HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS STORY:
A Pocketful of Sand, by Albert Tucher (Needle, Winter 2014-2015)
In 1994 my brother, who was then a Coast Guard officer, had just been posted to Hawaii. He and his wife knew no one in the islands at that point, and I decided to spend Thanksgiving with them. I thought I was doing my family duty. I am not a tropical kind of guy at all, and I expected one visit to last a lifetime.
Twenty years later I have returned a dozen times. I have visited the four main islands, but my favorite is Hawaii, aka The Big Island. The range of experience there takes includes active volcanoes, some of the world’s best beaches, the rainforest, and high country that could pass for Wyoming or Montana.
On one visit in the year 2000 I hiked down into the Waipi’o Valley in the northeast of the island. The only access to the valley is a road so steep that two-wheel-drive vehicles lose their grip and free fall hundreds of feet. It has happened.
“And God said, let me tell you about green.” That’s how one of my characters describes the valley. Green becomes a new experience, and so does the white of brilliant waterfalls draping themselves over the rim.
We’re not in Newark anymore.
Forty to fifty residents try to get away from it all in the valley, which is big enough to have supported a population of about three thousand in the days before the Europeans arrived. Without wishing to give offense, I am forced to say that a substantial percentage of the residents are misanthropic in the extreme. I have heard that they also tend to feud among themselves, and that the Hawaii County Police leave them to pursue their social lives without interference.
Not all hazards are human. Wild pigs and horses roam the valley. I encountered a stallion obstructing a trailhead and plainly daring anyone to challenge him. I didn’t.
The year 2000 was also when I began to write about my series character, prostitute Diana Andrews. After sampling the intoxicating brew of beauty and menace in the Waipi’o Valley, I knew I had to send Diana there. In one of my still unpublished novels, called Tentacles, she tries to earn the biggest payday of her career by backpacking into the valley with a client who neglects to mention that some very nasty people are after him.
One of the supporting characters in that novel is a Hawaii County Police detective named Errol Coutinho, and it turns out that he can carry stories of his own. So far, A Pocketful of Sand is the most substantial Coutinho story to see publication. His territory is the Hilo side of the island, and in particular the region known as Puna, in the southeast. The population center of Puna, the small town of Pahoa, has been making the news lately, as it waits to be overwhelmed by lava from the current eruption of Kilauea.
Puna is the heart of the rainforest. Sparsely populated and lightly policed, it is home to marijuana farmers, meth cookers, survivalists, fugitives, and Sixties holdovers. Several notorious crimes in the region have stimulated my imagination. Some names to Google: Dana Ireland, Ken and Yvonne Mathison, Brittany Royal, Boaz Johnson.
As far as I know, no writer of crime fiction has used this setting, which is a natural for noir. If I’m right about that, I’m willing to go first.