Authors: Connie Shelton
Tags: #amateur sleuth, #charlie parker mysteries, #connie shelton, #hawaiian mystery, #kauai, #mystery, #mystery series
Vacations Can Be Murder
The Second Charlie Parker Mystery
By Connie Shelton
Copyright © 1996 Connie Shelton
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What others are saying about
The Charlie Parker Mystery Series
“Charlie is slick, appealing, and nobody’s
fool—just what readers want in an amateur sleuth.” –Booklist
“Charlie is a fabulous amateur sleuth.”
–Midwest Book Review
“A good story and a challenging puzzle.”
–Robert O. Greer, National Public Radio
“Down to earth and very readable.” –Library
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Vacations mean different things to different
people. There's the planning, the packing, the anticipation. Then
there's the late arrival, the sunburn, the fuzzy pictures. In my
case, add a romance with a good-looking pilot and fourteen stitches
in the back of my skull.
I’d chosen Kauai, the northern-most inhabited
island in the Hawaiian chain, an egg-shaped dot of land roughly
twenty-seven miles wide by thirty-two miles long. Aside from a few
atolls, named but unknown to most, it is the first piece of rock
east of Japan. No one knows for certain, but somewhere around a
thousand years ago, after the volcanoes had quieted down and a life
rich with plants and birds had taken over, the Polynesians sailed
from the south Pacific, found this tiny grouping of islands, and
called them home. A hundred-fifty years ago, white missionary
settlers from America arrived to convert these perfectly happy
natives from their heathen ways. I don’t think we’ve ever been
forgiven for the intrusion. Today, diligent governing keeps
mainland-style progress to a minimum. The scent of plumeria and the
soft strains of slack-key guitar set a lazy mood. The place is, in
mood, climate, and landscape an opposite to my hometown
It was also exactly what I needed after an
extremely busy winter and a recent encounter with my former best
friend and my ex-fiancé.
I awakened my first morning in the tropics to
the sound of surf gently washing at the beach. My room at the
Westin Hotel faced Kalapaki Bay and was on the shady side of the
building this time of day. The air felt pleasantly cool on my bare
skin. I pulled on a light cotton kimono, and stepped out to the
lanai. The breeze fluttered my hair, filling my nostrils with the
scent of the sea. The bay stretched out before me, the sand on the
beach wiped smooth by the night tide.
I wondered what Rusty would think of a romp
on the beach. He'd probably be out in the water in no time.
Rusty's an unusual dog of uncertain origins.
He's about the build of a Labrador, the color of an Irish setter,
and the temperament of a cocker spaniel puppy. I never tell anyone
that last part. His size is usually enough to dissuade potential
attackers, and he has a way of smiling (no kidding) that shows his
teeth, so most people think he's snarling. I usually let them think
Rusty adopted me back when I was in college.
He started hanging around outside my English Lit class and
following me around campus. No matter how many other people fussed
over him, he stuck by me. I had just broken up with my fiancé and I
think Rusty sensed my neediness. He has been with me ever
Seven floors below me the ocean looked like a
rippled piece of azurite with short ruffs of white lace at the
edges. There was a time-delay effect as I watched the lapping waves
roll onto the beach several seconds before their soft whooshing
sound reached my ears. The sweet smell of tropical flowers rose
toward me, borne on the humid air. Distance miniaturized the
mosaic-patterned stone walkway below, and I watched two men in
hotel uniform pull their golf carts together side by side. A
cigarette changed hands, and their laughter drifted up to me. They
lounged, obviously in no hurry to rush back to work.
I took a deep breath and stretched, enjoying
the tiny shot of adrenaline to my extremities. It felt good to be
away from the routine, to have my taxes done, and Ron back at the
office handling things there again.
In real life I'm a CPA. I'm also partners
with my brother, Ron, in a small private investigation firm. Ron is
the PI; I'm just supposed to keep the finances running right. This
past winter, though, Ron broke his leg in a skiing accident,
leaving me to run the whole show for a couple of months. By the
first of May I decided I was entitled to a break. I was glad, for a
change, not to be responsible.
The beach below was absolutely deserted; the
flat gray expanse of sand looked cool, as nearly colorless as the
pale sky beyond. Catamarans and small sailboats, their sails neatly
rolled, lined the fringe between sand and grass safely beyond the
tide's reach. The beach towel concession stand was securely
shuttered. It must be early. I glanced at my watch. Six o'clock.
Ten, Albuquerque time. No wonder I felt so wide awake.
The empty beach looked tempting, but the sun
hadn't reached it yet. The air would probably be a bit nippy to
bare skin that had been swaddled in protective woolens the past
five months. Another whiff of a breeze shook the palm fronds and
raised tiny bumps on my skin. My stomach spoke, reminding me that
my last meal had been on an airplane, so long ago that I had
trouble calculating the hours. Breakfast seemed to be in order.
Two hours later, after a shower and a
mushroom omelet, I felt ready to get out and explore. Like any
diligent tourist, I had picked up an assortment of maps and
guidebooks at the airport, so I decided to find out what this
paradise had to offer. I jammed my bikini, a towel, and a bottle of
sun screen into my canvas tote, made sure I had my wallet and keys
to the rental car, and left the room.
Last night my arrival had been late and I
hadn’t comprehended the full magnificence of the Westin Hotel and
its grounds. Walking out now, I passed through the elegant lower
lobby with its thick blue and gold Oriental rug, teak registration
desk and Chinese antiques. One wall opened to reveal an open
courtyard about the size of a city block. A tiled pond filled most
of it. In its center, marble horses reared dramatically amidst
splashing fountains. Live swans dipped their graceful necks into
the water, coming up periodically for air. Tropical birds in shades
of turquoise, green, red and yellow sat on perches around the
perimeter of the pond, squawking and tossing peanut shells onto the
From this lower lobby, a long escalator
crawled upward to another lobby. Open to the outside, where cars
circled under the porte-cochere, the upper lobby bustled with
activity. Bellmen unloaded bags from the backs of taxis and
limousines, while dazed-looking, sweaty tourists emerged with their
too-warm clothing pasted to their backs.
A diorama of the Westin complex sat atop a
large table, covered with a Plexiglas dome. I studied it for a
moment before heading to the parking lot.
The red Sunbird convertible was right where
I'd left it—I thought. Actually, there were six of them in that
row, and four in the next. I glanced around to see whether anyone
was about to witness my embarrassment as I tried my key until I
found the right one. Luckily, it worked on the second try. Just to
verify, I pulled the rental receipt from the glove compartment to
be sure my name was on it. My face flushed as I remembered how cool
I thought I'd be reserving a convertible to drive around Hawaii.
Apparently, several hundred other tourists had the same idea.
The sky was clear, as blue as a Wedgwood
candy dish. I could feel the humidity, but the air was cool enough
to keep it from becoming oppressive. I put the top down and stowed
my beach gear behind the front seat. I had decided over breakfast
to take a drive up the main highway to see where it would lead
I studied my map as the car warmed up. The
main town, Lihue, is situated at approximately the four-o'clock
position on this almost-round bit of land. From Lihue the road goes
north where it dead-ends slightly beyond the twelve-o'clock spot,
or south, curving upward to the west, and ending around
nine-o'clock. The remaining fourth of the coastline, and much of
the mountainous interior are inaccessible by car. Getting my
bearings, I decided to explore the town first.
The tree-shaded Westin driveway took me out
toward Rice Street. Plantings of philodendron alternated with
bright clumps of white, purple, pink, and coral impatiens. White
stone urns, festooned with garlands of stone flowers, stood in
well-planned alcoves. I turned right onto Rice Street, driving up a
hill, the cutaway side of which was raw-looking red earth, the
color of rust. I had no trouble finding the sign that directed me
toward Highway 56.
At Ahukini Road, which led back to the Lihue
airport, I took advantage of the red light to consult my map again.
The overhead whopp-whopp of a helicopter's rotor blades grabbed my
attention. The aircraft came straight toward me, then made a
graceful turn almost over my head. It swung around, dipping lower,
disappearing behind a tall field of sugar cane. My interest
I have always loved flying. Living in
Albuquerque, I'd had no trouble bumming hot air balloon rides on
several occasions. The sensation of floating soundlessly above the
earth is like no other. I'd even tried an ultralight once. I draw
the line at hang gliding but, as long as it has a power source, I'm
An impatient horn tooted behind me, jerking
me back to the present. I drove through the intersection, and
pulled to the side as soon as I could safely do so.
Another helicopter lifted off, just the other
side of the cane field on my right. It looked like a giant
dragonfly as it paused for a couple of seconds then made a wide
circle around the airport tower and headed for the low hills behind
me. It soon became just a dot in the sky.
I flipped open the guidebook. Paradise
Helicopters. The ad lay right there, under my index finger.
Through Paradise With Us
, it announced.
The color photo showed a helicopter poised
before the white streamer of a long waterfall. The advertising
blurb promised the ride of a lifetime, a chance to view the hidden
mysteries of Kauai in a way no one else could offer. They claimed
the most experienced pilots, a perfect safety record, and discount
coupons for restaurant dinners if you booked direct.
Well, who could pass up all that?
A quick study of the map told me that their
offices were right here in Lihue, just a couple of blocks away. I
watched for an open spot in the traffic, and hung a U. Paradise
Helicopters was in a small strip shopping center, tucked between a
pizza parlor and an aloha wear shop. Trees fashioned out of
bougainvillea vines dotted the parking lot at intervals. I pulled
the Sunbird into an open space in front of the glass-fronted
offices, right beside an identical red car. Smugly, I remembered to
memorize my plate number before I went inside.
The air conditioned office was a pleasant
contrast to the hot sun outside. The front lobby was designed to be
as comfy as a living room. Rattan furniture, with tropical print
cushions in pale shades of blue, yellow, and gray was placed in a
homey grouping facing a TV set. The TV was off now, but I could see
it was connected to a VCR. A selection of tapes was stacked next to
it, featuring titles such as "Kauai By Air" and "Your Flight of
The warm-up, I supposed, where the passengers
could sit around before their flights, viewing the spectacles yet
to come, and trying not to think about being too nervous.
Colorful helicopter posters decorated the
walls, and the air smelled faintly of flowers. An elaborate
arrangement of bright red and yellow heliconia and puffy gray
protea stood almost five feet tall in one corner. A tiny model
helicopter hung suspended by an invisible nylon line above the
"Hi there!" A bubbly voice greeted me like I
was a long lost friend from the past. I glanced around, and saw
that the front office was deserted except for the bubbler, a young
woman seated at a desk near the back. She was so petite and tan
that she made me feel like the great white whale with my
hundred-twenty pounds of winter pale flesh.