Primitive Secrets: A Storm Kayama Mystery #1by Deborah Turrell Atkinson
When Storm Kayama walks into her lucrative Honolulu law firm one morning, she's shocked--and grieved--to find her adopted uncle at his desk, stiff and cold. Years before, Miles Hamasaki had fulfilled a promise to Storm's father and brought her to be raised with his own family. But,
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An exciting new voice richly and suspensefully evokes modern and ancient Hawaii...
When Storm Kayama walks into her lucrative Honolulu law firm one morning, she's shocked--and grieved--to find her adopted uncle at his desk, stiff and cold. Years before, Miles Hamasaki had fulfilled a promise to Storm's father and brought her to be raised with his own family. But, as questions surround Miles' death and her adopted family begins to close ranks, Storm suspects that he has been murdered.
Heading to the Big Island for a weekend escape from escalating pressures, she narrowly escapes a terrible accident. Storm takes refuge in the home of her Aunt Maile, a traditional Hawaiian healer, and Uncle Keone, a paniolo on the huge Parker Ranch. There she encounters a legend from her youth and a family totem, or 'aumakua, which Aunt Maile promises will protect her. As Storm struggles to heal her own childhood wounds and bring justice to Hamasaki's killer, she also comes to grip with the rifts in her own life and culture.
From the winding cane roads of Hamakua to the seedy side of Honolulu's Chinatown, with a deft juxtaposition of a bustling Honolulu against the island's legends and wild beauty, Atkinson reveals a Hawaii that few visitors ever see.
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By Deborah Turrell Atkinson
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2002 Deborah Turrell Atkinson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMiles Hamasaki stood at his picture window and looked, unseeing, over the azure depths of Honolulu Harbor where graceful Coast Guard cutters passed like swans and tugs pushed squat freighters from the Orient. He thought about two big problems. One was business and he would squash the greedy son-of-a-bitch like a cockroach in the next forty-eight hours. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth, then faded. The other was personal, and would be much more difficult to resolve.
Hamasaki walked back to his desk, sank into his big leather chair, and ruffled through the legal contract he was preparing. Age had taught him to put aside worries he couldn't solve until he had the information he needed. Patience was a formidable ally.
Right now, he wanted to get this contract ready to review with Storm in the morning. His eyes crinkled with pleasure as he thought about how she, the adopted daughter of a dead friend, was turning into a terrific lawyer. If only his own sons were as promising. Sadness passed briefly over his features and was replaced almost immediately with resolve.
Hamasaki's secretary knocked lightly on the door, then pushed it open. "Dr. O'Toole on line two, Boss. I'm pau work, so I'll put your calls through to the office."
"Thanks for coming in on a Sunday afternoon, Lorraine. Hey, if you and Ben go to that Keanu Reeves movie tonight, I want a review tomorrow." He grinned at her.
Lorraine's gray hair shook with laughter as she set a cup of tea on Hamasaki's desk. "Yeah, sure. When Bitsy gets back from visiting her sister on the Big Island, go yourself."
Even though he'd slowed his practice, he and Lorraine still spent thirty hours a week together. When they'd first opened the law firm, she'd stood by sixty to eighty hours a week. They knew each other better than they knew their own spouses.
Hamasaki picked up the phone and spoke soothing words to his old friend O'Toole. A few minutes after he hung up, the managing partner, Edwin Wang, tiptoed into the office. Hamasaki stifled a sigh at the interruption and looked up. "How's your mother?"
"I'm trying to keep her out of a nursing home. It's difficult right now."
Hamasaki glanced at his watch, made a note on the contract, let a few seconds elapse. "Alzheimer's is a tragic disease. We should all worry."
"I'd like to speak to you about some things."
"It'll have to be tomorrow morning. Nine o'clock."
Wang nodded and backed toward the door. "Thank you."
Hamasaki watched the door close. Frowning at both his old man's need for the toilet and Wang's obsequiousness, he stood up and headed for the washroom. Hamasaki knew Wang's behavior had nothing to do with his mother's illness. He wasn't ready to talk to Wang yet, though. The managing partner would be as malleable as a child if he had to stew in his anxieties a little longer, plus Hamasaki wanted to check on one more detail before tomorrow's meeting.
A half-hour later, Hamasaki didn't look up from his papers when he heard footsteps in the hall. O'Toole had said he'd try to drop by to talk. Hamasaki was a little surprised when the door opened without a knock. It was unlike O'Toole, but these weren't normal circumstances. He finished the note to Storm in the margin of the contract.
Hamasaki glanced up, then sat back hard in his chair with a sharp intake of breath. His eyes narrowed.
"You have to listen to me."
"What do you mean, have to?" Hamasaki threw down his pen. "What excuses can be made for degeneracy, dishonesty, and preying on the ... the ..." he gritted his teeth, "naive!"
"I told you, you misunderstand."
Hamasaki watched the depraved wretch struggle with what he wanted to say. He began to pace before Hamasaki's desk. Rings of sweat blackened the purple of an orchid-patterned shirt. Hamasaki found it hard to hide his disgust. He unclenched his teeth and took a sip of his tea and a deep breath, which he stifled midway.
"Okay, you've got my attention. If you're going to attempt to justify yourself, at least sit down." He waved his hand at the chair facing the desk. Maybe the locker room aroma would stay confined to the other side.
The visitor sat on the edge of the chair and sputtered a string of self- justifications. Hamasaki took another couple of swallows of tea and leaned back in his chair. Total bullshit. Time to end this pretentious monologue. He tried to stand and dismiss the moron, but felt his gaze slipping. He was so tired, so damned tired.
* * *
Storm Kayama struggled with the doorknob. She gripped a steaming mug of dark tea in each hand and had a bag filled with two fat cherry turnovers clamped in her teeth. She was trying very hard not to drool down the side of the pastry bag. A client folder clasped under one elbow inched along the silky fabric of her blouse.
She was early, but it looked like Uncle Miles, as she still called him in private, was here. Her father and Miles Hamasaki had been boyhood friends on Maui, fought in the 442nd Infantry together, and had vowed to take care of each other's families in the event that one didn't return. Decades later, Uncle Miles had kept his word.
Storm got the knob turned and kept her eyes on the swaying surface of the tea. A big drop had already splatted, fortunately onto the toe of her shoe instead of the plush beige carpet. She kept going, though; she had a great joke for him this morning. Uncle Miles said lawyers needed to start the day with a laugh because few people visit their attorneys with a smile.
Storm let the pastry bag slide from her mouth into the crook of the arm that did not hold the slipping file folder. "Uncle Miles, did you hear about the guy who went into the psychiatrist's office wearing only cellophane shorts?" Storm chuckled and kept her eyes on the mugs. He was going to love this. "The shrink said, 'Well, we can clearly see you're nuts!'"
She stopped sliding her feet across the carpet and looked up. He should have been hooting.
But he had his head down on the desk and his fingers entwined in the handle of one of his brightly colored mugs. Storm had never seen him nap in the office.
"Uncle Miles? Uncle Miles?"
Chapter TwoMorning sunlight sliced through the branches of the monkey pod trees and burned away the morning mists that still hovered in the deep Manoa valley. Storm Kayama plodded up the sidewalk and regarded the cracks in the concrete. The steamy world around her paralleled the one she'd lived in before she found Miles Hamasaki's body. But she was alone in this new surreal one. Miles' friends and colleagues gestured to her, made conversation as if they stood next to her, but they didn't. They were outside the shimmering curtain of incredulity and grief that isolated her.
Heavy incense rolled from the wide temple doors, bringing her other memories of death. Buddhists offer incense as a ritual of purification, a perfume to discourage the departed soul from taking a member of the living with him. Storm felt halfway to the nether world, as numb as she'd been at twelve when her father had lit the incense at her mother's funeral.
Inside, banks of lilies and cattleya orchids surrounded a portrait of Hamasaki that sat on the altar. At least two hundred people were here at Miles' shonanaka, the first of his memorial services. Storm mumbled excuse-me's and jostled her way through a mass of bodies to the family pew, where she dropped into an empty space next to Bitsy Hamasaki. Despite her pallor and the rice- paper thinness of her skin, Bitsy still managed to smile at her husband's friends and business associates.
Most of the observers knew the family, but a stranger would have noticed that Storm was not of the same gene pool. Though her father had been Japanese, Storm had the larger stature and wide, almond eyes of her Hawaiian mother. At five- eight, she was taller than anyone in the entire Hamasaki family. Instead of smooth, ebony hair, Storm had wavy mahogany hair that she pulled into a French braid in an attempt to tame it.
A blurred three hours later, Storm stood in the foyer of the Hamasakis' oceanfront home and said goodbye to friends and colleagues who had come to help the family mourn. Mountains of food, vegetarian in the Buddhist funeral tradition, had been catered by David and Michelle Hamasaki's classy downtown restaurant. A group of Bitsy's women friends had formed a support group, or kamiai, and they flitted about the house, picking up after the dispersing guests.
Martin Hamasaki, the youngest son, had arrived from Chicago a few days ago. He gave Storm a hug. "Get something to eat before you leave."
"Can't," she whispered back and wondered how, under the circumstances, he managed to look so tanned and rested. She knew she looked like she'd lost a battle with the specter of insomnia. Not only were people doing subtle double takes at her, this morning her eyes in the bathroom mirror had reflected a dark tragedy so evocative of her mother that Storm had buried her face in the sink and spit toothpaste with vehemence. She would not let the black hole of depression overtake her. Not her, not ever.
Martin nudged Storm. "Look, there's Dr. O'Toole. Never thought he'd outlive Dad." O'Toole was dressed in bright green polyester linen-look slacks. His green and yellow flowered aloha shirt accentuated his swollen red nose. They both could see the tremor in O'Toole's hand when he reached for his car keys.
"That's his golf outfit. The one that matches Dad's," Martin whispered.
His comment dispersed a cloud of Storm's gloom and she stifled a smile. "Be nice. He wore it out of respect."
"I wouldn't mind having their lives." Martin's voice held a note that surprised Storm. She shot a glance at him, but he was saying goodbye to a family friend.
Martin's life couldn't be so bad. He looked great. A wave of loss passed over Storm with a force that hurt. She had never been as close to David or Michelle as she was to Martin. Martin was thirty, three years older than she. Michelle and David were six and eight years older, and seemed like they were from another generation. The real problem, though, was a rivalry she felt stemmed from David and had burgeoned over the last four or five years. Now Hamasaki was gone and Martin would soon return to Chicago. She would miss both of them terribly.
Martin turned back to her. "Get some rest and we'll have lunch tomorrow, okay?"
Storm nodded and made her way out the door. On the sidewalk, she stopped and took a deep breath. It hurt; the old stone of loneliness sat on her chest again. She couldn't imagine life without Hamasaki. Irrational as it was, she felt as deserted as she had when she was twelve and her mother had died.
When her father died four years later, the pain was not as severe. He had wasted away with kidney disease, and though she was angry and alone, she had seen it coming. Now her chest burned as it had fifteen years ago. Despite what anyone said about her mother's problems, her mother had abandoned her. She had chosen her death.
Storm balled her hands into fists and glared down at the front walk. Hamasaki's departure had brought back emotions she thought she had outgrown. She needed to remind herself that in most people's eyes he was elderly, a full forty-four years older than her thirty-three year old mother had been.
Storm sighed. It was not good to wallow in this sadness. Hamasaki had already been cremated and candles for the forty-nine day mourning period sat at the home altar to give light and direction to his wandering spirit. Though Storm had not been raised in the Japanese tradition, Aunt Bitsy followed it with steadfast faith. Dwelling on thoughts of the dead brought bad luck. The departed might take a friend or family member with him.
Chapter ThreeThe prospect of going home didn't appeal to Storm at all. She'd end up staring at the walls and wondering how to deal with going to work the next day. She would be better off facing the office now. The place would be peaceful and air- conditioned. No one would be there, especially after the service. She could tie up a few loose ends on the contract Hamasaki had prepared for her, or look around the office library for his old leather briefcase, the one in which he carried all of his current work.
The office staff had their collective eyes out for the battered old attache case. Hunting for it was nothing new; Hamasaki was famous for mislaying it. Storm and Bitsy once told him they were going to replace it with a neon orange tote bag, with a flag attached.
No one was worried, though it did contain files that needed to be passed on to other lawyers in the firm. It would turn up and since Storm had been doing most of Hamasaki's clerking, the other partners expected her to find it. She had already called the Lexus dealership where he'd had his car serviced last week, the post office in his neighborhood, and the University of Hawai'i law library. People wished her luck.
Even as she unlocked her office, Storm pondered checking his barbershop and the dry cleaner. She murmured a scolding to Hamasaki, wherever his spirit might be, changed it to a request for help, and then felt silly talking to herself and glanced around the hallway. The light was on under Hamlin's door, but every other office, including the receptionist's area, was dark. Storm was glad Lorraine had gone home after the service. Lorraine had leaned weakly against her husband Ben during the short time they visited the Hamasaki home. Usually the most efficient person in the organization, she'd been a ghost of herself since Hamasaki's death.
Storm sat at her desk and rummaged around for the phone book. A couple of fruitless calls later she put the receiver back and listened to muffled voices in the hall. She got up and popped her head around the doorjamb.
Ian Hamlin, the newest associate in the firm, was walking a handsome, burly man in frayed denim jeans and a buttery suede shirt down the hall. Storm did a double take; he was worth a second look. She recognized the man from publicity photos. Hamlin must have a good reputation. The client was Christopher DeLario, a sculptor renowned for his sensual bronzes. DeLario did larger-than-life interpretations of men and women with musculature that one New York critic had compared to Michelangelo. Around O'ahu, he was better known for his wild parties and the thirty-year-old custom Harley he rode. People gossiped that the radiant bronze Aphrodite at the art museum was modeled after a lover who had left him for another woman, and that she'd posed during a party that swirled with flakes of cocaine and clouds of ice.
DeLario looked haggard, though the droop of his shoulders didn't hide their powerful breadth. Storm didn't believe everything she heard; she knew that people love to color in the empty spaces around fame. Her eyebrows bounced in appreciation at the sight of the men and she went back to her desk. In one of the drawers, she dug out a slightly crushed package of peanut butter and cheese crackers and stuffed one in her mouth. She had passed up all that delicious food a couple of hours ago and now her stomach rumbled with hunger.
She opened the laptop case that she used as a briefcase and rooted for the papers she'd taken home a few nights before Hamasaki had died. Until the old man's attache turned up, these were among the few files available to pass on to the other partners. Edwin Wang had asked her twice already.
Storm stopped chewing and batted at crumbs that fell into the case. The folder wasn't in there. She went through the bag again, then dumped the computer and all the papers out on the desk.
She forced herself to sit back in her chair and take a deep breath. Okay, she'd been preoccupied lately, but she'd looked through some of this last night. She pawed through the mess again, more quickly. The folder was missing. With a flash of insight, she remembered it resting on the kitchen counter, where she'd set it this morning when she went back inside to feed the cat. Storm let her breath go in a hiss. "Son of a bitch!"
"And good afternoon to you, too." Hamlin stood at the door, grinning.
Storm looked up, startled. "Oh, hi." She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "I didn't mean you. I—"
"I refuse to take offense. One of my dearest childhood companions was a Labrador Retriever." He dropped into the chair facing her and set a cup of coffee in a Wild Bill Hickock mug on her desk. "How are you doing? I'm surprised you're here."
Excerpted from Primitive Secrets by Deborah Turrell Atkinson Copyright © 2002 by Deborah Turrell Atkinson. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Inspired by Tony Hillerman's work, Deborah Atkinson weaves the legends of Hawaii into fast-paced, high-tension suspense novels. Pleasing the Dead is the fourth in the series, which includes Primitive Secrets (2002), The Green Room, (Book Sense pick for October, 2005), Fire Prayer (2007, winner of a New Covey Cover Award).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is an assume book that takes place in the Hawaiian Islands. Truly hard to put down.
on the aurhor and publisher for not proofing the spelling of Hawaiian words.
I liked the Hawaiian culture and background. It mentions differences in the islands and even differences in different parts of the islands. It mentioned some of the culture which I found very interesting and hope to read more about. Good main character. I liked Storm because she is strong and smart, but still a likeable everywoman. Good mystery story. Look forward to reading the next one.