Noelani arrived two minutes early. She emerged from the Mercedes wearing a white Oscar de La Renta sleeveless, scoopneck silk sheath dress that flattered her tall, lithe form; metallic silver 5-inch d’Orsay pumps; and one-carat diamond stud earrings that flashed fire but paled in comparison to the ring she wore on her left hand.
“What do you think?” she asked them, glancing down at her shoes and frowning. “I thought black was kind of cliché so I went with white. I hate these shoes,” she added in an aside.
“I think that will do just fine,” Hardcastle said.
“This is the wedding ring you bought me,” she said, holding out her hand. “I hope you approve.”
“Is that real?” McCormick asked, goggling at it.
Hardcastle made a face. “I told you he has no manners.”
“It’s too big for a ring,” she said, scowling at it. “I should have it reset for a necklace or something. My father gave it to my mother years ago, and she passed it on to me. Here,” she said to McCormick, and tossed him the keys.
She and Hardcastle climbed into the back of the car. “Nervous?” Hardcastle asked her as they drove away.
He patted her hand. “Don’t be. Just follow our lead. Act like you’re trying to pretend to like me, act like you really like him—” pointing to McCormick “—and it probably wouldn’t hurt to make eyes at this guy Carson if you think neither of us is looking.”
“I thought I was supposed to be your wife.”
“His disloyal wife,” McCormick said over his shoulder.
“Actually, that’s not what I meant when I said I was nervous.”
“No. I meant I’m afraid that when I finally meet him I’m going to break this guy’s face.”
The Blue Hawaii club occupied most of a small man-made peninsula at the Kewalo Basin Harbor, off Ala Moana Boulevard. Three charter boat services that specialized in serving the tourism industry shared space on the basin side of the marina, while the club’s outdoor seating area overlooked the ocean. Inside the place was a jumble of kitschy touches like white Christmas lights wrapped around the trunks of potted palms, a thatched roof over the bar, and blue neon lighting shaped like waves. Other than the neon and holiday lights, candles at each table provided most of the relief from the black carpeting and black-painted ceiling and walls. The overall effect suggested that a truck carrying blue neon lights had collided with one carrying black velvet Elvis paintings.
McCormick stopped the car under the canopy. “Show time,” he said. He jogged around the car and opened the door for Noelani, taking her hand as she slipped out and murmuring in her ear, “Don’t hit me, now: from here on out I’m acting.”
“I’ll try to control myself,” she said. Hardcastle joined her, offered her his arm, and she slipped her hand over it. McCormick held the club’s door open for them, making a point of staring at Noelani just a little longer than necessary. Once they were safely inside he gave the valet the keys, pocketed the ticket, and rejoined them.
Hardcastle had found a place at the bar, which with its canopy of thatch occupied the center of the big room. The left side of the club was taken up by tables and booths set for dinner. Beyond the bar in the back of the building patio doors opened to the al fresco dining area that overlooked the water, and to the right was the nightclub section with a stage for live entertainment, empty on this weeknight except for a drum set and microphone stands in one corner. In lieu of live performers the sound system blared music from The B-52s, Run-DMC, Nu Shooz, and Stacey Q, among others, and it gave Hardcastle a headache within ten minutes.
Hardcastle had already ordered drinks for himself and Noelani. McCormick took a spot at the bar a few places away, and in response to the bartender’s question said, “Club soda. I’m driving.”
The bartender served up the drinks and Hardcastle slid Noelani’s toward her. “Here you go, sweetheart,” he said. “I think we deserve a little refreshment after that horrible flight.”
“You folks just get into town?” the bartender asked. With so few other patrons in the place he could afford to be nosey.
“Yeah, we’re visiting,” Hardcastle said. “Milt Hardcastle, and this here’s my wife, Noelani. We’re visiting,” he said again, “but we might end up staying, if I fire our pilots like my bride here wants me to. They found every patch of turbulence between here and Tokyo.”
“Tokyo? That’s gotta be a long flight.”
“Nine hours, wasn’t it, sweetie?”
“And you have your own plane?”
“Ah, it’s just a G-4. Just a little thing; you know. I’m thinking of upgrading.”
“So,” the bartender said, “if you don’t mind my asking, were you on vacation in Japan?”
“Yeah, you could say that. We were on our honeymoon. Just married last week. Show him the ring, honey.”
Noelani held out her hand so the bartender could see; the diamond flashed blue fire as she moved her hand, admiring it.
“Wow. That’s some rock,” the bartender said, staring.
“It’s a DeBeers,” Noelani offered.
“Yeah,” Hardcastle went on, “we did a little honeymooning—but it never hurts to combine business with pleasure, you know? I picked up a couple of properties while we were out there. Not in Japan. We made a side trip to Borneo and Bali for a week. I bought her a house on the beach,” he said, putting his arm around Noelani and giving her a squeeze. She nuzzled his shoulder. “Nothing’s too good for my little angel, here,” the Judge concluded.
“You’re into real estate, huh?”
“Commercial real estate, mostly,” Hardcastle said. “Resort developments, condominiums, that kind of thing. Bali’s the place for that.”
“Are you going to buy property here in the islands?”
Noelani broke in before the Judge could answer. “Oh, honey, if you’re going to buy a boring condo here, why can’t we get a little place of our own, too? Something right on the beach, so we can sit on the sand and go swimming together.”
Hardcastle patted her hand indulgently. “Now, sugar, you know I don’t have time for that kind of lollygagging around.” Noelani stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. “But if it’ll make you happy, of course I’ll get you something.”
“Say, listen,” the bartender said. “If you don’t already have anybody here, I know a guy who has a real estate business that does real big deals all over Hawaii. In fact, I think…yeah, you know what? You’re in luck. He’s here tonight.” He waved to a table in a dark corner of the restaurant section and caught the attention of Brian Toller, who was sitting with his boss.
“This is Brian Toller,” the bartender said. “Mr. Carson’s associate. Brian, this is Milt Hardcastle and his wife. They’re thinking of buying some property here, and I thought they might like to talk to Mr. Carson. What do you think? Does he have a minute?”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” Toller said, shaking Hardcastle’s hand. “Well, we’re expecting clients here for dinner in a few minutes, but let me check with Mr. Carson. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Toller returned quickly, a broad smile on his face. “Mr. Carson said ‘of course.’ Can I carry your drinks for you?” He escorted the newlyweds to Carson’s table, made the introductions, and retired to the bar, where McCormick had remained.
“Yeah,” Hardcastle was saying to Carson, “the little gal and I decided to take a second honeymoon here; she didn’t like the sand in Bali, so I said we could stop here for a week or so before we headed home.”
“Where’s home?” Carson asked.
“The City of Angels,” Hardcastle said. “I think they named it after my wife here. That’s where we met.”
Carson smiled at Noelani, who smiled back and licked her lips.
“Ah, L.A.’s beautiful,” Carson said, tearing his gaze away from her. “I’ve got a place near L.A., in Santa Barbara.”
“Well, hell,” Hardcastle said boisterously, “we’re practically neighbors, then. Hey, sugar, did you hear that? Mr. Carson here says he lives in Santa Barbara.”
“Oh, call me J.B., please. ‘Mr. Carson’ is my father.”
Hardcastle grinned. “Well, okay, then, J.B. Hey, J and B, like the whisky? Hah hah hah!” Carson laughed too, as though he had never heard that particular joke before. Noelani smiled too, managing to convey both boredom and tolerance that was wearing thin.
At the bar, McCormick sipped his club soda and glowered at the trio. Toller took a beer from the bartender and sat down nearby. “Buy you a beer?” he asked.
McCormick dragged his gaze away from Hardcastle and Noelani and acknowledged Toller. “Thanks,” he said, grimly, “but I gotta drive.” He went back to staring at his employers, apparently forgetting about Toller completely. “She is too good for him,” he muttered.
“You know them?” Toller asked casually.
“Do you know that couple?”
McCormick snorted. “‘Couple,’” he sneered. “Yeah, you could say I know them. I work for that guy.”
“Ah,” Toller said. “What do you do?”
“Driver, gofer, errand boy…you name it. If it was just her, it would be different. But him…”
“Kinda hard to work for?” Toller asked sympathetically.
“Kinda,” McCormick growled.
“But it’s gotta be something, huh, being around a woman like that? Even if her husband’s a jerk?”
McCormick’s expression softened. “Yeah. She’s something else. Beautiful and smart, too. I don’t know what she sees in that guy, though. She’s too good for him. A quality woman like that, with a jerk like him? It’s unbelievable.”
“Why, what’s his problem?”
“Look at him!” McCormick hissed. “Mr. Big Shot over there, throwing his money around like it’s never gonna stop pouring in. I’ll tell you what: if I had that kinda cash flow and a woman like that I’d be wining and dining her, you know? Paying some attention to her. Not always sniffing around for the ‘next big thing’.”
“What about her? She seems happy.”
McCormick rolled his eyes like Toller was an idiot. “How could she be happy?” he demanded. “Money only gets you so far in life, you know. What’s she supposed to do while he’s jetting around the world ‘investing’? Oh, yeah, big deal: she gets to hang around on his yacht. Pffft. After a while something like that gets to feel like an eighty-foot prison, you know what I mean?”
“Got a little place in Malibu,” Hardcastle was saying. “Nice view of the water. Just twelve acres, you know, but it’s got its own beach, and it’s nice for the winter.”
Carson looked impressed. “Twelve acres in Malibu. Very nice. Well, and what kind of property are you interested in buying in the islands?”
“Oh, I don’t see why we can’t cover all the bases,” Hardcastle said. “A little commercial or light industrial, if you can handle that kind of thing. Definitely interested in residential: condos, apartments...”
“What about something just for us?” Noelani whined, slipping her arm through Hardcastle’s and leaning against him. “You said we could. Something besides all that boring investment stuff. Something on the beach. A place just for us: we could come here on the weekends when the fires and mudslides make it so hard get to Rodeo.” She rested her head on his shoulder and winked at Carson, returning his admiring gaze with a boldness and directness that made him think he might actually get somewhere with her.
“Well,” Hardcastle replied, “I don’t see why not, since it’s for you.”
“No, honey: for us,” she corrected him.
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Carson said. “I’m meeting clients here tonight—they should be here any minute—but why don’t you come by my office in the morning? I can show you what we’re working on, and if you like what you see I can personally show you the properties. I’m putting together an investment group right now for a condo development on the north shore that you might like, and it’s a great time to buy individual properties, too, if you’re looking for a second residence.”
Hardcastle roared with laughter. “Did you hear that, honey? A ‘second’ residence. Boy, if I only had ‘two residences’ there wouldn’t be ten pairs of the exact same kind of shoes waiting for me between here and Paris.”
Carson smiles warmly. “How much are you thinking of spending?
“Well, lemme see about that. I just sold a couple of resort developments in Fiji and Malaysia, so I’ve got a little over ten mil looking for a parking place. So why don’t we say ten to get us started?”
“Great. And for the residence?”
Hardcastle shrugs. “What do you think, darlin’?”
“Well,” Noelani said, “the house in Bali was just a little over two million. Can’t we afford someplace at least that nice here?”
“Oh, I don’t see why not,” Hardcastle said. “Let’s say two mil for the house. But we can talk about that tomorrow.”
Noelani looked pleased and gave the Judge a chaste peck on the cheek. “It’s so exciting to buy things,” she said.
From his place at the bar Toller watched the trio file out, saw McCormick’s hand linger on the small of Noelani’s back, and he smiled to himself. He rejoined his employer at the table.
“What do you think?” Carson said.
“I think you got a live one on the line.”
“I think you’re right.”
“I also think Mr. Moneybags is gonna have some trouble in paradise. That driver he’s got has a thing for his wife. If they’re not already screwing around on him, they will be.”
“Yeah, I got that impression, too. They’re coming to the office at eleven. I’m going to show him the stuff out on Pakila and Kahala first. If he’s as anxious to spend money as he says he is, he ought to like Koa Ridge, too.”
Carson picked up his drink. “Here’s to new ventures.”
* * * * *
Carson was even more welcoming the next morning. He appeared in the doorway of his office just seconds after the secretary announced their arrival. “Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle,” he said graciously, “welcome. Please come in; sit down. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Soda? No? Well, then, let me show you our opportunity portfolio.”
In the reception area, McCormick watched them until the door closed, then found a seat that gave him a view of Noelani through the office’s sidelight. He paged distractedly through a recent issue of Fine Homes, then tossed it aside and made a big deal about glancing at his watch and sighing. When he’d been waiting there for fifteen minutes Toller walked in, glanced at him, did a creditable job of pretending to be surprised to see him, and strolled over.
“Hey, bud,” he said. “Still on the clock, huh?”
“I’m always on the clock,” McCormick groused.
“Hey, I never caught your name yesterday. I’m Mr. Carson’s associate. I’m Brian. Brian Toller.”
“Huh? Oh—yeah.” McCormick wrenched his gaze away from Noelani and remembered his manners. “Mark McCormick.” They shook.
Before either of them said anything else the office door opened and Noelani emerged. She shut the door behind her, glanced at McCormick, and rolled her eyes. He smiled conspiratorially, stood up, and took her hand. “What’s up, babe?” he asked.
“I need the ladies’ room,” she said.
“Oh, sure. Hey, Brian. Restrooms?”
“Out the door, turn left, and it’s the last door on the right at the end of the hall,” Toller said.
“Thank you,” Noelani smiled.
Toller shook his head when she’d gone. “Man, you are not kidding me: that is one fine woman. I can see why you think they’re not a match. Hey,” he added, lowering his voice, “you cutting the old guy out of the action, there?”
McCormick grinned. “Why not? He’s always busy buying crap, leaving her alone. There’s a certain kind of woman that’s like a Ferrari, or a Lambo, you know? You gotta rev the engine once in a while to keep ’em in tune.”
“I hear you,” Toller said. “Well, listen, I gotta split. The boss is gonna need the car. I’ll catch you later, huh?”
“Yeah, sure,” McCormick said as they shook hands again. “See you around.”
Noelani returned to the office and another twenty minutes passed before the door opened again and Carson led them out.
“McCormick,” Hardcastle said brusquely.
McCormick stood up and made an evident effort to produce a civil reply. “Yes, sir.”
“J.B. and Noelani and I are going to go look at some properties. You wait here. Have the car ready out front when we get back.”
“Yes, sir,” McCormick said again. “Anything you want, sir.”
Carson ushered Hardcastle and Noelani to the front of the building where Toller waited with a stretch limousine. They visited four of Carson’s proposals: two private residences, one on Farrington Highway, the other on Ewa Beach Road, each with achingly beautiful views of the ocean and mountains; an empty parcel northwest of the city on which Carson said he planned to build 3,500 homes plus an associated shopping center; and finally a remote location near the Schofield Barracks Forest Reserve about halfway between Honolulu and the island’s North Shore on which Carson intended to locate 242 luxury condos. By the time they returned to Carson’s office it was nearly four o’clock. With assurances that he would carefully consider all he’d seen, Hardcastle wrote Carson a $20,000 check as earnest money and they arranged to meet again the following morning.
“Well,” McCormick said when they were on their way again, “I was going to ask how everything went, but now all I want to know is why you’re writing personal checks to that guy.”
“What, you think all I did yesterday was shop for Hawaiian shirts?” Hardcastle said. “Try to remember who you’re talking to, kiddo.”
“What’d you do?” McCormick asked resignedly.
“I contacted my contacts, of course. Friend of mine moved to Maui a few years ago. He’s a banking guy, international investments, all that kind of thing. He knows people who know people, and pretty soon, voila: I’m the proud owner of offshore accounts in Singapore, Bahrain, and Panama.”
“Impressive,” Noelani said. “So in retrospect it’s not all that surprising that Rossi knew who you were. You really are some kind of legal big shot.”
“Nah,” Hardcastle said modestly. “Just a mild-mannered retiree from the mainland.”
“Milt,” Carson said as he ushered them into his office the next morning. “Good morning to you both. What do you think? Which one of those opportunities do you think you’d like to participate in?”
“Well, Noelani and I talked it over,” Hardcastle said, “and she thinks the first place we saw on Ewok Street—”
“The residence on Ewa Beach Road?”
“That’s the one. We think that’s going to work out for us just fine.”
“So you’d like to make an offer?”
“Great, I’ll have Beth get the paperwork ready. What did you think about the other developments? Did any of them interest you?”
“All of ’em,” the Judge said immediately. “That’s how I like to roll the dice. The bigger the investment, the bigger the payoff.”
“But the bigger the risk, honey,” Noelani spoke up. “I hate to see you gamble like this.”
“Oh, it ain’t gambling, sweetheart,” the Judge said, patting her hand. “It’s only gambling if you don’t know what you’re doing, and I know what I’m doing. I can tell J.B. here does, too. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, sir, it is,” Carson said, simpering. “But listen: your wife raises an excellent point about risk. I should mention that Carson Real Estate Group offers a full line of financial services beyond our real estate selections, including estate planning and trusts. What we like to recommend—just recommend, mind you; you’re obviously a sophisticated investor who knows his own mind—is a way to mitigate the financial risks to your heirs. What we often find is that although the primary investor in a family is comfortable with his risk exposure, often other family members are somewhat less sanguine about it.”
Hardcastle looked thoughtful. “I can see that. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. Tell me a little about what we can do.”
“What we often recommend to clients like yourself,” Carson said, “is an insurance product that’s designed for sophisticated investors. You or a trust in your name purchase the insurance product—a life insurance policy.”
“I already got a life insurance policy,” Hardcastle said with a hint of impatience.
“Of course, of course,” Carson said hurriedly. “But it pays out only after your death, am I right?”
“Obviously,” Hardcastle said.
“What if you had a life insurance policy that paid you money now? Upfront. As well as taking care of your loved ones after your passing?”
“Well,” Carson continued, “as I said, you or a trust in your name purchase the insurance. Once you’ve done that, the Carson Group buys it and pays the premiums. You get an up-front payout when the Group makes the purchase, and the beautiful Mrs. Hardcastle here is also taken care of in the event the unthinkable happens.”
Hardcastle looked very nearly won over. “How much of an up-front payout?”
“It depends on the size of the policy, of course, but let’s say you were to buy a $10 million policy. Your up-front portion would be approximately a quarter million.”
The Judge considered. “Can your group handle $20 million?”
“Twenty million it is, then,” the Judge said cheerfully. “How’s that, honey? A little spending money for while we’re here, and peace of mind for both of us that you’ll be taken care of.”
“Excellent,” Carson smiled. “Let me just have Beth get those forms, too, and we’ll get started. By the way,” he said as they waited for the secretary to return. “I never did ask you: how long are you staying in the islands?”
“Oh, just another few days,” Hardcastle said airily. “I have business in the Med on the third, and Noelani here’s never been, so she’s really looking forward to it.”
“It sounds wonderful,” Carson said. “Ah, thank you Beth. Now, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, I’ll just walk you through these, you can sign on the dotted lines, Beth will make copies, and we’ll get you on your way.”
From his seat near the plaza’s fountain Toller watched Hardcastle and Noelani get into the waiting Mercedes and be driven away. He returned to the office and found his boss shrugging into his jacket.
“How’d everything go?” he asked.
“Couldn’t be better,” Carson said. “The guy chomped on it like a bass. The only problem is we’re gonna have to pull the plug before Monday. They’re only staying through the weekend and then they’re leaving for a business trip to Greece or something.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. What do you want to use: Schofield or the shopping center?”
“Schofield,” Carson said without hesitation. “It’s got the canyon access. Any distraught husband who realized his wife’s been doing the chauffeur on their honeymoon would find that an ideal spot to pitch himself off a cliff. After leaving a note explaining everything, of course.”