Form HPD-252-A. Witness Statement from Dr. Tonya Meiers.
I first met Rick Anderson on my flight to the island of Oahu from Seattle, three days ago. It’s true that both Mr. Anderson and I booked the same hotel, and it’s also true that we shared a cab to the hotel, but we’d never met before the flight. It was just happenstance.
Tonya Meiers sits and stares at her cellphone, waiting for the little grey arrows to change. There’s one grey arrow to indicate her message sent. Another grey arrow shows it’s been received, but most importantly, as soon as her daughter reads the message, both grey arrows will turn to blue. They will. Tonya glances out the window, looks at but doesn’t consciously see the cargo vehicle snaking towards the plane. Her thoughts are all inward. Tonya taps her darkened phone awake but of course nothing has changed. Two grey arrows, still.
She’s vaguely aware of the man next to her. Never having spent the fare on a First Class ticket before, she expected more space on this flight, but then, it’s a smaller plane. Her elbow brushes the man’s sleeve; she tucks her arm against her side, leaning toward the window. She again looks at her phone. No change.
Tonya sighs, pushes her bangs up out of her face, writes another text to her daughter, though with some difficulty. Her fingers are so cold the phone doesn’t register her clicks all that well. Three tries and finally, she clicks the whoosh button. One grey arrow, and-.
“Have you been to Honolulu before?” It feels sudden, his voice stabbing the low thrum of airplane noises. The man next to her radiates charm and charisma, holding a glass of red wine by the stem.
She figures he’s got to be at least 3 degrees warmer than the rest of humanity. Tonya rests her phone against her stomach, hiding the screen, and faces him. She smiles politely, shakes her head. “First time for me. You?”
“Come every chance I get. I do business in Hawaii. Every quarter. Always manage to extend my trips. This time I could only get four days, not more. Fifty-fifty split, business and pleasure. Down the middle.” He sighs, sips his pre-pushback drink and gazes out the airplane window, thrumming manicured fingers along the edge of his fold-down table.
She smirks, “Poor you,” aware that he’s trying to impress her.
He laughs and the wrinkles around his eyes deepen handsomely. Tonya realizes she’s attracted to him, and it annoys her. She doesn’t need his charm, but glances at his hands, nevertheless. There’s a wedding band. Of course.
Tonya downs a swig of her white wine and waits for the warm fuzz to hit the back of her head. There it is. She wipes a hand down her jeans, slightly nervous, a little uncomfortable. She adjusts, sits upright but then looks down at her hands, so bare, in her lap. Maybe she’ll get jewelry on this trip. She spots a bit of fuzz on her knee and realizes her tweed blazer is shedding. Tonya picks at the fuzz, rolls it absently between her forefinger and thumb.
She exhales, wishes her daughter would show signs of life and at the very least read her damn texts, but Tonya knows she won’t, she has her own life now and Tonya sighs, and then tries not to think about her ex-husband and his secretary.
Tonya mutters with an edge, “I imagine you have a secretary,” the words just glide right out of her gob. She’s surprised at herself, the audacity. It isn’t like her. He’s a stranger, and a man, too. She tucks in her chin and swallows, wishes she could retract what she just said. Her cheeks feel hot.
He hesitates, blinks, watches her. His chin goes down too, to match her mood and her position, “Yes, I do.” He doesn’t ask why. He already knows her story.
Tonya senses his guilt like a jagged heatwave coming off his arms. She turns to look more fully at his face. Her mouth falls slack. She breathes, “You’re having an affair with your secretary.” Another one.
He doesn’t deny it, doesn’t even try.
“It’s like an epidemic,” she states, disgusted. She leans back in her seat. Tonya’s eyes skim along the tops of passengers’ heads and she believes they’re all having affairs with secretaries. “I don’t get it.”
He shrugs. “What’s to get?” He sips his wine, swirls the glass a little, a small but sloppy storm. “There’s no mystery here. It’s convenience.” Tonya opens her mouth but he cuts her off, “I know. That isn’t romantic, but the secretary is simply there, you know, and she’s bending over a lot.” He waves a hand, the one with his wedding ring. “It’s almost inevitable.”
“It’s interesting you say, ‘almost inevitable,’ there.”
“Well, it isn’t a necessary eventuality, but it’s very common.”
“Do you dislike that about yourself? That you’re very common?”
He raises his brows, but there’s no retort. His mouth moves but he can’t form any words. He exhales, stares at his sifter. He nods, “I do, actually.” He turns to her, as in confidence, “Just don’t tell anyone.”
Tonya chuckles. “I think your secret’s safe. Not like I even know your name.”
“Rick. I’m Rick Anderson.” His hand reaches out to her, in greeting but also to seal a deal. His secret, now shared with her.
“I’m Tonya Meiers.” She doesn’t know why she’s smiling at him. She reminds herself that men are stupid. Tonya feels she’s being a complete idiot, gullible. She tells herself to stop it, tries a little harder to dislike Rick’s tall, dark, handsome, distinguished, successful, lying cheating face. He’s got stupid grey temples. Stupid.
“Nice to meet you, Tonya.” He says it like he means it, warm.
His voice. It’s way too smooth. The old, familiar words invade her mind, “Remember: never trust a charming man.” Her mother’s wisdom, quite annoying, and what Tonya naturally ignored when she chose to marry her now ex-husband. Big mistake.
She decides to just, quite simply, enjoy the flight in shared company. Nothing more than that, and quite reasonable. If nothing else, Rick Anderson can keep her mind off of those arrows.
During our initial chat on the plane, we discovered that we were both staying at the same hotel, The Royal Hawaiian. He suggested we share a cab, and I agreed. After we picked up our luggage from Baggage Claim, I noticed a limo driver holding a sign for “Mr. R. Anderson.”
I asked Rick if that could be for him, but he said no. In fact, he was adamant that it couldn’t be, because he wouldn’t “waste the money on such an extravagance, especially not for a 15-minute drive.” As we got into a cab, I felt like I was being watched. It bothered me and I asked him if he felt it too. He said he didn’t.
When we reached the hotel, Rick’s wife was waiting for him in the lobby, as a surprise. I am not sure he was pleased to see her there.
Smile frozen, a stunning woman gets up from a peach colored foyer seat at the Royal Hawaiian. She waves to Rick and sashays across the marble floor to kiss him. She just misses his lips, smooching his chin. As if an afterthought, the woman turns to look at Tonya and asks, “Who’s this?” Her neck is arched like a dancer, her teeth sharp, her arm braced around Rick’s waist.
Tonya holds out a hand, “You must be Mrs. Anderson. So nice to meet you. Your husband is such a gentleman, he suggested we share the cab here. I’m Tonya Meiers.”
Rather than introduce his wife, Rick asks, “Jia, when did you arrive? Why didn’t you tell me?” He takes a step back, ramrod straight, takes her hand from his waist and holds it. Their arms hang between them like a barrier cord in a museum.
Jia smiles, “I wanted it to be a surprise, and anyway, by the time I had the idea, your flight was booked.” She speaks at Tonya, “It was just lucky that an earlier flight had a last-minute cancelation.”
Tonya feels it, the accusation: she’s the woman who stole what should’ve been Jia’s seat on the plane.
Jia continues in her two-faced manner, “So what do you do?” Other than ruin my plans?
“I’m a doctor. I’m Director of the nursing staff at the Seattle hospital.”
“You’re kidding,” says Rick.
“You shared a flight with the woman and never thought to ask?” What the hell were you doing with her?
Tonya interjects, “We were too busy with Bond film trivia.”
“Oh wow.” You poor thing. “That’s something This One can talk about for hours.”
Tonya nods, and with that Jia Anderson is appeased. She turns to her husband, and her beaded earrings jangle. “I’m ready for a shower, really.” Let’s go.
Tonya gets in line behind the Andersons as they check in at the counter. Jia’s name is added to Rick’s suite reservation. Her luggage, having been stowed for her, is rolled out from behind the counter and the porter takes over.
Jia and Rick each get key cards to their suite, and step aside for Tonya so she can check-in.
The porter, a very large and muscled tower of Hawaiian man, assures the Andersons that he’ll bring their luggage directly to their suite within the next fifteen minutes, by way of the service elevator.
“Actually, Jona, hold on,” the Receptionist waves at him. “Ms. Meiers is on the same floor, just a couple doors down from the Andersons, so you can take her luggage as well.” She beams at Jona with a little bounce, “Saves you a trip.” He smiles, shy.
“Same floor,” Rick laughs. “Well that’s a perfect sort of coincidence.” His wife’s face is placid, cool and crisp. Rick clears his throat, “So, Dr. Tonya Meiers, I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” He leans away and waves rather than touch Tonya’s hand to shake it. Jia escorts her husband to the elevator.
Later that day, (maybe an hour or so later, not sure) I was on my way to the beachside bar. I saw the same limo driver from the airport coming into the hotel lobby. He was bringing a woman to the check-in, and carrying her luggage. He was having a difficult time, as she was drunk, boisterous. She tried to check-in, announcing that she was Rick’s secretary.
“Alison Smith. I’ve a suite reserved under Anderson.” Alison wavers, sighs, jacks up the spaghetti strap of her summer dress to no wholesome effect and burbles, “It’s part of the conference here. You know.” She smacks her lips a few times, as if there’s a sweet and sticky residue in the corners of her mouth. She winks at the receptionist, “You know.”
“Ms. Smith,” the receptionist leans forward and lowers her voice, “We don’t have you down as a guest in the Anderson’s suite. I can tell you that his wife, however, checked in with Mr. Anderson about an hour ago.” She waits. “If you’d like to clarify it with her, I can ring her up for you.”
“No. Nope. No way. Alright, fine. Thanks. Great. Ok.” Alison pats her hand on the counter like she’s standing at a roulette table, uncertain where to place her chips but certain it doesn’t really matter where they fall because either way she’s bound to lose. She leans forward, revealing more cleavage, and glances at the receptionist’s monitor. “Sure, I can go with this. Thanks,” and she turns on her heel, nearly stumbles and then bolts for the elevators. The limo driver hustles after her and so does the receptionist.
“Ma’am please stop. Ma’am, you can’t just-.” The elevator closes.
The receptionist rushes back to her counter, picks up a phone, quickly dials, waits, speaks, “Mr. Anderson, this is Reception. I thought you should know that Ms. Smith is here, inebriated, and I believe she’s heading to you now. I tried to stop her. Should I call Security?” She listens, nods, “All right, thank-.”
She puts the receiver down and turns to the chauffeur, “Are you in a hurry to get anywhere?” He shakes his head, and she voices her uncertainty, “I’m not sure what to do about her luggage. Officially, she isn’t actually a guest.”
“I’ll bring it to the limo and wait for her. She booked me for the day.”
Tonya watches the chauffeur pull Alison Smith’s luggage back out of the hotel. She catches herself feeling slightly guilty for what she just saw, and for the pleasurable thrill she felt from the thought that: Rick’s seriously in-for-it. Tonya can’t decide what to do. She tells herself this is a private matter, or should be. She tells herself how it would be terribly inappropriate for her to make her way back to her room, the room that’s just a couple doors down from what might be the catfight of the century. She feels a little bad for Jia, but not too bad. She feels bad for the dumbass secretary, but not as bad. She tries to dislike Rick, but can’t. He’s despicable. She would love to see him get in proper trouble. Poor guy. It’s a churning whirligig of emotions that are none of her business. Mostly none of her business. The elevators are shiny, beckoning. She sighs.
Hitching her bag higher up a shoulder, Tonya decides the most moral thing for her to do is to follow through with her original plan and go the beach bar. She does. She orders the appetizer sampler for two, because why not she’s on vacation, and a caipirinha, a decidedly tame cocktail for that locale, but her favorite, nonetheless.
As she dines, her eyes watch the ocean, the surfers and tourists. Her mind considers what she witnessed in the hotel lobby; she wonders vaguely if there’s a woman in her life who knew all along about her husband’s infidelity, a woman who could only witness the triangle and wait for the fallout. Very possibly Meredith, or Susan maybe. Alicia. Alicia knows everything. She had to know.
Tonya sighs, pulls herself to the present, the gorgeous island all around her. She takes another bite of ahi-ahi. Amazing stuff.
Most everything at the Royal Hawaiian hotel is peach-pink, like a warm summer sunset or a cheery cocktail. Even the parasols, both on the beach and plunged into cocktails, are peachy. Just beyond the hotel chairs and parasols, closer to the water, are somewhat plainer reclining chairs and parasols.
On a digestive walk along the beach, Tonya inhales the smell of water and salt, flowing around and mingling with the jasmine-vanilla tang of Hawaii’s frangipani blossoms. The sweet sugary allure of Korean barbecue and so many desserts are swept away by the humid wind pushing in from the shore. Tonya looks out across the water, breathes deeply, scrunches her toes in the wet sand and allows herself to feel, This is vacation. She finds then the perfect spot, exactly where she’d like to recline with a good book and get in some sunning time, but for another day, not right that moment, right after she just gorged herself at the beach bar. She lightly pats her full stomach and keeps strolling.
That first evening at the hotel, I overheard an argument. It was around 9:45pm, I think. My room faces the inner courtyard, and angry voices made me curious. I peeked through the curtains and could see Rick, upset with a woman. I could only see her back. At the time, I thought it must be his secretary, but the next day, I realized there was a third woman involved, Shanti Bickler, also a coworker of his. I believe now that it was her voice I heard.
She: “Everyone would know. Surely you don’t want her to know.”
Rick: “Hardly matters. Washington is a no-fault state.”
She: “Why ruin me in this? If you don’t care whether-.”
Rick: “Don’t pretend to be the victim here. You’ve been holding this over my head-.”
She: “No, I’ve been protecting myself, but-.”
Rick: “There. You admit it.”
She: “No. When I fell into bed with you, it was no plan. When you dug up my past, that’s when I needed to play that card. But it doesn’t matter. That isn’t even the point. I’m good at my job. Actually, I’m great at it. And you know it. So why ruin my chances here over something that happened more than twenty years ago? You know what’ll happen, and I know you know it’s stupid. So why do this to me at all?”
Rick: “I don’t know, maybe I just don’t like being played. And I think you played me.”
Her: “Bull. If anyone’s a player here, it’s-.”
A young couple, obvious newlyweds, walk through the courtyard in no hurry whatever. Rick watches them a moment, turns back to the woman and says, “We’re done here. I’ll see you tomorrow.” The woman grumbles something that makes Rick laugh out loud. He walks away, but then calls out over his shoulder, “Just your time to pay the piper, my Dear.”
On Day Two, I took an early morning breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Rick was there with several of his colleagues, the place was packed with casual suits. Rick saw that I was looking for a free table and waved me over to a seat at his table.
“Sleeping in. I’m working, but she’s on vacation. Why are you up so early? Don’t you sleep in?”
“Never. If I stay in bed too long, my back hurts.”
He nods in understanding, then asks, “Big plans today?”
Tonya sips her coffee, “Yesterday, after stuffing myself at the bar here, amazing by the way,” he nods in agreement with her, smiling, “I walked off my calories with a visit to Pearl Harbor. So I was thinking that today I might go hiking through the old volcano down over that way,” she points. “You can even see it from here.”
“Right. I want to hike the volcano. Other than that, I don’t really have anything planned for today.”
“Sounds like good, healthy fun. No shopping?”
Tonya shakes her head. “Have you hiked Diamond Head?”
“No,” he laughs. “I prefer almost anything over hiking. But tomorrow, being Saturday, I have just a half workday, so I’m taking off. Sort of.”
“I’ll still be surrounded by coworkers, but it’ll be fun. Rented a yacht. Just a few hours.”
“A yacht? How sleek. I’ve never been on one of those.”
“It’s great. The captain takes care of everything. You know, you really should experience this. You’re welcome to join us, Tonya. The yacht holds twelve, and there’s only five of us unless you join. Well, six if you include the captain. Sailing around Oahu, snorkeling. Three hours. Fun in the sun. What say you?”
Tonya tries not to feel meek about it, about not wanting to go. “I don’t want to intrude. Plus, I’m really looking forward to just lying on the beach with a good read.” Plus, you’re married, and, “After my hike, I’ll probably need a day of lounging around. Anyway. I’ve got a yen for just-.” Tonya sighs deeply, “being at the beach, reading a book. Drinking in the air and digging my feet into the hot sand, sipping caipirinhas.” She shrugs a little, a matter-of-fact confession. “I’ve been fantasizing about it.”
“Seriously. Free drinks on a yacht doesn’t entice you. Snorkeling?”
Tonya realizes she has the man truly gobsmacked and she can’t help but be a little pleased with herself. She smirks and says, quite truthfully, “Only if the boat stayed at the dock. It doesn’t really sound fun at all to me, hanging out with people I don’t know. On a boat. Where I couldn’t escape and in a bathing suit. No. Just no. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to intrude on such a small party. I’d be at best a spare tire. Plus, I’ve got my plan for tomorrow, which will be reward for the hike I’m doing today.”
She nods, “Reading.”
“You’d rather be reading, alone, than sip wine on a yacht,” he says, stating it as a fact but waiting for her to protest.
“Brutally honest, aren’t you?”
“So I’ve been told. To a fault, but not to an actual fault line, and, I hope, certainly, not past that line. I’m not that brutal.” She smiles. “Not intentionally.” She frowns, wondering about that and hoping it’s true, or at least mostly true.
Rick laughs at Tonya’s obvious self-doubt. “Refreshing. I never have to wonder what you’re really thinking.”
“No, never. I’m not mysterious in that way.”
“Are you mysterious in other ways?” He grins, showcasing his laugh lines. “Now I’m curious. What might those be?” Flirty, definitely flirty.
Tonya shakes her head, “You are Trouble, Mister. Capital T.”
He laughs freely, and Tonya suppresses a smile.
That’s how I knew that Rick would be on a yacht that next day. He’d invited me. I’m not sure if anything would be different - better or worse - if I’d been on the boat. But I wasn’t there. I was on the beach, reading. I nodded off a couple of times.
Tonya’s feet are still throbbing from the Diamond Head hike the day before, but the cool-pack helps. She adjusts a foot, gliding it across the icy surface a little, sips her caipirinha and sets the drink down in the shade of her parasol. A deep breath and a slow, mindful blink, and she resumes reading.
She’d let herself nap again, right there on the Honolulu beach, except the book is really just too good.
Suddenly, a shadow falls over the page, blocking the sun. Her mind fuzzy with heat, reading and cocktails, Tonya registers a man, sopping wet. She can tell that much even though he’s in silhouette, a bright expanse of beach searing behind him. A thin, dark and crooked line streaks down the length of his leg. That can’t be blood, she thinks.
Her eyes adjust and the man focuses into a shadowy figure, a sporty type wearing swimming trunks, barefoot. Breathing ragged. There’s a stick poking out of his torso, or one he’s holding there. He’s got to be holding it there so it won’t fall.
Tonya is certain this is a weirdo beach prank or something, and she’s about to tell him to go away, but then she sees his jaw, the angle of his nose, and realizes with a shock: it’s him.
His breathing is wrong.
“Rick?” She gets up immediately, her hospital mode kicks into gear.
He can’t speak. He chokes on words he cannot say. He’s been stabbed through with a spear.
The spear is metal, modern. Probably from a speargun. Square in the sternum.
Tonya calls for help. She screams for help.
“Rick, I know you can’t speak to me right now. It’s ok. I’m going to help you. Lie down on the sand here. Slow, careful.” Tonya holds his head in her hand; Rick passes out.
She screams for help again, then lightly slaps Rick’s cheek to wake him. Nothing.
A tourist from a nearby lounge chair grabs his smartphone and dials Emergency. He walks over to them, but not too close. “There’s been an accident,” he says to the dispatcher. “Looks like a speargun.” He asks Tonya if she needs instructions.
“No, I’m a doctor. But there isn’t much I can do here. Tell Dispatch he’s unconscious.” She has a million questions rushing through her mind but there’s no one to answer them.
A waiter runs to get the hotel doctor, the concierge and the manager, who calls the police as well.
Paramedics arrive first and Tonya explains to them, “Patient was stabbed through the sternum with a spear. I think his spleen may have been punctured – he was grabbing at his left shoulder before he passed out, but there’s no injury there.”
The paramedics slip Rick onto the gurney, strap him in, connect an IV drip, check his vitals, and remove him from the beach. They radio in with the updated status. Tonya follows, knowing the concierge is taking care of her things and having them brought to her room.
The hotel manager says he’ll try reaching Mrs. Anderson’s cellphone. Ashen faced but reassuring, he adds, “It’s exactly for situations such as this that we ask for the cell numbers of all our guests.” As the incident didn’t take place on the beach, there’s no reason to stay there.
Tonya rides with Rick in the ambulance, unaware of where they are, the buildings and parks of historical note, unaware that they’re driving past the seat of Hawaii’s government. The drive from the hotel to the hospital takes only fifteen minutes, just like their cab ride together.
I stayed in the waiting room while Rick was in surgery. I didn’t know how to contact Jia Anderson or anyone else in their party; there was nothing I could do. But then they all came, all together, to the hospital. Even the captain of the yacht was there, Captain Rad Lawler. Jia found me. She had lots of questions.
“Tonya, thank god you were there.” She hugs Tonya. “The hotel manager told me that somehow you saved Rick and stayed with him until the EMTs arrived.”
“That isn’t quite how it happened. I was on the beach and he suddenly appeared at my feet, drenched and stabbed.”
“Oh my god. What did he say?” Jia grips Tonya’s arm, too tight.
Tonya pats Jia’s hand but the woman won’t let loose. “Nothing-. Jia let go. No, he couldn’t speak. Jia, he could barely breathe. He passed out almost immediately. All I could really do is make sure no one tried to remove the spear thinking they were helping him.”
“Do you think he’ll be ok?”
“I hope so. He has a chance, but it’s a serious wound and I don’t know how long he was in the water. Didn’t anyone notice when he wasn’t on the boat anymore? How could he even make it to shore?”
Jia shakes her head. “No idea. No idea how he fell overboard without us knowing, no idea how he made it to shore without us noticing, no idea. Not for any of it. Stabbed? But he’s an excellent swimmer. I guess if he fell off the back – the yacht’s pretty big, you know. If you’re on the main deck, you can’t see the whole thing. At the front end, you can’t see the back. That’s where Rick was. He was at the back of the boat. Said he wanted to be alone for a while. There’s a jacuzzi tub there, so that’s what I thought he was doing, soaking. I guess not though.”
Tonya decides this isn’t the time to explain boat terms like stern and bow. She asks, “Were you at the front of the boat?”
Jia shakes her head. “Well, only at the very beginning. We were all out there, waving at you, trying to get your attention.” She smiles, meekly. “I guess we should’ve known you wouldn’t notice, but we were all in a good mood, then.” She sighs. “After that, no. The heat was too much for me. I was inside, in the kitchen. There’s even a small bedroom and I thought about lying down for a nap, but it seemed like a stupid way to spend such a limited time on a yacht. So I was, well, stuffing my face, drinking like a fish. I was there with Shanti.”
Jia points to a woman leaning against a wall, arms folded, looking down at her feet. “That’s Shanti Bickler, over there. She works with Rick, of course. Some sort of manager I think. I don’t really know. But she and I were both feeling antisocial, so we were antisocial together. Now I feel bad.” She sighs, her brow furrows. “I didn’t hear a thing, you know? It’s strange. I’ve been thinking back, trying to find any particular moment when maybe there was a cry for help, but I heard nothing of the sort.”
Tonya remembers the angle of the spear as it hung from Rick’s chest, a downward angle. Only the surgeon will know the angle of the shot. Wading through the ocean might bend or pull at the spear. She wonders briefly if a surfer could’ve helped Rick to shore, but then, why abandon him to search for help on his own?
“Were you listening to music?”
“No. But actually, the rest of them had music. The whole time. On the upper decks, so I guess we did have music. In the background, you know.” Tears run down her cheeks. “Maybe that’s why no one heard Rick cry out for help.”
“Jia, there’s nothing he could have said. Given the injury he had, I doubt he could’ve uttered a word, let alone call for help.”
Jia’s face pleads for assurance.
Tonya wants to tell her everything will be fine, she wants to say that Rick is strong, he made it to shore with a spear sticking out of his chest for crying out loud and of course he’ll pull through and come out of this stronger than ever. Tonya wants to say he’ll be kept overnight for observation and by tomorrow evening they’ll be sipping marguerites and laughing about it. She doesn’t know any of that to be true. She places a hand on Jia’s shoulder, warm, and solid, and watches Jia cry.
The surgeon steps into the waiting room and asks for Mrs. Anderson. He ushers her to a small, quiet room and closes the door.
While Jia spoke with the doctor, I was able to talk with the yacht party about what happened. Thinking I might get more exacting information from the captain, I started with him. Captain Rad Lawler.
“Did you know Rick well?”
He shakes his head. “Not at all. Still, I felt I should come to the hospital. Seems only right.”
“Of course. Had Rick ever chartered with you before?”
“No, but anyway he wasn’t the one who chartered. It was Shanti Bickler who called. Practically interrogated me over the phone, That One.”
Something about how he says ‘that one’ makes Tonya think he somehow knew Shanti. “Is she a repeat client of yours?”
The captain shakes his head with a crooked smile and half-cocked brows.
Tonya tilts her head and squints, letting him know he’s got her intrigued.
He leans forward and Tonya can smell cheap beer on his breath. “Well, it’s just this.” He revels, “I didn’t know her, not personally, but she comes aboard, and I’m freaking out. Inside, I’m freaking out. Not like I let it show or anything, but I recognized her. From ‘certain movies’ she’s been in.” He nudges Tonya’s elbow to underscore: he means porn. “Just about jumped out of my socks.” He snorts, points down at his loafers, grinning. “Check that out, no socks. So I did jump out of ‘em.”
Tonya sniffs, nods. “Did Rick tell you he was going to go spear fishing?”
Rad Lawler frowns, disappointed that Tonya isn’t interested in gossiping about a porn star. “No, he sure as hell didn’t. And he shoulda. It’s a rule, a big one. After the wife got the call about him, I saw that my 1-50 speargun was gone.”
“You have a speargun?”
“Sure, I’ve got three, different sizes. They’re mounted on the transom wall by the diving platform. Securely. Close to where they’re needed. But the thing is, I never heard it being fired.”
“Should you have heard it?”
Rad nods, “Absolutely. Those guns are loud. I don’t understand how the man could’ve gotten into the water with no one knowing or how he could’ve gotten shot with no one hearing.”
“Is that why you think he was shot in the water?”
“Actually, a speargun is louder in the water. Sound travels faster in water. But if he was deeper in the water or farther away from the boat when it happened, then I guess-.” He trails off in thought, brow bent doubtful. “I just don’t get how he got in the water with none of us the wiser. I always keep myself busy, but I was on the bridge deck. If he jumped or even slid from the diving platform, I should’ve been aware of it.”
“You didn’t hear a splash?”
“You mean like him diving or falling overboard. No, there was nothing. He must’ve slid quietly, actually sneaking into the water like a dumbass and then got hisself shot at a fair distance from the boat. But he should’ve told me he was leaving. Crazy. A crazy thing to do.”
“Could it have been an accident? Maybe he shot himself.”
He shrugs, reluctant. “Sure. People accidentally shoot themselves sometimes, but not in the chest. I heard that’s where he got shot, in his chest. Only another person could do that, but it could’ve been an accident. Just really wrong no one’s said anything. If it was an accident.”
The captain hadn’t witnessed anything, but I discovered that it was Shanti Bickler, not Rick, not his secretary or his wife, who had chartered the yacht. Lawler’s experience with spear fishing raised some key points. How did Rick get into the water with no one knowing it and how did he get shot with a speargun with no one hearing it?
“It’s a terrible, awful thing. I still can’t believe it,” Shanti dabs her nose with a tissue and sniffles.
“It’s shocking, I know,” Tonya speaks quietly and waits for Shanti to blow her nose. “Shanti, the captain told me that you arranged for the yacht. Is that right? I only ask because I would’ve thought Rick’s secretary would do that.”
Shanti nods, sniffles. “I grew up sailing. Rick wanted me to pick the charter since I have more boating experience.”
“Makes sense. Did you know Captain Lawler already?”
“No, but I knew the yacht model and when I called I knew what questions to ask him about his rig.”
“He told me something about you that I’m not willing to believe – unless you tell me it’s true.”
Shanti’s shoulders stiffen, her neck straightens.
“I don’t judge. But he told me he recognized you from ‘certain movies,’ as he put it.”
Shanti looks into Tonya’s deep blue eyes and finds there no judgment, no hostility. “It’s true,” Shanti says with a resigned sigh, shrugs a little. “It’s how I worked my way through college. That and stripping. A good thirty years ago. But please keep it to yourself.”
“It’s a secret?”
“I’m not ashamed, but it needs to stay secret. Some people know, but there are those in the company administration who would not be so accepting of my past. It would very likely cost me my career.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“Who would have it out for you if they knew?”
“Actually, Samuel Holt would love to have me sacked. Personal reasons. That man hates me, I feel it.” She clicks her tongue, “Fortunately, he wasn’t on the boat.”
“And Rick. He knew of your past?”
“I’m not sure what was really going on with him. He threatened to tell.”
“Why would he do that?”
“To get even, I guess.” She looks down at her feet and back up at Tonya. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe I just need to. Last Spring, Rick and I were on a business trip together. We got a little drunk one evening, too drunk. You understand? It wasn’t planned. It was the one night, that’s all. A terrible mistake. Rick thought I slept with him to ensure he’d keep his mouth shut.”
“You mean he thought you played him so that you’d have something to hold over his head.”
“Right. But that isn’t what happened. He wouldn’t believe me. He said he was getting a divorce and that meant I no longer had anything on him and that meant my secret was no longer safe. He was planning to tell everyone.”
“That’s terrible. When did he say all that?”
Shanti shrugs, “Just the other night. I tried to talk with him about it, but there’s no talking sense into him sometimes. He can get like that – vengeful. I don’t know why, but it seemed like he was going to be vengeful about his divorce, too.”
“How do you mean?”
“There’s something. I don’t know what, not really, but I think it has something to do with Huey.”
“Rick’s protege and Jia’s nephew. Huey Zhang.” She points, “that’s him in red shorts over there, on the right side couch.”
“I see him. Protege or prodigy?”
“Both, I guess. The kid’s really bright and Rick has taken him ‘under his wing,’ so to speak. Teaching him all kinds of stuff you never learn in school. Jia absolutely fawns over that kid, but I have a feeling, a strong feeling, that Rick never liked him. The past couple of weeks in particular, there was always this vibe, like he would’ve sooner kicked Huey in the face than have to work with him, let alone mentor him.”
“Sounds rather hostile.”
Nodding slowly, Shanti tucks a tuft of over-permed hair behind her ears, away from her face, and says, “I think the kid must’ve done something really stupid, so stupid that Rick just can’t get past it. Rick can be very unforgiving sometimes. Surprisingly so.” Shanti stares at her feet.
There were two things I learned from Shanti Bicker. One, Rick was planning to get a divorce, or at least said as much to Shanti. I wondered if he’d yet told his wife or anyone else. Two, he hated his protege. I wanted to find out if Huey knew why.
“It’s Hui Zhang, actually. H. U. I. But everyone calls me Huey,” he says. “It’s easier for Americans to say.”
“Have you been in America long?”
“About five years, thanks to Uncle Rick. I hope he’ll be alright.”
“Me too,” Tonya sips tepid hospital coffee from a small, very chipped ceramic cup. It smells more like spray cleaner than coffee. “You know, I’ve always wondered about families who work together. I think it’d be very difficult sometimes.”
“Oh, it can be.”
“I mean, what if you have an argument, something that has nothing to do with work? It would almost certainly spill into the workplace. The tension, frustration.”
“Yes, that’s true. It’s sometimes very hard with him.”
“Tell me about it.”
“This isn’t really the time,” Huey says, almost a whisper. His eyes find Jia and he frowns, closes his eyes.
“It might help to get it off your chest. I can tell something is weighing on you, something you can’t tell your Aunt Jia.”
Huey is silent for a moment, then looks askance at Tonya. “He found me doing something. Illegal.”
Tonya waits. She wears the same facial expression she uses with her patients who don’t like to divulge their ails and ills, exactly the things she needs to know. She waits, quiet and expectant. You can tell me anything, is the unspoken truth of it.
“I could go to jail for it,” he adds, then looks at Tonya.
“I won’t report you or tell your aunt. I promise.”
“He found me carrying.”
“You mean drugs. But you live in Seattle, like me.” He confirms with a nod and Tonya continues, “We’ve got the new, experimental LEAD effort to decriminalize drug use. I doubt you’d go to jail for that.”
He shakes his head. “I’m not a user. All that LEAD? It’s for users, not dealers and carriers.”
“Look, I needed the money to pay off my college loans, which is still over $100,000. It got so bad, I was taking my dog’s allergy medicine because I couldn’t afford human medicine. I was snacking on dog biscuits.”
“Your uncle is a wealthy man. Didn’t you ask for his help?”
“Sure I did, but he believes a man should make his own way. ‘Clear his own path.’” He sniffles, rubs a hand over his knee. “I’m not proud of what I did, but I was trapped. Didn’t know what to do.”
“Will Rick turn you in?”
“He hasn’t decided yet. I told him that I stopped, that I was sorry, but I’m not sure that’s enough for him.”
“Would you be kicked out of the country?”
“Possibly. In the amounts I was moving, I’d be facing a Class C Felony.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means maybe five years in jail and a $10,000 fee. Maybe being sent back to North Korea.”
“I don’t get it. Aren’t you supposed to be a prodigy? What about financial aid or a grant or something?”
“The original loan, $120 grand, that is after getting financial aid and a small grant.”
Tonya’s jaw goes slack.
“How do you not know this?”
She shakes her head, shrugs. “My ex always said he’d pay for our daughter’s college, but I think he knew or strongly suspected she wouldn’t want to go. She’s perfectly capable, but absolutely refuses to attend any university. Anywhere.”
“So what does she do, flip burgers?”
Tonya’s annoyed by his remark, but lets it pass. “She’s been traveling all over the globe the past few months now, doing odd jobs in exchange for room and board.”
“Huey, do you really think Rick would report you?”
“I don’t know; he might. I hope not.”
“If your uncle doesn’t make it, the police will investigate. They might find out about what you’ve been doing.”
“But I stopped. I’m not doing it anymore. And anyway, I’d never hurt him. He’s my uncle. You know, there are a ton of people who want him ‘out of the way,’ I can tell you.”
Tonya raises her brows.
“There’s a list, at least as long as my arm. If anyone wants to know what’s happening with Uncle Rick, just ask his secretary, Alice Smith. She knows.” His eyes indicate Alice, pacing at the opposite end of the room. He continues, “She keeps track of absolutely everything he does, every project. Best secretary ever,” he says, watching Alice’s jiggly gait, wistful. He looks earnestly back at Tonya and adds, “You know, I got to swim with her.”
He nods. “Uncle Rick tossed her overboard, just playing around, I guess. She was splashing around, and I called out to her and jumped in, you know, acting like I was going to save her or something. It was all totally fun.” He suddenly looks crestfallen. “I guess he must’ve been shot around the time we were in the water. How terrible.”
“Did you hear the speargun or hear your uncle fall into the water?”
“No, I didn’t. But he must’ve gotten shot sometime after he tossed Ali overboard and before Aunt Jia got the call.”
“Any idea when that was?”
“The call?” He shakes his head. “Don’t know. I never wear a watch. Can’t stand them.” He sees Tonya’s disappointment. “Sorry.”
“When you were in the water, did you see or hear your uncle at all?”
“No. I figured he went inside to be with Aunt Jia.”
“How long was she inside?”
“Almost the whole time. Ali and I had just gotten back on the boat and were toweling off when Aunt Jia came out with this look of shock on her face. She’d just gotten the call. That’s when she told us he was being brought to the hospital and then we were all rushing to get ashore.”
I started to get a clearer idea of what transpired on the boat that day, but I still had to speak with Alison Smith, the secretary.
“I was just talking with Huey about what happened on the boat. I was wondering if you saw Rick after he threw you into the water.”
“Well, he was joking about what he’d done, taunting me a little, but then Huey jumped in after me. I was distracted by him. When I turned to look back at the boat, Rick wasn’t standing anywhere I could see him. I didn’t know where he’d gone, but there were plenty of options on that yacht.”
“Huey thought he’d gone inside to be with his wife.” Tonya notices Alison flinch at ‘his wife,’ and asks, “Did you think that?”
Alison shrugs, “Not really. More likely he’d gone up to the bridge. He likes that, to talk with people who have specialities and play with their tech. That Captain Rad guy was exactly the type of person who would’ve intrigued Rick.”
“I know about your relationship with him, you know.” Tonya watches Alison Smith, silently daring the woman to deny it.
“So Rick told you about me?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Then why were you with him, if you knew?”
“I planned a special surprise for him, but all my plans fell through because of you. He didn’t get off the plane and come to me. He was with you, instead. If you knew about me, then why were you with him?”
“Rick and I aren’t involved. We met on the plane and decided to share a cab. That’s all.”
She scoffed. “Bull. I don’t believe you.”
“That’s your problem. And anyway, why were you with him? He’s married, but you chose to pursue something serious with him.”
“I loved him, married or not, I loved him. We just had bad timing, is all. Now please, go away. I’m in no condition to argue with you.”
Tonya sniffs. “Did you kill him?”
“How can you even ask me that? I was in the water, splashing around with Huey.” Alison takes a step forward and points at Tonya, aggressive. “If you’re looking for foul play, it isn’t me you should interrogate. Ask the wife. It’s always the spouse. No question.”
“That’s quite an accusation.”
“It’s true. Jia says she was in the kitchen, but was she? Certainly not the whole time. I think she knew about me and Rick and finally, seeing us flirting and having a good time together, she snapped.” Jia twirls her hair through her fingers, and tugs. “Ongoing affairs like that? Enough to drive any woman mad.”
After talking with Alison Smith, I needed to ask Jia a few questions for clarification, but she was still speaking with the surgeon behind a closed door. I realized then that more likely than not, Rick was dead. There was no reason for the discussion to last that long if the patient was still alive. The doctor was walking her through the initial shock of grief and explaining what was going to happen with her husband’s body. I decided to ask Shanti instead. There were some details I needed clarified.
“Shanti, I was wondering something. Where on the boat is the kitchen?”
“It’s on the main deck, at the bow. The boat has three decks: the main deck, one level up is the bridge deck, and above that, the sun deck. So on the main deck, you’ve got the galley and dining inside,” Shanti gestures with her hands the shape of the bow. “Then there’s a lounge area, really nice. Towards the stern, there’s two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Very posh. From there, you can step out to a porch where there’s a hot tub.”
“Is that the same area where there’s a diving platform?”
Shanti scrunches her face, skeptical. “Not really. At the back edge of the main deck, there’s two steps down to a long transom. But I guess Rad does call it the diving platform.”
“Is that accurate?”
“It’s acceptable. There’s more than one term for boat bits,” she gives a small, tired smile. “Aft and stern are the same. Like that.”
“Did you see or hear anyone leave the boat?”
“Sure. Jia and I could hear Alison and Huey jump into the water. They were really hooting it up, splashing around and laughing like a couple of teenagers.”
“Jump? You heard them both jump?”
“Well, splash. You know. Alison, then the kid. Jumped right off the sun deck.” She sighs, “He’s so young.” Shanti stretches her arms a little, pulling her spine up to let it slump back into the sofa again. She stifles a yawn, “We couldn’t see what was happening out there, but we heard the splashes and laughter.”
“But no speargun sound.”
Shanti shakes her head. “No. I didn’t hear anything like that.”
Jia exits the small office with the doctor, who quickly sidesteps into the hallway and disappears. Jia’s face and neck are splotchy from crying, her eyes dark. She speaks quietly to the room, announcing the sad news. As she does, Tonya watches the murderer.
A few moments later, as Tonya quietly sits next to Jia, the police arrive.
I knew then who murdered Rick and why. It was important that I tell the police what I knew as soon as possible, and that’s why I’m here now, filling out this report.
There’s only one way Rick could’ve ended up in the water without anyone noticing. He had to have entered the water with someone else, making a single splashing sound. There was only one way he could’ve been stabbed with a spear without anyone hearing the shot fired. Namely, there was nothing fired. He had to be stabbed with the spear, not shot at all.
It doesn’t take much power to stab someone, only about five pounds of pressure. If he’d been found sooner, he could’ve easily survived the stabbing.
Alison Smith was having an affair with Rick, but she wanted more than he was willing to give. Ultimately, she knew she couldn’t trust him. She saw us share a cab and assumed we were having an affair. I don’t know if she knew about Shanti, but she had to suspect it. Body language reveals a lot.
The last time Rick was seen by anyone at all, he was standing on the main deck with Alison. The two were at the back of the yacht together, near the jacuzzi tub and the transom that houses three spearguns.
The captain was on the bridge, Huey was above, on the sun deck. Shanti and Jia were inside the kitchen, eating and drinking, unable to see what was happening, but able to hear. They heard Alison splash in the water and they heard Huey splash in the water. They heard them laughing and swimming.
They didn’t hear the speargun because it was never shot. They didn’t hear Rick cry out for help, because he couldn’t have cried out at all. His sternum had just been stabbed. No one heard him fall into the water because Alison took the spear from a speargun, stabbed Rick right in the middle of his chest and tackled him, bodily throwing herself overboard, pulling him in with her.
That is the only way he could have ended up in the water. If he had still been standing on deck after Alison was in the water, as she claims, then at the very least his nephew would have heard and very likely seen him join them in the water. Huey was right there, in the water, next to the boat.
When Alison dove into the water with Rick, they would’ve dropped down several meters before being able to come back up for air. Alison kicked Rick farther down, and in doing so, pushed herself up.
Then brazenly, Alice is above water and acting playfully, as though her lover just tossed her into the water. Everyone hears her playful admonishments, but no one hears Rick’s response.
Rick wasn’t there. He wasn’t standing on the main deck as Alice pretended, because at that moment he was trapped underneath the boat, a spear in his chest, trying to swim, trying to make his way to where he could breathe.
He knew enough to not pull out the spear.
He must’ve seen and heard his nephew Huey jump into the water, laughing with Alice. Rick might’ve been scared at that point, even disoriented, I don’t know. What I do know is that instead of swimming toward them, he swam away from them, to be on the opposite side of the boat. Lucky for him, it was also the shoreside of the boat.
Rick probably tried and failed to get help from the captain. He would’ve quickly realized that he was unable to speak, let alone get the captain’s attention.
No one notices him there. No one can hear him. Finding no other options, Rick decides to float to shore. He knows exactly where I am reclining on the beach and he manages to reach me before collapsing.
I only wish I had noticed him sooner. There’s a chance those few extra seconds might have made a difference and saved his life. He fought so hard to survive. His end was slow and agonizing. It is a horrible thing, what happened to him.
Alison Smith is arrested for the murder of Rick Anderson. When Huey Zhang is questioned about possibly conspiring to murder his uncle so that he’d have Alison for his own, Huey confesses to his drug crimes and is consequently arrested.
Jia Anderson inherits from her husband’s passing, but after a few months decides to sell the house and most of what’s in it. She relocates to London where she lives above her own jewelry shop.
Shanti decides she’s tired of her secrets and tells all in a staff meeting. She doesn’t get fired, but there’s a lot more giggling at work. Samuel Holt finally asks her out on a date. Turns out the man never hated her, he’s just strange.
As for Tonya, she extends her vacation in Oahu a few more days, informing the hospital. She realizes with a start that she doesn’t feel remotely guilty about it.
Then she gets a text, at last, from her daughter. Tonya looks out across the ocean, thoughtful and contemplative, smiles. She takes another bite of ahi-ahi. Amazing stuff.