I am getting close to having my book ready to sell. Here’s a teaser- Chapter 1!
Take My Hand
Steve took the office stairs two at a time on this early, bright Hawaiian morning. As usual, he was first to arrive, and as he went about the task of preparing the coffee, he mentally planned his day: paperwork, running down leads on a few cases, following up on some interviews.
Dazzling sunlight from one of a half dozen floor-to-ceiling windows played across his face as he strode to his teakwood desk. A gold Cross pen in a holder, a gift from the governor, was centered at the front. The blotter held a small pile of files, corners aligned perfectly. Crossing the fifteen feet from his door to his desk, his attention was captured by a boy curled up on the couch, his face to the wall as he nestled on his arm, the thin chest rising and falling in rhythmic sleep, and Steve tripped a step in shock. The logic and order drilled into the former Commander at the Naval Academy in Annapolis then kicked in. Glancing at the windows and doors, he noticed they were untouched, with no evidence of breaking and entering. Scanning the room, he was sure that all appeared as it had been left the night before. How did that kid get in here? Who was he? Why was he here?
With steel blue eyes drawn back to the child, Steve cocked his head to the side. The boy’s sandy hair was shaggy, definitely in need of a haircut, but not greasy or stringy. Dark circles under his eyes and a slender, gaunt face painted an uncomfortable picture. The old and shabby but clean clothes had splatters of faded stains; some rips had been patched with crude repair jobs. Well, he’s not a rich kid, nor properly taken care of. Scrawny, thin.
Steve moved to the sofa and bent over the boy, about to shake him awake, when the shoes caught his eye. His hand returned to his side. The boy’s worn sneakers were placed neatly, side by side, on the floor near the couch. The lad had the courtesy to remove them before settling himself onto the sofa. Not just kicking them off, but precisely lining them up. Impressed by this tiny detail- perhaps that was the subconscious motivation that made Steve change his mind. He stood up straight, deciding to let the small intruder sleep instead of rousing him to get answers to questions. As he backed away, Steve noticed holes worn in the heels of threadbare socks.
Moving on auto-pilot to his desk chair, his mind worked on this puzzle. A shudder ran through his entire body, as he struggled to identify the emotions and feelings surging through him. There was something, in his subconscious, a fleeting, not-uncomfortable sensation which didn’t annoy Steve, nor upset him; it just was. Could the boy be related to someone I know? One of the staff? The child of a friend or acquaintance?
He shook his head as memories of his own childhood began to bubble to the surface; his stomach growled, surprising him. Was that true hunger, or a memory of hunger? I’m not hungry — I just ate an hour ago.
Knees drawn to chest, his free arm hugging himself, the boy was scrunched up. A shiver gripped Steve. My office is warm, why am I chilled? He pushed down the thought that the cold was a memory.
From the closet, Steve retrieved a blanket he kept handy for the occasional long nights when he worked ‘til the wee hours and slept there instead of heading home. He gently draped the coverlet over his uninvited guest.
This boy, whom he had never seen before, had gotten into his locked office. I’m not upset or angry. Why not? At each window and door, he ran his long fingers along the surfaces, checking the locks for scratches or any sign of illegal entry. Nothing. He moved out onto the second floor balcony – everything was as it should be — no dirt on the tiles, no broken vines where someone might have climbed up. He clenched his jaw and furrowed his eyebrows. A small boy sleeping on his office couch at 6:30 a.m. didn’t fit in his ordered world. What am I supposed to do now? Why does all this remind me of my childhood? Nah….it doesn’t, really. Or does it?
Unable to contain his curiosity, he got up and walked over to the couch again, intending to awaken and question the boy. As he reached to jostle him awake he stopped, hand in midair. A memory of himself as a child came unbidden into his consciousness. He had been woken harshly from a sound slumber, startled and terrified, by a drunken father. Steve studied the small peaceful face in front of him; no wrinkled brow or tension visible. No, I’ll let him sleep.
After sitting five minutes with his fingers templed to form a triangle, Steve blocked out the word QUIET on a simple sign and taped the sheet of paper to the outside of his office door. At his secretary’s desk, he put a similar one, telling Lisa no calls, no paging, and he didn’t want his phone to ring.
Something about this child was touching him deeply, bringing up emotions foreign to Steve – protectiveness, sympathy, paternal concern, and ones he had trouble identifying. The paperwork he had intended to tackle remained untouched. His gaze kept heading back to the couch to study the lad. A pale complexion, protruding cheek bones, stick-thin arms indicated he hadn’t been well fed. I’ll have to get some food into him. What else was there? Aloneness?
The hairs on the back of Steve’s neck stood on end. For a second an image flashed through his mind. A small boy lying scared and alone on a thin mattress in a shabby farmhouse, late — well past midnight– tired and trying to sleep, but with ears perked, listening and waiting for the father to come home. He would hope and pray the man wouldn’t be drunk, but rather exhausted and wanting to fall into bed. Or else too boozed up to be aware of anything and pass out. Steve pushed the image away.
The outer office door creaked open and the cheerful whistle of Marco reached his ears as his second-in-command entered; Steve smiled. He had met Marco in Korea during the war and recruited the man seven years his junior shortly after he opened his business. Hawaiians would call their relationship a kaikaina/ aikane bond. Big brother/ little brother. Steve and Marco, along with the rest of the office staff, were ohana — family. A strong connection existed amongst them all, though in particular between these two. More than once they had saved each other’s lives. With no wife and his only sister living far away in California, Marco was the sole person whom Steve trusted without reserve. No secrets from him.
The tune Marco whistled reminded Steve of a day years earlier when he sat in the audience as Marco got his master’s degree. The younger man, holding his magna cum laude award, at 5’ 8”, was the shortest of the group posing for pictures. The woman sitting in front of Steve elbowed her companion, “Who is that kid? He looks all of about fourteen.”
“Oh, he’s Marc Atkins. Actually, he’s twenty-two, really smart. I think he won third place at the North Shore Sunset Beach Semi-Annual Surfing Competition for amateurs last month. He dated Annie Hopkins — you know how finicky she is about guys.”
That was Marco — intelligent, athletic, popular with the ladies. Steve grinned as he figured Marco was probably thinking of his date the night before and imagined the stunned expression that would be on his face as he would spot the unusual sign taped to the office door. Sure enough, a head appeared around the heavy koa wood frame. Steve motioned him in, a finger to his lips indicating silence. Marco saw the sleeping boy and, with a slight tilt of his chin, turned his gaze towards his friend and boss, who shrugged and quietly apprised Marco of what little he knew. Surprised that Steve hadn’t done much, in a low voice he said, “Steve, why don’t you just wake him up and ask him?”
“No, Marco, let him rest. Look at him, he’s beat. He needs to sleep.” Steve pointed to the phone. “Order in a couple of big breakfasts; milk, eggs, toast — the works.”
A half hour later the child began to murmur and awaken. Steve went to the couch, crouched down, smiling, and stayed a few feet away so as to not appear threatening in any way.
The boy bolted upright, eyes wide open and focused, going in an instant from the disorientation of slumber to instant alertness.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.”
As he relaxed his rigid posture slightly, the boy said, “Good morning, sir. Mr. O’Shaughnessy?”
Alerted by the voices, Marco entered and stood by the office door.
“Yes. And you are?” Steve asked in a kind voice.
The boy hesitated. “Tommy.”
“Tommy, are you hungry? Marco got two big breakfasts. Usually we share, but he didn’t realize I had already eaten this morning. You take mine; the food will go to waste otherwise.”
Marco’s wondering about me, why I’m not laying into him about breaking into my office. About why I’m giving him breakfast. Steve nodded, and the associate brought the trays in and set them on the coffee table. Another slight nod from Steve indicated to Marco to chow down. Willingly, he complied.
“Mr. O’Shaughnessy, I need to tell you something. It’s important!”
Steve shook his head. “No, Tommy, breakfast first. Whatever it is can wait.”
Tommy surveyed the tray of food, his gaze going from the huge meal to Steve and back again.
His lip quivered slightly as his teeth bit the inside flesh. He sighed and fidgeted. Steve’s mouth was closed in a thin line, and his arms were crossed over his chest as he sensed the internal battle warring within the boy’s mind.
A few tears pooled in the Tommy’s eyes as he mumbled, “Mr. O’Shaughnessy, I have no money to buy this.”
Steve’s heart practically broke. “No one asked you to, Tommy.” Why does he think he has to pay for this?
Tommy maintained eye contact, those tears almost brimming over.
And the boy obeyed. He didn’t exactly devour the food, which would have been impolite, but ate heartily. Steve smiled as Marco, deducing some of the underlying story, rubbed his stomach. “Here, Tommy, I’m done, finish mine, too.”
The two adults made small talk as the child ate. They asked nothing of Tommy, and he didn’t offer any comments. And Steve watched him, observing, the feeling in the center of his soul was getting stronger. A kind of electricity was spreading out from his core, zipping through every nerve ending, heightening his senses and intuition. Almost like some sort of connection – bond — something way beyond an ordinary association. Just floating on the edge of his consciousness, but powerfully strong in his subconscious.
The penetrating scrutiny from Marco’s ocean blue eyes reached deep into Steve’s. “Steve, you okay?”
“Hmmmm… yeah, Marco… there’s something… I don’t know what… but yeah… I’m fine.”
Tommy finished his feast and wiped his mouth. “Thank you.”
Sitting up straight, Steve considered how best to get the answers he needed. In a gentle tone, he began. “Tommy, how’d you get in here?”
“The vent window on the lanai was open. I climbed up the outside to the veranda and came in that way. Popped the screen off and squeezed in.”
That opening measured about eight by ten inches. Geez, could he actually have wedged himself through such a small hole? “Where are your parents?”
For a long minute Tommy stared down at the floor. Then he met Steve’s eyes directly. “I don’t have any.”
Steve studied him. This boy had courage. The tall man knew from experience that many people found him intimidating with his powerful eyes, piercing gaze, and hard chiseled jaw, although he often didn’t intend to be. Tommy looked at him frankly, without fear. The lad’s movements — and words — were slow and deliberate. There was an economy of movement in his motions and a simple directness in his statements. The child, who in many ways seemed more like an adult, saw through wary eyes that picked up everything. All this impressed the detective.
Steve let the answer pass. “Why are you here?”
“That’s what I tried to tell you earlier, Mr. O’Shaughnessy. There is something you need to be aware of, it’s extremely important. This afternoon at two pm a series of six bombs will go off in the basement of the governor’s office to assassinate him. He has a meeting then, so they know he will be in the building. They don’t care who gets killed.”
Steve interrupted, “Whoa, wait a minute. … Who is going to do this, how did you get this information?”
As Tommy supplied answers, he reported verbatim. “Last night at two am I overheard four men in an alley behind Anders Street, near the Emporium. Tony Alika and another man were making the arrangements with two others, a Sanderson and someone else. They detailed their plan to Alika. I think the other guy with Alika was a bodyguard; he didn’t say anything. They are going to go into the government office building this morning at nine am, into the basement, disguised as electrical repairmen and plant six plastic explosive bombs, one on each steel support column, set to go off simultaneously, bringing the whole building down.”
Steve’s mind spun. This is way too far-fetched. How does he know Alika? Six bombs? Kid’s got to be lying. He ran through all the reasons he could think of why a small boy would be in an alley at two am. None of them good. The way this kid talks is all wrong — way too advanced and mature for someone of his age. Pinning him down with one thing at a time, Steve asked, “Tommy, what were you doing in an alley at two am?”
“Mr. O’Shaughnessy, why I was there isn’t important. I was behind a dumpster.”
“Did they notice you? Were you hiding?”
“No, they did not spot me. When I heard them I made sure I stayed quiet and out of sight. But I was close enough to listen and hear everything.”
Tommy relayed things with minute detail. He got the color of Alika’s and Sanderson’s cars, their makes, models, license numbers, and the fact that one had a cracked taillight all correct. He described each man including complete descriptions of facial features and clothing. It’s like he’s an adult in a child’s body. Maybe he’s some kind of midget or dwarf.
“Tommy, you seem to remember lots of things here. I don’t understand.” The kid has to be making some or all of this up, a nice story. Yet many pieces fit. Alika did have a scar across his neck. Alika did go around with a bodyguard who fit Tommy’s description. But it was almost as if Tommy had been “programmed” and was replaying some movie.
Steve could tell Tommy was exasperated as he shook his head. The boy sighed, got up from the couch and walked around the large office, looked at things, and returned to the sofa. Steve and Marco regarded each other, questions in their eyes. Tommy limped slightly. He sat down, shut his eyes and proceeded to describe in exact minute detail Steve’s office. All the way to “And your associate is wearing a tan suit with a yellow and blue print tie. His left coat pocket flap is tucked in instead of out. He has a one-inch scuff mark on the outside of his right shoe by the heel. On his left hand, middle finger, there’s a gold class ring, with a ruby-red stone on it.”
Steve was aware his own wide eyes and stunned expression mirrored Marco’s perplexed countenance as they followed the descriptions, ascertaining the accuracy of Tommy’s recital.
Even with his eyes closed, Tommy knew what their reaction was he had experienced it before in people when he remembered things so clearly. “Test me.”
“What’s on the wall to the left of the door, a framed item, third from the bottom?”
“An award from Hawaii Police Department: To Steven O’Shaughnessy of O’Shaughnessy Investigations in recognition of duty and service above and beyond the ordinary. March 1, 1963.”
“How many masts and sails on the ship on the shelf?”
“Three, a tall one in the center, and two smaller ones. Plus a crow’s nest at the top of each and coat-of-arms insignias on the sails.”
Three more rounds of this, then Tommy opened his eyes. “Mr. O’Shaughnessy, I never figured out why, but I can remember almost perfectly things I see. Like a picture is painted in my head, a snapshot in my mind and I can recall all the details. Over 99 percent of what I see. The same with what I hear. That’s not quite as good, but I still can remember perfectly over 95 percent. That is why I can tell you all this stuff about Alika and the bombs.”
Steve believed him — he had to — the kid had just demonstrated his amazing ability. Knowledge about people with photographic memories was not new to him, but he’d never met anyone in person who had one. I’ll bet this boy has tested himself somehow, knows how good he is at this.
Steve asked, “Tommy, why didn’t you find a police officer and tell him?”
Tommy sat, hands in his lap, chin resting on his chest, eyes downcast, looking very much like a lost little ten year old boy. “C’mon, Mr. O’Shaughnessy. You think they’d listen to me, a dirty street kid? With that kind of story? If I could finally convince them my report was true, by then, the assassination attempt would be done and over. History. I read in the newspaper that your company provides security for the governor, and decided you’d be the one who most needed to be informed. I hoped I could convince you. I’m sorry I broke into your office, but I didn’t take anything, didn’t steal anything, and didn’t touch anything.”
This kid is smart.
Steve started his private investigation firm, O’Shaughnessy Investigations, after his military service, about the same time Hawaii became a state in 1959. In the five years he had been operating, he had expanded to both consulting as well as providing security for people, companies and events. The company was highly successful and Steve intentionally kept the business small and family-like, choosing the cases he wanted. One of which was a contract to provide personal protection for the governor.
As Steve grabbed his jacket and stepped toward the door to investigate this crime in the making, he stopped suddenly and glanced over his shoulder. What about Tommy? “Tommy, will you stay here, in my office, until we get back?”
He didn’t want this kid getting away.
Tommy shrugged, “Okay.”
Several hours later, after Hawaii Police Department- HPD- had found and defused the bombs, and reports had been filled out, Steve and Marco headed back to the office.
On the way he voiced his confused thoughts aloud to his aikane. “What is it about that kid? Who is he? What is it with him??? Is it just me, or do you ‘sense’ something, too?”
“Steve, I don’t know what it is, but there is something between you two. I don’t feel anything myself, but I can through you, in you. And I think Tommy does, too.”
Shaking his head, seeking hard and pat answers, Steve wasn’t going to let this puzzle lie. He liked his world black and white. “What is it? It’s like some connection. What? Marco, I’ve never felt anything like this before. You and I, we’re like brothers, we’re close. This is not the same; something different from what we have, but something just as powerful.”
Looking sideways at his friend, he added, “Almost supernatural.”