Chapter 6

Arilin Thorferra

“Look, I don’t see where you can go with all this,” Marvin finally snapped.

It had taken more convincing than Russell had expected to get the fox to agree to meet for dinner, even at the cougar’s expense. And he hadn’t known that Marvin planned to bring a date: Jane, a white-furred vixen. He’d introduced her as a paralegal, someone who could offer valuable insight. But she’d barely spoken a half-dozen words all evening, instead just picking at the diner’s Chicken Parmesan plate—which Russell was also paying for, he suspected—and looking exquisitely uncomfortable.

“Come on, it’s clearly an unconscionable deal. Don’t let your pride in helping make it blind you.”

“I’m not letting my pride blind me, I’m letting my ambition blind me.” Marvin waved his fork. “Look. It’s a sleazy deal, but most of America was built on sleazy deals. If we hadn’t made sleazy deals we wouldn’t have Manhattan, the Louisiana Purchase and California.”

“We won California in a war,” Jane said.

“You’re missing my point. Unethical isn’t illegal.”

“No, but sometimes unethical is unenforceable. Right?” Russell looked at Jane hopefully.

She nodded. “Sometimes.”

Marvin set down his fork and crossed his arms. “You saw the paper. The construction’s already started.”

“Then that just means they’ll have to tear it down.”

“Have you been at the catmint gin?” He leaned forward and stabbed the table with a finger. “If you could convince the right judge of this—and that’s a really big if—then you’d need to do it before so much of this thing is built that it’ll cost more to tear it down than just keep it open. Otherwise Bennett will argue to keep the hotel and just give the islanders compensatory damages. He’ll probably make that argument anyway.”

Russell looked at Jane again. Marvin did too, more challengingly.

She cleared her throat. “That’s one of the remedies that would be open to the court, yes. They could also order construction halted, or place an injunction on starting. The more of the hotel is already built the more reluctant a judge might be to stop it, since it sounds like it’s within the letter of the original contract, even if not the spirit.”

“See?” Marvin’s tone was grimly triumphant. “I know money. That’s what this is about and that’s what it’s all going to come down to. Bennett has it. The islanders don’t.”

Russell sighed and addressed Jane. “But I might have a case. If I could get a lawyer, then—”

“No, the islanders might have a case. You don’t have any legal standing in this matter, Mr. Rittenhouse.”

“Russ. Think.” Marvin spread his hands. “Even if you could somehow get this in front of a court, it won’t help your otters. Who I remind you that you’re only interested in because you’re still carrying a torch for the princess. Who I remind you we last saw threatening you with great bodily harm. The only sure outcome of you pursuing this is Bennett retracting the good word he put in for you and substituting a few vile words.”

“Damn it, Marvin, you and I both know Bennett’s just railroading right over them to do this, and it’s wrong. Isn’t it at least worth putting a little effort in to stop?”

“Railroad. Bennett. Ha.” The fox looked down at his plate with a brooding expression, then rubbed his face, looking resigned. “Jane, I don’t suppose your boss would consider taking this one on as a favor to your paramour?”

She frowned, ears flicking back. “If I did all the prep work, and I could assure him that it’d be an hour of his actual time in court, tops, maybe. But I’d owe him, which means you’d owe me.”

Marvin gave Russell a clear which means you’d owe me, too look.

Jane looked back at Russell and raised her brows. “But again, I can’t help you unless you get standing to file for the islanders on their behalf.”

“All right. How do I do that?”

“An official document from the tribe granting it to you.”

The fox snorted, sounding relieved. “Well, that’s hardly going to happen. The king probably can’t even write, and besides, he wouldn’t send one to you even if he could.”

Russell grimaced. “I told you, both Kailani and Tua are quite literate.”

“It doesn’t have to be written, just something official from someone with authority. A seal. A token.”

The cougar nodded, sighing. Marvin was right, though. The king had no reason to trust Russell, and Kailani would hardly help convince him otherwise. This was all a dead end, unless—

He sat bolt upright, eyes widening. “I—I think I already have that.”

“Splendid,” Marvin muttered.

The judge squinted through her glasses at the necklace she’d been handed, then returned it to Jane. High heels clacking as she walked back across the courtroom, the vixen handed it off to Russell, who hung it around his neck. He felt uncomfortably feminine with it, but his attorney had demanded he wear it while court was in session.

A stoat in a powder blue suit scowled, pacing the courtroom floor. “Your honor, we again protest that Mr. Rittenhouse has no standing in this matter. The contention that a necklace given to him by his allegedly royal lover confers standing is entirely unsupported.”

“Your objections are noted, Mr. Stevens. Mr. Edgerton?”

The nattily attired coyote sitting to Russell’s immediate left stood. “Your honor.”

Jane had gone back into motion, already at the judge’s bench with a sheaf of papers and a hardback book. She opened the book to a marked page. “This is a photograph and description of the sigil on the necklace, verifying that it is, in fact, a symbol of the royal family of Uli Hahape,” Edgerton said. Jane closed the book and presented the papers in the proper order as her boss continued to speak.

“She’s so good,” Marvin murmured to Russell.

“Historically, such a royal seal has only been possessed by the island’s royalty or, in three documented cases, appointed representatives. This is an example of that symbol being used as a royal seal to sign legal documents—in fact, the original lease that’s under consideration today.” Flip. “These are signed affidavits from five witnesses who saw the necklace now in Mr. Rittenhouse’s possession around Princess Kailani’s neck before she gave it to him.” Flip. “This is a sworn statement from Mr. Rittenhouse that Princess Kailani gave him the necklace of her own volition to, quote, ‘make him hers,’ which we take to confer representative power.”

The stoat made a rude noise. “And we take it to be a declaration of romantic intent.”

“It’s a declaration of service.”

“It’s a declaration of getting nookie!”

The judge looked over her glasses at the stoat, then at Edgerton. “Mr. Stevens is correct that this could be a token of mere romantic affection.”

The coyote folded his hands behind his back. “Mr. Stevens’ defense of the enforceability of the contract being challenged today rests on asserting that the original understanding of both signatories is largely immaterial. Now he wishes to argue that this royal seal was an ill-advised gift granted in the heat of passion and that the intent here invalidates its traditional legal role. Intent only matters when it’s convenient?”

The wolf made a low, thoughtful growl. “To call Mr. Rittenhouse’s standing ‘tenuous’ is frankly generous, Mr. Edgerton. While I agree with your arguments about intent, can’t they be turned around on you as well?”

“I’m asserting that intent matters in both the instance of the royal seal and the contract, your honor.”

She grunted, then nodded once after a moment. “I’ll allow the hearing to continue, with the provision that if I find in Mr. Rittenhouse’s favor, he’ll have thirty days to produce more conventional documentation that he legally represents Uli Hahape.”

The stoat spluttered. “Your honor, that’s giving him license to go to the king and get permission retroactively!”

“That’s only an issue if the contract stands, Mr. Stevens.”

He audibly gritted his teeth.

She picked up other papers on her desk, paging through them. “To that end, I’ve reviewed the contract. I have my thoughts, but I’d like to hear both of yours. Mr. Edgerton?”

“The contract’s original language talks of an oceanic research facility on the island, and it’s obvious from context that something small and unobtrusive was envisioned—there are phrases such as ‘minimal disruption’ and ‘full cooperation’ with respect to the natives.”

Russell glared at Marvin. “You read that contract before bringing it to Bennett?” he hissed under his breath.

“I didn’t read it that closely,” the fox muttered sulkily. “It’s all standard boilerplate.”

Stevens waved his hand. “That’s all very standard boilerplate. The contract gives Bennett University unrestricted access to one hundred acres, including all the coastline on the island’s southern side, and development rights for up to two acres allocated entirely at the University’s discretion.”

“The interpretation Mr. Stevens’ client has pushed is clearly at odds with the contract’s text, when it uses phrases such as ‘minimally invasive’ and ‘passive observation’ and ‘cooperation with the natives.’”

The judge raised her brows. “But the numbers are as Mr. Stevens stated.”

“I doubt the islanders understood how much latitude those numbers gave the university.”

“Supposition and immaterial!”

“An educated guess. Furthermore, the original contract talks exclusively of research and academic uses. How in the world does a resort hotel qualify?”

“It isn’t a resort hotel, it’s a conference center with well-defined educational purposes. It clearly follows the language of the original contract.”

Edgerton nodded to Jane, who presented another set of papers to the judge. “These are signed affidavits from four people who saw the original model presented at its unveiling a month ago, when the hotel was clearly labeled ‘Hotel Palekaiko.’” Flip. “These are its architectural drawings, also labeled ‘Hotel Palekaiko.’” Flip. “And these are emendations to the architectural drawings, dated after King Aramena’s visit that relabel it as a conference center and repurpose several rooms.”

“Plans are fluid,” the stoat snapped. “Bennett Partners originally envisioned just a hotel, but after discovering their interests were aligned with long-existing interests of the University, they came together to create a—a—”

“Transparent ploy?” Edgerton offered.

“Your honor!”

The wolf set the papers down and clasped her hands in front of her. “Mr. Stevens, I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Edgerton on all the material facts of this case. Your client wanted to build a hotel on the beach, and when the landowner refused, he found an apparent loophole and retrofitted the hotel plans to take advantage of it.”

“With all respect, your honor, you impugn Cornelius Bennett’s character. He’s widely acknowledged as one of the greatest philanthropists in the nation, and his record for supporting education is unimpeachable. Bennett University is one of the finest private schools in the country. His charity work within the San Francisco Bay Area is unmatched.”

The coyote folded his arms. “So your argument is that it’s all right for Bennett to build this hotel on fraudulent terms because he gives every orphan in the city a Christmas turkey?”

The stoat turned red.

The wolf looked between both of them. “As I see it, there are no grounds to invalidate the original contract. While I believe Mr. Edgerton is correct in his assertion that the islanders were misled as to the rights they granted the university, a bad deal is not an illegal one.”

Russell’s ears folded back. Stevens puffed up.

“However, it is brazenly bad faith to claim that a resort hotel—and that is absolutely what’s being proposed here—is an acceptable development project under that contract’s terms.” She picked up her gavel. “The defendant is hereby enjoined against construction of the hotel and conference center—”

“Your honor!” a voice bellowed from the back of the room.

Everyone turned. Cornelius Bennett himself strode forward, cane thumping at double time.

“The construction is well underway. Foundations have been poured, frameworks have been raised, some walls are even in place. A half-dozen barges with materials from oak panels to marble tiles are a mere day away from landfall.”

“A moment, your honor,” Stevens said, hurrying to meet his client. They spoke in hushed tones.

“Here it comes,” Marvin muttered, looking at Russell dolefully.

After another ten seconds, the stoat looked up and stepped forward. “Your honor, in light of this new information, we would request consideration of other forms of penalization that still allow the construction to continue.”

Edgerton sighed theatrically. “Your honor, if the defendants were interested in monetary compensation, they’d have taken the original deal for the hotel. And I’d like to ask Mr. Bennett, now that he’s here, why the construction has proceeded at such an unusually fast pace.”

“We want to be open for tourist season.”

“It’s always tourist season around Hawaii. Isn’t it more accurate to say that you wanted to move as fast as possible precisely so you’d be able to play this defense if the contract was challenged?”

The rabbit narrowed his eyes. “I’ll have your license, you little—”

The judge pounded her gavel against her bench hard enough to make everyone’s ears ring. “Quiet!”

Everyone fell silent.

“That your construction has already started is unfortunate, Mr. Bennett, but I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Edgerton. If your hotel had already been completed it might be another matter, but I am issuing an injunction. All construction is to immediately halt pending appeal. Mr. Rittenhouse, I expect that documentation delivered by this time next month, or this decision will be vacated.” She smacked her gavel more gently this time. “Dismissed.”

Edgerton nodded and walked over to Russell. “Mr. Rittenhouse.” He shook the cougar’s hand perfunctorily. “We made it in under forty minutes, although understand I’ll bill you for the full hour.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Edgerton. That was masterful.”

“Get back in touch with those islanders and get that documentation to my paralegal pronto.” He motioned for Jane to follow him out.


Russell turned, finding Bennett bearing down on him. The rabbit thrust a finger in the cougar’s face. “This is your doing.” The finger hit Marvin’s nose. “And yours. You came up with this plan just so you could undo it!”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s ridiculous that you thought you could get away with it! No one makes a fool of me. In a month no one at my university will hire either of you to so much as hold a mop.”

“It’s not your university, strictly speaking, sir. And it’s not your land to build that hotel on.”

“Have you ever heard the old saying about forgiveness and permission?” The rabbit snorted. “You can buy a lot of forgiveness with a few million dollars.” He slammed the tip of his cane on top of the cougar’s foot and stormed off.

Russell clenched his teeth to keep from screaming.

“Not a very graceful loser, is he?” Marvin watched the rabbit go off, then sighed. “Congratulations, Russ. I didn’t think you’d be able to do it, but you actually won a fight with the richest man in California.”

“Thanks,” Russell wheezed. He stepped up and down on that foot carefully, and decided it wasn’t damaged, just bruised. He started walking forward with just a slight limp. Marvin followed at his side.

“Of course, neither of us are going to have a job in a month.”

“I don’t think he can just pull a string and have us fired.”

“Yes, you do.” They made their way out of the courthouse.

“You’re right, I do.” Russell grunted. “I admit I’m surprised you came to court with me. If you just stayed on the sidelines and kept your nose out of this whole thing, he’d have been none the wiser.”

“He knows you and I are friends. The only way for me to have stayed in his good graces would have been to burn you somehow.” He grinned wryly. “Let him know you’re a man with, shall we say, fantasies of a base and peculiar character.”

Russell’s ears flattened.

“Relax. I didn’t say anything to him. Maybe it’s time to move on from Palo Morado. I’m not sure academic life suits me.”

“I’ve never thought about anything but academic life.” He stopped, watching Bennett’s limousine drive away, then frowned. The man was up to something. “Forgiveness and permission.”


“What Bennett growled at me before trying to break my foot.”

Marvin stroked his chin. “You’re not thinking that means he plans to flout the injunction, are you?”

“I’m just thinking. Those construction barges come ashore tomorrow, and neither the workers nor the islanders will know anything about what happened today, will they? Unless someone tells them, they’ll just keep building. What if Bennett just doesn’t make the call to stop it?”

The fox snorted. “That’ll make the judge very, very angry.”

“It will, but it’ll take weeks for that to have an effect. Weeks that he gets to build more of the damned hotel.” Russell spun around and hurried back into the courthouse.

“What now? Where are you going?”

The cougar hurried up to the clerk’s desk. “Ma’am, I need a copy of the injunction that Judge Winthrop just signed. I’m the defendant, Russell Rittenhouse.” He showed her his identification. “I need to bring a copy to the people I represent.”

Stevens, the stoat, looked up from the other end of the desk, eyes narrowing.

“It’ll be a couple of minutes to get your copy notarized.” She handed a manila envelope to Stevens, then turned to her desk phone.

Russell tipped his fedora to the lawyer. The stoat snatched the envelope and stomped off.

Marvin stared. “Wait. You want to do what?”

“Bring a copy to the islanders.”

“Before the barges land tomorrow?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“How in the world can you do that? It’s already past noon. You can’t just hop on a plane and tootle on down to the middle of the ocean!”

“Yes, I can. Well, I think it’ll take one plane to Los Angeles, then another to Hawaii, then—”

“You know what I mean!”

“Here you are, sir.” The clerk handed another envelope to Russell.

He tipped his hat to her and strode out, ignoring the complaints from his still-tender foot.

“Are you mad? Even if you make it, they’ll hardly be pleased to see you.”

“Of course they will. Now I have this.” He waved the envelope.

“How do you think a handful of natives are going to stop the construction workers?”

“They’re construction workers, not an invading army, and there’s a lot more of the otters. If the king says ‘no,’ they’ll back off.”

“And if they don’t?”

“If they don’t, I suppose we’ll see if Kailani actually can become a giantess, hmm?” He picked up speed.

Marvin kept up pace, looking more agitated. “Kailani, the one who slapped you so hard it made your teeth rattle? Who strongly implied she was angry enough to crush you like a beetle? That one?”

“That one.”

“Listen to me. Listen to yourself. This is insane! Don’t be a fool!”

He stopped and grinned lopsidedly, putting a hand on Marvin’s shoulder. “I hope I’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a boy can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Then he hurried out into the street. “Taxi!”

“What does that even—for God’s sake, Russ!”

A taxi pulled up.

Russell opened the taxi’s door, and waved to Marvin. “I’ll see you soon.” To the taxi driver, “Ferran Townhomes. I’ll have you wait about five minutes while I go in and get a few things, then off to the airport.”

“You got it.”

Marvin stood on the sidewalk, raising his voice desperately. “Russ, you’re going to be a flat fool. Flat is not beautiful!”

Russell grinned, waving to the fox as the taxi pulled away. Then he bit his lip, leaning back in the seat and staring at the envelope on his lap.