Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Michael Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. Earlier this year, the Herald concluded chapter-by-chapter publication of his first novel, “Picture Bride,” which chronicled Haru Takayama’s escape from Japan to begin a new life in Hawai‘i as the picture bride wife of Kenji Takayama, a Buddhist priest.
In the second novel, we follow Haru’s and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
“A Question of Loyalty” will be released later this year.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i Georgia and Japan.
PART ONE: DAY OF INFAMY
December 7, 1941 (continued from Oct. 4, 2019)
The breezes of Püowaina, the “hill of sacrifice” that the locals referred to simply as “Punchbowl,” swept scents of plumeria blossoms through the open kitchen louvers of the FBI director’s home. The sun sparkled off of the dew clinging to the lime-hued banana tree leaves hanging over the back porch.
Inside, a young girl hovered over the kitchen stove, keeping one eye trained on the sparrows fluttering beneath the bird feeder’s deep-slanted roof, which was designed to keep out curious pigeons. Her almost-dry hair shimmered all the way to her shoulders and her Jane Wyman bangs bounced against her forehead when she walked fast, as she often did. Her marigold-colored dress caressed her calves and the double-stitched hem of her sleeves reached halfway to her elbows.
“Sue” — Sachiko Takayama — Haru and Kenji Takayama’s youngest child, hummed Glen Miller’s latest hit, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” as she dropped another egg into the sizzling bacon drippings in the frying pan. She had already placed the pot of hot Kona coffee on the dining room table, which she had set for three the night before. Next on the table was a colorful bowl of mango slices and pineapple chunks.
The 20-year-old university student had lived with Robert and Corrine Shivers as their au pair for two years, ever since Robert had arrived in Honolulu to head the newly opened FBI office in the fall of 1939. Sue was just about to start her freshman year at the University of Hawai‘i at the time. Although she was not privy to Shivers’ FBI work, from her early days living with the Shivers family, she knew that the United States government planned to intern Japanese community leaders when the expected war with Japan began. Her eldest brother, Takeshi — “Taka” — worked for the committee that had been formed to prevent mass internment in the event of war. Still, Sue was unaware of her role in the internment plans debate preceding Pearl Harbor. Her dinnertime conversations with the Shivers had never touched on Mr. Shivers’ work or political topics.
“You being just an ordinary American teenager can make a huge impact,” the politically astute Taka once told her. She had smiled, certain that her brother’s flattery lacked credibility and was based on fanciful notions. She was an au pair for a family that loved her — what did that have to do with world politics and war?
While Robert Shivers never talked about the possibility of internment with Sue, her presence in his home had impacted him so fundamentally that he had recast his mission. He had arrived in Honolulu to open the FBI office and prepare for mass internment of Hawai‘i’s Japanese community if war broke out. Then he had met Sue, whom he had reluctantly taken on as a temporary au pair as a courtesy to Charles Hemenway, chairman of the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents and Hawai‘i’s former attorney general.
“Many of our community leaders find it convenient to have a live-in student, someone to help with light housework,” Hemenway had explained. “In turn, it helps students afford college.”
“Just until you find a permanent home for her, Charles,” Shivers tactfully succumbed. With no children of their own to attend to, what help did they need washing the dishes?
Within weeks of Sue’s arrival, however, they realized that while they didn’t need help with the housework, Sue was like the child they were never able to have. Shivers knew it bothered many in the white community when he introduced Sue as his daughter. But no daughter was ever more loved than Sue.
On Sue’s second day at their home, Robert had wandered into the living room and found Sue absorbed in the Pacific Liner, his wife’s favorite Hollywood magazine.
“I see that you and Corrine have the same interests,” said Shivers, sitting down across from Sue. He had been waiting for an opportunity to question her. His plan was for Sue to be gone in a week and Shivers could not pass up on this opportunity to learn about the loyalty and intentions of Japanese people.
“Who’s your favorite movie star?” he asked, his FBI instincts kicking in.
Sue tensed at her first one-on-one conversation with the serious-faced Shivers.
“Clark Gable. But I like Errol Flynn, too.”
“So, you don’t go to Japanese movies?”
A perplexed expression had washed over Sue’s face. “I can’t speak Japanese very well,” she said, feeling a bit guilty. Trying to recover, she blurted out, “I went once with my mother, on my 10th birthday, but I fell asleep.”
“So, your mother goes to Japanese movies?”
“Sometimes. But not so much anymore. Mother likes Ronald Reagan. She thinks he’s handsome. But when he speaks, you can tell he’s just memorized the lines. He’s not very believable,” Sue opined.
Remembering her mother’s admonishment that a polite lady shows interest in others, Sue bravely asked, “Who is your favorite movie star?”
Shivers’ G-man instincts urged him to snap back that he was the one who asked the questions, but he resisted. He could not help but smile as the names rolled out of his mouth. “James Cagney and Bette Davis.”
As Sue caught a glimpse of Shivers’ teeth, she was reminded of his wife’s welcoming remarks: “Now you just ignore Mr. Shivers’ severe face; it took me months before I ever saw his teeth.”
Her voice still a little tight, Sue asked, “Have you seen ‘Dark Victory’? It’s playing downtown now.”
“Actually, Mrs. Shivers and I saw ‘Dark Victory’ in Washington, just before we left.”
Shivers abandoned his interrogation persona and went on at length about how he’d enjoyed Bette Davis’ portrayal of a vacuous socialite suffering from a malignant brain tumor. He gazed at Sue’s expectant eyes and reminded himself of why he had asked Corrine to give him some time with the new houseguest before dinner.
“Did you go to a Japanese language school?”
Sue’s lips turned down, telegraphing unhappy memories.
“Yes, my father runs one of those schools. We — that is, my brothers and sister and I — we hated it once we got to junior high school.”
Trained to ignore such protests from hundreds of suspects he had interviewed, Shivers continued. “What did you learn at your father’s school?”
“I can write my name in kanji and read simple signs over Japanese shops in our neighborhood. Father taught us Confucius’ golden rule: Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself. Respect the elders; take good care of them. Honor our teachers. Bathe twice a day. Wash your hands after you . . .” She blushed.
Shivers locked onto Sue’s eyes. “What do you think of the Emperor . . . Hirohito?”
“He likes horses.”
Shivers’ face betrayed his confusion.
Seeing his reaction, Sue hurried to explain. “I don’t know much about him. But we have his picture in our home. He’s sitting on a white horse.”
Sensing that did not sound quite right, she rushed on. “His picture is right next to President Roosevelt’s, who is sitting in a car. I think this shows America is more modern.” Her voice rose at the end of her sentence, making it sound more like a question.
“But, Japan has modernized very quickly. You must be very proud to be Japanese.”
Sue snapped her shoulders back. “I am not Japanese!” She placed her right hand over her upper chest. “I am an American!” Leaning forward, she pressed her fingers harder. “I’m proud to be an American, Mr. Shivers.”
In the days immediately after that conversation, which had challenged his very purpose in Hawai‘i, Shivers studied the Asian faces he passed on his drive to the office each day and thought of Sue: the Hollywood movie star posters on her bedroom walls; her worries about applying just the right amount of Elizabeth Arden makeup; her fascination with the log cabin tale of Abe Lincoln, a favorite story of his during his own school days.
To be continued . . .