With the crystal tones of Ella Fitzgerald trickling softly from the speakers tucked into the rafters above him, Ben Apana watched as the distinguished looking man with silver hair strode imperiously up the white coral steps and entered the Royal Hawaiian Coffee Company Café in the tower wing of the Moana Surfrider Hotel.
Ben was sitting at a table in front of an open window that looked out on Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki . Not even the high cost of living on Oahu could ever make Ben consider moving. It wasn't that Ben was rich, shit, far from it. But after retiring from the Honolulu Police Department, he had gone back to graduate school. For the past three years he'd been teaching English at the University of Hawaii . With that plus his pension and his work doing a little informal “private investigating” he made a decent living. And every morning he got to wake up in paradise. This particular morning, however, he had an appointment with a guy who reminded him that, even in paradise, there were still more than a few snakes slithering around in the sea grass.
“You better have something for me,” the man with the silver mane barked as he took a seat across from Ben. “I don't have any time to waste. So let’s get this over with.”
Ben slid a manila envelope across the table and took a sip of coffee. He noticed that, even in the July heat, his client was wearing a business suit instead of the ubiquitous aloha attire.
“So you got it, did you, proof that the bitch is cheating on me. As soon as we're finished I'm going to my lawyer.”
Ben slid a little further back in his chair. At the counter the young barista all but sang what might have passed for some weird litany in an arcane Latin ritual: “Vente latte double mocha … Dominus vobiscum … “
“You better take a look first, Councilman Brillande. It’s never a good thing to jump in until you know just how deep the water is. A Kama’aina like you should know better.”
“Don't lecture me,” the local politician spat. “I paid you to do a job and you’ve done it. And it damn well took you long enough.”
Ben took another sip. He was beginning to enjoy this. “Listen,” he said. “These things take time. Sometimes you never know what’s going to turn up in an investigation; dead ends, false starts and more than a few wasted hours. It all paid off, though. I can't wait for you to see what I have.”
Sensing something in the ex-cop’s tone, the councilman tore open the envelope and removed a series of five digital prints. Brillande took one look at the photos and, with a few furtive glances around him, began to tear the pictures into tiny pieces.
“How did you get these? I'm not the one I paid you to investigate.”
“You hired me to follow your wife. She’s actually quite nice. I can see why you two don't get along. Three months and I couldn't find one hint of infidelity. I can only speculate as to the causes, but it seems that she began to have her own doubts about your, um, appetites. She was actually following you … pretty good at it, too. I watched her, she watched you. ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’.”
Ben drank some more coffee. The over-dressed man across from him was beginning to perspire.
“How much money do you want? That’s what this is all about, isn’t it … blackmail? You bleed me dry to keep these pictures out of the papers.”
“The papers,” Ben answered with surprise. “Listen, no paper would print these things. We’re talking felony level offenses here. Besides, from what little I know about this sort of thing, it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg.”
“It was only the one time, I had no idea how old he ….”
“Please,” Ben interjected, “don't insult me. I don't want any more of your money. You're going to withdraw quietly from public life. Say you want to spend more time with your family. In the meantime, here’s the name of someone you're going to contact, someone who might be able to help you with your compulsion.”
Apana shoved a business card across the table. The councilman almost recoiled.
“You have no idea who you're playing with,” Brillande hissed. “I can make you disappear.”
“Sure. You probably could. But you won't. My lawyer has copies of all my notes and of those pictures. If I so much as stub my toe coming out of Mass at St. Augustine ’s, you're screwed. Take the card. Do what you've been told and get the hell away from me.”
“I can tolerate your insolent tone,” the man in the suit responded with the death throes of his old swagger, “but don't get sanctimonious on me.”
“Yeah, well, like most men I have my weaknesses but they're not criminal. If I don't read about your ‘retirement’ by Saturday and if my buddy on the card hasn't heard from you by Monday your reputation, and most probably your freedom, is a thing of the past.”
Brillande was beaten and he knew it. He grabbed the proffered business card as he stood up. “I hired you to do a job for me,” he said, “not ruin my life.”
“Hey, it’s like an ancient Greek poet said, ‘if you're squeamish, don't stir the beach rubble’. You stirred the beach rubble …‘Sucks to be you’.”
The councilman turned on his heel and walked away. He descended the steps and, within seconds, disappeared in the crowd of pedestrians as he headed off in the direction of Diamond Head and the intersection of Kaiulani Avenue . Ben’s Kona coffee had gotten cold. He finished it anyway. Something about the bitter taste in the beautiful tropical setting seemed somehow just right.