Secret Asian Man: Hawaii 5

written by Albert David R. Valderrama (茨城県)

hibiscus for my bike“Tourists,” it said on our summons. “Mainland Americans, vacationing in Waikiki. English only. No accents.” Copy that. We knew the drill. Blend in.


Operation Hibiscus was going according to plan. The eight-hour flight from a short stint in Seoul was complete, and I was able to rendezvous with my new entourage after changing disguises in an airport lavatory. Everything was perfect. It was almost too perfect.

Once reconnaissance was complete, I was scheduled to take part in a matrimonial ceremony and act as a bodyguard for a military official. The officer had apparently possessed one of the highest clearance levels possible, and my orders made it clear that his safety was not to be compromised at any time during his leave from base.

First, though, our team had to secure the perimeter and canvas the area days in advance for any bugs or enemy spies. The team was an assembly of men with whom I had conducted missions in the past. On point was “Vegeta,” cryptographer and medic. On tech was “the Prince,” computer expert and counterfeiter. On supplies was “Bags,” wheelman and resident mechanic. And on logistics was me, codenamed “Brother,” information specialist and linguist.

No matter how much of our mission histories overlapped, however, we had never worked together before under such foreign circumstances. Though we had been a unit years ago for nearly a decade on and off, it was our first time doing a “shield” mission, and it was also our first time in the middle of the Pacific. But the most important point to realize was that the old team was back together again, minus one. That was why it was all the more suspicious that everything had been going off without a hitch.

One afternoon, that changed while reconnoitering a nearby plaza for anomalous elements. It was the day before the main event, and we needed to get it all correct. We had to make sure that nobody’s cover was blown, and somehow it was all too easy until that point.

“Tourists,” it said on our summons. “Mainland Americans, vacationing in Waikiki. English only. No accents.” Copy that. We knew the drill. Blend in.

As the Prince and Bags were finishing up final surveillance procedures at the venue, Vegeta and I walked the surrounding area. We passed by a few restaurants, hotels, and shops on the way back to base, checking for mysterious persons and miscellaneous things. We entered a few establishments to dig deeper, but nothing seemed out of place until we arrived at a ukelele store at the end of the avenue, supposedly staffed by local islanders according to a detailed mission pre-departure report.

Walking in, my partner said hello. The shopkeeper looked up from a magazine and saw him cross the threshold into the store. She replied, “Hello,” and closed her reading material. Then, after I came into her view, she said, “Konnichiwa.” She stood straighter and more attentive. She darted her eyes to a closed-circuit camera, and went back to me.

I froze at the entrance. It was happening again. Like the patrolman who was once in my windshield, the shopkeeper spotted me. I looked at Vegeta and signaled with my eyes that we had to go. Something was amiss.

Swiftly we took a beeline back to base. Everything wasn’t perfect after all. Our identities were compromised. The operation was in danger.

We called the rest of the team for a sit-rep, and as the phone continued to ring on the other end, we could feel everyone’s eyes follow us speeding through the crowd. What was going on?

“Have you heard anything from the package?” a panicked Prince finally answered the line.

“No,” Vegeta replied. “We thought you were watching him.”

“We still haven’t gotten a visual,” the Prince explained, “and there was an incident.” Apparently another of our secret agents from Bravo Team was involved in a traffic collision while delivering some equipment to our makeshift warehouse. Moreover, Bags had to look for one of our men who had gone AWOL.

I requested that they contact Delta and Foxtrot Teams. It was a Code Magenta emergency. We had to regroup. On top of it all, the package was still unaccounted for. The operation was teetering towards Code Fuchsia, so Vegeta made an executive decision.

“We’re not supposed to make direct contact with the package before the day of delivery,” I told him. That was explicit in the mission briefing, but before I knew it, his things were packed and we were grabbing a cab for Downtown Honolulu. The shield mission became a search.

“Patch him up as soon as possible!” my companion yelled over the phone. “And bring back that rogue agent. We’re heading to the pad.” Before the other team members could protest, he hung up the line and ordered the driver to stop. We were at the determined pick up location, ten hours early, hoping the target was neither injured nor worse. All we could do was hope, almost literally.

At the door to the target’s supposed residence, we were greeted by an electronically locked gate. It was keycard-accessible only. No other locks. No other doors. Only one way in. Only one way out.

The security guards behind the windows stared in our direction. We had to get in, but it was proving more difficult than planned. In fact, there was no plan. But without the package secured, there was also no mission.

“Do we just knock?” I asked Vegeta.

“I don’t know,” he whispered.

All of the facility’s cameras were aimed at us like a firing squad. “Maybe we should just ask,” I offered from the corner of my awkward grin meant to confuse the closed-circuit glares.

“Like ‘Can the Admiral come out and play’?” He actually seemed serious.

I had no other legitimate ideas. “Maybe we can tell them it’s ‘Security Guards’ Day Off’ or something.”

As soon as the last “something” rolled off my tongue, though, the gate opened, and a heavy-set guard commanded us to enter. It was definitely something. But it was much better than nothing.

We collectively wondered what the situation truly was. Was the target safe? Did the security guards do something? Did they know who we were? Was it a trap? It had to be one of the above.

We were then greeted by a slew of questions from the guard. “Who are you? What’s your clearance? Who sent you? What’s your business? Are you armed? Do you have credentials?” They kept coming like a barrage of bullets. We had no time to respond. We had no alternate identities to use except for the names on our passports, so we stayed quiet.

Still the interrogation continued. Eleven. Twelve. Maybe thirteen questions came every second. We felt every light pointed towards us; every security guard on duty glaring like the bulbs in the lamps above; walls closing in like a giant trash compactor on a death star. There was no end to the question storm.

Then a ding emanated from behind the big man. An elevator opened, and a dark figure emerged. Maybe he was there to finish us off. Maybe it would be another mission failure. Maybe it was worse.

As his footsteps drew nearer, echoing in the corridor, our hearts pounded louder in our chests. The two sounds competed with each other like two drum lines, tapping and banging in a battle to see which rhythm would win. But as the imaginary music crescendoed, everything stopped abruptly with a hand.

It was a handshake. “I’ve been waiting for you,” the figure said with a big smile. “But aren’t you a little early?”

As his face came into the light revealing his highly decorated uniform, his name tag glimmered, “Admiral.” Our jaws dropped at the sight of our supposed target. The Admiral’s smile and voice were as familiar as our own. After the initial shock wore off, we realized that indeed he had been one of our own.

And at that moment, all of the lights turned on in our heads. All the pieces fell into place, and rightly so because all the pieces were under the Admiral’s control the whole time; or I should say, under “the Entertainer’s” control. Our former unit’s chemist and ballistics expert was never compromised and neither were we because everyone had been on his side. He had the clearance level after all. We were just pawns in the king’s game, and with his charm, honored to be as such.

The remainder of the operation went off without a hitch the next day, with the old team reunited. Our colleague from Bravo Team was bandaged, and the rogue agent returned. More importantly, our former “Voltron” unit was able to finally share a congratulatory drink by the end of it all despite having been on edge the entire week. The stress definitely brought the team closer together like we had never been before. It was good to see that we could still meld under such circumstances.

The mission was complete. The friendships were rekindled. We are now just waiting for the next set of orders to come so we could have another excuse to meet again. ◆

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