Arch Patton

IT WAS 1993

Chapter Sixteen

by James Strauss

Arch knew that in order to get their small band of damaged souls on board the SS Independence, Doug needed to do exactly what he had said he might be able to do. So Arch and the pilot needed to head over to the dock to figure things out. Cyn wisely decided it would be best if she and Atlantis spent time waiting for their return in the Marriott lobby, knowing that while Arch waited he would be pacing along the docks, wondering if Doug could pull off the monumental deception and theft he seemed to think would be child’s play. Arch didn’t like the lobby idea, though, because if their vehicle was discovered, the first place the police would look would be that lobby. Atlantis clinched the decision by adding a comment about the port area:

“Once they figure out the van is at the Marriott we’re toast anyway. Like that big mess of a vehicle isn’t going to be missed if they drive in?” She then pointed up and over at the stern of the Independence. “We’d be better off worrying about when and if she’s going to sail.”

“There’s that,” Arch admitted, in defeat. “What about Harpo? They’re never going to let Harpo into the lobby.”

“The leash,” Cyn said, with a smile, digging back into her bag.

Arch realized once again why having a team was vital to any mission. The dingo wasn’t going to the Marriott. He was going with Arch, not to occupy or protect him, but because once again, his walking around the park, shops and sales gondola’s just back from the dock would insulate him from normal suspicion if he had Harpo along.  Cyn attached the leash to a very willing Harpo, and then handed the lead to Arch. The dingo associated the leash with taking a walk.

“Let’s walk for a bit before you go aboard,” Arch said to Doug.

There was one big problem with Doug’s plan, aside from what might be worked out for the dingo. How was Doug supposed to ride the ship as a hidden stowaway with the rest of the team if he was going to need to also identify himself as a crew member in order to gain access to the tags they needed to get aboard? And the pilot’s uniform wasn’t going to work at all. Atlantis and Cyn headed back into the underground lot to find an elevator or the stairs up to the lobby.

“Let’s say you get some tags,” Arch began, as the two men and the dingo walked toward the ship. “You can’t exactly hide after you’ve introduced yourself, especially wearing a pilot’s uniform.”

“Don’t have to stowaway,” the irrepressibly arrogant man replied. “I’ll just trade. All the officers need to make trips back and forth between the islands at times. I’ll offer a free pass in return for passage. That way you guys will have somebody to guide you around and get snacks, or whatever. If you’re with me the crew will probably leave you alone. It’s not exactly like you won’t stick out. You’re all thirty or forty years too young, and although you might get aboard, you won’t have a room. You will probably be on deck for the duration.”

“Isn’t it illegal to ride from one island to another unless you board in Honolulu?” Arch asked.

“What are you guys escaping from again?” Doug asked.

Arch glanced over at Harpo to delay answering, but the dingo was too taken with all the early morning activity starting up on the dock to notice his glance. Arch realized that Doug, who was running to protect his career, had no idea that Arch was running for his life, and endangering the others in his attempt to flee.

Arch had no real answer for Doug’s question, so he remained silent. Things were coming down to the wire when it came to actually getting off the the island. Kauai was about to become a steaming hotbed of trouble for them. Arch walked the dingo along the dock near the water, in the shadow of the huge cruise ship rearing up into the sky. Harpo sniffed over the edge of the dock a few times, as if taking a dip in the lapping water of the harbor was a possibility. A long gangplank extended out from the hull of the Independence. It ran across to a tower almost a hundred feet in height. Arch knew there would be crew members inside the tower watching to make sure nobody got on board who wasn’t supposed to.

“You’re just going to walk up and get on?” Arch asked Doug.  “Just like that?”

The pilot laughed. “Observe and learn.” He walked ahead of Arch, making no move to turn toward the base of the tower. Arch pulled gently on Harpo’s leash, and they headed for the park area that sprawled in between small buildings where shops were beginning to bustle with activity, as the shopkeepers set up to receive any passengers who might disembark. Arch was getting antsy about the ship’s sailing schedule. When would it sail? If the ship was in for the rest of the day, it would likely end up being searched at some point. Out of sight was not out of mind, but it sure could go a long way when there were plenty of other places to search instead. If they managed to get aboard, then their existence on board would have to be unknown. There was no way a cruise ship in Hawaiian waters was going to do anything but immediately notify the authorities if any stowaways were discovered on board. Arch sat down on a bench, having returned to a chunk of grassy area not far form the ship’s hull. The dingo sat at his right knee, watching the ship, just like Arch. Harpo was extraordinary, but so were the other people he was with. Arch felt regret for what he’d sucked them into. Most of that regret was about the fact that he knew what they were into, but they didn’t. They couldn’t. Arch didn’t have a believable past. He didn’t even have a believable present, he realized ruefully, which was a lot of the reason he was on Kauai in the first place.

Arch watched the pilot walk down the dock toward the bow until he disappeared. He stared. It took a few seconds to make out a narrow short ramp leading out from a hole in the side of the ship’s hull at dock level. Arch smiled to himself. Doug had intellect, courage and arrogance. He’d slipped aboard using the crew and servicing hatch. Why there was no guard was beyond Arch but somehow the pilot had known. He might be a lousy drunken flyer with the morals of an alley cat, but he was their drunken flyer and moral slime ball. The friend of your friend is your friend.  Sun Tzu wrote that phrase thousands of years ago. It means if you need that person you ignore all the faults and baggage that come with that friend of a friend. Much of the ancient military general’s advice was too arcane to pay attention to, but some of what he had written was spot on.

A car drove between the bench Arch was sitting on and the Independence. It drove where no cars should be driven. It was a white car with the words “Kauai Police Department” printed in blue on the side. It stopped and a tall, browned by the sun, uniformed cop got out and stood beside his open door. He looked all around, as Harpo and Arch sat frozen to the bench. Finally, the cop’s eyes focused on them. He slammed the cruiser’s door, pulled out a cigarette and began lighting it, as he walked around the back of the squad care in their direction.

Harpo stared at the approaching man intently without moving, while Arch did the same, while trying not to look like he was doing that. The obviously local cop from the Kauai Police force, the force that policed all of the communities on the island as one, took a seat on the bench next to Arch to smoke his cigarette and gaze at the looming hull of the SS Independence rising before them. The white Ford police cruiser he’d driven onto the dock sat between them and the hull of the ship, its motor running and radio occasionally blurting out something unintelligible because of the distance.

Arch didn’t know what to do or say. Harpo stared across his knees from his seated position, looking at the cop. Arch didn’t know whether to follow suit and look at the man or not. Instead, he sat trying to control his breathing, and give the appearance of being calm and uncaring, when he was anything but.

“You not local,” the cop said, using island pidgin English. The cop didn’t look at Arch or return Harpo’s gaze. He puffed on the cigarette, blowing the smoke more upward and out, to let the mild trade winds drift the small clouds away.

“No, just out for a walk,” Arch replied, keeping the tension deliberately out of his voice. He realized that if the cop had identified him or been alerted to hunt for them then he wouldn’t have relaxed next to him on a park bench to talk. But the man also looked old enough, and acted experienced enough, to be able to pick up on anything out of place in his area of operations. A haole guy, out for a walk with his dog, and then sitting on a park bench next to a ship wouldn’t be enough to generate suspicion by itself. Arch had only met the officer’s gaze for an instant when he’d stepped out from the vehicle and turned to glance at them. Arch continued to make believe he was examining the Independence slowly from one end to the other.

“You teach?” the cop asked.

Arch didn’t know how to answer the question because he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what might be behind it. Arch paused, knowing he was going to instantly create suspicion if he took too long to answer, or said something that might lead to more difficult questions he couldn’t answer, not that he was doing very well with the one he had.

“Glint of intellect,” the cop said, blowing more smoke up into the wind.

Arch turned his head in surprise, to look at the side of the cop’s handsome bronzed face. He’d heard the identical phrase many years earlier when he’d attended classes at an off island university. The professor of the particular class told him that he always looked out over his assembled students on the first day to see if he could spot the glint of intellect in any of the student eyes looking back at him.

Scylla-and-Charybdis“Thank you,” Arch replied, complimented but also fearful. The man was no ordinary beat cop to be dismissed. Arch was threading his way through
calm waters, but between Scylla and Charybdis.  “I’m not a teacher. I’m retired, spending my time traveling around from place to place.”

The cop looked away from the side of the Independence for the first time. He looked at Harpo. Arch read his mind. Traveling about among the islands of Hawaii was damned difficult. Just getting a dog onto the islands, that wasn’t born there, called for ten weeks of expensive quarantine on Oahu. Arch had neatly trapped himself into a corner, where the cop’s next question, any question, was going to quite possibly put everything into disaster mode. Arch didn’t answer. He said nothing more. He waited for catastrophe to befall.

“Name’s Ahi,” the big cop said, dropping his cigarette to the grass and grinding it out with his left foot. He stuck his right hand out and smiled a big white flashy smile.

“Arch,” he answered, taking the cops outstretched hand in his own. Arch had to give him a name that he could back up. Arch’s next question might well be for identification. The soggy tattered file under Arch’s shirt felt like it was sticking out all over. He prayed that the pilot would not come walking off the ship in the middle of what was going on. And what was going on was that Arch was coming to the attention of the Kauai Police Department.

Arch thought the police officer sitting next to him, across from the ship that they hoped to get away on, might arrest him just for the fear emanations that had to be radiating out of his body. Arch was perspiring, and having a hard time focusing on the bizarre reality of the situation, and speaking in near monosyllables. All police officers were trained to read exactly those symptoms. And there was nothing Arch could do about it.

Ahi stood up without warning, stretched and then reached into his breast pocket. He pulled out a card. He flicked it with his fingers, and then held it out.

“I don’t much like what’s happening on the other side here,” the big man said. “The feds are a bunch of low-life cretins. You’re not local but you’ve got time on the islands. Call me if you think I can help, otherwise I’d try to get aboard that thing as fast as I could and find a hole to hide in. There hasn’t been this much focus placed on anything since Hurricane Iniki.”
Iniki_Storm_SurgeArch took the card in shock, noticing how the man’s accent had disappeared, and wondering how to thank him for his astounding comment. The cop’s reference was to Hurricane Iniki, that had blown through in September of the year before, wreaking untold damage still visible everywhere all over the island. The cop walked back toward his squad car without waiting for Arch to pull himself together. He was being helped by people who had no connection to the government he had worked so long and patriotically for, while members of that same government hunted for him with terminal intent. There was no sense to the universe he’d fallen into following his theft of the top secret file.

“Nice dingo,” the cop yelled, with a wave before getting into his car and backing slowly off the dock.

Arch was amazed again. He’d not only known exactly who Arch was, but identified Harpo’s almost indistinguishable species just by looking at him.

The pilot walked out of the hole in the side of the ship in the distance, unaccompanied. He strolled toward Arch’s bench.

“Let’s head over to the Marriott,” he said, with a big smile on his face. As he got close Harpo stood up and looked at the man with his ears back.

“Oh, don’t look at me that way,” Doug said, leaning down to pet the dingo.

Harpo stepped backward a few paces, not lowering his head an inch. “I wouldn’t really have left you homeless.”

The pilot walked toward the hotel with the Arch and Harpo trailing behind.

“What happened?” Arch whispered behind him. “Why are you back so soon? You couldn’t possibly have gotten tags or the medallions of people staying on the ship because the passengers haven’t disembarked to shop yet.

“Ha,” Doug laughed, taking off his hat and running his right hand through his thick brown hair. “I told you I knew what I was doing. The ancient doctor they let cruise free, for services rendered, is a drinking buddy of mine. He has a history of everyone aboard. I got the tags of half a dozen passengers older than the doc, who won’t be leaving their rooms for the rest of the trip…in case you decide to add any more members to our troop.” As they continued to walk, Doug handed over a small cloth sack. Arch realized that the pilot was proving to be the addicted sociopath he’d diagnosed earlier, as well as a gifted con artist very likely getting them all aboard the ship, except for Harpo.

Arch couldn’t come to grips with why Ahi, the Kauai cop, even after getting his correct name, had neither arrested him nor reported him. Why risk anything for them? He’d even given Arch his card in case he needed something. Needed something? What could Arch possibly need from a local cop, except maybe an air-conditioned cell and three squares a day? If he was taken before he could figure out a way to back the Agency off Arch was going to be in a lot more trouble than any local cop could protect him from. So what was it? Doug and Arch rode the elevator from the underground parking lot up to the lobby. Arch shared his concerns along the way.

“Maybe they want to see where you’re headed? Doug offered, as the elevator opened into the sumptuous lobby. They walked out into a different world. Everything was either polished to a deep luster or isolated for display in some case or other. The Marriott lobby was beautiful, and brand new following the gutting Hurricane Iniki had given it. Doug and Arch stood together. They were the only occupants of the lobby at the moment. Atlantis and Cyn were nowhere in sight. There was, however, a big beefy security guard, and he was headed straight for them from the huge double door entrance

“Oh crap,” Arch whispered, holding Harpo to his right knee with the leash. Harpo sat, as if expecting the same trouble Arch was.

“No dogs in the hotel,” the man said, pointing back toward the front entrance as he continued his advance.

Arch turned and hit the elevator down button. The elevator dinged.

“I’ll take him back to the car,” Arch said, turning his back and entering the open elevator door with Harpo close at his side. “Let me know,” he said to Doug, who stared at him with a frown, the elevator closing before the man thought to say anything in reply. Arch did hear the guard tell him that dogs weren’t allowed in the garage either, before the doors closed and he and Harpo were gone.

The Marriott Resort gave every evidence of being about as welcoming to for them as the rest of the island.

Featured image credit: photo by Craig T. Kojima

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