THE DUKE

Part XXXIV

 

Darren hadn’t even seen Judy since the very first discussion he’d had with Mrs. Levy and he instantly regretted that their first encounter would be in such an exposed and potentially embarrassing place and situation.  He decided that, since there was no place to run away to, that he’d face straight into the fire.

“Judy,” he began, but didn’t get past that word.

“Judy,” Judy imitated, deepening her voice, and drawing the word out.

Darren could not stop his face from instantly reddening.

“You sound like a mortician, using that tone,” Judy went on, laughing.

“And the prognosis is bad,” her sister added, causing everyone but Jimmy and Darren to laugh.

“We came to get you,” Darren said, straight to the Duke, stepping forward and blocking everyone’s path.  “It seems that the Colonel is letting us back on the set, but we have to be accompanied by you.”

The Duke stopped laughing, his expression going serious, as if taken immediately from the social setting back to the business of getting the Elvis party put together, which for unknown reasons was vitally important to him.

“We’ll walk to the Moana from here,” he murmured, disengaging himself from the arm of Star.

“Well, okay,” Judy said, “let’s keep this serious.”

Darren looked Mrs. Levy directly in the eyes, wondering about her strange relationship with him, and yet her obvious distance when anyone else was around.

Mrs. Levy looked away.

The walk to the Moana was accomplished in silence, the sound of their assorted footwear making a collective hushed but tapping whisper against the steady flowing patterns the trade winds shaped, as the wonderful moving air twisted and turned over the sand and then around the many trees that lined Kalakaua.

The Moana was its usual hive of activity.  The Duke cut such an important local figure, however, that the workers and tourists alike parted like the Red Sea as he walked through them.  Once through the lobby and out onto the back lanai, the great canvas shields blocked all views.  What was normally the Banyan Court outside bar was completely hidden, as was any view out toward the open ocean.

There were two blue clad security guards standing at the canvas opening that lead into the Banyan Court.  Both nearly came to the position of attention as the Duke approached.

“They’re with me,” the Duke said, as the big local men in blue instantly moved apart to let him, and then the rest of us, pass.  The Duke himself held the canvas door open.  His eyes met mine, as I went through last.  I seemed to feel the man’s very essence in that one transmitted look.  He was a nice fair man, my senses told me, but he was also very paternalistic, and it was that part that clearly came through in our impossibly quick exchange.  He felt protective of me, and it was a warm feeling.  I didn’t know how or why but I smiled as I entered the Banyan Court.  If it was within the Duke’s power, and he had a lot of power, then I thought I might be okay if he chose to use it in my favor.

The Banyan Court was filled with pockets of people, some working on the tables with papers and small equipment while others maneuvered larger pieces of lighting or sound stuff that Darren barely recognized for what it was or might be.

“Elvis is out on the set proper,” the Duke said, quietly, to his small assembled group that included Darren and Jimmy.

Darren looked out to the long stretch that lay between the outer step from the hotel’s lanai across about fifty or sixty yards to the edge of the lapping ocean waves.

A hand gripped Darren’s left upper arm tightly as he gingerly lowered his right foot down to the warm sand, and the real active body of the movie set.

“Come with me,” Mrs. Levy hissed into his left ear, and then he was physically pulled backward off the sand and back up to the flat rock surface of the lanai.  She didn’t let go once she had him there, instead walking him toward the wading pool, around it and on into the very back part of the hotel where Lewis of Hollywood was located.  Once there she turned him around.

Darren looked over his shoulder, wondering what everyone who’d been present when he’d been ‘removed’ might be thinking, but no one even looked his way, their interest on being part of the set overtaking every bit of interest they had.

Mrs. Levy turned him to face her, finally letting go of his arm.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her clear bright eyes unblinking as they bored into his own.

“What do you mean?” Darren sputtered out, brokenly, not understanding the question.

“You know exactly what I mean,” Mrs. Levy said, lines forming on her nearly perfectly smooth forehead.  “Elvis is coming to dinner and that’s the place he needs to be approached, not down in this mess of a movie scene where he’s never going to be alone, away from his handlers or in a mood to be generous about anything.”

“I didn’t…” was all Darren could say, before Mrs. Levy cut him off.

“You didn’t do anything, I know, because I got to you first.  Now get back down there to the set and stop Star Black.  She’s dangerous because she always has her own agenda, and believe me, her agenda has little or nothing to do with your agenda.  She’s nineteen going on sixty, but still nineteen and she’s never had any contact with the hard-bitten sort of people who run Hollywood.”

Darren had everything he could do to keep from backing up, Mrs. Levy’s delivery was so sharp and harsh when it came to discussing Star.  Darren had thought the two women to be the closest of friends, or at least on friendly terms, but there was nothing at all friendly in Mrs. Levy’s inflection when she spoke about Star.

“Okay,” he got out.  He was going to turn and head right back for the sand, in relief if for no other reason but he hesitated.  He needed to know what to tell Star to stop her if she went it alone with Elvis, but he was too late.  Mrs. Levy turned, as if on a dime, and was gone into the rear entrance to the beauty shop.

Darren walked slowly around the pool and headed through the gathered teams of movie workers back toward the step down to the sand.  He felt in his bones that Mrs. Levy was right.  The only thing she didn’t know about was the hundred-thousand-dollar price that Colonel mentioned to Star about Elvis attending private parties.  Darren didn’t think the Colonel was kidding and Star, in all of her brilliance probably should have thought better of telling the Colonel where and when the dinner was expected to take place.  Star had, no doubt, assumed that the Colonel was talking about the party at the club, but Darren didn’t think so.  The dinner Mrs. Levy put together was just another party to the Colonel, as far as Darren was concerned.

The movie set was a mess of activity but neither Elvis nor any of the actors were visible.  Jimmy, Star, and even the Duke wandered aimlessly among the many people working on different parts of either set construction, lighting, or laying rails for cameras to ride on.  They all ignored anyone not directly connected to their work.  Three small trailers had been towed to one end of the sand and set in a row, running from the concrete step down to toward the water, but not close enough to either to block foot traffic or be at risk from a high wave.  A generator ran constantly, set up between two of them.

Jimmy walked over to join Darren.  “Air conditioning,” Jimmy said.  “The stars stay inside the trailers because it’s too hot and windy out here for their makeup, hair and all that. Cool. That’s where we’ll find Elvis.”

“We’re not going to find Elvis,” Darren said.  “Mrs. Levy is right. This was a mistake.  The Colonel is re-directing us away from the dinner, which he’ll probably try to screw up now, and onto this sandy set which can’t work at all.  There’s no way we’re going to get into Elvis’ trailer here and when he comes out it’ll be to say or sing his lines and go right back inside.”

“Star,” Jimmy said, trying to say more, but Darren interrupted him.

“We need to back off and go with Mrs. Levy on this one,” Darren said, looking his friend straight in the eyes.  “This is no place to ask Elvis for anything.  This is a ruse by the Colonel to throw us off as he finds a way to make sure Elvis doesn’t show up at the dinner.  No dinner, no party.  No party no job, at least for me.”

“You can’t be sure of that,” Jimmy replied, still looking for Star, who seemed to have disappeared into the mess of the set area.

“Star told us what the Colonel said,” Darren went on doggedly.  “He said that Elvis had to be paid about a hundred thousand for such an appearance, and I don't think that man was distinguishing between an informal dinner at Mrs. Levy’s or the party.”

“That wasn’t good, but maybe this Colonel isn’t such a bad guy,” Jimmy replied.

“He threw Star out right onto the open street,” Darren said, exasperation beginning to come through in his tone.

“True, I’ll give you that,” Jimmy replied, “but it was in the middle of the park and there wasn’t much traffic.”

“You think he even bothered to look to see where they were or how much traffic there was?” Darren asked.

“Ah, I guess not,” Jimmy said, growing obviously more and more uncomfortable as Darren talked to him.

Darren looked over to the trailers where Jimmy’s concentration had shifted toward.  Star, Judy, and her sister stood right at the door to the trailer as if waiting at some fast food joint to be served in turn.

“What do we do?” Jimmy asked.

Darren looked at his friend for a brief second, realizing just how great a friend he was. In only a few seconds of conversation, Jimmy was on his side and ready for action.

Darren surveyed the crowd until his eyes fell upon the Duke.  He was the only man wearing a straw hat and flip flops with an open white shirt and white trousers.  He showed like a diamond sparkling in bright sunlight.

“The Duke,” Darren whispered.

Both boys took off, walking as fast as they could through the deep sand.  Darren reached down and pulled off his go-aheads, as did Jimmy.  Then they moved.  In seconds they were at the Duke’s side. The Duke was engaged talking to some members of a particular work crew, but he noticed the boys immediately.

The Duke disengaged, almost immediately, and walked over to confront the boys.

“What is it?” he asked.

“You’ve got to stop Star from trying to talk to Elvis,” Darren said, his voice lowered, but a bit of stress coming through in his tone.  “If she confronts him by surprise, in this environment, he’s probably going to blow her off, and then we can forget about everything right here and now.”

“You’re right, of course,” the Duke replied, his own voice gentle, as he looked over to where the three women stood ready and waiting.  “This is a place to watch, listen, and not speak, even for me.”

The Duke turned and moved toward the women without saying anything further.

“Hope he gets to them in time,” Jimmy said, just as the Duke reached the women and the door to the trailer housing Elvis began to open.

Jimmy and Darren were too far away to hear what the Duke might be saying but there was no missing what he did.  He grabbed Star by her left arm and literally pulled her over toward the ocean-facing side of the trailer.  Elvis climbed down the three temporary steps to the sand, closing the trailer door behind him. His head was wrapped in a towel as if he was wearing a turban and he held another towel in his hands.  Judy and her sister rushed across the few feet that separated them, but Elvis seemed to ignore them, beginning to walk toward a group of men and women surrounding a camera mounted on a tripod that was set on some miniature rails across the sand.

“The Duke has Star trapped and Elvis is ignoring Judy and her sister,” Jimmy reported the obvious, although he sounded more like he was talking to himself rather than Darren.

“Thank God,” Darren breathed out.

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