Monday, April 16, 2012

Zero Break: A Mahu Investigation Excerpt by Neil Plakcy

In Zero Break, the latest Mahu investigagion by Neil Plakcy, zero break refers to the deep-water location where waves first begin, often far offshore. For Honolulu homicide detective and surfer Kimo Kanapa'aka, it means his most dangerous case yet.

A young mother is murdered in what appears to be a home invasion robbery, leaving behind a complex skein of family and business relationships, and Kimo and his detective partner Ray Donne must navigate deadly waters to uncover the true motive behind her death and bring her killer to justice.

Kimo is also in trouble at home, as he and fire investigator Mike Riccardi consider fathering children themselves.

Zero Break: A Mahu Investigation
MLR Press (March, 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-591-2 (print)
978-1-60820-592-9 (ebook)


Chapter 1: Little Caesar’s Discovery

“Kanapa’aka, you and Donne are up,” Lieutenant Sampson said, walking up to my desk in the Criminal Investigation division on the second floor of police headquarters in downtown Honolulu. He handed me a piece of paper with an address on Lopez Lane, in the shadow of the H1 Freeway. “Home invasion robbery-homicide.”

His polo shirt that morning was a shade of emerald green that reminded me of The Wizard of Oz. Yeah, I’m a friend of Dorothy, and proud of it, though it hasn’t always been easy being the only openly gay detective in the Honolulu Police Department.

I took the paper from him and pushed my chair back. “Your turn to drive,” I said to Ray Donne, my partner.

A blast of hot air assaulted us as we walked from the air-conditioned building into the garage. “Jesus, it’s only ten o’clock,” Ray said. “And it’s March, for Christ’s sake. Back in Philly I’d still be freezing my nuts off.”

Ray was an island transplant, and even though he’d been in Hawai’i for nearly three years, he still had some of the wide-eyed innocence of your average tourist. “You and Mike do anything fun this weekend?” he asked, as we got into his Toyota Highlander SUV.

I loved the way Ray was so accepting of my relationship with Mike Riccardi. Around some cops I had to be careful not to say anything that could be construed as too gay—like mentioning my partner by name.

“We went out on my friend Levi’s boat,” I said. “He wanted to show off his latest investment, generating energy from wave power.”

“That’s pretty controversial, isn’t it?” Ray asked, swinging out of the garage and onto South Beretania Street, narrowly avoiding a collision with a clueless tourist in a rented convertible. “Especially for surfers, right?”

“Yeah.” I’d been surfing since I was old enough to stand on a board, and I had a proprietary interest in the ocean and its ability to generate killer waves. “He makes a good argument—the waves are a regular source of power, and it can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. I’m not convinced, but hey, he’s dating one of my best friends.” I stretched my legs and said, “How about you and Julie. You do anything?”

“Trying to make a baby. What can I say? It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

Ray and Julie wanted to have kids. She had finished her MA in Pacific Island Studies the year before, and was slogging through the last courses for her PhD in geography, focused on the islands of the Pacific. They were hoping to start a family when she was working on her dissertation.

I laughed and said, “Better you than me, brah,” and we joked around until we pulled up in front of a small bungalow with attached carport, painted a bright yellow, with red trim around the windows and doors. The house stood out in a row of drab single-story homes with peeling paint and overgrown postage-stamp sized yards.

I knew the neighborhood from my years driving a squad car. It was a mix of retired servicemen who had landed in the islands after Vietnam, recent immigrants from Asia living in multi-generational family groups, and long-time islanders in service jobs, often working two shifts just to make ends meet.

The responding patrol officer was Lidia Portuondo, a beat cop I’ve known for years. She was standing outside the house in the bright sunshine, next to her patrol car. A light breeze whipped the hem of the flowered muumuu worn by the heavyset haole, or white, woman she was talking to. The woman’s miniature pinscher, on a red leash, yipped and jumped around in a frenzy as we got out of the SUV.

“This is Mrs. Robinson,” Lidia said.

I smiled and Ray started whistling the Simon and Garfunkel song. Lidia gave the woman our names, then stepped back.

I knelt down to pet the min pin. “And who’s this?” I asked. He skittered back from me, sniffing nervously.

“This is Little Caesar,” Mrs. Robinson said proudly.

“Like the pizza,” Ray remarked.

She glared at him. “Like the emperor.”

I motioned us all over to the shade of a big kiawe tree. “Were you the one who called the police?” I asked.

“I certainly did. I went out to get the paper this morning, and Little Caesar slipped between my feet. He knew something was wrong. He went right across the street and into the back yard.”

I could see a hint of a smile playing on Lidia’s face. She’s a pretty haole woman in her early thirties, with dark hair pulled into a French twist. Her family went back to the original Portuguese immigrants from the island of Madeira, and when I looked at her I could see the no-nonsense attitude her ancestors must have had to survive in the fields.

“I ran after him,” Mrs. Robinson said. “I don’t like him to be out without a leash. You should see the way people drive around here.”

I suppressed a chuckle at the picture of the tiny black dog with pointy ears racing across the street, the big woman in the flowered muumuu in hot pursuit.

“When I got to the back yard, I saw the sliding glass door to the lanai had been smashed. I grabbed Little Caesar and came right back here and called the police.”

She shook her head. “This neighborhood is falling apart, between all the immigrants and the teenagers who run around in packs, their pants falling down. The police don't do anything to protect us. I don’t know what I’d do without Little Caesar.”

Lidia picked up the narrative. “I responded about half an hour ago. I rang the front bell of the home across the street and got no answer, so I walked around to the rear of the residence, where I observed the broken door Mrs. Robinson reported.”

Ray was taking notes. “And then?”

“I looked in the door and saw a Caucasian woman in her early thirties lying on the living room floor. I entered the residence and established that she was no longer breathing and that there was no one else inside.”

Mrs. Robinson gasped and tightened her hold on Little Caesar’s leash. “This neighborhood just isn’t safe anymore,” she said. “My son wants me to move out to Mililani where he lives.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Robinson,” I said. “I’m sure we’ll have some questions for you in a little while. Can we find you across the street?”

She nodded, and tugged the dog’s leash. “Mommy has a treat for Little Caesar, back at the house.” The dog recognized the word ‘treat,’ and started jumping up and down again as she led him back to her house.

I turned to Lidia. “Lead the way.”

We checked the front door and found it locked. The two living room windows were locked, too, and an air conditioner blocked the only other window on the street. Ray and Lidia went left, while I went right. When we met up in the back yard we compared notes. No signs of forced entry on either side.

A hibiscus hedge with yellow blossoms that matched the paint job marked the boundaries of the back yard, separating it from its neighbors, but there was no fence to keep out predators.

Lidia pointed at the smashed door and then stepped back. A metal lawn chair lay sideways on the small paved lanai next to the door; it looked like that was what had been used to break in. We stepped up and peered into the living room.

As Lidia had described, the body of a slim woman in her early thirties lay on the floor, curled into the fetal position, facing the windows. Her shoulder-length dark hair swirled on the carpet next to her, a single strand falling across her forehead. She wore an oversized UH Warriors T-shirt in dark green. It looked like she’d been stabbed, multiple times. Her blood had soaked into the faded beige carpet and dried the shirt to her skin in places.

The air inside felt almost as hot as it was outside as Ray and I stepped gingerly through the broken door. I’m no pathologist, but I’ve seen enough bodies to know that she had been dead for at least a couple of hours. The blood had settled toward the side of her body on the floor, and her skin was as pale as a TV vampire’s. I phoned the ME’s office while Ray called for a crime scene tech. Then we both put on rubber gloves to avoid contaminating the scene with our own prints.

Lidia stayed out front by her cruiser as we evaluated the house. The first thing we did was begin taking pictures, before we touched or moved anything, beginning with exterior shots of the lawn chair and the broken door.

The living room d├ęcor was a real contrast to the gruesomeness of the dead body on the floor. Kids’ toys were scattered over the sofa and coffee table, and framed photos of two women and two small girls hung on the walls. One was the haole on the floor, though her brown hair was longer in the pictures and she had more of a tan. The other woman was somewhat slighter, most likely Chinese, with dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. The girls looked like they were a mix of both races.

In one of the photos, the haole woman was perched on a surfboard at Makapu’u Point, the lighthouse in the background of the shot. The picture had been taken with a telephoto lens, and the woman smiled exuberantly. Her evident happiness reminded me of how I felt when I was out on the water.

Somehow that made it worse, knowing that a fellow surfer had died.

To purchase ebook, click here

To purchase the paperback, click here


Victor J Banis said...

Okay, I'll have to pick this one up. I'm not sure if I've read all the series or not, though I definitely love the books - things just sometimes slip by me. Are they listed somewhere in order, Neil?

Neil Plakcy said...

Thanks for your kind words, Victor-- I value your opinion! The books are listed in order on my website,

The novels are: Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire, Mahu Vice, Mahu Blood, and Zero Break. The short stories in the collection Mahu Men fill in the gaps between the novels.