“They retrieved the sunken statue from the Falkland Islands in the 1880’s.” Bonnie said, as if that would explain things better.
“Okay…” Kumai said.
“It’s standing in Hawi now — without that base. Story was that the statue went overboard between here and Maui. Eyewitness reports. So… what if the crate that people saw go into the ocean contained the hollow base to the statue?”
“Only, you think it wasn’t empty?” Kumai asked.
“Nope.” Tom said.
“We know it wasn’t empty.” Bonnie said. “Written reports from the Falklands are on microfiche at the library.”
“She researched it.” Tom said with pride.
“One set of papers talked about gold coins.”
“Nice work.” Kumai nodded. “So why do you think this has anything to do with my neighbors?”
Tom answered, “A Russian guy came to their house. Bonnie intercepted him in the garden.”
“Up to some fishy business over there.” Bonnie agreed. “Which reminds me. Did you ask some John guy to turn up your garden?”
“John? Turn up?” Kumai tried to think.
“Oh! John! He’s Kumu Lani’s gardening assistant, on loan to help me grow my own food. I have something of a brown thumb.” Kumai held up her thumbs.
“Yeah? Well, he has brown feet and two Roundup hands. He hasn’t planted nothin’ and he’s trampled my pansies, twice. But just the ones under the windows, which is exactly why I planted them there in the first place. They’re an early-warning device.”
“Early warning of what?” Kumai asked.
“Intruders. Or in that guy’s case, eavesdroppers. Maybe he’s a voyeur.” Bonnie whispered.
Kumai burst out laughing. Then she stopped abruptly when she saw that Bonnie was serious and both Tom and Sage shared her concern.
“Okay…” Kumai tried to put it all together. Bonnie planting flowers meant that she had moved in. John walking on the flowers meant that he was spying. A Russian guy in the garden next door meant that her neighbors died over an unlikely sunken treasure. She wondered if Tom had started sharing his wacky tabacky with the whole house. If all those meanings weren’t paranoia, what would Kumai running away to New Zealand mean? It could mean she would look up Taka’s relatives and run from Manya’s.
Kumai stopped her head from spinning-out on their ideas. “Well, John might have wanted those spots for vegetables.” She offered as explanation.
“He ain’t planted nothin’.” Bonnie grumbled. “Except maybe bugs on your house.”
Kumai almost asked if Bonnie meant beneficial insects, but stopped herself. She was dealing with a half-wit version of Clyde’s Bonnie who seemed to seriously think her house was bugged with listening devices. This was only a little more disconcerting than the belief that showed on the faces of both Tom and Sage.
“No one’s bugging my house, or eavesdropping, or spying.” Kumai stated. “John was invited there to help me and I’m sure he has a plan.” Kumai’s cell played ukulele chords for Over The Rainbow before she had a chance to launch into debunking the treasure theory.
The caller was Kirby. Kumai stood up and walked away to answer, “Hello?”
“Hey. There’s a rodeo today. Wanna go?”
“Lemme check with my client. I’m at the Farmer’s Market. Maybe she can drop me at the fairgrounds… if you could get me back to her ranch after?”
“Sounds good. I could also pick you up from the Market.”
Kumai liked that idea, but she didn’t know Susan’s needs. “I’d better clear my schedule first. I’ll text you, okay?”
Kumai returned to her friends. “I need to find Susan. It’s good to see you guys.” She tried not to look directly at Bonnie and failed. “I hope to be home in the next day or two.”
“What about our theory?” Bonnie asked.
“Oh, well… keep thinking.” Kumai said.
Bonnie beamed and Tom nodded his approval. Kumai started to walk away and Sage followed. “‘How about a hug?”
Kumai embraced her mermaid friend. “Need anything?”
“I’d like assurance that you’re okay. Have you been in the ocean? Been to any meetings?” Sage asked.
Kumai recalled her urge to use last night and promised, “SOS tonight.”
“Sooner if you can. Take good care of yourself. And please consider their treasure theory.”
Kumai knew she needed to contact the resort at some point to reestablish her work there. But she wanted to do something for herself today. Business could wait until Monday. Would Susan do without her for a while?
She fingered the recycled Sari silk skirts on display as they shifted with the gentle breezes. Downtime sounded good. Time with Kirby could help her unwind since she was now officially dating Bradon. She tensed with the realization that she would have to tell Kirby about her commitment. The sooner the better.
She texted Susan, “where R U?”
Susan answered, “island goddess. homeopathy! ;)”
“Tons. Gifts. What’s up?”
“A friend of mine would like to meet me at the rodeo today. Does that work with your plans?”
“I could use some focused work time. Can you be back for pupu’s on the lanai?”
“I don’t see why not.” Kumai reached into her shorts pocket for the truck keys. “Maiden voyage driving your new truck.”
“Everything pales after a Shelby.”
Kumai walked under the leafy shade of the trees in the open field. She paused before texting Kirby. The trees were almost ready to bloom. Dark pink lips of buds were puckered toward the sky. A few early petals unfolded their five papery circles of the Sakura. When the cherry blossoms all came out, the town would hold its festival.
A delicious breeze fingered Kumai’s cheek like a shy lover. The quiet felt good. Kumai sighed. Being alone felt good. Maybe she would just walk around town for a while. She got out her phone and texted Kirby. “I’m free to go. Will need a ride. I’m at the cherry trees.”
She waited, but no reply came. She sat down on the low rock wall and debated what to do. Text again? Call him? Take herself for that walk? She checked her message to see what time she had sent it. Technology offered no assurance that he had received her message. If he was called to an emergency, that could prevent follow up with her. The musicians at the farmer’s market started playing Pohakuloa, with the cowboy twang of slack key guitars and a beautiful falsetto of the male lead drifting between the trees.
She stood, stretched, and started walking toward the Starbucks that she and Susan had visited only two days ago. It felt like a different month. The gulf between days had swelled after her experiences last night at the White Benefit. Even though she already worked with people who have wealth, the amount of money represented in that one evening jolted her view of reality like an aborigine visiting an airport.
He leaned over and pushed open the passenger door for her.
“Thanks.” she said as she climbed in.
“Sorry I couldn’t get out in this traffic to hold the door for you.”
“No problem. Nice to see you again.” Kumai wanted to study him. She made herself focus on the road ahead. “To the rodeo, then?”
“I did, you?’
“Not yet. I’ll get something there. How’d you get the black eyes?” He reached over and gently turned her chin toward him. He ran a thumb lightly under one cheekbone. “Nothing broken.”
Kumai winced. “I ran into a door. And an eel. Long story.” She kept her eyes averted.
“I like random stuff. This story has potential.” He straightened in his seat and pulled back into traffic.
“Nah. It’s nothing. Thank you, by the way, for covering for me with Dr. Ching. I feel kinda bad letting him think that he did the damage.”
“Far better to get a repair bill than a DUI or charged with vehicular homicide.” Kirby grumbled.
“When you put it that way…” Kumai nodded agreement. “How has your morning been?”
“Strange.” Kirby ran his hand over his whiskers, briefly covering his mouth. “I got called in early for work, assisting with Naltrexone administration to five High School kids.”
“Narcotics Detox? What happened?”
“They OD’d on morphine. Three of them were in respiratory arrest. One had the courage to call for help. Word on the street is they found an old medical kit. Had to be old. One of the males still had an ampule in his jacket pocket.”
“Sheesh, they took enough to stop breathing. That’s scary. Um, an old ampule? How old?”
“I dunno. Looked like military issue stuff. Maybe these kids are with the Pohakuloa training site up on Saddle Road. But I didn’t think there were families up there.”
“Hadn’t thought of that. I guess it could.”
“Did you actually see the ampule so you would recognize one if we googled it?”
“Yeah, I saw it. Why?”
Kumai wrinkled her nose and tried to think of a passable lie. “Cuz I’m wondering what they look like?” She kicked herself for making it a question.
“Right.” Kirby clenched his jaw.
Kumai decided to come back to the subject later. “Tell me about your partner.”
“Partner?” Kirby asked.
“Yeah, I met him last night. Hugh Barnes?”
“Oh Hugh. He’s not so much a partner as a coworker at the engine house. We are bunk mates.”
“He made it clear that he wanted me to leave you alone.”
“What’d he say?”
“‘Leave him alone’.”
“Why’d he say that to you?”
“I’m not sure why. I could come up with some theories, but I don’t really know.”
“That sounds stressful, I’m sorry. What did you say to him?”
“Something clever like ‘I’ll date Kirby if I want to’.”
“Good job. You told him. Do you want to?”
“Date Kirby. Do you want to?”
Kumai did want to. “I thought you were unavailable. Between him and the waitress with the gardenia…”
“The waitress was saving me from attending alone, as I said. That’s all. In return, she got to attend the White Benefit.”
“She seemed to hope for more. She schooled me as well.”
“Dang, how’d I miss all that?”
“It doesn’t matter. I kinda took to heart what they said, though.”
“That I was being selfish, acting like I was dating Bradon, leading everybody on.”
“Are you trying to tell me something, Kumai?” Kirby slowed for the fairground parking, found a spot, and shut off the engine. He turned and looked at her.
She kept her eyes focused on the Mauna Kea Observatory sparkling white on the mountaintop in the distance. If she looked at Kirby, she wouldn’t be able to tell him, ”Last night I went inside and told Bradon that we should officially start dating.”
Kirby looked back out the windshield. He took in a large breath. “Just because of what those two said?”
“That, and… well, I’ve been seeing Bradon for a year. I think I should give him a chance.”
Kirby let out a short laugh.
“What?” Kumai asked.
“If a year isn’t a chance, I don’t know what is.” He opened his door and got out.
Kumai sat there wondering what to do next. She startled when Kirby opened the door for her to step out. He offered his hand. She gladly took it, got out, and reluctantly let it go. He tilted her seat forward and pulled out a cowboy hat. Kumai stifled a laugh as he put it on.
She studied him. He wore a Wrangler snap-up shirt tucked into a pair of Levi’s 501’s complete with a tooled leather belt and carved silver buckle. He wore his brown cowboy boots. As she remembered her surprise at seeing the boots before, it sunk in that Kirby was a Japanese-American cowboy. With the mixed history of Hispanic “paniolos” in Waimea and Japanese workers in the sugar plantations along the Hamakua coast, there also had been crossover jobs and interests.
He smiled and looked away. “My brother is roping today. I promised that I’d come see him.”
“A brother! Fun. Do you have other siblings?”
“Nope. You?” He asked.
“None. I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a sibling. I would have loved to have a sister. Maybe. Sage could qualify as close-to a sister. But I can’t really say that because I don’t know what ‘close-to’ means.” Kate too had been very close. Kumai sighed.
“How has your day been so far?” Kirby asked.
“Client focused.” Kumai answered. “We solved our arrest threat by voluntarily going in and giving statements.”
“Here in Kamuela? Which officer took them?”
“Tako? I think that was his name. Susan remembers it.”
“And you’re out before noon?”
“Susan wore him down.”
“Impressive. And then you went to the Market.”
“Yup. I bumped into some friends there and caught up with them a little. They have formed a theory that my neighbors were killed over treasure. ‘The Kam Trove’.”
“I’ve heard of it.” Kirby said. “People are always producing maps.”
“This version of the story has the treasure in the ocean.”
“That would explain the dive equipment in your neighbors’ garage. Barely used. Hi-tech stuff. Nitrogen tanks, too.”
Kumai paused to consider. “I’m not convinced that treasure-hunting was what got those people killed, though. Too many leaps of logic. Plus hearsay.”
“Not all urban legends are false.”
“Like, I really should put honey on a burn?” Kumai challenged.
“No…” Kirby frowned.
Kumai’s phone rang. It was her Aunt Helen from Captain Cook. “Excuse me while I answer this?” she asked Kirby.
“Sure.” He walked away a few paces and pulled out his phone to text someone.
“Hey Auntie!” Kumai said. “How are things?”
“Things are good, thank you! We were hoping we could meet you for supper tonight up there somewhere. Do you have time for that?”
“Well, shoot. I have to be on the job over dinner. But I could do a late lunch if you don’t mind me bringing a friend?”
“We’re coming back from Hawi now. We can meet you whenever you like.”
Kumai’s phone beeped that she had a new text message. She ignored the alert to finish speaking with her Aunt. “Okay. Let me see what my friend can do and I will text you.”
“Okay. We’ll wait to hear from ya.”
Kirby asked, “Everything alright?”
“Yes. I have a hanai family who will be in Waimea in a while if we want to have late lunch with them.”
“We?” Kirby asked, leading her to the fairground entrance.
“You and me? If we have time after seeing your brother, of course.”
“When do you need to let them know?”
“As soon as I can.”
“Then let’s find my brother.”
Kirby’s brother was already lined up in the area restricted to riders preparing to enter the arena. His two daughters and wife were in the stables, putting away tack that they had used to trailer his horse.
Kumai shook hands and exchanged greetings. Then Kirby scooped up each of his nieces in turn and hugged them. Kumai watched the girls’ adoration of their uncle. Evelyn smiled and nodded when Kumai looked to her. She was much shorter than Kirby with thin blonde hair.
The girls were petite, probably small for their ages. Carol had dark hair cut in a bob. She wore ragged jeans and a black hoodie with Volcom printed all over it in white. She held a koa canoe paddle with a finish so perfect it must have just been purchased.
Joyce wore a ruffled skirt over a lace petticoat and a pink satin jacket with Hello Kitty embroidered on the lapel. She carried a pau skirt of pink hibiscus print. Her hair was in a long blonde braid.
“Day and night.” Evelyn nodded to Kumai. “You wouldn’t know they were twins.”
”Twins!?” Kumai laughed. ‘How old are you?” she asked Carol who had just been released from her uncle’s embrace.
“We’re eight.” She said. “Are you uncle’s girlfriend?”
“Carol.” Her mother scolded.
“No. We are just friends.” Kumai could see that her tone of remorse went through everyone.
“Well, I’ve got to eat.” Kirby announced.
“Aww.” The girls complained.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Goofballs.”
“Kirby joins us for a Sunday supper whenever he can.” Evelyn explained.
“See ya, Uncle!”
“Love you, my uncle!”
Kumai nodded to them, ”It’s nice to meet you all.”
“What about getting to talk with your brother?”
“His family will tell him I was here. I can talk with him tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Kumai waited to text her Auntie until they were in line for poke.
She pulled out her phone and there was a text from Kirby. “What if you gave me a year, just to be fair?” Kumai caught her breath and blushed. Kirby looked at her, the question in his eyes and a small grin at the corner of his mouth.
She looked away. Her heart was racing. She put her hand on his arm, and said, “I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back.”
“From my ohana.”
“Oh. Right.” Kirby studied the chalkboard menu ahead of them.
Kumai texted her Aunt Helen, “Where and when?”
Then she replied to Kirby’s text, “I’m sorry, Bradon got first dibs.” She went back into the message and added the comma then sent it. The waitress’s words were still fresh and stinging. She wiped her eyes and studied the menu too.