"Airy Allies and Enemies" Sample Chapter

In the audience, Raina Sun Louie watched in horror as her grandma’s coconut bra fell onto the open-air stage. Her grandma continued to gyrate the grass skirt and flung her arms about in the Hawaiian dance. The flickering tiki torches and spotlight followed her every move. Knowing her grandma, Po Po probably had on a beige-colored tank top, but to the audience at the luau, she looked topless.

The other four couples at the table gasped at the performance. This probably wasn’t the dinner show they thought they paid for. Raina glanced around the outdoor dining patio. Everyone in the audience was staring at the stage with equal parts curiosity and disbelief.

Next to Raina, her husband, Matthew Louie, coughed and squirted the Mai Tai drink out of his nose. “Oh, sh—”

“No, no, no,” Raina cut in, shaking her head in disbelief. “We’re on our honeymoon. Po Po is not here. That’s not her. All little old Chinese grannies look the same.”

On stage, a shirtless young Asian man in a grass skirt danced over to the coconut bra, flipped it up in the air with his foot, and caught it in one hand with a flourish. Still gyrating his hip, the man whirled around Po Po and tied on the bra.

“And that’s your brother, Winter Sun,” Matthew said, setting his glass down with a thud on the table.

Raina closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. Why were her grandma and baby brother in Kauai? Didn’t they understand a honeymoon meant alone time with her husband? It was bad enough the humidity had turned her curly black hair into a cotton candy puff, but uninvited family members at her honeymoon? No, this was not happening. Not on her watch.

She opened her eyes and threw her napkin onto the table. “Let’s go. If we duck out of here now, we can avoid them. Then we’re flying to another island. They can’t do this to me.”

Matthew shook his head and pointed to the stage. “Too late.”

On stage, Po Po held a microphone and waved in the Louies’ direction. “Yoo-hoo! Love birds! We have a surprise for you, Rainy.”

The other four couples at the table swiveled their heads to stare at the Louies. Raina slid an inch lower in her seat and avoided eye contact.

Matthew chuckled. “I knew a free trip was too good to be true.”

Raina smacked her husband’s forearm. If only a hole would open in the ground. She would gladly jump in it. “Seriously? You think this is funny?” she whispered.

“This morning, you were complaining about the slow pace around here,” Matthew whispered back. His gold-flecked brown eyes twinkled with laughter. He pointed at the evening sky. “The ancestors are listening.”

The cool breeze shifted, and Raina smelled her husband’s sage and clean water scent, a tantalizing combination from his hair product, soap, and aftershave. “This is all your fault. We’ve been here three days, and this is our third luau.”

“What man can turn down meat cooked in a sandpit? Besides”—Matthew held up his right wrist to show off the black wristband—“we can’t turn down a free dinner show. Everyone else has to pay a hundred bucks to be here. We have gotten six hundred dollars’ worth of food and entertainment.”

The black wristband from the resort gave them VIP access to the nightly dinner show, and Matthew intended to take full advantage of this perk. Her husband’s Chinese frugality had gotten them into trouble before, like when they purchased a foreclosed house with a body in the wall.

“If we had gone somewhere else for dinner, my grandma wouldn’t have been able to track us down,” Raina said. She sounded like a petulant child, but this was her belated honeymoon. After a yearlong home remodel and a stressful new job, she deserved a vacation. A real vacation—where there were no dead bodies and kooky relatives.

Matthew shrugged. “Hey, I’m Chinese. Frugality is in my blood.”

Raina harrumphed and crossed her arms. She might have turned out the same if her family had lost all their wealth in the dot-com bust like his family. And her husband’s frugality was also wrapped up in his hang-up about being the provider. Asian males. They were a different beast.

On stage, the Hawaiian dancers finished their act. Po Po and Win gave the Louies one final wave and exited. The emcee appeared and introduced the next act.

“Let’s go back to our room and bar the door,” Raina said. “They will come looking for us any minute now.”

Matthew glanced at a spot over Raina’s shoulder. “Too late.” He shoved another bite of the kalua pork into his mouth. He probably wanted to get as much food in his stomach before their dinner got interrupted further.

Raina glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes widened at the sight of her grandma, baby brother, and a Polynesian woman in a muumuu dress making a beeline toward her table. She jerked up, knocking over her chair. “If you love me, you will stall them.” She took off for their hotel room, her flip-flop sandals slapping against her feet.

“Yoo-hoo! Rainy! I gotta business proposition for you,” Po Po called out. Since her grandma was a regular at the senior exercise classes, she had no problem keeping up with Raina.

“I don’t know you, you crazy old coot,” Raina shouted back. A small flash of amusement shot through her. She had always wanted to call her grandma an old coot. She wasn’t sure why she put up this show of resistance and prolonged this embarrassing trek across the beach toward the resort. Maybe she had also inherited some of her grandma’s love for theatrics.

Her foot slipped off the foam flip-flop, and Raina crashed headfirst onto the sand. Great. She lay on the warm sand for a long moment, waiting for her heart rate to calm down. Her husband belly laughed in the background. She spat out sand from her mouth. Her tongue traced her teeth, dislodging the remaining grit, and she spat again. The corners of her mouth twitched, but she forced her smile away. It would only encourage her grandma.

Footsteps approached Raina. Someone grabbed Raina’s arm and hauled her into a sitting position.

Po Po squatted down until she was face-to-face with Raina. In Chinese, Po Po was the formal title for a maternal grandmother and also a term of respect for elderly ladies. Her legal name was Bonnie Wong.

Her grandma’s silvery-white hair had grown from a pixie cut to a shaggy bob with bangs that highlighted her warm, brown eyes. Though barely over five feet tall, Po Po wasn’t someone who understood “no” or “later,” much like a toddler.

“I don’t know why you ran, but we both know you can’t escape me,” Po Po said. Her grandma’s other favorite word was “mine” when it came to family. There was no fleeing the matriarch of the Wong family. Once you were in, it was for life.

“I have to try,” Raina said in a pretend stern voice. “I can’t just roll over and let you walk all over me.”

Po Po gave Raina a deadpan stare. “I can see how a faceplant would be more appealing.”

Raina shifted her gaze to her brother. “I blame you for this fiasco. I will remember this, buddy. Some day, I will have my vengeance.”

Win held up both hands and gave her a cheeky grin. “She would have come with or without me. I’m just here for the beach and girls in bikinis.”

Raina rolled her eyes. Trust a twenty-one-year-old to focus on the important things in life.

Win had grown since the last time she saw him, filling out so that he looked more like an adult than a man-child. All traces of his former geeky high school years were gone. Instead, he appeared to be going for the beach bum look with his black hair in a man bun, and his face looked scruffy, like he was failing at growing a beard. Raina much preferred her husband’s close-cropped black hair, a remnant from his Marine days. Both men were of the same height, with a runner’s physique and appetite.

Matthew sauntered over and stood next to Win, rubbing his stomach. “I don’t know what’s in the pork, but I can eat it at every meal.” He stifled a burp. “Are we having the powwow right here? Or do we need more privacy?”

Her stoic husband had changed since their marriage, but this was the first time she saw him this relaxed in front of strangers. Normally, his piercing cop eyes roamed the scene, evaluating its hidden threat. Maybe there was something in the pork. Or maybe it was the free Mai Tai drinks.

“Auntie May needs a small favor,” Po Po said. “Her family owns the resort and gave us a good discount for your stay.” She arched an eyebrow, asking if Raina understood her obligation for the family discount.

Raina sighed inwardly. Auntie May was married to her grandpa’s older brother. During Raina’s childhood, she had met Auntie May a few times when her great-aunt visited San Francisco. Why did free always come with hidden strings? The six hundred dollars’ worth of free food and entertainment that her husband had bragged about a few minutes earlier now felt cheap in comparison. She gave her grandma a slight nod. Oh, she understood the hidden obligation behind the family discount all right.

Po Po gestured at the woman in the muumuu dress standing next to her. “This is Leilani Wong, Auntie May’s granddaughter and your second cousin.”

The last time Raina had seen her cousin was over a decade ago. “I thought you were on a business trip,” Raina said.

“I had to cut it short because a situation came up,” Leilani said. “I just got back to the resort this afternoon.”

Her cousin was half Polynesian and half Chinese. She was in her late twenties but going on forty. It might be the sun or stress. Raina wasn’t a fashionista, but even she knew a bright-red Hawaiian muumuu dress made a stocky figure look even wider. Her cousin’s brown eyes were worried, but her smile was welcoming.

“I am so happy to see you again, Sherlock Holmes,” Leilani continued. “Your grandma has told me so much about your adventures together.”

Raina shifted her gaze to Po Po and back to her cousin. “Don’t believe half the stuff that comes out of my grandma’s mouth.” She raised a hand to her mouth and pretended to whisper. “She reads too many mystery books.”

Matthew opened his mouth, but Raina gave him a pointed look. The smart man promptly closed his mouth and reached down to help Raina off the ground.

Raina brushed the sand off her tank top and shorts. “I am happy to help.” And she was. Having grown up in San Francisco, she wasn’t used to the slow pace on the island. It had only been three days, and—while she would never admit it out loud—she was slightly bored with relaxing.

“That’s great, Rainy, but we need Matthew, too,” Po Po said.

“How can I be of service?” Matthew said with a tight smile.

Raina bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. Wasn’t gluttony a sin? Now her husband had to work for his free pork.

“I need someone to do a ransom drop,” Leilani said. “A few days ago, someone kidnapped my younger sister.”

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