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The Gentlemen's Hour, Page 2

Don Winslow

Dan smiles ruefully. “This is hard—”

  “Take your time,” Boone says.

  Probably Dan suspects that an employee is embezzling, or selling secrets to a competitor or something, which would seriously bum him out, because he prides himself on running a happy, loyal ship. People who go to work at Nichols tend to stay, want to spend their whole careers there. Dan has offered Boone a job any time he wants it, and there have been times when Boone’s been almost tempted. If you’re going to have a (shudder) nine-to-five, Nichols would be a cool place to work.

  “I think Donna’s cheating on me,” Dan says.

  “No way.”

  Dan shrugs. “I dunno, Boone.”

  He lays out the usual scenario: She’s out at odd hours with murky explanations, she’s spending a lot of time with girlfriends who don’t seem to know anything about it; she’s distant, distracted, less affectionate than she used to be.

  Donna Nichols is a looker. Tall, blond, stacked, leggy—an eleven on a California scale of ten. A definite MILF if she and Dan had children, which they don’t. The two of them are like the poster couple for the SoCal Division of the Beautiful People, San Diego Chapter.

  Except they’re nice, Boone thinks. He doesn’t know Donna, but the Nicholses have always struck him as genuinely nice people—down-to-earth, amazingly unpretentious, low-key, generous, good community people. So it’s a real shame that this is happening—


  it’s happening.

  Which is what Dan wants Boone to find out. “Could you look into this for me, Boone?”

  “I don’t know,” Boone says.

  Matrimonial cases suck.

  Megasleazy, sheet-sniffing, low-rent, depressing work that usually ends badly. And you’re always left feeling like some leering, Peeping Tom pervert who then gets to present the client with proof of his or her betrayal or, on the other hand, confirmation of the paranoia and mistrust that will destroy the marriage anyway.

  It’s a bad deal all around.

  Only creeps enjoy doing it.

  Boone hates matrimonial cases, and rarely if ever takes them.

  “I’d consider it a personal favor,” Dan says. “I don’t know where else to turn. I’m going crazy. I love her, Boone. I really love her.”

  Which makes it worse, of course. There are a few thousand deeply cynical relationships on the Southern California marital merry-go-round—men acquire trophy wives until the sell-by date does them part; women marry rich men to achieve financial independence via the alimony route; young guys wed older women for room, board, and credit-card rights while they bang waitresses and models. If you absolutely, positively have to do matrimonial, these are the cases you want, because there’s very little genuine emotion involved.

  But “love”?


  As has been overly documented, love hurts.

  It’s sure laying a beat-down on Dan Nichols. He looks like he might actually cry, which would violate an important addendum to the rules of the Gentlemen’s Hour: there’s no crying, ever. These guys are old school—they think Oprah’s a mispronunciation of music they’d never listen to. It’s okay to


  feelings—like if you’re looking at photos of your grandchildren—but you can never acknowledge them, and showing them is


  over the line.

  Boone says, “I’ll look into it.”

  “Money is no object,” Dan says, then adds, “Jesus, did I really say that?”

  “Stress,” Boone says. “Listen, this is awkward, but do you have . . . I mean, is there anyone . . . a guy . . . you suspect?”

  “Nobody,” Dan says. “I thought you might tail her. You know, put her under surveillance. Is that the way to go?”

  “That’s one way to go,” Boone says. “Let’s go an easier way first. I assume she has a cell phone.”


  “iPhone, sure,” Boone says. “Can you access the records without her knowing it?”


  “Do that,” Boone says. “We’ll see if any unexplained number keeps coming up.”

  It’s kooky, but cheaters are amazingly careless about calling their lovers on the cellies, like they can’t stay off them. They call them, text them, and then there’s e-mail. Modern techno has made adulterers stupid. “Check her computer, too.”

  “Got it, that’s good.”

  No, it’s not good, Boone thinks, it reeks. But it’s better than putting her under surveillance. And with any luck, the phone records and e-mails will come up clean and he can pull Dan off this nasty wave.

  “I’m going out of town on business in a couple of days,” Dan says. “I think that’s when she . . .”

  He lets it trail off.

  They paddle in.

  The Gentlemen’s Hour is about over anyway.


  In the middle of August, on a ferociously hot day, the man wears a seersucker suit, white shirt, and tie. His one concession to the potentially harmful effects of the strong sun on his pale skin is a straw hat.

  Jones just believes that is how a gentleman dresses.

  He strolls the boardwalk along Pacific Beach and watches as two surfers walk in, their boards tucked under their arms alongside their hips.

  But Jones’s mind is not on them, it is on pleasure.

  He’s reveling in a memory from the previous day, of gently, slowly, and repeatedly swinging a bamboo stick into a man’s shins. The man was suspended by the wrists from a ceiling pipe, and he swayed slightly with each blow.

  A less subtle interrogator might have swung the stick harder, shattering bone, but Jones prides himself on his subtlety, patience, and creativity. A broken shin is agonizing but hurts only once, albeit for quite some time. The repetitive taps grew increasingly painful and the anticipation of the ensuing tap was mentally excruciating.

  The man, an accountant, told Jones everything that he knew after a mere twenty strokes.

  The next three hundred blows were for pleasure—Jones’s, not the accountant’s—and to express their common employer’s displeasure at the state of business. Don Iglesias, patron of the Baja Cartel, does not like to lose money, especially on foolishness, and he hired Jones to find out the real cause of said loss and to punish those responsible.

  It will be many months before the accountant walks without a wince. And Don Iglesias now knows that the origin of his losses is not in Tijuana, where the beating took place, but here in sunny San Diego.

  Jones goes in search of an ice cream, which sounds very pleasant.


  AK-47 rounds shatter the window.

  Cruz Iglesias dives for the floor. Shards of glass and hunks of plaster cover him as he reaches back for his 9mm and starts to fire onto the street. He might as well not bother; the machine-gun fire from his own gunmen dwarfs his efforts.

  One of his men throws himself on top of his boss.

  “Get off me, pendejo,” Iglesias snaps. “You’re too late anyway.

  Dios mío, if my life depended on you . . .”

  He rolls out from under the sweaty sicario and makes a mental note to require the use of deodorant for all his employees. It’s disgusting.

  Within the hour he’s concluded that Tijuana is just too dangerous during his turf war with the Ortegas over the lucrative drug market. Times are hard—the pie is shrinking, and there’s no room for compromise, especially with his recent losses. Three hours later he’s in a car crossing into the U.S.A. at San Ysidro. It’s not a problem; Iglesias has dual citizenship.

  The car takes him to one of his safe houses.

  Actually, it’s not too bad a thing to be in San Diego—if you can tolerate the inferior cuisine. He has business there that needs his attention.


  Boone walks to the office, upstairs from the Pacific Surf Shop where Hang Twelve is pretty busy renting boogie boards and fins to tourists. Hang has a family of five on his hands, the kids arguing about which color board they’r
e going to get. Hang looks real happy, not. Speaking of unhappiness, he warns, “Cheerful’s up there.”

  Ben Carruthers, aka Cheerful, is Boone’s friend, a miserable, saturnine millionaire who would qualify for the Gentlemen’s Hour if he didn’t actually loathe the water. He’s lived in Pacific Beach for thirty years and has never actually been to the beach or the Pacific.

  “What do you have against the beach?” Boone asked him once.

  “It’s sandy.”

  “The beach is sand.”

  “Exactly,” Cheerful answered. “And I don’t like water either.”

  Which pretty much does it, beachwise.

  Cheerful is, to say the least, eccentric, and one of his weirder things is a quixotic crusade to stabilize Boone’s finances. The utter futility of this exercise makes him blissfully unhappy, hence the sobriquet. Right now he has his tall frame slouched over an old-style adding machine. His slate-gray hair, styled in a high crew cut, looks like brushed steel.

  “Nice of you to make an appearance,” he says, pointedly looking at his watch as Boone comes upstairs.

  “Things are slow,” Boone says. He steps out of his boardshorts, kicks off his sandals, and goes into the little bathroom that adjoins the office.

  “You think you’re going to speed them up by not coming in till eleven?” Cheerful asks. “You think work just floats around on the water?”

  “As a matter of fact . . .” Boone says, turning on the shower. He tells Cheerful about his conversation with Dan, adding with a certain sadistic satisfaction that Nichols is FedExing a substantial retainer.

  “You demanded a retainer?” Cheerful asks.

  “It was his idea.”

  “For a moment,” Cheerful says, “I thought you had learned some fiscal responsibility.”


  Boone steps into the shower just long enough to rinse the salt water off his skin, then gets out and dries off. He doesn’t bother to wrap the towel around himself as he steps back into the office to look for a clean shirt—okay, a reasonably undirty shirt—and a pair of jeans.

  Petra Hall is standing there.

  Of course she is, Boone thinks.

  “Hello, Boone,” she says. “Nice to see you.”

  She looks gorgeous, in a cool linen suit, her black hair cut in a retro pageboy, her violet eyes shining.

  “Hi, Pete,” Boone says. “Nice to be seen.”

  Smooth, he thinks as he retreats into the bathroom.



  “Business or pleasure?” he asks when he comes back in, Petra having handed him a shirt and jeans.

  She gave him his clothes a tad reluctantly because (a) it’s fun to see him embarrassed; and (b) it’s not exactly painful to see him in the buff, Boone Daniels being, well, buff.

  He’s tall and broad-shouldered, with the lean, long muscles that come from a lifetime of paddling a surfboard and swimming.

  “And why can’t business be a pleasure?” she asks in that upper-class British accent that Boone finds alternately aggravating and attractive. Petra Hall is a junior partner at the law firm of Burke, Spitz, and Culver, one of Boone’s steadier clients. She got her good looks and petite frame from her American mother, her accent and attitude from her British dad.

  “Because it usually isn’t,” Boone answers, feeling for some reason that he wants to argue with her.

  “Then you really should find a new line of work,” she says, “one that you can enjoy. In the meantime . . .”

  She hands him the slim file that was tucked under her arm. Boone nudges a copy of Surfer magazine off the cluttered desk to make a little room, sets the file down, and opens it. A deep red flush comes over his cheeks as he shuts the file, glares at her, and says, “No.”

  “What does that mean?” Petra asks.

  “It means no,” Boone says. He’s quiet for a second and then says, “I can’t believe Alan is taking this case.”

  Petra says, “Everyone has the right to a defense.”

  Boone points down at the file. “Not him.”

  “Every one.”

  “Not him.”

  Boone glares at her again, then slides his feet into a well-worn pair of Reef sandals and walks out.

  Petra and Cheerful listen to him pound down the stairs.

  “Actually,” she says, “that didn’t go as badly as I anticipated.”

  Petra had known before she asked that the Corey Blasingame case was deeply hurtful to Boone, that it put into doubt everything he believed in, everything he’d built his life upon.


  Kelly Kuhio was a freaking legend.

  No—K2 was a freaking legend.

  Build a surfing pantheon? KK’s in it. Carve a Mount Surfers’ Rushmore? You’re going to be blasting Kelly’s face into that rock. Just make a list of the all-time good guys who’ve ever ridden a board? Kelly Kuhio is in your Top Ten.

  Nobody who ever met Kelly Kuhio did anything but like and respect him, he was that kind of dude. Soft-spoken, understated, ultimate cool, Kelly had a way of making people want to be better than they were, and a lot of guys on the Gentlemen’s Hour could tell stories about how they went out and did just that.

  Kelly was the epitome of a bygone era.

  The time of the Gentleman Surfer.

  As a kid, Boone literally sat at his feet, because K2 was a good friend of Boone’s mom and dad, both of them well-known surfers both in San Diego and K2’s native Kauai. So K2—“Uncle K” to Boone—would come to the house and talk story, and Boone just kept his piehole shut and his ears open.

  Stories? Are you kidding me? Out of the mouth of Kelly Kuhio? Just look at the man’s life. Born in Honolulu, K2 was the Hawaiian state surfing champion at age thirteen. That’s thirteen, Jack, an age when most gremmies are only champs at . . . well, it ain’t surfing.

  And Kelly wasn’t some dumb, mutant muscle freak, either. Actually he was slight of build and smart, went to Punahou School on a scholarship and was 4.0. After school he went up to the North Shore, because that’s where the waves were, and it was K2 who figured out how to shape a board that could survive the wicked hollow tubes up there. K2 became known as “Mister Pipeline,” winning the Masters so often they practically put his name on it.

  Then he got bored with that and started traveling.

  Dig, it was K2 who first explored Indonesia, K2 who found that great left-hand point break that eventually became G-Land. Should have been K-Land, except Kelly was too modest to hang his tag on it. But now all the boys who make the pilgrimage to Indo on the Unreconstructed Hippie Surf Safari are following in the footsteps of K2, whether they know it or not.

  When Laird and Kalama and the rest of the Strapped Crew started to figure out the big-wave, tow-in thing, they went to K2 to advise them how to shape their boards. Kelly enthusiastically helped them but didn’t go out in the sixty-footers himself. In his forties then, he knew that was a young man’s game and K2 was too cool to try to desperately hang on to his youth. He had nothing to prove.

  When Kelly freaking Kuhio decided to move to California it was a big deal.

  He came at the behest of the surf clothing companies to promote their products, and then he stayed. Did a few small parts in films, made public appearances, was basically just being K2. He liked SoCal, he dug the San Diego vibe, he just hung out.

  The boys couldn’t believe it. They’d be on the beach and there was K2 out there, cutting his elegant lines, making it look so easy, so casual. And he’d invite you out there to surf with him—“Come on out, brother, the water is fine, plenty of room for everyone”—and give you little tips if you were open to them. (He shifted Sunny’s stance by three inches, and it made all the difference.) K2 was all about the aloha, the community, the peace.

  K2 was a Buddhist since his early days hanging out with the Japanese community in Honolulu. A serious, two-meditation-sessions-a-day, lotus-position Buddhist, but he never shoved it at you. K2 never shoved anything at anybody, you jus
t looked at him and learned, and it was K2 who pointed Sunny toward Buddhism and probably never knew it. She just admired his energy, his presence, and wanted it for herself.

  Other things K2 did?

  Coached surfing at a local high school.

  Sit back and ponder that a little bit. You’re a high school baseball player, and Hank Aaron shows up one day and is going to stay and teach you how to swing the stick? You play a little b-ball and Michael Jordan volunteers to spend his afternoons and weekends perfecting your jumper? Are you kidding me?!

  K2, Mister Pipeline, the Zen Master himself, out there showing kids how to surf and how to do it right, how to carry themselves, how to behave, how to treat other people. K2, Mister Pipeline, the Zen Master, telling them to stay in school, spurn drugs and gangs. If you’re a kid and you’re hanging with K2, it’s cool to stay clean and straight, cool to stay off the corner, maximum cool to hang with that man, eat PB&J, and learn ukulele chords.

  Get it—K2 had Samoan gangbangers out there on Saturday mornings with trash bags, cleaning up the beaches around O’side and laughing the whole time. K2, more silver than black in his full head of hair by then, had black kids from Golden Hill in the water on body boards, talking about saving their money to get the real thing. There was a downturn in gang violence, most of it having to do with sheer demographics, but the local police laid a piece of it right on K2’s doorstep.

  K2 showed up at the charity events and the walkathons, always found some piece of memorabilia to donate to school auctions, never said no if he could find a way to say yes.

  He became a fixture at the PB Gentlemen’s Hour, standing around the beach talking story, more often out in the water catching rides, his style still elegant if less hard-charging. Boone would see him around from time to time, at Jeff’s or The Sundowner, or just on the beach or some surf event. K2 would always ask after his parents, they’d exchange a few words. Every now and again they surfed together.

  Boone admired him, looked up to him, learned from him.

  He wasn’t alone in that. For good reason, San Diego loved that man.