A Pocketful of Sand
Needle, a Magazine of Noir, December 31st, 2015
Froze to death in Hawaii.
Coutinho visualized the words and decided that they made a moving epitaph. He burrowed deeper into his parka and glanced to his right. In the growing daylight his partner resembled a Korean American Scott of the Antarctic, peering through his binoculars for a sign of rescue.
“Solly’s smart,” Kim said for the tenth or twelfth time.
“Solly’s a damn sadist.”
“That’s what I mean. He knows this place is hell to stake out. It’s hard to hide up here.”
“It’s also hard to breathe.”
“Nine thousand feet will do that.”
Grumbling kept them a little warmer as they watched the visitors center on Mauna Kea. If the wind died, they would have to stop talking, but when did the wind ever die up here?
Coutinho glanced uphill, where four officers from the Special Response Team hunkered behind bushes like the one that hid him and his partner. He knew how little the stunted vegetation did to protect shivering flesh from the wind. More SRTs were babysitting the astronomers in the observatory base camp above the visitors’ center.
“Josiah better have this right,” said Kim, “or he’s dead meat.”
“It’ll be worth it if we can take a new player off the board before she gets started.”
“A meth queenpin. What are we coming to?”
“Had to happen sooner or later.”
“And there’s the gentleman in question,” Kim said.
From his prone position Coutinho struggled to his knees. He parted the scrubby foliage and peeked. A hundred yards downhill an aging Ford Escape climbed the last paved stretch of road and turned right into the parking lot. The vehicle stopped. Solomon Apikaila opened the driver’s door and heaved his three hundred pounds of truculence onto the blacktop.
Couinho held his hand out for the binoculars.
Magnified, Solly looked around. He appeared satisfied. Coutinho shivered again and marveled at the big man, who wore a tank top, shorts and sandals. At first Solly didn’t seem to notice the punishing wind, but then he turned and climbed the four steps up to the rest rooms. He disappeared into the men’s room.
Five long minutes later a Jeep Wrangler lurched into the lot.
“A rental?” said Coutinho. “Who drives a rental to a meth deal?”
“Like we always say,” said Kim. “If they were smart, we’d never catch them.”
The newcomer climbed down from the Wrangler. A green parka, black ski pants and hiking boots couldn’t conceal a form that was young, female and fit.
“She’s meeting Solly without backup?” said Kim. “She’s crazier than he is.”
“And she’s got a sense of humor.”
In her right hand the young woman held a child’s backpack in shocking pink. What looked like a cartoon character decorated the back of it.
“I can’t wait to see Solly carrying that.”
The young woman disappeared into the men’s room.
Coutinho thought about it. If the two dealers wanted to get out of the wind, that would solve his problem of how to get close. He and Kim stood. The SRTs joined them, and the team started moving downhill. They took it slowly. Anyone who tried to run at this altitude would wake up with his face in the tundra.
As they reached the parking lot, the young woman emerged from the men’s room. She wore gloves with her parka, which was strange. They would interfere if she needed to shoot. Coutinho showed her his shield in his left hand and raised the index finger of his right to his lips.
“He’s not going to hear you,” she said.
If the sight of six cops impressed her, she hid it well.
“Put your hands up,” said Coutinho.
It was probably too late for quiet, but he kept his voice down anyway.
She showed him the leather palms of her gloves.
“Come down the stairs. Take it slow.
“Don’t move,” he said.
She used her right hand to push her hood back. Coutinho let her disobedience go, because he had other things on his mind. In an instant she had changed everything.
He saw a young woman in her mid twenties, with the deep tan of someone who spent more than a couple of weeks a year in the sun. An outdoorsy blonde in Hawaii wasn’t news, unless she looked like this one. Coutinho stared. This young woman would now be forty, if she hadn’t been dead for eighteen years.
After a moment he told himself to get in the game and wait on his questions.
“I said, don’t move. You won’t get away with that twice. We’re going to detain you and search you for our own protection.”
She obeyed. Kim handcuffed her, while Coutinho frisked her. In the left pocket of her parka he found a wallet, which he handed to Kim. In the other pocket he found a surprise. He withdrew his hand and inspected what he held cupped in his palm.
How did beach sand get into a parka at nine thousand feet?
He shook his hand clean and completed his search.
No gun. What was she up to?
Coutinho unzipped his parka to get at his own S&W nine. He approached the men’s room door.
“Solly, it’s the police. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Only silence came from the men’s room. Coutinho nodded and stepped away. The men in black grouped themselves for an assault. On a signal from the leader they piled up the stairs and into the men’s room. The four of them and Solly would make tight maneuvering. But less than a minute later the leader came out and said, “You’re not going to believe this.”
The other three men emerged, glaring at Coutinho as if he had wasted their time. He climbed the stairs and stepped inside.
Solly Apikaila took up a lot of space, especially flat on his back. He had produced some powerful odors, among them blood and emptied bowels. His long black hair made a halo around him on the floor. The back of his head would be a mess.
Coutinho’s eyes went to the sink, where a splotch of blood showed on the stainless steel. The pink backpack sat on the floor next to the urinal. He went back outside and approached Kim and the young woman. He took the wallet from Kim and extracted a California driver’s license. All hope that he had been wrong disappeared.
“Cissie Dolgun,” he read aloud.
Kim froze at the sound of the surname. Coutinho sent him a look that said, “Later.”
“Mirandize her. Then let’s get everybody down here.”
Kim recited the warning. He pulled his handheld radio from under his parka and started talking.
“I’ll go get our car,” he said when he had finished with the radio.
Coutinho grasped Cissie Dolgun’s arm and led her to the yellow curb that divided the blacktop from the concrete apron around the building.
“What’s in the backpack?"
“You sure about that? You’ve got enough problems already without lying to us.”
“I told you. Sand. It’s not going to explode. Or get you high.”
“How about your vehicle? Any weapons or drugs?”
“Mind if we check?”
“Be my guest.”
He decided to let that wait for the entire team. He pointed at the yellow curb.
“Take a seat.”
She sat in one athletic motion, her balance never at risk. Coutinho nodded at the SRTs and they surrounded her.
Kim began the hike uphill to the base camp. Coutinho walked to his right, past the edge of the building, and looked across empty space at Mauna Loa. The thin air made it seem close enough to touch, yet impossibly far away. The mountain wore a layer of cloud like a towel around an enormous waist.
Coutinho turned and looked up toward the summit of Mauna Kea. He knew snow had just fallen up there, but at nine thousand feet he wasn’t high enough to see it. Most years there would have been tourists bragging about skiing in Hawaii, but the recession had taken care of that. These days no one came but the astronomers from the University observatory.
He knew what he was doing. He was trying to avoid thinking about rape and murder on a rainforest road eighteen years earlier. For the moment, the tactic was working.
Four vehicles were descending the short stretch of road from the observatory base camp. One by one they made the left turn into the parking lot.
Lieutenant Fernandes led in her personal Toyota RAV. Behind her came Kim in his own Altima.
The procession continued. A Toyota Avalon brought two uniformed officers, Hawaiian men weighing about six hundred pounds between them. They would guard the scene against the gawkers that no one really expected up here. A Special Response Team member drove the black Ford Excursion that was the SRT’s idea of inconspicuous. Each vehicle wore a blue Hawaii County Police cone on its roof. Fernandes approached Coutinho. She was mostly Hawaiian, with a touch of the Portuguese ancestry that explained her name. Her eyes were on a level with his. Once a man got used to the scale she was built on, she was a good-looking woman.
“Show me,” she said.
Coutinho opened the men’s room door for Fernandes. She went inside, but emerged after a few moments. She took a breath.
That was as emphatic as she ever got.
Fernandes nodded at the two uniforms. One took up a guard position by the men’s room. The other started recording names for the crime scene log. Coutinho joined Kim.
“She took Solly on hand to hand,” said Kim. “You know anybody that crazy?”
“Solly probably didn’t worry when he saw her come in. I guess she pulled his feet out from under him, and he hit his head on the sink.”
“Must have been a serious beef she had with him.”
They conferred with Fernandes and decided to take their suspect down to Hilo. From headquarters they would call the medical examiner and organize the crime scene technicians. Cell phone reception came and went up here.
The SRT’s in their Excursion looked massive surrounding one petite young woman in the back seat, but they had just seen what happened to a man who underestimated her.
“Ride with me,” Fernandes told Coutinho.
The steep descent from the mountain demanded all of her attention, but once they had reached the Saddle Road, she said, “You remember the Kelli Dolgun case.”
It wasn’t a question.
“Sure. I was still in uniform, but I backed you up when you went to arrest the three mokes.”
She nodded. She remembered.
“Why does her--what, sister?--turn up after all this time?” he said. “And why would she have it in for Solly?”
“You know what it makes me think of?”
“We have to deal with it. It’s going to come up--the fourth man theory. The one the other three were supposedly too afraid to rat out.”
“Nothing to it. It was just to sell that book.”
“Murder in the Rainforest.”
“That’s the one.”
“If I remember right, you did look at Solly. How come?”
“Known associates, that’s all. Solly did some business with them. Those people found out about it somehow.”
“That’s publishing, from what I understand. You have to have a hook. The fourth man gave them theirs. Didn’t have to be anything to it.”
“What about that bite mark on Kelli? It didn’t match any of the three suspects.”
“There’s always evidence that doesn’t fit. You know that. Just God’s way of reminding us that we don’t know everything. Anyway, if there was a fourth guy, those other three mokes could have lightened their load by ratting on him.”
“Then he’d have been inside with them. Maybe somebody should go ask them now that Solly’s dead.”
“Good luck with that,” said Fernandes.
“They got themselves transferred to federal lockups on the mainland. Gang stuff. You want to try for expenses to follow up on a closed case, be my guest.”
Coutinho looked sideways at Fernandes.
“You’ve kept yourself up to date on them.”
“My first homicide investigation. It was a big thing for me.”
“So we come back to it,” he said. “Why does anybody wait eighteen years?”
“I guess we’ll have to ask her. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Maybe she really is a meth dealer, and she thought Solly should stick to pakalolo.”
Until now, Solly had dealt only in marijuana.
Back at Kapiolani Street Fernandes parked in her reserved space. In the station Cissie Dolgun was waiting to be booked. Coutinho handled the chores and then walked down the hall to the converted closet that he shared with Kim. It had been a big closet, but it made a small office for two. He draped his parka over the back of his chair and reminded himself to pack it away for another ten years.
He logged into his computer and searched for the Kelli Dolgun file, but he found that it must still be on paper. As he started a records search on his suspect, his partner entered the office.
Cissie Dolgun had no arrests or convictions, but she had a significant presence on Google. Coutinho clicked on the first hit and read that her krav maga classes sold out faster than any other instructor’s in Los Angeles.
Coutinho had twenty-three years on the job. Kim had ten. They had encountered various martial arts and fighting systems. Most didn’t impress them, but anything the Israeli military used was for real.
“Must have surprised the hell out of Solly,” said Kim.
“I’m not sure surprise would have been enough,” said Coutinho.
He kept clicking on links. Cissie Dolgun didn’t just beat people up. She did triathlons. She had finished several of them with the elite performers, and sports bloggers had picked her as a long shot to win the Ironman in Kona this year, just two weeks earlier.
But she had dropped out of the bike leg. Coutinho wondered about that.
“Damn,” said Kim. “All this stuff starts when she was a kid. Like she’s been training for something for years. Something big.”
“She wanted to be ready when the opportunity came. Then something happened to make her think Solly’s the one she’s been looking for.”
“Something else we’ll have to ask her.”
Fernandes appeared in the doorway.
“You ready for her?”
“After she stews a little.”
“Now. She’s in interview two.”
He studied the Lieutenant. What was she thinking? She knew how to interview a suspect.
Three minutes later Coutinho took a seat across a metal table from Cissie Dolgun. The bare interview room reeked of despair, but she seemed unimpressed.
“I’m going to read you the Miranda warning again.”
She looked bored as he went through the familiar words. The door opened. Coutinho turned and watched Lieutenant Fernandes enter the room. She took a position with her back to the wall.
Fernandes gave Coutinho her dead-eyed cop look. He announced her name for the record and turned back to Cissie.
“You know any lawyers?”
“I don’t need one.”
“In that case, I need you to sign this. It says you were advised of your rights and refused counsel.”
He spun the form and laid a pen on top of it.
“Whatever,” Cissie said. She pulled the form to her and signed without reading it. “I killed Solomon Apikaila.” Coutinho said nothing.
“That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it?”
“It’s a good start.”
“What more do you need to know?”
“How did you kill him?”
“You know how, but okay, for the record. I had a pocketful of sand. I threw it in his face to blind him. Then I pulled his feet out from under him. I thought he’d hit his head on the floor, but it was the sink. Same difference.”
“Suppose he hadn’t hit his head at all?”
“Then I’d have figured something else out.”
“Why didn’t you bring a gun?”
“Josiah told me Solly was going to dress for the beach. If I didn’t want to do the same, I would have to let him frisk me. Anyway, I don’t need a gun.”
“Didn’t Solly fight back?”
For the first time she looked interested in the interview that might determine the rest of her life.
“No, that was the weirdest thing. He just looked at me. He didn’t do a thing when the sand hit him.”
Coutinho looked at Cissie Dolgun, and again the years fell away. Kelli Dolgun’s likeness seemed to take on three dimensions instead of the two he knew from photographs. Could Solly also have seen the resemblance?
“Okay, why? Why did you want to kill him?”
“Because he killed my sister.”
“Three men were convicted. They’re still in prison.”
“He was involved too.”
“We never found any evidence of that.”
“Because you guys fucked up.”
“Set us straight now.”
“I don’t have to. My job is done.”
“Have you been planning this for a long time?”
“As long as I can remember. He killed my whole family. My parents both died young because of him.”
“Do you remember Kelli?”
Cissie muttered something.
“What?” he said.
“Not much. I was really little when she went away to college. Supposedly I was here once before, but I don’t remember anything.”
“Would she have wanted you to do this?”
Coutinho heard Fernandes shifting her weight against the wall.
“I don’t care what she would have wanted. Half the time I hate her for ruining the family. Like it was her fault she died. We never had Christmas after that.”
Her eyes and her mouth became horizontal lines. She looked desperate not to cry, but the tears spilled anyway. “Then I remember that she didn’t get to be as old as I am now.”
“I didn’t know he was the one until a few weeks ago.”
“Something to do with the Ironman? Is that why you quit?”
“No, that was just ... right in the middle of the bike leg it all just seemed so stupid. So trivial.”
“What made you think Solly was involved?”
“I put the pieces together.”
“Well, the book, for starters.”
“You read Murder in the Rainforest?”
“Only about a thousand times.”
“They never used his name.”
“They gave me everything else. He played high school football. He quit in the middle of the season, junior year. So for years now I’ve been googling Hilo High School. Just a couple of months ago somebody put some articles from the school newspaper online. And what do you know--Solomon Apikaila played football, but he disappears from the stories at exactly the right time.”
“As a reason to kill somebody, that’s pretty thin.”
“That’s why I asked him first.”
“In the men’s room?”
“What did he say?”
“Not a thing. I figured that for as good as a yes.”
“How did you connect with Solly?”
“I just said--through Josiah.” “So how did you meet Josiah?”
“He’s in the book too, under a different name. It said he was a suspect, briefly. And it told me where he used to hang out. I got lucky there.”
Coutinho knew what she meant. It just didn’t sound like good luck to him that Josiah Kalakaua still dipped his fishing line at South Point almost every day and never seemed to catch anything except crumpled dollar bills from small marijuana purchasers.
“How could you be sure it was Solly in the men’s room? It could have been just some guy.”
“I had seen him.”
“Near … the place.”
“Where Kelli died?”
“Josiah pointed him out.”
“Why did Josiah help you?”
“Oh, get real. He was helping himself. He needed some brownie points with the cops. I let him think I was dealing meth.”
“So why didn’t you take Solly on right there?”
“He has his place fortified.”
Coutinho paused and thought about what to ask next.
“I don’t feel like talking anymore,” she said.
He decided to go along. He wanted to press Cissie, but more than that he wanted Fernandes out of the room. She was giving him a bad feeling. He said the words that suspended the interview. Outside, he told a uniform to take Cissie back to lockup.
Kim waited for him to finish.
“We’ve got a post to attend. Doctor Ramesh says he’ll do Solly right now.”
Dr. Ramesh had already concealed himself behind his gown, mask and cap. He waited for the detectives to cover up before making his first cut. As usual, Coutinho tried not to watch too closely.
“This is very interesting,” said Ramesh.
“Cause of death is brain trauma caused by a blow to back of the head.”
Coutinho pictured the blood smear on the stainless steel sink.
“We kind of figured,” he said.
“Yes, but this man is an anomaly. The bones of his skull are unusually thin. It happens occasionally. He was an accidental death waiting to happen.”
Ramesh poked another organ on a metal tray.
“He also had incipient heart disease. He would have been lucky to make fifty.”
That was an old story. Many Hawaiians had abandoned their historic diet of fish, fruits and vegetables. Spam and Kentucky Fried Chicken were killing them with frightening efficiency.
As the detectives left the building, Kim said, “That’s ironic.”
“All those people scared to death of Solly, and all it took was a knock on the head.”
“Our girl didn’t know she was supposed to be afraid of him, or she didn’t care.”
“We’ve seen that before. When you don’t give a shit, sometimes everything breaks your way. I think we know why Solly quit football. Somebody told him to quit or die.”
“I’ll follow up at Hilo High.”
“You ever read that book?” Coutinho said.
“Murder in the Rainforest? Sure. How many Hawaii County cases ever get a whole book?”
“You believe the fourth man theory?”
“I never did.”
Coutinho heard the “but” that Kim wasn’t saying out loud. For a few moments they kept an uncomfortable silence.
“So let’s go to Puna,” Kim said finally.
The rainiest, least populated part of the Big Island was where everything had begun.
They went outside to Coutinho’s Camry and took Kilauea Avenue to Route 11 toward the volcanoes. At Route 130 they turned left toward Pahoa and drove several miles through scrub brush that wasn’t the first thing the Chamber of Commerce wanted visitors to see. The subdivisions planted on the land didn’t look much better. Both detectives knew the streets well. A lot of their regular customers lived there.
They passed the cutoff for Pahoa. Sometimes Coutinho took the road into town, where he could admire the psychedelic murals on many of the buildings and watch the aging ‘Sixties people on the wooden sidewalks. Today he was in no mood for the simple pleasures.
Five minutes down Route 132 the car plunged into dense rainforest. They emerged into sunlight again and turned right on 137, along the coast.
At Isaac Hale Beach the local young men turned their heads so sharply to look at the car that Coutinho could almost hear vertebrae snapping. He waved.
Yeah, mokes. We’re cops. Deal with it.
He started navigating the nameless roads. They were usually mud, but the recent drought had turned them to hard, rutted dirt.
And then he found it, the place where Kelli Dolgun had spent her last hours. It surprised him how easily he recognized it. Right here a Jeep Wrangler had hit her. Tire tracks in the mud and her mangled bicycle had once marked the spot.
Instead of giving aid, the men in the Wrangler had stuffed her into the small trunk and driven her several miles, each turn of their wheels taking her farther from anything resembling help or mercy.
Coutinho remembered the outrage. Crimes like this were rare in Hawaii. Quick arrests had saved the three men from mob justice.
He followed the route they had taken, which involved leaving the dirt road and driving slowly on downed vegetation over packed sand. Soon he thought he had reached the spot where the men had raped and beaten her and then left her to be found, barely alive, by a local woman.
He and Kim climbed out of the car. They said nothing. Both knew how to walk a grid.
As Coutinho searched, he realized that he and Kim could have used some help. The forest was so dense that they could miss their objective by inches and never know. He heard Kim thrashing around just feet away, but much of the time he couldn’t see his partner at all. A large group of searchers could have gone shoulder to shoulder, but the news of their efforts would have gotten around.
He and Kim also had to work slowly, because according to Cissie, they might encounter a booby trap
But caution and luck combined to pay off. The sunlight glanced off a copper wire at ankle height. He stepped over it and kept going, until he saw what he was looking for. He expected a shack, but instead he found a new Sears tent in a small clearing.
He backed up and examined the wire again. It connected only with a set of bells from a Christmas ornament.
So much for Fortress Solly, and yet it had scared Cissie into using Plan B. What was he missing?
He called to Kim, who found him by sound. They stood and looked at the tent. Solly probably lived alone, but they couldn’t be sure.
“Can you get a signal?”
Kim checked his cell phone and nodded.
Judge Keola never denied a warrant or even expressed curiosity. Coutinho didn’t approve, but he couldn’t deny that he used the judge’s services.
Coutinho had never known where Solly lived. Many Big Island residents lived off the grid, especially on the Hilo side. They squatted on land that had no certain ownership, thanks to a century of mismanagement at the Bishop trust, the biggest landowner in Hawaii County. They generated their own electricity or did without it, and they collected rain water in a tank. No records search could find them.
Solly took the trend to its extreme. When he wasn’t under arrest, he didn’t exist.
The detectives waited. The uniform who delivered the warrant was too young to remember the Kelli Dolgun case. He had to call several times before he found the location.
Coutinho led the way to the tent and opened the front flap. His flashlight picked out a card table with a laptop computer on it. Solly had built shelves of boards laid across plastic milk crates. Two five-gallon water jugs rested on the ground next to a thin, stained mattress on a plastic drop cloth. An automobile battery was connected to portable light fixtures that hung from the peak of the tent.
Solly had a surprising number of books, considering the effort involved in getting them here. One book looked homemade . “Solly had a scrapbook.”
It started with newspaper articles about Solly’s football career. That section ended as abruptly as his hopes. Solly must have sleepwalked through the next several years, because the scrapbook had nothing to say.
Then the photographs started. Several dozen cheap prints from the photo lab at Long’s drugstore all featured one person.
Kelli on the beach. Kelli on her bike. Kelli hiking a rainforest trail.
Things are looking good for the fourth man theory, Coutinho thought. And Solly is looking like a stalker.
But then Coutinho came to the last photo in the book, another shot of Kelli on the beach. He looked at it for a long time. Kelli’s right arm had disappeared. She had tried but failed to get it around Solly Apikaila’s huge bulk.
The look on her face was pure friendship. Solly’s expression said that happiness could pierce until it hurt.
Kim emerged from the tent. Coutinho handed him the scrapbook.
“Raises some questions,” said Kim, when he reached the last picture.
“What was their relationship?”
“That’s one. Another is, who took the picture?”
“I think,” said Coutinho, “we need to go back to the evidence.”
The evidence warehouse in Hilo was closed for the day. Coutinho hated the wait, but he had no choice. The next morning they greeted the officer in charge of storage.
“Buddha, brah. Howzit?”
Kimo Pulolo got his nickname from his well fed shape and unruffled demeanor.
“For why you boddah me, Coutinho?”
“We get paid to bother people.”
Buddha grunted. He took their case number and disappeared. He returned in fifteen minutes. Buddha might look relaxed, but he ran a tight operation.
“Rape kit and swabs would be in cold storage.”
“Not right now, Buddha.”
Coutinho accepted the evidence box. Its mashed appearance told him that something heavy had rested on it for years. He lifted the box and moved to a counter along the side wall.
Kim did the unpacking. He passed each artifact of Kelli Dolgun’s short life and miserable death to his partner. Coutinho handled a bra, white T-shirt, blue short shorts, bright white sneakers, and finally a pair of savagely torn white panties. Someone had drawn red circles around faint discolorations in the fabric. All of the marks were around the crotch.
“As I remember,” said Coutinho, “the woman who found her pulled the T-shirt down to help Kelli breath better. It must have been up over her face.”
“We’ve seen that. The mokes were ashamed to look at her.”
“Maybe, but that’s not what I’m thinking.”
Coutinho knew what he had to do.
“I’m going to take the clothes and get them tested for DNA. We need it done fast.”
Kim nodded. “Judge Keola.”
That was half of what Coutinho meant by “fast.” Kim knew the other half.
Coutinho signed the evidence out.
He packed light. His briefcase held nothing but the judge’s order and the panties and T-shirt in their sealed envelopes.
He had done enough traveling to learn to appreciate the Hilo airport. Instead of riding a shuttle bus, he could park and walk to the open-air terminal in five minutes. The forty-minute flight to Honolulu was also easy to take.
Shortly before two in the afternoon he sat at a table in the open air section of the Kaka’ako Kitchen. He was waiting for a California blonde of the type Kelli Dolgun had never had the chance to become.
Lucy joined him within five minutes.
“What did you get me?”
“The crab club sandwich,” he said.
A harried young server dropped two Styrofoam containers onto the table between them. Coutinho opened his lunch and broke the seal on his plastic bag of disposable utensils. He had shoyu chicken simmered in fragrant Asian spices, with sides of brown rice and greens.
“Didn’t give me much time, Errol. All I have so far is preliminary. The stains on the panties were the victim’s own secretions. Pretty copious.”
It was possible, he knew. Some rape victims did lubricate, which added to their humiliation.
“Nothing but her secretions, though. Which makes sense if the attackers tore them off her before they got down to it.”
Then why, he thought, would she have lubricated copiously while wearing them?
“The T-shirt, now that’s interesting. In with her blood, mucus, sweat, saliva, there were traces of several other individuals. Three males and a female. The female is what they missed back then, what with the state of the technology.”
He nodded. “Another woman’s genetic material on Kelli’s face.”
“Looks like your fourth man wasn’t a man.”
That was one interpretation. He could think of another.
Lucy finished her sandwich. Coutinho had a five-thirty flight back to Hilo. He didn’t have to go just yet. She asked for coffee, but then she just held it in both hands while she groped for something to talk about. Coutinho couldn’t help her, but the silence felt comfortable. That surprised him, because so many of their silences had brimmed with hurt.
“We won’t finish today. You’ll have to make another trip.”
“I can do that.”
Coutinho thought he might have sounded too eager, but Lucy didn’t spook and run. Instead she smiled, and Coutinho felt a couple of decades fall away. That had been happening a lot to him lately.
She turned and headed toward the public parking.
No more than a minute later a shadow fell across the table. Coutinho looked up, as a woman took the seat across from him. He had seen this woman almost every day since making detective, but context was everything. Here she could have been someone he was meeting through the personal ads. It made him feel like a cheating husband, which by definition he could no longer be.
“You’re too predictable, Errol.”
“I can’t help it. I like this place.”
Fernandes looked off in the direction that Lucy had taken.
“You getting back together?”
“I don’t know. It felt good. Could just be I’m a better ex.”
Fernandes returned her eyes to him.
“I figured you’d check the evidence. I’m the fourth man.”
“I know, Lieutenant.”
“I should have said so back then. It’s not like I killed her or anything.”
“Kelli and I made love. I guess I was all over her.”
“On her face, anyway.”
“You want the details? I never met a guy who didn’t get hot over that.”
When he didn’t react, she waved the topic away.
“Sorry Errol. That was a cheap shot.”
“Get ready to take another one. I have to ask--did you bite her?”
“She liked me to do that when she was, you know, coming. What a pleasure to know people are reading about my sex life in that book.”
Fernandes swallowed hard.
“I wanted her to stay, but she had to go. She had family visiting. She got on her bike, and I never saw her again.”
“At that point you hadn’t done anything wrong, Lieutenant. Why didn’t you just back out of the case?”
“Because I would have had to explain.”
Coutinho nodded. He understood what the nineteenth-century missionaries had accomplished in Hawaii. These islands matched the Bible Belt for religious fervor. Fernandes’s family would rather have a killer than a lesbian at the dinner table on Thanksgiving.
“Then the fourth man stuff got started, and it was too late for me to admit anything.”
Coutinho dreaded her next question, but it came anyway.
“So, Detective, what you gonna do?”
“I don’t know, Lieutenant. The right guys are in prison, aren’t they?”
“I never heard anything to say they aren’t. But Solly’s death is going to bring up the fourth man all over again.”
“Why didn’t you just make the evidence disappear?”
“I’m a detective.”
Coutinho believed her. He looked at his boss, and his mind made a leap.
“You took that picture of her and Solly.”
“I never liked him hanging around, but what was I going to do, tell her she couldn’t make friends?”
“Did he get it? About her, I mean?”
“He did, and he didn’t. You know straight men and lesbians. They think we just haven’t met the right guy.”
“Did he ever, you know, declare himself to her? That he loved her? It’s so obvious in that picture.”
“I worried about that, too.”
“How did they meet?”
“On the beach. Isaac Hale.”
“Not the healthiest place for a haole wahine.”
“People loved her. They didn’t care if she was white. And in a sick kind of way I don‘t think the mokes cared, either. They’d have done what they did to anybody who came along.”
“So, what happened? Did she just start talking to Solly?”
“That would be her style. It’s how it happened with me, too. I was having breakfast alone at Ken’s for the ten thousandth time, and then I wasn’t alone anymore. For a while.”
Coutinho waited a respectful interval.
“We have to get back to Hilo.”
“I was hoping to stay over, go up to church row.”
Some people went up the coast to Kailua Road and did the evangelical version of a bar crawl. They sampled one denomination and one church after another. You didn’t like that Baptist church? There were several on the same street. Not to mention every other mainline denomination, as well as Jehovah’s Witness and the Latter-Day Saints.
This might be her last chance for quite a while, but her expression said that she knew it was impossible. He stood and reached for his cell phone.
“Give me a minute, Lieutenant.”
She nodded. He left the restaurant and made the short walk into the Ward Center mall. He checked the phone and saw that he had a good signal. Kim answered their office extension. Coutinho explained. It took a while.
As he headed back to the restaurant, it struck him that he had given Fernandes a chance to run for it, but she hadn’t moved from her seat.
Where could she run?
“We should go,” he said.
She followed him to the parking lot and let him hold the passenger door of his rented Ford Focus for her. They drove to the airport. He hoped the airline would have to separate them, but for once there was no problem in changing their bookings and getting adjacent seats. He and Fernandes didn’t exchange a word during the flight. It occurred to him that they looked in every way like a stale marriage.
At Kapiolani Street he looked for the Internal Affairs officers.
“They’ll be in my office,” Fernandes said. “To begin with, anyway.”
Coutinho realized that she was right. Her rank earned some deference, even now.
Kim had left a low-tech Post-It on Coutinho’s desk.
Coutinho made the short drive to Kilauea Street.
Garfield Cho was the Hawaii County prosecutor. He did not look pleased. With him was the Assistant Chief of Police, wearing a matching expression, and Cho’s assistant, a young Japanese-Filipino woman whose name Coutinho didn’t remember.
“As I was just telling Detective Kim here, we will discuss cowboy investigators who get their own court order to test evidence in a closed case.”
The conference room put up a better front than the interview rooms back at headquarters. The table and captain’s chairs were polished wood. Nothing was bolted to the floor, but Coutinho wasn’t fooled. Nothing good would happen here.
“First,” said Cho, “the three convictions in the Kelli Dolgun case. We may have to put up with a lot of aggravation, but I believe they will stand. The jury heard the bite mark evidence and discounted it. The explanation has no exculpatory value.”
Cho looked up.
“Assuming the witness is truthful.”
Coutinho tried not to wince. “Witness” was as good as it was going to get for Fernandes.
“They weren’t convicted on DNA, which wouldn’t exonerate them in any case. But we will be turning the new evidence over to their lawyers anyway.”
He rubbed his eyes.
“So, that part could be worse. Cissie Dolgun is another matter.”
He nodded at the young assistant, who got up and left the room. The silence grew. As it was becoming unbearable even for veteran cops who knew how to use silence as a weapon, she returned. With her were Cissie Dolgun and Coutinho’s least favorite person on the island.
Agnes Rodrigues was the kind of woman his mother had wanted him to marry--a dark-haired, island-born Portuguese beauty. She had picked up some pointers at law school on the mainland, and she now seemed to own a majority of the women’s business suits in Hawaii County.
Rodrigues entered talking. She always took the offensive.
“My client intends to withdraw her statement, since she confessed under duress. Lieutenant Fernandes had a personal interest in making this case go away without a trial, no matter what the cost to my client. Lieutenant Fernandes sat in on the interrogation with the purpose of intimidation.”
“Does she look intimidated?” said Coutinho.
Cho gave him a look that said, “Shut up. You’re in enough trouble.”
Rodrigues ignored Coutinho and went on.
“And since no one witnessed what happened in that men’s room, I expect that she will not be charged. Otherwise, we will be changing our plea to not guilty and offering a necessity defense. Cissie Dolgun entered that room and encountered a violent predator. She’s lucky to be alive.”
“What was she doing up there in the first place?”
“Careful, Detective. That comes close to ‘She was asking for it.’ My client is an elite athlete. I assume it had to do with high altitude training.”
“I’m talking about the men’s room.”
“Anyone can make a mistake.”
“How about the weapon?” Coutinho said. “I found the weapon she used pursuant to a permissible frisk. It shows premeditation.”
“Sand? I was just at the beach. I must have a deadly weapon between my toes right now.”
Rodrigues stood. “Come on, Cissie.”
Cho was about to cave. Coutinho could see it. A trial would be a public relations nightmare, with a sympathetic defendant and a victim who had waited for her for eighteen years.
Coutinho knew it was up to him to speak for Solly, and he knew he could only fail.
But Cissie didn’t move.
“Cissie, let’s go.”
“Shut up.” Rodrigues gaped, but nothing came out of her mouth.
I can die happy, Coutinho thought. No matter what else happens.
“Damn lawyer. What do you know? I was ready to take the weight when I thought he was guilty. You think I’m going to weasel out of it when he didn’t kill anybody?”
She turned to Coutinho.
“Where’s my confession? I want to sign it again.”
For a moment he gaped almost as blatantly as Rodrigues.
“We’ll have to write up a new one,” he said.
Coutinho had seen her wearing this expression before, on the mountain, surrounded by cops. Now he understood it. Cissie didn’t want to face life after revenge.
Rodrigues found her voice. “Do you understand what you’re doing? You could get life in prison.”
“Inside or out, I’ll still get life."