The House of Missing Keys, Part 7

From the outside, Tia’s Place on Kapahulu appeared to be another simple and unassuming restaurant and bar along Kapahulu Avenue. Located across the street from the Ala Wai Golf Course, and given its proximity to Waikīkī, Tia’s Place was very popular with tourists.

Chan stopped to read the daily line-up. The place was well known for its Hawaiian food buffet which ran from 11:00 am until 7:00 pm. From 8:00 to 11:00 there was live Hawaiian music and dance. Then from 11:30 pm to 2:00 a.m. Tia’s Place was transformed into a Polynesian burlesque extravaganza, featuring Kamala Vegas and her Regal Circle.

The photo is the window needed a second look to fully appreciate. Chan marveled at the beauty of these fabulously dressed and made-up young men.

Inside the lunch crowd of tourists, military, and locals were already enjoying one of the best assortments of Hawaiian food in town, but what you couldn’t see from outside was the way the place opened up into a rambling plantation-style structure of islands of tables set up in and around a koi waterway of ponds and small waterfalls.

The stage sat to the right of the entrance, and the bar stretched along the left side down to the closest branch of the pond system. It was a beautiful koa structure worthy of placement in the finest hotels in town. Chan went over and sat at the bar, showing his badge to the bartender.

The elderly man, Keoki Granger, had short-cropped iron-gray hair and a deep bronze tan, and he polished the glassware with obvious pride and skill. Chan asked him how long he’d worked there.

“Oh, I’ve been here since I was just a kid,” said Granger. “I started as a busboy and outlasted everyone for this head bartender position. I guess you could say this is my first home. I spend more time here than I do with my family, especially now it’s just me and my old lady.”

Yes, he did know Junior Kanalu. He was a regular in the evenings and sometimes helped out behind the counter on busy nights after he got off work at the Holo Holo Bar. He was not familiar with Kazu Hatanaka, Roger Ammonton, or Keola Waioli.

“How about the performers?” asked Chan. “Do any of them go by the name Laura?”

Granger shook his head. “Um, no, no Laura I know of.”

Chan said, “I was looking at the photo of the performers in the window. They stay in pretty good shape.”

“Yes, they do,” said Granger. “They have to, right? They’re performers. They want to look good. It’s a matter of professional pride.”

“Right,” said Chan, “I understand that. Hollywood’s like that, too. A lot of them work out, want to look good for their fans.”

Granger nodded. “The better they look, the bigger the crowds.”

Chan thanked him and then headed off out into the garden and the maze of table areas laid out like lily pads among the koi ponds. Following the rambling pathways of the restaurant, he seemed to be moving further and further away from the bustle of the world outside.

At the end, all the paths led to the kitchen area. Chan stuck his head through the doors to check out the scene inside. There were many cooks, and off to the left side and back, the dishwashers were hard at work. Chan continued inside, holding out his badge to anyone who gave him a questioning glance.

When he’d reached the end of sinks he reached a back door. Pushing through the door, Chan found himself standing on a loading dock. The cars and the loading and unloading of trucks brought him back to the real world.

Rather than retrace his steps through the restaurant, Chan decided to go all the way around the block to get to his car. But the time he reached Kapahulu Avenue, he felt like he’d been on a long journey.

As he reached for the car door handle, Chan was aware of someone running from the Tia’s Place entrance toward him.

“Excuse me,” called a young man, coming up to Chan. “You were talking to Keoki. He says you’re with the police.”

Chan produced his badge and introduced himself. “And you are?”

“I’m David Pomerantz. Keoki said you were asking about a Kazu Hatanaka?”

“Yes, that’s right,” said Chan. “Do you know him?”

The young man didn’t answer right away. Finally, “I, yes, I know, I knew Kazu,” said Pomerantz.

Chan heard a tone of immense sadness behind the admission. “You two were good friends?” asked Chan.

“Yes,” said Pomerantz, “yes, we were great friends.”

Chan said nothing. Waited.

“You know it’s very hard for us,” said Pomeroy. “People treat different people differently. It’s not pretty for us. People can be so ugly, Lieutenant Chan.”

Chan listened.

“When I heard about Kazu . . .” Pomeroy stopped, took a breath. His eyes watered. “When I heard, I thought, well, you know it’s funny. People come to watch us perform, and when I watch them watching us, I always wonder which of them love us, and which of them hate us. Maybe even if they hate themselves for coming to watch us in the first place.”

Chan nodded, could understand this.

“Lieutenant Chan,” said Pomerantz, “whoever did that to Kazu, it may be one of those people who can’t decide who he hates more. Us or himself.”

“But Keoki didn’t know Kazu. He didn’t perform with you here.”

“No, Kazu wasn’t one of us here, but, well, he was one of us out there.” Pomerantz looked off down the street.

“Sorry?” said Chan.

“You know,” said Pomerantz, “how he made a living. Out there. Some of us work out there, on the street.”

Chan said, “We understand he worked at the Holo Holo Bar and at the King’s Surfrider Hotel.”

“That’s true,” said Pomerantz. “But those weren’t the jobs where he made his real money.”

Chan nodded. “I see.”

“Do you, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, I do.”

“So you know who I think killed him?”

Chan waited, said nothing.

“It’s someone out there who either didn’t know who Kazu was when he picked him up, or someone who did know Kazu and hated him as much or even more than he hated himself for being attracted to Kazu.”

David Pomerantz turned and headed back into Tia’s Place. Chan got into his car and drove back to the station. He’d not considered that Kazu Hatanaka might be a prostitute. He wondered what it might be like for a John to suddenly discover that the woman he’d picked up was actually a man. But even more nagging was that Pomeroy might be right. A man who both loved Kazu Hatanaka and hated Kazu and himself for doing so might very well be Kazu’s killer.

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