Recovering her composure, the woman opened the door and invited the two inside.
After the three were seated, Chan began with, “Ma’am, are you not the mother of Kazu and Harumi Hatanaka?”
Stone-faced, she nodded. “Yes” was all she said.
“So where does Hata come from. Did you just shorten your name?”
“Well,” said Yamamoto, “I’m sure you got your reasons for doing so, but it’s not much of change if you were trying to hide.”
Chan said, “I’d sorry to tell you this, but your daughter, Harumi, is dead.”
The only noticeable was a further tightening of her body.
Chan and Yamamoto watched her for any sign of guilt.
Suddenly the woman slumped. Still facing Chan and Yamamoto, her face softened but she did not cry. Her eyes watered, but that was all.
“How did it happen?” she asked, still in a monotone voice.
“She was shot, Missus Hata,” said Chan. “There’s a question of whether it’s suicide or murder.”
The woman still stared at them. A single tear trickled down her cheek.
They watched her closely. Was this little bit of sorrow an act, or was it legitimate, restrained grief.”
“Where’ve you been?” asked Yamamoto.
The woman’s eyes narrowed, almost glaring at him. “Shopping.”
“How long?” asked Yamamoto.
“Can anyone verify your whereabouts?” asked Yamamoto.
Silence. She continued to stare at him. Another tear rolled down her cheek.
Chan said, “Ma’am, I’m going to ask you this flat out. Did you have anything to do with either your son or your daughter’s death?”
There was the sound like a car backfiring, the breaking of glass, and the two detectives watched as a red stain began to spread over Mrs. Hata’s chest. She fell over to the side of the chair and rolled to the floor.
Yamamoto sprung to his feet and was out the door in an instant. Chan went and knelt at the woman’s side. She was still breathing.
Chan grabbed a pillow and place it under her head. As he did, she whispered, “I would never kill my children,” then let out a long sigh and died.
Yamamoto came back in. “Whoever it was got away. Drove off too fast for me to get the license plate.”
Chan looked up at him and shook his head.
“Shit,” said Yamamoto, “This case is getting more claustrophobic by the minute. Everything’s collapsing in.”
The two sat down while they waited for the meat wagon.
Chan said, “She told me she would never kill her children.”
“And you believe that?”
“Yes,” said Chan, “I knew she was telling the truth.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t kill somebody. Like maybe Ammanton and this Laura character.”
Chan nodded. “You know,” he said, “if I smoked I’d want a cigarette right about now.”
“And a shot,” agreed Yamamoto.
“I don’t get it,” said Chan. “I get what you mean about claustrophobic, Vic. It’s almost like losing suspects is tightening a rope around the case, and someone is pulling it tighter and tighter. Hey, shouldn’t that mean that if we keep going like this, the killer will be the only one left standing?”
Yamamoto was imagining himself knocking down a shot with a beer back at the Blue Light Bar and Grill.
“Huh, yeah, you’d think,” he mumbled.
Chan sat back in the chair and stared up at the ceiling.
“So why might she kill Ammanton and Laura.”
Yamamoto got his head back in the game. “She infiltrates his house working as his maid. She does it to establish his confidence in him. Then, she kills him.”
“Why not just kill him right off the bat?” asked Chan.
“Hmmm, yeah. Maybe she needed to get something from him? Maybe it was a coincidence she worked for him and he ended up dead? Maybe something triggered her. Something he said or did?”
Chan still contemplated the ceiling. It was made of panels of canec, the fiberboard made from sugar cane bagasse, a pressboard byproduct of Hawai‘i’s thriving sugar cane industry. A smart business idea that, turning cane rubbish into a marketable panel product.
“Whatever the case,” said Chan, “she knew something worth killing her for before she could tell us whatever it was. If that person killed her and her kids for some reason, it still is possible that we’re dealing with one killer only.”
“And that, I suppose,” said Yamamoto, “is our bartender, Mister Duke Goto.”
Chan sat up and looked at Yamamoto. “I detect a tone of sarcasm.”
“Look, David, you keep wanting to tie this all up in a neat package. What if it’s a messy package? What if it’s not a package at all? What if it’s Harumi who was ashamed and killed her brother? What if she did kill herself because of that? What if Missus Hata killed Ammonton and Laura? What if someone else did? What if she killed Glenn Makia and David Pomeroy, or what if someone else did? What if Goto only killed Waioli, or what if he’s just a bartender you ran into in Chinatown who only tends bar, period?”
Chan took this all in. “So what is it, Vic. Are we back at square one? Were we always at square one?”
“I don’t know, boss. All I do know is that this woman knew something she had to be killed for. And I’ll bet it’s the name of one killer. And I’m talking one killer who’s only involved in one of the murder situations.”
Chan shook his head. “This isn’t a bow, Vic. This is a knot. A big one. And we’ve got to keep picking at it until we unravel it.”
Once the people from the coroner’s office arrived, Chan apprised them of the situation. Then he and Yamamoto went back to the police station on the edge of Chinatown.
When they came back to their desks, they were surprised to see Richard Souza sitting there waiting for them. The now only owner of The Palms appeared tense.
He explained to them that he thought someone had been spying on his house.
“What makes you think that?” asked Chan.
“For the past two nights, there’s a strange car parked down the street. I haven’t actually gone outside to check it, but I think there’s someone sitting in it. Someone who doesn’t get out.”
“So this guy,” said Yamamoto, “why you think he’d spying on you? Maybe he’s spying on someone else? Maybe he’s just sitting in his car for kicks?”
Souza gave Yamamoto a cool look. “There’s more to it,” he said. “I’ve been getting strange phone calls.”
“Strange how?” asked Chan.
“Just breathing,” said Souza. “I ask who it is, and there’s just breathing. Then the person hangs up.”
Chan said, “Mister Souza, you’re now the one-hundred percent only owner of The Palms, correct?”
“Just out of curiosity, who inherits The Palms if you were to die?”
“Well,” said Souza, “it would be my wife.”
“Did you just come here from home?” asked Chan.
“No, I came from The Palms,” said Souza.
“Are you headed home now?”
“We’ll follow you,” said Chan. “If the car’s there, we’ll check it out. If it isn’t, we’ll hang around, park on the street somewhere, and wait to see if someone shows up. What kind of car is it?”
“It a dark, probably black, Ford sedan,” said Souza. “Sorry I haven’t got a license number. He’s too far away to see that.”
The three headed up to Kapalama Heights.
They drove past Souza as he turned into his garage fronting the street, and went down the block slowly, looking for a black Ford sedan.
“Shit,” said Yamamoto, “does everyone in this neighborhood drive a black Ford sedan?”
It was true. There were black Ford sedans scattered about everywhere. They turned around and drove very slowly back toward Souza’s house, checking each black Ford sedan for a driver.
The sound of the shots going off made Yamamoto hit the brakes.
“Vic, step on it!” yelled Chan.
Yamamoto hit the gas pedal. As they approached Souza’s garage, they caught sight of a late-model black Ford sedan speeding away from the scene.
“Leave me,” said Chan.
Yamamoto stopped at Souza’s garage long enough for Chan to jump out, then he peeled out like mad to try to catch up with the killer’s car.
Chan checked Souza. He was dead. Mrs. Souza, dressed in a nightgown, came rushing to the bottom of the stairs that led up to the house. When she saw her husband, she screamed and ran to Chan’s side.
“Oh my God!” she screamed. “Oh my God!”
She threw herself down on the ground and sprawled herself over her husband’s body, wailing all the while.
Chan stood back and watched Mrs. Souza. Shaking his head, he knew he’d rarely seen acting this good.