DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By James Strauss
“Stairway to Heaven?” Arch said, looking intently into Matisse’s eyes.
“I don’t like the way you said that. What heaven or what hell are you talking about and what does it have to do with the word Haiku DeWare mentioned?”
Matisse waved the waitress away when she approached. “There’s a metal stairway built during WWII up to the highest peak of the Koolau range. Over two thousand rungs going up as many feet. The rusted remains of those metal stairs remain to this day. People have died trying to climb them. Something about them involved in all this?”
“Oh,” Arch replied. “I don’t know, but there must be. What else could the word refer to? Where are the stairs?”
“Haiku,” Matisse responded. “The steps start where H3 comes through the mountains on the windward side just up from Haiku Plantations and Gardens. There’s a graveyard there that leads to path under the freeway and up to the base of the mountains. With your hand we can’t even think about what you’re thinking right now.”
Arch held his hand in front of him, splayed as flat as he could make it on the tabletop. The wound no longer caused him agonizing pain, only a dull sort of throbbing ache. He tried to flex his fingers but could only get them to curve a small bit before grimacing and opening his hand again. He thought about the valley where the stairway base had to be. Near or possibly the same valley where it had all begun. Somehow he and Matisse were going to end up back down in that valley. The thought was anything but pleasant.
“We don’t know anything for sure,” Arch said, knowing he wouldn’t be climbing any two thousand-rung ladders anytime soon, if ever. “We’ve got to find out more and I can see only one way since our assault on Bellows was such a blatant failure.”
“Blatant?” Matisse inquired, waving the waitress over.
“Apparent, obvious, right in front of our faces,” Arch replied, his tone acidic.
“How we get more to know?” Matisse asked before whispering some order to the waitress who bent down to hear him. He looked up into Arch’s eyes when he was done ordering and his facial expression changed.
“Virginia the bitch,” he whispered, almost sub vocally.
“What else can we do?” Arch said. “We’re at a dead end. Bellows is closed off and we can’t exactly go exploring the valley and climbing thousands of feet in the air without finding out what’s going on. The big plane is only a clue. There’s something bigger. Your own people are going to be wiped out or sent off to Guantanamo or some place like that for a long time unless we figure this out.”
“How you know the bitch doesn’t know?” Matisse responded.
“Don’t call her that anymore,” Arch ordered
“Okay Bra, but you know what I mean. Where we going find the Haole white cold woman?”
“North Shore,” Arch answered, ignoring Matisse’s sarcasm. “She’s taken a vacation rental at Sunset Beach on one of those small back roads that parallel Kam Highway. Spending a pretty penny for luxury junk the Agency has not one clue about, I’m certain.”
“Never done that sort of thing yourself, huh,” Matisse said, not putting it out as a question.
“That’s how I know,” Arch shot back, absently, watching Matisse wolf down kabobs of teri steak and pork rib meat. Drinks were a fortune at the Moana, or at any of the hotels along the Waikiki shore except the Sheraton, and food was even more. Arch didn’t even what kind of balance he had left on his credit card. In the old days he’d have carried an Agency American Express made out to some phony company with no employees, no real address and no assets but unlimited credit. He waved at the waitress more to put a stopper in the eating and drinking open hole of Matisse’s. Virginia wouldn’t return to the house for anything but sleeping if she kept true to her workaholic “sleep only when absolutely required” regimen.
“Can’t you call her and make an appointment over here on this side? It’s an hour and a half across the Pali to Sunset. My friend Ahi is a Kuhuna over there though so maybe we can picnic in the park with him. Did you know that a man can walk across the sandy bottom of the bay offshore of Ahi’s land and climb up on Chinaman’s Hat at low tide?” Matisse finished his pile of meat and began licking his fingers.
“Not calling her,” Arch concluded, doubting Matisse’s comment about the offshore island simply because the tidal differentials weren’t that great on any of the Hawaiian Islands, except maybe in Hilo Bay on the Big Island. “They’ll just locate us using the phone. We need some throwaway phones from an ABC store. We’re going to encounter her and get some details so we can help her and your people too. Unless you have something way better than threats to offer the Agency will find a home for your people somewhere in the middle of deepest darkest Africa.”
“ABC’s all over,” Matisse complained. “Koreans run them all. Like Kim chi disease, or something. Samoan’s took over the limo business and Tonga has a lock on security, which leaves singing and dancing for tips to real Hawaiians.”
“You sing and dance?” Arch asked, starting to get a little bored by Matisse’s never-ending comments about the Hawaiian Islands being taken from real Hawaiians by absolutely everyone else.
“Of course I sing and dance. I’m Kamaina!” Matisse answered, vehemently. He looked around the open patio bar as if to search out a ukulele or microphone.
Arch signed a credit card slip for somewhere over a hundred dollars including a minimal tip. “Let’s go. Ahi’s park is better than sitting around here being watched. I wish we had the Lincoln though, as your means of transportation is a little ostentatious.”
“It’s my car. I call her the Grappler. She always starts; always runs and I never have to change the oil. I got that synthetic stuff running in her guts.” Matisse smiled hugely as they headed for the lobby of the hotel, his love of his ridiculous automobile beyond Arch’s ability to comprehend.
They stopped at the ABC store on Kalakau long enough for Arch to run in and pick up a couple of forty dollar phones that should have been twenty. After Matisse’s comment about never changing the oil in the Bonneville he wondered if they’d even make it over the mountains much less all the way into Sunset.
The trip out to the Pali was only exciting because of the way Matisse drove. For some reason he never got pulled over yet never drove close to the speed limit. They raced up the road to the Pali lookout. Just before they go to the Pali tunnel through the mountains Matisse jerked the wheel toward the right and they exited onto a narrow asphalt road. Arch saw a sign with “Scenic Highway” fly by. Suddenly, the car was travelling along a corridor totally covered by great splayed out trees. A tunnel of winding green foliage guided the fast-traveling car ever upwards until they reached a sharp turn suddenly ending at the beginning of a small parking lot. Matisse finally slowed, gently easing the convertible into a handicapped slot near the top edge of the lot. A local security guard, obviously Hawaiian, waved and smiled.
“My bra, from my sister’s side,” Matisse laughed, slamming the Bonneville’s heavy car door with some gusto.
“Does he sing and dance too or, is that part of his day job,” Arch asked with a wiry smile behind the other man’s back. Matisse didn’t answer, as they walked past the guard and on up to a hand built series of retaining walls. Tourists singly and in groups mulled about trying to hang onto skirts, cameras and bags in the ever-increasing wind. When they arrived at the shoulder-high wall itself Arch estimated the wind coming up over the edge to be traveling at nearly forty miles an hour.
“What are we doing here?” Arch finally asked Matisse, ducking back to be heard.
Matisse stood with his back to the wall instead of looking out over the edge at the gorgeous view of almost the whole windward side of the island.
“Take a look,” Matisse answered, first pointing up toward a high peak beyond and above them. Then he turned and swept his pointing finger down toward an area just below and to the left of the bottom of the great cliff the Pali rose up to become the top of.
Arch stared whit his upturned at the imposing very high point of the peak and then let his eyes slide down toward the back of the cemetery toward where Matisse’s finger remained pointing. A small valley seemed to run back from the cemetery and up into the seemingly solid rock of the Koolau range wall
“Haiku,” Matisse said, his voice raised but still difficult to hear against the heavy wind.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Arch breathed. “I sure hope our Haiku means something else entirely,” he said more loudly. Matisse just grinned, and then turned and walked back to the Pontiac. “You afraid of heights, Haole?” he said without turning, the wind dying as they walked away from the edge of the Pali overlook. They drove in near silence the long twisting route of windward-side Kam Highway.
Ahi turned out to be an aging Hawaiian of huge girth. His identity and size had become apparent at the same time as the Pontiac stopped near the end of Chinaman’s Hat Park an hour later. The early afternoon sun was blazing. Ahi’s presence was even bigger than might otherwise be evident simply because he was standing on a small platform while a whole crowd of others were kneeling inside the open rolled up walls of a great outdoor tent.
“Ahi,” Matisse stated, needlessly waiving one arm toward the tent.
“Why’s everyone else kneeling?” Arch asked, walking toward the crowd at Matisse’s side.
“Sunday,” Matisse said, stopping outside the tent. “Ahi’s talking chief, chief, father, preacher and my uncle on this side of the island. He’s doing the Sunday service.”
Arch wondered who wasn’t related to Matisse on Oahu, in some weird way or other, and why the man knew almost every local but none seemed to care for him very much.
“We wait,” Matisse stated, squatting down on the grass.
“Great,” Arch replied, trying not to seem impatient but also glad for an opportunity to rest and bask in the sun. His hand hurt and his head felt like he was rolling around ideas and events so fast and without real purpose that he might be going crazy. They waited a full hour for Ahi to finish with his followers. The tent emptied and the people dispersed without comment, seeming not to notice the two indolent men waiting near one open wall.
Introductions were short, with Matisse simply remarking that Arch was his friend and that both of them would be trying to get into a house at Sunset Beach to talk to a Haole woman.
“Take some of my warriors,” Ahi said, after listening to Matisse’s introduction and what they were up to.
“Of course,” Matisse responded, before Arch could say no.
The last thing Arch wanted was a bunch of amateur islanders mucking about and listening in on what was a very highly classified governmental program. He bit his lip but did nothing other than nod assent to his companion’s verbal assent.
“So you talking chief for government or something like that?” Ahi asked, clasping his hands tightly across his significant chest.
Arch glanced at Matisse who averted his eyes. “Seems you know a bit about what I’m trying to do,” he replied, realizing that he liked the big man lot for no reason whatever, which was a bit disconcerting. There was a warmth to his eyes and depth to his facial features Arch had only seen in older Native American men years ago in New Mexico.
“You do good for the people and we do good for you,” the aging man of wisdom stated, as if talking to a disciple, but then a smile came to his face and Arch felt like they were almost friends.
They talked back and forth for nearly an hour, about the history of the Hawaiian people, the island of Oahu and even the strange homologated form of the mix of native and Catholic beliefs melded together to form the religion Ahi and his flock followed. Ahi was called away by some of the returning followers who needed his assistance in building an afternoon Luau. Matisse and Arch wandered down toward the point facing directly toward Medicine Hat Island. A small beach nuzzled into the lee side of the point, with a just enough room for only a very few people.
“So you want to hike out to the island?” Arch offered, as both men took sitting positions on two big rocks just back from the sand. Three-foot swells broke on the other side of the point while the swells moving straight toward the more distant bay beach expanse seemed rough and intimidating.
“Nah, tide’s not right,” Matisse replied, weakly, the water in front of them appearing a good deal deeper than any man or woman could stand in and still touch bottom.
“Who are these warriors Ahi’s intent on supplying us with?” Arch asked.
“Not real people,” Matisse replied. “That was his way of saying that we could go and do whatever we want to do to the bitch on his grounds…I mean that Haole woman,” he modified quickly.
“Oh,” was all Arch could say, his tone one of complete relief however.
“Ahi understand more than you think,” Matisse offered.
“Gee, I wonder why that is?” Arch came back, neither expecting nor receiving a response.
The afternoon went quickly, the sun beginning to draw down toward the ocean horizon in the way it did to give a place like Sunset Beach its name. The Luau was replete with more Hawaiian foods than Arch had seen in one place since his early years on the island. By the time the sun was close to setting Arch wished he’d not partaken of so much of it.
“We go,” Matisse said, tapping him on one shoulder. “We have Ahi’s blessing, we need no more.”
Arch grimaced but turned to follow his one apparent friend on all of Oahu, knowing that whatever Ahi claimed to possess in power over his lands and people both he and they were totally dominated by whatever the U.S. government chose to decide at any given time.
The Sunset Beach house wasn’t difficult to find. A bronze and brass automatic beach gate ran the full length of its property. Beyond that a triple garage door was closed behind it. Video cameras protruded from both corners of the house. Security was high but Arch had expected that. Beach houses all shared one serious security weakness however and that was the beach itself. Whatever was put between the house and the beach decreased the value of the beach property. Some private owners along the North Shore built places of such security, walled from the very beach that was supposedly what attracted them to build there in the first place. Most builders however, particularly the ones that wanted to rent out their houses at exorbitant rates, took as much open advantage of their little stretches of beach as possible. Virginia’s house was no exception to that rule which became readily apparent, as Matisse and Arch hiked first up to Sunset Beach itself and then back down toward the house. Only a single huge berm of sand stood out from the place, with palm trees and hedges defining the limits of that berm, that were no doubt placed right on top of property lines.
Arch crawled up to the end of one of the hedges and peered through the branches, like a spy in a cheap movie. He didn’t expect to see anything or anyone, even though the sliding double door running half way across the back of the house gaped open. The wind blew the drapes out and wafted them back and forth over the lanai like huge bat wings. Two men walked into view, each man carrying an obvious cocktail in one hand. The men were easily identifiable as Kurt and Lorrie.
Arch reared back quickly, jamming his shoulder into Matisse’s face. Matisse let out a loud groan. Arch and Matisse looked at one another, and then turned as one and began to run for cover sticking as close as they could to any cover toward Sunset Beach.