If Thou Shouldst Never See My Face Again

by Liz Clare

Author’s note: This story is entirely a work of fantasy. While historical figures appear as characters, considerable liberties have been taken with facts and timelines, and the personalities and events are entirely products of the author’s imagination.

He decided he wouldn’t tell Billie about the blackout.

It had started out as an ordinary day for Sergeant Duke Lukela of the Honolulu Police Department. Not that any day was all that ordinary anymore. Duke had only recently come back on the force after a suspension—without pay—during a major corruption investigation. Duke had been fully cleared, but the incident was hard to shake off. Coming on the heels of a serious heart attack last year, it was enough to make him wonder if the job was worth it any more.

Worse than that, he felt old. Billie was nagging him to retire, to cash in his 25 years on the force and find something easier, less stressful, less dangerous, and where he would be more appreciated. And Duke couldn’t blame her. He sometimes felt guilty when he thought about how much worry he caused his devoted wife. Maybe he owed it to Billie and the kids to take her advice and walk away now—before they carried him out in a box.

And just when he thought things were getting back to normal, he had to worry about this morning’s freaky blackout. Duke had been teaching a class on gun safety to a group of cadets, when he suddenly lost his train of thought. He literally had no words. He stood paralyzed almost a full minute, blanking on the class, the gun in his hand, and the class of staring and increasingly agitated cadets.

Finally, one young kid came up to the front of the room to assist him.

"Sarge? Are you OK?"

Duke gaped at the cadet for several more long, agonizing seconds before he was able to clumsily force his tongue to find some words. And when he did, they were almost worse than if he hadn’t spoken at all.

"Maika`i nô au, mahalo," Duke said. It just meant I’m fine, thanks. But he couldn’t think of the English just then. Then, after what seemed another eternity, his brain unlocked.

"I’m fine," he snapped. "Get back in your seat, mister!"

Several hours later, Duke was still disgusted. Where the hell had that come from? As if he didn’t have enough with his heart, now his brain was on the fritz too? The last person he knew who spoke Hawaiian was his grandfather, dead since Duke was a sophomore at Hilo High. As for Duke, his parents had been very strict with him to speak good English, to be an All-American boy. He barely understood Hawaiian, let alone spoke it.

Duke smiled grimly to himself, remembering a laughing, smart-ass phrase of his son Julian. Probably just a brain fart. Still, it made him uneasy. No, he didn’t think he’d mention it to Billie.

***

The jangle of his phone brought Duke back to reality. "Lukela," he said.

Chin Ho Kelley’s voice came over the line. "Hey, Duke. We got a weird one going on. Some big art theft over at Kama Lii’s house. You know, the zillionaire businessman? A portrait of Queen Liliu’okalani was stolen, Kama was knocked out, right before he was due to give a big party for the Governor." Chin sighed. "Another Kamehameha Day stink."

"Yeah, I hate Kamehameha Day," Duke said.

"Along with every other holiday, bruddah, just like every cop," Chin laughed. "Everyone else’s day off is our day for a double shift of drunks, molesters, and pickpockets."

Duke agreed, then said, "Kama Lii owns a lot of royal artifacts. He’s not only rich, he’s a descendant of the Kamehamehas. So what portrait was this exactly? Not that one where she’s only about 18 years old?"

"How’d you guess?" Chin asked. "Why, you know something about it?"

"I saw that picture once, when I was a kid in Hilo," Duke told him. "Kama’s family put on an exhibition of royal artifacts, and my father took all of us to see the stuff. I was only about 13 or 14, but I remember that portrait of Princess Lili’u. There’s kind of a legend about it."

"Oh, yeah?" Chin said. "Too bad Kono’s not around any more. He loved da kine. What’s the legend?"

"The artist’s name was Holo Brice, as I recall," Duke told him. "Hapa-haole artist. The story goes that he died before he could finish the painting. The Queen would never allow anyone else to finish it. She kept the painting in her bedroom until the day she died. The funny thing is that the identity of the male companion—the unfinished part of the picture—is lost to history. Her brothers were King David Kalakaua and Prince William. It could have been one of them, it could have been her future husband, John Dominis. But nobody knows for certain."

"Nice story," Chin said. "But what’s it got to do with the price of tea in China?"

"There’s more," Duke told him. "The legend is that any man who looks at the picture will imagine himself to be the Queen’s companion," Duke said. "Also, that the picture must be treated with respect, and that it can carry a blessing or a curse, depending on how the viewer regards it."

"Just what we need," Chin said. "Well, anyway, Duke, we need HPD support on this, plus you’ve got the contacts in the Native Hawaiian community. Steve’ll want your involvement. And the good news is, it’s a big priority with the Governor. So we’ll have a chance to rack up some OT."

"I’m on it," Duke said happily, and hung up the phone. He owed a lot to Chin Ho Kelley, not least Chin’s tireless promotion of him as HPD liaison to Five-O. Steve had created the job after the incident that had led to the resignation of Kono Kalakaua from the force, and Duke had been thrilled to be tapped for the assignment. He still hadn’t given up on being promoted to detective—maybe even Five-O detective—and now he had the chance to prove himself at last. Duke had to laugh at himself. He guessed he wasn’t ready to retire yet by a long shot, no matter what his wife wanted.

***

Late that night, Duke lay quietly in his bed. It was a warm night, and the windows were open. Duke pushed the sheet off his chest and let the breeze cool his body. Billie was sleeping against his side, warm and soft and silky. Normally, Duke drifted right off to sleep after they made love. But tonight, even though he felt happy and relaxed with her at his side, sleep didn’t come to him. He was thinking about another woman—Princess Lili’u, and her portrait. Who had taken her, and why?

According to McGarrett, there were a lot of questions, but no answers and no suspects. It seemed senseless, but Duke knew it wasn’t. They just needed to come up with something to go on, and that always took time and legwork. He decided to close his eyes and let his mind relax. Maybe he could come up with some ideas in his sleep. That worked sometimes—

All at once, Duke heard the jingle of the dog’s tags, an explosive cacophony of outraged barking, and the doorbell, which in the dead of night, sounded like a foghorn. Startled, Duke scrambled out of bed, pulling on a pair of pants.

"Oooh," Billie exclaimed. "Who in the world!" She slipped her bathrobe over her shoulders and followed him out of the room, tying the robe around her waist. By the time Duke walked the few steps to the door, the kids had piled out of their rooms in confusion.

Duke sighed inwardly. It would take forever to get Julia, their five-year-old, back to sleep. He jerked the door open. Buster raced out ahead of him, barking wildly, which Duke was sure endeared the Lukelas to everyone in the neighborhood.

Whoever had rung the bell was gone, leaving only an envelope lying on the mat.

"Wow, Dad," his son breathed. Charlie was sixteen and dying to be a cop like his old man. "It’s some kind of secret message."

"Well, it’s a damn inconsiderate one," Duke said. Handling the envelope carefully by the edges, he brought it into the house. Briefly, the thought occurred to him that it might be a bomb, but it didn’t seem very likely. Somehow, those kinds of things only seemed to happen when McGarrett was around.

Duke took the envelope into the kitchen. Charlie and Henrietta, who was 10, crowded around him on either side. Duke took a few seconds to push Etta’s glasses up on her nose before he slit the envelope open with a sharp knife.

There was a single sheet of paper inside. Someone had written a message in a crabbed hand, using an old-fashioned fountain pen.

To Duke Lukela:

This letter is to inform you that the Queen’s portrait is safe and sound. You may tell Governor Jameson and Mr. McGarrett that it has been repossessed in the name of the Hawaiian people.

We have it on good authority that Kama Lii planned to present the portrait to the Governor on the so-called King Kamehameha Day so that it could be displayed at the palace in perpetuity.

Sergeant Lukela, you know that Queen Liliu’okalani was robbed of her throne by an illegal American coup. The annexation was not legal and never will be. As long as the Hawaiian people are robbed of their rights as a sovereign people by the illegal American government, the Queen’s spirit will not rest.

The Queen would never wish to be exhibited at the illegally occupied palace that was stolen from her. We are taking her home where her spirit can be free from those who imprison and exploit her to this day.

Sergeant Lukela, are you a friend of the Queen?

Sincerely,

Hui Kanaka Maoli

"Great," Duke said.

"What does it mean?" Charlie wanted to know. "What’s hui kanaka maoli?"

"Something like ‘gathering of the native people.’ What it means, is some nutcase stole the picture to make a political point—to get attention for their cause." Duke felt irritated. "I get so sick of being put in the middle on cases like this."

"What do you mean, Daddy?" Henrietta asked.

Duke wondered if he looked as sleepy and confused as his daughter. Before he could answer, Billie said, "Daddy’s Hawaiian. But being a cop is his job. Sometimes other Hawaiian people want Daddy to help them, even though they’re breaking the law." She smiled and stroked Etta’s mussed bangs off her forehead. "Now everybody get back to bed, now. Tomorrow’s a school day."

"Move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here," Duke joked, and gave Julia a kiss and a pat on the bottom.

As the kids shuffled back to bed, Billie gave Duke a worried look.

"What does the letter mean, ‘we’re taking her home?’"

Duke gave her a weary smile. "I think it means, I’m going to Hilo."

***

As usual, the flight to Hilo was uncrowded, and Duke had a row to himself. He used the empty seat next to him for his briefcase, and spent some time reading the file Steve had given him on the various Hawaiian activist groups. Busy with Kamehameha Day activities, Steve had seemed happy to hand this case over to Duke. McGarrett had been burned more than once getting involved in native Hawaiian issues, most infamously in the case of an old paniolo who had ended up being shot dead by police during a standoff with Five-O. McGarrett had endured picketers and protesters for months. Duke was sure he didn’t mind turning this tar baby over to a native Hawaiian cop.

Of course, if there was any heat, Duke would have to take it. Still, he couldn’t help but feel excited about the case. If he recovered the painting, it would go a long way toward proving himself as an investigator. Duke had spent most of his career in administration, and there were those who questioned his qualifications to work with the Five-O squad. Solving a case that was important to McGarrett and the Governor certainly wouldn’t hurt his standing—or his chances for promotion to a Five-O investigator.

Duke thought back to the first time he had tried to join the Five-O squad. It had been back in 1962, when Lloyd Deford had first been tapped by the Governor to form an elite team with jurisdiction over high-profile felony cases. Duke had interviewed with Deford, but somehow they just hadn’t hit it off. Later, Duke had learned of the damning words Deford had penciled neatly in his file:

"Good solid cop. Seems to lack audacity."

Those words had haunted Duke ever since. As a young man, on the football field, his very name might have been audacity. With confidence and grace, he could perform gridiron miracles. He could bring thousands of people screaming to their feet. Even the memory of it was a spine-tingling thrill…but now, it seemed so long ago. When had he become so—well, ordinary?

The stew handed him a plastic cup of guava juice and a big smile. Duke gratefully accepted both and tried to shake off the reverie. The past was past—both the glory and the rejection. There was only today and what he could make of it.

The flight was short, and before long Duke could see the coast of his home island. He watched quietly out the window, gazing at the deceptively gentle slope of the mighty Mauna Kea, the rugged Hamakua Coast where he had grown up on the farm, and finally the low-slung profile of Hilo, the battered workingman’s town, as proud and sorry as a punch-drunk fighter.

It rained nearly every single day in Duke’s hometown, and today was no exception. It was sprinkling lightly when Duke picked up his rent car. He headed through Hilo’s bedraggled downtown, then took the highway for the coast.

Duke was under no illusions. His credibility could be on the line. If he didn’t recover the painting, he could be accused of going easy on the case, because he was Hawaiian—a "hula cop." He might as well go out and direct traffic. But if he came on too strong, his own people would say he’d turned haole. He’d need all his finesse.

Duke decided to start where he didn’t need to impress anybody. He’d start where his understanding of everything started—on a farm in Honomu.

***

Except maybe for Billie, Duke didn’t know anyone with more aloha than Mama. As he eased his rent car to a stop on the gravel driveway in front of the house, Mama was already flying out of the house to greet him.

"Duke-boy!" she exclaimed in her warm, high-pitched voice. "Hello, Duke-boy! Hello!"

Duke smiled. He sometimes wondered what his parents saw when they looked at him. Not, it seemed, a 50-year-old cop with glasses and rapidly graying hair. Duke got out of the car and was rewarded with a huge hug from Mama. It was like being hugged by a big pillow. He hugged her back, hard.

"Hey, Mama," Duke said, and kissed his mother on her soft cheek.

Duke’s father stood on the porch. Duke jumped the step and gave his father a hug and a kiss. "Hey, Pop."

"Hello, Duke-boy," Pop said gruffly.

Duke stashed his suitcase in his old room, then sat down with Mama and Pop for coffee and cookies. "Oh boy, guava crispies," Duke said.

"I whipped up a batch this morning when you called," Mama said proudly. "I know how much you like them."

"Ono-licious, Mama," Duke said, popping one of Mama’s creations into his mouth and placing two more on his napkin.

"So what’s this case, Duke-boy?" Pop wanted to know. "Is some kind of desperado on the loose in Hilo again?"

"Not exactly a desperado, Pop," Duke said. "An art thief. He stole an old picture of Queen Liliu’okalani, painted when she was only about 18 years old, and he says he’s brought it back here to keep it away from the haoles. The whole nationalist bit. It could turn into a big embarrassment for the Governor if we don’t find it. You know, he prides himself on bringing everyone together."

"Yes, I know," Pop said. "Those nationalists are fools, Duke-boy." He jerked his thumb towards the window. Outside, the American flag fluttered in the breeze. "I sunk that flagpole when you were just a baby, because I wanted everyone to know that the Lukelas were good Americans. It took us so long to get statehood, to get to be real Americans. Now some people want to throw it away on some foolish dream of getting back the kingdom? You’ve got to be kidding!"

"I think they just want to be unconventional," Mama theorized. Duke smiled inwardly. Mama always liked to smooth over any differences. "I’m more worried about that picture. Doesn’t it have a curse on it, Duke-boy? I don’t want you to get hurt."

"Ruthie," Pop said impatiently. "There are no such things as curses."

Mama just cleared her throat and gave them her wise-old-owl look.

"Maybe not," she said. "But you never know."

"Do you guys remember that picture?" Duke asked. "Or any stories about when Princess Lili’u lived here? I’m just looking for a place to start."

"This island was her real home, like all of the royal people," Mama said. "They all came from Hilo."

"Just like your mother," Pop said slyly.

"Hush, Conrad," Mama said. "My grandmother used to tell me stories when I was a little girl about the Four Sacred Ones -- that’s what they used to call them. Princess Lili’u and her sister, Bernice, and Prince David and Prince William. They were so happy and gay and talented, everyone simply loved them!"

"That’s weird to think about," Duke said, "when it all ended up so tragically."

"Yes," Mama said. "Prince William drank himself to death, and her sister died very young – because of a curse!—" Pop snorted disgustedly —"and David and Lili’u each got the throne, but lost the kingdom."

"Well, I’ve got to find out what this guy meant by ‘taking her home,’" Duke said. "I wonder if he means some place special to Lili’u, or some place special to the history of the painting."

"Or someplace special to getting his name in the newspapers," Pop grumped.

Mama continued, "My father saw the Queen once, after she had been deposed. It made quite an impression on him."

"As I recall," Papa said, "he said she had a face that would stop a truck."

Mama frowned. "Conrad! I’m sure he simply meant the years and her cares had been rather unkind to her looks. I’m sure she was very beautiful when she was younger and carefree."

Duke got out the photograph of the missing portrait. "In this picture, she’s a knock-out. It’s the prettiest picture I ever saw of her. Makes you wonder if the artist might have been in love with her."

Papa looked at the picture critically. "She can’t compare to your mother," he said. "Too bad your grandfather isn’t still around. Perhaps he would be able to tell you where some fool might decide to hide that picture. He liked to moon around about the old days."

Duke winced. His father was hapa – half white – and intensely practical. He’d never had any patience with Duke’s sad, dreamy, full-blooded grandfather. "I dunno, Pop," Duke said. "I guess he never stopped grieving over everything he lost."

Mama said thoughtfully, "You know, Duke-boy, Lili’u’s home isn’t standing any more. But when the Four Sacred Ones were young, they lived in town, in a lovely house where the Hilo Hotel is now. It used to be so beautiful over there. You know, your father and I spent our honeymoon in the old hotel, and it really was a special, special place. So much feeling!"

Pop smiled and shook his head. "Then they tore it down and built that awful modern hotel with no charm at all."

"You know what?" Duke said. "I bet the picture was painted there, too. A princess wouldn’t go to an artist’s studio, he’d come to her, and probably live in the house while the work was going on." Duke polished off his glass of milk and set it down decisively. "You know what, Mama? You’ve just given me a place to start."

***

Like most everything else in Hilo, the hotel had seen better days. And, Duke had to admit that his father was right. The old Victorian-style hotel had provided a gracious oasis in the middle of a working-class city, a lovely reminder of a gentler time. The new hotel, erected in the 1950s, already looked shabby and dated, passed over by the big tourist hotels down on Banyan Drive.

Duke parked on the street next to Kalakaua Park, across from the hotel. He walked past a sodden drunk sleeping it off in the park, and made a bet with himself that the guy didn’t know he was crashing in what used to be a playground for princes and princesses. Who knows? Duke thought. Maybe he does know, and that’s how he lives with it.

Duke showed his badge to the young desk clerk. "I’m investigating a felony theft," Duke told him. "Has any guest checked in since yesterday with a large package?"

The clerk frowned and bit his lip thoughtfully. Duke wondered if the thin dusting of black hair on his upper lip was intended to be a mustache, or if the boy just hadn’t shaved. "How large?"

"Huge," Duke said. "Bigger than me."

"Yeah, I t’ink so," the clerk said. "Um – but he give me five bucks not to tell." His face flushed with a foolish grin. Obviously, conspiracy was not the kid’s strong suit.

"One dollar for every year you’d spend in prison for obstructing a police investigation," Duke growled. He hated to get tough with a dumb kid like this, but he couldn’t believe his luck. If the painting turned out to be here, it would be like getting a touchdown on the first play of the game.

The kid folded immediately. "Um, yeah, well, last night, some guy checked in and a-asked for help to get in a big, flat package, all wrapped up in brown paper and twine and tape. It was real heavy, and the guy was real nervous about anybody handling it."

Duke nodded briskly, allowed the kid to take a little confidence back. The kid continued, "The bell guy had already taken off – it was late. So I helped him. But it didn’t seem very practical. For why would he want to lug it up to his room, just to take it back down again laters? We could hardly fit it in the door."

Duke had to agree. It certainly would have made more sense and drawn a lot less attention to take the picture out of the frame. Of course, there was that curse – maybe the guy was a believer. Or maybe attention was what he was after. "Did he take it back down later?" Duke asked.

"Not that I saw. Like I say, he just checked in a few hours ago, in the night. And his car’s still out there. The package was tied to the roof."

Duke shuddered, then made a note of the car’s model and license plate. He’d get Hilo PD to run it as soon as he got the chance. "Did he say anything else about it? What it was, or anything like that?"

"He just said it was important to a lot of people, tha’s all, and not to drop it and stuff. Is that OK? You’re not gonna put me in jail or nothin’?"

"Tell you what," Duke said. "Take me to his room and we’ll be all square."

The kid quailed at that prospect and brought out the manager, a middle-aged Chinese guy with milk-bottle bottom glasses and a huge roll of keys. After an interminable wait, he and Duke boarded a stuffy elevator for their ride up to the third floor. "We don’t want any trouble," he said in a wheedling voice.

"Neither do I," Duke said.

The manager knocked on the door. "Mr. Brice? Mr. Brice? Can you open the door, please?"

Duke started. Brice? Wasn’t that the name of the painting’s artist? Just as quickly he realized it was the perfect name for the author of the Hui Kanaka Maoli letter, a thief who wanted to taunt the authorities, to leave clues for the police to find.

There was no answer. Duke felt a mounting excitement as the manager found the right key and slipped it into the lock. He eased the door open and stepped aside so Duke could enter first. Duke slipped his hand inside his sport coat and closed his fingers around his gun. The thief hadn’t sounded violent in his letter, but Duke didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances.

He entered the room quickly. It was small and dominated by a huge brown package leaning against the wall next to the window. Brice, or whatever his name was, was nowhere in sight. Duke checked the bathroom. Nothing. Brice must have gone out without the clerk noticing.

Duke couldn’t wait to call McGarrett and tell him the painting was back in the fold. Just to be sure, he grabbed a fistful of brown paper and ripped it away from the picture frame.

The image of Lili’uokalani, princess and future queen, shimmered before his eyes in innocent adolescent glory. A Hawaiian flower, untouched by the knowledge of her tragic future. Proud, spirited, intelligent, and therefore beautiful.

Duke turned to speak to the manager, to tell him to call the Hilo police and get a warrant and a couple of uniforms to secure the room, and get an APB out on Brice, or whatever his name was.

Then, it happened again.

The awful paralysis of his tongue, the agonizing blankness of his mind. He was on his feet, his eyes open, but helpless. Another blackout.

But it was worse this time, because of the blinding pain. Duke had never had a migraine before, but he imagined it might feel something like this. Involuntarily, he bowed his head, the pain hiding behind his eyes, malevolently stabbing his sinuses before racing across the crown of his head. His knees started to buckle and he grabbed the window frame to keep from going down.

Am I having a stroke? Duke wondered. What’s happening to me?

"Sergeant?" the hotel manager said. "Are you all right?" His voice sounded light and musical to Duke, like a woman’s voice, or a girl’s.

The pain squeezed his scalp and then suddenly shot out the back of his head and left him. Incredulous, Duke wrenched his neck upward to look at the manager. But it wasn’t the manager at all.

He was face-to-face with Lili’uokalani.

 

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