Monday, March 31, 2008
Mahu Fire excerpt by Neil S Plakcy
Mahu Fire by Neil S Plakcy is the third mystery for openly gay homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. About six months have passed since his undercover assignment in the Lambda finalist Mahu Surfer, and he’s back on the job in Honolulu. In these opening chapters, Kimo begins to wonder if there’s a connection between a rash of arsons at gay-owned businesses, and the rise of religious fundamentalism in the islands.
Alyson Books (April 1, 2008)
Mahu Fire – Chapter One
It had been a tourist office day on Oçahu, with sunny skies, temperatures in the eighties, and a light trade wind sweeping in over the beaches and chasing the few wispy clouds up into the mountains. We’d had a parched winter, and as April began, and with it our dry season, there were already reports of wildfires in dry spots on the Ko’olau Mountains.
I stepped out the door of my apartment building on Waikīkī as dusk was falling, and the smell of distant smoke rolled over me. There had also been a couple of arsons at gay-owned businesses in the past couple of weeks, and I wondered what was burning—a few acres of mountain scrub, or the property and dreams of a gay man or lesbian.
Hawai’i had been one of the first states to consider legalizing gay marriage, and though Massachusetts, New Jersey and a few other states had moved ahead of us, the movement in the islands was still strong, and in fact, the media had tied a rise in violence against gays and lesbians to the renewed visibility of the campaign, led by the Hawai’i Marriage Project.
I walked the few blocks to the Gay Teen Center, housed in the annex of a church on Kalākaua Avenue. At that hour of the day, Waikīkī was crowded with tourists heading back to their hotels from the beach, older people out for early dinners, and skateboarding teens getting in everybody’s way. I passed up a half dozen chances to pick up discount meal coupons, skirted an elderly Japanese bag lady haranguing the Wizard Stones at Kuhio Beach Park, and stopped for a minute to watch a sailboat setting out for a sunset cruise.
I’d been volunteering at the Gay Teen Center for a couple of months, counseling kids and leading a self-defense workshop in a big open room. My favorite student was a kid named Jimmy Ah Wong, a thin Chinese boy with a bright yellow coxcomb that stood straight up and then, at the very top, drooped over. He looked like a bit actor in a British art film of the 1980s, but he was smart and infinitely kind to the younger kids.
Sixteen of them were waiting for me, Jimmy among them, when I walked into the room. We talked for a few minutes, and then I led them in a couple of warm-up exercises.
We did some yoga, to get them in touch with their bodies, and then a couple of simple judo moves I’d picked up somewhere. When we’d finished the judo, we sat in a circle on the hard wooden floor and talked. I always had to kick things off; they were all shy, and sometimes in order to get into difficult subjects I had to reveal more about myself than made me comfortable. “I had a date on Saturday night,” I said.
A couple of the kids broke into spontaneous applause. I smiled and bowed. “Yes, I know it’s been a while. I wish I could say it was a more positive experience.”
I waited, but no one said anything, so I continued. “I met the guy online. And of course, he wasn’t anything like he’d said.”
“I know that drill,” a chunky boy said. His name was Frankie, and he had some island heritage in him, and sleek black hair pulled into a ponytail. “Nobody on the internet is who they say they are.”
We got into a little discussion about that, and about how they could be safe with people they met. “We agreed to meet at the Rod and Reel Club,” I said. “Remember, always meet people you don’t know in public places, so you can get away easily if things don’t work out.”
“Yes, officer,” Jimmy said, with attitude.
“That’s yes, detective,” I said, and the group laughed. “We had a couple of beers together,” I continued. “We seemed to be hitting it off, and we started making out on the outdoor patio.”
“Is there video?” Frankie asked, and everyone laughed again.
“You wish,” Jimmy said, and Frankie sent daggers his way. I gave them both a sharp look.
“So one thing led to another, and he invited me back to his place,” I said.
“Always use a condom,” Jimmy said.
“Have I told this story before?” I asked, pretending to be annoyed. But I was glad that the lessons I’d been trying to teach were sinking in.
“Does it end with you getting your ass fucked and your heart broken?” a boy I only knew as Lolo asked. He was the toughest of the kids, and I had yet to break through the barricades he had set up around him. “Because if it does, yeah, we’ve heard it before.”
“I save ass fucking for the second date,” I said dryly. “You all should, too.”
“Let him finish the story,” a skinny girl named Pua said. She looked Filipina, but her name in Hawai’ian meant “flower,” which was totally inappropriate in her case.
“The sex was lousy,” I said. “Alcohol does that. The guy’d been all hard in the bar, but when we got naked, he couldn’t perform. Of course, I worried it was me. That somehow I’d disappointed him.” I smiled. “He took care of me, and then as we were cleaning up, I realized he’d come in his shorts at the bar.” I batted my eyelashes. “So I guess I wasn’t that disappointing after all.”
“He couldn’t get it up again?” Frankie asked.
I shrugged. “He wanted to do some coke, and I said I didn’t, and he said that I might as well go, then. So I did. Not exactly a heart-breaker, but not much fun, either.”
“You need a boyfriend,” Pua said.
We talked for a while about some experiences they’d had, and a few of them opened up. I tried not to judge, though in some cases I was horrified by the sexual abuse, drug use, and petty violence they talked about. I was pretty sure that Frankie hung out near the men’s room at Ala Moana Beach Park after dusk, giving blow jobs to johns, and there was at least one other kid I thought was a prostitute as well.
I knew that some of the others snuck back into suburban homes where no one knew their secrets, and I wanted to take every one of them and say, Someone loves you. Someone will love you in the future. You are all good people. But there’s only so much you can do.
On my way out, I dropped in on the woman in charge of the center, a tiny, half-Japanese lesbian named Cathy Selkirk. Cathy was a poet whose love for kids ran deep in her soul. I often found her working long hours, filling out endless grant applications, talking to the kids, or interceding on their behalf with parents, teachers or the police. Though she was only in her early thirties, like I was, the dark circles beneath her eyes and the lines around her mouth made her look older.
She smiled when I walked into her office. “Kimo, I’m glad you’re here. I was going to come look for you. Didn’t you once tell me you knew one of the Clarks, from the department store?”
“Sure, Terri Clark is one of my best friends. Terri Gonsalves, she is now. She’s a widow, that is, but she still uses her husband’s name.”
“I’m working on this application for a grant from The Sandwich Islands Trust, the Clark family foundation. Do you think she has any influence on their decisions? I want to expand our outreach to gay teens on other parts of Oçahu, maybe open a satellite center on the north shore.”
I shook my head. “From what I know, Terri’s great-aunt runs that foundation, and she’s very conservative. I don’t think gay teens are going to be on the top of her list, but I’ll talk to Terri and let you know what she says.”
I sat in the overstuffed armchair across from Cathy’s desk. I could see kids getting comfortable enough in it to talk to her about their problems. “Sandra’s been trying to find out about one of these horrible organizations that demonstrates against gay marriage,” Cathy said. “Do you know anything about the Church of Adam and Eve?”
Sandra was Cathy’s life partner, a prominent attorney with a downtown firm and the most politically connected lesbian in the islands. “This mainland minister and his wife relocated to Honolulu about three months ago, to save us from the plague of homosexuals.” She smiled wryly. “They’re very well-financed, and they advertise their prayer meetings all over the place. Sandra hasn’t been able to find any dirt on them—yet.”
“But she thinks there’s something wrong.”
“There has to be, don’t you think, Kimo?” Cathy looked at me. “How else can they pretend to be loving Christian people when they have this terrible anti-gay agenda?” She sighed. “They’re having one of their revival meetings tonight. Maybe it’s just the smoke everywhere, and these arsons at gay-owned businesses, but I have a bad feeling.”
Mahu Fire Chapter Two
Walking back home, the smoke still hung over Waikīkī, and I had the same bad feeling as Cathy. So I decided to check out the Church of Adam and Eve for myself. After a quick dinner of grilled pineapple chicken with sticky rice, I put on the only suit I own, a conservative navy blue, and slicked my short dark hair back with gel. Since my time in the spotlight, people occasionally recognized me on the street, so I put on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses with clear lenses and hoped no one would connect this conservative young businessman with that gay detective in his aloha shirts and Topsiders.
I drove up into the hills of central O’ahu, to a place called the Pupukea Plantation. The atmosphere in the parking lot was festive, like I remembered when I was young and my parents used to drive us out into the country to watch fireworks displays on July fourth. Everybody was so friendly, smiling and shaking hands. Boys and girls played in the grassy aisles and “Onward, Christian Soldiers” poured out of big speakers.
Hundreds of folding chairs had been lined up under the tent, but even so by the time I got there it was standing room only. It was warm, with a buzz of conversation going on around me and the high giddy laughter of little kids. Everybody got a paper flyer with a list of the hymns and the topic of the preacher’s sermon, and an address where you could send donations. An elderly Filipina moved through the aisles, handing out paper fans imprinted with the logo of one of the big car dealers.
The crowd was a cross section of Hawai’i. Young people courteously gave up seats to their elders, and haoles, islanders and Asians smiled at each other and talked about politics and business. Maybe Cathy and Sandra were wrong; the people around me seemed so nice. How could they advocate violence?
The minister and his wife appeared from the sidelines, to rapturous applause. They were both in their early thirties, neatly groomed and overly cheerful, as such religious people often are. He was a little on the pudgy side, but his fleshy face just seemed to hold a smile that much better. She was slim, without much of a figure, obviously the more serious of the two.
The minister led us in the opening prayer, through a couple of hymns and then into his sermon. He began slowly, talking a lot about morality and family values, about the need for a return to spirituality. It all made sense, even to a confirmed non-churchgoer like me. My family was a real polyglot of religions, and we’d gone to a couple of different churches as kids, never settling on any one. Our parents seemed to feel that as long as we grew up as moral, ethical people it didn’t matter where we worshipped.
Then the minister’s wife stepped up to the podium. She began by speaking about their family, extending an invitation to all of us present to join in the love that they shared. “But there are some people who aren’t deserving of our love,” she said, and there was general nodding and agreement among the people around me.
“You know who I’m talking about. Homosexuals. They call themselves gay, to cover up their depravity, but we won’t let them get away with that. There are other names for them, nasty names, but we won’t use them either. We’ll just call them like we see them—homosexuals. Keep the sex right up front there, because that’s what they’re all about, after all. Sex. That’s all they care about. Everything else is just window dressing.”
I started to feel the heat under the tent, regretting having worn my suit. As I pulled at my collar, I glanced around, to see if anyone was looking at me as if they knew who I was. She had that knack, of making you think she was speaking directly to you, and I felt more like an impostor with every word.
I wondered what would happen if someone recognized me. I’d seen crowd mentality at work first hand, when I was a patrolman. All it took was a trigger, and ordinary people would turn into a mob, capable of looting, riot, and other violence that seemed to lurk unsuspected beneath all of our solid exteriors. I had no doubt this crowd would turn on me, hurt me if they could.