Primitive Secrets: A Storm Kayama Mystery #1

Primitive Secrets: A Storm Kayama Mystery #1

One beautiful Hawaiian morning Storm Kayama walks into her lucrative Honolulu law office to find her adopted uncle, Miles Hamasaki, at his desk, stiff and cold. Years before, Miles had ...

About The Author

Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Deborah Turrell Atkinson lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and two children. A zest for traveling off the beaten ...

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Chapter 1

Miles 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 sonofabitch 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 2

Morning 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’ shonanuka, 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 kumiai, 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.

Reviews of

Primitive Secrets: A Storm Kayama Mystery #1

“Vividly described settings—from Honolulu’s Chinatown to the spectacular scenery of the Big Island—will entrance readers of this fast-paced debut, which effectively contrasts modern Hawaii with the lore of its past.”


“A memorable read.”

Library Journal