Writer In Progress; The Hilo Hustle, written by Tom Bradley
February 28, 2014 Leave a comment
As the month of February draws to a close, we will soon be saying goodbye to all that nasty cold weather, so in honour of the warmer days to come, I bring you an excerpt from Tom Bradley’s latest novel THE HILO HUSTLE, and hope the tropical climate of Hawaii chases away the winter cold.
“I see you pack a Ruger,” he said, pitched like Joe Pesci but with an easy Louisiana drawl instead of a New Jersey buzz saw.
She looked at the holstered gun in her hand. “Please sit. I’d offer you something to drink but I’m afraid all I have is water and fruit juice.”
Dwight parked on Noelani’s sofa. “See, I’m partial to the Glock 22 myself.”
She sat in a chair opposite him. “Isn’t that what the character on Justifiedcarries?”
“He has a 17 as his standard sidearm with a 26 for a backup. Outside of that, it’s a pretty good show.”
She pointed at his boots. “Let me guess, you won a death match against the fellow who originally wore that skin.”
“There are two million American alligators in the wilds of Louisiana,” Dwight said. He drew it out as Loo-zee-anna. “Now, the longest gator ever recorded was north of nineteen feet, which makes him one huge son of a bitch because the average male is about thirteen feet long snout-to-tail and weighs upwards of six hundred pounds. Pure, prehistoric muscle. The damn things can run twenty miles an hour on land, so trust me, I don’t let a gator get anywhere near me unless I’m wearing him or putting him in my belly.”
“Is it true they taste like chicken?”
“Ever use yours?”
Noelani set the gun on an end table. “It’s strictly for personal protection.”
“In case some pissed-off cheater of a husband decides to ruin your day.”
“Or if a big lizard from Loo-zee-anna walks through my front door.”
“They are amazing swimmers.” Dwight studied the living room. “You know, Miss Lee, you’ve got a nice place and all as far as it goes. But I’ve seen bigger shotgun shacks back in Plaquemines Parish.”
“I have eight- hundred square feet,” she said. “Three beds—well, two and an office—a bathroom, decent kitchen, and you can’t tell me this living room isn’t comfortable.”
Dwight ran his hand over the sofa’s blue-and-white striped slipcover. “Still and all, I figured a private eye of your considerable renown would be living in something, I don’t know, bigger. More impressive.”
Noelani took a moment to inventory the room—a television; her ukulele case leaning against the TV stand; framed photos of her mom; finger-painted pictures of houses and birds, from Wanda Fong’s nieces on the mainland.
She said, “I didn’t know I had ‘considerable renown.’”
“You bought it from your mother when she moved to Kauai?”
She hesitated before she said, “We—yes, I did.”
“How’s she like it over there?”
“It’s a slower pace, which she finds appealing.”
“Huh. I don’t know how much slower you can get from this town,” Dwight said. “Then again, it’s got to be a hell of a lot more laid-back than your father’s current place of residence. Lompoc, as I recall.”
“He didn’t have much of a choice.”
“What was it, racketeering? He got himself mixed-up with the Korean Mafia in Los Angeles. Something about the sex-slave trade and a bunch of other incorrigible offenses.”
Noelani didn’t respond. Instead, she watched the way his mouth moved when he spoke, how he enunciated each word, clear as a bell. She decided he had a nice mouth.
“Life with no parole,” Dwight said. “Must put quite the damper on holiday get-togethers.”
“These days it’s just me and Mom, but I’m over it,” she said, not bothering to mention her two elder, distant sisters living on the mainland. “I’ve been over it, considering I was just a kid when he went away.”
“Nine years old, by my calculations,” Dwight said. “He’s the one who gave you ‘Bruce’ for a middle name?”
“Bruce Lee was his favorite actor,” she said. “Since he already had two daughters when I was born, he was hoping I’d be a boy.” But I came close, she thought. She decided to keep her mild hyperadrenalism—a hormonal imbalance which left her with some minor masculine traits—a secret from the Cajun lawman.
“Back in the day, my Pop had the hots for Mamie Van Doren,” Dwight said. “You know, one of those blonde bombshell actresses, like Marilyn Monroe and, uh, the other one, she damn near lost her head in a car crash.”
“Same big bosoms, but not nearly as talented. So if my old man had followed your old man’s child-naming conventions, I could’ve been Dwight Mamie Broussard.”
Noelani tried not to smile. “It’s sort of regal, you have to admit.”
“Yeah, but Pop never forgave Ike for making Dirty Dick Nixon his running mate,” Dwight said. “Besides, it’s not nearly as catchy a name as Cynamin Allgood.”
Noelani now regretted ignoring Detective Ahuna’s calls, no matter how much crude appeal the marshal exuded. “You realize there’s no point in asking what she and I talked about in the park this morning.”
“Or at her house this afternoon,” Dwight said.
“I guess you’ve already figured out how to get around town,” she said. “It seems you won’t need a tour guide.”
He said, “I only wish I had time to explore the island’s many wonders. But if I did, would you be offering?”
“Well, I—” She froze and soon caught herself staring into the man’s deep-set, bluish-green eyes. When he blinked, she said, “Not my specialty. Besides, I’m more into marital infidelity, slip-and-falls, and insurance fraud.”
“On occasion.” Then she said, without thinking, “Why, do you have something in mind?”
“Sort of.” Dwight removed a color photo from his pocket and handed it to Noelani.
She studied the picture of a man, African-American, bald, with a mustache. Dwight explained the subject was a fugitive named Landry Jenkins, who had several known aliases and probably more nobody knew about. He said the feds wanted Jenkins for running a Ponzi scheme, which bilked too many people out of too much money. He went on to tell Noelani about the man’s past connections with Cynamin Allgood, including donations to her reality show mayoral campaign.
Noelani said, “Wouldn’t he have changed his appearance by now?”
“Look closer, on his neck, under his right ear,” Dwight said. “He’s got a dime-sized birthmark shaped like an upside-down Ping-Pong paddle.”
“Well, Deputy, I’m pretty sure Cynamin isn’t hiding him at her place,” Noelani said. “Since you apparently know it’s smaller than mine, then you know she doesn’t have room for a permanent houseguest.”
Dwight said, “I didn’t say she’s hiding him, but more to the point, I have no interest in Cynamin Allgood.”
“She’s irrelevant to my investigation of Jenkins outside of the fact I believe she may have information on his whereabouts. And besides,” he said, “your business with her is your business, I understand, although it could eventually overlap with mine.”
“Unless you’re into home-brewed beer,” Noelani said, “I doubt it.”
“I’m more of a tequila man, but I keep an open mind.”
“And you think I can get it out of her.”
“What I’m thinking is you can do it without interfering with whatever it is she hired you to do.”
“Technically,” Noelani said, “she hasn’t hired me to do anything and I haven’t even explained my fees to her.”
“Seventy dollars per hour, plus mileage and expenses.”
Dwight laughed. “You make a living from that?”
“Look around. Like I said, I’m comfortable.” As comfortable as a woman who lives alone with a cat can be. Noelani said, “Why don’t you interview her yourself, since you’re here anyway and you know where to find her?”
“On more than one occasion in San Diego,” Dwight said, “Miss Allgood made it abundantly clear to me she, and I quote, ‘had no idea where the motherfucker went because he up and split without telling me shit.’”
“She also demanded I promise never to talk to her again about Jenkins, and so far, I’ve kept my word.”
“I get it,” Noelani said. “You lack a velvet touch when it comes to women.”
“All thumbs is more like it. If you need proof, ask my ex-wives.”
Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/MU09TS).
Tom Bradley Jr. has had an award-winning career as a newspaper reporter and editor in San Diego County, California, and as a public relations professional in Las Vegas, Nevada, and San Antonio, Texas.
A native Pennsylvanian, he resides in suburban Las Vegas with his wife, Donna; a laid-back tortoise-shell calico cat named Chloe; and sixty-plus pounds of rompin’, stompin’ basset hound named Molli.
The Hilo Hustle is his second novel.