MR. LUCKY - JAMES C. CLAR
“Hey, Jake, tell me again why we’re here?” HPD Detective Ray Kanahele looked at his partner with exasperation as the two men rode the elevator up to the penthouse apartment on the forty-fourth floor of the chrome, steel and glass half-cylinder of the Nauru Towers on Ala Moana Boulevard. Kanahele didn't really expect an answer but he figured what the hell, he’d give it another try.
True to form, Jake Higa didn’t respond. He just looked at his longtime associate with an expression that said, “All in good time.”
Undeterred, Kanahele continued. “You saw the report from Kauai. It was a freak accident. There were what, six witnesses? Open and shut. Besides, even if it weren’t, it’s not our problem unless they ask us to haul the guy in for them. I can’t figure out what’s got you all hot and bothered here.”
“Hot and bothered” was an overstatement. The heavyset Hawaiian man had worked with Higa long enough to know that his partner and friend never got “hot and bothered” by anything. Even so, he’d clearly gotten his teeth into something concerning this rather bizarre affair. And when Jake Higa latched onto something like that, he didn’t let go until he was completely satisfied. He was as implacable as he was taciturn.
The man who greeted them at the door to the apartment was in his early thirties and athletically built. He was also dressed impeccably in a pair of tailored linen trousers and a soft, lime-green Tommy Bahama Aloha-style shirt. With his sandy blonde hair, he looked more like an aging surfer or maybe a male model than he did heir to a small real estate fortune.
“Thanks for taking the time to see us, Mr. Wandrei,” Higa said as they identified themselves. Once inside the luxurious apartment, Higa and Kanahele sat next to one another on an ultra-modern settee. Michael Wandrei lowered himself into a leather easy chair just opposite the two policemen.
Kanahele was more interested in the bird’s-eye-view to be seen through the huge sliding glass doors that led to Wandrei’s lanai than he was in the man himself. To the left, he was captivated by the multi-colored yachts and other sailing vessels moored at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor far below. Off in the other direction, he identified Kewalo Basin, Aloha Tower, Sand Island and, of course, the sparkling blue waters of Mamala Bay framed by the Wai’anae Mountains that loomed in the distance. Airplanes going to and from Honolulu International Airport flashed blindingly in the late afternoon sunshine as they crossed his field of vision at regular intervals.
“No problem, detectives. By now I’ve gotten quite accustomed to talking with the police, as you can well imagine. Still, I have to admit to being somewhat puzzled by your visit. I covered all of this extensively with the authorities on Kauai.”
“I understand, sir,” Higa replied. “In cases like this, where the deceased resided on Oahu, we generally do a follow-up interview prior to filing the final reports. For our records, you understand. It’s all a matter of bureaucratic routine at this point and we appreciate your continued cooperation.”
Kanahele had to look away. He didn’t want Wandrei to see the amazement in his expression. Jake Higa could stretch the truth during an interrogation, any cop worth his salt could, but for the man to tell an outright lie – especially one that could very well come back and bite them on their asses – was unheard of.
Higa plowed ahead before Wandrei had an opportunity to make further objection.
“You and Ms. Kimura had been married for how long?”
Not for the first time, Kanahele wondered if the fact that the victim was part Japanese had attracted Higa’s attention. It had to be more than just that.
“Three wonderful years, officer, you must have seen that in the reports. We went to Kauai to renew our wedding vows.”
“And you’ve been married before, Mr. Wandrei, is that right?”
“Well, yes. Twice before, but I can’t see how that’s in anyway germane.”
‘Germane,’ Kanahele chuckled to himself. Just answer the question, you arrogant Haole prick, he wanted to say. But he restrained himself. Whatever was going on here it was Jake’s show, not his.
Higa looked down and wrote briefly in his notebook.
“I know you’ve gone over this hundreds of times by now, Mr. Wandrei, and I’m certain it must still be painful for you. Even so, could you just briefly narrate for Detective Kanahele and me what happened on the morning of your wife’s, um, accident?”
Kanahele could see the muscles around Wandrei’s mouth and jaw tighten as the man fought to control himself. Whether from genuine emotion or because he had begun to suspect that this was far more than just a matter of routine, Kanahele couldn’t tell. Either way, he began to admire the bastard’s cool.
“It was a gorgeous morning. We had a limousine take us from the Princeville Resort...have you ever stayed there, detectives? No? Well, let me tell you, it’s all that they say it is and more. Anyhow, Yuko was utterly entranced by the blue-green waters of Hanelai Bay off to our right. There were five of us altogether, not counting the driver – the two of us, Yuko and me, plus our friends Tim and Judy Jordan and the priest ‘supplied’ by the resort.”
“And whose idea was it to have the renewal ceremony on Lumaha’i Beach?”*
“It was my idea, Officer Higa. I did some research and discovered that it was reputedly one of the most romantic beaches in the world...literally right in our own backyard. Also, Yuko was a film fanatic and Lumaha’i was the place where Mitzi Gaynor sang “Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair” in South Pacific. I couldn't resist.”
“No,” Higa said with just the trace of an edge, “I’m sure you couldn’t. What happened next?”
Wandrei re-crossed his legs and settled back with practiced ease. “We walked down a long path to the beach. It was a magnificent location...brilliant white sand, majestic palms, tropical breezes and waves crashing against the shore, the total package. Yuko said she felt like she was twenty years old again.”
“Your wife was quite a bit older than you, right, Mr. Wandrei?” Kanahele interjected. He was guessing, but he was also beginning to see the edge of a design and to sense where his wily partner was heading with all this.
“What? Yes, yes, she was.” Wandrei was momentarily thrown off-balance by the question. He paused briefly and stared at the two detectives before continuing. “We posed for pictures, of course. Then, after the ceremony, I told Yuko that I wanted to get a snapshot of her alone. I positioned her with her back to the ocean and close to the water. It was a magnificent setting, my beautiful wife against the backdrop of sand, sea and sky.”
Wandrei paused and looked down. When he began again, there was a “catch” in his voice.
Damn, Kanahele thought. I don’t believe this! Jake, you’re one sneaky mother!
“I was all set to take the picture but before I knew what happened, a rogue wave crashed over Yuko’s head. Only her sandals were left on the shore when the wave subsided. Before we even had a chance to move, another wave deposited her body back in exactly the same spot. The priest and then the EMTs tried to resuscitate her for nearly forty minutes.”
“Mr Wandrei,” Higa said quietly, “did you happen to discover in your research the fact that Lumaha’i Beach is noted for just that sort of thing? That, every year, a number of tourists, members of wedding parties and honeymooners are swept out to sea just as your wife was?”
“No. Not beforehand, anyhow. I do recall someone mentioning it in the course of the investigation on Kauai.”
“I see.” Higa paused for a moment. “Probably only a longtime resident of that island would be familiar with the beach’s reputation. Just a few more questions, Mr. Wandrei, then we’ll be on our way. It’s true, isn’t it, that both of your previous wives – women who were also older than you – were killed in freakish accidents while you were vacationing in similarly exotic and dangerous locations?”
Wandrei stood. A vein could be seen pulsating down the side of his neck. Kanahele could almost smell the guy struggling to hold his temper in check. Jake had struck a nerve, that’s for sure. He had no idea where his partner had come up with his information. It wasn’t in any of the reports that he could recall, anyhow. The man was a wizard.
“I don’t think I like your tone, detective...or the rather sordid implication. I’m going to have to ask you and your partner to leave. My patience has run out.”
“I’m sure it has, sir,” Higa responded without making any move to stand or to leave. “It’s also true, isn’t it, that your wives were very wealthy women and that, in each case, you’ve inherited substantial sums of money?”
Before Wandrei could react, his cell phone rang. Barely taking his smoldering eyes off Higa and Kanahele, he answered the call.
“Yes, darling,” Wandrei said in honeyed tones. “I’ll be by in an hour or so. Anywhere you like. That little Italian place downtown is fine with me. I love you, too. Ciao-Ciao.”
Higa and Kanahele got to their feet as Wandrei pocketed his phone.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Wandrei,” Higa said as the three men moved uneasily toward the door. “I think we’re finished here for now. Oh, will you be in Honolulu for the next week or so if we have any more questions?”
“If you have any more ‘questions,’ detective, you can address them to my attorneys. But just for your own information, that was my fiancée on the phone. I’m getting married next week then it’s off to the Sundarbans for our honeymoon. Have you heard of the Sundarbans? It’s the world’s largest mangrove forest, located in West Bengal. The place is completely untamed. There are venomous snakes and honest-to-goodness man-eating tigers. It should be exquisite.”
“Congratulations,” Kanahele said, placing an iron hand on Wandrei’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. The guy would have a bruise, no friggin’ doubt about it. “It’s your honeymoon, after all. Maybe you’ll get lucky!” With that, he relaxed his grip and walloped the man on the back with his best hale-fellow-well-met chuckle.
“Yes,” Higa said, as the two policemen exited the apartment. “And if you do ‘get lucky,’ Oahu is not really that big after all. Our paths will undoubtedly cross again when you get back.”
In the elevator on the way down to street level, Kanahele looked at his 5’6’’ Japanese-American partner with renewed respect and affection. “Nothing we can do about the bastard, is there, Jake? At least we let him know we’re onto his game.”
“It’s a matter of professional pride, Ray. That and karma. We have a saying in Japanese, ten ni mukatte tsuba o haku... “when one spits toward heaven, heaven spits back.” Tell you what, let’s ride into Waikiki. I’ll buy us a drink. If anybody asks, we're toasting the upcoming marriage of an old friend.”
Kanahele wasn’t entirely sure what his partner’s proverb meant. Truth was...he was too surprised to care. Higa never drank and, what’s more, he had just delivered what for him was tantamount to a ‘speech’.
*The freak “accident” on Lumaha’i Beach that lies at the heart of this story is based on an anecdote related by Rick and Marcie Carroll in their book Traveler’s Tales – Hawaii (Traveler’s Tales, Inc., 2005, p.13). I've “played” with a related scenario previously in stories published in places like Powder Burn Flash and Coffee Cramp Ezine.
BIO: Short stories by James C. Clar have been published in print as well as on the Internet. Of late, his work has found a home in the Taj Mahal Review, Apollo’s Lyre, Flashshot, Powder Burn Flash, Thriller’s, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, Golden Visions Magazine, Word Catalyst Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine and The Magazine of Crime & Suspense. He considers it particularly important to follow the sage advice of former Olympic champion and Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku: “Never turn your back on a wave.”
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