Friday, 18 February 2011

BROWN BAG LUNCH By James C. Clar


We're a few days late, but nevertheless, we're sure you'll enjoy the latest Higa and Kanahele tale just right for valentine's day...

Brown Bag Lunch

“Tell us again what happened, Mrs. Maeda,” HPD Detective Jake Higa instructed the agitated young woman who sat across the desk from him. Higa and his partner, Ray Kanahele, had commandeered a manager’s cubicle on the ground floor of the new Bank of Hawaii Center that occupied most of the block along Kalakaua Avenue between Lewers Street and Beachwalk. Like most days for the past month or so it had rained lightly in the morning but the afternoon brought with it bright sunshine, blue skies, puffy white clouds and light trade winds. The temperature hovered in the low 80’s.
Maeda fingered her wedding ring. She seemed to be looking past Higa and through the tinted glass of the large window that swept in an arc around the front of the building. A small crowd had gathered outside on the sidewalk in response to the police cruisers and uniformed officers who had secured the area in the general vicinity of the bank. Palm trees swayed in what looked, from inside the bank, like a tropical pantomime.
“He had a gun detective. It’s just like I told you already.” Maeda’s lilting voice betrayed just a trace of irritation. Kanahele had earlier fetched the young woman a cup of tea. Both policemen had been concerned about her going into shock. At the very least, her nerves were shot and they were doing everything they could to keep her on an even keel while they pieced together her story.
“We realize that,” Kanahele spoke in his most placatory tone. “The thing is you notice stuff when you’re under stress without even being aware of it. It’s an unconscious thing, right? So every time you go back over the story it’s possible you might remember something else, something that might help us here.”
“And, to be honest,” Higa chimed in quietly with a smile, “my partner and I have had a long day already. Maybe we missed something you told us the first time through. We’re trying to cover our bases here as well.”
As Higa intended, Helen Maeda looked over at the two men with an expression of sympathy, solidarity even. And, in fact, it truly had been a rough day.
“Jesus Christ, Jake,” Kanahele had complained an hour or so earlier as the two overworked and decidedly underpaid detectives left their car where they parked it on Kalakaua Avenue and ID’d their way through the police cordon that had been set up around the entrance to the Bank of Hawaii building.
“This is the third call we’ve answered today. Damn! We haven’t even had lunch yet. All I’ve had are coffee and a couple malasadas.”
“You stopped at Leonard’s on your way in?” Higa’s question had carried the note of accusation.
“Yeah. I didn’t bring you any ‘cause I know you don’t eat them.” The stocky, lumbering Kanahele had been temporarily preoccupied with visions of the sugary Portuguese doughnuts to which he was partial and for which the aforementioned bakery over on Kapahulu was noted. His wiry, health-conscious partner nodded his head.
“Anyhow, isn’t anyone else working today?”
“You know how it is, Ray,” Higa replied. “Pretty much anybody that’s available is here. There was a freeze on time off over the holidays and now, of course, everybody’s using their time before they lose it.”
“Shit, the holidays. Don’t remind me. What a ‘freak show’ that was. You know, reality is twisted enough in Waikiki under normal circumstances. Folks from the Mainland just can’t handle Christmas in Hawai’i Nei. I mean, Santa in a canoe, palm trees with ornaments and hula elves? It overloads their circuits. And I’m not even talking about the homegrown shoplifters, pickpockets, dopers, prostitutes and homeless people who flood the area looking for a little holiday cheer.”
Almost on cue, someone dressed as a giant green frog could be seen waving at and handing leaflets or pocket menus to the hordes of sunburned tourists who walked down the street a block or two from where the two policemen stood.
“See what I’m saying?” Kanahele pointed with an air of vindication. “It’s that new chain Mexican place that just opened in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.  Maybe drugs are the answer. It might be the only way to cope. Anyhow, now we got Valentine’s Day to contend with.”
Kanahele had paused for a moment.
“Listen, Jake, speaking of Valentine’s Day, I’ve been meaning to ask …that is, Maile has been wondering … how’s it going with you and that Nakamura woman. You’ve seen her a few times, right?
Higa stopped and looked down before answering as if weighing his words.
“Yes. We’ve gone out a couple of times … for dinner. Actually, though, I’ve been spending more time with Toshio. He’s a great kid … a special kid.”
Kanahele recalled the young boy and his vivid imagination from a previous case.
“I’m taking it one step at a time, Ray. It’s been a long time since I’ve dated anyone.”
Higa’s wife had left him over ten years ago, just before Kanahele had been promoted to detective and assigned as his partner. In all the time they had worked together since then, Kanahele couldn’t recall his Japanese-American friend taking an active interest in a woman. The fact that the normally stoic and serious Higa had actually asked Mary Nakamura out had been a frequent topic of conversation in the Kanahele hale of late.
“To be honest,” Higa went on to confide, “I’m not even sure Mary is genuinely interested in me. There are times when it seems that what she likes most is the fact that Toshi and I get along so well. I don’t blame her. The boy’s never had a ‘father’ or, really, any kind of positive male role model.”
“Yeah, well, that ‘moke she had living with her … you know, that Eddie dude who disappeared … was a total loser. No doubt. But, listen. I saw they way you two were lookin’ at one another when we were interviewing her. She’s interested alright. She’s probably a little gun shy, too, know what I mean? I’ll talk to Maile. We’ll have the two of you … or the three of you, whatever you want … over for a cookout or something. Maile will be able to tell where thing’s stand. I guarantee. You know I’m right.
Higa smiled. “Thanks, Ray. Let me think about it before you make any plans. OK? We’ve got enough on our plates here today as it is.”
And so the detectives were decidedly glad when Helen Maeda acquiesced without further complaint and launched into her story again.
“I was just about to go to lunch … we stagger our breaks, right … when this young Asian kid, he might have been Filipino, I’m not sure, came up to my position.”
“You said he had shoulder length black hair, a blue tank top and a tattoo on his shoulder, correct?” Higa interrupted before his partner mentioned their own lack of a lunch break … again. “What did the tattoo look like again?”
“It was one of those stylized turtle ‘tats you see on t-shirts and stuff all around here, know what I mean? I think they call them tribal tattoos.” The policemen nodded their heads. Around them, a small cadre of plainclothes and uniformed officers conducted interviews with other bank staff and two or three patrons who were unfortunate enough to have been in the building at the time of the incident.
“Anyhow, the kid was probably nineteen or so – maybe early twenties. I could tell right away that something was up.
“How so” Higa asked? His pen was poised over his battered, black Moleskine notebook.
“Well, for one thing, he was looking around like crazy. He was obviously nervous, hyped up, lolo … you know what I mean? And he kept muttering something about his girlfriend; at least I think that’s who he was talking about. I had to ask him three times what I could help him with. Next thing you know, he starts waving a gun at me.”
“Did you trigger a silent alarm?” Kanahele inquired. “I mean, you must have a panic button.”
Helen Maeda looked down. Her pretty face flushed red.
“Listen, officers. We just moved over here into this building.”
Kanahele nodded his head. “Yeah, sure, I know. I had a day off and my wife and I were in Waikiki. We stopped by for your grand opening celebration.”
Higa looked at his longtime friend.
“They had a band, Jake, out front on the sidewalk. Plus free pu-pu’s. Maile had been doing some shopping.”
Higa shook his head and smiled. The slender man turned back to the frazzled bank teller.
“Mrs. Maeda, I’m not sure I follow. What does that have to do with the alarm?”
“Well, in our old location, the alarm was on the floor. You had to activate it with your foot. Kind of like the high-beams on older cars. Here the thing’s on the inside of the counter, under the lip. And it has a cover you have to pop off before you can push it. That’s supposed to prevent anyone hitting the thing by accident.”
Higa and Kanahele waited for Maeda to continue.
“The thing is,” the young woman stammered, “I was so nervous, I mean, the guy was waving a gun in my face, I only thought of the alarm as he started to walk away. Even then, well, I started searching for the thing on the floor with my foot. I kept kicking the bag that had my lunch in it. It took me a few seconds to remember that, here, the alarm’s under the counter. I think he was already out the door before I tripped it. Listen, we have drills, but I was shaking. I could hardly think. Will I get into trouble because …?”
“Hey,” Kanahele, offered the sobbing woman one of his trademark handkerchiefs. “No worries. You did great. We’ll make sure we talk to you manager, if it even comes up, OK?”
An EMT vehicle passed outside on Kalakaua Avenue; probably called to assist someone stung by a box jellyfish or tossed off a surfboard and onto the rocks. Higa used the interruption of the down-Doppler strain of the siren to refocus the conversation. “Let’s go back to the point when he pulled the gun. What happened next?”
“The kid shoved a paper bag at me, you know, one of those small, brown sandwich bags. He said ‘fill it’ and started looked around like crazy again. I was so flustered I didn’t know what to do first. Anyhow, I dropped it. I mean, my hands were shaking. I felt like I was going to pass out.”
“What did the kid do?” Kanahele interjected.
“Nothing,” Helen Maeda almost smiled. “He was nervous too. I don’t even think he noticed.”
“And that’s when, you know …” Higa prompted.
“Yeah. I guess if I had realized what a chance I was taking I never would have done it. It was like I was in a trance. I did it without really thinking about it.”
“Maybe your training kicked in after all.” Kanahele smiled.
“Sure. The thing is, the kid never looked. He just took it from my hands and bolted out the door. Like I said, I think that’s when I finally hit the alarm. I’m so sorry.”
“Mrs. Maeda,” Higa spoke as he closed his notebook, “you have nothing to worry about on that score. In fact, I’m willing to bet there’s probably a commendation for you in all of this.”
“Listen, detectives, at this point I’d be happy if someone bought me my lunch. I mean, I was planning on going to the bank after work myself. I need some cash. That’s why I was brown-bagging it today in the first place.”
***
“Jesus, Jake,” Kanahele remarked later as the two men left the Bank of Hawaii building and emerged on the street and into the bright, late afternoon sunshine, “I’ll bet that kid was pissed when he opened that bag. Shit. Instead of a sack full of money he ends up with a peanut butter and apple-banana sandwich, some yogurt and an Ito En green tea!”
Higa smiled, almost the equivalent of a laugh for him. “Well, at least he got a healthy lunch for his efforts. And no one was hurt, that’s something. That gun worries me, though. Let’s hope we pick the kid up sooner rather than later.”
Higa paused. “Ray, have you gotten Maile anything for Valentine’s day yet? You know what’ll happen if you forget again this year.”
“I was going to get her some flowers or something after we got off today. Thanks for reminding me.”
“Listen,” Higa suggested, there’s that Teddy Bear World place right next door here. You know, it used to be Planet Hollywood before they went bankrupt. You want to go in and look around? You might find something in there. I don’t mind. It won’t take long.”
Kanahele looked at his partner and arched his eyebrows. Almost at once a knowing expression animated his features.
“Sure thing, Jake. Hey. Maybe you might find something in there too, right? Let’s go take a look.”
***
A few blocks away on the curving path that ran between McCully and Kalakaua Avenue, Charlie Ona sat on a bench and watched the sunlight glint off the surface of the Ala Wai Canal. He tossed a few crumbs into the water and, almost instantaneously, a dozen or so minnows emerged from its depths to start a short-lived feeding frenzy.
Charlie finished his sandwich, crumbled up the brown paper bag that held it and tossed it into a green receptacle emblazoned with the state seal and motto. He wiped his hands on his jeans and un-tucked the long-sleeved t-shirt he had changed into a few moments ago.
Shit, shit, shit … he muttered to himself over and over again as he stood up. He had no idea how that bitch back at the bank had tricked him like she had. Some day he’d go back and teach her a lesson. For now, though, he had more immediate problems. Like, if he didn’t score some money or wasn’t able to swipe something to give his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day, she might just kick him out of her place. Then what would he do? After all, that was the only reason he put up with her raggedy ass.
The gun, Charlie thought as he started walking. Maybe I can sell the gun …
The End

BIO:

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, Powder Burn Flash, Static Movement, The Magazine of Crime & Suspense, Weirdyear, Apollo's Lyre. and 365 Tomorrows. Stories featuring Honolulu Detectives Jake Higa and Ray Kanahele have appeared previously here on Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers.

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