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A legacy of loss.
1600s- Hawaiian fishermen attempt to carve a life on a small island of rugged beauty. Mid-century, those who’ve survived the tsunamis and floods flee the place forever, dubbing it Kaumaha-Misery Island.
A legacy of lies.
1847- King Kamehameha chuckles at his good fortune when he rids himself of Kaumaha in a sale to Reverend Amyas Lathrop of Massachusetts, who is looking for a fresh start for his congregation. But faith is stretched to its limits when a mysterious illness devastates the island year after year…
A legacy of bones.
Present day- Ogden Lathrop hates Kaumaha, and his apathy has ruined all that his ancestors built. He is beyond thrilled when he closes a deal to sell the crumbling tax liability to a local developer for twenty million dollars-villagers and family be damned.
But the Lathrop women feel differently. Family matriarch Eleanor seeks a fair solution for all involved, while her strong-willed granddaughter, Lani, born of two cultures, vows she will protect the island and its people to the last. When violence erupts, more than one casualty is found amidst the rubble, and the family grapples with the sins of both present and past generations. Now they must choose the legacy they’ll leave behind. Can an island named Misery ever hope for a better future?
Copyright © 2023 by Doug Burgess
Cover and internal design © 2023 by Sourcebooks
Cover design by Sandra Chiu
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Apart from well-known historical figures, any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Burgess, Douglas R., Jr., author.
Title: A legacy of bones / Doug Burgess.
Description: Naperville, Illinois : Sourcebooks Landmark, 
Identifiers: LCCN 2022028706 (print) | LCCN 2022028707 (ebook) | (trade paperback) | (epub)
Subjects: LCGFT: Novels.
Classification: LCC PS3602.U7453 L44 2023 (print) | LCC PS3602.U7453
(ebook) | DDC 813/.6--dc23/eng/20220616
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022028706
LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022028707
Excerpt from Dark Currents
Hawaiian Glossary Terms
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with the Author
About the Author
For Tonmoy Hassan, Aloha Mau
The 'i'iwis began chattering in the banyan tree outside old Mr. Po's window before dawn. Their conversation was muted at first, a polite exchange of greetings, but quickly gained tempo as more and more neighbors joined in. By daybreak it was an argument. Mr. Po cursed them, as he always did. The 'i'iwis answered back good-naturedly, clicking and ruffling their feathers.
Breakfast waited on the table: a cut papaya under a mesh dome and a handful of granola that his daughter told him would keep him regular. He acquiesced on this because she didn't know about the cigarette that followed, savored on the lanai in the cool blue light. In Mr. Po's mind, one canceled out the other. He ate his meal and dressed himself in an old pair of khakis, baggy round the knees, and sandals. He rarely wore anything else.
"Come on, Sadie. Come on, old girl."
Mr. Po named his dog, Sadie, after his dead wife. People thought that strange, even disrespectful, and he didn't bother to explain. Truth was, he had been saying her name for almost sixty years, and now she was gone he found he couldn't bear not saying it anymore. The present Sadie was a fat and cheerful yellow Labrador. She kept by his side as they walked out into the valley, following a dirt trail that Mr. Po had cleared himself in his younger days. Now his sandaled feet kept it smooth. The path snaked behind the house into a dense grove of trees. The ground was moist; it had rained last night.
"Good, very good," muttered Mr. Po. He spoke to himself all the time now, though usually pretended he was talking to Sadie. Sauntering along beside him, one ear cocked for prey, she pretended to listen.
In the foothills the trees were sparse, revealing long vistas that stretched all the way to the sea. Mr. Po followed the same route as the ancients, and the symmetry of his footsteps and theirs passing over sacred ground pleased him. Once there had been a village at the bottom of the valley where all rivers met. The rivers were still there, but the village was gone, drowned in a storm, rebuilt, and devastated once again. Now there were only a few scattered trailers half-hidden by palms. Mr. Po's daughter lived in one of them. He didn't visit her often; didn't want to know what it looked like inside. He had come once, unannounced, and the smell of rotten garbage and worse things—things he wasn't even sure he could name—left him depressed. Sadie had been a forceful woman, matriarch of her family, but Sadie was dead. Now his daughter did as she pleased, and the rest of the clan moved to Oahu looking for work.
Best not to dwell on such matters. Mr. Po breathed deep the morning air and saw ahead the object of his walk. The heiau was old, older than Kamehameha, older even than the first kings. Its black lava walls were tall and forbidding, more like a fortress than a place of worship. Mr. Po lit his second cigarette of the day, not as satisfying as the first but still a comfort, and saluted the temple. Sadie disappeared into the underbrush.
The light around him bled from blue to silver to deep rose. Like a child waking from a deep sleep, he thought, as he always did. At eighty-three years old his thoughts moved down the same well-worn paths as his feet. Now both led him inside the black walls to a spot he loved. Sadie had found it first—his wife, that is—and showed him when they were both children playing in this grim, abandoned castle. At the very center of the complex was another stone outcropping, forming a rough square and sitting some five feet higher than the rest. "This is the castle keep," Sadie told him, and scrambled up to take possession. He didn't know what a "keep" was, and neither did she, but it seemed a likely enough spot. Here wild plants flourished: snowbushes and monstera and a curious curly-headed burst of foliage called star of India. This was the spot Mr. Po came every morning to greet the day. He looked at the sky and thought of his wife.
The golden crown was just passing over the rim of the cliffs. The morning god Lono spread his broad arm, and light fell from his hand. At that moment the trees seem to draw breath. The warmth of the sun penetrated their canopy, waking the animals within and stirring the ground itself. The day had begun. Old Mr. Po turned and found Sadie just below him, staring with a puzzled expression. She wagged her tail and whined.
"What is it?"
She shifted on her feet, agitated. Mr. Po followed her gaze and saw that where the sun had reached the ground it glowed lurid red, almost scarlet. A long shadow appeared. It came from the statue of the old haole preacher who settled on these islands many years before. The statue stood a few yards away from the temple, surmounting a cylinder of lava rock. Mr. Po tried not to look at it; the thing was hideous. He watched its shadow instead. Outstretched arms extended, forming a crucifix. The sign of the cross now covered the old heiau, as was intended. But then other shadows appeared. For a moment Mr. Po thought light had caught the trees, but there were no trees here. Human figures, distended, restless, writhing. The old man had seen such things before. "Come on," he urged the dog. "Come on, girl. Come away from there." But Sadie, showing a tenacity that reminded him of his late wife, obstinately followed her nose. The shadows covered her now. She paused, whimpered. Her fur stood as if electrified. Mr. Po took a hesitant step toward her, and their eyes met. Black lips drew back from teeth, and she uttered a low but unmistakable growl.
Suddenly the old dog threw back her head and howled. But it was not her voice Mr. Po heard.
Mokupuni Poino, The Cursed Island
Hawaiians think of the Big Island as young compared to its siblings. The oldest, Kauai, is green and soft-shouldered and pleasantly senescent. Oahu, the middle child, is all things to all people. But the Big Island of Hawaii is sharp-edged and prickly with a teenager's mood swings. On the western side, Kona smiles warmly while to the east Hilo grumbles under a perpetual, sodden cloud. The roads upcountry to Mauna Kea veer from lunar landscape to Western prairies; in the south, lava flows from a bottomless cauldron into the sea.
Kaumaha Island lies about fifteen miles off the Kona coast, a long boat ride or a short seaplane trip. The tectonic convulsions that birthed it were incomplete: instead of a single mountain, the sea tossed up a crescent-shaped ridge, giving the island the shape of an apple with one bite missing. Fishermen once lived in the valley but a tsunami in the seventeenth century nearly wiped them out. The survivors came down from the cliffs, buried their dead, and rebuilt. Five years later they were consumed by a second flood. The few who escaped decided that the gods had cursed this place and abandoned it for good. They left its name as a warning to others: Kaumaha, Misery Island.
Reverend Amyas Lathrop knew nothing of this when he purchased the land from King Kamehameha III in 1847. He thought he got a bargain. Kamehameha promised him there wouldn't be a soul there; he could do just as he liked. The king was known to have a lively sense of humor. The reverend built his plantation house of lava rock, smoothed and shaped into a respectable counterfeit of brick. It had two stories and a roof of green tin, encircled by a lanai with koa wood columns and piecework railings that recalled the Mississippi steamboats then coming into fashion. The paint, originally yellow, had weathered into a kind of dusky tan flecked with black spots where the lava shone through. It looked like mottled skin.
Ogden Lathrop stood on the lanai of Lathrop House with a whisky in one hand and a cigar in the other. He squinted in the sunlight, but the view never changed. The valley, a few outcroppings of black lava ruins and, in the foothills, a more prominent cluster capped by the stark bronze figure of old Uncle Amyas. Yet through the myopia of sunlight and sweat he saw a mirage of what was to come. Excavators would cleave the virgin ground; the river would be covered in concrete. The hills would disappear forever behind a white balconied citadel. Ogden wanted to hear the sound the earth made when Tanaka's heavy equipment began to rip it apart. He wanted to see it flying through the air, denuded, powerless. The land. The valley. That wretched incubus on every male Lathrop for almost two hundred years. "Just look at it, Oggy," his father would say, standing on the veranda and sweeping his hand before him, "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your life?"
Ogden had, every day, all four years he spent at the University of Pittsburgh getting his business degree. He would have happily traded every one of those hills for a decent pizza delivery. Instead he came back, hung his diploma on the wall, rolled up his sleeves and went out to fix the tractor. For the first few years his father had been with him, querulous, disapproving. A series of strokes slowed his movements and speech, but his eyes were expressive. Those furrows aren't straight, can't you see that? And the refinery is falling down. Whole place is turning to shit. Then the old man died and there was nothing to prevent his son from transforming a genteelly unprofitable plantation into a completely disastrous hotel.
Remnants of that experiment surrounded him. A brass-railed luggage cart lay on its side near the porch steps. The gardeners had been using it as a wheelbarrow until one of the wheels snapped. A velvet rope cordoned off the back stairs with a sign that read FAMILY ONLY. That might be my epitaph, Ogden Lathrop thought.
"Dad?" His son Roger poked his head through the screen door. "You out here? Gran wants you."
Roger manfully resisted rolling his eyes. He returned from his first year at Hawaii State to discover both his parents somehow diminished in his sight. His father knew perfectly well that Eleanor Lathrop, materfamilias, did not provide a reason for her demands. It was enough to make them known. She was born a Fisk, and the Fisks held almost mystical power on the islands since they first arrived with Captain Cook in 1778. But Roger had also learned a few things. He cast a sharp glance at the plimsoll line in his father's glass. Three-quarters full, which was good—assuming this was the first and not the fourth. "Dunno. But she seemed pretty insistent."
Ogden grimaced. He stubbed out his cigar on one of the railings and kept tight hold of the whisky. "Okay, I'm coming."
The house was a center-hall Colonial of the Federal style, with doors at either end. To the left of the entrance were the front parlor, library, and study. To the right were the music room, dining room, and back parlor, which the family kept for themselves as a den. The front parlor, with its straight-backed Hepplewhite chairs and uncompromising horsehair settees, was little changed since the late Reverend's wife, Prudence, arranged it to her liking. It was reserved for holidays and occasions of state.
Eleanor waited for them in the front parlor. She sat in the most angular chair and looked as if she might have grown out of it. Though she was nearly ninety, her back was unbent, and her pale blue eyes glittered with a fierce intelligence. She favored her son with a glance of cold disapproval that took in his unkempt, thinning hair, empurpled face and the drink sweating in his hand. "It's only ten thirty," she said.
"For God's sake, Ma, it's blazing outside."
Seven generations of Lathrops had been born on this island, yet Ogden still blistered every time he opened the front door. His face was never without a sheen of perspiration, and he had a habit of running his palm over it like a baker kneading dough. His nose resembled an overripe strawberry.
"Sit down," she ordered.
Ogden sat next to his wife, Marnie, who smiled at him in a bemused sort of way. A thin, colorless woman of fifty, she seemed to blend into whatever background she found herself in. Eleanor observed that she had chosen exactly the wrong shade of green patterned dress against her pale skin. "Marnie," she said impulsively, "don't you own anything besides pastel? You look like a watercolor left out in the rain."
Roger chuckled and was promptly contrite. Marnie smoothed her hands over the fabric as though to erase the pattern. "Oh, this? I saw it in the window at Mauna Loa, and it seemed nice, and the material is very breathable…"
Eleanor cut her off without remorse. "Ogden, if you put one more of your damn cheroots out on my railings, I will impale you with them. You think I can't see the scorch marks? If you want to burn the place down to collect the insurance, for God's sake do it properly." This was wicked, for they both knew he had many times considered doing exactly that.
"Why are we here, Gran?" Roger asked. "If you just wanted to stick pins in us, couldn't we do it in the den, where it's more comfortable?"
Eleanor looked at him kindly. Thank heaven, she thought, that the grandkids have a little spunk. "At the moment, dear, we're waiting."
"The rest of the family, of course."
Ogden made a noise between a growl and a gurgle. "You don't mean…"
"I certainly do."
Just then the front door opened and shut with a bang. A tall, well-muscled Hawaiian woman entered the room in two long strides, swinging a rucksack from one shoulder. In a tank top and denim she still managed to look regal. Her black hair was pulled into a braid, revealing a heart-shaped face with eyes as dark as caverns. She tossed the sack negligently into the corner and announced, "Hello, family!"
Eleanor was amused. "Lani, dear. Come take a pew." Another figure loomed in the door. "Ah, I see you brought reinforcements."
He was a few years older, just under thirty, with curly black hair tumbling over his shoulders and an expression that was both engaging and insolent. "This is Peter Pauahi," Lani announced casually. Peter wore nothing but a pair of board shorts that looked as if they had been mauled.
"You remember him, Ma," Ogden said with loathing. "He's the one who told the Honolulu papers we were all murderers and rapists."
"I didn't say all," Peter corrected with a grin.
"Please sit down, both of you." Eleanor waited as they settled on the Regency divan, directly across from a smoldering Ogden. "Actually, I'm glad you came, Peter. It makes things easier." She adjusted herself slightly and looked around at the assembled company. "Anyone want tea? There's some guava cake in the fridge."
No one wanted tea.
"All right, then," Eleanor continued, "this has gone far enough. It was one thing when it was just family, but now Tanaka wants to bring in outsiders to manage us like little keiki. We are not children. So we're going to end this here, today."
"It's not that easy, Gran," Lani answered evenly. "It's gone beyond us now."
"It has not. That's what I brought you here to tell you. But we'll come to that later. First, Ogden, would you please remind us how you got us into this mess?"
Her son sputtered, "That's a hell of a way to talk about a twenty-million-dollar deal…"
"Oh, is it that much?" purred Lani. "I didn't realize."
"It's none of your fucking business, that's what it is."
"Enough." Eleanor's tone was sharp. "Very well, as my son is incapable of coherent speech, I'll tell it for him. Some months ago he was approached at the Pacific Club by this fellow David Tanaka. Apparently, they play golf together. Tanaka heard of our difficulties and offered to come to the rescue. By the end of that afternoon, they had agreed to sell Kaumaha, and afterward it was in the hands of the lawyers. Am I right so far?"
Ogden flushed but did not speak.
"My son, as you all know, is managing director of the Lathrop House Hotel, as well as a trustee in the overall estate. As managing director, he had every right to sell the hotel…"
"To destroy our village!" Peter interjected hotly.
"…but, as a trustee of the Lathrop Estate, he had no right to sell the land." She paused and glanced around. Dead silence greeted her. "Am I not making myself plain? The hotel and the land beneath it are two properties, not one."
Roger cleared his throat. He spoke slowly, choosing each word. "So that means Tanaka paid twenty million dollars for…this house?"
"Correct." She smiled at him like a fond pupil. "Oh, the bill of sale covers the whole island. But there are two trustees for the Lathrop Estate, and the terms of the trust make it clear that both must consent to any sale. I did not give my consent. I do not give my consent. Not yet."
Ogden stared at her with glazed eyes. His mouth was open. "What are you talking about?" he finally croaked. "It's done. It's all done."
"Not at all. Your father left you the house, but we own Kaumaha jointly. Your sale never happened."
Ogden crumpled. "But I did it already," he muttered into his chin. "It's done…"
Lani had been silent. Suddenly she leapt to her feet with a war whoop that startled them all. "It's done, all right!" she yelled, triumphant. "Overdone! Burnt to a crisp! Hooray!"
Peter looked at her as if she had gone mad. "But the hotel," he reminded her, "the hotel is sold…"
"The hotel doesn't matter! It's just bricks, and Tanaka can have them. Kaumaha is saved!" She rushed to embrace her grandmother, who held up a monitory hand.
"Not so fast. I haven't finished yet. You'd better take a seat." She waited for a moment, then went on: "I am, as I said, a trustee to the Lathrop estate. I have a responsibility to the island. But I also have a responsibility to my family. All of my family," she added, looking at Lani. "The fact is, the hotel is a flop, and sugar isn't coming back. We've made a go of this place for almost a hundred and eighty years, but I don't see how we can keep on. I have to think of the next generation…you and Roger. My dear, this is an enormous amount of money. I know perfectly well that my miserable son will hoard his share. But if you drop the arbitration demand and allow the sale to proceed, you can have mine and distribute it among the villagers as you see fit. What do you say?"
Lani stood irresolute, towering over her grandmother. Her hands dropped limply. "I…I don't know…"
"I do," snapped Peter. "I'm one of those villagers you're talking about. And you want to buy us off. But we still don't get a say. Families that have been here for generations!"
"The island will be sold, no matter what, Peter," Eleanor told him. "If not by us, then by the government, after they claim it for taxes. Better to get something out of it for yourselves. Protesting only makes it worse for your people."
"First you try to buy us off, now you blackmail us. We shut our mouths, or you'll take our homes away. That's it, isn't it? Some kind of lolo choice!"
Roger, observing this scene, thought he understood. Until now, Peter Pauahi's life had been singularly free from achievement. He had dropped out of school in Kona at fifteen, drifted back to the island and had remained in limbo ever since. Peter was supposed to be a mechanic's apprentice, floating about the garage with an oil rag dangling from his belt, but no one had ever actually seen him fix anything. Mostly he just hung around the piers and smoked dope with his friends. This fight brought him notoriety, respect. He would not relinquish it easily.
Eleanor continued to look at her granddaughter. Though hardly alike, there was a certain shared quality to their faces. "It's your decision," Eleanor said softly.
Something hardened in Lani, and the kinship faded. "No," she answered. "I can't. It may be the right thing to do, and it may have to happen. But I can't be the one who does it. You must understand that."
Eleanor nodded. "I do."
"WELL, I FUCKING DON'T!" Ogden screamed. He rose from his chair, spittle dribbling down his chin, and turned on Lani. "Where do you get off, anyway? You've never wanted anything to do with us. Always hanging out in the village, down there with them. Think I'm going to let you ruin my life, my son's future? You're not even part of this family!"
A moment later there was a sharp sound, like a gunshot. With astonishing speed Eleanor had stood and slapped her son across the mouth. He looked stunned. "That's enough now, you hear?" she hissed. "That girl is your dead sister's child and every bit as much a Lathrop as you or Roger. She may not look like you, but that's to her credit, not yours."
"Of course she's part of the family," Roger put in. He liked his cousin. They played together as children. Less so after the crash, when Lani went to live with grandparents in the village. But she had always been kind to him, in a big-sister sort of way. "Sit down, Dad," he added.
Ogden sat, rubbing his jaw. Marnie patted his knee gently, like a mother comforting a small child. "Do be quiet and listen, dear," she murmured.
But Peter was still nursing an earlier grievance. "We'll fight you!" he vowed. "That arbitration commission, they'll understand. I'll make them understand. You're all nothing but a bunch of rotten haoles!"
Eleanor still looked at her granddaughter. Their eyes met for a moment, then Lani looked away. Eleanor sighed and spread her hands in resignation. "Well, that's that, I guess. The decision is mine after all. I won't stop the sale, but I won't encourage it, either. It will go to arbitration."
Ogden looked from one to the other, confused. "I don't understand," he said. "What's happened?"
"Nothing," his mother told him. "Nothing at all, apparently."
- On Sale
- Feb 7, 2023
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Hachette Book Group