I wiped my face with a napkin and coughed. ‘We have company directly behind you. Two suits, probably carrying.’
We’d discussed this possibility. When I stood up, Smokin’ Joe would go and introduce himself.
I figured the big fella would know what to do.
I chose the moment when the waiter arrived with their drinks, blocking their view. I heard the commotion as I slammed shut the fire exit door behind me. No way could they have all exits covered, and my Chevy was parked close to three escape routes.
I made it back to Janet’s place without being pulled over by a patrol car, slumped on the couch, and turned on the news.
No new updates until Janet returned with a sack of groceries. She dumped it on the counter and flopped onto a lounger.
‘Jameson called. Smokin’ Joe’s been arrested again,’ she said. ‘Assaulting two police officers … not to mention the dry cleaning tabs.’
I had to smile. By the time Jameson had finished reading the riot act to the D.A., the big fella would be walking.
I hit the TV mute button and told her where I’d been earlier. ‘We were at a restaurant. Two suits came in … had to be cops.’
I painted the picture. Janet nodded as if I attracted trouble like a bee to honey.
But I was still puzzled. ‘How did they track us down? The Steak House is in the biggest hotel complex on the Big Island.’
We looked at each other.
Janet said it first. ‘Mr. Muscles was bugged.’
Meaning, his car. But there was a time lag; enough for us to finish our meal before they located us. The big fella had taken precautions and parked a distance away. Could be the cops checked out a number of fast food joints before hitting on the high-class Steak House. Good news — they must have thought I was still a beach bum.
‘You think my cover’s blown?’
Janet hummed a little. ‘Did they get a good look at you … as in close up?’
I thought back. From where they sat, I was partially hidden by the big fella’s body. ‘Probably not … at least, not enough to ID me.’
‘Assume the worst. Any dumb shmuck would have noticed your vanishing man act.’
The office phone rang.
I’d forgotten about the woman. I kept my voice neutral. ‘You had a call, earlier … female crying.’
Janet closed her eyes for a moment; blinked them open again, and stood up. ‘I’d better take it.’
I acted disinterested, shrugged. While she was in her office listening to her messages, I unpacked the groceries in the kitchen — basic fare, nothing exotic. I gathered that Janet didn’t eat in much; the stovetop was sparkling, and everything was clean — even the fridge was spotless, just a few bottles of diet Cokes, several candy bars, and an unopened carton of milk.
I couldn’t help thinking about the woman caller. As if on cue, Janet returned.
‘So you listened to Mauve’s message, then?’
It hit me like a bombshell. Now I remembered where I’d heard the voice. At my bedside.
‘She sounded upset,’ I said, trying not to appear the same.
My body language gave the game away. Janet moved over, took my hand, led me to the couch, and sat down next to me.
‘It was a brief fling. I met Mauve in Honolulu, while I was investigating a fraud case. She helped, we bonded, but it meant more to her than me. Now she’s here on the Big Island, and she won’t leave me alone.’
A Hennessey stalker camped out on Janet’s doorstep would mean one thing for me.
‘Why are you telling me this?’
‘I thought it was obvious. My apartment is not the safest hideout. I could compromise you.’
My voice rose. ‘So why bring me here in the first place?’
She laughed, squeezed my hand. ‘I like living on the edge.’ She gave me a sly look. ‘Besides that, I’m not always gay.’
She let me get to first base before drawing away from the kiss.
‘Mister, you’re still sleeping on the couch.’
I could live with that.
In a way, the fling did me a favor. No way would Hennessey suspect that I was holed up at Janet’s apartment. Janet would have access to inside information; she could act as a decoy — a distraction — leaving the field clear for me.
Dangerous, but I had no better option.
‘What next?’ I said.
She brought me up to date with her investigation into Kandoo and Mr. Lo, which didn’t add a lot to what we already knew. However we looked at it, I had one unsolvable problem: how to nail Lo for Ms. Swain’s murder?
Janet didn’t know.
That was how it stayed for the rest of the day. Later, when it got dark, Janet snuck out for McDonalds and a six-pack while I caught up on the latest TV news.
No more news on my escape, and better still, nothing about the incident at the Steak House.
We sat together like a married couple, eating chicken nuggets, drinking beer. I felt at peace with the world, and safe.
Until the intercom buzzed.