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Authors: Joann Bassett

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Livin' Lahaina Loca

BOOK: Livin' Lahaina Loca
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LIVIN’ LAHAINA LOCA

 

The Second Book in the “Islands
of Aloha Mystery” Series

 

JoAnn Bassett

Copyright
2012, JoAnn Bassett

All
rights reserved

 

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this book are
purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is
coincidental.

 

 

Other
books by JoAnn Bassett:

 

MAI
TAI BUTTERFLY

MAUI
WIDOW WALTZ, The First book in the “Islands of Aloha Mystery” series

 

 

Discover
the latest titles by JoAnn Bassett at http://www.joannbassett.com

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

A
fat rubbery hand glommed onto my left breast. I whirled around and came
nose-to-nose with a plastic mask sporting an impish grin and saucer-sized black
ears. Halloween night in Lahaina, Maui. The happiest place on earth for a
cartoon mouse looking to cop a feel.

“You
don’t wanna go there,” I said, grabbing the groper’s forearm just above the
white four-fingered glove. The reveler didn’t release his grip so I clamped
down even harder, squeezing the radius bone against the ulna. Then I jerked the
arm down—fast. For a split second I considered giving it a quick twist to pop
it out of the elbow joint, but didn’t. After all, this masked goon could be an
inebriated friend or colleague. Nothing’s sacred after seven or eight beers.

I
let go and the lecherous mouse skittered away as fast as the swirling crowd
would allow. I resumed my upstream trek to the Lahaina Yacht Club.

Before
I go into why I’d come to Lahaina Town on the craziest, most crowded night of
the year, I think I should introduce myself. My chosen name is Pali Moon. The
name on my birth certificate is something else, but only a few people would put
that name to this face so I just stick with Pali. On the mainland my name would
be spelled
Polly
—but most of us born and raised in the islands usually
prefer the Hawaiian spelling. Makes us feel special—even ethnic—but I’m far
from meeting most folks’ image of a native Hawaiian. I’ve got light eyes and
light hair. And I’m no
ali’i
princess—you know, the gals with the girth.
I’m a standard five six and about one-twenty-five, give or take.

That
Halloween night I’d come to town on business. A bad night for conducting any
kind of business—except maybe monkey—but I had no choice. A bridesmaid had gone
missing the night before at a bachelorette party and no one had seen or heard
from her for an entire day. Since I was the wedding planner in charge, I felt
it was my responsibility to track her down and bring her back to the fold. She
was young, gorgeous, and well-endowed. I only hoped she hadn’t gone and trumped
the bride by having her own quickie nuptials with some squinty-eyed yachtsman
who’d come to Maui for Halloween—the Mardi Gras of the Pacific.

I
pushed through the saloon-type doors of the yacht club and was immediately
greeted with a sign warning this was a PRIVATE club. It was restricted, but not
upscale. The ancient wood floors creaked underfoot, and the funky décor was
right out of the mid-eighties. The ceiling was festooned with hundreds of
burgees—those colorful little flags that the well-heeled fly from the back of
their boat to let you know which snooty yacht club they belong to.

“You
a member?” The bouncer guarding the door ran it all together, so it sounded
like
remember?
It took me a second to consider what it was I might have
forgotten.

“No,
I’m here on a mission.”

He
eyed me as if I was about to hit him up for the United Way.

“I’m
a local wedding planner,” I said. “I’m looking for one of the girls in the
wedding party.”

Local
is
a magic word around here.
Local
gets you substantial discounts, warnings
instead of speeding tickets, and assistance instead of a shrug. We even have a
word for it:
kama’aina
. It’s kind of like a secret handshake.

“You
think she’s here?” He eyed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on the groaning
wooden deck jutting out over the water. Personally, I wouldn’t take my chances
on a jammed lanai held up by timber pilings that have been marinating in salt
water for forty years, no matter how great the sunset view. But that’s just me.

“I
don’t know. I was hoping maybe you’d recall seeing her when she came in. She
doesn’t exactly ‘blend.’ You know, born a few decades too late to be a Playboy
Bunny, but—”

“Ah,
like one of those Victoria’s Secret girls?” He grinned, then switched to a more
somber face. “Yeah, I check out that catalog when it comes to the house. You
know, to see if there’s anything my wife might like for Christmas.”

“Right.”

“Anyhow,
I’d say we got at least a dozen girls in here tonight could fit that
description. Excuse me a second.” A group of four had entered behind me. He
checked their ID, signaled the hostess to seat them, then turned back to me.
“So anyway, I’m not sure who’s still here and who isn’t. Hopefully we’re
talking about someone over twenty-one.”

“Just
barely.”

“Blond?”

“Redhead.”

“Ah,
that narrows it down a bit. No curvy redheads that I recall, but you’re free to
take a look around.”

I
thanked him and scanned the interior before making my way to the open-air
lanai. I’d only met the young woman in question twice—and each time she’d been
in the company of five other giggling bridesmaids—so although I remembered her
hair color and her stunning figure, I didn’t recall much else.

No
one in the outdoor crowd even approximated my missing bridesmaid. Most of the
people were not in costume, which helped, but not a single woman had the
copper-colored hair I sought. She wore it long—I figured it’d cover her back
when brushed out. The two times I’d seen her she’d pulled it back into a long
ponytail secured by a scrunchie. Of course, on Halloween night she could have
been wearing it up, or even under a hat or wig, but besides not seeing the
hair, all the gals on the yacht club lanai fell short in the va-va-voom department.

I
thanked the bouncer on my way out and joined the swarming crowd on the street.
It was slow going, even though the cops had blocked off the full length of
Front Street so pedestrians could spill into the roadway. In my tee-shirt and
capris I felt pretty lackluster among the scantily-clad naughty witches,
greasy-faced clowns and giant talking beer cans.

I
stopped in at Cheeseburger in Paradise, as well as half a dozen other bars that
were packed so tightly I’m sure the fire marshal was probably home hiding under
his bed.  It’d be impossible to impose occupancy limits on this night of
nights, but it didn’t lessen the danger.

After
I’d scoured the major Front Street haunts, I decided I’d wait until morning to
start seriously asking around. The wedding was still more than a week
away—plenty of time for our MIA to show up or contact the bride with apologies
for ditching. I turned and retraced the route to my car.

As
I passed the second ABC Store in three blocks, I heard my cell phone chiming. I
didn’t bother to dig it out of my beach bag purse. I wouldn’t have been able to
hear the caller over the din of the crowd. But even if I could’ve heard, I
didn’t want to stop and root through my bag while the heaving throng pushed me
in a direction I didn’t want to go. I needed to get back to my car. I’d check
for phone messages later.

The
crowd thinned out at Prison Street with the horde whirling in a giant U-turn
back toward the action. I hoofed it up Prison, making my way back to my trashed
green Geo Metro. I’d parked it in a spot marked
No Parking—This means you,
Brudda!
in front of a yellow shack a few blocks off Front Street. The house
looked like it was one smoldering cigarette butt short of an insurance claim;
but on the tax rolls the property was probably valued at a million bucks.

I
approached the Geo, pleased to see it hadn’t been towed or sideswiped by an
intoxicated party-goer attempting a three-point turn on the narrow street. But
then I noticed something wasn’t right. The rear driver’s side door was partly open,
and in the gritty yellow glow of the sodium street lights I saw a long scratch
etched the entire length of the car. Like most locals, I hate Halloween in
Lahaina. People use masks and copious amounts of alcohol as excuses to do all
kinds of nefarious deeds they’d never consider in day-to-day life. But getting
my car keyed wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. The gimpy-looking
vehicle was an ongoing joke among my friends. I’d already decided that once I
pulled together a few more high-caliber weddings like the one I was working on,
I’d get myself more respectable wheels.

I
opened the rear door, prepared to find a calling card from the joker who’d
keyed my car. Maybe an empty liquor bottle or a used condom. Drunken vandals
were rarely creative pranksters.

At
first I was puzzled by the thing stretched across my back seat, but after a few
beats, I figured it out. Then I slammed the door—hard.

A
dog began barking a block away.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Once
my adrenaline leveled off, I pulled the door open again. The feeble interior
light of the Geo scarcely illuminated the coppery gleam of the long tail of
hair. It’d been hacked off just above a black velvet scrunchie. I turned and
scanned the shadowy street. Not a soul in sight.

As
if it were a dead body, I reached in and lightly touched the hair. It felt
warm. It was a balmy night, though, so the fact that it was still warm didn’t
tell me much. Above the scrunchie, the hair was uneven. It wasn’t a smooth cut,
like sharp scissors or a barber’s razor would have made. It was tangled and
messy, as if it had been a hurried effort using a box cutter or a hunting
knife.

Although
I’m a wedding planner, I’m no stranger to the seamy side of life. I studied
criminology in college, using higher education as an opportunity to delve into
my fascination with the psychology of evil. After graduating, I trained with
Homeland Security and became a TSA Air Marshal at the age of twenty-four. I
only lasted ten months in the job, but that was mostly due to my inability to
shake off jet lag. On each trip—Honolulu to Taipei and then back again—I’d fall
asleep when we were about five hours out. Dozing on the job doesn’t make for a
stellar performance review, and when I conked out with an undercover supervisor
onboard it turned out to be my last free flight courtesy of Uncle Sam. But that
was okay with me. I’m a big fan of earth, sea, and sky—in that order. And, I
never quite embraced the notion of packing a gun. Since childhood, I’ve been a
serious student of the martial arts. I’m much more confident in my ability to
out-punch, outwit, and out-psych my opponent than to place a one-inch slug into
the right body part—of the correct individual—while moving five hundred miles
an hour six miles up.  

I
took a hard look at the ponytail before closing the door again. The thick hank
lazed languidly across the gray vinyl seat like a skinny fox taking a snooze.
All of a sudden I was anxious to get out of there and get home. It hadn’t
escaped my attention that the hair on my back seat matched that of the missing
woman I’d been asking around about. Whoever had chopped off her hair not only
had access to a lethal blade, but they’d apparently linked me to her and were
keen for me to know it.

The
drive back to my house in Hali’imaile took more than an hour—thirty minutes
just getting beyond the bumper-to-bumper traffic leaving Lahaina, and then
another half hour crossing to the opposite side of the island. Hali’imaile’s a
few miles up the road from Pa’ia, a funky plantation town on the windward slope
of Mt. Haleakala, Maui’s highest peak. I like it up there, mostly because it’s
nowhere near a public beach, and it’s miles away from the nearest tourist
resort or golf course.

BOOK: Livin' Lahaina Loca
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