DOWN IN THE VALLEY
Short Story, Chapter 2
By J. Strauss
Kaneohe Marine Base on the Windward Side of Oahu is among the best kept and most squared-away of all Marine bases. Nothing is out of place. Absolutely nothing out of place. Lawns are mowed with white rocks precisely set around their borders. Everything is so freshly painted that the Hawaiian trade winds are filled with the aroma. There is not one pothole on any of the streets. A civilian had once asked him how the Marines keep their bases so clean and tidy. Arch had just laughed. The man could not understand just how tight the discipline and work ethic of a Marine organization really was. There was no hired help. The Marines worked all the time when not training, eating or sleeping. It was simply part of being in the Corps.
“Stop here. I don’t want you anywhere near the gate. Gimme your cell phone number and wait for my call. I’ve got to get to the bottom of this misunderstanding.” Arch climbed from the back of the slowing Bonneville without opening the door. He jumped down just as the behemoth came to a halt. Matisse scribbled a number on a piece of paper and handed it to him.
“You got my six?” Matisse asked.
Arch locked eyes with the man. He reminded Arch of the character ‘Angel’ on Rockford, but even Angel had had some good traits. He nodded, and then turned to jog a half a mile to the Kaneohe main entrance.
At the gate, with no identification and in his disheveled state, it was little wonder the guards took him for some sort of interloper. He had to wait ten minutes for three Humvees to show up. That was no surprise. The cuffs and ankle chains were a shock, however. He said nothing, his anger overcoming every rational thought he could conjure up. They didn’t even remove the Ghost of Christmas past ornaments when he was safely tucked into a concrete and steel cell. It took hours for Virginia to show up. Frank, his former ‘partner’ was with her.
They entered with two civilians wearing suits. Arch sat tucked in against the corner farthest from the stainless steel sink and toilet. He looked at the four impassively. The two civilians removed all the cuffs and chains, and then existed without comment, leaving the three of them alone.
“I suppose you want to know what this is all about?” Virginia began.
Arch stared for a moment before speaking. “Get him out of here. Whatever you are up to his conduct cannot and will not be forgiven or forgotten.” No partner in a field operation ever abandoned his opposite number. That partner had to be the one person in the world who could be counted on. No matter what the mission Frank’s conduct was unforgivable, and Arch intended that all of his acquaintances still with the Agency know about it.
Virginia nodded to Frank, who then turned and left, casting a contrite look over his shoulder as he went.
“Why’d you have me come to you? Did you think I wanted to run one last mission for the Gipper, or what? I came to Oahu because I’ve been in love with you for years, and you know it. I did this mission for you because of that. I’ve no idea of what you can possibly say about this or even why you are still standing in front of me in this cell?”
“We needed you to gain the trust of Matisse, Ahi and their movement.”
Arch shook his head, the contusion on the side of it reminding him that he still needed some medical care.
“You were raised out here. You are both Haole and local. You can cross the cultural barriers. We can’t recruit from his faction of the Sovereignty Sons Movement. Your treatment had to be convincing.”
“To the point that I was knocked unconscious? With a contusion, double vision and the whole works that goes with Traumatic Brain Injury?” Arch said, his voice low but his tone scathing.
“This is a violent business, as you know. You’ve been a player for a long time and you know the risks, which were minimized in this case.” She moved closer to where he sat. He could see mid-thigh up her skirt from his position on the floor. Even with what had happened and hating it Arch still felt her animal attraction. “We need you, and only you, just as I do.” She knelt, cupped Arch’s chin and kissed him full on the lips. Standing and backing away she extended one hand. A plastic card was held between her fingers.
Arch took the card and examined it. It was a hotel key to a room at the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore.
“We’re done here. You have to decide. Room is two seventeen and I’ll be there at seven tonight. You can go home or work with me on this. It’s your call.”
The door opened without her touching it and remained open. One of the civilian suits stepped inside, handed him a large grocery bag, and then departed leaving the steel door ajar.
Arch examined the contents of the bag. Polo shirt, Ralph Lauren shorts. Underpants, form fitting, and a set of Teva sandals were inside. Cash. About five hundred in twenties plus a Hawaii Driver’s License, which he did not rate, and a military I.D. card. Everything was in his size and the data on the I.D.s correct. Inside the pocket of the shorts was a throwaway cell phone.
Arch stepped out of the cell. The civilian duo was stationed outside the door.
“Showers?” he asked.
They both pointed down the hall.
Shark’s Cove on the North Shore near Sunset Beach has no sharks. Never did have any. Just a neat place of rough lave-reefed holes just up from Waimea Bay. It’s only for looking at when the winter waves crash onto the rocks. Any entry into such waters would be near instantly fatal. Arch, Matisse and Ahi sat on the edge of the park overlooking the scene. People scrubbed up nearby at the only fresh water shower publically available for miles.
“Tell me,” Arch said, breaking a silence punctuated only by breaking waves and the insistently hissing shower. “All of it. I’m the only thing keeping you alive. We can’t be friends without candor. Just because I have your six doesn’t mean we’re friends. And if we become friends it’ll probably only be because you don’t have any others.”
Matisse shifted uncomfortably. “You don’t seem to be doing too great in that area either,” he intoned. “Ahi, go look for sea shells on the beach.” Matisse pointed to a lone twenty-foot square patch of sand a couple of hundred yards away. He waited several minutes while the big islander made his way toward the sand.
“We’re taking Rabbit Island, off Bellows Beach. My people are digging in on the backside right now. We’re bringing in water and plenty of food for a long stay. Succession is what we plan, until the United States accepts our terms. And if they want to play rough then we’ll go public with the nuclear stuff or whatever it is.”
Arch rubbed his face, and then his hair. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard. “It’s called Secession, not succession,” he replied. “You’re taking Rabbit Island? How the hell do you expect to hold it? You can’t just occupy an island two miles offshore and stay there. It’ll never be allowed.”
“We got rifles. We got explosives. We got right on our side,” Matisse answered waving his hands before him like he was directing a symphony. “What the police got? Small boats and some zodiacs. Won’t last twenty minutes on the only small exposed beach there.”
“Oh, I love this,” Arch responded, laughing out loud. “Ah, I think you forgot about that little organization set up all over and behind Bellows. The United States Marine Corps, which has one simply mission in this world and it’s called amphibious landing and assault.”
“Nah, Brudda, da Marines are Federal. Rabbit Island local. We got the comitatus working for us.”
“I can’t believe we might be friends. You are such an idiot. How can I save you from you? One phone call from the governor and you’ll have a thousand Marines all over that island. And your rifles and explosives will be like cap guns and fire crackers. Posse comitatus only applies if the governor doesn’t declare you a state of emergency. This friendship is going to be a very short one indeed.” Arch watched Ahi on the beach below, working at something in the sand. The huge man was crawling around on hands and knees looking for seashells. Arch felt like he was living a bad Sesame Street script. His partner and Virginia were not what or who they claimed to be, not in Arch’s life, while his supposed new friends were completely ignorant idiots.
“They have not clue,” Matisse pointed out, accentuating the phrase with one finger raised into the air. “Not one.”
“Gee, you don’t suppose they might be watching your idiot friends digging away on the backside of Rabbit Island with satellites, do you?”
Arch asked. “Virginia wants to know all about who everyone is. I’m surprised you’re not in Gitmo tied to the bars and listening to acid rock. She’s getting soft as she ages, but if she knows enough to tell me then she knows plenty about your operation on the island she didn’t reveal.” Arch decided to mention nothing about his suspicions of Ahi. “Somebody’s behind all this, driving this and it’s not Virginia. Something big is going on or everyone wouldn’t be acting so screwy. Get your buddy out of the sand and take me to Turtle Bay Resort. Come back tomorrow morning at six. And stay the hell away from everyone in your sovereignty outfit. You’ve got a mole. Your people on the island are armed. They’re fair game. I said I’d watch your six. That’s the best I can do.”
It took fifteen minutes to get to the resort. Arch got out at the golf club parking lot a good distance from the front lobby doors. He didn’t want anyone to know he was staying there. He hadn’t even told Virginia when she’d slipped the room key to him that he was booked into the same hotel using a different identity. If she wanted to use all her power she might know anyway, but Arch was betting she didn’t really care. The woman was mission focused with little room for personal considerations.
Arch stopped at the expansive front desk to check out the hotel floor plan. When he checked it out he smiled at his good fortune. He was on the fourth floor in a cheap South facing room. Virginia’s room was directly across and two floors down facing east. Both rooms overlooked the tidal pool down below. Having stayed many times Arch had specifically asked for the cheaper view, as it was his favorite.
Arch took two hours to swim in the pool and lounge along the West shore of the resort. Waves, even though diminished in size for the summer, raged hypnotically close along the rocks on that side. Two Mai Tai drinks caused him no pain either. At six, he decided to call her room, using his cell.
She was in. Dinner would be at seven. Dinner would be at Ola, the beach restaurant where the chef was a wild man but a chef of the highest order. They would meet there supposedly for ease of parking, as Virginia remained under the impression he was coming in for the date. Arch dressed for the occasion. A lightweight Boss coat in dark blue, gray 120 trousers by Dunhill and an open Brioni white shirt. Sandals to soften and give a bit of island to the look. Coconut shampoo and conditioner by the resort. Hair brushed, not combed or gelled. He’d have preferred to simply toss on an Aloha shirt and keep the shorts but he knew Virginia would prefer more formal wear.
Arch stood on the edge of his small lanai waiting out the time and looking out as the sun began to set. Hawaii was close to the equator. The sun arose around six and went down around seven without much variation at all. He glanced over at where he knew Virginia’s room to be along the windows of the east wing, and was so surprised he instantly stepped back through his own open doors. There were two men standing on her little lanai facing inward and obviously talking to someone inside. It was too far to identify them. By the time he unpacked his Leica binoculars the men were gone. It was disturbing, but no more. He was not totally sure he had the right room. And Virginia was in play. She was a busy woman and whatever the mission was she was working it. Arch was on a date. Virginia was making time for him. It was all he could expect. Or hope for, although deep inside his core still seethed with hurt and anger.
He left his room early, to avoid running into her in the main resort building. He took the long way around and arrived at the bar on the beach just outside Ola ten minutes early. Arch new Virginia would be punctual to the second. It was one of her trademarks. Whatever the mission entailed it had already changed Arch’s beliefs, relationships and quite possibly his life.