THE DUKE

Part Six

Sunday dinner at the Cannon Club was the big event of the week.  Darren went in early, more to figure out how to accommodate, or at least survive, the rage Chef Wu would be expressing, than anything else.  There was always cleaning to be done so nobody ever argued about the hours, but then Darren’s compensation was based almost completely on tips anyway.

With great trepidation, and waiting until Evelyn, the hostess, was inside the kitchen, did Darren gingerly push through the swinging double doors and enter after her.  Wu stood as he had the evening before, wearing his pristine white uniform and ridiculous chef’s hat that made his squat round head look like a mushroom. The short, but extremely stout, man gave no indication of what, if any, emotion he might be feeling. His face was as impassive as that of any great poker player.

Darren attempted to creep past the hostess to access the shelves where water glasses and plates were stored but he didn’t get far.

“You, Darren boy. You, I talk to you,” Wu said, his voice harsh and gravelly.

One stubby arm extended out from the short but very powerful man. A single finger pointed and pinned Darren to his spot before the dish rack.

Darren turned white, balancing his weight equally on both feet with knees bent, ready to dodge in any direction should an object fly from Wu’s other hidden hand.

The hostess disappeared through the doors to the dining room, leaving the twin panels swinging back and forth, squeaking gently until they finally stopped. The kitchen grew almost totally silent, with only the quiet hiss of gas flowing steadily from under the twin cooking grills.

“You, and other boy, you save Wu’s life,” the Chinaman said, slowly dropping his arm back to his side.  Wu then bowed at the waist, his bow so deep that his head nearly touched the hot grill in front of him.

“I honor you,” Wu whispered, his voice almost impossible to hear with his face pressed down only inches from the grill.  “I respect you. You friend to Wu.  No one has ever saved Wu’s life before.”

Darren was dumbstruck.  He found it hard to believe what he was hearing.  Wu had come away with a completely different interpretation of what had happened the night before, which only began to make sense after Darren started to think about it.  Wu had no inclination that the boys had removed the grate in order to have him fall down the shaft underneath it.

The chef had no idea that they’d only saved him because they were afraid of getting caught by Sergeant Cross, or worse.

“You are a great chef Wu,” Darren said.  “We appreciate your genius in the kitchen so we can all have jobs.”

He watched Wu’s head slowly rise up. The man’s beetle brows knit together, as if in surprise or wonder, or possibly with the anger in understanding what had truly happened.

Darren wondered if he’d overdone his compliment, but Wu only bowed again.

“Good friend.  Good friend to Wu. Other boy too,” the chef said.

Darren worked his shift, realizing for the first time since starting the job the summer before, that it was much easier to work with the chef’s support and friendship than it had been before. He wondered if his own situation back at Thornton Fractional High School, back in Calumet City, where he’d been brutalized by bigger students, had influenced his own conduct with the Chinaman.  His teasing had been non-stop, followed by violence or attempts at violence. He hated to think that he might have had a role to play in Wu’s prior bad conduct.

Saturday morning came early for both Darren and Jimmy. They were not going to miss anything by being late for the beach film shoot at the volleyball courts near the Moana Hotel. They considered themselves personal friends of Elvis Presley and nothing could have kept them from showing up to be a part of the film set.

Judy was going to be there just before ten, and escort them through security. Darren had avoided seeing her through the week, knowing he had less chance of screwing up his first-ever visit to a movie set than if he saw her.

“What have you got against going steady with Judy?” Jimmy probed as they blasted down Monsarrat Ave toward Waikiki.  The turbocharged flat six-cylinder of the engine screaming in protest, as Jimmy refused to shift until the thing was running beyond the redline.

“She’s pretty and has this wonderful body, and she had us over to meet Elvis.”

Darren would have preferred turning the radio up and singing at the top of his lungs but he could not avoid Jimmy’s questions for long, that he knew.

“I’ve been up to her bedroom,” he confessed, deliberately changing the subject to one that Jimmy could not possibly avoid.

The Corvair Monza Spyder swerved, almost hitting a parked car, as Dorrenbacher jerked the steering wheel, and nearly losing control. He caught the mistake and got full control of the wheel again.  They continued driving down the side of Diamond Head on Monsarrat Ave way over the speed limit.

“Bedroom?” Jimmy finally got out. “You’ve been to her bedroom?  In her bed?  Have you…” but he didn’t finish the question.

“No, not in her bed, well, maybe sitting on the edge of it, but nothing else,” Darren replied.  “What I saw while I was sitting there bothered me though.”

The wind swirled around the inside of the convertible and music from the radio made further speech almost impossible inside of the car until they got to the red light located at the bottom of the road next to the library.

“It was her mirror,” Darren said into the comparative silence.

“Mirror?” Jimmy gasped out, his voice filled with shocked amazement.  “What could her mirror have to do with anything?  Have you lost your mind?”

Jimmy turned right and headed the Corvair down Ali Wai Boulevard at low speed in the traffic, as he talked.  “Mirror, mirror on the wall…that sort of thing?” he kidded.

“No,” Darren responded, “nothing like that.  It was the photos.”

“Tell me,” Jimmy ordered. “Are you going to make me drag this out of you word by word? You were on her bed and you were looking at her mirror instead of her. Go on.”

“She has class pictures of every boyfriend she’s had in high school,” Darren said, softly.  “Across the top of her mirror. Two rows. Twenty-six class pictures. The week before she took me up there to her bedroom she asked me for my class picture. It’s creepy. I feel like she’s waiting to go steady so she can glue me up there. I don’t want to be up on that mirror.”  Darren looked over at his friend when he was done.

Jimmy said nothing for almost one full minute, making like he was intently driving along the side of the Ali Wai Canal and that act required his full attention.

“You’re right,” Jimmy finally said. “That’s the kind of stuff that’s way beyond weird. Did you give it to her your class photo yet?”

“No, I’ve been carrying it in my wallet. What if she asks me before she gets us onto the movie set?”  Darren looked out over the Ali Wai, wondering how he had gotten himself into such a difficult situation.

“Then you give it to her, of course,” Jimmy replied,  “Sometimes life requires a sacrifice of us all because we have to get inside to see Elvis perform.”

Jimmy swung the car to the left, accelerating down Metcalf and onto Kalakaua Boulevard.  He hit the gas and the engine’s turbo-charger wound up, making the little rocketing car sound more like a jet taking off than an automobile.  Both boys loved that sound.

“Us, us?” Darren replied, “what ‘us’ are you talking about?” but the Corvair was at top RPM and Jimmy couldn’t hear him.

They parked as always at the Moana Hotel and made their way over to where a crowd had gathered on the Diamond Head side of the hotel.

Judy was there with her sister, right at the makeshift gate.  A rope had been strung around a huge area. Inside and outside the rope were throngs of people. Star Black stood next to Judy, resplendent in a one-piece black suit that put every bikini-clad woman in the area completely to shame.

“Hello, Darren, glad you could make it,” Star said.  “I wonder why you didn’t tell me about this. Good thing Judy and I are friends at Punahou.”  She actually held out her hand so Darren had to take it.

Darren watched Jimmy turn to crimson putty, as his friend became mute and almost cross-eyed at the same time. But Darren didn’t have time to reflect on Dorrenbacher’s hopeless infatuation with Star because he glimpsed someone and something through an opening in the crowd. He brushed past Judy, Star and Alice, grabbing Jimmy by the upper arm and dragging him along.

“What in the hell is he doing here?  And what’s he got with him?” Darren whispered fiercely into Dorrenbacher’s ear.

Jimmy finally got enough control of himself to look from Star Black to where his friend was pointing. There was no doubt at all about who the man was or what he was leaning against.  It was Matt, the local Haole who ran the surfboard rental shop. And the object he was leaning against was the repaired surfboard the boys had worked so hard to fix.

“Oh no, if that’s who I think it is,” Jimmy intoned, turning as if to bolt back through the opening through the rope they’d come in from.

“It’s Matt, all right,” Darren agreed.

“No, the other guy. The old tanned guy. Right there next to Matt,” Jimmy said, not having to point as the tall distinctive figure nearby where Matt stood, immediately standing out from the crowd as soon as he was noticed.

He was big, stringy but looking extremely dangerous.

“We gotta get out of here,” Jimmy whispered bending over slightly to stay low in the crowd. “We gotta run for it,” he said, preparing to bolt.

“Won’t work,” Darren replied, gripping Jimmy’s arm all the harder with his right hand.  “Everyone knows us. And we’ll miss all of this. We can’t go. We need a story.”

“A story?” Jimmy exclaimed. “A story? Are you out of your mind…again? Your last story got us into this. Matt’s going to show him the board and then everyone’s going to know everything, and then probably kill us.”  Jimmy stopped resisting when he finished, defeated.  “I’ll never get a date with Star Black now. Never.”

“Oh baloney,” Darren said. “ Star Black isn’t normal. I don’t know what planet she’s from but it’s sure not earth. She actually likes you. I’m a bug to her and she makes me feel like I should be on a wall somewhere with a needle stuck through my center. But, unbelievable as it is, she likes you. And she’ll like it if we get tarred, feathered and ridden up and down Ali Wai Boulevard.  She’s not quite right in the head.”

Darren looked back to make sure the beautiful, but fearsome, woman was not right behind them. He admired and respected Star but he was afraid of her too.

“Come on, into the belly of the beast.  What do we have to lose?  We’re screwed anyway.”  Darren hauled Jimmy with him through the throng of moving jostling onlookers, only letting his arm go when they stood before the tall imposing man.

It was Duke Kahanamoku himself.

The tall slender native islander looked down at the boys. “Can I be of assistance?” he asked, in perfect English.

No pidgin and no accent whatsoever. It was almost like Cary Grant had asked the question. The boys simply stared until Darren got control of himself.

“We found your old board,” Darren gushed out. “We’re the guys who broke it, repaired it and then found your name on the side. We gave it back to Matt and he thinks it’s valuable because it was yours.  If it’s valuable then we don’t have to pay him two hundred dollars.”  Darren stopped, wondering where the idiocy he was spouting had come from.

The Duke stood motionless with no expression on his face. Matt wedged through a couple of people nearby to stand next to Darren with the surfboard dragging behind him.

“I got your old board Duke,” Matt said, extending a black magic marker, “I thought you’d maybe sign it or something.”

Still, the Duke said nothing, staring at Matt and then turning to examine each of the boys individually. Then a brilliant smile changed his face completely.

An impish glow radiated out from his eyes. He took the magic marker from Matt’s hand, leaned down and signed the board in large flowing script “The Duke.”

Without a word, he handed the marker back to Matt and made his way through the crowd.

“The Duke,” Matt read.  “Do you suppose everyone will know, I mean in the future, who “The Duke” is?

Neither boy answered, both too busy watching the elegant man disappear.

“The Duke,” Jimmy repeated, speaking for both of them.

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