“You’re steaming up that window,” Hardcastle said.
United Airlines Flight 2, 747 Friendship Service from Los Angeles to Honolulu, was early. Lighter than forecast headwinds put the flight 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and the aircraft transitioned from cruise to approach, passing between the south side of Oahu and the north shore of Molokai and descending gradually as it did so. In the first-class cabin, immediately ahead of the bulkhead dividing it from coach class, Mark McCormick pressed his nose to the plastic inner window lens and stared greedily at the jungle-draped mountains, the waterfalls streaming down their impossibly steep flanks, and the turbulent, turquoise water crashing against their feet, where it was shattered into white foam. He had been certain that Hawaii would astound him, but this first glimpse of the place surpassed his most fervent imaginings. He was delighted, amazed, enchanted.
His mouth was open, Hardcastle noted disapprovingly. He applied some elbow. “I said you’re getting nose grease all over the window.”
McCormick didn’t spare him a glance. “Judge, look at this: look at this place. It’s amazing. Look at it!”
“I’d like to look at it, McCormick, but all that curly hair’s in my way.”
“What? Oh.” McCormick pressed himself back against his seat but never took his eyes from the view.
“Ah, forget it. Go ahead and look. I’ve seen it before, you know. The judges’ convention was here in ’84.”
“Yeah. And you left early. How could you leave a place this amazing?”
Hardcastle snorted. “It’s just palm trees.”
“That’s like saying the Golden Gate Bridge is just wires.”
After the usual post-flight process of collecting their suitcases from baggage claim and a rental car from the lot, they got on their way to the hotel. To preclude gaper’s delays, Hardcastle drove. As they traveled, the brilliantly clear sky, swept clean by the trade winds, and pleasantly mild air were a welcome contrast to the blazing dry August oven of Los Angeles and lifted even Hardcastle’s mood, in spite of his aversion to the prospect of spending two weeks being herded from one tourist attraction to another. Yet as they turned into their hotel’s driveway his scowl returned.
“All the great hotels on this beach and you had to put us in the pink one?” he growled.
“Come on, Judge,” McCormick said. “It’s the Pink Palace. The Royal Hawaiian. It’s one of the most famous hotels in the whole country. A lot of famous people have stayed here, you know. Douglas Fairbanks...Joe DiMaggio...Franklin Roosevelt...”
“Get the bags.”
“...Milton C. Hardcastle...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
The Judge headed for the front desk. He wasn’t too concerned about undermining McCormick’s enthusiasm for this vacation: even now the kid was staring in open-mouthed wonder at the luxurious lobby as though he’d been raised by wolves, and Hardcastle knew that nothing he could say would dampen McCormick’s boundless delight with the place. And in fact he didn’t really want to. It was a habit of long standing to nurture a spirit of contradiction, but in fact he both approved of his friend’s ebullience and enjoyed it.
Once in their room McCormick spent some time appreciating the complimentary toiletries before the view, which included both Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head crater, caught his attention. When he could finally be induced to peel himself away from the window he helped the Judge unpack, and each changed into his idea of resort wear: cargo shorts and a polo shirt for McCormick, trousers and a t-shirt for the Judge; and then they stopped by the concierge desk to ask after the best local place for lunch. This turned out to be Duke’s, just a few doors east of the hotel and an easy walk along the famous beach.
“Man, I’m starved,” McCormick announced as they set out. “I hope the guy’s right about this place.”
“Hm. As long as it has the kind of menus you don’t have to color, we’ll probably be fine.”
“Can you believe this place?” McCormick waved his hand at the hotel’s grounds, which made merely manicured landscaping look shabby. “They must have a hundred guys working on this place night and day.”
“Or maybe just one guy who pays attention to what he’s doing.”
McCormick shot him a reproachful glance. “Anyway. It’s great, don’t you think?”
“Come on, Judge. You gotta admit: the palm trees, the sandy beaches, the ocean...Hawaii is amazing.”
“Yeah, too bad we don’t have any of those things in California.”
“This is different.”
“Oh, hey, about that,” McCormick said, suddenly serious. “Thanks again. Really. For the hotel, for upgrading the room, the whole thing.”
“Hey, a deal’s a deal. I told you last year we could go to Hawaii.”
“Yeah, but first class tickets, a room with a view of something besides the laundry chute…you’re really splurging, here.”
“Think of it as a reward for acing the spring semester.”
McCormick grinned. “Yeah?”
“I thought lunch at Barney’s covered that. What happens if I graduate top of my class?”
“You get a job.”
McCormick smiled and returned his attention to their surroundings. They emerged from the hotel’s sculptured grounds onto the beach, turned left, and paralleled the water. To their left rose the neighboring hotels with their expensive boutiques and restaurants; to their right lay a broad expanse of warm, sugar-fine sand, liberally speckled with sun-worshipping tourists, and beyond the beach the glittering Pacific Ocean, at this mid-afternoon hour showing every shade of blue from aqua-marine to cobalt and itself dotted with surfers, snorkelers, and swimmers close to shore, and sport-fishing and pleasure boats beyond the reef.
As they strolled they overtook the straggling members of a large tour group moving in the same direction: a dozen white- and blue-haired women, mostly wearing muu-muus and carrying huge straw totes, and their far more sketchily-clad husbands.
“Whoa,” McCormick muttered. “Black socks, loafers, and swim trunks up to their armpits. Those guys dress worse than you.”
“Into every paradise a little rain must fall, McCormick. Just be glad they aren’t wearing Speedos.”
“Hey! Lunch, Judge. You’re gonna kill my appetite.”
“Good. Save me some money.”
They both noticed it at the same time: Hardcastle because he wasn’t interested in the scenery; McCormick because he was happily drinking everything in. Independently their gazes flicked over the man, then returned to him. A thin young guy in cutoff denim shorts, a dirty yellow t-shirt, and tattered grey, formerly-white Keds lounged on a park bench between the boardwalk and parking lot, beyond the tour group that was slowly approaching him. He was watching the tourists with a predatory intent that both the Judge and McCormick recognized at once. Neither spoke, but each was aware that the other had spotted the man. Nor were either of them surprised when, as the last of the group passed his bench, the young man pushed himself away from it, strode boldly into the middle of the stragglers, yanked the purse from the hand of the woman closest to him, and sprinted away.
“Dammit,” McCormick said. “Not here, too.”
Hardcastle sighed. “Get after him.”
“Yeah, yeah...” McCormick broke into a run.
When he saw McCormick charging toward him the thief made a sweeping u-turn and fled in the opposite direction, bulling his way through the pack of elderly tourists and knocking several of them into the sand. McCormick’s progress was hampered by the sand, the fallen tourists, and the ones who, still on their feet, were milling about in alarm and confusion, and he made poor progress.
Had the thief veered into the parking lot when he saw McCormick charging toward him he might have succeeded in his escape. But he kept to the sand and he never saw the young woman until it was too late.
She had been walking up from the beach, her long black hair still slicked back from the salt water, her bare feet coated with hot sand, approaching the parking lot at an oblique angle. Under her left arm she carried an ocean kayak; the other held a paddle. Her movements were unhurried, and it was this that kept the thief’s attention from her until it was too late. As he approached she almost casually chucked the paddle toward his churning feet, bringing him down hard. The purse flew from his grip, scattering its contents. She dropped the kayak, stepped in front of the man, and stood calmly waiting.
“Son of a bitch!” he cried. He scrambled to his feet, glanced at his prize, now hopelessly mired in the sand, then shifted his wild gaze to the young woman.
She met his glance. “That bag doesn’t go with your shoes,” she said coolly.
“You bitch!” he cried, and swung at her in a wide arc. She had been waiting for this. Her left hand snapped up and deftly blocked the blow and simultaneously, using the torque of her twisting hips to add power, she drove the heel of her right hand into his nose. As her counterstrike landed she flicked her right foot forward, hooked his right leg behind the calf and swept his feet from under him. She stood over him, her bare left foot pressing against the side of his face and her hands trapping his wrist, keeping his arm straight and his wrist bent. Each time he struggled she pressed almost imperceptibly down with her foot while pulling up on his wrist, until very soon he stopped resisting and lay there panting and swearing. And bleeding.
“Enough?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s enough. Ow! Let me up, damnit!”
She took her foot off his face but kept her grip on his hand. “Get up,” she said, and encouraged by the excruciating pain in his wrist and forearm the man was induced to stand. Keeping his wrist trapped and his arm pinned behind him, she steered him toward the park bench on which he’d been lurking moments earlier.
McCormick had seen most of this as he plowed awkwardly through the sand, and now he skidded to a stop, scattering sand and gaping. He was standing between the young woman and her goal of the park bench, though, and she fixed him with an imperious glare. “Move it or lose it,” she growled.
“What? Oh!” McCormick backed hurriedly, his hands up in a “don’t hurt me” gesture of submission. To cover his confusion he knelt and picked up the purse, stuffing the contents as well as a liberal amount of sand back inside. The sand was an unintentional byproduct of being unable to stop staring at the young woman. Besides her obvious ability to deck him, the first thing he noticed were her eyes. They were dark brown, almost black, almond-shaped and intelligent. Her black, glossy hair was pulled back into a ponytail that hit between her shoulder blades. She wore a sky-blue, short-sleeved rash guard shirt over a flame-colored bikini bottom, an ensemble which emphasized her tall, athletic figure and strong, toned limbs. Her refined, vaguely exotic features suggested a mingled Asian and Polynesian heritage. The overall effect as she stood guarding her catch was one of grace, athleticism, and beauty. McCormick was speechless.
Farther down the boardwalk Hardcastle had helped the purse-snatching victim to her feet and now he guided her toward the bench. McCormick handed her the purse. “He didn’t have time to take anything, ma’am,” he said. “I think I got all your things back in there.” He glanced at the Judge. “She okay?”
“Oh, yeah. Nothing physical. Just shaken up some. You know.”
“You didn’t lay a lecture on her, did you?”
Hardcastle ignored the dig and addressed the young woman. “Uh, miss? Would you like to borrow these?” He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his back pocket and held them out to her.
Her eyes flicked from the cuffs to Hardcastle’s face as she considered. Then her expression softened somewhat and she said, “Thank you.” She accepted the handcuffs, secured the man’s wrists behind his back, and shoved him toward the bench. “Sit.”
McCormick whispered a fierce aside in Hardcastle’s ear. “I don’t believe you. Are you crazy? You brought those on vacation? To Hawaii?!”
Hardcastle snorted. “What’s the matter with you? Look at this: if I hadn’t brought them, how else would we keep this guy around until the cops get here? Not that you weren’t doing just fine on your own,” he added, and flashed the young woman a winning smile. “You can make a citizen’s arrest now,” he added.
She hiked an eyebrow at him, and he explained. “Just say that you’re placing him under citizen’s arrest and that he can’t leave until the cops get here.”
“You’re under arrest,” she told the thief. “I’m placing you under citizen’s arrest and you’re going to sit there until the cops show up.” She glanced at the Judge. “Does he have to say anything?”
“It’s better if he doesn’t,” Hardcastle said.
By now someone had called the police, and two uniformed officers, one a tall carroty-haired middle-aged man, and the other blond and somewhat younger, stopped their marked cruiser in the parking lot. The taller one scowled as he approached the little group. “What’re you doing here, Noelani? You know you’re not supposed to be in this neighborhood.”
“It’s a public beach, Wilks,” she replied coolly.
“You’ve got your own beach. What are you doing down here?”
“Your job,” she snapped. “Again.”
Wilks squared his shoulders, puffed himself up, and took a step toward her.
Hardcastle stepped between them. “Officer,” he said in what for him was a conciliating tone. “I’m Milt Hardcastle. Judge Milton C. Hardcastle. LA Superior Court, retired. I was a witness to what happened here, and this young lady stopped an assault and robbery in progress.”
Wilks stared at Noelani for a few seconds longer, then moved his gaze to the Judge: clearly unimpressed and with no apparent recognition.
“What’d you say your name was?”
“Hardcastle. Milt Hardcastle. My friend and I were walking on the beach here and saw this guy—” pointing to the thief bleeding on the bench “—knock this woman down and steal her purse. This young lady here stopped him.”
“I guess that explains why he’s the one doing the bleeding,” the cop sneered.
The thief spoke up. “The crazy bitch hit me,” he whined. “I was just jogging.”
“Yeah, he was jogging away with that lady’s purse,” McCormick said, irritated into putting his oar in. “He swung at her first. I saw it. We all saw it. Ask any of these people.” He gestured toward the tour group that had gathered. “She acted in self-defense and in defense of another. We’re witnesses, and we want to give statements about what we saw.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Mark McCormick.”
“You guys friends of hers?” the cop asked, jerking his thumb at Noelani.
“We’ve never seen her before,” Hardcastle said. “We’re here on vacation. We just got here an hour ago, and we were walking down to Duke’s and this guy knocked an old lady down and stole her purse. I told you. Now what the hell are you gonna do about that?”
Wilks opened his mouth to reply, but his partner tugged his sleeve and muttered something in his ear. Wilks shut his mouth. He stared at the three of them a while longer, then said, “If you want to give a statement you’ll have to do it at the station.” He turned to his partner and motioned toward the thief. “Put this guy in the car. Noelani, you’re lucky your friends are here. If it was up to me I’d put you in the back with this guy, and you could spend the night in the can and let your lawyer sort it out in the morning. If you can find one.”
She ignored the cop and turned to the Judge and McCormick. “Thanks,” she said. “I’m Noelani. Noelani Alemana.” Her handshake was warm, confident.
Once the introductions had been made McCormick, still smiling, said, “So. Cop shop. Where is it?”
She pointed. “Just there. It’s the white building on the other side of that hotel.”
“Well, how convenient is that?” McCormick said to Hardcastle. “Walking distance from the hotel. Hey, if we’d known Hawaii was such a handy hotbed of crime I’m sure we’d have come a long time ago, right, Judge?”
Hardcastle just sighed.
Noelani stowed her kayak in a gleaming red Jeep that was parked nearby, then reached under the front seat, withdrew a pair of shorts and flip-flop sandals, and slipped them on. As the kayak obviated the possibility of passengers, the Judge and McCormick walked to the nearby police station.
It soon became clear that Wilks’ attitude wasn’t an anomaly. Although none of the officers they met were as openly rude as Wilks, none regarded Noelani with much approval, either. If she noticed their coolness she gave no sign of it as she provided an orderly, coherent, accurate account of the thief’s actions and her own. The Judge and McCormick signed their own statements, and as they rose to leave the squad room doors opened and a middle-aged woman in a navy blue suit strode purposefully into the room. She stopped when she saw Noelani and her broad face reddened: another cop who wasn’t happy to see her. Her staff ID tag read “Capt. Karen Rossi.”
“What are you doing here, Noelani? I told you: the investigation is finished.”
Noelani scowled. “I’m not here about that,” she said with an irritated lift of her chin. “I’m here about another one of your oversights. That spitbag Wilks is booking stole a lady’s purse on the beach. Don’t you know that crime’s bad for tourism?”
“I’m not going to ask you again,” Rossi said. “What the hell were you doing on Waikiki?
Noelani smiled serenely. ”Well, I’ll tell you, what, comrade: I don’t have to answer that, but I’m in a good mood, so: I was kayaking on a public beach.“
”You got your own beach,“ Rossi snapped. ”Start using it. I’ve told you before about harassing Carson. I’m not going to tell you again.“
”Who said anything about Carson?“ Noelani said calmly. ”I was kayaking. On a public beach. When I was done kayaking I did Wilks’ job by cleaning up the trash. Right in your own back yard, too.“
It was clear to Hardcastle that there was nowhere for this conversation to go but south. He stepped forward with a broad smile and his hand extended. ”Hi,“ he said and peered at her ID badge. ”Captain…Rossi, is it? I’m Milt Hardcastle. Tourist. My friend and I saw this young lady stop an assault and robbery. We were helping out with witness statements.“
Rossi turned her glare from Noelani to Hardcastle. ”Hardcastle.“ she said. ”Milt Hardcastle? Judge Milton C. Hardcastle?“
”That’s right. Nice to meet you.“
Rossi ignored the Judge’s proffered hand. ”I’ve heard of you, Judge,“ she said. ”I know you like to shove into other people’s business. I don’t know what Noelani here has told you, but if you’re really here as a tourist then she’s the last person on this island that you ought to be mixed up with. That’s a closed case, and that’s all you need to know.“
Hardcastle’s veneer of pleasantry slipped somewhat, but he was for once innocent of the charge of snooping around, and as a former cop himself he tended to give the police the benefit of the doubt. ”I’ve never met this young lady before today,“ he said evenly. ”We witnessed a crime and witnessed her stopping it. That’s it. We’re not here to step on anybody’s investigation.“
”There’s no investigation,“ Rossi snapped. ”It’s a closed case.“
”We’re tourists,“ Hardcastle insisted. ”That’s it.“
Rossi appeared not to have heard. She glanced at McCormick. ”Who’s this? Your latest project? I know you like to rehabilitate strays. In fact, I know all about you, Judge. Word gets around, you know, even in the middle of the ocean. I know you like to make the cops look like we can’t do our jobs. But I’m telling you: Stay away from Noelani. She’s barking up the wrong tree, and if you hang around with her you’re going to wish you never left L.A.“ She turned on her heel and disappeared into her office before the Judge could indulge himself in a parting shot.
McCormick gave a low whistle. ”Whoa,“ he said. ”What’s her problem? Somebody put salt sprinkles on the doughnuts?“
”Let’s go,“ Hardcastle said.
Outside, though, standing on the steps of the police station, he turned to Noelani with more than casual interest. ”What’s going on with you and the cops?“ he asked.
Noelani hesitated. She didn’t know these guys, although she instinctively approved of them both as people who were willing to get involved. They’d proved that much. Rossi’s hostility toward Hardcastle impressed her favorably, too. She didn’t answer his question, though, instead posing one of her own. ”You’re a judge?“
”LA Superior Court.“
”Retired,“ McCormick put in.
Noelani was still looking at Hardcastle. ”What did she mean about making the cops look incompetent?“
”Well--“ McCormick began.
”Shut up, McCormick. We don’t make the cops look incompetent.“
”No, they usually do that on their own,“ McCormick said.
”I used to be a cop,“ Hardcastle said, ignoring him, ”before I was a judge. Now I’m retired, and there have been a couple of times when we’ve been able to help out the police with different things. Some of their cases. That’s all.“
”And you really want to know what’s bugging Rossi.“
Noelani considered. ”You said you were on your way to lunch at Duke’s. Still hungry?“
”Starving,” McCormick said.