Down in the Valley
by James Strauss
Arch fought the chair, sounds of pain emanating from deep down in his chest. His left arm finally came loose but a three-foot section of wood remained attached to his hand by the hard driven nails. There would be no release from the wood or the pain until he got some kind help or proper tools. It took almost half an hour to work his other hand out of the duct tape. With that raw sticky hand he was able to peel the covering from his eyes. He wondered if he would have any eyebrows or lashes when he again looked at himself in a mirror.
There was nothing usable in the shack. He stepped outside and took three darkened steps down to the beach, where gentle surf broke twenty yards further out in the night. The moon was almost full. Arch could make out a white line of surf, which extended for miles east along the curve of the elongated cove. He’d already decided not to go to the authorities. The mission had become the most personal of his life and he was going to keep it that way if at all possible.
Even cradling the long chunk of wood with his good hand, moving through the deep sand caused him agonizing pain with every step. His head throbbed where he’d been sandbagged and his older contusion was inflamed by the spray from nearby breaking waves. Arch tried to walk between the surf and the dry sand, as the surface was harder, but the going was slow. There were three coves between the shack and the Turtle Bay Resort. When it finally came into view, less than half mile away, he made a decision to stop. He had no idea what lay waiting there. Matisse would be along in his Sunday car to pick him up at six if he was lucky. Arch checked the Breguet, it was 1 AM
It was five when he awoke. He rolled over, forgetting about his pinned hand, and let out a stifled scream. In the pre-dawn light he could see that the hand was swollen to twice its normal size. The pain was even worse than before. Fighting tears Arch staggered into the trees, working eastward, going from one slanting horse path to another. The resort offered horse rides but nobody would be active before nine. By the time he could see the access road leading to the unmanned security gate into the resort he could also see the outlandish, but welcome, Pontiac. Matisse had pulled off Kamehameha Highway to wait, somehow figuring that Arch would come out to him.
“Bra, you look like shit. What happened?” Matisse asked, opening the rear door to help Arch crawl onto the seat. “You got chunk a wood stuck to your arm and your head looks like a Kahuku melon. We go hospital.”
“No,” Arch countered. “We need some tools to get my hand loose. And I need a gun. Do you have a gun?” Arch laid flat atop the lengthy bench of the old Pontiac’s cavernous back seat. The wood attached to his hand rested across a raised hump containing the car’s drivetrain.
“I got two guns,” Matisse answered, “both registered so I don’t get no trouble. I take you home. How you get the wood stucka your hand?”
Arch sighed with his eyes closed, as wind began to blow over the edges of the open convertible. Matisse was afraid of gun registration trouble while he was attempting to lead his movement in seceding from the United States of America. He would have laughed if he hadn’t been in so much agony. For once he didn’t care that Matisse was racing along the precarious two-lane highway at well over the speed limit.
Somewhere along the Haleiwa cutoff Matisse turned the car onto a dirt side road.
Arch watched overhanging cane and coconut palms fly by above him for several minutes until the Pontiac skidded to a stop.
“I get the tools. We need big pliers, maybe a saw and a hammer. I don’t know, but I get ‘em. My wife Gail here to help.” Matisse’s head disappeared from Arch’s view to be replaced by an angelically beautiful face.
“Gail Kalauokalani,” the angelic woman said. “You don’t look good at all. Can you get up?”
Arch knew he would not be able to pronounce the last name without practicing but he could handle the first. “Yeah, I can, and thank you Gail,” he answered, slowly rising up to sit in the back seat. A single ply stilt house sat not far away. Once it had been white but everything Arch looked at in and around the place was the same color. An awful brownish stained color of dried lava mud.
Matisse returned with a paper grocery sack full of tools. With an unwilling groan Arch moved to the driver’s side of the vehicle and raised his arm and the wood to rest upon the top edge of the back door. Matisse went to work with two over-size pliers, twisting and breaking off bits of wood. Every move caused Arch agony, but he worked to control himself. Gail returned with a kitchen towel filled with ice cubes. She gently eased it to the freshly damaged side of his head, and then patiently held it there. After ten minutes Matisse let out a celebratory exclamation.
“Cowabunga!” he yelled. “I got da sucker off. Now we got da nails to deal with.”
Arch peered down at his hand. Three nails at least four inches in length stuck between the fingers of his left hand. He could move the swollen fingers so he figured no bones were broken, but he had little feeling other than pain. Nerve damage might be a future problem.
Matisse turned the damaged hand so the palm faced up. He took out his hammer.
“No way to do this nice. Sorry Brudda,” Matisse said, and then struck one of the nails on its point.
The pain was excruciating. Arch jerked, unable to stop himself, and cried out. Regaining control he stared at the offending nail. It had been driven half way out.
Matisse repeated the process for the remaining nails, and then used his pliers to extract them completely. Arch almost passed out several times, only saved by the ice pack held to the side of his head and the Gail’s gently massaging hands.
Matisse cut strips from a second washcloth to make bandages. “Man, you gotta get a Tetanus shot for that stuff. Why would someone nail your hand to a chunk of wood? You got some real crazy friends.”
“Guns,” Arch stated, flatly. “You said you had guns. Get them, please.”
Gail stepped back upon hearing Arch’s request. She took his good hand and showed him how to support the ice pack, then turned to follow her husband into the stilted house. Arch heard muffled arguing inside, but after a few minutes Matisse came out carrying a broken down cardboard shoebox. He set it on the seat beside Arch.
“My wife’s worried. She thinks you might get me into big trouble. I told her not to worry. You have good judgment for a Haole. She doesn’t know about Rabbit Island or any of that.”
“No kidding,” Arch said, clutching his bandaged hand to his stomach. He put the ice pack down and took the top off the shoebox with his good hand. Two guns, just as Matisse said, both covered in a single oily cloth. Arch unwrapped them. A Smith and Wesson four inch forty-four magnum. A fearsome hand weapon. It was empty, as was the forty-five Colt that accompanied it. The Colt was one of the older Mark IV models made of real steel, not the weaker alloys used later on. Six boxes of ammo were wedged into the container with the weapons. One box of ball for the forty-five and two of hollow points. The magnum rounds were all hollow points except for half a box of shot shells. Arch examined the curious shot shells before loading both weapons. Two bird shot shells for the .44 and four hollow points. Two ball atop the .45 magazine and five hollow points further down.
“What you gonna do, Bra?” Matisse asked him.
“Visit some interesting folks back at the resort,” Arch answered him, truthfully. “I need to borrow your car.”
“No way,” Matisse responded. You not drive like that. Not my Bonneville. You look like Kilauea Volcano just after erupting. I drive. I’m your friend now. I make this visit with you.”
Arch groaned. Matisse was not a player. He was a troubled and troublesome citizen. There was almost no doubt at all that the Hawaiian’s guns had never been fired at all, much less in anger or for any kind of operational mission. The man was a liability where Arch was going, but he had little choice. Arch’s eyes, stability, hand and head were a mess, and his psychology was bent at least ten degrees from top dead center he knew, as well.
“Back to Turtle Bay,” Arch agreed, pointing his good hand east.
Arch had Matisse drive right up to the security gate, which was manned for unknown reasons.
“William Farrell, I’m a guest,” he told the woman at the gate, as the unlikely big Pontiac idled in front of the button controlled wooden bar in front of it.
The woman checked her computer. “Got some I.D.?” she asked.
Arch produced a California driver’s license, glad his ‘questioners’ had not taken any of his personal items. He carried three of his old identities at all times. Each identity came back to the same set of prints. The police had run his prints only once since he’d retired. Somehow one of the driver’s licenses had been suspended without his knowledge. It had taken hours before the local cops released him. Thy tried but never solved the mystery of how three identities could come back to the same set of prints.
As they drove to the upper resort parking lot, Matisse asked questions. “Will Farrell? Isn’t he an actor, or something? Like a movie actor? Or television? Arch didn’t answer, as he didn’t feel like explaining his own sense of humor about identities that he’d picked up from Chevy Chase’s role in the movie Fletch. After a moment of silence Matisse went on to his next question. “What you want me to do here?”
“Wait in the car. I’m going to Virginia’s room to get to the bottom of this mess. Either something major is going on or this is one of those ridiculous and idiotic dog and pony shows that happen every once and awhile in the business. I can’t imagine anything like that happening with Virginia involved though.
It was a short walk to the lobby. Arch had dumped the .45 under the rug of the Bonneville’s back floor, along with the extra ammunition. He carried a pocketful of shot shells and hollow points for the magnum. The gun itself was in its shoebox. Innocuous enough. It was almost eight o’clock in the morning. Maids were already working the wing that Room 217 was in. His luck was good. The door to 215 was propped open with a maid’s cart just outside. A short Filipino woman moved from the room to her cart.
Arch backed behind the elevators and looked over to where the ice machine stood.
Carefully and laboriously, with one arm and shoulder he eased it away from the wall, and then pulled the plug. He shoved it back in with his back as best he could.
When he got to the maid’s cart he removed an extra plastic ice bucket from the backside. He waited for the woman to come from the room.
“The ice machine is broken,” Arch said, holding out the ice bucket in his good hand. Could you get me a bucket of ice?” Arch asked, as the woman continued unloading some supplies from her cart. He produced a twenty when she accepted the bucket into her hand. “For housekeeping,” he smiled, hoping she wouldn’t notice his swollen head or the damaged hand clutching an old shoebox.
The woman’s eyes were glued to the twenty. She accepted it, looking down the hall once before slipping it into a small pocket of her apron. As he hoped, she left the room door to 215 propped open.
Moving quickly, once the maid disappeared on her way to the service elevators all the way at the end of another wing, Arch pulled the gun from the shoebox, stuck the box in the maid’s trash bag, and eased quietly and carefully to the sliding glass window. He jammed the short but bulky weapon into his right front pocket. Once on the small lanai he stared over at the lanai to 217, Virginia’s room. The railings to the two rooms were within a couple of feet of one another, which would have been no problem if Arch weren’t so injured. Arch looked down. It was about twenty-five feet to the roof of the lobby. If he fell he wouldn’t be walking again for months, if ever.
Using his good right hand Arch gripped the horizontal top rail and stared at the two-foot space separating the lanais. He brought his left leg up and over the rail and then his right. Balancing on his butt, and leaning into his grasping right hand, he moved to insert his feet between the opposite bar railings. Once positioned with his butt on one railing and his feet between the rails of the other he heaved his upper body forward and plummeted over the railing in front of him and onto the floor of 217’s lanai, wondering if the thudding sound his body made would wake Virginia. If she was asleep. If she was even there. The move succeeded and the sound of his body hitting the floor was only slight compared to the muffled scream that was forced from his throat when his damaged hand hit the opposite railing.
The window was fully open but the drapes were closed and billowing outwards, disturbed by early morning trade winds. Arch got control of himself and then peered into the darkened room. There was no sign of Virginia, but the two men who’d once stood on her lanai talking, and then ended up in the surfer’s shack with him, were asleep side by side on their backs atop the king size bed. Neither of them had apparently been disturbed from sleep by the noise of Arch’s landing.
“Screw it,” Arch whispered to himself inaudibly, and then entered the room. As quietly as possible, and without turning, he closed the sliding glass window behind him. It took several minutes because of the blowing drapes and Arch’s inability to touch or manipulate anything with his damaged hand. Once the sliding door was closed, with the drapes unmoving and drawn, the room was in near total darkness. Arch had memorized the placement of every object in the room, however. Without any hesitation he moved to the bed, grabbed one of the extra pillows discarded to the floor and removed the Magnum from his pocket. With his bandaged hand, his pain somehow held in abeyance, he placed the pillow over the raspy-voiced man’s extended right hand. Jamming the short barrel of the .44 into the pillow he pulled the double action trigger.
The sound was similar to that of striking a wooden desk hard with a baseball bat. The sound of the gun was changed to something else. A very loud sound but not identifiable as a gunshot. The man screamed in anguish. Arch turned on the sidelight, his revolver aimed directly at the head of the second man, the one who’d worn the spit-shine shoes. The man didn’t move or make a sound, although his unblinking eyes grew round as he recognized the intruder.
“Shut up,” Arch hissed at the injured man, pressing the holed pillow down hard on his shattered hand. The man continued to cry softly, clutching the pillow and his hand to him, but there was no more screaming.
“There were some questions you forgot to ask. So I came back to help. Surely you can understand,” Arch said, staring deeply into the very dangerous man’s eyes.