Neil S. Plakcy
Back to Work
I parked my battered pick-up at a meter on South Beretania Street, about half a block away from Honolulu Police Headquarters, and sat there with the windows open for a few minutes. Keola Beamer was playing a slack key guitar piece on KTUH, the radio station at the University of Hawai’i, and a light breeze rustled the palm fronds. It was nice to sit there, rather than face what was waiting for me inside.
The pick-up was a hand-me-down from my father, a small-time contractor who supported my mom, my brothers and me by building everything from an addition to somebody’s house to small shopping centers all over the island of O’ahu. He yelled a lot when I was a kid, and let my older brothers pick on me too much, but he and my mom instilled a sense of honor in me, a need to do what’s right. That’s partly why I became a police officer six years ago.
That sense of honor made my coming out so hard. I had to admit, to myself and others, that I had been lying about being gay for so long, and it was even tougher because the media dragged me out of the closet when my sexuality became an issue during a case I investigated. My family had to learn I was gay from a TV report.
They stood by me, though, while I was suspended from the force, and they rejoiced with me when the suspension was voided, and I was offered a new job, in a different district, with the boss I was about to report to.
Keola finished, and the station segued into Keali’i Reichel, who sang, “Every Road Leads Back to You.” I figured that was a good cue to see where my road was going to lead me, so I locked the truck and headed down the sidewalk.
The sour-faced aide manning the metal detector looked like he knew exactly who I was, and he wasn’t happy to see me. I took the elevator up to Lieutenant Sampson’s office, and the two cops already on it stopped talking as soon as I stepped in. Neither said a word to me, and I didn’t say anything to them.
I started to understand what it was going to be like to come back to work again, now that everyone on the island of O’ahu knew who I was.
Though I met Sampson when my suspension was voided and he offered me a transfer to his division, I didn’t know much about him, just that he seemed to be a fair, no-nonsense guy. “Come on in, Kimo, have a seat,” he said, standing up to greet me. “How’ve you been holding up?”
“It hasn’t been easy,” I said, keeping my back stiff as I shook his hand. I looked around as I sat. The furniture was standard-issue HPD, simple and utilitarian. Sampson’s desk was loaded with paperwork and a few framed pictures. A paperweight on a shelf caught my eye; it was a scale model of what looked like a Civil War-era cannon. “Coming out is tough enough when you’re just telling your family and friends. When the media gets involved, and you nearly lose your job, it’s even tougher. But I appreciate your willingness to bring me into your team, and I’m looking forward to getting back to work.”
He sat down across from me. “Good. I’m embarrassed that this department, which I believe in, didn’t treat you right, but I think we can put all that behind us.” I noticed that he was mimicking my posture, staying stiff and serious. Finally, he smiled. “I’m looking forward to having you work for me. So let’s get going.”
I relaxed a bit in the chair, crossing my leg, and he leaned across and dropped an 8 x 10 blowup of a dead man in front of me.
I’ve seen a lot of bodies and I always feel an initial stab in my guts. I think when I stop feeling that I’ll have to turn in my badge. This one was no different. After I blinked and swallowed, I forced myself to look closely at the photo.
I saw a Caucasian male, early twenties, obviously fit. He wore a wetsuit, which meant that he had been either a surfer or diver, and he was spread-eagled on the sand, one arm turned at an awkward angle. Someone had carefully parted his wet, dirty blond hair to show a gaping hole in the right side of his head, but otherwise he looked unharmed.
“Michael Pratt,” Sampson said. “Twenty-two. Born and raised in Absecon, New Jersey. Lived on the North Shore, in Hale’iwa. He’s been using it as his base off and on for the last two years, following surf competitions around the world when he could. He was surfing at Pipeline one morning about five weeks ago, and bang! somebody shot him right off his board. Dozens of people in the water and on the beach, and nobody saw the shooter or even heard the shot. Witnesses said it looked like he fell, and it wasn’t until the body washed up with a bullet hole in the head that anybody thought to look around. By that time, of course, it was too late.”
I took another look at the photo, trying to imagine Pratt on a board. Pipeline was one of the prime surf spots on the North Shore, a unique combination of an extremely shallow coral reef and waves that break close to a soft, sandy beach. It’s the standard by which all tubular waves are measured. When Pipeline waves are six feet and under, they have enough juice to allow you to try any maneuver. But as the waves get taller, you focus simply on the thrill of flying so high and so fast-and then try not to kill yourself when the wave dumps you unceremoniously on the shore, or worse, on some outcropping of spiky coral.
I spent countless hours surfing there as a teenager, sneaking out of my parents’ house with my best friend, Harry Ho. I lived about a mile from it during the year I spent immediately after college, learning that though I was good, I would never be good enough to make a living from surfing.
“Damn good aim,” I said, thinking of Pratt speeding across the face of a wave. “A moving target like that.”
“An M4 carbine, based on the ballistics analysis,” Sampson said. “Standard military issue since about 1994. Gives you distance and accuracy.”
He dropped another photo in front of me. This victim was female, Filipina, black hair, olive-colored skin just a few shades darker than mine. She, too, had been shot, this time just above the heart. She wore a hot pink strapless mini-dress with matching stiletto heels, and she had the trim, fit physique of a jogger, an aerobics instructor-or a surfer.
“Lucie Zamora. Another surfer. Same weapon. Shot about three weeks after Pratt, outside a club in Hale’iwa. She had walked out about two a.m., and there was no one else in the parking lot at the time. She was found just a few minutes later, but even though a bouncer tried CPR, she was already dead.”
I studied the photo. She had obviously fallen just after she’d been shot, her right leg tucked under her, a pink clutch spilling cosmetics onto the black pavement next to her. She wore huge pink hoop earrings and nearly a dozen skinny pink bangle bracelets. “She know Pratt? Any connection to him or his murder besides the weapon?”
Sampson shook his head. “Not that we’ve been able to figure out.” He threw another picture in front of me.
“Jesus, how many of these have you got?” I said, pulling back. This photo was the most gruesome of all. The body had been in the water for some time before being pulled out, and it was bloated and shriveled and had been nibbled on by various sea creatures.
“This is the last one. Ronald Chang. Washed up off Pua’ena Point about two weeks after Lucie Zamora was shot.” Sampson sat back in his chair. Around me, I saw the evidence of his investigative and managerial success- commendations, plaques, photographs. Sampson himself was a bear of a man, tall, burly and bearded, and I was interested to note that he wore a navy polo shirt and khaki slacks, not a suit or uniform.
“Let me guess,” I said. “Same weapon.”
“Nope. This was a handgun, probably a Beretta. From some faint bloodstains we found in the parking lot of his apartment building, we think he might have been shot there. We don’t know how or why he ended up in the water; probably just dumped.”
“What makes you think they’re connected, if the weapon was different?”
“He knew Lucie Zamora, and he disappeared the same day she was shot. He was a computer technician, twenty-eight years old. Originally from Maui, but he had been living in Hale’iwa and telecommuting for a firm in Honolulu for the last few years. He’s a surfer, too, though not a competitive one like Pratt or Zamora.”