You could not read the name of the store. It had been painted, who knew how long ago, in white letters, over the entrance door, on the worn brown wood. From any distance, even if your nose were pushed flat against the glass, you could not tell what the primary business of this place might be.
Delbert Kanahele stood on the sidewalk examining the contents displayed haphazardly on unmatched bookshelves and little stands of random heights. On two shelves, there were dolls, ancient in their dress and facial features. Just below was a line of what looked like Barbie Dolls, all in their original boxes. Some of them appeared to be special editions of the plastic seeming icon-in-the-making, one for the Day of the Dead, another for Christmas, and others where the costumes didn’t seem obvious representations of whatever event or holiday for which they had been manufactured. Maybe they were everyday kinds of the doll.
There were books here and there, a couple of lamps, both older and brand new looking. One shelf was dedicated to plates and spoons, another to teapots. Plastic flowers of non-descript types were displayed in pots.
Remarkably, despite the dirty glass windows, all the shelves looked to be polished and dusted. The order and type of ware might look jumbled and disordered, but their display area was clean. At least it seemed so, viewed through the unwashed windows.
Delbert looked at the hours of business card affixed to the front door. Checking his watch, he saw he still had a half hour to kill. He stood further back on the sidewalk and searched the signs he could see for somewhere to have a quick cup of coffee.
Several doors down to the left, the Nagasaki Diner caught his eye. He liked these little mom-and-pop type luncheonettes. There were fewer ad fewer of them. One he liked up Liliha side was Jane’s Fountain. Who knew how long that one would last? The fate of Nagasaki Diner was certain. Delbert was well aware that this whole string of blocks would be bulldozed within the next year or so. Whatever they were referring to as ‘urban renewal’ meant that this whole triangle adjacent to Chinatown proper would be leveled and replaced by brand new apartment buildings and shops, and, he’d heard, a plaza for celebrating Chinese culture.
As he pushed through the door of Nagasaki’s, a little bell dinged over his head. An angel, he smiled, had just received its wings. There was no one about. Delbert went up to the counter near the kitchen and sat on one of the round, green-marbled Naugahyde swiveling seats.
After a minute or so, the bell obviously not arousing anyone’s attention, Delbert called out. “Hello? Anyone here.”
“Ho!” he called out at a higher volume. “Someone back there?”
Still, no response.
He would never think to do this normally, but he stood up, walked around the counter, and swung open the kitchen door. Sticking his head through, he called out again.
There were three doors, both closed. One, Delbert imagined, would lead to the back alley. Another to a storage area of some sort. The third had to be a toilet.
Stepping over to the first door on the left, he knocked, listened, heard nothing, so opened it carefully. This was the storage room, cans of ketchup and mustard, various vegetables, and cooking oil. He noted that the cans of clam chowder were particularly numerous and massive. He hated clam chowder.
Delbert closed the door, then walked to the second. Sure enough, it opened onto the back alley. The overpowering smell of old, rotting food nearly made him gag.
“Hello?” he called out into the alley. “Anybody stay?”
No one .
Closing the door, he went to the final one. This, he knew, had to be the toilet. Again knocking, he waited for and heard no answer. Delbert turned the nob slowly. It was indeed the toilet, also a sink, and a small shower with an opaque pink curtain. No one being there, he walked to the shower curtain. Again, this was something he would never do under normal circumstances, but curiosity overpowered his sense of decorum, and he slid the curtain back.
Delbert jumped backward, his heart leaping up in his throat. There, lying naked and staring up at him, was a very dead old Japanese man. The blood had pooled on the shower floor around the man’s head.
‘He must have slipped and fallen,’ Delbert thought.
Backing away toward the door, he turned and gently closed it shut.
Delbert bent over. He gasped for air, felt dizzy and nauseated. Taking deeper breaths, he finally calmed down.
“What the fuck?” Delbert said, shaking his head.
After a few minutes, Delbert recovered himself and headed for the door to the seating area. Where would the phone be? He surveyed the area. There, sitting next to the cash register, he saw the phone.
‘Should I?’ he wondered. He went to the register, found the button to open it, and, not that he would ever do this under normal circumstances, opened the till. There were a good number of bills and coins. Maybe thirty dollars or so.
Delbert looked from the cash to the phone, thought about the old, dead man, then stuffed all the money and walked quickly to the front door. Before swinging it open he looked up and down the sidewalk as far as he could from inside. No one.
Should he still go see Mister Rodeon at the shop? Delbert looked at his watch. Of course, he had to go there. The store should be open by now. And now, he could afford something more than he’d considered buying before this windfall.
Opening the Nagasaki front door, she stepped out on the sidewalk and moved briskly toward the strange shop filled with the odd mishmash of goods. The door to the shop stood open.
Delbert, his heart now beating faster for a different reason, went in.
An old Filipino man stood behind the counter, reading some sort of newspaper.
“Hello,” said Delbert.
The old man peered at him over the top of his spectacles. “Yes,” he said.
“Ah, hi. My mother was in here a week or so ago. She says she found a sewing kit in here.”
“Yes yes,” said Mr. Rodeon. “I remember her. She said she’d be back to get it, so I saved it for her in the storage room. Are you here to buy it for her?”
“Ah yes, I am,” said Delbert. “Yeah, she told me how much she liked it, that she like come back and buy it.”
“I’ll be right back,” said Mr. Rodeon, turning and disappearing through the curtain behind him.
Delbert looked around the shop. Like the display in the window, the place was packed with a hodgepodge of items. Still, they were both antique and modern items. The place did appear very clean, however.
Mr. Rodeo appeared with the sewing kit. It was a beautiful blue floral design. Placing it on the counter, Mr. Rodeo asked, “Will there be anything else?”
The register sat on a glass display case. The top shelf held a range of knives. One that caught his eye was pearl-handled. It looked older.
“Can see that green switchblade?” asked Delbert, pointing, his finger and touching the glass ever so lightly.
Mr. Rodeon slid open the glass door and reached in, taking out the knife and handing it to Delbert.
“It’s a nice one,” said Mr. Rodeon. “I’ve had that one here for quite a few years. I bought it off a soldier during the war. He needed money. Hocked it. Never came back. Just been sitting there. You like that one?”
Delbert flicked the knife open and closed, open and closed. “Yeah, Uncle, this one is nice. I’ll take it.”
“Good choice,” said the old man.
Punching in the cost of the sewing kit and the knife, Mr. Rodeon hit the total key.
Delbert checked the amount and reached into his pocket. He pulled out the wad of bills. “Sorry,” he said, laying the assortment on the counter. I don’t have a wallet,” he lied.
Mr. Rodeon said nothing. He looked from the bills to Delbert. “What is that?” he asked pointing at the money.
“What is it? It’s, uh, my money.”
Mr. Rodeon stared at him, then putting his finger on the bills he said again, “What is that?”
Delbert looked to where the man was pointing. Several of the bills were smeared with what appeared to be blood. But how could that be? It wasn’t as if he’d touched the dead man in the shower.
“That’s blood, uh?” asked Mr. Rodeon. “How come so much? You cut yourself bad or what.”
Delbert panicked. All kinds of strange thoughts whirled around in this brain. He must have touched the old man. Did he? He thought about his mother. The police. The sewing kit. The switchblade.
And then the strangest thought of all popped into his head. Reaching without thinking about it, he grabbed the knife and flicked it open. With one quick movement, he sliced through Mr. Rodeon’s neck. Stepping quickly to the side, he avoided the spray of blood. Mr. Rodeon grabbed at his neck as he fell to the floor.
Delbert closed the bloody knife and jammed it in his pocket. Then he swept up the wad of bills and crammed those into a pocket as well.
The sewing kit had been hit by some of the blood, but he could worry about cleaning it up later. He snached it from the counter, turned around, and ran out the door onto the sidewalk.
‘Oh shit! Mom,’ he thought, ‘you really bettah like this birthday present.’
And turning the corner onto Beretania Street, Delbert Kanahele was gone like the wind.