Jersey Books didn’t look like much from the outside. Basic bland storefront, and a display window that featured books about the state the store was named for, including a surprising amount of those by and about Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. The owner was really running with the name.
“You sure about this?” Ryan asked.
Frankie nodded. “Gotta start somewhere.”
The bell over the door jingled when she opened it. There was something familiar and almost comforting about the musty smell of used books. Frankie supposed that came from living in an antique store.
“Let me know if you need any help!” a male voice called out.
“Back there,” Ryan said, nodding at the rear of the store.
Behind the rows of bookshelves was a long table that was covered in books, computer equipment, and take-out boxes. Four people were arrayed around the table, having an animated conversation about incubi. The task force, presumably.
“I’m looking for Steve McGarrett,” Frankie said.
Three of the people looked at the fourth, a good-looking guy in a too-tight blue t-shirt and cargo pants. Frankie didn’t wait for him to introduce himself, merely marched up to the table and handed Steve her business card.
“I’m Frankie Ventura with Curious Goods. This is my associate, Ryan Dallion. We need your help.”
The guy with the poufy blonde hair sitting next to Steve snatched the card out of his hand and gave it a careful once-over. A medic alert bracelet glinted on his wrist, but Frankie couldn’t make out what it was for.
“Antiques? Then you’re probably looking for me, if books are what you need help with. Danny Williams.” He gestured around the table. “My associates, Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua.”
“She asked for me,” Steve said and grabbed the card back.
“Really? And what do you know about antiques, Steven? Do you have a hobby I don’t know about?”
“Maybe I do. Maybe I –”
“Actually,” Frankie interrupted. “We need help from the task force.”
That nipped the bickering in the bud, and she found herself the focus of everyone’s attention. Ryan stepped up behind her and Frankie could tell he was ready for trouble. She sincerely hoped they weren’t going to have any, because time was of the essence. As it always was on these cases.
“How did you hear about the task force?” the other guy, Chin, asked.
“Friend of a friend. And since this is my first trip to the Islands, I figured it made sense to get some help.”
“Help with what?” Steve asked.
Like Ryan, he’d moved just a bit closer to Danny and positioned himself in such a way that if Frankie had been stupid enough to pull a gun or something, Steve could act as a shield. Instead she pulled her phone and scrolled through her pictures until she found the right one.
“We’re looking for this hei-tiki necklace,” she said, holding the phone out so they could all see it. “There’s a curse on it, and we’re here to safely contain it.”
Kono leaned in close, eyes narrowing. “Where do I know that from?”
“I’m sorry, what?” Danny asked. “Cursed tiki? What is this, a very special episode of the Brady Bunch?”
Frankie and Ryan exchanged a look. The supernatural task force didn’t believe in curses? Maybe her intel had been wrong.
“Stop reminding me how young you are,” Danny snapped at the empty chair next to him.
“Do you know who owns it?” Kono asked.
“We were able to track it to Arthur Grimsby,” Frankie replied. “But he died, and we don’t know what happened to the necklace.”
“Arthur Grimsby the shipping magnate?” Chin started typing on one of the laptops, fingers flying, but Kono snapped her fingers and beat him to the information.
“Right! Grimsby died about four days ago. HPD is investigating it as a possible homicide because of who he was, but the ME says it was just a freak accident. He was leaning out a window at his house and the sash came down on his neck. Nearly decapitated him.”
“Grisly,” Danny said. “And I don’t believe in freak accidents. Have a seat, you two.”
Frankie and Ryan took the last two remaining chairs at the table, except for the empty one Danny had been talking to. Frankie wondered what his story was.
“What do you know about this cursed tiki thing?”
Frankie gave them the short version of the story: Her family was in the business of tracking down cursed objects and they stumbled across the story of the hei-tiki about six months ago. The necklace worked by bestowing great luck upon the wearer at the expense of the good luck of people close to that person. And if the wearer tried to destroy the necklace, they could end up nearly decapitated by a window.
“And how does a family get into the cursed object business?” Danny asked.
“That doesn’t…It was something…A doll?” Ryan looked at Frankie, confused, and she reached over to give his hand a squeeze. His memory still had a lot of holes in it.
“What matters is finding that necklace before it finds a new owner,” she said.
“Can it really do that?” Kono asked. She’d picked up the business card and was turning it over and over in her hands.
Frankie nodded. “The curse wants to play itself out. If the hei-tiki hasn’t found its way into someone else’s hands, it will. Soon.”
Danny looked at Kono, who nodded back at him. Frankie was starting to think he was the leader of the task force and not Steve.
“Okay. Kono, drop by the precinct and see if you can find out any more details on Grimsby, especially what happened to his personal effects. Chin?”
“Grimsby’s business associates have definitely had some bad luck. Federal investigations, a fire, car accidents, and one death ruled accidental.”
“We need to search his house,” Steve said.
Danny rolled his eyes. “Yes. Let’s just waltz right into the middle of a police investigation and contaminate a crime scene. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Ryan leaned over to murmur in Frankie’s ear, “Micki and I used to argue like that.”
“You still do,” Frankie murmured back.
It always made her sad, thinking about the life her mom and Ryan had before the job got in the way and screwed everything up. Then again, she might not have been born if things had gone differently, and she certainly wasn’t sorry about that.
“Means and immunity, Danno. Remember?”
Danny shot a narrow-eyed look at the empty chair. “No-one asked the peanut gallery.”
Steve stood up and leaned on the table, fingers spread wide. “Kono, hit up the PD. Chin, see what else you can find on Grimsby and anyone he had contact with. Danny and I will go to the house and have a look around. Bethany, scout it out.”
Presumably Bethany was in the empty chair. Invisible girl, maybe?
“I’m coming with you,” Frankie said. “If you find the hei-tiki, I’m the only one who can properly contain it. Ryan can help Chin with the research.”
Ryan looked like he wanted to argue but Frankie just stared him down. He was only just getting back to field work and she didn’t want to overwhelm him. Plus, she’d promised her mom to keep him safe.
“I’ve got my phone,” she said. “I’ll keep you updated.”
“You better watch her back.” Ryan glared at Steve.
“I can watch my own back. Let’s go.”
“Does means and immunity get you out of speeding tickets?”
“No,” Danny said tersely. “Slow down!”
“We need to find that tiki before someone else does, Danny. This is exactly why our task force was created.”
“And I’ll remind you that we can’t do anything if we’re dead.” Danny twisted in his seat. “What else can you tell me about this curse?”
“All curses are like double-edged swords. They can give you the most amazing things, but the price you have to pay is high. Arthur Grimsby led a seemingly charmed life, but he was hurting people to do it. The longer he used the hei-tiki, the worse it would’ve gotten. And his family wouldn’t have been safe. There would’ve been more deaths.”
“You think he knew that?” Steve asked, catching Frankie’s eye in the rearview mirror.
“I don’t think he be dead if he didn’t.”
“Wonderful,” Danny grumbled. “Can we even touch this thing?”
“The effects start small,” Frankie said, and winced as Steve zipped around the car in front of them and narrowly avoided hitting a bus. “I have a specially warded box to put it in, so it won’t cause any trouble.”
When they finally reached Arthur Grimsby’s house, a sprawling affair with beach access and a fence surrounding it, Frankie thought she just might walk back to the bookstore. Driving with Steve was terrifying.
While Steve made a quick call to the Governor, Frankie hastily braided her hair. She’d inherited her mother’s mass of wavy red hair, which was nice for a night out at the club but not on a case; she’d had it pulled enough times to know.
Danny was having an animated conversation with thin air. The invisible Bethany? Frankie had seen a lot of things in her short twenty years, but never anyone who could go invisible without the aid of a cursed object. Maybe the rest of the task force didn’t realize how she did it, but that was something Frankie couldn’t leave without getting to the bottom of. She fired off a text to Ryan about it and told him to be careful.
I’ll poke around, he texted back. You be careful too.
“We’re good to go,” Steve said, pocketing his phone. “I have the security code for the front gate.”
“Bethany didn’t see anyone inside. No hei-tiki handily lying out on a table, either.”
“I like a challenge.” Steve grinned.
They had no trouble getting through the front gate, or the front door once Steve broke the police seals. Grimsby’s house was nice. Obviously professionally decorated, but in a really understated way. The air inside the house was stale, even after only four days.
“We should start where he died,” Frankie said. “That’s the most likely place we’d find the hei-tiki.”
Danny pulled out his phone. “According to Chin, that’s his second-floor office. Beach side.”
They climbed the stairs, both Steve and Danny hypervigilant about their surroundings. Frankie knew Steve was Navy, but she didn’t know Danny’s story. How had he gotten involved with the supernatural?
He must’ve been reading her mind. “So how does a young girl like you end up chasing cursed necklaces?”
Frankie wasn’t about to tell him the whole story, which sounded unbelievable even to people who regularly dealt with things far outside the ordinary. Best to leave greedy Uncle Lewis and his deal with the devil out of it.
“My mom inherited an antiques shop and found out that most of the items in it were cursed. She could’ve walked away but instead she gave up everything and devoted her life to finding all the objects that had been sold and putting them away where they can’t hurt anyone.”
She was proud of her mom. She’d broken up with her fiancé, lost touch with most of her friends, and often almost her life in the pursuit of righting all the wrongs Uncle Lewis had done, but she stuck with it. Her mom hadn’t been happy when Frankie decided to go into the family business – she’d wanted so much more for her – but it was important work, and Micki Foster-Ventura wasn’t getting any younger.
“This is it,” Danny said, indicating the open door.
The office was a mess, but not in that ransacked way Frankie was familiar with. Grimsby must not have let his housekeeper – because he surely had one – into that particular room. The man was a slob. There were empty coffee cups, some with rancid looking coffee still left in them, the small garbage pail was overflowing with candy wrappers and snack cake wrappers, and he had stacks of paperwork everywhere. It all seemed incredibly random.
“How the hell did this guy run such a successful business?” Danny wondered.
“Luck, apparently,” Steve replied.
The three of them went to the window. The glass was cracked, and there were traces of blood on the sill, the wall, and the floor. Frankie looked closer and saw where scratch marks had dug through the paint on the wall. He hadn’t died instantly.
“Who found the body?” Steve asked.
Danny consulted his phone again. “The wife. Here’s one of the crime scene pictures.”
The three of them huddled around the phone. Grimsby’s body, slack in death, was hanging from the window, knees not quite touching the floor. Frankie imagined most of the blood was on the outside of the house.
“What’s this?” she asked, pointing.
Danny zoomed in on the object near Grimsby’s hand. “Looks like a paper weight, maybe.”
Frankie immediately cast her eyes to the floor, but she didn’t see it. It wasn’t easy to tell from the photo, but it looked heavy. Made of granite, maybe. Just the thing someone might use to try and destroy a necklace with.
“It was here,” she said. “The necklace was definitely here.”
“How do you know?” Danny asked.
“Gut instinct.” Frankie moved to the desk, shuffling papers and looking in the drawers. “I think he tried to use the paperweight to bust up the necklace. It had to have been here when he died.”
They were so close! She pulled the drawers out, overturned them. Looked inside the empty spaces, shoved everything off the desk. “It has to be here!”
“Hey, whoa.” Danny got between Frankie and the desk, hands up. “HPD is going to be happy about us trashing the crime scene.”
“More people are going to die!” Frankie snapped at him.
“We’ll find it,” Danny repeated. “It probably got picked up with the paperweight and the rest of Grimsby’s affects. Kono will track it down if it did. Or maybe he smashed it before he died.”
Frankie shook her head. “The cursed objects can’t be destroyed. The wife probably took it. I told you, it wants to be found.”
“So we track down the wife,” Steve said. “She’s clearly not staying here.”
It was handy, the task force having inside access to the police department. Frankie wished her team was as fortunate.
“Let’s regroup.” Danny herded Frankie and Steve toward the door. “I’m sure Chin has dug up something useful by now, and Kono will be checking in soon.”
“Danny, we haven’t –”
“The cursed tiki isn’t here, and I’m not comfortable mucking around in a crime scene any more than we have to. Let’s go. Shoo.”
Frankie didn’t appreciate being treated like a little kid, but she knew when to pick her battles. Besides, Steve was a SEAL. He could put her down without breaking a sweat.
Best to wait and see what developed. Take advantage of their connections and intel and get that hei-tiki back before anyone else died.
Ryan, naturally, dove right in. That guy would eat the sole of a shoe if he was hungry enough.
“My money’s on the wife,” Kono said. “She was the first one on the scene.”
“First one we know of, cuz.” Chin gestured at her with his chopsticks. “We have to consider all the suspects.”
It wasn’t a very long list. Grimsby shared the house with his wife, Laura, and two teenage sons. There was also a housekeeper, a gardener, Grimsby’s business partner, and his last remaining rival in the local shipping industry. Any one of them could’ve been with Grimsby at the time of his death, or shortly thereafter.
“Divide and conquer?” Ryan suggested around a mouthful of food.
“Everyone pairs up,” Danny said. “I mean it. I don’t want anyone trying to get this cursed necklace back alone. That means you, stupidly heroic SEAL.”
Steve just grinned and shoveled more food in his mouth.
Frankie’s phone buzzed. “Sorry, I have to take this.”
She went up to the front of the store, where she’d have a bit more privacy.
How’s everything going? How’s Ryan doing?
“Everything’s going fine. We’re getting help from that task force I told you about. And Ryan is good, I promise.”
Don’t take any unnecessary risks, either of you. I won’t be able to get to you in time.
Frankie rolled her eyes. “This isn’t my first time on a case, Mom. I know what I’m doing. And I’m working with a whole team this time.”
I can’t help worrying. You know that.
Frankie was well aware of that. She’d heard all the stories; she knew the risks. But she also knew how important the job was. Literally life or death.
“How are things going at the shop?” she asked, re-directing the conversation.
Fine. Richie’s been helping me out.
“There goes the food bill.”
No kidding. His new boyfriend is nice, though. He’s really into antiques, so he’s been helping reorganize the showroom.
Shop talk distracted Micki for about five minutes.
If things start to go sideways, you call me. Ryan –
“Ryan is fine. Honestly. We’ve got this.”
I know you do. I just don’t like having you so far away.
“I’ll call you soon with an update, okay?”
I love you. Be safe.
“Love you too. Bye.”
Frankie ended the call and pocketed the phone and turned to see Ryan leaning against one of the bookshelves.
“She doesn’t trust me.”
“She trusts you. It’s complicated, remember?”
Ryan didn’t look convinced, and Frankie didn’t know what to say to make him feel better. He and Micki had started out together back in the beginning, when they’d inherited the antique store from Uncle Lewis. And then that whole part of his life was essentially erased, and he got a do-over – literally, since he’d been magically aged back to about eleven years old and went back home to live with his mother – and things between Ryan and Micki changed forever.
They were distant cousins, but Frankie always had the feeling that there was more between them back in the early days. Micki never came out and said so, but the way she told the old stories was enough for Frankie to figure it out on her own. If things hadn’t changed, Frankie’s father probably would never have had a chance with Micki.
“Everything’s complicated,” Ryan said with a sigh.
Frankie didn’t point out that Ryan had made the choice to come back to the life. He could’ve just kept cruising along on his new trajectory, but he hadn’t. He’d felt the pull and followed it and decided to stay.
“Welcome to life as a human being,” Frankie quipped.
Ryan huffed out a laugh. “Come on. We’re making a plan.”
Frankie walked back to the conference table with him, and thought she understood how her mother felt. Truth was, she was a little bit in love with Ryan herself. And she wanted to keep him safe.
Everyone had split up to track down the suspects. She and Ryan were in an Uber, on their way to talk to Grimsby’s housekeeper, Reyna Aguilar. Danny and Steve were dealing with the wife and kids, and Chin was tracking down Grimsby’s gardener, Harold Bemis.
Kono was able to confirm that the hei-tiki was not in police custody. She was working the evening shift at HPD.
Frankie didn’t know where Bethany was – with Chin, maybe, since they were supposed to stay in pairs – or even what her role was within the task force. Beyond it being super helpful at times to have an invisible associate to spy on people or get places other people couldn’t. She’d seen Steve having a conversation with empty space before they left the bookstore.
Ryan shook his head. “I tried to bring it up with Chin, but he said to ask Danny.”
Danny again. Interesting how leadership of the task force was given to Steve on paper, but everyone seemed to defer to Danny.
“If there’s a cursed object in play, they’re hiding it well,” Frankie mused. “They seemed genuinely surprised to hear such a thing even existed.”
“Maybe they don’t know. Maybe this invisible girl is using a cursed object and keeping the others in the dark about it.”
“Maybe she’s a ghost,” Frankie said with a shrug. “We’ve seen weirder things.”
There were demons, of course. Uncle Lewis had made a deal with the devil, after all. But there’d also been witches and warlocks and trapped spirits. The worst, though, were the normal, everyday people who let themselves be seduced by the objects, who came to believe they needed to commit terrible acts to get the things they thought they deserved.
Maybe anyone could be a monster under the right circumstances.
The Uber dropped them off at the housekeeper’s place, and the driver gave Ryan a side-eye when he paid. Hadn’t he ever heard anyone talk about curses and ghosts before?
Reyna Aguilar lived in a small, weathered bungalow with a neatly trimmed lawn. When she opened the front door, Reyna was a lot younger than Frankie had expected. Her long, dark hair was hanging loose down her back, and her feet were bare.
“Ms. Aguilar? My name is Frankie Ventura. This is my associate, Ryan Dallion. We have a question about Arthur Grimsby.”
Reyna frowned. “Are you reporters?”
Frankie handed her a business card. “Mr. Grimsby had an item in his possession that he’d contacted us about. He was interested in selling it.”
That was a lie, but it was a lot easier to deal with than the truth. Reyna studied the card.
“It’s a necklace,” Ryan said, showing her the picture on his phone. “We’d really like to find it.”
Reyna barely gave the photo a glance. “You should check with the funeral home. Arthur never took that thing off.” She took a step back. “He never would’ve sold it.”
Frankie could tell they were losing her.
“It’s very important that we find this necklace. If you’re hiding something –”
“I don’t know anything. Please leave.”
It wasn’t the first time a door had been shut in her face, but Frankie didn’t like it. She knocked on the door, much louder than she had the first time.
“Ms. Aguilar, you need to tell us if you know where it is! Lives are at stake!”
“Okay,” Ryan said, grabbing hold of her arm and pulling her back. “She’s going to call the cops on us. Let’s go.”
“She has to know something!” Frankie protested. “She was there every day!”
Ryan continued to pull her away, down the front walk and out to the street. “Stop yelling. You’re attracting too much attention.”
“You need to chill, okay? This isn’t the way to do it. She’ll never talk to us now.” Ryan let go of Frankie’s arm and gave her a critical look. “Sometimes you have too much of your father in you.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You know what it means. Pull yourself together.”
Frankie watched as Ryan stalked off. He had his phone out, presumably looking to get them another ride. Her eyes burned with unexpected tears and she blinked them away.
Her mom had always been honest with Frankie about her father. He’d been a good man, a loving man, but he was emotional and impulsive. And often plowed ahead into situations that would’ve been better handled more delicately. He’d died when Frankie was three, in pursuit of a cursed object. She didn’t know the circumstances, because her mom refused to discuss what happened, but it was strongly insinuated that Johnny Ventura’s reckless behavior was part of the reason he hadn’t come back from that case.
Frankie was young, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew she needed to stop and think and use her head. Kids her age were in college, going to classes and giggling with their girlfriends and dating fraternity boys. She’d bagged on all that to take up the family business instead. And if she wanted to stick it out as long as her mom, she needed to be more Foster and less Ventura.
Ryan came back, looking contrite.
“Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Frankie reached for his hand. “No. You were right. I was being stupid back there. If she knows anything, she’ll never tell us now.”
“Next time let me use the Dallion charm. That always does the trick.”
Ryan dropped a wink and Frankie rolled her eyes.
“That’s all we need.”
Ryan squeezed her hand. “Come on. Our ride is picking us up on the corner, and then we can head over to the harbor. Chin is going to meet us there.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior,” Frankie promised.
“I don’t know anything about a necklace,” Kaholo said. He was distracted, texting on his phone and signing things his secretary brought in.
“That’s interesting,” Frankie replied, “because Mr. Grimsby’s housekeeper told us he never took it off.”
Kaholo shooed his secretary away. “Look, what happened to Arthur is a tragedy. If I had time I’d grieve, but I have a company to run and now I’m doing it alone. Is there anything else?”
The phone on his desk rang and he snatched it up. “AGA Shipping. Palakiko.”
“He won’t give us anything else,” Ryan said.
Frankie knew Kaholo was lying. Had Grimsby told him about the power of the hei-tiki? What other reason would he have to deny knowing about the necklace?
“He’s hiding something,” Chin said, driving them the short distance to their next suspect.
That guy never cracked a smile. Frankie made a mental note never to play poker with him.
They were going to question Isaac Shimizu, Grimsby’s chief rival in the shipping magnate business, only the police – and Kono, in her HPD uniform – beat them to it. Frankie stood on the civilian side of the crime scene tape, trying to see what was going on. Kono came over when she caught sight of them.
“Howzit, cuz?” Chin asked.
“Shimizu is dead. Freak accident, or so it seems.”
Frankie and Ryan exchange a grim look. The hei-tiki was definitely still in play.
“We’ll regroup back at HQ,” Chin said. “Fill us in when you can.”
“Rajah dat, cuz!”
“Shoots den,” Chin replied.
“Are they speaking English?” Ryan whispered in Frankie’s ear.
“Got me,” Frankie whispered back.
The sun was starting to set by the time they made it back, and Frankie was about ready to call it a day. She was tired, she was frustrated, and she knew she’d feel better if she got a little sleep.
“Do you have a place to stay?” Danny asked.
“We’re booked in at a hotel,” Ryan replied.
It was a cheap hotel, without an ocean view, but the budget hadn’t allowed for anything fancier. The airplane tickets from the mainland had cost a fortune.
Danny nodded. “We’ll meet back here in the morning. See what we’ve got and look at it with fresh eyes.”
“It’s Kaholo,” Frankie said.
“Maybe. We’ll talk it out in the morning, get all our ducks in a row, and make a plan. No haring off on your own. I mean it.”
Danny had to be a dad. He sure as heck sounded like one. Which reminded Frankie to call her mom once she got to the hotel.
“I’ll give you a ride.”
Steve plucked the keys out of Danny’s hand before Danny could make a similar offer, which Frankie didn’t doubt had been coming. Danny glared but didn’t make any other protest.
“We can call an Uber,” Frankie said. “Really, we don’t want to put you out.”
Danny stole the keys back. “See? They think you drive like a maniac, too. You’re scaring people who regularly deal with curses. I’ll see you back at the store.”
There was a little more back and forth, but Danny won out in the end. Frankie appreciated the more sedate drive back, and actually started to doze off when Ryan, who was sitting up front, asked Danny about Bethany.
“She’s a ghost,” Danny said warily, like he thought they’d immediately start to laugh.
“We’ve encountered a few of those ourselves,” Ryan said. “Usually tied to a cursed object.”
“Bethany’s not tied to an object. She’s tied to me. Organ transplant.”
That was a new one on Frankie. Did everyone who received an organ transplant also get a tag-along ghost, or was Danny just a special case?
“Steve can see her too,” she said. “He was talking to her back at the bookstore.”
“The whole task force can see her. And before you ask, no. No cursed bric-a-brac was involved.”
Frankie wondered if she could take him at his word. Before she or Ryan could ask more questions, Danny pulled up to the entrance of their hotel.
“Get some sleep,” Danny said. “We’ll start fresh in the morning.”
Frankie was too tired to argue.
“Dad! Dad, where are you?”
Her voice echoed weirdly, and for too long, but there was no answering call.
“Daddy! Where are you?”
She was going to be too late. Something terrible was about to happen and she couldn’t stop it, couldn’t save him.
They were going to get him with the coin. The coin. The –
Frankie woke with a gasp, pulse thrumming in her ears. It took her a long moment to calm herself down and, when she did, she heard Ryan moaning in the other bed.
“Coin. No. Coin.”
She didn’t know what that meant, but she could tell that Ryan was in distress. The tone of his voice, the way he was writhing around on the bed, were clear indicators. Frankie slipped out of her own bed and went around to Ryan’s. She sat on the edge and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Ryan, wake up. It’s okay.”
His eyes popped open, gleaming in the moonlight that streamed through the window. “Micki?”
“No. It’s Frankie. You were having a bad dream.”
Ryan scrubbed his hands over his face. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Frankie didn’t bother mentioning her own nightmare. “You said something about a coin.”
“That fuckin’ coin,” he grumbled, and covered his eyes with his arm. “We had to use it. We had to.”
“Of course you did,” Frankie said soothingly, even though she didn’t know what he was talking about. Was it a cursed object?
“We shouldn’t have. But losing Micki was too hard.”
Losing Micki. “What do you mean? What did you do?”
Ryan’s arm moved just enough that he could give Frankie an incredulous look. “She never told you?”
Frankie tried to remember a story about a coin. It was almost there, almost…
“Are you talking about the satanic coin? The one dad used to bring Grandpa Ventura back from the dead?” She had a bad feeling. “I don’t…Did you use that on Mom?”
“Someone else used it,” Ryan said wearily. “We had to steal it back and use it again. To bring her back. I wasn’t around when Johnny found it.”
Frankie knew the score, knew the dangers that came with chasing down cursed objects. Her mother had told her countless stories of close calls. Ryan himself was living proof of what could happen if they weren’t careful. But knowing that her mother had died, had actually been killed by a cursed coin…For a moment Frankie found it hard to breathe.
One of the basic rules she’d learned early on was that the cursed objects were never to be used, never taken out of the vault no matter how tempting, no matter how great the need.
Would she use one to save someone she loved? Frankie knew without a doubt the answer was yes.
“Don’t tell Micki I told you, okay? She’ll be pissed.”
“I won’t,” Frankie promised.
She felt oddly drained, and ready to get back to bed. But when she turned toward the window she froze in her tracks. There was a black spot on the glass, which was otherwise illuminated by the full moon, and within that black spot were two spots that glowed red. Like eyes.
“Ryan!” Frankie hissed. “The window!”
Between one blink and the next, the black spot vanished. There was no doubt in Frankie’s mind what it was, and she immediately started getting dressed.
“Whoa. What are you doing?”
“You saw it. The hei-tiki is targeting us. It must sense that we’re a threat.” They couldn’t wait till morning, not if bad luck was coming for them. “We have to get to Kaholo now.”
“Should we contact the others?” Ryan asked. He was also getting dressed, not questioning the urgency.
“It’s late. Besides, we can handle this. Can you call an Uber?”
“I’m on it.”
Frankie made sure she had the case the for the hei-tiki once they recovered it. For whatever reason, she and her mother, Ryan too, and presumably Uncle Jack, were less effected by handling the cursed objects. But it was a long trip back home, and Frankie didn’t want to take any chances with prolonged exposure.
They’d have to ask fast.
Kaholo’s house – easy to find with a simple Google search – wasn’t as palatial as Grimsby’s, but it had a wall with a gate to keep people out. There were no lights on, except the external security lights.
“You think he’s got an alarm?” Ryan asked.
“Only one way to find out. Give me a boost.”
Ryan helped Frankie get up to the top of the wall, which was about six feet high and made of what might’ve been coral. Once Frankie was up, she pulled Ryan up after her. They made it down to the yard without setting off any alarms, though Ryan did scrape his arm, and stuck to the shadows as much as possible as they made their way to the house.
There was a Security One sign by the front door.
“What now?” Ryan whispered.
“The direct approach,” Frankie said. “No sense getting busted for breaking and entering.”
She rang the doorbell, then rang it again when there wasn’t any immediate activity inside the house. It wasn’t Kaholo who finally opened the front door.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” the woman snapped. She was petite, her short, black hair sleep mussed.
“You have five seconds to tell me what you want, and then I’m calling the police.”
Frankie pulled out her phone. “We’re looking for this necklace. It belonged to Arthur Grimsby, and we believe your husband is in possession of it now.”
Mrs. Palakiko glared at the picture of the hei-tiki. “Oh, that ugly thing.”
“You’ve seen it,” Frankie said, feeling a rush of excitement. “Is it here?”
“Why do you want it?”
Ryan stepped up. “We were hoping to purchase it from Mr. Grimsby before he passed. We’d like to make the same offer to you.”
Mrs. Palakiko got a calculating look on her face. “How much?”
“It’s not worth much in and of itself,” Ryan said, sounding appropriately apologetic. “But the family of the original owner has sentimental attachments to it.”
Frankie tried not to wince. That would put a huge dent in the store’s petty cash.
“Ava?” Kaholo himself appeared, wearing a silk robe. “What’s going on?”
“These people want to buy that ugly necklace you got from Arthur,” Mrs. Palakiko said.
“I know you,” Kaholo said, narrowing his eyes. “You came to the docks today.”
“They’ll give you five hundred for it. You should take it,” his wife said. “I know Arthur was your friend, but I never cared for that ugly thing.”
Kaholo put his hand to his chest, and Frankie could see it now. He was wearing the hei-tiki under his robe. She nudged Ryan.
“Dallion charm,” she said under her breath.
“Could we come inside?” Ryan asked Mrs. Palakiko, smiling and seemingly completely earnest.
“Yes,” she said.
“No,” said her husband.
The diminutive Mrs. Palakiko turned her impressive glare on her husband. “What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s the middle of the night!”
“And we’re already up! May as well make something from it.”
While they were arguing, Ryan was edging closer and closer to the door. When Frankie thought he was close enough, she blocked Mrs. Palakiko with her body.
“Now what?” Ryan asked, panicked expression on his face.
Damn! Frankie nudged Mrs. Palakiko in Ryan’s direction and went for the husband herself. She had her hand on the necklace, could feel the wrongness of it against her palm, and then Kaholo had her around the wrists, pushing her back.
“Hey!” Ryan shouted. “Get off her!”
The next few minutes were chaotic. Frankie grappled with Kaholo, Ryan had to fight off Mrs. Palakiko when she went to her husband’s defense, and they all ended up in the front yard, clearly illuminated by the security lights.
“Okay. That’s enough.”
In the blink of an eye, Kaholo was on his back in the grass, writhing as Steve held his hand in some kind of Navy SEAL pressure point death grip. Kono had Mrs. Palakiko’s arms behind her back.
“What did I tell you?” Danny snapped. “No haring off, I said. Isn’t that what I said, Chin?”
“That’s how I remember it,” Chin replied.
“And yet here you are, harassing a citizen of our fair Islands in the middle of the night, without any cause. You’re lucky they didn’t call HPD.”
Frankie scowled back at him. “The hei-tiki appeared to us. We’re next on the unlucky accident list.”
“I’m calling the police!” Mrs. Palakiko said. “She attacked my husband!”
“I just wanted this.” Frankie bent down and pulled the hei-tiki necklace over Kaholo’s head.
“Not anymore, it isn’t.”
Kono passed Mrs. Palakiko over to Chin. “Let him up, Steve.”
Steve released Kaholo and Kono offered him a hand up, which he took with a glare. Once he was back on his feet, he tried to pull his hand back, but Kono held on.
“No-one is calling the police,” she said.
Still holding Kaholo’s hand, Kono pulled him close and murmured something in his ear. Kaholo’s eyes went wide, and this time when he yanked, Kono let him go.
Frankie had no idea what Kono told him, but shortly after that brief exchange they all dispersed, and Kaholo ushered his wife back inside the house.
“Do I want to know?” Danny asked.
“He’s dirty,” Kono replied. “But not dangerous. I’ll make sure he stays on HPD’s radar.”
Frankie was too amped up to ask questions. She finally had the hei-tiki. Ryan handed her the box, and she put the necklace inside it. The malevolent energy would be safely contained until it could be placed in the vault back home.
“You good?” Danny asked her.
“Excellent. Wonderful. I need to get some sleep, and so do you.” He gestured at his car, offering them another ride.
His tone brooked no argument. And as the adrenalin stopped racing through Frankie’s veins, she could feel the exhaustion seeping in.
“Sleep is good. I can do sleep.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
“How’d you know we were here?” Frankie couldn’t help asking. “Did you have him under surveillance?”
Ryan answered before Danny could. “I think they had us under surveillance. If you know what I mean.”
He wiggled his fingers and made what were probably supposed to be spooky noises, and Frankie got it. Bethany the ghost.
Danny gave Ryan a look that immediately shut him up. “Get in the car.”
Frankie fell asleep before they got back to the hotel.
Frankie wondered what they’d do when they’d recovered all the cursed objects in Uncle Lewis’ ledger. What would life be like if they weren’t always battling the forces of evil?
“How was Hawaii, apart from tracking down the necklace?” Micki asked.
“Oh, you know. Overpriced. Actual paradise on Earth.” Frankie pushed the heavy vault doors closed and turned the hidden lever that locked them. “Nice place to retire and hang out on the beach.”
She’d had one day to appreciate the non-cursed side of Hawaii before she and Ryan flew back home. Danny and Steve had played tour guides, showing them all the best parts of the Oahu and making sure they ate more than just raw fish. There were a few lectures sprinkled in, including one encouraging Frankie to get a college degree, and a promise that Danny would call Curious Goods if the task force ever came across a suspected cursed object.
Micki sighed. “Retirement. What a concept.”
Frankie gave her a hug. Sometimes she forgot that her mom was ageing. She didn’t see the wrinkles around her eyes or the gray shot through her red hair or the way past injuries sometimes made her stiff or slow. Mom was just Mom.
“You know Ryan and I can take over. He did really good out there. You deserve a rest.”
Micki pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Ryan and I started this, and I’m going to be here when we finish it. No leaving the game in the ninth inning.”
“Takes one to know one. Come on. Ryan should be back with dinner soon. I’m starving!”
They walked back upstairs arm in arm, friends as much as mother and daughter, and Frankie counted her blessings. They were lucky to have each other, and Ryan, and that was the kind of luck that could never come from a cursed hei-tiki.
Maybe, when all the objects were accounted for, Frankie would go back to Hawaii. See if Danny’s special task force had a place for her.
Fighting supernatural forces was the only thing she was good at.