Obake Neko (Ghost Cat): A Pacific Tale
By David Michael Gillespie
Publication Date: May 31, 2018
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
It begins with a disappearance… In the waning days of World War II, the Obake Neko is the last surviving Sen-Toku—a huge secret aircraft-carrier submarine created by the Imperial Japanese Navy. As the war comes to an end, the Obake Neko sets sail back to Japan with a cargo of unimaginable value. In the chaos of Japanese surrender, the clandestine vessel and its crew vanish in the seas of the South Pacific.
Fifty-five years after the war’s end, former U.S. Navy pilot, Bud Brennan breaks into Pearl Harbor’s submarine museum in Hawaii. Bud’s son, Mike, is still raw from the death of his wife and grappling with a new career but still jumps in to help his dad. But when Bud’s antics garner the attention of the Navy’s JAG, Mike realizes his father may possess knowledge about the near-mythical Obake Neko and its fabled cargo—knowledge that is also of great value to the Japanese Yakuza. Now, Mike must scramble to learn the whole truth of his father’s decades-old connection with the legendary Japanese submarine and fight to defend his father from relentless military authorities and deadly Yakuza operatives. Even decades later, the Obake Neko and its legendary cargo are still worth killing over.
Can Mike discover the truth and protect his dad before deadly assailants succeed in silencing Bud forever?
Mike jogged to his car and sped out of the parking garage, fuming about the confrontation with his uncle. He shook his head—some confrontation. Heavy traffic on Nimitz Highway forced him to slow down. Honolulu has some of the worst rush-hour traffic in the nation, he thought. He either had to take the stop-and-go roads around the shoreline or line up bumper to bumper on the freeway.
As Mike drove to Pearl Harbor, he checked himself in the rear-view mirror at the first stoplight. His curly, coal-black hair had a few uneven patches. Under a wide forehead, his chocolate-colored eyes and long eyelashes gave him bedroom eyes that some women admired. He’d let his facial hair grow out to a stubble, trimming it once every few days. Mike still maintained his swimmer’s build, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. The rowing machine at home kept him in shape, along with his bird-like appetite that used to drive Spit crazy.
Turning left inside the Pearl Harbor Halawa Gate, the sentry ordered him to pull into the parking lot next to the base’s security office. He walked up a ramp and stepped inside, spotting his father sitting on a bench on the left. His seventy-eight-year-old father’s boyish good looks let him get away with a lot, but not today.
A petite warrant officer banged away on an old typewriter atop a worn desk on the other side of a long Formica counter that ran the length of the compact office. Bud was calm—too calm. Normally, he was outgoing and chatting up anyone around him, always flashing a smile and giving a wink, but not today. He was quiet and ignored Mike as soon as he strolled in.
Bud stood up, spread his arms out, and shouted over the counter, “Am I good to go now, Officer?”
“Sure, Mr. Brennan. Just need your son to sign off on the release forms. Then you’re good.”
Mike smiled. His dad glared at him. “You find something amusing about this situation, young man? You think this is funny?”
Mike held Bud in a steady gaze. “No, there’s nothing funny about breaking into a federal building and removing and destroying classified documents.”
His dad stood and smirked. “Allegedly broke into the building. They won’t find my fingerprints anywhere. And those papers were hardly classified.”
Mike opened his mouth to reply, but the warrant officer had stopped typing and stared at the two of them. Mike reached for the clipboard she offered and signed where she pointed, returned it with a “thank you,” before pivoting and heading toward the door.
“Let’s get out of here, Dad. We can discuss this later.”
Bud cut in front of him. “There’s nothing to discuss,” he said as he bolted out of the room.
Bud waited as Mike unlocked his car and they both jumped in. Neither made any attempt
at conversation. On the way home, Mike almost turned up the road to their old house in Aiea. Bud had chosen that house when they first moved to Hawaii because it overlooked Pearl Harbor. The view from the house’s lanai sighted straight in line with the Ford Island Airport runway that sat in the middle of the harbor.
Bud then sold that home and got together with Mike’s father-in-law to build a two-story duplex at the top of Alewa Heights in Kalihi. Both dads split the purchase and construction costs, giving the ownership as a wedding present to their children. The new unit—a white with black trim house—offered a two-hundred-seventy-degree panoramic view from Diamond Head to the plains of west Oahu. It was so high up you could see inside Punchbowl Crater, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. His mother lay buried there and his dad would join her after he passed.
They pulled off the freeway in Kalihi and drove up the four-mile meandering climb to the top of Alewa Heights. It was an old ’50s neighborhood with narrow roads not meant for parking, and odd-angled street intersections that made it difficult to recall which way to turn.
Halfway up, at one stop sign, you mounted a small steep hill. It forced you to trust that anyone driving up on the other side stayed in their lane. Mike remembered how Spit liked to recreate the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy steps out on the invisible ledge to find the chalice across the abyss. Every time, Spit would place her right hand over her heart as they hit the peak, like Indy in the movie, before having a fit of giggles. He couldn’t help but smile every time he drove this way, even now that she was gone.
The Alewa house contained three residences. Mike lived on the bottom level. The upper level held two separate apartments; one for his father and one for Spit’s dad, along with a generous communal area and a compact kitchen shared by both.
Mike parked in the carport. Bud jumped out and climbed up the stairs to the entrance to the second-level apartments he shared with Spit’s father, Tadashi Fujimoto. Tadashi ranked as a seventh dan black belt in aikido, a martial art where the movements are designed around a total defensive strategy. Everyone addressed him as Sensei.
Early in Mike’s relationship with Spit, she had told him her dad had been a judo instructor in Japan to Imperial Japanese Navy officer cadets during WWII. He’d lost most of the vision in his left eye in a training mishap, which kept him from frontline battle. After the war, he became absorbed in aikido in the late 1940s, admiring its smooth defensive movements. He wound up devoting five years to mastering aikido. In 1955, he’d gained employment at the Osaka Police Department to teach aikido’s opponent-controlling tactics to new recruits.
Four years later, Sensei got an opportunity, while on a Japan-sponsored goodwill trip to Honolulu, to demonstrate his martial art skills to the island police departments. He caught the attention of several top officers, who realized his value and offered him employment in their cadet training school. Sensei had jumped at the chance and moved to Hawaii. Over time, he picked up the basics of English and, with the help of the police department, became a US citizen.
As he stepped out of the car, Mike heard Sensei calling him from the curb. To keep in shape, Sensei often took walks up and down Alewa Heights’ steep hills. Sensei was short, balding, and slightly stooped, with his head constantly moving to give his good eye the best
view. Mike always marveled at how much Sensei resembled Shintaro Katsu, the Japanese actor who played the long-standing role of the fictional character, Zatoichi, a blind masseur, and secret swordsman during Japan’s feudal period. His three daughters affectionately called him “Z.”
Sensei marched up to Mike and put his right hand on his shoulder. “Your dad no come home last night. Any problems?”
“Yes, he’s got problems.” Mike hesitated, then asked, “Can you call my cell phone if he’s not in by midnight next time, please? Just for the next couple of nights? I’m worried about him.”
His father-in-law nodded yes, and Mike appreciated that he asked no details. There’d be another time to ask for advice, which he always gave without judgment. Turning toward the house, Mike bounced up the stairs ahead of Sensei and stepped inside the communal area. He walked to his father’s door and lightly knocked.
“Come on in,” his father mumbled. Bud’s apartment was a two-room suite with a full bath. Sensei’s setup was the same on the opposite side of the house. Mike strode through the navy-blue painted living room, which contained an old, dirty-brown La-Z-Boy facing a twenty-five-inch TV on a flimsy stand. In the center of the room stood a bulky antique dining table that Bud used to work on the museum plans. Behind it, a one-of-a-kind rolltop desk sat pushed up against the outside wall, across from the entry. The Hickam Air Force Base carpenters had built the beast in the 1940s. Made of solid koa wood, it weighed a ton and was worth its weight in gold. Bud had his connections.
As Mike stepped into the bedroom, he looked at his dad lying in bed on his back, staring at the ceiling. At six feet, two inches, Bud seemed to smother his queen-size bed. He still had a decent physique for his age, but hip problems slowed him down. Bud didn’t turn to look at Mike. Bright fluorescent lights flooded the room. A faded mahogany bedroom set—a wedding gift from his mother’s parents—was the only furniture. Two low nightstands, a highboy dresser, and a four-poster bed.
Whenever he entered Bud’s room, Mike’s eyes always gravitated to his parents’ wedding picture, on the dresser in the far corner. They had been married three weeks after Lieutenant Brennan returned from the Pacific War theater. Mom had worn a simple off-white dress with a wide square neck, large buttons down the middle of the front, and delicate lace draping off her shoulders. The photographer had positioned the newlyweds looking to the left. Their life together had barely begun.
After the war, Bud used the GI Bill to enter an Ivy League school—Bucknell University. Because he didn’t come from a well-bred family, Bucknell wouldn’t have touched him before the war, but post-war, the government made them take him. In three years he’d earned his electrical engineering degree and gotten a job at the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company, where he worked until he moved with Mike to Hawaii, two years after his mom had passed away.
Mike’s thoughts returned to the present, and he observed his father exhale loudly and keep shaking his head.
“I screwed up royally. All these years. I thought it would never come up. I’m lost about what to do, really lost.” Bud looked like he might cry.
“Well, things may not be too bad,” Mike said. He was uncomfortable with his father’s outburst. They had developed a long-standing unspoken agreement on dealing with emotions. Both kept their own council. This is what it had evolved into over the last twenty-plus years since his mom passed. Small talk only, don’t bring up heavy stuff, and no venting of feelings. Mom had been their heart, their glue, but she was gone.
“Not today’s shit,” Bud said. He paused and closed his eyes and whispered, “I thought I’d never again have to deal with that damn black cat sub.”
Mike leaned over his dad. “What are you talking about? What sub? The sub that rescued you in the Pacific at the end of the war?”
“No, not that one. The first one that saved me.”
His dad rolled over onto his side, away from him. “Never mind. I’m tired and need to sleep. We’ll talk later.”
Mike blinked twice, then roughly ran his fingers through his hair. He stood there, unsure of what to say or do next. Within a few minutes he heard Bud’s heavy breathing, so he switched off the overhead lights, closed the bedroom door, and wandered into the communal area. Sensei sat on the sofa waiting for him.
“Sensei, I need to go back to work. I hope we can talk later.”
“Sure thing, Mike. When you ready.”
David Gillespie moved to Hawaii as a teenager, where he attended public schools and graduated with a BBA and MBA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Gillespie has had a varied career in Hawaii’s business community. As a consultant with a University of Hawaii program, he traveled to many Pacific Island nations. His experiences in these exotic locales, along with his keen interest and research about the Sen-Toku Japanese submarines, inform and enhance his writing.
Gillespie is retired and has taken up home improvement projects, earned a private pilot license, and works on writing historical adventure novels. He continues to enjoy life in Hawaii, his home, with his family and a tuxedo cat named Tick Tock.
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