Mahu Blood
by Neil Plakcy

an excerpt

In the Kingdom of Hawai'i

The alarm went off at six, and my boyfriend Mike rolled over and mashed the snooze button, then yawned and looked at me. "Morning, sunshine," he said.

I pulled the pillow halfway over my head and said, "I'm going back to sleep."

He stood, scratched his balls, then grabbed the covers from around my neck, snatching them down. I was left laying there on the mattress, naked and cranky.

"Come on, Kimo, get up. You've got to get in the shower and get your uniform on."

"Just say no to polyester." I held up my fingers in the shape of a cross.

It was Hawai'i Statehood Day, the third Friday in August, and every available officer and detective had been pressed into duty along the route of a parade sponsored by a group called Kingdom of Hawai'i. They believed that the takeover of the islands by the United States in 1893 was illegal, and agitated for independence and the return of the Hawaiian monarchy.

My partner, Ray Donne, and I had been assigned to duty at the Iolani Palace, the last home of Queen Lili'uokalani, where she was kept under house arrest following her overthrow. The department wanted to make a show of power, so uniforms were required, even from those of us who worked in plainclothes.

I dragged my sorry ass out of bed and into the shower. While I was in there, Mike came into the bathroom, still naked, and stood over the toilet, pissing noisily. I love Mike, and I find his naked body very sexy-but I wish he'd pee in private. He's an only child and doesn't understand the concept of personal space that you learn when you grow up with two older brothers.

He flushed the toilet, which caused a cascade of frigid water to stream out of the showerhead. "Oops, sorry," he said, when I yelped. "I always forget the shower does that when I flush."

I opened the shower door and grabbed for him with soapy hands.

"It's a work day," he said. "Go on, finish your shower so I can get in there."

A half hour later, I was dressed and ready to head out, while he stood in the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, brushing his teeth after his shower. "I'm going," I said.

"Gimme a kiss." He puckered up, toothpaste foaming.

I leaned in, but at the last minute dropped my head and nibbled at one of his nipples. He yelped and pushed me away.

"Watch out. I could pull you in for assault on a uniformed officer."

"There's only one letter difference between uniformed and uninformed."

I flipped a vintage Hapa disk in the CD player of my Jeep and headed to police headquarters downtown to the gentle rhythm of Barry Flanagan's ukulele and the smooth tenor of Keli'i Kaneali'i. I found Ray, and we joined dozens other officers for a ride over to the Iolani Palace in O'ahu District School buses. The mood in our bus was light-hearted, as if we were a bunch of kids on a field trip.

I knew a lot of the men and women on the bus with us, and though we joked around together, some of them didn't like the fact that I am gay or that Ray was a pretty recent mainland transplant who'd jumped into a detective slot, based on his experience in Philadelphia, without spending time on the streets of Honolulu. We got along with the detectives and uniformed officers we worked with, but in big groups of cops, I think we were both a little uneasy.

The ride passed without incident, though, and Ray and I took up our position on South King Street, about a block from the palace. We were supposed to stand there as the parade went by and be on hand in case any trouble erupted.

Kingdom of Hawai'i, or KOH, had promoted this march to the palace from the Aloha Tower, on the harbor about three blocks away. The group, one of many which advocated greater autonomy and a return to traditional rule, appeared to have a lot of money, especially for advertising.

There had been rumors that there would be violence at some point. No one was clear on who would be responsible. Would it be KOH? Or a group opposed to them? And what form would that violence take?

Despite the lack of information, the police department took the threats seriously, and the streets between the Aloha Tower and the Iolani Palace were lined with uniformed cops.

My mother had gotten interested in KOH because her grandchildren were an ethnic mix, and she wanted to protect their rights under whatever new laws were enacted. She had formidable organizational skills, honed by managing a strong-willed husband and a household of three boisterous sons, and she had helped out with several smaller rallies over the past few months.

I meant to call her the night before to see if she would be marching but got caught up in processing a guy who killed his girlfriend with a buzz saw, so chatting with my mom slipped my mind.

Ray and I found some shade under a tall, broad-branched kiawe tree, and by ten a.m., the first vanguard of the parade reached us. A marching band from Kapalama High, one of the Kamehameha Schools for native Hawaiians, led things off, with the state song, Hawai'i Pono'i. They were followed by a group of musicians who chanted, banged drums and shook rattles. Male and female hula dancers in full regalia danced in front of a convertible carrying Ezekiel KapuńĀiwa, a man who claimed to be a direct descendant of the royal family. His red and yellow feathered cape fluttered in the light breeze as he waved like a beauty queen.

The parade went on for blocks. A convertible passed, blasting Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's sweet, light tenor. I spotted my mother, wearing a bright red holoku, a sort of formal mu'umu'u, walking with my two of my nephews, both wearing aloha shirts and shorts, with kukui nut leis. We waved at each other.

I had a momentary pang of regret as I watched them. My mother was so proud of her grandsons, who were fifteen and thirteen, and they both looked so handsome marching beside her. Even though gay men and women are having children in record numbers, I didn't think I would. That meant I'd never see my own son walking beside her or my father. I felt my eyes getting moist, and I looked up to the sky so that no one would notice.

As I did, I saw a bright flash from the roof of a building across the street from us. Then three shots erupted under the blare of the music, one right after the other, as if from a semi-automatic weapon. The screams began as the last shot reverberated in the humid air, which smelled of plumeria blossom leis and automobile exhaust.

I reacted instinctively, checking to make sure there was no gunman on the street. The crowd erupted in chaos, so I couldn't have seen a shooter if he'd been a hundred yards away.

My mother and my nephews were about half a block ahead. I hurtled toward them, Ray right behind me, as my mother pushed back toward me with the boys. "You OK?" I asked when I reached them.

"Everybody's all right." My mother's face was flushed, and she was out of breath. A couple of strands of her black bouffant had come loose and were plastered against her forehead.

The boys' eyes were wide with fear, and I didn't blame them. The street looked like a scene from a disaster movie, people screaming and pushing. Ray took my mother by the arm, and I pulled the boys close to me. We started down the block toward a building with a low roof stretching over a plaza.

My mother already had her cell phone out, calling my father. "I'm fine, Al. The boys, too. Kimo's right here." Her voice shook, which meant to me that she wasn't all that fine, but she's a strong woman and I knew she'd bounce back.

I heard my father shouting as she held the phone away from her. "I'll come home as soon as the streets clear out," she said, when he paused to take a breath. "I want to stay away from the crowd."

She listened and then handed the phone to me.

"Yes, Dad, Mom's fine. The boys are good, too. They're not little kids, you know. They're young men. They won't let anything happen to their tutu." I winked at my nephews as I spoke, and I saw Keoni, the younger, wipe his eyes with the back of his hand. Both of them stood up straighter.

I slapped the phone closed and gave it back to my mother. "You've got the right idea, Mom. Stay here a while. Where's your car?"

"At the garage by the Aloha Tower," Jeffrey said. He had just gotten his learner's permit and was already memorizing every street and turn. "I know how to get back there."

"Good. I'm counting on you and your brother to look after your tutu, okay?"

They both nodded. "Jeffrey, you're in charge. Keoni, you're second in command. But you both listen to whatever your tutu says."

My mother's cell rang as we reached the building, where a crowd had already gathered in the wide lobby. "It's Liliha," she said, looking at the display. My oldest brother's wife and Keoni and Jeffrey's mother, Liliha was a helicopter mom, hovering over everything her kids did.

I took the phone from her and flipped it open. "Hi, Lili. Everybody's fine. The boys were very brave. I'm proud of them. Mom'll get them home as soon as the streets clear. I've gotta go, though. Love you."

I flipped the phone closed before my sister-in-law could get a word in. My mother looked relieved, and my nephews laughed as I turned the phone off and handed it back to my mother.

"Gotta get back to work, Mom." I leaned down and kissed her cheek and pulled the two boys in for hugs. "You guys stay in here until the police have the area under control."

Ray and I walked back out to South King Street, where people pushed and shoved, children cried and a woman screamed and clutched her arms around her chest. Uniformed cops struggled to gain control, but no one was paying them much attention.

The sun blazed around us, and heat rose up from the city street in shimmering waves. "I think I saw something, on the roof of that building over there," I said to Ray, pointing at a six-story office a block away, back near where we'd been standing. "I want to check it out."

"Right behind you, partner."

We maneuvered our way to the building where I'd seen the flash. A Korean security guard stood in the doorway, trying to organize the swarm that sought shelter in the building. One of the benefits of wearing a uniform is that you never have to show a badge to prove who you are; the crowd parted as Ray and I squeezed into the jammed lobby.

Elderly women in mu'umu'us and young men in tank tops talked and argued and called family members on cell phones. Men and women in business suits and young moms pushing strollers blocked the elevators, so Ray and I entered the stairwell and started climbing.

"If there was somebody up there, he's long gone," Ray said, from behind me.

"Yeah, but maybe he left something behind. Or maybe I'm seeing things."

"Always a possibility."

When we reached the sixth floor, we stopped in front of the door to the roof to catch our breath and listen. We couldn't hear anybody outside, just a murmur of crowd noise from below.

I drew my gun and tapped the door open. Hearing no response outside, I swung it wide and stepped out into a shooting stance. We could see most of the flat roof and the short parapet that wrapped around it, but there were a couple of air handlers that someone could hide behind, so we split up and crept around each one.

It was sweltering up there, without a hint of breeze, and the sweat dripped down my back, gathering under my arms and pooling around my waist. I felt foolish-but better to be a living fool than a dead hero.

Within a couple of minutes, we had established that the roof was empty. "If you were going to shoot at the crowd from up here, where would you set up?" Ray asked.

I pointed to the South King Street side of the building. "Over there, I guess."

We walked across the single-ply membrane roof, feeling our feet settle slightly into the sun-softened material. It didn't look like anyone had been up there, and I was about to admit that it had been a trick of light when I glanced down at the ornamental cornice above the front entrance.

It stuck out from the building a foot or so, with a flat part on the top. Shining up at me in the morning light was a round piece of bronze-colored metal. It was hard to tell without field glasses, but I thought it was a spent rifle casing.

"Down there," I said, pointing. "What's that look like to you?"

"Looks like we need a crime scene team out here."

As I was about to make the call, my radio crackled, and dispatch notified us that we'd been assigned to a homicide. From our vantage point, I realized that the crime scene we'd been called to was right in front of us. A few hundred feet away I saw a body laid out on the street, two uniforms standing guard over it.

My problems had gotten a lot bigger than a sweaty polyester uniform.