Em and the Hula Maidens are on the case . . .
Em Johnson is prepping for the biggest catering gig she’s ever booked, this time at the world famous Tiki Goddess Bar. Then she hears Kiki Godwin has just been released from the psych ward at Kukuoloko. If the unpredictable leader of the Hula Maidens isn’t completely recovered from her PTMAD (Post Traumatic Monkey Attack Disorder), Em knows all hell could break loose at the upscale event.
But for once, Kiki isn’t the problem. When the guest of honor’s multi-million dollar paintings are stolen and a security guard turns up dead, Kiki’s convinced the best way to get her mojo back is to capture the art thieves. Kiki and the girls come up with a plan to lure the felons out by staging a grand hoax. Their bait will be a cocktail party featuring paintings by the reclusive Alphonse Cappucchino, an "up and coming artist” who is none other than Kiki’s furry nemesis.
A seven-time Romance Writers of America finalist for the RITA Award, Jill Marie Landis also now writes The Tiki Goddess Mysteries (set on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, actor Steve Landis.) Visit her world of tiki totems, hula maidens, and tropical fun at thetikigoddess.com.
"DID YOU HEAR? Kiki’s out of the
manager of her uncle’s Tiki Goddess Bar on the North Shore of Kauai, closed her
eyes and took a deep breath. She ignored the mile-long things-to-do list in her
hand and turned to her second-in-command, Sophie Chin, who’d shared the
startling news as she climbed out of her beat-up Honda.
"What did you say?”
Em prayed she’d heard wrong.
"Kiki’s out of
the hospital.” Sophie shrugged.
can’t believe it.”
"This is no time
for jokes,” Em said. "We’ve got a party starting in twenty minutes, and the
last thing I need is for Kiki to show up.”
The latest, and
by far the biggest catering gig Em had ever booked, was about to begin. In a
few minutes wealthy Hollywood A-listers would be mingling beneath a
forty-by-eighty party tent on the vast lawn of Fernando’s Hideaway, an estate
located a couple of miles up the road from the Tiki Goddess in Haena.
kidding. For reals. Kiki’s out.”
"You don’t reallythink she escaped?”
"If she did,
she’s not hiding. According to the coconut wireless, somebody saw her getting
into her car outside the post office a couple of hours ago.”
wireless was faster than high-speed Internet, but like the web, it wasn’t
always accurate. Her concentration completely blown, Em stared up at the
central peak of the white open-sided tent and urged herself to keep it
together. A few steps away, a mountainous stack of plastic bins recently
emptied of serving utensils, water goblets, table settings, and catering
supplies needed to be hauled out of sight.
So much to
do. So little time. Now this.
overly dramatic Kiki Godwin was problematic. A stark raving mad Kiki would be
impossible to control.
surely won’t want to perform tonight.” Em stared at the bins again and absently
added, "We’ve got to get this stuff loaded into the van.”
picked up three bins. This week the twenty-three-year-old hipster’s tinted,
spiked hair sported neon pink tips. Twin rows of silver studs and rings pierced
through one eyebrow kept most people from noticing her hair color.
know Kiki. Have you ever tried to stop her from doing what she wants?”
I’ve got a thousand and one other things to worry about,” Em said.
with day-glow pink hair and piercings, Sophie cleaned up well. Em envied her
cocoa-colored skin and long limbs, not to mention her athletic figure. She was
wearing a little black knit dress that clung to her like a second skin.
look great, Soph. Really sexy. I hope you’ll be able to work with all the men
who are bound to be hitting on you tonight,” Em said.
don’t have to worry. Not interested. I’m still in recovery from The Jerk.”
didn’t know The Jerk, just that he was the guy Sophie broke up with before she
moved from Oahu to Kauai a couple years ago.
get someone to help me haul these bins out of here,” Sophie said. "You’d better
get cleaned up.”
change and be good to go,” Em promised.
either of them walked away they surveyed the sea of white tablecloths one more
time. The starched linen corners luffed on the trade wind breeze. Wine glasses
and water goblets glistened at each place. Low bowls full of tropical flowers
were lined up and down the center of each table. Strategically placed tiki
torches flickered around the outside perimeter of the tent and were scattered
around the garden beyond. On the far wall, Buzzy, an old hippie who worked for
Em part time, filled the ice bin below a folding table covered with tropical
fabric and transformed into a bar.
can’t possibly be in shape to hula anyway,” Em said.
last time she’d visited the sixty-six-year-old at Kukuoloko, the local mental
rehabilitation facility, Kiki had been anxious and jittery, constantly glancing
over her shoulder and rubbing the bald spots on her scalp.
shrugged. "You know Kiki. She rebounds fast.”
was in there what? Six weeks?” Em tried to recall.
thought for a moment. "Yep. To the day. Her insurance musta run out.”
enough to handle when she’s not unhinged. This is definitely notwhat we need tonight. This party is a really big deal for the Goddess.”
Em had gone over
her schedule, crossed off everything on her to-do list. Until a moment ago, she
figured there’d be smooth sailing ahead. She had no contingency plan for the
very real threat of the unhinged ringleader of the Hula Maidens showing up and
losing it in the middle of the upscale event.
the guest of honor is, this party is going to be attended by very, very
wealthy mainland malihini and also all the part- timers who consider
"Yeah, I know
the kind. They’re here for two weeks every year and want kama’ainadiscounts.”
"If things go
well tonight, we may get a lot of referrals.”
"How about we
call Kimo and have him tell Kiki to stay home?”
Kiki’s husband, had been the Goddess’s chef for nearly twenty years. Not only
was he talented, but he was as loyal to Em’s Uncle Louie as the day was long.
But even Kimo couldn’t work miracles. Even now Kiki might be running loose
while he was at the restaurant putting the final touches on the entrees soon to
be loaded in a van and trucked up the road to the party.
"He’s so sweet.
Can you imagine him getting Kiki to do anything, let alone miss a
performance? If she finds out the rest of the Maidens are dancing, there’s no
way she’s not going to show up,” Em said.
without her leadership for six weeks.”
haven’t been in any trouble since she’s been away.”
Maidens, a troupe of senior dancers, were still basking in notoriety due to a
short-lived reality show featuring them dancing at the Tiki Goddess Bar. Their
appearance tonight had been specially requested by the host, Wally Williams,
who was throwing the party to welcome well-known film producer Cameron Delacruz
to the upscale Haena neighborhood. Even before she heard Kiki was out of the
hospital, Em had had her doubts about involving the Hula Maidens.
"Does that dance
floor look uneven to you?” Em couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed the tongue-in-groove
faux parquet floor wasn’t level. "Looks to me like it slopes downhill to the
the dance floor and tilted her head. "It’s definitely not level. No time to
move it. That’s about the flattest spot on the lawn. Besides, it’s better the
tables are level than the dance floor, don’t you think?” She shrugged. "It’s
not that tilted.”
"I guess.” The
imperfection still bothered Em.
"Don’t look so
worried,” Sophie said. "You’re gonna need major Botox to get rid of those
frown lines after tonight.”
Em pressed her
fingers against her brow. Botox? She was only thirty-six.
"How can I not
worry? The Maidens attract trouble the way dead fish draw flies.”
Sophie looked Em
up and down. "You’d better go change before the guests arrive. Where’s your
"In the house.
Wally told me to use one of the guest rooms.”
over her shoulder and laughed.
Mansion is a better word. That hulk is as big as Macy’s in Kukui Grove Center.”
finally smiled before she started jogging across the lawn toward the imposing
modern home made mostly of marble, glass, and concrete. There were just enough
wood elements and water features to soften the industrial big box quality of
The entire side
of the house that faced the garden was filled with sliding glass doors slid
open to reveal an expansive kitchen. Em had hired a crew of four for the
evening, two young women and two young men recommended by various Maidens and
local patrons of the Goddess. She knew the food would be up to any island
standard and beyond—the Goddess had been named "Best of Kauai” North Shore
Restaurant every year for the past ten years even though service was sporadic
at best. Impatient tourists often stormed out, not caring that the food was
worth the wait. Nor did they forgive the occasional surliness of the staff
when the bar was choked with regulars, and tables were hard to come by.
Em studied her
cobbled-together crew. "Motley” was a polite description. In an effort to add
a touch of professionalism, she’d asked them all to wear black knit shirts and
long black pants. She gave in when they negotiated to wear rubber
slippers—flip-flops, as mainlanders called them—instead of closed-toed shoes.
The two young men, used to shorts, looked uncomfortable in long pants.
For a moment she
hoped the entertainment would make up for the crew’s lack of polish, but who
was she kidding? Guests were probably expecting an upscale staff in white
aprons along with a Polynesian review featuring exotic, sexy young dancers,
not a bunch of old, mostly haole ladies in muumuus flapping their underarm waddles while they tried to stay in
"There you are!”
Wally Williams, the estate owner, waved to Em. He rushed up to her as she
stepped inside the house. "Is everything ready, darling?”
"We’re good to
go. The bar is all set up. The entrees should be here soon.” Em scanned the
kitchen. Two of the wait staff were filling pupu platters. "The waiters will
circulate pupus as soon as the first guests arrive. I’ve asked them to be as
unobtrusive as possible. The Tiki Tones are setting up on the dance floor. As
you suggested, the Maidens are using the pool cabana as their dressing room.”
With any luck none of the old gals would land in the pool as they made their
way to the portable dance floor.
"Did you book
that handsome fire dancer? The detective? What’s his name? Ryan?”
unfortunately he’s on duty tonight. I booked someone else.”
"I hope this one
looks as good all oiled up as Runyon.”
name is Roland Sharpe.”
"How do I look?” Wally executed an awkward pirouette. He was outfitted in a long-sleeved white shirt and white
pants with an aqua cummerbund and matching aqua boa.
"Of course.” His
smile slowly deflated. "What?”
"The boa might
be a bit much,” she said.
His eyes teared up. His lower lip quivered. His right hand shook as he reached
up and patted his lacquered bottle-blond hair. He ran his left hand down the
boa. "This was one of Fernando’s.”
guessed as much. Fernando, heir to Liberace’s Vegas fame, had been Wally’s
partner until he’d been hit in the head with a rock and drowned in the koi pond
at the front entrance of the house. Wally had inherited the pianist’s billion-dollar
estate, including the Kauai residence they’d named Fernando’s Hideaway.
Tonight was the first gala Wally had held here since the memorial celebration
after Fernando’s untimely death.
despite the heat when she recalled they had also catered that fateful affair.
to absently pet the aqua boa and stare into space.
"Ignore me,” Em
told him. "Go with the boa if it makes you happy.”
"Why don’t you
"You look hot.”
"Hot as in
good?” He was suddenly smiling. "Or as in sexy?”
"Oh.” Em thought
a second and lied. "As in good.”
"Great, then I
will wear it. Thanks.”
excuse me, Wally, I really have to change.”
He went on as if
she hadn’t spoken. "Cameron will be here any minute. I told him to arrive
twenty minutes before the others so I could give him a tour of the house.”
"Hasn’t he seen
it yet?” Em said.
"He’s been too
busy moving into his own place. He has a few things tweaked and some painting
done. He also installed fancy new security. Anyone as famous as Cameron can’t
be too careful.”
recently purchased the compound that bordered the north side of Wally’s
property. After an ancient burial site had been discovered on the property, the
previous owners had cut and run.
Em started to
walk through the house with Wally trailing behind her, still going on about his
new neighbor. "He has his own chef in LA. He’s got an extensive art collection
that includes Picasso, Warhol, and Jackson Pollock. He brought the Pollocks
over here, and it’s taken two weeks of working with a designer just to figure
out where to hang and how to light the pieces.”
"He must be planning
on spending a lot of time on Kauai,” Em mused.
"He told me he
heard that people refer to my house as the bad karma house even though
that old burial ground bordered both our properties. For heaven’s sake, do
people really think my house has bad karma?”
stream ran through Wally’s huge living area and meandered out to an open-air
atrium where it flowed beneath an arched bridge into a pond of exotic koi. The
pond featured a faux waterfall, which unfortunately was exactly where
Fernando’s body had been found. His last act was floating face up surrounded by
his pampered pet fish.
"I might have
heard something about bad karma, but try not to let it upset you. I’m sure the
name will wear off.” She sighed. Time was slipping away.
He followed her
into the guest room. For a minute she thought Wally was going to keep on
chatting while she changed clothes, but just then, Sophie thankfully showed up.
"The guest of
honor is here,” Sophie said.
"Oh! Oh, my
giddy aunt!” Wally ran off, flapping his boa. "Hurry, Em! I want you to meet
Cameron before things get too hectic.”
ready?” Em asked Sophie.
"The Maidens are
in the tent arguing over their lineup. It’s verging on very ugly in there.”
all fit on the portable dance floor. Good news is Kiki isn’t anywhere in
"Shoo them away.
Tell them to stay inside the pool cabana until show time. Please tell me
there’s room for all of them in there. Have Pat leave the bar long enough to
settle things if she needs to.”
of room for them. That cabana is bigger than my apartment.”
they’ll stay out of each other’s way. I’ll be back out in a couple minutes,” Em
"Take your time.
I can handle for now. Just don’t disappear and leave me in charge.”
EM QUICKLY SLIPPED into a black dress,
ran a brush through her hair, coiled it into a bun, and anchored it on her
head. Then she touched up her lipstick and mascara. As she was heading back to
the kitchen, she ran into Wally again. He was hurrying toward her with the
guest of honor in tow.
"Em, this is
Cameron Delacruz.” Wally introduced Em to the producer and went on to sing
Em’s praises and ended with, "They’re so busy, I’m just thankful the Goddess
was free to cater my little event.”
"Do you plan on
spending much time here on Kauai?” Em studied Delacruz. In his late forties or
early fifties—it was hard to tell with his dyed hair and the cosmetic work he’d
already had done—he was not much taller than her own five foot six inches. He
appeared to be physically fit beneath his silk Aloha shirt and long linen
pants, thanks to a personal trainer, no doubt.
shrugged, glancing around before he turned to Em again. "I’m not really sure.
Splitting time between Aspen, LA, New York, and St. Bart’s, it’s hard to say.”
"I can see where
having that many choices might be a dilemma.” Em didn’t care if he’d picked up
on her sarcasm, not when so many people on Kauai were hard pressed to find any
housing at all.
Just then a big
Hawaiian moke who looked to be in his
mid-thirties, dressed in all black, carrying a two-way radio, walked up to
Delacruz. His black hair was buzz cut, his tattooed biceps as big around as
Em’s thighs. He wore a triple X T uniform
shirt with MAHALO SECURITY emblazoned across the front and the back.
The name Leo was embroidered on the front over his heart.
"Got my guys set
up over at your place,” he told Delacruz.
nodded. Em stared at the Hawaiian. She didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t
mean anything. He probably wasn’t one of the North Shore crowd. The man’s
deep-set black-eyed gaze continually roamed the house, the grounds, the
interior of the tent. He was on high alert even though there were only a
handful of people moving around, and they were all Em’s staff.
"I hope you
don’t mind,” Delacruz said to Wally. "I feel safer having my own security with
me. Leo here will be moving back and forth between our two places. He’s got a
couple of men stationed at my house. I’m sure by now word is out all over about
this party. Who knows? Someone might see the diversion as an opportunity to
Wally was too
bedazzled by the man’s wealth and celebrity to mind much of anything at this
"Of course. I’m
just so happy you’re letting me host this little affair to welcome you to our
island. Now, let me show you my house.” Wally tossed one end of the boa over
his shoulder and gave Em an off-handed finger wave as he led Delacruz away.
Em headed to the
kitchen, but half the wait staff was already out in the tent circulating among
the ten or so guests who had arrived. She went outside where Pat Boggs, a.k.a.
Sarge, Kiki’s second-in-command of the Hula Maidens, was stationed behind the
long bar table behind open bottles of five-star red wine, assorted top-shelf
bottles of the hard stuff, and mai tai ingredients. Pat wore her hair in a buzz
cut and dressed like a guy.
She waved Em
Em asked. The bar looked well stocked and organized, just the way Pat liked
Pat rocked back on her heels, hooked her thumbs into her pants pockets, and winked at Em. "Not unless you got
a naked gal in your pocket.”
one will show up.” Then Em quickly added, "No fraternizing with the guests,
"You know what I
after the party’s over?”
"That’s up to
you. After the party’s over.”
"Hey, I picked
up some gossip about the guest of honor. Mr.
pronounced every syllable in her slow Southern drawl. "What have you heard?”
More guests were
filtering in now, ambling toward the tent. In a glance Em made certain the
waiters were circulating, smiling, offering pupus, and showing folks the way to
the bar before she answered.
Em said, "All I
know is that he’s a producer, he owns at least five homes in celebrity hot
spots, and he collects very, very expensive art. He’s afraid this party is
going to attract thieves to his place. Go figure. He’s got a three-man security
team on duty over there. One is to patrol the perimeter. Maybe he’s even a
"Yeah? See that
guy over there? The short one leaning against the tent pole? The one with the
bad toupee? He was already in the bag when he got here, and he’s got jabber
jaw. He said De-la-cruz had not one but two big movies bomb this year. You
heard of Dead and Dead Again IV, right?”
"No, but I don’t
get out much,” Em admitted.
"The cast was
made up of Delacruz’s ex-wife Alanna Grant and a bunch of former action-adventure
stars from the eighties. Even with new facelifts and ab implants they looked
like hell. Not Alanna, though. She’s still young and hot, hot, hot. Anyway, the
flick went straight to DVD. Talk about rotten tomatoes. That was one of
De-la-cruz’s bombs this year.”
toward the cabana. She had more to worry about than Delacruz’s box-office
"Keep an eye on
the Maidens. Sophie said they’re having lineup issues.”
no. That’s bad. That’s real bad. I’m tendin’ bar, n’ Kiki’s not here to
keep ’em under control.”
"If you have to,
and only if things get out of hand, step away from the bar and get them
organized and ready to perform.”
"You got it.”
People had come
filtering in, and suddenly there was a line at the bar.
"Better get to
work,” Em told her. Pat nodded and hurried away.
Buzzy. The lanky hippie only had one name as far as anyone knew. He was
wandering around the perimeter of the tent looking lost in space. He’d been a
fixture at the Goddess for as long as anyone could recall, and Em had hired him
to show up and bus tables tonight as well as circulate and keep an eye on
things in general. Besides doing electrical and building repairs, he sometimes
filled in as a bus boy and waiter. Right now he was headed her way.
tried calling to him without shouting. Apparently in a fog, he kept walking.
"Buzzy!” Em said, louder this time.
blinked, and looked around until he spotted her. He waited near a tiki torch as
she walked over to join him.
of honor, Mr. Delacruz, brought along his own security guard.”
"So, you want me
Em shook her
head. "No, of course not. I just wanted you to know he’s supposed to be here if
you happen to see him roaming around between the two properties. You can’t miss
him. He’s got a Mahalo Security logo
on his shirt. I still need you to help clear tables as soon as dinner is over,
and I’d like you to keep an eye out and make sure party crashers don’t try to
sneak in through the hedge or come up from the beach.”
He stared at her
a few seconds, digesting everything she’d said.
nodded. "Cool. Got it. Clear tables. No crashers. Man, that’s a lot to