Episode Two in the
Copper and Goldie Mysteries
Sam reached out and stroked his lady friend’s long sun-colored hair as she sat across from him in her own spiffy seatbelt harness. His unlikely companion rode along in the passenger seat beside him as he drove taxi fares all over the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii. The major cab companies considered Sam one step above a gypsy taxi driver: a licensed independent and a damn nuisance—a fare stealer, as far as they were concerned. The yellow Checker model cab with “Copper and Goldie Taxi Service” lettered in black was proudly his. The taxi license and photo displayed on the dashboard belonged to thirty-six-year-old Kamuela (“Samuel” in Hawaiian) Nahoe.
The cabbie’s lady friend was a rescue dog named Goldie, an eighteen-month-old golden retriever. Mostly golden, anyway. The rest of her breeding remained a mystery, even to the humane society. Still, Sam couldn’t ask for a better companion. Occasionally, he’d get a fare who was frightened of dogs or wary of Goldie’s delicate canine aroma. Early on, Sam installed air conditioning and sliding clear plastic panels between the front and rear seats to take care of those irritations.
Sam had three-quarters native Hawaiian blood and a haole (Caucasian) maternal grandmother, which accounted for his full head of curly black hair and dark brown eyes. With broad, muscular shoulders, he stood half a head taller than most men. He was single—involuntarily. Actually, the divorced father of nine-year-old Peggy. The way his last four dates had gone, that status wasn’t likely to change any time soon. Not exactly what you’d call a hard-body type, but the ex-detective lieutenant did his best to stay in shape—despite his dependence on two walking canes he’d dubbed Cane and Able. No, not the biblical spelling; rather, a personal pun.
Walking became a problem—a visible limp after he took a slug in the spine while on the job. Forcibly retired from the police force with pension and commendations, he found driving a hack to be the next best thing. Outdoors, amid a panorama of people, sounds, and nature. Sam loved the streets of Honolulu. Even the congestion. Even now that there were three rush hours. Even though the island of Oahu now held more than a million cars and, especially during holiday seasons, they all seemed to be going where he needed to be.
While cruising the downtown and waiting for a traffic light, Goldie let out a sharp bark. A young blond-haired man was pounding on the curbside window next to her.
“Are you available?” he shouted and stepped back up on the curb.
Sam nodded and eased the cab into a nearby parking space. The guy climbed into the back seat and shut the door. Sam slid the panel open a bit. “Where to, bro?”
At first the fare remained silent. Then this man in a rumpled shirt and half-closed lids took a deep, heaving breath before giving an address in a remote area of Kailua. Still, Sam smiled. A forty-dollar ride to the windward shore. He slid the panel closed and eyed the man in the rear view mirror. What he saw did not look good. Is he in pain with his face all scrunched up like that? Sam took another peek after coming out of the tunnel at the crest of the Pali Highway. The young man’s head was drooped, propped in the corner by the window. Asleep, Sam figured. Goldie decided to take her nap as well, so he tuned the radio to the University of Hawaii ’Bows baseball game. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled up to the Kailua address, a mustard-colored two-story place with a grossly neglected lawn.
“Okay, bro, this is the address you gave me.” Sam read the charge on the meter to him, but the man didn’t move. Didn’t even pick up his head. The cabbie repeated the numbers on the meter. Still no response. Something’s not right, and even Goldie sensed it. He unclipped her, pulled himself out of the car, and went around to his passenger’s door. Goldie followed. As he opened it, his passenger began to fall toward him. Sam quickly caught him, propped him upright, and gently re-settled him into the back seat.
There’s no blood or outward signs of violence, Sam noted. He checked the man’s pulse. It had gone south the way his cab fare was about to go. Death must smell something awful to a dog because Goldie started whining and backing away from the cab. He checked the man’s pockets. No wallet, no money, no ID. I’ve been had!
Goldie started barking, facing the house, her head raised. Sam looked up in time to see someone ducking behind a curtain on the second floor. “Good dog. Someone here must know him.”
What had once been a doorbell now hung by a wire. Sam knocked, then pounded on the front door of this shingle-covered, dilapidated dwelling set among the ironwood trees. The next house stood half a block away. There was no name on the door or on the mailbox at the curb. After hooking Goldie to her leash, they trudged round back and found a Ford Taurus, caked with dirt, parked on the gravel driveway. Sam figured it to be at least fourteen years old, maybe a 2000 model. He could tell the original color was white, but he doubted it had been washed since then. It had Maui license plates; he recorded the plate numbers on the back of his fare log. The vehicle was locked, but a lady’s nylon stocking had caught under the front passenger door. Goldie saw it first and gave it a complete sniff-over.
Back at the cab, Sam tried calling the police on his cell phone. Not one teensy bar showed. The charger plug had fallen out of its socket and lay useless on the floor. Without a company dispatcher, that phone existed purely to pump the life blood into his taxi business. He plugged it back in and wondered how many calls he’d missed. Next came the hard part: dealing with his unfortunate passenger. Sam carefully opened the back door curbside, and strapped the body into its proper seatbelt. The three of them set out back over the Pali Highway to the city and Honolulu Police Department at 801 North Beretania Street. He drove into the underground precinct lot and entered the rear door of the building, leaving Goldie to reluctantly guard the corpse.
Sam asked for Sergeant Moses Kauahi, his former partner and friend, whom he dropped in on now and then. After a short wait on a hard wooden bench, “Mose,” a large man with rust-brown uncombed hair and an outdoorsy complexion, approached him.
“Hey Sam, how the hell are you?” he asked, extending a hand.
Sam shook it. “Fine.”
“You don’t look so fine. In fact you look kinda frazzled around the edges.”
Sam forced a miserable little smile. “I’ve got a special delivery out back for you. Come see for yourself.” Mose followed him out to the cab and learned all the details, including the bit at the Kailua house and the license plate number.
“You touch anything, Sam?”
“I know the drill, man. But, yeah, I propped him up and put him in the seatbelt. Had to. That’s all.”
“And he seemed okay when he hailed you? No marks or noises?”
“Nothing noticeable. At first he seemed okay. He gave me that address, didn’t he? But he didn’t say anything else. Maybe a grunt or two before he went to sleep. At least, I thought he was asleep.”
“You’re gonna hafta leave your cab with us—until the crime scene people and medical examiner get through with it. We’ll get you and the dog a ride home.”
“Mind if I stick around and tag along with you? I’m not exactly John Q. Public, you know.”
Mose looked uncomfortable, for a moment shifting his eyes to the ground. “Technically, Sam, you’re a suspect. But if it’s okay with Danny we’ll go out on a limb for you and keep you in the loop.”
“Yah! Lieutenant Danny Oshiro, my new partner. We’re gonna drive over to the house now.”
Inside the station once more, Mose introduced Sam to his partner and brought the lieutenant up to date. Danny dispatched a car to the Kailua house and put in calls to the medical examiner and mobile crime scene unit.
Goldie and Sam were relegated to the same wooden bench while awaiting further developments. The dog sat patiently next to him, behaving herself. But the whole scene felt unpleasant to Sam. A sour taste filled his mouth. Of course Mose had a new partner. Why hadn’t it even occurred to him? In denial, that’s why. And this friggin’ bench was for victims. For perps. Not for the likes of him. He missed being a cop.
In the next hour, Mose reported back with surprising news. The Ford Taurus was gone and the unfurnished house was deserted. The back door lock had been jimmied, and there were signs of someone hiding out there—maybe a man and a woman. He and Danny found two air mattresses on a bedroom floor. In the fridge, a couple of beers, but no food. A small tube of toothpaste, mostly used up, on the bathroom sink. Mose had been able to reach the owner of record, who was shocked to learn that his rental property had been broken into and lived in. He was planning on renovating before renting it out again. Mose put out a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for the missing vehicle. In the next hour and a half, the medical examiner’s people carted the body off from Sam’s cab. The crime scene crew declared his vehicle’s back seat “clean and not the scene of any violent activity.” At last, the cabbie and dog were free to go.
By now it was 7 p.m. At least one of them was starving and the other would gladly eat anything anytime. Sam drove to a tiny Korean takeout place near the corner of Kinau and Keeaumoku and pulled into one of the few diagonal spots in front. The large sign above the door read “Itchy Butt – Chicken & Joy.” The logo—between “Itchy” and “Butt,”—was a bare-chested cartoon chicken with attitude: dark glasses, a Mohawk, and patterned shorts, dancing on his two skinny legs. Sam’s kind of place. As he unclipped Goldie’s harness from the seatbelt, the golden squeezed herself into the driver’s seat and sat up straight with both front paws on the steering wheel—waiting for Sam to crown her with his cabbie’s peaked cap. That done, her owner leaned over for a reassuring tongue slurp.
Inside, Sam ordered the Korean fried chicken bits and rice bowl with spiced mayo for himself and a loco-moco to share: a hamburger topped with a fried egg on a bed of rice, smothered in dark brown gravy. He prepaid and saw that there was only one man waiting at the counter; next, a woman walked in. Suddenly, Sam heard barking outside. He’d know that bark anywhere. He hobbled out the door on his canes and discovered his cab was empty. Goldie had jumped through the open passenger window and was sniffing and scratching at the car parked on the far side next to his. A muddy Ford Taurus. He checked the license plate. Sam could hardly believe his luck: the same Ford that was in the backyard at the Kailua house. Goldie tugged at the errant stocking still hanging out the bottom of the rear door.
Glancing back inside the Itchy Butt, Sam noticed that the woman was still at the counter, either still pondering her order or waiting for it. Safely out of her direct line of view, he ski-walked to the Ford, reached into the open driver’s window, and released the hood latch. Leaning Cane and Able on the front fender, he lifted the hood, deftly unhooked the distributor cap, and eased the hood back down until it latched once more.
Goldie was still toying with the nylon stocking. “Good girl, that’s enough now,” Sam said. Grabbing her by the collar, he opened his cab door, and gave her a push on the okole to guide her up into the front seat.
His cell phone was full of all kinds of bars now, and he managed to reach his former partner at his desk. Sam gave him all the information, and Mose alerted a patrol car in the vicinity. He and Danny Oshiro were on their way as well.
Sam figured his order should be ready, so he stepped back inside. Sure enough, it sat on the counter in two white paper bags with the usual tantalizing grease spots. Back in the cab, he started gobbling up chicken and rice out of the Styrofoam container. Goldie inhaled the entire loco-moco from her plastic bowl that was screwed permanently to the floorboard in the front passenger side. Damn! He’d intended to only give her half. I’d better pay more attention, he thought, or she’ll get too fat to be my helper. Partway through his own lunch, the woman left the shop, and he took full notice of her for the first time. Walnut-brown hair cut straight across, ending just below her ears. Pleasant face, no makeup. Slight frame under a long gray skirt. Dimpled cheeks, the left side more pronounced than the right. She climbed into the Taurus. He guessed she was the woman who had peeked out from behind the curtain at the house. A link to my dead passenger! Moments later, he heard her engine starter grinding away.
The woman didn’t give up easily. Soon desperation worked its way into even the starter’s voice. She tried again—a dying whine, then nothing. Her car door squeaked open as she emerged. Afraid she’d walk away before the police arrived, Sam set his rice bowl on the dashboard, wiped his chin and lips with the thin paper napkin, and got out of the cab. Approaching the Taurus, he hoped she wouldn’t recognize him. Goldie, refusing to be left behind, squeezed her furry bulk after him.
“Ma’am? Sounds like you’re having car trouble. Mind if I have a look under the hood?”
The woman hesitated before answering. “It won’t start. I don’t know what to do,” she said, choking back tears.
Sam could tell that her fright went way beyond car trouble. She looked down at his newly arrived sidekick. Goldie licked her hand in a comforting way and sat down beside her.
“Okay. Please see what you can do,” she replied in a small, whimpering voice.
“How about you get back in the car and eat your carryout,” he told her as he disappeared under the hood and tinkered around noisily. Several minutes later he asked her to try again, knowing full well that it wouldn’t start. Whirrrr—then nothing. It seemed to justify his existence under there.
Sam heard a car pull up. Poking his head out, he saw a blue and white police car blocking the Taurus’s retreat. He quickly restored the distributor cap and dropped the hood back into place.
The officer had already reached the driver’s side window. He requested the woman to produce the car’s registration and her driver’s license. While he perused the documents, a second vehicle pulled up next to the first. Mose and Danny got out and walked over to the Taurus.
“I’ll take over from here,” said Mose, flashing his badge and credentials. The officer acknowledged the lieutenant and handed over the two documents. Mose glanced at the name and Nevada address. “Ms. Cindy Prell from Las Vegas?”
“You are a person of interest in a murder investigation,” declared Mose in his most officious voice.
“Mmmurder?” Cindy stammered. “Who was murdered?”
“I’ll ask the questions here,” he told her.
His non-response informed Sam that the police hadn’t gotten the ID back from the victim’s prints yet. He ski-walked over, leaned against his cab, and took in the exchange. Okay, they call it eavesdropping, he reminded himself. But I have the right. They wouldn’t be here without me.
“Your vehicle was parked at a Kailua address at 1 p.m. today. Ms. Prell, were you at that address then?”
“Yes, sir,” she whispered, her body trembling in her blue vinyl boots.
“Did you see a cab stop out front and the driver knock at the front door?”
“I … I … maybe.”
“Either you did or did not, ma’am. The driver saw you at the upstairs window. I can have him identify you if you like.” Mose was applying his most intimidating, booming voice.
I doubt that, Sam thought.
“Yes, I saw him,” Cindy whimpered.
“Then why didn’t you answer the door?”
“We were afraid.”
“We? I thought you were alone.”
“I was alone. Will hadn’t returned yet. At first I thought that was him in the cab. I couldn’t answer the door to just anyone that showed up.”
“Does this Will have a last name?”
“Of course, Will Farington. He’s my fiancé.”
“What were you doing in an abandoned house?”
“We were both in hiding, Officer.”
“Hiding from what or who? Who are you afraid of, Ms. Prell?”
“Thor Morgan, the security chief at Trippe Industries,” said Cindy. “They followed us here to Hawaii.”
“They?” inquired Mose. “Morgan and who else?”
“His boss, Leland Jameson, the CEO. The chief executive officer,” Cindy added, her voice stronger now.
“Just why would these people be following you and threatening you as well?”
“Will used to be a bookkeeper at Trippe—that is, until he decided to become a whistleblower.”
“Whistleblower!” Mose replied. “What’s that all about?”
“A while back, Will was going over the books, doing his routine monthly internal audit. He discovered that Mr. Jameson had transferred a large chunk of money from the employees’ pension fund to his own personal compensation account, using some phony expenditures as a cover-up. When Will confronted him, Mr. Jameson lied. He claimed he had deliberately invested the money in a sure thing and would return it in ninety days. He said it would accrue interest and beef up the employees’ fund. ‘End of discussion,’ he said.”
Cindy crossed her arms over her chest and continued. “But Will was really angry. He knew that the only sure investment is Treasuries, but the interest rate these days on a three-month Treasury is pathetic: only 0.03 percent. He did some digging on his own and discovered that Mr. Jameson had put a large down-payment on a million-dollar condo apartment in San Francisco. Guess how much he put down: $200,000! Will confronted him and threatened to go to the police unless the $200,000 was returned to the employees’ pension fund. He was told to back off—or else.”
Cindy stopped to take a breath. Sam was following her responses closely. He saw that she had changed before his very eyes from a timid little gal to a confident young woman who obviously knew something about finance. Mose was also listening intently and asked her the next obvious question: “Ms. Prell, you seem to know a lot about all this. Do you have a job?”
“Oh, yes. I’m the office manager of a boutique in Las Vegas. I took a short leave of absence to accompany Will here. He told me everything. He insisted on going to the police anyway. That’s when Jameson called in Thor Morgan, his security chief, to rough him up a bit. Thor brought out a blackjack from his pocket and dangled it back and forth in front of Will’s face. Will said that was plenty scary. Thor told him to return to his job and keep his mouth shut.”
“How’d you happen to wind up here in Honolulu, anyway?” asked Danny Oshiro.
Cindy’s cheeks flushed as she continued, determined to do right by her lover. “I convinced Will we needed to get out of Vegas in a hurry, but out of town wasn’t enough. He sent Thor after us. The big thug with his cauliflower ear almost caught up with us in San Diego, so we took the next plane here. We bought this junker car and were planning to move here. Things were good for about a month. I’ve been job-hunting. But yesterday I just happened to see Mr. Jameson going into the New Discovery Hotel on Ala Moana Boulevard with Thor right behind. When I told Will I saw them, Will decided he had to meet with Mr. Jameson and convince him that he had no intention of going to the police anymore. They had nothing to fear from him; he just wanted to be free of the whole mess. So Will set up a meeting with his boss at the New Discovery for this peace-making parley. That was supposed to take place in room 209 at ten this morning. I haven’t heard from Will since he left me at nine o’clock.”
“Ms. Prell,” Mose said, “I’d like you to come down to police headquarters with me. There are more questions that need to be answered, and I’d like you to make an identification for me.”
“Identification? You mean the dead man is my Will?”
“Not necessarily, ma’am, but we need to be sure. We’ll bring you back to your car afterward.” He held the cruiser door open for her.
“Mind if I tag along?” Sam asked.
“Suit yourself, Sam, but you’d better bring your cab and dog along.”
“Why him?” asked Cindy. “He was just helping me start my car.”
“Ma’am, he’s the taxi driver you snubbed this afternoon. We found the deceased in the back seat of his cab.”
“Oh, no!” Cindy’s expression froze with the impact of this information as she slowly sank into the cruiser’s back seat.
Sam caught a few traffic lights and made a short stop for Goldie to attend to nature, so they arrived at headquarters somewhat behind Mose, Danny, and Cindy. They’d already taken her down to the morgue to identify the body. While he waited, Sam made a cell phone call to the New Discovery Hotel and asked the desk clerk if Mr. Jameson had checked out of room 209 yet.
“No, sir, I believe he’s spending another day with us. We just sent up room service. Would you like me to put you through to the room, sir?”
“No, thank you. I’ll drop by to see him in the morning.” Sam shook his head and smiled wryly at the indiscretion of the desk clerk. No guest privacy in that hotel.
Just then, he saw Mose and Cindy coming down the hall toward him. The tears streamed down her face, leading him to believe she had identified her fiancé’s body. Mose informed him of the early autopsy results. “He was severely beaten about the midsection and died slowly—internal bleeding most likely from the extreme trauma.”
Slow enough to reach the cab and give me the Kailua address, Sam thought.
“Apparently, the beater wore three rings on his punching hand.” Mose displayed two enlarged photographs where the rings had left distinctive markings on Will’s abdomen.
Sam told Mose about the call to the New Discovery. He and Danny quickly put together a team of two officers in Kevlar vests and headed toward the town side of Waikiki. Not wanting to miss any of the action, Goldie and Sam followed close behind. At the hotel Sam left Goldie in the driver’s seat wearing his cabbie cap on and followed the team. Room 209 was at the end of the corridor, adjacent to the door leading to the hotel stairwell. Danny instructed Sam and the team to keep in the shadows while Mose knocked. The door opened.
“Mr. Leland Jameson?”
“Yeah, who wants to know?”
“Detective Sergeant Kauahi and Detective Oshiro, HPD. We’d like to ask you a few questions. Okay if we come in?” Without waiting for an answer, they pushed their way inside, leaving the door slightly ajar.
“What’s the beef, Detectives? I‘m a busy man.”
Mose asked, “Are you familiar with a William Farington from Las Vegas, Nevada?”
“He used to be a bookkeeper in my firm.”
“Used to be?”
“Yes,” said Jameson smoothly. “He up and quit a month ago without giving any reason. At the time I thought it was a little strange. I had to get a replacement immediately. Gotta have Payroll and Purchasing up and running, you know.”
Peeking in, Sam was able to see and hear everything. Jameson, although short in stature, looked like a successful businessman in a well-tailored suit, white shirt, and tie.
Mose stared down at him, unblinking. “Mr. Jameson, we understand that you had a meeting scheduled in this room with Mr. Farington for ten o’clock this morning. Did the meeting take place?”
“Here in Honolulu? Of course not. I assume Farington is in Las Vegas looking for another job. Say, what’s this all about? I don’t like your attitude, Detective.”
“That’s a shame, Mr. Jameson. You know what happens when you lose your memory in speaking to the police, don’t you? By the way, sir, do you know a Mr. Thor Morgan?”
“Of course. He’s a security officer for my company. What of it?”
“Did Mr. Morgan travel with you to Honolulu?”
“Yes, but why shouldn’t he? Corporation executives are not always safe traveling alone. Say, what the hell’s going on? What’s your beef with me?”
“Tell me, sir, did you bring any muscle to Honolulu with you?”
Jameson puffed up his narrow chest, and said, “Detective, that’s one helluva crude question. You mean besides Mr. Morgan? Of course not. I don’t know anything about any rough stuff. Now I would like to see my lawyer before answering any more of your outrageous questions.”
“Fine,” Mose said. “We’ll continue down at the station as soon as your lawyer arrives. Meanwhile, you can relax in one of our deluxe cells there. We’ll be holding you as a material witness.”
Just then, Sam heard heavy footsteps clomping up the concrete stairs from the floor below. He slipped out the stairwell door. A reckless thing to do, he knew, but in his khaki shorts and aloha shirt, on two canes, Sam figured he wouldn’t look like much of a threat to anyone.
A huge, ugly galoot in a T-shirt and sweatpants trudged up the stairs. It had to be Thor Morgan. Sam stumbled out of the way as the guy, stinking of sweat and tobacco breath, barreled past him. But not before Sam saw both the man’s hands. They were covered with heavily jeweled gold rings. Breathing hard from exertion, the thug reached for the door and saw the police team waiting in the hall.
He jerked his bulk around, bumping and slamming Sam out of his way, and missing steps as he lurched back down the stairs. Two of the waiting officers took off after him. Pumped full of adrenaline, Sam ski-walked to the elevator and took it to the lobby. Using Cane and Able with greater hobbling speed than he ever had before, he came out of the double glass doors just in time to see the thug emerge onto the street and charge toward his Checker cab with its open windows.
Thor pulled open the rear door and climbed in. “The airport and step on it, Mac!” he shouted.
Sam halted just a few feet away. Trying hard not to laugh, he watched his trusted partner at work. Goldie, still wearing his peaked cap, squeezed her large body around, placed her front paws on the seat back, and loomed in the thug’s face—growling like a pro, even without Sam’s two-finger prompting.
“What the hell?” Thor boomed. “A damned mutt? Where’s the friggin’ driver?”
He tried to backhand the dog’s head out of his way, but succeeded only in knocking the precious cap off. That meant war to Goldie. She chomped down hard on his hairy arm just above the wrist, pulling it down toward the front seat so that Thor couldn’t get any leverage with his free arm. This tactic lasted long enough for the pursuing officers to take charge, haul the escaping thug out of the vehicle, and cuff him. One officer read him his rights and led him away in the patrol car. Goldie sat in the driver seat grinning and wagging her tail. Sam pulled out the bag of Milk Bones from the glove compartment. It took three before she’d surrender the driver’s seat to him. He gave her a grand hug afterward. He couldn’t be prouder of Goldie’s bravery.
The rings proved to be a perfect match for the purple punch markings on Will Farington’s abdomen. The Assistant District Attorney filed a series of charges, ranging from aggravated assault to murder in the second degree. The thug, who was known among his cohorts simply as Thor, implicated his boss, Leland Jameson, in return for the lesser charges. But still he protested. “Hey, I just roughed Will up a little. Just enough so he wouldn’t squeal on my boss about the 200K. I didn’t hurt him that bad.”
“Oh no?” the ADA challenged. “Then why is that poor, defenseless man dead from your beating? Dead because he tried to protect the employees’ pension fund.”
Thor’s real name was Eugene Morgan. He admitted that the name “Thor” came from his teenage fighting days, when he was always “sore.” It seems that a speech impediment, a lisp he could never get rid of, turned it into “Thor.” To overcome the humiliation, he became a corporate muscle man.
Sam had almost forgotten about Cindy Prell until he saw her fast asleep on the bench outside the ADA’s office. Tapping her gently on the shoulder, he woke her and offered to drive her back to her car.
“Yes, please. Thank God they‘ve been arrested.” Her sea-green eyes sparkled with tearful gratitude. “I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives running from them. “Oh, it’s so unfair. Will and I had planned such a lovely life together.”
All the way back to the Itchy Butt, she strained in her seatbelt, leaning forward toward the front seat to tickle Goldie behind the ears. Before she climbed into the Taurus, Sam confessed his part in her ignition problem. She wanted to get angry, but couldn’t. Starting her engine on the first try, she let it idle. Sam had jumper cables in case it didn’t. “Thank you for everything, Sam. You’ve been wonderful.” She flashed him a dimpled smile, and for the first time he saw a slight gap between her two front teeth. Rather fetching, he decided.
“Aw, shucks, ma’am,” Sam drawled comically, sliding his thumbs into his pockets like an Old West cowboy.
“Do you have a place to stay tonight?” he asked.
“I’ll bunk down at the Kailua house and start looking for temp work in the morning. I don’t really feel like going back to Vegas just now. Too many memories.”
“I’ll tell you what, Cindy. Follow me over to my Auntie Nona’s apartment. She’s got a spare bedroom, and you can stay there till you get back on your feet.”
“Are you sure it’ll be all right with her?”
“Oh, yeah. Auntie’s always complaining that she’s lonely and I don’t visit her enough. It’ll be a perfect match. Besides it’ll be a good excuse for Goldie and me to visit her more often.” Sam leaned over and planted a brief, friendly peck on her still-damp cheek.
The next thing he knew, she had slung her left arm around his neck in a full squeeze. Grateful or something more, he couldn’t say.