Chapter 17: Chan Among the Ticos

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it didn’t matter. Any meal where Dr. Philip Tico and his wife Zelda were eating together was not pleasant. The tension between them had begun the first time Mrs. Tico found out that her husband was cheating on her. His apology and pledge to do better had been accepted, but what Zelda had not realized was that her philandering husband meant doing better at hiding his affairs.

The only reason why the couple stayed together, you might guess, was for the good of their son, Jeffrey, but you would be wrong. The reason why they stayed together was because Philip needed the show of a happy marriage for business and political reasons. Zelda would have divorced him anyway, not giving a damn about his public figure, but her power-hungry husband had threatened harm not to her, but to their son if she left him.

Zelda loved Jeffrey. He was the proverbial apple of her eye. It chilled her that her husband could think of harming him. What, she often wondered, as she and her husband sat opposite each other over meals, might be the best way to do him in?

As they sat over macaroni and cheese, a dish introduced to America from France via Thomas Jefferson, Zelda took little pleasure in the meal. Philip, on the other hand, although he could afford any sort of food he might desire, loved this particular dish because it stoked his aspirations of political power.

In fact, many of his favorite meals were somehow tied to U.S. presidents. The Tico’s had to have jellied eel because of Teddy Roosevelt, and the Kobe steaks relished by Eisenhower. Sometimes Zelda felt as if all she knew about presidential history was what each had eaten during his term in office.

Zelda did not care for macaroni and cheese. Not as much as she didn’t care for her husband, but both turned her stomach to varying degrees.

“Where’s Jeffrey?” Zelda asked.

Now in a normal family discussion, this might seem like an expected question. Zelda, however, asked the question whenever she’d not heard from or seen her son in a while. She never could tell if her husband had suddenly carried out his plan to eliminate their son. The question was asked in a much more serious manner than you might expect as a casual observer.

Philip Tico lowered the evening paper. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Yes, I would. You haven’t harmed him, have you?”

Philip chuckled. “Relax, love of my life, I told you I’d only do that if you threatened to leave me again.”

“Well, he hasn’t been home for several days now. If you’ve had nothing to do with that, where do you suppose he is?”

“Hey,” said Philip, folding the paper and laying it aside, “he’s not a little boy anymore. He’s 24 going on 25, Zelda. What’s irksome to me isn’t that he’s not been around, but that he’s around way too much. Most kids his age would have moved out by now.”

“But he’s still a student. I wouldn’t expect him to be out on his own. How could he afford to live?”

“I don’t know. Get a job maybe?”

“He’s working on his Ph.D., Phil, that takes up all his time. And what Hawai‘i College calls a scholarship isn’t that. He has to teach undergraduates in exchange for a tuition waiver. That’s not putting money in his pocket. Those classes mean even more hours he can’t dedicate to a paying job.”

“Yeah, well, if he asked me for money to get out of here, I’d seriously consider giving it to him.”

Zelda shifted the mac and cheese around her plate. “You were always such a kind man.”

Philip scoffed at her sarcastic tone. “A mama’s boy. You raised him right, Zelda. I bet when he gets that degree he’ll still want to live here with you.”

“It’s a big house,” said Zelda.

And this was no exaggeration. In terms of Kāhala homes, it was one of the largest. Although not located on the beach, it was as large as most of the estates.

Philip scoffed again. “Sometimes it’s not big enough.”

“So true,” said Zelda.

At that moment the doorbell chimed the opening to Beethoven’s “Für Elise.”

Because of that, Chan had immediately hated the song. He’d heard the doorbell play it only once before, but that one time was enough. It was the last time he’d seen or talked to Jeffrey Tico.

Chan rang the bell again. The same tiny Japanese woman answered, opening the door.

“Lieutenant Chan,” she said, bowing. “Please come in. I will let Mr. Tico know you are here.”

Chan thanked her, amazed that she remembered who he was even though they’d only met briefly on his first visit nearly two years before.

Chan stood in the antechamber dressed with koa wood. Money made for stunning. He stepped into the living room that was the size of the entire first floor of Chan’s house. Everything was koa and glass, paintings, sculptures, and other expensive-looking objet d’arte.

“Lieutenant Chan,” said Philip Tico, coming in through a side entrance.

Chan’s first impulse was to say, “Aren’t you going to ask me how I survived the attack?”, but he settled for “Doctor Tico.”

Tico gestured to a couch. Chan, hat in hand, sat. For some reason he was calmer than he’d expected.

Tico, seated across from him, said, “Yes?”

Chan cleared his throat. “Doctor Tico, if you’ve not heard, someone attempted to kill me the other night.”

He waited. Tico’s expression was blank.

“Would you happen to know anything about that?”

Tico scoffed. “Oh please, Lieutenant, first you accuse me of killing your father, and now you come here with not one clue, I’m sure, to accuse me of trying to kill you. What on earth is the matter with you?”

This was a question Chan asked himself often. “I wouldn’t say that I have no clues,” said Chan.

“Oh,” said Tico, skeptically. “Like what, for instance?”

“Like my father’s abandoned car sitting outside your house.”

“Jesus H. Christ, Lieutenant, that’s a bit of ancient history, isn’t it? What I meant was what clues do you have as far as this attack on you is concerned.”

“My father’s car is the clue, Doctor Tico. First you kill my father, then you try to kill me. It’s as simple as that.”

“Oh come on, Lieutenant. As I said so many times, and as my lawyers’ argued, why would I be so stupid as to kill your dear father and then leave his car practically outside my front door? Does that still not make any sense to you?”

“No, it doesn’t,” said Chan. “What has always made sense to me is that you would want us to believe that you wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that. You’ve heard of reverse psychology, I’m sure. It’s a fairly stupid idea.”

Tico’s lip curled. “Lieutenant, I don’t think I have any more to say to you. If you come up with any kind of evidence for my attacking you, please speak to my lawyers’ about it. I— ”

At that moment the front door opened and Jeffrey Tico walked briskly into the room “Father,” he said, a brief nod in acknowledgment of the man.

He stopped short. “Lieutenant Chan.”

Chan looked the young man up and down. Here was his daughter’s rapist. “Jeffrey.”

“Jeff, where were you?” asked Zelda Tico, walking into the room after hearing her son’s voice.

“Ah, hey, Mom,” said the son, stepping over to kiss his mother on the cheek.

Chan could see the obvious difference between Jeffrey’s affection for his mother and his father.

“I was over in the lab. Been working on an experiment for a couple of days. I am beat. Need some sleep.”

“Experiment?” asked Chan.

“Yes, Mister Chan. I was working over at Hawai‘i University. I’m working on my Ph.D. It involves a lot of hours in the lab. Sometimes I’m there around the clock for days.”

“Ph.D. in what?” asked Chan.


Chan perked up. “Chemistry, you say. That’s very interesting.”

“Oh, I’m glad you think so.”

Chan could barely suppress his anger. “Yes, Jeffrey, I’m sure Sara would be happy to hear how well you’re doing.”

The young man paled at the mention of David Chan’s dead daughter. This outraged Chan even more.

Zelda Tico said, expressing it with great pride, “Yes, Lieutenant, and my wonderful, brilliant son is also teaching undergraduate courses there.”

“The Lieutenant is leaving,” said Philip Tico.

Chan rose staring hard at Jeffrey. As the door closed behind him, two things ran through his mind about the young rapist of his daughter.

First, Jeffrey Tico knew a lot about chemistry. Chan flashed back to the bomb that had not killed him nearly two years before.

Second, Jeffrey Tico was on the Hawai‘i University campus a lot. At all hours of the day and night. And he was teaching undergraduates.

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