A Judge of Character

“Sir? Excuse me?”

Ronald Ito turns around, sees it’s an older security guard. Close cropped silver hair, the kind of crewcut you inherit from your days in the military. But his military life is one he left long ago, it appears. He’s soft, beer paunchy.

Ito is much younger, a former member of his high-school track team, still jogging five miles a day. He knows he can outrun this old geezer.

“Yes?” says Ito, stopping.

“Do you live in the complex, Sir?”

Of course he doesn’t live here, and Joe Santos knows that. He’s been working security here for six years, is acquainted with just about everyone in the four towers of this condo development. And even if someone had just bought a unit here, someone he’d not yet met, it wouldn’t be this person. Santos can tell by the look of him that he doesn’t live here. Residents walk with purpose. Get to my car, get to my condo. It’s guys like this, that appearance of wandering ones, casual tourists, who give themselves away. Their intent is wrong.

“I asked,” says Joe Santos, “do you live here?”

“Oh, no, not me,” says Ronald Ito. “I’m an investigator with O‘ahu Casualty, the condominium association’s insurer. The association has reported an uptick in accidents in this parking structure. I’m here to look around, take some photos, see what all might be contributing to it. Make suggestions for improvement.”

Ito imagines the old man will buy this. It’s one of his more used go-to lines of bullshit when he’s confronted with a problem like this. This codger will swallow the story.

Santos is stuck by the novelty of this smokescreen. “Accidents? Like what, for instance?”

“Well you see how all the parking spaces are a little narrow?” says Ito. “People are banging their doors, getting more bumper scrapes. Even with wider stalls, we’ve found that, statistically speaking, there are more chances for accidents with perpendicular spaces, like these,” he gestures with this hand, “than with diagonal stalls. As part of my report, I’m going to suggest we let the condo association know that we recommend changing over to wider diagonal parking spaces.”

Rubbing his chin, Santos wants to smile, even laugh, at this. He wonders if he should just get on the phone and call HPD.

“So,” says Santos, “the condo association has asked your company to send you here to look at parking problems and solutions at nine o’clock at night?”

Ito glances at the embroidered badge on the old man’s grey uniform. Honolulu Security Agency. Agency. That strikes him as a company needing to sound important. More important than it actually is. Tougher than it actually is. They employ all these geriatrics who can barely tie their shoelaces, get winded climbing out of their rocking chairs from a sitting to a standing position. What is it with these retirees? Surely they know that anyone with a mind to beat the crap out of one the guards would have an easy time doing it.

“Well, I need to put in long hours,” Ito says, wondering how stupid this guard might be. “The insurance game is a busy one. I have to get things done when I can.”

“Uh huh,” says Santos, sizing up the young man. He looks like a runner. Not a violent type. A very cool character with a practiced to nearly perfect smooth line of patter.

“I hear you,” Santos commiserates. “You got a business card?”

Ito’s glad he has the phony cards printed up. Makes it easy to fool gullible people. He fishes a card out of his wallet and hands it to Santos.

The old man examines the card. He’s impressed that the guy has actually brought along a card to give out. Pretty smart. The card’s embossed, too, which impresses Santos even more. He thinks about taking out his phone and dialing the number on the card, wonders if someone will answer and just who that might be.

Santos says, “Is this your personal cell number, then?”

Ito looks deep into the old man’s eyes, imagines he can be bought. “I tell you what,” Ito says. “I’ll give you half.”

“Half?” says Santos. “Half of what?”

“Half of whatever I get. I’ll sell whatever I can take from these cars, and give you half.”

Santos does smile now. Broadly. Wants to tell the guy to kiss his rear end while he dials up 911. He looks deep into the young man’s eyes. Thinks. “I tell you what,” Santos says, “even if I were to agree to that, I have big doubts I could trust you farther than I can throw you. I have a very strong suspicion, ah,” he refers to the card, “Walter Mitsunaga, that I’d never see you or that name again.”

Ito smiles. “You can trust me, Sir. I swear I will come back and give you half.”

Santos smiles. Thinks wistfully. He’d not allowed his children to take out loans for college. He and his wife had taken out the loans. And those loans were still a long way from being paid off.

“I tell you what,” Santos says. “I think you may have misjudged me. Now you can either turn around and leave this parking structure, or you can stand there and wait for the police to arrive. I give you your choice, son.”

Ito stares at the old man. Dumb as a donut. Smiling, he says, “I bet they don’t pay you enough, old-timer. How many years you worked as a security guard.”

Santos rubs his jaw, wonders where this guy is headed now. “I’ve been doing this for maybe eight years. Six years here. Why?”

Ito is a little surprised. “Only eight? I had you down for a lifer. At least for as long as you might have been out of the service.”

Santos cocks his head to the right. “The service?”

“Yeah,” says Ito, “the military. You were in the military, right?”

Santos breaks out laughing. “What on earth makes you think I was in the military?”

Ito smiles, genuinely amused by the lame old man’s laughter. “Well, that hair, for one. That flat-top. You look like you might have been a drill sergeant. Plus this whole security guard gig. Or are you ex-police, maybe?”

Santos continues to laugh, pulls out his phone. While he punches in 911, he says, “No, I’m afraid, you’re not even close.”

Ito is hooked now. He wants to take off, sees that the geezer is actually calling the cops, but for some reason he wants an answer. “So before I skip, I just have to know. What did you do before you were a security guard?”

“Police, please. Yes. This is Joe Santos. I’m with security at Kaka‘ako Gardens. I’ve detained a person looking into cars in the parking structure. I’ll hold him until you can send someone.”

When Santos hangs up, Ito says, “You know you aren’t going to be able to hold me here, old man. And I don’t see any of your fellow guards limping over to help you hold me. So I’ll be taking off now.”

“That’s a very good idea,” says Santos. “Go on and take off then. Very smart.”

Ito, smiles, shakes his head over how ineffectual this man is, then turns and jogs for the nearest exit. Before disappearing, he calls out, “So what the heck did you do before you became a security guard?”

But Joe Santos has already returned to doing his job, walking off in the opposite direction to patrol the grounds of Kaka‘ako Gardens, glad to be rid of the young man whom, in his younger days, he guessed he might have shot without even thinking once about it.

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