THE DUKE

Part Eight

Jimmy pulled on both oars, his skinny body bending forward and then back like a single reed of bamboo in the wind. There was no discussion about whom would do the rowing.  Jimmy was so adept and happy at performing the seemingly simple task that Darren made no complaint, instead of sitting relaxed near the small boat’s stern, little splashes of the harbor water occasionally striking him.  It was like being hit by intermittent clouds of thin spray, and the cooling effect, against the bright hot sun sparkling off the surface of the harbor, was pleasant.  Jimmy rowed into a slight wind but adjusted his oars perfectly to make way directly for the spit of land that stuck out toward the McGrew Navy quarters they’d left behind them

“Should we head directly for the wreck, or pull in and the walk on down the spit to where it lays?” Jimmy asked, rowing smoothly, his breath just as even, as it if he was only walking along the beach in Waikiki.

“The wreck,” Darren replied.  If they found anything at all of value, and could pry it off the wreck without tools, then the boat would be right there.  Although security at McGrew had denied them entry on the previous occasion, once reaching the harbor water itself neither Darren nor Jimmy had ever been confronted or even interrupted in their wreck exploration adventures. “You know, we’re probably not going to find anything there.  The bow was blown off the ship. What could have been in the bow that would impress Elvis Presley?”

Jimmy increased the sequence of the whip-like moves he made to drive the boat faster across the surface of the water.

“And we don’t have a rope to tie the boat to the wreck, either,” Darren went on, as Jimmy steered the craft subtly around the far curve of Ford Island, powering past the ramp that had once been used to let the big PBY flying boats come up out of the water and into the sheds for repair, refueling and rearming.  The flying boats were long gone, but the redone ramp slanted up, looking like it was big enough to launch a full-sized ship down if one could be made with big enough wheels.

The bow of the Shaw lay exactly where it had been months before. It rested on its side, half in and half out of the water, the inner harbor’s gentle waves washing against its torn steel plates but not moving the hulk at all. The sun reflected brightly off the steel that remained, mostly bare, even though the ship had been blown apart some twenty-one years before.

Jimmy looked over his right shoulder, as they approached the portion of the wreck still in the water.  Without saying anything, he steered the boat around to one of the gaping holes in the hull, and then pointed the bow right inside, bringing both oars in as the boat neatly slid into the hole.

“We don’t need a rope,” he murmured, climbing over the boat’s low bow and stepping into the foot deep water.

Darren eased forward, realizing he only had his go-aheads on, and they would be all but useless once wet.  The poorly made rubber flip-flops not only wouldn’t allow rearward travel they also made it nearly impossible, when they were wet, to keep the soles of ones feet in them when moving forward.  Taking a chance, he pulled the shoes off and left them inside the boat.  The interior of the Shaw’s hull could be filled with sharp jagged edges right under the surface of the impenetrably dark water inside the hole, but he’d be better off trying to feel his way gently along rather than taking the chance of a fall because of the shoes.

Jimmy crept, bend over slightly, into the near darkness of the hull’s interior.  Almost too dark to see even though they were only in the bow of the ship. It was so large that they were dwarfed by its size.  They searched for what seemed almost an hour.  Darren was ready to give up.  The bow appeared to be totally empty, even the chain and anchor, which should have been located somewhere inside the open spaces, although too heavy to carry or move, were gone.

“They cleaned this out pretty good,” Darren said to Jimmy, who was squatting down trying to open something too dark for Darren to quite make out.  “What is it?” he asked, bending down, keeping his feet carefully away from whatever it was Jimmy was working on.

“I broke the blade on your dad’s pocket knife, but I think I got it,” Jimmy replied,  closing the knife and shoving it back into his front pocket.

“You took my dad’s Kutmaster?” Darren exclaimed. “You broke my dad’s Kutmaster?  Are you crazy?  Where did you get it?  When did you get it?  We are dead.  My dad love’s that knife.  He polishes and oils it all the time. That knife was from the war.”

“We’ll find another one, trust me, and I've found the treasure we were looking for,” Jimmy said, turning to smile at his friend, before lifting his prize out of the slime-covered metal box it had been encased in.

Jimmy stared, trying to make out the big dark and dripping object.

It looked like four or five pipes, each the length of Jimmy’s forearm, held together by something attached to their bottoms.

“What is it?” Darren could not help asking, although the broken knife was going to be a serious problem at some point not far into the future, and he could not be as enthusiastic about anything as he’d been when they’d started the adventure.

“It’s big bullets for one of those anti-aircraft guns,” Jimmy replied, holding the heavy mass out away from his body, as if to hand it to Darren.

“40 millimeter, Bofors,” Darren recited, recalling images of the rounds from one of his father’s Navy weapons books.  “They were standard issue aboard U.S. Navy ships during the war.  Coast Guard had some too, but not dad’s ship.  It only had his fifty-caliber.”

“These are made of lead with brass cases,” Jimmy whispered, working his way back to the bow of the Ahab. “We’ll clean and polish them up until they sparkle.  Elvis will think he’s died and gone to heaven.”

“Ah, Jimmy, I think those are probably live rounds,” Darren said, as Jimmy laid the four rounds, held together by a thin strip of metal at the very back of the cartridge cases.  “Elvis might just be dead and gone for real if we give him these.  See what color the tips are.”

Jimmy pulled Darren’s dad’s knife out and eased the broken blade out of its slot.  Darren could only look at the ruined Kutmaster with a heavy heart.

“We’re dead, or at least I’m dead,” he whispered, as Jimmy went to work scraping away.

“Blacktip, a band of red below that, and here’s yellow,” Jimmy said, holding the half-blade out toward ,Darren a hump of dirty yellow material visible on its surface.

Darren realized the paint had softened under the onslaught of brackish water that had to have leaked in and out of the container the round had lain in for so many years.

“Practice, or dummy rounds, are blue,” Darren said, “always, so these are high explosive, maybe loaded with phosphorus or worse.  We can’t give Elvis live rounds.”

“Then we’ll clean these up, polish them and then empty out the powder from each,” Jimmy said, his enthusiasm not diminished in the least from what it had been, since coming up with the idea to look for something to impress Elvis, and then finding what he took to be an incredible treasure.

Darren got aboard the boat, turning to accept the heavy clip from Jimmy.  Very carefully, he placed it in the bottom of the boat, fully aware that even old wet rounds held a vital danger should they be treated the wrong way, and there was no guarantee at all that the powder in the rounds was wet.

Jimmy hopped in grabbed the oars and adroitly moved the boat back out of the hole, before sticking the oars deep in the water. He reversed course once outside the wreck and pulled away, the Ahab leaving as it had come.

“What about my dad’s knife?” Darren asked, being unable to think about anything else, almost to the point where he didn’t care if the 40 mm rounds exploded or not.

“The Army-Navy Store at the base,” Jimmy said.  “I’ve seen those Coasty knives there before.  Your dad’s is a popular model and it’s only ten bucks at the most.  I’ve got ten bucks.  Heck, if we can’t get these rounds to Elvis then we can sell them for a lot more than ten bucks, even without the powder.  We can always come back and take pictures with mom’s camera in order to establish provenance.”

“What’s provenance?” Darren asked, the idea of getting a new knife allowing some life to course back through his body.  His dad would know, of course, but the fact that the replacement knife was new might carry the day.  His dad knew just about everything if it involved things like guns, knives, hunting, fishing and more stuff like that.  Darren wasn’t interested in almost any of what his father was so good at, but he made believe just to have things to do with him.  His dad wasn’t interested in anything Darren was, like rockets, science experiments, chess or even model airplanes, but he’d didn’t bother to make believe he liked any of it to spend time with Darren doing any of those things.

“Provenance means proof that the rounds came from the bow of the hull, and that they really are leftover from the Pearl Harbor attack,” Jimmy replied, pulling strongly on the oars, as they headed back for the beach they’d left earlier.  “That’s what will make them valuable, I mean if Elvis doesn’t want them.”

“Have you thought at all about how we are supposed to meet Elvis Presley again?” Darren asked.  “That was a dumb luck one-time thing.  You saw what happened when something formal came up and we were supposed to be invited. We got dumped.”

“Nah, you got dumped,” Jimmy said, with a laugh, pulling away on the oars, as if the discussion gave him more energy.  “All you have to do is go back into her bedroom and give her one of your class pictures to put on her mirror, and we’ll be in.”

Darren felt sick to his stomach.  He was frightened of his dad, and now he was frightened of once again being in the bedroom with Judy.  He knew Jimmy was right, about his dad and the knife, and probably about Judy too.  It was impossible to understand how Judy felt about anything because she talked about everything but said almost nothing.  Darren stood by the side of the Ahab, looking at his friend, hauling the Bofors rounds to the convertible, before placing them gently over the edge and laying them down on the back seat.  They had no rags or any of that, which meant the plastic seats would have to be washed and dried before they could turn the car back over to Jimmy’s father, although Jimmy’s father was so easy going he never got mad about almost anything.  The cleaning would be Darren's job in payment for being allowed to go with Jimmy in the car.  Darren flipped the boat, grabbed his flip flops and stuck the oars back underneath, hoping the thing would be there when they wanted to go exploring the harbor again.

“Don’t show the rounds to your dad,” Darren said, getting in the car, knowing he was probably saying something he didn’t need to say.

“Are you crazy?” Jimmy laughed out, “only you, me, and Elvis get to know about these.

“I’ll clean the rounds tonight,” Jimmy said, gunning the Corvair, “my dad has the duty at the base.”

“I have to work at the club tonight,” Darren replied, not wanting to be anywhere near the rounds when the powder if there was any powder, was decanted out of the brass cartridges.  He did think absently, as they drove, about what a great rocket they could build with that much gun powder if the powder was still good.

“Fine,” Jimmy replied, rocketing the car onto Nimitz Highway and then flooring the accelerator, “tonight is my time, but tomorrow will be your time.  We’ll get the knife in the morning, and then you go see Judy in the afternoon.  By tomorrow evening we’ll have an appointment with Elvis and you’ll be straight with your dad.”

“Okay,” Darren breathed out, feeling sick to his stomach again.  It was as if life was going to be over the next day.  All he could do was think about work, Chef Wu, Sergeant Cross and the rest of the crew.  He wanted to go to the Cannon Club and simply stay there, but that wasn’t in the cards, he knew.

“Can I have dad’s knife back?” he asked Jimmy.

“Nope, not until tomorrow,” Jimmy replied, downshifting as they hit the curve at the Diamond Head end of the road that ran along the beach at Fort DeRussy.  “If I give you the broken knife and your dad figures out it is missing then you’ll blab.  This way, you don’t know where it is or what happened to it no matter how much he beats you.”

Darren swallowed hard.  The night might be terrible, and everything about the next day could be worse.  All he had to live for was work and the daily countdown until he went away to the mainland for college.

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