IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Arch awakened with a start that quickly turned into a demand that he pay attention to Harpo. The dog’s joy at being out for the night with Cynthia and Arch in the bush was as obvious as it was infectious. Dawn was upon them, although the airport was quiet. A few cars were passing now and then on the road not more than forty yards from where they lay in a cocoon of pine needles formed by the small clearing under the trees they’d fallen into when it was still dark.
Cynthia slept on, curled into a fetal position. Once petted, and certain Arch was fully awake, Harpo laid back down to rest his head next to the woman’s. It was a camera-ready setting but Arch had no camera. Among them, they had Cyn’s plastic bag of money, passports, dog food and whatever junk she’d thrown together. Arch had the file. He laid on his stomach next to Cyn’s slow-breathing body and listened to the whispering of the pines all around them. Nobody had come for them. Either nobody had been staked out to look for them the night before or, if they’d been there, they’d been blinded by the diversionary fire. There’d been no sirens. The fire had flared up and then been gone as quickly as it burned.
Arch would have to wake Cynthia soon but he wanted to finally read what was in the file. The second page was the one that included George Herbert Walker Bush’s name. It did so as a very likely descriptor as to why the PROMIS program implementation commentary that followed was of national security significance. The file was following the usual layout of classified documentary detail and methodology. The form was also common to a lot of military communications.
It was intended to tell the reader what it said, repeat what it said and then summarize by telling the reader again what it said. Each of the two succeeding parts of the rendition would be more detailed then the summation at the end. Finally, at the very end there might be an explanation of why the file was classified at the high level of Registered Publication Services secrecy that it was.
Arch read into the first paragraphs and knew that he was going to need no explanation for the file’s high level of secrecy, or why it was so viciously being sought after. Why it had ever ended up sitting alone on a coffee table unguarded was astounding. What it was about was apparent in the first paragraph. PROMIS had been co-opted from being a bank wire transfer discovery vehicle, invented and designed to reveal drug and laundered money, into a financial intelligence gathering device that reached confidentially into every electronically linked bank in the world, which was most of them.
He closed the file and tapped Cyn’s forearm with an elbow. There was another name in that first paragraph more terrifying than Bush’s name. The name was William Jefferson Clinton. Through the serendipity of his being at the scene where the file was left unattended and his righteous move to possess and guard it, it was very likely that Arch had managed to make the sitting President of the United States his enemy.
Cyn came gently back to life, stretching like she’d just awakened under any sort of normal circumstance.
“You’ve read the file,” she said, smiling. “Tell me.”
Arch put the file back under his shirt with half of it stuffed down his shorts. There was no way he could tell her about what he’d read. He couldn’t even tell himself, with full believability. President Clinton? President Bush? How did a “no nothing” nobody little politician like Clinton, working at running some phony financial company in Arkansas, vault nearly to the presidency of the United States over one of the most popular sitting presidents of all time in only a few years? Arch felt a wave of nausea pass through him. He looked at Cyn.
“Not good, huh?” she commented, slowly climbing to her feet. “What time is it?’
Arch instinctively looked down at his still waterlogged Rolex. Or rather, the Old German’s Rolex. It was useless.
“Probably about six, or maybe a little bit later. Nothing to do for awhile here.” He thought about the nearby runway, wondering just how many small planes a day flew in and out of the tiny airport. With only a thousand-foot runway nothing bigger than small twin engine prop jobs could get in and out, especially under windy island weather conditions.
“Atlantis will be here in not too long,” Cyn said, stretching her lean body enough to make Arch vaguely uncomfortable, watching her in such an intimate setting. The Dingo bobbed up and down and around her. Strange dog.
“Atlantis?” What in hell kind of a name is that?
“Manager. The one who had to let me go,” Cyn replied, matter-of-factly.
“The boss who fired you?” Arch asked, in disbelief. “We’re waiting for her? And how is it that the boss of the restaurant shows up first? Why did she fire you?”
Arch got up and followed Cyn as she grabbed her plastic bag and began threading through the foliage toward the back wall of the main building.
“Oh she didn’t want to. My Dad went in and told her about the drugs. He thought it would jolt me into quitting.”
“So you quit the job?” I asked, baffled.
“Nah, I got fired. He wanted me to quit the drugs. It’s an airport. Atlantis couldn’t go against him and neither could I.”
“Oh,” Arch responded, feeling stupid.
“So what was in the file?” She murmured, turning to look back at my expression with a serious expression.
“Heavy duty crap,” Arch said, thinking as fast as he could about how to lie to the woman who was putting her life on the line for him, without really lying to her.
“Such heavy duty stuff that the whole damned nation is going to be after us?” she replied, but Arch wasn’t sure she was really asking a question or making an observation.
They got to the wall of the building. The brush was pressed right up against the cinder blocks so they squeezed along until they reached the edge to stare out over the low cut vegetation at the empty runway.
“I think you may be reacting an over-dramatic way,” Cyn stated. “About the only reality to any of this is that bullet hole in the boat, it it was a bullet hole.”
Arch didn’t know what to say to her in response. It was like trying to prove to someone that you really will shoot them with the gun your holding. Sometimes people have to be shot simply to believe you’ll do it.
Arch stood shaking his head gently in the early morning trade winds. Against any measure of sanity and fortune he was hiding behind a tiny airport terminal on a small tropical island and hoping God would send a sign so he could prove to some woman and her strange dog that what was happening was all real,
Cyn, Harpo and Arch gazed out across the small Princeville runway in silence, watching the sunlight ray out over the tops of the mountain range cutting the island of Kauai in half from north to south.
They waited for Atlantis, manager of the Amelia Earhart Restaurant, located in the upstairs of the building they leaned against, to show up. Arch thought about Cyn’s biting comment. Was it all really real? The bullet hole sure as hell had been, but then he thought about how the ballistically inexperienced woman had a right to be skeptical. There had been no sound. The hole in the hull pontoon was round but had it really been from a bullet?
He’d run through the night to save his life earlier but had no definitive proof that Raul had been the man running behind him or that he’d fired his weapon at him. Only his gut instinct told him that they were in dire danger. The file sticking up from his shorts was real. He pressed his hand against it just to make sure. His background telling him the file was real was also very real and very fresh. He’d been drunk. He’d been suicidal. Maybe he’d hallucinated some of it. Arch was, no doubt, a bit melodramatic in the expression of his personality. The woman was right about some of it. He heard a distant droning.
“What’s that?” Cyn whispered, turning her head slightly, to listen more intently.
He listened closely with her, and then got it. “It’ an airplane,” I said, concentrating and leaning his head further out from the corner of the wall. “Propeller-driven. Big one. Not far off. C-130 with turbines, I think.”
“What’s a C-130?” Cynthia asked, looking back and forth at what we could see of the sky.
“That,” Arch replied, pointing straight out at the side of the mountain range directly in front of them. A large gray shaped seemed to float along the side of a shadow-darkened wall of solid green vegetation.
“What’s it doing here, and so low, like it’s going to land?” Cynthia said. “But it’s too big to land here, isn’t it?”
“Ah, I’d presume so,” he confirmed. “Civilian flight rules require a C-130 to have about three thousand feet of runway, if loaded. Maybe two thousand if empty. This strip has a hell of a lot less than that.”
“How do you know junk like that?” Cyn asked. “Are you a pilot too, or is driving a Zodiac at night your specialty?”
Arch watched the big monster of the air begin to bank back as it flew beyond the south of the runway. The whine of it’s massive turbines began to grow. “I fly but not one of those, at least so far,” he said, his forehead beginning to wrinkle into a frown. The damned plane was giving every indication it was going to land, until it didn’t. The C-130 flew at high speed down, and then directly over the runway, before banking toward the side of the mountain range from which it had come.
“Oh, it’s not landing,” Cyn observed.
“Damn,” Arch replied softly. He’d seen the plane’s behavior imitated before in Vietnam. “It’s landing all right, and it’s not civilian. The pilot’s doing what’s called a combat drop. He sized up the length and width of the strip on the first pass. Now he’s going to drop out of the sky like a stone, throw the propellers in full reverse before the plane’s even down.” Arch stared at the whining airplane. It was as if, responding to his mental request a moment earlier, God appeared about to confirm the credibility of everything he was so worried about proving.
The planed plummeted down and the roar of four fully reversed propellers overwhelmed the penetrating scream of the turbines driving them. It was like the C-130 was stopping in mid-air, which in a strange fashion it was. The flaps plunging down from the back of the wings looked as huge as barn doors. The large airplane, weighing in at a very minimum of around seventy-five tons, wasn’t going to use even half the runway. It seemed to waddle forward in the air, its wings canting slightly one way and then the other, as the gently descending monster was wafted about by the building trade winds sweeping down from the mountain range. The wheels contacted the surface of the asphalt halfway down the strip, and then the plane quickly and smoothly stopped. The big four-bladed propellers continued to spin but gradually began to slow. The feat of landing the extraordinary aircraft in such an amazing fashion glued the attention of all three of them from the time it made its last turn toward the airport until it sat stopped before them.
“What was that,” Cyn breathed out. “What is that?” she followed up, her voice evidencing amazement.
“Trouble,” Arch replied, very quietly.
“You mean it’s here because of us? Where would it have come from to get here this fast?”
“That would be Kaneohe Marine Base located on the windward side of Oahu. That’s the cavalry they brought in.”
“For us?” Cyn asked, “Yah, for us. Except we’re the Indians.” The ramp at the back of the plane swung slowly down to the tarmac. The propellers of the plane, although considerably slowed, never stopped turning fully. Once the ramp was down, a black vehicle exited the fuselage, and then drove past the airport buildings toward the access road at the far end.
“That’s it?” Can stated more than asked. “One car?”
“That car is a Chevy Suburban,” Arch answered. “Wait.” In rapid succession two more identical vehicles followed the first, which had pulled up near the access road to wait for them.
“Wow,” isn’t that something?” a voice spoke from above their heads.
Cyn, Harpo and Arch looked up as one. A blond woman hung over the railing, dangling a cigarette from her left hand, motioning toward the runway with the other.
“What are you guys doing down there, Cynthia? You want coffee and breakfast?” The woman didn’t wait for an answer. “I better come unlock that door.” She disappeared.
“What are we going to tell her?” Arch asked. ” We can’t just walk about the airport. Somebody had to be meeting that plane, even if they didn’t come out. We can’t exactly hide in the basement without some sort of plausible story.”
“That’s easy,” Cyn replied. “I’ll tell her I finally met the man of my dreams and that you’re a crook. I’m eloping off island from my Dad.”
“Who’d buy that story?” I asked, surprised at the idiocy of her reply.
“You don’t get out that much in the dating world, do you?” she said. “At least not much around women, I would assume.”
The increasing roar of the four props on the nearby C-130 overpowered all conversation, even in the steel and concrete stairwell of the terminal. Atlantis, Cynthia, Harpo and Arch waited while the plane powered up and rolled back down the runway.
“Where’s it going?” Cyn asked, looking at Arch.
“Back to the north end of the runway. Landing was no problem for that thing. Taking off is a lot harder. There’s only a thousand feet of paved asphalt and at the end of that it has to clear twenty or thirty feet of trees sticking up. Lighter going out but still, it’ll be close.”
“Cool,” Atlantis said with a big smile, inhaling on her cigarette deeply and then holding it like there was more in the mix than just tobacco. “Maybe it’ll crash. Now that would be a big deal here.”
Arch looked at her. The woman looked sort of normal except for her total bleach blond thing, the overdone cigarette affectation and a short skirt she might have got away with ten years earlier. She was like a cheap clone of Cynthia without the lost and forlorn look buried deep into the back of her eyes.
“We’ve got to stay in the basement until one of those puddle jumpers comes by,” Cyn explained. “We’ve got to get to Oahu and their looking for us. When’s the next flight coming in? Is there going to be anybody going out?”
Atlantis shrugged, and then waited while the C-130, under full emergency power, blasted off from the runway into the teeth of the morning trades. Arch watched her expression change from hope to disappointment as the plane fought its way into the air. Arch decided he didn’t want to be walking at night along a highway she might be driving down.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Atlantis finally replied. “Doug the Bartender is skippering one in at eight, or so. If he’s light, I’m sure he’ll take you.”
“We’ve got plenty of cash,” Cyn offered.
“Nah, he owes me. He gets a free one about every time he comes through,” Atlantis replied, heading down the stairs toward whatever awaited them in the basement.
“Free what?” Arch whispered to Cyn, as they followed the flowing apparition Atlantis gave every impression of being.
“Jesus,” was all Cyn said back over her shoulder.