Her husband was innocent.
That was what Lisa Ingram fully believed and would continue to believe.
At least, well, he was certainly innocent of murder. He wasn’t any naïve, innocent child; he was a rather gleeful mercenary and made deals upon deals with multiple sets of people. Usually he profited from them quite handsomely. That was how he had become the self-proclaimed king of a certain stretch of Hawaiian beach.
But occasionally his deals backfired, and as far as he and Lisa were concerned, that was what had happened this time. The idiot American intelligence agent he had been doing business with had decided to send someone to complete a transaction who really didn’t know what he was doing. Someone had framed that man for the murder of another American intelligence agent, and when he had been proven innocent, Dutch Ingram had been arrested instead.
It all made sense, the prosecutor had been insisting during the preliminary hearing. The American agent had learned of Dutch’s double and even triple-dealing in the transaction and Dutch had either killed him or ordered him killed because of it. Some of Dutch’s henchmen had backed up the story, relating incriminating things Dutch had said or mentioning that they saw him carrying a gun shortly before the estimated time of the agent’s death.
But Dutch continued to proclaim his innocence and insisted that he was being framed as much as Jim Rockford had been. His lawyer was petitioning the judge to have the case thrown out of court for lack of evidence. There was no concrete proof of anything that was being said; almost everything was hearsay testimony.
The gun was the biggest concern. It had been Rockford’s gun that Dutch had taken away from him. And the only fingerprints on it belonged to those two men and the agent who had given Rockford the gun. But Dutch had lain unconscious from a knockout blow in a fight with Rockford right after acquiring the gun. The two men who had restored Dutch to consciousness testified that the gun had not been on his person upon awakening, and Dutch insisted that anyone wearing gloves could have taken it from him. The prosecution suspected that Dutch had bribed his men into covering for him, but there was no proof of that.
And so, all in all Dutch had been confident that morning that the judge would see reason. He had smiled and embraced his wife, telling her that he would be going home today a free man.
She prayed it was true. Now as they sat, waiting in the courtroom for the judge to return and give his verdict, she was growing more nervous by the minute. And in spite of Dutch’s confidence, she could tell that he was anxious as well. He was leaning back in his chair, his hands together with his thumbs under his chin and his forefingers against his lower lip. He was intently watching the bench, waiting to see the door open and the judge return.
She leaned forward, reaching over the gate separating the gallery from the defense table, and laid her well-manicured hand on his shoulder. “Dutch.”
He glanced over, smiling as he covered her hand with his. “It will all be over soon now, Love,” he said.
She tried to smile, not wanting to be a dissenting voice and remind him that the judge might rule against him. Instead she focused on the feel of his hand. It was soft; he was not a manual worker or a fighter. He strategized and planned and oversaw everything about his little schemes, but it was mainly his workers who carried them out.
And now some of those workers were betraying him. It amazed and stunned Lisa, how so many of them were helping the prosecution with its case. They weren’t simply testifying as they were required by law to do—they had voluntarily offered information, seeming to want to see Dutch put away or executed. Any one of them could have committed the murder. Or perhaps they were all in on it together, like in that old book Murder on the Orient Express.
She couldn’t think about that for too long or she would become very upset. Dutch had trusted them with his business deals and had paid them well for all their troubles, and instead of gratitude, they were completely turning against him. Dutch might manipulate things to get the most money he could in every case, but he didn’t outright lie and he didn’t kill or try to frame people, either.
She looked across the gallery to where a restless Jim Rockford was sitting. He, of course, believed Dutch was guilty, not only for the murder, but also for trying to frame him for it. The prosecution had sent for him as a witness, and though he had not come willingly and had only testified to facts and not opinions, he had certainly added to Dutch’s problems with his testimony. Now he was shifting all about and glancing at his watch. He wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else.
Dutch didn’t like him any more than he liked Dutch. Dutch still couldn’t understand why the Army commander had recruited Rockford to help out with their little deal. Lisa had idly done a bit of research on him and had learned that he was a private investigator in Los Angeles. He seemed to be quite good, too. But it was hard to picture, after the way Dutch had described his handling of the secret mission.
Rockford’s Army commander was there too, shooting evil-eyed looks at Dutch. He also believed in Dutch’s guilt, probably far moreso than Rockford, since he had dealt with Dutch before. Dutch ignored him, but Lisa gave him a steady, haughty look and he scowled and turned away in disgust.
Members of the Hawaii 5-O taskforce had slipped into the courtroom at one point. Although they had not been directly involved with Dutch’s arrest, they felt that the case against Dutch tied in with a case of their own. They were hoping to prove that Dutch was responsible for other murders, especially if he could be convicted of this one.
The return of the judge brought everyone to attention and they rose. The older, balding, and bespectacled man looked over the courtroom calmly and with a pokerface. He was awfully good at that, really, and Lisa wondered if he played.
“It is the decision of this court that the case against Dutch Ingram be dismissed for lack of evidence,” he intoned. Dutch smiled knowingly and Lisa could not refrain from a joyous cheer.
“What!” That was that pesky, loud-mouthed Army commander, of course. Lisa had never liked him.
The outburst prompted a flurry of whispered comments. Displeased, the judge pounded his gavel. “There will be order in this courtroom or you’ll all be in contempt,” he threatened.
Everyone quieted except that commander. “But Your Honor, Sir, he has to be guilty,” he cried, pointing frantically at Dutch. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. We all know what he is. Rockford here personally witnessed this slimeball in action!”
Rockford looked like he wanted to drop through the floor out of embarrassment.
“A lot of us are familiar with Mr. Ingram’s . . . business practices,” the judge replied, coolly. “They are distasteful. But that doesn’t make him guilty of murder. The court’s decision still stands. Now sit down, Sir!”
Glowering at his hated nemesis, the commander finally did as he was told. Dutch smirked at him.
The judge continued, “Mr. Ingram, you are free of the murder charge, but watch yourself. There are other charges that can and may be brought against you. Next case.” He banged his gavel to signal the finality of his decision.
Dutch turned to face his wife and embraced her as she threw her arms around his neck in relief. “You’re free, Darling,” she said with fervency. “But they’re probably going to charge you with a slew of other horrible things.”
“And maybe some of those will be true,” Dutch mused. “No matter; we can beat them like we’ve beat this.” He kissed her. “Let’s go, Love. I don’t want to spend a moment longer in a courtroom than I have to.”
Lisa was in firm agreement.
As they turned to leave, Dutch keeping an arm firmly around his wife’s shoulders, they both felt everyone’s eyes on them. But Dutch just tossed them a triumphant, cocky smile and strolled out of the room.
“Aloha! This is Lana Allisen, coming to you live from the Hall of Justice. We’re waiting for the entrance of local mercenary Dutch Ingram and his wife Lisa. For those who have just joined us, Mr. Ingram was recently arrested and charged with the murder of a CIA agent. The judge has just thrown the case out of court, citing lack of evidence. While this is no doubt a relief to the Ingrams, it’s a source of consternation for the prosecutor, HPD, and 5-O, who believe that Mr. Ingram is most likely getting away with murder. Oh, here come the Ingrams now.” She hurried up the steps, shoving her microphone at Dutch. “Mr. Ingram, how does it feel to be free again?”
Dutch smiled at her and moreso, the camera. “Why, it feels just dandy, Love,” he said.
“Is it true that there are other charges pending against you?” Lana persisted. “Charges that include conspiracy and even treason?”
“Now you’re exaggerating things a mite,” Dutch said. “I haven’t heard about any such charges. Have you, Lisa?”
“Not at all,” Lisa said, shaking her head. In truth, however, she had heard such rumors, and she prayed that any possible case for treason would never be built up enough to make it to court. She loved Dutch. She could not bear for him to be released on the murder charge only to be convicted of something that might have consequences just as grave.
“There now, you see?” Dutch smiled at the camera again. “It’s all a lot of bleedin’ rubbish put out by my enemies. I have an awful lot of them, you know.”
The sudden shot that zipped past Dutch to take a chink out of the courthouse’s brick wall created instant mass panic. The witnesses and curious bystanders screamed, scattering. Lisa screamed too, throwing her arms around her husband and trying to drag him to the landing in case more ammunition followed.
Steve McGarrett dashed past them, yelling to the other members of his squad. “There’s a sniper on the roof across the street! Spread out and keep him from getting out of the building!”
Lisa sobbed, clutching Dutch close to her and suddenly feeling his blood on her hand. In horror she looked up, only to find him curiously touching his left cheek and studying the blood on his fingertips. His eyes narrowed.
“He tried to kill you!” Lisa wailed, digging into her purse for a handkerchief. “He bloody well tried to kill you!”
Dutch let her dab at the blood on his cheek, after he wiped his fingers on the cloth. “I knew they wouldn’t stop with trying to get me convicted,” he said darkly, looking to where the sniper had already fled. “Now that that’s failed, they’re trying more desperate measures. Well, they’re going to regret it. I promise you that. I’ll find out who it is before they can get away with one more thing against me.”
“Will you, Dutch?” Lisa returned in anguish. “Or will I have to find it out after you’re dead?”
“Look.” Dutch gripped Lisa’s shoulders. “I’ve got no intentions of croaking. You know that, Lisa. I’m going to be alright. You have to believe that. Do you understand me?”
Lisa looked into his light-blue eyes and finally, slowly nodded. “Yes,” she said quietly. “I understand that you believe you’ll be alright. But your luck can’t hold out forever.”
“It’ll hold out long enough,” Dutch vowed. He looked to where the 5-O men were converging on the sniper’s building. “Long enough.”
His old commander had mortified him with his display in court. He knew the man must have an earful for Jim after Dutch’s release and Jim just plain didn’t want to hear it. Visions of the man’s plans to investigate Dutch and make sure he got convicted for something were spinning in Jim’s mind. He did not want to be dragged into any more hair-brained schemes. He just wanted to pack up and leave Hawaii as swiftly as possible.
The latter, however, wouldn’t be possible. Rocky had been thrilled and overjoyed at any chance to return to Hawaii, and he was determined to have the vacation he and Jim had been tricked and cheated out of before. And Jim, of course, didn’t have the heart to refuse him.
This new attack on Dutch could change a lot of people’s plans, but Jim was not willing to let it change theirs. They would have their vacation this time, even if he had to stand up and tell his commander No.
He wasn’t sure what he felt when the cab let him off at the hotel and he wandered inside only to see two familiar men registering at the desk. “Ginger? Lou?” he greeted.
It was Lou Trevino who was busy scribbling in the register. Ginger Townsend was waiting and leaning on the marble desk with one arm, looking fairly bored. At Jim’s voice he turned, studying the private detective with emotionless ice-blue eyes.
Jim shook his head. If Ginger was more lively and mischievous, he would look eerily like Dutch Ingram. Dutch was the epitome of a cheeky Brit, colorful language and all. Ginger was most often aloof and cold, now and then dissolving into almost uncontrollable rage when something set off his deadly temper. He seemed fairly harmless at the moment, but that was the scary thing about Ginger—you never really knew what was going on behind those frosty eyes. Lou could sometimes keep him in line, but sometimes he could not, especially if someone harming him was the reason for Ginger’s fury.
“What are you doing here, Rockford?” Ginger grunted.
Finished signing the register, Lou turned in surprise and confusion. “It really is a small world, like they say,” he said.
Jim nodded. “I would have to agree with that. Of all the places you two could turn up, it would have to be right here and right now.”
“We’ve got a business conference,” Lou supplied.
“Oh, so you’re not just here to see Diamond Head and watch the hula dancers,” Jim quipped. Although he somehow couldn’t imagine Ginger taking much interest in either.
“It’s work, Rockford, plain and simple,” Ginger said. “I take it you’re on vacation?”
“My father’s hoping to be,” Jim said. “Actually, I got called out to testify in some big court case.” He scowled at the reminder and then thought of something. “Hey, you two had better watch it while you’re here,” he warned.
“What?” Lou blinked. “Why?”
“Because somebody just tried to murder the guy I came out to testify against,” Jim said. “And you probably won’t like me saying this, but if somebody didn’t know what they were doing, they could mistake Ginger for him.”
Lou’s jaw dropped, while Ginger’s interest had finally been piqued. “Are you serious, Rockford?” he frowned.
“Oh yeah.” Jim headed past them to the elevator. “Turn on the news when you get settled. You can see for yourselves.” He could feel them watching him as he got into the elevator and pressed the button for his floor, but he didn’t stop and offer any further information.
He wasn’t on what he would call friendly terms with the two former jewel thieves, but he supposed they had a certain respect for him after their paths had crossed while attempting to solve a mystery surrounding an attempt to kill Ginger. He hadn’t seen them since the trial of the culprits. He had assumed they were doing fairly well and indeed, they seemed to be.
He hoped, for their sakes and his own sanity, that nothing would go wrong concerning them. If it did, considering they were all in the same hotel, he doubted he would be able to keep from becoming involved. And that was most certainly what he did not want right now.
When the elevator opened on the sixth floor, he got out and immediately headed for the suite he and Rocky were sharing. With a flick of the cardkey in its slot, the door opened and Jim entered the room.
Rocky, who was staring at the television set, looked up with a start. He smiled in happy relief to see Jim walking in. “Oh good, Son, you’re safe!” he proclaimed. “They were just showing what happened out at the courthouse today.”
Jim sighed. “Yeah, Dad, that was a real mess.” He shut and locked the door and collapsed in a chair. “As soon as Ingram gets out of the hot seat, somebody tries to put him in a pine box their own way. And I’m caught right in the middle. You know it’s not going to be long and old Colonel ‘Howling Mad’ Smith is gonna come barreling over, wanting to talk my ear off about getting Dutch put away and insisting I help him out with it.”
“Oh, that reminds me!” Rocky exclaimed. “Somebody called and left you a message.”
“Oh no,” Jim groaned. “Was it the Colonel?”
“Nope. This was a woman. Actually, I think it was the wife of that Mr. Ingram character.” Rocky placed a slip of paper into the disbelieving Jim’s hands. “She told me her phone number and gave her name as Lisa Ingram.”
Jim stared at the phone number. “That’s his wife, alright,” he frowned. “But what would she be calling me for?”
“I told her I’d give you the message and you’d call her as soon as you got in,” Rocky inserted helpfully.
Jim glowered at the piece of paper. He really wanted to ignore it altogether. He had had enough of the Ingrams for a lifetime. But he supposed he would have to return her call. Rocky had already promised, and anyway, it could be important.
“I just hope the Colonel doesn’t find out about this,” he muttered as he picked up the phone and dialed.
He blinked in surprise at how on edge and hopeful the woman sounded. “Hello,” he said slowly. “This is James Rockford. I just got in and my dad gave me your message.” He knew he was talking to Lisa; he recognized her voice after listening to her at the hearing.
A sigh of relief. “Oh good. Well, Mr. Rockford, Dutch isn’t terribly pleased that I’m calling you, but I finally convinced him it was the right thing.”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? The . . . right thing?”
“The truth of the matter is, well, we realize you don’t make a very good spy, but your record as a private investigator seems to be ace. And Mr. Rockford, I want to hire you to find out who’s trying to kill my husband!”
Jim was floored by Lisa Ingram’s announcement. For a moment he just sat there, stunned and appalled.
“Hello? Mr. Rockford, are you still there?”
Jim shook himself back to the present. “Yeah, I’m still here, but I don’t get why you’re calling me about something like this. I’m no friend of your husband’s. And I’m already feeling pretty sour about having to come out here for the hearing after I was told my testimony wouldn’t be needed.”
“Well, you’re not one of Dutch’s favorite people, either, Mr. Rockford,” Lisa retorted. “But you’re already familiar with the case. And from what I’ve heard about you, you’re fair and loyal to your clients. That’s what we need.”
“And not uh, someone who’d set you up for a fall, like your loving husband does to so many people,” Jim said sarcastically.
“Look.” Lisa sounded putout, but there was also a tinge of pleading in her voice. “Alright, so Dutch has made his living organizing lots of deals that are, well, less than legal. Everyone knows that. But he didn’t kill anyone!”
“Well, forgive me, Mrs. Ingram, but of course you’d think so,” Jim returned. “It’s obvious that you love your husband. Although I have to admit I honestly don’t know why. How can you trust a man like that?”
“He’s always been loyal to me,” Lisa said angrily. “Mr. Rockford, all I’m asking for is for you to hear us out before making the decision not to help us.”
“I think I heard Dutch’s defense in court,” Jim said. “He thinks someone took his-slash-my gun while he was knocked cold.”
“Probably another of his satisfied customers,” Jim said. “And it was probably yet another one that took that potshot at him today.”
“What about how some of his men turned against him?” Lisa pressed. “They did far more than what they were required by law. They voluntarily went to the district attorney and made up lies about Dutch!”
“Okay, yeah, that’s weird,” Jim said. “If it was really lies they were telling. But Mrs. Ingram, has your husband considered that maybe it’s the Hawaiian Mafia that’s after him? The Kimotto Brothers were part of it, even while they were working for him. And if the Mafia’s responsible, I don’t want to get mixed up in it. I’ve tangled with more than my share of Mafia boys.”
“He’s considered it,” Lisa said. “Maybe it is them. But Dutch doesn’t know their secrets! And if they were angry with him over a deal that fell apart, they could have done something to him long ago.”
“Maybe they think he knows something he doesn’t,” Jim said. “Mrs. Ingram, I’m sorry about what happened to your husband today. But I’m not interested in taking his case or in doing anything to help him. You’re right that I try to be fair and loyal to my clients. And I just don’t think I could be loyal to someone who’d drop me in a millisecond if he realized it would be better for him if he did.”
Silence. “Is that your final answer then?”
“Yes,” Jim insisted. “I’m sure you can find help that’s just as good elsewhere.”
“Alright. And if you find out Dutch has been killed in the meantime, I hope you’ll sleep well!” The phone disconnected, loudly. Jim pulled the receiver away from his ear with a wince.
“So you’re not gonna help her?”
Jim looked up with a start at Rocky’s voice. “Dad, the guy she wants me to help is a mercenary,” he protested. “I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble because of him. I still don’t know that he didn’t try to frame me for a murder he committed. But what I do know is that he can’t be trusted from here to the bathroom doorknob. Why would I want to help someone like that?”
“I don’t suppose you would,” Rocky agreed. “But you always seem to help that Angel Martin when he comes around. And he sure can’t be trusted.”
Jim sighed in exasperation. “Most of the time, I wish I hadn’t helped him,” he said. “It’s bad enough always feeling like I have to get Angel out of his messes. The last thing I want is to deliberately plow into one of someone else’s. Besides.” He stood abruptly. “I’m not licensed to practice in this state. How could I take the case without causing a lot of trouble for myself as well as for Ingram?”
“Well . . . I guess that is a problem,” Rocky said slowly.
“Of course it’s a problem,” said Jim. “Anyway, we’re supposed to be trying to salvage a vacation out of this trip.”
“You’re right, Son,” Rocky nodded. “And I’ve been looking forward to that.”
“But you think I should help those people,” Jim frowned.
“I didn’t say that,” Rocky said. “You’re free to make your own decisions.” He hesitated. “I just thought the girl sounded awfully sad when she called and I had to tell her you weren’t in yet.”
Jim already had that sinking feeling in his stomach. Somehow he knew that he was going to wind up on the Ingrams’ doorstep that night, even if only to “hear them out”. And somehow he knew it would end up turning into more than just “hearing them out”.
Still, he tried to fight against fate. “Dad, there’s any number of perfectly good private eyes based right here on the island,” he said. “They can go hire one of them.”
“Seems they want you instead,” Rocky mused. “Or at least Mrs. Ingram does.”
“That’s another thing,” Jim pounced. “Her husband thinks I’m a jarhead. I’m sure he doesn’t want me looking into this.”
“Well,” Rocky said, “you could take the case to prove to him that you know what you’re doing.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing!” Jim exclaimed. “I’ve never been in such a mixed-up case as I was when I met Ingram before. The last thing I want is to go through that again. I’d probably get myself killed and maybe you too.” He headed for the door. “Now, what did you want to see today, Dad? Maybe we can work in at least some of the sites while it’s still light.”
Rocky trailed after him. “I made a list,” he said, admittedly hopeful in spite of his concerns about the Ingrams.
“Great,” Jim said. “Read it to me while we go downstairs.”
He tried to concentrate on the list as they headed for the elevator, but it was proving difficult on several levels. He had been soured on Hawaii after all of his troubles there. To him, it wasn’t a paradise at all. He had very little interest in touring the place, but he wanted to make his father happy.
Then there was this strange case that had popped up, the case that Rocky seemed to be trying to steer Jim towards even though he had been hoping for a nice vacation. Rocky was too soft-hearted for his own good.
The problem was, so was Jim.
After they were through seeing the sites, he was going to be visiting one more, on his own.
Lisa turned to look at Dutch, who was sitting in one of their wicker chairs and looking both annoyed and exasperated. The bandage on his left cheek stood out in the light.
“I know you told me,” she said as she went to his side. “But I had to try. We don’t know whom we can even trust down here! I’d put more faith in him than any of the detectives around here.”
Dutch took her wrist and pulled her onto his lap. “I’ll investigate myself,” he said. “I trust myself, which is more than I can say about any of my men right now.”
She stiffened. “Dutch, you can’t! You’ll get yourself killed.” She reached for his hand and turned it over, running her fingers over his palm. “You’ve always left the dirty work to your men. You’re not a fighter.” She brushed the blond bangs away from his eyes. “You couldn’t even take one punch from Rockford. That’s how you got into this bloody mess in the first place.”
“And that’s the bloke you want to have look out for me,” Dutch remarked. “Tell me something, Love. Would you like it better if I was a fighter?”
Lisa gave him a putout look. “Then you wouldn’t be Dutch.” She kissed him and rested her head against his shoulder. “I love you just the way you are. The only problem is, someone’s trying to kill you just the way you are. And you can’t possibly fight them off all by yourself.”
“I’m not by myself; I’ve got you.” Dutch spoke smoothly, brushing Lisa’s long, dark hair away from her face. “You know a little of that Japanese martial art, after all.”
“Karate,” Lisa mumbled. She smirked a bit. “You don’t feel embarrassed to have a wife who can fight when you can’t?”
Dutch smirked too. “No.” He leaned down and kissed her. “Actually, I’m rather proud of my record of not fighting.”
Lisa smiled, fondly. “You’re an idiot.”
“But I’m still alive,” Dutch pointed out. “You probably would have been a widow years ago if I was a real scrapper like my men.”
Lisa fell silent. That only brought back to mind the horrible truth.
“I could have been one today,” she said quietly.
Dutch sobered, holding her close. “It’ll be alright, Love.” He wanted to believe that. Part of him did.
It was just that at the moment, he didn’t know how it would come to pass.
“This is a nice place,” he proclaimed. He wandered ahead a bit, examining the living room area and the bedroom before also peering into the bathroom.
Ginger nodded, thoughtfully. He liked only the best and he intended to have it. After a childhood of poverty, he had determined to never sink back into that miserable state again. That was how he had ended up orchestrating jewel robberies. Now that he and Lou were going relatively straight, he missed the stimulation of the thefts but was quite satisfied with the money they were making at the company that had hired them back in spite of their felonies. They did good enough work that they had both been promoted recently, resulting in larger paychecks. Ginger was definitely pleased.
He snapped to attention at the sound of added voices. “Are you turning on the telly?” he grunted, coming to the bedroom doorway.
Lou was standing in front of the set, staring at the screen. “Ginger, look at this guy,” he gasped. “He really does look like you!”
“And I thought I was the only one,” Ginger deadpanned. He sauntered into the bedroom and stared for a moment at the image of a confidently smirking Dutch Ingram. “. . . I suppose there is a slight resemblance.”
“Slight?! Ginger, you’re letting your vanity get ahead of you. This guy could be your twin! He’s even British, too.” Lou shook his head. “This is just weird.”
“You and your cousin Sylvester bear a certain resemblance as well,” Ginger said. “They say everyone has a double.”
“Yeah, but at least Syl and me are cousins,” Lou retorted. “Resemblance among family members makes sense. Looking like some random guy off the street . . . now that doesn’t make sense!”
Ginger shrugged. “Well, as long as we stay away from his part of the island, there shouldn’t be any uncomfortable misunderstandings concerning the chaps who are trying to . . .”
The bullet tearing across the screen, followed by the screaming, horrified people, startled Ginger into silence. He and Lou both stared at the pandemonium ensuing outside the courthouse.
“And this was the scene less than two hours ago,” the anchorwoman intoned. “A mysterious sniper opened fire on Dutch Ingram and then proceeded to elude the governor’s elite 5-O taskforce. He is still at large.”
“You hear that?!” Lou exclaimed. “Ginger, that guy could be anywhere! And if he just happens to get a good look at you . . .”
“He might make a fatal mistake,” Ginger finished with a frown. “Alright, there is a danger of that, I’ll grant you. But we can’t lock ourselves in our room and forgo this meeting. It’s important.”
“Yeah, I know it is,” Lou frowned. “But maybe we’d better stay here until it’s time for it. If he sees you, Buddy, he could take a shot at you right off the bat! He probably wouldn’t wait to try to find out more; he wouldn’t think he had any reason to.”
“It depends on how efficient he is, I suppose,” Ginger said. “If he didn’t recognize you from his prior information, perhaps he would take the time to do a bit of research.”
“It’s not worth taking a chance.” Lou began to pace the room in agitation before stopping near the phone. “Hey, maybe I’ll call this 5-O and see if they have any leads yet.”
Ginger shrugged. “Go ahead. Although it will likely result in them wanting to come down here and speak with us. They might think you’re the sniper, checking to see if they’re getting close to capturing you.”
Lou paused. “You’re right.” He grabbed the receiver. “But I’ll be happy to let them in on everything. Maybe they’ll give you some protection or something.”
“Perhaps.” Ginger went and laid on one of the beds, spreading his trenchcoat over himself like a blanket as he listened to Lou pecking out the buttons on the phone.
Lou glanced to him. “I thought you’d complain about that,” he remarked.
Ginger shrugged. “If it will make you feel better, I don’t have any particular objection.”
Lou smiled a bit, but he had the feeling that was not Ginger’s only reason. Deep down, even if he wouldn’t admit it, he was probably worried too.
And that only made Lou worry more.
“I’m not expecting anyone,” Lisa said. “Are you, Dutch?”
“No.” Dutch stood, crossing to the window and cautiously peering out through the curtain. He stiffened. “It’s Rockford!”
Lisa stared. “Are you sure?”
“Of course.” Dutch moved to the door and unlocked and opened it. “Well, Spunky, we’d given up on your coming,” he grinned in greeting.
Jim sighed. “So did I. I don’t even know that I think you didn’t do it. I think you’d do just about anything to protect your little investments. But I figured I could come down here and just hear if you have anything interesting to say for yourself.”
“Well, come on in and we’ll talk about it,” Dutch said, holding the door open wider.
Jim stepped into the entryway. “You’re pretty chipper, considering you really don’t even want me in on this any more than I want to be in on it,” he remarked.
Dutch shrugged and locked the door. “Well, Lisa wants you, and after all, she is my better half.” He smiled. “I figure on trusting her judgment. At least a little ways, anyway.”
“I’m just here to talk,” Jim emphasized. “I didn’t say I’d help out.”
“Of course, Spunky, of course.” Dutch patted him on the shoulder and headed for the living room. Sighing, Jim followed.
Lisa met them in the doorway. “Mr. Rockford!” she smiled. “You’ve had a change of heart.”
“I just came to hear what you’ve got,” Jim said. “I figured you must have something more than what you brought out in court.”
“That’s right, Love, in case the hearing went on longer or even made it to trial,” Dutch said. “We had to save some ammunition for then, after all.”
Jim shook his head. He would never cease to be weirded out by Dutch’s choice of nicknames for him.
Ignoring Jim’s expression, Dutch went to a desk and unlocked the drawer. He pulled it out, extracting a large manila envelope. “This is it.” He handed it to Jim. “Go ahead—sit down. Look it over.”
Jim started to open the flap as he walked to the couch. As he lowered himself into the cushions, he pulled out the contents. For the most part it was a collection of photographs, with several typed sheets of paper and a cassette tape thrown into the mix. Setting those on the coffee table, he focused on the pictures.
“Who are these clowns?” he frowned. The images of several people talking, with some in loud Hawaiian shirts and others in fancy suits, meant very little to him.
Dutch and Lisa sat on either side of him. “Well, see this one here, this shows some of my supposedly loyal lackeys having a cozy little chat with the representatives from the Vietnamese government,” Dutch said, tapping the top picture.
“Isn’t that what they were supposed to do?” Jim sighed.
“Well, I was supposed to be present on the scene, see?” Dutch said.
“And you weren’t,” Jim deduced.
“I was, in a manner of speaking.” Dutch tapped the corner of the picture. “See that bit of white there? That’s my trousers. I’m having a little induced kip while they’re gabbin’ away.”
“Ohh. That was when I punched your lights out.” Jim frowned at the picture. “They sure don’t seem too concerned what happens to you. Who was taking the picture?”
“One of the blokes what woke me up after they left,” Dutch said. “He snapped the picture because he thought somethin’ seemed off.”
Jim went through the rest of the pictures. They showed the same people talking in various locations. The final shot showed a suspiciously bulky envelope passing from the Vietnamese to Dutch’s men.
“And you figure this is what?” Jim asked. “A payoff for making sure you get cut out of their deal altogether?”
“Something like that,” Dutch nodded. “Either by framing me or killing me. Or both.”
Jim set the photographs down and picked up the tape. “And this?”
“I recorded that,” Lisa said. “One of Dutch’s men was talking on the phone, practically confessing to being part of a conspiracy to murder him.” She got up and retrieved a cassette player and brought it back. Slipping the tape inside, she pressed Play.
“I understand the deal,” the voice was saying. “I know what I’m supposed to do. But what if he suspects? . . . Hey, he’s not that easy to knock off. He’s not a fighter, but he knows things. If he finds out about this other deal going on behind his back . . .”
“Then the other person disconnected.” Lisa stopped the tape and folded her arms. “I confronted him, but of course he bloomin’ denied that he meant what it sounded like.”
“And now he’s gone missing,” Dutch said. “The prosecutor was trying to put that one on me, too.”
“Oh, you mean saying that you’d knocked him off because you thought he was going to knock you off?” Jim frowned. “I didn’t hear anything like that in court. And you said that you hadn’t introduced any of this stuff yet.”
“The hearing went on for a day or so before they sent for you, Spunky,” Dutch said. “We didn’t intro any of this stuff officially, but during a meeting between my solicitor and the D.A., the D.A. mentioned this chap couldn’t be found for questioning and we played the tape for him. Tapes aren’t generally admissible as court evidence, see, since they’re just recorded voices that can’t be cross-examined.”
“Uh huh.” Jim frowned.
“And that’s when he accused Dutch of murdering Devon,” Lisa said. “The nerve of him! You see, don’t you, Mr. Rockford? My Dutch is the victim in all this madness, but he’s the one being blamed!”
“He could be,” Jim agreed. “Or you could’ve cooked up all of this just for my and the district attorney’s benefit.”
He picked up the sheets of paper. “These are just a bunch of names. Are these the people you think might be involved?”
“The ones at the top of the list are the ones from the photographs,” Dutch said. “That one’s Devon, the one on the tape.” He indicated one of the men in the top picture. “But I thought I should make a list of everybody else who might have had a hand in things. Right now we don’t know that we can trust anyone.”
“You must have listed everybody you’ve ever made a crooked deal with,” Jim objected in disbelief.
“These are mostly just lackeys, past and present,” Dutch said. “Including the ones who were singing to the D.A. And a few of the blokes I’ve been dealing with currently.”
Jim leafed through the pages. “A few?! The Colonel was right that you’ve been double and triple-dealing with just about every country under the sun!”
Dutch shrugged. “It’s a living.”
Lisa watched Jim. “Well, what do you think, Mr. Rockford?” she asked, still hopeful.
Jim stood, still holding the papers. “I said I’d hear what you had to say. I didn’t say I’d take the case. There’s some other problems with me doing that too, like the little matter of not having a license to practice in Hawaii.”
Lisa’s eyes filled with discouragement. “You won’t take it then?”
“I don’t know. Whatever I decide, I’ll have to figure out how to work it without getting myself into a mess with the local police. I’d like to talk with some of the other people involved before I do anything else.” Jim headed for the door. “I’ll look these over some more and see what I can find out about them.”
“Will that be costing your normal fee, then, Spunky?” Dutch wondered.
Jim paused. “Not until I know if you’ve got a case,” he said. “But if I find out you’ve been wasting my time, Dutchy-boy, I might just end up charging you double the normal fee.”
Lisa scowled when he left. “He’s perfectly unpleasant,” she declared. “Maybe I made a mistake in sending for him.”
But Dutch leaned back, thoughtful. “Oh, I don’t know about that, Love,” he mused. “He knows how valuable one’s time is. We might just get along at that.”
“He might not even take the case,” Lisa protested.
“That’s only if he decides there isn’t one,” Dutch said, drawing Lisa close to him. “And I think he’s got enough of an open mind that he’ll find the truth instead. You must have thought the same thing, or you wouldn’t have sent for him.”
Lisa smiled, settling into his embrace. “True.”
Dutch kissed her. “As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have a bleedin’ thing to worry about.”
This story does still exist! I have continued to be extremely occupied writing some things on Livejournal, and meanwhile I stalled on this fic. But I figured out the problem with this chapter and fixed it. Then it wrote fine. Two reminders: since they're in Hawaii, the police characters will mainly be the 5-O taskforce, and there's a reference or two to a present-day setting, since I do not feel the shows have to be period pieces and therefore I simply moved them to the present.
Steve McGarrett was not pleased.
On his desk were assorted files and stacks of paper—the Ingram case, the unsolved murders 5-O believed he knew about and had been involved with, and the latest newspapers.
On the television across the room was another replay of the afternoon’s events. For the umpteenth time he had to watch the pandemonium as Dutch was shot at and 5-O ran to apprehend the sniper.
They had failed in that. The sniper had escaped to another building and from there, who knew. He could be stalking Ingram’s house right that minute. Steve had already sent two HPD officers out there to guard the place. No matter his personal feelings, they couldn’t just let Dutch be killed.
Besides, they needed him alive if they wanted to get him to confess to the murders and point out who else had been mixed up in them.
Now Steve had just received a radio report from the officers that James Rockford, the private detective subpoenaed to testify against Dutch, had been at the Ingrams’ house, talking with them. That was certainly strange. He intended to have a talk with Mr. Rockford and find out what that was about.
He looked up as Dan Williams opened the door and peered in. “Yeah, what is it, Danno?”
“Well, there’s no news of the sniper,” Danny sighed. “But there’s a call coming through from a guy who claims that his buddy looks like Dutch and might be a target.”
“What?” Steve frowned at his phone. “I didn’t hear it ring.” He picked up the receiver, repeatedly pressing the dial tone button. Disgusted to hear nothing, he slammed it down again and stood. “Is he still on the line?”
“Yeah, just outside,” Danny said. “Should I call the telephone company?”
“Do that,” Steve called over his shoulder.
In the hall, he thanked his always-faithful secretary and took the phone. “This is McGarrett,” he greeted. “What’s this about your friend looking like Dutch Ingram?”
“He really does,” came the thick New York accent of the caller. “I swear they could be twins! We’re here for a business meeting and we got tipped off that there might be trouble.”
“Okay, I’ll come out and talk to you both,” Steve said, grabbing for a piece of paper and a pencil. “Who are you and where are you staying?”
“Lou Trevino,” was the reply. “My buddy’s Ginger Townsend. We’re at the Royal Hotel, Suite 242.”
Steve scribbled it down. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” he promised.
He hung up and turned to Danny, who had just hung up with the telephone company on his cellphone. “A repairman will be out here tomorrow,” Danny reported. “It’s too late today.”
“Didn’t you tell them that’s a vitally important line?” Steve exclaimed.
“I sure did,” Danny frowned, “but still no dice. The switchboard operator insisted all the repairmen had gone home for the day.
“Are you going to talk to those guys?” he rushed on before Steve could snarl about the delay.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Oh, and Danno, look up Lou Trevino and Ginger Townsend. Those names are vaguely familiar.”
“Weren’t they jewel thieves or something?” Jenny spoke up.
Steve looked back to her. “That’s right,” he mused. “I remember; they were arrested in Los Angeles for the Borland Diamond robbery. They’re suspected of having been international jewel thieves, but nothing was ever proven in court other than the Borland case.”
“Didn’t Townsend know Janet Kingston, alias Camilla Carver?” Danny said. “The lady who masterminded the theft of the Queen of Polynesia emerald on Kamehameha Day?”
“I think she mentioned something about that in passing,” Steve said. “She was talking about someone who reminded her of her friend Michael Olson, but he was a rival and never liked her. That might’ve been Townsend; I don’t remember.” He headed for the door. “See if you can get a repairman out here tonight.”
Danny sighed. “We’ll try,” he said.
“I’ll try,” Jenny emphasized.
Danny looked to her in relief. “Thanks a million, Jenny.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Jenny said. “If I don’t have any luck, you might still need to go out there in person and show your badge to get it done.”
“Right now I’ve got another task,” Danny said, hurrying off to look up the former criminals’ names and acquire more detailed information.
“No luck?” Rocky asked, coming into the main room and seeing Jim slumped wearily in the chair with the list on his lap.
“That’s an understatement,” Jim grumbled. “I’m supposed to be figuring out if there’s a case here. Well, I’ve talked to ten people and I’m still not sure! . . . Although it’s weird how they all stick to their court testimonies like glue,” he frowned. “The ones who hate Dutch are just as insistent as the ones who’re still loyal to him. The ones who hate him could be telling the truth while the loyal ones are just being paid to be loyal. Or it could be the other way around. Or it could even be that they’re all being paid to say what they’re saying!”
“Well, both of the latter two ways could mean that Dutch is being framed, if someone’s paying his enemies to be enemies,” Rocky said as he sat on the corner of the nearest bed, his hands on his knees.
“I know, Dad,” Jim sighed. “I just hate thinking of getting into this case. I guess I keep trying to look for a way out of it. With Dutch Ingram as a client, I really might not come out of this one alive.”
“You really think he’s that bad?” Rocky said worriedly.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Jim slammed the list on the bed and stood, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Even if he doesn’t do anything, there’s the Kimotto Brothers and the Hawaiian Mafia. You know how much I hate tangling with any Mafia.”
Rocky nodded. “Look, Son, I really didn’t mean to get you into something that could be so dangerous,” he said. “And you really are right about the licensing problem. Why don’t you tell the Ingrams you just can’t take it and we’ll finish out our vacation and go home.”
“Yeah, and if someone really manages to knock Ingram off, I’ll wonder if I could’ve stopped it if I’d agreed to help,” Jim muttered. “There’s no easy way out of this, Dad. I’m already in it. I guess I really knew I was when I rang their doorbell.”
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Rocky said.
“Maybe it’ll be worse,” Jim quipped. “Well, I’d better call Ingram and tell him I’m on the case. Then I’ll just have to figure out how to work it with the licensing problem. There must be some way around that.” He sat down and reached for the telephone.
He felt that old feeling of resignation as he dialed the number and waited for a pick-up. Once again he was proving that he was just too soft for his own good. One of these days, that was probably going to kill him.
Hopefully not any time soon.
He came to attention at Dutch’s tense voice. “Ingram, what’s wrong?” he demanded.
A pause. “Is that you, Spunky?” Dutch hurried on, apparently certain that he didn’t need to wait for Jim to confirm it. “Someone just threatened Lisa.”
“What?!” Jim leaned forward. “I thought it was you they wanted.”
“It is,” Dutch said with impatience. “They said that I’d better up and confess to the murder if I want Lisa to stay among the living.”
“Who said this?” Jim shot back.
“Well, now, if I knew that, a big part of this mystery might be solved here and now,” Dutch retorted. “They used one of those devices to electronically alter their voice.”
“Was there anything on the caller I.D.?”
“A payphone. I was just going to call you about checking it.”
Jim scowled. “And what made you think I’d do it?”
“You want to see if there’s really a case, don’t you, Love?”
Jim rolled his eyes at the nickname. “Let’s just say I’ve already decided there probably is one,” he said. “I was calling you to say I’ll take it.”
“Smashing!” Dutch declared. “Then how about you get out to that call box? I have the location.” He proceeded to recite it.
“They’ll be long gone, Ingram,” Jim said.
“There might be a clue or two,” Dutch countered. “Or someone who saw something. If you’re really as good a detective as Lisa thinks you are, you’ve already thought of all those things.”
“I’ll check it out,” Jim said. “But I should warn you, Ingram—if I find out that you really did kill that guy, I won’t rest until you’re behind bars where you belong.”
“Fair enough,” Dutch said. “Now go!” He promptly hung up.
Jim pulled the receiver away and stared at it. Then, his stomach sinking as he wondered what he had gotten into, he dragged himself up.
“What’s the matter?” Rocky asked in concern.
“I just got my first assignment on the Ingram case,” Jim sighed. “I have to go check out a payphone. Don’t wait up for me; the way things usually go, what should be a simple thing could end up taking all night.” He shuffled towards the door.
Rocky looked after him, shaking his head. “Son, what did I get you into?”
Jim opened the door and stepped into the hall. “Maybe I’m about to find out.”
Ginger grunted. “So you see the resemblance too.”
“And then some.” Steve shook his head. “If the hitman from today got a look at you, you’d be a goner.”
“Like I said, that’s what we’re worried about,” Lou piped up. “And we have to go to this meeting we came here for. Will you give Ginger some police protection while we’re here?”
Steve was still scrutinizing Ginger, but he nodded. “Yeah, I’ll see to it.” He took out his two-way radio to make contact with Danny, but Ginger interrupted him.
“I don’t entirely like the way you’re looking at me, McGarrett,” he said. “I’m wondering if I’ll get a completely fair and impartial officer to look out for me.”
“Mr. Townsend, regardless of my or any other 5-O officer’s personal feelings, you’ll get the best protection we can offer,” Steve retorted, his tone clipped.
“You know who we are,” Ginger pointed out. “And you don’t like us because of that. But we’ve gone straight now. You’ve got no right to judge either of us.”
“Mr. Townsend, in my experience I’ve run across a lot of criminals who never really go straight even when they claim to,” Steve answered. “I don’t know if you and Mr. Trevino fall under that category, but knowing your long list of felonies, I can’t help but wonder.”
“They couldn’t even prove much,” Ginger said. “We were doing porridge for the Borland Diamond caper.”
“And for assault with a deadly weapon, as I recall,” Steve interjected.
“We still got out early,” Lou said. “Good behavior. And the fact that our company said they wanted us to come back and help open up a new branch if we’d go straight.”
“You can check with the warden,” Ginger said.
“I believe you,” Steve replied. Speaking into the radio, he called, “Danno?”
“Yeah, Steve?” the other voice crackled.
“Will you see to it that Mr. Townsend and Mr. Trevino have police protection while they’re here?”
“I’m on it,” Danny promised. “Do you want that information now?”
“When I come back in,” Steve answered. “I’ll stay here until you send somebody.”
“They should be there no later than twenty minutes,” Danny said.
“Are you going to check with that private detective while you’re there?”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “He’s got some answers to give.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then.”
“Right.” Steve hung up.
Still nervous, Lou began to pace the room. Ginger watched him, folding his arms. “Everything will work out alright,” he said. “I doubt the sniper will even get a look at me. He probably followed that Ingram bloke home.”
“Could be,” Lou said.
Ginger looked to Steve. “What do you want with Rockford? We’ve met him before. He doesn’t have much to do with this.”
“He might,” Steve retorted. “He was talking to the Ingrams this evening. Do you know anything about that?”
Lou stopped pacing and looked over. Both he and Ginger shook their heads. “Nothing,” Ginger said.
“I’ll find out soon what’s going on there,” Steve determined.
“What does it really matter if he was talking to them?” Lou wondered.
“Maybe it doesn’t,” Steve said. “But 5-O is still investigating Dutch Ingram. If there’s anything that could help us get to the truth of what’s going on with him, it matters.”
Lou shrugged. “Suit yourself then.” His expression hardened. “I just want to keep my best friend from being killed. So you’d better devote just as much time to that as to figuring out if Ingram’s a murderer.”
“I promise you, Mr. Trevino, I’ll do everything in my power to keep your friend alive,” Steve said. “The last thing I want to see is another murder.”
Ginger studied him for a moment. Then, feeling that he was sincere, he nodded in approval. “Good.”
It was late at night by now; the buildings were mostly in darkness, with the exception of a drugstore right near the phone. The payphone stood silent, blissfully unaware of the problems it had caused by working moments ago.
“Okay, Buster,” Jim muttered under his breath as he climbed out of the car, “let’s see if you have any clues to who used you last.”
The payphone seemed to be devoid of any clues. Jim frowned, eyeing the receiver and wondering if there was any point in having it dusted for fingerprints. The caller had most likely worn gloves.
He looked to the drugstore. It wouldn’t hurt to ask if the night clerk had noticed anyone using the phone in the last few minutes. Hauling the door open, he headed inside.
“Aloha,” drawled an older man in a bright Hawaiian shirt. He leaned over the counter, clasping his hands. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, this might sound a little strange,” Jim said as he strolled over, “but did you notice whether anyone used the phone out there in the last few minutes?”
The clerk blinked in surprise. “People use the phone off and on all day,” he said. “I don’t take much notice. They use it a lot less now than they used to.”
“Yes, but this is very important,” Jim said, his mind racing as he searched for the perfect excuse for his questions. “You see, I’m from the telephone company and we’ve had several complaints about that particular phone not working right.”
“You’re working late,” the clerk said. “I hope they’re paying you overtime.” He leaned back, contemplating the query. “There may have been someone using the phone a few minutes ago. . . . I’m just not sure.”
“Did it look like the phone was working then?”
“I believe so,” the clerk mused. “Yes, he seemed to be talking to someone.”
“You could see it was a man? Could you see anything of what he looked like?”
The clerk looked at him, his glasses slipping down his nose. “He was wearing dark clothes. That’s all I could see. I can’t imagine why that would be important information for the telephone company.”
“That’s a good question!” Jim declared, stabbing the air with his finger. “I wanted to find him and ask him about his experiences with the phone.”
“Sorry I can’t be more help,” the clerk said, shaking his head.
“Well, maybe he’s not too far away,” Jim said. “He didn’t come in here, did he?”
“No, he just made his call and went away.”
Jim nodded, not surprised. “I’ll just look around for him a little bit. If you hear a lot of clattering around outside, that’s probably us.” He half-waved and turned, heading for the door.
“Don’t know why there’d be a lot of clattering around in the first place,” the clerk muttered.
Jim decided not to answer that.
Outside in the night, it was easy to think that something was off. But it didn’t take long and Jim was certain that it wasn’t only in his imagination that he was being watched. He spun about, facing a darkened alley. There was definitely a shape moving around in there. And as he drew closer, eyes gleamed in the night.
“I hope you didn’t play hide-and-seek as a kid, because you’re terrible at it,” Jim proclaimed. The form froze. “Now how about you just come out of there nice and easy and we’ll figure out if you have a good reason for being there.”
The figure turned to run. Jim lunged, tackling at the same moment. They tumbled, locked in combat. First Jim had the upper hand, then the stranger. A stack of crates fell to the right. A lid crashed off a garbage can to the left. A frightened cat yowled.
At last Jim, the edge of his mouth bleeding, pinned his opponent to the asphalt. “Alright, now I don’t have a lot of patience left,” he said. “You’d better start talking before you find out what happens when I lose it all.”
Shaking hands reached up, gripping some sort of religious relic around the man’s neck. “Oh, please don’t hurt me, Rockford!” he gasped and gulped. “I was just following instructions.”
Jim pressed him harder into the ground. “Whose instructions?!”
“D-Dutch Ingram,” the man stammered. “He said to come here and pretend to use the payphone while the clerk was around to see. If you fell for the story when Dutch told it and came out to look, I was to keep up the act for a while. But I’m not gonna get beat up for him. Oh no, Sir!”
Jim stared at his prisoner. “You’re saying Dutch Ingram is playing me for a sap?! Not that anything would surprise me where he’s concerned, but . . .”
“No, that’s not it!” the man hurried to interject. “Mr. Ingram just wanted to test you, to see how fast you’d respond.”
Jim’s lip curled. “Oh, so he just wanted to see how good I really am at detective work.”
“Yeah, that’s right!” The man looked at him hopefully. “So can I go now?”
“Well, I’m not sure,” said Jim. “See, I might need you as my witness.”
“Witness to what?!” the man all but wailed.
“Of exactly what Ingram was trying to do!” Jim snarled. He rocked back, releasing the shaken man. “I don’t like being played for a sucker, no matter what the reason is.”
“No, no, Spunky. You’ve got it all wrong.”
Both Jim and the guy looked up at the abrupt insertion of Dutch’s voice. The British man had come to the head of the alley, regarding the scene with impatience. Clutched in his hand was a dark cane.
Slowly Jim got to his feet, dragging the other guy up with him. “So what’s the truth then?” he retorted. “And why do you need that?”
“The threat was real,” Dutch said, “only it wasn’t on the phone. Some git broke into the house, knocked me down the basement steps, and grabbed Lisa and tried to hold a knife to her throat.” He smirked, darkly. “Poor chap had no idea that he’d just plucked a karate expert. He was down the steps with me in the next moment.
“Now, he doesn’t know who hired him, and we believe him. He was so shook up that it just took a threat from Lisa to get him to spill everything he did know—which was only that someone sent him an envelope with the bills and the typed instructions on what to do.”
Dutch gripped the handle of the cane. “I wasn’t sure about you, Spunky, so I had to test you. I wanted to see how you’d handle what I told you.” His eyes narrowed. “I have to have someone who knows what he’s doing, not like how you botched your way through that assignment from the government boys.”
“And how did I pass this test?” Jim said in irritation. He could see Dutch’s point, but he didn’t like going out on wild goose chases, especially in the middle of the night.
Dutch gave him a hard look before a smile crept over his gruff features. “You did good, Duck.”
“Well, that’s great, but . . .” The nickname suddenly processed and Jim stared at him for a long moment in disbelief. “Wait a minute. What did you just call me? I think that fight must’ve rattled my eardrums out of place. Among other things. Calling me Love was weird enough, but Duck?! Come on!”
The smile turned into a smirk. “Come on back on to the house and we’ll talk about it.” Dutch gestured to the waiting car with the bottom of his cane.
Jim sighed, wondering what time he was ever going to get home. But since he had decided to take the case, he nodded, wiped his mouth, and slowly followed Dutch back through the alley. The odd Brit, he could see, was now walking with a slight limp.
“I don’t like spending my time tracking down leads that aren’t even there,” Jim said. “So if you put me through any more of these ‘tests’, I’m canceling the deal.”
“The next time, Rockford, it will more than likely be for keeps,” Dutch answered. “So you had better be prepared to meet my enemies.”
“That list is probably longer than all the Hawaiian Islands put together,” Jim muttered.
I finally figured out how I want to proceed with this fic. I'm pretty determined to tell this story, so hopefully I'll be able to get it done. I went back and tweaked a couple of things in chapters 2 and 3 to reflect the licensing problem; I stupidly didn't even think about that when I was first writing those installments. This chapter will deal with it even more. Also, I leave a reminder that the setting is the present-day, since I don't feel these shows are period pieces and can therefore easily adapt to another decade. There's pretty much only a small mention of modern technology here and there.
Whatever conversation Dutch had planned would have to wait. When the car pulled into his driveway, another car was already there, waiting.
“Were you expecting any other late-night visitors?” Jim asked uneasily.
“No.” Dutch sounded and looked tense. Glancing to the driver, he said, “Go out ahead of me and take your gun. And take Rockford with you.”
Jim inwardly groaned, but wasn’t surprised.
Before either of them could do a thing, however, the front door opened and Steve McGarrett stepped onto the porch. He hurried to the car with purpose. “Mr. Rockford, I need to speak with you,” he said as Jim opened the car door.
“About what?” Jim asked wearily.
“According to Mrs. Ingram, you’ve accepted the case to find out who fired that shot at the courthouse,” Steve said. “Is that true?”
“No,” Jim said flatly, not about to tell his decision to a law enforcement officer. “I said I’d look into things and see if I think there is a case. Dutch here claims that somebody broke into his house a little while ago and knocked him down the basement stairs.”
“That’s true,” Dutch insisted. “I had the police take the chap away.”
“That checks out, Steve,” Chin Ho said, suddenly coming up next to Steve. “The officers watching the house just confirmed it.”
“Look, I’m just checking some things out unofficially, like the missing person angle.” Jim knew that was something he could look into even without being licensed. “Is it going to be a problem to 5-O if I look into this?” His voice was pretty much one big sigh.
“I hope not, Mr. Rockford,” Steve retorted. “Are you licensed to practice in this state?”
“No,” Jim said slowly, “which is another reason why I’m just trying to see if there’s even a case at all. Then I figured I’d see if a reputable P.I. here in Hawaii would pick it up.” It wasn’t entirely true, but despite saying he would take the case, the licensing problem had not been out of his mind. He really didn’t want to run afoul of the law out here.
“We specifically requested Mr. Rockford since we’ve had prior experience with him,” said Dutch. “In a situation like this, one really doesn’t know who to trust. Eh, McGarrett?”
Steve gave him a stony look. “No, Mr. Ingram, we most certainly do not.”
It was a relief to both Dutch and Jim when Steve and Chin Ho left. Dutch promptly got out of the car, limping towards the porch. “Well, now that that’s over with, we can discuss the case,” he said.
“Hold on, Dutchy,” Jim retorted, grabbing Dutch’s arm as he came up beside the mercenary. “Maybe the licensing problem doesn’t mean much to you, but it means a whole heck of a lot to me. The last thing I need is trouble with the police. Worse case scenario: I could end up losing my license in California and thrown in jail here.”
“At least it wouldn’t be at Her Majesty’s pleasure,” Dutch quipped. Sobering, he added, “But yes, we were aware of the problem.” He opened the front door and stepped inside.
“So what did you expect me to do?” Jim snapped. He followed, shutting the door behind him. “If you wanted an under-the-table deal, the findings wouldn’t be admissible in court. It wouldn’t help you or me.”
“Perhaps I can explain,” Lisa said, coming out to meet them.
“Please do,” Jim exclaimed with a wide gesture.
“As we understand it, you would be allowed to work with a detective who is licensed here,” Lisa said. “We, or at least I, hoped you might be able to choose one you felt was reputable. We didn’t exclusively want someone we didn’t know working on this, but with your influence, it might work. And even if the new detective wasn’t worth much, at least you could use working with him as a way to legally find your way around the case.”
“Lisa particularly wanted your involvement, Love, since as I told McGarrett, we know you,” Dutch said. “I’m still skeptical, you understand, but your passing the little test I gave you makes me feel a good deal better about having you on the payroll.”
Jim gave him a long, hard look. “Okay, if that’s really what you had in mind.”
“You can never prove it isn’t.” Dutch limped into the living room and settled in a wicker chair. “So! Let’s discuss the case, as it is. What have you found out?”
“Nothing,” Jim retorted. “A big, fat zero. Everybody’s sticking to the stories they told in court. This creep who got the jump on you is really the only lead so far.”
“Only if he knows more than what he’s saying, he’s buttoned his lip.” Dutch leaned back, resting the cane across his lap.
Lisa took another chair. “So you still think there’s nothing to our story?” she said in dismay.
“I didn’t say that,” Jim quickly interjected. “Obviously something is going on or that guy wouldn’t have busted in here. What I’d like to know is, how’d he get past the police guards outside?”
“Oh, you of all people should know there’s plenty of ways to do that,” Dutch said boredly.
Jim had to concede to that. “Let’s think about this,” he said. “Is there anyone who might want you to confess to the murder for a reason other than that they’re trying to ruin you?”
“Why else would someone want such a thing?” Lisa frowned.
“The death could’ve even been an accident and they’re too scared to admit it, so they’re trying to throw the blame somewhere else,” Jim said.
“I suppose,” said Dutch, sounding and looking unconvinced. He rubbed at the cane. “And shooting at me is just to further the illusion that I’m in danger and that the bloke was killed to cast suspicion on me?”
“I know it doesn’t sound logical, but it’s possible,” Jim said tiredly. “And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that criminals aren’t logical at all a lot of the time.”
“I’ll admit you’ve got a point there,” Dutch said.
“I’d like to talk to the guy who attacked you,” Jim said. “See if I can make him say anything more than he told you. Of course, if he really knows anything important, he’s probably out on bail by now and he’ll turn up dead in the morning.”
“And then they’ll try to blame that one on me as well,” Dutch said in disgust.
“Well, you make such a good patsy,” Jim said. “Hey, I know your story in court’s been that you never saw Dwight Whipple at all, but why don’t you level with me, huh? Didn’t your men bring him to you, like they said? I know you might not want to say if he was there at all, even if you didn’t kill him, but . . .”
“They never brought him,” Dutch interrupted, his tone dark. “They took him at the phone booth, questioned him themselves, and then presumably they dirked him!”
“That’s just really hard for me to buy,” Jim sighed. “Like this whole case is.”
“Let me draw you a diagram, Spunky, if you’re having so much trouble.” Dutch leaned forward, propping the cane against the arm of his chair. “We were going to make the exchange. Smith brought in you, and why, I’ll never know. I set it up with the North Vietnamese government. Some of their boys came over to help me out on my end of things.
“Everyone’s confused at Smith bringing in somebody who really don’t know what he’s doing. You’re late for the meet, I get worried, and I send the Kimotto brothers out to see what happened. They find Whipple, question him, and somewhere along the line, they murder him. My guess is that he was still alive until I was knocked out and the gun was taken from me. Either way, I don’t know a bleedin’ thing about it. All’s I know is that something went wrong somewhere.
“I call Smith and insist we meet somewhere on my terms. You show up, find Lance Soo dead, and the Vietnamese government boys bring you to me. You end up punchin’ out my lights and my boys and the government boys have a little rendezvous over my kayoed body.
“Meanwhile, the Kimotto brothers have to do somethin’ with Whipple’s body. They decide you’re the perfect patsy. They lock the body in the trunk of a rental car and fix it so’s it lists you as the bloke what signed it out. They also make an anonymous call to the police to get them out there to check you out.
“I’m boilin’ mad, not to mention still confused. I blame Smith for bringing you in, but I can’t figure out who packed Lance in. You and Smith show up, Smith blames me for everything, and pulls his gun on me while threatening me with death. Naturally, I tell my boys to fire back.
“Somehow in the crossfire, you get hit, I get pinched, and I find out that what with you gettin’ off the hook due to your government work, such as it is, I’ve been picked as the new patsy. That is a position I’ve never been in before and I do not like it one bloody bit.”
“I don’t blame you,” Jim sighed. “But one thing I still don’t get is why Dwight had to die in the first place. Did the Kimotto brothers or whoever think he knew too much? Was it something done in the heat of the moment that couldn’t be taken back? Was it even a struggle over the gun? Dwight was just green; maybe he would’ve made a newbie mistake like that.”
“That, I couldn’t tell you,” Dutch replied. “I don’t know why he was killed or why I was blamed. It could be some of my boys are wantin’ to take over the business and they don’t want me in the way.”
“Some of them are also much too chummy with me for my tastes,” Lisa broke in.
Dutch nodded. “Ah yes. Dear Lisa is also part of the prize package. It could be someone hoping to move in on her as well as the business.”
“Alright, give me a list of everybody who falls into that category,” Jim implored. He soon had a list of half a dozen names. “And anyone who might be jealous of you and all too anxious to take over for business reasons?” That gave him another, longer list of names.
“Most of those gits you’ve already talked to tonight,” Dutch said. “They’re all the ones who testified in court, including by tellin’ fibs and not the truth. And there’s a few others there what didn’t testify. I thought they were loyal, but you can’t tell about anybody these days.”
“You sure can’t,” Jim frowned. “Present company included.” He rushed on before Dutch could retort. “Is there any chance you blundered into something even over your head, like the Hawaiian Mafia, and they want you out of the way for that reason?”
“Of course there’s a chance,” Dutch retorted. “The Kimotto brothers came highly recommended as gunmen and I thought they’d be perfect workin’ for me during the times they were free. I need a lot of protection, you understand.”
“Oh, naturally,” Jim said, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“But their Mafia employers weren’t always chuffed about the idea. If, in addition to that, I ‘blundered into something’, it would be more than enough reason for them to eliminate me.” Dutch reached up, taking a worried Lisa’s hand as she came over to his chair.
“And I guess there’s no way to leave questioning them out of this,” Jim groaned. “Who are they?”
“The main one to talk to is Wai Su,” Dutch said. “He’ll deny everything, but if he’s lying, you might be able to figure that out. If you really are a better private eye than you are a spy, of course.”
Jim didn’t answer that. “He’s not any relation to Lance Soo, is he?”
“Not as far as I know,” Dutch said. “But it would be interesting if he were, wouldn’t it?”
“It would be a lot more interesting if you got someone to do this who’s really based here in Hawaii,” Jim said. “I’m not familiar with Hawaiian P.I.s. I won’t know who to choose.”
“There is someone here we’ve heard you know,” Lisa said. “How about, if you trust him, you go and present the case to him and see how he reacts?”
“And who’s that?” Jim shot back.
“A bloody goody-two-shoes called Lance White who’s setting up practice here,” Dutch said. “What do you think of him?”
Jim’s stomach dropped to the floor. “Oh no,” he moaned. “Not Lance White. Not if I’m going to have to work with him.”
“He’s that bad?” Dutch raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t even know if Lance would take your case,” Jim said lamely. “You’re right about him being a goody-two-shoes. I don’t think he’d want to get mixed up with someone who’s been selling out countries left and right. Not that I want to get mixed up with you, either.”
“Now, I wouldn’t exactly say that’s what I’ve been doing,” Dutch said. “I just set up deals between countries. If somethin’ goes wrong, it’s not on my conscience.”
“Well, whatever. I just don’t think Lance White is your man. And what’s he doing setting up shop in Hawaii, anyway?” Jim blinked.
Lisa looked thoughtful. “I believe he said something about using the proceeds from his caseload to create an orphanage fund?”
Jim sighed. “Oh yeah. That’s Lance for you. A real Boy Scout.”
“Then surely he won’t want to see an innocent man convicted of murder,” Dutch said. “Or be killed on the street because someone wants him dead that badly.”
Lisa nodded. “Perhaps a ‘goody-two-shoes’ is exactly what we want,” she said passionately. “And when the two of you already know each other, all the better! Maybe he would do it for you even if he wouldn’t do it for anyone else. We were hoping for you to have a positive influence!”
Jim scowled. “I can just hear him lecturing me about getting involved with a creep like your husband.” His shoulders slumped. “But you’re probably right; I don’t think he’d feel right about turning the case down when Dutch is insisting he’s innocent of murder and someone is trying to gun him down in the street.”
“Then you’ll speak to him?” Lisa said hopefully.
“I’ll speak to him,” Jim sighed again. “In the morning. Which is probably almost here by now.” He started to push himself out of the chair. “I’ll see if I can talk to that housebreaker in the morning too. Right now, you have got to let me get some sleep.”
“By all means.” Dutch gestured in a dismissive way.
Jim headed for the door, Lisa following him to show him out. At the entrance he paused. “By the way, do you know a Ginger Townsend?”
Dutch gave him a blank look. “No. Why?”
“He looks like your long-lost brother,” Jim said. “He’s on the island for a business meeting. And as you can imagine, he’s going to be a marked man.”
“And you’re telling me this, why?” Dutch frowned. “Just so I can feel guilty if they gun him down instead of me?”
“Well, it just occurred to me that they might show him on the news,” Jim said, “and you might get it in your head to deliberately use him to throw the bad guys off the track, even temporarily. So if he gets hurt or killed and I get even the slightest hint that you might’ve had something to do with it, I’ll make sure you burn for that even if I can prove you didn’t kill or order the killing of Dwight Whipple.”
Dutch sneered. “This Ginger Townsend means something to you, Spunky?”
Jim fixed him with a withering look. “No, not really. I just don’t want to see him paying for you. He’s got a buddy who’ll be heartbroken if anything happens to him. And it’s just possible that this buddy will blame me in that case.”
“Nothing will happen to him,” Lisa broke in, gently pushing on Jim to steer him to the door. “We’ve got enough trouble. We don’t need any more.”
“You can say that again,” Dutch muttered.
“Just as long as we understand each other.” Jim hauled open the door.
“We understand.” Dutch watched him. “My chauffeur will see you back to the hotel.”
Jim nodded and turned away. “Thanks.”
Lisa waited until he was safely in the limo and being driven away before she shut the door. “Well?” she asked.
“That didn’t go too badly at that,” Dutch mused. “I think we’re in business.”
Lisa went over and perched on the arm of his chair. “What about what he said about this Townsend chap?”
“Eh.” Dutch reached up, drawing an arm around her waist. “Like you said, we don’t need any more trouble. If he just so happens to get himself killed in my place, it won’t buy us much time. Certainly not enough. I won’t do anything to set those wheels in motion. If it happens, it’s his hard luck and nothing else.”
Lisa relaxed and leaned down, kissing the top of his head. “Good.”
Dutch smiled. “I have to say, I’m curious to know if I’d see the resemblance Rockford sees. We’ll keep watch to see if they really do show Townsend on the news.”
“I hope nothing terrible will happen to him,” Lisa said. “I can’t stand to think of anyone who looks like you getting murdered in cold blood.” She ran her fingers through his hair.
“It would be rather unsettling, wouldn’t it?” Dutch closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of his wife’s touch.
“Very,” Lisa said. “Although of course not as horrible as if it were you.”
“That won’t happen, Love,” Dutch assured her.
“I wish I could have your confidence,” Lisa said wistfully.
“Not that I know of,” the desk clerk replied. “I believe they’re just changing the guard for Mr. Townsend and Mr. Trevino. They called for police protection.”
“Good,” Jim said.
“You don’t think anything would really happen right here in the hotel, do you?” the clerk exclaimed with wide, worried eyes.
Jim sighed. “These people were willing to shoot a man who was just coming out of a courthouse. Do you really think they’d have any qualms about going after someone in a hotel?”
The clerk flinched. “No, I suppose not.”
“Hopefully they won’t, because if they realized anyone was at this hotel at all, they’d almost have to know who it was.” Jim pushed away from the desk. “It’s when they leave the hotel that they might be in trouble.”
He headed upstairs, hoping and longing for bed. When he arrived on the right floor and opened the door, however, Rocky was still wide awake and looked up with a start. “Where have you been?!” he cried.
“Mostly with Dutch and his wife,” Jim said tiredly. “Rocky, I told you not to wait up for me!”
“Now how would you expect me to sleep knowing you were going out in the middle of the night to do something for that Mr. Ingram?” Rocky retorted. “Especially knowing that I put you up to it.”
“Oh, I probably would’ve gone out there anyway,” Jim retorted. He paused at Rocky’s continuing tenseness. “Something happened, didn’t it?” Dread filled his veins.
“Well . . .” Rocky looked to the phone. “That Colonel Smith called. He said he had urgent business in Washington, but that he was going to be back out here in the morning and he wants to know if it’s true what you’re up to.”
Jim had known it was coming, but realizing it was so imminent was not the news he wanted to hear. “Oh no. . . .”
Rocky nodded. “He sounded awfully upset. Said a whole bunch of things you’d never catch me repeating in a thousand years. Basically what it amounted to was that he had just thought Dutch was out of the way, and then first the judge lets him go in a gross miscarriage of justice, and next he hears that you’re helping him.”
“Great, just great.” Jim started to head for the bathroom to wash up for bed. He wondered if sleep would even come.
Rocky stood and followed him. “You don’t think . . . no, it couldn’t be that.”
Jim frowned. “Couldn’t be what, Dad?”
“No, I don’t even like to say it, even after how unpleasant the man was. He’s still a highly respected military officer.”
“Are you saying you wonder if Colonel Smith might be the one framing Ingram?” Jim exclaimed in amazement. “If anyone’s framing him at all, of course.”
“I don’t want to say it!” Rocky retorted. “I can’t really believe he’d do a thing like that.”
Jim started to unbutton his shirt. “I can’t believe he’d do it either,” he said. “He was so convinced that Dutch was guilty, he wouldn’t have any reason to try to frame him.”
“And no reason to try to gun him down after the judge dismissed the case?” Rocky put in.
“There wouldn’t have been enough time, unless he already had the sniper waiting just in case that would happen.” Jim headed into the bathroom. “I don’t really like the man, Dad, but I can’t believe he’d stoop to something like that.”
“I sure hope he wouldn’t,” Rocky said worriedly. “But in any case, he’s not gonna be happy with you when he gets here tomorrow.”
Jim shut the door. “I’m not so happy with myself either,” he muttered.
Lou sighed and laid back down. Of course he was just hearing the hotel settling in, but after Rockford had spooked him about that Ingram character, Lou was on edge anyway.
“There’s nothing wrong,” Ginger suddenly mumbled. “Go to sleep.”
Lou jumped a mile. “I thought you were asleep!”
“I was, until that last creak bloody well woke me up.” Ginger rose now, his hair wild and his eyes filled with tired annoyance.
Lou sighed. “What if it is something to worry about?” he said.
“You’re letting your imagination run away with you. We shouldn’t be in danger until we leave for the meeting in the morning. If there’s going to be any danger at all.”
Lou slumped back into the pillow. “You know, for one of the only times, I wish you’d been able to bring some heat with you.”
“So do I,” Ginger said in irritation. “But we’ll just have to make do with the police and our fighting skills.”
Lou hoped that if there was any danger, that would be enough to fight it.
He looked over in surprise as his phone silently blinked. He grabbed it up, opening the new message. “Hey, it’s from Mike,” he announced.
That was not news Ginger was particularly thrilled to hear. “What does he want?”
“He saw the news story about Ingram in L.A. and wondered about it,” Lou said. “And . . .” He blinked. “He says he’s coming out here.”
Ginger gave him a flat look. “What.”
“He says a girl he knew invited him out for some party on her yacht,” Lou said. “And he thought maybe we could hang out at the same time, like after the business meeting.”
Ginger sank back into the bed. “Wonderful.”
Lou sighed; the sarcasm was very loud. He tapped out a quick reply and set the phone aside. “I know it’s still really hard for you two to get along,” he said, “but I really appreciate that you’ve been trying for my sake.”
Ginger nodded. “Let’s just hope that if there is some sort of danger, your brother won’t idiotically blunder his way in front of a bullet.”
Lou cringed. “I told Mike about the danger and said that if we do hang out here, there’s a possibility he could get hurt. He’ll probably still come anyway, though, worrying about me getting hurt.” He could not keep the worry out of his voice. It was bad enough to worry about his best friend. He didn’t want to worry about his brother as well.
“Probably.” Ginger fell silent. “Maybe nothing will happen at all.”
“Maybe.” Lou laid back down. “I hope it won’t.”
Ginger hoped not too. Especially with Michael coming. Their shared love for Lou was pretty much the only thing keeping their shaky truce going, and even that wasn’t enough to stop arguments from happening—or mutual dislike from creeping into their thoughts. The thought of having to look out for Michael on the morrow was definitely not a pleasing concept.
Sighing to himself, he laid down again as well.
It really shouldn’t have been a surprise when both Jim and Rocky were awakened in the morning by an obscenely loud commotion at the door, but Jim still groaned in horror and burrowed deeper into the bed, just wishing the caller would go away.
“Rockford!” Colonel Smith bawled. “You open this door right now. I know you’re in there!”
“Yeah, because I’m trying to get some sleep,” Jim snarled into the pillow.
Rocky rose up in the other bed, frowning at the door. “He’s not gonna go away, Jimmy,” he said. “Shouldn’t I just let him in before he wakes up the whole hotel?”
“Ohhh. . . .” Jim threw back the covers and shuffled out of bed. “No, I’ll let him in. It’s me he wants to talk to, anyway.” Blinking back sleep, he made his way to the door and fumbled with the locks. “Good morning, Colonel,” he mumbled as he cracked the door open at last, struggling to be polite even though he wanted with all his might to say what he was really thinking.
Colonel Smith didn’t appreciate it, either. “Don’t you give me any of that ‘Good morning’ slop, Rockford!” he boomed, pushing the door open and forcing Jim out of the way. “What’s this about you and Dutch Ingram?!”
“There’s nothing about me and Dutch Ingram,” Jim retorted, closing the door after him. “His wife wanted me to check up on a few things in connection with their defense.”
“Which you don’t even have the right to do in Hawaii,” Smith snapped.
“I’m going to talk to a licensed P.I. today,” Jim shot back. “He’ll handle the majority of the case for them.” He supposed that wasn’t quite true, but he was more than willing to tell a white lie if it would get Smith off his back.
He shouldn’t have hoped. “You shouldn’t be doing one blamed thing in their favor!” Smith growled. “We had that case in the bag, Rockford! In the bag! That slimeball was finally off the streets and gonna be forced to pay his just desserts for all the crud he’s spread around with his dirty multiple dealing!”
“He was going to be convicted for a murder that he says he didn’t commit!” Jim insisted. “I’ll agree that Ingram should be off the streets and he should have to pay for what he did. But why should he have to pay for something he didn’t do?”
“Dangnabit, Rockford! Of course he did it! And you should be all for getting him locked away and given a permanent little drug trip, after what he tried to do to you!”
“That’s just it, Colonel,” Jim said, wondering how he was managing to be so patient with the man. “After what somebody tried to do to me, I don’t like the thought of it being done to someone else. I don’t know that Ingram was behind the frame-up. And I don’t know if someone’s trying to frame him now. But I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to look into it. Supposing Dutch is telling the truth. Would you feel right about having had a hand in getting him a lethal injection or life in prison for a murder he didn’t do?”
“I’d feel just fine and dandy about it!” Smith declared. “Even if he didn’t pack in ol’ Dwight, he’s done plenty of other things that are just as bad or worse. Mark my words, Rockford—I’m gonna see that boy hang if it’s the last thing I do. And if you keep helpin’ him, I’m gonna see that you’re strung up right alongside him!”
Furious now, Rocky started climbing out of bed to give the former commander a piece of his mind. But Smith was already out the door and slamming it behind him so fiercely, the walls shook.
Jim and Rocky stared as a picture disengaged itself from its hook and crashed to the floor. Rocky’s anger boiled over. “Why that . . . !” He clenched his fists and hurried over to the picture. “We’re not going to let him get away with that, are we, Jimmy?”
Jim sighed, running a hand through his hair. “What can we do about it, Dad? Except maybe complain to hotel security. He’s the big brass. He’s got clearance. Everyone in Washington is probably on his side.”
“Well, if they are, I hate to think where this country’s headed!” Rocky fumed. He dusted off the frame and returned the picture to its rightful place on the wall.
“Dutch is a bad egg. We all know that.” Jim headed for the bathroom to freshen up for the day. “I’ve still got my doubts about helping him at all.”
“Don’t you let that Colonel Smith intimidate you,” Rocky said. “Whether Dutch deserves help or not, I hate to think of anybody being left to that Colonel’s whims. Anyway, Dutch’s poor wife doesn’t seem to be mixed up in anything crooked.”
“Yeah, I guess not,” Jim said. “She just loves the wrong guy.”
“Maybe he’s not the wrong guy,” Rocky retorted. “Maybe he’s just right for her.”
“I’d love to debate soulmates with you, Dad, but I’d better get ready to head over to Lance’s place.” The very thought filled Jim with a heavy dread more powerful than the weight of the door he was trying to close.
“Lance?” Rocky blinked. “Oh, that nice Lance White? Say, I heard he was setting up shop here in Hawaii. That’d be great if you could work with him again.”
Jim sighed in exasperation as his father continued to talk through the now-closed door. “The guy’s unreal,” he said, frustrated. “He’s so squeaky clean he’s probably every angel’s dream boy. If they’re not fed-up with him too.”
“Now, you’re just too hard on him,” Rocky said. “You could learn a thing or two if you watched him, I bet.”
“Yeah, like how to drive everyone nuts without really trying,” Jim grumbled. “Dad, I really need to get ready here.”
“Oh. Oh sure. I’ll be downstairs getting breakfast.” Rocky set about getting dressed. “You’d better get something yourself before you go running off to find Lance.”
“He’ll probably invite me for something,” Jim said. “I’d like to get this over with as soon as possible.”
“Suit yourself, Sonny,” Rocky said. “But I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you’re thinking.”
“It’ll probably be worse,” Jim muttered to himself.
The door swiftly flew open. “Jim!” Lance exclaimed with a bright smile. “I heard you were in town and I was hoping you’d stop by. I would’ve gone to see you, but I didn’t want to get in the way of your and your father’s vacation time.”
“I didn’t even know you were in town, until I heard it from a couple of locals,” Jim said, trying to be congenial. “How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” Lance replied. “But don’t worry, I’ll still be in Los Angeles. I’m going to divide my time between here and there.”
“That’s nice.” Jim glanced at another plant in Lance’s inner office. “What’s with the artificial palms?”
“Oh, well, I couldn’t bring real ones in here,” Lance said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “That would be too cruel. They need lots of sunshine and tropical weather conditions, you know.”
“Oh. Of course.” Jim tried to shake himself back to the topic at hand. “Well, actually, Lance, I’m not just here for a social call.” Perish the thought. “I’m here on behalf of some prospective clients for you.”
“Really?” Lance blinked. “You’ve been drumming up business for me, Jim? That’s really nice, but you didn’t have to do that. I’ve been doing quite well here already.” He walked over to his desk. “Please, sit down.”
“It’s more that they don’t trust a lot of private eyes and they thought maybe you’d be just what they needed,” Jim said awkwardly as he pulled up a chair. “I told them I wasn’t sure if you’d take their case, but I’d talk to you about it and . . .”
“Why wouldn’t I take their case?” Lance frowned, sitting down at the desk. “If they need help, who would I be to turn them away, no matter who they are?”
“Even if they’re Mr. and Mrs. Dutch Ingram?” Jim said pointedly.
Lance paused, genuine surprise flickering through his eyes. “Maybe you’d better start at the beginning, Jim.”
It took a lot longer to explain than Jim had hoped. To Lance’s credit, he sat and listened very seriously without interrupting. Jim really wasn’t sure what was going through the other man’s mind.
“And that’s the whole story,” he finished with a sigh. “I can’t go it alone in this state and the Ingrams are hoping you’ll help out because they figure you won’t want to see an injustice done, even to them. But if you get involved, you’re going to get Colonel Smith’s goat. He’s already on my case just for looking into things.”
Lance gave a serious nod. “Well, you and the Ingrams are right, Jim,” he said. “They’re appealing to me for help and I can’t say No. Colonel Smith doesn’t scare me. Whether he’s innocent or not, Dutch Ingram shouldn’t be gunned down in the street. I’ll be happy to help find out who’s trying to kill him and who’s trying to frame him, if anyone’s really doing the latter. But Jim . . .” He looked firmly into Jim’s eyes. “If I find any proof linking him to either the murder of Dwight Whipple or these suspicious activities of his, you know I’ll have to turn it in.”
“I know,” Jim said. “I’m actually with you on that. I’ll be turning in anything I find too.”
“Good,” Lance smiled. “Then we’re agreed.” He stood. “Let’s go meet our clients.”
“We also need to talk to the guy who broke into their house last night,” Jim remembered as he got up too. “He probably won’t talk, but I wanted to try anyway.”
Lance gave him a Look. “Of course he’ll talk, Jim. He just needs the right motivation.”
“‘The right motivation’ would be the kind of threats that would get the police sued for police brutality,” Jim sighed. “And it wouldn’t look so great for my license, either.”
“Jim, you’re too cynical,” Lance proclaimed. “It doesn’t take threats of physical violence at all.”
“Maybe not for you, Lance, but for everybody else it does,” Jim grumbled.
Lance just laid a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “We’ll go see this man and then talk to the Ingrams,” he determined. “You’ll see.”
“Oh, I’ll see, alright,” Jim muttered, already regretting this partnership.
“Yes, but it isn’t very pretty,” Lisa frowned. “It’s just more speculation on why someone tried to kill you and whether you could have arranged the incident at the courthouse yourself to gain public sympathy.”
Dutch paused. “Well, there’s a new approach.”
She watched him, not sure what to think of his reaction. “It doesn’t sound at all like something you would do.”
“It’s not, Love,” Dutch assured her. “The attack on me was real. The attack on us both last night was real. Someone wants me dead.”
“Oh, I wonder if Mr. Rockford will have any luck with that Lance White person,” Lisa sighed.
“Frankly, I don’t know what to think of such a nancy boy looking out for me either,” Dutch remarked. “The stories I’ve heard about him are unreal. Forget The Lone Ranger or Zorro or any of those other fictional Sir Galahads. This bloke tops them all in the soft department. I don’t know how someone like that can even make it as a private detective.”
“And yet he excels,” said Lisa. “And at least we could trust him to be honest. He wouldn’t betray you if the other side offered him money.”
“But he’d betray me to the police if he finds what he thinks is proof of my guilt,” Dutch said.
“So will Mr. Rockford,” Lisa said. “That’s the chance we have to take with honest private investigators.”
“That’s true,” Dutch conceded. “Pity.”
Lisa sat in silence for a moment, studying the paper again. “Dutch . . .”
“Hmm?” Dutch glanced up from his eggs.
“We still have no idea why Lance Soo was killed. Is there any chance that he might have been part of this scheme to go against you?”
That made Dutch stiffen. “He was one of my best boys. I trusted him completely.” His eyes clouded. “Of course, complete trust doesn’t seem to mean much these days. Look at how most of my ‘best boys’ have been betraying me to the police by making up stories about me.”
“And that makes them stupid as well as ungrateful, unless they know someone is going to give them protection.” Lisa leaned over the table with crossed arms.
“Someone like the Vietnamese government,” Dutch mused. “Or the Hawaiian Mafia. But what about this? Lance Soo wouldn’t have had to have been part of it. Maybe they approached him to cut him in and he wouldn’t go along with it, so they killed him.”
“That’s possible too,” Lisa agreed. “Are you sure we went through all of Lance Soo’s things? Maybe there’s something we missed that might be a clue.”
“If he was really approached before the day he died, and he refused to go along with them, he would’ve come to me about it,” Dutch said. “So either he was part of it or else they only went to him right before his death. Or his death had nothing to do with any of this and it was just a bleedin’ coincidence.”
Lisa sighed, dejectedly propping herself up on an elbow. “I suppose that’s possible too.”
“Possible, but not likely,” said Dutch.
Still, he wasn’t expecting for them to run smack-dab into Ginger and Lou and their police bodyguard when they came through the doors. Nor was he expecting Lance to immediately come to the wrong conclusion on what was happening.
“Oh, Mr. Ingram,” he said, holding out a hand to Ginger, “Jim here tells me you need my help.”
Jim frantically waved his hands at Lance to try to get him to stop, but the damage was done. Ginger gave Jim a withering look and then another stare to Lance. “I am not Dutch Ingram,” he retorted.
Undaunted, Lance withdrew his hand and adjusted his glasses. “Oh, of course, Mr. Ingram. If you want to be incognito right now, that’s perfectly alright.”
“No, Lance,” Jim finally broke in. “He really isn’t Dutch Ingram. Ginger Townsend, Lance White.” He gave a nervous smile.
“Lance White?” Lou blinked. “Hey, aren’t you some other private detective guy?”
“That’s right,” Lance said. “And . . . Ginger Townsend?” He looked from Ginger back to Lou. “Then you must be Lou Trevino. I’ve heard you’re quite inseparable. How strange, considering what Ginger did to your brother.”
“He didn’t mean to seriously hurt Mike,” Lou said in frustration. This was not something he wanted to discuss in public! “He shot at him with a shotgun at long range. He thought Mike would only get some superficial wounds from the pellets at the most. He didn’t expect a couple of the pellets would do some serious damage. Anyway, after Ginger shot him, we were both responsible for Mike’s safety. I’m just as guilty as Ginger was.”
“Don’t defend me to this bloke,” Ginger broke in. “And don’t put yourself down around him either. It’s none of his affair.” Now he gave his withering look to Lance, who was unaffected.
Jim was nervous. “You really don’t want to make him mad, Lance,” he said. “They must be here for their business meeting. Now how about we just leave them alone to go do what they need to do and we’ll mosey on along to the Ingrams’ place?”
“Jim, I’m surprised at you,” Lance said. “I’m not afraid of this man. Don’t tell me you are.”
“I’d be an idiot if I wasn’t,” Jim said brusquely. “Even if he doesn’t shoot people or vehicles anymore.” He grabbed Lance’s arm and tried to forcibly steer him towards the front door. “I’m sorry about this, you two.”
“It’s okay, Rockford,” Lou sighed.
“We’re going to be late,” Ginger barked. He stormed ahead, his heavy overcoat sweeping the edge of an end table as he approached a ground floor office. With one motion he had the door open and was going inside. Lou and the police officer trailed after him.
Jim frowned at Lance as they stepped outside into the Hawaiian morning. “What was that all about?” he demanded in frustration. “There wasn’t any need to antagonize them!”
“They’ve both turned over a new leaf, Jim,” Lance replied. “There shouldn’t be any problem with asking a simple and logical question.”
“Bringing up the Borland Diamond incident and the fact that Ginger shot Lou’s brother is not simple and logical territory!” Jim exclaimed. “And now they’re probably more worried than ever. I warned them yesterday about how much Ginger resembles Dutch. They, or probably Lou, was worried enough that he called the police and got themselves a twenty-four-hour watch. And you promptly called Ginger ‘Dutch’ the instant you saw him. If you could make that mistake, Dutch’s enemies sure could too.”
“I see.” Lance frowned. “So I might have put them in more danger then.”
“No, but you showed them that the danger is not just a fairytale,” Jim said. “If I was Ginger, I’d be in a bad mood now too, completely aside from the fact that you just dug up the darkest skeleton in his closet where everybody in hearing range could learn about it. That’s not really something you want your business associates to know before they’ve even met you.” He hauled open the door of his rental car.
Lance just shook his head sadly as he got into the passenger seat. “Oh Jim, when will you ever learn that everything always works out? I have the greatest respect for you, but it must be so miserable to be such a cynical person.”
Jim shut the door and walked around to the driver’s side, keenly aware that he was now scowling. “Honestly, Lance, everything only ever works out when we’re talking about you. And I don’t even know how you can say that after some of the heartaches you’ve had in life lately.”
“You mean about my wife’s death,” Lance supplied. “It was tragic. But I comfort myself in knowing that it must have been her time. And that I was privileged to have her in my life, even if only for two months.”
Now Jim shook his head. “One thing I’ve gotta say for you, Lance. You’re not bitter about life.” He climbed into the car and started the engine, pulling out of the parking space.
“What good would that do, Jim?” Lance said with a shrug. “Life is too short to be bitter.”
“Yeah, well, I know a lot of people who feel like that’s the perfect reason to be bitter,” Jim shot back. This was going to be a long ride.
“If you want, Jim, I can show you some excellent ways to reduce stress in your life,” said Lance. “Have you ever considered taking up yoga?”
“No, that’s honestly never been in my mind,” Jim said. “If I tried to pull off some of those complicated yoga positions, I’d only give myself more stress. And probably a broken back.”
“There’s plenty of other things you could try,” Lance said. “I personally am very fond of meditation. It doesn’t involve any complicated positions, only concentration. Let me demonstrate. Ommm . . .”
Jim somehow resisted the urge to groan aloud. Actually, this was going to be a long day.
“That went great,” Lou said when the meeting broke up and they were making their way back into the lobby.
“It almost could have been a disaster,” Ginger growled, clutching his briefcase. “If that pathetic twit had encountered us closer to the office . . .”
Lou sighed. “Most people probably know about our past anyway,” he said. “In L.A. we’re kind of notorious for getting back into a cushy lifestyle because of our old company wanting us to build up the Los Angeles branch from the ground up.”
“That’s in Los Angeles. They don’t know us out here.” Ginger made it to the door and then stiffened as he looked out.
“What is it?” Lou frowned. “Is there a suspicious-looking guy out there or something?!”
“No,” Ginger said flatly. “It’s Michael.”
Lou perked up. “Hey, great!” He came over to the door and pushed it open. “Mike!”
Mike, who had been leaning against a cab, also snapped to attention and hurried over. “Lou!” He grinned. “It’s great to see you! How’d the meeting go?”
“It went good, Mike,” Lou said. He draped an arm around his younger brother’s shoulders. “So what were you thinking we could do while we’re all here?”
“Oh . . . sight-see, maybe get some fun stuff to send Mom and Dad, that kind of thing,” Mike chirped. Finally spotting Ginger as he stood silently by, Mike ventured, “Hi, Ginger. . . .”
Ginger gave a curt nod. “Lou said he told you about the possible danger if you were to come.”
“He told me,” Mike agreed. “But I still wanted to come see you guys.”
Ginger knew Mike really meant he had wanted to see Lou, but he didn’t contest the statement. After all, their wobbly truce was still in effect for Lou’s sake and their own sanity. “We have a police guard, but that’s no guarantee that we’ll be safe,” he said instead. “I’ve already been mistaken for Dutch Ingram once today.”
“Oh no.” Mike cringed. “I don’t want to put you guys in any worse danger. We don’t have to go anywhere, really; we could just go back to your hotel and have lunch in your room or something.”
Lou glanced to Ginger and they exchanged a silent message. Then, after looking back at their police escort, they turned back to Mike.
“I think we should wait and see what happens today before we really go out on the town,” Lou said. “Maybe it’ll all get wrapped up soon. We should probably go back to the hotel, but it would probably be okay to eat in the dining room if we stayed around a lot of people.”
“That’s fine with me,” said Mike.
“Our rental car is right here,” Ginger said, starting to walk over to a dark blue car near Mike’s cab. “You might as well just ride with us. There’s no sense paying for a cab when we’re going to the same place.”
Lou smiled. Ginger would always insist it was solely because of logic if he showed kindness to Mike, but Lou didn’t always believe it.
“Thanks, Ginger,” Mike said in surprised relief. He quickly paid the driver and started towards the rental car with Ginger and Lou.
It was Mike who saw the danger a split-second before the others did. “Ginger, look out!” he yelped, tackling the man he feared without a second thought.
Ginger’s eyes widened in shock as they tumbled to the ground, followed immediately by Lou. A shot rang out, hitting the windshield of the rental car.
“They’re doing it!” Lou snarled, rising up to scan the nearby buildings for the sniper. “They’re really doing it! They’re going after you instead of Ingram!”
The police guard drew his gun, barking into his two-way radio.
Ginger slowly rose, his hair a wild mess as he stared at first the bullet hole and then the building tops. Mike, badly shaken by the experience, started to look up as well. He still had a hand on Ginger’s back, but Ginger seemed not to notice.
“You saved my life,” he said to Mike, while still staring ahead and scanning the area for any sign of the shooter. “Possibly Lou’s as well, since he was standing right next to me.” He found a certain irony in the fact that he had been afraid he would have to look out for Mike with snipers afoot and instead, Mike had proved himself capable enough to look out for Ginger—at least this time.
“You really are in danger,” Mike gasped. “What are you going to do?!”
Ginger drew himself up, still clutching his briefcase. “I,” he said flatly, “am going back to the hotel with Lou. You are still welcome to come, if you want. But I believe we’ll have lunch in the suite after all.”
“Oh yeah,” Lou said angrily. “It’ll definitely be in the suite. Man, who could be so cheesed off at Ingram that they’re this determined to get him?!”
Ginger’s voice was dark as he replied. “Now that they have made this personal, I have a mind to find out.”