Norman Traxler entered his host’s kitchen and booted up his host’s computer. He stepped over the guy’s outstretched legs to reach the refrigerator.
“How ya doin’, Gerald? Got any beer in here?” He took a can of Budweiser and looked down at Gerald Tobin who stared up at him from the floor with frightened eyes.
“Good choice, Gerald. Had you pegged for a micro-brewery fag.” He opened the can and took a long swallow.
Gerald Tobin whimpered through the tape over his mouth. More tape bound his arms behind him and held his legs together. He sat on the floor, his back against the kitchen cabinets. A towel around his head turned pink with blood that seeped from a gash above his temple.
“Ever peep at your neighbors, Gerald? The twist across the way’s got some looks to her. Nice long legs. An ass I could wear like a catcher’s mask. But why’m I talkin’ to you about that?”
Even from a cell in San Quentin, Traxler had kept track of Ava Rome. The way he did it, he’d find some fresh-faced kid that just processed in. The fear of an outlaw biker or an Aryan brother taking a shine to his asshole would be coming off the kid in waves. He’d offer the fish a cigarette, show him he’s a stand-up guy who’ll take care of him. They all had contacts on the outside—wives, girlfriends, family.
At the right time, he’d bring the matter up. Got this niece, he’d call her, who’s embarrassed by him, making her own life in the Army. Just want to know she’s doing okay. Maybe the fish could have his old lady check her out. The information they’d come back with you wouldn’t believe. The things a man wouldn’t do to protect his shitter. He knew when she was promoted, changed duty assignments, when she got transferred to Scofield in Hawaii and when she left the Army a few years later.
The computer sounded a ready alert. Traxler turned to it and Tobin swung his bound legs at Traxler’s ankles. Traxler caught himself on the counter, spewing beer on his shirt and slacks. His anger boiled inside him and he drew a combat knife from a sheath under his shirt. He bent down, put the knifepoint at Tobin’s throat. So easy to push the blade in. A tiny droplet of blood appeared where the point touched Tobin’s flesh. Traxler drew the knife back. Nothing good came of acting in heat.
Control was everything. He’d learned that in the Q. Every day for ten years Norman Traxler had practiced control.
“Don’t piss me, Gerald. We ain’t done yet.”
A stupid act of defiance, what the fag did, and Traxler couldn’t let him get away with it, even if he wasn’t ready to kill him yet. He grabbed his victim by the ankle and, with one quick movement, sliced the hamstring muscle behind Tobin’s left knee. Tobin screamed behind the gag.
Traxler wrapped a kitchen towel around Tobin’s wound to stanch the blood. He took another beer from the refrigerator and returned to the computer.
The year after release, with the parole agent keeping tabs on him, following Ava Rome’s activities became harder. He didn’t have the contacts he had inside, but he had the Internet—something he didn’t know about when he went in. His parole agent almost shit himself with joy when Traxler took computer classes at City College.
The Internet, Traxler discovered, was more than a repository of information. He not only located his target, he found a way to attack her. It was called phone-phreaking and was a form of computer hacking.
Traxler opened a web browser and logged onto a site for spoofing caller-ID. He entered her phone number at the first prompt and the number of his phone, actually a stolen cell phone, at the second prompt. Before completing the next step, he consulted the cell’s keypad for the numbers that matched the thought in his head. At the third prompt, he typed in the number that would appear in her caller-ID window—343-282-7663, which translated as DIE AVA ROME.
He pressed “submit” and waited while the program patched the connection together. Traxler lowered the instrument to Tobin’s ear.
“Meet your neighbor, Gerald.”
It had been a month earlier before he finally saw her again. She hadn’t changed much in twelve years. She’d let her hair go back to brown, the way he remembered it from before she learned to lie. Like most women, the lies began with her hair. At thirty-something, she still looked good. Not model-pretty, but in the right clothes, she could be smokin’. He was glad he found her when he did, while she still looked like he remembered.
Now the phone rang five times before Ava Rome said, “Hello.”
Tobin tried to force a scream through the tape but Traxler pressed the mute button. She said “Hello” a second time and then a third time. Irritation lay heavy on her third hello.
Finally, she said, “Asshole.”
Traxler broke the connection.
“You believe what comes outta her pretty mouth, Gerald?”
Gerald didn’t answer.
Traxler said, “Let me tell you about prison, Gerald. Hard time focuses your mind on what you really want. What you want is somebody on the outside. Even if you’re doing a shower bitch, you got your mind on that somebody. And when you’re done, we say you’ve killed the outside bitch and she’s dead until the next time. Get my meaning?”
Gerald gave no indication that he did and Traxler didn’t feel he had to explain any more. Gerald could think he was a fag all he wanted; he wouldn’t be around much longer. It didn’t matter if he understood this wasn’t about him. Once Traxler killed Ava Rome again, as he had so many times for so many years, he’d have no more use for Gerald Tobin.
Traxler scrolled through his phone to a picture of Ava Rome squirting water into her mouth on a crowded beach. She’d been too absorbed in her workout to notice him. Traxler set the phone on the counter above Tobin’s head. He ripped the tape off Tobin’s mouth and killed Ava Rome for the three thousandth time.
I was punching air on Kaimana Beach in Waikiki when the working girl found me. From her appearance, I didn’t guess she was a working girl. College student, maybe. Ten or twelve years younger than me, wearing a two-piece suit that revealed a body toned from youth rather than discipline. Her suit was no skimpier than the costume worn by perhaps a dozen other women at the beach. No skimpier than my own two-piece. A broad-brimmed straw hat hid most of her face in shadow.
I threw a set of left/right straight punches followed by left/right roundhouse combinations.
She stopped a few feet beyond the reach of my jabs. “Ava Rome?”
I continued the workout, counting each punch out loud. “—fifteen, sixteen—”
“Moon Ito told me I’d find you here.”
At twenty, I planned to switch from my left stance to my right and repeat the drill, but Moon Ito was a guy who solved his own problems. He’d never sent anyone to me before. I dropped my arms and got out of the stance.
“I’m Ava Rome. Who are you?”
“Jenny Mordan,” she said from the shadow of the hat. Her voice had an accent I couldn’t place.
The intensity of my workout left me sweaty and overheated. I picked up my towel and a water bottle. Squirted water down my throat and on my face and mopped it with the towel.
“Have we met?”
“You were easy to spot. Ito said look for a sharp haole chick with her game face on.”
In a state obsessed with origins, everybody wears a label. Haole means caucasian, a label that applied to about a third of the people at the beach, including Jenny Mordan, and a similar proportion of residents of the state.
Jenny Mordan said, “You do this jujitsu a lot, do you?”
“It’s not jujitsu, it’s krav maga.”
“It’s all the same to me.”
“Jujitsu is Japanese, krav maga is Israeli.”
“No. Krav is Israeli. ”
“Whatever. Gets the hunkies ogling, doesn’t it?”
“Why don’t we step into my office?” I tied my towel around my waist and pointed to a vacant picnic table under the trees on the other side of the low wall separating the beach from the park. “Why did Moon send you?”
She fell into step beside me. “He said you protect the defenseless. That it’s your calling.”
Protecting the defenseless was once the law of the nation of Hawaii before annexation. Kamehameha The Great’s first law, the law of the splintered paddle, is still ingrained in the spirit of the islands and her people. It’s on my business card, right below “Licensed Private Investigator”: The defenseless shall be guaranteed protection from harm.
“It’s my business, not a calling. Nuns have callings. That’s not me.”
“Too right about that. How many nuns shadow-box in a swimsuit under the eyes of the local Tom, Dick and Kimos?”
A tall casarina pine shaded the table and littered the ground around it with prickly pine burrs and soft needles. A caucus of mynah birds broke off their argument under the table and hopped away when we approached. I took the bench with my back to the ocean and the sun behind me so I could study Jenny without squinting. To my first impression of youth, I added experienced.
“Just what do you want me to do?”
In answer, Jenny took off her broad-brimmed hat, revealing brown hair and a heart-shaped face. The sunglasses strived but failed to cover a purple bruise around her left eye. She removed the glasses.
I’ve seen beaten women many times before, but I’m not inured to the sight. Rage boiled inside me. “Who did this to you?”
She returned the glasses to her face and the hat to her head. “A bastard named Ron Nevez.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Jenny’s expression hardened. “Nobody takes me for a nun either. I’m a sex worker. I turn tricks. Do you have a problem with that?”
“A big problem. Practical, not moral. I don’t deal with pimps and addicts, and any other baggage of hooking.”
“I’m clean,” Jenny said. “If I have an addiction, it’s to living well without getting beaten up. You see any signs of addiction? Needle tracks?”
She held out her arms. They were healthy and unmarked.
“Okay, so you’re clean. Where’s your pimp? Why isn’t he taking care of you?”
“That’s so Hollywood. Who schooled you on the sex trade, Dr. Detroit?”
“Too right. Pimps don’t look out for you, anyway. They look out for their assets. I’m nobody’s asset but my own.”
“Okay, no pimp. I’m still not sure . . .”
Jenny said, “Ito told me you’d be like this. He said after I meet your practical objections, I should bring up the moral issue. So, no pimp, no addictions. I’m defenseless and I’m not innocent. Nothing in the law says you have to be innocent.”
I didn’t need a reminder of the law and I didn’t appreciate Jenny putting pressure on me. “Innocence isn’t a requirement for me, either, but I need something more.”
“The bastard who did this to me? Ron Nevez?” she said. “That bastard is a cop.”
I despise the betrayal of trust by those who wear a badge. I spent ten years of my life in the military police, tracking down deserters and other people who disgrace their uniforms. My father was one of those and I hate him for it. I didn’t need any more persuasion, but Jenny wasn’t done.
“Have you ever seen the Honolulu Police badge?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“You know what’s on it?”
“Yes,” I said.
“An image of a splintered paddle,” she said.
“To remind them to protect the defenseless.”
“Ron Nevez seems to have forgotten that.”
“It’s time he had a reminder,” I said.
I picked up Moon Ito at noon on Saturday. On this day he wore baggy nylon jams and a surfer’s rashguard of red Lycra. The tight rashguard showed off his muscled physique.
“You’re looking good,” I said.
Moon looked at me through glasses as dark as his short-spiked hair. “Covering your okole, Tita. Dress for the part.”
Tita is Hawaiian pidgin for tough girl. Hardly a term of respect. Unless it comes from Moon.
We caught the H-1 and took that to the Pali Highway. I had the top down on my old Camaro. Sun on our faces, wind in our hair. Retribution on our minds. My mind, anyway. I’m never sure what’s on Moon’s mind.
I hadn’t told Moon much about the job except that it related to Jenny’s problem and I needed him for backup.
“Did you meet Jenny on the set?” I asked.
When not hooking, Jenny styled hair for Crime Force Hawaii, a cop show set in Honolulu. Nevez served as technical advisor on the show.
Moon nodded. “Location shoot. That one guy played Jordan Best in Best Company? You know who I mean, Tita.”
“Now he does hemorrhoid cream commercials.”
“That buggah, yeah. He had one guest shot. Hired me to drive him around. They doing makeup so I stay by the trailer. That’s when Jenny comes over. Says she heard about me and could I help her.”
“She tell you what she does?” I asked.
“No need. Ain’t a secret on the Crime Force set.”
“She offer you money or sex?”
“Give me one menu of choices. Have it my way, anyway I wanted.”
“She should have been more discreet. If she had, Nevez might not have come around demanding she put out for him.”
“Nevez would have smoked her out,” Moon said.
“That asshole threatened her with arrest, with deportation back to South Africa. He hid behind his badge. What’s the difference if you use a gun or a badge to force a woman to submit to you? It’s still rape.”
The highway climbed steeply up Nuuanu Valley to the Pali notch. Traffic moved steadily. Tour buses heading to the lookout, families heading to the windward beaches. Some of them might be going the same place we were—a church lu’au in Kailua, which, I’d learned after some inquiries, Nevez and his family were attending.
“So how you going handle it?” Moon asked. “Nevez got plenty friends in HPD. Ain’t going down easy.”
“In my beach bag. I’m going to present him with evidence of his infidelity and try to convince him that backing off Jenny is in his best interest.”
Moon reached into the back seat and found my beach bag. He took out some envelopes and opened one. Inside were pictures from digital cameras I’d hidden in a house plant and a clock radio in Jenny’s bedroom.
Moon leafed through the photos. “Jenny got talent. This one’s on the menu. She’s holding out on this one, though.”
“Wish you’d taken up her offer?”
Moon returned the photos to the envelope and the envelope to the bag. “Nah,” he said. “A woman like Jenny, you don’t know what else you’re putting your dick into.”
“So you sent her to me.”
“No need for stating the obvious, Tita. She ain’t got da kine hold on you. But be careful all the same.”
“You think she has a hold on Nevez, that maybe it’s a two-way street with them?”
“For sure, Tita. That’s why you gotta watch your okole.”
“That’s why I brought you.”
“Just some pepper spray and the righteousness of my cause.”
“Good thing I got your back, then. Between righteousness and a bullet, I betting on the bullet.”
Moon found the soundtrack of Bad Boys in my collection of CDs. He put the disk in the player and leaned back in the seat. “Music to get in the mood to take down one bad cop. Yeah, we come for you. You ever think about getting this baby painted?”
My Camaro and I were the same generation. She was cherry when I was. She started life red, but along the way she acquired quarter panels of yellow, green and black. A new paint job was my dream for the time when I got ahead of Honolulu’s cost of living.
“All the time,” I said. “Someday she’s going to be heart-stopping red again.”
The first time I saw a car like this, the girl who lived two doors away sat behind the wheel and boys surrounded the car. At thirteen, I was three years younger, but even then I did my hair like her and dressed like her when I could get away with it. She gave me a ride in it, once. Top down, radio blaring. My first experience of freedom. She promised to let me drive it when I was old enough. I’d put myself to sleep dreaming about having such a car of my own.
The dreams died when Dad deserted.
We moved away and I never saw the girl or that car again, but I never forgot the car or the freedom. So five months ago, when a soldier at Scofield put this car up for sale, I took out a loan against my military pension and bought her. My only upgrade so far was a CD player and new tires.
The music and the wind rushing past took us into a comfortable zone where we didn’t need to make conversation. The zone of comfort lasted the rest of the way to Kailua.
I’ve been an investigator in both the Army and civilian life long enough to know you can’t judge adulterers by their public images. Nevez was the latest case in point. He’d married the pastor’s daughter and took an active role in the church where the members knew him as a faithful husband and devoted father. The pictures in my purse put the lie to that image.
A thin pall of smoke from cooking pits and a huge banner strung between a pair of stalwart royal palms welcomed visitors to the church’s lu’au and carnival. I parked on the road, a block and a half away, took the beach bag and my purse from the back seat and walked back to the lu’au. Moon followed at a discreet distance.
The lu’au had booths for games and crafts, rides for children, and long tables of food beneath a pavilion. A tantalizing aroma of roasted meat hung in the air. I stopped at a booth manned by a cheerful lei-maker and bought a wide-brimmed straw hat with a flower lei hat band. Today I’d be the girl in the hat and the red tank-top. Wrap-around Oakley sunglasses completed the outfit.
I spotted Nevez with a group of men around the cooking pits located between the beach and the pavilion. The men would have been up all night cooking and drinking. Nevez had a shadow of stubble on his face and the slack appearance of a man who’d consumed a lot of beer over a long period. Two young girls, one about seven and the other a preschooler, ran up to him. The preschooler hugged his legs and he picked her up. Carolyn Nevez, a petite blonde about my age, joined them. She lugged mats and other beach paraphernalia. Nevez kissed her and his daughters and sent them in the direction of the carousel. As soon as they were out of sight I headed to the cooking area.
Nevez squinted at me as I approached. He held a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
“Ron Nevez?” I asked. “Detective Ron Nevez?”
“Who wants to know?” His gaze traveled up my body and back down.
“I have this problem. It’s a police problem.”
The other men had ceased their conversation and were now watching us with interest. Nevez turned to the group and winked.
“A police problem, huh? Like what?” He grinned at me.
“Could we go someplace and talk?”
“I’m off-duty, honey. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll meet you over there.” I motioned toward the far end of the pavilion. “It’s really important.”
I headed off. Behind me, one of the cooks said, “Shit, bruddah, you gotta help the wahine in distress.” I reached the shade of a monkeypod tree and waited.
Nevez ground out his cigarette and came over. “Okay, so who’m I talking to?” He still carried his beer.
“The Queen of the Volscians,” I said.
Nevez shook his head in amusement. “I don’t get you trekkies. Never did understand that show.” He cocked the beer can at me. “So all right, Queenie, you called me over here. What’s the problem?”
“I have this friend and she got mixed up with this guy she doesn’t like, but the guy’s being an asshole and won’t let her break it off.”
“Un-huh. So how’s this a police matter?”
“The asshole is a cop.”
“Go on.” He swigged some beer, giving no indication he thought I was talking about him.
“Well, the cop, he’s pressuring this girl. Threatening her with arrest if she doesn’t put out for him. This girl, she’s a working girl.”
Nevez tightened his jaw. “You might be butting your pretty nose in where it doesn’t belong, your highness.”
“What this guy is doing has a name, detective. It’s called official oppression.”
I struggled to keep the tension out of my voice. Sweat ran down my sides and between my breasts.
Nevez crushed the can and flung it from him. “The whore’s lying.”
I took my purse out of the beach bag, ready to bring out the pictures. “I don’t think so, Ron. Her name is Jenny Mordan and she wants to be left alone.”
At mention of Jenny’s name, Nevez narrowed his eyes and glared at me. “You need to watch your step, honey. You don’t want to get yourself hurt.”
“Are you making a threat? Because that really sounds like a threat to me.”
“I’m saying a good-looking woman shouldn’t let some sorry bitch put her up to something she’d be sorry for herself.” Nevez topped out about one eighty-five at most, but that gave him thirty pounds on me. He made to close the gap between us and I stood my ground. MPs never back down.
Moon stepped out from the other side of the monkeypod tree and coughed. Nevez looked at him and turned back to me. “This ugly moke belong to you? What the hell’s this about?”
“Ignore my friend. What this is about is we want you to leave her alone.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about. Some whore says I’m bothering her? She’s lying.”
I took the envelope out of my purse and handed him one of the pictures. He refused to touch it.
“Look at it, Ron. Now do you think she’s lying?”
“Photos aren’t proof. You take Photoshop, switch some heads around, you can show anything you want.” Nevez visibly relaxed, as though he’d won the point.
I shook my head. “C’mon, Ron, you know that’s you. I show this to an expert, they’ll verify it.”
Wariness crept back into his face. “They’ll verify two people in a consensual situation.”
“This is consensual?” I produced another photo, taken the day Jenny came to me. If I wavered on the case, this particular photo steeled my resolve. The picture showed Jenny, one eye nearly closed from the swelling over the left half of her face.
Nevez’s jaw tightened. “She told you I did that? She says I threatened her? She’s lying.”
He wiped moisture from his upper lip.
“Maybe. But that would be for your boss to decide.” I returned the photo to the envelope. “Your career will be down the toilet. Consorting with a prostitute? Violation of department regs. Look, Ron, I don’t want to jam you up. There’s a win-win here. The boss doesn’t see these, if you leave Jenny alone.”
“I leave her alone and she keeps whoring? She should be in jail. I’m gonna fuck both of you up. You and Jenny. You got no idea how bad it will be.”
Moon broke his silence. “Talk like that, gets me really upset, brah.”
Nevez turned to Moon. “You, you sorry piece of shit, I’m gonna fuck you up, too.”
“Sound like the detective gonna have a busy day, Tita.”
Nevez said to me. “You think you’re a tita? A tough girl? You’re not tita enough to take me on.”
Moon began whistling “Bad Boys” between his teeth.
“Ron,” I said, “can we keep on topic here? We want you to stay away from Jenny. If anything happens to her, she gets busted or deported, a set of these goes to Carolyn and another set to your chief. You understand?”
“Somebody else busts her, it’s outta my control.”
“Ron, I asked you a yes or no question. Do you understand the conditions or not?”
He nodded. I could see him thinking, searching for a way out. “You think you can get away with this?”
“A lawyer I won’t name has a duplicate set. He knows what to do with them should anything happen to me.”
“I agree to this, how do I know it ends?”
“I give you my word.”
Nevez snorted. “I have a long memory. You cross me again, not even this ugly-ass moke can help you.”
I put the picture envelope in my bag and brought out one with Carolyn Nevez’s name on it. “File this away in your long memory, Ron.” I nodded past him toward the cooking pits where his older girl had appeared. “Your daughter’s looking for you.”
“You think you won for now,” he said.
“All of us, Ron. Win-win, remember?”
Nevez glared at me and then at Moon. Moon said, “Pig you guy’s cooking, smells ono, brah. Making my mouth water.”
We watched him until he arrived at the cooking pits before we split up and headed for the exit. I reached the Camaro first. Moon followed, watching my back. He jumped in as the engine growled to life.
“Clear,” he said.
I pulled onto the road and we headed away from the lu’au.
“Thought that went smooth as guava jelly, Tita.” Moon turned to me. “You ain’t right with it?”
“I feel like I’ve sunk to his level.”
“You kill a shark, don’t make you a shark.”
“I don’t kill sharks, either.”
“Talk to Jenny. Make sure she gets out.”
“What’s he mean ugly-ass moke? I look like one ugly-ass moke to you, Tita?”
“Nope. You’re a handsome moke to me.”
“Right about that,” he said. “And you’re the Volscian queen.”
Bribes and threats open most doors. Just find the weak link. Traxler found the super’s son to be the weak link in Ava Rome’s building.
The twist had a small and narrow kitchen, so narrow you couldn’t open the refrigerator all the way. Nothing but yogurt, grapes and Styrofoam to-go boxes inside, date and contents written on each. In the freezer, some Grey Goose Vodka and Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Sutra, both already sampled. Dishwasher full of clean dishes, none in the sink.
A high breakfast counter separated the kitchen from the living room, which was simply furnished with a short sofa, papasan chair, cocktail table and low bookcase filled with paperbacks and DVD cases. The living room didn’t interest him. He headed to her bathroom, his head buzzing with anticipation, an insistent pressure in his crotch.
The medicine cabinet contained the action. The bottom shelf held toothpaste, floss and whitening strips. The second shelf had tampons, birth control pills and K-Y Jelly. On the top shelf were three bottles of over-the-counter painkillers and two yellow vials of prescription painkillers, Vicodin and Darvocet, different doctors. Next to the painkillers sat a box of laxatives. To Traxler, it hinted at an addiction. He opened the vials and spilled the pills into his hand. He considered taking some but changed his mind and put them back. If she was addicted, she had them counted.
Various tubes and bottles, neatly arranged by type—shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body wash—lined the bathtub. He squeezed a drop of body wash into his hand and rubbed it into his palms. Then he breathed deeply from his cupped hands and inhaled a sweet and pungent scent, like the smell of crushed flowers and incense. Traxler took her nylon bath mesh and sniffed more of the body wash fragrance. He thought about the flesh it had rolled over and the creases it had explored. He examined the mesh for a pubic hair and felt disappointment at not finding one.
Traxler saved her bedroom for last. Unlike the living room, all the bedroom pieces matched. Headboard, vanity and dresser were made of tan wicker with white accents. The bed covers were a girly floral pattern, but the spread was pulled so tight and the corners so precise it brought back memories of barracks life. Traxler would have pulled the spread back to sniff her sheets but he was out of practice at making a bed like that. He contented himself with bending over and catching her scent through the spread.
On top of her dresser sat a wooden box inlaid with a master sergeant insignia. “Master cocksucker Rome,” Traxler said. “Like father, like daughter.”
He found her panties in the top drawer of the dresser in a box with two compartments. The sexy stuff was in one compartment, spread out like lacy butterflies and laid one on top of the other. He ran his finger down the front panel of the top pair, leaving a shallow crease from about the middle to the crotch seam. He imagined her wearing them. The other compartment held her everyday panties, rolled up like tight pastel sausages. He took one and unwound a pair of bikini briefs. Knowing he couldn’t roll them up, he stuffed them into his pocket.
Under the pantie rolls, a linen handkerchief covered something with an odd shape.
“Your vibrator, Legs?”
He peeled back the cloth. Not a vibrator, but a handgun. Panties and a gun. Traxler’s dick got steely hard.