Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/474785-The-Next-Victim
by Joy
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Mystery · #474785
LAPD detective rescues her friend in Tahiti from a golddigger's snare
         He placed a lei made of star-shaped Tiare flowers around Cassie's neck, "La orana! That means hello in Tahitian. Maeva, welcome."

          Cassie's eyes trailed the tattoos of curlicue designs on his half-sleeved arms. He stepped back and took off his woven hat with a courteous gesture. A medium-built man in his late thirties, he had square handsome features. His dark eyebrows extended in slanting lines from the bridge of his nose to the depths of his temples. With his healthy physique and gentlemanly ways, he appeared to be a pleasant person.

          "Cassie, meet Tane, my right-hand man." Cassie noticed the involuntary admiration in Lillian's tone.

          "Bonjour, Tane."

         Tane nodded and looked directly at Cassie's face. Unusual for the typically shy Polynesians, Cassie thought.

         As soon as they walked out of the arrivals door, the hot air rose around Cassie as if it were coming from under the sidewalk.

          "Oh Lillian, they must be heating the streets here."

          "Sorry I called you during the hot season, Cassie. Winters are much better. Very pleasant with gentle breezes." Lillian took Cassie's arm, leading her to a cream-colored limousine outside the Papeete airport.

          "We'll fly to Manihi tomorrow, since there are no more flights today," Lillian explained inside the limo. "Tahitian Airlines' flight for today has already left."

          "Is Manihi that far away?"

          "More than 300 miles to the north. It's an hour by plane. Tane and I came with the yacht. You'd love sailing around the atolls, but you must be tired. Tane will take the boat back. We'll stay in one of the company apartments in Papeete, so you can rest. It's quite comfortable in there. I'd like to chew the fat with you anyway."

         Cassie nodded. The eight-hour flight from LA had left a numbing effect on her body.

         The limousine suddenly stopped. Several people had gathered in front of a government building chanting. Out of the blue, someone fired a gun.

          "Don't stop Antoine, keep going," Lillian ordered the driver.

          "What is happening?"

          "Don't worry Cassie. Nothing serious. These people don't know what they want. In 1996 the French stopped the nuclear testing. It was killing the atolls and the industry, but then because of it, many people lost their jobs. There are rumors that the testing will start again. Some are for it and some are against."

          "I thought the pearl industry was booming."

          "It is...if the nuclear testing and what-have-you doesn't do away with the atolls."

         After supper, when the last servant left the room, Cassie watched Lillian as she settled on the sofa next to her, cupping her brandy with her hands. Dressed in a black and white sarong, she looked like any typical rich woman, well-kept and groomed with an air of finesse about her. In her late forties, Lillian looked ten pounds lighter than the last time Cassie had seen her in LA together with Wang, Lillian's deceased husband, a gentle Chinese who had stumbled into the black pearl business.

          "I thought you and Wang settled in Tahiti, Lillian. Why did you move to Manihi?"

          "We went to Manihi because Zhou, my brother in-law, wanted Wang to be his partner. The island group that Manihi is in is made up of coral atolls, where black pearls are farmed. The prettiest place on earth, if you ask me. With the pearl farming industry, those islands acquired modern conveniences. You'll see when we go there."

         "Lillian, let's get to the point. You said some things on the phone but the connection was bad. I gather you feel a crime has been committed."

          "You and I have been good friends, Cass. Since you work with the LAPD, I thought of you right away. Wang died while diving. You do recall how broken up I was after him, don't you? Now, I can't trust anyone except Tane."

          "Go ahead and tell me now, Lill," Cassie said, as she remembered Wang, the thin man from China with lips curled into a constant smile.

          "When Wang died two years ago, I took over his business. Zhou and I together, we were managing the whole thing very well."


          "Zhou was killed two months ago. They found his body in the lagoon with a gunshot wound to the head. Just before that, a case of valuable pearls were stolen from the laboratory."

          "That's awful!"

          "It was terrible. There was an investigation but the police are tight-lipped. I'm scared that they'll believe I had the motive for Zhou's death."

          "How so?"

          "Zhou had no family. Zhou and Wang, the two brothers, were very young when a missionary had snatched them out of Communist China. Later, neither could remember the real names of their family members except for calling them big aunt, tiny uncle, or grandfather. After Wang died, Zhou and I made a partnership agreement, leaving everything to each other. My children are still in their teens. Should something happen to me, Zhou was going to be the one to care for them as their uncle. A month before his death, Zhou got engaged to a local woman named Hina. Hina was devastated after Zhou. Although she works in our labs, Hina avoids me now. Sometimes I sense her looking at me with angry eyes. "

          "Do you mean Zhou's murder hurt your business also?"

          "No, not really."

          "How's the business doing?"

          "Remarkably well, thanks to Tane. He oversees the workers and helps to close the deals with the European merchants. I was afraid, with the acceptance of the new laws, the business would suffer, but instead, it is flourishing."

          "What new laws?"

          "The government put restrictions, ordering us not to trade the lower quality –they call it quality D- pearls even inside the country. Now, starting next September, the pearls for sale have to be large and of high quality. Less than forty percent of the farm produces pearls, and only two percent of this is high quality, imagine the work. Still, Tane is confident that we'll make even more profit because the prices went way up."

          "What were you doing with the not-so-acceptable pearls before?"

          "Wang and Zhou let Tane have them, since he was working so hard for us. He had built a small business for himself selling those on the side. After these laws, I tripled his salary although he never complained. He's a good man, Cassie, and he seems to have a thing for me, although he is ten years younger than I am. "

          "Oh, Lillian, am I hearing notes of romance in your tone?" Cassie asked, studying the sparkle in her friend's eyes.

          "Cass, I can't believe it myself. I truly loved Wang and was devastated after his death. But Tane offered me his very, very loyal friendship, and especially after Zhou, he helped the business thrive. The locals here resent the Chinese taking over the pearl business. Tane constantly stepped up to bat for us if something nasty came up. In the meantime, I warmed up to him, although I'm usually very careful about men."

          "At our age, my friend, we can't be too careful," Cassie said as she patted Lillian's arm.


         The atoll of Manihi was in the Tuamotu island group. As well as being more populated than the rest of the island groups, Tuamotu islands were a haven for divers, painters, photographers, and black pearl farmers. The abundance of flowers everywhere stunned Cassie. Lillian said the flowers were so important to the islanders that they built legends and holidays about them.

          "Would you believe, Cass, when Tane told me how he felt about me, he told me of the Tiare legend. He told me my hand was the same as the island maiden's who gave that flower its name. Isn't it romantic?"

          "What was the legend about, Lill?"

          "You know Tiare is a gardenia but a certain kind of it only grows on Mount Temehani. There was this island maiden who died to save her lover. As she lay dying in his arms, she told him, 'Every morning when you come to the mountain, I will give you my hand to caress'. The islanders believe, in each Tiare flower, is the hand of that maiden."

          "To me it sounds more tragic than romantic. The maiden died, Lill."

          "Oh you! You're so level-headed! But you should see how Tane told me that legend. He was so romantic." Lillian sighed.

         Pearl farming was a booming industry in Manihi. In the turquoise lagoons, grafts as beads made from freshwater mussels were implanted inside black-lipped oysters. Cassie gasped at the pearls' luster and beautiful iridescent colors that ranged from black and silver gray to deep green; she watched the laboratory technicians open up the huge oysters, each almost a foot wide, take out the gland and remove the pearls with surgical precision. In another room of the plant, the pearls were very carefully polished and weighed.

         After touring the premises with Lillian and Tane, Cassie wanted to go around on the island.

          "Let me take you," Tane offered, but Lillian reminded him that they had an appointment to meet with some French buyers. "Don't worry about Cass, Tane. She knows how to take care of herself. Besides, the island is pretty safe."

          "But Lillian, she's our guest. In that case Antoine will take Cassie around Turipaoa," Tane said, "Besides, Antoine knows English."

          "Turipaoa is the name of the village, Cass. It is very close. You can probably walk there in ten minutes but why should you? Antoine will take you. He is very reliable. Tane and I trust him implicitly," Lillian said.

          Cassie didn't refuse. Maybe Tane didn't want her to be alone, not even with Lillian,

         Antoine was a pleasant man whose mother had come from France and married a his Polynesian father. As well as being the driver, he was an all-around personal servant for Lillian.

          "Most everyone lives in the village," Antoine said. "The natives here make copra, which is dried coconut meat. They also repair the fish parks and work in the pearl farms. Things are so expensive here. See that Manihi Beach Resort, on the right side? Even a regular room there is over four hundred dollars a night."

          "Yes, I see what you mean, Antoine. Tell me something. Are you good friends with Lillian and Tane?"

          "Friends? No, Ma'am. I wouldn't call it that. I work for them. I obey orders, that's all."

          "So, you don't know Tane at all?"

          "Ye, Ma'am. I do. He used to live in the village when he had a girl friend. Then, some things happened. Matahi, a friend of Tane, was killed. Matahi and Tane used to share a house in the village. Afterwards, Tane moved into a small "fare" – a Polynesian cottage- closer to the labs."

          "It makes sense since he works there."

          "Tane loves the business and making money. And he likes Miss Lillian a lot. Probably that's why he told me to keep an eye on you. You being Miss Lillian's friend and all."

          "Being the nice guy that he is, I bet, he asked you to tell him about where I go and what I do."

          "Yes, Ma'am. After Monsieur Zhou's passing, we are very careful. But don't tell Tane I told you that."

         Cassie smiled at Antoine's childlike honesty. "My lips are sealed, Antoine. Don't worry. But I feel a little tired now. That long flight from LA is hard to overcome. Can you take me home, please?"

         A soon as Antoine left, Cassie slipped out again. She was careful not to be seen by any servants. Antoine had showed her where the local police station was. Cassie walked into the police station and found the air-conditioning inside the building turned off.

          The girl at the front desk looked up at Cassie. "Did you lose something in the hotel, Ma'am?"

         As she wiped the sweat off her face, Cassie told her she needed to talk to a detective about some police business in LA.

          "I'm with the LAPD." Then she offered her ID.

          One mild-mannered detective, a native Polynesian advanced in years, welcomed Cassie with a small grin.

          "A colleague from America...I'm honored Ma'am." He offered her a chair. "I'm Vetea. Please, excuse the heat. Our system went off again. At least, the fans are working." He pointed to the ceiling.

         Watching the sweat drops slide off the tip off the old man's nose, Cassie said, "I need the data in relation to the deaths of Wang and Zhou Shuren."

          "How is this connected with LAPD? Do you have any leads?"

          "I have some suspicions I want to check up on."

          "Both Monsieur Shuren's were very honorable men. I don't believe they would be involved in anything bad. But then, who knows? Human nature."

          "I don't believe they were involved in any crime, but they could have been targets, couldn't they?

          "Definitely. We never had any crime here...until the recent pearl fever," the man said. "Manihi has a population of four hundred plus. Everyone knows everyone."

         The policeman allowed Cassie to read from the files stored on his computer and to print off some of the data.

         Investigating Lillian's books inside the Shuren Labs took a few days. Cassie took her time talking to workers and mingling among them.

         One day as she walked around the partitioned labs, Cassie heard whispers from a side cubicle. She would have passed by if she hadn't heard a woman say Tane's name emphatically.

          "Tane, promise me! Promise me, now."

         Cassie stepped behind an archway to listen.

          "Promise you what? Don't be silly!"

          "Promise me your marriage to Lillian will be short-cut. I've taken too many risks for you."

          "You know to answer to that already. What would I do with a woman her age?"

          "She belongs with the Chinese, Tane. Those people had no business being here."

          "I'll take back what's ours, Hina. Wait until we get rich. She'll be easy to do away with."

          "And that woman police?"

          "Nah, she knows nothing. She doesn't even know enough French. If she becomes too much, you know what we can do."

         . Since her mother was a French Canadian, French was Cassie's first language. Cassie grinned, congratulating herself for the show she had put on; however, alerting Lillian wouldn't be as easy. She heard Tane's voice again.

          "Get back to work, Hina. I don't want her to see us together."

         In silence, Cassie slipped away into Lillian's office. "Come with me to the police station," she said, "immediately. Not a word to Tane."

          "But Cass, I can't leave without telling him. It would be so gauche."

          "Lill, for this once, do as I tell you. Being gauche is smart now."

          At the police station, Lillian objected when Cassie told her Tane and Hina were partners in crime.

          "I have the facts right here," Cassie said. "I first suspected foul play when your housekeeper told me that Tane and Hina were childhood sweethearts."

          "It was a long time ago. I knew about it, Cass." Lillian shrugged and looked away.

         "Lill, just bear with me. There's a lot more to this. Look at me and listen. Wang was found dead with his oxygen tank disconnected. Wang's death was not an accident, Lillian. The tube leading to the tank was cut with a sharp object. That day Wang had gone diving with Tane.

         "Yet, right after Wang's death, Tane and another man, Matahi, testified that they weren't with Wang. They said Wang had taken the yacht alone. Tane and Matahi said they were together on a small dinghy implanting on the far side of the lagoon. How could that be when the oysters there were already implanted a week ago, as is shown in the farm's data log? Look at the records.

         "At the time, the testimony of these two men corroborated each others alibi. It appeared, there was no reason or motive for them to lie. Also, it was customary for Wang to go sailing alone, but three women had seen Wang and Tane sail off together that day. I asked the women to tell that to Detective Vetea and they did.

         "After Wang died, Zhou became the next victim. Enter Hina. On the day of his murder, Zhou went to the opposite side of the lagoon to meet her on their favorite beach. Hina was the one to lure Zhou into a secluded place.

         "Zhou's secretary said, Zhou told her that Hina called him and had a surprise for him. A few minutes later the same secretary saw Hina. Hina denied ever making that call. Tane backed her up by saying he had worked with Hina all day in the lab and she hadn't called anyone. All the lab-workers had seen her in the lab. Yet, if you look at Zhou's call logs, a call was made to Zhou from a cell phone belonging to Matahi."

          "What about the stolen pearls?" Lillian muttered.

          "Probably they paid off Matahi with them."

          "Could be," the policeman said. "An empty case for pearls was near Matahi's body. Matahi was found asphyxiated in Takaroa two weeks later."

          "Yes, I know that he was killed," Lillian said. "Tane said that Matahi had gotten involved with some smugglers."

          "Matahi was the hired killer for Tane," Cassie continued. "Two days ago, inside Hina's cubicle, I found a cell phone. I brought it here to Detective Vetea."

          "Miss Lillian, that cell phone was registered in Matahi's name, and we found the call made to Monsieur Zhou on its data log." Vetea tapped his hand on the desk. "Tane probably did away with Matahi, so he wouldn't talk. Miss Cassie said Tane was absent from the labs for two days during the time that Matahi was killed."

          "At that time, I thought Tane was in Papeete waiting for some pearl merchants from Japan. That should be in my appointments calendar," Lillian muttered, her voice fading.

          "Lillian, that's where I found the correlation. Also, Tane made one major slip. The police found Tane's hat near Matahi's body, except at the time, they didn't know whose hat it was. After I put two and two together, Detective Vetea made the connection to Tane."


          "Vetea had his wife show the hat to Hina as if she had found it on the beach. Hina said it was Tane's because she had woven it for him."

          "Does Hina know this?"

          "No, Lill. She didn't know that Tane had left his hat there. Probably neither did Tane. If she knew that, she wouldn't have identified it."

          "Why did you wait to tell me this, Cass?"

          "I needed all the evidence, and I didn't want Tane catching on to it. Earlier today, I heard him talking to Hina, and I felt that the right time had come. They said they'd get rid of me if I became too much...and you Lillian, my friend, after marrying Tane, you would be the next victim."


         Cassie leaned back and closed her eyes as the plane to LA rose to thirty thousand feet. On her neck swaying gracefully from a gold chain was a single black pearl, a gift from Lillian. Her trip had been a productive one, after all.

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