IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Arch slept deeply for the first time since the classified file had appeared out of nowhere to give him his life back but also to offer him death once again, in a life controlled by unaccountable serendipity. He awoke next to the woman who lay just like he'd left her many hours before, with Harpo the Dingo lying across her feet and looking over, as if to ask what the hell Arch was doing in their bed. It was dark outside again. It was the time when nocturnal beasts would be wandering the night. During the Vietnam War he'd been one of those creatures, slipping through the mud under the bracken, clad only in green
underwear with a sheathed K-Bar knife and a muddy Colt .45. Neither weapon had cared much about the conditions and neither had he. He'd loved the night and the many storms. The enemy was afraid of the night and storms. Advantage in. Arch lay on the woman's bed thinking about not knowing her name and about the draw of the night always calling him back. Raul might work best in the dark, but was he truly a creature of the night? He possessed night vision goggles and Arch had none but Arch was willing to bet, having observed the man’s cold analytical appraisal the night before, that he was a nocturnal adept and not a creature who truly loved it. Was it safe? Arch was reminded of the Nazi dentist questioning Dustin Hoffman in the movie Marathon Man. "Is it safe?"
Arch had to have more information. He needed the rest of his stuff from the resort room. He needed to find out if he could make it down the road, at least part way to Hanalei. And there was something about the woman. Her innocent native beauty. Her adolescent attempt to be a drug addict. Her little girl lost state. Her trusting him. Then there was the damned cute and kindly silent dog that accepted him from the get go. He didn’t want to get them killed, and it really wasn't in him to simply hide out and hope everything would pass. His success in surviving the Vietnam War (and then 37 missions with the Agency) had been about assaulting problems, not running from them. It was 1993, but he was going back to the Marine Corps, Vietnam War and the night. Arch prepared myself for what was to come. Down to bare shorts, with no shirt, New Balance 1300s without the white socks. Going through kitchen cabinets to find camouflage paint when there was none for his too white face and body. Plenty of soot from the stove vent, mixed with a bit of vegetable oil did the job. There would be no mud, like the stuff used by Arnold Schwarzenegger to hide from the heat-seeing predator in the movie of the same name. Mud would never have served there either, but that was a movie. Night vision detection, if Raul was out there wearing them, he would have to be avoided with cover. Arch was ready. The unnamed woman slept on, avoiding life as best she could. Harpo sniffed him and would have licked a bit of his ‘camo’ off if he hadn't quickly gotten out the back door. No weapons. Just him and the dark. The comfort of the night. No rain. No drizzle. No wind. Arch crossed the road. No traffic at all. Everything was as deadly silent as he was. Very slowly he moved down the side of the road across from the resort, inside the bracken, from tropical tree trunk to tree trunk. Low and slow crawling through the night. The only way to remain silent. He stopped upon reaching a point across from Raul's house. Nothing. No lights. No cars. Nothing. He felt his reconnaissance was too easily accomplished. There seemed to be nothing stopping him from going back to the woman's house, then getting his stuff from his room and making a light run down through Hanalei to the Princeville Airport. He lay on the muddy leaf and fern covered ground, peering through the bushes like a character in some spy movie. To make sure it was safe Arch continued his journey a bit further toward Hanalei. It took only about a hundred yards of difficult and tiring travel to have everything fall apart with little warning. The sound of a man running tore open the silent night. Flip flops. A man was running down the road toward Arch’s position wearing local flip flops. It could only be Raul. The Kauai asphalt of the road was made with ground coral. There was no running or walking on that surface in bare feet for long without skin being cut to ribbons. Arch could not gamble that there was any coincidence in what was happening. He could not risk that the running creature was not Raul, or that he had not been discovered. He sprung from the bushes and ran toward Hanalei on the yellow stripes down the very center of the almost invisible highway. He was running for his life.
Arch’s mind was racing out in front of his body, as he came up to just below full speed in a panicked rush to stay out of range. Why was the man running behind him wearing flip-flops if he was the assassin Arch believed him to be? It was damned difficult to run wearing those things. Unless. Unless Arch had tripped some sort of hidden detection device. Raul would have come straight out of the house wearing whatever he had on at the moment. Arch ran on, knowing he had a good lead and that Hanalei was less than three miles away. Arch was in shape. He could run in the cool tropical air at nearly full speed the entire way. There were only small hills along the highway, although there were no places to exit the road and escape from it until he got there. He had his New Balance 1300s and Raul had flip flops.
Arch was a mile in, fully planed out and into the run when he realized that he was going to lose the race. Whomever or whatever Raul was, he was a world class runner. Arch could run three miles in such conditions as he was in in just over sixteen minutes, and that was damned fast. But Raul, in flip flops, was very slowly closing the gap. Arch could hear him in the darkness, the sounds of his loud footfalls making it seem like he was merely loping along. Raul was a natural. Arch wasn't going to outrun him. He knew he had only high rough cliffs of black lava between himself and the nearby ocean. Arch had the same thing, except walls of the volcanic stuff going straight up, on the other side of the road. And he was going to lose the race. There was no doubt in his mind that Raul also ran with his specialized handgun in one hand. All he had to do was get close enough to see Arch. And Arch knew if Raul had been wearing night vision goggles he'd have already taken a few shots. So Arch ran on, trying to increase the pace but knowing deep inside that he could not hold a higher pace for the distance it would take. He was a mile out of Hanalei when the cliff to his left dropped away. He was coming hard around a curve in the road, as the view opened up to show a great expanse of the bay located just before Hanalei. A field of irregular rounded stones glistened out toward the pounding surf of winter on the north shore. Arch looked back for the first time, but could see only blackness and hear the steady beat of Raul's flip-flops on the wet asphalt. Flip flops. New Balance 1300's. Slippery round rocks. The surf line. Serendipity. Arch cut from the road, jumped down the slight rock decline and began to leap from rock to rock, heading for the surf line in the distance. With the light of a half moon he could barely see anything ahead of him, only the shiny tops of the rocks and the white of the waves pounding down.
Arch hopped, skipped and half-slid across the tops of the rounded rocks of Hanalei Bay at a full run, knowing his pursuer was not far behind and closing. And armed. And wearing flip-flops. If Arch only had enough of a lead. He thought about flip-flops, or “go-aheads” from his childhood (you can't walk backwards wearing flip-flops), they could not be worn to move across the tops of slippery rocks. The merest touch of moisture would cause anyone's foot to slide off of the unsupported rubber pad beneath. Arch didn’t look back, his full concentration focused on not missing a single step. One missed step meant going down and that meant death. The surf got louder and louder the closer he got to the deadly descent of big waves coming down on solid rock. The scene in front of him would have, at any other time in the near blackness of full night, frightened him, and there would never have been any thought of entering such a dangerous, churning caldron. True terror of what was behind him overrode his high but lessor fear. Arch could not hear anything behind him anymore. The sound of crashing water overwhelmed all other sounds, but Arch knew Raul was back there. He'd either fallen, risen again, or he'd stopped, knowing that there was no way either his poorly clad feet or the skin of his bare feet would have enough traction to make it across the tops of those rocks. Raul was an intelligent experienced predator. There was no doubt in Arch’s mind that silenced bullets were passing him in the night as he neared the surf. His life was only being saved by Raul’s lack of light and his weapon's inability to be properly sighted for a distance shot. Point and shoot did not work at night, at any kind of distance.
Arch went right at the surf line, not slowing or coming to a stop to remove his New Balance lifesavers. A wave reared up as he cleared the last of the rocks. It was probably not that huge, but as he ran directly toward it the wave looked to be over ten feet high. Arch leaped through the air and dived headlong into the base of the wave, hoping that he could get deep enough to go under the wave without hitting the rock bottom, or be pulled back and over the falls. Being pulled up and back down on the rocks directly, with that much water above him would be instantly fatal, or if he somehow survived he’d die later wishing it had killed him right away. Arch knifed deep and under the wave, and then went deeper still to go under the second wave. He surfaced immediately, and was able to go over the top of the next series of breaking waves, turning as he breast-stroked out to look back at the rock field he'd barely escaped from. He bobbed up and saw the man. Raul stood there, if it was Raul, about a third of the way from where he’d left the road to the surf line. Arch couldn’t see a weapon, as the light was too dim, but he could see the shine of the man’s wetsuit.
Arch realized Raul had been waiting all right, but he'd been waiting for Arch to try to slip past his house using the beach. Arch turned his back and paddled out into the bleak, dark and roiling waters just beyond the heavy surf. Somehow, he felt a sense of warmth. It felt warm, even in the cold heaving water, to be alive at all. Once well outside the surf line he stroked as high in the water as he could to keep the white caps from absorbing their foamy spindrift. It was full night in very rough inshore conditions. Arch had no idea about the current but knew he could not risk staying too close to the shore. There was nowhere to make a landing without literally risking life and limb. Once committed to coming in there'd be no time or chance to dive under and attempt a second landing.
Arch moved as far offshore as he dared. The water wasn't cold, but it wasn't warm either. Hypothermia could become an issue in such water in less than two hours, but moving hundreds of yards off the rocks, by as much of an estimate as he could, resulted in much smoother water even if it took more time. The waves no longer broke and Arch could relax a bit while treading water and thinking. He was saved, but saved for how long? He thought about Raul and he worked to relax and prepare himself for what had to lie ahead. The man was smart. A worthy opponent, to say the least. He'd been ready in the night, as he should have been. On the beach he could have shed his flip flops instantly and run at top speed across the moisture hardened sand between the houses and the water. Was he smart enough to predict what Arch was going to do next? That question brought Arch to the big problem. Which was what was he going to do next? He could not stay outside the surf line and wait until first light. The water was too cold, and he was too exhausted. He had to swim for it. Hanalei was only a mile away, but he knew instantly that Hanalei was out of the question. There was a current and it was running pretty strongly the other way. His only real hope was in swimming the two miles, or so, back to the resort. Even that beach would be no picnic to come in on, as it too was strewn with coral and rocks. Arch slowly breast-stroked with the current, no longer afraid of either the wild night sea or what his chances were. Lumahai River. The river crossed under Kuhio Highway a quarter of a mile before the resort. It flowed out to sea next to a point that protected any view of it from further down the island. The surf pounded into the treacherous fresh water outflow. No rocks. Just water against water. The real danger would be from colder fresh water flowing into, and then down under, the warmer sea water. Great swimmers had died where those waters met. Surf beaches were reputed to have no real undertow. That was myth, except for rare places like the open gaping mouth of Lumahai River. Arch was going to have to find Lumahai in the middle of the night, and then risk everything to ride a wave in on one roll of the dice. He paddled on, feeling the wonderful New Balance 1300s that had saved his life, now slowly dragging him down.
Arch struggled in the unending jostle of slapping waves and against the darkness to get his shoes off without losing them. He knew if he made it successfully to shore that he was going to badly need them again. There would be no way to avoid the difficulties inherent in trying to cover the remaining quarter mile to the resort by once again crawling and limping through dense jungle bracken across lava strewn muck. It took some time and trouble, but he finally got the 1300s off, and then untied the knots in the laces. He strung the shoes around his neck, which was uncomfortable but would have to do. Whether the shoes would make it there through the crashing surf would be an issue for the future. He swam gently, keeping what few lights visible onshore off to his left, constantly moving north in the current.
The water became rougher as Arch was pulled around the promontory extending out from the side of Hanalei Bay. Lumahai was just ahead, but there were no lights on or behind Lumahai at all. The point that stuck out with the river running right alongside of it would be invisible until he was already by it. If he missed the river mouth, and went around the point, then his chances for coming in on anything not resembling rock razor blades weren't good. He stroked gently in toward the shore, the waves rising higher and higher until the crashing just to one side of him was loud and frightful. The waves were getting bigger, or so it felt. And then the crashing sounds diminished a bit. Just a bit. Arch knew the effect had to be caused by the river mouth. The waves were still breaking, but they were breaking down upon the river water rushing out. He had to take a chance. It was a terrible chance. If he guessed wrong and went in too soon there would be no recovering and his body would be smashed on the brutally sharp rocks of the lava shore. However, if he was only seconds later he’d be slammed into the low but substantial rock face of the point. Arch started breathing in and out as deeply as he could. If he hit the timing just right he was going to spend some time underwater struggling to overcome the outflowing current while trying to rise to the surface with the breaking surf just behind him. He no longer gave any thought to his shoes, Raul or anything else other than trying to live through the next few minutes.