Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Nov 17, 2022

Again 2022


Because of my uncle Thomas, my parents could buy the family station wagon at a good price.

He owned a local car dealership and gave my dad a good deal; it goes without saying that uncle Thomas didn't make a huge commission on the sale, but after all, he was my dad's younger brother. It was just something you did back then. Uncle Thomas was always well dressed but in a Peter Fonda kind of way; he was cool, that's for sure. One evening my dad decided to take everyone out for a Chinese dinner in town, and he invited uncle Thomas to come along. I got to ride in his 1971 Mustang Mach 1, which was one of the big thrills of my childhood. We listened to Santana on his brand new 8-track cassette player while we drove to our destination. Once the album completed itself, he lowered the volume and asked, "So, what will you be when you get bigger?"

“I don’t know, maybe a fireman or drive a stock car,” I replied

“Dad takes you to the stock car races all the time, yeah?” Uncle Thomas confirmed more than asked.

“Yes,” I nodded. “It’s fun.”

“What kind of girl you gonna marry?” He proceeded to go down the list. “Hawaiian? Popolo? Japanese? Podagee? What kind?”

“I like Aunty Ruby; I might marry her,” I said thoughtfully.

“You probably could,” he said seriously. “She’s just your calabash Aunty, not your real aunty. By the time you’re my age, she’ll be too old to marry.”

Not blinking an eye, I replied, “She said she’d wait for me, so she’ll only start getting old once I’m your age.”

Uncle Thomas laughed so hard that he started coughing. I thought I’d said something wrong. When he finally recovered, he looked at me and giggled, “My man, you’re a funny little brother.”


As I mentioned previously, uncle Thomas was my father’s younger brother, they were as close as two brothers could be, but I could always sense an underlying tension between the two. I was never sure what it was until my older brother Val started hanging out with Uncle Thomas a lot more. He was starting to get in trouble for a bunch of things aside from the regular juvenile behavior. Val would be forced into the military later on because it was the only thing that would save his life. It also prevented Uncle Thomas from killing him. I digressed a little from my point; Val was getting into more trouble than he was worth, at least that’s what my father said. Besides, when Val got into trouble, he wouldn’t come home because he was more afraid of the beating he would get at my father's hands than being arrested. Mind you, this was the late 60s or early 70s, so you’d pay with your ass for the stupidity you enacted.

Val was stupid a lot.

Dad called Uncle Thomas one day and asked him if he would hire Val at his job and take him under his wing a bit. Uncle Thomas agreed, and after that, my brother came home at a decent hour, woke up early, and came down to the breakfast to eat with us. He pleasantly discussed his job with our father and kissed and thanked our mother for breakfast before he left for work. A month later, Val came home with a girl named Vanessa. He had her sit in the living room and introduced her to my mom and dad. I could only sit by and watch. I was not allowed to talk. She was beautiful but in a sweet way, and my parents loved her because when it came time for dinner, she asked my mother if she needed help. Mom really liked that, and they got to talk and know one another. In the meantime, Val and dad talked about his job. The funny thing about that discussion is that although Val talked to Dad about what he did at work, I still didn’t know exactly what it was that Val did. After all that, my father then asked Val, “How in the hell did you get that girl, Val? She’s beautiful!”

“Uncle Thomas introduced us,” Val nodded toward the kitchen. “Don’t tell mom, but she’s twenty-two.”

Dad’s face fell to the floor, and he slapped Val on the shoulder and whispered harshly to my older brother, “You are a dog!”

It was the first time in a long time that I saw my older brother and my father laughing and talking together like that. It was nice to see, and it made me laugh and smile. That’s when they looked at me and shook their fists, “You better keep your mouth shut!”

The evening was successful for Val, and after the goodbyes and thank yous, Val left to drive Vanessa home. Mom and Dad were pleased, and it seemed that Val had turned around his wayward habits thanks to Uncle Thomas. After dad helped mom clean up in the kitchen, he got a beer from the fridge and picked up the phone.

“Eh, Tommy.....thanks for helping with Val. He’s doing good; we’re proud of him,” Dad got kind of emotional right then, and I could just hear Uncle Thomas on the other end of the phone, “It’s okay, brah, no worry.”


It was a day when mom and dad were out shopping. It was Val’s day off, and he was upstairs in his bedroom with Vanessa. I was downstairs in my room playing with my brand-new hot wheels. Just then, Uncle Thomas pulled up in the driveway in his 72 Camaro, it was a deep purple color, and he let it rumble a bit before he finally cut the engine and walked into the house. I peeked out of my room and saw him head upstairs, “Hi, Uncle Thomas!” I waved.

He looked at me without missing a step, “Is your brother home?”

“Yes, uncle, he’s upstairs,” I pointed. Uncle Thomas winked at me, and pretty soon, I heard a scream. It was Vanessa, she came running down the stairs with only her skirt on. In her arms, she carried her sandals and her top. She was hysterical and crying, she had the keys to Val’s car in her hands, and she jumped in it and drove off down our graveled driveway. A few seconds after that, Val came walking down the stairs with Uncle Thomas behind him. He had a gun pointed at the back of my brother’s head.

“Stay in your room, Junior, don’t come out,” Val said calmly.

“Val and I are playing Cowboy and Indian; he’s my prisoner today. I’ll bring him back later,” Uncle Thomas winked, and he and Val walked out the door. As they headed to uncle Thomas’s car, my mom and dad drove up. My dad was mad, and he and Uncle Thomas got into a fight. Val and mom stayed out of it. Uncle Thomas was mad at Val because he stole a kilo of what Uncle Thomas called ‘his stash.’ It was worth a lot of money; I heard my dad ask Uncle Thomas how much it was worth? Whatever amount Uncle Thomas said it was, my dad drove to the bank, withdrew that exact sum, and gave it to Uncle Thomas. After that, dad told him that they were no longer brothers. Uncle Thomas left, and we never saw him again until the day of my dad’s funeral many years later. However, at that moment, Val got smug and said, “That’ll show him, right, Dad?”

Wrong; my dad told Val that even though he paid Uncle Thomas off for what Val stole, he was still a target. If Uncle Thomas didn’t get him now, he’d get some time sooner or later. That’s when my dad beat the holy hell out of Val. The next day he took Val down to the army recruiter's office and made him sign up for the military. My brother had no choice. Dad told him that it would be years before he could ever come back home. Dad was right, and Val was another one that we would never see again until dad passed away. Even then, Val could only express his sympathies via Skype. If you haven’t already figured it out, my Uncle Thomas was a gangster whose car dealership was a front. Val was one of his runners who eventually became one of Uncle Thomas’ best earners. However, greed got the best of Val, and he figured that no one would miss just one Kilo.

He was wrong.

Vanessa came to stay with us until Val completed boot camp; dad got her a secretarial position at the warehouse where he worked at. Dad had to be at work at 5:30 in the morning, but Vanessa didn’t start until 8:00 am. Luckily she had Val’s car to drive around with; that was also another matter that dad had to settle with uncle Thomas. No harm was to come to Vanessa. Otherwise, dad promised there’d be trouble for him. Vanessa’s family lived in Maui; she worked a full-time job and lived on her own until things blew up between my brother and uncle. That’s when mom insisted that she live with us for a while.


My dad was eighty-three years old when he passed away this year. He had no health issues of any kind; he just passed in his sleep one night with my mother fast asleep beside him. The next day, he never woke up. He died of natural causes, whatever that’s supposed to be, but at least he didn’t suffer. The services were simple; it was held at his favorite beach house at Naue on the island of Kauai. Dad didn’t want anything religious; he just wanted the people he loved to gather as one while the sun set in the west. Once that was done, he wanted his ashes scattered in the ocean. It was a stunning orange and purple sunset, and I had the opportunity to tell my children and grandchildren about the kind of man my father was. While I looked back at the beach house, I saw an elderly man hobbling toward us in a bright blue buttoned-down shirt with blue slacks and shined-up shoes. He had a full head of white hair that was combed back and weighed down with mousse. It was uncle Thomas. I walked over to him and gave him a great big hug, and he hugged me right back. He was four years younger than my dad, so that would make him out to be seventy-nine.

“You’re still alive? That means you must be out of the life?” I beamed at my childhood hero, and I was amazed at how much he looked like my father.

“I’m barely alive and almost out of life,” he chuckled. “Look at you,” he patted my cheek with his old withered palm. “You’re a grown man with a wife and a big family. I’m proud of you, Junior; you did well for yourself.”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I can’t argue with you on that one.”

Right about then, my kids and grandkids walked up, and I introduced them to uncle Thomas. I made sure that they didn’t overwhelm him too much. After, I had him come to sit with me on a couple of chairs where we could talk and catch up. I asked him if he wanted some water to drink or some juice, but he asked for a beer. “Are you supposed to be drinking beer at your age, uncle Thomas?”

He waved me off and shook his head, “I lived this long because I’m a sipper, not a drinker. Drinkers don’t last for the long haul. Sippers take it slow; that way, they have time to appreciate the finer things in life.”

I returned with two beers and handed him an already-opened bottle, “Your mother called me all the time and kept me up to date with what was going on with your father.”

“Is that how you found out about today?” I asked very curiously.

“And other things,” he nodded to one side. “There were so many times I wanted to come and say how sorry I was, but your father is stubborn, so I kept my distance all these years.”

“Dad knew you were keeping tabs,” I told him. “He didn’t say anything about it, but he knew.”

“So much could have been solved if he’d have just let me apologize,” uncle Thomas shook his head. He leaned across the arm of his chair and asked, “I haven’t seen your brother. Is he here?”

“You know he’s not here, uncle Thomas,” I looked him in the eye, so he understood that I knew. He took a sip of his beer, and after placing it on the arm of the chair, he reached his arm over to me, “Help me up, Junior; I have to get going.”

I walked him out to the road, where a black limo was parked. Two men were standing in front of it while one sat in the driver's seat with the window rolled down. “Dad was right; he said you’d never let it go, and it's been what? Forty-six years?”

Uncle Thomas turned around, gazed at the beach house, and then looked up at me, “This could have been my life, being an uncle to you and Val and your father’s brother and your mom’s brother-in-law. I could have been here today with a family of my own just like yours, but I was too greedy, and by the time I wanted out, it was too late. I wasn’t mad at your brother so much because of the drugs he stole from me; I was madder because of Vanessa.”

“Vanessa? Why? Was she your girlfriend or something? I remember Val saying to my parents that you were the one who introduced them?” If she wasn’t your girlfriend, then what was the big deal?

“She was one of my office girls at the dealership, and the introduction was casual because I was showing Val around the place and introduced him to everyone,” uncle Thomas began. He made it a point to speak slowly and purposefully. “I never thought that they’d get together.”

“I don’t understand?” I told uncle Thomas. “What was the big deal?”

“Vanessa was my illegitimate daughter I’d had with a woman years ago; I was really young. When Vanessa’s mother discovered she was working at my dealership, she called me one day and told me who Vanessa was. By the time I had to guts to go talk to her, I was hit with a double whammy, Val stole a kilo of my drugs, and he was dating his first cousin.” The old man’s face began to turn red as tears and snot dripping down his nose. He quickly removed a handkerchief and cleaned himself up. “The damage was already done; anyway, I never told your parents,” he gave me one last hug and hobbled his way across the road into his waiting limo but not before he turned back and looked at me, “Tell your mother I was here…..I didn’t want to bother her and bring up all this stuff, you see ?” He nodded to himself and got into the vehicle. The two other men got in with him, and the vehicle drove off.

I mean, Uncle Thomas wasn't as lucky as my father in how his life ended. My father went the way he wanted to go, but uncle Thomas was run over and killed by a man who was paying attention to his text message while driving at the same time. He never saw my uncle in the crosswalk. There's one saying that goes you can't help who your family is. There's another saying that says you never really know who it is you're related to. I always say that it's important to keep your family close but to never go into business with them if you want to remain family.

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