It Was 1993
Arch woke up wondering where he was. The cold was penetrating every pore of his body. He shivered awake, sitting up quickly, survival driving adrenalin into his system. And he couldn’t see anything except a thick grayness. He looked down. Harpo raised his head, nonplussed, as usual, and it all came rushing back to Arch.
He was on the mountain with his pasted together rag-tag team of unknowing but willing fellow escapees. They had a vague idea of what they might be running from, but Arch knew, and with that knowledge came a feeling of responsibility weighing down upon him, even colder than the still gray air around him.
“Where did the fog come from?” he said, getting to his feet. Once erect, he could barely make out Cyn’s rising figure only a few feet away.
“We’re not in fog,” Atlantis answered, from an invisible position very close by the volume of her voice. “We’re in a cloud. At this elevation it takes a few hours for the sun to burn off the clouds unless there’s a wind. No trades yet though.”
“God, let’s start a fire, I’m freezing,” Doug complained, joining the small group.
“Well, nobody’s going to see us, that’s for damned sure,” Atlantis agreed.
Arch went to work building a small fire, not wanting to mention that the most basic of forward looking infrared gear would be able to view them as moving red objects, no matter how dense the cloud was. And that could be done from as little as a few yards away, or as far as from a satellite hundreds of miles up, orbiting in space.
“Risk,” Arch said, keeping his tone low more because his new found emergency energy was quickly fading, than because he was concerned what the others might think. “It’s all about choosing risk.”
“My life for a drink,” Doug said, squatting down as small flames began to tickle upward out of the twig fire Arch had built. Pretty soon they were all assuming the same position with hands extended out. Cyn found larger dry branches nearby and fed the fire.
“Not too big,” Arch cautioned. “Let’s not tempt fate any more than we already have.”
“I say we get down there and find the damned boat,” Doug said, the fire warming them enough to encourage communication.
Harpo eased his way between Cyn and Arch, like he’d done the night before, but this time to shoulder them aside so he could share in a bit of the radiating heat.
“What’s the plan?” Cyn asked, although they’d briefly covered what they were going to do the night before.
“There’s no real plan,” Atlantis replied, before Arch could say a word. “We head across the two rifts, and then hike down, paralleling the road when we get that far. Then we cross and walk into the marina. Right commander?” she finished, smiling at Arch.
“If they’re stationed down there or they’ve seen us up here, then our goose is cooked,” he answered, noticing that the cloud was beginning to thin out enough so he could see them all clearly. “If the worst happens, and we get taken, then your best course of action is to deny you know anything about the document. They’ll know you’re lying but there are three of you, four, if you include me and it’s harder to make four people disappear, rather than one.”
He didn’t mention the fact that physical means might be used to force information out of them. There was a chance that any violence directed might be directed against him personally, but knowing the business as he did, he doubted it. There was no sense in causing fear and terror to rule the rest of their trip down the mountain, however.
“Like, we’re going to be fine if they catch us?” Atlantis stated, more than asked. “Not bloody likely from what I’ve seen. A Coast Guard boat offshore just as a precaution? Who in hell can do that? Two of those big SUV things they must have flown in just to haul those two obnoxious assholes to the ship? These guys aren’t playing around.”
Arch would have liked to sarcastically thank Atlantis for her insight, but that would have done no good.
“Atlantis, what’s the best shot at getting down from here?” Arch asked, changing the subject, while the front of his body was finally starting to warm up.
“Easy, but not so easy,” she replied. “We have to cross the two ridges, in front of us, down from the top of the third one we’re on now. In this cloud. The good news is that nobody’s likely to notice us and the cloud will be thicker down in the valleys than it is up here. The bad news is that it’s hard to see where we’re going and we want to come out atop the last ridge as far down the saddle between the mountains as possible.”
“What’s visibility going to be like lower down?” Doug asked.
“Clear, probably,” Atlantis replied. “You’re the damned pilot. You should know this visibility shit back and forth. If we head straight down the side, we’ll end up in the thicker brush up from the road. It’s better to hike through that brush than to walk on the trail because the trail has no cover at all. It’s bare rock and ground.”
“That’s the plan then,” Arch concluded. “Let’s eat some snacks, drink some water and then leave everything here. We’ll move as fast as we can until we get down into that brush. I really don’t think they’re planning to intercept us between here and the marina, or that boat wouldn’t be out there.”
“They don’t have the personnel,” Doug said, suddenly whispering, as if to himself rather than the group in front of him around the fire. They all turned to look at him.
“Don’t you see?” he said. “They don’t have the personnel or the equipment to blanket the island with helicopters, vehicles or agents. That means they don’t have a huge intelligence agency behind them. They’ve got to be acting more or less on their own.”
Arch stopped to think. The idea that Juan and the men with him might be a rogue splinter group had not escaped him, but it seemed more likely that they were protecting the president against a leak that could be potentially devastating for his presidency, than acting on their own. But Doug had a valid point. The pursuit they’d experienced all along had been tepid, at best. In fact, doubts about the CIA really being fully involved could have been what drove Ahi to help them, even at the risk of his career. Was Terry Chow, the boat owner, in on any of it? There’d been no message provided by Ahi to convince Chow to help them if they found him. Was Ahi in contact with the man? Ahi hadn’t seemed to have had any doubts about Arch’s ability to find the man and his boat, either.
“So, it’s like we go down there and experiment to see if they are waiting? Like staked goats for the lions?” Cyn asked.
“Sort of,” Arch replied, uncomfortably. “It’s not like there’s somewhere else to go. We’re not prepared to stay up here for very long. Notice what a little cold spell felt like. How low does the temperature get here?” he asked, looking at Atlantis.
“Below freezing,” she said. “It’s not Moana Loa on the Big Island, where it snows, but it can get cold enough to kill us without protection, especially if the Kona winds blow.”
“Okay, let’s break camp and get going right away,” Arch said, standing up again.
“Fine, but we’re packing our stuff out,” Atlantis said. “It’s just what we do and what we are. We might be running for our lives, but we can do it like civilized human beings.”
Arch winced. He couldn’t refuse to do what Atlantis suggested. He was not leading the group unless they wanted to be led as they’d proved back on the ship. They were, indeed, most probably running for their lives, and in that case it was perfectly acceptable, and in fact, intelligent to leave everything behind. The agency taught that when you are running, run as fast as you can, as long as you can.
“Of course,” Arch responded, as if it was a great idea to haul all their stuff down to the marina.
It took them less than five minutes to pack up. Atlantis took the lead, breaking trail through the heavy undergrowth. Arch examined the bracken from just behind her. The leaves and branches were all soft without thorns. The top of the mountain was entirely different than the dry desert conditions just a few thousand feet down the slope. The going proved more navigable than they’d feared, or perhaps Atlantis was simply that well versed in the hike, or simply that good. They moved at a fast walk, crouching here and there to get closer to the rocks and dirt when the going got steeper. The cloud never relented. They went down, across the bottom of one valley and then up the other side. Then they did it again. When they got to the top of the final ridge it was like climbing up out of a bowl filled with gray wet dust. They all stopped to take in the breathtaking view. The whole of the saddle between the mountains swept out before them, with the huge bay carved into a rocky shoreline that extended out and around the base of the imposing Haleakala Crater wall on the other side.
They all stood just back from the lip of the rift wall. Arch examined the inflatable boat sitting in the very center of the broad expanse of ocean that filled
the distance between the ends of the curved shore. In the fog of the cloud, they’d come a long way down the slope without realizing it. It was no more than two thousand feet down and the winds coming lightly over the lip of the ridge were warm Hawaiian trade winds, not the frigid still stuff of the clouds.
“You were right,” Arch said to Atlantis.
“I know this trail, been on it a few times,” she replied
“No, not that, although you sure as hell know the trail and how to hike,” He replied. “Packing out. Speed isn’t as important as appearance, especially since we’ll be visible to at least that boat crew for the next two thousand feet of the descent. We do it two by two, with packs on. We’re hikers not fugitives, and we’ll look like hikers.”
“Well, accept for the dog,” Doug piped in. “If they know about the dog then he’s a dead giveaway.”
Cyn turned to stare at Doug, her eyes dead.
“Harpo’s in, all the way, down the hill,” Arch said. “We’re all in this together unless you want to go it on your own.” He privately wondered again about the pilot.
What were his intentions if everyone agreed that Harpo’s company was too much of a security risk? It wasn’t like the dingo was going to be driven off. Any other solution to Doug’s proposal did not bear thinking about. Arch needed to continue to think about Doug, though, about what he didn’t exactly know. Harpo seemed to understand something of the exchange because he once again inserted himself between Cyn and Arch and then stared up at the pilot defiantly.
“Got it, don’t know what I was thinking,” Doug said, holding up both hands. “I’m in, okay. The dog can stay.”
“His name is Harpo, and he’s not a dog,” Cyn hissed at the pilot.
“Let’s go,” Arch ordered. “You and Atlantis start down first, Doug. We’ll wait about twenty minutes and then follow. The trail should be pretty easy from here on down.”
No more words were said. Atlantis led the way up and over the lip of the ridge and she and Doug started down. They were able to move quickly, as the slope was not too steep, nor too flat, either. Most of the path was on solid lava rock, visible only because of the many feet that had scuffed the reddish black rock through the years.
“Thank you,” Cyn said, “for defending Harpo. What is it with him and Harpo?”
“No need to thank me,” Arch replied. “The pilot’s a funny guy. He’s saved our bacon more than once, and that has to count for a lot. But I’m not giving up Harpo, not now, not ever.”
Arch turned to glance at Cyn, realizing what he’d said. Harpo was her dog, not his own.
“What exactly does that mean?” she said, staring into his eyes.
“Come on,” Arch said, not knowing what else to say. “We can start a little up from where they went over the lip. Nobody from below will have any idea where the path is as it comes up from the rift below.”
He didn’t wait for her to follow, instead hiking straight along the rock ledge heading into the saddle. Once they crossed up and over the lip, they could simply angle down until they hit the path.
There was no more talk as they climbed up ,and then went over the edge to track back and intersect the path. They’d made it half way down before they were able to catch sight of Atlantis and Doug again. The two were moving parallel to the heavier brush not more than a few hundred feet up from the road. They were only visible to anyone up on the mountain, but it gave Arch pause. He stopped for a few seconds. Harpo and Cyn stopped with him.
“What is it?” Cyn asked, looking back and forth from Arch to Atlantis and Doug, both headed inland.
“They’re going straight in,” he finally said. “They’re going to be the staked goats in case anyone’s there waiting.”
“They’re doing that for us?” Cyan asked, in surprise.
“Numbers,” Arch said, softly. “If they get taken then it’s only two out of four and we’ll still have a shot of staying free.”
“Free to do what?” Cyn said.
“Free to get them out or help them or whatever,” Arch answered. “With all of us inside it’s over. With us out here and them inside something might be possible, and the other side can’t exactly take back arresting or capturing them.”
“What do we do, now?” Cyn asked.
“Get down the hill as fast as we can,” Arch said, moving out quickly, Harpo leaping to his side. “Let’s not waste what they’re doing. If they’re caught then men will come back up the trail at speed, with plenty of surveillance.”
Cyn ran to catch up with him. “But won’t they just search the bushes by the road?’
“We’re going down and straight across the road,” Arch replied, over his shoulder, moving fast. “There’s a small beach not far from the marina. A small beach will have cars parking near it as the day goes on. If they get taken, then we have to get a car and get the hell away until we figure something else out.”
“How are we going to know from back here whether they got captured or not, or even worse?” Cyn asked.
“We watch the boat offshore,” Arch responded. “If the boat comes in or leaves then they’re caught. If the boat doesn’t move over time, then it’s highly likely nothing’s happened.