IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Arch waited, backing up slowly each time he was sucked toward the cloying grasp of a swelling wave about to break. He had to get it right. He picked up a slight ‘crumping’ sound that was different from what he’d been hearing, as the waves broke in front of him, one after another without let up. Arch committed to going in by thrusting forward as powerfully as he could just as a larger swell went under him. He thrust again to go deep, as he felt himself grabbed and held by the accelerating water of the wave moving all around him. And he went down. There was no bottom, and that was good news. The bad news was the roiling he took from the power of the break. Forces so far beyond anything he could control drew him further down, around and then back up. Arch gasped above water, only to be struck by the lip of another powerful night monster. Down he went again. The process continued for too long. He was spent. There was no extended period underwater. He was going to be beaten to death without ever touching bottom. At least he wasn’t going to drown, his battered mind thought, idiotically. And then he was into the sand. Arch knew he had to be at the very edge of the river, where the shallower water remained before the main body of passing river plunging into the ocean. He grabbed down into the sand with both hands, as several feet of speeding white water beat over his legs and back. He pulled for his life. If he’d come down into the main body of the river, he knew he wouldn’t have made it. He was out of strength.
The hour in the cool roiling waters of open ocean, and then the pounding of the surf, had beaten him to a pulp. Arch struggled forward. He knew he was okay, but not okay. Finally, he struggled forward enough to be able to simply lay in the sand, feeling the shallow flow of the river flowing softly around him. But he was up beyond the reach of the surf. The river water was much colder than the sea water, however. He had to get out onto the dry sand. He rolled over and over sideways, and then dug in. The sand just beneath the surface was still warm from the sun’s radiation of the day before. It felt wonderful to snuggle into the sand. It was hard to believe that only hours before he’d been drunk and not wanting to live, yet here he was, laying dead sober on a distant beach celebrating the fact that he was alive.
Arch was beat to crap. He lay in the sand, the first rays of ‘rosy-fingered dawn’ not far away. He looked at his old Rolex. The formerly scratched crummy crystal was now cracked. Water filled the space behind the crystal, but the luminescent numbers and hands still glowed. The old German could have the damned watch. Time didn’t really matter. He was alive and alone. The steady beat of the surf behind him sent shivers through his body, although warm sand had taken care of the deepest chill. The New Balance 1300’s were still around his neck. He laughed out loud. There was something karmic about the damned shoes. He sat up and carefully put the shoes back on. The beach was still dark. Walking in dry sand in bare feet was risky, because of all the coral and lava bits strewn about and inside it. He needed his feet to make it the next quarter mile. Arch wondered if the woman was finally out of her drug-induced torpor and maybe thinking that his appearance in her life was likely more apparition than reality. She had abandonment issues, men issues, and even dog issues. She needed a dog that didn’t talk back. As he got up and oriented on the river, Arch again laughed to himself quietly and began the short but very risky mission in front of him. Mentally, the woman was actually in worse shape than Arch was, and for some reason that was up-lifting.
Dawn was breaking. Not enough light to really see by, and not late enough for traffic to be using Khios. When he’d moved toward Hanalei earlier, not far from the road and way down in deep foliage, he’d somehow been detected. Arch slipped into the river and paddled across the cleansing clear water. The cool water was pleasant, instead of energy-sapping, like it’d been earlier. He climbed out onto the rocks forming the stick of land leading out to the end of the point. He couldn’t risk returning to the resort using the same path he’d used in his failed reconnaissance. Arch climbed to the highest point on the spit of land. The top of it, about a hundred feet up, was covered by a pine forest with ferns interspersed around the bottoms of the tree trunks. He moved through the dense dark forest. As he walked early morning trade winds began to give the place life. The pines, the bed of dead needles, the ferns, all of it was wonderful. It hadn’t felt so good to be alive in many years. Arch breathed in and out deeply, not wanting the forest to end. Only Hawaii smelled the way it smelled. The aroma of unseen flowers; the pines; and the nearby sea. He thought about Hawaii, and that it was high time he brought into play those things he’d been before, and could be again. Along the top of the point plateau he found a hole, like a foxhole, but a foxhole half-filled with pine needles. He settled into the comfortable spot.
The hole was located right near the edge of a cliff running down to the shore, and then getting smaller and smaller as it went on past Raul’s house toward the resort. The rear of the black Zodiac’s pontoons was barely visible through the pines when a gust from the building morning trade winds swept through the trees. Arch thought of Raul there, waiting. If he was. The man was smart and filled with enough local island experience to know about the current, about the waves, and certainly about the fact that Arch had to come ashore somewhere between Hanalei Bay and the desolate beach areas north of the resort. Arch also knew it was unlikely Raul would figure out the river mouth for a landing spot. It was too arcane, too hidden away and too weird for almost anyone to figure into escape calculations. That meant there was a good chance Raul was currently searching north of the resort where a very few smooth sand beaches were located. His police, and as he moved, other minions coming in from God knew where, might be covering those areas for him. This led Arch right back to the house. Raul might not realize that Arch wanted to get back to the resort at all. Why would he not assume that Arch simply wanted to put as much distance between himself and Raul as possible? But Raul had the old German’s house diary. He would have read it. Raul had to know that Arch was a player of some substance, but an outcast from the tribe Raul still ran with. Arch’s identity might already be known and his background run, not that much would show up without unimaginably high clearances and time. Raul would not expect Arch to come to his house again, which was exactly where he was going. Arch needed a weapon and there was one sure place he knew at least one was kept.
His thoughts of getting out of that soft pine needle hole, with the sound of distant surf in his head and the mild wind caressing his face, were all centered around the kind of vengeance he would heap upon Raul’s entire life. And then he woke up. His fatigue had been so great from the night before, combined with little sleep and recovering from a Bacardi and pineapple bender, that his body’s needs had overcome any conscious intention. He’d fallen asleep without knowing he’d fallen asleep. It was full day and the sun penetrated the pine forest around him like great thick laser lights. The trades still blew. Arch climbed out of his pupa-like hole and gingerly got to his feet. There was little chance anyone could see him unless they were a few feet away. His mostly naked body was covered in sand, muck, dead pine needles and more. He was of the forest. Arch moved toward Kuhio Road, with no real plan on how he was going to assault Raul’s residence with no arms or really anything whatsoever to defend himself, much less attack Raul. The plateau he was on was well above the road. Arch peered over the lip of a rough fifty-foot-high cliff. The climb was doable without gear, his New Balance 1300’s once again would be a godsend. He carefully moved back and forth across the top of the edge of the precipice to sight in on the best place to make the descent. He caught movement, and it wasn’t a passing car running along the road about forty yards away. It was a person moving through the lower foliage and scrub brush that ran along the edge of the road. Arch ducked down so that only the very top part of his head was raised up enough to see.
It was the woman. Somehow, the woman had turned up down there, as if she knew Arch was somewhere nearby, or even up on top of the ridge. Her eyes darted everywhere, as she walked slowly, avoiding the larger rocks and tree trunks. “Hey,” he whispered from up above. The woman stopped and looked upward to stare right into his eyes. Before he could say anything else she was at the wall and climbing upward.
How was he to attack anyone or anything with a woman hanging around, Arch wondered, and a woman who’s name he still didn’t know. He’d just come from a career of being an outstanding example of what a real field intelligence agent ought to be. Yet he’d been easily found by an unknown wandering woman, who was addicted to drugs and lost in this world. The woman climbed the wall of the cliff without difficulty, in her bare feet, wearing a too revealing halter top and too short, short shorts. Arch lay atop the edge of the cliff, resting on a soft bed of pine needles and looking out to see if anyone was following her. The woman popped to the top of the cliff as if she made such climbs every day. She laid next to him and gazed back down the way she’d come.
“What are we looking for?” she asked, casually, like meeting on top of an abandoned ledge of pine forest might be expected to happen any time.
“Raul. He’s got to stop me and there’s really only one way to do that,” Arch replied, wondering what he was supposed to do with her. “And what’s your name?” he finally thought to ask.
“Cynthia,” she replied. “You can call me Cyn, for short.”
Arch looked over at her, laying there, not too far away from him but not too close either, like she was still making up her mind about what he was or might be in her life.
“Cyn for short” is just perfect,” Arch said, with a mildly disgusted sigh. “I’ve got to get back to the resort. I was checking out the road to Hanalei last night to see if it was clear. It wasn’t. Raul chased me almost all the way to town. I had to swim offshore and then come back into Lumahai in the dark.”
“Last night? In that surf? Holy cow. I can’t believe you’re even alive.” She checked Arch out with her eyes. “You look pretty bad. Why don’t we get in the car and go back? You can ride in the trunk, or something.”
“He knows your car,” Arch told her. “The police know your car. They’d stop us.”
Cyn laughed out loud and then climbed to her feet. “I didn’t bring my car.
You think I’m stupid?”
Arch stood up next to her. “Who’s car do you have, and where would you get another car?” he asked, more than a bit surprised.
“My Dad’s car, of course, old thing that it is. Mercedes 220s, 1957. Runs like a sewing machine, Dad says.”
“Your Dad’s car? Who’s your Dad and where does he live?” Arch asked, surprised again.
“Next door. The old German, as you call him, who owns the resort. He’s my Dad. I parked down Kuhio toward Hanalei. Thought you’d be brooding out here somewhere.”
Arch was, in reality, brooding atop a pine forested plateau halfway between the resort and Hanalei, with a woman named Cyn and wondering how that shortened name was supposed to be properly spelled and being shocked to his core that the old German was her father.
Moments later the former company commander in the Vietnam War, and team leader for the CIA around the world (to some great success, until the end) was riding uncomfortably, inside the trunk of a 1957 Mercedes 220s. The trunk lid said it was a 220S, but the only impressive characteristic of the vehicular throwback was a front grill nearly as tall as he was. The trunk was bigger than it looked, but too old to have an escape handle built in. A point Arch was uncomfortable with, but under the circumstances could not argue with either. The old German evidently hadn’t changed the car’s shock absorbers since the thing was new. Cyn decided that she’d drive in the regular mid-day traffic all the way to the most distant north shore beach, a good two miles past the resort. There, among all the tourist rental cars, she’d turn the Mercedes boat around and head back. The woman drove like she was already committed to combat while Arch tried to lay in the trunk and keep from getting rug rash. There was nothing to hang on to. By the look he’d seen in Cyn’s eyes it was apparent that she thought he had some sort of plan.
No matter what, it was wonderful not to be alone and also to have someone trust him again. It didn’t matter who. It certainly wasn’t her father, although he hadn’t turned Arch in either. The old German was as much of an enigma as the woman and the dog. The dead darkness of the Mercedes trunk gave him time to think. He really did have to have a plan if he was going to live, and part of the plan now meant keeping Cyn and her Dad alive, as well. Going right at Raul would be going right into the man’s strength. What he was; what Arch was not. No, the smart move was to fully evaluate what was in the file Arch still carried, as tattered and shredded as it was after a night at sea and then drying in the forest. Eventually, it meant getting to CIA station Oahu. There was a counterintelligence office in Honolulu. Calling would not work. Nobody took calls from personnel who’d left under the kind of cloud Arch had left under. In spite of what people thought, the CIA never felt like it needed any individual, ever. Sanity began to seep into the trunk Arch was trapped inside, as the Mercedes ran pell-mell back and forth on the Kuhio Highway. Arch waited, with growing impatience, after the car stopped. What was the woman doing? He wasn’t claustrophobic but he was becoming distressed and, admittedly, a bit afraid again. He’d accidentally, or not so accidentally, tossed his hat into the ring of a life or death card game where he didn’t know the rules and the cards he’d been dealt were certainly not face cards. The trunk finally popped open but the glare kept him from seeing anything as he clambered out of the space. Arch rubbed his eyes, and then opened them to stare into the grizzled old face of the German. The man smiled a real smile for the first time since they’d met.
“Got herself a live one here, my Cynthia has,” he intoned, his breath smelling of old tobacco and fresh fish. He took Arch by the arm with one hand, slamming the trunk of the Mercedes shut with the other, and ushered him through the back door into his place. “Gotta dress you out,” he commented, closing the door and then taking a second to peer through the dirty white curtain into the parking lot. Dress him out? Arch felt like one of the fish from the morning catch. “Into the shower. You smell bad and look worse.”
Arch showered for a full fifteen minutes, just standing in the pouring hot water hitting the back of his neck while he thought. A plan was coming to him, about how to get off the damned tiny island. Princeville Airport was the key. The roads and airport to Lihue would be impossible. It was the second day. The police would be the least of his worries. It was obvious that even if Raul was part of a rogue CIA operation, he was still part of an operation and that meant tons of toys and minions. The CIA did nothing half-assed, unless it was involved in a mission it wanted to fail. Being a team leader didn’t mean that you got to know about one of those until you were on one, as he’d so miserably discovered. They would not be looking for anybody to fly into Lihue instead of out of it. The Security at Princeville, to get aboard a small plane, might be very light. It was a chance. A shot. Once in Lihue there was another way off the island that might have no surveillance at all. The S.S. Independence. The cruise ship that ran exclusively among the Hawaiian Islands. It was chartered out of Oahu. Nobody got on board to go from island to island. The ship wasn’t set up for that. If he could get aboard the Independence and ride until the boat hit Oahu he’d be home free, or at least off Kauai.
“You look like you’ve been around the Horn a few times,” the old German said, looking skeptically at his body, tossing him a crummy Aloha shirt to put on over his wet shorts. Arch’s many scars gave his rather difficult past away, once again.