he confessed he felt the same. Call it a brother-sister thing — a love-hate relationship — but he’d been hurt and wanted payback.
We spent the rest of the day on the terrace, downloading a whole heap of background surrounding the Kandoo operation from his laptop onto a flash drive. Everything that Swain had on his sister and the other major shareholder, Mr. Lo. We batted around our options until we’d exhausted them. I called it a day; put my jacket back on and pocketed the flash drive. Countless cups of coffee had passed through my kidneys and I needed the john.
While attending to nature, I heard a few noises — maybe a plate or cup had been dropped.
I finished up and walked back into the kitchen to tell him I’d give him a call.
Swain lay on the floor — a broken cookie plate beside him — looking up at me.
He had a third eye.