I sidestepped the body and looked out beyond the terrace. Dark skies, but nothing; no running figure, only palms swaying in the wind and sounds of waves crashing onto rocks and gulls screaming.
On the table, our coffee cups and Swain’s…
…his laptop had been taken.
Meant one thing to me. Whatever Swain knew, it was critical enough to have him silenced. My fingers touched the flash drive; I prayed it held the answer.
I knew what I had to do next — and quickly. I cleaned my coffee cup, wiped it dry with a cloth, and put it back on the shelf. I used the same cloth to remove — as best I could — my fingerprints from the terrace, kitchen, and the bathroom. Same at the front door where I’d leaned on the button. I put the cloth in my pocket and walked quickly back to the shopping plaza parking lot where I dumped it in a trashcan.
A couple of flyers were attached under the Chevy’s wipers, but no tickets. I clambered inside and called Janet.
When I said “Hi”, she jumped right in.
‘Shayne, what happened? Where are you? I was worried sick.’
Her voice was high-pitched, sounded like she cared. I felt guilty; I’d cheated on her. Much as I tried to rationalize my behavior — we weren’t an item by a long shot — it still seemed shallow.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
Silence for a few heartbeats. ‘What?’
‘Things got out of control.’
‘Shayne, what the hell are you talking about. What things?’
I pulled out of a full confession, just gave her a brief outline of last night’s visit to Van Grossman — minus the Japanese twins’ affair — and today’s meeting with Swain. ‘I heard noises … when I came out of the john, I found Swain on the kitchen floor with his brains blown out.’
‘Let me get this straight. No, don’t tell me. Can you come over to my apartment? It’s safe enough, now.’
The way she said it had me wondering. ‘Do I need to take…?’
She interrupted me. ‘Precautions, you mean? Don’t worry … Mauve is out of the picture.’
‘I’ll be right there,’ I said. If Janet thought I sounded pleased, I was. I switched on the radio, tuned into a country music station, and sang with Dwight Yoakam all the way back to her place.
Would have been great if Janet had fallen into my arms the moment she saw me, but that didn’t happen. No “Shayne, I missed you”. Instead, I got a dressing-down.
‘Mister, you sure know how to land in shit.’
I didn’t answer. Followed her into the living room where I had a big surprise.
‘Hi, brah. You in more trouble, man?’
The big fella was sprawled across the couch, with a big grin on his face. I walked over, held out both hands and we smacked a high five.
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘You jumped bail?’
‘Hell no.’ He exchanged a glance with Janet. ‘My good friend, Mistah Taylor defended my constitutional rights as an American citizen.’
‘What he means,’ said Janet ‘is that Jameson’s whizz kid located the police bug in Mr. Muscles’ car.’ She laughed ‘Better still, the chief was looking on.’
I pictured the scene. Red faces all around; the upshot being — so Janet said — Detective Mauve Hennessey was dispatched back to Honolulu on a disciplinary.
Something nagged at me, but it wouldn’t float up. I let it rest, sat down on the couch, and brought them both up to date with my latest mishap — then gave Janet the flash drive.
We were all puzzled. Swain’s assassin being there at the same time — was it coincidence or…
‘They bugged my Chevy.’
They both looked at me. Janet said it. ‘When?’
I thought back. ‘Had to be at Van Grossman’s party. Not him, he had arranged my meeting with Swain.’ I slapped my head. ‘Couple of stylish dudes distributing smack … maybe one of Lo’s men … or the chauffeur, he was Asian.’
‘Oh, brother,’ said Janet, ‘if you’ve picked up a tail … what if he’s outside, right now?’
Smokin’ Joe came up with a solution. ‘I’ll get another rental, tomorrow.’ He gave me a grin. ‘Then we’ll go fishing, brah.’
At last I felt luck swinging back in our favor; the big fella would watch my back and for once we’d be the hunters. He grinned, stood up, and made his way to the front door.
‘See you guys,’ he said.
With the big fella gone, I rustled up a couple of frozen dinners in the microwave while Janet downloaded Swain’s files on to her office laptop. After our meal, swilled down with cans of beer, I got to first base once more.
But no further. A hug and a lingering kiss, before Janet went to bed and I was left with a cushion on the couch for company. No problem. Back on track.
Road Runner was up and running again.
I slept well.
Until Janet shook me awake. She held a hand across my mouth.
‘I think there’s someone in my office,’ she said.