TKnC welcomes back Jim Clar with another superbly crafted Higa and Kanahele tale...
If Wishes Were Horses
HPD Detective Ray Kanahele looked out through the glass door of the lanai across the canal toward the Ala Wai Golf Course. In the distance to the left he could see a baseball game in progress on the immaculately manicured diamond at the ‘Iolani School. From the colors of their jerseys he guessed the opponent to be Punahou, or maybe St. Francis. The perfect arc of a rainbow was just visible as it spanned the width of the Manoa Valley above and beyond the line made by the H-1 as it passed through Kaimuki. Damn, he thought, what a view!
The lumbering Kanahele and his wiry partner, Jake Higa, sat in an apartment on the eleventh floor of a building on Ala Wai Boulevard between Walina and Nahua streets in Waikiki. Across from them sat an elderly man who reminded Kanahele of “Mr. Miyagi” from the Karate Kid, one of the policeman’s favorite movies from when he was a teenager.
On the sofa next to the Pat Morita lookalike was one of the most beautiful young women Kanahele had ever seen. With bronzed skin, lustrous black hair and high cheekbones, she was a classic “island beauty” – the perfect product of that ethnic melting pot that made Hawaii one of the most diverse, endearing and, at times, most frustrating places on the planet. Not even the dark circles under her eyes or the large bruise to the left side of her face – which she had attempted not entirely successfully to cover with makeup – could detract from the overall effect. What a view, Kanahele, thought for the second time in as many minutes.
“How long will you be staying with your grandfather, Mrs. Balliot?” Higa inquired of the young lady. If he were aware of her good looks, the impassive Japanese-American detective didn’t show it.
“I’m not sure,” she answered meeting his gaze. “I need to find a new place. I just can’t bring myself to go back to our, I mean, my condo. Not after what happened. And I’m going by ‘Ms. Kaneda’ again now.”
“I understand,” Higa replied to both assertions as he scribbled in his battered black Moleskine notebook. Those unacquainted with his methods might have considered the notebook an affectation. His partner, however, knew the extent to which the veteran investigator used the anecdotal record of their cases as a means of making connections, drawing inferences and keeping track of the ‘big picture’.
“I hate to ask,” Higa looked up and smiled as he bowed his head slightly, “but could you run through it again for us? There are just a few loose ends we need to tie up. This is the last time, I promise.”
“Please, Detective Higa,” the elderly gentleman interrupted quietly but firmly. “Is that necessary? My granddaughter has been answering questions for almost a week now. She’s been under a great deal of stress. I’m sure you understand. Besides, we were led to believe that the investigation had been concluded. The autopsy on Mark confirmed the fact that she was not responsible in any way.”
“That’s true, Dr. Kaneda,” Higa spoke in the same measured tones. Kaneda’s expression registered mild surprise at the detective’s use of the honorific. “I’ve read your book on shamanism and sorcery among the Pacific Islanders, doctor,” Jake Higa replied to the unspoken question.
“A policeman interested in Anthropology, I must say I’m impressed!”
“Yes, well, I’m interested in many things. More to the point, you’re clearly a careful researcher, sir, and you must surely tell your students how important it is to verify their facts and corroborate their findings before they publish them. That’s all we’re doing here…. giving it all the final ‘once-over’ before we file our report.”
“It’s all right, sofu,” Jennifer Kaneda spoke as she looked from one man to the other as though embarrassed that she was the cause of conflict, however minor, between them. “If it helps put an end to this whole nightmare, I’ll answer the detective’s questions.”
“Thank you,” Kanahele spoke for the first time in response to a slight nod from his partner. “So you and your husband were having an argument?”
“Yes. It’s as though we were always arguing. But you already know that.” Jennifer Kaneda looked at Kanahele and smiled. The detective, who was as brave and physically imposing as they came, almost flinched. Not for the first time, he was glad his own wife wasn’t in the room. “The police had been to our place at least twice previously because the neighbors complained.”
“What were you arguing about,” Higa inquired in tag-team fashion. “Can you remember?”
“It’s hard to say. What I mean is, one argument seemed to bleed … oh, God, I’m sorry … one argument seemed to flow into another. This time I think it was about money. Mark wanted to know about a recent credit card purchase. I told him that I had bought some new clothes for work. I explained that everything I had was starting to look so old and worn. He flew into a rage. Accused me of ‘having an affair’ with one of the men in our office.”
Kanahele looked up. “What was this guy’s name?”
“Jeff Fujimoto,” Jennifer Kaneda answered without hesitation.
“Were you … having an affair, I mean?” Higa asked.
“Absolutely not. Jeff and I weren’t … aren’t … even particularly close. It’s just that Mark assumed that I was having an affair with any man who looked at me twice.”
Kanahele, for his part, figured he’d be having issues with the ‘moke’ right about now, too, that’s if the bastard were still alive. Guy must’ve assumed half the male population of the island was fooling around with his wife. The big policeman looked through the window. He noticed that someone for ‘Iolani had doubled in a run.
“Is that when he hit you?” Higa continued.
“No. It’s so hard to remember now just what the sequence was, Detective Higa. But, no. Next thing I knew, Mark was going on about some Aloha shirt that was missing. It was silk shirt that I had given him for his birthday back in February. He really liked it.”
A few tears rolled slowly down Jennifer Kaneda’s cheeks. She dabbed at them with a tissue, smearing her makeup and exposing her bruise in the process. If he lived to be one hundred which, given his diet, wasn’t gonna’ happen, Kanahele would never figure it out. Dude abuses his wife and the wife sheds tears for the asshole. He’d seen it a million times and it never made sense. He’d heard all the psychobabble, gone to workshops as part of his training. Predictable as it was, it still amazed him. Again he thought about Maile, his own beautiful but fiery wife. If he ever raised so much as a hand to her – which of course he wouldn’t – she’d kill him first then call a lawyer and sue his ghost!
Regaining her composure, the young woman resumed.
“Anyhow, the shirt was missing. I know it was with everything else I had picked up at the dry cleaners earlier in the week. Mark accused me of losing it … or of forgetting it, or something. I told him to ‘go to hell’. He was yelling at me about buying a few new skirts and blouses and he was worried about a lousy shirt. Please!”
Ms. Kaneda looked down before speaking again, conscious of her show of emotion.
“Maybe it was my fault. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. I knew how he could get.”
“And that’s when he hit you?” Pen in hand, Higa looked up from his notebook. The early afternoon sunlight threw his shadow across the cream colored carpet.
“Yes. I think they call it a right-cross. And it was a good one, it knocked me down.”
“What happened next?” Kanahele picked up where Higa left off. With an effort of will, he forced himself to relax. His massive hands had involuntarily clenched themselves into fists. He pictured himself delivering more than one right-cross to the left side of the late Mark Balliot’s face.
“Mark reached down and grabbed me by my hair. He pulled me to my feet. I screamed. I’m not sure what or how it happened, but he just collapsed in front of me. I was dazed, maybe from the punch, maybe from the adrenaline, maybe from shock. I don’t know. I slid back down so that I was sitting on the floor next to him. I expected him to get up and start apologizing, tell me how sorry he was. That’s how things always went. When he didn’t move, when I realized he couldn’t move, I took out my cell and called 911. I wasn’t sure whether to ask for the police or report a medical emergency.”
“We know,” Kanahele offered, “we’ve listened to the call.”
“Did you strike your husband at any time during the argument, Ms. Kaneda?” Higa suggested.
“No, absolutely not. You asked me that the first time you interviewed me detective, my answer’s still the same.”
Kanahele stood and walked toward the door to the lanai. It looked like the baseball game was over. The players had gathered in the infield and were shaking hands. They appeared tiny from that distance and from that height. He knew better, though. High School athletes were huge today. They all worked out like maniacs. He figured he needed to spend more time in the gym, or at least take up that exercise routine Jake followed. He wondered if Mark Balliot worked out, other than when he was beating on his wife that is.
Turning back toward the occupants of the room, Kanahele cleared his throat.
“Look, Ms. Kaneda, there’s something I still don’t get. Why didn’t you just leave him?”
Jennifer Kaneda smiled. Bells rang and birds sang in Kanahele’s ears. Smiles like that were as rare as black pearls pulled from the limpid waters of a Tahitian lagoon.
“I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times. There’s no easy answer. Inertia? Maybe I thought that Mark would change. Maybe it was just that I loved him.”
“I don’t doubt you loved him,” Higa interrupted. “But did you ever wish him dead?”
The temperature in the room seemed to drop twenty degrees. Kanahele sat back down. Before Jennifer Kaneda could answer, her grandfather raised his voice.
“We’re through here, detectives; we’ve indulged you long enough. If you have any more questions for my granddaughter I have to insist that you speak with her attorney, especially if they’re preposterous questions. I mean, seriously, even if Jennifer thought such a thing, what difference? You can’t ‘wish someone’ dead!”
“Are you sure, Doctor?” The tone of Jake Higa’s voice expressed more than a hint of conviction. “I’ve read your discussion of fetishism and the power of curses among certain groups in the Solomon’s for example and even here among the ancient Hawaiians.”
“Detective Higa,” Dr. Kaneda addressed the policeman as he might a particularly dim graduate student. “There’s some debate today about what type of ‘science’ Anthropology is, but it is nonetheless still a science insofar as it utilizes the scientific method. The beliefs to which you allude can only be understood within the sociological and cultural matrices in which they arose. If they have any objective power whatsoever, they do so only in that context and not beyond. My mother used to say ‘if wishes were horses, beggars would ride’. There are lots of beggars on Oahu these days, detective, not many of them are riding.”
Higa stood and closed his notebook. Kanahele, following the lead, got to his feet.
“You’re probably right, doctor,” the lithe Japanese-American said. “We appreciate your time. As you said, you’ve indulged us enough. Mark Balliot died because a hitherto undetected aneurysm chose precisely that moment to burst in his brain. It’s a weird coincidence and nothing more.”
Higa turned to Jennifer Kaneda. “We’re sorry to have troubled you any further. I know your relationship with your husband was somewhat problematic, but we’re both sorry for your loss. “
Higa bowed. Kanahele cast one last, long and appreciative look at Jennifer Kaneda as the two men left the apartment.
When the two detectives settled into their car where it was parked on Nahua Street, Ray Kanahele turned toward his partner. As usual, Jake was in the driver’s seat.
“What was that all about, Jake? I mean, shit, the old man’s right. You can’t ‘wish’ someone dead.” Still, Kanahele had too much respect for Higa, and he had worked with him for too long, to dismiss the latter’s strange line of questioning out of hand.
Higa turned the key in the ignition before responding. He had to wait to pull out in any case. A large green and yellow tour bus sporting the bunny logo of Robert’s Hawaii had come to a stop adjacent to the car. He moved slightly in his seat and faced his partner.
“You two are right, of course. Even so, thought is energy, isn’t it? Can’t energy be harnessed and directed? You’re a good Catholic, Ray. What about the power of prayer? Anyhow, I can’t help feeling that Dr. Kaneda knows something he’s not telling. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like coincidences.”
“Hey, Jake, I’m wishing for something as we speak.” Kanahele couldn’t help himself. “You know what it is?”
The usually poker-faced Higa smiled archly.
“That’s easy, Ray. You want me to head over to ‘Rainbows’ for a plate lunch.”
Without another word, Higa put the car in gear and pulled out behind the tour bus that had just moved forward.
Dr. Kaneda closed the door to his bedroom where his granddaughter was resting. He was, without a doubt, too old for all this commotion. He liked having Jennifer around but, still, he wasn’t sure how many more nights he could spend on the couch. It was all he could do to roll off the thing in the morning and get to his feet. Age really was a great thief!
He walked over to his desk, took out a key from his pants pocket and opened the top drawer. With a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure that Jennifer was still in the bedroom, he reached in and pulled out a small figure crudely sewn together from a few pieces of a silk aloha shirt. He had stuffed the tiny fetish with cotton balls that he had picked up from Longs Drugs on his way home from Mark and Jennifer’s. It was the same afternoon that he stole the shirt, though he hated to think of it like that, from the pile of dry cleaning in the front room of their condo.
Kaneda opened the door to his lanai. The trades were blowing so he was pretty sure he could do what he had to do without concern for the building’s smoke detectors. Once outside, he pulled a small finishing nail from the side of the figure’s head. Placing the fetish in an old flower pot that had once held hibiscus, he set it on fire with a disposable lighter that he had also purchased … just in case.
That his bold experiment worked really didn’t surprise Kaneda in the least. There was, as that sharp detective Higa clearly seemed to understand, ample evidence for the power of such things in every corner of Polynesia and the Pacific. No, what really surprised the elderly gentleman was the utter improbability at the heart of the whole thing … that he would pick the precise moment that Mark Balliot was battering his granddaughter to deliver the coup-de-grâce. He tested the point of the nail against the tip of his thumb. Who knows what Jennifer had been thinking at the time? One thing for sure, he’d never ask her. Still, the scientist in Kaneda never liked coincidences.
As the figure in the flowerpot was consumed by the flames, small pieces of ash swirled in the breeze and, ultimately, were borne up into the blue Hawaiian sky like the words of an ancient incantation spoken with great reverence and utter devotion.
Short fiction, book reviews, author interviews and essays by James C. Clar have been published in print as well as online. HPD detectives Higa & Kanahele are frequent visitors to the pages of Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers.