DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By James Strauss
Matisse drove the Pontiac at breakneck speed. The traffic moving away from Haiku, back on Kam Highway, was spotty and moving faster than the speed limit, as well.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay at that house,” Matisse said, almost losing control of the swerving car in the middle of a sharp curve.
Arch watched a flock of wild chickens scatter, as the Bonneville came out of the curve, flattening out on it’s rocky old suspension, and seemingly making for the birds at ever increasing speed. Arch knew Matisse was right. The house was a bad idea. But running all the way over the Koolau Mountains just to stay in the rotten, clap board, shithole Matisse lived in, was too awful to consider. And despite the bond they had formed, by accepting Virginia’s bribe, Ahi had taken his offer of a place to sleep off the table.
“If she comes back, we’ll just sleep in the Lincoln,” Arch said loudly He had to raise his voice to be heard over the vortex of wind created by the convertible’s racing along a straight stretch of highway. As they flew by, Arch noted Crawford’s rest home, the two ancient concrete out buildings falling, but still erect against the backdrop of the mountains.
“Why can’t we just get a room at the Turtle Bay Resort?” Matisse complained, as the rich flora of the resort’s grounds and golf course appeared just beyond the many ponds of Oahu’s only shrimp farm.
“I don’t know what’s left on the card, and we may need gas or whatever before this is done,” Arch replied. For the first time since leaving the service he wished that he was a team leader again, with a phony company’s cash budget of mission money, and an unlimited American Express card. Being retired, before he’d come back to Oahu, had begun to feel an awful lot like being poor while waiting to die.
The house was as they left it. The Lincoln was still parked on the access road, apparently undisturbed by whatever electronics the Agency had, or had not, put in it. Both men walked back toward Sunset Beach; winnowed their way through small groups of tourists who had collected to watch the famous sunset; and then approached the house from the back. As soon as they climbed over the huge berm of sand, built up to protect against the giant surf of winter, they saw that the glass double doors of the house still gaped open.
Arch drained a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon he found in the fridge, ate half a bag of Maui potato chips in seconds, and then collapsed on the convertible couch without opening it. He heard Matisse rummaging around, grousing about how their presence in the house was a big mistake, until he fell into a deep sleep. His last thoughts were about his injured hand. It no longer hurt, but how could he climb anything with its’ impaired capacity for grasping or holding.
A dream about Virginia shattered into tiny pieces as he was jerked awake. In a dream Arch left Virginia having breakfast at Pasqual’s on Don Gaspar in Santa Fe, only to awaken to Virginia six inches in front of his face.
“What?” Arch exclaimed, instinctively moving his shoulder out from under her intrusive right hand.
“What are you doing in my home?” She hissed at him, while stepping back a few paces.
“I told you,” Matisse informed Arch from the bottom of the stairs. “There’s nothing about the Haole that’s not bad news.”
“Get out!” Virginia stated, her voice scathing, one finger of her hand extended and pointing toward the garage exit.
Arch sat up groggy, still trying to come back from the wonderful breakfast he’d just left behind. He could almost taste the bite of green chili in his mouth, instead of the bite in Virginia’s tone.
“I thought you’d be with him,” Arch forced out, shaking his head to clear it. “We didn’t have any place on this side of the island to stay.”
“Oh,” Virginia replied, lowering her arm. She stared at him with an unbelieving expression on her face. She continued, “you didn’t seem to have any problem remembering he’s married before.”
It was Arch’s turn to say “oh.”
“Let’s go, we done here,” Matisse said, moving toward the garage door. “There will be no sleep in this place, not as long as this Haole Elvira is here.”
Virginia turned back to face him. “Island scum,” she hissed out.
“Haole bitch,” Matisse said right back.
“Alright, alright, are you two done? Arch asked. “This isn’t a school bus. It’s your place. We’ll go. We’re just been trying to help.” Arch stood up before turning back to smooth out the couch, pick up the empty beer bottle, and half empty chip bag.
“Help?” Virginia said, her tone one of shock. “Help in your usual fashion. You just cost the Agency millions, and the Marine Corps a good chunk of its land. And it only took you a few days to accomplish that. Your usual help.”
“Seems somebody here is owed something, by just about everyone who’s taken over, including the U.S. Government and the United States Marine Corps.” Arch headed for the garage door with Matisse leading the way.
“I’ll be here tomorrow morning if you want to come back and see me,” Virginia said behind them, her tone softened, her words spoken low and slow.
Arch paused but did not stop. He gently closed the door behind him, not turning to look back. Back at the car, Matisse waited as Arch went through his pocket for the key fob.
“That’s one screwed up Haole chick,” he murmured, leaning over the cooling top of the black car.
“Oh shut it,” Arch replied disgustedly, getting into the Lincoln, starting it and turning the air conditioning fan knob to its highest setting. “Screw it,” he continued, “we’re not sleeping in this God forsaken car. The Turtle Bay has got to have one room left, and I know they’ve got a computer in the business center. I’ll transfer some money, if I have any money, into my credit car account. There’s no way we can do what we’ve got to do tomorrow, without any sleep or having to use an outdoor shower.”
Arch headed the Lincoln toward the Turtle Bay Resort, only realizing after a few miles that he was driving just like Matisse. He slowed the big cruiser until he came up upon a roadside fruit stand that always made him think of the great local tune called Sweet Old Lady of Waihole. He pulled coloration of its yellow spot, from where it’d lain ripening. Matisse picked up a couple of iced coconuts with the tops cut off. Back in the car he sucked noisily on his straw, holding the other one out to Arch, who was behind the wheel.
Both men exited the car under the portico at the resort entrance, sucking on their coconuts, and heading for the open-air check in counter. One of the bellmen asked Matisse if he or his partner had any luggage, causing the big Hawaiian to spill some of his coconut juice.
“We not Mahoos!” he yelled behind him with a twisted laugh.
“What’s a Mahoo?” Arch asked, absently, bellying up to the counter where another aging Hawaiian worked with an outmoded cash register that had an Apple monitor somehow attached to it.
“You just get mad. I think you have bad temper, but you don’t show it much,” Matisse answered, setting his coconut next to Arch’s on the counter.
The older Hawaiian finished working on the register, reached over, grabbed the coconuts, and tossed them into a trash basket.
Matisse glowered, while Arch took in a deep breath before speaking.
“We need a room. One room, two beds. We’re not Mahoos,” he informed the older Hawaiian woman who was smiling in a seemingly friendly way, that didn’t come across as friendly at all.
“That’s good to know,” the woman replied, “I wouldn’t have guessed.”
“The room, Kalani?” Arch asked, reading the woman’s nametag and ignoring her snide comment.
“Name’s not Kalani, just using her uniform, and yes, we have a room. Credit card and photo I.D.”, she finished, holding out her left hand.
“How fitting,” Arch said, reaching for his wallet. If the credit card didn’t work, they’d be back to sleeping in the Lincoln.
Thankfully the card went through successfully. The woman wearing Kalani’s uniform handed his stuff back, along with a small envelope with one plastic room key in it.
“Two keys,” Arch instructed, trying to keep his voice civil.
The room was way out on the end of the ocean wing of the resort. It faced away from the ocean, but gave a wonderful view of the Koolau Mountains. Their lower swales peppered back to Kuhuku with giant windmills being turned slowly by invisible, and unfelt, wind currents. They went down to the lobby, after cleaning up as best they could without a change of clothes. In the morning they could get into the black climbing outfits Arch had conned from the Marine supply sergeant. He was able to transfer five thousand dollars to the credit card by completely draining his retirement account. When the first of the following month came, no bills would be paid unless his fortune changed.
They went from the business center, down to the outdoor bar near the pool. Matisse ordered two beers. Arch asked for a cup of coffee before remembering that the bar at the Turtle Bay Resort didn’t serve coffee. As he rose from his stool, Arch asked, “Why did you order two beers? You can’t drink two at once?”
“Case I run out of money,” Matisse answered, draining half of one of the bottles.
“But you don’t have any money,” Arch remarked, walking toward the pool. He headed toward some elevators where he’d seen employees, through an unmarked door in the hallway. He went through the door and ended up in a cafeteria. Employees were all over the place sitting at tables and talking. Nobody took notice of him standing there. Seeing a coffee machine he walked over, took a cup and poured. A woman behind the counter watched him, and then pointed toward a small refrigerator when he looked up at her questioningly. After adding Half and Half and a Splenda, he went back to the bar with his cup of coffee to rejoin Matisse, who still had the two bottles in front of him.
“At least you’re not drinking too much,” Arch said, taking his old seat. He looked at the tab before frowning. The tab had four beers credited to it.
“Thanks boss,” Matisse responded with a big smile. An achingly beautiful sunset finished delivering its lingering effects, and they decided to call it a night.
Arch needed no alarm to awaken early the next morning. He roused Matisse. They cleaned up as best they could, the resort having supplied toothbrushes and small tubes of paste without room service needing to called. Arch called down to the front desk to have the car brought around, and then went down and punched his information into the ATM near the lobby restrooms. He took out a hundred, leaving less than that in his account. “Kalani” wasn’t on duty so he had the front desk attendant make change. He wouldn’t have minded giving the carhop a twenty, but old habits die hard. Too big a tip or none at all, would be remembered. A medium tip would always allow the tipper to slip under unintended surveillance.
“Where we change?” Matisse asked, getting into the passenger side of the car.
“Shark’s Cove. There’s a public restroom, and nobody will notice our black rubber outfits with all the SCUBA divers that hang around there.
It took ten minutes to reach Shark’s Cove. Then another ten minutes to get changed and organize their gear before driving out on the Kam Highway to get to the Haiku area.
“We like Navy Seals,” Matisse said. “We look too cool,” he went on, tilting the rear view mirror to better see himself.
“I’ve never seen a three hundred pound Seal,” Arch replied, dryly. He drove the speed limit, thinking about the complete idiocy of the quest they were on. They were totally unequipped to deal with any trouble, whatsoever. They had no communications equipment, nor anyone they could communicate with if they needed to. And they had no idea what they were looking for, what they would find, or if they’d find anything at all. On top of that, Arch himself was too old, and Matisse was too fat. Any talk of conditioning would only end in humor, if such talk ever occurred.
Arch was only clear about one thing, though both he and Matisse were committed to a cause. Being committed to a cause, any cause, was better than not having one at all.