It Was 1993
by James Strauss
After the long climb up from Secrets Beach and arriving at the outer edge of the Princeville Resort parking lot, Arch took a few minutes to catch his breath. The sea beat up the dark cliff face from down below, but in the distance the glow of the hotel lobby gleamed bright yellow in warm welcome. Crossing through the many bungalows and cabins, mostly condominiums now, was going to be problematic. It only took one resident up late in the night, or waking to the noise of their passage, to destroy the whole mission. The police, or Raul and his minions, would rush to any such disturbance call this late at night
“Why can’t we just follow the paths through the buildings?” Cynthia asked innocently, somehow knowing what Arch was thinking. He made no derisive response, although some acidic replies flitted through his head.
“All we need is Harpo’s leash and it’ll look like we had to take our dog out for a middle of the night potty.”
Arch looked over at the woman, her long lush hair blowing in the mild breeze. She’d worn some sort of summer wrap that gently waved in the wind with her hair. Flip flops, of course. Ridiculous attire for what they were about, but she was a citizen, not a player. And, as much as he didn’t want to admit it, her verbalized idea made all the sense in the world. She had taken one more mental step forward than Arch had. Presuming that they would be observed, and then a providing the perfect cover for that observation. No one in the condominiums would know they were on some death squad hit list. They could be regular citizens, too.
“Might work if we had a leash,” Arch said, not wanting to shoot the idea down, but definitely trying to poke a hole in it. Cyn rummaged in her plastic bag of collected junk. “Voila!” she whispered, pulling a thin leash out with a wave. Harpo had remained at her side. She leaned down and clicked the small chrome snap open and shut. Without another word she moved through the opening in the chain link fence and headed across the nearly empty parking lot. Harpo walked along, happy to be leashed, like he was totally in on the plan. He looked back once to make sure Arch was following in his proper place. Arch started walking, feeling like he was being led through a minefield of condominiums, any one of which could explode to life and blow them all to hell, and he was doing it following the most amateurish operatives he’d ever worked with, or was ever likely to work with.
Harpo, Cynthia and Arch proceeded on their walkabout in the middle of the night across the grounds of the Princeville Resort. The woman was proven to be absolutely correct about both the likelihood of them being observed, and also how Harpo’s presence on a leash would make it all okay. The Dingo didn’t bark, but there were plenty of other dogs penned up in the resort that certainly did.
“You don’t know Princeville that well, do you?” Cyn commented, her tone more statement than question. They were on one of the narrow ground-coral paths between buildings when she asked the question.
“Why?” Arch asked, in return, suspecting some revelation about their direction.
“Because it’s not a mile to the airport,” Cyn said. “It’s just over three miles. The airport’s across from the south edge of the resort, well beyond the golf course, and we’re way at the north end.”
“Okay,” Arch responded guardedly, knowing more was coming.
“Well, there’s no way we can move through the jungle parts of that route, not before dawn, and these paths between buildings aren’t going to be there most of the rest of the way because there aren’t cabins or anything at the other end.”
Memory came rushing back. Arch remembered it all from flying into Princeville Airport a few years before. The winds were bad, and the airstrip was only a bit more than a thousand feet long. He’d come in flying a single turbine Maule, a great plane but not one he’d ever flown or been checked out on. But then, he was an unlicensed and untrained pilot anyway. The layout of the resort had been below on final approach, coming in to the south because of the trade winds. The woman was right. It was going to be a long hike and they were going to be exposed for most of it, if anybody was watching. Chances were that nobody would be because it would have taken more than a genius to figure out they’d found Secrets Beach at night, much less successfully landing on it alive and uninjured. They’d stay on the paths and walkways until the houses ran out. Then, instead of walking on the road, or the sidewalk next to it, at that point they would move over to walk out on the fairway, like visiting tourists might do any time golfers weren’t around. Getting over or under Kuhio Road would be the final hurdle, if they’d remained undetected to that point. It was becoming more and more like the plan to get off the island wasn’t much of a plan at all, more a sketchy patchwork of occurrences totally dependent upon fortune and serendipity.
But that’s what the three of them; Harpo, Arch and the woman, did. They made their way through the resort, staying on the paths between the many cabins and structures. The going was easy because of little courtesy lights installed all along the way. Those ran out when they hit the course itself. The golf course ran north to south, but it’s fairways and greens were not intended to be hiked across, especially not in the middle of the night. They constantly ran into dead ends and had to retrace their steps. But that was nothing compared to when they finally came to the southern edge of the property. That last quarter mile of working through the downed trees, rough desert-like brush and thick bracken was slow going, except for Harpo, whose low to the ground build and four short adept legs, allowed him to run ahead and back, like he’d done up and down the cliff path. It took as much time to approach Kuhio across from where the airport lay (lit by dim but revealing bulbs of yellow light), as it had to traverse the entire resort property.
By then dawn was coming fast. First light was only minutes away when they could finally stop to peer out at the highway (to see what they could see) which was nothing. There were no cars. Nothing moved, except for vegetation stirred by the gentle night winds.
While they stopped for a moment to rest, Cyn asked quietly; “So Raul, who’s somehow an assassin of some sort, wants to kill you and the CIA is behind him, not to mention the local police?”
Arch didn’t reply, waiting for more.
“All you’ve left out is the UFO part,” she continued.
Arch was stung by her comment, but held himself back.
“And the bullet hole in the hull of the Zodiac was real, and the track of it’s course came closer to you than it did me or Harpo.”
“And this is all about that tattered file you’ve got in your pants but won’t read?” Cyn finished, glancing over and then away.
“I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet.” Arch answered, knowing his argument was weak.
“So you, the super-performing, not-so-secret, fired, and fired again, “Agent of the Imperium,” are afraid of what’s in the file?”
“What do you know about Raul?” Arch asked back, changing the subject.
“He’s tall, good looking, built like an Olympian (which I think he was), and would be the perfect man if only he spoke better English,” Cyn replied.
“The man who sold you drugs could somehow be the perfect man?” Arch said, surprised.
“I didn’t say he sold them to me. It was a fair exchange.”
“What did you exchange?” Arch inquired.
Harpo settled between them, forcing his way in. He licked Arch’s face. It was the only answer Arch got to his question. He was left to think. He turned his thoughts to the obvious fact that he was with a dog that didn’t bark, a woman he couldn’t understand, and waiting to cross a potentially guarded road, to hitch a ride on a plane to nowhere, or Lihue, or wherever.
Harpo crouched down between Cynthia and Arch, but the Dingo wasn’t staring across Kuhio at the dim airport lights. Harpo was giving all his attention to something invisible to Arch and Cyn, but demanding his full alert response.
“We’ve got company,” Arch whispered, his voice barely audible.
“Like you said,” Cyn responded in the same subdued tone. “What do we do? We can’t cross the road, but whoever’s there will report us, and that’s it.”
“We need a diversion,” Arch replied, thinking about what they might use.
“Why can’t you sneak up on him and knock him out?” Cyn asked.
“Because in real life heads on humans don’t get knocked out without killing people in the process, and also we don’t know how many of them there might be.” Arch pulled the Bic lighter from his pocket where he’d put it after finding the path up from Secrets. Their diversion again would have to be bright and hot in order to take advantage of a weakness in night vision gear. Generation four NVG screens wouldn’t burn out from bright light, but they would flare and give the user night blindness. When the goggles were pulled off it would have the same effect as if the users had looked at the diversionary fire without them.
“Come with me, quietly,” Arch said to Cyn. He knew he’d never be able to find her and the dog once he lit the fire. The brush was too thick and he’d be night blind, too.
The three of them crept through the bracken, trying to make as little noise as possible. The pre-dawn winds were starting to kick up so God was helping their cause. Arch tried to approximate a reasonable distance and placement for the observers Harpo detected. If there still were any. They couldn’t take the chance that Harpo was wrong or that they’d misread his actions. In spite of Kauai being the wettest island in the world, the mountains got ninety-five percent of the rain so they were surrounded by ideal kindling. The brush and dead bracken they’d worked their way through was as dry as tinder and had been for some time. They didn’t have much time now. Even pre-dawn light might be enough to do them in as they crossed the road. Arch chose a spot about a hundred yards from the road, pulled a bunch of dry foliage into a pile, and then carefully ignited the Bic under it. It lit almost too fast.
“Let’s move,” Arch ordered. “Fast but quiet. Angle south out to the road, and then straight across. Either this is going to work or we’re screwed anyway.”
“I’m getting all scratched up,” Cyn complained, but took off behind Harpo, who seemed to get the message more clearly than the woman.
“Adventure is doing something dangerous that has a happy ending,” Arch replied, following her in trace. “It’s not about comfort.”
“Happy ending?” she shot back at him, but moving faster.
“Good God, what institution did you escape from?”
The small diversion he’d lit behind them blossomed up and into the still dark night.
They ran through the last hundred yards of thick dry bracken and sharp-edged thickets to Kuhio Highway. As planned, they didn’t hesitate, the three of them running across the asphalt immediately. The small diversion had become more than that, as the rising fire behind them lit the road, the flare of it beginning to overpower the airport lights in front of them. Whatever surveillance Harpo had, or had not, detected would not have to worry about being night blind from looking at the fire. The light was building to the point where they’d have to be day blind as well, to miss them in their flight. A bit of good news was that the rising trade winds were blowing from south to north and not racing toward the airport behind them.
They made it to the first outbuildings without immediate incident, but then Arch hadn’t expected any response right away. Surveillance was just that. Agents staked out to record movement or activity, or even communications, were not field operatives trained or versed in wet work of any kind. The Agency was more caste-driven and stratified than the military when it came to who did what, or who got to do what.
“Come on,” Cyn said between breaths, as they recovered on the other side of a thick hedge. “We need to get to the south end of the main building where the restaurant is. There’s heavy vegetation there and we can hide pretty easily.”
They ran bent over to take advantage of the semi-manicured airport landscaping. It took only a few minutes to reach the area she’d described. The foliage was so thick, only a few feet from the main building’s south cinder block wall, that they had to work their way in, pushing against full grown bamboo stalks, banana plants and more stuff Arch couldn’t identity.
“Lets rest here,” Cyn said in a whisper, more from fatigue than to maintain security. Harpo lay down in a slight clearing where some pines had shed blankets of brown needles. Nothing grew under pine needles because of the tar resin in them. Arch’d learned that in Asia. Animals and insects don’t consume pines. Only one species of specially adapted monkeys in Japan eats pine bark and needles. Arch thought of sharing this trivial information with Cyn, but in the first light of dawn seeping through the bracken he saw that she’d already nodded off. No matter what her drug habits or the lost nature of her life, Arch realized that this woman had a lot of courage, even if her faith in him might be a bit misplaced. She was well aware and believed, or so Arch thought, that Raul and his killer minions might be on the way to do them in, and yet she slept like a baby. He looked at the Dingo. Harpo looked back at him with his head on the woman’s arm. The woman was there but Arch remained unsure of her full commitment. There was no question, though, about Harpo’s. Arch pulled the top secret file from his pants, wondering if he’d be able to read it when the light improved.
It was 1993, and with a mysteriously amazing woman and an even more amazing dog at his side, Arch fell asleep before there was enough light to read anything.