Murder at the Edge of the Orient, Episode Six
Headlights pinged my radar through the study window. I froze in place, processing where I’d parked my car, how many lights I’d turned on while coming through the house and my limited skill in hand-to-hand combat. For a bashful second, I considered hiding under the desk. This would make the writers of Perry Mason proud. They loved the idiot red herring. He always turned Lieutenant Tragg into a clown during the endgame.
The packet tucked neatly against the small of my back. Logan’s secret compartment resealed, I skedaddled into the living room, snapping off the light in the study on my way.
I positioned myself near the wall with one hand hovering over the switch. If I’d learned anything from Sharon Pasfield, it was how to set the scene. Standing there looking confused triggered a muscle cramp in my calf.
When the door finally opened, I barely pulled off my perfectly timed spin of surprise.
Logan, haggard and rumpled with grief, showed no reaction when his gaze found me. A flicker of hatred colored his haunted face into the pink pastel the undertaker uses to simulate life in the casket. “Are you trying to get your ass shot, Pierce?”
“I’m as startled as you are,” I said the way I’d rehearsed in my head.
His harrumph suggested the ruse held no persuasive horsepower. He shoved past me into his house.
The bump of his shoulder knocked a tiny spark of compassion loose. “I’ve been alone in my house for weeks,” I said. “Now this….” I didn’t know what to call Sharon’s death in front of her widower. “Couldn’t sleep. Final out-processing today. Had the crazy idea to pay my respects.”
Logan stopped in the middle of the room. He surveyed the area with the care of a detective analyzing the scene of the crime. Pan right, stop. Pan left, stop. Pan, stutter, pan, stop. A search for clues. I felt certain he wasn’t looking for evidence of my criminal behavior. The crime he hoped to solve didn’t have a solution. Only time to worry it into insanity.
“Whatcha’ doing cowboy?” a familiar drawl asked over my shoulder. Its owner took ahold of my arm just above the elbow.
“Master Sergeant Higa,” I said. Bullets of sweat popped out along my neckline and upper lip. My mind raced ten ways to Sunday. The Security Police Boss was the last person I expected.
He increased the pressure of his grip.
“Am I a bad guy, here?” I ask.
“You tell me, Sergeant Pierce. This your house? Seems a man waits for an invite afore he waltz’s in and taps a whiskey from another man’s barrel.”
The phrase stunned me. Higa didn’t have time to interrogate Jimmy or Lori Bennett between now and my bourbon with the kid. Did he know about Logan’s secret file on Biff’s bastard son? My eyes started aching from my wide-eyed stare before I realized the damage it was doing to my story.
“You’ve got a few zingers in your bag, Master Sergeant Higa.” I delivered it with the widest grin in the salesman’s toolbox. “The door was standing open. Given the circumstances of Agent Pasfield’s recent news it made sense to check inside.”
Higa squinted at me with such intensity that his smooth Asian complexion creased into those finely crafted ripples found on a Gucci handbag. “Any reason I should bank on a thing you say, Sergeant Pierce?”
“Why are you trying so hard to arrest me?” I asked with a wave of my arm. What was meant as a dramatic gesture of innocence gave Higa what he needed.
I wound up on the floor. Higa ground a knee into my back and twisted my right elbow up next to my earlobe. Leastways it felt that way. “Why you guys want to treat me so harshly? I’m trying to be a responsible citizen. Look out for my neighbor in proper Christian fashion.”
“You got a passel o’ words for a murder suspect, friend,” Higa said.
“Me? Why would I kill anybody? I’m on a plane off this rock in 24 hours.” Every word took more oxygen than I could spare. “Wasn’t it a murder-suicide?”
Pasfield piped in. “She wouldn’t do that.”
Higa said, “That seems like something you already knew, Mister Pierce. What’s your ploy?”
“Just looking outside of the picture frame. If murder-suicide, why the drama?”
“Try on some decency.” He ratcheted his grip a notch.
That packet of evidence from Pasfield’s desk shifted into the space below my shoulder blades. It shimmied closer to freedom. Once it popped out of my shirt, my scheme was up.
“You seem overly invested, Master Sergeant Higa.”
The comment stirred Pasfield out of his stupor. He half faced us now.
“No disrespect,” I went on. “But how well did you get along with Mrs. Pasfield, Master Sergeant Higa?”
That stoked a fire in the old cop. His knee popped a vertebra just above the envelope. “You got a stupid kinda nerve, airman.” He leaned close enough to kiss me and bared his canines.
I considered giving up my find just to stop the pain.
“It’s a legit question, Garth,” Logan Pasfield stated from Heaven, or somewhere near it.
The Master Sergeant released me and stood. “Come on now, Logan.”
I rolled over quick and scooted clear of Higa’s boots. “That was my thinking, too, Captain.”
Higa tossed a glare at me while he pleaded with our host. “You can’t suppose—”
“She had a way of making a man do things he didn’t plan.” Pasfield pointed his face in our general direction, but the eyes lacked focus.
My mind wandered into scary territory. What kinds of things was Captain “I’m the law” Pasfield talking about? Murder? It was an idea I slapped aside. My rendition of Agent Logan Pasfield didn’t have room for it. “I best let the two of you work that out,” I said, steering for their agreement.
“We just lettin’ this scalawag monkey his way on out of here, Captain Pasfield?” Master Sergeant Higa primed his legs to pounce on me.
“Don’t see why not, Garth. She was a tornado of trouble. He’s just a guy that got caught in her whirlwind.”
“You guys can haggle about this on your own, I’m sure.” I grabbed the door knob.
Higa latched onto my shoulder. “You’re not going anywhere until we work out your motives, cowboy.”
“Ouch, Master Sergeant. Why you gotta be so mean? I just came for the hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.”
“Zensai? Shinjirarenai!” Higa hissed.
Pasfield said, “Let him go, Higa. He’s not getting on the plane for a few hours. We’ll know where to find him.”
“I just want to make him answer for his disrespect,” Higa said before he slugged me in the face.
The sucker punch knocked one of my eyeballs loose. I chased it halfway to the floor before the doorjamb stopped me. I bounced like a pinball into the wall on the other side of the hall and landed on my ear.
Higa cursed in Japanese. At least it sounded like cursing. He kicked my bullet wound. The one from Montana. I didn’t like that so I cursed back. In American English.
Pasfield stepped over me and grabbed Higa by the collar. “What the hell are you doing, Garth?”
Higa spat at me. “His scorn for your dead wife deserves a kick in the gut, my book.” His leg swung out but Pasfield held tight, leaving Higa dangling like a puppet from the Captain’s arm.
“I’d wonder why this lunatic is so invested,” I sputtered through the pain.
“It does look a little weird, Garth.” Pasfield sounded less concerned with the disrespect and more concerned with the facts of the case.
“If it wasn’t murder-suicide, that means two murders. Who would do that?” I wondered out loud to add momentum to my tactic.
“We were thinking you might have done it, Pierce,” Higa taunted. “Where were you early this morning?” He didn’t give me a chance to answer. “Sitting smack in the middle of the murders?”
“Yeah, that puts me in the vicinity for sure. But what’s my motive?”
“You were sleeping with her,” Pasfield said.
I cringed. It bent me a fraction of an inch forward.
“Gives you good reason. Jilted lover. Left to hang.” Higa was enjoying this.
“I ended that. Before I flew home to bury my father.” A little sympathy couldn’t hurt. “It brings out another point though doesn’t it.”
“If anyone has motive, I do,” Logan Pasfield said. He had returned to his evaluation of the room he once called home. A room he spent countless hours comforting himself with his charming and exciting wife. No matter who she was with, she brought out the best in her man.
“That’s insane,” Higa tried.
“Is it?” I pushed back. “What man is immune from cuckold revenge?”
“He’s right, Garth. I wanted her dead. When I first discovered the affair with our number one contestant here, I laid awake at night planning.”
Silence prolonged the threat.
“But you didn’t,” I said to break that tranquility.
“No. Takashi changed my mind.”
That rocked me back. “You knew he was in love with her?”
“No. Not that. Until later. When he rose from the dead to avenge her.”
“I believe pride rode that horse, myself,” I said. “Takashi Sledge couldn’t live with the idea I’d whipped him at his own game. Even if it was a lucky break.”
“True,” Pasfield agreed. “All the same. His passion to honor her despite herself gave me pause. Made me rethink. Sharon and I talked. She assured me.”
“You had no idea about Captain Bennett?” I needed to ask.
“After a fashion. But my conviction about her intrinsic value remained.”
It sounded nice. Great stuff for a poem. I didn’t speak the thought.
“Bullshit,” Garth Higa blurted. “Pierce here is number one suspect and all that other happy horse shit is exactly that!”
“Why are you bent on tagging me for this crime, brother Garth? I never did nothin’ to you.” Mocking him kept me from punching back, but it wasn’t getting me closer to the door. I needed to be on the road to freedom, not arguing with Higa’s delusions of grandeur.
“Kicking your sorry ass off the island would be a fine thing. But making you pay for the murder sounds better,” he said. I waited for him to spit on the floor.
“Get over that one, Garth,” Pasfield said. “Let him get out of here and go on home. He’s not our guy.”
“Why are you so sure, Logan? What convinces you that Pierce, the first man on the scene, the broken ex-lover, the one with all the criminal background in this room, isn’t the best person for the crime?” Higa burned with rage and embarrassment, transforming his skin to an odd tinge of brown that reminded me of cherry jello.
“We have a history,” Logan Pasfield said. “That says enough for me. Get out of here, Pierce.”
I didn’t waste time listening to Higa’s counterpoint. Pushing through Pasfield’s entry door into the weighty affections of tropical paradise felt liberating.
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