Thursday teaser: Coconut Island

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This week’s teaser is from the brand-new Hilo Bay Mysteries collected edition, just published this week,

By J.L. Oakley

Before the first wave came, all the water emptied out of Hilo Bay. Boats were stranded, fish flopped in the sand patches and coral rocks only to be thrown back onto the beaches by a thigh-high wave.  A second wave came like a high black wall with boulders and studied force enough to knock homes and storefronts off their foundations and send them back into the buildings on the streets behind. It sucked people, cars, dogs and parts of the train depot out into the bay before the third wave came, a two-story monster. It smashed the cottages at Laupahoehoe School and grabbed four teachers and a score of students. It took out the train bridge in Hilo, the tuberculous hospital and washed away the USO buildings on Coconut Island. When all was done, the sea lay flat for several hours as if to ponder the devastation and the hundred and fifty souls left dead.

Chapter 1

Beatrice Watanabe stood at her bedroom window and looked out to Hilo Bay. It was early morning, the day just waking up but she could see far out beyond the sea break. Beatrice smiled. More than anything, she loved the sea and looked forwarded to presenting her science project on Honu, the green sea turtle, to her fourth grade classmates. She had spent a week going through old National Geographic magazines looking for pictures. Once her big sister, Hillary, took her down to Coconut Island where the turtles sometimes could be seen. When Beatrice spotted one, she took a picture with her Brownie camera. It only showed a ghostly back and head when the film was developed, so Beatrice drew some pictures with colored pencils to go with the black and white photo and pasted them onto her board. 

A truck horn beeped. On the street below her family’s two story apartment, Beatrice saw Mr. Chang’s grocery truck pull over to the beach-side of the street. Beatrice listened for the train whistle –the palm tree-lined Front Street ran parallel to the train tracks and wide beach beyond– but there was no train coming in from the Puna district at this hour. 

“Beatrice,” her mother called. “Come to breakfast. We haven’t much time.”

“Coming.” 

There was more than school today. Her brother, Jimmy, was coming home. For the past two years, he had served in the armed forces, fighting with 442nd in Italy. It was the most decorated fighting unit in the U.S. Army during the war and all Japanese. Jimmy had two purple hearts and was going to be awarded a Medal of Honor. Everyone in the family was so proud. 

Except Uncle Toshi, Beatrice thought. He had changed since the war. Always stern, he seemed angry all the time now. Maybe because he had to go away. 

“Beatrice. Please listen.”

“Coming, Mama.” Beatrice stuffed her books into her school bags, tied her brown and white saddle shoes, and started to go down to the kitchen, when she looked out the window. The water in the bay looked odd, like it was backing away from the beach. Swiftly, as though on little crab feet, the water receded behind the sea break. Down on the sidewalk, Mr. Chang stopped unloading his goods and taking his hat off, stared. 

Beatrice dropped her school bag and ran out into the hallway. “Mama! Something’s funny going on. The bay is all dry.” She rushed to the living room where there was a large window that looked over the street. 

There was a commotion in the kitchen. Bernice’s mother, hurried down to her. Her teenaged brother and sister, Clarence and Janice, were close behind. They all stared out the window at the empty bay.

Hilo’s 1946 Tsnami strikes. Photo: Hawaii News Now.

“I heard of this, children,” Beatrice’s mother said.

“Can we go down and look?” fourteen year-old Janice asked. “I could look for opihi and crab.”

“Or treasure,” Beatrice chimed in. “I could help Honu if he’s stranded.”

Their mother frowned. “No. The sea may come back and flood the street. But I think we will be safe here for now.”

Flood the street? Beatrice thought. Won’t it flood the flower shop below us? She opened a side window. The smell of plumeria and sour sea weed hit her, but the strongest thing she sensed was the lack of natural sound. No myna bird or dove called. It was deadly still.

The sea did come back. Beatrice watched in horror at the speed it filled in the bay, raced across the beach and spun Mr. Changg and his truck around. The building shuddered when something hit it.

“To the back, children.” Bernice’s mother pulled on her arm. “Now.”

“Where’s Hillary?” Clarence asked as they squeezed down the hallway. “Shall I wake her?”

“She didn’t come home.” 

Beatrice was shocked at the tone of her mother’s voice, even more at her determined assault on  every window in the kitchen. Mama shattered each glass pane with a heavy iron pan. Through the  gaping windows, Beatrice heard someone yell.

Honu, the sea turtle, from Wikimedia Commons.

“My honu project.” The thought of it getting wet if another wave should strike the front of the apartment made Beatrice sick. “I’ll be right back.” She dashed down the hall to her room and picked up the large sheet of cardboard. She peeked out the window. Down below, Mr. Chang and a neighbor were accessing the damage to the truck and what appeared to be missing railroad rails on the other side of the street. The little palm trees looked forlorn. 

“Beatrice!” 

Beatrice snatched a stuffed animal, clamped it under her arm, then grabbed her project. A roaring noise made her turn her head. Out beyond the sea break, she saw a black wall making its way toward the town of Hilo. It went over the break as easy someone pouring water. Huge boulders twisted and tumbled along with the wave’s flow. People started to scream. Beatrice ran.

The aftermath of Hilo’s 1946 tsunami. There would be more. Photo: Hawaiihistory.org

Half way down the hall, the apartment shook so violently, Beatrice was thrown to the wooden floor. She crab-crawled her way back onto her feet and ran to her mother just as the walls of the building collapsed  The floor tilted, then seemed to push her up, as the wave broke open the ceiling, then the roof to the morning sky. Beatrice grabbed onto the closest thing to her – the glass knob on the door that once led into her parent’s bedroom. Her cheek against the door, she rode the wave as it rushed debris and people in toward the red dirt and green hills behind the town. To her horror, as she spun, Beatrice caught a glimpse of the giant wave behind the one that carried her now– the biggest thing she had ever seen. Higher than the apartment, it smashed down the remaining structure of the home and neighborhood she had known all her short life. The door caught on a large piece of the apartment’s roof and threw her on top of it. She grabbed on, her bleeding fingers seeking anything to hold onto. Somewhere in the din, she heard her mother cry out to her. The last thing she saw was Mr. Chang’s truck sweeping past her upside down and Honu from the sea, beating its legs as fast as they could go. Even the turtle’s eyes looked terrified.

The last thing Beatrice remembered was that it was April’s Fool’s Day. 

Coconut Island

Investigative reporter Tawnie Takahashi is no stranger to mysteries, but can she handle one steeped in her own family’s history? A box of letters from a WWII soldier stationed on the Big Island is found at the Big Island Historical Society and unlocks painful memories for Tawnie’s Great Aunt Bee. Bee’s older sister was swept away in the 1946 tsunami, but now Wendy suspects she was murdered first. As she delves into the mystery, Tawnie meets a group of nonagenarians who were at the USO center on Coconut Island during the war. One is a hero. Another is a cold-blooded murderer.

Coconut Island is the first of the three Hilo Bay Mysteries.

Get it as part of the collected volume on Amazon.

J.L. Oakley

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters come from all walks of life, but all stand up for something in their own time and place.

Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

When not writing, Janet demonstrates 19th century folkways, including churning some pretty mean butter.

Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017. It is set in 1860 on San Juan Island in Pacific NW during a time with the British Royal Marines and US Army jointly occupied the island—peacefully.

Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley13.

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