“My agent said that no roads go down to the sea. The cliffs are too steep. But there are hiking trails down from the main house. The trail gains over 800 vertical feet. It takes about two hours down, three up.” Susan laughed.
She read aloud the directions from an email, “Turn left at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy. Then go seven miles and look for a Kukui tree on the left with blue newspaper boxes. The gate is a few more yards from there, on the right. I don’t know what a Kukui tree looks like.”
Kumai wanted to know how many acres this ranch had. She couldn’t guess how much it cost. Asking across the Coconut Wireless would be the least obvious way to learn that information.
“This brochure says that the ranch spans two Ahupua’a covering high grassy plains that swoop into waterfalls and ravines between the valleys of Waipio and Pololu lookouts. The acreage includes cattle ranches, rainforest climates, and a vast ribbon of shoreline.”
Wishing she had studied the maps in the stolen dossier, Kumai wondered if each land division was equal size.
The Kukui tree arced over a turn-around spot beside the road and under it postal-style delivery boxes waited in neat columns for the next edition of West Hawaii Today. Kumai watched the other side of the road for the gate.
Two curves of lava wall stood sentry on either side of the ranch gates. A scroll of letters spelled out the name Kealoha Ranch. Kumai punched in the gate code Susan gave her. Custom-made black iron maile vines and copper verdigris monstera leaves on double gates this size would cost the same as Kumai’s house.
“The caretaker’s house is first.” Susan said, “Up three-quarters of a mile on the left.”
An old ranch house with a plantation-style porch roosted in a nest of ironwood trees. They stepped out of the truck. A wind soughed through the high boughs, Kumai shivered in the damp air, and Mana jumped down to go sniffing.
The front door to the hale opened. A short man stepped out wearing a cowboy hat, plaid shirt, jeans, and pointed boots. He had a black handlebar mustache and a mild hispanic accent. “Welcome home, Ms. Winters. I am Jorge Silva. My wife asks if you have time to come in?”
“Hello, Mr. Silva. It’s a pleasure to meet you. No, Kumai and I would like to get to the main house and settle in. Is there anything I need to know?”
“Everything is set up as you asked. Elena got a fire going for you and baked something. She is prepared to cook tonight. Let her know what you are wanting?”
“No need, thank you.”
Kumai’s hopes dropped. It sounded like she was expected to stay there tonight, with no real food.
“But we will get to meet her at breakfast.”
“Okay. Here are your keys for the main house. Instructions for everything are on a pad by the office telephone. We have the alarm turned off.”
“Perfect. Can you join us at breakfast?” Susan asked.
Jorge hesitated. “Uh. Yes. Of course.”
“Great. Let’s say seven?”
“See you tomorrow at seven o’clock.”
Kumai whistled for Mana, who stopped for a quick pat from Jorge before leaping up into the truck cab.
As they drove to the main house, the clouds drifted over in cottony wisps from the wet side, enveloping the distant trees. Herds of cattle ranged freely on either side of the road in impossibly green rolls of land reminiscent of the Shire. A large open pen held several horses, with a shelter and stalls built on the far edge. Kumai started to wonder if the main house was down in one of the valleys. As they drove nearer to the edge of the plateau, the woods opened to show a panorama of cobalt sea. Down and to the right were blue tile roofs. Kumai followed the drive to a covered entry and parked the truck. She wondered if this was the main house since it didn’t appear to be much bigger than the caretaker’s place.
Susan stepped out and the dog followed. Kumai gathered the gift basket and welcome lei from behind the seat and trailed into the house.
“I’ll bring in the trunk if you tell me where you want it.” Kumai said.
“We’ll need to lift it together.” Susan said, turning to look all around the place. “It’s even more lovely than the pictures. And bigger.”
Kumai thought the place looked liveable compared to the echoing mansions up the coast. Vaulted ceilings gave the rooms a sense of vastness beyond their smaller dimensions. The entry slate flooring flowed through an open living area with a central fire blazing behind circular glass. Heated floors traced Kumai’s feet when she kicked off her slippers in the entry. Susan kept her shoes on, mainland style.
The living area was open to the kitchen, displaying long counters and two islands. A large bouquet of torch ginger sat in the center, glowing with light from a skylight. Kumai set the welcome basket on the nearer island. As she removed the plumeria lei from its plastic bag, a warm fragrance unfolded into the room.
“What is that perfume?!” Susan asked. “Oh! A lei? How thoughtful.” She received the necklace of flowers from Kumai with a kiss to each cheek.
“That’s just …so, well. Thank you, Kumai. What a nice welcome.” Susan cleared her throat. “I told Jorge that we’re staying here, but I didn’t ask if that works for you.”
“Works fine. I need to make some calls and take care of a few emails. Is there an office I could use?”
“There is supposed to be a complete suite set up for you. I had them put the new sheepskin mattress in there as I already have a therapeutic one in my room. We’re going to have to figure out the layout together. I’ve seen plans, so I think my suite is this way.” Susan pointed to the right of the entry.
They came first to an office with a mountain-facing view and french doors on each of the living room and bedroom sides. Walking through Susan’s office, they entered her bed chamber. It was a simple room of surprisingly small dimensions. Beyond was a bath suite, with a door out to a fenced garden.
“Do you know if you have an outdoor shower?” Kumai asked.
“How can I tell?” Susan asked.
“Through there.” Kumai led the way to the outdoor patio off the washroom. Sure enough, a brass waterfall showerhead emerged from the rock wall, black hand-forged control knobs blended into the rock face, complete with soap shelves and pukas for shampoo bottles. Small flowering plants and ferns bordered the drain area of the stone floor.
“Whoa.” Susan said.
“Outdoor showers are nice.” Kumai offered. “You’re gonna like this.”
“I don’t suppose anyone can see me out here?”
“I imagine you’re safe. Let’s go see the rest of the house.”
They explored through the living room and kitchen. From there, two branches extended beyond the main house. One hall took them to pantries, laundry, and garage. Five car. The other connected in a loop to the guest suite.
Kumai paused. “Are you sure these aren’t your rooms?”
“Yeah. I don’t like a huge bedroom. Besides, the reading nook and pune bed can serve for another guest bed if someone visits with children.”
“There’s a tub in this bathroom.”
“I’m not much of a tub person.”
More French doors opened out onto the flagstone lanai overlooking the valley and ocean. Susan’s room would have the same view through her lanai doors. Clouds drifted through the valley below.
Kumai said after a long pause, “Maybe we should bring in your trunk. Looks like the moisture is closing in.”
“Yes. There isn’t room at the foot of my bed. Let’s put it in my walk-in closet.”
The trunk was stenciled WINTERS on all sides. It was made of an industrial-looking pressboard with metal corners and straps. They set it down in the empty closet. Susan removed basic toiletries and started hanging up vacation clothes.
“Would you like help with that?”
“Oh, sorry, no thanks Kumai. You have your own business to attend to.” Susan checked the time on her phone. “Let’s have some wine in the kitchen in a couple of hours? It’ll be a little early, but we can make plans.”
“Sounds good.” Kumai checked her phone. “Say, around 3 o’clock?”
Kumai realized she could possibly get in a power nap. She gathered her things from the truck and carried them back to her suite the size of her house.
The memo from Annamae had been bothering her on the drive. She really wanted to get away from this part of her job. Fact was, she needed some quick income. Putting twenty into her boat fund had been premature. Although she could ask Susan for cash, that would be awkward this early in a client relationship. Soon the direct deposit from today’s invoice would give her an infusion, but she was down to her last twenty.
Tired and wanting to sleep, she sat down at the desk to attend to business. Could she avoid directly dealing with the new client? Even though money was tight, she felt tempted to put off the job so she first dialed home to check in with Sage.
Bonnie answered, “Kumai’s Hale.”
“Uh, hi.” Kumai tried to remember. Was it today that she had left home? No, that was yesterday. Bonnie was going to leave… yesterday. “Bonnie?”
“Yes ma’am. To whom am I speaking?”
“It’s Kumai. I thought you’d be in Hilo by now.”
“Me too! But I found some work.”
“Well, that’s, that’s great. Hey, is Sage available?”
“Sure thing. One moment, please.”
“Hey, Kumai! How’s life?” Sage asked. “Find that cutie EMT yet?”
“Hi Sage. Yeah. Um, but no. Nevermind about that. Why’s Bonnie still there?”
“She’s unbelievable, Kumai. Wait ’til you see your place.”
“My place, what do you mean? What’s she doing there, Sage?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“I hate surprises.”
“No you don’t.”
“I do when they involve complete strangers.”
“Fair enough.” Sage laughed. “But this is good.”
“Stop worrying! I’ve got this. Everything okay for you?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?”
“Well, there’s someone out there who killed your neighbors and broke into your car is all…”
“Oh that. Things are fine.” Kumai lied. Then hoping that he was elsewhere, she asked, “Is Tom around?”
“As a matter of fact, here he is! See you – when we do?”
“Yup. Thanks, Sage.” I think.
“Hey Kumai, Mai Tai, Typhoon-a-goon.”
“Going good, thanks. Hey, I have a new client in need of some diving gear.”
“Shoots. Can do. How do I make contact?”
“Burner phone,” Kumai read off the number. “And Tom, in the next few days I may need you to pick me up in Waimea and give me a ride home. You could use the Miata, even though the trunk is broken. Do you think you could be available for that?”
“Can do, Mr. Magoo.”
“A hui hou!” Just before he ended the call Kumai could hear Bonnie yelling in the background tell her I…
Kumai rubbed her forehead for a moment. Her cell phone rang. It was Bradon.
“Great.” She said, then answered, “Bradon, hi!”
“Hello Kumai. I wanted to say I’m sorry for being hard on you. If you’re not ready or don’t know or whatever, that’s fine.”
“Yeah? Okay Tom, thanks.”
“Oh, sorry, Bradon.” She quickly added, “Tom is Sage’s boyfriend, remember? I was just talking with them on the phone when you called.”
“Ho-kay. So what I thought is we need a do-over. Let’s start again!”
“Yeah, how about a date? The White Benefit is tomorrow night. Wanna go?”
“Oh, that’s a fun one. But I’m working right now. I’ll have to see if I can get away.”
“Well, how about you let me know by tomorrow morning so I know whether to bathe?” He laughed, then stopped.
Kumai chuckled. “I should know my plans for the day by morning. Please text me a reminder around 9:00 or so if you don’t hear from me? I’m going in several directions just now.”
“Sounds busy. I’ll let you go and I’ll text in the morning.”
Kumai looked over to the bed, then out to the veiling fog and tracery of Ohia branches. She clicked on the gas fireplace, pulled back the down coverlet, and crawled in. Suede-softness welcomed her. She set a timer on her phone for 45 minutes and fell asleep. She didn’t even notice the pup jump up and curl against her legs.