YAKUZA

Chapter III

 

Lauren spent his single day-off doing damage control at home. His wife was a shattered wreck, having been told nothing by her employer except that her services were no longer needed. Lauren would not, could not, tell her what the DEA task force had shown him or threatened. The end of the month was also coming and, even with the near windfall of his new job, Lauren knew they could not pay all their bills. His wife’s income had barely kept them on any kind of even keel.

By Tuesday Lauren was a tattered mess himself. There was no way to proceed and there was no way to get out. If he went to work undercover for the DEA then he was placing his life, and that of his family, in mortal jeopardy, plus he didn’t think it would work anyway. He was former military and a Ph.D. working away in a low blue-collar job. He was about as cleverly invisible as a Marimba player dressed out and playing guitar while walking down Waikiki Beach. His ‘undercover’ work would be suspect from beginning to end if it was not already. It also occurred to him that he was being used as a stalking horse. If the forces in play killed him for being a snitch while he was under DEA surveillance then the feds could go after everyone for the commission of a capital crime.

But he couldn’t leave his wife out there to dangle in the wind. A long prison stay might not kill her but it would certainly finish the family.

At one o’clock in the afternoon, he walked down Kapahulu Boulevard to Aiku’s Bakery, which served the best plate lunches in all of Waikiki, although Lauren had no appetite at all. He fed some quarters into one of the only pay phones surviving on the island. It took him fifteen minutes and three more numbers to get through to Sergeant Yee. He told the officer that they had to meet. Sergeant Yee asked no questions, instead informing him he’d be picked up by a squad car in fifteen minutes.

The patrol car showed up on time to the second. The uniformed cop behind the wheel was so darkly Hawaiian in appearance he seemed to be African American until his facial features came into view. The man said nothing.

Lauren stood by the car for a few seconds, and then opened the rear door on the passenger’s side and got in. The car rolled out of the bakery and headed toward Diamond Head.

The Blue and White marked car headed around the backside of Diamond Head Crater and then through Kahala until it hit Kalanianaole Highway. Twenty minutes later they approached the interchange where Zippys was located, but the car turned right instead of entering the big parking lot. They drove out a winding residential street through a neighborhood called Portlock. Lauren looked to his right, as multi-million-dollar homes flicked by, all on the water and all facing back toward Honolulu. At the end of the street, the police car swung left and drove for half a minute along a short unpaved road gently running up the slope of Koko Head crater before stopping. The Hawaiian driver did not speak or gesture. Lauren didn’t know what to do or expect, although he didn’t much care for the fact that they’d stopped in a rough open area that, on its right flank, ended in a cliff falling away two hundred feet down into a roiling breaking sea.

“Out,” the driver said, his voice husky and low, but with a tone that indicated long-obeyed authority. Lauren stepped out through the passenger door. The cop car went into reverse, the local officer looking back over his right shoulder until he and his car were gone from sight. Knee high scrub brush covered most of the area. Lauren realized the land must all be part of the park system encompassing the old extinct crater, as the view was breathtaking, with a gentle trade wind blowing comfortably upward up over the cliff edge from wild roiling waters below. If the seafront land wasn’t parkland it would totally be covered by hugely expensive homes.

He shook off his momentary feeling of fear. He was unarmed and had nothing to defend himself with. There could be no hiding in the scrub, as it was too thin and low to afford any concealment, much less cover. The cliff face was not scalable, and too high to jump from. He was totally defenseless, with hundreds of yards of open fields of fire. Nobody had any reason to kill him, Lauren mused to himself, as he tossed small rocks out into the huge breakers crashing on lava rocks below. He was a bartender and had only been one for days. Even if any of the forces gathered around him suspected something they wouldn’t simply kill him. They’d want to know what he knew. Which was nothing. Which they had to know. Still, he stared down into the seething abyss created by huge rolling waves crashing against the rock face, with a small knot of worry buried deep inside his abdomen.

A black car made its way up the unpaved incline, moving slowly but steadily. The car was a Mercury Marauder. Lauren recognized it because he’d been impressed when the company had reissued the vehicle in the early years of the new millennium. The car was spotless and waxed to a high shine. The only feature that indicated it was anything but a high-powered collector’s car was a removable blue light on the roof above the driver’s door. Police officers, particularly above patrolman rank, purchased their own automobiles and were reimbursed by the state. Hawaii was the only state that allowed such an odd arrangement. Since most police officers could pick any car they wanted, within certain budget restrictions, the department was composed of a strangely assorted mess of different cars. Lauren often wondered how the shop mechanics could work on all of them, unless mechanical services were paid and reimbursed to the officers, as well.

The Marauder stopped and the driver’s side door opened. Sgt. Yee stepped out, backing up a few feet to slam shut the two-door’s huge slab of metal. Without a hat, the man’s short white hair stood out brilliantly against the deep brown of his ‘local’ skin. As with many Hawaiians on the island of Oahu, the mix of genetics making any local’s body was so varied it was impossible to discern what race of origin might be the most dominant.

“Prince,” the man said, his voice carrying easily over the deeper beat of hard crashing surf coming up from the bottom of the cliff. “You’ve something to report? This is going to be good, I’m sure.” He walked to where Lauren stood and then squatted down in oriental fashion to take in the view. Lauren’s legs could not be folded into the position the man assumed so easily. Lauren sat on one of the rocks next to the uniformed man. “Give, all of it,” Yee said, without taking his eyes off the distant deep blue waves.

Lauren sighed. In spite of the fact that he’d made his decision, trust was impossible for him. Whether it was the cops, the DEA, or even the Japanese, it didn’t really matter. Telling any of them anything gave him as much confidence as giving trust to an insurgent leader in the Middle East. But he also knew he had little choice but to cooperate as best he could.

“The DEA took me in,” he began. “They want me to work undercover against your “band of blue brothers,” and the Japanese drug dealers supposedly hauling Pakololo onto the island.” Lauren took in a deep breath. It was out. He couldn’t take back what he’d said. The die was cast in whatever shape or form it would take.

“What a surprise,” Yee said, his expression showing no surprise at all. “Ex-military, decorated, wounded and then failing in Hawaii. Why would the DEA do anything else, since they’ve been unable to do anything about anything on their own for three years? What did they offer you?”

“Nothing,” Lauren answered, before considering what Yee was really asking. After a few more seconds, during which the sergeant said nothing, Lauren went on “They offered not to prosecute my wife for stealing from the cash register where she worked. They had photos and video. I was given no choice.”

“But you made another choice, to move in a different direction, or I wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t be talking,” Yee stated.

“If I do what they want I might get killed,” Lauren replied. “If I do what they want, then my kids may not have a dad. If I don’t do what they want then my wife goes to prison,” he finished.

“So, you’re selling your wife out?” Lee asked, after about a full minute. “By not doing what they want you to believe you’re sending your own wife to prison? She, better than you, eh?”

Lauren’s heartbeat increased and his face began to redden. He could feel rage welling up within him like a thundering tsunami rushing toward the shallows. Yee was accusing him of cowardice. He couldn’t deal with it. Lauren got to his feet to confront the sergeant, but Yee didn’t rise. Instead, he laughed.

“Sit back down Haole, and learn something.”

Lauren capped his rage, turning his head back and forth to relax his neck. He returned to his previous position, but his body was held in steely tension, ready to move in whatever direction or respond to whatever decision his brain might require it to take.

“They’re Federal Officers, with Federal Agencies, backed by Federal Prosecutors, and they have absolutely no authority to arrest, prosecute or imprison anyone for such a state crime. Petty theft, or even grand theft, not committed across state lines, is off limits to them here. They were lying to you. And the photos and video? This is the modern electronic age. They may well be phony as three-dollar bills. You think your wife stole some money because of what some men you don’t know told you?”

Lauren sat back. He found it hard to take in what the sergeant had told him. His mind went nearly as limp as the relaxation that flowed through his combat alerted body.

It was logical. Lee was being solidly logical.   Theft from a local retailer was a local charge, not federal. Lauren had believed, instantly, that his wife robbed the till in order to support the family, based upon almost nothing at all. A sense of deep guilt nearly bent Lauren over. Was he that pliable, stupid or simply disloyal and naive? Was he that easy to manipulate? The rage he’d suppressed earlier began to rise within him, only its direction changing. Inside his very core he came to understand that whatever he was involved with, and whatever titanic forces he was encountering, the conclusion was going to likely lead to some great violent response. Warmth suffused him. Violence he understood. Violence was something he hated and feared, but it was also something he was very good at.

“What’s really going on here?” Lauren asked the police sergeant.

“Not much,” Yee shot back. “Take a close look out to sea, out toward Molokai,” the man gestured with his right index finger out toward a distant low smudge on the horizon. “What do you see?” he asked.

Lauren stared intently for over a full minute. “Nothing,” he finally answered, unable to fathom what the cop was trying to point out.

“The boats. Way out there. The big ones. They’re carrying Pakalolo grown on the Big Island and Maui. “Kana the Sacrament, from Hawaii, or Maui Gold from the tourist island.”

The boats came into Lauren’s focus as soon as the sergeant pointed them out. The little bobbing spots appeared as distant dark dots on the water.

“What about them?” Lauren asked.

“The Yakuza, the Japanese, run out there in their idiotically souped-up boats to make the transfer. The DEA can’t do anything because it’s all conducted in territorial waters and they have no boats here. The Navy won’t get involved. The Coast Guard simply laughs. That leaves us, and we don’t get involved either.”

“That’s it?” Lauren said, incredulity in his voice. “This really is all about pot? How can the pot trade out here be that important?”

“Only about twenty million bucks a year important. Probably nothing to you, being a highly paid bartender and all,” the sergeant replied. “But you’re underlying suspicion is accurate. That’s not all that this is about. You came to me. You didn’t cave to those heartless bastards with the DEA. Unless, of course, you did cave, in which case we’ll know about that in a bit. Let’s take a ride. We’re going to see if you have a place with us.”

Sergeant Yee walked back to his sleek Marauder and opened the door and stopped, the car sitting at low rumbling idle, also waiting for Lauren to make his decision.

Lauren opened the passenger door but hesitated halfway in because of the sergeant’s next words.

“Get in the back, inside the cage,” Yee said. “You earn your way to the front. I don’t know jack about you but I’m going to soon.”

Yee put the car in reverse and very carefully backed down the winding red dirt road. Once on the pavement, the Marauder rode for less than two minutes before pulling into the driveway of one of the ocean-facing mansions. Yee punched in a code. The sliding metal gate in front of the car rumbled open. Lauren noted the gold Buddha figure mounted across the front of it.

Yee exited the vehicle, turning back to pull a lever in order to let Lauren out, as the passenger seat was linked to the cage installed in the back of the car where there were no internal handles to allow escape. Lee punched another code into a panel mounted next to one of the front door knobs. The door clicked and cracked open.

Lauren climbed out, wondering about the cost the Honolulu Police Department had to endure to provide such obviously expensive modifications before he asked another question; looking around him in wonder: “You live here?” The house they’d stopped in front of had to cost multi-millions. He followed Yee through the open front door into a great entry room, which had matching curved stairs running up each side of it on up to a much higher second floor.

“Shapiro owns it. Melvin Shapiro. The guy lives abroad. He’s about eighty now. Hasn’t been here for four years. We take care of the place for him. Sometimes have a luau here, or maybe watch a special sports event using the entertainment system. Maids come and clean it. Attendants service the pool. Nobody else ever comes to the place.”

Lauren followed the sergeant out to an aggregate lanai composed of white grout and tiny pink colored stones. A swimming pool sat lazily in the center, its shape was that of a human liver but it’s light bright blue color drawing anybody in who might come anywhere close. Looking up and back from the pool, Lauren was able to take in Koko Head crater in the distance, with its long bay-like shore running down below. It was all a bit overwhelming and breathtaking to take in.

Both men facing the sea leaned against the chest-high brick wall surrounding the backside perimeter of the estate.

“Shapiro was part of the Yamashita thing,” Sergeant Yee offered, without going on.

“Yamashita thing? What in the hell is the Yamashita thing?” Lauren asked.

“Go online. Find out. One of the largest treasures to be amassed in the modern world. During WWII the Japanese plundered all of Asia for gold. They put it on one ship. They sailed that ship to the Philippines and buried the gold in several locations. Some say there was over a thousand tons of gold. I don’t know. All I have to deal with about it has to do with Shapiro.”

Lauren thought for several minutes. “Do you smoke?” he asked the sergeant, having watched the man leave the bar several times for no explainable reason.

Yee worked a pack of Camels out of a leather pocket attached to his Sam Brown web belt. He offered one. Lauren took it. A few seconds later Yee produced a Bic lighter and clicked it into life. Lauren inhaled. He hadn’t smoked in two years, but he was in new foreign territory, and he knew it. He needed every bit of anything that might help him through. A cigarette brought a studied delay to oral communication, as well as a certain limited sense of calm. Lauren needed calm, in whatever small amount of it he could acquire.

“Alright, I have no idea what’s going on or where this is headed but I’ll look this Yamashita up,” Lauren said, exhaling a puff of smoke out over the wall. “I don’t have a computer here. I’ll have to wait to get to the library. But I’ll do it. What else do you want me to do?” Lauren allowed the drifting trades to blow the smoke from his last inhalation toward the Koolau Mountains so majestically placed off to his right in the distance.

“Apple,” Sergeant Yee replied, offhandedly. “You gotta have an Apple. Laptop, like the MacBook Pro, so you can move it around. I’ll have one delivered tonight. If you don’t turn out, no problem, we’ll get it back.” Yee laughed after he finished his comment, before going on, “These guys at the DEA, and the FBI won’t stop in this thing. They’re like driven animals. I don’t know how they’ve come to be in this but be careful. They’ll try to hurt you and your family when they figure out you’re not going to play ball. You’ve got to get moved before that.”

A slight shiver of fear traveled up and down Lauren’s back at the man’s words. Sergeant Yee spoke like other damaged combat veterans he’d associated with. There was no macho or direct threat in his words or delivery. The man’s sedate unemotional delivery gave off a barely detectable emanation that Lauren felt was truly dangerous. The diminutive sergeant was a man capable of great violence. He wanted to ask the sergeant what he meant by the move comment, and also, “move to where?” but the question seemed meaningless until more was known.

Sergeant Yee dropped Lauren off at Zippy’s in time for him to get a plate lunch or plate dinner in his case.   A Bento Plate. Six bucks for a tray of local teriyaki, soya chicken and Pork Adobo. With gravy and rice, it was to die for.

Lauren ate his dinner and thought about his relationships that might still be existent in the Agency. He still had a few friends working in analysis and even a few still out doing fieldwork. Working with only Google or Yahoo as search engines was extremely limiting, as no public engines worked with classified data. Most things of true import were classified in some way or other, or worse yet bottled up on ‘air-to-air’ computer systems that never connected to the Internet.

Lauren went to the bar and began his shift. Karaoke began at four-thirty, on the dot. Lauren worked to make some ‘real’ Mai Tai drinks. J.Wray and Nephew Rum. Orange Curacao. Trader Vic’s rock candy syrup. Orgeat syrup and a sprig of mint. One of the Japanese drug runners, looking like a respected businessman after hours, took the mike and began to sing.

Life is a mystery. Everyone must stand-alone. I hear you call my name and it feels like home,” lyrics to a Madonna song. The sensitive audio system delivered the man’s words automatically and accurately in duplication to everyone in the bar: “Rife is a mystery, everyone must stand arone, I hear you carr my name and it feers rike home….”

Karaoke was something awful that had to be endured as if it wasn’t. Lauren endured, somehow finding his place in the bar okay. He hated all of it but he knew he was somehow in some sort of place he belonged. Well before he closed up the bar, a patrolman stopped by and delivered a white Apple box to the bar and set it down. The local cop said nothing, dropping the thin white box gently onto the lacquered wood, and then departing.

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