THE DUKE

Part XXXVII

Darren stopped at the wall, waited a few seconds before leaping up, and then, once atop the wall, sat down on a projecting rock instead of jumping over the wire and down to the other side. He had to think the whole thing through, as best he could. Once again, he realized he didn’t want to think it through alone. Although Star made all the sense in the world, every time he talked to her about almost anything, it wasn’t always possible for him to put her words into any kind of rational action he could live with, but still, he needed her wisdom, but first, he had to get Jimmy’s opinion. Darrel climbed down, back into the base proper, and loped toward Jimmy’s place, only a few minutes away. Jimmy’s house was dark, even though it was early evening and the sun, although down, was still emitting plenty of red light, bleeding from over the horizon.

“Red light at night, sailor delight,” Darren breathed as he knocked on Jimmy’s bedroom windowsill.

The window was open, as it always was, and the screen secure. Jimmy didn’t like it if Darren yelled through the screen for him. He said it was low class.

"Front door,” Jimmy whispered out to him. His desk faced right up into the inside of the windowsill and his small lab-type light shone brightly, so bright it was impossible to see Jimmy beyond it.

Darren entered the front screen-door, cushioning it so no noise was made. It didn’t seem plausible that Jimmy’s parents were sleeping, but stranger things were known to occur regularly inside the military housing complex of Fort Ruger. Ruger and Bellows were both totally uncommon military bases, in that they catered to multiple services. Ruger was an Air Force base but was filled with Navy and Army personnel. Bellows was also Air Force, but the Marine Corps occupied most of its surface and sea area for beach landing and assault training operations.

"What’s going on?” Jimmy asked, hearing Darren creak his way into the bedroom.

The base housing, built of local unseasoned wood during WWII, was of the cheapest single layer variety. On a windy day, it was possible to see through the cracks between wall planks when the force of the wind made those boards bend.

Darren sat on the floor next to Jimmy’s desk, leaning forward to cradle his arms around his knees. He detailed all that Star had told him only a few minutes earlier, and then her conclusion…about his mission.

“So, what did you tell her your mission was?” Jimmy asked, turning to face Darren for the first time.

“I told her that I didn’t know,” Darren replied, somehow depressed about having told Star that, but not certain why.

“So, you lied,” Jimmy laughed. “I’ve never met anyone who is more capable of defining what his mission is than you. You always have a mission and you always know where you are in working with respect to it.”

"School,” Darren replied, his voice small in telling the truth. “My only life, my future, everything, is about getting to Saint Norbert's and then staying there.”

“Doubtful, that that’s your true mission in life,” Jimmy replied, “but I can understand how you might think that way right now. My dad says, anytime I feel like you do, that I should just wait ten years and then I’ll not only have gotten through the difficult period in fine shape but won’t be able to remember how intensely I worried about the outcome at the time.”

“You’re not helping,” Darren replied.

“I’m not here to help,” Jimmy laughed. “I’m here to be your best friend. What are you doing tomorrow to pass the time? Obviously, you won’t be working, not if Sergeant Cross has anything to say about it, not if we’re heading over to the Levy house as planned.”

“I’ll be here first thing in the morning,” Darren replied, getting to his feet and heading for the door.

“Don’t hang around outside if the lights aren’t on,” Jimmy said, not turning around when he said the words. “Mom freaks out…and I don't know about dad. Just go down to Star’s place and wait there. I don’t think she sleeps like a normal human, at all.”

Darren walked to the rear security wall running around the base and scaled up to the old broken barb wire. He stopped and sat again, this time facing in the direction of his home. The city was quiet. From the wall, he could still see Jimmy’s room window, where his friend sat working on another unknown and unrevealed project. Jimmy loved secret projects. Jimmy had been kind enough not to indicate that Darren didn’t have the best sleep habits either. Even if their sleep habits were similar, there was no way Darren thought he and Star could ever be anything, not as a boy and a girl together. He smiled grimly at the thought. He suddenly surged upward, looked both ways up and down the street, and then jumped over the wire and dropped all the way, a full fifteen feet, to the surface of the sidewalk below. He landed as Colonel Banks had once demonstrated, by letting his knees and ankles bend all the way until his butt nearly hit the ground, before rolling to his right and exhausting the force of the fall by balling up and performing a couple of rolling summersaults. He jumped to his feet and brushed himself off. Doing the stunt wearing a short-sleeve shirt, shorts and flip flops was not something Banks would ever have recommended he knew. The thought was another thing he had to smile about as he made his way home.

The next morning, after a decent night’s sleep, as his parents hadn’t bothered him at all and there’d been no fights between them, Darren took off from home at a run, before anyone else was up, and made it to the front of Star’s house in a near-record seven and half minutes.

Darren waited under the plumeria tree, taking in its usual welcoming aroma, the very gentlest of trade winds blowing so softly that he felt like the small area near the side of the house was doing its best to keep him company. He leaned against the substantial trunk of the short but stout tree, wondering, not for the first time, if vegetable life, or flora, as scientists called that kind of life, was sentient at all. In high school, he’d learned that the true most distinguishing difference between plant and animal life was movement. Animals moved, and quickly, while plant life, for the most part, did not, unless one considered movement at only the very lowest level, move much at all. Plantlife seemed to offer Darren more than that though, as he massaged the tree trunk lightly.

Darren heard the Monza before he saw it, the Corvair's four-speed transmission remaining in first gear as it made its way down the slight hill, and around the ball field that was the very heart and center of the base. Star had not come out, so he stepped into the street to be picked up.

“You ready?” Jimmy asked, grinning like he usually did early in the morning.

“For what?” Jimmy asked back, moving to jump over the door and get into the passenger seat.

Star came out of the house suddenly, the screen door to her home banging a few times as she walked the short distance to where the Corvair sat idling. Without comment or expression, she gently moved Darren aside, leaped over the top of the door, and slipped into the passenger seat.

“You coming?” she asked, looking straight ahead.

“Good morning to you too,” Darren replied, climbing into the back seat. “I don’t even know where we're going,” he went on, exasperation in his voice.

Jimmy put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.

Darren noted the portable transistor radio next to him on the bench seat cushion. Jimmy only put the radio in the car when they were going to visit the top of Diamond Head, but the back trail up the spine of the mountain started near where the Cannon Club was located, which was a walking, not a driving, distance away.

“We’re going up to the top to reconnoiter and get our plan down for tonight,” Jimmy said, as he dived the Corvair out through the main entrance to the base and dashed for Monsarrat. “First, we’ll circle the wagons and see what’s around us,” he went on.

“If you mean, by circling the wagons, we’re going around Diamond Head, then the reference is all wrong,” Darren said.

“Details,” Star replied, her voice drifting away as the Monza accelerated down the highway.

Darren leaned forward, so he could speak directly into Jimmy’s right ear. “Just how are we supposed to get up there if we don’t climb the club trail?” he asked, wishing he’d worn his tennis shoes instead of flip-flops. The trail across the top of the mountain’s spine always bothered him but it would be worse without proper footgear, he knew.

“Star will get us in, using the tunnel,” Jimmy laughed, poking Star in the side with the index finger of his right hand.

“Maybe. Those guys don’t always do what I want to do,” she said, “and it’s early. They may all be in bad moods or hungover.”

Jimmy guided the Corvair around the mountain, driving unusually slow. Darren looked out over the edge of the cliff as they passed along Diamond Head Drive. He saw Molokai in the far distance, which wasn’t usually visible unless they were up on the top tip of the mountain. The surf was up, and the trade winds were building, the breeze overpowering the wind generated by the car’s movement through the atmosphere.

For whatever reason, the lone guard at the outside cubicle set up near the tunnel entrance didn’t even have them slow when Jimmy drove up. With the gate up, he simply leaned a bit forward, peered at the car’s windshield, and then waved Jimmy through.

“Dad’s colonel sticker worked,” Jimmy laughed as he drove the car very slowly and carefully through the rough-cut tunnel.

“I thought your dad was a major,” Darren said, the tone of his voice quizzical in expression.

“He is, but he likes to have the little eagle over his sticker, anyway,” Jimmy replied. I don’t know how he got one, but they never give him any grief anywhere, not even at Pearl. Besides, Mom says he’ll be a bird colonel in no time at all.”

Jimmy parked the car at the base of the inside path leading up to the fortified tip of Diamond Head. The walkway had been lined on the side with pipe railing so the normally difficult, dusty, and windy hike up the outside along the exposed ridge became merely a relatively easy stroll.

They spent most of the rest of the morning and part of the early afternoon doing nothing more than listening to music blaring from the radio and exploring some of the fortifications that branched off to each side of the pillbox on the very top of the mountains ocean-facing edge.

They only talked briefly about a plan for the looming dinner, to be held at the Levy house, and only hours away.

“So, the plan is to show up and basically play it by ear,” Star concluded after they’d kicked around the fact that almost nothing was known about whom would be there or what their arrival might portend in causing acceptance or rejection.

They drove out of the secure facility inside the crater the same way they’d come in, except with their direction reversed. The guard was still there, and the gate was still wide open. The guard made believe he didn’t even notice their passing as Jimmy slowly guided the car out.

Returning to Fort Ruger was short and uneventful. Star went to her home, after which Jimmy parked the Corvair at his place. They’d decided, since the dinner was due to start at five-thirty, that they’d all show up together at Jimmy’s house, and then go to the Levy home from there.

Jimmy made the decision to drive the short distance to the Levy home instead of all three of them walking. They would arrive together as one unit and not seem, if seen, as if they were street urchins coming in to, as Jimmy put it, ‘graze for free in the Levy pasture.’

Darren’s heart fell when he saw the Bentley parked ostentatiously right out in front of the Levy home. The driver had backed it up into the driveway, making sure to leave no room for anyone else showing up. He was outside the car, wiping the exterior down with some sort of towel, white gloves on his hands. Darren noted that there were no other cars parked anywhere nearby, except for Jimmy’s dad’s governmental vehicle, and an official white car with the writing; “Department of Hawaiian Commerce and Consumer Affairs” on the driver’s side door.

"What a show,” Star murmured. “Most definitely Hollywood, all the way.”

For some reason Darren thought, as they walked toward the front door, it hadn’t occurred to him the Colonel would show up or even be invited. He couldn’t begin to imagine that the Colonel would gatecrash the event like they were doing, yet, if he’d been invited, then why wouldn’t Mrs. Levy have warned him? The only consolation prize in the whole developing mess was that if the Colonel was there then Elvis was likely attending the dinner too. There was still hope.

Star didn’t knock, instead merely opening the screen door and stepping through. Jimmy and Darren followed behind her.

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