THE DUKE

Part V

There was only one person sitting in the room when Darren and Jimmy entered from the hall. Jimmy brushed against a lamp and had to settle it back on its table with both hands shaking in nervous anticipation about what he had glimpsed. A man sat at the far end of an overstuffed couch, next to the fake fireplaces set into the upper officer’s quarters on the base.  Judy’s father was a bird colonel.  Jimmy had started the ever-persistent rumor that the fake chimneys rising up from the houses were put there by workers with a sense of humor.  The chimneys represented middle fingers raised to all of lesser rank.

The man on the couch was Elvis Presley.  Not the polished costumed Elvis as seen on television, but the man himself, nevertheless.  He had the vague angled Elvis smile on his face and the jet-black hair, but that was about it.  He wore jeans and a mainland sport shirt, unlike almost all tourists who came to the island. Jimmy and Darren both wore the much more common island “uniforms” of shorts and washed-out aloha shirts, with bare feet. Sometimes they wore flip flops or go-ahead, as the natives called them because nobody could walk backward in flip flops.

“He…hel…hello boys…” Elvis stammered out, reaching for a guitar leaning against the arm of his couch.

Both boys stood frozen, unable to move or say anything in response. Elvis sat before them. Elvis Presley. And he stuttered. Elvis Presley stuttered. They were both dumbfounded.

Judy Levy came into the room with her sister Alice.  Both were beautiful, but Alice was unbelievably stunning. They were dressed as if they were going out on formal dinner dates.

“Did you guys say hello to Elvis?” Alice asked, sitting next to Elvis on the couch. Judy took a place sitting at the other end of it.

Darren and Jimmy both nodded to each other with big smiles, although neither had said a word since stepping into the house.

“Why don’t you guys sit on the rug by the fireplace,” Alice said, pointing across the room. “Elvis will play a few of his songs for you.”

They moved and sat down in unison, backs to the fireplace, cross-legged, as if responding to the order of some unseen drill instructor, rather than the beautiful woman who then took Jimmy’s place on the couch.

Elvis played a few notes on the guitar, adjusted the strings while staring intently down at his fingers, before truly beginning. He played two riffs and then sang Love Me Tender, one of his signature songs.

Darren and Jimmy sat as if hypnotized, unmoving and barely breathing.  Elvis ended the song with sign of sadness, but then, when the final note died away, he put the guitar down and laughed.

“Aura Lee,” he said, looking at both boys with merriment in his eyes.  “Real songs from…the…Civil War,” he managed, getting the words right but rushing the last two as if he was relieved he’d gotten them right, and also keeping his voice at an expressive level that more like soft singing than talking.

Judy and Alice talked to Elvis but neither boy would recall what they said, or even if Elvis answered. After two more songs, Return to Sender and Girls, Girls, Girls, from the movie Elvis was starring in, Judy walked over and reached down to take Darren by the hand, letting both boys know the session was over and it was time to leave.  They thanked Elvis but he ignored them, continuing to work at tuning the guitar.

“They’re filming down near the Moana Hotel at the volleyball courts next Saturday,” Judy said at the door.  “Alice said it would be okay if you guys came by. A lot of important people from Hawaii will be there.”

Judy smiled possessively at Darren while she talked as if she was offering the visit to the movie set with the idea of getting something very important in return.  Darren shivered a bit, but not visibly.

They headed toward Jimmy’s house, floating more than walking. Even though Elvis had never been a favorite of Darren’s he realized that the short performance in the Levy living room was something extraordinary, and was very special indeed.

“He laughed after he finished each song,” Jimmy said, his voice hushed in amazement, “and it was like there was a part of him in each song.  Like he was living it more than singing.”

“He stutters, or stammers or whatever they call it,” Darren said, in wonder.  “Elvis Presley stutters but nobody’s ever said anything. Not on television or the radio or anywhere. That’s amazing.”

That night Jimmy and his parents came to the Cannon Club for the first time since Darren had been working there. Darren was able to convince the hostess to give them the general’s table located at the outside corner of the place. Mid-way through the dinner Darren was able to steal Jimmy away from the table in order to show him Wu, the Chinese Chef from hell, chopping up chickens on the big cutting board in the center of the kitchen. Jimmy had never expressed anything but skepticism for Darren’s stories about the man’s violent attacks. They went through the swinging double doors together.

Wu stood behind his stoves, counters, and racks of inscrutably derived ingredients for his Anglo-Asian meals. Both boys stopped in front of the counter, behind which stood Wu, nearly as wide as the stove just behind him pushed up against the wall.  Wu’s face held no expression.  He stared intently at one boy, and then the other.

“Hey Wu, how you?  Makee good cookee aw a time,” Darren said.  You cook, you fat, we look, what dat?” Darren went on teasing the man.

He was rewarded with no change of expression at all. The Chinese chef simply stared, but as the boys were about to turn and leave the way they’d come in Wu’s right hand moved faster than the eye could see.  An aluminum foil-covered baked potato struck Jimmy in the center of his forehead, splattering everywhere and driving him right across the room and into the far wall of the kitchen.

“You’re nuts Wu, just nuts!” Darren yelled as he raced to help his shocked and injured friend.  He didn’t miss Wu heading for the ovens containing more baked potatoes, however.  He grabbed Jimmy by the arm and dragged him through the kitchen toward the back alley, dribbling chunks of hot potato as he went.

“C’mon, Jimmy. We’ve got to get you cleaned up or your parents will notice.  There’s a hose out back.  They staggered together through the door.

It took several moments to wash the debris from Jimmy’s hair and survey the damage. The alley was near dark, with only a single bare bulb illuminating it.

Other than a red circle the size of an orange in the center of his forehead, Dorrenbacher was uninjured. Darren knew the other boy’s mental faculties were in order because of the depth of anger radiating out from his eyes.

“I didn’t do a thing,” Jimmy hissed out. “He hit me. I can’t believe that low-life cretin of a low-life cook hit me with a potato.” Jimmy staggered around the alley, pressing a damp rag to his head.  He came to a stop and looked down, dropping the rag to his side.  “Who comes out in the alley to get supplies from the lockers here?” he asked.

“Wu,” Darren replied, looking at the long row of eight-foot-tall refrigerated lockers. “Nobody else, other than me and Sergeant Cross. Cross has a key to the lockers.  He’s always afraid of getting caught missing something.  His commanding officer sends people to inspect once a quarter, or so.”

“Help me with this,” Dorrenbacher ordered, leaning down to grip something.

“What are we doing?” Darren replied, bending down to help his friend.

“We’re pulling up the grate.  The hole looks about right for Wu to fit into. When he goes down they’ll have to pry him out of there using crowbars, or carve him up with butcher knives,” he said, starting to laugh a low evil-sounding laugh.

“You’re crazy.  Wu saw us come out here. He’ll tell Cross.I’ll get fired!” Darren argued, nevertheless pulling as hard as he could against the resistance of the heavy iron grate.

They worked for five minutes to get the grate out and then move it far enough along the length of the concrete so as to be invisible in the poor light.  Darren took a last look at the rectangular hole, the alleyway too dark to really see it, much less recognize that it lacked a grate. Jimmy went back to his table and Darren worked to bus backed-up tables.

Jimmy’s parents didn’t notice the mark left by the impacting potato. Dinner dragged on and on, until Jimmy’s dad complained about something to the hostess. Darren flitted in and out of the kitchen, moving as fast as he could to avoid any further confrontation with the mad chef…until Wu wasn’t there anymore.

Evelyn called to Darren, as he was leaving the empty kitchen to bus a table.

“Where’s Wu?” she asked. “He’s been gone too long. Go out back and see if he’s getting something from the lockers. People are starting to complain.”

“Oh God,” Darren whispered, slowly making his way toward the door to the alley, as fear began to build inside him. “Oh God,” he said to himself again, as he noted the barely visible black hole in the concrete and no open lockers. Wu was nowhere to be seen. Very slowly Darren approached the four by four foot square of blackness.  Hesitantly, he peered over the lip but only blackness met his gaze.

“Wu?” he whispered, with both hands cupped over his mouth. A low mournful moan came back up out of the hole. Hoping he’d heard wrong Darren tried one more time. The same pitiful sound came back. Darren ran for the kitchen, and then out through the serving area to the customer tables.

“Jimmy, can you help me in the kitchen for a second?” Darren asked, standing at the Dorrenbacher table, trying not to show the agitation slowly rising to the level of panic.

“Better help your friend son, or he may just leave a wet mess right here,” Major Dorrenbacher said, his humor so contained he didn’t smile at all when he spoke.

“Wu’s down the hole, just like you planned, except he went all the way down,” Darren said, as forcefully and quietly as he could. They walked quickly toward the back of the restaurant.  “I don’t know how deep the hole is but I think Wu’s pretty far down.”

They arrived at the black maw. Jimmy got the same groaning result Darren had.  “He’s down there alright. This was a bad idea of yours.  We need a rope.  If he’s not stuck, fat pig that he is, we can lever him up with one of those long poles over there, but we’ve got to move quick.  Somebody’s going to miss him soon.”

Darren found a thick rope near the side of the building, used to prevent trucks from entering the alley after hours. He removed the sign attached and rushed back to where Jimmy knelt at the hole holding the end of a twenty-foot metal pole. He mouthed the words Jimmy had spoken: “bad idea of yours.”  It had all been Jimmy’s idea, but that had changed in the other boy’s mind as the import of what they had done struck home.

Jimmy put the pole down. “Give me the rope,” he instructed, taking the thick hemp and moving his hands quickly around and around until he had a noose. “We’ll drop it down, get Wu to grab hold, and then slowly pull him out.”

He dropped the noose down the hole, having adjusted the ‘loop’ portion so it was about three feet in diameter. They knew Wu received it because they heard it hit him, and then his  gasp of shock and pain.

“Wu,” Jimmy yelled down the hole. “Grab the rope and hold on or put it under your arms. We’re going to pull you out.”

Darren was amazed at Jimmy’s competence under fire. The knot had been thrown into the rope in seconds. They’d only been in the alley for minutes.

Jimmy wrapped the rope around the pole three times and handed the end to Jimmy.  “I’ll use the pole as a lever about four feet from the hole.  Every time I push up on the pole we ought to get Wu about a foot up the drain.  Take in the slack each time and friction ought to keep him coming up, as long as you keep pulling with enough strength.  Got it?”

Darren nodded. Dorrenbacher worked like a piston. His body bent and straightened with some speed. It took thirty pulls to bring Wu to the top of the hole.  Jimmy almost dropped the pole, and Darren the end of the rope, when the disheveled chef finally appeared.  The noose was tightened around the Chinamen’s neck, and he was hanging onto it with both hands.  Jimmy pulled upward one more time as Wu struggled to remove himself from the drain.

Both boys dropped the equipment. Jimmy started to laugh. Wu was covered in black and brown junk of the most awful kind. His hair was a mess and his expression murderous.  He got out of the hole and crawled toward the kitchen door, trying to loosen and remove the choking noose from his neck.

The boys ran, leaving Wu to struggle. Once inside the door, they went no farther. They were bent over laughing when the hostess came in. Tears streamed down Jimmy’s face. He fought to wipe them away.

“Where’s Wu?  Did you find him?  Is he out there taking a break?” she asked, heavy scolding in her voice.  “I’m going out there myself.”  She opened the door and then saw Wu. The Chinaman was like an apparition.

Goop flowed from his entire body. He stood but wavered slightly back and forth as he moved slowly to enter the kitchen.

“You’ve been back there drinking, haven’t you?” the enraged hostess yelled.  “Get your act together right this minute or I’m calling Sergeant Cross.  I mean right now.”

Both boys fled to the serving area. Jimmy brushed his hair back and straightened his shirt and trousers.

“Elvis was great, but I’ll bet he’s never sent a Chinaman to hell and brought him back in less than twenty minutes,” Jimmy said as if it was something they did all the time, and somehow Elvis was the lessor for not having participated.

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