Plumber’s Crack by Albert Tucher
“Now that,” said the mainlander, “sums up Hawaii for me.”
The man spoke to Coutinho, but he kept his eyes on the young woman across the street. She was kneeling to paint an ornamental picket fence in front of one of the houses in the middle of the block.
As she leaned forward to touch up the bottom of the foot-high fence, her low-rise jeans did what came naturally. The hem of her cropped T-shirt climbed, and the fabric stretched across her toned back.
“Usually it’s a middle-aged fat guy flashing you plumber’s crack. Here it’s somebody like her.”
Coutinho could have agreed about beautiful island-born young brunettes of Portuguese descent, but he was busy. Not that he looked it. The lift at the Philips 76 station had a white Camry up in the air, but Coutinho hadn’t touched it all morning. He glanced down at the oval name patch on his mechanic’s coverall. For the moment, his name was Joe.
An onlooker might have wondered why he wasn’t holding a wrench, or what was so fascinating about the plastic bucket on the ground that kept him hovering over it. A glance inside would have shown nothing but a rag.
But there weren’t any onlookers.
“Think I’ll go over and talk to her,” said the mainlander. “What the hell? I’m on vacation.”
“She’s out of your league.”
Coutinho could have added that the man must have taken a wrong turn on his way to the Kona resorts. Few visitors found their way to this modest neighborhood in Hilo on the rainy side of the Big Island.
“Jeez, where’s that aloha spirit?”
The man didn’t really seem offended, probably because he was entitled to some confidence. He looked fit and squared away in his forties.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Coutinho said.
The man shrugged.
He wandered off and disappeared around the curve in the road.
Coutinho went back to waiting. He tried to avoid looking too long at anything, especially the young woman, or the house next door to the one where she was working.
The mainlander reappeared on her side of the street. He must have hustled as soon as he got out of sight. When he reached the young woman, he stopped and spoke to her.
She ignored him. He tried again. She gave him a curt nod without looking up from her work. Most men would have taken the hint.
But the mainlander crouched next to her and pointed at a spot on the fence. His other hand rested casually on her shoulder. She shrugged the hand off and duck-walked a couple of steps away from him.
He followed, and this time he flagrantly groped her chest.
She threw an elbow at his face. He parried it. She jumped to her feet and backpedaled.
The man closed in fast and punched her in the face. The unexpected addition to her momentum made her fall on her rump. Her right hand went under the hem of her shirt.
Coutinho pulled his eyes away. This fight was a distraction.
And here came the main event careening around the same curve in the road. An aging Crown Victoria threatened to crush anything in its path. Coutinho knew a throwaway car when he saw one.
He stooped and grabbed the rag and tossed it aside. What he needed was his S&W nine millimeter under the rag in the bucket. He stood and aimed, but his angle was wrong. Coutinho swore and ran into the street.
He pulled his shield out from under his coverall and let it dangle on its lanyard. The driver of the Crown Vic wasn’t impressed. The car kept coming. Coutinho watched the barrel of an assault rifle emerge from the rear window on the driver’s side. The rifle opened up at the house next door to the picket fence. Coutinho could see bullets punching brutally right through the wall and the front door. He responded with three shots into the car’s windshield.
The driver ducked, but he popped upright again and executed a tight J-turn. Coutinho jumped backward, and the right rear quarter of the Crown Vic missed him by inches. The car accelerated away from him. He regained his balance and fired several more shots at the rear window. It disintegrated, but the car kept going.
Coutinho turned and looked. Both the young woman and the mainlander were sitting on the sidewalk. She held a gun in a two-handed grip. He clutched his thigh. Blood dripped from her nose down her upper lip. More blood seeped between the man’s fingers. Coutinho hadn’t heard the shot, but there had been a lot of shooting going on.
“Shit,” the young woman said, as the blood continued to drip. “Face down. Now.”
Her gun didn’t waver as she climbed to her feet.
“Can’t,” said the mainlander. “Somebody put this bullet hole in me.”
“Whose fault is that? Do it.”
He decided to roll over. She looked at Coutinho.
“You got cuffs?”
She lifted the hem of her shirt and showed him her bra holster.
“Only so much room in here.”
The mainlander looked relaxed for a man handcuffed to a hospital bed.
“So, Joe. Where’s my lawyer?”
“It’s Errol,” said Coutinho, “but you can call me Detective. He’s coming.”
“The witness is in protective custody.”
“You don’t have to talk, but I can. I just want you to know you fucked up.”
It had been close. There had barely been time to evacuate the witness and the immediate neighbors. Then they needed a couple of cops to hang around without looking like cops. Coutinho could pass for a mechanic, and Officer Jenny Freitas would fit in anywhere.
“The plumber’s crack was her idea. Fooled you, didn’t she?”
“Almost, but she took a punch like a cop.”
“She also kept you too busy to call the operation off.”
“So give her a commendation.”