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Authors: Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Tags: #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General

Fire Prayer

Fire Prayer

Fire Prayer

Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2007 by Deborah Turrell Atkinson

First Edition 2007

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2006940936

ISBN-13 Print: 978-1-59058-402-6

ISBN-13 eBook: 978-1-6159-50041

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

Poisoned Pen Press

6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

[email protected]


To Robert, Egen, and Andrew


I am grateful to Bishop Press for permission to quote Hawaiian proverbs from
Ōlelo No ‘eau, Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings
, by Mary Kawena Pukui, Bishop Museum Press, 1983 (Honolulu, Hawaii).

My thanks go out to the many people who helped me with this novel, which would be an unfulfilled fantasy without the expertise of Barbara Peters, Rob Rosenwald, and Jane Chelius. Big hugs to Michael Chapman, Karen Huffman, Michelle Calabro-Hubbard, Egen Atkinson, and Honey Pavel, who critiqued, supported, and encouraged.

Claudia Turrell and Patricia NaPier contributed much-appreciated legal points of view. Robert E. Atkinson, M.D., supplied the symptoms, treatments, and side-effects of all the injuries my characters sustain. Officer Mace Minakawa of the Honolulu Police Department shared his knowledge of firearms, while HPD Officer Kevin Kobayashi took me in his patrol car to give me a firsthand view of police procedure. Sergeant Keith Kawano of the Maui Police Department added details as to how the Moloka‘i police operate. Patricia Johnson, an investigator with the City and County of Honolulu's Medical Examiner's office, provided procedural details. Dr. William Goodhue, City and County of Honolulu's First Deputy Medical Examiner, imparted a wealth of scientific and forensic information. Tom Chun and Malia DeCourcy helped with important details about life on Moloka‘i, such as where cell phones stop operating.

Any mistakes in the story are my own and are probably due to the questions I didn't know enough to ask.

All characters and incidents in
Fire Prayer
are products of my imagination. While it is true that Moloka‘i was the home of the most powerful Hawaiian sorcerers, I don't know any of them. In 1995, protesters burned a building on Moloka‘i Ranch, but no one died.

Some readers may suspect that I exaggerate when it comes to the small town atmosphere of a state with over a million and a quarter people, but I've probably understated it. For example, when I called the Honolulu Medical Examiner's office to find out what a body would look like after it had lain in a Moloka‘i forest for two weeks, Dr. William Goodhue not only shared his expertise, he revealed that he's part of the Meyer family of Meyer Sugar Mill in Kalae, near Kualapu‘u, Moloka‘i. His ancestor, Rudolf Meyer, came from Germany and married a Hawaiian princess. Dr. Goodhue's great grandfather was a physician at Kalaupapa, the famed colony for sufferers of Hansen's Disease, from 1902 until 1925.

Chapter One

Jenny Williams sucked in a lungful of smoke. Her eyes followed the woman down the front walk, but her thoughts were still on Tanner. His hands had been steady because he wasn't taking his medicine. Which was also why his eyes wouldn't meet hers. And the damned fool told her he had himself under control. Yeah, yeah. She'd heard that story for the past ten years.

His intelligence was an electrical short circuit that could fry them both. Too bad he wasn't in a downswing; he was so much easier to deal with when he hated himself. Angry tears stung Jenny's eyes. His illness was a curse, and everyone he came in contact with suffered from it. He might not like to take the drugs because they slowed his mind down, made him gain weight, even made his hands shake, but he was
without it. Looney Tunes.

The depressions were easier to handle than his manic swings. Hyper, he was like a meth head, twitching and buzzing with confidence and crazy ideas that peaked, then tapered into paranoia. Not only did he rearrange magazines, books, napkins, eating utensils, or anything else in the house so that lines only he saw were parallel (or at right angles, whatever his obsession that day), he often answered the people in his head before he responded to the ones who stood right in front of him. The invisible conversationalists were former professors and folks he'd admired over the last decade or so and still guided his life. Forget about the wife and kid.

Jenny set her jaw. She'd known when she went to answer the woman's knock, he'd slip out the back door. No way he would stand still long enough to wait. Well, good riddance.

Part of her was a little worried he'd think up some reason to barge back in. Not even a stranger would inhibit him when he was hyped, and there was no way she could keep up with the intricacies of his arguments. Such a sad goddammed waste. All she could do was shut him down. If he'd stayed one more second, they would have had a full-on screamathon. Again.

She heard a soft noise behind her and shouted, with a quick glance over her shoulder, “Get back in your room.” She knew it wasn't Tanner because he wouldn't creep, he'd blow in like a tropical storm. Knock over a few things on the way.

At the door, Jenny's voice broke. She cleared it, then coughed a few times. Maybe the visitor would think she was fighting a cold. Right. Still, it wouldn't help to show any weakness, or any distress. The woman was an old high school friend of Tanner's, after all. And God knew giving other people a view of her troubles hadn't done her any good in the past and wasn't about to now.

The woman, a Honolulu attorney, seemed nice enough, and asked how well Jenny knew Lambert Poele and Brock Liu. Jenny was happy to relate that Brock was mostly an asshole with some redeeming qualities and Lambert was a recluse who was hardly ever seen. She hoped Liu was the one in trouble. She figured someone was if a lawyer was asking around, and Brock wasn't very popular around here.

The part about Poele was only a tiny fib, and that by omission. She'd seen him a few days ago for the first time in a while. A smile loosened the grim set of her lips. If she hadn't been so mad at Tanner, she would have blushed at the memory.

Jenny watched the visitor drive away, and turned to the beer she'd left on the coffee table. It had been hard to get past the anguish over Tanner's visit and talk to the woman. Christ, these encounters sucked the energy out of her worse than night shift at the hospital. She drained the long-neck and listened for Luke.

If he'd been peeking down the hall a few minutes ago, he'd been smart enough to lie low. “Luke?” she called.

No answer. She wandered into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. She needed another beer. “Luke?” she yelled again as she popped the top. “We need to talk.”


Storm Kayama looked good, really good. She had the same dark, liquid eyes that he'd always admired, but her solid athletic frame had an ease she hadn't shown in high school. Fifteen years ago Storm had been a pissed-off sixteen-year-old with spiked purple hair. Now strands of her shoulder-length mahogany hair escaped from her thick French braid and wisped softly around her high, wide cheekbones. She tucked one lock, then another, behind her ears, only to have them work free during the conversation with Jenny. Her voice was soft and low and the big brown eyes he remembered met Jenny's with humor and empathy.

He tore at a hangnail and thought back on himself in those days. A skinny high school senior with acne and no friends. He'd been on the verge of his disease then, and his family doctor, the over-worked family practitioner in Kaunakakai, was the only medical person who believed him. Everyone else thought he was stressing over school work, his perfectionism, the drive to go to a good college on the mainland. Whatever it was, the other students picked on him like a pack of mynahs shredding a ripe mango.

Except for Storm, who actually talked and listened to him. She, too, was a misfit. Rumors drifted behind her like smoke. They said someone powerful had kept her from getting shipped off to the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility. A big time Honolulu lawyer, with the clout to get her out of Pa‘auilo and the trouble brewing there, took her into his family in the Hawaiian way, made her a
daughter. The black leather jacket she wore like a uniform only confirmed her bad-girl persona. No one picked fights with her. They left her alone, and she acted like that was just fine.

Tanner had tutored Storm in her sophomore biology class. When she arrived on O‘ahu, she didn't have much background in the sciences and was at a disadvantage at the new school. But he detected aptitude, a quick mind, and a toughness he admired. Some of the students at their exclusive school were cruel manipulators, and he'd seen her face them down on a number of occasions. One time, she did it for him.

And here she was, taller, smoother, and a lot more peaceful.

Tanner would have liked to tune out and let his mind wander, especially with the pleasant distraction of watching his old friend Storm make her way up the front walk. He did that sometimes—kind of like staying underwater. But Jenny, with her back to the door, kept poking and punching his arms and chest while she alternated between pleading with him to take his medications and blasting a gut-twisting inventory of how he'd screwed up, how he'd ruined Luke's life and hers.

Right then he wished he could hold Jenny underwater. She'd played the Luke card again, and he couldn't ignore the palpable stab of guilt. My son, he thought, the last remaining love of my life, is the weapon she uses to bludgeon me. He's her silver stake. She wants to pound every one of my failures into the atomic structure of my cells, the submolecular tangle of every neuron and dendrite snaking through my nervous system. She likes to see me twitch.

But he wouldn't let her. Take a deep breath, he told himself. Let the electricity run through your body to your fingers and out into the universe, away from your fractured mind. Look at something tranquil. Storm, who now stood at the door, would do. Though he saw her wince at the sound of their angry voices.

Tanner backed up. Coming on an impulse had been a big mistake. He should have stopped by Skelly's first and asked his friend to give him another haircut. He'd had one last week, but maybe another would have smoothed his rough edges. He also might have borrowed a razor, and scraped the afternoon shadow from his chin.

Hell, Jenny would have ranted anyway. She didn't notice his efforts any more. All the resentment she carried around had stained the sunny glow of compassion that had once been part of her. And, he admitted, some of that was his fault. But her bitterness was taking its toll on all of them, especially Luke.

Storm had decided to go ahead and knock on the door, which distracted Jenny, thank God. When his ex wheeled away, Tanner lingered a couple seconds longer to get another look at this woman from his past, whom he still counted among his friends.

Right then Luke peered around the corner with an expression of pain on his face that sent a surge of remorse and anger coursing through Tanner. The dark circles under the boy's eyes nearly tore him in half.

Luke was the reason he'd gone there in the first place. Tanner tiptoed to his son, ruffled his hair, and whispered that he would help him. Then he slipped out the back door.

He could still hear Jenny's fake cordiality as he crossed through the banana trees bordering the back property line. His property line. His house, for what it was worth. The trees were overgrown, and their heavy leaves and ponderous flowers still dripped with last night's rainfall. He could stand there without being seen.

He couldn't see Jenny, but her voice sliced the still air. What had happened to her, to them? When had her blue eyes flattened to veined granite, her voice changed from a lover's caress to a shrill buzz of destruction? When had her golden hair turned to straw and her willowy stature toughened to sinews of decay?

She would poison Luke. Contaminate him with the venom of her bitterness and desperation. He was still an innocent, like others Tanner had known who'd been destroyed at a young age. But he shoved those memories aside quickly.

Moloka‘i can be a rough place; few live here in the style of a university professor or business executive. That kind of job rarely exists on this island, which was why Jenny stewed in her misery. She couldn't see that people could be happy and comfortable if they supported each another, when they relished the crystal seas, the embrace of soft breezes, and the fertile bounty of the earth. Jenny couldn't see past the size of a paycheck and a job with status.

Luke was the best part of Tanner's life, the most important accomplishment of his thirty-three years. He had to do something to mitigate his estranged wife's fury and preserve his son's still unspoiled outlook. Out there under the trees, Tanner's eyes burned and his throat ached. He needed to find a way to prevent Luke from being caught in the same crossfire of hatred and rancor he'd seen ten years ago.

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