THE DUKE

PART IX

 Darren slept fitfully in his bedroom at the house on 16th Avenue.  His brother had left for the Mainland, and St. Norbert College months before, so he had the whole room to himself.  Darren would be going to the same college if he lived that long.  The knife was a huge deal, and the fact that Jimmy had kept the thing to pull off their nearly ridiculous Elvis plan had just made things worse.  The good news was that his father was a warrant officer and therefore since his duties were much higher than that rank (Harbormaster of all of Pearl Harbor), he didn’t use his old boatswain’s tools unless there was something special to be carved or worked with.  Enlisted men’s attire was all set up to carry various things like knives, or fids or other hawser and metal cable working gear, but officer’s uniforms were not set up that way.

Whatever Jimmy’s whacked-out design was, to somehow, find, get to, and then interest Elvis Presley in anything, paled in comparison to getting another knife, slipping the new one inside the old leather holder, and then getting it back into his dad’s top drawer without him knowing it. Somehow, all that was to be done before confronting Judy Levy with an embarrassing apology about something he’d not been responsible for. Then he had to get her to take him back to her room so he could watch her make a lab specimen out of him by gluing his class photo to her mirror.  Finally, they had to get back to the Moana, where they hoped to have Judy guide them in to see Elvis again.

Darren’s dad had left the house at 0600 sharp. Darren knew that because it was the same every day, including weekends. Reveille. Dad had an old record of a recording of reveille for his RCA and that was turned on just as he left. Darren’s Mom said that not turning it on was conduct alone that would assure her of a divorce if he ever applied.

Darren eased the top drawer of his father’s dresser open, not caring about making any noise, as his mother was already in her car, about to leave for Lewis of Hollywood, the hair shop she worked in on the first floor of the Moana. Nobody was allowed in dad’s top drawer, not even her. One of the things inside was a loaded .45 Colt automatic pistol. Jimmy wasn’t afraid of the weapon. He’d found the Army Manual on it and memorized the information. Then, he’d waited until his dad had gone out to visit the bars that lined up and down Kuhio Street in the busiest part of Waikiki. The street catered almost strictly to the military stationed at bases around Oahu. Darren had disassembled the automatic in about five minutes and then put it back together and reloaded it.  It had been surprisingly tough to get the slide back on right, and that had scared him. The gun was about one of the safest ever made, as long as you knew how to operate it. His dad had a brown leather rig for the gun in his closet in case he ever got ‘the duty’ again. For some reason, the duty, all night long vigilance in an office at Pearl, required a .45 Colt to be strapped to his side.

Darren let out a long sigh. The rest of the drawer was not disturbed, and Darren knew precisely where everything was supposed to be. That meant that his Dad had not figured out the knife was gone unless he was playing a dangerous game of knowing and not telling, awaiting a time (of great pain) later to reveal the stunning violation.  But there was nothing to be done for it except call Jimmy and get him over, as long as Jimmy’s dad hadn’t taken the Corvair, in which case Darren was dead earlier than later.  He called Jimmy on the phone.

“When can you get here?” Darren asked.

He could picture his friend sitting in the kitchen by the big flat desk phone, set like a featured prize in the middle of the table, like it was some sort of decorator item.   Darren could call in the early hours of the morning because Jimmy’s parents both slept in almost every day. Darren couldn’t understand how any military family could live that way, but Jimmy didn’t care about sleeping in. Being up early gave him a certain, morning freedom, and also the car.  His dad drove one of the ugliest green 1957 Fords ever made, with Army markings on it.  He drove it most of the time because the gas at the base was free for Army cars, which made the Spyder available to cruise or drive wherever they wanted as long as the car was always brought back filled with gas. Jimmy had said that his dad would take the car away if they ever crashed it on one of their adventures. That thought terrified Darren because the Corvair was not only a convertible, red and fast, but it might be able to attract some other girl, other than Judy, who he might not be afraid of.  But Judy was all he had, and now that she knew Elvis, there was no way out for Darren or the car might be lost too unless Jimmy killed them all first because of his perfectly awful driving.

Darren worked to clean up the house before Jimmy arrived. Once the other boy came in, even for only a few minutes, the pristine surfaces of brass and tin had to be gone over again. Jimmy always marveled about the polish and ran his hands over their shiny surfaces.  As soon as Darren’s family moved into a house, any house in Darren’s world, his dad removed all the clear enamel on metal surfaces.  Darren and his brother would have to polish all Saturday morning until every metal surface, from doorknobs to fish tank, art frames and more, would all gleam for Saturday afternoon inspection. When Darren’s brother left for Wisconsin the entire job had fallen to Darren.  The only good thing was summertime because the school months called for work on weekends at home.  The other good thing was that his dad had doubled his allowance to fifty cents a week once his brother was gone.

Darren was waiting for Jimmy in his driveway, hoping that the boy would not lay rubber on the road in front of the 16th Avenue house, where the mayor of Honolulu lived two doors down and had already complained about the tire marks twice.  Mayor Blaisdell was a wonderful man everyone said, but he had a certain look in his eyes that made Darren fear him more than he feared his own dad.

“We got to get the knife,” Darren said, wanting to get right to it.

“I’ve got the stuff in the trunk,” Jimmy replied, backing the car out of the driveway and heading toward Fort Ruger via Diamond Head.  From there they’d hit the Ali Wai and on out to Pearl on Ala Moana Boulevard and the Nimitz. There were only three signals and it was early morning. The traffic would all be going the other way.

“Come on, we’ll pull into the Ala Moana shopping center and check out the stuff,” Jimmy said, looking for a place to get into the right lane.  “I polished those better than even you could, but of course, being military-grade ammo, the brass is probably of the highest quality.”

“No,” Darren said more vehemently than he intended.

“The knife,” he went on in the same unstoppable tone. “We do the knife first, get the hell back, I mean if we find one, then replace it, and that’s it.”

“What’s it?” Jimmy asked, his tone surprised but not pulling the car over and slowing down a bit.

Darren’s short hair blew in the gentle wind and the sun was shining from behind but the wonder of driving on such a great day in a great convertible didn’t reach him.

“There isn’t anything else,” Darren said.  “This is the one thing right now, and you have to say yes and not give me any of your usual entertaining garbage.”

“Look, you can count on me,” Jimmy replied, driving the car the speed limit. “I mean you can always count on me and know you don’t want to talk about your dad.”

The trip to the main gate at Pearl didn’t set any records, but they were there in less than half an hour. The time had been just before ten when Darren looked at the face of the giant clock near the top of the Aloha Tower, but that had been miles back.

The Marine at the base gate waved them through by executing a crisp salute. Darren smiled for the first time.  Darren’s dad’s car stickers didn’t rate a salute when they went onto the base anymore. The Marines knew he ran the harbor. They always gave a gentle wave to let the people in the car know that they were special.

“Where’s the knife store?” Darren asked, not being very aware of the big ship area of the harbor where the shops were.  The wrecks and the subs were the most interesting part of the complex as far as he was concerned.  Both boys collected the match-book covers every American submarine always made and gave away for free.  The sub crews let them climb aboard and look down the conning towers.

“There is no knife store,” Jimmy said, stopping the car at the corner where the commissary was to their left.

“What?” Darren gasped.

“Relax, I got you covered,” Jim replied, pulling into the big parking lot where both the commissary and the PX were married together to form one big complex.  “Relax, the knife shop is downstairs in the back of the PX.”

“Oh,” Darren replied, his relief coming out as a sigh.

Jimmy parked the car, as there was almost nobody in the PX part of the lot.  Many women were already pushing carts and headed for the commissary, however.

They walked through the double doors and it was as Jimmy described. A clerk stood just inside the door, holding out a small package.

“I called ahead,” Jimmy whispered to Darren. “I said I had you covered.”

Jimmy gave the clerk his I.D. and paid with a pocket full of crumpled one-dollar bills.

“How do you do it?” Darren asked.  “You call the PX at such an early hour of the morning, and they’re waiting for us when we get here?  Who can do that?”

“Your dad runs Pearl Harbor, but my dad has some connections too,” Jimmy replied, handing the small wrapped package holding the knife to Darren.

Darren pulled the brown paper wrapper off and felt immediate relief in examining its contents.  It was his dad’s knife, and it was so close in appearance to the other broken one that even his father would be hard put to identify it as different from the well-kept and highly polished knife he’d kept in his drawer or in his pocket.

“Let’s go,” Darren said, holding the object tightly in his left hand.

Jimmy started the car, still obeying all the traffic signs on the base.  Pearl Harbor was not like the rest of Honolulu.  If you got caught speeding or driving recklessly on the base you went to the stockade, and then very likely lost all driving privileges there.

Once off the base, Jimmy accelerated toward Nimitz, the main feeder running along the water toward Waikiki.

“Can I drive like a real person again?” he asked, as the air coming across the top of the windshield began to grow in intensity.

Darren nodded, looking straight ahead. The fact that they were going to successfully make it, with the new knife and in time, finally beginning to dawn on him.

The trip back was uneventful, except the rising sun was so bright it made driving hard for Jimmy, at least driving to see good enough to really make the Corvair perform.  It took only minutes for Darren to make the switch once they got to Darren’s home.  The knife affair was probably not over, Darren knew, but the damage would likely be minimized once his dad figured everything out.

Jimmy stopped the Spyder once they reached the library near the end of the Ali Wai Canal.  He pulled the fast and highly maneuverable convertible into the big lot out front. The library didn’t open until noon so there was nobody there, although Darren eyeballed the fire department building across Kapahulu Avenue.  Looking at, messing with, and then keeping ammunition taken from a Navy ship at Pearl Harbor, no matter what condition it was in, might be considered some sort of crime.

They examined the Bofors 40 millimeter round clip together but did so by leaving it laying on the floor of the Corvair’s front trunk, just in case someone might be watching.  Darren was amazed. Jimmy was a brilliant technician, and it showed in the restoration. The rounds had never looked so good.  The brass gleamed and even the lead rings that allowed the rounds inside the cartridges to grip the barrel sparkled like they were made of silver instead of lead.

“We’ve got about a pound of powder, but I don’t think these things were driven by gun powder or even dynamite,” Jimmy said, pointing at a wrapped container tucked into one side crease of the trunk’s inside.  “The powder’s white.  I think it’s something called Composition B, very powerful, and we have to be careful when we build the rocket.”

Darren noted that Jimmy said the words “when we build,” as if the construction of such a small dangerous vehicle was just another matter-of-fact part of normal teenage life.

“Don’t you think we should store the explosive somewhere safer?” Darren asked, backing a few feet from the trunk.

“Nah, it’s basically inert unless you have a detonator,” Jimmy replied, slamming the trunk lid, “I have those safely in the glove compartment.  We just have to figure out how to detonate for a slower burn than that stuff is made for, or at least I think so.”

Darren sighed to himself.  He always had the impression that Jimmy’s friendship might be the end of the both them but then he had to smile.  Jimmy had made the whole knife problem go away with the ease of a master-first class player in life.

“How did you get the cartridges to hold the bullets once you had them all apart?”

“Epoxy,” Jimmy said, firing up the Spyder’s 150 horsepower turbo engine.

“The epoxy kid,” breathed out Darren, as the car took off, leaving twin black streaks across the surface of the library’s sun-bleached asphalt surface.

Jimmy’s work and ability to fix almost anything with epoxy was legendary among their small circle of friends at Fort Ruger.  He had once glued the head of a model aircraft engine back together, after a Sunday crash at Sandy Beach. The engine had worked, flying that afternoon almost better than before, until they crashed it again.

“Okay, and now the fun begins,” Jimmy said, the Spyder consuming the short run up the Ali Wai in almost no time at all, until they turned to head over to Kalakaua, Waikiki’s main drag.  “All we have to do is find Judy, get you back in her bedroom with your class picture, and then have her take us to Elvis.”

Darren’s stomach, which had almost settled completely, shot through with a stab of fear.  His Mom worked at the Moana Hotel, where the movie was being shot.  If they found Judy, and if she did the photo thing (if that was even the reason they’d been denied entry at the movie set), and if they found Elvis, and if Elvis wanted the WWII artifact, and if they avoided being arrested for the possession of stolen property from Pearl Harbor (where his unforgiving father was the Harbormaster), then what could possibly happen that had any chance of a good outcome?