I just returned from a short trip to Honolulu. The Aloha State was just what I needed after six weeks with my seven-year old nephew and a deposition with a New York lawyer who looked every part like a character from a Hollywood legal thriller. I was sure that God himself was on my side when an earthquake hit during the questioning. More stuff that I can use for my next novel.
Speaking of novels, I’m working hard reviewing the Japanese manuscript of my next book titled Sealed Bid. Mr. Aoki, my translator did another tremendous job, and I enjoy reading his translated version almost as much as my original English version. I am further reminded of the book because the opening scene takes place in Honolulu.
Here’s the opening chapter.
Prologue (December 1995)
Perched on the western edge of the famed Waikiki Beach, the Halekulani Hotel towered over its local competition not with its size, architecture, or oversized pools. Whether it was the meticulous service of the well-trained staff, the sumptuous Sunday Brunch at the House Without a Key restaurant, or the simple but tastefully appointed guest suites, nothing came close to it. Of course, some would have argued that the Grand Wailea in Maui, which spent close to a million dollars a room, afforded guests with more luxury, but extravagance didn’t always translate to luxury.
The H20 felt good on his skin. Even at night, the temperature was a warm 78 degrees. He muscled a few breaststrokes, gliding smoothly with powerful frog kicks. He dipped his head into the water like a dolphin would as he stretched his arms forward, closing his eyes tight. He had left his goggles in his room, a bad idea, considering he went through the trouble of putting on swimming trunks but was too lazy to remove his contacts. But after working for ten straight hours at the office and then a few more in his luxurious hotel room, he needed this break. He still couldn’t figure out what got into him wearing a tie to the office that morning. He stood out amongst the field of aloha shirts like the proverbial sore thumb and was reasonably certain that he was the only idiot on the whole island of Oahu, or for that matter, the entire Hawaiian Archipelago in business attire.
But right now, Tom Suzuki couldn’t care less. It was tough to complain when he flew first class to Hawaii, roomed at a five-star hotel, and then took late night dips into a deserted pool—all in the name of a two-week project, no matter how weird the assignment was. A Japanese trading company wanted to value its real estate holdings here in Hawaii. So what? Ever since the bubble busted, investors were in a frenzy to “re-evaluate” their real estate portfolio. But everyone knew that real estate in Hawaii was never going to go down—the myth of Hawaiian property values.
Tonight, Tom had an engaging dinner with the managing partner of the Honolulu Office, Peter Watanabe. Peter was going to go places. Tom knew that. He could see the charisma, the charm, and most important, the integrity in the man. Even though he was of Japanese decent, Peter had really good connections in the firm. That’s why, even at the ripe age of 41, he was already managing partner of a 250 man-office. It was good to see a fellow Japanese, no matter how diluted, succeed in white male dominated industry—the Certified Public Accounting profession.
Tom knew that if he hitched himself to the right man, he could rise together with him. He felt that Peter was just such a man. Tom’s years at Dean & Austin were quite exciting. His boss, Kentaro Kawakami was a nice guy, but really didn’t have the inside connections within D&A. Tom thought that he could do much better than working for Ken. When Ken dispatched him to Hawaii for this project, he was pissed off because the project seemed so lame. It wasn’t bad coming to Honolulu, but how could this help him advance in his career? But when he met the Asian-American managing partner, he felt that his luck was changing.
Partners at big accounting firms started at over $150,000. He heard that he bigshots all made over a million, and that the average partner made close to $400,000. And even if he didn’t make partner, he would have the opportunity to meet with clients, many of who stole staff from the big accounting firms with salary boosts of 50% or higher.
Tom started paddling backwards, looking straight up into the emptiness of the summer night, dreaming of what success could buy him. The sky over the Halekulani wasn’t blessed with the myriad of stars that he’s seen in the southern hemisphere—too much glare from the city, from the flood lamps lighting up the beach, and the tropical haze that made this the world’s paradise islands. It was certainly no comparison to the stunning heavens above the beautiful Gold Coast in Australia that he experienced last year. He hoped that he could visit those majestic beaches with his new belle, Mina. He had tried to convince her to come to Honolulu with him, but she passed, her own business commitments proving to be unyielding.
Mina appeared from nowhere into his life, and now, he couldn’t imagine it without her. What a shame she couldn’t take a two-week vacation and be with him. He called her faithfully every night, the conversation quickly deteriorating into what others might deem to be phone sex. She was not only the most erotic woman alive, but also his confidante. He could tell her anything and everything. Last night, he complained to her about the stupidity of the current assignment. Why am I valuing assets that had clearly become worthless? he would ask her, looking not for an answer, but just to blow off some steam. She was a great listener, but it was her sexy voice that purred, “Yes, Tommy,” which really turned him on. He had hung up with her minutes ago and he already missed her. He wondered if she was already in bed.
He didn’t mind going home to her every night. Marriage, a word that seemed so distant weeks ago, crossed his mind regularly. But he had always worried if he could afford getting married. A woman like Mina would be expensive to keep. He could tell. She was definitely a Louis Vuitton girl. With his current meager salary at D&A, he could barely get by paying his own rent. Mina came from a rich family, he could tell. The way she talked, the way she dressed, the way she moved—so classy, so elegant. If he were to marry her, his financial condition would have to improve quickly.
Which reminded him of the little stunt he pulled with the Japanese businessman, Sekine. He heard all about the mogul’s land grab in his home island of Shikoku, then in the outskirts of Tokyo, and now in Hawaii. The man knew what Tommy was doing. He certainly was direct in his questioning of Tommy.
“So how much?” he asked Tommy in his face.
“What do you mean how much? I can’t reveal that kind of information, Sekine-san, you know that,” Tommy answered, professionally, but firmly.
“How much,” Sekine asked again, “do you want?”
Having watched one too many Japanese gangster movies, and without much thinking, Tommy quipped, “What is it worth to you?”
The short meeting took place at the office of Golden Investments. Tommy was supposed to interview developer Jack Williams, the man who owned Hawaii with other people’s money. In this case, Jack was buying up properties all over Hawaii with Sekine’s cash leveraged with loans from Kagawa Trading, a global trading conglomerate, and it’s main financial backer, The Commercial Bank of Tokyo..
Maybe I’ll get lucky and this Sekine guy will hire me to work for him to keep my mouth shut, Tommy dreamed. All the things I could do with Mina.
Thinking of Mina gave Tommy a hard on, and although alone in the pool, he could ill afford to get a boner out here. He was so deep in his reverie that he didn’t notice another late night swimmer slip into the water. The dark silhouette moved silently underwater gradually picking up speed as it approached its target.
Tommy looked down at his own trunks and smiled. For good measure, he looked around to make sure no one was outside.
Time to go.
He felt a tug on his swimming trunks and then the heavens above him suddenly filled with water. He gasped for air, but he swallowed a mouthful of the pool water. He panicked, kicked hard and struggled to pull himself up. A hand grabbed his throat from behind. Blood rushed through every nerve in his eyes. His world turned red.
How much time did he have? Could he overpower his invisible opponent?
Suddenly, the hand was gone, as quickly as it had come. He reached up, but his legs gave in. His muscles twitched as his nerve center discharged electrical currents randomly throughout his body, short-circuiting his life functions, one by one.
His mind filled with questions but no answers. He no longer controlled his own body. In a matter of seconds, his brain began to shut down.
His last thoughts were those of his sweetheart Mina. Did he tell her that he loved her? Will she miss him? He saw her smile at him. He heard Mina call his name.
And then there was only silence.
Want to know what happens next? Buy the book in October, available only in Japan and in Japanese (or write me for the English version).
Writing fiction is exhilarating. Even as I was sipping sparkling lemon soda at the Moana Surfrider or eating breakfast at the Halekulani, I thought back to many of the scenes that I had created in the novel.
And even though I will not know whether I would become a successful novelist or not (at least, not for a while), I am glad that I discovered this creative side, the author in me.
To anyone reading this, it might come from an inspiring moment in life, or a short visit to Hawaii, or even a bad experience with a nasty lawyer—find your creative side. It’s a discovery that’ll make your life that much richer.