Authors: Jessica Speart
A Rachel Porter Mystery
There are days when paradise actually lives up to its…
I hung up, stuffed my wet bathing suit into a…
I heard the pounding of the waves before I actually…
Dawn woke me early the next morning. Shades of rose…
I turned on my heels and stormed down the beach,…
I walked back to my SUV and was on my…
I woke early the next morning, stretched, and snuggled close…
I’d finished the last of my water before I’d made…
There was no getting around the fact that I had…
I got as far as the main road before pulling…
The lizard was gone by the time I awoke the…
I pulled out my cell phone and called the police.
I should have realized that my day was off to…
It was as if the box were a magnet and…
All was quiet, as before. The only difference was knowing…
My feet thudded on asphalt, the sound dully echoing in…
I climbed into my Ford, turned on the engine, and…
I woke the next morning and rolled out of bed,…
I turned my attention back to crawling up every car’s…
A hard bump woke me. Something solid rammed against my…
“Come on, chere! You can do it,” Santou yelled encouragingly…
here are days when paradise actually lives up to its overblown billing. This pristine moment in time seemed to be one of them. I floated weightless on a sheen of pure liquid sunlight, the orb’s rays dancing on a sea of cobalt blue. The only thing that could have made this instant any better would have been a properly chilled martini.
That obviously did it. I’d pushed too hard and gone over the paradise limit. Within bloody seconds, my vision of Shangri-la was promptly shot to hell.
“Paddle, Porter! Paddle, paddle, paddle! Harder! Don’t be such a wuss. Come on. Stand up on your feet and take command of the board!” shouted the self-appointed General Schwarzkopf of Waikiki Beach.
I’d have gladly shot back a few suggestions of my own, were it not for the teenage hotdoggers that contemptuously snickered while rockin’ and rollin’ on their surfboards around me. Funny what one’s fragile ego will make you do. I placed my hands along the sides of the board, pushed hard with my arms, and stood up in one swift move.
Whadda ya know? This was proving to be easier the third time around.
That thought nibbled at the corners of my mind as a wave pulled my feet out from under me and I tumbled about like a single die in search of its mate. “Shaken, not stirred” could have been my motto as the sea proceeded to toss me around like a limp rag doll. Sheer panic grabbed hold of my nerves as seawater rushed into my mouth and boogie-boarded down my throat. But that was nothing compared to Mother Nature’s strong hand, which bounced my head along the shallow bottom like a cheap rubber ball.
I flinched as something prickly pierced the sole of my foot—probably a jagged piece of coral or a sharp lava rock. But all concern quickly vamoosed with the appearance of a dark shadow looming off to my left.
My heart abruptly kicked into gear, pounding hot and heavy with fear. I fully expected to come face-to-face with a primal monster bearing yellow-flecked eyes and hundreds of lethal knives in its mouth. Most likely a creature that would regard me as its very own version of surf and turf.
A green turtle, doubling as an underwater flying saucer, swam into view not a moment too soon, and I breathed a mental sigh of relief. My elation was reflected in the dazzling kaleidoscope of greens and blues shimmering above me. I quickly made my way toward them, feeling as if my lungs were about to burst. It was time to call it a day as I broke the surface, coughing and gasping for air.
I’d have deserted my surfboard in a New York minute, were it not for the fact that the damn thing was attached to my foot by a leash. The board bobbed about like a wound-up prize fighter, making me wonder just who was in charge of whom, anyway.
I pulled myself on top of the board and began to paddle for shore, wanting nothing more than to plop down at the
nearest tiki bar. To hell with hoping to surf the big waves at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach one day. Though I might be crazy, I wasn’t yet certifiable.
Visions of mai tais danced in my head, each decorated with a colorful paper parasol. The image prompted me to paddle even faster. Which is why I’ll never understand what compelled me to glance back over my shoulder and again catch sight of something from out of the corner of my eye.
This time I was determined to ignore any imagined monsters. I’d done a good enough job of scaring myself for one day. Only the damn thing refused to go away. Instead, it momentarily disappeared and then resurfaced, as if daring me to take a closer look. Unable to stop, I obeyed.
The next instant, my pulse wildly hammered in my ears, and I held my breath, as if hoping that might help make me invisible. For this was no docile sea turtle, but a glistening dorsal fin that slashed through the water like a sleekly sinister knife. That’s when it hit me. Maybe this was what I
I wanted to shriek at the top of my lungs. Only the scream impotently froze in my throat. It was then I looked back again to discover that my foot was bleeding.
You idiot! That must be what’s attracting the thing. Sharks can smell blood from two miles away!
Terror and frustration duked it out as I now began to paddle even faster, all the while knowing there was no outrunning the marine equivalent of a fighter jet.
Maybe so. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to become sushi for some alpha predator,
I thought, continuing to flail my legs in the water like a couple of frenzied seals.
Instead I prayed to the powers that be, vowing to change my ways if only I were saved. Hell, I’d even learn to cook, clean, and sew if it kept me from becoming shark bait.
My higher power must have gotten a good chuckle out of that one, for the next thing I knew, I was clambering onto the beach, dragging the surfboard me behind like a ball and chain.
“Quick! Get everyone out of the water!” I gasped while collapsing on the sand.
Dolph Trask remained standing where he was, with his sinewy arms wrapped across his chest, and his steel gray hair pulled back in a scrawny ponytail. From down on the ground, I had the perfect view of what could best be described as his chicken legs, each ornately decorated with Polynesian tattoos.
“Well, that certainly was quite an exhibit of skill and grace you put on,” my surf instructor calmly observed.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said? There’s a shark swimming out there. For God’s sake, you’ve got to get everyone back on shore now!” I barked in growing frustration.
But Dolph did nothing more than raise a weathered hand to his brow, as if in imitation of an ancient bronze statue.
“Are you talking about that hyperactive kid jumping around in the water wearing a snorkel and mask?”
“What I’m referring to is the killer fish with the bucket of nails stuck in its mouth!” I angrily snapped.
“Well, all I see is a mini version of Jacques Cousteau swimming with a plastic shark fin held high in his hand.”
“No way,” I said and pulled myself up, refusing to believe that I’d been fooled.
Damn! Dolph was right. I’d been conned by a wise-ass thirteen-year-old.
“Yeah, boys like that can be a real hazard to your health,” he dryly noted.
No fooling. As far as I was concerned, the kid was a walking, talking advertisement for birth control.
“I could have sworn it was a shark,” I sputtered in cha
grin, tugging at my bikini bottom in an attempt to release a well-lodged sand wedgie.
“Ahh, don’t beat yourself up over it,” Dolph gruffly responded. “You’re probably just a little nervous, what with that guy being pulled out of the water yesterday.”
A businessman had been found floating facedown off Pier 32. It wasn’t a spot for swimming, but rather a place where commercial fishing boats docked.
Not much had been left of him. What remained was a bloodless mannequin missing both arms, legs, and part of his buttocks. However, there was enough to determine that he’d been attacked by a tiger shark. It was easy to tell by the bite marks. Their distinctive teeth are curved and serrated like tiny hack saws, with a notch to catch and cut through bone and ligament.
I’d once heard a man describe how his wife had been attacked by one. He’d watched in horror as her body was twirled and flipped about. His description had been so vivid that, although I hadn’t witnessed the attack firsthand, slomo images still continued to play like a horror flick in my brain. It was also why I couldn’t help but wonder what a businessman had been doing in the water off Pier 32 in the first place. He certainly hadn’t gone in for a swim, and God knows there were far easier ways to commit suicide.
“Well, a shark might not have got you, but a chunk of rock sure did. Better let me clean up that foot and slap a bandage on it,” Dolph offered.
I sat and played patient as Dolph reached for his first-aid kit. I’d hired him over the usual buff surfing instructors for a number of reasons. First off, he was seventy-five years old. I’d figured that would make him easier on me. No such luck. Second, none of the tourists used him. But then few realized that Dolph had once been a champion surfer, winning more competitions than anyone could recall.
These days Dolph ran a concession stand on Waikiki
Beach, and proudly held the title of Honolulu’s oldest living beachboy. My hope was that next to him, I’d look like a young babe.
“Maybe you should face facts, Porter. You’re just not a natural when it comes to riding a surfboard, or swimming in the sea. They’d never have cast you on
,” Dolph brashly announced, bursting my balloon.
“Well, you’re not exactly David Hasselhoff, yourself,” I lamely muttered, knowing full well that Dolph was correct in his assessment.
“That landlubber? Damn straight. I’m about a million times better, even if I am seventy-five years old,” Dolph proclaimed, idly running his fingers through his wispy goatee.
“What say we drink to that?” I suggested, and proceeded to limp over to the nearest tiki bar.
While he might no longer have had Hasselhoff’s build, Dolph was one smart kahuna. He’d recently organized the Hawaiian Beachboys Union, convincing hotels, bars, and clubs on the strip to kick into their health insurance plan and retirement fund. In return, the bronzed hunks agreed to draw both the older women and bikini-clad babes, whom they flirted with during the day, to those establishments at night. The deal seemed to suit everyone.
I could have closed my eyes and known exactly where I was, as we walked along the beach, by the distinctive smell. It was the aroma of coconut oil emanating from burning flesh intermingled with freshly frappéed piña coladas. The odor was so intensely sweet that it curled my toes and curdled my stomach.
It didn’t matter where you were in Waikiki. The strip boasted a wide variety of tourists. There was the usual assortment of surf bunnies and muscles heads, along with couples on package tours garbed in his-and-her Hawaiian shirts. Sprinkled among them were geriatric swingers, with wrinkled legs and white chest hair touting numerous
gold chains. These aging Lotharios were constantly on the prowl for young Aloha babes.
Meanwhile, the upper-crust set stayed mainly to themselves, preening at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The women kept their bodies swathed from head to toe in the sun, while their husbands lounged in deck chairs like beached whales.
Last, but not least, were the easy-to-spot Japanese couples who had come to be married. The grooms dressed in trousers and tailcoats, while the brides wrapped themselves in voluminous mountains of crisp white tulle and veils.
What each had in common was that they’d all decided to vacation in the Pacific version of Disneyland. More than likely, they’d never leave the one-and-a-half-mile strip, convinced they were partaking in the real Hawaiian experience.
“So where’s your better half today?” Dolph asked, as we slipped onto a couple of bar stools. “Surfing the big ones on the North Shore?”
My better half was at the North Shore, all right. But I truly hoped that Santou was resting at home. Jake’s back had been acting up lately, and he was still limping and dealing with injuries from his plane crash of nearly a year ago. That was the reason he’d finally decided to take a leave of absence from the FBI. Santou vowed not to return until he was no longer stuck behind a desk in an office. While he was hopeful that would be soon, I wasn’t so certain.
“Santou’s busy with a new hobby these days,” I revealed. “He’s gathering up broken surfboards from the beach and painting Hawaiian scenes on their surface. Who knows? He might even try to sell them to tourists.”
I was beginning to worry, though I didn’t dare say so. Santou loved his work as much as I did mine, and he missed it. This laid-back version of Jake couldn’t last much longer. My concern was, what would happen then?
“Sounds to me like he’s just plain bored out of his gourd,” Dolph responded, cutting to the chase. “Or maybe I’m wrong and he’s found his true calling as an artist.”
I raised an eyebrow and smiled.
“Tell you what. Have him paint some hula girls playing ukuleles on a couple of those boards and bring ’em over. I betcha I can sell them for him,” Dolph offered. “You’d be amazed at what people along the strip will buy. Could be that Jake has found himself a little gold mine. At least I’ll be able to say honestly that they were made in Hawaii.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that,” I replied, and reached for my iced tea.
Dolph shot me a look of surprise. “What’s this? You’re not turning into one of those health nuts, are you?”
He took a swig from his longneck beer and wiped the moisture off his goatee.
“Not a chance,” I assured him. “It’s just that I have to work tonight.”
were the operative words, even though it was really my day off. I’d been here for six months and was already beginning to lose my mind. It hadn’t taken me long to discover that paradise isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
That thought was put on the back burner as the sun began to set. We joined the crowd oohing and ahhing as the majestic orange ball dropped into the sea as if on cue. The surf tried to embrace the last light of day, but it slipped away, its pink and gold hues skipping from wave to wave off in the distance.
“I guess it’s time to make the donuts,” Dolph observed, polishing off his beer before heading off to his nightly work.
I watched as he wasted no time but immediately struck up a conversation with a lonely female tourist. Then I headed off to begin my own evening maneuvers.
I liked to imagine I was Supergirl as I ducked into the nearest hotel bathroom and, chucking my bathing suit, changed back into street clothes. But somehow the vision never quite worked. Perhaps it was the outfit.
I was balancing with one leg in my pants and the other one out when my cell phone rang. That’s what I’m talking about. Supergirl would never have had such a problem.
“Hello?” I answered, juggling the phone between my shoulder and ear.
“Is this the Fish and Wildlife office?” a woman loudly queried.
“Yes, it is,” I responded from inside the bathroom stall.
What the hell. For all intents and purposes, it could have been.