Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Part VII – The Trials
December 6, 1931
Hawai‘i’s cool season blew in from the North Pacific, moving the Japan-Hawai‘i shipping lanes from the shorter northern route to the calmer southern waters. Blustery trade winds twisted palm tree leaves at Ala Moana Beach and snapped off coconuts padded inside with chewy pulp harboring a quart of sweet water. North Shore surfers rejoiced as the height of the waves rose. Beach sunshine and afternoon mountain showers combined to arch rainbows from the slopes of Punchbowl into Honolulu. Christmas tree lights decorated downtown.
On this Sunday afternoon, nervous citizens brought their children to the nativity scene across from Honolulu’s courthouse. As in years past on this racially diverse island, no one seemed to notice the contrast of the swarthy complexion of the Magi kings and shepherds with the milky-white skin of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.
The adults weren’t here for the nativity scene. Their eyes were locked on the imposing Doric-columned structure promising justice and threatening its miscarriage. When would the jury bring a verdict? It had been five days since closing arguments in Hawai‘i’s famous Thalia Massie trial in which five locals — two Japanese and three Hawaiian boys — were accused of raping a white naval officer’s wife. Rumors abounded that the Sunday session meant a verdict was close. The waiting white minority freely mingled with the Hawaiians and Asians. The preschool children of all races giggled and played happily together, oblivious to the drama surrounding them. Their wary older siblings and parents each hoped for a verdict that was just — meaning one that validated their own conclusions weeks ago.
Reporters were weary of staking out the courthouse. They had run out of angles predicting the outcome and demonizing or defending the accused. Minor traffic incidents between those of different races were handled either with exaggerated politeness or quick tempers. Work slowed as employees and employers hashed — and rehashed — the points of the case, for and against. Rumors floated that the jury could not reach a verdict, that fights among jurors had broken out, and that the jury had repeatedly asked the judge for legal clarifications and copies of testimony.
“Look!” a voice bellowed. The nativity scene gawkers followed the direction of the man’s hand, pointing to a haole in a Panama hat, suit and tie running up the steps of the courthouse. Police, who had been milling around the courthouse nonchalantly, grew more alert. Two squad cars arrived, each carrying five additional police officers.
A car radio bellowed from a midnight-blue Cadillac parked at the curb, its passenger door left ajar. A crowd coalesced as the word “verdict” punched the air, followed by phrases such as, “The judge has ordered the defendants to court,” and “Police are ringing the courthouse.”
* * *
Slanted rays from winter’s early sunset streamed through half-open louvers into the office with a high ceiling. Three overhead fans lumbered at their lowest speed. Lawrence Judd, the grandson of the missionary advisor to King Kamehameha III and governor of the U.S. Territory of Hawai‘i since his appointment by President Hoover in July 1929, returned his phone to its cradle. The Massie trial judge had told him that court would convene in 30 minutes. Now 14 people knew the outcome ahead of the public. Judd had told the judge, “A fifteenth needs to know.”
“Agreed,” said the judge.
As he did whenever he was stressed, Judd pinched off his steel-rimmed spectacles, blew hot breath over the lenses and rubbed them clean with his white handkerchief, which he changed daily. He was about to find out whether his thin, boyish face and weak jaw masked the steel backbone needed to handle this developing crisis. Judd put his glasses back on and pushed the intercom buzzer.
“Get Mr. Dillingham on the phone.”
Less than a minute later, he was speaking into the phone. “Walter, we have a problem.” Judd recounted his brief conversation with the judge and then said, “You’d better come on over.” He did not add that he needed help handling the expected vicious blowback from Adm. Yates Stirling, the Southern-born commander of Hawai‘i’s naval forces, who harbored nothing but disdain for the Japanese population — “a brutal race that shares our island, but does not share our civilized values” — and who brooked no doubt about the guilt of the accused.
Taka had stayed home after Sunday brunch and his father’s services. Several dorm mates had come over to play Acey-Deucey. The boys bet pennies that their draw card will fall between the two face-up cards on the table. They were all tuned to the KGU radio broadcast, sharing a local obsession Taka had described as “radio anxiety” in his last University of Hawai‘i newspaper column.
“No one turns off the home radios,” Taka had written. “Every office has at least one radio on low volume, just in case the judge convenes court. Lucky luxury car owners keep their engines running if they are within listening distance of their car radios,” he wrote.
Taka’s thrice-weekly UH newspaper reports telling the Japanese side of the trial had been picked up by Fred Makino’s Hawaii Hochi and had turned into a running battle with the Advertiser’s Andy Pafko. Pafko’s incendiary editorials had inflamed a growing percentage of the white population — eager to be inflamed, eager to have an articulate voice validating their prejudices.
Taka was leaning over the table to pick up a small handful of his Acey-Deucey winnings when a shrill voice broke into the Hawaiian Music Hour. “Breaking news. Breaking news. This just in. In fifty-five minutes, the verdict for five defendants in the Navy wife’s assault case will be announced at the courthouse.”
Taka jumped up. “I gotta go!”
Kenji, who was reading in “Haru’s refuge” — the tatami mat room — rose, as well. He padded into the living room, nodded to the card players and said, “Taka, I’ll start the car.” Unintentionally embarrassing him, he reminded his forgetful son. “Get your notepad and press card and meet me out in front.”
Taka rolled his eyes, patted his shirt pocket and followed his father out the door.
* * *
Thalia’s mother, Grace Fortescue, paced the living/dining room inside her rented cottage in Mänoa. She had drained nearly her fifth martini of the day when the radio’s “breaking news” announcement pierced her fuzzy thoughts. Wiry elegant, she had lost 11 pounds since arriving in Hawai‘i only three weeks earlier, even as Honolulu’s ruling class had feted her. She often wondered how they would treat her if they knew she had to take in boarders in her Washington home to make ends meet.
She threw back what remained of her drink and then addressed the radio announcer. “At last those savages will get what’s coming to them.”
Fortescue grabbed the keys to her rented car and then bustled and tottered down the twisting walkway to the waiting Whippet Sports Roadster. She dropped her keys on the floorboard twice before fumbling them into the ignition.
* * *
Walter Dillingham strutted into Judd’s office. The governor, standing by his wet bar, shook his head. “A hung jury, Walter. The worst of all outcomes.”
“The worst,” Dillingham agreed and continued over to the large window beside the governor’s desk, giving him a view of Kamehameha the Great’s larger than life bronze statue watching over the courthouse. “I wonder what he would do,” he said softly more to himself than to Judd.
Judd poured whiskey into two tumblers. “With a six-to-six vote split between conviction and acquittal, I don’t see a better outcome the next time out. Most likely another hung jury or even an acquittal.”
Hearing the clink of the ice, Dillingham turned and took his drink from Judd. He swirled the amber liquid, but did not drink it.
“Our right to rule, to maintain standards in a community, where we are a minority, has become compromised. The Advertiser, the Navy and that woman have done more damage than those boys.”
* * *
The judge gaveled the crowded courtroom to silence. Fewer white faces than usual looked on from the lower gallery — no maids to stand in line and save places for their employers. Outfitted in a blue, calf-length skirt and a white, long-sleeved blouse, Thalia Massie sat between her mother and Tommy, her husband, dressed in Navy whites. Admiral Stirling sat ramrod straight next to Grace Fortescue. All four haughty faces telegraphed their expected vindication.
Behind them, reporters were gathering in the press box. Taka, in the second row, exchanged glances with Pafko, who was taking his seat in the front row. As usual, the two did not speak to each other.
“Have you reached a verdict?” intoned the judge.
“No, Your Honor,” announced the foreman.
Stunned, Thalia and Grace stared at the foreman. Stirling’s face twisted in disgust.
“With more time, can you reach a verdict?” pressed the judge.
“There is no hope of that, Your Honor.”
Grace Fortescue shot up from her seat. “NO!” she cried and then fainted into Tommy’s arms. Thalia stared at the five defendants, her dark eyes mean with venom. Stirling said not a word, stood up and marched out of the courtroom. His combat-ready face warned he was mapping out an attack to right this absurd injustice. A battle lost is not a war lost, he thought to himself.
Taka broke into a wide smile, almost giddy with exhilaration. His mother had been right. He fought the urge to jump up and shout, “Justice wins!” Instead, he pushed his way out of the press box and joined the melee of shouting reporters looking for quotes on the courthouse steps. He scribbled down a few from the beleaguered jurors and raced to the Hochi office, composing his column in his head as he ran.
* * *
“We need that judge to convene a second trial immediately,” boomed Stirling’s voice, even before he entered Judd’s office. As he stepped inside, he nodded to Dillingham.
“I’ve already talked to the judge,” snapped Judd. “He will order a second trial. But given the split decision, I wonder if we can find twelve jurors who would convict.”
Stirling took a shot glass of whiskey offered by Dillingham and drank it straight down.
Dillingham’s calm voice reasoned, “Those boys probably didn’t do it, Lawrence, but the future of white authority is at stake here.”
“The Japanese and Hawaiian communities would have exploded over a guilty verdict,” said Judd, giving Dillingham an icy stare. “Have you thought about that?”
“That’s why you have a National Guard,” growled Stirling.
Dillingham ignored the admiral’s interruption. “Of course, there’s danger. Haven’t you and I discussed that enough?” He shifted his attention to Stirling. “There is no good way out of this, Admiral. But the worst outcome is for us — the pioneers who took this island from the savages and built it into an American paradise. We will lose the right to govern. We’d be back in grass shacks before you know it. God made the white race to rule and the colored to be ruled.”
Stirling wondered why Dillingham, someone equal to the task, hadn’t been appointed governor. He looked back at Judd and, in his command voice, warned him, “We have twenty-five thousand military on the island. If you need help to squash civil disorder, we will do it with an iron fist.”
“Have them ready, Admiral,” said Dillingham as if he had the authority. Turning to Judd, he added, “Best to call up the National Guard now, Lawrence. A show of force.”
Judd was dumbfounded. He knew he owed his appointment to Dillingham and it would take only a few phone calls for him to be removed from office, but he had kept a lid on a volatile situation, so far. Judd tapped into reserves of political common sense and showed some backbone, giving the two men a steely look.
“You’re right. We need a speedy retrial. Given the verdict, I expect a quiet night.” Looking at the disbelief on the other men’s faces, he added. “The police are out in full force, just in case. We don’t need military intervention.” Then, as an afterthought, he threw the two men a bone. “Not yet . . .”
Dillingham rose. “We’ll see, but let’s go forward with the speedy trial and be prepared to call up the Guard.”
Stirling put his glass on the credenza and followed Dillingham to the door. He turned back to eye Judd.
“Leaders do what they have to do.” His voice left no doubt that he didn’t think Judd was up to the task.
To be continued . . .
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.