It Was 1993
by James Strauss
It wasn’t to be him or Arch Patton. It was only going to be him. Arch wasn’t a knuckle dragger and he’d never been one. You don’t fight a force of nature and when such a force materialized outside his room on the lanai the thing appeared for the all the world exactly like a force of nature. You ride earthquakes, hoping to survive. You move quickly and adroitly around tornadoes hoping it veers in a different direction. The thing stood still. It breathed like a true world class human athlete. Heavily and deep. It looked out upon the world through robot eyes. And it knew. It knew the message sent to it by the diary and it was afraid, making it even more frightening than any stone cold automaton could be. The man wasn’t looking for Arch. He was trying to feel Arch, to be one with him, to blink with him, breathe with him, and taste his very life. Arch’s silence under the bush was complete. The player, or assassin, or whatever he was, gave Arch back his desire to live right then and there. The man’s appearance forced Arch to scrape out all thoughts of ending his own life, as if by the turning of a switch. Arch wanted to live and not die at the hand of someone like himself, but more aggressively equipped to be more than Arch thought he was. Arch stared up unblinking, through the covering leaves and moisture laden branches at the predator he thought himself to be, but was not. The stolen top secret file lay plastered to his stomach like a cancerous parasite. There would be no surrendering the document back to such a creature with a flimsy apology. There would be no discussion. Molten metal had been conjured up out of pure miserable chance and hardened steaming in front of him into what it was going to be. The slag of a blackened moving sculpture had taken form.
And then it, or he, was gone. Arch knew it was a he but ‘it’ certainly seemed like a more accurate descriptor. And Arch was frightened. He was more frightened then when the man stood dripping rain like a black stone statue above him. Arch felt that he couldn’t move. To move was to almost certainly die. But he couldn’t stay hiding under the wet bush forever. He looked at his watch. The old crummy Rolex wasn’t even waterproof. It had stopped at 3:10, like the Yuma movie name. Risk. Life was all about risk. Arch crawled out from under the bushes, carefully looking around but seeing nothing in the dark. Back through the double doors, backlit with dim interior lights. An awful exposed position, but no help for it. The diary was gone. Arch slipped from the main room into the bathroom, closed the door, sat on the closed toilet and smiled for the first time. The apparition had taken the diary. He’d taken it to read further. With his ninja costume he’d had to put it down his pants, like Arch had done. Arch pulled the damp file out from his own pants. The ninja was just like him, huddled somewhere pulling a document out of his pants and reading to try to understand what the hell was going on. They were both trying to figure out how their luck could be so bad.
It was 1993, and there were no cell phones. The phone in the room hadn’t worked since Arch had gotten there. He was at the Hanalei Resort, a good three miles up the north shore from the town itself and a long way from Lihue, the airport, or anything bigger. He had to get the hell out of the resort and to a place where nocturnal animals didn’t hunt comfortably, and he had to make it through the rest of the night into the next day, into the light. He threw on a pair of OP shorts, a polo shirt and his New Balance running shoes using up a last pair of clean white sox, thick and cushioning. He was a mess but he had to get out of there and read the damned file. Arch grabbed the keys to the black Lincoln rental, stuck the file back inside his pants and fled.
The parking lot in front of Charo’s Restaurant was wet, dark and foreboding, but the shiny car was sitting where he’d left it. He ran to where it hunkered down impossibly low to the asphalt. He didn’t bother to unlock it. All four tires were flat. It wasn’t going anywhere. He backed under the eave of Charo’s place until he was pressed against the locked double doors. He wondered why he was still alive. The wraith in the middle of the night figured he’d try to run. How did he even know who Arch was, or where he was, or what kind of car he had, much less where it was parked and what Arch might do with it? Because he was that kind of player. Arch’s control officer back home had once told him that if he acted out again the Agency would send someone after him. Arch had smiled back at his control officer with arrogance. His control had looked at him without expression and said that they’d send someone exactly like Arch himself to get him. Arch couldn’t stay in his room. He couldn’t get to Hanalei. The northern edge of the island was drizzling black rain at four in the morning. He literally had no place to go.
There no place to welcome Arch in out of the rain, but there was one place to go. The old German who owned the place. The day before he’d been nothing more or less than a taciturn irascible ancient mariner, as if resurrected from some sunken Nazi submarine. He’d taken Arch’s check with a glint in his eye, quite likely hoping it was bad so Arch could be physically tossed out into the wet street without his belongings. Every morning the rough old man fished inside the reef using an old net (in front of the resort), his plastic bucket waiting on the sand for any sort of catch. The owner’s apartment, separated from the rest by a four-foot walk space, sat right on the edge of Kuhio Highway, which generally had no traffic at all except, during the day. The old German’s place was dark, as Arch moved around to find some way in without knocking on a door that warned: “Never Opened After Hours.” Except there were no hours posted. The windows were typical of Hawaii. Thin glass slats held in by aluminum tabs. Arch bent some tabs back, only to have a chunk of glass fall into the interior with a tinkling crash. He slunk down, waiting, but nothing happened. Arch counted out 96 slow breaths. Five minutes. Nothing. He slid around the corner until he was at the door again, his shorts and shirt-back soggy. The door was ajar. No light. Beckoning anyone or anything stupid enough to enter. Or desperate enough. Arch slid in, clicking the door closed behind him.
The room was blacker than coal and a lot less friendly. Heydrich was German all right because the place smelled of Europe. Unwashed culture. Unshaven class. Sort of like a woman wearing deodorant but not having shaved under her arms. Heydrich’s presence wafted across the room. “You, what do you want?” the old man’s gruff voice grated across the room in a harsh whisper.
“A place,” all Arch could think to reply, wondering what bore weapon was directed his way in the darkness.
“He came for you,” Heydrich said. “So you bring him here.”
Arch waited but could think of nothing intelligent to come back with. Heydrich went silent. Arch waited. “Who is he?” he finally thought to ask.
“Like you. Bottom feeder. Quiet by day. Silent by night.” He used the German words for day and night. “He comes. He stays. He runs. He goes. Then comes back. He’s never come over here before.”
Until now, Arch thought but kept silent.
“What have you got besides a bad check?” Heydrich asked, although he couldn’t really know about the check yet. “On me? Nothing,” I answered.
“The Rolex,” the old man noted. ” I’ll take the Rolex. You can hide until dawn. Then out.”
Arch released the metal bracelet. He loved the watch. “It quit in the rain and the crystal’s all scratched,” Arch informed him, hopefully.
“Keep it until it’s light,” the old German replied. “You can stay by the door, right where you are.”
Arch put his watch back on, sat back and wondered what to do. He had nowhere to go at dawn either, other than it seemed unlikely his new nemesis would be around much after the sun came up. Or he might be powerful enough not to care whether he was seen or not. Arch clutched the classified document close to his torso to wait. In spite of his dammed up feelings of impending terror he fell asleep against the inside of Heydrich’s door almost instantly.
His deep sleep was cut short. He woke up against the door, in the same mess he’d been in the night before. Dull light showed a Spartan interior. There was nothing out of place, dirty or overdone inside the old man’s abode. A light draft blew in through the missing glass slot Arch had broken the night before. He leaned gently back to access the top secret file, its red lettering having run down the outside page. It was a thin file, as most of any importance were. Arch opened the file to the title page and the title printed in large capital letters wasn’t good. It read “PROMIS.” Arch closed the file. He knew that acronym. The file had something to do with the prosecutor’s management system, a deadly silent program that might have more descriptively been named the ‘governmental program to steal money from any bank, anywhere, at any time’ program. The pilot program had been launched at a bank in Arkansas by a man who bore the same name as the current President of the United States. No matter what the file said further, it was going to be bad news. The German appeared, looking like he was from another century, attired in an old blue Pea Coat and ratty shorts. “Net,” he rasped out. “Breakfast with net. Get up.” He strode at Arch like he was going to walk right through him. Arch crawled out of the way.
“He’s going to kill me if I go out there,” I said, staggering to my feet.
“Maybe later,” Heydrich replied. “Now fish. Breakfast. Later, whatever.”
Arch knew he had no choice. The importance of his life, dependent upon the generosity and possible dementia of an old German fisherman, was defined by the words “…later, whatever.” Arch went out into a misty dawn on a surf strewn beach to seine for his breakfast. Heydrich didn’t bother trying to instruct him in the arcane ways of net fishermen. How he furled, folded and cared for the old piece of iron weighted material appeared as important as how he made it extend out from him more like a cloud than a net. The old German wore his Pea Coat, ratty shorts and nothing else other than his flat hat and scraggly beard out into the water. Both men stood in hip deep pounding waves, Arch’s job was to hold an old flower pot. It took nearly an hour just to collect a couple of inches of ‘way under limit’ fish. Arch kept staring up at the house. The one with a brand new black Zodiac pulled up the beach, with a brand new Mercury outboard on the stern. Whoever had hauled that boat that far up the sand was either part of a team or possessed of superhuman strength. It didn’t matter which. The man in that house had more than physical and mental strength going for him, and Arch had nothing. Arch and the German trudged in the blown morning drizzle back to the resort.
“Stop looking,” Heydrich said. “You’ll think of something.” He handed Arch a knife, older than Arch was. “Clean fish. Fry in old lard.”
He left Arch at the shore, who furtively kept glancing back at the house, and cleaning fish too small to even consider keeping.
Arch was listening to Roxette in Spanish, pounding out from Heydrich’s radio, eating fish cooked in old bacon grease, hiding out in a place where he’d already been found on the island of Kauai. Heydrich fried the best fish in the world that morning, either that or life simply tasted so much better because there wasn’t much of it left.
“You speak Spanish?” Arch asked the old man, eating the last of the fish straight from the hot oily pan. The old man didn’t answer. Arch had never heard Roxette stuff in Spanish. It was even better than English, although he didn’t understand a word of it.
“You got to go hide out,” Heydrich said, taking the pan and putting it in his sink. Arch understood, or thought he did, until the old German pointed at some binoculars sitting on a south facing window sill. Arch moved to pick up the lenses. 7X50 Zeiss. flaking black paint said, with a Nazi bird etched next to the letters. Arch peered through the glasses over the hedges and through the panel bush branches. Part of the front of Zodiac man’s house was visible. Local police cars congregated.
“They’re there for you in the day. If they take you, you will be his in the night,” the old man stated, flatly.
There was no question that they would certainly come for Arch after the display of beach fishing earlier. Maybe it was the old man’s intent. He had given Arch succor and time and Arch could not ask for more. He had to find a place to hole up and fast. He could not take to the forest or police dogs would surely follow. He had to find a place, and then wait until night again. The man monster was nocturnal and he was forcing Arch into his habitat. He thanked the old man, collected his small radio and the file that had brought him back to life and would most probably cause his death. Without comment or goodbye, Arch was out the door and slip-sliding away, scrunched low in the brush, moving slow with no place to go including the future.
Arch was huddled in the narrow alley that separated Heydrich’s resort from the first house just south of it. He forced himself between the loose narrow bush branches into the driveway of the home. A compact car sat under the carport near the door. He crept over. He put his ear to the glass of the front door but there was no sound to hear except the distant beat of surf on the nearby shore. He reached up from his squat to try the door handle. It turned.
Arch sat back down with his back to the door. What to do? What risks to take? The police car passing, and then slowing to a stop in front of Heydrich’s removed all decision. Arch opened the door, entered and closed it silently behind him, turning the little device in the handle to lock it. The police would question Heydrich and he’d have to tell them that Arch had slept, eaten and then moved on. The truth. The old German would survive telling that truth. Arch would not. Another cruiser pulled up. Arch crawled into the house, gently closing the door behind him. He moved on the floor slowly and silently, past the opening to the kitchen and into a small great room. He slipped around the corner and settled behind a couch, only then turning to stick his head out to see what he could see. If anybody was home, as the car seemed to indicate, Arch was done. But that thought fled as quickly as it came because his eyes focused into the eyes of a big brown dog sitting not ten feet away on the other side of the opening he’d come through. It looked at him with question and a seeming sense of pity until there was a knock on the door. The police were canvassing already. The dog got up, as Arch scrunched backward. The dog ignored him and walked toward the front glass door. A male voice said “there’s a dog guarding this place.” There were no more knocks. Time passed. There was the sound of a car accelerating away. The cops were gone. The dog walked back to sit down where it was when Arch spotted it. Arch’s life was being given over to the whims of a bored dog in an apparently empty house, set up on a beach resort that was normally described as a heavenly paradise.