Authors: Donald Stanwood
The Memory of Eva Ryker
and especially to
November 30, 1941
My first meeting with Martha Klein was nearly fatal for both of us.
I was herding my patrol car up over the Pali Highway, not paying much attention to the road. Clouds had grumbled at me all the way up the Nuuanu Valley, but once I passed the Pali Lookout, they gave up without a fight. It looked like a regular tourist-poster morning.
Jimmy Wong, the HPD dispatcher, had made me the same promise at five
, when I arrived at Headquarters. “Beautiful day, kid.”
I stopped at his desk and blinked at the charcoal sky beyond the windows. “Yeah, Sarge.”
“Say, how's Louise coming along?”
“Eight months, eleven days.”
“You make that kid of yours sound like a time bomb.”
He laughed. “Norm, how'd you like to get away from the Honolulu traffic? Get a little sunshine and fresh air.”
“Some sort of scut work, no doubt.”
Wong grinned breezily. “I just thought you might like to drive over to Laie. The Mormons had their big hukilau last night and â¦ well, somebodyâkids probablyâraised some hell around the Tabernacle. Broken windows, some four-letter words on the walls. Nobody saw anything, but the Church is pretty upset and the Captain promised we'd send somebody over.”
I adjusted the brim of my cap. “It's fifty miles to Laie and back.”
“So? You're not going by taxi. God knows we won't need you downtown. You know what Sundays are like.” His grin grew stale around the edges. “Besides, maybe the Mormons will put in a good word for you. I've never seen you miss a chance to suckle up to the Captain.”
“What's the matter, Sarge? On the rag again?”
Wong pretended not to have heard. “Don't get me wrong, Norm. Nobody wants to be a patrolman forever. Much less you college kidsâ¦”
“What a crock,” I snorted. “Five months on the force and you've got me running for governor.”
“Please, Norm. No bullshit,” he said cheerfully. “I caught that lean and hungry look the first day you walked through that door. And, every day since then, your ribs have been getting skinnier.”
His words sulked in a corner of my skull as I eased the car down the S-bends snaking toward Kaneohe Bay. Giving up their retreat, the clouds brooded and poured. I swore and fiddled with the wipers as the Chevy swerved around the cliff face.
She came out of nowhere, congealing from the rain. Waving her arms right in my path.
I tromped the pedal to the floor. The woman screamed even louder than the brakes, her body flashing past the flanks of the car.
Rubber burned and rock chips flew as I leaned against the side window, watching the road wheel in circles beyond my windshield.
What was it the books said about turning
My hands scrambled on the spinning spokes and the car cartwheeled to a long sliding stop.
Hands clenched on the wheel, I peered stupidly through the windshield. The hood ornament pointed at rolling gray clouds. I glanced out the side windows and was reassured to find myself still on solid ground.
With the care of a jeweler cutting a diamond, I shifted into reverse and gave it some gas. The rear tires chirped, then gained confidence, and hauled the Chevy back to even footing on the highway.
Yanking the emergency brake, my ears filled with the drumming of raindrops on the hood. And a different sort of tapping on the right window.
For a second I'd forgotten her. She pounded on the glass, pointing at the door latch.
“Jesus Christ, ma'am!” I said, flipping the handle. “What's the matter? You could haveâ¦”
My words stopped as she leaned toward me and I got a good look at her face. I'd never seen such terror in anyone's eyes.
“My husband!” She cried, fighting for breath. “Down the road! I tried â¦ I tried to stop â¦”
“Get in.” I waved her to silence and pushed open the door. “How far?”
She settled in the seat, gazing blankly at me. “Uh â¦ I was running â¦ no one came â¦”
“How far down the road!”
“â¦ God, I â¦”
“Never mind.” I slammed the door and floored the Chevy around the next bend in the highway.
The siren moaned to life as I took the corners with tires screeching. The clouds were playing possum again, but the road remained spit-slick.
Still no signs of an accident. I sneaked a second glance at the woman.
Early fifties. Unpleasingly plump. Mousy brown-blonde. Blue eyes and tears running in pink streaks over rouged cheeks. The best thing I could do for her was to keep my eyes on the road.
I spotted the wreck. Skid marks careened across the highway to a '35 Ford canted by the cliff side. Through the cracked windshield I could see a crumpled form behind the wheel.
The woman bolted upright at the sight of the car. “I ran as fast as I could! Running for help â¦ I knew he needed a doctor â¦ he looked â¦”
He was. I was glad I made her stay behind.
The deceased was in his late fifties or early sixties. I leaned through the side window, feeling his throat for a pulse. His flesh was already cooling to my touch.
The windshield cracks matched the egg shell fissures on his forehead. His skull looked as pulpy and unformed as an infant's. Through the blood the eyes stared in bland surprise.
I clamped my teeth shut against the vomit rising in my throat and walked back to the car.
She looked up at me for the verdict. But I didn't feel like playing a I-Don't-Know-How-To-Tell-You-This scene. Instead, I reached for the radio mike and gave Central Dispatch the story.
The radio rattled its reply: “Roger, Car 48. We'll send an ambulance and tow truck. Lieutenant Galbraith is coming up, too.”
“Okay. I'll stay with Mrs. â¦ uh â¦”
“â¦ Klein,” the woman mumbled without expression. “Martha Klein.”
I repeated her words into the mike.
“Roger, Car 48. Out.”
The radio's crackling stopped, the silence forcing me to face her.
“I'm â¦ I'm very sorry, Mrs. Klein. Sometimes â¦ you can't â¦”
“Yes, Officer, I know.”
“The ambulance should be here soon. I hope you don't mind â¦”
“No. I don't mind.”
“There are some questions I need to ask.”
Mrs. Klein didn't reply.
“Are you a resident of Hawaii?” I said.
She stared at the body across the highway.
“Mrs. Klein, I know how you feel â¦”
“Do you?” The eyes were cool and dead, as if shock had burned them out. “My husband's been murdered and you know how I feel.”
The word rolled around in my mouth before I actually spoke. “Murdered.”
“Mrs. Klein, you're very upset â¦”
“â¦ I'm stating a fact. Someone killed my husband. Poisoned him.”
Her jaw grew stubborn with the silence. “I don't know.”
I wondered if it was too late to head for Laie and the Mormons. “All right, Mrs. Klein. Tell me what happened this morning.”
“We're from St. Petersburg, Albert and me. Florida. We checked in yesterday at the Moana. Anyway, after breakfast Al and I rented that car and headed up the highway. We passed the Pali. He figured we'd drive on for a bit.
“We were rounding a curve a mile or so back when Al said he didn't feel so good. I told him it was probably just indigestion. He said maybe so.
“Al worried me. He looked kind of pale. And he was sweating. I said maybe he should pull over.
“He told me not to act foolish, then he let out a little scream, sort of, and bent over the wheel. His foot jammed on the gas. The car weaved from side to side. His face was so pale. Like ice. His fingers clung to the wheel.”
Her head shook. “I tried to pull him loose. His arms were like iron.
“He fell over on his side â¦ throwing up. Over and over. Clawing at his throat. The car went off the road, into the ditch â¦” Her voice trailed off.
“That's all I know.” She turned her back to me. “I ran and found you. But it was too late.”
I didn't say anything. A meadowlark trilled gaily in a nearby tree.
“Mrs. Klein, did your husband have any heart trouble? Fainting spells?”
“No! Al was always healthy.”
“But he wasn't a young man any longer, was he?”
“No, I suppose not.” She glared at me in the resentful way older people reserve for the young. “But do you think I don't know my own husband? You have no idea what we've been through together. We were newlyweds on the
. Two kids, twenty and eighteen. I refused a place in the boats when everyone knew the ship was gone. We jumped overboard and were picked up in separate boats. Hour after hour, not knowing if my husband was alive or dead â¦” Her lips bit down on the words. “Officer Hall, my husband did not have âheart trouble.' He was murdered!”
Her voice was mechanical. “All I know is that something was worrying him. He received strange phone calls just before we left. He was always moving the telephone into the other room, away from me. I started answering first, but they hung up.”
The whole thing sounded rather lurid, but I kept quiet as she searched her memory.
“A few days later I saw a man standing across from our apartment building. He didn't move. The only time he left for long periods was when Al left the house on errands.”
“Could you describe him?”
“Dark. And tall â¦” One hand tightened its grip around the armrest. “I don't know. Maybe later â¦”
I nodded. “By the way, why did you come to Hawaii?”
“It was Al's idea. He was almost frantic about getting away. We took the Pan Am Clipper. This was only our first stop.” She couldn't keep a little of the world-traveler tone from her voice. “We were taking a Pacific tour. Samoa, Tahiti, the Phil ippines â¦”
I listened carefully and decided she was serious. “Mrs. Klein, don't you read the papers?”
“Why no, not very often.” Her voice was calm and uninterested. “Whatever are you talking about?”
This wasn't the moment for a crash course in world politics. “Never mind. Did your husband act any different when you were away from St. Petersburg?”
“He seemed â¦ relieved, sort of. I forgot about the phone calls and strange men.”
“You've got to find them, Officer!”
“The people who killed my husband. Poisoned him.”
This had gone far enough. “Now, Mrs. Klein â¦”
The tearful eyes locked with mine. “You've got to believe me!”
“No.” I shook my head. “I'm sorry, but I need more than your faith. Two months ago a very kind, earnest woman came into Headquarters and demanded we set up a twenty-four hour watch to protect her pet poodle from the Chinese Tong. Ever since, I've been damn wary of heartfelt pleas.”
Her fingers reached around my wrist. “I'm sorry if I sound like a â¦ a crackpot. But my husband is dead. He was not sick. Everything I've told you is the truth.”
I didn't answer her at first, and in the silence we heard the sirens. We both sat and listened.
“You'll have to stay in Honolulu for a few days,” I finally said. “There'll be questions to answer.”
Mrs. Klein looked ready for burial herself. “Oh Lord, not now. Maybe tonight? I'm very tired.”
“All right. We'll send someone to your hotel later. I guess you'll want to be alone to think things out. There'll be details to arrange.”
Martha Klein nodded, not listening.
The sirens grew frantic as the ambulance, tow truck, and unmarked patrol car swung into view and braked on the soft shoulder. The noise drooped to a growl as I pulled away from her grasp.
“Excuse me,” I said, stepping into the sunlight.
Two white-coated men wrangled with a gleaming stretcher and ambled to the Ford.
Lieutenant Galbraith walked from the car to meet me. He was tall and rumpled and looked as old as the morning was new.
“Morning, Norman. How's the woman?”
“Holding up pretty fair, sir.” Then I thought again. “Actually, she's sort of rattled. She wonders if we could wait until tonight to get a statement.”
“Hell, yes.” His shoulders shrugged thinly beneath the plaid jacket. “You're taking her to the hotel?”
Galbraith started for the wreck, then looked over his shoulder. “Did she say much?”