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Kuini Hou (Part II of III)

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Kono surveyed the palatial living room of Xavier Ackerman’s mansion, packed now with people laughing, drinking, and enjoying the elaborate hors d’oeuvres. She adjusted a strap on her dress, though it didn’t really need adjusting. Damn thing fit perfectly, light and comfortable as a dream. But it cost more than a month’s salary and she hadn’t paid for it. Accepting the gift from Xav had grated, but it was part of the role she’d elected to play.

Not that playing the role had been too bad so far. Xav, it turned out, was far more interested in companionship, in the prestige of having a pretty young woman on his arm, than he was in the rough-and-tumble of dating—they’d barely done more than kiss good night.

And spending time with him hadn’t been as loathsome as she’d feared. He was a good conversationalist, she’d grant him that: funny in a sharp, crude way; an acute observer of island society and politics, even if she almost always disagreed with the conclusions he drew.

No, the thing that rankled, the thing that made the dress feel like fifty pounds of lead instead of eight ounces of silk, was the knowledge that he partly—even mostly—wanted her around because she, unlike the ex-Mrs. Ackerman, was a native Hawaiian. Her presence at his side gave him a kind of credibility at events like the benefit tonight that was literally money in the bank.

She tugged at the strap again. She was going to have to call it quits soon. Her efforts to talk Xav out of the Sunset Acres project were going nowhere. She’d have to put her efforts into convincing the people who’d put her here to give up their violent plans.

A familiar profile emerged out of the press at the bar: Chin—here to support one of his favorite charities, and probably to check on her too. Kono moved closer—she wouldn’t be able to give him more than a passing greeting, they’d agreed that at the start, but she thought the sheer proximity might be comforting.

But what she found at the bar wasn’t comforting at all. Chin had somehow ended up in the midst of the worst of Xav’s professional entourage—a group of heavies he sent out to “convince” recalcitrant locals to sell their land, headed up by a man named Hauser. The men were bad—Kono was looking forward to arresting every last one of them next time they put a foot out of line—but Hauser was worse, one of those guys whose lumbering build only disguised a catlike agility, a malevolent intelligence lurking in his small black eyes. He leered at her every time he saw her, but in a calculating way, as if daring her to take offense, daring her to complain to Xav. He knew it wouldn’t do any good if she did: he’d been with Xav for years, indispensable to his rise to wealth, and Xav wouldn’t hear a word against him.

Right now, Hauser had his attention focused on Chin, a mean little quirk in his lips as he watched the other men baiting him. Kono frowned at the sight. What were they up to? Did they know he was a police officer? Did they just not care?

“C’mon,” said one, the fabric of his suit jacket straining across his back, “You don’t really believe on all that mumbo-jumbo about the burial caves, do you? A modern guy like you?”

Chin stared at his drink, clearly trying to keep his face impassive.

It only provoked the men further. “The bones go all magic when they’re dead, huh?” said a wiry guy with a scar across his mouth. He swung an arm around in an exaggerated wand-pointing motion, then jerked his hips rudely and cackled.

When Chin still didn’t react, another man actually moved into his personal space, and Kono watched aghast as he flicked at the hair at Chin’s temples. “I hear you people cut your ears off at funerals—you still got yours?”

That was too much, even for a man of Chin’s patience. In the blink of an eye, the man found himself turned around, the arm he had raised to touch Chin twisted neatly and painfully behind his back. The man yelped.

The other guests, who had hitherto paid no attention, turned to look at the fracas at the bar.

“I respect your religious beliefs,” said Chin into the silence. “All I ask is that you respect mine.” He jerked the man’s arm again for emphasis, and got a grunt of pain in response.

Kono felt sure that Hauser had orchestrated the whole thing, but she had no idea what he hoped to gain. There were probably twice as many people sympathetic to Chin in the sea of faces surrounding them than there were to his thugs.

“Mr. Ackerman,” Hauser called over the crowd. “Permission to escort this man off the premises.”

At the other end of the room, Xav took in the situation. “Sir,” he said, calm, but commanding all the same, “You are a guest in my house, and I need you to take your hands off my employee.”

“Not until he apologizes,” Chin returned.

Xav shrugged, made a signal to Hauser that clearly meant do what you gotta do, and turned away.

The other men moved in around Chin. There was a brief struggle, but eventually they pried the man out of his hold and started moving him toward the door.

It made Kono sick not to help, but she knew Chin would be furious if she did.

“Come on now,” Hauser said loudly. “We can’t have this kind of violence at a benefit.” And then, so low Kono only heard because she was standing so close, he added, “You’re all still grass-skirt-wearing savages underneath, aren’t you?”

Chin wrested himself free of the four men holding him and floored Hauser with a hard right hook to the jaw.