DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By James Strauss
The rash guards weren’t so bad, Arch decided, wishing he had a vanity mirror to check himself out in. Like a wetsuit, but better because the thin elastic long sleeve top and bottoms held everything in without giving him a feeling of being compressed. He knew he’d lost ten ponds in appearance alone. He sat and waiting while the sun slowly set over the deep blue beating sea fully on display from the back side of Rabbit Island. Molokai lay twenty miles, or so in the distance, its narrow east facing side fully visible because it was the eastern coast from which arose the highest cliff top to sea surface distance in the world. Rising up well over three thousand feet the cliffs would be visible until the sun was fully set.
“Matisse, let me use your cell phone,” Arch said, holding out his right hand.
Matisse wore only swimming trunks and a Dark Quicksilver sweatshirt. Although he’d provided the rash guards to Arch there’d been nothing available that would cover his short but incredibly thick torso.
“How you like sandals?” he asked Arch, handing over his phone, “and why you not use own phone?”
Arch looked down at his blue feet while absently accepting the phone.
“They’re not sandals. They’re shoes, reef runner shoes called Hydro Kick Backs,” he replied, knowing the heavy callouses on Matisse’s bare feet would need no such protection, but surprised that someone had thought of his own. The light canvas tops covering hard rubber soles were made by a local rapidly growing local company called Alukai He punched numbers into the cell phone before bringing it up to his right ear. “I can’t use my phone or they’ll know instantly exactly where we are, not that these tents are much protection from look down satellite equipment in use today.” After almost a full minute he hit a button and handed the phone back to Matisse. “Not answering, at least not to your caller I.D. number. I’m not leaving a message. She’d just give them your cell data, which she might do anyway.”
The phone rang. Arch reached back toward Matisse but the islander held up his free hand. “It’s the Haole bitch, calling back all aright.”
Arch stepped forward and took the iPhone from the man’s hand.
“Virginia?” he asked.
“What do you want and where are you,” Virginia responded, “and who’s phone are you calling from. You’re a fugitive from justice. Where are you and what are you trying to pull?”
Arch looked at the phone briefly, shot a nasty look at Matisse for turning on the speaker, but answered without turning it off.
“What’s that noise?” Virginia asked before he could get anything out.
“Just the wind,” Arch replied, weakly, which was the truth. Instead of dying down as the sunset, which was normal for the trades blowing over the Hawaiian Island chain, the wind seemed to be increasing.
“Hi, Virginia,” Matisse yelled at the phone with cupped hands, then started laughing to himself so hard he had to bend over.
“Who’s that?” Virginia asked, “are you in a local bar?”
Arch grimaced and then turned his back to Matisse and walked outside of the tent. The madly flapping edges of the tent sounded like machine gun fire so he moved as far away from the place as he could go without getting too close to the edge of the cliff. The wind still gave off so much noise as it twisted and swirled over the lip that it was difficult to near anything else. Matisse followed him outside.
“You have no clue what your involved with and I’m going to find out. You don’t work in the field,” Arch yelled into the end of the phone. “You only command agents like me to do your bidding. We don’t tell you what it’s really like at all. I’m going to save you from something you don’t understand.”
“You’re an idiot,” Virginia said, her voice thin and breaking up in the wind.
“Idiot? I’m an idiot?” Arch almost screamed to be heard. “You know better than that. I’ve never failed you once on any mission.”
“Not on any mission,” Virginia instantly replied with acid from each delayed word.
“Alright, I’ll quit right now if you tell me you don’t love me,” Arch said, more softly but with deep feeling. After a few seconds the line went dead.
“We not going?” Matisse asked, gently taking his phone from Arch’s clenched fingers.
“What do you mean?” Arch responded with amazement. “She didn’t say she didn’t love me. That means she loves me. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to find out. What about the radiation? The pollution? The Hawaiian Sovereignty cause you support?”
“Man, the line went dead. She didn’t say anything.”
“I know her,” Arch said, turning to face back into the building wind. White caps covered the roiling tumbling waters stretching across some of the most treacherous seas in the world. The narrow stretch of water between Molokai and Oahu was almost seven thousand feet deep. Waves crisscrossed, coming from every direction, as the big long fetch swells of the North Pacific were broken and redirected by their encounter with the islands.
“How long do we wait?” Arch asked Matisse.
“A few hours,” Matisse answered, moving to the cliff and sitting down to dangle his feet dangerously above the sea breaking heavily a few hundred feet below. “The most dangerous thing about all this isn’t the jelly fish, the sharks, the surf, the reef or the swim. It’s that Haole bitch. I can just feel it.”
Arch sat down a few feet behind Matisse to watch the sun slowly make its way below the distant horizon. “You know, you can always bail out on this thing. I was a Boy Scout camping on that beach many years ago. I can go it alone,” Arch said, into Matisse’s back and blowing wind.
“I’ve gotta go brudda. They’re my tribe. I gotta take care of them like you want to stupidly take care of the Haole bitch.”
“Your tribe?” Arch exclaimed, quietly. “They don’t even talk to you and according to you I’m your only friend and I barely know you.”
“They don’t have to be my friends. They are there for me and I’m there for them. It’s the local deal. Besides, I got nothing else going on. Sixty-four dollars, my Pontiac, a cell phone and I’m not much living anywhere at the moment either. Under the pines at Sherwood Forest look pretty good to me right now.”
“Sherwood Forest,” Arch answered, wistfully. “I haven’t heard that phrase used in a long time. “They still take from the rich and give to the poor at Bellows?”
“Nah, all that went away when this high security shit came to the area,” Matisse said, turning so Arch could make our his words more clearly.
The public, meaning my people, get to use a little bitty piece of the beach but only on weekends and theirs no parking anymore. Used to be we could park under the pines or on the beach even. Now they have big rocks blocking everything. And video cameras everywhere. No more local fun.”
Arch got up to walk back toward the sand ridge on the other side of the flapping blue ten complex. He stared at the full stretch of Bellows Beach little more than a mile and a half over the chopping water. It was beautiful, back by multi-green colored foliage of all densities and description. The pines just back from the nearly white sand were achingly attractive until you looked up. The western side of the Koolau Mountain Range was simply breathtaking, especially with the fading rays of light bouncing up from the flora. The entire scene was almost artificial it was so beautiful. He thought about what he was trying to do. There was no longer any mission, if there ever was. In fact, he was planning on doing the same thing Matisse had been doing when the sky fell on him. Could Arch hope to threaten the government to the extent that they’d leave Virginia alone any more successfully than Matisse had threatened the federal judge? It didn’t seem likely. Matisse was an ignorant citizen and Arch was a player but that didn’t’ necessarily change anything.
There was more firepower in a single Apache helicopter than Arch, Matisse and the entire Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement could bring to bear in a lifetime. Who was he kidding? Virginia was about to become as expendable as he himself, Matisse and the rest of them already had. The Hawaiians would no doubt already be dead from the “collateral” effects of drone Hellfire missiles except that Rabbit Island was such a visible beloved part of one of America’s most populated vacation destinations.
Arch entered one of the tents and was promptly handed a small plastic bowl filled with raw fish chunks. Poke. The word was pronounced PO-Kay, and it was a local Hawaiian staple.
Ahi tuna was offloaded from local fishing boats where the best of it was filleted and cut into chunks. The chunks of fresh fish were marinated in a few ounces of Aloha Soy Sauce, a bit of ginger and the Hawaiian version of monosodium glutamate called Aginomoto. “Poke,” the woman said in handing him the bowl. “You need um energy for um swim. Eat all.”
Arch took the bowl out into the near dark beyond. There were not implements. He ate the chunks with his fingers and then cleaned the bowl and his hands in a nearby dune of blowing sand nearby. Although he’d eaten plenty of sashimi and sushi over the years no fish tasted better than local Hawaiian poke.
After dark, with only the waning gibbous slice of the moon offering any light at all, Arch and Matisse made there way down the winding but well worn path to the only possible landing or launching spot on the small island. A near perfect small horseshoe beach appeared as they made their way through the final high scrub and bracken. The small island received only a small bit of the rain normal to Bellows only a mile or so away. The plant growth dry and brown in full daylight. On each of their backs were taped large clear plastic bags with clothing, wallets and cell phones inside. Arch carried the sim card to his iPhone in his wallet although he’d come to believe that any Apple product could be tracked by the government no matter what was done to it short of grinding it up on some junkyard disposal.
The water was cool at first but then warm with the wind blowing across its calm surface seeming almost frigid on their heads shoulders. They breast stroked out beyond the cover into rough water. The swells rose and fell all around them, tossing both men up and around. It took their full attention to keep their heads clear of the white caps foam tops and stay on course toward the lower end of Bellows. The plan was to land on that part of the beach normally used by the locals on the weekend and almost entirely avoided by the military at all other times. Matisse knew that area of the beach and interior foliage and trees well while Arch had clear memories of romping through almost all the rest of the base when he was in his early school years. The plan was to be on the beach in less than an hour.
What could go wrong, except for jellyfish and sharks, did go wrong. The tide was too low once they reached it. Both men were near sea sick from the constant jousting with the outer reef waters when they cross onto the reef. Much smaller waves, most less than two feet high, swashed across the quarter mile thick reef. They could not lie down and ride over the reef and they couldn’t’ get up and walk. The crabbed from one coral head, barely below the surface until struck by an incoming wave, to another a few yards away. It was the only way they could avoid serious injury. Neither man had been able to speak during the rough water crossing. Sharing a coral head and waiting for another wave set to pass gave them enough time and condition to speak.
“Man, you one tough Haole,” Matisse gasped out. “This kinda swim is awful. How you do it?”
“Conditioning and luck. I’m lighter than you. I float higher. We should have worn gloves and these rash guards are no match for the coral.”
They moved together but to different coral heads, once more waiting for another bigger set to wash over them, hoping they’d be able to hold on. Coral cuts, no matter how light, were extremely painful and almost always infected. They worked ever slower to clear the reef as the waves seemed to get higher and higher.
“Tide going up,” Matisse whispered over to Arch from ten yards away between sets. “Waves clearing the reef soon and then higher surf inside.”
“Any more good news?” Arch shot back.
“Keep your voice down,” Matisse force whispered back.
“Voice down?” Arch yelled back, laughing out loud. “Why, are we the only idiots to be dumb enough to be out here in the middle of the night?
A wave washed Matisse from his perch. Arch watched him wash away and then disappear. He gentled himself down onto the surface of the water into the rising trough of another incoming way. He surfed along with it, more inside the water than riding the outside. Suddenly, he plunged over a small waterfall. They were inside the reef. Both men paddled together but there was no celebration. Both men were nearly exhausted and they had the surf line to deal with after a half-mile swim.
The surf line proved to be no challenge once they’d negotiate the water in between. The swells were running to five feet but the waves had no real power once they broke. The inside break was worse than the outside one simply because there was an inshore hole. Both men got stuck in the hold and had to swim down the beach until they could clear it where a small creek, bordering the edge of the base, exited out into the open ocean.
Arch checked his Breguet watch. It had taken them three hours to travel little more than a mile. Both men lay on the sand, battered, cut up and too tired to crawl under the pines without rest. Arch crawled forward. He knew their bodies would register as black objects against the reflected near white of the soft sand. They’d also register that way on any night vision device, if anyone were bothering to look. Marines never took security lightly, especially when it came to protecting their own property and space. The Marine Corps was notorious for stealing equipment from other services while they made stealing from the Corps next to impossible.
The plan had been to get securely and deeply in among the pines just off the beach area. There both men would freshen up using the stream water, dry off as best they could and get their clothing on. From there they’d proceed inland toward the high security to see where they could get over or under the barbwire fence. It was a plan of simplicity depending upon substantial amounts of serendipity and it never got off the ground. Arch and Matisse made it in under the pines, took another break and did not wake up until dawn. The swim had done them in.
Arch woke up first, almost instantly realizing he’d not awakened from the sound of the surf but from another sound much louder and more threatening. He hit Matisse on the shoulder and jumped to his knees, turning to face back toward the water they’d come out of only hours before.
“What’s that?” Matisse got out, crawling out from under the big pine they’d slept under. Arch followed. Both men stood standing in the same attire they’d arrived in earlier, watching a big flat air boat sweep in over the reef and head directly toward their position.
“What is it?” Matisse asked, in wonder.
“LCAC, land craft air cushion,” Arch answered in a despondent voice.
The hovercraft, capable of carrying sixty tons of men and equipment took only seconds to cross the water from the reef to the sand. Once there it swept huge billowing clouds of sand upward, stopped and then settled into a whining near silence. A wide front door began to swing down from the gray hovercraft.
“Cool,” Matisse said, almost in a whisper. “It’s like the War of the Worlds. What’s in it? What’s gonna come out? Why is it here?”
“I think we got their attention,” Arch responded, gathering his unopened plastic bag together and beginning to walk toward the vehicle.
Matisse ran to catch up with him in the soft sand. “We going to check it out?” he said, his voice excited.
“I guess you might say that,” Arch replied, watching a full company of Marines beginning to run outward from the hovercraft, already beginning to form a growing perimeter that would soon include them.
The Marines came out of the hovercraft hatch at a run, racing toward Matisse and Arch. Both men stood too stunned to move. The Marines came within a few feet of them and then split to run right by. From just beyond where they stood the Marines pealed off and formed what resembled a fast opening flower. In only a few seconds they were surrounded, the Marines settling in with their weapons pointed outward, as if to defend them from some unknown enemy.
A single officer walked out of the hovercraft and made his way slowly toward Arch and Matisse. He stopped when he was a few feet away, and then saluted. He was wearing silver captain’s bars on his combat utilities and two black bars held by Velcro to the center of his helmet.
He snapped his right hand to his side and said only one word: “Gentlemen.” He waited at a position of attention.
“What’s the deal captain,” Arch said, when it appeared the neither the captain or anybody else was going to say anything further.
“Well sir, it would appear that General Crow would like to announce his compliments and invite you for a short visit at his quarters up near the secure part of this base,” the captain replied with a smile, although he maintained his position of attention.
“Stand at ease,” Arch ordered. “Why the drama?”
“What drama, sir?” the captain replied, relaxing his body and coming to a loose parade rest position. “The drama of your difficult swim into the beach in the dark or the landing of our amphibious vehicle?”
Arch got the Marine humor realizing there was no way he and Matisse could have drowned or much else without a bunch of Navy Seals dropping from the sky to rescue them. Their travel from Rabbit Island had no doubt been recorded in detail real time and the subject of considerable humor.
“All this to take us less than half a mile up the beach,” Arch said, smiling back at the captain. “You didn’t need guns and a hovercraft battle ship for that.”
“Actually, my orders were to transport you with full security if you agree,” the captain replied. “Mike Company is here for your protection. You aren’t being forced to do anything. The general is asking for an audience. You have full freedom to reply as you wish although once you leave Bellows we would no longer be able to provide security. What’s your pleasure, sir?” The Marine returned to a noticeable position of attention.
“Maybe they give us ride back to the island?” Matisse said, hopefully, his eyes round and large as they continued to take in the Marines, machine guns and the huge monster of a landing craft.
“Do we get to keep our weapons?” Arch asked,
“Absolutely, sir,” the captain responded, instantly
“You know we don’t have any weapons, don’t you?” Arch said, with a sigh.
“Yes, sir,” the Marine answered, with no change of expression, his smile long gone.
“Cell phones?” Arch continued.
“Of course, sir. Suppressed, however,” the captain actually seemed sympathetic about that.
“My I.D. still good?” Arch finished.
“Which one?” the captain replied, his small nearly invisible smile returning.
“We walk up the beach?” Arch pointed, there being no reason he could think of to test the captain’s word. Oahu was all of five hundred and ninety square miles. There really were almost no place to hide for any length of time, not from the CIA and the Marines.
“Of course not, sir,” the captain snapped, immediately pulling out a small radio and keying in some code. In only a few seconds a battle command Humvee pulled under the trees and made its way through the soft sand like it was built for just such a mission, which it was.
“What’s going to happen?” Matisse whispered to Arch, as the vehicle drove through a break the Marines made for it in their defensive perimeter. The defensive ring closed as soon as the Humvee was through.
Arch looked over at the frightened Hawaiian before approaching the back door of the truck, already swinging open to accept them. “Saying I don’t know would be a huge understatement, but I’ve got a feeling that you are about to be my only friend for quite some time to come.”