IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Arch was stuck trying to cross a stretch of dark beach with a woman and a dog, with his rental car about to explode behind them. The dog was not going to fit under the blanket, that was for sure. Time was of the essence; the country-boy concoction of timed-fire destruction was diverting his attention as Hertz could blow at any moment.
“There’s no point in using the blanket,” He told Cyn, placing the folded Hudson Bay next to the hedge. “Stay low and we’ll cross as quickly as we can when the car goes up.” He didn’t point out that the car fire, if it worked, would be directly behind them with Raul’s place directly in front of them. Was that a great thing, or a terrible thing, when it came to being spotted? Arch didn’t know, but didn’t like the odds.
They ran, Cyn carrying the small plastic bag with their identity stuff, cash, and whatever else inside it. Harpo headed down to the edge of the water just up from the breaking surf, which seemed like the right thing to do, so Arch followed. It was a make or break situation. If they were spotted they were dead. If they weren’t then they had a chance. Arch carried only a potato peeler and a small but heavy glass ashtray. The tip of the peeler would be inserted into the key slot, the ashtray used as a hammer, and voila! Or no voila! They ran. There was no staying low. The car went up with a fiery thud in the parking lot of the resort behind them. Arch looked over his shoulder to see a flickering glare bounce about among the assembled cabins. If they were lucky the event would draw the attention of any surveillance like a magnet. Though a well trained team that had worked together in the field might not be fooled, Arch was betting on a band of amateurs controlled by a few experts to be a whole lot less professional.
And he was right, or he was totally wrong. Either the surveillance was chaotic and not well experienced, or it was not there at all because they made it to the Zodiac. Cyn calmed Harpo, and then lifted him up over the edge of a side pontoon, while Arch clambered over the stern to examine the console ignition. He felt around. He couldn’t believe he’d been so dumb as to forget the flashlight. It was dark and he could only work by feel. And then fortune, or incompetence, smiled down upon him. As his fingers felt for the key opening he heard a metallic click. The click of a key. Arch felt the side of the console. There was a key dangling from a golf ball-sized soft float attached to a hook. He prayed that it was the ignition key. It likely was because it inserted easily into the slot. Arch didn’t turn it, however, to make sure. Almost any sound would be masked by the surf he knew, but he didn’t want to tempt fortune. He climbed out of the boat on the other side and whispered to Cyn.
“We’ve got to pull the bow around and then down in the water,” Arch said.
“No shit Sherlock,” Cyn whispered back, moving toward the bow to push while Arch grabbed the attached line to pull. They set to work launching the Zodiac into heavy beach surf, in the middle of the night, with a Dingo standing at the bow.
Cynthia and Arch got the Zodiac turned around, plunged over the small berm-like ledge it was up on, and pointed it right into the waves. The beach was forbidding; with the flames of the burning Lincoln rising up above the nearby resort; sirens in the distance and surf pounding down on shifting small stones and coral under their feet. Arch’s tennis shoes paid dividends again. He wondered what Cyn was wearing, as he’d been too distracted before to notice. They thrust the boat outward into the incoming break of a six-foot wave. The Zodiac, even weighing as much as it did, flew straight upward, giving every appearance in the weak light of flying right back to the beach upside down. Harpo’s gleaming eyes stared down into Arch’s own, like dimmed laser beams. His look wasn’t so much of terror as wonder. The bow dived down. There was nothing to do put push as hard as they could on the stern into the break of a second wave, and a then a third. Finally, the fourth wave was only a sharply rising swell, which was a good thing because it had to be ten feet tall if it was an inch. If it had been the first wave, there would have been no more work necessary. Arch pushed against the rigid backboard next to the big Mercury outboard. Cyn fought to get over one inflated rib on the port side. She’d never have gotten into the boat without the many ropes strung parallel to the rib on both sides. Arch pushed against the stern board, using all he had left to frog kick the boat far enough out to give him time to get inside the thing and then get the motor started, if it was going to start. He moved to climb over the same inflated rib Cyn had used. Without her help he’d have been too exhausted to make it. Once inside he crawled as rapidly as possible to get behind the console. Arch reached up from all fours to rotate the key. The motor turned over, started and went instantly to idle. The great American built outboard ran as smooth as the ocean was rough. Arch staggered to his feet, slammed the transmission into forward and pushed lightly on the gas lever. That piece of metal moved as smoothly as the transmission, and the Zodiac shot forward. The sea changed from wild and unpredictable to rough and controllable. Arch began to breath again, until he heard a loud “zap,” and then a hiss, audible even over the sounds of the rough water and the motor. Arch looked down to his left. There was a dark spot on the glistening surface at the back of the port rib they’d climbed in over. Arch turned to look back at the beach but saw nothing except blackness, although there was little question at all that shots had been fired and open war had been declared.
They were in heavy seas just off a beach in Hanalei in the middle of the night being shot at. Adrenalin flowed through him as Arch slapped the gas lever on the console all the way forward to the stop. The Zodiac jumped upward so quickly he was thrown to the deck and almost over the back transom. It took all his strength to slowly climb back to the transom and regain control. The boat shot across the top of the big swells in full dark, bouncing from wave top to wave top. Arch pulled back on the lever. They were so far from shore that no handgun was going to reach them now, and no night vision scopes would be able to penetrate the spindrift spitting off the top of the whitecaps. There was barely enough light to see the rest of the craft from inside it. Arch looked at Harpo standing braced on all fours, peering over the bow intently. There was no quit in the water soaked Dingo, and his aggressive stance made Arch like him all the more. The woman lay nearby, huddled down with her back pushed against the cushioning provided by the inflated tube on the port side.
“We’re losing air,” she yelled pointing at the deflating tube. Arch didn’t reply. The boat was a real Zodiac, not some cheap clone. The rubber tube, made out of material a lot more substantial than regular rubber, would be compartmentalized, so the penetrated chamber would not sink the boat, but it did mean that it couldn’t move at top speed and it was going to be wet on the inside for the whole trip. That’s if the bullet hadn’t gone forward and holed the bow chamber, Arch thought, which didn’t seem to be the case so far. All he could do was guide the Zodiac over and through the rough water, heading out to sea in order to round Lumahai point, cross the outer limits of Hanalei Bay and then come ashore off of Princeville. Arch knew the shore along that stretch. There was a small pristine beach called Secrets most tourists never saw or landed on. Getting there required a three-hundred-foot climb down a sketchy thin trail carved over the years through rough lava rocks and tropical bracken. If the boat lasted, they’d come ashore on that semi-sheltered sand, climb the path and work through the Princeville Resort property to the airport located just across Kuhio Highway. Arch thought about the bullet hole. He hadn’t been certain Raul had fired shots at him when he’d gone into the surf off the rocks outside Hanalei, but there was no doubting the hole in the tube. The game was definitely afoot, and it was a game being played for keeps. Whoever fired that shot didn’t give a damn whether any of them were killed. It was a mission, and it was now a mission to the death. He could no longer avoid going deep into the damp tattered file still sticking in his pants. Whatever information it would reveal was deadly serious indeed. He studied the black rolling ocean before him. He was again trying to find a sandy place to land, although this time coming in damaged from a stormy sea, aboard a stolen boat and through high surf.
Arch knew they were somewhere out to sea off the cliffs upon which the Princeville Resort sat. But he didn’t know exactly where. There was a moon, but from the standpoint of seeing much it was a nonsense moon. The spray from the windblown white caps didn’t help, although after getting used to having been shot at again, barely missed, driving a semi-submerged Zodiac to somewhere he couldn’t find, Arch felt rejuvenated. Maybe it was simply that he was finally doing something other than hiding out. Arch was running but he was running to accomplish mission objectives. He guided the listing boat up and down the coast where he thought Secrets Beach was located. The pounding of the surf against the cliffs was loud, distracting and frightening. They could not stay outside the break until first light. In spite of Raul’s night vision equipment, they needed whatever cover the dark could provide to get across to the airport. Also, in tourist areas like they were in, nobody much came out or paid attention to what was going on in the night. They were more likely to be turned in by some citizen for being suspicious than being apprehended directly.
Raul was obviously good at his work, but he’d probably not think of Princeville as their destination. Lihue made more sense, at least at first blush. Raul and his minions were hopefully rushing to Lihue and the coastal areas north of it. There were plenty of beaches a Zodiac could land on that were a whole lot less challenging than making an attempt at Secrets. If Raul even knew about Secret Beach
“I hear it,” Cyn exclaimed, pointing off the starboard bow. She and Harpo huddled together, while Arch piloted the Zodiac in water up to his knees. The Mercury outboard cover was down in the water but the magnificent engine inside hummed away like an old sewing machine.
“Alright, I hear it too,” Arch yelled back. Or rather, didn’t hear it. The beach break was marginally quieter than the surf coming down right on the rocks at the base of the cliffs on both sides. “Crouch down and hold on to Harpo,” Arch said, turning the boat to face directly in toward the shore he wasn’t absolutely sure was there. There was only one way to go in, and it was complicated by the Zodiac being half full of water. In a mission up off Alaska he’d learned to land Zodiac’s on stone beaches by rushing in at full speed, and then pulling up the outboard at the last second to save the prop. Arch had to time their takeoff just right among the swells, although he wouldn’t be pulling up the Mercury to save Raul’s outboard. The only problem they might have was if he miscalculated and the Zodiac smashed into the cliff face at full speed. In that case such a landing would not be survivable. Neither Cyn nor Harpo were apparently aware of that risk. Arch studied their backs briefly. He was committing all three of them to either a chance to live on to the next objective or die right there on the rocks of brutal misfortune.
Arch breathed in and out slowly and deeply. It was fourth down, long yardage, and his freshman high school team was playing against the super bowl champions. With a water logged Zodiac (one half a side pontoon shot out) his team consisted of a Dingo on the bow and a woman who’d thrown herself into play because whatever the play was appeared better than suicide. And Arch, an Agency reject for the third time, was the quarterback. Arch held the Zodiac back from the surge of the big swells going under the boat every ten to fifteen seconds. The swells were not big for the North Shore of Kauai, but they were huge for attempting a powered beach landing aboard a small battered craft like the one they’d stolen from Raul. Arch powered down and into reverse. Then back into drive. He held the boat in place. Back and forth. He needed to guide the Zodiac onto the back of a breaking wave at just the right instant. Too soon and the boat would be smashed bow down into the sand, even if it was the right part of the shore, with tons of water crushing everything. Too late and the Zodiac would be left stranded on wet sand with the next wave destroying it with them inside. Arch made his choice. A great swell lifted the boat. He moved the shift lever to drive and edged the gas lever forward just enough to ride the inflatable up on the wave’s departing back. He held the boat right there until the wave began to break, and then pushed the throttle all the way forward to its limit.
The Zodiac responded, although not with the same instant acceleration it’d demonstrated before it was half-filled with sea water. Arch cranked the wheel right to make up for the heavy port list trying to drag it the other way. The foot or more of water inside the rubber hull rushed out through the deflated section of the hull and the Zodiac leaped into the air as it powered ahead, picking up speed. The wave broke and the boat shot out of the water and up onto dry sand, braking to a halt so quickly that Harpo was thrown over the bow, the woman flipped through the air with legs flying, and Arch was impaled by the steering and control transom. But they were on Secrets Beach and they were alive. More waves crashed to the shore behind them. The moon seemed to grow brighter and throw down more light. Arch shut the still-running Mercury down and scrabbled forward to help Cyn recover. They had to climb the cliff, which wasn’t a complex climb, but would be damn near impossible if one of them was badly injured. It was 1993, and Arch was bruised but okay, laying on the cold sand of Kauapea Beach, popularly known as Secret Beach, with a Dingo licking his face and a woman who didn’t give a damn about anything on the planet except Harpo, and maybe him.
Arch cursed because he didn’t have the damned flashlight he’d forgotten back at the house. The three of them hiked back and forth across the sand at the base of the cliff, unable to find the bottom of the narrow path leading up the face before them. There was no other way off the beach except going back out through the surf. That wasn’t an option. The Mercury prop was shredded anyway and the woman and Arch were not at their physical best. Then Arch had an idea.
“Cyn, did you bring a lighter?” He asked.
“I guess,” she answered, sitting down to go through the plastic bag containing everything they had.
“Dog food?” He asked, astounded, reaching over to pick up a discarded can of Alpo. “You brought cans of dog food?” Arch could just see the white letters of ‘Chop House’ on the side.
“Here’s the Bic,” Cyn said, pushing her hand toward him in the dark. She made no comment about the Alpo, instead loading it back into the bag.
Arch knelt down and flicked the lever at the top of the small lighter and got a flame. The wind blowing in from the sea wasn’t strong but still fanned the weak flame. He cupped his hand around the small yellow thing and started walking hunched over across the beach right next to the face of the cliff. He got to a clump of bushes where Harpo sat waiting and leaned down. Harpo was sitting by the entrance to the path.
“Maybe you deserve the Alpo, after all,” Arch breathed, letting the lighter die out. He turned back to Cyn. “Come on, we have one more chore before we climb that wall and get the hell out of here.” He headed back for the Zodiac. It took some time to jink and jerk the boat back and forth until they could get it close to the face of the cliff. No one standing above, even with night vision googles, would be able to see it without climbing all the way down to the beach. The importance of that couldn’t be overlooked because if the boat was found then the next immediate assumption Raul would make would be about the airport across the road. Harpo, Cyn and Arch had no place to stay and there would be no hiding from a determined search around the airport with personnel, dogs and equipment.
They climbed, despite being tired and bruised, they climbed. All except for Harpo, who seemed just fine. He raced up the narrow path all he way to the top and then returned, time after time, probably wondering why his ape-like friends did not move faster. The going was slow but they finally reached the top, and confronted a chain link fence. The fence was across from the Princeville Resort parking lot set in next to a park, and fortunately only a couple of hundred yards up a hill from the well lit hotel entrance. There was only one light down at the end of the lot. There a chain link gate was open. All Arch had to do was get the woman and the Dingo threaded through a full mile of resort cabins and outbuildings without being spotted or encountered, and then across an arterial highway that had to be under some kind of surveillance. Piece of cake.