Lauren opened the Apple computer and took half an hour of bar work time to figure out how he was going to access what he needed to access. He finally logged into the free Wi-Fi Zippys provided, and punched in “Yamashita.” The results surprised him. General Yamashita had been real, and in charge of huge amounts of gold and other items of great value accumulated by the Japanese during the war. Some seventeen locations were suspected to be the repository of the multi-billion dollar fortune he’d overseen, and all were located in the Philippines. No matter how Lauren linked the name of Shapiro to any of the data, however, there was nothing to be discovered further. Melvin Shapiro’s existed by the thousands, but none were linked to Yamashita, the Philippines, or even Hawaii that showed any relevance.
The bar filled with its usual bifurcated collection. Yee was in his usual corner spot with the Japanese doing their normal Karaoke garbage across the room, except for Hiyashi who remained drinking at one of the three tables gathered to form a small communal area. Hiyashi met Lauren’s inquiring gaze. Hiyashi was among the worst of the singers if what he did could be called that. The tough-looking Japanese gangster got up and walked to the bar, a half-filled drink in each hand. He stumbled onto a bar stool, too drunk to maintain control of himself for any length of time.
“Prince, you good bartender. No want to lose you. Feds are bad. Don’t have anything with ‘em.” Hiyashi rolled up his sleeve dramatically. “Yakuza,” he whispered. “You know Yakuza?”
Lauren nodded. “I thought you couldn’t admit that. Part of the code, and all.”
“No code. I tell what I want to tell. Help you. Last bartender good too, but he not do well in retirement.” Hiyashi’s head slumped down to the bar’s surface for a few seconds before bobbing back up.
Lauren couldn’t believe how everyone around him seemed to take credit for the previous bartender’s departure or disappearance, and everyone appeared to use the information as some sort of veiled threat.
“I can take care of myself,” he said down to Hiyashi, more in frustration than certainty.
“You caught,” Hiyashi slurred. “Cannot go forward and cannot go back. Three hard forces. Those people in blue over there, they not bother us. Unknown why. They make believe cops. Then us. We powerful but silent. No bother nobody. And them. The ones behind the window. The secret ones. Hard forces.”
Before he could collapse completely, Hiyashi’s friends came to the rescue, spiriting his nearly unconscious body back into their ranks.
Lauren made his decision. He was going to have nothing to do with any of them. He had no interest in Shapiro, Yee or anything that might be involved with Yamashita’s gold. The Japanese Yakuza interested him even less. They all acted like aliens instead of an enclave of differential culture. The strangely furtive DEA, or whomever the hell they represented, were potentially the most dangerous. The chances of being thrown into a federal cell seemed a lot greater than any violence being visited upon him by any of them, in spite of whatever had happened (or not) to the previous bartender. Lauren wasn’t playing. He had a decent job. His wife would find other work. As Yee had so accurately pointed out, the feds were bluffing. Had to be. He would call their bluff, serve drinks, earn tips and attempt to save enough money to get off Oahu and back to someplace that made more sense.
Four days went by. Lauren worked every shift, wondering if he was going to be forced into the back of an unmarked car again, or maybe asked to go for a ride in a regular police cruiser. Nothing happened.
He closed up on the fourth night, having to help several of his Japanese patrons to their cars. They drove away one by one, somehow able to navigate their Lexus automobiles far better than their own bodies. Lauren made the final Honolulu Number One Bus headed in toward the city. The bus was almost empty but the aroma of large numbers of unwashed bodies was still every bit in evidence. He sat with his head near the fresh air pouring in through a single open window.
His wife was already in bed when he got home. He went through his own preparation ritual as silently as he could, not wanting to awaken her unnecessarily. A shower in the morning, a shower at night before bed plus the brushing of teeth, had not left him as habits since he’d gotten out of the military. He was almost asleep when he felt a slight continuing vibration running through the bed. He listened intently, his posttraumatic hypersensitivity kicking in. After half a minute of full alertness, the vibrations revealed their source. His wife was softly and silently crying.
“Honey, what is it?” he whispered, leaning over her. The vibrations stopped.
“Nothing,” she replied, her voice flat and clear as if she’d shut the crying down in a single millisecond by exercising rigid control.
A pang of fear shot through Lauren as he imagined his wife having been informed by the DEA that her alleged illegal acts had been filmed. The crying and then its abrupt stoppage could be readily explained, although any discussion with him might be impossible for her. They could not go on with such secrets, he knew, not with any kind of life. And there were the kids to consider. He got out of the bed and turned on the light. He had to fix whatever he could to help them get through.
“What are you doing?” his wife asked.
“Getting to the bottom of this. C’mon, we’ve got to discuss it. You can’t just lye there and cry all night long. Things are grim, admittedly, but not that grim. There are some things going on I can share with you. We are in this together. I need you with me all the way, as I’m with you.”
Lauren gestured for her to join him. He headed for the bedroom door, throwing his robe on as he went.
Instead of complying, his wife began to cry out loud. The depth of her pain hit Lauren hard. The asshole Neuzel must have reached her in ways he could not understand, he thought. But they had to work it out and they had to do it together. He went back to the bed and waited. Finally, ever so slowly, his wife removed her covers and stepped out to join him. She wore one of her usual thin cotton nightgowns. In the backlight radiating out from the bright lamp on the nightstand, her gown turned transparent as she passed. Something registered in the back of his mind but then she was past and, trying to keep his mind on their problems, he followed her into the kitchen.
“You have to tell me,” Lauren said, working on brewing a pot of coffee. It was pretty obvious there wouldn’t be much sleeping going on that night.
“I know anyway, really, because the prick Neuzel from the DEA told me.”
His wife shifted her position on the high counter stool. “You know? I thought you’d be out of it. I thought you’d blow your cool and it’d all be over.”
She crossed her legs. Lauren’s mind wandered slightly with her move into other areas before coming back to center with the intent of inquiring clarity. He remembered
“What?” Lauren asked, and then shut up to wait.
“You didn’t shave down there for me?” he asked, his forehead a batched bundle of questioning wrinkles. “I saw you in the light when you got out of bed.”
She shook her head, silent tears falling over her cheeks.
“They stripped me,” his wife said, her voice soft and resigned.
Shock set in. Lauren couldn’t move. His hand held a glass coffee pot filled with water but he could not pour it into the machine. He simply stood in the middle of the kitchen paralyzed.
You were raped?” he asked, his voice gentle and quiet.
“No,” his wife answered. “They came in, held me down and then took all my clothes off. They didn’t rape me by but they enjoyed their work. They told me that you would understand and get the right message.”
Lauren had never before, even in combat or after, feel the rage that was building inside him. They’d come in when the kids weren’t there and stripped his wife naked as a warning. It was something beyond his ability to take in. The humiliation. The brutality. The overwhelming threat and autonomous authority implied by such direct physical action was beyond him.
“A stocky guy, about forty? Short blond hair with a steady pleasing smile…?” he described Neuzel, not believing the very polite seeming DEA agent could be involved in something so sinister, illegal and personally denigrating.
“Yes, and he said you had to learn to share.”
Lauren hugged his wife and tried to fold her back into his life, knowing the traumatic damage done might not be easily repairable. He knew she saw his life as so devastated by the audacity and the implied threat that she hadn’t even asked him what was going on.
It was time to take action. Lauren’s current life had no meaning. Neuzel’s savagely personal act brought that apparent fact home. But his response would have nothing to do with capitulation or sharing. Lauren put his wife to bed but there would be no sleep for him that night. Mission planning had begun and it would take him many hours to figure out all the logistics to support what he intended to do.
Lauren got in the car and drove to Shaprio’s place. He punched in the code, and the front gate retreated back. He moved to the front door and repeated the process. The door lock snapped open. Lauren was certain that breaking the seals on Shapiro’s house would set off alarms. It took half an hour for the sergeant to arrive.
“Talk to me,” the sergeant instructed, as he walked to stand next to where Lauren was gazing out across the gorgeous bay.
“It’s been three days. They contacted you. They had to. They aren’t a patient lot.”
Lauren looked at the thin officer, noting that he was wearing a sport coat and civilian trousers instead of his uniform.
“You off duty?” Lauren asked.
“I don’t work all hours of the day and night, but no. Sometimes it’s better to wear clothing that allows you to get along better with people who don’t like cops, people like you. Now tell me what’s going on.” The sergeant crossed his arms with impatience, staring out toward the distant Koko Head Crater.
Lauren told him, leaving out no details.
“You’re under tighter surveillance than I assumed. My mistake. They probably saw you get in the cruiser. Shit,” Yee concluded, pacing up and down across the length of the huge joined picture windows.
“Surveillance? On my home?”
Lauren asked, before sighing deeply. Of course, they were watching him. They were the feds. That’s what they did. He’d been an idiot not to figure that part out.
“The violation of your wife,” Yee stated, rubbing his forehead with one hand while continuing his pacing. “That means an intense level of surveillance, and it’s also really uncommon for the feds to do what they did. They were sure you would not be home and interfere, which means you’ve probably got video and audio bugs all over the insides of your house. You’ve gotta move and now.”
“Move to where?” Lauren replied. “I can’t pay my rent, much less put up a deposit somewhere else. I’m a bartender and my wife’s out of her job.”
“Duh, why do you suppose I gave you the code to Shapiro’s place? You’re now in there. I’ll have some people move all your stuff tomorrow. You stay here and take care of the place until further notice. Shapiro won’t be coming back for six months.”
“Here? This place? We can’t afford this place. We can’t afford any place. And he’s coming back? Why has he been gone? Or should I even care?” Lauren shook his head in agitation. It seemed that no one listened to a thing he said.
“He’s been gone because he killed twenty-six sailors he conned into getting some of the treasure and hiding it for himself. The sailors never came home. He’s stayed away because the government figured it out. He wants to come home to die. He’s got terminal cancer. The feds want him to come home to kill him, or at least extract a good portion of what he took in exchange for letting him die back here.”
Lauren sat down on one of the couches facing the window.
“This is all about the Yamashita treasure? It’s not about pot or pakalolo or the Yakuza or any of that?” Neuzel’s not with the DEA, who’s he with? What do they want?” Lauren poured out the questions one after another, not expecting answers that made any sense.
How was it a local police sergeant was holding up the entire U.S. government? What were the layers under the layers Yee’d just pulled back?
He had to know. He could not act until he understood everything that was happening, or he’d simply mete out vengeance against Neuzel and then lose his family and everything that meant anything.
“You are here and you’ll stay here with your family. You’ll pay nothing. Your wife will work for Ochuru at Zippy’s, in the restaurant. Your kids will commute to school in a limo. You’re one of us now. This isn’t a game. Everyone’s playing for the whole haul. We don’t know what the Yakuza knows but they’re up to something as well. You can work that angle. There’ll be no surveillance of Shapiro’s place. There are leads in the walls, in the glass and induced vibrations throughout the place. You can hear it hum at night. Ignore the hum. There will be no laser listening from boats, satellites or whatever.”
“My wife is going to be a waitress? What will I tell her?”
“Nothing or everything. I’m sending a car for her and your kids. You got one way out of this and that one way is at my side. Yee walked over to a wall mounted stereo system, looking like it’d come right out of a space shuttle. He hit a button, adjusted a single knob and then walked out through the front door. A song began to emanate from the ceiling speakers; “When the night has come, And the land is dark, And the moon is the only light you see, No, I won’t be afraid, no, I won’t be afraid, Just as long as you stand, stand by me…”
Lauren slowly looked around the grandness of the huge expansive room until his gaze once more rested on the waters of the bay outside the windows. The sergeant was right. He had to stand by someone. He was not going to survive on his own. He had to have the security and the loyalty of a Marine Platoon. Barring that, he would have to make his bunk with Yee’s rogue unit of the Honolulu Police Department. The song Stand by Me, echoed through the house, infusing Lauren with a modicum of solace and hope. At least the playing of the song by the sergeant indicated that the man had some sort of functioning heart.
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