Captain Delbert Kauhane, Chief of Detectives, called a meeting for three-fourths of the Hawai‘i Four-9 task force. He’d not invited Bobby Stillman, and he’d asked David Chan and Chin Ho Kelly to meet him at his home rather than at their usual watering hole, the Blue Light Bar and Grill.
“I didn’t want Bobby to accidentally run into us there,” he told the other two as they sat down to beers at Kauhane’s dining table.
“Why’s that?” asked Kelly, the newest member of the 49ers.
“Well,” said Kauhane, lighting up a White Owl Elite, “I don’t know about you guys, but I think there’s something up with Bobby.”
Chan perked up but didn’t speak, not wanting to seem overanxious to share his feelings about his partner.
Kelly said, “Well, I don’t work with him like David does, so it’s hard to say.”
“David?” asked Kauhane. “Anything?”
Chan sipped his beer meditatively. “I, uh, didn’t want to bring this up with you folks, but yes, there is something different.”
He didn’t want to say that the ghost of Victor Yamamoto had suggested that Chan didn’t trust his partner.
“Yeah,” said Kauhane. “It’s as if his work ethic has changed. He’s not as nose-to-the-wheel as he used to be.”
“You mean grindstone,” said Kelly. “Nose to the grindstone.”
“Right,” said Kauhane, “thanks for catching that, Chin. Wheel, grindstone, you did get the picture, right?” He blew a long stream of smoke toward Kelly.
“Del,” said Kelly, “that cigar of yours stinks to high heaven. Is White Owl Elite the best stogie you can afford?”
“Eh, Chin,” said Chan, “that’s how they nailed Ornellas, you know.”
“How’s that?” said Chin.
“Well, Ornellas was always smoking Havanas. You can’t afford Havanas on what we make. So IA started the investigation that bought him down.”
“That’s right, Chin,” said Kauhane. “This way, if I were on the take, at least I’m not being stupid enough to smoke an expensive cigar.”
Chan wanted to steer the conversation back to Stillman. “So Del, it’s weird you would bring this up. And Chin, you’re right, Bobby’s my partner, so I should know better than anyone if there’s something amiss. To tell the truth, I hardly even see him these days. He’s always off doing something, and I mean he does seem to make some progress on his cases, but, for instance, he said he was going to look into Philip Tico and his son Jeffrey, see if there were anything to tie them to the attempt on my life. But so far, he doesn’t seem to have checked them out at all.”
“But I heard you did,” said Kauhane. “And I heard it didn’t go so well.”
Chan was puzzled. “Where’d you hear that?”
“A little cat told me.”
Kelly gave Kauhane a sideways look.
“Say it,” said Kauhane. “I know it’s a little bird, I just wanted to see if you were going to jump in again and try to correct me. And you were.”
“No I wasn’t,” said Kelly.
“No lie,” said Kauhane. “You was going.”
“Guys, guys,” said Chan, “I shudder to think you two carry guns.”
“Sorry,” said Kauhane, “you were saying?”
“Right,” said Chan. “Okay, I did go to see the Ticos. They were both in. The bastards. I simply could not control my anger. It didn’t go well. I got nowhere in terms of knowing if there was any connection to the killer.”
“Well, I’ve seen it from another angle,” said Kauhane. “I mean as his boss, if I were rating his paperwork, for example, I’d have to flunk him. His reports have been late, sloppy, and incomplete. It’s as if his head is somewhere else. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has competing interests that are running contrary to the work of HPD.”
“You mean you think he’s dirty?” asked Chin.
Kauhane nodded and blew a stream of smoke toward the ceiling. “And that boy’s akamai enough to smoke his Cubans at home.”
“I hate to think that,” said Chan, “but I gotta say that I agree with you. Heck, if Victor were here, I think he’d agree, too.”
“So what are we going to do about this?” asked Kauhane.
“Set some kind of trap?” suggested Kelly.
Chan sat back and thought about this. Set a trap for his partner. The guy who’s supposed to have your back and you, his, whenever the need arises. But then he thought about the Ticos and about someone wanting to kill him, and he thought about how Stillman didn’t seem to have his back.”
“Yes,” said Chan, “we need a trap. Either we’re going to find out he’s just temporarily out of sorts, or that he’s turned. Geez, for all I know, maybe he’s the one who wants me dead.”
Both Kauhane and Kelly stared at Chan, and neither said a word.
“What?” said Chan.
“Well,” offered Kelly, “I think it’s pretty convenient that he blew that guy’s head off. I mean, the kid’s rated as a marksman. He could have just winged the guy.”
Kauhane said, “I was thinking the same thing. Why kill him? It’s as if he didn’t want your assailant to have a chance to say anything.”
“Or to be easily identified,” added Kelly. “You blow a man’s face off because you don’t want anyone to know what he looks like. And then you pray there are no prints on file.”
Chan sat back and thought about this. Both his friends had thought about the idea that Bobby Stillman was the person who wanted him dead. This had not entered Chan’s mind at all. Paranoia jumped in. Had Stillman been in the pockets of the Yus? Could he be in the pocket of either or both of the Ticos?
“Okay, then, what kind of a trap will work here?” said Chan. “I think you guys have a little more objectivity than I do.”
“Let’s make him talk to Tico,” said Kauhane. “I’ll order him out there and say I want a personal report on what he finds out, face to face. If he tries to bullshit me, I’ll know. And to make sure he goes there, we can have him followed.”
Kelly said, “I’ll follow him. I always thought there was something off about that kid.”
“Yeah,” said Kauhane, “I thought he would be good for Hawai‘i Four-9, a good recruit to jump in after Victor was killed. But once he was on board, I knew he was no Victor Yamamoto.”
Chan nodded. For sure, Bobby Stillman was no Victor Yamamoto.