“Now what?” Noelani asked. They were back at the outdoor patio at Duke’s. It was nearly three and the lunch crowd was long gone, while few people were thinking of dinner yet. The waitress had just left with their orders.
“Now,” Hardcastle said, “we wait. Probably won’t be long,” he added, when she looked disappointed. “Remember: the faster he kills me, the faster he gets the money, and he thinks we’re leaving on Monday.”
“Think of us as a Ronco pocket fisherman,” McCormick said. “We’re a limited time offer and he’s gotta act fast.”
“And you’re not available in stores?” she said dryly.
“Exactly. Meanwhile, there’s nothing that says we have to sit indoors by the phone. We’re on vacation, we’ve been here three days, and I still haven’t seen the Polynesian Cultural Center.”
“For crying out loud,” Hardcastle said.
“Why would you go there?” Noelani asked.
“Not you, too.”
“Listen to her, kid, she’s a local.”
“There’s way better things than the Cultural Center,” Noelani said. “Pearl Harbor, The Dole Plantation, Diamond Head, Waimea Canyon, the Pali Lookout…Do you scuba dive, or snorkel?”
“Well, even if you don’t, I can show you guys some amazing places on this island, if you want. Tell you what: if I show you around and you still think that only the Cultural Center can fill the emptiness in your soul, I’ll pay your way in there.”
McCormick would have agreed to push the car around the island if it meant spending more time around her. “You’re on,” he said. “When do we start?”
“Not today,” Hardcastle was adamant. “Spending $20 million of monopoly money is enough adventure for one day.”
“Tomorrow, then,” McCormick said.
“Deal,” said Noelani.
* * * * *
Carson called two days and eleven tourist attractions later. With Pearl Harbor, Waimea Canyon, Diamond Head, Pupukea Beach, the Waikiki Aquarium, the Kahuna Stones, and the Chinaman’s Hat, among other sights, under their belts, they stopped for lunch at a casual seafood restaurant Noelani knew. The Judge used a pay phone to call the hotel for their messages, of which there was only one: A Mr. J.B. Carson requested that Mr. Hardcastle contact him at the following number.
Carson was delighted that Mr. Hardcastle had deigned to return his call. “Listen,” he said, “I wanted to congratulate you again on your acquisitions while you were here in the islands. Now, I know you’re leaving in a couple of days and you’re probably a little pressed for time, but I just this morning had something kind of fall into my lap, and the minute I saw it I thought of you.”
“Well,” Hardcastle replied, “that’s awful nice of you. What kind of opportunity are we talking about?”
“It’s a property near the Schofield Forest Reserve; that’s the one with the luxury condo partnership? I know you bought a lot of different things and they kind of all run together.”
“No, I know which place you mean.”
“Great. Well, the Group had a project all set to break ground up there next month, a place adjoining the condo property and backing on to the reserve. But one of the investors had some financial difficulties and had to back out this morning. We’re short a partner now, and I thought of you and your lovely wife, because she seemed so pleased with that site. The parcel is going to be fifty single-family luxury homes on two acre lots. I think you can imagine the kind of buyers we’re going to be attracting with lots of that size and in that location. Is your wife’s birthday any time soon? It could be a present for her.”
“As a matter of fact we’re going to celebrate it in Italy next week,” the Judge said. “I’d love to see the place.”
“Terrific. Is this afternoon good for you?”
“I don’t see why not. She’s got a little shopping trip planned without me anyway, so why don’t we say at four?”
“Perfect,” Carson said. “Uh…There’s just one thing,” he added, “and I’m so embarrassed to mention it. Do you think we could take your car? The limousine developed a solenoid issue this morning.”
“No problem,” Hardcastle said. “But we’ll have to use your driver, if that’s alright with you. Noelani needs someone to carry her shopping bags, so McCormick’s going to be with her.”
“That will be no problem at all.”
Hardcastle rejoined McCormick and Noelani at the table. “Bingo,” he said in answer to their looks. “Four o’clock this afternoon and don’t bring the missus: he wants to show me a gift property I can surprise her with. He even wants to use my car.”
“Nice,” McCormick said.
Noelani looked baffled. “I don’t get it. Why is that good? How do you know this is where he’s going to try to kill you? And why are you happy about that? Shouldn’t you be worried?”
“We’re always happy when the bad guys try to kill us,” McCormick told her. “It means we’re making an impression. When they ignore you, then you have a problem.”
“Carson’s isolating me,” Hardcastle explained after a wry look at McCormick, “and making sure I don’t tell anyone where I’m going. That’s why it’s a secret gift for the ‘little lady’. No offense. It’s that place up on the mountain, where he was talking about putting condos. It was the most remote spot of all the places that we saw. Oh, and Toller’s driving.”
“I heard you the first time. Are you insane? No way, Judge. No. Way.”
“It’s a done deal, kiddo. You’re going to be busy carrying the wife’s purse while she’s shopping.”
“Forget it, Judge. Cancel the shopping trip. I’m going.”
“You’re not going.”
“Ju-udge, we talked about this, remember? About the…the whadda-ya-call-it, the unilateral thing.”
“McCormick, it won’t work if you’re in the car with me. What’s the matter with you? If you come with he’ll either call it off and try again later, or kill us both, and what good are you going to be then? Besides,” he added, “I already paid the registrar for the fall semester.”
McCormick could see the Judge’s logic, but that didn’t make him any less displeased. “We’ll have to follow you, then.”
“He’ll see us,” Noelani said. “You didn’t see that place, but it’s all winding canyon roads, very open up to the top of the mountain where the developments are supposed to be.”
McCormick was thinking feverishly. “What if we get into position before he gets there?”
“Now you’re getting it,” Hardcastle said. “But the guy’s got a lot of places to choose from, and just the two of you can’t cover them all.” He looked at Noelani. “This is where we call the cavalry.”
McCormick threw up his hands in relief. “Finally, he sees reason.”
Noelani looked skeptical. “I think that’s a great idea, but do you really think Rossi’s going to think so?”
“Probably not,” Hardcastle admitted. “But I have contacts with contacts, remember? Joe Hendrickson: he’s the retired chief of police around these parts. Used to be a cop in L.A. He’s got a lot of juice in Five-O, and his cousin’s the head honcho now. Rossi’s going to have her troops in position whether she likes it or not.”
McCormick shook his head: after all this time, Hardcastle could still surprise him, and he knew the Judge liked it that way. “Was this something else you arranged while you were Dumpster diving for shirts?”
“Yep. Come on: finish your poi, or whatever that is, and let’s go.”
It was a tight fit, getting from the restaurant to Noelani’s house for her Jeep and a pair of binoculars and then back to the city in time for Hardcastle to make his four o’clock appointment, but her exclusive Hawaii Kai neighborhood lay between the restaurant and downtown Honolulu, so they didn’t have to go out of the way for the second car. They kept to the main road, state route 72, which merged into the H1 near Diamond Head. Hardcastle drove the speed limit; McCormick, driving the Jeep, did not. He was anxious to get into position and when they reached the exit that Hardcastle would take to Carson’s office they were a good three minutes ahead of the Judge. Following Noelani’s directions, McCormick sent the Jeep up the H2, a route which would take them east around the canyons to the Schofield Reserve. Their expectation was that Carson would take the same route he had the day he first showed Hardcastle and Noelani the property, up Kolekole Road, a steep and convoluted mountain road that climbed the west flank of the island. The police, Hardcastle had assured them, would be positioned at several points between the east end of the bluff near 8th Street and the bluff’s west end in the area where the developments were to be built. Noelani knew a point in the road on the west side of the crest from which virtually all of the road would be visible, and that’s where they were headed.
As they passed 8th Street McCormick glanced over and noted with a sense of relief the unmarked but obvious detective ride parked there. It was a little far away, but he thought he could see two people in the front seat.
“Well, there’s one cop car, anyway,” he said. “See that brown Ford? Cop car.”
“How can you tell?”
“Nobody buys a car that stripped down and boring except cops. It’s a dead giveaway.”
Two tenths of a mile later, just before the west edge of the bluff where the road sloped steeply down, they passed another unremarkable sedan that McCormick identified as a police car, this time on the right side of the road and much closer to it, so that he could see without a doubt that there were two people inside, and he was almost certain that the one in the passenger seat was Rossi.
“Should they be sitting in the open like that?” Noelani asked.
McCormick shook his head. “Not really. They either think they still have time to get into position, or that is their position and they figure Carson’s not coming up that far.”
That was the last comment he could spare attention for: the road sloped steeply just a few yards later, made two hairpin turns, wound its way south around a ridge, then turned abruptly north again as it skimmed the ridge’s west side. As he turned west again Noelani pointed ahead and to their right.
“See that little dirt road that branches off?” she said. “That’s it. Pull in there, turn around, and we should be able to see back the way we just came.”
McCormick stopped the Jeep on the dirt road—just a path, really, cut into the hillside—so that they were facing back up the mountain, but he didn’t turn the car off. “I don’t like this,” he said.
“What’s the matter? We can see great in both directions.”
“Yeah…” McCormick stared west, then back up the mountain.
“There should be more cops. This isn’t right. Hardcastle said his friend was going to have four cars up here.”
“Maybe they’re already concealed. You know: maybe they left their cars back up the mountain and left a couple more guys down here in spots along the road. You said they were supposed to be hiding. Maybe that’s why we didn’t see them.”
“Maybe.” He came to a decision. “We can’t do anything about the cops now. Come on. We have to hide this thing and get ready.” He backed the Jeep along the road for about 200 feet before he stopped abeam a loose cluster of butterfly bushes, shifted into drive, and drove the car into the center of the little glade. “That’ll have to work,” he said. “Even if they notice the red, I don’t think they’ll realize it’s a car up here.”
They trotted back toward the Kolekole Road and jogged east along it until the point where it turned south to coil around the ridge. They continued straight ahead, off the road, and scrambled up a tall mound of rocks and low, scrubby plants. From the top of the mound they had a clear view of Kolekole as it ran west down the mountain and ended at the coast highway, on the other side of which the Pacific Ocean glittered silver and cobalt; and to the east as the road threaded around the ridge, made the two hairpin turns on the other side, and then ran north to the top of the mountain, where the police were waiting. The nearby ridge blocked a short section of the road on its far side, but otherwise the view was unobstructed.
McCormick shifted uneasily as they waited. “What time is it?”
“Two minutes later than the last time you asked. You know, you’re making me nervous. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I hate this, that’s all.”
“What, the waiting?”
“I don’t like it that we only saw two cop cars for this whole stretch of road. I hate not knowing what’s going on with Hardcastle. I should have gone with him no matter what he said. Now we’re just sitting here and we don’t know anything. Are they coming? Are they not coming? Did they already—? I just hate this part,” he concluded.
“Well, I can answer one question: They’re coming.” Noelani crouched lower behind the rock that concealed them.
McCormick reached for the binoculars. He didn’t need them to see the Mercedes, which he recognized now, three-quarters of a mile down the mountain to the west, exactly where they’d expected it to be, but he wanted to see inside the car. He wanted to see Hardcastle. In fact, even with the binoculars he had a hard time seeing much of anything at all inside the vehicle. He recognized Toller as the driver but couldn’t see into the back, and it was hard to keep the things focused with the car heading almost directly toward them. The Mercedes passed the dirt track where they’d hidden the Jeep. At that point he could have lobbed a rock onto it as it passed just below their position. It turned south to start around the small ridge, and still he couldn’t get a clear view into the back seat. “Dammit,” he muttered.
The car emerged from behind the far side of the ridge, running northbound now, and the brake lights came on. This wasn’t unexpected: immediately in front of the car was the first hairpin switchback, followed almost immediately by the next. What he didn’t expect was to see the car stop there.
“What the hell…?” he muttered.
“What are they doing?” Noelani asked. “They’re stopping kind of early. The property’s up at the top of the mountain.”
McCormick raised the binoculars again…focused—and his heart stopped. “Oh, no, no, no, no!”
“What?” Noelani asked, alarmed. His face had gone white. “What’s wrong? Mark—”
But he was already gone, racing down the hill, running, falling, not caring, running again for the Jeep. She glanced back at the Mercedes, and saw why he had turned pale: Carson and Toller hadn’t waited until they reached the mountain to kill Hardcastle. They were struggling to pull his body from the back seat of the car now.
If she went straight ahead on foot over the back side of the ridge she’d have less than a quarter of the distance to travel that Mark did by road, but it was rocky, dangerous ground, and if she fell she would never get there in time. She reached the decision almost before she’d formed the question, and turned to go after McCormick.
As fast as she was, she wouldn’t have caught him if he hadn’t left the dirt road, but he had to climb the slope through the bushes to the Jeep, and she leapt into the passenger seat just as the Jeep rocketed forward and exploded through the bushes. It hit the dirt track with all four wheels at the same time, then fishtailed as McCormick stood on the brakes and cranked the wheel hard to the left. He sent the car down the road, didn’t ease off the throttle for a second as they approached the main road again, just hurtled forward, not looking to see whether anyone else was on the road, and not caring. The car lurched as it made the transition to the asphalt and the tires gripped. He was still muttering under his breath, not realizing that he was doing it: “No, no, no, no.”
They reached the southbound section of road that wound around the ridge, and for one sickening heartbeat she thought he was going to steer straight into the side of it. But he cranked the wheel to the right and stepped on the gas and the car’s back end broke away to the left. As the rear tires lost their grip he turned the wheel toward them and now the Jeep was sliding sideways, broadside on to the ridge—but somehow facing south now, the direction they needed to go, and going almost as fast as they’d been before the turn. He did the same thing to negotiate the turn back northbound, driving hard and so deep into the turn that she was sure they would sail straight off the mountain.
The Jeep roared north toward the hairpin where the Mercedes was parked hugging the shoulder on the up-ridge side of the road. Noelani had thought that Mark’s efforts were hopeless, that it had taken far too long to run back to the car and make the drive, but Carson and Toller were just now managing to get Hardcastle clear of the car. McCormick kept going, straight for the Mercedes.
Carson and Toller heard him coming and looked up. McCormick saw them glance at each other, then drop the Judge in the road. He saw Hardcastle stir, try to push himself up, then fall back, and then he didn’t have time to see anything else—not in any kind of coherent order, anyway. He hit the brakes, turned the wheel to the right, yanked up on the hand brake, and as the car started to go sideways he instantly took out the steering input. The Jeep slid sideways, quickly lost momentum, and hit the back of the Mercedes with a crumping sound. McCormick was out of the car and over the trunk of the Mercedes before either car stopped rocking.
He headed for Carson, who was closest of the two men and who swung at him with a wide floating right hook that he easily ducked. He countered with a right of his own and Carson went down in a heap.
Noelani bent over the Judge, who fought groggily to sit up. She didn’t see any blood or obvious injuries, and from the look of his eyes she suspected that he’d been drugged. She glanced up in time to see McCormick deal with Carson, and then she had to look away as she helped the Judge to the cars. When she thought he was safely propped against the side of the Mercedes she turned back to the fight and saw with a shock that McCormick wasn’t faring as well against Toller. He was backing away from the man now, and she could see that he was bleeding badly from a slash on his left hand. She glanced at Hardcastle, but he wasn’t going anywhere, and she knew she could safely leave him. Carson was barely conscious in the center of the road and no longer any kind of threat.
Toller’s back was to her, and she might very well have succeeded in disabling him from behind: she had no illusions whatsoever about fighting fair against a guy with a seven-inch buck knife. But McCormick saw her coming, and disoriented as he was by his injury he called out a warning to her. Toller turned, and the kick she had aimed at the back of his knee just missed its target. She didn’t try to stop and reverse course, but let her momentum carry her forward, toward McCormick and past Toller, who pivoted to follow her until he was facing back the way he’d started.
McCormick stood behind her, swaying, holding his wrist with his good hand. “Noelani, don’t,” he gasped. “Get out of the way.” He tried to push past her, but she caught his good hand, twisted it up and back toward him, and his knees buckled. She relaxed her grip and backed him up until he lost his balance and sat down in the dust on the side of the road, whiter than ever and bleeding all over himself.
“I’m sorry, Mark,” she said. “You’re done. Stay there.”
“You’re all done,” Toller said. “You stupid bitch.”
“Mark,” she called again without turning around. “Keep your hand up. Do you hear me? Keep pressure on your hand.”
“You know what I think?” Toller said, deftly tossing the knife from hand to hand. “I think you and your pretty boyfriend and your rich sugar daddy are going to end up together in the bottom of that ravine. A dangerous mountain road claims the lives of three tourists. Such a sad story. Shame to wreck such a nice car, though.”
“You know what I think?” she replied. “You talk too much.”
He lunged at her and the blade flashed out, but for all his size and strength and deftness with the knife he couldn’t match her fluid athleticism. She blocked his slashes and darted away, first to one side, then the other, but she didn’t want to keep it up indefinitely: Mark was going to bleed out if she didn’t end this. She could see him behind Toller, now crawling on his hands and knees toward Hardcastle. Toller shifted the knife to his right hand and slashed backhanded at her, but she’d had enough: She blocked the strike with both hands and stomped the side of Toller’s knee. He screamed as the joint broke with a wet crunch. As his leg buckled she reached around the back of his head with her left hand, cupped his chin in her hand, and turned to her left in a wide arc, flinging him to the ground. He landed on his left side and his right arm flailed in a futile, automatic gesture to keep his balance. She caught his upstretched arm under her own right elbow and kept it pinned tight and straight against her body. This freed both her hands, and she easily stripped the knife away from him. She shifted it to her left hand and pressed the tip under his jaw.
“You know what else I think?” she hissed. “You shouldn’t have brought a knife to a gun fight.”
After Noelani pushed him out of the road, McCormick surprised himself by managing to get to his feet. He headed for Hardcastle, wondering why the ground was tilting so sharply, and in different directions. Volcano, maybe, he thought. Crawling seemed like a better plan. He could feel the gravel under his hands and knees, but it didn’t hurt; he wasn’t sure whether he should be more alarmed by that or by the fact that he didn’t care about it.
“Judge? Judge, you okay? What happened?”
“Hey, kid. Ah, I’m fine. Fine,” the Judge said. His head still felt a little thick, but it was clearing fast. “Mickey in my drink, is all. No big deal.” He frowned. “Hey, stop pawing at me, now. You’re making a mess on my shirt, with all that—-what the hell, McCormick? You’re bleeding!”
McCormick glanced at his hand and realized that he’d forgotten to keep it up. “Oh,” he said, and decided abruptly to sit down again. Over the ringing in his ears he heard the sirens as the cavalry got under way. “Better late than never,” he said, or thought he said, and then everything went black.