DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By James Strauss
The Hertz counter was empty when Arch went in to get a car more fitting than Matisse’s Pontiac convertible. There were plenty of cars and Arch didn’t bother to try to negotiate rates. A hundred dollars a day for a Cadillac, even if it wasn’t as big as one of the old models. Arch missed the big Lincoln all the rental agencies carried at one time, but the days of those land giants were gone forever, except for relic jalopies like Matisse drove. Taking no chances Arch had Matisse wait for him in the Zippies parking lot at Hawaii Kai. Even the distinctive outrage of the Pontiac wouldn’t be noticed in that busy place and they could leave it for quite some time before anyone might notice, if necessary.
Getting the base sticker was faster than finding the place that assigned them at Pearl Harbor. The days of Marine guards at Navy gates were gone with big cavernous trunked Lincolns and the private security guards supposedly guarding America’s most secure bases were idiots, for the most part, even when it came to handing out the simplest of instructions. The question about what Arch wanted with a Pearl Harbor officer sticker for a rental car never came up. His I.D. said Brigadier General USMC and that about said it all under most military circumstances. The fact that he’d never really served as a general in any service was neither here nor there for most situations.
There was no Pearl Harbor infirmary. Arch had to leave through the Makalapa back gate of the base and head up to Tripler Hospital, the Pink Palace. The pain radiating from the nailed hand was too harsh and pervasive to ignore. They took him right away at the spic and span emergency room. After X-Ray, a diagnosis of no broken bones and little structural damage Arch was out of the place in two hours. Sixty stitches that would have to be taken out at some later date, a tight set of bandages and an arm sling Arch tossed in the garbage at the first opportunity got him out by early afternoon. He tossed the bottle of Ibuprofen in the same can he threw the sling into. The physician’s assistant had arrogantly explained to him that although he claimed to be in a lot of pain his non-verbal behavior only supported a prescription of Ibuprofen. Arch passingly thought to put the woman on a mental list to be killed at some more appropriate time.
Matisse was right where he was supposed to be, as Arch had come to trust that he would be. Matisse was sitting at a booth near the Hawaii Kai harbor water nursing a giant soda when Arch walked up.
“Hey bra,” Matisse said with a great smile upon seeing him.
“Matisse,” Arch responded obligingly, the local man again making him a bit uncomfortable with his expressive friendship and instant approval. “You ready?” he asked, sitting down across from the man with his back to the harbor.
Matisse sucked loudly from his drink container that obviously had no liquid left inside it. “Why you think the Virginia bitch Haole need to be saved? I thought you said it was her that got you into all this?”
Arch stared at his supposed new friend, wondering what made the man think in such circular ways. Trying to tell what Matisse was thinking was proving to be impossible. “She’s not a bitch and don’t call her a Haole. The “H” word is just that. And don’t call me one either unless you want more trouble than you’ve already got. And finally, I’m not the only one in this. You were down in the same valley I was all taped up and ready to die.”
“I know,” Matisse said, resting his empty drink cup on the table between them but continuing to jostle the ice inside. “You save my life. That’s why we friends for life.”
“No,” Arch corrected him, taking his good hand and jerking the empty cup from Matisse’s. “We’re friends only because nobody else will have you for a friend.” Arch successfully tossed the cup into a nearby trash container almost ten feet away.
“Thank you,” Matisse said, his smile dropping from his face.
“For what?” Arch asked in an exasperating tone.
Arch almost rolled his eyes but instead just looked at the mess of a local loser sitting across from him. Bits and small strips of duct tape goo still stuck to parts of his face and his clothes were a complete mess, but he was the only ‘team’ Arch had. Arch breathed in and out deeply. “She’s into something she thinks she knows about but in reality knows nothing about. No matter how smart an agent is, and Virginia’s very smart, there’s no substitute for life experience. What’s she’s got herself into here is both off the books and dangerous.”
“The radiation?” Matisse asked.
“No, nothing like that,” Arch answered. I think whatever radiation we find will be rather inconsequential. The medication is just a precaution because I’ve been around that stuff before. You don’t take chances with it. The Marines aren’t stupid either.
They won’t risk their own men unless they have to and in spite of the bizarre airplane thing I don’t see why they would have to. This mission is one of those off the books kind of things that involves someone’s personal agenda, and it’s extremely dangerous because of what my partner did.”
“He didn’t do anything,” Matisse said, spreading out both of his meaty hands over the table between them.
“That’s just it. You don’t understand what a big deal that was. He didn’t stand for me. There is no mission first crap in working with the Agency. Partners always take care of partners no matter what. What he did, or didn’t do, means that no other agent will ever work with him as a partner again. His field career is over, and he knows that. So why did he do it?”
“Some serious junk?” Matisse offered.
“Some serious junk indeed,” Arch answered. “Let’s hit it. I want to get aboard the base before the sun gets too low. Leave the Pontiac and we’ll get it later. I’ll put you in the trunk and then let you out when I find a safe place inside the wire.”
The drive to Bellows was uneventful. The road to the base was along the coast and the drive one of the most spectacular in the world. The waves beat up from one of the deepest ocean trenches with the island of Molokai in the distance. A constant booming spry of white was thrown up from the nearby cliffs and gawking tourists had to we watched out for as they veered to see natural wonders like the Blow Hole and Sandy Beach. The Caddy performed well although there were no demands placed on it simply because the non-stop continuous traffic permitted no performance driving at all.
As soon as Arch turned into the normally closed gate to Bellows, just past the Waimanolo Beach entrance, he knew that nothing was going to work out as planned, not that he had any kind of real plan other than to show up and figure out how to gum up the works of whatever was going on. Not only was the gate closed but it was guarded by United States Marines. Arch couldn’t avoid pulling up to the gate once he made the turn in. A corporal stood at attention and saluted the Pearl base sticker when Arch stopped the car before the small wooden gate guard.
“I.D. sir,” the corporal requested, picking up a BuPers (U.S. Bureau of Military Personnel) scanner with his left hand while holding out his right for Arch’s card. Arch handed the card over and the corporal scanned it. He then stepped back and motioned with his free hand behind him. A staff sergeant appeared from nowhere.
“You have any paperwork, general?” he asked.
Arch understood instantly. He was in a “need to know,” situation. Having proper I.D. was just the first step in such a situation. Have the proper clearance and then a written need to be there were the following and more definitive steps of the process.
“Just visiting from the mainland and I thought I’d come aboard to take in some beach and sun,” Arch answered, lamely in his own opinion.
The staff sergeant was smooth as silk but firm as concrete.
“You can turn around right here and make your exit back to the main road. The base is currently closed to all non-essential personnel.” He waved one hand in a circular fashion. The corporal handed Arch’s I.D. back and salute again. Arch was dismissed.
Arch drove back to the Waimanalo Beach gate and found an empty parking place about as far from the beach itself as he could get. He looked around carefully before popping the trunk and letting Matisse out.
“Your fake I.D. not work, general?” Matisse asked, stretching his arms and back as if he’d been in the trunk for hours.
“It’s not fake,” Arch replied, slamming the trunk closed.
“You a real general?” Matisse went on, stopping his ridiculous stretching exercises.
“Not exactly,” Arch responded. “We can’t get on the base. I don’t know how to proceed without getting on the base,” he said, his tone despondent.
“What? Of course we can get on the base,” Matisse said. “We go to the boat, go to Rabbit Island, wait for night, and then we land on the sand anywhere we want. They don’t patrol the beach at night. Our people on Rabbit Island watch with binoculars.”
“They have high technology gear. They don’t need to patrol,” Arch said, his voice depressed.
“So? We steal water from the base almost every night. They don’t want us on Rabbit Island but they let us steal our water from them? I don’t think so.”
“Where’s the boat and what’s on the island,” Arch said, staring out across the beach to the azure sea beyond. “I can see the damned thing out there from here. There’s nothing there. Magnum P.I. island. Nobody goes there.”
“Back side,” Matisse replied, looking out to the breathtaking island in the distance. “Brilliant idea we occupy. The Department of Natural Resources has no amphibious stuff. We safe.
“Yeah, right,” Arch laughed out. “Like the governor can’t call up the Marine National Guard anytime he wants. They might just have an amphibious capability.”
“Boat’s near Sea Life Park by Makapuu,” Matisse said, point toward Diamond Head way.
Arch drove in the traffic back the way they’d come. The boat proved to be a battered and patched Zodiac in such bad condition Arch thought it might never make it through any seas, much less out in the open ocean. Matisse read his expression. “We get to use boat and the park people make believe we don’t exist as long as we bring it back.”
“I don’t want to know,” Arch said, is attitude still near rock bottom.
Matisse guided the boat away from the pier that stuck out from near the entrance to the park. The water proved to be choppy but no threat to the Zodiac’s limited capability. The old Evinrude outboard that drove the boat sputtered and backfired but held up until they reached the only sandy beach on the island. “They can see us land because it’s only rocks on the other side,” Matisse stated, killing the motor. “I’ll have one of the Bruddas drive it back for supplies.”
Arch frowned but said nothing. What were they supposed to do without a boat?
Both men climbed the mountain using an old and little used winding path back from the very peak. Just over the top they came upon a small collection of blue plastic covers held up my tent poles. The whole mess of wind-flapping plastic sounded like a bunch of kids passing on bicycles with baseball cards clipped to their wheels.
Matisse’s small band of locals, five men and three women looked a bit bedraggled to Arch but he allowed himself to be introduced around.
“What’s the plan?” he asked of Matisse when they finally broke free to stand just beyond the top of the ridge and view Bellows Beach stretched out before them.
“Tonight we cross to beach under cover of darkness,” Matisse whispered into the wind so quietly that Arch almost couldn’t make out what he said.
“Cover of darkness? Where do you get that crap, from the movies? What do we use for a boat,” he went on scanning the island in every direction for sign of something capable of putting them ashore in surf conditions.
“No boat,” Matisse replied, like the conclusion was self-evident. “We swim. You must swim good. You raised out here like local. You pass CIA swimming tests.”
“Jesus Christ,” Arch said in disgust. “Swim? It’s over a mile and we’ve got to come through surf to get on the beach. I can swim that far but the water looks treacherous as hell.”
“Water just choppy because reef not far below,” Matisse said, pointing over the ridge at a distinct line of deep blue and light blue. There were only large slightly breaking swells in the deep blue field of view. “As soon as we cross reef, I mean. See, reef only about four hundred yards off. Only have to worry about sharks in the deep water. They don’t swim over or inside reef.”
“Sharks? Sharks? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Arch replied, his disbelief evident in his expression and tone.
“No worry,” Matisse said. “I swim many times. Never bitten once. Only seen sharks a few times and they stayed away. Jelly fish bigger worry.”
“Jelly fish? What?” Arch’s voice began to rise in tone as he spoke. “I’m allergic to Jelly fish venom.”
“Good and bad news, boss,” Matisse said, somehow adopting the title ‘boss’ in addressing Arch. “Good news is full moon gone so hard to see us. Bad news is just past eight days gone and that’s when the jelly fish come out.”
“What was the good news again?” Arch asked, acidly.
“No worries, I told you,” Matisse said in a calming voice. “We have rash guards to wear. Like wet suit but thinner. Guard against stings.”
“Rash guards,” Arch repeated in a low disgusted tone. “Over a mile swim through shark and jelly fish infested waters to arrive through pounding surf onto a beach that we’re supposed to get across unseen and search through a pine forest to discover something we don’t know anything about.”
“Yes boss,” Matisse grinned. “We have great adventure.”
Arch’s shoulders sagged, as he turned to follow his new friend back to the flapping plastic tents to await the coming of night and to get into whatever rash guards were.