Children of Noah

an excerpt

1 - With a Bang

My first day on assignment to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force started with a bang on a sunny Wednesday morning in March. I had just turned onto Enterprise Avenue in Kapolei, a few blocks from my new office, when a pavement-striping machine slammed into the side of the minivan in front of me.

To my right was a strip mall under construction, of the kind that my father once built all over O'ahu. The machine, a bright red contraption with a paint brush attached to the side, had slid down the gently sloped driveway, leaving a broad yellow stripe in its wake.

The minivan came to an abrupt halt, and I hit my brakes and veered off onto the shoulder. A workman came running from the center's parking lot, yelling and waving his arms. As he rushed to the stopped minivan, I used the police radio mounted on the dashboard of my Jeep to report the accident.

Traffic moved slowly in both directions as people leaned out of their windows to gawk. The minivan's sliding passenger door had been smashed in, so the family inside had to climb out through the front door like clowns from a Volkswagen Bug.

The workman, a skinny Filipino in T-shirt, board shorts and rubber slippers, what mainlanders call flip-flops, apologized profusely to the people as they spilled out. I counted eight of them, from a wizened old Chinese woman the size of a hobbit to a bunch of keikis-little kids.

I waited for a break in traffic and then hurried across to the minivan. "I'm Detective Kanapa'aka, HPD," I said, holding up my police badge. "Is anyone hurt?"

The driver, a thirty-something gangly haole, or white guy, with sandy blond hair said, "Looks like the only one injured was the van." I told him to put his flashers on, then I led the family over to the sidewalk and out of danger from careless drivers.

"I so sorry! So sorry!" the Filipino man kept repeating.

While we waited for a police cruiser to arrive, the driver introduced himself, as well as his Chinese wife, his mother-in-law, and his sister-in-law, who was Thai. Some of the kids were his, some his nieces and nephews. His family reminded me of my own, a mix of cultures and skin tones. My parents had passed down haole, Japanese and Hawaiian strains to my brothers and me; my partner Mike was half-Italian and half Korean; and our foster son, Dakota, was one hundred percent Italian-American. Mike and I had donated sperm to a lesbian couple who were our close friends, and our keikis were a beautiful mix.

I wanted to get to work, but I didn't want to leave the accident scene until I was relieved. It gave me a couple of minutes to think about my new assignment to the Bureau, and what it might mean to me and those around me.

When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a professional surfer, and I gave it my best shot. When I finally realized I couldn't hack it, I shifted gears and went to the police academy. I began as a foot patrolman in Waikiki, worked my butt off, passed the sergeant's exam, and earned the coveted assignment of homicide detective.

I had worked for HPD my whole adult life, and though I'd still be on their payroll, I'd be taking marching orders from the Feds. Mike and my boss at HPD thought the assignment to the JTTF would help control my impulsiveness. My family had mixed emotions, from deriding government bureaucracy to wondering if I could still fix speeding tickets.

My own emotions were mixed as well, but my gut had told me that it was the right move. It was time to shake things up, put myself in an unfamiliar environment and meet new challenges. It was scary, but in a good way.

From where I stood, I could see the four-story office building that housed the Bureau, sheathed in glass and marble. Ray and I had come out to Kapolei occasionally when we had to liaise with agents, but I'd never been beyond the lobby, a conference room, and a couple of offices. It was strange to think that I'd be working there, instead of at police headquarters in downtown Honolulu.

A cruiser arrived, with a patrol officer I didn't know, and once I explained to her what I'd witnessed and gave her my contact information, I continued down Enterprise Avenue to my new job.

The building's lobby was impressive, with a somber display of FBI agents killed in the line of duty. The receptionist checked my name on a list then called a woman from HR, who met me in the lobby and escorted me back to her office. I signed a ream of paperwork, and she said, "Welcome to the FBI. Detective Donne arrived a few minutes ago so he should be in your new office. Room 313."

I took the elevator to the third floor and wandered past a warren of offices, searching for room 313. Some detective you are. Can't even find your own office. Eventually I did though, and Ray was sitting behind one desk, trying to log in on his new computer. "Howzit, brah," I said. I slung my backpack of personal items onto the other desk.

"We have new passwords for this system," he said. "But no one has bothered to tell us what they are."

Ray is a couple of inches shorter than my six-one, his hair is wavy brown and mine straight black, and he's stockier than I am. But he's my brother from another mother; we'd worked together since his arrival in the islands and we had developed that ability to read each other's thoughts and finish each other's sentences. He had a year-old son, and he thought we'd both be serving our keikis best in the relative safety of riding a desk instead of chasing down killers.

I looked around the plain, white-walled office, with two desks, a plush chair for each of us and a pair of metal chairs for visitors. Ray had put up a picture of his wife and their baby son and hung a big photograph of his hometown of Philadelphia on the wall. "Making yourself at home already," I said. It reminded me of my first day at the University of California in Santa Cruz, when my roommate had gotten there first, staked out the best bed, and spread his crap over half the room.

As Ray tried rebooting his computer, I turned on the desktop machine that had been provided for me. While I waited for it to boot up, I sorted through a box on the desk. Among other things, I found business cards with the address, phone number and fax number of the FBI office, a bulletproof vest and a windbreaker with FBI on the back.

The phone on Ray's desk rang. "How are we supposed to answer here?" he asked. Downtown, protocol called for title, last name, division - Detective Kanapa'aka, Homicide.

I shrugged, and he picked up the phone. "Detective Donne." He listened for a moment, then hung up. "Salinas wants to see us in his office ASAP."

Ray and I had liaised several times with Special Agent Francisco Salinas in the course of homicide investigations, and he had chosen Ray and me for his team when the previous pair of detectives rotated back to HPD. When his request first came through to us, via our boss, I was skeptical. Why would Salinas want us? We'd clashed with him every time we worked together. Eventually, in conversations with him and others, Ray and I realized that those clashes had led Salinas to respect our intelligence and our dedication. That was a pretty big ego boost.

I stood up. "Did Salinas say what it's about?" I asked. "Just a welcome to the Bureau?"

Ray shrugged. "You know him. He's a Fed. He never tells you more than you need to know. But he sounded pretty intense."

In our dealings with Salinas, he'd treated us as worker ants, who only needed to know our specific tasks. I wondered if things would change now that we were on his team.

"At least we know where his office is," I said. Though as we walked there, I realized we'd only come in previously through the guest entrance, and had limited access to the building. We passed a lot of men and women in serious dark suits and a bunch of more casually dressed staffers in cubicles as we threaded our way through halls and past meeting rooms.

I'd been willing to give up my khakis for dress slacks and my aloha shirts for button-downs-but I had drawn the line at wearing ties on assignment to the FBI. Ray was happy to follow my lead.

Francisco Salinas was on the phone, his back to the floor-to-ceiling window that faced out toward the Pacific, but he waved us in. He was a Cuban-American from Miami, with skin the color of light coffee and black hair cut military-short. He wore conservatively tailored dark suits, starched white shirts and ties with the FBI seal. Today his suit jacket rested over the back of his chair as he spoke into the phone. "I can assure you, Senator, that we'll take these threats very seriously. I'm going to put two of my best agents on it."

Ray and I sat in the plush armchairs across from Salinas's desk and I looked around. The walls were hung with citations and awards, interspersed with photographs of him with the director of the Bureau, the governor of Hawai'i, and other hotshots. A silver-framed photo of a very pretty dark-haired woman and two cute kids was the only personal touch.

That, and a bright purple stress ball Salinas was squeezing in his fist as he tried to end the conversation.

The process of vetting us for the JTTF had taken nearly a year. Even though Ray and I already had security clearance, agents had spoken to our family and friends about us. We'd been subjected to a battery of examinations like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test, and had to take extensive physicals. We'd passed every one of them. I wondered how high Salinas had scored on stress.

When he hung up, he said, "That was Senator Haberman. You know him?"

"Not personally," I said. I quickly ran through what I knew of Ronald Haberman in my head. He had been elected the previous year to his first term in Washington. Prior to that he'd been a lawyer in Honolulu. Though I'd dealt with his firm a few times, I'd never run into him.

"I know his wife," Ray said, which surprised me.

"Really?" Salinas asked. "How?"

"When my wife was in the Island Studies program at UH, she got involved with a group that taught kids about the multicultural heritage of the islands. Susantee was one of the other volunteers, and I've run into her at a couple of events."

"I believe she's using the name Susan now," Salinas said. "At least that's what the campaign literature says."

Ray nodded. "She's half haole, half Indonesian," he said. "She was born there, but raised here. Beautiful woman."

"What's this about?" I asked Salinas.

"Yesterday evening, the Habermans' teenage daughter Jessica was walking home from a friend's house a few blocks away when someone in a rusty pickup truck threw a water balloon at her. In addition to the water inside, there was some white latex paint. She ended up spattered with paint, but she wasn't hurt."

"Did she see who was in the truck?" Ray asked.

"The truck slowed as it passed her and she said she got a good look at a teenage boy in the passenger seat. He's the one who threw the balloon. She thought a girl was driving the truck but she couldn't be sure. She didn't recognize either of them, and she wasn't able to get a license plate number."

"That's miserable," I said. "Poor girl."

"Then this morning, a threatening letter arrived at the Haberman home in Wailupe," Salinas continued. "Slipped under the security gate. The family received another letter about a week ago, but Mrs. Haberman threw it away in disgust. This second one is more threatening, and both the Senator and his wife are understandably upset."

"Threatening in what way?" I asked.

"From what he told me, it sounds like a pretty generic rant against mixed-race couples and families, with some warning of divine retribution thrown in. They're afraid that it's tied to the attack on their daughter."

"Anything sent to the Senator's office, either here in Hawai'i or in DC?" Ray asked.

Salinas shook his head. "The envelope had no postage, but it did list each family member's full name typed above the address. Their phone is unlisted, and they don't advertise their address anywhere, but you know as well as I do that not much is secret these days. It seems clear that whoever sent them this letter was saying 'we know who you are and where you live,' which is enough to get Mrs. Haberman upset."

He pushed a piece of paper toward us with an address and a phone number. "Here's their information. I want you to meet with Mrs. Haberman and see what you can find out. Take a print kit with you so you can get prints from her and anyone else who might have touched the envelope or the letter so we can rule them out."

"This kind of thing falls under the JTTF?" Ray asked. "Doesn't sound much like terrorism."

"If it's a hate crime, then we investigate," Salinas said. "I handle whatever the Special Agent in Charge passes on to me, and as the saying goes, the shit runs downhill. You're my newest staffers and you don't have anything on your plate yet, so the honor goes to you."

So much for being the "best agents" he'd mentioned to the Senator.

He handed us a pair of badge cases. I flipped mine open to see the distinctive FBI shield, surmounted by an eagle. The Lady Justice was in the center, between the letters U and S, holding her scales and a sword. I think that's when it became real to me, that I was no longer just an HPD detective; I was running with the big dogs.

"Welcome to the FBI gentlemen," Salinas said. We all stood, and he shook our hands. "You'll be on your own with this case, though as necessary you can bring in other members of the team to help. You work for the Bureau now, not HPD, and you should keep that in mind as you look for information and interview witnesses."

When Ray and I got back to our office, we found that someone had left post-it notes on each of our computers with temporary logins and passwords.

"This is creepy," I said, as I sat down. "You think someone is monitoring our conversations? They heard that we needed the passwords and provided them?"

"Let's not get too paranoid on our first day," Ray said. "Probably just a secretary who realized we didn't have them."

"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean I don't have reason to be," I said.