4 Eha ~ Return to Sender

Kumai now had a shopping cart filled with a dog.

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She added pet supplies: a book of names, cat food, dog food, bowls, a dog bed, a feathered cat toy that the dog grabbed from a display and covered in slobber, a dog harness in aloha print with both leash and seatbelt attachments, a dried cuttlefish for the parrot, and a Kukui nut collar for the dog to wear when he met his real master.

As she waited in line to pay, she thought about her next steps.  She wanted to get to the client’s ranch this evening with the dog.  The dossier needed to get to the office before 5:00.  She could decide later tonight whether they would stay there at the ranch or back at home.  Where would it be easier to stay with a dog?  Either way it made sense to pack an overnight bag.

Kumai pushed the pup and her collection out through the sliding doors of the pet supply store.  The pup growled, his hackles on end.  He leapt out of the cart, barking, and raced toward the Miata parked on the far side of the lot.  A car screeched to a stop to miss hitting him.  Kumai cursed and ran with the cart, watching to see if the dog would stop at her car or just keep running.

As she got closer to the car, she realized why the dog had gone off like that.  Three men were backing away from the dog who was frozen in a crouch, growling and barking wildly.  One of the men was swinging a metal bar to keep the dog from snapping at him.

“Hey!” Kumai yelled.  “Just move away from the blue car.”  She knew it wouldn’t help to tell the dog what to do, but maybe the guys would listen.  They all looked in her direction and greater panic set in.  The one with the bar threw it at the dog, barely missing him, and all three men dashed away.

Kumai got to the car without the dog running off.  She comforted him until his tail got untucked from between is legs and was wagging freely again.  “What was that about?” Kumai asked the dog in a friendly tone, keeping it light.  “Why did you go after those guys?”  She wheeled the shopping cart to the trunk to load up and kept her friendly banter going for the dog.

She stopped when she saw her trunk.  The blue paint was rippled and cracked where they had tried to pry open the lid.

Kumai pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911.  Before she asked for the police, she patted the dog on the head and said, “Good job.”

________________________

The afternoon began to cool enough so that Kumai could put the top down again on Inigo the Miata.  She sat with the dog in the car and decompressed.  The acacia trees in the parking lot provided lacy shade so that they were comfortable.  Extra adrenaline drained from her body as she reviewed the police report in her hand.  They listed the crowbar as a weapon.  Kumai wondered if she had come upon the men without a dog if they would have harmed her.

momnpopshopShe needed some comforting.   The honu clock icon on her phone said there was just enough time to take a quick stop at her favorite thrift store, Hawaii Consignment, before heading to the office.  The ohana who ran the store set aside skeleton keys whenever they came in for her to look through and buy.

As she pulled into the HICO warehouse parking lot, she dialed Annamae to check in.

“Hi, Kumai.  How’d the shipment go?  What’s the client like?”  Annamae rattled off these and several more questions.  Kumai waved hello from the parking lot to the warehouse opening where the HICO staff worked behind their counter.  Charlie came out and greeted the dog.  She gestured to Kumai for permission to unharness the dog.  Kumai hesitated then shrugged a “why not?” while answering Annamae on the phone, “The shipment went smoothly, thanks.  The client’s charter was delayed.  I’m taking care of the pup.  But there is a file in this shipment that the client didn’t ask for.  Do you know whose office requested delivery of a dossier?  I don’t know where to drop it and there’s a time-sensitive label on it.”

“Dossier?”  Annamae asked.

Kumai closed her eyes for a moment.  “I have a folder from that shipment that says I need to deliver it by 5 p.m.”

“Let me find out.”  Annamae said.  “I’ll call right back.”

“Thanks,” Kumai said, “Maybe text me since I’m headed into a meeting.”

“You’re at the consignment shop, aren’t you?  See if they have any Jams World in my size while you’re there.”

“Will do.”

“I’ll text you.”

Kumai and Charlie greeted each other.  Kumai walked into the warehouse and explained to the couple and their niece, Hele, about the dog.  They gave the pup a bowl of water and pulled out four skeleton keys for Kumai to consider.

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“I have three like this one,” Kumai said, looking over the keys and touching a small plain one, “So do I make it a collection, or do I stop at three?  This other one is extraordinary…”

As she held up a filigreed key, Dede said, “I couldn’t find anything like it online.  Make us an offer.”  Kumai smiled.

Hele was eating a very late lunch of musubi.  These didn’t look like the typical spam, egg, white rice, and nori-wrapped musubi from Tesoro.  Kumai’s stomach growled.  These were probably from the food truck.  Luscious seaweed was wrapped around a filling of brown rice, squash, and coffee-marinated bacon.  The bacon smelled amazing.

Hele wiped her hands and pulled out a long dagger, slightly rusted, wrapped in a nylon cord that was attached to a tattered sheath.

“Nice!  I’ll take it.”  Kumai exclaimed, setting the knife with the keys she would buy.  She turned to walk through the assortment of rattan furniture, pineapple-motif glassware, and carved wooden bowls to go back to the garment racks when her text alert, a Chris Botti riff, went off.  The text was from Annamae, “Folder is for your Puako neighbors.  Urgent.  Deliver immediately.”  The message included the house number, next door makai.  It was the cat’s house, the modern glass cube.

Kumai muttered to herself that she couldn’t get home by 5:00.  She texted, “Got it.  No time for Jams :( ”  She went to the counter and paid while Hele helped speed things up by getting the dog tethered back into the car.

Hele came back with the suggestion, “You should name him Saylor.”

“Nice!” Agreed Kumai, “He seems to be looking for a good time…”

Charlie and Dede chuckled.  Charlie insisted, “Take these musubi with you, would you?  If you don’t want them, give them to the dog.  We can’t eat any more, it’s too close to supper time now.”

Kumai would have protested, but this time she accepted the food gratefully.  She still hadn’t eaten today.

By the time she pulled into her driveway at home, both Kumai and the dog had sprinkled their seats with grains of brown rice.  Not too surprisingly, neither of them had dropped any of the bacon.  The neighbor’s cat slinked around from the side of the house, mewling.  The pup sat up and pulled at its harness, staring like a hunter.

Kumai was not sure how to handle this animal collection.  She’d only seen cats and dogs in cartoons.  Forgetting about unloading anything else right now, she slipped the leash onto the pup’s harness before releasing him from the seatbelt tether.  The pup continued to stare like the cat was true North.  Kumai didn’t have time for a Tom and Jerry show, so she hustled the dog to the front door while the cat disappeared around the other side of the house, toward home.

The dog pulled a bit, but didn’t take chase.  Kumai slid him into the house and closed the door with the dog safely inside.  Somewhere in that house was a loose African Grey Parrot.    She wondered what to do first.  She decided to feed the cat over at its house first so it would stay away from her hale.

The evening light slanted through the sprawling hands of fan-palm leaves, ridging them with orange.  Their trunks were lit with half orange of the sunset and half blue of twilight.  Kumai didn’t have to look  to see the time.  She hadn’t made it home by 5:00.

She followed the cat to its house and opened the bin of food stored at the side of their garage.  The cat was telling her about the day.  It sounded like it was stressful.  Kumai could relate.  The food bin was nearly full, but there might be room for Kumai to add the bag of food that she had bought today.  She wondered where her neighbors went this time.

These neighbors were very private.  Kumai felt like her caring for their cat, even when asked, was almost an invasion of privacy.  She’d never been inside of their home, only seeing it through the windows.  She peeked in now, afraid of seeing them moving around in the bright sunset light.  The place was aglow with sideways sunlight, but no one passed from room to room.

Kumai relaxed and looked more deliberately at the decor.  They had long rectangles of white leather for sofas, with moulded fiberglass side chairs and end tables.  The coffee table was made of two halves of a white ball, both sitting sliced-side up.  She wondered how they balanced there and if they were stable, when she noticed the bottoms of bare feet sticking out past the base of the sofa.

The white shag rug was splattered with blackening scarlet dots.  Kumai stepped backward, dropping the scoop of cat food.  The cat dashed for its kibble.  Kumai backed away from the house and sprinted back to her car for her phone.

The 911 operator was very professional, including the moment when she connected Kumai with the earlier 911 call.  Kumai hoped it would be different officers responding than those in town.  Two emergency calls in one day could earn her a reputation.

The ambulance arrived first.  The crew didn’t work long.  Upon determining both bodies to be dead, they sealed off the scene for investigation.  Kumai stood outside, in front of her house, with several EMT’s coming and going.  She noticed her feet were getting cold in her flip-flops.  She wanted a hot bath.

KirbyInternationalOne man from the ambulance team came up to her after the urgency had passed.  He greeted her, “I’m Kirby.  We met last night at the banquet.”  He didn’t extend his hand, for which Kumai was glad.  She was holding and comforting the cat.  “You are squeezing that cat’s head a little hard, you know?”  Kirby asked, “Can I take it for you?”

Kumai realized that she had been keeping the cat’s eyes covered, maybe from the flashing of the emergency lights, or maybe to hide the sight of the body bags that would be wheeled out of its masters’ house.  She didn’t know what she was doing.  She was squeezing the cat’s head, just like this Kirby said.

“Sorry.  Yeah, thanks. Here.”  Kumai extended the cat to Kirby.

“You’ve had quite a shock,” Kirby said.  “Can I help you inside and get you some water?”  He gestured with his free hand for her to turn and go into her house.  “I can wait there with you for the police.” Kirby looked to his team talking around the back of the engine and gestured to indicate where he was going.

“Police?  Oh, yeah, yes, please.”  Kumai felt dizzy.  And strangely hungry.  Her stomach growled.

The pup greeted them enthusiastically when they entered, dribbling a little on the entry slate from excitement.  “Nice dog.”  Kirby said,  “You must like animals.”

“Not mine.”  Kumai answered absently.  “The cat either.  Just taking care of them.”

“And the bird?”  Kirby asked, looking at the kitchen counter.  Dave let out a wolf whistle at Kirby.  Kumai had to agree.

“Dave is mine.”  Kumai admitted.  “Mind if I sit down?”

“Sit.”  Kirby agreed.  The dog sat and waited.  Kirby got water in a bowl for the dog, then a smaller bowl for the cat.  He brought a glass of water to Kumai then removed his chrome yellow reflective jacket.  Underneath rested two pillars of suspenders following the curve of a plain white T-shirt over a sculpture.  Kumai made herself look away.  She massaged her foot.

Kirby poked around in the kitchen and brought Kumai an assortment of snacks from what she had in the house:  cheese sticks, a protein bar, almonds, and an apple quartered and cored.

“Will you be alright if I go check on things outside?”  Kirby asked.

“Fine, fine.”  Kumai answered.  “Thank you.”

“I’ll come back in, if you want me to.  Maybe you’d rather…”

“I’d like that.”

“Need anything before I go out there?”

“Got any valium?  Morphine?  Nope?”   She pointed to his gear.  “You might want to take your coat there.”  He smiled, gathered his coat, and went out.

Kumai liked how this guy made her feel.  She was already feeling better.  Safe.  He made her feel safe.  Probably all part of his training.  She rested her head back and let her thoughts wander.  The pup curled up beside her on the couch.  She gave him the cheese stick.

Dave had disappeared into the bedroom, presumably to the safety of his cage.  The cat had found a nice round bed on the bamboo barstool cushion and was sound asleep.  All was well in the Kumai Zoo.

But then Kirby returned, not alone.  Two police officers followed Kirby, asking Kumai’s permission to enter and ask her a few questions.  After Kumai told them everything she knew, including the sequence of today’s events relating to her neighbors, they moved on to questions about what she did not know.  What did her (former) neighbors do for a living?  Why might someone want to kill them?  Who would be the closest living relative?

The mention of closest relatives made Kumai think of her hanai Aunt Helen and Uncle Leo in Captain Cook.  Suddenly she was prickly with a need for the homey comfort of their coffee shack.  So when the officers handed her a card and asked her to keep an eye out tonight, she already knew she wasn’t overnighting at Puako, or at the client’s ranch, but down at the coffee farm.  She nodded politely in agreement.

“Are you going to be alright tonight?”  Kirby asked after the police left.

Kumai nodded yes without looking at him.

“What about dealing with these animals?  Do we need to get them to their owners tonight?”

“Cat was the neighbors’.  Dog is a client’s.”

“Oh, okay.  Wow, you go above and beyond in your job.  Why don’t you just kennel him?”

The pup looked up at Kirby with tired, red-rimmed eyes as if he had just threatened to beat him.

Kumai answered, “I love my work because it gives me a chance to help people get what they want.  That matters to me.  Besides, look at the little guy.”  She chuckled at the orphan dog performance.

He couldn’t do it, she knew, but if Kirby had offered to stay and just hold her, she would skip the farm idea.

“Would it be okay with you if I left my cell number?”  He fidgeted.  “It’s something I meant to do last night and regretted not doing, so it’s not professional of me to do it now but I don’t want to regret not doing it again or to just stop by casually because now I know where you live, like I’m a stalker or something, or…”

“I would appreciate having your number.”  Kumai smiled, this time looking at him.  He was adorable.  His asian eyes sparkled with delight at her answer.  He jumped up to write his number on a sticky note on the counter.  Kumai suggested that he just use her phone to call himself and then she’d have his number.  He hesitated, then agreed.

After an awkward goodbye, he left.  Kumai got up for her phone, her body sore from the tensions of the day.  She pressed her auntie’s contact number.  “Mind if I come spend the night?”  Kumai looked at the animals watching her, “With a few friends?”

ohana“We would love that!  I made too much soup so don’t eat.  Just come on.  Friends?  Did you get another bird?  Uncle will love that.”

Kumai chose not to think what it meant that Aunt Helen couldn’t imagine other friends for Kumai than a bird.  Granted, Kumai was talking about a dog and a cat.  But she had friends.  Sage, Tom, Bradon… Kumai gasped.

“Are you okay, Kumai-chan?”  Helen asked.

“I’m fine, just remembered something I forgot to do.”

“Can you still come down tonight?”

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

 

And then…

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