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.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
Downtown Honolulu, April 1941
Robert Shivers and Jack Burns waited in a smoke-filled, windowless room marked “Storage” in the basement of the Dillingham Transportation Building. The pride of downtown Honolulu’s love affair with the Italian Renaissance stood at the foot of Bishop Street, across from the city’s bustling piers. The ground-floor facade showed off bas-relief medallions displaying 19th century sailing ships and steamers, an arched arcade and Art Deco motifs. The Mediterranean design suggested a sense of tropical openness, despite the granite building’s fortress-like assurance. Beneath the courtyard of glazed bricks arranged like a ship captain’s compass, the two men waited in their elegant dungeon for their furtive visitors.
* * *
The first time Shivers met Detective Burns, he offered him a job as his number two man.
“I’m flattered, but I just took a demotion from captain of the detective squad to lieutenant in charge of our counterespionage unit. I’m to liaise with the FBI — for which you should read ‘head off the FBI invasion.’”
Burns laughed softly and took a sip of his fourth cup of coffee of the morning.
“What’s your second question?”
Not easily given to humor, even Shivers chuckled at the irony of the situation.
“A welcome like that leads to the next obvious question: Would you like to help me keeps tabs on the Japanese community?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” said Burns. “We know when the FBI comes to town who rules the jungle.”
Between stateside transfers and local hires, Shivers built a cadre of FBI agents and Burns staffed his unit with men well-connected to the Japanese community. Between them, they recruited a stable of informants. Shivers set the priorities and Burns executed the assignments.
* * *
Today in their stale-air hideaway, the two men waited to debrief two informants personally.
A sharp knuckle rap on the metal door interrupted their debate as to whether Bobby Feller threw his fastball a hundred miles an hour. Takeshi stepped into the cellar, trailed by Saki, whose pallor betrayed her nervousness. At Haru’s request, Wai Ching had found her picture bride neighbor employment as a kitchen helper at the Natsunoya Tea House, which offered a stunning view of Pearl Harbor from atop ‘Älewa Heights. When Haru told Takeshi what Saki had seen at the restaurant, he asked her to relay the story to Burns and Shivers. The Japanese sense of giri, meaning “obligation,” left her with no choice but to accept Takeshi’s invitation. She asked that the meeting be held in secret.
“If my boss knew what I was doing, he’d fire me,” she said.
Saki wore her best kimono, the colorful one reserved for the emperor’s birthday festival. She bowed. Shivers and Burns acknowledged her with a respectful nod of their heads.
“Please, Mrs. Suyama, sit down,” invited Shivers.
“Saki-san,” said Burns in his modulated reassuring voice, “we appreciate your coming here today. You are a very brave woman to do so.”
“Why don’t you tell us in Japanese what you saw,” said Takeshi, “and I’ll translate.”
“I work in the kitchen. Cut vegetables and wash dishes. But I am not always inside. I take out the garbage. A couple of months ago, as I took out the garbage, I saw a well-dressed Japanese man standing on the rooftop, looking out at the ocean through our telescope.”
After the translation, Shivers’ eyebrows lifted. “Telescope?” he repeated.
“Yes. Some years ago, Mr. Fujiwara, the owner, put a telescope on the rooftop so customers could enjoy the beautiful view. So when I saw this man, I did not think it was strange. Then a few weeks later, I saw him there again. When I mentioned it to one of my co-workers, she said she had seen him, too. More than once. He would look into the telescope and then write something on a pad of paper. We thought he was just one of those bird watchers.”
Shivers, who had been briefed on the gist of Saki’s tip, pushed a photo album across the table to her. Each page held four photos.
“Saki-san, please look at these pictures. Tell us if you see the man.”
Saki reached for the album and opened it to the first page. The room went silent. On the fourth page, she jabbed a finger at a picture.
Takeshi looked at the typewritten notes under the picture. “Yoshikawa, visa clerk, Oct. 1939.” He glanced up. “A nobody who is somebody.”
Saki looked at Takeshi.
“Arigato,” he said, indicating the meeting was finished. He rose, followed by Saki. The two left the room.
Minutes later, Takeshi returned with “Pug” McCain, the stevedore union chief, so nicknamed because of his youthful prowess in the ring. His blue uniform of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union was starched and pressed. Between the index and middle fingers of his left hand he held a burning stogie.
After making the introductions, Takeshi excused himself. Earlier, he had told Burns and Shivers, “McCain will more likely open up without a Japanese face in the room.” They welcomed the suggestion, one they would have made themselves if he hadn’t volunteered.
McCain offered a meaty hand to Burns and Shivers and then sat down without being asked. He had been Burns’ first recruit since his brother served on the police force.
Two days ago, the cop told Burns his brother had something to report. Burns dropped his cigarette into the dregs of his paper coffee cup. After the “ssss” of the stub had subsided, he got to work.
“Why don’t you tell us what you know . . .”
“Better yet, I can tell you what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears. No hearsay.”
McCain inhaled his cigar while keeping his eyes skewed to its red-glow tip.
“It happened like this: We’re down at Pearl, unloading a Matson ship full of PX supplies. A Navy guy shows up and tells me, ‘I’m from intelligence.’ He’s too good to introduce himself. But I can tell by the epaulets that he’s an ensign. His nametag says ‘Harding.’ Like the president. He demands — not requests — that I send him all the Japs working that day. Ogawa’s the only Japanese in my crew that shift. I find Ogawa, bring him back to my office. The Navy guy’s sitting at my desk, leafing through my files. I couldn’t believe this jerk, but he just looks up at me and says, ‘Intelligence,’ like that gives him some kind of right. I’m pissed, but I don’t want to make a scene.
“He orders Ogawa to sit down and asks whether he sends money back to Japan. Ogawa admits that he does. Like what Jap doesn’t, right? So this ensign tells Ogawa to sign a form verifying he sends money to Japan. That’s it, the guy leaves and Ogawa goes back to work.”
“That doesn’t seem all that out of line. Hardly worth the outrage or our time here,” said Shivers, reprovingly.
“I ain’t finished . . .” McCain snapped back.
“The form is in duplicate, so I get a copy. It’s written in English, so Ogawa didn’t know what it said. But I see the words ‘I support Japan’ on it. I’m troubled by that, but the Navy guy has left the building, so I just file it away.”
Seeing Shivers’ impatient look, McCain adds, “Now I’m getting to the pissed-off part.
“Three days later, Ogawa comes to my office in tears, begging me to lend him a thousand bucks. The Navy guy’s running a scam. He shook down Ogawa for $2,000, saying he signed a paper admitting he was a spy and that he would be arrested and his wife deported. His wife had managed to save a grand over the years, so he needed to find the rest somewhere to pay off this guy.”
“What did you tell him?” asked Shivers.
“I told him I’d get the money. Ogawa’s a hard worker, but an actor he ain’t. If I told him I was going to the FBI, there’s no way he could keep his shit together when the Navy guy came to collect.”
“Smart,” said Burns. “We’ll set up a sting operation and nail the son of a bitch.”
“Any suspicious activity to report?” asked Shivers.
McCain understood “suspicious activity” meant “Japanese suspicious activity.”
“Naw. Most of my Nips sympathize with Japan’s war against the Chinks. Spirits go up when they win a battle. But if war ever breaks out between America and Japan, they’re on our side. Every last one of them. They’re scared. They got their homes and children here. If any of my guys ever saw a Jap spying, they’d tell me quicker than me hitting the floor in my last fight.”
* * *
The next day, Shivers and Burns briefed Navy intelligence on the two meetings. The confident lieutenant took perfunctory notes.
“Not a big surprise,” he said in response to the telescope story. “We have our chaps visit the foreigners’ cemetery on the hill overlooking Yokohama. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Yokosuka Harbor. We count their ships; they count ours. Since we moved the fleet from San Diego to Pearl, there are more ships to count. A good warning to behave themselves.”
“What about the shakedown?” demanded Burns.
“Nasty business. Hard to sort out these . . . situations. Nevertheless, we’ll ship him out. You can have McCain tell the Jap not to worry. The case is settled.”
“That’s it?” The normally unflappable Burns telegraphed his exasperation across the oak table.
“We can hardly undercut the credibility of Navy intelligence over an alleged incident with an alien whose country might attack us, can we.” It was not a question.
The lieutenant snapped his notebook shut, rose and marched from the room.
To be continued . . .