The Kojima files sat untouched on Newcomer's desk for two years while another case ballooned around them. In 2006, Newcomer, again as Ted Nelson, but now with a handlebar mustache and a crappy van, went back undercover. This time, he chased a roving band of pigeon racers who killed hawks and falcons that threatened their birds. A few weeks into his new operation, Newcomer got a tip. Kojima was back and heading to the bug fair. Newcomer decided to engineer a run-in where Ted Nelson could apologize and clear the air. That May, Newcomer grabbed his video camera and headed back to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. That's when he arranged to run headlong into Kojima in the corridor.
"What are you doing here?" Newcomer asked.
"No, what are you doing here?" Kojima replied.
The men shook hands. Ted Nelson said he was glad to see Kojima. He had, in fact, been meaning to thank him. Ted Nelson explained that someone had turned him in and, not knowing what to do, he'd fallen back on advice he'd once gotten from Kojima. When the cops showed up, he hadn't let them search his place, Ted Nelson said. He'd also kept his best stuff offsite. Kojima's wisdom had kept him out of prison, Ted Nelson said. He wanted him to know he was extremely grateful.
Kojima bought it; Newcomer could tell. The two men agreed to meet for lunch that afternoon. Two hours later over cold soup and cabbage at a Korean barbecue, Newcomer asked about Kojima's health. Kojima commented on Ted Nelson's new biker mustache. It almost seemed like the butterfly man was flirting. Both confessed they were still deep into the bug trade. Newcomer kept a hidden audio recorder running.
"You ever get those chimaeras?" Nelson asked. With wingspans that rival those of small robins, Ornithoptera chimaera, a spectacular species of birdwing butterfly, flutters above rainforest canopies in the South Pacific, feeding on the nectar of high-sprouting flowers. Logging, mining and the march of agriculture, particularly palm-oil plantations, have clobbered the plants they use for food and shelter.
"Chimaeras? I think I have about 10 pairs," Yoshi said.
"What do you want for those?" Nelson asked.
Kojima was silent for exactly 10 seconds. "Chimaeras come from Papua New Guinea," he said between bites. "You can get them from Indonesia easy. But in Papua New Guinea … difficult."
Nelson plowed ahead. "Because Greg wants $236 for a pair."
"I give them to you for … $70 or $80," Kojima said finally, and then laughed. "Don't buy from Greg."
"I don't, I don't, believe me," Nelson said.
They ate in silence. Kojima had ordered for them both, greasy beef and pork dishes. Newcomer, a strict vegetarian, forced it down.
"I might ask you to sell me those chimaeras," Nelson said after a time. "This would be for me. And then I'll resell them to someone else."
Kojima said he could send them by mail.
"What about customs?" Nelson asked. "Will they check it?"
"Express mail, no check."
Nelson asked if the butterflies would have permits.
"No permits." Then Kojima corrected himself. The butterflies would have permits. They just wouldn't be real.
Newcomer agreed to buy all 10 pairs.
Kojima loosened up more. He volunteered that he could get Ornithoptera alexandrae, the world's largest butterfly. It was the Holy Grail for collectors. With a wingspan the size of a football and exquisite, iridescent yellow-blue-green ring patterns, the male Queen Alexandra's birdwing is one of nature's most endangered and spectacular creatures, found in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Alexandras are banned from trade, but Kojima said he regularly shipped them from Papua New Guinea to Europe and then on to Japan and the United States, covering his tracks by mislabeling the packages. "We write down that it's a moth," Kojima said. Customs officials "don't know better."
Newcomer's heart pounded. Maybe he hadn't blown this after all. "I wonder if any of my customers would buy an Alexandra?" he asked, as if to himself.
"You be careful," Kojima warned. "You may lead them back to me."
After lunch, Kojima asked if Nelson could give him a lift to a Japanese sauna. In the car, Kojima talked casually about butterflies from faraway lands, which he also said he could find ways to bring into the U.S. He spoke openly of the men who frequented this sauna, men who sometimes propositioned one another right in front of him. "That right?" Newcomer said, again trying to sound disinterested. He let the moment pass but made a mental note. Men visited this sauna looking for sex. The revelation implied an escalating bond of trust. After three years of trying to put Kojima away, Newcomer was suddenly making quick progress.
"Have fun in there," Newcomer teased as Kojima stepped from the car. Kojima laughed and headed inside.