E Pluribus Unum

by Liz Clare

For Ted Hada, the highlight of the whole banquet was the recitation of the epic poem. It had first been composed as a group effort on a frozen mountain in Italy in 1944. Then, the men lampooned each other with it for the next year, all across the muddy misery of France, to the end, at the liberation of Dachau.

Hada hadn't given it a thought in the 20 years since then. But leave it to Arch Yamanage, the professional veteran, to remember every stanza. Arch was probably born with an American Legion cap affixed to his head. Well-lubricated with alcohol and sentimentality, Ted was as helpless with laughter as the rest of the guys as Arch clapped him on the shoulder and bawled, "Ted Hada, he no care--Hada do it anywhere!"

Ted roared. He couldn't even remember what bodily function the poem referred to, just that it was something a soldier couldn't be bashful about. Hada had left whatever inhibitions he had ever had on that same frozen mountain.

Like Ted Hada, the men at his table were forty now, solid citizens with jobs and kids and mortgages. Hada had become a cop; another guy was now a doctor. One taught school; another sold insurance. None of that mattered tonight. Tonight was a night to be soldiers again, in their own special Japanese-American unit, and talk story about how they'd won two wars--the shooting war against the Nazis, and the second war at home, just to earn the right to be shot at--the right to be called Americans.

Both wars were costly. Officially, they were the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Unofficially, some people liked to call them the "the Purple Heart Battalion." Plenty of guys hadn't made it back to this reunion. Hada was proudly wearing both Purple Hearts to the banquet tonight, along with his Bronze Star, but sometimes he didn't think they had really won the second war. There were plenty of his fellow Americans to whom he was, and would always be, a "Jap."

But that was changing. Tonight they were riding high. Not least because of the man table-hopping across the room, stopping to visit and laugh with each and every veteran. Everyone knew Babe Kunsu. He was their star.

"Hey, Congressman!" Arch said. "That was a great speech you made."

"Hey, guys!" Babe Kunsu smiled, warmly shaking hands with everyone at the table. "Thanks, Arch, but I don't think anybody was listening."

"Not listening to the next Governor of Hawaii! Fat chance!"

He was handsome and young looking and golden and theirs. Sometimes Hada couldn't believe he and Babe had ever just been two smart-ass kids, running around barefoot and barelegged on the plantation, playing baseball and ukulele, sniggering in the back row at Japanese school, and driving their parents to distraction with their lack of filial piety. Now Babe was on track to mount a challenge to The Great White Governor, Paul Jameson, in next year's gubernatorial election. Not so secretly, Hada hoped he made it--even if Paul Jameson was his boss.

Modestly, Babe let them look at his handsome plaque, the one they'd just given him at the banquet. Ostensibly it was for his work on behalf of veteran's issues, but really the award was just for being Babe Kunsu. They all knew him, and that was enough.

"Listen, Babe," Hada said, "We're gonna shut down the bar tonight. Hang around, shoot the bull for a while more. You up for it?"

"You bet," Babe said. "Lemme drop this plaque back up in my room, get outta this g-d coat and tie, and I'll meet you there."

Despite his usual cynicism, Hada couldn't help feeling a little thrilled. He hardly ever saw his friend these days, since Babe had gone off to Washington. It would be a genuine pleasure to spend time with him. Hada watched Babe walk away, stopping again and again to chat with another pal or admirer. His gait was unhurried, almost smooth. You'd never know he strapped on an artificial leg, painful, awkward, every day of his life, to replace the leg he'd lost in France. The leg he'd lost saving Ted Hada's life.

***

Thirty minutes later, Hada had decided that Arch Yamanage truly was a pain in the ass. He wouldn't just sit and wind down in the bar as planned. Instead, he had to be agitated about Babe Kunsu, wondering when Babe was coming down. He reminded Hada of his three-year-old daughter.

Finally Hada snapped. "The poor guy's probably just taking a crap! If you're so worried about him, why don't you go get him!"

Arch was all wounded dignity. "Maybe I just will," he said.

Hada ordered another beer. He had had several, and it no longer really tasted good, but what else did you do in a bar at midnight? He and his buddies started to reminiscence about the Champagne Campaign. Now that was a time in France he'd never forget--especially those mademoiselles--

Suddenly Arch was back, stiff and pale and gasping like a fish.

"Ted, you gotta come. Aw, Ted--Aw, Jesus--"

"Arch! What the hell is it? What's happened?" Ted jumped up and grabbed Arch by the shoulders.

"It's Babe," Arch sobbed. "Aw, Christ, Ted. Somebody killed him."

***

A sad-eyed veteran wearing an American Legion hat was stationed in front of the elevator doors when Lloyd Deford stepped off on his way to the crime scene.

"Police only," he told Deford. "Orders of Hawaii Five-O."

Deford held out his Hawaii Five-O badge and ID to the guy, watching the thought processes slowly grind their way to comprehension. He thought it was interesting that Ted Hada had chosen one of his war buddies to secure the area instead of assigning the duty to an HPD officer. Deford dreaded to think it might be a lack of objectivity on Hada's part. Trying to remove Hada from a case like this would be like trying to wrestle a cat into a bag. On the other hand, Hada usually knew exactly what he was doing. He was probably just keeping this joker from fouling up the crime scene.

The guy smiled sheepishly. "Go on ahead, Mr. Deford."

The Five-O boss threaded his way past several HPD officers, a tangle of yellow crime scene tape, and a heavy but uncomfortable-looking chair that was holding open the door to Babe Kunsu's hotel room. To his approval, the room itself was not full of police officers, running around looking important and trampling all the evidence. Instead, he saw only his Five-O team--Ted Hada, Steve McGarrett, and Julian Kala'oka--along with Doc Bergman from the coroner's office.

Deford spent a minute taking in the scene. In the center of the room lay the focus of their attention-the late Congressman Babe Kunsu. Blood the color of port wine clotted the carpet beneath his head. To Deford's horror, one leg was twisted in an agonizingly unnatural position, as if it had been dislocated from Kunsu's body. Then he remembered that the congressman wore a prosthetic leg. Overturned furniture and a broken wall hanging testified that Babe Kunsu had not gone down without a fight.

Deford joined Doc Bergman near the body. "Beaten to death?" he asked.

Doc nodded. "From the looks of things there was quite a struggle. Defensive bruises, and the right arm appears to be fractured, probably from warding off his assailant. This--" Doc indicated the artificial leg--"went out from under him. Then, he was finished off with several blows to the head from a blunt instrument."

"Which would be?"

Doc raised his eyebrows. "Ted has it."

Usually Deford found that his men--expert investigators all--in an unspoken competition with each other to scour a crime scene for the most esoteric evidence. This time, only McGarrett and Kala'oka seemed to be in the game, grimly but efficiently going over the room. Hada wasn't playing. Instead, Deford found him standing out on the lanai, looking out at the inverted starscape that was Waikiki by darkness.

Quietly, Deford joined him. He had known Ted Hada for 10 years. In fact, Hada was the first man he had selected for the team when the governor had authorized him to form Hawaii Five-O to deal with large-scale felonies on the islands. Ted was, quite simply, the best detective Deford had ever known.

But Deford knew better than anyone that when personal feelings were involved, cop instinct could go right out the window.

"What have we got here, Ted?"

Hada didn't answer for a minute. When he turned to face Deford, his eyes were blazing with anger.

"Babe Kunsu got his head beat in," he said raggedly. "With this." Hada handed him a plastic bag with some kind of unwieldy flat thing in it. In the dim light, it took Deford a minute to realize it was a plaque.

"What is it?"

"He got honored tonight at the reunion banquet," Hada said bitterly. "It says, 'In recognition of Congressman Shigeto "Babe" Kunsu, for his work on behalf of the American veteran. Presented on behalf of a grateful nation by the American Veterans of Japanese Ancestry, 1964.'" Hada gripped the lanai railing, stared out at the world as if willing it to somehow be different. "Somebody sure had a sick sense of humor."

"Have you started questioning the people in the adjoining rooms?" Deford asked.

"Yeah, McGarrett started on it. But most everyone was still down at the bar or had gone out on the town."

"Who found the body?"

"Arch Yamanage. You probably saw him outside. And if you're wondering if he did it, the answer is no. Arch couldn't hurt a fly."

Deford was silent for a moment. "Maybe not," he finally said. "But I don't think we should rule it out, Ted. You know better than I do that the AJA vets here at the reunion are trained killers. Granted, that was 20 years ago, but somebody could have had a grudge."

Hada shook his head, slowly, emphatically. "No way. No way. These guys are like brothers. Closer than most brothers."

"Blood brothers," Deford replied.

Hada stared at him for a moment. "Are you baiting me?" he asked incredulously.

"No. I'm just asking you to think like a cop and consider all of the possibilities," Deford said. "This is going to be a political hot potato no matter how it comes out."

Hada was about to reply when the outline of Julian Kala'oka appeared in the lanai door, backlit by the lights of the room. "You guys? Mrs. Kunsu is here."

Hada hurried back into the room, followed by Deford. Deford breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Mrs. Kunsu hadn't been allowed into the room. The last thing he wanted was for her to see her husband's body in the condition it was in.

Out in the hall, Sachie Kunsu was standing with Arch Yamanage and Steve McGarrett. Arch was sobbing. McGarrett looked sad and troubled. Sachie Kunsu looked noble and composed.

The hotel manager had opened the adjoining suite of rooms for the police to use, and Deford and Hada escorted Mrs. Kunsu there. Hada helped the slender, elegant woman sit down on the small sofa in the room's sitting area, and sat beside her. Deford pulled a chair closer and joined them.

"Sachie," Hada said gently. "I'm sorry. Babe is dead."

Mrs. Kunsu looked down at her hands for a long moment. Then she raised her head, dry-eyed. "I knew it had to be when you called me. I knew it had to be. Ted, please tell me. How did he die?" she asked, with only a hint of an accent that made her cultured voice sound a little more exotic. A damn handsome woman, Deford thought.

"He was killed," Hada said. He winced before saying, "Beaten."

Mrs. Kunsu clenched her hands together in her lap and pressed her lips together very hard. Her already pale face turned the shade of a glass of milk. "Poor Babe," she whispered. Deford thought he saw her dark eyes fill with tears for just a moment, but they didn't spill over. "Did he suffer terribly?"

Hada said, "He went down swinging."

"Oh, I’m sure he did!" she exclaimed passionately. "Of course he would!" For a few moments her eyes grew distant. Maybe thinking of a life together, Deford thought. He had lost his wife a few years earlier. The loneliness had come almost immediately. The widower in him sympathized with Sachie Kunsu, while the cop in him watched for any sign that her grief might be less than sincere.

"Did you catch the person?" she asked.

Hada shook his head. "We will, Sachie. We will," he promised.

Sachie startled them both with her next statement. "I know where you should start looking."

Hada and Deford both leaned forward, as Mrs. Kunsu opened her purse and took out several letters, bound together by a rubber band. She handed them to Hada.

"The last few months, we’ve been receiving these. Not that unusual, in Babe’s line of work, to get crank letters, but these seemed different somehow. More scary. More frightening."

"Hate mail?" Hada said, holding the letters gingerly. Deford fished a plastic evidence bag out of his pocket and Hada slipped the letters inside. Chances of usable prints were nil, but it was always worth a shot.

"I wanted to call you," she told Ted, "but Babe said no. He didn’t want his race to become the issue. All he ever wanted was to be an American, period." Her proud façade cracked, just a little—her face crumpled slightly. "He was a good man, in so many ways."

Hada put his arm around Sachie to comfort her. Deford watched his face. Ted didn’t look grieved. He looked angry and determined. Ted Hada had once told him that he saw his role in a homicide as representing no one but the victim—not the family, not his friends, not even the police force. On this case, Ted Hada’s creed was going to be put to the test.

***

The next morning, Hada sent the original letters to the lab and spread copies in front of him on his desk at Five-O headquarters. There were four of them in all, each carefully typed. In each case, the typeface or ribbon darkness looked slightly different. Great, Hada thought. The sonofabitch used different typewriters. A bigot with a library card.

The first one was short and sweet.

YOU MAY HAVE WEALTH AND YOU MAY HAVE FAME

BUT YOU’RE A DIRTY JAP JUST THE SAME

The second one was less poetic.

JAP BASTARD KUNSU—

You think you’re fooling everyone but you cant fool me

You’re a Jap and you always will be

The WHITE RACE rules

YOU WILL NEVER BE GOVERNOR

And you better believe it

Go back to the LAND OF THE RISING SUN you one-legged bastard

Hada sighed deeply and rubbed his eyes between his thumb and forefinger. He thought of those early months of 1944. He and Babe dug into a frozen foxhole at Cassino. Murderous German sniper fire. No reinforcements.

HI CONGRESSMAN NIP

GUESS WHAT

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN

That’s right

If you liked what happened to Kommie Kennedy

Youll love what’s gonna happen to you

The first one legged congressman with no head!

Another memory. Babe Kunsu, the best man at his wedding. Gaunt and emaciated, he had come directly from the veteran’s hospital for the ceremony, and then gone back after a few minutes at the reception. In a wheelchair.

GOT THE MESSAGE YET

NO GOVERNOR JAP HERE

I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE

WHERE YOUR WIFE GETS HER HAIR DONE

WHERE YOU’RE KID GOES TO SCHOOL

IM GONNA GET YOU

Hada shoved the letters aside. He knew he had to scrutinize them, but it was hard. Harder than he expected. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen racist hate mail before. Hell, he’d even gone to Mississippi last year, to help Deford out of a jam, and seen it in its most recent incarnation. He was just weary of it, that was all. Back in when he and Babe were playing baseball at McKinley, he could laugh when the kids on the other team taunted their team and called their school "Tokyo High."

Somehow, World War II had ruined his sense of humor.

December 7, 1941. Yeah, that’s right, those bastards—those Jap bastards—from the country where his parents were born—had dealt Hawaii a devastating sucker punch. If Hawaii was a fighter, it’d be on the canvas, spitting out bloody teeth while the ref counted "Ten! Fight over! Decision to the Japanese by a knockout!"

To hell with that! He and his parents had heard the roaring buzz of the Zeros flying overhead on their way to their deadly mission. The whole family had run outside and stared at the bold red circles of the rising sun, mocking his parents and their fidelity to their ancestors and their Emperor. Ted wept with rage and surprise. "To hell with Japan!" he shouted. Only later did he realize he was shouting in Japanese.

That was Sunday. He and Babe met up the next day. This time, it wasn’t to play baseball or to think of some way to avoid their chores. They decided to enlist. They wanted to fight for their country.

They went to the recruiting office. Men of all ages were lined up around the block. Finally it was their turn.

"We wanna enlist!" Babe declared.

The guy took one look at them and sneered. "Oh yeah? On which side?"

Go to Part 2

   
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