The Price of Admission

Albert Tucher, April 1st, 2012

“Peacock poop,” said Coutinho.

“In reference to what?” said Lucy.

“It’s what I forgot about when I suggested meeting here.”

He crossed his right leg over his left knee, but he couldn’t get a good look at the bottom of his topsider. He slipped the shoe off and turned it upside down. The sole seemed clean, but he sniffed it lightly to make sure before putting the shoe back on.

“How suave,” said Lucy.

Her familiar scathing look, only half humorous, made him want to focus on something else. The obvious choice was the two perpetrators strutting up and down in front of the bench that he and Lucy occupied. The Honolulu Zoo let a flock of peacocks wander, to the delight of small children and the ambivalence of people who cared about their footwear.

The birds might be showy, but they couldn’t compare to the California blonde. Lucy was approaching forty, but forty would be honored when she arrived. Coutinho stole a look at the patterned crease in her forehead, where the Tyvek cap that she wore at work gripped the skin. He hadn’t seen the mark in over a year.

“I don’t have to be suave for my ex-wife,” he said with a little more emphasis than he intended. “That’s one of the perks.”

But he knew he wasn’t fooling her, not while he was wearing her favorite among his aloha shirts.

“One of the few,” she said. “Why did we have to meet here?”

“To watch the rhinoceros get a bath?”

Their bench gave them a great view of a stolid middle-aged man watering a stoic rhino with a garden hose.

“Try again.”

“Okay, so if somebody sees us together, you have an explanation. You can say we’re trying to recapture the magic.”

“Magic?”

“We had our first date here.”

He knew she hadn’t forgotten. She just wanted him to say it.

“Did I pay for my own ticket that time?” she said.

He reached for his wallet, but she waved his effort away and handed him the folded map that came with the price of admission.

“The reptiles are still good,” she said.

“Glad to hear it.”

“Okay,” she said. “Business. Our hair guy says it’s not a match. He did wonder why you didn’t go through channels.”

“What did you say?”

“I said yes when he asked me to dinner. Why couldn’t you bring me a hair with a root? DNA is what I do.”

“That’s all I had. Anyway, I didn’t think you could hide an unauthorized DNA test.”

“You’re probably right.”

“Sorry to complicate your life.”

“It’s no big deal. He’s actually cute, in an annoying kind of way.”

She hesitated, and he waited.

“I hope that helps,” she said.

Lucy stood. Coutinho realized that he didn’t want her to leave just yet.

“Tell me something, Luce. Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Help me out. For all you know, you could get in trouble for this.”

“Because when my ex asks, I’m supposed to show I’m over it.”

“Are you?”

He watched her consider several answers.

“You’re welcome, Errol.”

This time he saw that there would be no stopping her. He watched her as she disappeared around a bend in the path.

He riffled through the map. Lucy had inserted the envelope containing the hair samples into one of the folds. Coutinho took his cell phone from his other pocket and dialed his partner in Hilo. Harlan Kim had just been promoted out of uniform, and they were still getting used to working together.

“What we were talking about before? It’s not a match. He’s not our guy.”

“Where are you, anyway?”

“At the zoo.”

“What, Pana‘ewa?”

Coutinho had to think for a moment. Even Big Island natives like him sometimes forgot second-tier attractions like the small zoo outside Hilo.

“No, not Pana’ewa,” he said. “If you’re going to work with me, there are some things you need to learn. There’s a whole wide world out there.”

“So they tell me,” said Kim. “Not sure I believe it.”

“I’m at the real zoo. Honolulu. Which is not too far from the crime lab.”

“Where you know somebody.”

“You could say that. And before you get attitude, I didn’t tell you because you’re still probationary. You can’t afford any mistakes.”

“Gansevoort isn’t going to be happy,” said Kim.

“Gansevoort is the prosecutor. He’s supposed to be happy when we get the right guy.”

“Is that how prosecutors work? I didn’t realize.”

“We flat out told him we have our doubts. I can’t remember even two other times I ever did that with him, and he should know enough to listen to us.”

“So when do we tell him about the hair?” said Kim.

“When we have a better suspect. I’m not fucking crazy.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“I’ll catch a flight a little later. First I have to see somebody.”

Coutinho found the reptiles with no difficulty. The Komodo dragons were what he was looking for. He recognized one of the lizards, which didn’t surprise him. He knew the species could live as long as forty years.

“Hey, old-timer,” Coutinho said. “You look good.”

The living dinosaur stood motionless in a way that made mammalian stillness look hyperactive. Coutinho remembered how the beast had held Lucy fascinated for over an hour. He also remembered watching her and thinking an hour wasn’t enough.

“How long has it been?”

The dragon didn’t reply. Between meals it craved nothing, feared nothing, loved nothing. That was the secret. How did humans survive with so many moving parts?

“No reason for you to remember, but it was sixteen years last Friday.”

The lizard didn’t move.

“Sixteen years,” said Coutinho. “But who’s counting?”

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