Joe McGrady was looking at a whiskey. It was so new the ice hadn’t begun to melt, even in this heat. A cacophony surrounded him. Sailors were ordering beers ten at a go, reaching past each other to light the girls’ cigarettes. Someone dropped a nickel in the Wurlitzer, and then there was Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. The men compensated for the new noise. They raised their voices. They were shouting at the girls now, and they outnumbered them. The night was just getting started, and so far they weren’t drinking anything harder than beer. They wouldn’t get to fistfights for another few hours. By the time they did, it would be some other cop’s problem. So he picked up his drink, and sniffed it. Forty-five cents per liquid ounce. Worth every penny, even if a three-finger pour took more than an hour to earn.
"This is Detective McGrady."
"You’re not drunk."
"I punched out a half hour ago. If you’d given me a whole hour, maybe I could’ve done something."
"Some other night. Get back here on the double. I’ve got the Chief waiting."
He set the receiver back onto its Bakelite cradle and took the other staircase, the one that led directly from the Bowsprit’s upstairs office to the street. It was raining, but it wouldn’t last. Besides, there were awnings and porticos above most of the Chinatown shops. He had a roof over his head for all but the last minute of the walk back to Merchant Street. He waited on the steps of the Yokohama Specie Bank as a dozen black-jacketed cops roared up and parked their motorbikes stern-to along the curb. Then he crossed Merchant and went into his headquarters.
Captain Beamer’s office was in the basement. McGrady came in without knocking and shut the door behind him. He took off his hat and settled it onto his knee when he sat down.
"This just came in," Beamer said. "Not half an hour ago."
"You said the Chief was here?"
"He stepped out a minute."
Beamer pushed up his glasses and swiveled the green shade of his lamp, uncovering the bulb. Now the room was brighter, but just as stifling. Beamer chain smoked with the door closed. There was no ventilation, and tropical heat seeped through the bedrock. Now he was lighting a new cigarette off the butt of his last. He ground out the old one, the ashtray overflowing to the desk. Even in here, Beamer wouldn’t roll up his shirtsleeves. He was that kind of guy. He was wearing a dark uniform jacket and tie, his Sam Browne belt cinched tight around his waist and across his chest. The man was too skinny to sweat.
"We’re short. Happens every year, day before Thanksgiving. I’d go up there myself if the Chief could trust someone to sit in this chair all night. He’d rather have you in the field than on the phones. Even if you’re a risk. You okay with that?"
"That’s what they taught you in the service?" Beamer asked. "No matter what, you say yes, sir?"
"Yes, sir," McGrady said. "That’s how it goes."
"I’m still getting a feel for you."
"You worked a homicide?"
"Five, on patrol. I was first on the scene—"
"But as a detective?"
"No, sir. You know that."
"I’m making a point. And you’re not from here, are you?"
If Beamer had seen the personnel file, then he knew McGrady wasn’t from anywhere. He’d seen Chicago, San Francisco, Norfolk, and San Juan before turning six. That was just a warm-up for what came later. His father had given him a good enough taste of the Navy, so he’d tried college instead. Four years later, he was back where he started. Except that he’d joined the Army. His hitch had ended in Honolulu, and he’d stayed on. Beamer might have known plenty about him, but it wasn’t a two way street. McGrady wasn’t even sure of his new Captain’s first name.
"I’ve been here five years since discharge. Most I’ve ever lived in one spot. This is home, sir."
"You’re either from here, or you’re not," Beamer said. "And you’re not. You ever walked a dog?"
"If it doesn’t know the length of its lead, it’s liable to get hurt," Beamer said. He held his hands about six inches apart. "Yours is like this. Run ahead, I’ll yank you back so hard your neck snaps."
"All right," McGrady said.
It was just a little thing, dropping sir. But it stopped him from reaching across the desk, wrapping Beamer’s tie around his fist, and bouncing his pinched face off the desktop. And Beamer didn’t even register it. Either you’ve been in the Army, or you haven’t.
"We’re absolutely clear on that?"
"Sure thing, Cap."
"Then we’ll get along fine."
Beamer’s door opened, and Chief Gabrielson stepped in. McGrady began to stand up, but Gabrielson motioned him down. There was one empty chair, but Gabrielson stood with his back against the closed door.
"You tell him yet?" he asked Beamer.
"Just getting there."
"Start with the call," Gabrielson said.
Beamer blew smoke in McGrady’s direction. "You know Reginald Faithful?"
"I’ve heard the name. The dairyman."
"He’s got a house around the bend from Kahana Bay. But he runs most of his herd in Kaawa Valley. He and the Chief are friends, so he called the Chief first. You follow me?"
"He didn’t call the front desk, and tell his story, and get passed around till he got to someone."
"Which means, right now, there are exactly three people in the department who know about this. Which means, I’m not going to open the paper tomorrow and see a story. Am I?"
"Reggie’s got this boy," Gabrielson said. "Miguel."
"When you say boy—"
"Not his son. A hired hand."
"So, Miguel came knocking on his door tonight," Gabrielson went on. "He was rattled, had a story to tell. Reggie didn’t know whether to believe him or not. But if it’s true, you’ve got a case. Can you handle it, you think?"
"I’ve just been waiting for the chance."
Beamer blew smoke at the ceiling.
"There’s an equipment shed at the back of the valley," Gabrielson said. "Miguel keeps a cot and a blanket in there. Probably a bottle, too. He went in tonight, and got his lantern lit, and the first thing he saw was a guy hanging from the rafters."
"You ever heard of someone putting himself upside down on a meat hook?" Beamer asked. He took a long draw on his cigarette. When he spoke again, smoke came spilling out both corners of his mouth.
"That’d be a new one to me. In terms of suicide."
"He was hanging from a hook?"
"You better get up there and find out," Beamer said. "Maybe it’s nothing but a cowhand with the DT’s. But the second you know either way, what do you do?"
Beamer held up his hands again, indicating the length of McGrady’s leash.
"Make my report."
"It’s your first murder. You’ve been here five years. I was clearing cases with Apana Chang before you were born. Remember that, and we’ll get along."
McGrady took the Pali Road, the lights of Honolulu disappearing behind him as he ascended into the mountains. Then he went over the edge of the cliffs, and the only sign of civilization was the road itself. In full darkness, he came through the switchbacks. He was on the windward side. Jungle shouldered over the road and pushed through the pavement cracks. At stream crossings, waterfalls sprayed the asphalt.
In perfect conditions, it was the better part of an hour to Kahana Bay. Double that at night, then add half an hour for the rain. So it was past ten when he missed the driveway to Reggie Faithful’s half-timbered, mock-Tudor house. He found a pull-off, turned back, and skidded to a stop behind three other vehicles.
He switched off the lights and got out of the car, then looked up at the house. The size alone would have impressed him. He lived in a rented room above a chop suey shop on King Street, the smell of onions and oily pork seeping out of the walls. He could reach out from his bed and touch both of his suits, where they hung on the wall.
McGrady shut his door and walked up the stone stairway, and then across a patio. He climbed a second set of stairs to the porch, and there was Reginald Faithful, waiting for him.
"That’s me. You talked to Chief Gabrielson again."
"To find out when you were coming. And that was an hour ago."
"Maybe you’ve got a faster way over the mountains. Where’s Miguel?"
"Inside. My wife’s keeping an eye on him."
"He’s in shock?"
"You might put it that way."
"How would you put it?"
"The boy’s legs were going out from underneath him. Either we gave him the couch, or he’d be on the floor."
"You give him a drink?"
"There was no point. He was drunk when he got here."
"That’s his truck down by the road?"
"It’s mine—my company’s. But he drives it."
"Your wife drives the LaSalle, and you’ve got the Cadillac."
"Anyone else in the house?"
The dairyman set his hand on the porch rail and faced down the slope toward his driveway. He was wearing a wash-worn white shirt. Black suspenders kept up his khaki pants. He’d loosened his tie. He looked at the line of four cars, then back at McGrady.
"And what about you?" he asked. "No partner. You didn’t bring backup?"
"It’s just me."
Faithful tapped his cigar on the rail.
"If you’re all I’ve got, I guess I ought to show you Miguel."
"I’d rather get to the body—if there is one. Can Miguel walk?"
"It’ll take both of us to get him down the stairs."
"That’s fine. You’re coming, too."
Miguel Silva, Reggie Faithful’s cowhand, must have been older than Reggie Faithful’s father. He had creased, sun-darkened skin, the color of scorched mahogany. His hair was silver-black, and clipped short. He was sprawled on the couch, face up, his eyes covered with a rolled towel.
"Really? You’re taking him?"
That was Mrs. Faithful, kneeling on the floor next to her husband’s employee. She was in a gingham housedress, a loose button at the top. Wavy dark hair, eyes to match it.
"Can’t he stay with me?" she asked. "Look at the poor man."
"Until I figure out what’s going on, you shouldn’t be alone with him."
"He’s been with us forever. I trust him."
"Then I shouldn’t have any trouble with him, either."
Miguel’s clothes were soaked through with sweat. There was a strong odor of liquor coming off him. Otherwise, there was nothing wrong with him. He didn’t need Mrs. Faithful’s tender ministrations. He could sleep it off in a concrete cell, wake up with a bucket of water, and talk.
McGrady leaned down, pulled away the towel, and slapped the old man’s left cheek. He could have been rougher. It would have sped the process of rousting the guy, but there was Mrs. Faithful to consider. He wanted her on his side. Someone ought to be.
The old man opened one eye.
"You a cop?"
McGrady had one of those faces. Everything squared off and somehow unfinished, as though his sculptor had snapped a chisel on unexpectedly hard stone.
He nodded, and the man began to sit up.
"You’ll be coming with us."
"Not going back in there."
"All the same."
He took Miguel’s wrist and hoisted him to his feet. After that, they went three abreast, McGrady on one side and Reggie Faithful on the other, Miguel’s arms over their shoulders for balance. Across the porch, and down the steps, and to the car. They left him sprawled across the back seat. McGrady shut the door on him and looked back at the house. Mrs. Faithful stood at the top of the steps, just the silhouette of her, the house all lit up behind.
Copyright © 2021 by James Kestrel