It’s Linda on the fourth day of the Forever Poi promotion—our third Triple Threat Investigation Agency case. Today, through June 12th, it’s available for a trifling $0.99.
JJ, Rey and I are engaged by an insurance adjuster to investigate two art gallery fires that also claimed the lives of gallery owner and partner, Carlos Kawena, and Mary-Louise Crabtree, a former queenpin. The three of us meet [if not clash with] a number of potential suspects. The day before the fire, Carlos had a fiery break-up with his long-time partner, James-Henri Ossature. Might James-Henri have murdered his long-time lover to collect insurance money? Considering Mary-Louise’s dicey past, had a former foe murdered her?
The art world is a curious milieu replete with equally curious characters—some who don’t want us asking questions or poking our noses where they don’t belong.
Allow me to provide another excerpt:
“One call came from a burner. The area code was from the San Francisco Bay area, but who knows if that’s the actual case. The other with the shot, if that’s what it was, came from a Chicago lounge called The Soul Cole Train Express Lounge.”
Chicago? “I’m sure it was a shot.”
“I called, sweetie, and the owner said there’d been no shootings in his bar for several years.”
Damn. Who’d call from there? Had it been a wrong number—no, it couldn’t have been, because he’d mentioned “a deadly dealing” I’d had with someone he knew. The Soul Cole Train Express Lounge . . . Cole Train . . . As in Coltrane? He’d had to have been referring to the deceased Mr. Coltrane Hodgson Coltrane. Interesting that it was Chicago, once home to Xavier and Carlos and James-Henri. Was there a relation? Or was this sheer coincidence?
And what was Cash doing in San Fran—oh, bloody hell. What did it matter? The guy was an agent; he could be anywhere at any given time. But so much for Florida.
Sinking into a funky, zero-gravity leather massage recliner, a new condo addition (a Reynalda Fonne-Werde must have), Gail grabbed an icy bottle of Longboard from a fat metal bucket on a new, sleek and shiny coffee table.
“You had another call in addition to the one from the ‘associate’?” Rey slipped into the corner of a 60s-styled sectional sofa.
I was seated on the floor before the coffee table, Piggaletto at my side and Bonzo at his. Button and Bonzo were BFFs. Hopefully, my little princess wouldn’t be jealous with the new friendship. “I had a voice-mail from someone and I asked Gail to check it out. I was curious.”
Rey gazed suspiciously from me to Gail, but instead of commenting, as was custom when she was curious or skeptical, nibbled a nacho.
It was two hours since we’d left James-Henri and five minutes since Gail’s arrival. Linda was at Crabby Crabs. Hopefully, she’d have better luck there than in Kailua. The only thing gleaned from the afternoon visit to the Windward beach community was from Cam’s friends, Paula and Paulo: they’d confirmed that he frequented the café when in town, but they’d not seen him recently. Of course, it was entirely conceivable the young sister and brother were lying to protect a friend.
“Tad said he’d try to find where the burner was purchased and if he lucks in, he’ll keep digging.” Gail dipped a blue-corn nacho chip into a huge bowl of guacamole and eyed it hungrily. “He’s like a dog with a bone.”
A stomach stitch stole my breath. Cash had claimed the same of me.
Rey watched the pig with a critical eye. “What was Linda thinking?”
“He’s cute,” I said in his defense, tugging a fuzzy ear playfully. He pressed his snout into my thigh.
“Very,” Gail agreed. “Where is Linda, anyway?”
“Working on one of two cases.” Rey gave a quick rundown.
And I offered one re Cam. Then I relayed what little we’d learned about the gallery fires.
“I can fill in a few small holes,” Gail said, leaning forward. “Did you know Ossature had a gallery in Kahala and that it burned down five years ago?”
Rey confirmed that we did. “According to the police, the fire was an accident.”
With a nod, she munched another nacho. “I have some family facts. His mother, Paris-born Josephine Ossature Illege, moved to live with Casper “Money Bags” Reede in Switzerland, near the French border, two years after James-Henri was born. They traveled a lot. He owned a house here on Oahu, a condo in Spain, and one in Florida.
“His biological father, however, was William Wilford Vaunt, a British eccentric, who also fathered a girl named Cholla. James-Henri and Cholla met later in life, at an art showing in Paris, not long after she graduated from London Business School.”
“We met Cholla recently,” Rey said, wrinkling her nose. “An Audry Hepburn ‘Gigi’ wannabe.”
“I hear she’s a stunner.”
“And then some,” my cousin said flatly.
“We also met Richard Vaunt recently,” I said. “I wonder if he’s a relation.”
“Ekeka’s the name he goes by,” Rey added.
“William Wilford Vaunt was quite a playboy and not one to settle down with the same woman for too long,” Gail grinned. “Vaunt—or Wil-Wil as he was later called in his circle—ended up permanently on Oahu in the late 80s.”
I smiled wryly and Rey snickered.
“Vaunt ended up marrying Richard’s, uh, Ekeka’s mother, Elizabeth Mary Oha, who hailed from California originally. Unfortunately, she was shish-kabobed by a tree branch during an intense thunderstorm. Vaunt married once more—to Leslie-Annabelle Scanlon—and was killed not long after.”
“And how was he killed?” Rey asked, curious.
“He hit his head on the upper deck of his classic sailboat, a ’34 ketch, and fell into the ocean. They never found his body.”
Rey and I gazed at each other, lips drawn. Interesting.
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