The corner of Smith and North Hotel Streets in the dark heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown can be a frightening place. Just blocks from Maunakea Market, the sights, sounds and, yes, even the odors can be overwhelming. Sidewalk stalls feature a variety of exotic seafood and rare tropical flowers, each in varying degrees of freshness. Picture as well as a swarming mass of humanity (with questionable dentition) hailing from the far corners of Asia and the Pacific. It’s enough to intimidate even the most seasoned traveler.
Just imagine, however, that you're an anthropologist specializing in shamanism and ancient medicine. And maybe you're looking for just the right ingredients to cast a spell or craft a potion to, say, increase your husband’s flagging libido. In that case, Smith and North Hotel would be just the place.
Of course, you'd need to have a contact; much of what you'd be looking for is strictly black-market material, poached from the declining ranks of the world’s most endangered species. But you'd assuage your conscience with the thought that this was just a one-time thing, and since the stuff’s there anyhow what harm would you really be doing?
So you screw up your courage and negotiate the narrow streets amid the seedy bars. It’s early in the day and so you dodge the hardened hookers heading home after a rough night’s trade. You find the shop you're looking for. As you enter, a small bell nailed to the door jingles softly, welcomely. You mention a name and the old woman behind the counter smiles toothlessly in relief and recognition. The shop is redolent with smells you have no desire to identify. You procure bear paw, powdered rhinoceros horn, tiger penis as well as extracts from the organs of the pangolin and civet cat.
“T’ank you Ma’am, t’ank you,” the old woman bows as you turn to leave. “Dis just what you need … you no tell nobody …T’ank you.”
You tuck the expensive contraband into your shoulder bag and head for home. You try to look casual but, as you walk down Bethel Street toward Ala Moana Boulevard, you turn furtively and look over your shoulder. The beautiful blue sky and the already-fierce Hawaiian sun seem especially bright, especially revealing.
That very afternoon you prepare the philtre according to the traditional recipe in an old Taoist text and mix it into your husband’s wine. He downs the first glass so quickly he never notices the slightly pungent after-taste. Nor does he pay much attention to the strong smells lingering in the kitchen. After all, he’s accustomed to your rather outré culinary inclinations.
* * *
Three days pass in dizzying profusion; easily the most bizarre and nightmarish three days of your life. The results of your machinations have yielded powerful results that in no way correspond to your expectations. And there’s nothing you can do. No one’s likely to believe the story you have to tell. Your only option is to stand by your husband, a man arrested, vilified, held over for psychiatric evaluation … and banned from zoos worldwide for life!