A black shape hit me in the face, meowed, shot past, and I heard it scrabble at the apartment door.
Janet laughed. Sounded more like relief.
‘Next door’s cat,’ she said. ‘Smokin’ Joe must have let it in.’
I stood up, probably as relieved as she was. ‘I suppose you left the light on.’ I stepped inside the office to switch it off.
‘Actually, you’re wrong,’ said the Asian with the gun. The next few seconds seemed like I was living my life in slow motion. His finger tightened on the trigger.
‘No,’ I shouted, ‘don’t shoot,’ but I expected a flash, then searing pain, then blackness.
The flash came — and another. I flinched, but no searing pain followed. Instead, the man cursed, his gun clattered to the floor while the bullet with my name on it thudded into the wall beside me.
With one arm hanging at his side, he leapt past me in a spray of blood and brushed Janet aside. Before we could react, he was gone.
Janet sank to her knees. She was still holding her 9mm Beretta, and I gently eased it out of her hand.
I wasn’t hurt, but I started to shake. I didn’t know what to say. Instead I went to look at the apartment door. Standard locks, could have been picked — it wasn’t exactly foolproof. Security seemed to rely mainly on the street buzzer system, but that wasn’t foolproof, either. I made a mental note to call a locksmith.
We took a while to recover. I made a large pot of coffee in the dawn light, while Janet took samples of the bloodstains and bagged his gun. We didn’t talk much, except to pass polite comments. I was wrapped up in my thoughts, and Janet seemed to be wrapped up in hers. Neither of us wanted sleep; we sat on the couch like zombies and let the coffee get cold.
Janet was the first to break through. ‘I don’t get it,’ she said.
Neither did I, but we worked on the worst case assumption that I was disposable — maybe both of us — which meant one thing.
We needed to move fast.
I made us a fresh pot of coffee, and we started work, reading up on Ms. Swain and Lo from the downloaded files. But it got us nowhere, because we didn’t know what we were searching for — until Janet had a brainstorm.
‘Think of key words, something worth killing for to keep it quiet.’
I picked up my mug — inhaled the bitter-sweet coffee. My mind raced back to Van Grossman’s party and my initial meeting with him at the pool. Not coffee, but just as spicy.
‘Drugs,’ I said.
We got several hits, stakes in pharmaceutical companies — or so it seemed — but it got me thinking.
‘We know Kandoo is a distribution front, but who supplies Lo?’ I asked.
We eliminated the major drug companies registered on the Dow Jones Stock Exchange. That left Kona Bay Herbal Company, a supplier of Chinese medicine, and an unlisted stock, but registered offshore in Hong Kong.
Janet’s fingers danced across the keyboard as she homed in.
That was when we hit pay dirt.
‘Joint owners … Mr. Lo and Ms. Paula Swain.’
We exchanged high fives. I was on a roll. ‘Try shipping,’ I said.
A few attempts later Janet exclaimed, ‘How about this? Hong Kong cargo freight … same owners.’
Plenty of motives to hang our hats.
But also questions. I wondered why Swain hadn’t mentioned these companies; surely he must have brokered them — or had he been protecting his reputation?
‘It’s pretty thin,’ I said. ‘We need more than a motive to collar Lo.’
The apartment buzzer sounded, made us both jump.
It was Smokin’ Joe. I glanced at my watch and immediately felt hungry. Strange how the big fella had that effect — and it fit into our new plan.
I was the bait.
I drove the bugged Chevy out along the coast highway and parked in a spacious lot outside a fish restaurant near Kona Bay. Janet was with me. I breathed in the sea air and stared at the high waves pounding the beach.
‘Good day for surfing,’ I said.
She linked her arm in mine. ‘Stay focused, and pray we called it right.’
Stay focused? Difficult.
That day she was wearing blue jeans and a white shirt tied loosely at the waist, showing off her brown skin and firm stomach. Her shoulder length hair danced gracefully in the breeze, and the scent of her perfume sent a shiver down my spine.
I risked a glance behind me as we walked up to the restaurant door. The big fella had parked his new SUV rental — a black Ford — where he could see my Chevy and watch the entrance to the lot. A gamble we had to take.
Hunger took priority. A buffet lunch suited us well; customers crowding around the serving tables to give us cover while we sat on barstools, made small talk, and devoured our seafood.
Plenty of appraising eyes gave Janet the once-over, but nobody paid any attention to me. I could guess why. My mugshot had been dropped from TV news; replaced by a hit and run driver whose stubble and long black hair made him look like a Mexican bandit.
Could have been a bootleg runner or a gun smuggler…
My cell beeped.
I hit the call button.
‘Two Asian guys parked a red sedan. Got out and were sniffing around your Chevy,’ he said. ‘One had his arm in a sling. Took one look at the restaurant, backed off. They’re in the sedan now.’
I couldn’t resist it. ‘Copied,’ I said and disconnected.
‘Party time,’ I said to Janet.
She squeezed my hand and brushed her lips across my cheek — felt great. Her voice cracked. ‘Be careful,’ she said.
We hadn’t counted on two guys — one with a gun would have been plenty, but I figured the injured one was needed to ID me.
Or he wanted my head.
I left Janet holding the fort in case I got split up from the big fella and followed a group of tourists out of the restaurant into the sunshine.
Straight into a trap.