Murder at the Edge of the Orient, Episode Two
I stood outside the privacy screen, aching for a cigarette one of the perimeter cops sucked on, ruminating on the sensory overload of an early Okinawan morning. My decade-old decision to quit smoking felt pointless. Impressions of Sharon’s beautiful face blasted into ultimate stardom interrupted the serenity of daybreak in the tropics. Interspersed among those tormenting images came Polaroid-style flashes of Biff and my once-upon-a-time romping naked like uncultured chimpanzees.
Recalibrated that mental curse with a 70s VHS scene. Until Logan Pasfield rushed up like a train wreck in the last turn. The affair had shellacked me with cynicism. People were users, taking advantage of opportunity at the expense of their mothers and babies. Their babies’ mothers. Lying, cheating and stealing passion marked the mindset of this ruthless amateur dick. When I broke a man’s back, self-defense aside, it only polished the tarnished viewpoint. Made the job of being a philanderer more palatable in the morning reflection.
Except viewing Sharon’s husband race up with a thousand questions he couldn’t ask, clutch at my lapel for the split second it took me to glance away, shove through less observant cops shocked into submission by his OSI identification and release a raw and savage wail ripped from his core at the sight of his dead, in flagrante delicto wife, caught in my throat with the viscosity of a stale gumball.
My newborn compassionate feet followed him into the scene of the crime.
Logan Pasfield would have grabbed his half-naked bride and dragged her clear of the photographer’s viewfinder if an alert detective hadn’t body blocked him to preserve the crime scene. Pasfield pushed back hard until he buckled under the unexpected restraint of the Grim Reaper. This force couldn’t, as I’d discovered from my father’s twisted murder, be displaced by burial, ceremony or the simple solving of the mystery.
My so called client sounded behind me with a disturbed cough.
When I turned to verify her presence, she smiled like we were meeting at the Commissary. Or the Class Six Store. Lori Bennett—late thirties with artistically blonde hair and the fragrance of eau de alcohol—stood against me wearing whorish makeup and a faux fox wrap. Smoke from a thin cigarillo curled up and over her ear. She reacted as if her three-year-old son had spilled milk on the new carpet. Lips pursed, forehead wrinkled, eyes boring two additional holes into her husband.
“Bastard,” she muttered.
Even at low volume, it came out like two gunshot blasts. This version of Missess Bennett was so unlike my son’s kindergarten teacher. You’d think she was a childless hooker running her sideline for GI Joe out of a sex motel. It was income she’d need, trying to live off of the inheritance of a military cop salary. Officer grade. Unless she murdered him, which occurred as I was trying to calculate her arrival on the scene at teeny-tiny o-dark thirty.
Logan Pasfield noticed her lurid dress and her vulgar mouth. “Did you do this, you bitch?” He started toward her and it was my turn to block him. “That bitch killed my wife!”
“Easy, Captain,” I whispered.
The blood-shot and electric blue eyes found me quick. “What about you, cowboy? You seem pretty handy.” His breath was closer than a typhoon funnel.
One of his lackey’s appeared behind him and pulled him away. “Come on, Captain Pasfield. This one’s on the locals for now.”
“For now,” Pasfield said with a burst of hate before he faded back to grieving widower.
There wasn’t much sense in sharing my own bereavement. Over a woman I’d already let die a dozen times in my heart. Everything about this nightmare made me want to sing out, “Why the fuck is there a billboard in the middle of a cemetery?”
A local uniform crowded in with rapid-fire chatter before I could dash out of there like a chicken with my feathers on fire.
“Sumimasen. We must ask you question. Security Police-san translate.” His words popped like corn out of the unused carnival machine in the corner. “Daijoubu desu ka?” A twist in his five-foot-nine acrobatic form indicated the young Air Force SP at his side whose height was a match. The SP’s name tag declared him as Higa and the stripes on his sleeve told me my estimate of his age was off by at least ten years.
“Master Sergeant Higa,” I said with a deferential nod.
“You have a name, airman?” he asked in a deep Southern drawl.
“Pierce?” I replied with a question mark that failed to camouflage my confusion. This scenario was growing increasingly surreal. “Connor Pierce. Staff Sergeant. Crew Chief out of the SOS.”
Higa chattered his countrified brand of Japanese to his native twin, seasoning it with my name in katakana. “Special Ops,” he said to me. “What brings a Herc custodian to a love motel without a date?”
“Who says I didn’t have a date?” I said before my brain could stop me. The faux pas bounced my gaze over to the crime scene techs combing Sharon’s dead body.
“You know her?” Higa drawled.
“Knew her.” The smart-ass juice was pooling around my sneakers. “Knew this place.” It was too much to give the cops, but it had the flavor of honoring the dead.
“My liaison officer says you found them like this?”
“You were looking for proof that,” he stalled a beat to find nice words for it. “Your friendship had run out of rail?”
I looked him in the eye. “I was hired, kind of like, by the deceased Captain’s wife, Master Sergeant Higa. She wanted the proof.” My stare moved to my boots. “This whole business was done for me. I never expected to see the Half Moon again. Never expected to see Sharon Pasfield again. I’m a truncated, double-digit midget looking for the shortest road home.”
The whole thing spilled out of me with no thought of the implications. My mind was burnt. Exhaustion colored me dopey. Even a filthy cot in a foreign jail cell sounded like relief. Sharon was deader than I could ever have dreamed her to be. My wife’s disappointment, my flight chief’s satisfaction, my maintenance chief’s confirmation and Higa’s accusal were flushed down the drain by death.
Higa tossed a few more questions at me on the prompts from his twin. They batted Nihongo back and forth. Twin Higa seemed conflicted, but Translator Higa won out. “The local boys are thinking murder-suicide, so they’re willing to let you go, Staff Sergeant Pierce. Might want to reach out to your First Shirt. And don’t jump on a plane for the West.” He decided to add a jab. “I’d also suggest you dismiss a career change into private eye work.” It was the last thing I heard him say before an Okinawan Officer led me to the driveway.
Lori Bennett waited for me. “Nice PI work, Connor Pierce.”
“Nice outfit, Teach. Going to a costume party?”
She started to cry. “I didn’t hate him that much,” she sputtered between sobs.
My despair found hers and I put an arm around her.
She poured her tears onto my shoulder for two minutes.
“You could have told me,” she said once she’d stepped back into her cold-hearted bubble. “Before I walked in on that.”
“You could have told me,” I shot back. “You were following. Am I your lead dog?”
“I didn’t know where to find the place. Wanted to see for myself.”
“Polaroid not convincing enough?”
She tipped her chin up and fed me defiance mixed with despair out of those sparkling grey peepers. “A picture would do it for you?”
A car pulled up on the street.
Lori’s attention dropped me in a blip. She strode toward it, a white, clunky Japanese model in strong contrast to her husband’s high-dollar pimp ride.
The driver wore a fedora pulled low. Poor lighting and windshield glare prevented a clear view.
“Whose your friend?”
Lori Bennett didn’t look back. An orange sky behind her painted a dreamy watercolor.
“Are you paying him?” I didn’t expect an answer, but I wanted one. Playing patsy for lonely women had lost its charm.
Her chauffeur moved over and Lori climbed into the driver’s seat. The shift didn’t provide any better view.
A burst of curiosity and detective energy catapulted me along the edge of the building to catch a glimpse of Lori Bennett’s companion. The brief look it afforded me gave no more information about the Bennet’s. It just made it clearer how invested I’d become in the crime.
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