If a five-and-dime had a love child with a tropical gift shop, it would be Waimea’s Crack Seed Store. After Taka checked the strip of businesses for Kane, Kumai walked inside the tiny space. Rolls of lauhala prepared for weaving, along with monkeypod, milo, and mango bowls and plates were arranged as if phases of the moon. Pa’u skirts crowded along the side wall clustered like dancers waiting in the wings at the Merry Monarch Festival.
The clerk stood behind a chipped linoleum counter at the back. Inside glass jars, the colors of li hing mui, red vines, dried mango and twenty other snacks grinned down from tidy shelves high on the wall.
Kumai held up her phone with a picture of Susan and asked the woman, “Did she say where she was going next?”
The woman blushed, glanced at Taka, then said, “The lua?”
Taka headed for the door and called back, “Wait here, Kumai, while I check around back.”
Kumai nodded. The clerk asked, “Kumai? Are you Kumai Kaimana?”
Kumai really wanted to say no. But the best fake name that she could think of under pressure was Smith. That would not fly.
“Yes.” She grimaced a smile.
“Oh my god.” The woman flapped her hands. She grabbed several small brown bags and pointed with them to the rainbow array behind her. “Which are your favorites?”
“Oh. That’s okay.” Kumai held up her hands.
“Are you kidding? Tell me or I’ll just pick some for you.” The woman reached for the sour li hing.
“Okay, not pickled plum or mango. Never acquired the taste.” Kumai admitted. “I like red vines. And anything mint.”
“Oh, that’s right!” The woman took down a huge apothecary jar of red licorice and loaded one of the brown bags with candy. The vines looked like those from Costco. “You were raised on the mainland. Iowa or something?”
“Idaho.” Kumai squirmed. What were people saying about her?
“Kirby said you were amazing.”
Kumai’s ears perked up at the mention of Kirby. She felt a thrill to know that he talked about her to strangers.
“She is amazing.” Taka returned to the shop. “I’ll finish here if you don’t mind checking inside the Wahine’s room.”
“You didn’t go inside?”
“I scanned under the stalls from the doorway and called out her name, but nothing. Maybe you can find something in there to help us.”
“Right. Sure.” Kumai gladly left her fandom to Taka.
As Taka said, the bathroom appeared to be empty. There was no lipstick message on the mirror and no breadcrumb trail. Kumai huffed as she remembered that she could actually text Susan. She tapped out, “Where are you? Are you okay?” and pressed send.
Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” played as a notification tone from the widest stall.
“Susan?” Kumai whispered.
“Kumai?” Susan whispered, “Is Kane gone?”
“I think so.” Kumai scanned under the stall doors again. No feet. She continued to whisper, “Where are you?”
Susan’s feet dropped to the floor in the corner stall, the door opened, and she hobbled out. “That is really uncomfortable crouching like that. I pretended that I was holding an extended yoga pose.” Susan’s speaking voice sounded loud after all the whispering. “I’m gonna need a massage.”
Kumai snorted with relief. She glanced at the doorway and suggested, “Take a minute to stretch before we walk out. Did Kane say where he was going?”
“Kumai!” Taka called from the walkway outside, “Peter’s here. We need to pursue. Take my car and go somewhere safe.” He appeared at the door. He tossed his key to Kumai at the same time he saw Susan. “Oh. Hi. Good, you’re safe.” And to Kumai, “Take her with you.”
Then he was gone.
Susan and Kumai looked at each other. Kumai shrugged. “Wanna go with me?”
“I don’t know,” Susan looked at the empty doorway. “He merits following.”
“I think he’s going for Kane.”
“Oh, always my luck.” Susan threw up her hands. “I swear. I have radar for a man’s man.”
Kumai let the convenient misunderstanding rest. She was pretty sure that Taka was not gay. She was even more sure that she did not picture Susan dating him. Her mind whirred with disappointing images of Taka with anyone else, male or female. Then she wondered if such thoughts meant that she and Kirby were done.
“I’m ready if you are.” Susan stared at Kumai. “What would be somewhere safe?”
“Shave Ice sounds safe.”
“Yes. Or ice cream.”
Kumai smiled at the keys in her hand. “Let’s go.”
The Maserati glided down the winding hill from upcountry Waimea into the harbor town of Kawaihae. Taka’s music changed to the Overture from La Traviata. Kumai wished they were going uphill to try out acceleration on the curves.
“Maybe we should just go for a long drive.”
“Not before ice cream.” Susan sounded firm.
“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
“No. I mean, yes. I’m okay and no he didn’t… but I’m just wondering.”
Susan sighed, “When you warned me about him, I started to see signs of…”
“I’m no professional.”
“Go on.” Kumai encouraged.
“Something was definitely off. He talked about you as if he didn’t think I knew you. But I got a feeling that he knew that I knew you. I’m not making sense.”
“You are.” Kumai sat up straighter and focused on the road. The Irish green hills of Waimea dropped into the desert gold grasses of lower North Kohala. The rain always ran out right at this point on the leeward side. “Go on. What did he say?”
“Let’s see. He said that some woman named Kumai was making life difficult.”
Kumai snorted, then laughed. “Good! I would hope so.”
Susan didn’t laugh. She sat quietly in the passenger seat and looked out over the vast view of the coastline. Winds stirred up more white than blue on the open seas.
“Okay,” Kumai stopped gloating. “That’s not good because…”
“He said that this woman was making life difficult… for her family and the people that she loved. It sounded…”
“…like a threat.” Kumai finished the thought.
“Apparently he left me back in that restroom as a messenger.” Susan shivered despite the hot sun pouring in on her. “You said he was bad news.”
“But you must have excused yourself from him and gotten away?”
“I did. Thing is, he never came looking for me. I thought that other fellow, Taka, was one of his men sent to get me.”
“Maybe he didn’t have time to come find you? We might have chased him away.”
“I was in there for a long time.” Susan rubbed her legs and stretched them straight in reflex.
They rode in silence, both thinking of how Kane manipulated people.
“What an asshole,” Susan muttered.
“Yes. But you’re alive. That’s what matters right now.” Kumai gripped the steering wheel, thinking of her father on Oahu, her mother in Mexico, her Hawaiian aunties.
“Ice cream.” Susan hissed.
“And then we put together a safety plan.” Kumai said. Her own plan formed, she just needed to get Susan and her family safely out of the picture. Then she was going after Kane herself.
When they were seated on an outside bench with their ice creams, Susan finally asked, “What do you want to do about Kane?”
With her bamboo spoon, Kumai scraped her cup of haupia ice cream for any last streaks of sweetness. If alone, she would have run her tongue around the inner edge. Restraining herself in order to maintain a thin veil of professionalism, she set aside the cup. To ensure future employment with Susan, she needed to do whatever she could.
“I want nothing to do with Kane. Now I’m gonna have to. He threatened my family.”
“He did.” Susan nodded in agreement while she licked her ice cream cup. “How can I help?”
“Oh no. No no no. You don’t need to be pulled into this.”
“Kane yanked me in already.”
“Yeah but now that you’re out, keep yourself free of him. Please, Susan, listen. He tried to kill me.”
“Well, that definitely decides it. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Kumai, I haven’t had as good a friend as you since… I don’t know. Playground days? I didn’t realize how much I have missed that.”
Kumai thought about that. She had focused so steadily on being Susan’s personal concierge that she skipped the question of friendship. “We’re friends?” She blurted out.
“Absolutely.” Susan gave Kumai’s hand a pat with the word.
Kumai’s heart thrilled at the idea of a growing friendship. She missed Kate. Melted ice cream in her cup pooled into one last drop. She picked it up, tipped it to drink, then licked the edge. She missed doing things with other women. Her brain, however, shouted in panic about her need for employment.
Any internal shouting got drowned out by people yelling in the street as a black Hummer tore down the hill, barely missing pedestrians. Without stopping, it rolled around the T intersection and turned toward Kona as other cars swerved out of its way.
Susan and Kumai looked at each other and said in unison, “Kane.”