At least I got the chance to smoke while I waited for the police to arrive. The tourists on the beach were ooh-ing and ah-ing over the usual night-time performances, oblivious to what had happened in the kitchens of the hotel. It was my job to keep them oblivious, to intercept the cops before any of the customers had their night ruined. They came out to resorts like these to get away from the world. They got to look up at stars they'd never see on the mainland, and feel like the only people under that big, black night, lit up with tiki torches and a dancer swirling a spiral of flame in mid-air. And Kal, my manager, was fixated on keeping them in the dark.
Halfway through my cigarette I found myself watching the fire dance that had them enthralled, when I heard the police cruiser pulling into the hotel driveway. I gave a wave to the driver and took one last drag before putting out my cigarette against the lava rock wall of the building. I knew that would drive Kal nuts, but after what had happened already that night, I didn't think it was going to make much of a difference in how he responded. Ash is hard to see against that black rock any way. It's easy enough to hide.
I ushered in the two officers like they were making a delivery to the kitchens. Both were tall, one a pudgy mustached man with graying blond hair, the other a curly-haired woman with a stern expression. Under different circumstances, maybe I would have been checking her out, but I was walking through a dream then. I showed them to the back where Kal was standing, trying to direct people around the scene that the police were to investigate.
Kal was barely more than five feet tall, but he was wide enough that he could still block sight fairly well against anyone who wasn't looking over his comb over. He had on his usual smile, the one that tells the world that he's eager to serve, but there were signs of relief in his face when he sighted the police with me. “Yes, officers, please, if we could speak in here,” he said, waving them out of the hallway.
The police got their first look at Peter, right where I'd found his body. Kal had draped a tablecloth over the body so that the rest of the staff wouldn't have to see what I'd seen. Kal pulled back the cloth, and Peter was still in the same position, but the blood had mostly dried now. The big carving knife was still on the tile floor by his hand, his neck was still opened in a line, and his white apron was still soaked with blood, even if it had changed color. Kal was talking to the police, explaining the situation in a hushed tone, hushed because he couldn't use his default falsely pleasant tone for this.
“You're the one who discovered the body?” The policeman with a mustache was looking at me. He'd spoken to me. He'd asked me a question, in fact. I felt like I had to process each of these things separately before I could nod to him in the affirmative. “...care to step out into the hallway?” That one was easier, and I nodded immediately, even as I heard Kal objecting to it. He didn't want to upset the guests, of course, but the mustached man held the door for me to step out.
The hallway was noisier, as it always is at dinnertime. Not as many servers were using this entrance into the kitchen as they normally would, so it wasn't really disturbing to me.
The mustached man held up a pocket-sized notepad and pulled out a pen. He leaned in towards my vest. “Frank?”
“Palani,” I said. “It's Palani on my birth certificate. I go by Frank at work.”
He nodded and wrote my name down without blinking. “Care to tell me what happened?”
“We were getting ready for tonight's event, the party for the guests from off the cruise ship. One of the guests' kids had broken a glass and I was cleaning up the shards. I'd just tossed them in the dumpster down there,” I said, pointing further down the hallway, “and I was coming back. I thought I'd stop in the kitchen and ask Peter if I could borrow his car this weekend. When I went in, he...” My throat felt too dry to keep talking.
“He'd do that a lot?”
I nodded. “Peter's my cousin on my mom's side. He helped me get this job, recommended me when he heard about the opening. If our shifts line up, he drives me here.”
“So, d'you see him earlier today?” He looked up from his pad and I gave him a nod. “How was he?”
I thought back to the mid-day ride. Peter's eyes on the road while we both listened to the radio. “I dunno. Like he usually is, I guess.”
“Quiet, I guess? He's a good guy. Big on his own hobbies but doesn't go out much.”
I heard a lot of little scribbling on the pad as I spoke, but when I gave that answer, there was one heavy pen stroke, either crossing something out or underlining it. “Did he say anything out of the ordinary today?”
I shrugged. “I don't remember much of what he said today. I guess not.”
“Nothing about how he was feeling?”
I gave another shrug. It went on like that, question after question about things Peter had done or said, his relationships with co-workers, anyone else who might be in his life. After a few minutes, the door opened behind the policeman. The other officer was walking down the hall in the direction she'd entered from. I saw Kal through it.
The mustached man flipped back through his notes and looked like he was having trouble finding something. “When did you say that you discovered him, again?”
“It would've been about five.”
“Five?” He seemed stunned. “And no one called until after eight?” I looked over his shoulder again. “Why'd you wait three hours to report this?”
“I told Kal then. He said he'd call it in.” Kal looked back at me, his face falling. I couldn't tell how well he could hear me with the noise in the hall and the distance he was standing away from us, but looking him in the eye then, I could see that he knew I'd gotten the news. “...he was waiting for sundown,” I said. “He didn't want the guests to see anything that- that Peter was-”
I remember yelling then. I don't remember what I was yelling. I remember the police officer keeping a hand on me, telling me to calm down. I remember the other officer, the woman, leading me out to the parking lot again. It had just smothered me completely in that moment, the knowledge that my cousin was dead, and I'd been instructed to ignore it all. I found myself struggling to keep from vomiting outside in the dark.
“We're going to figure this out.” I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the first words that the other cop spoke to me. She gave my shoulder a squeeze. “I'm sorry for your loss,” she said.
I looked up. Down the road, a vehicle the shape of an ambulance had its headlights on, driving towards the resort. As it pulled into the parking lot, it illuminated Peter's dark blue sedan. I'd been meaning to tell him that I'd wash the filthy thing if he'd let me borrow it. I turned my head away, looking back at the dancer on the beach. There was one last whirl of flame in the air, and then the light was extinguished by a wave. The audience cheered in the dark.