Title: The Edge of the Knife
Character(s): Gen- Kono, Steve (minor appearances by Danny and Chin)
Summary:Two years ago, Kono had just entered the Academy, and now she's posing as a big-time dealer. With her boss. It's surreal and dangerous, but she wouldn't trade it for the world.
Warnings: Drug use. Set during Season One
Word Count: 8,600
Disclaimer: All Hawaii Five-0 characters herein are the property of CBS. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters engaging in sexual activity are 16 years or older.
Author's Notes: Thank you to my wonderful betas! I’ll add your names after the author reveals.
Dumpsters overflowing with garbage line the alley. Out of habit, Kono reaches to touch the gun and holster that no longer ride her hip. Steve is two steps behind her in recon mode.
The closest backup is five blocks away, Chin and Danny waiting anxiously in a van. After two months of surveillance and networking, tonight's operation depends on an informant. Ronnie Hawkins is their ticket inside tonight's illegal shindig. He’s a cocky young haole with fingers in every criminal operation, a go-to guy who flipped for a deal when he got busted in a major credit card scheme.
Tonight's just another con game for him. Ronnie doesn't walk so much as strut down the alley in his Versace suit, pausing to check Kono out every few seconds. Her emerald silk dress shows plenty of leg and cleavage; the confiscated pearl necklace accents her neck. And she wears the perfect shade of red lipstick to match her newly manicured nails.
Steve's not about to be outdone. On any given day, he's an intimidating force to be reckoned with. Add in the black long-sleeved shirt, slacks, and the dual gun holsters peeking out from under his jacket and he's danger personified.
Exactly the attitude they're going for.
“If you guys are wired, I'd get rid of them. Kapo'u's security screens for everything at the door and they patrol the party with these gadgets that sniff out surveillance equipment,” Ronnie warns.
Kapo'u's paranoid reputation precedes her. The island's newest drug lord has left a trail of bodies in her wake, cutting down both rivals and undercover agents. Superstition and caution have made her untouchable. Until now.
“Just get us inside and sell our cover; we'll do the rest,” Kono tells him.
“There's a lot of high rollers at Kapo'u's parties.” Ronnie flashes her a grin. “You'll need to get noticed by Aremana, her right hand man. I'll whisper in his ear, tell him you guys are in the market for a big score.”
“They an item?” Steve asks.
“They're somethin',” Ronnie answers mysteriously, popping a breath mint. “Alright. Showtime.”
They approach a warehouse tucked away deep in an industrial zone, far from any street. Ronnie knocks twice on the door and smooth talks the tall, broad-shouldered guy behind it.
“Come on, T-Bone. You know I only bring Kapo'u my best clients,” Ronnie vouches for his guests, running a hand through his blonde spiky hair.
Rolling his eyes, T-Bone pulls a security wand out of his suit jacket. “Got to check for bugs.” The burly guard waves it up and down Kono's dress and over her purse without incident.
He nods at Steve. “You armed?”
“Yeah,” Steve grunts.
“Don't pull your piece inside. If there's a problem, we'll handle things.”
“I handle my own problems,” Steve answers.
Ronnie laughs nervously while T-Bone and Steve engage in a stare down.
Kono takes Steve's arm, wraps her fingers around his biceps. “Come on, I came for a fun time. I bought you that shirt for your birthday, and it'd be a shame to have to wash someone's blood out of it.”
Winking at the guard, she drags Steve inside.
It's bumping inside. Tuxedo suits and sequined bodies gather around craps and baccarat tables. Stacks of money double then disappear with every roll of the dice. Kono scans the crowd through a haze of cigar smoke, pegging the big players from the muscle protecting them.
Waving off a glass of champagne, she slides into a swivel chair, Steve standing beside her. They'd agreed early on that he'd play the menacing silent partner. It would allow him to observe without raising suspicion while eyes were on her. Settling in the chair, Kono doesn't bat an eye at the lines of coke being snorted at the far end of the black lacquered table.
A dealer nods at her and tosses down five cards.
Without looking at her hand, she bets five grand, and all eyes around the table shift in her direction. Kono glances at her cards, discards all but one, and bets five thousand more.
It's reckless. All flare and no strategy.
The dealer has nothing, only two pairs, and Kono counters with a full house.
She pushes and flaunts her luck three more times, winning twenty thousand in a span of ten minutes. It's hot all of a sudden, the rush and excitement mixing with heightened alertness.
Kono contemplates another game and notices a man with dark shoulder-length hair watching her. It's Aremana. She recognizes him from surveillance photos as Ronnie casually intercepts him and the two start chatting it up.
Steve casually leans an elbow on the dealer's table. “Looks like we have a nibble,” he whispers.
“Come on, a bite's better,” Kono smiles coyly.
Steve guides her away from the table, eyeing all those around them like potential targets.
Red velvet drapes hang everywhere to create artificial walls. With the alcohol flowing and music jamming, it's hard to believe they're in a warehouse. By morning, everything will be stripped and packed away, the next location invitation only.
Ronnie's pouring on the charm, Aremana glancing in Kono and Steve's direction as they talk.
The large roulette wheel in the corner beckons Kono and she reaches into Steve's suit jacket to grab more cash. “Let’s have some fun.”
Roulette is pure chance. Placing your chips on black or red, odd or even are decent odds. Betting on a single number has a one in thirty six chance of winning.
Great risk begets great reward. Steve doesn't twitch when she places ten grand on five black. He doesn't react when the silver ball lands on twenty red.
Kono takes great lengths to hide the tremble in her hands on the next bet, or how fast her heart beats when she loses on twelve black.
Then she loses ten thousand more on red seventeen.
She rolls her eyes, pretends it's just an annoyance that she's just lost thirty thousand dollars. Kono catches Aremana approaching out the corner of her eye and she turns toward Steve, her voice bored and sulky. “This party's kind of lame. Maybe we should split, find somewhere that's more hopping?”
Their mark sidles over and bows his head slightly. “My name is Aremana. On behalf of Ms. Kapo'u, she extends her greetings to you both and offers a warm, aloha auinapo. If there is anything you may require, all you have to do is ask.”
“Aremana means ‘powerful man’,” Kono smiles. “Are you a powerful man?”
“I tend to get what I want. And I assure you, there is nowhere more exciting than here.”
“Really?” Kono glances around, shrugs. “I can drink and gamble anywhere.”
“We're not just anywhere. This is Kapo'u's party and her tastes also run on a wilder side. Perhaps you and your companion would like to see what other forms of entertainment we have to offer?”
Kono tilts her head at Steve. “What do you think, darling?”
He doesn't say a word right away. His overwhelming silence puts people on edge. Kono wonders if psychological warfare is part of SEAL training as he stands there studying Aremana as Aremana studies him.
“I would love to be impressed,” Steve says in a dare.
The right side of Aremana's mouth twitches. “Then by all means, follow me.”
The other half of the warehouse is the shady underbelly of the party. Kono turns her nose as they walk by a dog-fighting ring, the bloodthirsty crowd drowning out the music.
“If the ring is not to your tastes, perhaps some other form of entertainment?” Aremana escorts them toward a more discreet area of black lights and purple chairs filled with various couples making out with each other. “Many of our guests enjoy the company of others.”
Kono fake smiles appreciatively at the spectacle of skin and lust, eyes roaming toward what appears to be a VIP section. In the far corner, silver ice buckets and leather sofas are cast in the glow of Chinese lanterns. The guards are armed with Uzis, earwigs allowing them to communicate over the noise.
Wrapping his arms around Kono's waist, Steve pulls her close, brushes his stubbled cheek against hers. “I count nine targets including three women. One of them has to be Kapo'u.”
“You have a plan?”
“I think I found a way to get closer.”
He takes her hand and they cross in front of the VIP area toward where a small crowd has gathered. She's not sure what caught his attention but then there's a glint of metal, followed by the whack of a knife striking a dartboard.
Kono smirks. Oh, this ought to be fun.
Steve stakes out a spot to the side of those cheering. It's fascinating, watching him size things up like a puzzle, figuring out angles and distance.
An elegant older gentleman with short silver hair and steel blue eyes takes several steps back and practices his swing. “Six thousand for six feet.”
He has several takers, people raising wads of cash to accept the wager.
Balancing the knife in his hand, the Silver Fox gives it a throw, the blade striking below the bull’s eye.
The crowd claps, several handing over the man his winnings.
Steve wanders over toward a table with several knives, hand hovering above them in contemplation before selecting one on the far right. “Six feet is pretty tough, but you still missed.”
Silver Fox turns around and chuckles like Steve's yanking his chain. “By a few inches.”
“That's still a miss in my book.”
It takes a moment for it dawn on the other man that Steve's deadly serious. “Can you do better?”
“I'll double it.”
A murmur of excitement ripples through the crowd of onlookers, several hands with rolls of money going up.
Testing the weight of the blade, Steve sizes up the target then flings the knife at the dartboard, striking it center mass.
He plays the room, adding five more feet to the enthusiastic cheers of those clamoring around him. He strikes the target at eighteen feet and the crowd erupts in thunderous cheers.
Kono turns towards a woman in her early thirties with dark golden skin and jet black hair. Her silk black dress has an orchid down the left side; a purple scarf is wrapped loosely around her neck. While Polynesian, she is not native Hawaiian.
“Tell me,” the woman gestures at Steve. “Is he yours or are you his?”
“Neither,” Kono says without hesitation.
“A woman after my own heart. My name is Kapo'u.”
“So, I've been told.” Kapo'u slinks when she walks, hazel eyes bright and piercing. “You know, I get bored at my own parties. Do you have any suggestions for livening it up?”
The ball is in her court and Kono's play will make or break the operation. She catches Steve watching her, waiting on her next move, the knife clutched in his hand.
“May I borrow your scarf?” Kono asks, a devilish smile quirking her lips.
Kapo'u drags her gaze toward Steve in admiration and back toward Kono. “May I have the honors?”
“By all means.”
Steve stands there as Kapo'u takes her time wrapping her scarf around his eyes, her fingers brushing down Steve's side, lingering at his hip.
It's a test and Kono responds by coming up behind Steve, raking her fingernails across the back of his neck. “I'm going to stand to one side of the dartboard, darling. But I won't tell you which one.”
Partners must share explicit trust with one another. Steve doesn't object. He tightens the grip around the knife and steadies his breathing. The throng of spectators is unreal, closing around them, blocking off the rest of the party. The amount of betting is fierce, creating a collective swell of adrenaline.
Kono stands to the right of the dartboard while Kapo'u takes Steve's elbow, moving him five more feet back. Kono licks her lips and focuses on Steve. On his throwing hand. He aims the point of the knife and adjusts the angle by several degrees.
And with a flick of his wrist, the knife cuts the air, striking the center bull's eye.
The shouts of glee are overwhelming as Kono releases the breath she’s been holding.
Aremana leans over to whisper into Kapo'u's ear as Steve joins Kono, his hands loaded with cash. “Think we made an impression?” he asks coyly.
“I think it’s going be a long, interesting night,” she answers.
They return to a rental house that used to belong to a broker busted for embezzlement. It's a beautiful spread on top of a hill facing the beach. They can see anyone coming from a mile away. There's no 'going home' after the party. Kono and Steve have covers to maintain, including their living arrangements.
After removing her heels, Kono joins Steve huddled in the shadows on the front porch. “Do we still have company?”
“The SUV that followed us parked farther down the street for about two minutes before taking off.”
“Good. I'd hate to have to be living it up for no reason,” she teases.
“I'm glad I don't have to explain to the governor that we lost thirty grand.”
That's the extent of Steve's lecture about jeopardizing so much money during the night. “I'm glad you're that good with a knife,” she says.
“That was a pretty big risk you took.”
“But I knew you could do it.”
Steve doesn't say a word. She likes that about him. He doesn't flaunt the crazy impossible things he can do.
“You hungry?” he asks, going back inside.
It's four in the morning and Kono can't recall when they had dinner. “I could eat.”
Kono awakes to the smell of coffee and stretches her arms until all her joints pop. It's eight am and the sun's starting to stream through the blinds. She takes the time to appreciate the moment to the fullest. She slept inside a mansion nestled in paradise pretending to be a big-time dealer. It's surreal.
Two years ago, she'd just entered the Academy, and now she's leaps and bounds beyond anyone in her graduating class. The last ten months haven't been spent walking a beat but putting away the scum of the Earth. Saving people.
Swinging over the covers, she hops into the shower before changing into shorts and a tank top. Coming down the stairs, she scans the layout out of habit, finding Steve doing push-ups in the living room.
“Morning,” he says in between breaths.
His hair and t-shirt are damp with sweat, so he's been at it a while. Kono wonders if he even slept. “You going out for a swim next?”
“Already did...Then I swept the perimeter.”
“You’re making me feel like a slacker, boss.”
Hopping to his feet, Steve grabs a towel draped over the sofa and mops his face. “I like to stay alert.”
“What's on the agenda this morning?”
Kapo'u and her people are probably still sleeping off last night's festivities and it's not like she and Steve can report to work.
“I'm going to wash up and then it's study time,” he says with a grin.
Awesome. From playing a badss in a seedy underground club to quizzes.
Sometimes Kono forgets she's still a rookie.
She's barely finished her first cup of coffee before Steve slides across the table with a stack of folders. “So, how much talcum powder is acceptable for our purchase?”
“Twenty-five percent,” Kono answers. Dilute the purity, increase the profit. “We should be on the lookout for benzocaine being used to bulk up the coke.”
“What's the latest wholesale price for a kilo?”
It's like they're talking about the stock market, but drugs are just another commodity, susceptible to supply and demand. “Eighteen hundred if it's from Colombia. If we went direct to the farmer, we're looking for a grand max.”
“When we meet with Kapo'u, how much should we expect to pay?”
“A lot,” Kono snorts. “If this was LA, maybe 25k, but thousands of miles away from the mainland? Anywhere between thirty and fifty thou, depending on the purity.”
At a hundred dollars a gram, it builds the foundations of empires.
Steve doesn't let up on the questions. He's tenacious like that, firing off questions like a gun. “And what kind of purity should we demand?”
“Yeah. Tough times, brah. Ten years ago, we'd be pissed with anything under sixty percent pure.” Kono takes a swig of her coffee. “But with Kapo'u, we should demand forty. Have her prove she's the big tough boss she claims to be.”
Sitting back, Steve studies her. “You've been really hot about his case from the start. Why do you hate her?”
“Kapo'u's not her given name.”
“Yeah, it's a street alias.” His eyes narrow then soften. “But everyone knows what name she's using to gain street cred.”
“My mother used to tell me bedtime stories about Kapo'ulakina'u. She was the sister of Pele. Goddess of magic, able to change form at will.”
“Yeah. But she was about protection. She saved her sister from rape. But because her power was transformation, she's viewed by some as a sorceress. Gathering this odd cult following.” She feels stupid. It's a myth, nothing more, but Steve only regards her with sympathy and understanding. “It's island culture, and I don’t like to see it be subverted by some drug dealer who's not even a native.”
“Kapo. ‘The sacred night streaked with dark’,” Steve quotes. “I'm sure it's meant to be intimidating.”
“Yeah, well she's met her match.”
They’re angling for a million-dollar deal, one of the biggest busts in years.
And one of the most dangerous.
Waiting on their hands is tough. There're periodic check-ins with Chin and Danny on burned cell phones. There's no telling if Kapo'u's people are using surveillance on them. It may seem paranoid, but the last two DEA agents who'd gotten close to Kapo'u had been found beheaded in their front yards.
Kapo'u has watched too much CSI and has more than a basic understanding of police procedure. She's unorthodox, and addicted to the thrilling lifestyle as much as greed and power.
Why else would a big-time dealer risk exposure by hosting lavish illegal parties?
By the afternoon, Kono is restless. She and Steve have gone shopping at expensive stores 'to been seen' and Steve ran three red lights and broke enough traffic laws to be pulled over more than once. Maintaining a cover can come down to the tiniest details.
But HPD is assisting in things. They've conducted large scale street sweeps for weeks to crack down on drugs on the street, and they've coordinated with the Coast Guard to tighten the screws to any supply shipments from the West Coast.
Demand is up, but people are nervous about buying.
Hopefully, Ronnie is as good of a con as he claims to be. If Kapo'u has fewer people to unload product to, she might be willing to accept new customers. It usually takes months of loyalty tests and schmoozing to get close to a big distributor, but Kapo'u is wild and dangerous, a big kahuna in a man's world. Kono knows what that’s like. She had to do everything bigger and better than her male counterparts at the Academy.
Except Kapo'u loves outlandish methods, her lifestyle just as important as her empire. It was Kono's idea to pose as a couple who appeared just as reckless, appealing to Kapo'u's sense of adventure.
“You ready to review procedures regarding the use of informants in a case?” Steve asks, flipping through a manual.
“You mean the difference between a participant and a covert informant?”
“We could start there.”
Even though she's a member of 5-0, Kono still has to be engaged in training activities. Familiarizing with laws, reviewing policies and procedures–something her boss has had to learn on the side, too.
“Maybe I should quiz you?” she jokes.
Steve leans back in his chair and flips closed the manual. “Go for it.”
“Is everything a competition with you?”
“Is it with you?”
“Hell, yeah,” Kono answers truthfully.
“Good. People who compete are always striving to be better at whatever they do. My expertise may have been in military rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention, but part of my job was to hunt down terrorists, and I did so using investigative procedures despite what Danny says. The ones I wasn't familiar with I studied when I became the head of 5-0.”
Steve's expression is hard and serious and Kono starts to worry that she stepped over a line, but then the corners of his mouth tick up in a grin. “Of course, that doesn't mean I follow them all.”
Kono chuckles with him. “You scared me for a second.”
“I did have you going,” he smiles back.
Kono reaches for the manual when her cell goes off. Her heart skips a beat. “Hello,” she answers.
“Hey, it's Ronnie.”
Steve's phone is buzzing now too, and he walks away to answer while Kono talks. “Hey. What's up?”
“Kapo'u wants to meet with you guys for dinner. At her house.”
“She's interested in what you have to offer. Think of it as a get-to-know-you meeting.”
“I'll text you with the details later.”
Clicking end, Kono waits for Steve to finish his call. “We've got a dinner meeting with Kapo'u. This might be our chance to set up a deal.”
“That's perfect. Chin said someone ran our prints. His program forwarded them our fake identities.”
“Smart lady. She probably used the knife you touched and the glass I drank out of.”
“He also said our financial records were hacked, so we've passed the first set of tests.”
“And tonight, we'll ace the final.”
Kapo'u sends a car for them, exerting control over the situation and keeping their destination a secret, forcing Chin and Danny to tail them from afar. The limo pulls up to a gated mansion and drops Kono and Steve off at the front door where they're told to wait to be escorted inside. It's unseasonably humid, making Kono's skin sticky.
“You know leather doesn't breathe well,” Steve remarks, scanning for exit points.
Kono wiggles in her leather pants and undoes another button of her black shirt, her finger playing with the red ribboned necklace around her neck. She doubts security will find the blade hidden in her boot. “Look who's talking, Mr. Sunglasses at Night.”
“It goes along with my look.”
“Uh-huh,” she mumbles, although Kono agrees.
“The lenses are infrared.”
That's so not fair. “Dude, you need to share your toys.”
Steve smiles wickedly.
Kono wonders how many weapons Steve's concealing when security comes out to ensure they're not bugged.
Kapo'u's house is lavish like its owner with plush red furniture, large oriental rugs, and even a crystal chandelier with a fish bowl in the center.
Their hostess saunters inside the living room dressed in a sleeveless green satin dress. She's barefoot, her toenails painted pink. Aremana follows behind her, the front of his shirt almost completely unbuttoned, a simple gold chain nestled against his chest.
They both looks disheveled and flushed.
“Did we interrupt something?” Kono asks.
“Interrupt? No, not at all,” Kapo'u grins, pouring them all glasses of wine.
Aremana buckles his belt before slicking his long hair behind his head with a ponytail holder. “Should we hide the dinner knives before we eat?”
“Perhaps.” Kapo'u takes a sip of her wine, standing in front of Steve. “But then you know something about edged weapons.”
“You read up on me?” Steve asks, swirling his drink.
“I do my homework. Your security contracts with the Navy probably allow you to ship product wherever you want.” Kapo'u pads her way toward Kono and places her empty glass down on a table. “And you bankroll everything, no doubt using all those offshore accounts to funnel the profits.”
“Well, since we're not dancing around,” Kono says, cutting to the chase. “Maybe we could discuss--”
“Dinner, then business,” Kapo'u interrupts. “I never talk about money before I eat.”
Kono doesn't have an appetite, her stomach flip-flopping with anxiety. Dinner is a pony show, idle chit-chat meant to find inconsistencies in Kono and Steve's stories. They'd been smart with their covers, memorizing them up and down, using bits of their real lives to enrich the authenticity.
An hour passes and a server clears the table, paving the way for the main event.
“Let's talk shop,” Kapo'u kicks off the discussion. “Ten kilos for seven hundred.”
Steve folds his arms across his chest. “Seriously? I thought you guys were for real.”
“We don't give friend prices on the first date,” Aremana challenges.
But Kapo'u pulls out a cigarette, lights it with the candle in front of her. “Did you have something else in mind?” she asks Kono.
“1.25 million for 25 kilos. Forty percent purity,” Kono rattles off. “You've got to think big to do big things.”
“If we show up with that much blow and you're even a dollar short, I'll cut your hearts out and have Pierre cook them up for Sunday dinner,” Kapo'u says, releasing a long stream of smoke.
“Sounds acceptable,” Kono agrees.
“When?” Steve demands.
Kono relaxes in her chair. “That works for us.”
Kapo'u nods at Aremana, who digs into his pants pocket and pulls out a silver tin. Taking out a tiny plastic bag and razor, he sprinkles out a generous amount of coke and starts cutting it into rows.
“This is from the same batch you'll be purchasing,” Kapo'u says, accepting a hundred dollar bill from Aremana and rolling it up. “I always celebrate the agreement of a deal.”
Snorting a line, Kapo'u steps away from the table, gesturing that it's Kono's turn.
Kono catches Steve's eyes as she goes for casual. “I prefer celebrating after money and product has exchanged hands. Anything else seems premature.”
“Are you refusing to take part in sealing our deal?” Kapo'u challenges.
Aremana's eyes narrow, darting from Kono to Steve. The tension in the room increases tenfold. “I don't like mixing business with pleasure,” Kono insists.
“We deal in pleasure, hon. There's no difference in our world,” Kapo'u says, stabbing the end of her cigarette into an ashtray.
It's the final test, one that many face in undercover work. If Kono refuses, she risks more than a deal. The next thirty seconds could end in a bloodbath.
She can practically hear the gears in Steve's head turn as he calculates an all-out assault to escape.
Kapo'u is loosely connected to over a dozen murders, and despite having a one-man army as a partner, Kono wants to end things in a bust, not violence.
Kono looks at Steve, communicating with her eyes her intention. His mouth thins into a straight line, but he gives her the okay without saying a word.
“I enjoy dessert after a satisfying meal,” Kono says, releasing the valve of pressure in the room. Taking the rolled bill, she snorts the line in one quick inhale, her heart racing as the drug enters her system. “Niiiice.”
Aremana does the third line and waits on Steve to reciprocate.
Steve's as cool as ice. Kono watches him do the line in a haze of euphoria. She balls her hand into a fist, focusing on the pull of tendon and muscle.
Everything feels like go, go, go! as if the world is on fast-forward. Kapo'u talks with her hands, all wild and animated, fluttering fingers and rapidly moving lips.
Steve is by Kono's side; she can feel the heat of his body as he leans in close. “Just breathe, slow and steady,” he whispers, squeezing her arm, burning her skin with his fingers.
Kono laughs like he's told her a joke, but she catches his eyes, lets him know she's okay. She can think clearly, although all Kono wants to do is pace, work off this growing itch beneath her skin. It's like she drank a whole pot of coffee.
Steve's cell goes off, and Kono flinches at the noise. She has to remind herself it's a prearranged check-in.
He answers it, does a half circle around the room, speaks a little too fast with the person on the other line. He doesn’t use the duress word, mumbles yes, and starts going on about backup drives and data clouds before ending the call.
“That was work. I'm sorry, but we need to go,” he apologies. “We just lost this week's shipping orders because of a server failure.”
“What a pity,” Kapo'u murmurs. “The night's still young.”
Steve looks like he wants to go for a hundred-mile run. His jaw is clenched nearly out of joint. Kono sidles up next to him. “I swear, we get calls at all hours of the night, but never trust anyone but yourself to do the job right.”
Kapo'u pulls out a chapstick, rubs it across her lips. “We'll call when we have everything together. Our driver will drop you home.”
“Thanks for dinner,” Kono says, nibbling at the end of her finger.
On the car drive back to the house, she has to keep from humming, her knee bouncing to some song in her head.
Once they get inside, Steve's cell goes off, but he let's it ring. “You okay?”
“I know it's difficult, but I need you to articulate to me that you are one hundred percent.”
“I'm good. I mean...I feel great. Better than great. But I know what this is. And while I feel like I could take on the world...I'm not going to.”
Steve studies her eyes, checks the pulse in her wrist. “Alright. Good. We should be coming down soon. If you feel anything odd, and I mean really odd, you tell me.”
His cell hasn't stopped ringing. He answers and starts giving Danny an update.
“No, we don't need to go to the ER...No, Danny. Listen to me. Are you listening? It was a single line. Fifty micrograms.”
Kono listens to the one-sided conversation, watches him wear away the same three-foot spot in the carpet.
“Look, if we have any problems, I'll call you. No...there's no need to send Max. Danny, we've got this.” Steve runs a hand through his hair. “Fine. Hourly checks.”
Steve doesn't stop pacing even after he hangs up.
“What about you, boss? How are you feeling?”
“Too damn good, but it'll go away.”
This is the feeling that addicts crave, what ruins their lives. What Kapo'u exploits and murders over.
“Come on,” Steve tugs at her elbow. “I've got something we can do to divert our attention.”
“I'm not in the mood for more tests.”
“Promise. No tests.”
“And I'm not sure if we should be field stripping our weapons,” Kono says as he guides her toward the table and chairs.
“While I admit, I find that relaxing, I had something more low-key in mind.”
Kono takes a seat, her finger tapping an incessant beat on the kitchen table. “You and the words low-key do not belong in the same sentence.”
He fishes out a deck of cards and starts shuffling them.
“I'm not sure I'm in the mood for poker after the other night, boss.”
“I like games that take more thought. When I was deployed, I spent a lot of time aboard boats. When we weren’t training or studying for the next mission, we'd play spades.”
Kono watches the show of cards while trying to stomp on the need to run outside and jump into the ocean.
“Hey...you with me?” he asks.
“Yeah...I'm with you.”
“Do you know how to play?”
“The rules are simple, I'll teach you.”
Steve starts dealing.
They play spades until Kono no longer feels the need to run into the car and break every speed limit. She goes from riding high on the clouds to the slow creep of bone weary tiredness.
“Do you think I made the right call?” Kono asks, trying battle the claw of self doubt. “I mean what if the coke was laced or poisoned? What if--”
“You made a decision and I backed your play. We had to do it to maintain our cover. We accept certain risks with ops like these.”
“You mean like crossing the line?”
“Out in the field, all you have is your gut...and yours told you that if we didn't pass Kapo'u's final test, we were as good as dead.”
His answer sounds right, but it'll take time before it sits well with her.
Kono checks the time; it'll be sunrise soon. “I feel like I just got run over by a truck.”
“Yeah, my gut feels like it's been tied into knots.”
“Stimulants have nasty side effects when they leave the body,” Kono says, standing and stretching. Tomorrow morning’s going to suck. “Thanks by the way...for the distraction.”
“That's what partners are for,” Steve tells her.
Kono wakes up feeling slightly hung-over and hurries up to get ready. By the time she washes up and heads downstairs, the whole house is bathed in sunlight. When did it become noon?
Wandering toward the kitchen, she finds Steve studying a laptop with Wo Fat's picture on the display. “You going for extra credit during the case?”
He flips the screen off. “Just keeping busy. Kapo'u called. The meet's tonight.”
“Danny's on his way over.”
There's been one thing bugging her. “Um...with all the money?”
“No. We're not authorized to use that amount of cash, so we'll have to wing it.”
There's a knock at the door, and Steve's instantly on his feet, gun drawn. Kono follows him closely, still clad in shorts and a t-shirt.
Steve checks the peephole, his shoulders relaxing as he opens the door.
“Your pizza's here,” Danny says, standing outside with an unamused expression and a large hot food carrying satchel. “Do you mind putting your gun away?” he mumbles, coming inside. “We've got to do this quickly; you've got some schmucks watching the place from across the street.”
Steve helps Danny unload the money out of the red satchel onto the kitchen table. “Yeah, I spotted them earlier.”
“Here are your cameras and listening recorders. They don't use a live feed, so they shouldn’t give off any signals that can be detected.” Danny places the tiny devices on the table and gives Kono and Steve a serious expression. “Now look, we can track your cells using the GPS...unless you turn them off. We'll follow you as closely as we can, but without being able to listen in on things...
“We'll be cut off,” Kono finishes for him.
“Exactly, but Chin says you can insert this little guy,” Danny waves a tiny microchip around, “into any jewelry or sew it into a collar. It's an emergency beacon. Just press it and we'll go in.”
Talk about walking a high wire without a net.
“So, everything hinges on our cue?” Kono clarifies.
Danny looks as thrilled as Kono feels. “Yeah. Once we know where the meeting is, we'll get as close as we can with our surveillance equipment to hear and see what's going on.”
“But we all know that Kapo'u will pick someplace that'll make that difficult to do,” Steve says, stating the most obvious challenge of this undercover operation.
“Look, I've been here long enough.” Danny glances at the door and inches closer to Kono and Steve. “Are you guys really alright?”
“We're fine,” Kono reassures him with a squeeze to the shoulder.
“I will say this again as I've said from the start of this operation. I hate this whole thing. So, please, please don't take any chances,” Danny emphasizes with a glare at Steve. “If things look hinky, you give us the signal.”
“We've got this,” Steve answers, and ushers Danny out the door.
Ronnie's number flashes on Kono's caller ID.
She answers and jots down the address while Steve gears up. Kono looks at herself in the mirror, finger brushing against the golden pendant where she hid the chip.
“It's show time,” she tells Steve. “There's a car waiting for us to take us to the meeting.”
The driver tells them to exit the car and wait. They've been dropped off in an underground garage and Steve's already checking for exit points.
After only a few minutes, the sound of car engines rumble, and two sets of headlights bounce along the walls. Two SUVS come around the corner and park by the east wall. Aremana and five goons packing heat exit the vehicles.
Kono walks toward their contact, Steve shadowing close behind her. “Mr. Aremana, you've kept us waiting. Our time's too valuable to waste.”
“Sorry, there's been a small change in plans,” Aremana says not sounding apologetic at all.
“What change?” Kono presses.
All five goons pull out Uzis and encircle her and Steve.
“Kapo'u will not come here. We have to go to her,” Aremana informs them.
A six foot four goon in a suit comes over and waves a wand over her and Steve in search of transmitters. Once he's completed his sweep, he pulls out a large plastic baggie. “Put your personal effects in here,” he demands. “Cell phones, wallets, watches.”
Steve pulls out each item carefully, dropping them in the bag.
“And your guns,” the goon grins, clearly enjoying his temporary position of power.
They'd anticipated having their weapons stripped away, but Steve still doesn't make it easy. He deliberately takes his time unfastening the silver snaps of his holster. Keeps his finger curled around the trigger before depositing each gun into the awaiting baggie.
Even ramrod still, Kono easily reads Steve's thoughts. It's in the set of his jaw, the slight shift in his posture.
We can do this. Trust the rest of 5-0 to find a way to cover them.
Kono hands over all her personal items and watches the goon drop the ziplock bags on the hood of the car that they rode in.
“You'll get everything back when we're done,” Aremana informs them, climbing into the first vehicle.
Steve holds open the door for Kono, and they both slip inside the dark SUV, on their way into the lioness's den.
They've switched cars and locations twice, and Kono hopes that they haven't lost their backup. She doesn't see any sign of Chin and Danny's van as they exit the SUV and are escorted inside the Limelight Lounge. It's Sunday and the club district is deserted, making it the perfect place for a deal.
They go inside and it takes a few seconds for her eyes to adjust from sunshine to darkness. The club is multilevel, and Aremana leads them toward an empty dance floor where Kapo'u waits for them.
“Sorry about the delay, but one can never be too careful,” Kapo'u says in greeting.
She nods at her protection detail who fan out to cover the exits of the club. Two goons remained outside by the SUV, leaving three inside. Not bad odds if she and Steve were armed.
Kapo'u's long flowing dress doesn’t leave room for a gun, but Aremana's peeks out from his left shoulder holster. Kono knows Steve could take him out if needed, so she focuses on getting through the next five minutes. Stall for time so Chin and Danny can locate them.
Aremana grabs a large black suitcase and lays it on top of the bar. Clicking it open, he reveals all twenty-five kilos.
“As you may know, I am wary of dealing with new customers,” Kapo'u says, tracing a finger over the plastic bags of coke. “Today is about laying the groundwork for future profitable transactions. So, I must take protective measures. You guys understand the need for precautions, don’t you?”
The question puts Kono on edge. She instinctively checks for danger, but doesn't spot anything immediately even while Steve tenses by her side.
“Cautious is often an advisable way to approach business,” Kono answers.
Kapo'u appears pleased by her response. “I'm glad we are of like minds on this,” she says, making a quick gesture with her hand.
Before Kono can react a red laser tags Steve in the chest.
“What the hell?” Kono growls, tracing the laser to a sniper on the third level of the club.
“As I said, this is just a precaution. I felt our first transaction should be between us girls. And I need reassurances that everything will go smoothly.”
“Relationships are about trust,” Kono snarls.
“You are correct. But I need to know that I have that trust. Once we conduct our business without incident, we can share a drink in celebration of our new found relationship. And if something goes wrong…” Kapo'u pauses dramatically. “Well, let's just say I'll inflict the first round of damage.”
Kono can't stop a bullet and even Steve can't outrun one. The red dot is over Steve's heart and he stands there perfectly still, his eyes promising violence.
The briefcase only has a top layer of cash; the bundles under it are filled with newspaper with hundred dollar bills sandwiching them.
Is backup here? If she presses the beacon, will anyone be around to respond?
“How do I know you won't just kill us after you have our money?” Kono demands.
“Two point five million is a lot, but two point five million every few weeks is more. It would be stupid to kill a steady paycheck.”
Any hesitancy will play in Kapo'u's favor, so Kono takes the briefcase from Steve's hand and nods at him that she has this under control.
He doesn’t flinch, doesn't react to the bull's eye over his chest. He exudes nothing but calm and trust.
Kono carries the briefcase and sets it next to the one filled with powder. “I want to test it for quality.”
Stalling for time, Kono pulls out the sample kit from inside the briefcase. If Kapo'u discovers the ruse, Steve dies. If Kono signals for backup and HPD storms in, Steve will take the first bullet.
She has to even the odds.
Picking up the first brick, Kono searches for something to split open the plastic.
“Here, use this,” Kapo'u says, handing over a letter opener.
“Thank you,” she says, slicing opening the kilo. She notes Aremana's position, realizing he's out of reach to grab his weapon.
Sprinkling some of the powder into the tube, she injects the chemical solution and watches it go from clear to pink.
Kapo'u's goons have the entrances covered, their attention divided between the dance floor and the doors. That gives her a few seconds’ advantage.
Kono checks the color of the test strip. “Thirty-nine percent pure. Close enough.”
Kapo'u smiles with lips of dark ruby. “I always deliver the best.” She drags the briefcase of money over for a closer inspection. “Now if you don't mind?”
“Go for it,” Kono nods.
As soon as the drug dealer reaches for the first stack of money, Kono grabs Kapo'u by the shoulders, pulling her flush, and whips the letter opener toward Kapo'u's throat. “Everyone freeze, or she's dead!”
Aremana trains his gun, but Kono uses Kapo'u as a shield and he doesn't have a shot. Pressing the tip of the letter opener to Kapo'u's jugular, she adjusts her grip. “I will kill her. One of your goons might get me eventually, but I'll slit her throat before that happens.”
“What do you want?” Aremana demands.
“Tell your sniper to throw his rifle over the balcony.”
When nothing happens, Kono breathes in Kapo'u's ear. “Order them to obey, or the last sound you make will be gurgling on your own blood.”
“Do as she says,” Kapo'u shouts.
The red dot disappears over Steve's chest and Kono watches as the shadowy figure flings his weapon over, the rifle cracking loudly to the floor below.
“Now tell your security to toss down their weapons and get on their knees.”
“Do you think I'm foolish enough to leave myself completely defenseless?” Kapo'u hisses.
“Are you not named after the goddess of transformation? Why not turn into a bird and fly away?” Kono taunts. “Didn't think so. I'm calling all the shots. Order them to disarm.”
“You won't get out of here alive.”
“Let me worry about that,” Kono whispers.
“Go ahead, lower your guns,” Kapo'u yells at her cronies.
The sound of weapons hitting the floor echo in the club, but Aremana swings his gun at Steve. “Two can play at this game. Now let her go or he's dead.”
It's a standoff with only a matter of seconds before something or someone sets off a chain reaction.
Kono presses the tip of the letter opener harder against Kapo'u's throat while loosening her hold around Kapo'u's body. She inches her left hand toward the pendant and activates the emergency beacon.
The ease in pressure gives Kapo'u an opening and she elbows Kono in the stomach, the shock causing Kono to drop the letter opener.
Kapo'u screams, turning and swinging her fists wildly, except she's all fury and no control. Kono ducks a wild punch and delivers two blows to the woman's face.
The drug dealer goes down and out for the count, and Kono snags the letter opener off the floor. Rolling to the side, Kono comes up prepared to defend Steve. Aremana is an unmoving lump on the floor and Steve has the guy's gun, taking out the first of Kapo'u's thugs with pulls of the trigger.
Kono searches for a way to cover him as the club explodes in shouts.
“HPD, drop your weapons!”
The dance floor floods with uniforms and sporadic gunfire, ending with a series of “all clears.”
Kono verifies that Kapo'u is still unconscious and closes the distance with Steve. She catches up to him, and both of them are shouting “Are you okay?” at the same time.
Kono's dizzy with adrenaline and relief. Is it really over?
Steve's grabs her shoulders, checks her for injury. “Hey, you didn't answer me.”
“I'm fine,” Kono manages, gaining her bearings. “What about you?” she asks, searching his shirt for holes.
“I'm good. Thanks to your quick thinking,” he says, breathing heavily.
For a split second, Kono doesn't have any words, her brain fried by overwhelming emotion. It's just her and Steve and the realization they're both alive.
“Hey, you did great,” he whispers in her ear.
Then Danny and Chin's voices override everything else, and Kono can't help beaming at seeing their relived faces.
“There you are. Do you know how hard it was keeping up with all those car switcharoos? Not to mention trying to keep out of sight while sneaking up on those no-nuts guarding the entrance,” Danny yells at them.
Chin eases Kono toward a quiet corner while Danny yanks Steve to an opposite one.
“You okay, cuz?”
The first thing at the tip of her tongue is 'yeah, never better,' but Chin can see through her bull and Kono doesn't really feel like being tough.
She rests her head on his shoulder and allows him to give her a hug. “It's been a hell of a few weeks.”
For the first time in almost a month, Kono falls asleep in her own bed and doesn't bother with an alarm clock. She has the next few days off and damn well plans on doing nothing.
Breakfast is leftover Chinese takeout. She drives to the beach and spends all afternoon surfing. She doesn't try catching the biggest baddest wave. Instead it's about the freedom of being lost. Of not caring about a damn thing.
Even after spending all day surrounded by the ocean, it still feels like she's being watched. That eyes and ears are shadowing her every move.
When she returns to her tiny apartment, Kono searches every room and double checks the locks.
By the time evening rolls around, she's sacked out in front of her TV with a beer, mindlessly channel surfing. Her hand tight and tense around the remote.
Three hundred channels and nothing's on.
A knock at her door has her up and grabbing her Sig out of the drawer by her front door. She doesn't expect Steve on the other side of the peephole. “Is there something up with the case?” Kono asks, opening the door.
“Oh. Um, I'm sorry. Come in.”
Kono crosses her legs on her sofa, grabbing the beer she was nursing. “You don't have to check up on me,” she tells him slightly annoyed. “I'm fine. This wasn't the first undercover assignment I've ever been on.”
“Yeah, but it was the first one that required you to live like someone else for an extended period of time. Sometimes it's hard getting back into the groove of things.”
Kono sips on her drink, the weird sensation she's been feeling all day dawning on her. Living constantly on the edge is a hard thing to shake. “Did you used to have to go out into the field for long periods at a time?”
His face is unreadable, but Steve's voice is weary. “Sometimes I was out for months at a time. Yeah.”
“And how did you adjust when you got the job done?”
“Eased my way back. Sometimes it was all about the normal stuff,” Steve says pulling out a deck of cards from his cargo pants. “Like playing spades.”
“I wasn't really good at that.”
“That gonna stop you from trying?”
A smile tugs at Kono's lips. “Hell, no.”
“Then let's play for something. For every game that one of us loses, we have to run two miles.”
“Please, brah. That's like any day of the week. Let's play five out of seven. The loser has to clean the other's house including the fridge, mow the lawn, and do their laundry.”
“That's like a whole weekend's worth of work.”
Steve settles in the seat next to her. “You know I've been playing spades for years?”
“As you said, I'm a quick learner.”
“That you are.” Steve grins, shuffling the deck.
Kono kicks off her flip flops, leans back, and thinks her life is pretty damn extraordinary.