I suddenly needed a drink. Make that plural. The laptop, which was still sorting through all the deleted files, went back into the safe. I thought about hitting the hotel bar. Decided to get a few questions answered instead.
Fifteen minutes later I parked under a streetlamp, mumbled a no-thanks to the pros hanging around there, and walked half-a-block to a strip club. The blue and pink neon sign said Ban ok Club. The g and k were burned out. Its real name was The Bangkok Club.
Oleo was seated on a stool just inside the front door, his tattooed bald dome reflecting the colored lights from the center stage. I gave him a nod.
I had my hat pulled low and a pair of sunglasses on. He didn’t immediately recognize me.
Twenty bucks. No touching.
I paid him.
I’m the guy who came by the other night with Detective Sagulio. Remember?
He looked closer.
Oh, yeah. Howya doin? I saw you on the news.
You saw me on the news? What was I doing?
Playing golf, right? You’re playing in the Sony?
Shit. So much for being incognito.
Yep, that’s me.
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
Some of your buddies were just here. Don’t know their names.
Yeah. Young guys. Like to party.
I had an idea about who that might be, but kept it to myself.
Your brother Lennie feeling better?
Yeah. For now. Can’t seem to stay clean.
A few more customers came up and Oleo turned his attention to them.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I scanned around the room.
There was a circular, low table in the middle of the room surrounded by chairs. Four or so guys were seated with drinks before them, watching a completely naked young woman stretch and crawl and flirt on the table. She rolled over onto her back and extended her legs into the air, crossing them at the knees, then opening them slowly, wider, and wider, and wider, back arched, head thrown back. The man with the best front-row seat leaned in as close as he could, almost knocking over his cocktail.
To the right of the main table was a small bar with a few shelves of liquor and a middle-aged lady bartender. At the other corners of the room were smaller performance tables. One was empty, the other two had girls giving similar shows to one man at a time. There looked to be a doorway in the back with a black curtain pulled across it.
I went over to the bar and ordered a vodka rocks. The bartender told me what I owed in a thick Russian accent. I wandered back over to stand next to Oleo.
Always horny dudes around. So why were you hanging with Paco?
Sagulio. That’s what we called him in high school.
You knew each other back then? Small world.
Yeah. Well, I’ve kinda gotten pulled into a thing and he was trying to show me why I should stay out of it.
Paco says you should stay out of it, I’d listen.
Wish I could. I owe a guy a favor.
Three more men came up, looking very touristy and nervous to be there. Oleo repeated his twenty-bucks, no touching mantra. They got some drinks and planted themselves at the main table. A lithe little woman of indiscernible heritage replaced the blonde, and proceeded to show the world her innermost secrets.
I pictured Lindsey here, doing that. And it made me, for the first time ever, very sad. It seemed different the way she used to dance. Not as, I don’t know, not as skuzzy.
Oleo kept his eyes moving to the street, to the customers, to the woman at the bar. She was watching us, too, with more than a little suspicion. I motioned in her direction with my drink.
I don’t think she likes me.
She’s the owner. Wants to make sure we’re not doing a deal.
You mean drugs?
Yeah. All these years, she still don’t trust me. Fuck her. So this thing; that what’s got your face all messed up?
Yes it is.
One of the girls at the corner table giggled, sat up, slid off, took her audience by the hand and led him across the room and through the black curtain. He must’ve said the right thing. My guess is, it
Another old friend of yours, Bobby Carter, says you’re on the up and up. He’s my caddy this week.
Bobby’s good people. We been through a lot.
Yes he is. And a great caddy. He’s part of the reason I played so well today.
Oleo finally swiveled on his stool to look me in the eye.
Okay. So you’re good with my peeps,
you’re good with me. What do you want?
Just your opinion on a few things, that’s all. Your street knowledge.
Fair enough. So long as we ain’t talking about nothing.
We’re not talking about nothing.
He nodded for me to proceed.
Say, hypothetically, somebody in this town needs somebody dead. And it’s a very difficult job, not your usual run-of-the-mill hit. Is there a market for that kind of skill here?
We’re not talking about nothing.
He thought for a beat, then shrugged.
Anything’s possible. Are there dudes around who’d off someone for money? Shit yeah. Are there dudes who have extreme skills for that sort of thing? Depends.
How about dudes with military-type training?
Don’t know about that. But I wouldn’t think it’d be too hard to find someone. We got a lot of guys who do their time in the Navy and don’t want to leave paradise when the time comes. The problem would be getting a piece.
Really? That’s easy as shit where I come from.
Not here, man. Hawaii is crazy about gun control. Other than the cops, the only guy in the whole state who has a license to carry is the dude who runs the armory and repairs all the cops’ guns. That’s his deal.
What about black market.
We got that, for sure. You can get a heater, for a price. But the Coast Guard is pretty hard on smugglers. So any specialized equipment, bigger stuff, military grade, I don’t know. Navy guys and Coasties have to turn in their weapons every time they leave the ship. Not allowed to go anywhere with them. And since 9-11 those bases are ultra secure. Nothing in or out that ain’t approved.
How do you know that?
Cause they come in here all the time, man. Matter of fact, there’re some over there.
I looked over at the far side of the main table.
Two young men with close-cropped hair, wearing polo shirts and jeans, were fully enjoying the view before them. I noted what they were drinking, got two more of the same from the bar, and sat down next to them. The guy closest to me raised an eyebrow when I slid their beers in front of them. I waved a hand.
No, no, man. It ain’t that. My friend Oleo over there mentioned you’re in the military, and this is just my way of saying thanks. Seriously. Thanks. I admire what you guys are doing.
They looked at each other, grinned, downed their brewskies, and reached for the fresh ones. The kid next to me looked all of eighteen years old. Barely.
Hey, mister. Thanks. That’s mighty nice.
You guys deserve it.
I stuck out my hand.
Seaman Lance Buckley. This is Dave. Seaman David Wilkerson.
Nice to meet you. What branch are you in?
The second kid, Dave, spoke up. He looked to be about four minutes older than Lance.
The United States Coast Guard, sir.
To which Lance added:
My law school Latin failed me.
Always. . ?
Ready. Always ready. That’s us. For sure.
You based here?
Yessir. Flotilla 13. Kaneohe Bay.
The girl on the table must’ve felt a little ignored by us. She propped herself up on all fours, facing away, and waggled her butt in our direction. That kept us all pretty much distracted for a few minutes.
Hey, Lance, let me ask you something. I saw a ship the other day with the number 52 on it. That wasn’t you guys, was it?
Naw. That’s a Navy ship. Was it grey?
Yeah, come to think of it. It was.
Ours are always white and orange. What was the number again?
Dave piped up.
Yeah, I know that ship. Buddy of mine is a diver on that one. That’s the Salvor. It’s a salvage ship. They spend a lot of time pulling up or blowing up old munitions on the ocean floor. Stuff from World War II.
There’s still live munitions down there?
Oh, yeah. Tons of stuff that didn’t go off. Every once in a while, a sport diver will bring one up, thinking it’s a nifty souvenir. We had to confiscate some of those just last week. Guy had a live torpedo! Remember that, Lance?
Without ever taking his eyes off the girl’s nether regions, Lance said yeah, he did.
I noticed the boys were low on suds, so I went back to the bar and got a few more, including another vodka for me. The bartender was gradually warming to me. Maybe because I was tipping her five bucks a round.
So is that what you spend a lot of time doing, Lance? Stopping people from blowing themselves up?
Yeah. We actually do a little bit of everything. But drug and smuggling interdiction is probably what keeps us the busiest. Under DHS rules, we have the right to stop pretty much any boat we suspect may be carrying contraband.
Department of Homeland Security. We’re under them in peacetime, and under Navy command in times of war. So right now, we function more as a coastal police force.
And you have a lot of encounters with smugglers?
Yeah. At least one a week. Mainly guys trying to get drugs into the Islands.
That must be pretty exciting.
Man, you have no idea. I love it.
I shut up for a bit and watched the show. I have to admit, I’ve never been that up close and personal with a stripper before. At least, not in a room with other people. It was more than a little disconcerting. There were times when she would bring her crotch to within inches of our faces. I couldn’t help but notice she kept her eyes tightly shut most of the time. Maybe going to her happy place. Maybe not wanting to see the raw lust on her audience’s faces.
So, Lance, how do you Coasties do it?
When you interdict someone you think is carrying something illegal?
We got mad fast ships, man, really fast. So we intercept them and holler at them over the loudspeaker that we’re the Coast Guard and to prepare to be boarded for inspection.
Just like that? And do they let you?
Usually. We have a Mark 38 and two .50 cals on the deck. Just the sight of those is usually enough to convince them.
And what if they’re not?
Lance and Dave exchanged a grin.
Then we cook off a round to show them we mean business.
I see. So you literally fire a shot across the bow. Does that work?
Every time. Every time.
And when’s the last time you had to do that?
They couldn’t quite manage to pry their eyes off the girl this time. Mainly because she was attempting a tricky back layover gymnastics move.
What was it, Dave, two months ago maybe? That old two-master?
His friend nodded.
Yeah, that was it. Turned out they had like a hundred pounds of drugs on board. Cocaine, mainly. Man, those women! They had these little thong bikinis and nothin’ else on.
So you popped off a shot? Then what happened?
Then, they got all kinds of scared. The girls screamed. The guys shit their little Speedos. And we had a good day.
The young Coasties laughed and gave each other a knuckle-bump.
Yeah. We had a good day.
So, wow, this is so interesting, guys. So one thing, how do you find the boats to interdict? How do you know who to go after?
This was obviously Lance’s thing. His voice was full of enthusiasm.
Aw, man, that’s the coolest thing. See, Homeland Security beefed up all our technology like crazy. We have equipment now that lets us see every boat and ship and, hell, skinny-dipper in the waters around the Islands. Top of the line radar. It’s like the screens you see Air Traffic Controllers use. And not only that, we can plot where they came from with computers. So there are some places and kinds of boats, and just the way they try to avoid attention and if, like, for instance, they’re making a run at night, that makes them more suspicious than your regular weekend sailors.
So, wait a minute, that’s amazing. You’re telling me you guys can know where every boat is at every single minute, day or night?
Yessir. Day or night. If they’re in our waters, we know where they are.
Yessir. That’s a big holy shit.
I stood, said adios, and gave them both another handshake. Lance thanked me again for the beers, then turned his attention back to the pretty young thing giving him a sight that will fuel his fantasies for months to come.
Halfway down the block, I remembered the other thing I wanted to ask Oleo about and doubled back. We talked for another ten minutes or so and then I headed back in the direction of the hotel.