The House of Missing Keys, Part 17

David Chan always sat in the back of the classroom.  This wasn’t an indication of his lack of interest in his studies or any kind of an attitude problem.  He was shy.  He dreaded speaking in class, and if he were called on, he would become physically sick to his stomach.  If he sat in back, he hoped, the chances of being noticed were lessened.  After he met his future wife, Elaine, and the first time they took an English class together, she, always a front-row sitter, eager to comment and discuss, compromised.  So did Chan.  He moved up to the middle rows, and she moved back to them.

“This doesn’t bode well for a future English teacher,” she’d said once.  “You’re going to have to do a lot of talking all of the time.”

Certainly, Chan worried about this, but he was still working on his English degree.  Earning his teaching certification seemed very far ahead up the road.

Elaine was surprised the first time Chan handed her a note in class.  Visions of middle-school crushes and heart-dotted “i”s raced through her head.  When she unfolded the note, she saw that it was a comment on a passage they were discussing.  After class as they were walking to lunch, she told him she thought the comment was spot on and that he needed to work up the courage to speak up.

Chan agreed, but that agreement didn’t mean that he started speaking up in class immediately.  He wanted to, but he just could not bring himself to do so.

Then next time he passed Elaine a note, one with another comment on a passage being discussed, she raised her hand.  The professor had called on her, and she’d read Chan’s comment.

“Good, very good,” the professor had said, to which Elaine had replied, “Oh, that wasn’t my idea, professor.  That was his,” pointing to her future husband.

Chan had burned bright red, sunk in his chair, and felt as if he were going to pass out.

“Oh, well, okay,” the professor had said.  “Thank you both for sharing that insight.”

From then on Chan had not passed any more notes to Elaine.  Instead, he would raise a shaking hand and force himself to spit out whatever it was he wanted to say.  At first, he could barely speak, his voice shaky and soft.  But with practice, and with positive reinforcement from the professor, he finally began to relax and speak calmly, naturally.  By the time he did his first student teaching at Makiki High School, he was a very good public speaker.  His students certainly had no problem hearing him, and he lectured well.

This, he always felt, was all due to his wife, to that one moment when she pointed out to the professor that he had a brain that functioned well, could come up with ideas that were worth sharing.

Chan sat silently at the long koa wood bar of the Blue Light Bar and Grill, staring morosely at the mirror on the wall running the full length of the bar.  Yamamoto did the talking while Chan listened.  He was thinking about Elaine, how she’d lost her battle with cancer, and how badly he missed her.

“You know,” Yamamoto said, “this case is really working itself out well, right?  We check off Kazu Hatanaka, killed by his sister.  One down.  She kills herself.  That’s two.  Old lady Souza hires someone to take out Makia and David Pomeroy, Ammanton and this Laura person, then her husband, and ta-dah!  All we need to do is find the button man and we’ve wrapped this baby up.”

Chan stared in the mirror, raised his glass to speak.  “Well, that’s good as it goes, Vic, but what about the mom?  Why kill Harue Hata?  How’s she tied up in this?  Or is that, too,  another case?”

“Wowee wow,” said Yamamoto, “so you’re fully on board with multiple cases now?”

“Yeah, Vic, yeah.  I don’t know why I was so het-up on the idea of everything fitting together.”

“And you’re right, of course,” said Yamamoto, sipping at his schooner of Primo, “that old lady Hata might have been in on this and might not.  Still, two shots through windows in one night?  I’m actually with you on her being a part of this big one somehow.  But how?  The connection feels like it maybe should have something to do with her housekeeping for Ammonton.”  He paused, drank again. “But how?”

Chan shook his head at himself in the mirror.  “Well, is it still okay to speculate that maybe the guy doing the great shooting through windows, the one you say looked big and athletic, is the same guy who drowned Keola Waioli?”

Yamamoto nodded at Chan in the mirror.  “Yeah, yeah, I buy that.  Damn, David, we’re this close to tying this whole baby up.  She wanted The Palms and had someone kill five people to get it.  The guy she had do the killings.  What you think?  She hired him?  He’s a friend?  Or what?”

“A lover,” said Chan.  “He could be someone with whom she was having an affair.”

“Whoa,” said Yamamoto, “with whom.  Ho, once an English major, always an English major, yeah?”

Chan laughed for the first time in as long as he could remember.  It felt like eons.  These cases, the case, whatever or however many cases, it wasn’t funny, and it was no fun either.

“Vic, you know what Harue Hata said to me just before she died?  She said, I would never kill my children.  So what, then?  Does that mean she’d kill other people?  What if she’s the one who killed Ammonton and Laura?”

Yamamoto turned his glass in a circle on the bar.  “And why?

“I don’t know.  She got a job working for him because she was part of Sally Souza’s takeover plan?”

“But to work for him for a year before killing him, David.  Why take so long?”

“Because,” said Chan, “maybe she only met Missus Souza more recently, and that’s when the plan was put in motion.”

“Hmmm, I like that,” said Yamamoto.  “So she and old lady Souza and some big, athletic other guy were all in on the Palms takeover.  Hey.  And what if Keola Waioli were a fourth person in the plan?”

“And,” said Chan, “he was killed because . . .” he sipped his Primo draft, “because he either wanted out of the plan, or they thought he had a big mouth, maybe, and was talking too much about it?”

“Oooh, I like that, too,” said Yamamoto.  “Damn, boss, we’re going to solve this whole thing by the time we walk out of here tonight.”

Chan laughed again.  It felt so good to laugh.  There was very little comedy in the job, and what there was, was of the dark variety.  It was always blood and death.  Coming up against nasty, even evil people regularly made him long for teaching Emily Dickinson to high-school seniors.

That desire to teach, he had to thank Elaine for showing him something so good.  There was good out there, lots of it, and he was sworn to protect it.  He had to keep reminding himself that his job was to make sure kids could read and write, teachers teach, people could worship and shop for groceries safely. All of it.  He was there to help make sure all the good things of the world could carry on, protected as best as possible from all the bad operators in his world.

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