DOWN IN THE VALLEY
By J. Strauss
“Where we goin’ boss?” Matisse yelled from the drivers seat, as Arch got into the old battered convertible. Matisse accelerated away so fast the huge single door on the passenger side slammed with the sound of gunshot.
“Cut back across the island,” Arch instructed, with his damaged hand pushed against the dash and the other grasping the top of the door. “We’ll use H3 and cross over the mountains. I need to get cleaned up somewhere between here and Ala Moana Shopping Center.”
“We go Neiman Marcus? Cool. I love Niemen’s. They usually won’t let me in there.” Matisse laughed some more, his THC level causing him to drive too fast and with too much abandon.
“What a shock,” Arch murmured. “Potassium Iodide. We need that stuff for whatever they’re leaking into the waters off Bellows. We can get it at Longs Drug Store, or what used to be Longs before CVS bought them. Unless they’re sold out of the stuff.” Arch thought about their prospects. Potassium Iodide overloaded the thyroid gland so it would simply reject any other iodine elements, including those that might be irradiated. Thyroid cancer was the most likely damaging result of sustained contact with low-level radiation. Potassium Iodide was about the only protection outside of a full Hazmat suit Arch could think of.
“A million tons. You said that plane was a million tons. No plane can be a million tons. An aircraft carrier isn’t a million tons.” Matisse threw the words back over his shoulder as they made their way toward the Kailua onramp to H3.
“A million pounds, not a million tons,” Arch responded, mechanically, recalling the specifications of the huge plane. A million pounds gross and then another for the load. Whoever flew the plane in had to have flown it right in and just barely over the tops of the pines completely surrounding the airfield. Nobody was going to fly the monster thing out of there without cutting down a huge swath of pines to do it though. The runway was simply too short and the pines too high for such a large plane, even one flying only in ground effect, to make it. “They’ll have to destroy much of the pine forest that makes Bellows so unique to do it,” Arch said more to himself than to Matisse. None of it made any sense. The Marines didn’t need to fly half a division anywhere. There were at least six U.S. Naval fleets at sea covering almost all of the oceans of the globe at any time. What could be the purpose of the large aircraft and how did it involve nuclear materials? Finally, how was it possible that there was some leakage from whatever nuclear materials were being used or stored?
“We get you cleaned up before we cross over,” Matisse said. Without further comment he turned toward the Koolau Mountain Range and drove the big Pontiac to an automotive repair place near a housing development called Haiku plantations. Arch knew of the housing area from the Joseph Campbell ‘Power of Myth’ tapes. Joe had lived in Haiku and filmed the segments from his home there before passing on. The auto repair business had an outdoor shower. Arch rinsed himself thoroughly outside without undressing. He was wet but at least most of the mud was gone. His nailed hand was a mess but taking care of it would have to wait.
A large local in dirty overalls came out from under the sliding garage door, as Arch patted himself as dry as he could in the wind. The disheveled mechanic spoke a few words to Matisse and then went back inside.
“Why does an auto repair shop have an outside shower?” Arch asked Matisse, trying to brush his hair dry.
“Surf and come to work. Gotta get the salt off.” Matisse answered using a tone of amazement, like everyone should know why an auto repair shop had an outside shower.
“Ala Moana,” Arch instructed Matisse when he was about as dry as we was likely to get. His clothing remained more than damp but there was nothing to be done for it except pass some time. He climbed into the back seat of the Pontiac and Matisse did his usual high torque blast off. He sat up to dry himself off as much as he could, as Matisse guided the old Pontiac towards the huge shopping center on the other side of the island.
“We can’t beat the CIA and the United States Marine Corps together,” Arch murmured from his position lying in the sun across the Bonneville’s wide back seat. “We just can’t do it. They’re too big. We’ll end up dead or in Guantanamo.”
Matisse drove the car well above any posted speed on the island taking H3’s gentle curves with the Pontiac’s ancient suspension maxed out and leaning far over through every turn. They penetrated one of the tunnels dug all the way through the Koolau range. After almost a full minute of near darkness the car burst out into sunshine on the leeward side of the island. The many-shaded and bright green beauty of the passing scenery only served to disguise Arch’s miserable state of circumstance. Arch felt like they should be pulling over to purchase ether somewhere to more closely emulate the travels of Hunter S. Thompson so well described in his book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
They exited from H3 onto H1 heading from the Makai (seaward) direction toward Honolulu (toward Diamond Head). Oahu had its own directions. Towards the waters off of Waikiki was referred to as Makai. The inland mountains were in the opposite direction and called jus that, while Diamond Head and Eva were used to describe the other two directions.
Ala Moana shopping center had once been the largest in the world, but had long ago been eclipsed by some water park place in Minnesota and then others around the continental United States. Ala Moana was still the largest in the islands and the underground parking was a nightmare. Getting in and out of the place without getting hit was considered an art form, while finding any kind of parking place at all was more a kindly gift from a merciful God. Matisse parked in a handicapped spot. Before Arch could complain the islander slapped a blue hanger onto the convertible’s center mirror post.
“My grandma. No drive no more. Handicap sticka good for three more years though.”
The drug store in the center, still called Longs although CVS purchased it some time back, had potassium iodide. Arch requested it from a skeptical pharmacist who eyed his damaged hand but he was able to buy six packages of six pills each. He bought a bottle of Fred drinking water because he liked the writing on the little bottle’s label, and it was shaped like a pint flask so it more resembled a pint bottle of vodka than water. He downed a pill and then made Matisse take one. The drug would overload their thyroid glands so no radioactive iodine could get in if they were so exposed. He didn’t bother explaining to his island associate anything further about why they might be needing to take such precautions. He picked up another throwaway cell phone from a stand next to the check out counter. He seemed to be losing cell phones like lizards in trouble lost tails.
The shoe place near the shopping center’s performing stage had Teva sandals in his size. Finally, Arch didn’t have to look like some Haole beach bum in bare feet. The trek up and slide down the mountain at Bellows had reminded Arch that his younger days of possessing solidly calloused feet were forever behind him. Somewhere on that slope his old Tevas would lay for a long time to come.
They went to the food court. Patty’s Kitchen used to occupy a whole corner of the place but it was as dead and gone as Patty herself. Some Koreans now ran a faux Chinese food counter in its place. Arch and Matisse loaded up on local food from one of the other vendors. Lots of rice, soy sauce, pork hash and lomi lomi salmon. Arch ate pork hash while both of them sat at one of the small cheap tables stuffed into the center of the massive food court. Arch took out his phone and punched in some numbers.
“Who you calling?” Matisse asked. Arch ignored him while he finished off a chunk of the pork hash and waited for any answer.
Virginia answered after the sixth ring.
“Hello,” Arch said, all of sudden unsure why he’d made the call at all, except he really had no one else to call who might help him understand what was going on.
“You insensitive jerk,” Virginia yelled. Her voice was so loud Matisse sitting next to him heard the words.
“You seem to have trouble with women,” Matisse whispered to Arch, before sucking down a huge chopstick load of soy-laden rice.
“Me? Insensitive?” Arch replied to Virginia’s accusation, not believing his ears. “You set me up on the mission, had one of your henchman nearly kill me, and that was before having me tortured by some more of your people…not to mention sleeping with the married commander of the mission.” Arch knew the last sentence he spoke was a mistake even before Virginia answered.
“You’re beneath contempt…” she started, but Arch cut her off.
“Did you come straight from his bed to mine or was it the other way around?” He went on, unable to stop himself, Matisse looking over at him with an expression of twisted humor.
“You going steady with Virginia? Torture?” Matisse had stopped eating with his chopsticks half was to his mouth, staring down at Arch’s poorly bandaged hand. “Your girl-friend torture you?”
Arch ignored Matisse, turning to notice the packed crowd of people they were among in the food court. People waited for an opening, sat, ate and then departed one after another. Although no one paid attention to anyone else on a cell phone the noise itself was difficult to deal with in trying to talk on the phone. Ordinarily. Virginia’s voice level was so high however that she was easy to understand.
“I didn’t do anything,” she said. “I brought you here for this. I made sure we got back together again, no thanks to you.”
Arch held the phone out in amazement, before gripping it back to his ear. “I came here on my own, and you somehow saw it to your own advantage to involve me in some deadly mission nobody will say one word about, even to others involved. One of your people almost killed me and when that didn’t happen, I got three holes punched clean through my hand, plus an Apache helicopter almost finished me off over at Bellows. I came here to marry you, not to get murdered by you.”
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. Finally, Virginia spoke again. “Marry me? Where the hell were you for fifteen years? You fell off the face of the planet. I brought you back to see if you’d built any character over the years. Any honor. But no, you’re the same trouble-making machine of near total destruction you always were. I wouldn’t marry you on a bet.”
“Are you sleeping with him?” Arch asked. There was no answer to the question. Arch waited while Matisse sat grinning like a fool and nodding his head with one eyebrow raised and a smirk on his face.
“Was that a no?” Arch finally inquired hopefully into the silence, turning his back to Matisse. The phone went dead.
“Man, my wife never talk like that to me, or do that other stuff either,” Matisse commented, going back to finishing his meal.
“She’s not my wife,” Arch replied, tersely.
“No matter,” Matisse went on, “in Hawaii women know their place. My wife…”
“I don’t care about your wife, and I don’t like women who know their place, as you put it.” Arch answered.
“I know, I know, I can tell from your talk with her,” Matisse replied, ‘but you should. My wife can find you a real woman who won’t sleep with other men, not even if one is a general.”
“Come on, we’ve got work to do,” Arch said stiffly.
“Where we go now?” Matisse asked, dumping the remains of his food and mostly empty containers into a nearby trashcan.
“To the airport. I’m renting a real car. We can’t drive around in that piece of junk and be taken seriously. We’ll get a real car like a Lincoln or Cadillac, take it to Pearl Harbor and get a base sticker.”
“Base sticker? How do you get one of those?” Matisse asked in a shocked tone.
Arch pulled out his wet wallet and retrieved a plastic card. “Officer’s Military I.D. We’ll get the sticker, patch my hand up at the Navy infirmary and get ready to go to the secure part of Bellows.”
“Are you crazy?” Matisse said, stopping in his tracks. “They’ll probably put us in jail when we show up at Pearl, much less at that special gate at Bellows.”
“Nope,” Arch said, flatly. “That’s one of the problems related to very sensitive and compartmentalized missions. Nobody outside the mission usually knows a damned thing. This one is so secret that almost nobody inside the mission knows anything, as well. We’ll be fine at Pearl, probably Bellows too. I’d be amazed if they don’t just salute and wave us through the gate once we have the sticker. The I.D. is valid and the sticker will be good too.”
“We’ll? How you figure that we thing? I got no I.D. and no base sticker.”
“Trunk. You’ll be in the trunk, not that it might matter except for the fact that you look like a local island slime ball and that might raise suspicions.”
“Trunk?” Matisse exclaimed. “I gotta ride in the trunk? That’s evil man, and I thought you said that the CIA and the Marine Corps were just too big to fight. And I don’t look local at all. You ever see a local driving a classic Pontiac convertible around?”
“You got me there,” Arch answered, shaking his head. “And I said they’re too big to beat, not too big to fight. Besides, the whole Marine Corps and the entire CIA aren’t aware of this mission. Of that I’m certain. This thing is some sort of intense pocket operation probably run directly out of the White House. It has all the earmarks of White House stupidity written all over it. We might not beat whoever’s involved but these people are sure going to know they were in a fight.”
“And Virginia the bitch? Matisse asked, “what you going to do with her?
“She’s in way over her head,” Arch said back over his shoulder, as both men walked toward the Pontiac. “I can’t save her from something I know almost nothing about. So let’s find out what it’s all about.”
Matisse dragged his feet, following behind Arch until they got to the convertible. “Can’t we just get a boat and go out to Rabbit Island? They got some fish and that terrible Angry Chameleon rum stuff from Kauai. We can drink that stuff out there and maybe forget this Virginia Haole bitch woman.” Arch didn’t answer. He simply got into the passenger seat of the Pontiac Matisse, looked straight ahead and waited.
“This friendship between us could be another of those painful ones,” Matisse concluded.
“Another?” Arch asked, as Matisse started the car.
“Yeah,” Matisse answered, looking over his right shoulder as he backed the big Pontiac carefully from its small parking slot, “like the one between you and Virginia.”