Excerpt: The Place of Refuge – Chapter 1 -3

CHAPTER ONE

“Now that,” Coutinho said, “is not what the Chamber of Commerce wants to see.”

As soon as said the words, he wanted them back. It wasn’t his style to get flippant over a body.

He had seen death before. Even in paradise people had fatal accidents. Bar fights could end as badly in Hilo as anywhere else, and Hawaii had its share of unfortunates with no one but the police to find them in the end.

But this kind of butchery was something new. Even in Honolulu the cops didn’t see much of it, and the Big Island wasn’t the big city.

His partner circled the body at a distance to get a look at the woman’s face.

“Gladys Robles,” said Kim. “Can’t say she deserved to go like this.”

“Who does?”

Coutinho found the odors of death, of blood and bowels, more oppressive than usual. A glance told him that Kim felt the same.

Here was the vulnerability of prostitutes, spelled out in smears of blood on the wall and puddles of it on the floor. The body’s position suggested that Gladys had slid down the wall as she lost consciousness. There were some distinct handprints among the streaks of blood, but they were probably hers.

If they were lucky, some of the blood would be the moke’s. He might have cut himself in his killing frenzy.

Coutinho didn’t feel lucky.

The crime scene techs obviously wanted the detectives out of the way. Coutinho turned and left the hotel room with Kim behind him. In the hallway the Filipino housekeeper who had found the body leaned against the wall as if grateful for its support. She was new enough on the island to be wondering whether this kind of thing came with her job.

“Did you see the young lady arrive?”

“Yes, I see her. She give me forty dollars.”

To clean up after the day’s work and keep an eye on things as much as she could.

“How about her gentlemen callers?”

“I see a couple of them. I have my work to do.”

“So you didn’t see the last one?”

“No, Sir.”

If she had, Coutinho might be working a double murder.

“Thanks. You can go back to work.”

Or back home to Manila, if her nerve failed her. He wouldn’t blame her if it did.

He would have to talk to the desk clerk and the maintenance workers, but he expected similar answers from them.

Right now he decided to get a breath of air. Outside it was misting a little, but real rain had been scarce for months. From the sidewalk in front of the hotel he could see a piece of Hilo Bay, with the usual dark clouds on the horizon. They seemed to warn coastal dwellers to head for higher ground.

Coutinho lifted the hem of his aloha shirt and took his cell phone from his belt. Lieutenant Tanaka answered the second ring.

“How bad?” said Tanaka.

“I hope they don’t come much worse.”

“Anything to work with?”

“Doesn’t look like he cooperated by dropping his driver’s license or anything.”

“So if the techs get no fingerprints or DNA, we’ll have to wait for the moke to do it again.”