It Was 1993
by James Strauss
Arch was on hold for the 911 dispatcher, making the most unlikely call he’d ever made in his life. The wait was less than a minute.
“Nine one one, what’s the nature of your emergency?” the woman at the other end asked.
“It’s not an emergency. I just need to reach Officer Ahi and I don’t have a directory,” he responded, knowing that the police department would certainly have the law enforcement ANS telephone system tracing his location.
“It’s against the law to use 911 services for personal business,” the deadpan dispatcher’s voice droned back. When the woman was done she waited for a response, which told Arch that she was using the system to trace and possibly notify patrol that she had a crank on the line, and where that crank was located.
“Can I leave a message for him?” Arch asked, knowing he needed to get off the phone as quickly as possible”This is an emergency line,” the woman repeated, with exasperation in here tone, which made Arch feel better since it wasn’t likely she was playing him for time. “Here’s the police business number. You can leave a message there.” She gave him the number without waiting for him to get a pen or pencil. Arch memorized it and then repeated it several times in his mind after the woman hung up.
He dialed nine to get out, and then the number. Another woman answered and it took only seconds to reach Ahi’s answering machine.
“Meet me at the bench where we met earlier today in half an hour,” was all Arch said before quickly hanging up. Either Ahi would be back to get the message and the machine would tell him when it came in, or that would be it. They’d have to operate in the dark, getting aboard the ship and taking their chances. And then there were the possibilities that Ahi had had a change of heart, or had been playing them all along.
In case Ahi did make the meeting, Arch needed a copy of the top secret file. Arch knew the Marriott would have a modern copier, as the place was built more for visiting businessmen than for tourists. Whether the copier would be good enough to copy a top secret file, he didn’t know. The copier would have to have a quality contrast adjustment. A regular copier, or even one where contrast could simply be increased, would not do. In most cases only a fuzzy mess would be reproduced on a regular copier. Newer high end copiers had contrast adjustments that would work. On the bottom contrast setting of a quality Xerox machine, a copy might come out very light, but readable.
With the file papers folded up in one hand, Arch headed for the hall, leaving the night latch holding the door open half an inch because only the pilot was left, passed out on the bed, and Arch had no key if Atlantis and Cyn hadn’t returned by the time he got back. When Arch left, Harpo whined once, very quietly, which made him smile.
The business center was on the second floor. Two copiers sat against one wall. The glass front door to the place wasn’t locked, and the only occupant was a short-skirted woman at a nearby desk. Arch looked at her and she looked back at him, really more like through him. Both copiers were Ricoh, but brand new. Arch checked under a plastic cover next to the regular controls and found a contrast knob. The knob allowed for reduction. He screwed it all the way back, and then copied the file in seconds using the auto feed. He quickly folded both versions and got out of there, the woman still ignoring him, as before.
When Arch returned to the Marriott room it was like walking onto a movie set where the props had all been rearranged, including the actors. Atlantis and Cyn had returned, and were getting into their new outfits, while the pilot was sitting up on the bed holding his head with both hands. The dingo was pacing about.
“Anybody take Harpo out for a walk?” Arch inquired, easing the door shut behind him, hoping no other guests would notice the hubbub so early in the day, not to mention hotel security. Day rooms were always suspect, and many hotels wouldn’t rent them because of the strange proclivities of some of the people who needed them. Like them. Arch was sure the dingo had to relieve himself, which just reminded him of the nearly insurmountable problems they faced. If they managed to get Harpo aboard, where was he going to go to relieve himself on the ship?
“I’ll take him, but let me get a shower first,” Doug said, rising from the bed. The man’s alcohol problem was potentially disastrous, but Arch had worked with plenty of knuckle draggers with the same condition. After traveling most of the world, in Arch’s opinion, at least half of the members of the human species were functioning alcoholics.
“I’ll take him now,” Arch replied. “I’ve got to meet Ahi at the park bench in a bit, anyway. I called him.”
“You what?” Cyn asked in shock, the room instantly overcome with a frozen silence.
“It’s the only shot we have,” Arch said, wondering if he’d gone in the totally wrong direction. “We might get on the ship with no problem and even ride for a bit with no problem, but I don’t see how we can manage to ride all the way from here to Maui, and then meander on to Oahu without being found or turned in. This cop seemed like our only hope.”
“And you’re going to give him a copy of that file?” Cyn asked, pointing at the papers in his hand.
“What file?” Doug said, frowning.
Arch looked at all four of them. Atlantis and Cyn stood staring back without expression, while both the pilot and the dingo waited with some sort of hopeful expectation. He didn’t want to tell any more lies to the only people who seemed to give a damn about his survival. And then there was the dingo.
“I’m with you,” Cyn said, picking up on his silent dilemma. “I don’t know why, but I trust you. I don’t know you. My dad doesn’t like you. I’m not sure I like you. But I want to go wherever you’re going.”
Arch said nothing, trying to make sense of what she’d said, yet feeling some warmth from whatever support she was expressing.
“Hell, I’m in,” Atlantis agreed. “I don’t know what we’re doing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than flipping burgers and serving drunks at Earhart’s. No offense Doug.”
“None taken,” the pilot replied, scratching his head and coming to his feet. “Whatever. I’m getting in the shower. Maybe I should stop drinking for awhile, or at least until we get to my place. My wife doesn’t know I’ll be gone for awhile, so I better call her later.”
“Wife?” Atlantis said, in shock. “What wife? Your wife lives on Oahu? You have the van on Kauai and a girlfriend? Who and what else do you have hidden away?”
The pilot moved slowly into the bathroom, and closed the door without comment.
Harpo wagged his tail, and then walked up to Arch and sat down, his big eyes staring upward.
“I’m giving Ahi a copy of the file, if he’ll take it,” Arch said, holding out the original toward Cyn. “If he’s in, and has any contacts at all, we might make it. If he wants nothing to do with us, then we’re just going to be taken much sooner, rather than later. It’s a lousy risk, but it’s the only move we really have now.”
Arch knew it was all coming down to a rogue car cop by the name of Ahi. Without something from him there was little chance their band of escaping fugitives could either get aboard the SS Independence, or stay aboard for any period of time, to say nothing of getting off on Oahu without being taken, or worse. The policeman had registered his discontent with whatever was going on in his own department and with the feds, but did that discontent extend to his risking anything, quite possibly his career, to help them? The cop didn’t know them. They were all “Haole”, just as white as they could be. Even Harpo didn’t have appropriate dog credentials. He was a fake dog wearing a fake uniform. The whole ‘mission’ Arch had been forced to cage together was just as phony. The ‘team’ consisted of a drunken pilot, a loosely knit together waitress, a suicidal woman, Arch and Harpo. Where was the saving grace in that mix?
The chances that the cop would be at the bench when Arch went down were slim to none, anyway. When was the cop supposed to get the message, and how? The station might tell him he had a phone message waiting, but the technology to ‘patch it through’ from phone to radio was available only in films and television.
“I’m going down,” Arch informed Atlantis and Cyn, while the pilot was still trying to sober up under a hot shower.
“Why don’t we just get aboard and take our chances?” Cyn asked.
“No, he’s right,” Atlantis answered. “Might be worth the risk without the cop, getting through the side entrance with Doug helping and his contacts, but the stop in Maui? We can’t just stay out there for days on the ship floating around. I have my job, and Damien to consider, too.”
“Not much chance the cop will even be there,” Arch said. “Be ready to go when I get back.
Cyn pushed a bag across the bed toward him, with an outfit they’d found in one of the nearby shops. The pilot was still in the bathroom, and it wasn’t big enough in there for two. He’d change when he got back from trying to meet with Ahi. Arch got up to leave with the poor quality copy of the file in his hand
Harpo and Arch went down the elevator to the garage. There was nobody there, or out in the parking lot either. The Marriott would start to thrum with the attendance of tourists and businessmen soon enough, but there was no one around yet.
The bench was empty, but there were passengers walking about all over in the park area and heading for the shops. Arch sat with the dingo at his side. Harpo seemed more than happy to be out and watching everyone and everything. Arch looked at the copy of the file in his hand. Was offering it to Ahi a mistake? That act alone was a lay-down felony, no matter what other charges might be brought against him. Arch smiled at the thought. What did a felony record mean to a dead person?
As they sat, Arch thought about the Clinton part of the file he’d read so far. Arch liked the man. Clinton may have fired him, and done worse to the other ‘apostles,’ but Arch could not help but like the intellect and personality of the man. Hillary was even better. Smarter than Bill, and a much straighter arrow. Where was it all leading and how had Arch been so effectively drawn back in? He was nobody, and he needed to get back to being nobody.
A Kauai police car pulled silently and slowly onto the dock and stopped where it had stopped before. Ahi got out, looked around, but not at Arch, sitting there only a few feet away. Harpo stood up from his seated position at Arch’s side, looked at the cop and wagged his tail. Ahi smiled, waving out the match he’d used to light his cigarette, and then tossed it into the harbor water nearby. Arch knew the smile was for the dingo and not him.
Ahi sat down next to him on the bench. Harpo sat between them, looking first at one, and then the other, every fifteen seconds, or so. Arch looked at the dingo, as Ahi flipped through the pages of the document Arch had wordlessly handed him. He puffed away on his cigarette without tapping away the ash. Arch could tell that the dingo couldn’t figure out what was going on, but was dutifully following along with whatever was happening or coming next. Like Arch had been doing since first finding the file. It was like a script had been written and Arch was in it, not knowing ahead of time what the next line or move would be. Arch stroked the top of Harpo’s head very briefly, but stopped because the dingo glanced into his eyes with his “no” look. Arch got it. The trades were picking up, but not to the point where he couldn’t hear Ahi’s slow intakes and exhalations of breath. The file was having an effect. Cigarette ashes fell onto one of the pages of the copy, but Ahi simply read on without brushing them away.
Suddenly, Ahi stopped reading and turned to look slowly all around, taking in everything. He finally took his cigarette from his mouth and ground it out in the grass beneath his feet. Arch noted that the man wore desert camo boots, issued in Desert Storm. The man was ex-military.
“This is trouble,” he said, handing the remains of the document back to Arch, after shaking the fallen ashes from its pages. “This is big trouble, but I thought it might be something like this.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
“Everybody’s after you, but nobody’s bothered to come up with a crime or an incident,” he went on. “Sure evidence of graft. Politics. Social rot of the worst kind.”
“What service were you in?” Arch asked, noting that Ahi was still closely examining everything around them. Flank security. The man hadn’t just served, he’d served in combat, or he wouldn’t be going into combat mode after reading the file.”Marine, like you. ‘Oooorah,’ and all that rot.”
“Desert Storm?” Arch asked, looking up at the side of the ship. If threats were present then he was toast, anyway. There was no place to run, fly, or swim for that matter, not from the dock in Lihue.
“1st Marine Division” Ahi answered, staring at the ship along with Arch. “Boomer.”
“Yeah, Boomer,” Arch replied, repeating the name of the beloved Marine General who’d been in charge over there under Schwarzkopf. “How’d you know I was a Marine?”
“There’s a bio on you out there, which says something about that,” Ahi replied. ” Says you got booted from the corps for disobedience of a direct order in combat. Any truth to that?”
“Well, sort of,” Arch answered, thinking about those desert days of quasi-combat, not like the touchy-feely wet stuff he experienced in Vietnam.
“Sort of?” Ahi said, his brow frowning in question. “I don’t think there’s a ‘sort of’ answer that’s going to fly with me.”
“I wasn’t a Marine over there, except for the three days I spent op-con to the Foreign Legion. I was, and remain, technically still in the corps, but inactive. No discharge. The man I disobeyed was the president.”
There was a silence. Ahi stared at him. Even the dingo stared. Waiting. Arch said nothing.
“Not ‘that’ president?” Ahi breathed out.
“Yeah,” Arch answered. “I was CIA, but really attached to the U.N. as an observer. That no-fly zone stuff you just read about was me, and my guys. We called ourselves the twelve apostles.”
“Jesus,” Ahi whispered.
Before Arch could respond, Ahi went on. “I’ve got to make a call. I’ll help if I can, but then I’m finding a cave and hiding out until this has blown over. I’ll be right back.”
It was 1993, and Arch was left to sit alone on a bench in Lihue with a loyal dingo by his side, a batch of whack jobs waiting for him at the hotel, and a cop who was either going to get promoted for turning them all in, or get nothing for helping them out
Arch continued sitting on the bench, wondering how long he should remain there. What were his newfound friends doing back at the Marriott, and when would Ahi, the strange Kanaka cop be back, if he was coming back? Ahi had to make a call. What kind of a call? The cop hadn’t bothered to say. Ahi knew there was no place left for them to go except aboard the ship, and that’s if they could get on. Once on the ship there was no place that the ship was going that was both timely and welcoming to their arrival.
Arch walked over to a nearby stand of dense jungle bushes. Harpo stepped inside, as if wanting to enjoy some privacy for his business. Passengers were beginning to flow around the base of the gangway and lining up. Most either carried an identity tag in one hand, or wore one around their neck. The same kind of I.D. tags Doug had swiped from the board on the ship, but that hopefully they wouldn’t be needing. In the distance a kid was passing by carrying a portable radio on his shoulder. The song blaring out, barely discernible due to the distance, was House of the Rising Sun. Arch rubbed his forehead with his right hand, wondering if the universe was trying to tell him something.