Mahu Men

an excerpt



I Know What You Did


Dark clouds were massing over Tantalus as I responded to the discovery of a murder victim at the Vybe, a gay club on University Avenue in the Mo'ili'ili neighborhood of Honolulu, near the Manoa campus of the University of Hawai'i. But it was sunny on the H1 highway, and I wasn't worried that rain would damage the crime scene. Our island is composed of microclimates, and if you don't like the weather where you are, just drive a few minutes away. It will change.

What does not change is that people commit murders. I am a homicide detective, and that means there will always be a job for me. A few months before, after six years on the force, I came out of the closet, the first openly gay police detective in Honolulu. I'd been to the Vybe before, for the Sunday afternoon tea dance. My friend Gunter liked the Vybe's outdoor patio area, which had a good dance floor, a couple of bars and a stage. If I hadn't been on duty, I might have been at the club myself, dancing and having a good time.

When I pulled up across from the club, I spoke to the first cop on the scene, a middle-aged Chinese guy named Frank Sit. We shook hands, and then he nodded toward the corpse. "911 got an anonymous call, reporting a man injured in the parking lot here."

Sit had already cordoned off the immediate area around the body, and called for backup to help us conduct a search. "Looks like a bashing," he said. "Poor guy was coming out of the bar, and somebody came along and started whaling on him."

I kneeled down to examine the body. He was a haole, or white male, in his early thirties, lying face down on the ground. He had been beaten extensively around the head and upper body. Head wounds are often big bleeders, and this case was no exception. Blood had pooled around the man's head, running in a single stream down toward the curb. His skull had been fractured, but there was no brain matter exposed, a small favor for which I was grateful.

I took a couple of pictures with my digital camera, memorializing the scene and the way the body had been found. Then I stepped aside to let the medical examiner's guys do their work.

Four uniforms showed up to help search the immediate area for the weapon. "Look for any kind of blunt object, or anything that looks like blood drippings. We can get the crime scene techs to spray with luminol if we can't find anything else."

They walked off, and I looked toward the small crowd of men in short shorts and tank tops who clustered just beyond the crime scene tape, speaking in low tones to each other. Most of them were in their early twenties, probably students at UH.

It was just after six, and the tropical sun was turning the sky orange as it began its descent over Sand Island and the Ke'ehi Lagoon. The air was heavy with humidity, exhaust from the highway, and the faint scent of plumeria blossoms coming from a discarded lei on the ground nearby.

"My name is Kimo Kanapa'aka, and I'm a homicide detective," I said, to the crowd at large. "I assure you I'm going to do everything possible to find out what happened here this evening." I pulled out my pad and pen. "Any of you know the victim?"

A muscular guy in his late thirties, with a brush cut and combat boots, said, "I danced with him but I never got his name."

A slim Japanese guy said, "His name was Jimmy. He was here every Sunday."

I worked my way through the crowd, one by one. No one could recall any incidents involving the victim, no one claimed to know him well, and nobody remembered seeing him leave. The crowd had been sparse at the tea dance, and the rest of the businesses in the area were closed on Sunday evening, so no one had seen anything outside.

By then, the medical examiner was finished with the body, and I pulled on a pair of plastic gloves and knelt down. I carefully turned the body over. The victim was wearing a silver chain with a St. Christopher's medal on it, and a couple of silver rings. One of them was in the shape of a snake, wrapping around his right index finger. I found his wallet in his front pocket and extracted it.

There was $18 still in it, along with his identification: James Fremantle, 31, a Waikiki resident. So his assault wasn't a robbery, which lent more credence to the idea of a gay bashing. Since I had come out, I'd started paying closer attention to crimes against gay men and lesbians, and I'd noted that gay bashings were on the rise—just a few days before, a couple of teenagers from Aiea had been caught in Waikiki, punching a gay man who they said had made advances toward them, and that was by no means an isolated incident.

I stood up and told the ME's team that they could take the body away. Then I walked inside the Vybe. It was decorated in Pan-Asian neon, all paper umbrellas, earthenware ashtrays embossed with ideographs, and electric signs like those in Tokyo's Ginza.

The bartender, a blonde woman with a bouffant, told me Fremantle was a regular, and that afternoon she had served him a couple of Cosmopolitans. Her name was Peg, and she'd been working at the tea dance since opening. Fremantle wasn't one of the first to arrive, but she knew he'd been there at least two hours.

Within about fifteen minutes, I'd spoken to anyone who had anything to contribute, and I walked back outside. Sit called me over; he had found a bloody baseball bat in a dumpster down the alley from the club.

The bat was brand-new, and though I couldn't see any fingerprints, there were several smudges in the blood consistent with a perpetrator who used plastic gloves. "Something here doesn't seem right," I said to Frank. "The new bat, the gloves. That sounds like premeditation."

"Bashing's an impulse crime, in my experience," he said.

"Mine, too." Usually a bunch of guys got liquored up and went out looking for trouble. Sometimes they found prostitutes, and sometimes they got into traffic accidents or other minor scrapes. And sometimes they found some innocent gay guy, by himself or with a friend, and they used their fists and whatever debris they found handy. Buying a new baseball bat and a pair of gloves didn't fit.

I spread some newspapers on the floor of my truck and gingerly placed the bat there. The last thing you want to do with something that's wet and bloody is put it into a plastic bag and seal it up, particularly in a hot, humid climate like ours. You do that, and very soon you get bacterial growth that wipes out any DNA evidence.

Then Sit and I walked the parking lot, looking at the position of the building, the cars, the street light. "At this point, I don't want to assume that Fremantle was the victim," I said. "We don't know if the killer targeted him, or he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time."

I looked around. "If Fremantle was a target, then the killer needed a place he could stay out of sight, but with a good view to who came out of the club."

The Vybe fronted on University, with an alley on one side. Across the alley was the back door of a photocopy place where no one would notice you, and yet you'd have a clear line of sight. Sit and I searched the immediate area around the back door, finding a couple of fresh Juicy Fruit gum wrappers, which I placed in an evidence bag.

It was dark by then. I pulled out my cell phone and got Fremantle's number from directory assistance. When I called, I discovered he had a roommate, who said he'd be home for the next hour.

Waikiki is gay headquarters for Honolulu and the island of O'ahu. Most of the gay bars are there, and the hotels and stores cater to gay tourists. I lived there, along with lots of other gay men, particularly those who have been in the islands only a few years, and who work in some kind of service industry. Waiters, store clerks, personal trainers and hotel employees live two, three or four to an apartment in the towers and rundown low-rises between Ala Moana and the Ala Wai canal. More affluent or educated gay people, such as businessmen, teachers and so on, tend to live a little farther out in the suburbs, but they still come to Waikiki for a social life.

Fremantle had lived in a high rise on Kalakaua, about two blocks from its intersection with Ala Moana. From my days as a detective in Waikiki, I knew that the area was busy, noisy, and moderately unsafe. There were drug deals regularly at the convenience store, and the tricky confluence of streets made for a lot of minor traffic accidents. I had trouble finding a parking spot and ended up walking four blocks.

When he answered the door, Fremantle's roommate wore only a pair of white Calvin Klein briefs. He was a queeny boy in his early twenties, with pouffed up blonde hair that came to a stylized point above his forehead. He was waifishly thin, but his arms and legs were muscular.

"You're the gay cop!" he said, when he saw me. "Oh, darling, I'm so excited." Before I could react, he leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. His breath tasted sweet and somehow familiar. "Oh, now I can say I kissed the gay cop!" He danced backwards a little, leading me into a living room furnished with Salvation Army castoffs. Dirty clothes littered the tattered sofa, and were strewn over the no-color carpet and a couple of dubious-looking chairs. A big old TV squatted in one corner, one of the talk show hosts encouraging some poor soul to bare his problems.

The boy, whose name was Larry Wollinsky, sprawled on the sofa, knocking a jumble of shorts and T-shirts to the floor. "Come sit by me," he said, patting a place on the sofa next to him. "I'm just crushed by all this, you know."

I sat in an armchair across from him, and he pouted. "Tell me about James Fremantle," I said. "Was he your lover?"

Larry laughed. "Jimmy? My God, no. Although," he leaned forward, "there was this one time, after a volleyball game at Queen's Surf, when we were both so horny. I mean, you know what that's like, you just have to do something about it. But no, we were just roommates."

Queen's Surf was the gay beach; I'd been there myself a few times, but had not yet joined in a volleyball game. "Not friends?"

"Not really. Jimmy was kind of a loser. He didn't have a lot of friends."

I learned that Jimmy Fremantle was from Nebraska, employed in store merchandising, what I'd be tempted to call window dressing. He'd worked his way west doing that: Lincoln, then Denver, then San Francisco. He'd come to Honolulu about two years before, working first as a clerk at Liberty House, then moving up to merchandising again once the chain was bought out by Macy's. Wollinsky gave me Fremantle's boss's name and the store phone number.

"So he kept to himself?" I asked. "You said before he didn't have many friends."

"Not for want of trying," Larry said. "You've got to give the boy credit, though. He was out there all the time. He caught every strip night at every club. He'd be at Fusion one night, then Trixx, then the Rod and Reel Club, then Windows, then Michelangelo." He leaned forward like he was confiding a secret to me. "He even started country and western line dancing. I mean, really!"

"Can you tell me some other people he knew?"

He gave me a couple of names and phone numbers. "I swear, it's not safe to go out anywhere without a police escort." He leaned back on the sofa and casually moved his three-piece set from one side to the other through his Calvins. "How about you, detective? Would you like to escort me to a club some night?"

I ignored the overture. "You have any problems with him?" I asked. "Any reason why you might want to see him dead?"

Wollinsky shook his head. "Like I said, I wasn't exactly his best friend, but I didn't hate him."

"Know anybody who did?"

"I'm sure people got annoyed with him—he was an annoying kind of guy."

"Where were you this afternoon?"

"Here. Asleep. A boy's got to get his beauty rest, you know."

"I appreciate your help," I said, standing up. "If we need any more information, an officer will be in touch with you."

Larry Wollinsky stood up and trailed me to the door. "At least he had his fifteen minutes in the spotlight."

"You mean getting killed?"

"No, silly, being on TV. He was on The Shirley Ku Show last week."

I turned around and nodded him back toward the sofa. "Tell me about The Shirley Ku Show."

"Only if you sit next to me."

I sat. He looked at me and I scooted over a bit, so my left leg was next to his right one, close enough that I could feel heat rising from it. His skin was as smooth as a baby's. "Talk," I said.

Shirley Ku was a Chinese-American woman with a trash talk show in the middle of the afternoon on KVOL, the island-based station my older brother Lui manages.

"You never know what she's going to do," Larry said. "I'm like a total Shirley Ku addict. I work nights, I'm a dancer, so I watch her every day. Jimmy was sick one week, a cold or something, and he was home with me, watching. They announce ideas they have for future shows, and they ask you to write in if you want to be on. One day she said they were going to do a show on "I know what you did." They wanted people who had secrets about other people to come on and tell them. On TV. Can you believe it?"

I believed it, and I had a sinking feeling that I knew what was coming. Larry shifted next to me, resting one pale hand on my thigh. Through the khaki I felt my skin tingle.

Gently, I lifted his hand off. "What did Jimmy know?"

"There's this guy he used to work with at Liberty House," Larry said. "The guy was like, totally homophobic. He used to make jokes about fags, Jimmy said. He was mean." His gaze drifted for a minute. "Poor Jimmy. I guess nobody was really as nice to him as he deserved."

I spoke gently. "What did Jimmy know about him?"

"Jimmy was at the store late one night, changing a display, and he went back to a storeroom to get something. He saw this guy, Vince, giving a blow job to another guy." He smiled. "Vince quit the next day and Jimmy didn't know what happened to him. But just before he caught that cold, he saw Vince working at a store somewhere."

I shifted my leg from Larry's. "And that's what he did? He went on this Shirley Ku show and said he'd seen Vince giving this guy a blow job?"

Larry nodded. "But it was more than that. They'd tricked Vince into coming on the show, too, and they kept him in a soundproof booth while Jimmy told his story. Then they brought Vince out, and when they told him what happened, he looked like his world had fallen apart."

I knew what that felt like; I'd been outed in the press while investigating a murder case. I sympathized with Vince, but at the same time I could see a motive for murder forming.

"You know where I can reach Vince?"

Larry shook his head. "But The Shirley Ku Show, I'm sure they know where to find him."

I stood up, and Larry stood with me. "You think Vince killed him?"

"I'm going to find out." I stopped at a framed picture of Jimmy and Larry. They both looked happy. "Can I borrow this? I might need to show Jimmy's face around."

"Sure." He picked it up and handed it to me, and then walked me to the door. "Jimmy was just my roommate. Like I said, we weren't really friends. But I miss him already."

"You'll find another roommate." I took his hand in both of mine. "Think good thoughts about Jimmy."

Since I was already in Waikiki and it was the end of my shift, I called in a brief report and went home. The next afternoon when I got to my desk I found the autopsy report on Jimmy Fremantle. He was dead by the second or third blow to his head. The rest had just been insurance. It was sounding like somebody had a real beef with him.

I called Fremantle's boss, and the couple of friends whose names Larry Wollinsky had given me. No one knew anyone who had a grudge against Jimmy, or any reason to dislike him. I started to get a picture of Jimmy and the lonely life he must have led.

A production assistant on The Shirley Ku Show told me that the show was about to go on, for its daily four p.m. live broadcast. "But I can get you in with Shirley at five, when she comes off," he said. The studio was just a couple of blocks down from headquarters on South Beretania and it was a gorgeous fall afternoon, sunny and crisp, so I walked over there.

I showed my badge at the door and was allowed to slip into the back of the audience, where I caught the last half hour of The Shirley Ku Show. The guests were caregivers who had sex with their elderly patients. The audience laughed loudest when an elderly lady commented on the size of her beefy male nurse's member. She was a frail little thing with white hair pulled up like Pebbles and tied with a pink bow. "I been around the block a few times, and let me tell you, he's got a big one," she said. I was afraid for a minute that Shirley was going to ask him to prove it.

The other two patients were both elderly men cared for by young, attractive women. One said she had to use a vacuum pump to help her patient perform, and the other said she sat on her patient's face so that he could lick her. The audience roared and Shirley Ku made a few funny comments.

Shirley was a tiny woman, barely five feet tall, with a thousand-megawatt smile. There was a small step that the camera never showed that helped her get up onto the barstool where she sat, her legs demurely crossed, while her guests revealed their innermost secrets.

When the show was over, the retirees, middle-aged women and teenagers in the audience filed out and I went backstage. A grip pointed me down the hall to a door that had Shirley Ku's picture in the center of a big red star.

She was sitting at a counter taking off her makeup when I walked in. Just beyond her was what I could only call a shrine to Connie Chung-- a life-sized cutout, and dozens of candid and posed photos of the former network newswoman. "You like Connie?" Shirley asked when she saw where I was looking. "Shirley Ku is her biggest fan. Someday, Shirley is going to be a big star, just like Connie."

"I wanted to talk to you about a show you did recently," I said. "It was called I know what you did."

"Good show. What about it?"

I explained that Jimmy Fremantle had been killed, and that I wanted to know more about his appearance. "It may be related to his death."

Shirley looked stunned. "We had four guests on that day. A mother confronted her teenaged daughter about having sex. A clerk at a lingerie store downtown identified a man who admitted to shoplifting lace panties there. Jimmy Fremantle was the third guest. The last was a woman who revealed that her sister had an abortion when she was a teenager." She continued taking off her makeup. "The sister is married to Councilman Yamanaka," she continued. "You know, the one who makes such a fuss about Christian values."

She looked back at me. "Great ratings for that one. And you know something, the next day Councilman Yamanaka resigned from the anti-abortion group he chaired and it fell apart." She stood up and walked to a Japanese screen painted with a silver egret standing amidst green reeds. At the edge she stopped and said, "So you see, Shirley Ku does some good things, too."

She stepped behind the screen and began changing her clothes. "Tell me about Jimmy Fremantle," I said.

"I guess you know the basic story," she said from behind the screen. "We brought the other guy in saying someone had a secret crush on him." She stuck her head around the screen. "I think that was a little true." She disappeared again. "We kept him in a soundproof room while the audience heard Jimmy's story. We got hold of his personnel record from Liberty House, which showed he quit the day after Jimmy saw him. Then we brought him out."

She emerged from behind the screen wearing a sleeveless white blouse and a pair of pink shorts. "He wasn't happy, but he didn't go crazy either. He admitted he'd done it-- you know, had sex with that other guy in the storage room. He said, "So I did it. So what?" And then we cut to commercial. We came back to Councilman Yamanaka's sister-in-law."

"Do you have a last name and an address for Vince?" I asked.

"My assistant will get it for you. I'm sure we had him sign a waiver before he went on the air." She paused. "Anything else?"

"How about a copy of the tape? I'd like to see it for myself."

"You never saw it? How'd you know to ask about it?"

"Fremantle's roommate, Larry Wollinsky. He told me about it."

"Wollinsky? He was Jimmy Fremantle's roommate?" She looked like she was ready to spit.

"You know him?"

"He submits ideas for the show every week. Dozens. Stupid ideas. He's a drag queen, you know? He does Edith Piaf. Who wants to see Edith Piaf in Hawai'i? He's not even very good. We finally had him audition for one of our makeup tips shows. He was terrible!"

I thanked her, and she found her assistant, who copied the episode onto a DVD and gave me an address for Vince Gaudenzi in Mo'ili'ili. "I think he works at that big bookstore in the Ward Warehouse," she said. "You might be able to catch him there."

"Thanks." I walked back to headquarters and retrieved my truck from the garage. I drove over to the Ward Warehouse, fighting the rush hour snarl, and found Vince Gaudenzi behind the bookstore's information counter. I showed him my badge and asked if there was somewhere private we could talk.