Richard Han and Tommy Choi were not stupid men. They had risen to become Byung Yu’s right and left hand because they were smart enough to know their place in the chain of command. These two were not the kind to overreach and fall smoking into the sea.
After Byung’s death, they had proven their loyalty to Kang Yu by managing the Hawai‘i drug, prostitution, and gambling interests of the absent godfather, but they were in over their heads, and they knew it. The idea of stealing the business away from Yu had never entered their minds, but they needed help. And here, too, they were smart enough to know that.
This is why, when Sung-min Kwon came to Honolulu at Yu’s behest, Han and Choi knew why he was there. Sung-min would learn the ropes and then take over running the business. Han and Choi wished to cross neither Sung-min nor Kang Yu. To do so, they were wise enough to see, would be fatal.
Initially, Sung-min had shown his willingness to learn those ropes, and the addition of his muscle and his ability to silence competitors helped boost quickly his reputation in the Hawai‘i underworld. But things began to change almost overnight. If Sung-min were the little train that could, then he’d become stuck halfway up the mountain. Not only that, but it felt like he’d begun to slide back down the tracks.
The romance between Sung-min and Bobby Stillman had grown rapidly to full blossom. The two were very much in love, and it wasn’t long before Sung-min spent more nights at Stillman’s than at Han’s. The two agreed, however, that moving in together might jeopardize Stillman’s job.
Stillman’s job could not escape Sung-min’s attention. The uniforms in the closet and his leaving for work every day with a gun and an HPD badge made it simple to figure out that he was a policeman.
Sung-min, however, had been able to keep his job description mostly a secret. Since he never quizzed Stillman about work at HPD, Stillman hadn’t tried too hard to dig into the details of Sung-min’s professional duties.
One night, however, as they sat on the couch watching the TV show “I’ve Got a Secret,” Stillman casually asked Sung-min what it was exactly that he did. Sung-min, too much in love to try to avoid letting Stillman in on some of what he did said, “I work in the import-export business.”
“Really,” said Stillman, “that’s what my father does, too. What kind of things do you deal in.”
“Mostly food items,” said Sung-min. “We bring in a lot of seafood from Korea.”
“Ah, that’s cool,” said Stillman. “My dad’s more about dry goods, clothing and that sort of thing. Also a lot of high-end art. Kind of a mixed bag. But I wonder if you’ve ever crossed paths? Honolulu’s a pretty small place.”
“What’s his name?” asked Sung-min, grabbing another handful of popcorn.
“We don’t have the same last name,” said Stillman. “Stillman’s my mother’s name. His is Tico, Phillip Tico.”
Sung-min shook his head. “No, uh-uh, I don’t think I’ve ever met him. Why’s he have a different last name?”
Stillman very willingly told Sung-min how Tico and his mother had Bobby before Tico married his current wife. “She can’t stand me,” said Stillman. “He tells me that she gives him grief about his never telling her about me, but I don’t think she would have married him if she’d known. And he’s had some other kids since he’s been married to her, which pisses her off even more.”
Sung-min said nothing. Everyone had hard stories to tell. This one was not particularly engrossing. He wasn’t at all sure he could love a father like the person Stillman was describing, but the dad clearly meant a lot to him.
“You want to hear something weird?”
Sung-min perked up. “Sure.”
“I’m with HPD right, and my dad was against me joining the force, but I convinced him it was what I really wanted to do, so he, well, I can’t say he gave me his blessing, but he told me that since he couldn’t stop me, that I should go do it.”
“Why’d he not want you to join?”
“This is a whopping story,” said Stillman. “It’s this ongoing war he’s in with HPD. Well, more specifically, with this one person there.”
“Yeah,” said Sung-min, “who’s that?”
“It’s their Superman, the Department’s number-one sleuth, Detective Lieutenant David Chan.”
Sung-min sat up on the couch. This conversation, from his perspective, had now become riveting. “What’s the problem between the two of them?”
“It goes way back. Chan’s dad was with HPD, a detective lieutenant, too, and he was killed. The whole thing’s still a mystery. No one knows who was responsible.”
Sung-min could have said, Well, it was Byung Yu, he hired my father to do it. My father killed that Lt. Chan. But, of course, this wasn’t information he was about to spill.
Stillman continued. “About two years ago, Chan’s daughter, and his partner, Sergeant Victor Yamamoto, were killed. I think Chan had some kind of a nervous breakdown. He transferred immediately out of Homicide to the Records Division. While he was there, apparently, he started looking into his father’s case again, and he uncovered some kind of evidence he believes implicates my dad in the murder of his dad.”
“Huh,” said Sung-min, “that’s very interesting.” And it was, particularly since he knew very well that Stillman’s father had nothing to do with the murder.
“Yeah, so ever since then, Chan’s been on the warpath with my dad. I mean, he’s no doubt the best detective we’ve got, but he’s way off his rocker when it comes to my dad. Chan’s constantly hounding him, and it’s driving my dad kind of over the edge. It’s like my dad’s enraged all the time because of Chan’s always being on his case. I don’t know how much more of it my dad can take. He keeps saying he’s going to sue Chan’s ass off, but he never actually does. I don’t know why?”
To Sung-min’s thinking, the reason was obvious. Phillip Tico, even if he’d not killed Chan, was into something illegal. Why else not follow through on his threat of a lawsuit?
“And this is the real kicker,” said Stillman. “I make it to detective last year, right, and of all the places, I’m placed in Homicide. And of all the partners, I get David Chan. I mean it’s not like Vegas odds, but it’s a real coincidence, huh? My dad can’t stand that I work with Chan. I think that’s driving him even more over the edge.”
“Gee,” said Sung-min, “what you need is for Chan to go away. Your dad could relax then.”
“Yeah, well, he’s a long way from retiring. I get the feeling Chan’s going to die at his desk. It’s a real family business for him. His grandfather was the best in the Department, then his dad was, and now he is.”
“Huh,” said Sung-min. “Retirement, yeah. If only, right?”
That night while Stillman slept quietly beside him, Sung-min lay in bed staring at the ceiling. There were three things on his mind.
First, he no longer had a fire burning in his belly as far as working for the Korean syndicate went. Much as he loved his adoptive father, Kang Yu, and much as he would have been honored to carry the flag here in Honolulu, falling in love with Bobby Stillman had taken his mind far away from syndicate business. It bored him. If he were fiercely loyal to anyone now, it was to his boyfriend. For Bobby Stillman, he thought, if it came down to it, he would take a bullet. This surprised Sung-min. He’d never known someone he knew would die for. But now he did.
Second, he knew if he kept doing what he was doing, that Bobby Stillman would find out. Stillman was too smart a man to let love cloud his policing acumen. One day, Sung-min dreaded, Stillman would sniff out the truth about his work, and that would lead not only to destroying their relationship, but to a showdown that would mean jail for Sung-min, or death for Bobby Stillman. That must never happen.
Third, well, there was one supreme job he could do for the man he loved. And that job was to eliminate David Chan, the plague of Stillman’s father.
And to Sung-min, that seemed quite appropriate. His father had killed David Chan’s father, and now he would kill David Chan. Appropriate? It was, to Sung-min’s thinking, poetic.