The Duke


The Blue Island waited, quietly tucked in between two other buildings, all three linked together instead of having any space between them at all.  A small neon sign in the front window indicated that it was open, although, upon getting close, anyone would also notice that the light illustrated how dirty the window was on the inside.  The sign blinked on and off, with about ten seconds between each five-second segment.  Darren counted the time, as they stood near the curb, the three of them less enthusiastic about going inside than they’d been on the ride down from Fort Ruger.

“Well, it’s your call Darren,” Star said, shaking her head as if she thought the whole thing was a bad idea.

“Let’s do it,” Jimmy responded, “what have we got to lose?”

Darren reflected upon the simple obvious fact that only Darren had anything to lose, like his job, the four-hundred- and twenty-dollars Sergeant Cross was holding out for him, and any relationship he might survive with the Levy family.

He breathed in and out deeply but decided they really had no choice.  If they didn’t go in, then there was no chance Elvis would show up at the party and no chance Darren would keep his job or get the promised bonus.  Mrs. Levy had been right when she’d talked to him, he realized.  He was living a life of adventure although it seemed like, for all the world, he could only tell it was adventurous when whatever it was in the past.

“I’m going in alone,” Darren said, turning to his two friends.

“You think that’ll work better for you?” Star said, the smile crossing her lips possibly indicating she thought the idea of his going it alone a bit ridiculous.

“We’ll be out here to claim the body,” Jimmy said with a light laugh, turning to walk toward a nearby bench at the bus stop only a few feet away. 

Darren stepped opened the dirty screen door and stepped through the opening.  He noted there was no other door and wondered if the owner was an idiot or simply unafraid of being ripped off.

The place was nicer inside than he remembered.  The floor was made of a cream-colored linoleum and appeared to be spotless.  

Darren looked down the long counter and spotted the restaurant’s only customers.  Elvis looked up upon his entry, craning his head around.  A smiling man sitting across from Elvis got up immediately.  Darren noted the man’s distinctive battered straw hat and an awful aloha shirt.  The man walked toward him.  Elvis turned his head around and went back to eating.

“I’m…” the man started to say, but Darren stopped him.

“Yes, I know,” Darren said.  “You’re Don Beach of Don’s Beachcomber.”

“The man stopped in front of Darren.  “Actually, it’s called ‘Don the Beachcombers,” he replied, the smile never leaving his face. 

Darren noted just how good looking the man was, even with his dumb-appearing hat and other attire.  “Don Beach,” he said, for some reason not being able to stop himself. “That can’t be your real name,” he went on.  “You can’t be Don Beach and have a restaurant named Beachcomber on a beach.”

The man’s smile faded slightly.  “No, I’m really Ernie but Don Beach has worked pretty well for me.”

Darren noted the faded smile and tried to recover himself.  “My dad loves your place for the cheap but great Mai Tai drinks, and a whole lobster for only six dollars.”

Don’s smile bloomed anew, and he laughed. 

“Elvis is busy with breakfast right now, so he’s not having visitors or seeing any fans,” 

“I’m the guy who arranged the party at the Cannon Club for him for his birthday and I’m about to lose my job because he probably won’t show up and everyone will be mad,” Darren blurted out.

“Your point being…” Don replied, not moving an inch from his position standing directly between Darren and where Elvis sat.

“Will you tell him that, at least?” Darren asked.

“Okay, but then you’re out of here, right?” Don said, losing his smile completely.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Darren came back, not knowing what else to say.  Elvis was so close but so far away.

Don turned without another word and walked back to where Elvis sat.  Darren thought about running across the short distance but then realized it would likely be a huge mistake.  He could accomplish nothing by being considered a threat.

When Don reached the table, he leaned over Elvis and began talking.  Elvis turned his head, looked over at Darren, and then nodded his head with a smile.  

Darren’s heart soared.  There was hope. Elvis obviously remembered him.

Elvis looked away as Don finished talking.  He headed back to stand before Darren once more.

“The Colonel will meet you in the lobby of the Moana at three this afternoon,” Don said.  “Be there.  Elvis said you would be pleased by the results of the meeting.” He turned to go back to the table but stopped short for a few seconds.

“Tell you Dad thanks, and you’re Irene’s kid, aren’t you,” he said.  “Your mom does my hair and she’s great.”  Don removed his straw hat with his left hand and ran his other hand through a head of thick brown hair.

Why would a man with such great hair always wear a hat?” Darren wondered, even though his mind was in a bit of shock from discovering that he was much better known than he thought he was.

“Okay,” was all Darren could think to say.  He slowly backed up to the screen door, pushed it open with one foot, backing out of the restaurant, as if it was a saloon door in some old western movie set.  The man with the phony name of Don Beach stood smiling, his hat back on his head.   Darren wondered if Elvis would reward him for getting rid of an uninvited guest and potential troublemaker, or whether there was real substance to what the rock star had said through the famous bar owner.

Darren walked over to where his friends sat on the park bench, converted for use in allowing waiting bus riders to rest.  The bench faced the beach, located across Waikiki’s main street.  The Kuhio Beach break wall provided almost all the sound there was, as the trade winds had yet to arrive with the coming of full dawn. 

“What did he say, or was he there at all?” Jimmy asked as Darren swung around the bench to confront his two friends.

“I have to be at the lobby of the Moana at three, where the Colonel will meet me with whatever decision is to be made,” Darren replied.

“You talked directly to Elvis?” Star asked, astonishment in her voice.

“No, he was having breakfast with Don Beach,” Darren said, staring out into the ocean, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the breakwater.  He looked up and around, waiting for the first whiffs of the trade winds, hoping that the Kona winds from the east would not make their presence felt.  The Kona winds blew hot and were often filled with the remains of volcano debris and dust, hence the name Kona, where the active volcano of Kilauea continued to erupt on a regular basis.

“Well, what’s the verdict?” Star asked.

“What ‘verdict,’ Darren replied, frustration in his tone.

“What do we do until three?” Star asked.

“We could go surfing?” Jimmy said, shading his eyes unnecessarily, as the sun was rising but completely hidden by the mountains behind them.  A dull pale-yellow light barely illuminated by the white bubbles created by the breaking surf across the road in front of them. 

“How about breakfast?” Star asked.

“We don’t have any money,” Jimmy replied.

“We go home to my house; I make breakfast and then we take it to the zoo parking lot over there and chow down.”

Jimmy and Darren looked at each other, both with raised eyebrows.  

“I’ve never heard of a breakfast picnic,” Jimmy said, but the tone of his voice gave away a distinct uncertainty. 

“Really?” Star replied, not laughing but not saying the word with a straight face, either. 

“I’m in, “ Darren said, wondering what kind of breakfast Star Black might come up with, but having no doubt it would be something good and memorable.

Jimmy said nothing, getting up and heading across Kalakaua for the Corvair.  Darren and Star quickly followed. 

The early morning trip in the low-level light was unremarkable, except for the fact that Jimmy drove the turbo Monza at reasonable speeds.

They drove to Star’s home in the Fort Ruger officer housing in moments. The light was growing in strength through the period of the drive.  Upon arrival, Star climbed over the passenger door of the car and was gone.  Both Darren and Jimmy had discussed, several times before, the fact that neither of them had ever been invited into or seen the inside of Star’s home. 

Star was back in about fifteen minutes, carrying what looked like two or three paper grocery bags filled with stuff.  She tossed a large thermos into Darren’s hands when she climbed back into the Corvair.

The drive to the Honolulu Zoo was over in minutes.  The parking lot was empty.  The breakfast turned out to be many rolls of what Star called breakfast burritos.  Neither Jimmy nor Darren had ever heard of them, but the rolled tortillas were filled with wonderfully made scrambled eggs, chunks of bacon, and some kind of chili that tasted wonderful, until a few minutes had gone by.  

“What’s the hot stuff?” Jimmy got out, breathing hard halfway through his burrito.  

“New Mexico green chili,” Star replied, reaching back for the thermos she’d tossed to Darren.  She grabbed the big tube and unscrewed the cup at its top before pulling the rubber plug.  She poured white liquid, filling the cup before handing it to Jimmy.

“Milk,” Star said, as Jimmy drank the whole cup down next to her.  “It’s the only cure.”

“God, but that’s awful stuff, but tastes so good,” Jimmy finally said, while Star refilled the cup for Darren, who’s eyes had begun to tear.

Star’s next idea was to head to Ala Moana Shopping center, the largest open-air shopping center in the world, according to her.

The day passed quickly, their final hours before three spent walking the beach and checking out the carts at the International Market place across from the Moana.  

They stood waiting near the curb of Kalakaua, not far from where they’d started the day at the Blue Surf.  The Colonels Bentley pulled under the Moana portico at precisely three o’clock.  The big, elegant car stopped but nobody got out.  The valet staff of the hotel ignored the vehicle, like it wasn’t even there.

“Wait here,” Darren whispered to his friends, trepidation and a bit of nervous fear in his voice.  He crossed the nearly empty street and walked up to the back door of the Bentley on the passenger side.  The door thunked open, sounding more like a bank vault door than that of an automobile.

“Get in,” the Colonel said.

Darren slipped into the opulent soft leather seat, pulling the door closed behind him.  It shut with an even deeper thunk than it had emitted when he opened it.  He looked forward to where the driver sat, but the man remained stoic, not turning his head at all.  Darren noticed that the passenger seat was also filled. He stared at the back of the man’s head until finally, he turned.  It was the Duke.  He smiled ever so slightly, but then turned back to look straight ahead like the driver.

“Here,” the Colonel said, extending a white envelope out between them.

Darren took the sealed envelope.

“Open it,” The Colonel said, sounding like he was talking to a fourth-grader or less.

Darren tore the envelope open and cash pour out into his lap.  He instantly grabbed the bills and started stuffing them back into the torn envelope.

“Four-hundred-and-twenty-dollars cash,” the Colonel went on, “not counting the hundred I gave you back at the Officer’s Club.  Sergeant Cross has a check for a hundred and eighty dollars, what he calculates would be your remaining pay, with tips included, if you finished your tour there.” 

“I don’t work there anymore?” Darren muttered, in shock, clutching the stack of twenty-dollar bills closely to his chest.

“No, your toast and Elvis isn’t coming,” The Colonel said, the tone of his voice turning from disgusted to angry.  “The party’s over.”

“Where did the money come from if it isn’t from Sergeant Cross?” Darren asked.

“Get out,” the Colonel replied.

Darren didn’t move, unable to quickly process what was happening.

“Open his door and toss him out,” the Colonel instructed his driver.

Darren opened the door and got out.  He stood at the opening.

“What…” he said, but that’s as far as he got before the Colonel leaned over, grabbed the interior handle, and slammed the door shut.  Darren jumped back as the big Bentley eased forward to re-enter the light traffic passing by on Kalakaua.  Darren was surprised again, as he hadn’t thought the car’s motor was even running.

Darren watched the car disappear, heading back toward Diamond Head, the Duke’s profile so identifiable behind the passenger seat window, but the man stared only straight ahead…

Darren looked over at his friends, waiting across Kalakaua to find out what had happened.

Then it hit him, and he was forced to smile to himself.  He had the bonus; all of his pay, and he was leaving for college in less than three weeks.  Elvis Presley himself had taken care of everything, but it was the Duke, Darren knew, in his heart of hearts, who’d arranged it.  Darren stuffed the money into his right front pocket, before winding his way across the street, trying to decide exactly what he might tell his friends.  Saint Norbert College, located in DePere, Wisconsin, occupied most of his mind.

He was going to college and getting away from his parents, the local anti-Haole culture, and the subtly imprisoning paradise Hawaii offered, but at such a terrible price.