Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
A jigger of tranquility is all Em Johnson wants, but now that her beloved Tiki Goddess Bar has been chosen as the location for Trouble in Paradise, TV’s hot new reality show, life is anything but tranquil. When a member of the camera crew is found dead in her kitchen—stabbed to death with Chef Kimo’s sashimi knife—the scene on the sleepy North Shore of Kauai goes from eccentrically crazy to downright dangerous. Suspects lurk behind every paper drink umbrella.
It’s not enough that Chef Kimo is the number one suspect or that the life’s-a-party Hula Maidens nearly burn down the place while dancing the hula with flaming coconuts. Em still has to deal with her Uncle Louie’s wedding to The Black Widow—until his fianceé’s Mercedes plunges into the Pacific. Roland Sharpe, a handsome, Hawaiian, fire-dancing detective, warns the locals not to interfere, but Em and the madcap Maidens can’t help themselves and soon wind up knee deep in danger again. Can the irrepressible troupe solve threemurders before the champagne goes flat?
"…cleverly plotted, fast-paced, has witty dialogue, and brings the funny - to the point of laughing out loud." -- Janet Kinsella, Amazon
"A delightful summery read that is sure to leave readers giggling." -- Rosemary Smith, Wordpress
Cue the Maidens!
IS A JIGGER of tranquility really too much to ask for?
Standing behind a twelve-foot koa wood bar, Em Johnson, manager of the Tiki Goddess on Kauai’s North Shore, started prepping for the day ahead. After filling the ice bin, she sliced fruit for the sectional dish that held lime, pineapple, lemon slices, and maraschino cherries for the tropical concoctions tourists ordered in droves.
Across the room, Pat Boggs, better known as "Sarge,” struggled to wrangle an incorrigible group of geriatric hula dancers into some semblance of order. The senior dancers, a.k.a the Hula Maidens, had stubbornly conned their way into becoming the featured act at the Goddess.
"Okay, you gol’danged left-footed boobies, shut up and get in line! You do know what a line is don’t ’cha? It’s show time!” Pat hollered.
Pat’s voice grated on Em’s nerves like nails on a chalkboard.
Em inhaled, closed her eyes, and slowly counted to ten. When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring up at Nat Clark, a full time television script writer and part-time Kauai resident from L.A. Nat owned the refurbished plantation cottage on the beach next door to the Goddess. A tall hedge separated his property from their parking lot.
"You look like you need a break already,” he said.
"I was thinking about hiding at your place,” Em said. "It would serve you right if the camera crew followed me over.”
Nat watched the commotion across the barroom where the Maidens were trying not to fidget while a cameraman balanced a huge handheld camera on his shoulder. He panned across them and then filmed the three-piece band on the stage.
"You realize I haven’t had a minute of peace since this whole thing started.” Em opened a new box of colorful cocktail umbrellas and set it on the bar near the garnishes. Ever since the pilot for a reality show based on the Goddess had aired, the lives of everyone connected with the place had been turned upside down. The show had aptly been named Trouble in Paradise.
"Back the dancers out of the way. I want a close up of the Tiki Tones.” The cameraman fought to be heard over Pat’s hollering.
"She takes her job seriously,” Nat said.
"She does,” Em agreed. "With little success.”
They watched Pat try to herd the Maidens away from the stage. Outfitted for a full dress rehearsal, all of the dancers were garbed in pink cellophane grass skirts tied over neon-yellow spandex cat suits—very large, very neon, cat suits.
Pat waved her arms. "Move back, ya’ll. Let the cameraman in, would’ya? Back up, I say. Can’t cha hear?”
The line of dancers fell apart as Pat urged them toward the center of the room. Dressed in the worn cowboy boots, white socks, cargo shorts, and baggy Aloha shirt over a bleach-stained, faded tank top, Pat’s appearance was gender non-specific. Her close-cropped hair and lack of makeup made it impossible to tell if she was a woman or a young man.
Pat was the first to admit she "Didn’t give a good gol’durned turd” about it.
"She was enlisted to save the Maidens from themselves, and despite the odds, she’s bound and determined to succeed... whether they like it or not. Most of the time they don’t,” Em said.
Nat watched one of the heftier Maidens adjust her cleavage by yanking at the neckline of her top and heaving it up.
"I didn’t know spandex had that much give,” he said.
"You can see why I’m ready to get out of here.”
"My door is always open,” he told Em. "Make yourself at home anytime.”
"I was serious when I said the crew would probably follow me over to your place. Every time I turn around there’s a camera in my face.”
"Worse than bad. Yesterday the producer said he’d give me a co-producing credit if I kept Little Estelle from yelling ‘Call me Cougar!’ every fifteen minutes.”
"Cougar? She’s what? Ninety?” Nat laughed.
"Ninety-two. It’s not funny. The woman is a sex maniac. Want some coffee?” She offered.
"I’d love some.”
She filled a thick ceramic mug with a dark Kona brew that smelled like ambrosia. Em carefully slid the mug across the bar.
"Looks delicious,” he said.
"Cream?” She thought Nat looked sort of delicious himself.
"I’ll take it black. I need a good jolt.”
Em glanced over at the stage where everything was at a standstill. The Maidens argued with each other in hushed tones while Pat shot them all stink-eye. Bandleader Danny Cook and the Tiki Tones were working out the chorus of a new Hawaiian song. Em didn’t speak the language, but even to the untrained ear she guessed they were murdering the pronunciation.
She turned back to Nat. "Need a shot of something in your coffee? How about some Bailey’s?”
"Nope.” He took a sip. "This will do it.” Nat glanced at his watch. "It’s only nine thirty. They’re filming early this morning.”
"When aren’tthey filming? Such is life now, no thanks to you.”
Trouble in Paradise had been Nat’s idea. Who doesn’t dream of an exotic escape from real life, and what better setting than the always unpredictable atmosphere of a tiki bar on the outskirts of nowhere? He had been certain, and it turned out he was right. A big cable channel had picked up the show. As Em re-arranged the lime wedges in the divided dish on the bar, she wished she could have talked him out of it before it was too late.
"I still haven’t completely forgiven you for pitching the idea,” she said.
"I thought you finally approved.”
"Oh, big Hollywood writer, have you conveniently forgotten that I had reservations about this?” she shot back. "But once you told my uncle about it, Louie was so gung ho I couldn’t stand in the way.”
Nat set his mug down. "I’m sorry, Em. I really thought Trouble in Paradise would be great for the Goddess and the whole North Shore economy.”
"Oh, there’s no denying the show is helping everyone’s business, especially ours,” she admitted. "Ever since the pilot aired, tourists have been flooding in. The parking lot is always jammed. Of course, the neighbors absolutely hate all the traffic, and I can’t blame them. Before we even open our lot is half full with the production crew’s cars and their van. The Maidens are determined to be on every minute of air time, so they’re always finding an excuse to practice or just hang around here. The overflow parking clogs the highway.”
"It’s hard to miss all the No Parking signs up and down the road.”
"For all the good they do.” Em shrugged. "They’re painted on everything that doesn’t move: surfboards, trash cans, light posts, derelict cars.”
"I especially like the mannequin hanging from a noose in that old mango tree a few lots down,” he said.
"The one dressed like a tourist holding a sign that says Park Here and Die?”
"Well, it’s straightforward and to the point.”
Em rested her chin on her fist. Before the pilot aired, the Goddess had been more than a setting for the latest hit reality show. It was not only a tourist destination, but a North Shore institution through good times and bad, a place so many in the community likened to a second home. The Goddess was their port in a storm.
"Some of the locals have shied away from all the action, but we’re still making money hand over fist,” she admitted. "The Maidens are all cashing in on the show’s popularity, too. But that’s created another problem.”
"Celebrity gone to their heads?”
"You got it. They’re so obsessed with checking the numbers of Likes they’re getting on their Facebook pages that they’ve let their dancing slip.”
"They didn’t have very far to fall,” he noted.
"We’re talking about worse than ever. Those women spend more time preening in front of the camera or online promoting themselves than they do practicing. They’ve gotten so lax that Sophie refuses to help them anymore.”
Sophie Chin, Em’s young bartender and former hula dancer, had taken pity on the Maidens a few times when they were in a bind and asked her to choreograph for them, but that was before they’d been tainted by life in the spotlight.
"They’re bickering all the time,” Em said. "Worse than ever.”
Nat studied the six older women of all shapes and sizes between the ages of sixty-two and seventy-two as they filed on stage. Little Estelle, or Cougar as she now insisted on being called, was the oldest of the group and confined to a Gadabout motorized scooter. For the moment, she was parked in the corner, snoozing away while her daughter Big Estelle, an Amazon in her seventies, joined the others on stage.
Not only were all the dancers outfitted in neon spandex and cellophane grass skirts, but their neck waddles were wreathed in flower lei, their heads crowned with huge sprays of flowers and ferns.
Nat took a sip of coffee. "If I didn’t know better, I’d think a floral delivery truck had collided with a senior citizens’ van in the middle of your bar.”
"I miss the good old days,” she sighed.
Five months ago, before their little corner of Kauai was illuminated by the reality show spotlight, this time of day she would have been out enjoying a morning swim and thinking about heading into the office to book catering gigs or to tackle the billing.
Now, instead of enjoying the sunny morning, warm water, and balmy trade wind breezes, she was longing for ways to escape the voyeuristic camera crew.
"What’s your Uncle Louie up to this morning?” Nat asked.
"He and Marilyn are discussing the wedding plans, again, over breakfast on the lanaiat the house. The producer gave up on any real action over there and brought the lead crew in to film rehearsals for tonight’s show. I think there’s another cameraman in the kitchen hassling Kimo about the set up for later today.” She sighed again. "Last night he threatened to quit.”
"Kimo or the cameraman?”
"You’re kidding? He’s always so laid back. What happened?”
Their half-Hawaiian chef never got flustered, even when the place was "choke” with people and orders backed up.
Em said, "The kitchen is small enough as it is without a camera, boom, and assistant producer wedged in there.”
"I really am sorry I got you into this,” Nat said.
"You didn’t even end up working on the show.”
"I had no idea my agent would come up with another gig for me so fast after CDPwas cancelled. I’d have been crazy to sign on for Trouble in Paradiseover a big prime time network show.”
Nat had been a head writer on Crime Doesn’t Pay until the long-running show was cancelled. Now he was writing for another television who-done-it. No matter how bad things were at the Tiki Goddess, Em didn’t begrudge him the chance to win another Emmy.
"I know,” she admitted. "But I still wish you were here to inject some common sense into the hokey storyline ideas the producer keeps coming up with. It was a shock to find out there’s nothing real about reality TV.”
He finished the coffee and passed the mug back to her.
"More?” she asked.
"No, thanks. I’m good,” he said.
"Do you like your new show?”
"Love it,” he said. "It was that or writing for a new musical spin-off of Glee.”
"Really? A Glee spin-off?”
"It’s about a group of musical twenty-somethings who work at a theme park. Guess what they’re calling it?”
"I can see how you’d prefer cops and murders.” She dropped his cup in soapy water in the wash bin. "Thankfully, things have been really slow here. Other than Uncle Louie’s wedding, the producer has had to come up with his own ideas for a storyline. Randy’s always complaining that something exciting better happen soon.”
Nat interrupted, "Randy Rich?”
"The head producer and director.”
"I heard through the grapevine that he’s a real wild card.”
"You heard right. He came up with tonight’s show idea. The Maidens are to compete in a hula-off dressed in all that spandex. They each get to do a solo, and members of the audience can give them the gong. The last one standing wins. It’s going to be a train wreck.”
"Not to mention dangerous. A couple of those women would kill to win,” Nat said. "I can see what Randy’s up to, though. Ratings will soar if the Maidens end up in a cat fight in cat suits.”
"Ratings.” Em scoffed. "You’re just like the rest of them.”
"The rest of who?”
"Hollywood types. Industry people. The oh-so-hip, so cool, so now.”
"TV is my bread and butter, Em.”
Em glanced out a side window. Kimo, their chef, was hurrying as fast as a heavyset short man with a well-nurtured party ball around his waistline could hustle across the lot. He jumped into his gecko-green pickup truck and pulled out of the lot.
"Kimo must really need something fast. When he preps for lunch he usually asks me to run errands for him,” she said.
"How are Louie and Marilyn’s wedding plans coming along?” he asked.
"Unfortunately, right on schedule,” she said. "The only hitch so far is that she hasn’t heard from her nephew Tom. He’s flying in to give her away.”
"The guy who was visiting a while back? He sounds like a nice guy.”
Em nodded. "He was her sister’s only child. Everyone in the family is gone but them. He’s as protective of her as I am my uncle. He flew over to celebrate the engagement.”
"So he’s not against this marriage like you and everyone else around here?”
"Am I that transparent?”
"No, actually. You hide it pretty well. I just get the feeling you’d rather Louie not marry her.”
"Everybody calls her the Black Widow behind her back. You know Louie is going to make husband number five? Kiki vehemently abhors her because Marilyn used to dance with the Maidens, but she quit. Kiki and the others doubt her motives for marrying Uncle Louie.”
Kiki Godwin, leader of the Hula Maidens and wife of Kimo the chef, was as protective of Em’s uncle as she was the bar, which she considered her turf.
"Maybe fifth time’s the charm.”
Em shrugged. "Marilyn likes being on camera 24/7. She kept plugging her event planning business during the tapings of Trouble in Paradise, and it worked. Lockhart’s Luxury Events bookings are way up since the pilot aired.”
"Just wait until the weekly episodes start.”
"I can’t imagine living with this for weeks on end. They shot two months of footage just to get enough material on film for a two hour pilot.”
Nat shrugged. "Look at Swamp People. Who knew shooting alligators in the head over and over again would catch on? And what about Honey Boo Boo? If people get hooked on Trouble in Paradise, it could run for years.”
Em groaned. "If this keeps up, I’ll be hiring a ’gator hunter to ‘choot’ me in the head.”
There was a blissful lull in the racket near the stage, but the silence was quickly filled by the sound of Sophie Chin’s rust bucket Honda pulling into the lot. The ancient vehicle was held together with duct tape and Bondo, the air conditioner didn’t work, and the whole thing rattled when it rolled. Sophie had named the car Shake and Bake and was always threatening to junk it and walk to work.
One of Kiki Godwin’s many talents was car repair. She’d already replaced the carburetor and the timing belt before she declared Shake and Bake unworthy of any more spare parts.
Em glanced at her watch. If Kimo wasn’t back in a few minutes, he’d be way behind on the lunch prep.
"How about we have dinner together soon?” Nat asked. "The least I can do is take you away from here for a few hours.”
"The very least.”
She’d gone out with Nat a couple of times. He was a genuinely nice guy, a great conversationalist, and easy on the eyes. As a writer he asked a lot of questions and had the ability to get her to open up more than she had with anyone else since she’d moved to Kauai.
With thick, wavy brown hair, square jaw and inquisitive blue eyes behind tortoiseshell glasses, Nat was undeniably attractive, but so far he hadn’t ignited any real sparks. Then again, after her recent messy divorce, she wasn’t anxious to get burned again.
Nat was waiting for an answer.
"I’d love to go out for dinner,” she said. "As long as there’s no camera crew.”
"Great. How about Tuesday?”
A bloodcurdling scream stopped the uneven beat of the snare drum and instantly halted the Maidens’ bickering. The silence was deafening.
Em and Nat ran into the kitchen and found Sophie standing over the body of Bobby Quinn, one of the two cameramen filming Trouble in Paradise.
The huge camera was on the floor beside Bobby, who was staring sightless at the ceiling. Blood oozed from beneath the knife in his chest, slowly forming a puddle.
Nat knelt down and touched the side of the man’s neck, then gently closed the young man’s eyes.
"He’s dead.” Nat looked up at Sophie.
"Oh my God!” Em turned to Sophie, too. "What happened?”
"Don’t look at me.” Sophie took a step back. She ran a hand through her spiked hair which was dyed black and tinted with neon-purple highlights. "I walked in and almost fell over him.” Her dark almond-eyed gaze darted around the kitchen. "Where’s Kimo?”
"Gone. I saw him.” Em stopped abruptly and quickly lowered her voice. "I saw him run out and jump into his truck a few minutes ago.”
"Uh, oh,” Sophie said.
"You think he did this?” Nat asked.
"Kimo?No way,” Em and Sophie both answered at once.
Pat Boggs appeared in the doorway, took one look at the body, and halted. Behind her, the Maidens, along with Randy Rich and his crew, were clamoring to get in. Kiki shouted Kimo’s name over and over at the top of her lungs. Pat quickly assessed the situation, spun around, and blocked the doorway with outstretched arms.
"None of you suckers is getting by me, so just cool your jets. There ain’t nothing in here you need to see or film.”
"That’s Kimo’s special sashimi knife.” Sophie pointed to the blade sticking out of the cameraman’s chest. There were Japanese characters carved into the wooden handle. "The one nobody is allowed to touch.”
"Kimo! Kimo, are you all right?” Kiki yelled over Pat’s shoulder. Kiki and Kimo had been married for longer than anyone could recall.
"Let her in, Pat.” Em knew Kiki would be frantic. Kiki on a tear was worse than letting her in.
Kiki came barreling in, a tempest in neon and shredded cellophane. She took one look at the dead man on the floor and shouted, "Where’s Kimo?”
"He’s not here.” Em took her phone out of her shorts pocket and hit 911. The dispatcher came on immediately.
"There’s been a murder,” Em said. "This is Em Johnson. Yes, at the Tiki Goddess Bar in Haena. Yes. We’re sure he’s dead. A knife wound to the chest. Right. We’re not going anywhere.” She looked down. "And neither is he,” she mumbled.
Bobby Quinn had only been a member of the crew for a couple of weeks. He seemed like a personable kid who was thrilled to be on assignment in Hawaii, but Em hadn’t had much time to really talk to him.
The minute Em hung up Kiki said, "That looks like Kimo’s sashimi knife.”
"It is,” Sophie confirmed.
"Nobody’s supposed to touch it. Ever,” Kiki said.
"Ever,” Sophie nodded.
"Was anyone else here when you walked in?” Nat asked Sophie.
"No. There was no one in the parking lot. I didn’t come directly into the kitchen, though. I walked in through Louie’s office to ask Kimo if he needed help. I almost tripped and fell over”—she looked down at Bobby and shivered—"him.”
Louie’s office door was still ajar. In a minute or two someone in the bar would remember they could get into the kitchen through the office.
Em gestured toward the office door. "Lock it,” she said. "Quick.”
Sophie closed the door and punched the lock on the handle.
Kiki clutched the sides of her cellophane skirt in her hands and pressed her fists against her temples. Pink cellophane appeared to be spraying out of her temples. Her eyes were bugging out.
"Kimo’s been k-k-kidnapped,” she stuttered. "Someone killed this guy and stole my Kimo.”
"Who would want to kidnap Kimo?” Em wondered aloud. "Besides, I saw him drive away.”
"They were probably hidden in his truck, on the floor or something. S-s-someone wants his recipes.” Kiki was focused on a kidnapping. "They’re all top secret.”
Em averted her gaze from the body to watch Kiki with concern. The last time the woman had lost it, she started speaking gibberish.
"Have you got any Xanax in your purse, Kiki?”
Kiki shook her head. "No. But may-be-be some... vodka... woo-would... help.”
"No vodka. Not yet.” Em glanced down at Bobby Quinn. "Maybe we should cover him with a tablecloth,” she suggested.
"Don’t touch anything,” Nat advised.
Em figured he knew best. He’d worked with forensics and police procedural experts for years on his last show.
Pandemonium had broken out in the bar. Randy Rich was at the door to the kitchen hollering around the stalwart Pat at the top of his lungs.
"Let me in there, or so help me I’ll press charges! Your uncle signed a contract, Em. Nothing is off limits. You’re violating the terms of the agreement. Let us through!”
"No one is goin’ in until I get the gold-danged go-ahead.” Pat clung to the door frame keeping Randy and crew at bay.
Em had never really appreciated Pat as much as now.
"Stand your ground,” Em encouraged.
"You got it.” Pat nodded without turning around.
Nat asked Em, "You agreed to let them film anything they wanted?”
"No, Uncle Louie did. He would let them film him cleaning lint out of his navel, which until a few minutes ago, was the most exciting thing going on around here.”
"Wait until your detective hears this over the dispatch,” Sophie whispered to Em.
Em pictured Roland Sharpe, a tall, dark, and hunky KPD detective, and groaned.
"He’s not going to believe there’s been another murder tied to the Goddess.”
"Why not? There were five in the last year. This place is connected to more bodies than a morgue.”
"Maybe we should have the place blessed,” Sophie suggested.
"It’s not the bar,” Em reminded her. "Technically, only one body was ever found here, and it was dumped in our luau pit. It had nothing to do with us.”
"What’s going on out there?” Nat wondered. The barroom had gone deathly still.
Pat, still clinging to the door frame, called over her shoulder. "They’re doing an end run around the outside of the building!”
Em was headed for the open back door but didn’t make it before the Trouble in Paradise crew poured through with Joe Piscoli, the first cameraman, leading the way. Producer Randy Rich blustered in and tossed a clipboard at the young female assistant producer, Peggy Denton. Kiki was huddled in a corner, frantically tapping her cell phone.
The cameraman gasped when he saw the victim but quickly recovered enough to zoom in on his fallen comrade.
"Who screamed?” Randy Rich, shorter than the others, tried to see around Joe. "I think we caught it on the recording, but we may have to re-loop.”
"Get a close up of all that blood oozing onto the floor.” Peggy the PA leaned over Joe’s shoulder.
"You people are sickos. I’ll be behind the bar if you need me.” Sophie nudged aside Pat who continued to hold the Maidens back, and slipped into the barroom.
"I heard you were an ass, Randy, but for the love of Pete, quit filming,” Nat urged.
Somewhere in his mid-thirties, Randy Rich was producer, director, and the oldest member of the crew. He was short, already balding, and portly. "And who are you, exactly?”
Nat adjusted his tortoiseshell glasses. "Nat Clark. I live next door.”
"Oh, yeah. I recognize the name. You write scripts for prime time, right? Well, this is real life, Clark,” he told Nat. "Not the made-up crap you crank out for the networks.”
Joe filmed their testy exchange while the young female PA looked like she was going to vomit.
Em felt sorry for her. Like Sophie, Peggy was in her early twenties, but in braids and a baseball cap, she didn’t look a day over fifteen.
"Are you going to be sick?” Em asked her.
"Don’t you dare!” Rich yelled. He nudged his cameraman. "Don’t you dare puke until Joe can get a close up of it.”
"What’s going on in there?”
Em recognized her uncle Louie’s voice outside the back door. The crew scooted around to film his uncensored reaction.
"Where’s Em? Is she all right?” Usually laid back, Louie sounded almost frantic.
"I’m all right,” Em assured him. "Don’t come in.”
Too late, seventy-year-old Louie Marshall had already reached the back steps. So had his fiancée, Marilyn Lockhart. She quickly scooted under the broad leaf of a banana plant near the building. The Black Widow was protecting her latest Botox and lip injections from the morning sun. The camera was rolling.
"I’m coming in,” Louie said.
Em took a deep breath as he stepped over the threshold. "One of the cameramen is dead, Uncle Louie.”
Louie Marshall stopped in his tracks and stared at the body. "Is that Bobby? He was only twenty-five. I told him he should quit smoking.”
Em looked to Nat, silently pleading for help.
"Someone stabbed him, Louie,” Nat said.
"To death?” Marilyn had also pushed her way in. She swallowed hard and covered her mouth with her hand.
"He’s pretty dead,” Nat nodded.
"Who did it?” Louie asked.
"No idea,” Nat said.
"What about Kimo? Is he all right?” Louie’s head was on a swivel. "Where is Kimo?”
"He’s not here.” Em had lowered her voice before she realized it didn’t matter. The film crew was taping every word of their exchange. "Why don’t you and Marilyn go back to the house, Uncle Louie?”
He ignored her.
Louie was growing frantic. "Whoever killed Bobby kidnapped Kimo!”
"Kimo drove away,” Em said.
Kiki rejoined the fray. "Did you see for certain that Kimo was alone? I think Louie’s right.”
Louie drew himself up to his full six-three. With his deep tan, full head of snow-white hair, Hawaiian shirt, and white linen pants, he looked like an ambassador for the Hawaii Tourist Authority.
"Kimo is the best chef on Kauai,” Louie said. "Since the pilot aired, people have been flocking in to taste his food. Everyone is raving about it.”
"Exactly!” Kiki said.
Louie smoothed his hand over his white hair and turned to the camera, his expression somber. He pulled his cell phone out of the pocket of his baggy linen pants and held it up.
"I’ll bet we’ll get a ransom demand any minute now,” he said.
Kiki turned to the camera. "If there’s some kind of chef slave trade, they’ll ask for millions. Or more.”
"I’ll pay it. I’ll pay anything,” Louie said.
Em rolled her eyes. Louie had a habit of spending money he didn’t have.
"Maybe some egomaniacal billionaire will pay them a fortune and lock Kimo up in a mansion,” Kiki said. "Force him to cook for them.”
"Oh, the horror.” Nat shook his head.
"He wasn’t kidnapped, I tell you. I saw him leave in his truck a few minutes ago,” Em said again. "Alone.”
"That’s odd.” Marilyn licked her lips and made certain her best side was turned toward the camera. "He’s supposed to be prepping for lunch.”
The shrill whine of sirens sounded in the distance. Em glanced at her watch and tried to ignore the way Kiki was glaring at Marilyn.
"That was fast,” Em said.
Within minutes, two KPD squad cars pulled into the lot with two officers in each. The production crew closed in on them until the senior officer told them to back off. Two uniformed policemen stepped into the kitchen. The younger one walked over to the body, knelt down, felt for the victim’s pulse.
"Dead, all right.” The officer stood up, then stepped to the back door. The Maidens had congregated outside in the parking lot and were clinging to each other, arms linked, faces shadowed with worry. Little Estelle was behind them driving in circles on the Gadabout.
"I’m going to walk all you folks back around to the main room. Nobody leaves the premises until an officer has interviewed you,” the officer said.
Louie smiled up at the young man in his navy KPD uniform. He filled the kitchen doorway. "By now we know the drill, son.”
Randy Rich gave him a keep-on-talking signal, and Louie went on without missing a beat.
"We’re used to this sort of thing, you see. Last year our neighbor was killed.” Louie made a hacking motion with his hand. "Took a machete chop to the head, and then his lifeless body was tossed into our luau pit. My niece was kidnapped by a psycho who killed Fernando, the famous pianist. He’s the one who took over for Liberace in Las Vegas. We were catering Fernando’s party the night he was conked in the head with a rock.” Louie executed an exaggerated conking move. "We catered his memorial. We have quite an extensive catering menu, from pupusto full-on four-course meals.”
"Excuse me, Uncle Louie.” Em cut him off.
Outside, two officers were closing off the parking lot with yellow crime scene tape. Cars were jamming the highway out front, so people were parking and walking up on foot. Between the Maidens making cell phone calls and the report going out on the police scanner, news was traveling on the coconut wireless as fast as Category 5 hurricane winds.
"Maybe you should stand on the front lanai and tell folks we’re closed, Uncle Louie,” Em suggested.
He blinked at her. "But... we never close.”
"Believe me, nobody will want anything that comes out of the kitchen today.” Em avoided looking at Bobby’s bloody shirt front.
Louie stared into the camera again and smiled.
"No matter what happens here at the Tiki Goddess, we always serve drinks,” he said. "Naturally, I’ll start working on a commemorative cocktail to add to our already extensive tropical drink menu. But until it’s been taste tested and approved by David Letterman, my expert taste-testing macaw, we’ll be featuring our other beverage favorites. Two-for-one Mai Tais might be a good idea right now.”
The youngest officer glanced at the camera and then pulled Louie aside.
"The less people we have in here the better, Uncle. Maybe talk about the drinks later, yeah?”
"But, if folks come by to see what’s up, they need to know about the specials,” Louie said.
"This isn’t live, remember? We’re taping,” Randy Rich reminded him. "This stuff won’t air for a couple months.”
Marilyn stepped up and took Louie’s arm. "Come on, sweetie. I’ll go out to greet the crowds with you.” She glanced over her shoulder at the camera crew. "My experience as owner of Lockhart’s Luxury Events has taught me how to handle any last minute crisis, large or small.”
Em pulled out her cell phone and turned her back on the camera crew. She punched in Kimo’s number, but his voicemail picked up.
"Don’t use your cell, Em,” Louie advised. "We should keep all lines of communication open for the ransom call.”
Kiki Barely Hangs On
SWEATING WORSE than the day she’d gotten naked and wrapped herself in Saran Wrap to surprise Kimo at the front door, Kiki tugged at the plunging neckline of her spandex cat suit. She was dripping wet, fighting to maintain her sanity. Trapped in such close proximity to Marilyn Lockhart only added to her stress.
Looking far too smug and put together in a tropical silk ensemble, Marilyn paused on her way out the door and pointed at Kiki. "That’s her husband’s sashimi knife.” She smiled up at young police office.
Silence thudded around the kitchen.
"Someone stole Kimo’s kn-n-knife!” Kiki finally managed. "You don’t think he did it, do you, Marilyn?” Kiki longed to close her hands around the woman’s throat and squeeze.
Em stepped between them.
"I saw him get in his pickup and drive off a few minutes before Sophie walked in and found the body,” Em said. "He was probably headed into Hanalei on an errand.”
"Well, that’s certainly odd for this time of day,” Marilyn chirped.
"Shut up, Marilyn.” Kiki opened and closed her fists. "Shut up now, or I swear...”
Glancing up at the boom mic suspended on a pole above her head, Kiki was suddenly aware of the camera again as Joe angled in on them. If she didn’t get a grip on herself, someday in the very near future, the whole world would be watching her strangle the Black Widow.
Censoring herself had never been one of her many talents, but for Kimo’s sake, Kiki clammed up and took a deep breath. She needed to get out of the spandex. She needed a four-olive vodka martini. It was only ten in the morning, but somehow her life had just careened off the rails.
"I’ve got to go,” she decided. "Now.”
"You can’t,” Louie reminded her. "The police have ordered everyone to stay put. They have to—”
"Interview us all. I know the drill. By now we all know it,” Kiki said.
A small whimper escaped Marilyn. She batted her eyelashes at the camera. "I certainly hope this doesn’t delay our wedding.”
Kiki leaned in closer. "Working up some fake tears to go with those eyelashes, Marilyn? I can’t imagine you letting a little thing like a murder stand in the way of your wedding. Besides, you’re not holding the reception here anyway.”
Kiki was still miffed that Louie had given into his fiancée and let her throw the wedding and reception at the St. Lexus, the ultra-swanky five star hotel in nearby Princeville, and not on the beach behind the Goddess.
Then again, the Goddess had been founded by Louie’s late wife, Irene Kakaulanipuakaulani Hickam Marshall. As far as the locals were concerned, Louie getting married to a woman like Marilyn Lockhart in Irene’s beloved establishment would have added insult to injury.
Kiki had suspected the Black Widow’s motives ever since Marilyn started dating Louie. Kiki could never trust someone who could defect from the Hula Maidens in order to join a more highly regarded hula troupe.
Kiki turned to the officer. "I have to be the first one interviewed,” she said. "I can’t sit around. I have a million and one things to do.”
Like find Kimo and find him fast. She was headed toward the door when a middle aged, heavy-set officer walked up to her. He was one of the musicians who jammed at the Wednesday afternoon ukulele sessions at the dump.
"You’re married to Kimo Godwin, right?” the patrolman asked.
Kiki warned herself to stay calm. Last time she lost her cool in an emergency, she wound up speaking gibberish and nearly had a stroke. She opened her mouth, and nothing came out. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and tried again.
"Yes-s. I am... and I c-can assure you he didn’t do this.”