Chris Keniston: EXCERPT: ALOHA TEXAS

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

“The man might as well be living on Mars.” Kara Lynn O’Conner slammed the receiver down—hard.

From the bookshelves across the room, Maggie O’Conner looked up over the rim of her reading glasses. “Why should Nicholas Harper be any different from every other man?”

It took Kara a few moments to process her aunt’s comment. “Because this is the twenty-first century and everyone uses email.”

“Honey, communication devices have never been the problem. Bell invented the telephone in 1876.”

“He’s not returning calls, either.” She stared at the phone, willing it to ring. Six months ago Patty Ann was just another client with a life expectancy of forty-five more years, give or take a few. Today the odds of her making it another forty-five hours were slim.

Two years ago, Kara had drawn up Patty Ann’s will not thinking it would be needed anytime soon. Two months ago, Patty Ann had asked Kara to contact Nicholas Harper, and soon. It had taken almost that long to track the man down. Today, Kara hoped she wasn’t going to have to fly all the way to Hawaii just to talk to him.

“I’ve emailed the man, used snail mail, both certified and regular, called his office, and his cell phone. I’ve tried everything short of carrier pigeon.” Kara glanced at her watch. 

“Five fifteen.”

“Give him a chance. Didn’t that man you spoke to at his office promise he’d have Mr. Harper return the call?”

She nodded and looked at her watch. Again.

***

“Talk about buns in the sun.”

Leaning over, Nick heard the throaty chuckles carry from the back of the scuba boat as clearly as if the two women had sauntered up and cooed in his ear. Not the first time he’d heard the name of the popular Kona bakery taken in vain. He was sorely tempted to turn and flash the vacationing housewives a full wattage smile and see how fast they’d scurry into their rabbit hole.
“All right, Pam, you’re next,” he called to the shorter of the two friends, as he pointed to where she needed to sit and strap on her tank. The sudden flush in her cheeks convinced him that under the wetsuit the petite redhead was most likely blushing clear down to her toes. Yeah, he’d heard her all right. And recognizing the signs of bored women having harmless fun, he cut the lady some slack and offered his friendly put-’em-at-ease grin. Not that he’d have minded laying on the charm full force and showing her a good time Hawaiian style. But he could read most women like a book, and this one had bark and no bite written all over her. If he’d made anything even close to a suggestive response, she’d probably fall off the boat from the shock of it, hit her head-on the way down, and then sue him before reaching the mainland. Nope, a simple smile was all he could afford.

“Attagirl.” The laughing friend gave Pam a thumbs-up.

“This is my first real ocean dive. Until now I’ve done all my diving in pools and lakes back home.” Pam lowered herself onto the bench beside him and slid her arms into the BCD—buoyancy control device—before offering him a nervous smile. “It was my friend’s idea to come to Hawaii.”

“We’re glad you came.” He flashed another one of his comfort grins. “Follow your dive guide, Jonathan, and relax and take it easy. You don’t want to get all worked up before 
you even leave the boat, or you’ll eat up all your air and miss out.”

“Relax. Right.” The woman took a deep breath, pushed to her feet, made her way to the back of the boat, secured her mask and regulator, and took a long step into the water. As nervous as she was, he was betting she’d be back on the boat long before her time was up.

“My turn, Captain Nick.” The taller blonde sidled up beside him and flashed a broad smile.

Close up, he could see this one wasn’t quite so harmless. Her bleached blonde hair told him she thought she could find her youth at the bottom of a bottle of L’Oréal, and if he were a betting man, he’d guess the bulls weren’t the only thing ridden hard at the rodeo. Yep, as good as he was, and he was very good, she could probably teach him a thing or two. For all of ten seconds he seriously considered the possibility, until the price of his insurance premiums pushed to the forefront of his thoughts. Nope. No more mixing business with pleasure. Not if he wanted to keep his boat and his business afloat. This was one bored housewife who would have to find her vacation entertainment elsewhere.

Once all eight divers were over the side and off in search of underwater fun, all he had to do was chop a pineapple for between-dive snacks, fix the head, and if time 
permitted, check his email. Before he could get started on the plumbing problem, his phone sounded off. He glanced at the caller ID: O’Conner and O’Conner. No doubt the law firm hired by the broad from New York who had accused him of groping her during a dive. Thanks to her stupid lawsuit he’d had to ease back on the diving and stick to driving the boat. He hit Ignore and slipped the phone into his pocket. It was pretty ironic that the real reason Big Island Dive got sued was because he did not act on her advances.

Nearly two hours later, the head unstopped, the divers fed, hydrated, and back in the water for their second swim, Nick’s phone rang again. Big Island Dive Shop. He swiped at the phone. “Yeah?”

Billy, his partner and best friend, nearly groaned into the phone. “What did you do this time?”

“Whatever it is, it wasn’t me.”

Nick had first met Billy during training with Uncle Sam in Panama City. In the navy. Billy grew up on the Big Island. Through the years Nick had gotten to know Billy’s hometown almost as well as his own. So much so that, when it came time for Nick to go home, instead of catching a flight to landlocked West Texas, he’d boarded a plane bound for Honolulu connecting to Kona. Six months later, Billy found himself on the wrong end of an explosion and an early discharge. Not long after that, Nick and Billy were the new owners of the forty-six-foot Kona Queen and the Big Island Dive Shop.

“Some lawyer’s been calling every hour on the hour. I said you wouldn’t be back till after one at the earliest, but they keep calling anyway. What did you do?”

“Why do you assume I did anything?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Okay, maybe he didn’t want to go there. With the exception of the lawsuit based on false accusations, most of his troubles came from women he knew well, in the biblical sense.

“Look, man,” Billy started on a sigh, “I don’t care what you do on your own time. Really I don’t, but for my own protection I may have to have every haole you sleep with sign a release form first.”

Nick glanced aft at the same moment Pam sprang up out of the water, ripped off her mask, and flailed about gasping for air. Dropping his phone, he leaped across the deck and dove into the water just as she sank out of sight. Shit. Where the fuck was her dive buddy? Where was Jonathan?