It Was 1993
by James Strauss
Lihue was a small town, and the airport even smaller, so Arch presumed that everyone noticed almost everything, but nobody did much of anything. Doug was popular in his way, or he wouldn’t still be flying. He shared something in common with most alcoholics in that he thought nobody knew, when in fact, almost everyone did. They moved from the plane to the van.
“What about the passengers you left in Princeville?” Arch asked the pilot, as they walked, “won’t you be missed by the airlines? The controller? The gate people?”
“Nah,” Doug laughed. “Dorothy’s cool. And what airlines? It’s a small office at Honolulu International with only two employees. They’re used to my taking bits of time off here and there. The gate people? There are no gate people. The passengers and I do the luggage, fuel, boarding passes and kick the tires too. The only booking’s are done through Oahu. The passengers will figure it out. It’s a small island. They’ll get there.”
Doug was back, Arch realized in amazement. Only half an hour before, more or less, he’d passed out drunk but now he seemed perfectly sober in walk, thought and even speech.
Arch opened the driver’s door to the van and instantly noted that there was no steering wheel.
“Don’t worry, I hide it in the back so nobody steals it,” Doug said, going around to the rear of the Dodge. He returned with a steering wheel, except the ‘wheel’ was for a plane.
“Don’t look at me like that, I re-worked it to fit.”
Arch simply stared at the man, aware that he was about to take off in an old Dodge van that gave every appearance of being about as safe to drive as the King Air had been with Arch at the helm.
With the wheel screwed back onto the steering shaft Arch had both hands gripping the handles of a steering wheel not meant to ever steer a car.
“You know, I can drive” Doug said with a tone of petulance.
Arch said nothing and ushered the pilot into the back seat. The old blue van had passenger seats but they were accessed through a single double door and the side windows were painted over with white paint. The front seats were old ripped buckets covered in plastic that had foam rubber sticking through all over. Cyn took the front passenger seat, while Harpo managed to insert his body between the buckets so he could stare up and out the windshield. There was a single shoulder belt on the driver’s side but nothing to click it into. No cars, or vehicles of any sort, had showed up since they’d landed and taxied in the King Air. Arch knew that wouldn’t last long. In very short order the out of place Beechcraft would draw lots of attention. In fact, attention was probably on the way. They had to get away from the airport as quickly as possible. Suddenly, Arch wondered why the van was there at all.
“You live in Lihue?” he asked Doug, twisting to look at the man.
“Nope,” Doug replied. “I’ve got a girlfriend here, though. Or I had one. She’s in Princeville now, so I got a throw-away car to make the drive whenever I could get any time here.”
“I thought Atlantis was your girlfriend,” Arch added, absently, looking for the ignition key.
“Oh, please!” Atlantis hissed.
“In the glove compartment,” Doug pointed out, “so I wouldn’t forget, and nobody would steal it.”
“Brilliant,” Arch sighed, reaching to open the marked up glove box. “The keys are in the glove box and the steering wheel’s hidden in the back seat. Maximum security.” Before Doug could react to the sarcasm the radio in Arch’s pocket squawked alive. The radio Arch had forgotten to jettison. He wondered why God did things like that. He’d just called Doug an idiot, and then he himself was shown to be an idiot. Arch pulled the small radio out.
“We know you have the radio,” came out of the speaker. “Come in and all you’re facing is assault on a Federal Officer. We can deal with that.”
“Oh man,” Arch breathed, gently grasping the radio with his right hand, making sure not to touch the transmit button. He eased the Dodge door open and stepped out of the vehicle. He put the radio carefully under the edge of the van’s left front tire. It was unlikely they could track the thing unless it transmitted something. The good news was that they obviously hadn’t figure out yet where they’d flown away to. Arch jumped back into the driver’s seat, jammed the key into the ignition and the Dodge started, just as Doug had promised. He eased Harpo aside and put the automatic transmission lever into reverse, and drove backward, shifted and the drove forward over the radio. Arch pulled out of the lot at the controls of another vehicle he shouldn’t be driving, heading for a port where a ship waited that he had no clue as to how to get aboard.
The two ridiculous handles mounted on the sides of the aircraft steering wheel made it difficult to get a feel for turning the van, but Arch managed. The vehicle’s engine was missing badly, and it had obviously sat in one place too long because the tires were partially flat on one side. The van sort of waddled over to the access road leading through the rental car areas, where all manner of ‘real’ cars and SUVs could be seen sitting behind chain link fences waiting for real customers. The gas gauge said empty.
“There’s no fuel in this thing,” Arch pointed out.” How long did it sit there?” he asked, knowing that it didn’t make any difference. “And where do you live, if it’s not around Lihue?”
“The gauge doesn’t work, but it’s got plenty of gas,” Doug replied from the back seat. “It’s only been a few months since my girlfriend and I split up here. I live on Oahu, not Kauai.”
Arch thought about what the man said. If he had a place by himself on Oahu that might be truly helpful. Although Doug might have put away too much alcohol; he hadn’t gone after Cyn for the money, and he hadn’t opposed anything they’d asked him to do. Arch steered the van onto the main road out of the airport, feeling like he was guiding a giant motorcycle instead of an old cargo van.
“Where on Oahu?” Arch asked, heading slowly down the road toward the main signal which controlled traffic coming in and out of the airport.
“Waimanalo,” Doug replied, surprising Arch.
“You’re Haole,” Arch said, in surprise. “How does a Haole manage to live in Waimanalo and not be stolen blind every time he leaves to go to work?”
Waimanalo was one of those places on Oahu, like out Makaha way, where Caucasians were treated as prey by the locals. They were not threatened with violence, but instead were treated with a colossal lack of respect and regularly had everything stolen from them at every opportunity. Tourists usually only visited either place once, and island-living ‘Kamaina’ Haole’s usually avoided living, or even going there, at all costs.
“My girlfriend’s a Waimanalo local,” Doug replied.
Arch wanted to ask the pilot how many girlfriends he had, but they’d run out of time and road. He didn’t know where he was going.
“How do we get to the port?” Arch asked.
“Left at the signal puts you on Kapule, or Highway 51,” Atlantis answered from the back seat. “Right on Ninini Point for a bit, and then right again on Pahola. We’re like fifteen minutes max from the Marriott. The port’s right down there. We should be able to see the Independence, if it’s in, from the Marriott parking lot.”
“If it’s in?” Arch asked, butterflies starting to flutter in his stomach. If the Independence wasn’t there or they couldn’t get aboard, he was dead. He was dead if they caught him before he took care of Raul and Jeremy’s big toes. Following that act Arch was just as likely to be killed, only he’d take much longer to die.
“You promised I could go when we got to Lihue,” Atlantis said.
Arch ignored her. There was no going back for any of them until it was over, so he remained silent.
The cargo van he was guiding, because driving wasn’t really what he was doing, refused to make anything but the widest of turns. Arch pulled into the huge Marriot parking lot, but had to take three turns just to complete the turn back toward the main building. He spotted a dark hole on the side of the structure that looked like it might be for underground parking.
“What are you thinking?” Doug asked, from just behind him.
“Underground, if they’ll let us in,” Arch answered, trying with the two-handled grip, and the vehicles more than vague steering, not to hit any parked cars.
“Nobody’ll run across the thing for days under there,” Arch said. “Unless they’ve got security and the parking there is for guests only. They probably don’t want any of the port traffic using their covered lot.”
“The outside one right here is free,” Atlantis mentioned.
That fact had not escaped Arch’s notice when they entered. But the outside parking would be a magnet for any passing cruiser on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary, and the tattered blue van they were in would certainly come under such a heading. Locals would not normally park in the lot, and only locals drove such rolling wrecks. The cops would for sure notice the van.
“They’d think it was an employee’s car,” Atlantis went on, as if reading his mind.
“You see anything out here that looks like this blue hemorrhoid?” Cyn asked, her tone sarcastic.
“Good point,” Atlantis responded, “but you don’t have to get prissy about it.”
“Sorry,” Cyn replied, in a smaller less caustic voice.
Arch realized that a bit of friction seemed to have developed between the two women. He wondered if it could have something to do with their old employment experience. Cyn didn’t seem to accept authority well, although she hadn’t refused to do anything he’d asked her to do so far.
“It’s open, but it’s got a gate,” Doug stated, pointing toward the gaping rectangular hole in the wall.
Arch eased the Dodge up to the gate and looked at the square control box with a button on the front of it. There was a small sign that said “push to get ticket.” He pushed and a small white ticket slowly printed out.
“Oh, I get it. They keep the riff raft out using that,” Doug pointed at a sign mounted up and to the right of the entrance. It read: “No charge for paying guests. $45.00 an hour for all others.”
“Welcome to Kauai,” Atlantis whispered.
“And to being part of the riff-raff,” she added.
The gate went up and Arch drove the van in. How Doug would ever get his van back was Doug’s problem. The pilot, who seemed to be almost fully recovered from his drinking binge, said nothing more.
They exited the vehicle and walked back to the opening. Cyn put Harpo back on his leash, which didn’t seem to bother the Dingo at all. They stood together in a small huddled mass. It was decision time.
“You’ve got to ride with us to Oahu, Atlantis,” Arch said. “But we’ve got bigger problems. How do we get aboard a ship that only takes on new passengers in Honolulu and how do we get on with Harpo in our company?”
“I know how the system works,” Doug stated. “I’ve sailed that ship. They use tokens. The passengers carry the tokens ashore, then the tokens are collected when they get back on to make sure they got everyone. I don’t think they allow dogs, though.”
“He’s a Dingo,” Cyn said, once again her voice showing open irritation.
“Like we don’t know,” Atlantis shot back, with attitude.
Arch breathed in and out deeply. He was not only facing a nearly insurmountable nautical problem, but he had a recovering drunk, two aggravated women, and a Dingo along as either willing assistants or volatile baggage.
The stern of the Independence extended out all the way to the edge of the Marriott parking lot. From where they stood it looked secure and daunting, if not downright impregnable.
“So, anybody have an idea?” Arch asked, not expecting much of an answer.
“Somebody’s got to get on board first,” Cyn replied, her tone seeming to indicate that anyone with any sense would come to the same conclusion.
“Everyone’s got to get on board,” Arch said, shaking his head a bit.
“Yeah, we all know,” Cyn answered, changing her tone to one that might denote being patient with a small child. “But if what Doug says is right, and I think it is, then somebody’s got to get on the ship, and then get to that board to steal some identity tags that are already hanging there, belonging to people who aren’t getting off.”
“Why can’t we nick some from Independence tourists shopping around Lihue?” Doug asked, sweeping his arm out to cover what part of the city they could see from their position behind the hotel.
“No, she’s right,” Atlantis piped in. “We can’t go running about in town trying to circulate with anybody. Our descriptions are probably already all over the place, and Lihue’s a much smaller town than it seems. Besides, what would happen when the tourists with stolen tags returned to the ship and their tags were already sitting up there on a board?”
Arch looked at his motley collection of damaged amateurs and could not help but be impressed with the groups’ sound and creative thinking. He couldn’t even assemble a workable plan in his mind. His team, however, was coming up with a plan, one step at a time.
“So we need to get somebody onboard, and that somebody has to find a way to get tags off the board, and they’ve got to be for passengers who aren’t likely to go ashore. Not to mention we have to find a way to get a Dingo on the ship, and then figure out what we do with him when we do get him aboard.”
“Leave the damned dog at the Marriott, or let him forage on his own for a few days,” Doug answered, taking his blue flying hat off with one hand and rubbing his forehead with the other hand.
Arch looked down at Harpo, and then the mirrored expressions on the faces of Atlantis and Cyn.
“You piece of…” Cyn started to say, her voice a vicious whisper, before Arch cut her off.
“Harpo’s a Dingo, not a dog and he rides for the brand. Somehow we all got in this together and we’re staying together until we get to Oahu, at the least.”
The dingo looked at Arch like he understood. Arch knew in his heart of hearts at that moment that he’d as soon part with any or all of the other three before he’d surrender Harpo. After a furious glare toward the pilot, Cyn smiled at Arch like she never had before. Atlantis blinked her eyes expressionlessly, as if she knew about him all along.
“That came out all wrong,” Doug said, retreating from his comment, while also stepping a few feet away physically. “We keep the dog. I get it. I’m the logical choice to go on board. I’ve got the uniform, the looks and the knowledge. I’ll get the tags, but I don’t know what in hell we’re going to do about the dog. We have to wait, though. The only way I’ll have any idea of who’s not likely to go ashore is by waiting. The passengers who are leaving to shop will rush off just before the stores all open at around ten. And we need a sailing schedule.”
Arch smiled to myself. Nobody could have recovered from his verbal misstep better than the pilot had just done. He was needed. His skills, his appearance and his communication abilities would be invaluable. The man was worth keeping, although Arch would be sure not to leave Harpo alone in his care.