The next morning, Kumai found a lei in the refrigerator. Plumeria strands of cream and pink spiraled around a fragrant maile vine. There was no other note on the black tag, just her name embossed in silver. She draped the thick floral ring over her shoulders, letting equal loops fall in back and front, and inhaled. For a moment, the world became gentler.
Until someone pounded on her front door. She hadn’t even had her first cup yet. Her bare feet slapped softly on the floor as she went to the door, hesitating when she realized that she didn’t have to answer it. She was in her home now. But curiosity got the better of her.
“Kumaitai!” Tommy yelled, both arms outstretched.
Either he was truly happy to see her back, or he had ruined something of hers while she was gone. Or both.
“Tommy.” She said, hugging him.
“‘Sup?” He kissed each cheek, “We brought brunch!” He gestured toward Bonnie who was balancing arms full of foil pans out at the gate.
Kumai rushed out to help her.
“Nice lei.” Bonnie nodded. “Somebody thinks a lot of you.”
Kumai laughed. “Not from you, then?”
“I shoulda acted like it was. How do you get an anonymous lei around your neck?”
“It was in the fridge. Can I help with this?”
“Please.” Bonnie loaded up Kumai then yelled for Tommy. She went back for another load from the beat-up Miata that used to be Kumai’s and now belonged to Tom.
Tommy trotted past Kumai, letting the front screen slam shut just before she got there. “Nice lei.” He chuckled.
By the time that Kumai had showered, dressed and was ready for her second cup of coffee, Bonnie called her outside to eat. At the lanai table sat her dive boss, Peter, with Bonnie, Tom, and Sage. Sage was Kumai’s first friend on the Big Island. She and Tommy were sweethearts, with Sage as the brains of the pair. Sage hugged Kumai and pulled out a chair for her.
Kumai was going to ask whose was the empty seat next to her. There was a knock on the door. Bonnie jumped up to answer it.
“Kirby’s late.” Tommy observed.
“Kirby’s in Vegas.” Kumai corrected.
“Huh?” Tommy asked.
Bonnie returned to the lanai and gestured for Taka to pull up a chair.
“Taka-san!” Tommy exclaimed, jumped up to shake hands and pulled the massive man in for a hug. “Taka can take Kirby’s place.”
“Tommy!” Bonnie scolded.
“No, it’s okay, Kirby’s not coming.” Tommy explained.
Bonnie glanced a worried look to Kumai, who pulled out the chair next to her and patted it.
“Nice lei.” Taka said as he kissed her on each cheek.
Kumai tried not to breathe. Taka smelled of warm sandalwood and coconut. She glanced toward Peter, hoping that his detecting skills were rusty.
Peter smiled. “So, tell us about Europe.”
“Oh. Well…” Kumai paused to think. “It was smaller than I expected.”
“Smaller?” Tommy asked through a mouthful of toasted Punalu’u Sweet Bread. Pink crumbs dangled from his chin.
“Yeah. I could drive through several countries all in one day.”
“And it was more grey than I had expected.”
Taka nodded agreement.
“Grey buildings everywhere in the cities. The countryside was gorgeous. We spent most of our time in the Burgundy region of France on a small farm. Susan enrolled us in farm-to-table cooking classes.”
“Nice!” Sage exclaimed.
“Hooked on wine?” Bonnie asked.
“Over wine.” Kumai admitted.
“So you can cook for us now.” Tommy forked a bite of eggs into his mouth.
“Not a chance.”
Kumai looked around at her table of friends. She was wrong about needing more time alone. This warm welcome made her feel like she had a home.
“Let me know when you’re ready to come back to work.” Peter smiled.
“You mean diving, right?” Kumai clarified. Her supposed divemaster Peter turned out also to be an FBI agent. He was working the same case as Taka, the case that Kumai had no interest in working. “I should be set by tomorrow. To dive.”
Peter glanced at Taka who looked out to sea. Kumai surveyed her yard and broke the awkward silence with, “What the hell? Where’s my palm tree?!”
“Somebody stole it in the night.” Tommy shifted in his seat.
“Was everyone gone from the house?”
“No.” Bonnie said quietly. “I woke up to find it missing. Don’t worry, I’ve filed a report.”
Peter turned to look at the gap in the line of palms marking the side of Kumai’s yard. “People are selling stolen plants to the resort landscapers. I’ll check into it.”
Kumai set her fork down. She wanted to ask how Bonnie could sleep through the sound of heavy equipment, but clearly the theft had been swift and stealthy. They all got up to check tractor tread marks, now muddled by time and investigators.
“When?” Kumai asked.
“Three nights ago.” Bonnie almost whispered. She looked devastated.
“How much are they selling for?” Kumai asked.
“Upwards of fifteen hundred.” Tom said.
Kumai wanted to yell. Instead, she took a deep breath and went inside her house. She grabbed the model sailboat on her way through the living room and shut herself into her bedroom. Which also meant that she could still hear everyone out on the lanai through her screen door.
“I can’t believe that I didn’t hear someone digging up a palm tree.” Bonnie said in disgust. “Stupid sleeping pills. They don’t put me to sleep but apparently they make me deaf.”
“Or you were asleep.” Tom offered.
“And that helps how?” Bonnie snapped.
“Asleep or awake, you are not responsible for someone else’s crime.” Peter paused.
Kumai wondered if Bonnie heard the hesitation in Peter’s statement. Did Peter wonder if Bonnie had sold off one of the palm trees? It looked like it was time to send Bonnie on her way.
The model sailboat hull was full of bills when Kumai removed the deck. Mindlessly stuffing bills in her boat this past year had added up. She had no question that this savings had gone undisturbed, except for three tight rolls of hundreds in the bottom curve of the boat. Kumai didn’t remember doing that, which was good. She sorted and uncrumpled the newer bills from the top layer, added the money she saved from her recent travel, and thought about how to earn more for her dreamed-of sailboat. She rolled the bills and wrapped them with a rubber band.
Six more palms lined the yard, with a gap like a missing tooth. There was another way to fix that gap. Six times fifteen hundred plus these savings, she could buy herself a boat.
“She’ll be fine. Kumai’s distress is probably more from jet-lag than the missing tree.” Taka’s reassuring voice drifted in through the bedroom screen. Through her sheer curtains, Kumai thought she saw Bonnie blot her eyes with a napkin.
Bonnie blew her nose then said, “I was just having trouble sleeping, being here alone. And there were always noises outside. I got to where I didn’t sleep for checking. But I haven’t taken that medicine since. I’ll stay awake if I have to so I can catch those palm-thieving menehunes.”
Does she protest too much? Kumai had to wonder. She sighed, closed the boat, and set it on her bedside table.
Sage knocked softly on Kumai’s bedroom door and called to her. Instead of answering the knock, Kumai went out to the lanai. She had decided. A few months of work plus a good deal on a boat and she would be on her way. In the meantime, she needed to tidy up the hale for her family who might live here next. Which meant she either needed to find the missing palm or buy another full-grown tree.
“Bonnie,” Kumai put both hands on the back of her empty chair, “Thank you for this welcoming meal. I really appreciate you taking care of my place while I was gone. And I appreciate having friends welcome me back.”
“Okay…” Bonnie said. It sounded more like But…
“I will want to get straight back to work on the dive boat tomorrow.” Kumai nodded toward Peter. “Which means we need to find that palm tree today.”
Everyone glanced at each other.
Kumai said, “I’ll take the Four Seasons since I need to go there anyway. That leaves the Mauna Lani and the Mauna Kea. The Hualalai will need two people. Hapuna Prince Resort is close. Who wants what?”
“What do we look for?” Sage asked as she returned to the lanai.
“Three days means that they have planted the tree already.” Peter offered. “Freshly-turned soil won’t help since these places sweep the ground below their trees. Look instead for new squares of turf around the tree, especially a freshly-cut edges on the turf.”
“Groundskeepers.” Bonnie suggested. “They could tell us where new landscaping has gone in.”
“Unless they’re in on the deals.” Peter said. “Best we wait to ask questions. Take a photo of these remaining palms with your phone. We’re looking for the same size and species.”
“Roystonea regia.” Taka said, then shrugged. “Commonly known as the Royal Palm. They’re originally from the Caribbean and an endangered species.”
“Which invokes several other laws.” Peter noted.
Everyone rose from their places and scattered. Bonnie and Tom went out to the trees to take pictures.
“Kumai,” Sage touched her arm.
“Later?” Kumai smiled at her friend to soften the brush-off. “I have a feeling that we need to hurry.”
“I’m going with you.” Taka stated, standing beside Kumai. “We can finish up at the Prince. That way Bonnie can take your Rover.”
“Um,” Kumai started.
“Don’t worry, I’ll follow up at the resort Bonnie goes to.” Peter said from behind Kumai.
“It’s decided then.” Kumai shrugged and downed one more splash of coffee before heading for the door.