Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Transit of Venus by James C Clar

James C Clar's Hawaiian detectives question a woman who has been pushed beyond her limits, but their consciences aren't entirely clear.

Cassandra Robertson looked up and met HPD Detective Jake Higa's eyes from across the table in the kitchenette where they sat. Higa's longtime partner, Ray Kanahele, stood a few feet away. The latter's considerable bulk was propped against the apartment's small but expensive looking refrigerator.

Higa noticed a faded bruise on the left side of the young woman's face, just below her elegant cheekbone. A right-cross, he thought to himself. The mark had been carefully, tastefully, concealed with make-up. Only the ordeal of the last few hours and the tears that she had, at times uncontrollably, shed revealed what must once have been a livid contusion.

Despite her currently disheveled condition, it was clear that Cassie Robertson was a young lady who was likely to get noticed. She was tall, leggy and twenty-eight. While maybe not classically beautiful, her sandy blonde hair and bedroom blue eyes made her far more than merely attractive.

"Did you know that if Captain Cook hadn't come to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus in 1769," Robertson offered without preamble, "he might never have discovered Hawaii? When he finally got here in 1778, he brought with him all kinds of sophisticated astronomical equipment. That's when modern astronomy began in the islands."

Higa jotted something in his battered, black Moleskine notebook. He let the girl talk. Kanahele, for his part, shifted his weight. The refrigerator lifted slightly on its front legs then settled back to the tile floor with a creaking noise.

"Until tonight, I've never thought too much about the stars," Robertson continued as she dabbed at her red-rimmed eyes with a tissue. "Astrology and, you know, all that kind of stuff. Still, from the very beginning people have sensed a connection between what was going on in the heavens and the intimate details of their own lives, between the stars and even the fate of whole civilizations."

"'As above, so below,'" Higa offered. "At least that's what the ancient alchemists believed."

Cassie Robertson nodded her head. Once again, she lapsed into silence.

"Is that what you learned at the presentation tonight, Mrs. Robertson?" The wiry Japanese-American detective prodded gently. "About the connection between astronomy and human affairs?"

The pretty young woman failed to take the bait. Subtly, Higa changed his tactics.

"You're still not willing to tell us about the gun?" Jake Higa pointed to a small caliber weapon that lay enclosed in a clear, plastic evidence bag on the table close to his right hand. "You admit that you don't have a permit. In that case, we really need to know where it came from."

Robertson shifted in her chair. Ray Kanahele moved out of the kitchenette and crossed the cream-colored carpet of the living room to the sliding glass door that led to the lanai. He carefully avoided the area that had been marked off with yellow crime scene tape. The crimson stain had already begun to dry and turn the russet color of the iron-oxide soil that made the islands the fertile paradise they were. The unmistakably metallic smell of mortality, however, remained.

As the Hawaiian policeman opened the door, the apartment filled with the scent of night-blooming cereus and the faint tang of iodine from the ocean ten stories below. Located just off Sans Souci Beach and at the base of Diamond Head, the Robertsons' condo offered a commanding view of the Waikiki shoreline. Lights from the resorts and hotels along the strip added to the silver glow of the moon on the breakers as they flowed rhythmically toward the shore. Despite the ambient light, stars filled the evening sky with profusion. Above the soft susurration of the palms, Kanahele caught the faint echo of music from the hula show at the Kuhio Park bandstand. He sub-vocalized the local mantra, lucky live in Hawaii… most of the time, that is!

Reluctantly, the big man closed the door and re-entered the kitchenette.

"I told you, Detective Higa. I went to lunch with a friend a few weeks ago. I had a black eye and the bruise you keep looking at on my face." Cassie Robertson spoke with a forcefulness that took Higa by surprise.

"I'm not going to tell you her name... ever! Anyhow, as we got up to leave, she handed me a paper bag. 'Don't look inside now,' she said. 'But at least you'll have if you ever need it.' When I got home, I put the thing in my purse and forgot about it."

"You're a nurse at the Royal Palms Senior Living Facility, is that correct... you work with Detective Kanahele's wife?"

"C'mon, Jake," Kanahele interrupted. "You already know the answer to that!"

The normally impassive Higa offered his partner and friend a withering glance. He spoke next with unaccustomed emotion.

"Another word, Ray, and you're out the door. Given Maile's relationship with Mrs. Robertson, you shouldn't even be here in the first place."

Chastened, Kanahele looked down at the floor.

"OK," Higa continued after taking a moment to collect himself. "We'll come back to the gun later." He glanced quickly at his partner.

"Run through it all again, for us, will you please? I want to make sure I understand what happened here tonight. What were you two arguing about?"

"Money," Robertson replied. Higa and Kanahele both noticed a trace of resentment in the woman's tone. "Lately it's almost always been about money."

"Terry had given me a check to deposit today. He needed the money to pay some of our bills. I was going to go out on my lunch break but two people called in today." Cassie Robertson looked up at Ray Kanahele.

"That's right, Jake," Kanahele verified quietly. "Maile and Cassie never got to eat lunch today. Maile texted me earlier, you remember? She mentioned how short-staffed they were."

"Anyhow," Roberston picked up the thread of her story. "I told Terry I never even got to take a lunch today. He looked at me and said, 'And that's a bad thing? From the weight you've gained in the last few months, it doesn't seem that you've missed too many meals.' I started to cry."

Once again, Kanahele changed his position. Higa noticed his partner's balled right fist and the unusual tension that emanated from him almost in waves.

"This was after you got back from the program at the zoo, correct?" Higa continued to take notes.

"That's right... just like I told you before. We walked up Kalakaua to the zoo. They were running one of their star-gazing programs. You know, the ones put on by the UH Institute of Astronomy. 'Get to know the night sky over Hawai'i nei' and all that. We spent two hours looking at the stars through telescopes and wandering around the grounds learning about the habits of nocturnal animals."

Cassie Robertson's beguiling eyes once again filled with tears.

"It was something I've always wanted to do. Terry surprised me with tickets. We laughed and held hands. For a little while, at least, I was able to pretend that everything was normal. That, maybe, we had turned some kind of corner. Once we got home and Terry saw that check, well... and of course it was all my fault."

Higa stopped writing. Kanahele walked around behind Robertson and put his arm around the young woman's shoulders.

"We're almost done here, Cass. I promise." The big man stood straight and faced his partner. "That's right, isn't it Jake." His tone suggested that what he had just said was an imperative rather than a question.

If Higa noticed the implication of his friend's statement, he ignored it.

"Your husband was a doctor, right, Mrs. Robertson?"

"Yes."

"And yet you claim that you've been arguing about money. Can you spell that out for me a little? I'm trying to get a handle on the state of your relationship."

"You want to get a 'handle' on the state of our relationship?" Although her ensuing smile was beyond sardonic, it nevertheless lit the room with the radiance of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

"Our relationship has been so good that the police have been over three times in the last two months. You must already know that. I guess the neighbors called because of the noise. Terry is... was... a doctor, sure. But it's hard to get started in a practice. The cost of insurance is so high. Plus we've got all kinds of loans to pay off. I've been working double shifts. Still, nurses don't make that much money."

Once again, Robertson looked to Kanahele, who had resumed his spot near the refrigerator, for support.

"Anyhow, Terry begged me not to press charges. 'How would it look?' he'd say. 'Think about what it would do to my career!' After the last time, well, I went to lunch with a friend, just like I said."

"That's when she gave you the gun?"

"Yes."

"OK." Higa pushed back his chair and worked the tension out of his neck.

"Let's focus on what happened when you got back from the program at the zoo. Your husband saw the check that you never got around to depositing today. What happened after that?"

"Terry took the check and walked it over to his desk." Higa and Kanahele both looked at a computer workstation across the room adjacent to the lanai door.

"He said he'd take care of it himself. When he put it down with the rest of the mail, he noticed a Visa statement. 'Son-of-a-bitch, Cassie,' he swore. 'What's all this?'"

"Detective Higa," Roberston looked down. "I needed some new uniforms for work. I go out of here most days looking like a bag-lady. It's embarrassing. I tried to explain. Terry didn't respond. I knew there was going to be trouble. Whenever he got quiet, that's when he was the most explosive, the most violent."

The AC in the room cycled on. Although he wasn't sure what was going on in his partner's mind, Kanahele felt a preternatural chill as his wife's friend continued her story.

"Terry came across the room and shoved me with both hands. I lost my balance and fell over the footstool. I landed near the door, right where I had left my purse when we came in."

"Terry was shocked. I could see it on his face. 'I'm sorry, honey,' he said. 'Are you alright? I just lost my temper. I've been trying, you know I have. Here, let me help you up.'"

"Bastard," Kanahele nearly spat. This time, Higa didn't even attempt to restrain him.

"Go on," Jake Higa urged quietly.

"I was sitting on my butt. I humped away from him as he reached down for me. Suddenly I felt like someone had dropped me in a pool of cold, clear water... or maybe like I'd traveled to a distant star."

"'Terry,' I said, as I continued to move away. 'Is it true what that docent said about the light from the stars we were looking at earlier? You know, that it takes so long for it to reach us that the stars themselves might not even exist anymore?'"

Cassie Robertson looked at the two detectives in the room with her. It was clear, however, that she didn't even see them. Her eyes were focused now on something much older and much farther away as she relived what had happened only a few hours ago.

"'What the hell, Cassie, I'm trying to apologize and you're talking bullshit about starlight.'"

"No, Terry, it's really important. Is it true what he said?"

"'Shit, maybe you bumped your head or something. You need to let me take a look. But, yeah, it's true. It's what they mean when they talk about light-years and that sort of thing. Now get up off the damn floor. This is silly.'"

"I smiled, Detective Higa. I think that's what really got him. I smiled."

Higa stopped writing. "It's OK, Cassandra," he encouraged, using the woman's given name for the first time. "As Ray said, we're almost done here."

"Terry came toward me. He didn't even try to disguise how angry he was. He'd lost control again. I was still on the floor. I moved back until I hit the door. I practically sat on my purse. 'So, even between where I am and where you're standing there's... like... a delay, a lag, between what I'm doing and what you see me doing? That's how it works?' I just kept talking, trying to distract him."

"'Yes,' he shouted. 'But we're so close, the delay is negligible.'"

"'Negligible' was enough, more than enough. The bullet caught him in the chest as he reached down to grab me by my hair."

Cassie Roberston put her head down on the table and, once again, began to sob.



Higa and Kanahele exited the apartment. Kanahele acknowledged the two uniformed HPD officers securing the Robertson's door with a nod of his head. The two detectives took the stairs that wound their way down the outside of the building. It was a typically gorgeous Hawaiian night. Off to their right, Diamond Head sparkled in the moonlight, showing off the calcite crystals along its flank that had so mesmerized the sailors that had arrived in the islands back in the 18th and 19th centuries. For once, the lights were on across the street at the Dillingham Fountain. A distant cacophony of muted laughter merged with the soft sound of the surf from the nearby beaches. Somewhere the Doppler whine of a siren was borne on the trades.

"Given the history of her husband's violent behavior," Jake Higa spoke as the two men reached the bottom of the stairs, "I think your friend is in the clear. That's if she gets good representation."

Higa stopped and faced Kanahele. The smaller man put a restraining hand on his companion's chest.

"The gun's an issue, Ray, though we both know where that came from, don't we?"

Kanahele shuffled his feet and put his hands in the pockets of his pants.

"You better hope it's clean," Higa continued. "Immaculate. If I'm any judge of character, Cassie Robertson will never give them Maile's name. But, still, that gun's the one thing they'll hammer her on. Mark my words."

Still, Kanahele didn't respond.

"Listen, Ray. You know how I feel about you and Maile. You guys, along with Mary and Toshi, are the only Ohana I have. Still, you're responsible for what happened here tonight, make no mistake."

"Jesus, Jake," Kanahele spoke with muted passion. "Terry Robertson was a real prick. The moke got what he deserved."

"I'm inclined to agree. But that's not the issue, is it? Once you start down that path, it's hard to turn around. Been there, done that. I've known lots of other guys in the same position too. This is something you're going to have to live with. Can you? We'll see."

Higa took a step back and began to turn around.

"You take the car, Ray. I need to walk. I'll catch a bus or call for a ride. Let me do the paperwork on this one, OK?"

Before Ray Kanahele could respond, Jake Higa began walking down Kalakaua Avenue under the ironwood trees toward the sepulchral fa├žade of the Natatorium. He looked up into the fathomless tropical sky. He searched the heavens for Venus. Or was it Mars that was visible at night? He couldn't remember from the one and only astronomy class he had ever taken. Maybe, he thought, some rare disturbance in the celestial realm had disrupted the balance he so prized in his life. Whatever the case, it hardly mattered. All he could see in any event were images of the spectacular supernova that had - deservedly or not - exploded earlier on Terry Robertson's chest.

2 comments:

  1. Intriguing, well-told story. Kept me interested all the way through.

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  2. very good indeed, nice twist about the gun, liked the astronomy reference.

    michael mccarthy

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