Authors: Jill Marie Landis
LOUIE WAS STILL DOWN in the dumps when he woke up. Em hated to make things worse, but she decided to tell him she was going to meet her ex for lunch at a nearby hotel.
“What’s he doing here? Stalking you?” Louie shook his head. “He’s probably regretting letting you go and wants to get back together.”
“Too late for that. Besides, I’m the one who filed for divorce,” she reminded him. She told him about how Phillip had read about Louie’s participation in the contest and how Phillip was going to be here on Oahu this week too, and so he invited her to lunch.
“I think it’ll be a good thing. Closure. Gotta be good.” She wasn’t feeling real certain.
The phone in the suite rang as Em debated what to wear to lunch. It was Hilton security officer Kim calling to tell her that he had recovered the video of their hallway taken around the time they’d checked in yesterday. He asked when it would be convenient for her to meet him at the security office and view it.
“I’ll be right down,” she said.
The resort was already swarming like a beehive alive with guests. Em had seen at least two Starbucks coffee shops in the complex with lines of customers streaming out the doors. The body clocks of new arrivals from the mainland were still set on earlier time zones, and most of them had already been up for hours.
She passed the penguin lagoon where a couple of molting African penguins hid in the shade of a lava rock cave. They appeared to be staring forlornly at turtles lazing on faux rock islands in the middle of an odiferous pool. When she reached the security office, Mr. Kim was waiting at the desk.
“Thank you for calling me in,” she told him.
“We were in luck. The camera was on yesterday. Like I said, it’s quirky at best.”
“The weather,” she said.
“Right. Too much humidity and salt air off the ocean. Come with me.”
He led her into another room, smaller, with banks of screens that showed the various locations in the hotel. He made a few strokes on a computer keyboard, and the image of a hallway appeared.
“That’s the twentieth floor yesterday morning a few minutes before you checked in,” he said.
As Em watched, the hall remained empty. He fast forwarded the video, and she suddenly saw herself and Louie appear at the bottom of the screen. Louie had the strap of his briefcase looped over his shoulder just as he had assured her. They walked down the hall. Louie used his card key to open the room. They went inside, and the hallway was empty again.
“Keep watching,” the security officer said. “No one else walks down the hall for a few minutes.”
Em watched. He kept fast forwarding to a point where Louie stepped out of the room with an ice bucket in his hand. He turned, fiddled with something, and must have been propping the door open with the latch before he walked down the hall. When he turned the corner he disappeared from view.
A few seconds later a group of five—a couple with three children of various ages—came into view. They were animated and chatting to each other as they hurried along. One of the little ones skipped ahead of the rest.
“Right there,” Kim said, pointing to the screen. “See that?”
“I do.” Em nodded. Someone in a dark hoodie sweatshirt, baseball cap, and pants trailed close behind the family. He was carrying what appeared to be an ABC Store shopping bag. When they passed Louie’s door, the person slipped inside.
“That has to be your thief,” Kim said. “Appears to be a man.”
Kim fast forwarded the video again to the point where the man in the hoodie slipped back out into the hallway and headed in the opposite direction of the camera. They had no glimpse of his face. He was still carrying the bag. Em had Kim run the video back to his entrance to the room. The bag looked considerably heavier when he walked out.
Almost immediately after the man stepped out of the door and was in the hall, Louie turned the corner and was walking toward the thief. Louie nodded genially when they passed, but the encounter lasted no more than a second. Em was surprised Louie had remembered as much detail as he had.
The man with the bag continued on to the end of the hall and turned the corner.
“There’s no elevator at that end of the hall,” Kim said. “He doesn’t come back into view at all, so he had to have taken the emergency stairs to exit the building. My guess is he shed the outfit, probably put it in the bag, and walked out of the building.”
“If he had on board shorts and a T-shirt he would blend in without ever being noticed,” Em said.
“Unfortunately that’s probably the case,” Kim agreed. “In a city of one million it’s easy to hide in plain sight. We can pretty much assume that notebook is gone for good unless you can think of someone who might have it out for your uncle.”
Em frowned, thinking. “I was hoping he’d forgotten to bring it and that there was no thief. Now we’re going to have to focus on who might have wanted it, which leads me to think it had to be someone who wanted to sabotage Louie’s chances of winning the contest.”
“One of the other contestants.”
“Right. Someone probably staying here at the Hilton.”
AT ELEVEN, EM left the Hilton and headed on foot to meet Phillip at Orchids, an upscale restaurant in the Halekulani beachfront hotel not far away. After last night’s fiasco and the missing Booze Bible, she definitely wasn’t looking forward to seeing her ex, but at the moment anything was better than being at the hotel waiting for the Hula Maidens’ next misadventure.
Little Estelle hadn’t shown up all night. Her daughter was so beside herself with worry that Kiki gave her two Valiums and put her to bed. Now Big Estelle couldn’t stay awake more than ten minutes at a stretch.
In the middle of the night Little Estelle had sent a mass text message to all of the Maidens saying she was A-Okay and not to worry. Lillian was locked in her room, letting her Facebook fans and her private fan club in Iowa know that she was all right after one of them posted the KITV news clip of her arrest. The pitiful on-camera plea for help with bail was burning up the social media websites.
Uncle Louie, certain he was going to come in last in the Shake Off, was still worrying about the fate of his missing Booze Bible. Until she saw the man in the hoodie on the video, Em had convinced herself that he’d lost it somewhere between Kauai and checking into their room.
The Halekulani looked a lot closer on her map of Waikiki. By the time Em walked into the casually elegant oceanfront restaurant which appeared to be quite popular, not to mention expensive, she was beyond glowing. She was downright sweating.
As she took in the posh interior of the room complete with a baby grand piano, she hoped her ex didn’t stick her with the bill. Not only had Phillip been a player during their marriage, something she found out the hard way when someone sent her a photo of him in Costa Rica with another woman, but he’d also been living the life of a high roller, assuring her that his business was doing well. In reality, he was in debt up to his
The host informed Em that Phillip was already seated and waiting for her. He led her through the maze of white linen covered tables and bamboo chairs toward view seats.
Em spotted Phillip immediately. The divorce and his subsequent downfall had apparently been good for him. He was tan and fit and smiling. Though he had a slightly receding hairline, he still had a head full of rich chestnut brown hair which he’d taken to combing straight back. When he saw her across the room he waved and waited beside her chair for her.
“Em.” He stood back and eyed her from head to toe. “The casual look suits you. I like the ponytail.”
She was wearing a new belted sundress she’d picked up at a pricy boutique in Hanalei. She’d even jettisoned her rubber flip-flops for a pair of dressy sandals. Compared to what she’d been wearing over the last year at the bar, she was in formal wear.
Phillip, in his fitted Armani shirt and white linen pants, looked every bit the wealthy tourist. He held her chair while she sat down and then took his seat across the table.
Em decided on her way here the last thing she needed was a drink, but now that she was face-to-face with the man who’d cheated, lied, and turned her entire life upside down, she smiled across the table at him and ordered a shot of Patron.
“Straight tequila, Em? That’s a new twist.”
“Life is full of unexpected turns.”
She smiled at Phillip and pictured Uncle Louie back at the hotel with his cocktail building implements spread all over the small kitchen area in the suite and Kiki and the rest of them resting up for their next fiasco and mentally compared her new life and the people in it with the life she’d led back in Orange County.
“Never a dull moment,” she added.
“So you like living in Hawaii?” He picked up what appeared to be his usual bourbon on the rocks and leaned back in his chair.
Em’s gaze kept drifting to the vast stretch of turquoise water stretching toward the horizon and then to Diamond Head in the distance.
“What’s not to like? It’s paradise.”
He didn’t need the details of how she worked from nine in the morning until one a.m. closing or how she was still sharing the beach house with her uncle. He really had no business knowing that she was “kind of” dating both a successful screenwriter and a fire dancing detective.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Great, as a matter of fact. I’ve started my own business and turned my finances around. I found a great condo, and I’m living in Marina del Rey now. I like it a lot better than Newport. It’s far more cosmopolitan, not to mention closer to LA.”
By the time their divorce was finalized, they’d lost their home on exclusive Linda Isle and all of their assets in order to cover his debts. All Em had been left with was his precious Porsche, which she sold to pay her own expenses before she moved to Kauai to help Louie run the Goddess.
“I’m glad you’ve found your footing again.” She didn’t ask how many bimbos he was dating.
Her tequila arrived. She downed the shot while the waiter went on and on about the menu, and then Em ordered another.
Phillip continued to talk about himself, his new company, how he found the perfect condo, and how he was happier than he’d ever been in his life. Em threw back her second shot as soon as it hit the table and then started guzzling water. It was going to be a long day. The last thing she needed was a banging headache. Her stomach knotted when she thought he might be about to suggest they reconcile, now that he’d righted his ship, so to speak.
The waiter was hovering again, so Em ordered the Manoa salad and the olive oil poached salmon with Big Island goat cheese, pistachios, and roasted beet root entree. Phillip decided on the lobster sampler with lobster bisque, lobster salad on a bun, Hirabara greens, and chips.
When their entrees came the portions were substantially better than Em expected. She wasn’t especially fond of expensive little pyramids of food that wouldn’t fill a hummingbird beautifully displayed in the center of huge square plates. The Goddess was known for serving huge portions. No one ever left hungry.
“We’re staying at the Moana,” Phillip informed her after he’d tasted his lobster salad. “It’s the hotel known as the First Lady of Waikiki. What about you?”
“We’re at Hilton Hawaiian Village where the Shake Off contest is being held.”
“Ah.” He finished his bourbon on the rocks. “That’s right. I told you how I read the article in the
“When you called a couple of days ago,” she said.
He looked at her empty shot glass. “Would you like another drink?”
“No, I’m good for now.”
“Since when did you start drinking straight tequila?”
Since the day you told me you’d be fishing off of Catalina with the guys, and I opened a text with a photo of you in the airport in Costa Rica with a Barbie doll hanging on your arm.
“Oh, a while back,” she said. “But I rarely indulge. Not a good idea if you work in a bar.”
A thought filtered through the mellow tranquility induced by the Patron. Em looked down at her empty plate, blinked, and then looked at Phillip again. “Did you say
staying at the Moana?”
He signaled the waiter for another Maker’s Mark, and his confidence seemed to slip a notch.
“My fiancée and I. I’m getting married.”
“Right. It’s her first wedding, so it’s going to be a big one. Her name is Felicity. Felicity Duncan.”
The minute he made the announcement, mixed feelings of euphoria and freedom came over her on a wave of surprise.
Em smiled. “That’s great. Seriously. Congratulations.”
“We met at a yoga class. It was love at first sight.”
“Yoga? You’re into yoga?” She’d seen the young women going in and out of yoga classes. Tall, stick thin, bendable as pretzel dough.
“It’s great. You should try it. Very relaxing.”
So is the Patron
, she thought.
“Are we having dessert?” Em waved a waiter down. “I’d like a dessert.”
She ordered the Halekulani’s Signature Coconut Cake and turned down another shot of tequila, though Phillip was pushing it. From where she sat Em had a side view of the entry. Phillip was going on about the benefits of stretching.
“Felicity says you’re only as young as your back is flexible,” he said.
Em knew the minute she looked over and saw a taller, thinner, much younger version of herself standing in the doorway that she was looking at Felicity the Flexible. The blonde was staring at Em, clutching shopping bags that announced she’d done a fair amount of damage on Luxury Row, the haute shopping block on Kalakaua Avenue that included eight international boutiques: Bottega Veneta, Chanel, Coach, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Tiffany & Co., Tod’s and Yves Saint Laurent.
“There she is now. I told her I wanted to introduce you, but I’d about given up on her showing up.”