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The International Writers Magazine - Hawaii Fiction - From Our Archives

James C. Clar

Dayton Apana sat at a window table in the Honolulu Coffee Company café located in the tower wing of the Moana Surfrider Hotel. The window was open, the trades were blowing and he had to keep one hand on his coffee cup and the other on the front page of the Advertiser as he struggled to read the headlines.

In the background he could faintly hear the sounds of slack key guitar emanating from the speakers tucked high above his head in the corners of the room. His elevated position … you had to mount five or six steps to enter the coffee shop from the driveway and porte cochère that fronted the white Victorian façade of the Moana … gave him a great view of the nonstop hustle and bustle that was so much a part of both that famed hotel as well as of Waikiki’s busiest and most upscale street, Kalakaua Boulevard.

Apana was a writer and, any day he could, he would spend an hour or so in the morning drinking coffee, scanning the newspaper and watching the crowds from just this spot. In fact, it would not have been much of an exaggeration to claim that the ideas for many of his most successful stories had first come to him as a result of mornings spent in just that way. If the owners of the business only knew, he chuckled to himself, they’d probably demand royalties.

Not that those royalties would have amounted to much, really. It would have been a stretch to say that Dayton Apana, whose oeuvre consisted primarily of noir fiction, was a household name. But, after retiring from teaching ten years ago at the ripe old age of fifty-five, Apana had decided to pursue a dream he had since he was a boy … that of becoming a writer. Surprisingly, and with no formal training in creative writing, he wrote and sold five stories in rapid succession. Since that time he had never looked back. Oh, there had been rejections – and he hadn’t yet set to work on that novel that his agent so wanted him to write – but between his pension and the four or five "sales" he managed each month to any number of literary publications and small press outlets, Apana was living comfortably if fairly simply.

Dayton attributed his success, such as it was, to his lifetime of teaching English, a keen curiosity as well as to an ability to observe and record faithfully what he experienced. While there were times that he longed for genuine fame and greater commercial reward, over the course of the next week or so, Apana was very thankful that his stories were not in fact more widely read than they were.

Born on Oahu, Apana had moved to the Mainland for graduate school. After earning his degree, he took a job teaching at a private college preparatory school in Northern California. He labored for just over thirty years at instilling a love of literature in generations of adolescent boys for whom Standard English may as well have been a foreign language. He took "early" retirement and returned to the far more benign and predictable climate of the Aloha State. The wonderful weather aside, maybe what he had missed most while toiling on "foreign" soil were the local newspapers. Once use of the Internet had become widespread, of course, he’d read the Advertiser and the Star Bulletin online, but he missed the sound, the smell, and the feel of real newsprint in his hands … and, as was often the case, the battle to keep the sections from blowing about madly in the strong tropical breeze.

Today, for example, he was intrigued by a story about a local councilman who had been forced to resign owing to allegations of sexual misconduct. Something about the case niggled at the back of his consciousness. As he walked down Kalakaua to Liliuokalani and, eventually, to his apartment on Ala Wai Boulevard, it came to him; he had written a story a few years ago about a local politician who had been blackmailed by a shady private investigator who, in the course of tailing the politico’s wife, discovered that the client himself had been having a series of affairs. Geez, Apana thought as he climbed the stairs on the outside of his building and opened his door, talk about life imitating art?"
A day or two later, Apana needed a break from a new story he was working on and so he grabbed his gear and walked two blocks to Sans Souci Beach for a swim. It was a gorgeous day – even if a trifle humid – and the brilliant white of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium shone majestically against the cloudless blue of the sky.

"Hey Dayton, howzit?" he heard as he was toweling off. He looked up to see Bobby Nahinu. Like Dayton, Bobby too was in his sixties. In fact the two had graduated from high school together. Their paths diverged when Dayton had gone to college and then took off to the Mainland. Bobby had joined the Honolulu Police Department. He was retired now as well but, as Dayton knew, his old friend spent much of his time these days hanging around the police sub-station on Kuhio Beach reminiscing, dispensing advice and basically making a nuisance of himself. Bobby knew everybody and everything that was happening on the mile long stretch of sand that formed one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations.

"Good morning, Bobby. On your way to the station? Got to keep Waikiki safe for all the visitors, right? "
"For sure, Dayton, for sure. Those clowns they graduate from the academy today couldn’t find their asses in the dark with both hands and a flashlight," Nahinu responded with a smile. "Without me, the crime rate would be even worse than it is. Speaking of which, have you heard that there’s some kind of car-jacking ring operating in the area? Seems they’re targeting tourists driving high-end rental cars … SUV’s, foreign jobs, that sort of thing. I figure there must be some kind of ‘chop shop’ on the windward side of the island. That’s where I’d be looking. No one’s been hurt yet but it’s just a matter of time. The Visitor’s Bureau will be up in arms."

Dayton chatted with his friend for a few more moments then the two men went their separate ways. Dayton made it to the sidewalk and the welcome shade of the ironwood trees that grew along this stretch of Kalakaua Avenue. He stopped in front of the Aquarium. Son-of-a-bitch, he swore out loud, I published a story four or five months ago about carjackers preying on tourists driving rentals. This is too much.

The next few days passed as they so often do in the islands, tranquilly, seamlessly and thus with scant awareness that time has passed at all. Dayton gave very little thought to the weird, almost eldritch instances of synchronicity that he had discovered. He completed the story he had been working on and sent it off to his agent. One morning, ensconced in his accustomed seat at the café, he read an item in the newspaper about some black Tahitian pearls that had been stolen from a local jewelry story. Without a word, Apana stood up, walked to the counter, paid his bill and, like a sleepwalker, descended the steps to the street. Completely oblivious to his surroundings, he walked back to his apartment where, despite the early hour, he poured himself a shot of whiskey. Not even the sharp jolt of alcohol did much to steady his nerves; once again, life had imitated art … his art! He had written a story, a story that had even won an award, about rare Tahitian pearls being boosted from an upscale island jewelry store.

Dayton Apana was a writer and, in spite of what most people thought about writers, he was not an especially introspective or reflective person. His stories were logical, tightly plotted and they conformed to the rational laws of the universe … at least insofar as he understood those laws. What was happening of late, or at least what he thought was happening of late, was well outside his ken.

Although born in Hawaii, he never paid much attention to, nor did he put any stock whatsoever in, those really old-timers who believed that there were still elemental forces at work in the islands. Nonetheless, there were times when Dayton could not help but be overwhelmed by the contradictions that were so much a part of modern Hawaii. In Waikiki, for example, natural splendor competed with the tacky and the tawdry at almost every turn. It was part of the allure, after all. He may not have been able to articulate it precisely – a shameful admission for a writer – but sitting on the shore watching the ocean and sky change color at first light, or gazing out over the Waianae Mountains at sunset, he sensed at some level that this remarkable land was both ancient and, at the same time, as young and chaotic as the first day of creation. Who could say, really, what arcane powers might be stirring in such a place? All Dayton knew was that he needed to talk to someone about what was going on. About something like this, only Caroline could be counted on not to dismiss his concerns as ludicrous on the one hand or to collude in the action of his imagination overpowering his reason on the other.

They met that evening at a little Mexican restaurant on Monsarrat Avenue just where the road began its steep climb up the northern flank of Diamond Head. The place was tiny, family owned and operated, and served the best Mexican food on the planet, let alone in the islands. Dayton and Caroline were old friends, old flames, actually, but very early on they discovered that they were better suited as friends than as lovers. Even though Dayton had been on the Mainland for the better part of his adult life, they picked right up were they had left off as teenagers when he returned to Oahu. They shared an intimacy that had withstood the ravages of time, physical separation and more failed relationships than either cared to remember.

"I think I’m going crazy, Caroline," Dayton confessed as they drank Dos Equis and ate chips and salsa. She listened without interruption while he talked about the recent events that seemed to parallel the plots of his stories. Dayton finished and their meals came. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, Caroline looked up from her plate. "Listen, Day, as far as being crazy is concerned, well, don’t you have to be a little unbalanced to be a good writer? But, seriously, I think you’re overreacting. I mean, either the universe has slipped a cog, there’s some mastermind out there orchestrating this for some unknown reason or everything you’ve told me is just a weird coincidence. After all, you’ve always been a keen observer. You write crime fiction shaped out of what you see, read and experience. The sorts of things you create are based on reality. Why should it surprise you when you discover similar things happening in real life? Admittedly, it is a little bizarre that so many of your stories have ‘come to life’ in such a short span of time, but you know what they say, ‘stuff happens’. Politicians get caught with their pants down, it’s their nature. Rental cars are stolen every day and jewelry stores get knocked off all the time. Relax and glory in the fact that you’ve achieved verisimilitude in your fiction. There’s nothing occult about it."

Apana felt better after his conversation with Caroline. He was in such high spirits the following morning that he decided to grab his camera and go out shooting. He was an avid digital photographer and usually carried his Nikon with him wherever he went. He had been so preoccupied over the course of the last few days, however, that even that habitual practice had suffered. He walked all the way up to Ala Moana Beach Park and spent the day photographing nearly everything in the vicinity … the Convention Center, the Ala Moana Center, and, on his way back home, the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor as well.

Once back at his apartment, he made himself some dinner and, afterward, he sat down with a bottle of wine and began downloading his photographs to the computer. Thinking about the advice that Caroline had dispensed the evening before, he chuckled to himself when he recalled the story he had once written about an amateur photographer who had been murdered because he had taken a series of pictures which inadvertently exposed the secret identity of the head of an Asian crime syndicate.

Dayton’s reverie was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He answered and, almost immediately, he became ashen. It was his sister-in-law. Apana hadn’t spoken to her in years. She was calling to say that Dayton’s younger brother, Ben, had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The details were vague. Ben and Helen had moved to Guam where Ben took a job as the manager of a large hotel catering primarily to Japanese tourists. Helen told Dayton that she would call back after the authorities released her husband’s body and when she had a clearer idea of what had happened. She’d need some time, she said, to decide on the funeral arrangements.

Apana hung up the phone. He sat back down at his computer and poured himself another glass of wine. Damn, he swore as he knocked it back and, quickly, re-filled his glass. I wonder what Caroline will say about this? One of Dayton’s first published stories dealt with an author who orchestrated the murder of his own brother. He had always considered that tale a bit of a joke based on the rather rocky relationship he and Ben always had but, certainly, he had never wished his brother any real ill will. Caroline’s protestations to the contrary, this was just all too freaky to be real. While the news of Ben’s death hadn’t begun to sink in yet Dayton did feel the first tinges of guilt… but guilt based on the fact that he felt so little by way of loss. He was far more disturbed and bewildered by the fact that this tragedy, too, seemed to be based on yet another of his own fictional creations. Where would it all end?

Apana eventually went to bed after consuming far more wine than he had intended. As a result, he slept fitfully. He was awake or, at least, semi-conscious for long stretches during which he thought back over the events of the past week. At some point, and in order to relax, he began mentally cataloging the photographs he had taken that day and which he just begun sorting on his computer when he received word of his brother’s death. He became fixated on one image in particular; a shot of two Japanese or Chinese men in dark suits who were walking the path around the Hilton Hawaiian Village lagoon. He had been struck by the contrast of their impeccable, almost somber, dress and serious mien against the brilliant azure of the sky and dark turquoise of the water. There was something about that arresting picture that bothered him …

Dayton was awakened by what sounded like the sliding door of his lanai opening in his living room. Half-awake and still somewhat fuzzy from all the alcohol he had consumed, it seemed that someone was turning on his computer. My pictures, he thought, it’s happening again. They’ve come for them.

Two days later the Honolulu newspapers ran a brief but laudatory obituary of Dayton Apana, a local writer who had been found dead after suffering a massive heart attack in his sleep. His housekeeper had come in early. She was surprised to see that her employer – who was a man of fastidious habits – had gone to bed leaving his lanai door open and his computer switched on. After closing the door and shutting down his computer, the housekeeper peeked into the writer’s bedroom at which point she discovered the body. According to the obit, Apana’s publisher was planning on releasing an anthology of the writer’s stories which, only very recently, had been heralded as uncommonly realistic and even prophetic by a critic writing for a major East Coast newspaper.

Back on the mainland, another writer was toiling at a story about a struggling author whose short stories appeared to be assuming a life of their own as, one-by-one, his tales were mirrored in a series of increasingly outré current events...

© James C Clar February 2009

James C. Clar is a teacher and writer living in upstate New York. His work has appeared in a variety of print and internet publications including, Long Story Short, The Magazine of Crime & Suspense, Taj Mahal Review, Orchard Press Mysteries, Powder Burn Flash and Every Day Fiction. James is an ardent jazz fan as well as an avid digital photographer."

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James C Clar

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