Sunday, 18 April 2010
PILLOW FIGHT By James C. Clar
“You know, Jake,” Ray Kanahele said to his partner as the two pulled up in front of the Royal Palms Senior Living Facility on Kahala Avenue, “I've been teaching Maile to shoot?”
HPD Detective Jake Higa put the car in park and shut off the engine. He turned his head to the right and, as was his wont, looked at the stocky man in the passenger seat in silence. It was an old technique. Nature abhors a vacuum and Higa knew that, sooner or later, the person with him would feel compelled to fill the gap with words.
Water from the sprinklers on the nearby Waialae Country Club shone with the distinctive iridescent colors of a prism in the warm morning sunlight. Joggers and Kamaaina walking their dogs negotiated the footbridge that spanned the drainage channel leading to the beach park two hundred yards or so to the south. The waters of the Pacific were blue enough to hurt your eyes.
“Seriously, we've gone out a few times and I've had her fire my service revolver. She’s pretty good. Thing is, I've told her that if it ever comes to it, I want her to put a round behind my ear before I ever end up in a place like this. I don't care how upscale it is, I'd rather make.”
“You think that’s a good idea?” Higa inquired with a deadpan expression. “I mean this is Maile you're talking about!”
Kanahele hesitated a moment and then chuckled. His long-suffering wife of nearly twenty years was known for many things. Patience with her husband was not at the top of the list.
“Good point. The last few times I haven't made it home for dinner, she’s given me the stink eye; like, hey, I could shoot you now and get it over with.”
Higa didn’t respond. There was nothing more to say. Truth be told, both men had an aversion to nursing homes and anything even remotely resembling them. It was personal, to be sure, but cultural as well. Hawaiians and Japanese honored and took care of their elders. These kinds of places were for Haoles … and for folks whose children refused to live up to their filial obligations.
“Seriously, Jake,” Kanahele said as the two men walked up the white coral sidewalk between rows of towering royal palms, “Maile really appreciates you coming out here with me today. She’s been pestering me for a week now. Says this old lady won't eat until she sees a policeman. What was I supposed to do? You know what she’s like when she gets something in her head. There’s not a nurse in the place who cares more about the patients … that’s ‘residents’, for God’s sake, make sure you call them ‘residents’.”
Higa smiled archly. “And you put a loaded gun in her hands?”
They were met at the front entrance by a petite woman with olive skin, a pretty round face and shiny black, shoulder-length hair parted neatly in the middle. Higa always marveled when he saw Maile Kanahele. The contrast between husband and wife could not have been more striking. And the differences went beyond mere body type.
Ray was short, heavyset almost to the point of lumbering. When roused he was a force with which to be reckoned but, generally speaking, he was the most laid back, ‘hang loose’ kind of guy Higa had ever met. And that was saying a lot in a place where “hanging loose” had been raised to an art form.
Maile, on the other hand, was lithe and very attractive. Her features, a typical island blend of Japanese, Filipino and Polynesian with some Northern European thrown in for good measure, worked together in a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing way. But she was passionate, fiery even, and Higa knew well who really ran the show in the Kanahele household.
“Hello, Jake,” Maile Kanahele said as she bowed toward the diminutive detective. The two embraced warmly. “Good to see you. It’s been a while. We need to get you back over for dinner. Ray can show off the Imu he dug and lined in the backyard. It only took him five years!”
Maile turned and kissed her husband. Before pulling away, she pointed to his tie.
“That spot’s fresh. You guys ate breakfast over at the Rainbow Drive-In, didn't you? C’mon, Ray, you know what the doctor said about laying off the eggs!”
Jake Higa smiled inwardly. He also fought down a twinge of envy. It was years since anyone – let alone a woman – paid any attention to his appearance or was concerned about his health.
“I know you two have to start your shift in a little while, so I take you right in to see Mrs. Apana. I'm sure its nothing but she’s been very upset for the past week or so. It all began back when Adelaide Martin died.”
Maile led them across the carpeted foyer and into a large commons area that was landscaped to look like a lush tropical rainforest. There were large ferns, exotic plants and the usual local mélange of ginger, plumeria, hibiscus and bird-of-paradise. Threading its way throughout was a stream dotted with miniature waterfalls and deeper pools stocked with multi-colored koi. Here and there were tables and chairs as well as a fair number of residents chatting animatedly, reading or just quietly enjoying the restful atmosphere. The whole scene was more “five-star” resort than old folks’ home.
Higa and Kanahele exchanged glances. Jake could read his longtime partner’s expression – better you than me, brah.
“It might be helpful, Maile,” Higa suggested, “If you start at the beginning.”
“OK, sure,” Maile responded with just a trace of irritation. “Our population here is predominantly female. Even in Hawaii, women outlive men nearly two to one. About a month ago, a man named Leonard Verni arrived. It caused quite a stir. All the women were vying for his attention. He’s a handsome gentleman, and quite spry for someone his age. The buzz seemed to be that he looked like Errol Flynn or David Niven.”
Higa and Kanahele could identify most of Oahu’s more notorious mokes, but Flynn and Niven were just names from the Golden Age of Hollywood to them.
“Anyhow, Mr. Verni began spending most of his time with Adelaide Martin. The two were nearly inseparable. I probably don't have to tell you that more than a few of the other female residents became jealous. Then one morning last week, Mrs. Martin didn't show up for breakfast. We found her in bed. She had passed quietly during the night. Everyone was upset, but Mr. Verni was disconsolate. This is a small, tight-knit community. Besides, in a place where just putting their shoes on or trying to go the bathroom reminds the residents of their mortality, a death is really unsettling.”
“What does this have to do with, ah, Mrs. Apana?” Higa asked looking down at his notebook.
“Well, it sounds strange but I guess Mrs. Apana was really carrying a torch for Mr. Verni. Since Mrs. Martin’s death, he’s become withdrawn and hardly ever comes out of his room. The only person he seems interested in seeing is Adelaide Martin’s best friend, Mary Hinau. At the same time, Mrs. Apana has been very agitated. She sobs, talks to herself and keeps asking to speak with a policeman. Since she knows that I'm married to a detective, she’s been pleading with me to send Ray to see her. I thought, well, you know? That you guys might be able to pacify her somehow. Ray tells me all the time that I shouldn't worry about him … that three-quarters of your job is public relations. Go for it.”
“Geez, thanks Honey!” Kanahele said to his wife with a wink, “Like we need the practice.”
They stopped at a small, shaded alcove-like area occupied by a prim woman wearing a tropical print blouse. Predictably she had gray hair. Her eyes, however, were a clear and lively blue. Higa estimated her age to be in the late 70’s or early 80’s. After brief introductions, Maile Kanahele left to attend to her duties. The two detectives sat on comfortable chairs arrayed around a glass and wrought-iron table where Helen Apana was working the Advertiser crossword puzzle.
“Thank God you're here,” she said. And then, with lowered voice, “I want to report a crime.”
Higa powered up his most disarming smile. He set his notebook on the table. Might as well make this look good he thought. “You want to report a crime?”
“Yes,” Apana answered. “It was a week or so ago, I don't remember exactly. My memory isn't what it used to be young man. Age is the great thief, you know?”
“I’m sure,” Higa replied and then was quiet.
“It was late, probably around 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. I walked up the two floors to Adelaide’s room. I avoided the elevator. They have cameras in them now. At least they do on C.S.I. Anyhow, I opened the door to her room … we never lock our doors here, there’s no need. I took a beautiful embroidered pillow off her couch. I think her daughter had given it to her last year for Mother’s Day. The rest was easy.”
“Are you confessing to killing Adelaide Martin? Higa asked with, what for him, might qualify as shock. “Is that the crime you want to report?”
“”Yes’ to the former, detective,” Helen Apana said with no change in inflection, “and ‘no’ to the latter. There was no ‘crime’ involved in Helen’s death. The woman had emphysema, after all. Breathing was often a struggle. I just relieved her of the burden.” The gentle tinkling of a waterfall punctuated Helen Apana’s words. Somewhere a zebra dove cooed.
Higa gestured to Kanahele.
“I'm on it,” the large Hawaiian mouthed. He moved off, cell phone in hand. He had no idea what had become of Adelaide Martin’s body. An old lady like that, they probably hadn't even done a post-mortem. If her remains were still available, death by suffocation would be easy to determine.
Higa was not entirely certain he understood what the little old woman in front of him was saying, but she had his full attention now, that was for sure.
“Ms. Apana, you need to clarify something for me. If it’s not your, um, role in the death of Adelaide Martin, what exactly is the nature of the ‘crime’ you want to report?”
“Isn't it obvious, Detective Higa? Didn’t that pretty Maile tell you? The crime was committed by Leonard Verni. He’s responsible for everything that has happened. The man’s a total cad. Once dear Adelaide was gone, mine was the shoulder he was supposed to cry on. Instead, he’s taken up with Mary Hinau. Can you believe it? The man simply must be punished. I'd do it myself, but he’s far too strong. I'm not even sure he has extra pillows in his room. Besides, he lives way up on the tenth floor! That’s why I needed to talk to the police.”
Two hours or so later, Higa and Kanahele left the grounds of the Royal Palms. They had no idea what would be done with Helen Apana. The F.B.I., the public defender’s office, the state health authorities and an officious young woman psychologist had been called in. It was a real mess. Thank God it was, ultimately, someone else’s problem. For once they had dodged a really weird one.
“You know what, Jake?” Kanahele remarked as they got back in their car and turned the AC on high. “Teaching Maile to shoot might actually be for the best. Unless she goes out and buys a gun, I'll at least have some control.” Taking a page from his partner’s playbook, he paused for dramatic effect. “I'm thinking that what I really need to do is go home and trash all the pillows before she gets an even better idea.”
James C. Clar has published fiction in print as well as on the Internet. Recently, his stories have cropped up in places like Apollo's Lyre, A Twist of Noir, The New Flesh Magazine, Residential Aliens, Static Movement and Powder Burn Flash. He's a little concerned since, lately, his wife has begun collecting large, over-stuffed pillows!