EXTINCTION EVENT - JAMES C. CLAR
“When’s the last time you were up here, Jake?” Detective Ray Kanahele asked his partner as the two paused briefly to wipe their sweating faces and take a few sips of water. They stood at the base of a worn, steel staircase spiraling up fifty-two steps to the third level of the former Fire Control station atop Diamond Head State Monument. It had taken them just a little under an hour to reach this point; a point neither man had anticipated being asked to reach at all when they began their shift earlier in the morning.
“All the way to the top? I guess sometime back in the late ’80s when I was in the Army.” Jake Higa did a few light stretching exercises. The climb hadn’t really been all that arduous, but he wanted to give his well-built but much heavier and more sedentary friend a few extra minutes of rest.
“We were here on maneuvers or some nonsense that passed for maneuvers. I don’t really remember. All I recall is that it was hot. But that was the point, I think. There’s some special, semi-arid microclimate inside the crater here. Kind of like what they have on the Kona side of the Big Island and in spots on Maui. Easier to bring us here, though, I guess.”
“Yeah, well,” Kanahele sighed, “I need this shit like I need another hole in my head. Maile just bought me this shirt. It’s a Reyn-Spooner. Wait till she sees it.” Where the once crisp fabric of the red and yellow Aloha print garment wasn't pasted to his broad chest, it hung in limp, sweat-stained folds. Its parrot, palm tree and sailboat pattern was all but unrecognizable. The policeman opened the top two buttons and began briskly billowing the shirt by its lapels. The energy he thereby expended seemed only to make him more uncomfortable.
“Last time for me was, maybe, in 1990 with the Boy Scouts. We did this whole coastal artillery field trip thing. The place was packed with visitors. I remember seeing a tour group of Japanese. We laughed our asses off. Some of them were dressed like they were ready to climb Mt. Fuji. Others, the women especially, wore dresses, skirts and designer sandals. It was a regular freak show. That was back when the economy was booming. We ended up down in Waikiki at the Army Museum. The climb didn’t bother me much back then. But I was what, twelve or thirteen? Shit. I’m pau. Getting old’s a real bitch.”
Higa, seven years older than his partner, but in much better shape, smiled without further comment.
Today, too, the park had been crowded with visitors. The trail to the summit had, however, been cleared of non-official personnel. All the civilians had been herded together near the Information Center on the crater floor and were being interviewed.
Higa and Kanahele had, as usual, drawn the short straw. They were therefore obliged to huff and puff their way up the 1.3 km path to the top. Originally built in 1908 for mule traffic, the route had changed little in the century since. Along the way, they encountered only park rangers and uniformed HPD officers combing through the kiawe and koa haole that dominated the brush along the flanks and on the inside of Hawaii’s most famous landmark. The concrete and natural lava rock that surrounded them where they now stood all but muffled the locust-like drone of the helicopter that circled in the cloudless sky overhead.
The two men trudged their way up the metal stairs and entered a low-roofed concrete bunker. “I always hated this part,” Kanahele muttered as he ducked down and maneuvered his large frame out onto the path that traversed the seaward or makai side of the summit slope. “I hope this mother’s as extinct as they claim it is.” Higa joined him a second or two later.
Both men paused briefly to take in the majestic view. Virtually the entire expanse of Oahu’s iconic southern coastline, from Waianae all the way to Koko Head, was spread out at their feet. The Pacific herself was a riot of ever-changing colors in the shimmering sunlight...turquoise near shore, teal further out and a blue so deep it seemed fathomless beyond the reef. It was easy to see why Diamond Head, or Le’ahi, as the Hawaiians called it, was such an integral part of the island’s coastal defense during World War II.
Kanahele ran his hands over the crumbling rock and concrete that had once provided camouflage for the observation equipment and gun emplacements.
“Let’s go see what this is all about, Ray.”
The detectives walked along a short path, which switch-backed up the outside of the cone. They mounted yet more steps and, ultimately, found themselves on the summit. Directly below, the snaking ribbon of Diamond Head Road and the bright white tower and red dome of the Diamond Head lighthouse were visible.
Once on the observation platform itself, Higa and Kanahele were met by a uniformed HPD officer.
“Glad you’re here, detectives,” the policeman said by way of greeting.
Higa noted the man’s name tag: Nahinu. Officer Nahinu reached over and offered his arm to an attractive older woman with gray hair. She was dressed smartly in Capri pants, a beige blouse and walking shoes. The woman rose from the concrete bench where she had been sitting. “This is Ms. Mary Emmerling, the lady whose father has gone missing.”
“Ms. Emmerling, I’m Detective Higa. This is my partner, Detective Kanahele. Can you tell us what happened? Officer Nahinu says that your father is missing?”
As fit as the Emmerling woman looked, Higa estimated her age at sixty-five or seventy. If he was right about that, the woman’s father had to be in his late eighties or early nineties. Assuming the old man had made the hike up here in the first place. If he was lost out there in the brush some place, in this heat, he’d be a goner by now for sure. From the look on Ray’s face, it seemed to Higa that his friend had been running the same calculation.
“That’s right. He was with me right up to the time I stopped to have a drink of water at the little scenic lookout area just before you have to climb all those dreadful stairs.”
“We stopped there on the way up, Jake.” Kanahele interrupted. “We talked with the rangers who were searching the area.”
“Right. Go on, Ms. Emmerling.”
“Well, I set my backpack down, had some water. When I stood up, my father was gone. Someone must have taken him. It’s the only explanation.”
“You think your father was, like, abducted?” Kanahele asked incredulously.
“I suppose you could say that, yes. I can’t imagine how it could have happened any other way.”
“Why don’t you sit back down, Ms. Emmerling?” Higa suggested. “Then maybe you can start at the beginning. I have a feeling that we’re missing something here.”
“I’m sorry, detectives, it’s been a long morning and my nerves are shot. Maybe I’m not expressing myself clearly. My father, Larry Emmerling, was stationed here on Oahu during the war. Back in the early forties, that is. He was in the Navy. He had a college degree and so he ‘rode a desk,’ as he put it, working on some cloak-and-dagger intelligence processing or something of that sort. He never spoke much about it. Said he had taken an oath, after all. That was my dad for you, red, white and blue all the way.”
“I’m sure,” Higa urged gently.
“Well, he fell in love with the place, Hawaii, I mean. He and my mother visited here at least twice a year. They knew the island inside and out.
“Then, a few years before her death, my mother became too infirm to travel. By the time she passed, my father, too, had taken a turn for the worse. It was probably the stress of caring for my mom. In any case, he made me promise that I’d bring him back here one last time. What a disaster that’s turned out to be now.”
Mary Emmerling fought back tears. Higa, Kanahele and Nahinu looked at one another in utter confusion. So far, none of the other hikers interviewed even remembered seeing anyone with the Emmerling woman in the first place. What had been a long, hot morning looked now as though it were going to be an even longer, hotter afternoon.
“Let’s go back, can we, to the point where you and your father stopped at the lookout.” Once again, Kanahele was impressed by the way his partner could re-focus an interrogation. “Exactly what happened?”
“I sat down and removed my backpack. I had a few sips of water and admired the view.”
“And what was your father doing?”
“Doing? He wasn’t doing anything. How could he have been? I placed him on the seat next to me and when I turned to pick him back up, he was gone.”
“‘Pick him back up’!” Kanahele blurted. “You carried your father up here? What are you talking about?” The Hawaiian detective turned and glared at Officer Nahinu. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he wanted to say. Didn’t you catch onto the fact that this woman is a mental case? Or have you two been up here smokin’ pakalolo?
Higa placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Take it easy, Ray. We’ll get this sorted out.”
Still, even the normally unflappable Higa was beginning to wonder about this Mary Emmerling. For a woman whose father was in Naval Intelligence, she didn’t seem to have inherited much by way of the old man’s smarts.
“Of course I carried him up here, detectives. He was in my backpack, a dark blue nylon backpack. You see them everywhere. I couldn’t very well carry the urn up here without putting it in something. It would have been too awkward. As it is, I almost lost my footing any number of times on the trail. It’s steep in spots and the surface is uneven.”
Higa and Kanahele looked at one another with an ‘only in Hawaii’ expression as the lights came on in their heads at the same time. Officer Nahinu looked down chagrined.
“Don’t worry, kid” Kanahele soothed. “Your supervisor or someone higher up the chain of command should have figured this out long before now. Besides, I needed the exercise, right? Shit. I’m just glad we didn't call in the Feds. ‘Egg’, we'd have the whole goddamn omelet on our faces.”
“You had your father’s ashes.” Higa posed it now as a statement rather than a question.
“Yes,” Ms. Emmerling replied. “I had him cremated...cremulated, actually. The whole thing only weighed around five pounds. I promised him that I’d scatter his ashes somewhere in Waikiki. What better place than this? It’s taken me a year to make all the arrangements. I thought I had it all figured out.”
“Listen, Jake.” Kanahele took out his phone. “Somebody maybe picked up the wrong backpack. I’ll call down to the Information Center. They can check everyone’s stuff. In all the excitement, the person who took it probably never noticed.”
Ten minutes later, Kanahele’s phone rang. “Ms. Emmerling, they found your father. The only thing that seems to be missing now is the backpack of the folks who mistakenly picked up yours. We’ll let someone else track down that ’buggah.”
“I hate to ask after all the trouble I’ve caused, officers, but can you have him brought back up here for me?”
Higa was about to respond but was cut off uncharacteristically by a wave of Kanahele’s hand.
“I’ve got a better idea. You know who Pele is, right, Ms. Emmerling...the goddess of volcanoes? There’s a legend that says her sister, Hi’iaka, named this place. Well, Hi’iaka is supposed to be able to bring the dead back to life. I don’t know anything about that, but trust me here. Those two old sisters had a thing for ashes. Diamond Head hasn't erupted in, like, 300,000 years or something. This just might be the closest thing to it they’re ever gonna get now.”
Once again, Kanahele spoke into his phone. Higa was afraid to even ask what his stocky partner had in mind. When Ray went native, all hell usually broke loose. He gave the disheveled Hawaiian a “You’re on your own with this now, brah” look.
In what seemed like only a few moments, a Coast Guard Search & Rescue helicopter hovered into view. Safety-orange with white markings like some airborne bird of paradise, it was out over the ocean and just to their right in the direction of Sans Souci Beach.
Holding station, the big chopper tilted quickly once to port then to starboard in greeting. Kanahele pointed a beefy finger skyward. What looked like a puff of smoke emerged from the open bay of the big machine near the winch. The vapor-like material glinted for an instant in the bright tropical sun then was caught in the trade winds and in the wash from the helicopter’s rotors and was gone.
“There you go, Ms. Emmerling. You did just what you promised your father you would...in style, too.”
“I can’t thank you enough, detective. I really can’t.”
“Treat with reverence the elders in your own family,” murmured Higa, “in that way the elders of other families shall be similarly treated.”
“Confucius, right, Jake?”
Higa was shocked that, for once, his partner had been able to correctly identify one of his myriad, obscure quotations.
“Shit. Don’t look so surprised,” Kanahele said. “Hawaiians know a little about how to respect their kapuna, too. Let’s get off this rock. Feels like the damn thing’s starting to cook again after all these years.”
“That was a good thing you did up there today, Ray,” Higa commented quietly as the two tired detectives drove through the Kapahulu Tunnel and turned down the driveway toward Diamond Head Road and Kapiolani Community College.
“Yeah, sure. I’m a real Ambassador of Aloha, alright. But listen, since you’re so impressed, I’m gonna leave it to you to file the report on this one. You can deal with the Health Department and figure out how to explain our ‘reallocation of Coast Guard resources.’”
Kanahale reached over and pointed the air vent toward him. The AC in their vehicle was jacked as high as it could go.
“Anyhow, did I ever tell you that Maile wants to do one of those helicopter tours over on Kauai? Maybe the Na Pali Coast. After today, though, I’m gonna stall her.”
Higa glanced quickly to his right, waiting for the inevitable punchline. Kanahele’s long-suffering wife was known for a lot of things. Patience with her spouse, however, wasn’t one of them.
“After she sees this shirt, she might not wait to have me cremated before she shoves me out of the damn chopper.”
BIO: James C. Clar has published over (100) stories in print as well as on the Internet. His tale, “Starbuck” was voted Story-of-the-Year (2008) by the editors of Long Story, Short and “A Night to Remember” (August 2009) was nominated for a Pushcart by the good folks at Word Catalyst Magazine. “Extinction Event” is the 8th tale featuring the frequently offbeat, quirky investigations of Detectives Higa & Kanahele as they trod the mean, sun-drenched streets and beaches of Waikiki and southeastern Oahu.