International Writers Magazine - Hawaii Fiction - From Our Archives
James C. Clar
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 Waikikis 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,
theyd 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
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 hadnt 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, hed read the Advertiser and the Star Bulletin online,
but he missed the sound, the smell, and the feel of real newsprint in
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 politicos 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 worlds 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 couldnt 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 theres some kind of car-jacking ring operating
in the area? Seems theyre targeting tourists driving high-end
SUVs, foreign jobs, that sort of thing. I figure
there must be some kind of chop shop on the windward side
of the island. Thats where Id be looking. No ones
been hurt yet but its just a matter of time. The Visitors
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 Im 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, dont
you have to be a little unbalanced to be a good writer? But, seriously,
I think youre overreacting. I mean, either the universe has slipped
a cog, theres some mastermind out there orchestrating this for
some unknown reason or everything youve told me is just a weird
coincidence. After all, youve 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,
its their nature. Rental cars are stolen every day and jewelry
stores get knocked off all the time. Relax and glory in the fact that
youve achieved verisimilitude in your fiction. Theres 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.
Daytons reverie was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He
answered and, almost immediately, he became ashen. It was his sister-in-law.
Apana hadnt spoken to her in years. She was calling to say that
Daytons 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 husbands body and when she had a
clearer idea of what had happened. Shed 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 Daytons 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. Carolines protestations to the contrary, this was
just all too freaky to be real. While the news of Bens death hadnt
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 brothers 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
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, its happening again.
Theyve 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 writers bedroom at which point
she discovered the body. According to the obit, Apanas publisher
was planning on releasing an anthology of the writers 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
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."
James C Clar
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