Monday, March 11, 2013
Natural Predators excerpt by Neil Plakcy
In Natural Predators by Neil Plakcy, Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka and his police partner, Ray Donne, are investigating the murder of an island patrician, retired attorney Alexander Fields, which appears to be tied to another murder which took place in 1959, as the islands were poised on the brink of statehood. At the same time, he and his life partner, fire investigator Mike Riccardi, are trying to become foster parents to Dakota Gianelli, a teenager whose single mother has been incarcerated.
MLR Books (February, 2013)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-840-1 (print)
Back at Bernice Fong’s house, the safe was just where my father said it was. “Now all we need is the combination,” Ray said. “You think she kept it around somewhere?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.” We put our rubber gloves on again and started going through everything in the desk drawers, pulling out any papers that we thought might relate to Alexander Fields, Richard Clark, Bennie Gomez, Emile Gardiner, or whatever they were up to at the dawn of statehood.
“Bingo,” Ray said, showing me an envelope from the safe’s manufacturer. Apparently after Judge Fong died, Bernice had written to them for the safe’s combination.
“You found it, you do the honors,” I said.
Ray twirled the dials back and forth and the safe’s door swung open. Mrs. Fong had kept her better jewelry in there: several strands of pearls, a diamond engagement ring and matching wedding band, as well as a tray of other pieces. A couple of gold coins rustled in fading paper bags below the deed to the house and her life insurance policy, as well as a lot of U.S. savings bonds.
And underneath it all was a manila folder with a couple of yellowed newspaper clippings. The headline on the first screamed, “Mainland Senator Found Dead in Chinatown Brothel.”
“My father mentioned this,” I said to Ray. We sat down next to each other at the Judge’s desk and read the articles together. They spanned three days in January of 1959. Senator James LeJeune of Tennessee had been a vocal opponent of statehood for the islands, based on the racial mix of residents, who he said, “weren’t real Americans because of their mixed blood.” He had come to Honolulu on a fact-finding mission, invited by civic leaders who wanted to convince him of the benefits of statehood.
The night before he was scheduled to return to Washington on the Matson Line’s Matsonia cruise ship, he was found dead in a Chinatown brothel. Both he and the Chinese prostitute he was with had been shot once in the forehead.
“Forehead,” Ray said, pointing.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m seeing a pattern.”
The Honolulu PD investigated, fingering a notorious pimp for the crimes. He protested his innocence, but was convicted anyway. He died in prison a few years later.
“Why would Judge Fong have kept these articles in his safe for all these years?” Ray asked.
I looked ahead, trying to think. But my eye kept going back to the painting of Chinatown that had covered the safe. “Come on, brah,” I said. “Let’s take a ride.”
We locked up the safe, but I took the painting with us and drove down to Chinatown. I found the address of the brothel where Senator LeJeune had been killed and pulled up across from it. I held up the painting.
“This is freaky,” Ray said. “It’s like a perfect match.”
A drunk woman in a red and white flowered muumuu sat on the curb in front of the building, talking on a cell phone. We couldn’t help overhearing her as we sat there, the engine idling.
“The police pulled me over and they ran my name and discovered I had two outstanding warrants. So the motherfuckers took me into jail for two days.”
I looked at Ray and we both smiled.
“Now? I’m back here on the street like always,” the woman continued. “My daughter don’t get off work until five. If she don’t kick me out I’ll stay with her.”
A car pulled up behind us and I had to start moving again. I drove over to a Kope Bean and parked. We left the painting in the Jeep and went inside.
“Let’s step back,” I said, when we were both sitting in comfy chairs with our macadamia nut lattes. “We’ve got two murders in 1959 and the MO matches two murders today. We know that Fields, Fong, Clark, Yamato and Gardiner used to meet together around that time.”
“Fields is dead, and so are the judge and his wife,” Ray said. “What about the others?”
While my netbook was warming up, and then connecting to the free wi-fi, I said, “I remember Terri’s grandfather was an opponent of statehood. He believed the islands should have been an independent nation. And my father said that he stopped coming to the meetings at Judge Fong’s house.”
“You think the rest of them came up with a plot to kill this senator? To eliminate opposition to statehood?”
“Seems like an idea,” I said. “Let’s see if any of the rest of these guys are still alive.”
Bennie Gomez was long since dead, as was Terri’s grandfather and Emile Gardiner. “Look at this,” I said, pointing at a line in Gardiner’s obituary. “Survived by his son Andre.”
“Andy Gardiner,” Ray said. “Friend of Shepard Fields.”
“Not surprising, I guess,” I said. “If their fathers were friends, they’d know each other, even though Gardiner has to be at least fifteen years older.”
“But all these guys are dead,” Ray said. “Fong, Yamato, and Gardiner. Matthew Clark, too, even if he pulled out of the group. Fields was the last man standing. Who would want to kill him now?”
“I don’t know, brah.” I looked at my watch. “But I’ve got to get over to the social worker’s office at four.”
“Drop me back at headquarters. I’ll keep on looking for stuff on those dead guys.”
I met Mike in the garage near Wilma Chow’s office, and when we got up there we found Terri, Levi and Dakota waiting. After a flurry of hugs and handshakes, we all sat down. “How was your day, Dakota?” I asked.
“Okay. Terri took me over to see this school, Punahou. She said it’s where you went.”
I looked at Terri. “Punahou? Really?”
“It was good enough for you and me and Harry,” she said.
“But it’s so expensive,” I said.
Levi laughed. “That’s not a problem for either of us.”
“Yeah, but it is for Mike and me. If Dakota eventually comes to live with us we can’t afford Punahou tuition.”
“Dakota took a placement test,” Terri said. “He’s smart enough to get in. And either he’ll get a scholarship, or I’ll take care of the tuition.”
Kimo. Let it go.” Terri nodded toward Dakota, who was watching us argue.
I took a deep breath and turned to him. “You see? This is what it’s like having an ohana around you.”
“Arguing?” he asked.
“Call it a difference of opinion,” I said. “But in the end, we all want what’s best for you. Did you like Punahou?”
He shrugged. “It’s a school.”
The door to Wilma’s office opened and she stepped out to the waiting room. “I guess we should do this in the conference room,” she said. “Follow me.”
She led us down a hallway to a bland room with a rectangular table and chairs around it. “Dakota, why don’t you sit across from me,” she said. “Kimo, you and Mike can sit with me, and Terri and Levi, you sit with Dakota.”
We followed her directions and sat down. “This is certainly an unusual case,” she began. “I see that Mrs. Gonsalves has already satisfied all the requirements for becoming a foster parent. But that was two years ago—and you didn’t follow up.”
“After my husband passed away, I looked at a lot of different ways to rebuild my life. Becoming a foster parent was one of those. For a variety of reasons I chose not to follow that path at the time.”
“But you’d like to do so now?” Wilma asked.
“Dakota wants to come and live with Mike and me,” I said. “I’m confident that we’ll qualify—but I know that’s going to take some time. Dakota has agreed to live with Terri and Levi until Mike and I can take full responsibility for him.”
Mike stepped in. “I own the house where Kimo and I live in Aiea, with a relatively small mortgage. The neighborhood is safe, and Dakota would have his own room. Each of us alone makes enough money to cover our basic expenses. We’ve both known Dakota for at least a year, and we’re committed to providing him a safe, loving environment.”
“We’ve both passed the FBI background clearance as part of our jobs,” I added. “And I’m confident we can pass any other tests you have.”
Wilma nodded. “I’m sure you can, Kimo. But I do have to consider what’s in Dakota’s best interest.”
“Don’t I have a say?” he asked.
She turned to him. “Legally? No, I’m afraid you don’t. But I will talk to you and take what you say into my decision.” She turned to us. “I think this would be a good time for the adults to head back to the waiting room so I can talk to Dakota.”
We stood up. Mike put his hand on Dakota’s shoulder, and I said, “I’ve worked with Mrs. Chow before, Dakota, and I know she’s going to do what’s best for you.”
He slumped in his chair. “Whatever.”
I reached under his shoulders and hoisted him upright. “Sit up straight and mind your manners. Everyone in this room wants to help you.”
Terri laughed. “I guess we can see who the disciplinarian is going to be.”
We walked back down the hall together. “Seriously, Terri,” I said. “Punahou? You think that’s the best place for him?”
“I was surprised at how well he did on the placement test,” she said, as we all sat down again. “He’s a lot smarter than he lets on. He’ll get the kind of individual attention he needs to get back on track, and the school won’t tolerate any bullying because of his sexual orientation.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the public school system,” Mike said. “I graduated from Farrington, remember? But if Dakota can get into Punahou, and Terri can swing the tuition, I’m all for it.”
“Levi?” I asked. “What do you think?”
He shook his head. “I don’t have a horse in this race. I’m just here for moral support.”
I gave up and turned to Terri. “You know anything about Alexander Fields?”
“The attorney? Just what I read in the paper. Why?”
“He used to go to meetings at Judge Fong’s house in the fifties, with your grandfather and a bunch of other men, to talk about statehood.”
Terri smoothed out her floral print skirt. I could tell she’d dressed for the part she was playing—the skirt, a white polo shirt and woven belt and a small white handbag made her look like a well-kept suburban mom. I’d seen her in other outfits—a chic black dress and pearls at society events; a well-tailored navy suit and expensive leather briefcase when she was attending board meetings of the Sandwich Trust.
“You already know my grandfather was against statehood,” she said. “If he was going to meetings with those men it was because he wanted to convince them it was the wrong move. He said many times that if we didn’t have a third option, then the vote shouldn’t even go forward.”
“A third option?” Mike asked.
Terri turned to him. “How much do you know about Hawaiian history?”
He shrugged. “Enough to get me a high school diploma.”
“Well, for Levi’s benefit, I’ll give you a quick recap. After the U.S. overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1898, the islands were governed under what was called an Organic Act, which made Hawai’i a territory, with a governor appointed by the president.”
She shifted in her chair, crossing one leg over the other and straightening her skirt. “Everything changed after World War II. The U.N. came into being, and they adopted a resolution which called for self-governance of territories under colonial-style conditions.”
“Did this relate to other countries? Or just the U.S.?” Mike asked.
“France, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are the countries I remember,” Terri said. “According to the rules, there were supposed to be three choices on the statehood ballot: become a state, remain a territory, or return to being an independent nation.”
“And the one to become independent never showed up on the ballot,” I said. “That was the missing third option.”
“Exactly,” Terri said. “My grandfather always believed that someone rigged that election. But what’s this all about? You think Alexander Fields was killed because of something that happened back then? Wouldn’t the statute of limitations have kicked in?”
“Not for murder,” I said.
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