The Duke

Part XV

 

How had the cop known that Jimmy was a military brat, and therefore needed transport to the Naval Hospital at Tripler instead of Queens or some place closer and private? Why was the Army coming? And why were the cops acting so weird, like a young kid had not been badly assaulted on a public beach? Who was Jimmy’s father and what was his job that so many people reacted so quickly? And, finally, as Darren reflected, sinking down to the grass to sit with his knees pulled up wondering how he was going to get to Tripler to be with his friend, there was the issue of why he felt so totally in the dark about everything?

“You the kid that was with him?” a man asked, his voice coming gentle and smooth from behind Darren’s bowed back.

Darren straightened up and turned his torso and canting his face upward to look into the man’s eyes.

The man was nondescript, wearing an aloha shirt hanging loosely out above cotton khaki trousers. Brown leather shoes completed the normal businessman’s attire of a typical island attorney and others involved in official business.

When Darren didn’t answer, the man slowly squatted down to bring his eyes to the level of Darren’s own.

“Who are you?” Darren asked, his voice a whisper, knowing he wasn’t himself yet following what had happened.

“A friend of the family,” the man said, with a reassuring smile, before flicking his gaze to the beauty of the Queen Surf waves breaking on the beach just beyond.

The morning light glinted briefly from a green stone on the man’s left ring finger, where normally a wedding ring would have gone. Darren focused and then was surprised. He knew that ring or one like it. Jimmy’s father wore the same ring but not on his left hand. It was a West Point graduation ring. The man was Army and he wasn’t an enlisted man, either.

“Do you want to know what happened?” Darren asked him when the man didn’t speak again.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” he replied, the smile fading from his facial features. “Others will look into that. I’m just here for intervention and assistance. Is there anything you need?”

Darren breathed in and out slowly. Very rarely in his life had anyone asked him if he needed help. He was used to making it on his own, or with Jimmy or his brother or someone close to his own age making decisions with him.

“I want to go to Tripler to be with Jimmy,” he asked, his tone hopeful. “There’s also Jimmy’s dad’s car parked in front of the Moana where my mom works. I don’t have the keys to take it home.”

“Corporal,” the West Pointer said, over his shoulder, even though it seemed that there was nobody near enough to hear him.

A young man, seemingly little older than Darren himself, peeled away from a small group of Honolulu police officers, civilian attired men and the locals who Jimmy and Darren had encountered only minutes earlier, and walked quickly, stopping a few feet short of them.

“Sir,” was all he said, standing so stiffly it seemed like the mildest trade wind breeze coming in off the ocean water might make him teeter and fall.

“Stand at ease, corporal,” the West Pointer said, without turning to face the corporal.

“It would appear that this young man is a confidant of our subject,” he went on. “It would appear that he needs to get to Tripler to be with his companion.”

“Sir,” the corporal answered, his version of standing at ease being no different than the position he’d assumed when he’d walked across the grass to them.

“Where are the keys to the Corvair?” the West Pointer asked, his voice little more than a whisper into the slight wind coming from across the top of the breaking surf across the sand in the distance.

Darren was so distant from the scene he didn’t realize the question was and had to be, directed at him. He looked into the man’s steadying gaze, his big brown eyes not seeming to blink at all while he waited.

How did the man know that the car they’d driven to the Moana was a Corvair? Darren knew it didn’t really matter, but all of a sudden everything seemed to matter, and on top of that everything seemed to be part of some mystery Darren wasn’t capable of putting together.

He always puts them in his shorts,” Darren replied. “He always keeps them in his right back pocket so he won’t forget where they are.”

“Take the sedan,” the West Pointer said, still not looking at the corporal standing at attention only a few paces behind him. “Make to the hospital where the boy’s body was taken. Secure the keys from the pocket indicated by the conversational reply you just heard. Repair back to this spot in short order.”

“Sir,” the corporal replied, but not moving from his position after saying the only word he seemed to know or use when responding to the strange, laid back, but obviously a very powerful man.

“Maximum speed,” the West Pointer ordered, his voice almost too quiet for even Darren to hear, and he was much closer than the corporal.

Still, the corporal didn’t move.

“Sir,” the corporal whispered back for the fourth time, but the intensity of his whisper was much greater than the West Pointer’s as if he was waiting for something more that gave every appearance of being vitally important.

“Execute,” the West Pointer said, waving the hand with his ring on it backward languidly, but to no effect, because at the instant the word execute was said, the corporal had disappeared, his exit so fast and quiet that it seemed the entire exchange between the three of them had been choreographed and practiced many times.

Through the fog of whatever had appeared in his mind following the violence committed on his friend Darren was still able to realize that what had happened in the time since, and the communications dealing with it, was among the very most extraordinary he’d ever experienced in his short life. The corporal was gone, leaving Darren alone with the strange man again. He thought about what had happened, and then it came to him that the man had used the words “the boy’s body,” in describing Jimmy.

“Is Jimmy dead?” Darren squeaked out, trying not to let his voice break, but not succeeding, thankful for the covering whirl and banshee whine of an unlikely helicopter somewhere very low and nearby.

“Not to my knowledge,” the West Pointer replied, and then quickly continuing, “I’m sorry I gave you that impression with my description a few seconds ago. He was in good condition when they transported him, and I’m sure the Tripler team will bring him back.” At that, the man rose to his feet and stood, letting the wind blow his shirt loosely around him.

“Are you leaving?” Darren asked, remaining where he was, his legs almost too weak to support him, he knew.

“I will remain on station for as long as it takes for the corporal to retrieve the keys to the automobile so that you can proceed to the hospital in that conveyance and be with your friend,” the man said as if formulating the plan in his mind as he spoke. “I will then visit your mother to instruct her on your whereabouts and the situation. Your father is known. Your father will be reached. Your father will understand that you are in good condition and will return home in short order.”

“Why is all this happening, and who are you really?” Darren could not help asking, finally getting full control of his voice again.

“I’m a friend of the family, and now your very own,” the man replied, his smile larger and brighter than ever before.

“What’s your name?” Darren asked.

“In due time,” the West Pointer replied, his smile beginning to fade. “A man of some distinction is coming our way now. I would advise, as your new friend, that you listen and then agree to whatever he proposes or recommends. You can merely nod your head if you are so inclined.”

Darren looked at what had been a congregated group of talking men, but now was a dispersing mess of cops, civilians, and the locals who’d Jimmy and he had so mistakenly encountered earlier. Two men approached, causing Darren to come to his feet. One of the men was the Duke, and the other was the big Hawaiian who’d struck Jimmy. Darren waited, watching them come, Duke, leading the Hawaiian as if he was leading a giant dog but one without a leash.

The Duke stopped well short of where the West Pointer and Darren stood waiting.

“Let’s move to a bench down the way,” the Duke said, pointing a short distance back in the direction where the Moana Hotel sat perched on the bank of sand just above the lightly beating waves constantly rolling into Waikiki Beach.

The Duke sat on the side of the picnic bench facing the zoo across the road, while Darren took a seat on the opposing side. Neither the Hawaiian nor the West Pointer sat down.  Both men stood just behind who they were so obviously with, and at a distance almost too far away to overhear the conversation.

The Duke began talking without waiting for Darren to say anything, or even introduce himself.

“This is what happened,” he began and then related the story of a surfing event gone wrong. It was a complete fable about how Jimmy had fallen from his board and how a big wave had come along and knocked his board into the side of his head. The Hawaiian and the other locals had seen the incident and rushed into the raging surf to successfully save Jimmy.

Darren listened for the full fifteen to twenty minutes it took for the Duke to lay it all out. He occasionally looked up at the Hawaiian, uncomfortably pacing back and forth on the sand, but said nothing.

Finally, the Duke was done. He opened his arms and turned his hand’s palm up as if offering a sermon.

“What do you want to do?” he asked, before lowering his hands back down to the table and waiting.

“We came to see you here,” Darren blurted out. “We came to get you to have Elvis do the dinner engagement you asked us to get and to let you know Sergeant Cross and Chef Wu are aboard. All we wanted was for you to get Elvis to come and let us know when you want it to happen.”

“That’s it?” the Duke replied, a huge smile revealing his perfect white teeth. “That’s all you want?” he asked. “That and to go and see your friend and take him home when they fix him?”

Darren remembered the advice his new friend, the West Pointer, had given him and wondered if he should not simply shut up, nod, and then wait for the corporal to bring the car keys. More than anything, however, he just wanted to return to what it had been before, without people asking him what he wanted or talking in such a funny way that it took extra time just to figure out the meaning of the words they were using.

The sound of the drumming roar of the helicopter once more came in to allow Darren to delay saying whatever he intended to say as if helping him to remain silent for as long as possible. The noise died down and then was gone.

“Why is the Army here and what’s going to happen with the police, and everything?” Darren finally asked, wondering if he’d gone too far.

“The Army will do whatever it is the Army has to do,” the Duke replied, his features gone serious, with a slight tinge of sadness thrown in. “The police have accepted the story. It’s a good story. Hawaii is the better for it and you boys, as well. Whatever price might be charged to certain people involved will be done so by others that do not matter in your life or that of your friend.”

Darren suddenly realized that there was nothing more to be said.

He nodded his head.

“Okay, Darren got out, “but I’d like to talk to my new friend once more about this.”

The Duke nodded back.

Darren turned his body to look behind him at the West Pointer, but the man was gone. Only the corporal stood, again at attention, his right hand extended. From the end of his hand, a set of keys dangling. They were Jimmy’s keys.

“Sir,” the corporal intoned, as before.

Darren realized with a rush that the only way the corporal could have gotten to Tripler and then back in such short order was by helicopter.   The helicopter had been for him. The enormity of the act of retrieving the keys did not escape him. When he turned back the Duke who was gone, moving slowly back toward the area where the Hawaiians were still gathered, the big Hawaiian moving at his side, but glancing back every few seconds to look at Darren.

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