THE DUKE

Part XXXI

 

Jimmy’s usual parking place was available, without any cars in the slots in front of or behind it.  No parallel parking was necessary.  Jimmy pulled right in, slightly sliding the rear end almost into contact with the curb before stopping.

Darren climbed out, knowing the parking job was a showoff move for Star, and for no reason he could figure out, and not liking it.

“Do not go in and visit my mom,” he said to Star, as she came around to the sidewalk from the passenger side of the car.

“I didn’t do too badly last time, did I?” Star commented, however making no move to enter the shop as she had before.

“You couldn’t have really known that,” Darren replied.  “My family isn’t predictable, and I don’t need any more trouble.”

“They’re perfectly predictable,” Star replied, as they walked toward the grand main entrance to the hotel part of the building. "You won’t be out of trouble, as you call your life with them until you get to college.  I notice you chose to go off to university nearly four thousand miles from them.  Couldn’t find a college more distant?”

“It’s not the university,” Darren sullenly replied, not wanting to go into the intricate detail of why he was really going specifically to St. Norberts.  "University, the word, when used without the ‘a’ modifier is the European way to construct the phrase, not the American way.  I’m not going to university.  I’m going to "a university.”

“You are so very funny, and trying to be snobby while I’m laughing at you,” Star said, as they entered the elaborately beautiful lobby area.

“I’m right,” Darren said, stubbornly.

“Well, sort of,” Star replied.

“Stop picking on him,”  Jimmy chimed in.  “He’s the only best friend I’ve got.”

“I’m still right,” Darren said, buoyed up by Jimmy’s seeming defense.

“You’re not going to a university,” Star said, almost absently.  “A university is a collection of colleges.  You are going to a single college, and a pretty small one, at that.”

Darren almost stopped dead, as they ambled down the back veranda stairs toward the open area near the beach where the breakfast buffet was set up.  Star was right.  How could he have forgotten or missed that salient fact in the heat of his wanting so badly to find the young girl wrong?  He trailed behind both Jimmy and Star, looking at her back, but not in resentment.  He knew what it was he had missed.  Star wasn’t a young girl at all.  She wasn’t even a girl. She was a woman like Mrs. Levy was a woman and both women had the ability to think outside a box. He felt contained within the box.

As they approached the local island woman obviously running the breakfast area, Star looked back at Darren.

“Don’t feel so bad,” Star whispered over her shoulder.  “Stop fighting it.”

“Stop fighting what?” he whispered back, wondering why they were whispering.

Jimmy could hear every word they were saying and the local woman at the counter, standing stoic and waiting, likely wouldn’t have cared less about anything they were saying.

“Fighting what?” Darren asked, unable to stop himself, even though he found the conversation to be deeply disturbing.

“Stop fighting the fact that you can use smart experienced people to your advantage instead of trying to make believe you’re one of them,” she gushed out, this time not bothering to whisper.

“He’s just a boy,” the local woman said, surprising all three of them.

Darren read her pink name tag. It said “Henrietta.”

“Thanks, Henrietta,” Darren murmured to the woman.

“You the three the Duke’s waiting for?” Henrietta said, moving to the side of her small podium, her wildly flowered Muumuu dress sweeping around, as a gust of early morning trade wind blew right through the whole restaurant.

“This way,” Henrietta said, throwing her left arm outward and then bringing it around to direct them inside toward the ocean.

Darren smiled to himself as he followed Jimmy and Star. One of the things he truly loved about the island population was the way they were able to turn just about everything into some sort of song or dance.

The Duke sat at the only table with a view of everything. The breakfast serving area, an area about a quarter of the size of a football field, had only the one corner. The view of Diamond Head to the left and then sweeping out and across the entire visage of Waikiki until being limited only after viewing all the way out to Pearl Harbor on the right was stunning. The morning sun was still out over the back of Diamond Head’s lower rear flank. Darren guessed that it would rise shortly over almost exactly the position where his house was located. Whether that was a good or bad omen he didn’t want to think about.

“Three more Kona coffees,” the Duke intoned, without saying good morning or anything else. For some reason, Darren noted, he also sat with his back to the corner, instead of facing into it. His only view was the interior of the breakfast area and possibly a bit on into the seaside of the lobby.

“I don't normally drink coffee,” Jimmy said, taking the chair nearest the sand.

“I’m just ordering it, not having you drink it,” the Duke intoned, as if he was ready for such an encounter... “and also…what makes you think there’s anything normal about any of this?”

Star sat down in the chair next to Jimmy. There was one more chair, the one at the right hand of the Duke, but Darren didn’t sit down in it. He waited.

“Sit,” the Duke finally said, after taking a sip of his own coffee from a mug that was obviously and specially kept for him. On the side of it was written: “Duke of the World.”

“Thank you,” Darren replied, taking the seat.

“Good to see that manners have not been lost to all of our young.”

Darren looked over at Jimmy and Star, but both looked out toward the small shore break just a few yards away. Conditioning from home had forced Darren to wait to be seated, not his respect for the Duke, but at the very least it’d also one-upped Star for the first time he could remember.

Henrietta showed up with a local boy, no older than ten. He carried three steaming coffee mugs, none of them with any writing on them, plus two clear glass beakers of what appeared to hold cream or milk.

“Sugar on the table,” Henrietta sang. “Kahala Boy brings you coffee and cream to your taste and at the Duke’s command.”

The older islanders' perfect pitch and beautiful voice made the strange singing bit work, at least for Darren. He noted that the Duke rolled his eyes slightly before joining Jimmy and Star to look out over the wonder of the early morning Waikiki scene.

“Kahala Boy seems a rather strange name for a Hawaiian kid,” Darren commented to Henrietta, as he poured a liberal amount of the cream into his mug.

“No,” Henrietta sang back, using four syllables instead of one. “He’s all Hawaiian and that’s his nickname. He gave it to himself.”

“He’s from Kahala?” Darren asked, surprised since Kahala was the most expensive single neighborhood on the island.

“No,” Henrietta said, “he just wants to live there someday.”

“Play the music,” the Duke instructed, and then, at our pleasure, we’ll serve ourselves from the buffet.”

Darren was expecting local Hawaiian music to come from the outdoor speakers spaced all around, but after about two minutes since Henrietta and Kahala Boy disappeared, the music that came from the speakers was that of the Four Seasons, Jimmy’s, and Darren’s favorite group.

“Walk like a man,” was playing. The second stanza, which Darren knew by heart although the single had just been released, bit into him. “He said walk like a man my son, talk like a man, walk like a man my son, no woman’s worth…” Darren tried to get his mind out of the song and back to the table. The song seemed to mimic the situation Darren was in with Judy, except here was his supposed father advising him to move on…which his real dad would never bother to notice much less advise.

“You like the Four Seasons?” Jimmy asked, near breathless with enthusiasm.

“Not necessarily,” the Duke replied, sipping more from his coffee.

Star put her mug down in front of her.

“So, this Elvis party has real deep meaning for you, doesn’t it?” She asked, staring straight into the Duke’s eyes.

“Not much gets by you, does it, Miss Black,” the Duke replied.

“Don’t Miss Black me,” Star shot back, no warmth in her tone at all. “You invite us here, play that music, including a song you somehow know, will strike deep, and talk

The Duke by James Strauss

Duke Kahanamoku

like you're some sort of eastern guru rather than the great man I know you to be.”

“You’re all leaving,” the Duke replied as if he’d not heard a word Star had said. “I’m here for life. I was just let go as sheriff of the island and now I’m some sort of decorative greeter or doorman to the culture. I need to make some moves unless I want to be stuffed to make a statue down by the beach.”

There was a silence. Darren was blown away. The Duke was talking truth and baring his soul to three teenagers. It was as sad as it was wonderful. How could anyone rise as high as the Duke had and then become what he considered only a decorative flower? More like a lei, to be brought out for special occasions, worn for a short period, and then thrown into the sea to wait, and watch, for its possible return. Leis that were tossed into Honolulu Harbor from departing cruise ships were watched closely by their former owners. If the lei returned to pier nine, where visiting cruise shipped berthed, it meant that the person who’d thrown it was going to return to the island again at some future date.

“We’re going to help in any way we can,” Darren suddenly said. “All three of us. There’s a dinner and we’re going to crash it with Mrs. Levy’s permission, in order to be there so she can convince him we’re worth his doing it for.”

“I thought as much,” the Duke replied.

I noted that neither Jimmy nor Star said a word or made any assent to the loyalty to the Duke that I’d exhibited.

“That’s not why you’re here, however,” the Duke said.

“What’s going on?” Jimmy asked.

“Let’s get breakfast first,” the Duke replied, getting slowly to his feet.

The buffet was sumptuous, only possibly surpassed by the buffet offered by the Royal Hawaiian, located a few steps up the beach, and known as the only real five-star hotel in all of Hawaii.

The Duke came back to the table fully ten minutes after all three teenagers were engulfed in downing the biggest breakfast of their lives. Half-eaten plates littered the table. The Duke came back with a small bowl of Miso Japanese soup, filled with all sorts of weird-looking vegetative matter, or that’s how it seemed to Darren.

The Duke didn’t speak as they all continued to eat. He finished his soup and waited. Slowly, Jimmy, Star, and Darren finished their meals. Henrietta attended the table, singing questions about anything else they might want, while Kahala Boy did all the work of clearing the plates and silverware.

“Guava juice,” the Duke stated.

“I’m not much on guava juice,” Jimmy said, before recovering himself. “Oh, of course,” he said after a few seconds of looking into the Duke’s eyes. “I forgot. I’ll have a guava juice too.”

“You’re here,” the Duke said, very quietly, after Henrietta and Kahala were gone, “because of what might happen if this all goes the wrong way.”

“Oh Jesus,” Star whispered across the table.

“Ah, I don’t understand,” Darren said, with Jimmy nodding his head.

“He can’t take the hit, the fall,” Star murmured, her eyes only on the Duke.

The Duke slowly shook his head.

‘You got too far in to back out,” Star went on. “I should have guessed, but I didn’t.”

The Duke sighed, as Henrietta escorted Kahala to the edge of the table and then distributed the overly tall glasses filled with the strange pinkness of pure guava juice. The Duke waited until they were gone again. He said nothing, before taking a glass into his hand and drinking. He sighed deeply after putting the glass back down.

“What do you want us to do?” Darren finally asked, interested, and afraid at the same time. Each time his path seemed cleared ahead something came along and created some kind of impassible impossible monster of a logjam.

“You have important fathers, you know important men who live near the edge of the netherworld. I need someone or some group to take the heat if this doesn't work out.”

Darren’s interest disappeared, instantly overwhelmed, and buried by fear. Just the phrase ‘you know important men who live near the edge of the netherworld’ terrified him. He knew he knew those men, all around him in his small high school life, but he never ever thought about them. His own father, Jimmy’s father, Colonel Banks, the Special Forces team nearby, the base admiral, and more.

“Can we talk about this among ourselves for a bit?” Star said, sounding, for the first time Darren could recall, unsure of herself.

“Of course,” that’s why I assembled you,” the Duke said. “I have no idea what to do, but I knew you three would come up with something, with those you know, with those you have used.

Darren wanted to run, to apply to St. Norbert's to take him now, to escape on some rich man’s yacht sailing off to anywhere, but he knew, in his heart of hearts that he wasn’t going anywhere. Neither Jimmy nor Star would be thinking their way through this one. There was only one underrated, nearly unknown, and fully unpalatable person. Darren sat, waiting for them to break up and leave, his breakfast sitting like a giant Civil War cannonball in the middle of his distended stomach. He didn’t feel bad, however, only afraid, and he was becoming used to being afraid.

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