Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Mike Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. Prior to “A Question of Loyalty,” 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 and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
CONTENT WARNING: The following story contains sexual content.
Chapter 53 continued…
A pianist had started banging out “Deep in the Heart of Texas” to the accompaniment of an off-key inebriated chorus.
Several soldiers brushed past the Hawai‘i boys on their way out after the girls clad in pink had given each of them a peck on the cheek. “Y’all hurry back now,” they called out.
Cheap perfume permeated the air. Ditmar tipped his hat at the stout, middle-aged woman dominating the center of the room. She could have been five years on either side of forty.
“Good lord, Chief, did we lose the war?”
The chief roared laughing. The Nisei squad behind him had to smile. They’d heard the slur before, but never so good-naturedly from a woman whose body was so generously displayed.
Kenta’s eyes scanned the room, like Alice coming out of the chute into Wonderland. The ample woman wore a hot pink, sequined dress that kissed her hot pink heels. Pink was everywhere — a pink Kama Sutra tapestry hung on the chartreuse-and-pink walls, and a fresco of naked mermaids swam on the salmon-hued ceiling. Blush-colored upholstery covered the sofas and chairs and a pink veneer covered whatever color the furniture might originally have been. Even the piano and its colored pianist with white hair were dressed in the shade of a rosé wine. He wore a pink tuxedo. Although the working girls’ dresses varied in erotic design, all had been cut from the same bolt of hot-pink fabric.
The chief’s ever-changing demeanor had moved into the realm of geniality. “Boys, this here is Miss Lillian Delight.”
The woman’s lips, caked with hot-pink lipstick, opened wide. “Oh, you fine-lookin’ boys. Welcome to the Pink Palace.”
One of the girls handed the chief a tumbler of whiskey.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” He swallowed the double shot in one gulp and then sent a knowing glance Lillian’s way.
“Well, I best be about the people’s business. Maybe I’ll come by for lunch tomorrow,” he said with a wink and then turned to Kenta. “You boys’ll be right fine. See you don’t cause no trouble, y’hear?”
He left to a chorus of “Yes, sirs.”
Lillian placed her hands on her hips and pushed out her chest. “You hula dancers ever drink pink Champagne?”
The expression on the boys’ faces suggested that she might as well have asked if any of them had been to the moon recently.
Lillian sighed in feigned exasperation. “So many firsts for you boys. Come on, then. Pony up to the bar.” She signaled at the redhead behind the bar adorned in a pink frock with a plunging neckline. “Sadie, pour these boys a flute of bubbly.” Pink, of course.
While Lillian had been performing, her stable of young hopefuls were sidling up to the boys. Each grabbed a hand and led her guy to the bar.
“That drink will cost each of you boys a buck,” said Lillian. She waited for the astonished faces. Got ’em, she thought, smirking.
“Let’s not waste any time at the bar,” said Chuckles, guzzling his Champagne. He banged his glass on the wooden bar — pink, of course — and squeezed his girl’s hand. “Lead on, angel!”
Except for Short Pants and Kenta, the boys pranced upstairs. Kenta nursed his drink while his dick debated with his feelings of guilt.
Short Pants grinned. “Kenta, it’s going to be a long war. She doesn’t really expect you to be a choir boy.”
Kenta finished his drink and half-turned to her. “Let’s go,” he said weakly.
In the room, Kenta’s guilt overwhelmed him. His eyes glanced around the room and saw what he needed. He tiptoed over to the pink floral waste can and threw up in it. He gave the girl a one-dollar tip and rushed downstairs to the bar. He bought his first whiskey to wash away the bitter aftertaste. He owed Angelina a letter, but how could he write her after what he had almost done. He finished his shot of whiskey and ordered a second.
He didn’t notice the slim girl slide onto the bar stool next to him until he felt her hand. He turned to brush it aside and send her away — until he found himself staring at the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She had lustrous black hair, straight bangs to her eyebrows and silky tresses covering her ears and innocent face. Her satiny hair draped low on her back — a style out of fashion and all the more dramatic for it.
“Tell me about Hawai‘i,” she said with a throaty voice.
Kenta muttered something about surfing and palm trees while the girl’s fingers brushed ever so gently over his thighs. Her other hand massaged the back of his neck. She leaned into him. “I’m Natasha,” she whispered. “And you are very cute.” She combed the back of his head with her fingers.
“The second time is so much better.” She grabbed his hand and rose to walk upstairs.
Kenta’s brain maintained control. “I can’t,” his puppy-dog eyes begged.
Natasha let Kenta’s hand drop and sat back down. “Tell me about her.”
Kenta spilled his heart out, surprising himself as he described the first time he and Angelina had made love. All the time, Natasha caressed the back of his neck, tussled his hair and rested a chaste hand on his knee.
Lillian had learned to give Natasha up to ten minutes chat time, understanding the dividend that would be earned later. But now she walked over. “You have a visitor.”
Natasha whispered in Kenta’s ear. “Write your letter. Trust me, women in war know their men give in to loneliness. They don’t want you to tell them who and where, but they understand. Don’t waste guilt on what doesn’t harm anyone.” She touched the side of his face. “Remember me, I’m Natasha,” she said, a hint of forlorn in her throaty voice and then floated away.
Kenta’s eyes followed her as she crossed the room to greet her visitor, regretting that he hadn’t seen her earlier when it mattered. He suddenly realized that his entire squad had returned to the room.
Chuckles pointed to the door. Kenta nodded and jumped up from the stool.
Miss Lillian saw them out. “You big-spendin’ stallions welcome to come back anytime.”
To be continued …