“So what da buggah said?” Rudy the barber asks me.
“Some bullshit about Denise and Chris.”
I’m waiting for a haircut. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Christopher Andaya enter. He’s dark, looks real Hawaiian.
Suddenly he pulls a knife, comes at me. I grab my gun and shoot him three times, but instead of dying, he turns and staggers outside. I follow.
I say, “Chris, you’re supposed to be dead already,” and boom, he goes down. I flip him.
His face looks weird, his eyes all glassy, looking up at me like I’m God.
“Hey, Chris. No ack. We bot’ know dis not no real gun. Don’ go Deadman’s Gulch on me.”
“You mean Old Pali Road?”
“Yeah, wotevahs. Wit’ one trunkload of pork.”
“An’ da cah when stall.”
“An’ no staht.”
“Bumebye dey trow away da pork.”
“Hey, if dey when turn da cah aroun’ an’ head’m back down da mountain . . .?”
“Dey gif da peeg to somebody goin’ da uddah way.”
“K’den, bra. Bra, you doing OK?”
“Yeah, no. Nevah bettah.”
“Den gif back da gun.”
“Dis not no real gun.”
“Gif’m to me, Chris.”
“Firs’, da shiv.”
I feel the warmth disappear, see the light. Where –
“You talk plenny kine when you asleep,” Rudy says.
I feel my face. Clean. This guy can handle a straight razor. “I fell asleep?”
“Yeah. You was talking all kine. Had someting about a Chris somebody. Someting about Denise. What’s wit all da guns an knives an shooting? Whas wit God? Tell me you not born again.”
“I . . . Rudy, I haven’t seen Denise for days. I don’t know where she is. You haven’t heard of Chris Andaya?”
“Oh, Chris Andaya. Scary. He get someting to do wit Denise?”
“She nevah go your mom’s?” Rudy asks.
I tell him no, it’s my mom who said she couldn’t get ahold of Denise.
“Rudy, you know Andaya. Like I said, Kuroda been talking shit about Chris and Denise.”
“Not good. Yeah, no, I nevah hear nuttin’”
Rudy knows people. But you gotta pay up front. Like a haircut and a shave is a good start, but maybe just a down-payment depending. Maybe you gotta tip heavy kine.
Rudy knows people as tough as Chris. Maybe tougher. People who come from dark spaces, do their job, disappear. You’d never see them strolling the mall at Ala Moana. The only time you see these guys is when they materialize on your doorstep. And the only thing they bring is bad news. Sometimes a warning, sometimes a little hurt, and sometimes, well, you know. They’re like ghosts.
“Rudy, who can I talk to? I need to know if she’s gone back to work. If she really is mixed up with Chris again.”
Rudy rubs his chin. “You mean someone you can talk to, or someone who only goin’ talk to me?”
“Whoever, Rudy. Whatever you can do to help my sister. You tell me.”
Rudy runs the razor over the strop, thinking. The steel looks lethal.
One time mom, Denise, and I visited the Daoist monastery up Nu’uanu. We heard this music coming from the back. Amazing. We went around the side and found this maybe 70-something woman playing flute. We sat. Her music was other worldly.
When she stopped, Denise clapped. I didn’t think that’s what you should do, but Denise, she just does things like that. Spontaneous. The woman smiled, then thanked her.
“That flute looks heavy,” my mom said.
The woman laughed softly. “It’s a good weapon.”
The blade flashes against the dark leather. “I tell you what,” Rudy says. “I tink bettah I talk to my friends first. You like um talk, hard, to Kuroda, see what he really know?”
I thought about that bastard. Miles Kuroda had been an asshole even back in elementary school. He learned kung fu then high-jacked kids and beat them up. Listening to that fucker snear about Denise being back with Chris Andaya made me want to kill him. He thought he was tough? A gun beats martial arts every time.
Worst of all, if Denise was with Chris, it was my fault.
“Nah, Rudy, if can find out where she is, would be great. Fucking Miles may just be talking out his ass.”
Rudy runs his finger down the blade of the razor. He looks up at me and smiles a wicked smile. “Dat Kuroda, I really hate dat punk.”
I picture blood bursting out of Miles Kuroda’s slashed throat and smile my own wicked smile.
“Mahalo, Rudy, what do I owe you?”
“Ah, one nice ahi nex time you go out. If canna catch, den one case Bud.”
Wow. That’s a deal. Rudy could ask for the moon if he wants it.
When I was in elementary school, Miles Kuroda made life hard for me. He was a bully, and I was one of the people he bullied. But I didn’t tell my older brother. It wasn’t unusual for Miles to randomly pick out someone and beat him up. He never beat up a girl, but he would push girls around too. That changed the older we got. By the time we moved on to middle school, he was only pushing boys around.
Maybe I shouldn’t call what he did to me bullying. Maybe it was more like stalking. Whatever it was, he definitely intimidated me.
It wasn’t until we moved on to high school that he really took an interest in me. He started being especially nice to me. Still, the first time he asked me out, I thought it was strange. I had no interest in someone who had treated people the way he did.
But you know what? The more time he spent with me, the more mellow he became. As we grew friendlier, he actually went, well, soft. He was even polite to teachers, something far from his radar in earlier days.
And when he asked me to junior prom, I said yes. My brother thought I was insane. His hated Miles’s for his behavior in his younger days. My brother was so angry that he threatened to come over to the high school and beat the living daylights out of Miles.
I finally mostly convinced him that Miles had changed. I told him how my being with Miles made him a different person.
“We’ll see about that,” my brother said.
Can you imagine a college student coming to a high school to beat someone up? Sometimes I thought my brother was crazier than Miles.
But that was then, a long time ago. Miles reverted to his former behavior once I went to the mainland for college. He stayed at UH and got into some pretty bad fights. Eventually he quit school. He took up with some shady people, and he’s been running with them ever since.
When I came home after college, I met Chris Andaya. I thought it was the kind of love that would last, that we’d get married, have a family. But then he began to beat me. I didn’t tell my brother, not until I finally had the courage to break away from Chris.
I hate phones, but this was Rudy.
“Dey foun Chris.”
“Da cops. My friend from inside da depahtment tole dey foun him at his place. One twenny-two slug in da haht. Close range.”
I put my leg up on the bench and felt for the .22 on my inside ankle. “They got any idea who did it?”
“Nah, dey jes figgah gotta be someone he know. To get dat close.”
I hung up, touched the small pistol again. Someone had killed Chris Andaya about the same time I was thinking about doing it myself. I had a real bad feeling.
After my sister broke away for good from Chris, I bought her a .22 just like mine, to carry with her. I took her to the range, taught her how to shoot. She got better than me. A natural. If Chris had come at her again? Shit.
I called my mom to find out if she’d heard from Denise. She’d not.
If she’d actually killed Chris, what would she do? Get on a plane? Maybe go to frickin Miles Kuroda? I never did understand how she could love that asshole. But looking to hide, would she run to her one-time true frickin love?
I got in my car and headed for the bar where Miles used to hang out. It made me ill to think about him, but if Denise had killed Chris and run to that chicken-shit, then I had no choice. If she were with him, I’d find out. Maybe I’d get lucky, finally, after all these years. Maybe I’d have a great reason to kick his ass.
Miles used hang out with his gangster panty-ass friends at an armpit of a bar by the University. When I walked in, a couple of older haole guys who looked like college professors were shooting pool. Through the smoke – I guess this shithole didn’t care about smoking laws – I could make out guys who looked like college dropouts.
I went up to the counter and asked the bartender if he knew Miles.
“Sure, yeah, he’s in here a lot. Not today, though. If he’s not here by now, he won’t be in until tonight. Nine or ten.”
On the way out, I heard one of the haoles say, “Good shot, Jim. Minnesota Fats move over.” The guy named Jim laughed. That laugh sounded familiar.
“Jim, Mister Harstad, is that you?” I walked through the smoke cloud to the table. The two stared at me.
It wasn’t my old high-school English teacher after all. “Sorry, sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
I went out into the sunshine, stinking of cigarettes. Slumping into the seat, I tried to think.
Okay, if I couldn’t get ahold of Miles until tonight, then what? Let’s say Denise didn’t go to him after all. Where? Where would –
And then I knew. I drove up University and got onto the H1 freeway heading west. I knew she hadn’t gone to Miles Kuroda at all.
I could hear the music as I approached the temple. Around back I found the elderly woman playing her flute. She stopped.
“Do you remember me?” I asked. “I came last year with my mom and sister.”
She smiled, nodded, then pointed behind her to a one-story building.
“Your sister is staying in the apartment at the end.”
I thanked her and headed over. When I knocked there was no answer. “Denise, it’s me.”
The lock turned and the door opened a crack. When she saw it was me, she let me in.
“How did you know I was here?”
“I don’t know. A pretty good guess. What are you doing here?”
“I just needed to get away. Chris found me again, I went with him for a few days. He started beating me again.”
She began to cry.
“Chris is dead, Denise. A .22 caliber bullet, like the gun I gave you. Did you shoot him?”
Denise looked dumbfounded. “Me, no, no, I wouldn’t — I couldn’t do that.”
“Where’s the gun?”
“I, I gave it to Miles.”
A wave somewhere between relief and disbelief hit me. I was so glad that it hadn’t been Denise, but absolutely amazed that it might have been Miles.
I got up. Denise, stay here until I find Miles and sort this out.
I left her and headed back to the stinking bar where Miles Kuroda hung out. It was near 6:00, so I had a wait. Rather than go in, I walked up to the UH Manoa campus, checked out all the new construction, walked up into Kuykendall Hall, the English Department home, the place where I’d spent so much time loving English literature.
I headed back to the bar. It was just after 9:00. The same bartender was on duty.
“Did Miles come in yet?”
“Yeah, yeah, he’s upstairs.”
I went to the second floor. The place was empty and the lights dim, but I saw Miles sitting in one of the booths at the back.
“Miles,” I walked toward him, “did you hear what happened to Chris Andaya?”
He didn’t answer, just kept staring straight ahead.
“Miles?” I stood over him. “Miles?” I tapped him on the shoulder.
He slumped over. I felt for a pulse in his neck. There was none. I sat him up. I noticed a large bloodstain covered his stomach area.
I called 911..
So Miles had killed Chris, confronted him. When Miles had gone for his gun, the .22 I’d give Denise, they must have struggled. In that moment, one of them had been shot first, then the other. Miles had lived long enough to make it back to the bar to die.
Denise and Miles. You think a guy’s an asshole, and your sister thinks he’s her knight in shining armor.
And Miles Kuroda was. Once he’d heard that Chris was beating her again, he wanted to save her. For that, I give him great credit.
But I’ll still never understand it.