Monday, 6 December 2010

TIGER, TIGER By James C. Clar

Here's the latest in Jim's superb Hawaii based series...

Tiger, Tiger … 
“In those days, the world of mirrors and the world of men were not … separate and unconnected … one could pass back and forth …”
 Jorge Luis Borges
The Book of Imaginary Beings
“So, you haven’t seen Eddie Makiki for three days now. Is that right?”
“Yes,” Mary Nakamura pushed back a strand of jet black hair from her forehead distractedly as she answered. She shifted in her chair. As far as HPD Detective Jake Higa was concerned, the young woman sitting in front of him bore the usual mélange of island features – Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino and, in this case, a little Irish thrown in for good measure – with strikingly attractive results. What she had been doing hooked up with a moke like Eddie Makiki was a mystery to him.
“Like I told you, detectives, not since the night of our argument.”
Higa’s lumbering partner, Ray Kanahele, had remained standing. He leaned carefully against the countertop that ran the length of Mary Nakamura’s somewhat cramped kitchen between the old enameled cast iron sink and the more modern range top.
Nakamura’s apartment was on the second floor of an aging building that straddled the corner of Kapahulu and Campbell Avenues. Through the open window over his shoulder, Kanahele heard the sound of cars and buses as well as the soft swish of palm trees being buffeted by the trade winds that had picked up over the course of the last few days.
Sniffing surreptitiously, the big man also detected the aromas of onions, ginger and peppers being prepared in the Chinese restaurant that occupied most of the first floor of the building in which he stood. He and his wife Maile had, in fact, eaten in the place a few times. As far as he could recall, the food had been pretty good. Damned if the smell wasn’t making him hungry!
“I’m a little fuzzy here this morning, Ms. Nakamura,” Kanahele offered. “Can you run
through it again for us? What were you arguing about? I mean, a guy has an argument with his girlfriend then doesn’t show up for work and isn’t seen again since. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure there’s maybe a connection.”
“Toshio. We were arguing about Toshio.” Nakamura lowered her voice and looked toward the doorway leading to the living room where a TV set was tuned to Oceanic Cable. The audio from a Yomiuri Giants’ game mixed with the sound of the wind and punctuated the silence that suddenly engulfed the little room.
“Toshio’s a big fan,” the woman said eventually by way of explanation. “Baseball and his books …” her voice trailed off and she looked down at the table where she sat.
“Toshio’s your boy, right Ms. Nakamura?” Higa wrote quickly in his battered and sticker covered Moleskine notebook. “Eddie Makiki’s not the boy’s father, I mean.”
“No.” Mary Nakamura looked up with more than a trace of defiance in her pretty almond eyes. “Toshio’s father took off just after he discovered I was pregnant. It’ll be ten years this coming April. We haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
Ray Kanahele cleared his throat before speaking. “So your son is, like, a sore spot between you and Eddie?”
“Maybe. I mean, Eddie resented the attention Toshio got I think. But that wasn’t really it. It’s because, well, Toshio’s a quiet boy. He spends most of his time watching baseball or reading. Eddie picked on him, called him names. Said he was becoming a mahu or a ‘donut-pincher’. Stuff like that.”
Higa and Kanahele looked at one another. Both men suddenly acquired an over-riding desire to locate this Eddie Makiki.
“Have you and Eddie been living together long?” Higa asked. Kanahele wasn’t sure, but he thought he detected a hint of something approaching jealousy in his usually impassive partner’s tone.
“Just about three weeks. Since we moved over here to Waikiki.” Mary Nakamura fiddled with her hair again.
“We used to have a little place closer to downtown. I worked for a trucking company. I was the dispatcher. That’s where I met Eddie. Anyhow, I recently went back to school, up at Kapiolani Community College. That’s when Eddie moved in. Said he’d help out. I’ve started working at the Borders over at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. My hours are good. I can walk to work. Toshio likes Jefferson Elementary better than his old school and, most days, he can wait for me at the library there at the corner of Ali Wai and we can walk home together. Everything seemed to be going well until …”
Nakamura paused. The young woman fought back tears.
Kanahele leaned forward and offered one of his trademark handkerchiefs. “Until … what?” the big Hawaiian urged.
“That mirror out in the hallway. That’s what really got to Eddie. Toshio would sit for hours staring into the stupid thing. Then he started making up stories about seeing animals in it. Old Charlie Liu, our landlord, filled Toshio’s head with all kinds of wild tales about it being an old family heirloom with magical or mystical properties or something.”
Higa stood and, without comment, walked out into the ill-lit hallway. At the end, near what he assumed to be the bathroom, was a rectangular mirror mounted on the wall. He estimated it at, maybe, six feet high and four feet wide. It was clearly an antique. The frame was gilt with weird Asian symbols and other strange designs in red and black lettering. The glass was old, too, smoky and blotched in spots. Even so, the mirror seemed to possess a nearly fathomless depth. Higa could have sworn that it absorbed whatever light shone on it. He noticed that it had been broken at some point and repaired with a piece of clear plastic packing tape.
“That’s quite the piece,” the wiry Japanese-American said as he returned to the kitchen and sat back down. “I can see why your son is so fascinated with it. You know, Ms. Nakamura, there are Chinese legends – Japanese too, for that matter – about animals, whole worlds even, existing inside of mirrors. I know some older Japanese folks who don’t like mirrors because they believe that whatever images the glass reflects are also stored or ‘trapped’ inside.”
“That’s what Toshio said. He checked out a book or something from the library. He started reading up on it, like he does with everything. Sometimes I worry about him.”
“I wouldn’t.” Higa counseled “He sounds like an intelligent and interesting little boy.”
Mary Nakamura glanced apprehensively toward the living room. “You won’t have to, like, talk to him … will you?”
Higa reached out and patted the woman’s hand. Self-control was not something Ray Kanahele was noted for. It took all that he had, and more, for him to hide his surprise at his longtime friend’s unaccustomed show of emotion. Son-of-a-bitch, the veteran detective muttered to himself.
“Maybe in a few minutes,” Higa answered reassuringly. “For right now, though, let’s get back to the night Makiki disappeared. You were telling us about what happened here.”
“I was right here in the kitchen fixing something for dinner.” The Doppler strain of the siren on an emergency vehicle of some sort way down near the beach on Kalakaua Avenue was borne on the trades that blew unabated outside the window.
“Eddie came in from the living room to get something out of the refrigerator, another beer probably. He’d been drinking. ‘Jesus, Mary’, he said, ‘the little freak’s out there staring into that friggin’ mirror again’.”
“I told him that what Toshio did was none of his business, to leave him alone. He laughed. Told me to shut up. Said he was going to get Toshio and drag him outside, make him play in the park like a ‘normal’ kid.” Mary Nakamura began crying again.
“Eddie made to go out into the hallway. I got up to stop him.” Nakamura looked down, embarrassed. “He backhanded me. I fell and hit my head on the edge of the sink there near Detective Kanahele. By the time I got up and out into the hallway, Toshio was on the floor surrounded by a few pieces of broken glass and a bunch of his Matchbox cars. Eddie was gone.”
Once again, Jake Higa got up from his chair. He looked over at his partner and, then, at Mary Nakamura. Something unspoken passed between himself and the distraught young woman. The policeman walked into the living room where young Toshio was watching, or at least pretending to watch, his baseball game.
Kanahele, for his part, felt like he had just missed something important. Nonetheless, he continued to question Nakamura.
“So, you didn’t see what actually happened in the hallway or where Eddie Makiki got to?”
“No. I hit my head pretty hard. Like I said, it took me a moment or two to get up and re-oriented.”
The sound of muted conversation could be heard coming from the living room. Kanahele could tell that was where the Nakamura woman’s attention was focused.
“OK. What did your son tell you about what happened? I mean, you must have asked him, right?”
“Toshio said that Eddie came over and grabbed him by the shoulder. Said he started dragging him toward the mirror, like he was going to rub his face into it or something.”
“But something stopped him?” Kanahele prompted.
“Yes. Toshio said that Eddie slipped on one of the Matchbox cars he keeps leaving around. I tell him to pick them up, but you know how little boys are. It made Eddie let him go. He said that Eddie reached out his hand to steady himself against the mirror. That must be how it got broken. Anyhow, Toshio squirmed around and humped back out of the way on his backside. Said he heard a weird sound like a giant drain emptying. When he looked up, Eddie was gone. That’s just about when I got out there into the hallway.”
Higa returned to the kitchen. He remained standing. The veteran policeman made eye contact with his partner.
“Alright, Ms. Nakamura,” he said with a faint smile. “I think we have everything we need for right now. You need to call me if you hear from Eddie Makiki or, if by chance, he shows up again. It’s not that we want him for anything formally, you understand … unless you decide to address the fact that he struck you … it’s just that he’s gone missing and his employer filed a report.”
Higa approached the still-seated woman and handed her his card. “You can reach me, um, ‘us’ I mean, at any time … if you need anything. Understand?”
“By the way, your son’s a remarkable little boy. You should be quite proud of him. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for the two of you.”
“Hey, Jake,” Ray Kanahele said as the two men drove down Campbell Avenue toward Monsarrat. Higa, as usual, was at the wheel. The mauka slope of Diamond Head rose up ahead of them. If anything, the wind had picked up. Petals from the red and yellow shower trees that grew in profusion nearby blew wildly about the street in front of them.
“Let’s stop at the Diamond Head Grill. It’s early. Place shouldn’t be too crowded yet. I’m hungry.” Kanahele turned in his seat and faced his friend. “You figure Eddie Makiki will ever show up again?”
“I doubt it. Guy’s been in trouble with the law a few times already. He went too far the other night. Probably took off once he realized he might be facing a domestic violence or assault charge. Either that or somebody settled an old score. You know how it goes with guys like him.”
“Still,” Kanahele continued, “as long as there’s no sign of our man Eddie, like a body or something, it’s still an open case, right? It might be a good idea to check back with that Nakamura woman. You know, just to make sure she’s OK, that ole’ Eddie hasn’t been back around?”
“Maybe so,” Higa replied, eyes on the road. “Maybe I will give her a call in a day or two … if we’re not too busy.”
“It’s all about effective policing, right?” Kanahele said as he looked down so that his partner wouldn’t see the smile playing across his face. “Head the situation off before it becomes a problem, that’s what we’re taught.” He reached for his phone and began texting his wife. He couldn’t wait to tell Maile what he suspected.
Meanwhile, little Toshio Nakamura sat on the floor in the hallway of the apartment on Kapahulu. The ball game was over. His beloved Giants had won dramatically in the ninth inning. The two police detectives – how cool was that to have real live detectives asking you questions – who just left seemed like nice enough men. At least they treated his mom with respect … especially that Japanese guy. He wondered again why she couldn’t meet someone like that instead of losers like Eddie and, in all honesty, probably his dad too.
Thoughts of Eddie Makiki turned Toshio’s attention to the old Chinese mirror on the wall in front of him. Gazing into its sooty depths he saw a flying serpent swoop down toward the bottom of the glass. He noticed that it had iridescent wings. Best of all, the tiger was back. Right there in the middle. The animal was burnt orange. The boy felt that he could almost read its tigrine thoughts in the bold, fulgenous stripes that traced their way all over its powerful body.
The big cat was feeding again, its muzzle stained red as it ripped and tore its way through something it had recently caught. Sated now, the beast raised its head and looked right at Toshio. After a moment, it trotted off toward the edge of the mirror. Toshio thought for certain he saw it “wink” just before it disappeared from view.
Maybe, Toshio, thought, he could get his mom to walk with him down to the gift shop at the Zoo. He figured they’d have a book about tigers. Things were going to be better now, he knew it. Whatever the future had in store for them, something told him they wouldn’t have to worry about Eddie Makiki coming back any time soon, that’s for sure!
The End
James C. Clar's short fiction has been published in print as well as on the Internet. His work may be found in places like The Taj Mahal Review, Flashshot, Golden Visions Magazine, Word Catalyst Magazine, Antipodean SF, Bewildering Stories, A Twist of Noir, Static Movement, The Magazine of Crime & Suspense, Weirdyear and Apollo's Lyre. Stories featuring Honolulu Detectives Jake Higa and Ray Kanahele have appeared previously here on Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers.


  1. Another beautifully written story in a superb series. Really enjoyed the metaphysical nature of this story. And the hint of romance for Higa made me smile (see...I'm really a softy at heart!)

  2. What is the first one in the series? Hawaiian Plate?

  3. Glenna, thanks for taking the time to read the latest. In all honesty, I have lost track somewhat of the sequence and continuity. To the best of my recollection, however, the first appearance of Higa & Kanahele (at least on TK'n'C) was "Stormy Weather" back in September of '09. "Mixed Plate" was the second ... maybe!

    Jim Clar

  4. Hi Glenna,
    if you put 'Clar' in the search bar at the top and hit search it will bring up all of his stories here at TKnC - albeit in reverse order of publishing, but it will show you all of the Higa and Kanahele stories in our archive. And I think that Jim would agree that they don't necessarily need to be read in order as they're all stand alone.

  5. Jim and Matt, Thanks, and good to know It'll make sense if I miss one.