Was it simply the physical attraction and basic lust that drew me to her, and I mistook it for love? No, not true. I love Julie, and she loves me.
Outside the window I see occasional clouds; they interfere with my view of the rippled sea below; but it doesn’t matter because I’m mentally working at sorting out my life. I recently married the gorgeous Julie Preston, and I should be happy and looking to the future with my beautiful bride. But here I am, 32,000 feet up in the azure sky, flying west over the Pacific, seeking a time-out; needing time to think, to evaluate the major step I took by wedding her in such haste. Yeah, I’m running away.
The tall, spectacular strawberry blonde had swept me off my feet, taking me to some very erotic places during our intense two years of lovemaking. At first, discovering her many bedroom talents shocked me, but quickly they enraptured me. Now, however, I believe her sexual prowess has trapped me. Hey, I enjoy the sex, but eventually I want it to bring us children. She doesn’t. That ill feeling is why I’m taking a month-long break; but, mixed in with my sadness is a pang of guilt. I tell myself a respite is necessary, that I’m not running away … at least not forever.
Damn it all, Julie knew early on that I wanted kids, two preferred; but now she is set on having a career in interior design; it’s all she talks about, and she’s convinced raising a family would interfere.… Yes, it might, in regard to her business; and, because of my daytime cop job I wouldn’t be available to babysit. Even were we to hire a sitter, it would mean no loving parent present except in the evenings. I can’t accept that. I was a weekday foster kid and only saw my mom on weekends. I promised myself then, that one day I would have a family and be there for the children.
A future with no kids, I also find to be unacceptable.
It seems the only good thing of late is going from being a street cop to making detective grade and being assigned to Homicide in LAPD’s Hollywood Division. Thankfully, my new boss, after checking the work schedule, let me take my accumulated overtime along with my regular vacation time.
The corner of my eye catches a light-blond boy’s head slowly rising above the tall seat-back in front of me. Soon, big brown eyes appear, and a moment later a tiny toy soldier in combat gear holding a rifle is marching across the top of the “ridge line.” It has my complete attention.
I hear a throaty drawn-out sound. Suddenly, GI Joe tumbles and falls, bouncing against my huarache-covered feet before it lies still. Then, I realize the throaty sound must have been “boy-made” machine-gun fire.
Amused, I unclasp my seat belt and retrieve the wounded soldier. While doing so, I briefly recall the army of toy soldiers I once had, except mine were of World War II vintage, made of lead, not plastic. They were bivouacked amongst dirt clods in a field across the street from my foster home in the east San Fernando Valley and not aboard a new Boeing 707.
Returning GI Joe atop the seat-back, I wait for the towheaded lad. He had ducked out of sight to reach up and grasp it. I guess him to be about three years old. I continue holding the toy over the edge where I’m sure the tyke can see it. A few seconds pass before small fingers curl over the top like tiny crab legs. They don’t move for a long moment, and then suddenly they snatch the soldier from my grasp.
Instantly, a slight thrill courses through me. It brings a smile as I refasten my seat belt and return my gaze out the port side window. I’m sitting just in front of a silver swept-back wing. Soon, I’m reflecting on my own childhood as a foster kid; my years with the strict Christian family in the Valley, North Hollywood to be exact, and how often I had felt so alone.
I brush the thin scar on my neck, courtesy of Paco, a Mexican bully with a switchblade who didn’t like the fact that I spoke no Spanish yet had the last name of Montego. When he confronted me with his switchblade, I made a rash move, fortunately disarming and then unfortunately cutting him with the knife.
That incident had a lot to do with my leaving the Valley at the end of my sixth grammar school year and moving south to another foster home in Torrance to live with a Japanese family, the Konos—actually two families, as the son and his wife also resided there.
While in their care, I learned kenpo, an Okinawan fighting style. Aside from school, it became my life. Learning the Oriental martial art, and sparring with the teenaged son, Kenji “Kenny” Kono, whom I considered to be my older brother, gave me the self-confidence that carries through to this day—
Abruptly, the towheaded boy’s action above the seatback snags my attention. The toy combat soldier is advancing once more. Only this time, it’s thrusting the rifle at me, and again I hear the gurgling sound of gunfire.
Then slowly, above the ridge line, saucer-sized eyes appear, obviously to observe the enemy—me. Unblinking, they watch me, waiting for my response.
A warm feeling flows around my heart. I sense a smile on my face.
I clasp a splayed right hand to my chest and toss my head back against the seat, eyes shut, pretending to be mortally wounded. For effect, I let out a soft agonizing groan. The male passenger beside me chuckles. When I hear the boy giggle, I peek. Just then an attractive honey-blonde-haired woman’s face appears above the seat back; she worriedly glances at me, her light-blue eyes conveying “I’m sorry” as she gently turns the boy around and down out of my sight. I can’t hear what she says to her child.
The brief picture of the lad reminds me how much I want children, preferably a son, and then a daughter for the boy to protect; but I really wouldn’t be upset with a girl as the firstborn. To be fair, I don’t want Julie bearing a baby nine months from now; but I do envision starting a family within a few years. I’ve read medical reports claiming that newborns are healthier if the mother is in her twenties when giving birth. But what do I know?
Am I rationalizing? Probably.
The big plane passes through a dark cloud leaving the window misty.
My mind swirls. I realize Julie has experienced bad times with men. It’s no wonder she is unsure about wanting to get pregnant. And what if she discovers she can’t give birth, thanks to her untimely abortion? The second man in her life, the asshole art professor at UCLA, got what he wanted and then dumped her when she turned up pregnant. It explains why she’s not sure she ever wants to have babies; and her father molesting her that one time when she was a young girl definitely hasn’t helped.
I catch myself rubbing a thumbnail, a nervous habit, and instantly stop. But not having a good answer to our marital situation frustrates me. All I can do now is wait and see what Julie decides. That’s what Eagon Quinn told me to do.
Eagon, a retired homicide detective and my lifelong mentor, is a criminal attorney. He is who suggested I refer to victims of violence by their first names. Margie, his attractive legal secretary and paramour, agrees.
Anyway, I’m finding my current home life difficult. Hence, this escape.
Hell, were Julie to give me a child reluctantly, would she be a good mother? She would have to be. I don’t want another divorce. Dammit—once is enough.
That thought has me thinking about something I consider strange. While working Patrol, I caught many radio calls involving dysfunctional families in deep trouble. The last call, the Knight couple, might not have been abusive to each other, but they sure as hell had acted weird. Husbands simply did not do what he had his wife doing: whoring out of their small pad … and both ended up paying dearly for their offbeat lifestyle.
And now, as a new detective, I have the Brenda Mackay case. Brenda’s trial is in five weeks. I’m learning to call victims by their first names. It helps me gain a sense of compassion.
The battered mother of four faces the death penalty for fatally shooting her intoxicated husband while he slept. She used the pistol he had threatened her and their children with only an hour earlier.
A recent medical examination of the mother and the oldest boy confirmed that for years they had been subject to violent abuse. I consider her and her son, the true victims.
In addition to all of this, there’s my own screwed-up situation. I’m not talking about abuse, here. What I mean is, what’s my future with Julie going to be like? I love the beautiful woman with the long shapely legs … at least I think I do. Even having that thought bothers me. But the feeling I had when, on the spur of the moment, we got married in Las Vegas, is now a vaporous dark cloud swirling about me. Shit.
I sit back and realize even in my musing, that swear words have crept into my vocabulary. As a preteen in the Valley, I tasted a piece of green Palmolive soap for fifteen minutes every time I was caught doing so. The punishment prompted me to bike to the local library and come up with a Spanish word or words to spout in my future swearing. I’d decided on Spanish, because that ancestry is in my blood. Anyway, I found “Tanto sabio” suited my purpose. Mostly, I’d say “Tanto!” What resulted, of course, eventually got me tagged “Tonto” by my grammar school classmates. They simply misheard my Spanish pronunciation. I still am called “Tonto” by my close friends, thanks to blurting “Tanto!” from time to time whenever I’m shocked or pissed.
Freeing my mind, I try to visualize what I will do during the next four weeks in Hawaii. Ol’ Sol high overhead has gained on the big silver bird. I pull out my pocket Bulova, the only thing I ever received from my dad, a tango dancer and a gigolo according to Mom; a tall, slim, dark-haired man whom I remember seeing only one time as a toddler. They divorced shortly after I arrived.
At that moment, the pilot announces over the PA system that we are on our final approach into Honolulu and to fasten our seat belts. I adjust the time on my watch back to noon pocket it and re-fasten and snug my seat belt.
Then, I pull out a small card from my shirt pocket. Kenny had given it to me. It’s for an outrigger business owned by Nakai “Kai” Isakawa. I smile. Thanks to the Konos, I have a place to stay upon my arrival. Kai owns an apartment building, and has a single unit that I can rent for half the regular cost. It recently became available, he’d said.
I look forward to meeting the cousin, mostly because of what Kenny had told me about him.
The bell dings and the seatbelt sign turns off. Passengers begin filling the aisle.
Seeing the woman with the little boy struggling to remove a carry-on from the overhead bin, I rise and quickly reach up, free it for her and place the bag on the seat next to the tyke. He begins bouncing up and down on it.
The mother gives me a “Thank you” smile and then says, “I hope DJ didn’t bother you too much.”
I realize she’s talking about her little boy. “Not at all—he’s a neat kid.” I reach out my hand and tousle his light-blond hair. “DJ, I’m Mike. You take care of GI Joe now—you hear?”
The boy stops bouncing, and beaming broadly, jerkily nods his head.
“I can see you have a way with children,” the attractive lady says.
“Yep. I love little kids—and you’ve sure got a winner in DJ.”
The passengers begin moving down the aisle toward the front exit. I follow the mother and DJ all the way out to the baggage claim area. While waiting for our luggage to arrive, DJ is pulling at her arm as if he wants to come over to me.
I hear her say, “Please stop, DJ.”
The blonde woman glances furtively at me when she realizes what DJ wants to do.
I hesitate a moment, then step over to them. My six-one height puts me a good half-foot taller than she, even with her wearing black pumps with two-inch heels.
“You mind?” I bend a bit and when she releases DJ I quickly lift him high overhead until he squeals with pleasure, then I settle the lad firmly on my left forearm. The mother seems a bit uncertain, but also somewhat relieved.
A smile slowly fills her lightly powdered face.
“I take it you’re here on vacation,” I say, “… unless you live here?”
A worried expression instantly covers her comely face.
“No, we’re not here for fun … I have a family matter to attend to, and then we will return to Los Angeles.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to—”
“Please, it’s okay … Mike, I believe you told DJ your name was?”
It’s my turn to smile. “Mike Montego, and you are?”
Her smile returns. She reaches out, “Sally Cordray. You look a lot like my husband, Sam, except for your blue eyes. He also has black wavy hair, but he’s not as tan.”
“My father’s Spanish blood explains my complexion. But Mom’s Scandinavian blood for sure gave me the blue eyes.”
“Yes, they certainly are a deep blue, almost cobalt.”
The baggage belt begins moving and we step closer to it.
My tan “two-suiter” comes out early on. I lower DJ to the floor, then grasp the bag and set it at my feet. DJ pounces on it and begins marching his toy soldier around the leather handle.
“If you don’t mind, Mrs. Cordray, I’ll help you with your luggage.”
“That’s kind of you. I see my bag—it’s there, the large brown one.” She points it out.
Carrying both pieces, I walk with her to the exit. In the corridor, two young women, each with a hibiscus flower pinned in their long black hair, wearing thick grass skirts and flowered-printed tops are placing variously colored orchid leis over the heads of arriving passengers and welcoming them with “Alohas” and pretty smiles.
Off to my right, I spy an Asian man holding up a small cardboard sign showing my name. Kenny’s cousin, Kai Isakawa, is there to greet me. An attractive dark-skinned lady wearing a flowery mu’u mu’u covering a very pregnant body stands beside him. I assume she is Noelani, Kai’s Polynesian wife. Her straight, long coal-black hair hangs to the curve of her bottom.
I leave Mrs. Cordray’s bag at her feet, give her a parting comment, pat DJ’s head, and then turn and wave at the greeters. I approach them saying loudly, “I’m Mike Montego—you must be Kai and Noelani.”
“Aloha—yes, and welcome to our island, Mike. Noe and I trust that you had a good flight.” They display big smiles.
“A very smooth trip, Kai.” I shake his outstretched hand. His grip is strong.
Noelani faces me holding a lavender and white orchid lei. She slips it over my head, lightly kisses each of my cheeks and then says, “Aloha ’auinalā, Mike.”
“Wow, what a welcome.” I thank her, while grinning widely.
“Come on, Mike.” Kai, a lean muscular man, several inches shorter than me, gestures toward the street. “Your limousine is waiting.”
We head in that direction. At the curb he says, “Wait please, here with Noe—I’ll bring the car around.”
I assume Noe is his wife’s nickname.
“So, when is your baby due?” I ask her.
“In three weeks.” She flashes another smile.
Nearby, I spot Mrs. Cordray and DJ. A lavender-colored lei is draped around her neck. She’s glancing about, lugging her suitcase, coming our way, holding a sleepy DJ in her free arm. I assume she’s seeking a cab to take them to a hotel. She seems flustered, so I feel a need to help. Hey, what can I say?
I turn and suggest to Noelani, “If there’s room in your car, perhaps we can give that woman and her little boy a lift. I met them on the plane. She seems very nice, and the kid is neat.”
Noelani smiles again. “Of course, Mike. Our station wagon can carry all of us with no problem.”
We both step over to Mrs. Cordray, and I introduce her to Noelani, who then says, “Can we give you a ride to your hotel?”
A cheerful glow appears on Mrs. Cordray face. “How very nice of you.” She then tells me where they’re staying as she shifts the nodding DJ to her other arm.
“Then please follow us and you’ll be there shortly,” Noelani says.
I take the bag and lead the women back to where I’d left mine just as Kai arrives. He’s driving a “woodie” wagon, a ’52 Ford Country Squire, the rear part of the pale green four-door wagon’s body is made of wood; a metal encased, chrome-trimmed, spare tire is mounted on the back. The decades-old vehicle is in “cherry” condition, a “hip” term I learned attending Hollywood High.
Noelani informs her husband that Mrs. Cordray and her son became friends of mine during the flight. She then says, “I’ve offered to drive them to her hotel, the Royal Hawaiian.”
Kai bows slightly toward Mrs. Cordray, smiles and says, “Very good.”
She props DJ between us on the bench seat behind the driver.
En route, I get a bit nosy, one of my proclivities—I’m a detective now—anyway, I ask the mother “How long do you expect to be here in Oahu?” I glance at DJ. His blond head is against my leg; he’s fast asleep.
“I really can’t say for certain. I have to make burial arrangements for my brother.” She hesitates for a moment. “Basically, it’s just a matter of how long it will take to make the appropriate arrangements, and also to take care of his personal effects.”
Her comment shakes me.
“Chris has, er, had lived here for quite some time,” she sighs. “He really loved the islands … I truly believe he’d want to stay here.”
I watch as she dabs a hankie to her moist eyes.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to be nosy.”
“I am sorry too, and you’re not being nosy—and please call me Sally. I’m not used to being a ‘ma’am’.” She grins slightly, while blinking away a welling tear.
“Then call me Mike. If there’s anything I can do, just say the word.”
She sends a sad expression my way, her brow furrows. “Thanks, Mike.”
Thinking her brother likely was near her age, for sure less than thirty I ask, “Was Chris’s death unexpected—sudden?”
She eases out a breath and carefully shifts DJ’s head over to rest on her lap. Her fingers then fuss with a thick lock of his hair.
“Yes, the Honolulu police chief phoned me yesterday and said he was a victim of a street robbery—claimed he resisted … was fatally stabbed.” A pained expression pierces her pretty face. “It happened two days ago.”
“I’m sorry. Very tragic.” I place my hand over hers still atop DJ’s head and notice in the rearview mirror Kai’s dark eyes shifting toward Noelani, beside him in the front seat. Her head turns toward him, but no words are exchanged.
Their silent gestures give me the distinct impression they know something about the death. Now I’m more than a bit curious.
Lifting my hand off of Sally’s I sit back, wondering.