Volcano House

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A Hawaiian mystery Thursday teaser

By J.L. Oakley

Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash

Kilauea, Hawaii, 1889

The lava lake glowed, its light reaching up into the deep night sky like a living thing. As the volcano belched, coughed and hissed, its light created wavering red and gold images on the ‘ohi’a trees and giant hapu’u tree ferns that dared to grow so close. From the crater’s belly, a tall column of cloud rose to the stars.

Almanzo Almeida stood on the long veranda of Volcano House and watched the party of twenty guests and their guides depart for Little Beggar on Pele’s Throat a half mile away. It would be a good night to descend onto the floor of Kilauea Crater. Their candle-lit lanterns twinkled in the dark like little fairy lights in counter march to the heavens above. Some of the guests, he suspected, wouldn’t want to go all the way across to the far lake, but might stop to pull out some thin glass threads of Pele’s Hair.

Volcano House, 1877

From outside the long ranch-style hotel, Almeida could hear the late night guests chatting around the great stone fireplace inside. At this elevation, nights at Kilauea could be chilly, even cold. The fireplace was always the focal point of the establishment overseen by the superb hospitality of Colonel and Mrs. Malby. Almeida patted his stomach. The food was outstanding, too, something that always amazed visitors, including Mark Twain, who came some years back. No matter if you came up the new carriage road from Hilo or came from Punalu’u by tram and horseback, Volcano House stood out as a first class hotel next to a volcano on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere: a jewel in the Royal Hawaiian Kingdom’s crown.

Volcano House restored, now the Volcano Art Center.

Out in the dark, a horse nickered down by the stables. Almeida pulled out his chain watch. Under the soft glow of a lantern he checked the time, then looked down in the direction of the stables. Shortly, a light appeared and began to swing back and forth. So Casper DeMello was back. Almeida put on his jacket. Moments later he was heading down across open ground, his only light a candle in his lantern.

Down by the low shed that served as a waiting station for guests, a shadow emerged.  

“What did you get this time? Anything good?” Almeida asked.

“Yeah, yeah. They nevah gonna miss it. Stupid tourists.” The young Portuguese man set his lantern up on a wide stump. When Almeida added his, the area bloomed with light.

DeMello pulled a bag of gold coins, a lady’s watch and chain, a silver comb out of a satchel and set them on the stump. Other items of value were added, all of them sparkling in the candle light.

“Were you careful?” Almeida asked as he handled one of the gold chains, weighing it back and forth through his fingers.

“Course I’m careful. It’s all stuff dropped on the steamer and the tram. The rest I just nipped. I was plenty careful.”

“Hmph.” Almeida grunted. It wasn’t easy getting up to the hotel. Tourists who came by a steamer to Punalu’u went from tram to road cart to horseback. It took hours. Almeida opened the bag of coins and counting them all out on the stump, he gave half to DeMello. “Once again, you did good.” Almeida gathered up the stolen items and put them back into the satchel. “When do you go back?”

“Tomorrow. I’ll catch the W.G. Hall going back to Honolulu.”

“Good. Got to keep these things irregular.”

A burst of laughter from inside Volcano House sliced the thin night air. Both men froze and looked blindly in that direction. Almeida shielded his eyes from the lanterns to see more clearly. As his eyes adjusted to the dark beyond the corral, he saw no movement on the veranda. He began to relax.

“I betta go,” DeMello said. He shouldered a haversack and picked up a walking staff leaning against the corral rail.

Almeida pointed to the haversack. “What’s in that?”

“Nuthin’. Just paper.”

“Let me see.”

DeMello scowled. “What’d you think? I’m cheating you?”

“Just curious. That’s nice leather. Nice silver clasp. That a—a thistle?”

DeMello shrugged. He unlocked the clasp then flipped open the flap. “See? Papers.” He pulled a packet of papers wrapped with a heavy cotton cord half-way out. The mouth of the haversack sagged wider.

Behind the packet Almeida could see another packet and a Scribner’s Magazine. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

“Ho’okena.”

Almeida’s eyes grew sharp and wary.

DeMello pulled the packet out further. A title was neatly handwritten on the front page, but all Almeida could read were the words, “Bottle Imp.”

“See? Papers.” DeMello grasped the straps tighter. He jammed the packet back in, but when it wouldn’t go in straight, Almeida grew suspicious and jerked the haversack out of DeMello’s hands.

“Hey!”

“What is this?” Almeida lifted out a long, sharp letter opener. The jewels in the silver handle sparkled in the lantern light—green, white and ruby. At the top was a thistle. “Cheating me, were you?”

“Cheating? You forget we both thieves, only I take all the risks.”

“But we must share.” Almeida hung the straps of the haversack on his shoulder. He turned the letter opener around in his hands. “I’ll keep it. Once I sell it, I’ll split the money.”

“No! It’s mine. I found it. Give it back—”

DeMello’s words ended in a cry as Almeida grabbed DeMello’s walking stick and slammed it on his head. DeMello staggered back, his hands pressed to his head. Blood began to flow between his fingers. His vision blurred. The last thing DeMello saw was Almeida’s sneering face and the letter opener raised high.

Volcano House

Auntie Bee Takahashi is turning 80 and her friends in the U’ilani Book Lovers Club are planning a big celebration up at historic Volcano House.

Plans take a dangerous turn when a long missing manuscript of The Bottle Imp, Robert Louis Stevenson’s great horror story, shows up among Bee’s stack of books. Tied to an unsolved murder 125 years old at the old Kilauea hotel, someone doesn’t want the crime to come out.

When weird accidents and mysterious happenings threaten Auntie Bee and members of her book club, her great-niece crime reporter Wendy Watanabe will have to step in to keep her safe. At the heart of her investigation, are the secrets behind two warring families spanning four generations and a land grab.

Find it on Amazon.

J.L. Oakley, historical fiction

J.L. Oakley

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters come from all walks of life, but all stand up for something in their own time and place.

Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

When not writing, Janet demonstrates 19th century folkways, including churning some pretty mean butter.

Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017. It is set in 1860 on San Juan Island in Pacific NW during a time with the British Royal Marines and US Army jointly occupied the island—peacefully.

Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley.

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