Neil S. Plakcy


The exchange was set for six o’clock, under the arbor that ran between the zoo and the old aquatic stadium where Duke Kahanamoku swam for his records. By that time, as the sun was beginning its nightly drop into the darkening sea, there were still enough strollers and fishermen to provide cover, but not enough people to make the place crowded. I was dressed like a moke, in a grubby T-shirt from a surfing contest I’d lost years before, a pair of low-slung shorts and worn tennis shoes. I had a tattered backpack slung over one shoulder, and inside it were stacks of twenties and fifties that had been treated with fluorescent powder. I hadn’t shaved for two days, and when an elderly couple wearing matching aloha shirts gave me a wide berth on the sidewalk along Kalakaua Avenue, I knew the look was complete.

Tourists were packing up on the beach, toting their blankets and suntan lotion back toward the motels and time shares on the mauka, or mountain, side of Kalakaua. Japanese businessmen were stopping in at the chic boutiques, using their strong yen to buy European designer goods for neglected families back home. And somewhere in the distance I heard the rattle of an ipu gourd and the pound of a pahu hula, a sharkskin drum. That meant a hotel or bar was starting its hula happy hour for the Midwesterners among us, a chance for grandpa to get up and dance the hula with a pretty wahine while grandma trained the videocam on him for the folks back home, and everybody got brightly-colored drinks with little umbrellas.

Across the street, I saw my partner, Akoni, a beefy Hawaiian who went through the academy with me. We were an odd-couple pair, me tall and slim, Akoni short and stout. He had more pure Hawaiian blood in him, and darker skin. My father was half Hawaiian and half haole, or white, so even with a deep tan I was still fairer than Akoni. He wore an XXL aloha shirt in a bright pink and red pattern, shorts, and tennis sneakers, and he looked like one of those guys at the beach who rent out the surfboards. He looked pointedly at his watch. I nodded slightly, and crossed the street diagonally at Kapahulu, past the lovely Hawaiian-style Denny’s, with its second floor porch overlooking the beach, where you can get papaya with your Grand Slam breakfast.

I followed the shoreline under the big spreading banyan tree, walking along the beach called Queen’s Surf, which ran alongside Kapiolani Park. There was a volleyball net on the beach, and then a breakwater, and then the beach got really narrow.

That narrow section was the gay beach. There were about a dozen guys on the sand there, even though the tide was coming in, bringing with it scattered leaves and seaweed. There were fat guys and fit guys, guys wearing everything from the briefest of thongs to double XL swim trunks. Another ten or fifteen guys sat on the grass and benches, one group on towels under a palm tree. A guy with both nipples pierced winked at me and I quickly looked offshore, where a snorkeler swam toward Diamond Head, as if he was heading to the same rendezvous I was. Beyond him a range of sailboats and fishing boats cruised the glowing water.

A kid on a skateboard zoomed past, then stopped nearly in front of me to practice a jump, which he missed. I was jittery and I wanted to yell at him, flash my badge and give him the kind of scare he’d given me, but I held back. I headed along the narrow walkway behind the zoo, trying to concentrate on the shallow blue-green water, think only about the barnacle-encrusted pipe that rests on the sea floor and stretches out toward the horizon, bringing in deep, pure water for the aquarium behind me. But it didn’t work; I kept thinking of the bust.

Akoni was behind me. One of the fishermen along the shore, Lou See, was a member of the SWAT team, and he had a. 357 Magnum in a shoulder holster under his baggy shirt, and a second in his creel. Evan Gonsalves, who was our link to the state’s import cops, was at the end of the path, waiting to monitor my conversation on a radio. I knew Evan carried a five-shot Smith and Wesson Undercover. 38, with a two-inch barrel. The two young lovers leaning against a tree were beat cops from the Waikiki station, Lidia Portuondo and Alvy Greenberg, and I wondered idly if they were enjoying this assignment. I think they were both carrying Smith and Wesson. 38s, too.

I walked along behind the aquarium, where the pavement had been patched roughly. A single guard dog barked among the refrigeration equipment, which was poorly camouflaged behind a cluster of succulent hinahina plants with scattered white flowers. The low susurrus of the surf ebbed and flowed through my consciousness, and I breathed deeply, smelling salt air, car exhaust, and the low, sweet perfume of coconut tanning oil.

The week before a source had told me about a shipment of heroin coming in from Mexico, a kind they call black tar. It was cruder than the heroin produced in Asia, and sold on the streets for up to $100 per quarter-gram. It was smoked rather than injected, and that made it easier to get into, especially for teenagers. I was about to buy a pound of the stuff, with a street value of $150,000. If I didn’t screw anything up.

I got to the front of the stadium, by the big stucco gates sealed off with chain link fence, and waited. I looked up at the gates, thirty feet high, with Ionic pilasters and “The War Memorial” written on a lintel above. On either side of the Hawai‘i state seal above that were a pair of eagles, only the one on the Diamond Head side had lost his head, just a metal rod sticking up out of his neck. The gate was blocked with a chain link fence and signs that said “No Trespassing” and “Danger: Falling Rocks.” Through the fence I looked out at the pool and the ocean beyond, waves breaking on the deep blue water, the dying sun glinting off the crests of the surf.

A battered blue pickup stopped at the curb, and the two Mexicans got out. When I met them at a seedy bar down near Fort DeRussy, they presented themselves to me as college kids on vacation, doing a favor for the boy’s uncle. The boy, Pedro, had said it was a way to finance the trip. His girlfriend’s name was Luz Maria, and she was the one I didn’t trust. There was something cold about her mouth, a determination that was a little scary. I had the feeling she was along to keep Pedro in line.

As I started walking towards them, across the faded brown concrete worn down by sun and time, I heard a phone ring and saw the woman open up a portable cell phone. She spoke for just a moment, then turned to the man next to her and said something. They both turned and ran for the truck.

“Shit, something’s gone wrong,” I heard Evan say through my earpiece. Cops erupted from their hiding places and began to chase them, dodging mothers with strollers and tourists in aloha shirts so new they still had the original creases. I saw Luz Maria take the briefcase from Pedro and toss it in a high, sailing arc. It landed on the rail surrounding the truck bed, teetered there for an instant, and then fell into the bed. Almost simultaneously, the driver of the truck floored the engine and it squealed off down Diamond Head Road.

I was the closest, and I tackled Luz Maria just seconds after she threw away the briefcase. We scuffled for a minute, each of us struggling to get a purchase on the other. For those few minutes, everything moved in slow motion. I felt the sinews in her biceps, smelled her earthy scent, an accumulation of a day or two’s sweat. I heard the crackle of a radio behind me and the noise of running footsteps.

I hadn’t been that close to a woman in a long time. She twisted and turned under me, grinding her pelvis and breasts against me, simultaneously trying to get my gun and to knee me in the crotch. I outweighed her by fifty pounds and I was on top, but she was strong and lithe.

Then Akoni was there, wrestling her arms behind her back and into a pair of cuffs. I picked up her gun, a small. 45, then stood up. I was still charged, feeling nothing but the rush of blood, the electric tension in my fingertips. I knew I’d feel the effects of that tackle the next day. I shook my arms out and did a couple of deep knee bends.

Evan had Pedro flat on the ground with his foot in the small of the college boy’s back, and Lidia and Alvy were running along Diamond Head Road, trying to get a plate ID on the pickup. Lou See was already radioing in for the paddy wagon.

Lidia and Alvy returned, empty-handed, and took over custody of the two Mexicans. “Shit, what went wrong?” I asked, as Akoni, Evan, Lou and I sat down at one of the picnic tables.

“Looked like the woman got a tip off at the last minute,” Lou said. “You saw her on the phone.”

“Can we subpoena the phone records?” Evan asked. “Find out who called her?”

I shook my head. “Not without some supporting evidence,” I said. “Peggy’s not going to be pleased about this one.”

Peggy Kaneahe, Assistant DA, was waiting for us at the main station downtown. I had a long history with

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