Jimmy trotted toward the great concrete arch of the Natatorium while Darren hung back, moving slowly but steadily toward the couple. The Duke was wearing his usual ‘uniform’ consisting of a white short-sleeved shirt, cotton trousers, and leather sandals. His still completely black hair gleamed with the sun behind him. Star wore a Muumuu dress, which looked like hell on almost all women who choose to wear the local piece of attire, but on Star it looked terrific.
When the four were together, the Duke led them through the arch and along a walkway that extended the full length of the built-in bench-type blocks where spectators over the years had seated themselves. He found a block that was unstained by the many birds that frequented the place and sat down to gaze down into the huge pool of gently swirling seawater. There was nobody in the pool since it was so early in the day. The multi-platform high diving structure sat on the outside wall of the pool, built in the late nineteen forties, looking like some sort of modern construct meant to bring the old ancient Greek style of architecture with a touch of modernism.
The quarried stone blocks were uncomfortable to sit on for any length of time, but Star, Jimmy, and Darren found places nearby where they could be close enough to hear and talk, but not too close for comfort. The Duke did not induce anyone to get too close, although he was among the most personable of men, as far as Darren was concerned.
“What have you figured out to do?” the Duke asked, once they were all situated.
“The plan is to have Mrs. Levy, Judy’s mom, approach Elvis,” Jimmy quickly replied. “Then she is to get him to come to dinner or to some other social engagement she comes up with, and then notifies us so we can show up. Time is short because the movie will be done filming soon.”
“And you two are supposed to convince him to attend this special function?” the Duke replied, obvious disbelief in his tone.
“Well, not exactly,” Darren said. “Mrs. Levy has a strong relationship with Elvis, so she’ll do the talking, mostly. We’re there because she feels sorry for Jimmy and me, and she thinks he will too.”
“Amazing,” the Duke said, coming to his feet. “I guess my work here is done. That I’ll be interested in some report on how this works out goes without saying. Star, I would appreciate it if you would get hold of me when you know something.”
“Sure, Duke,” Star replied, getting up, walking over and then giving the Duke a big hug.
The Duke didn’t respond, instead simply letting Star hug him. When she let him go, he took a step back and rearranged his attire by patting himself down, as if he was ironing out wrinkles she might have created. He turned and walked out toward the entrance, waving a ‘Shaka’ (thumb and little finger of his left hand sticking out with the rest of his fingers bent into a small fist) sign backward toward us without looking.
Darren looked at Star, who moved to take the Duke’s spot on the huge rock shelf, once again giving herself a position of dominance.
“Well,” Darren said, “this is a fine mess, and you are reporting to the Duke and not us,” he went on, unable to keep a small bit of jealous anger from his voice.
“I think his confidence level in your ability to perform might be a little limited,” Star answered. “So, you want to tell me what happened with Mrs. Levy and how you arranged for her to do whatever it is she’s going to do?”
Darren was stunned. It was like the girl could read his mind and inside it all the things he didn’t want to talk about with anyone, much less his best friend and Star.
“Okay,” he said after almost a full minute, sighing, and then looking down into the waters of the natatorium before replying. He poured out everything that had happened, from the moment he’d entered the Levy home until he’d made up an excuse to leave. When he was done, he looked up into Star’s eyes, feeling momentarily relieved but armored as best he could be against whatever it was, she might say about all of it.
“My, my,” Star began but was interrupted by Jimmy.
“That’s fantastic,” he said, “You’ve wormed your way right into the woman’s heart, and I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do. She doesn’t even notice my existence, but she likely wants to sleep with you.”
Darren grimaced but said nothing.
“You don’t understand women, Jimmy,” Star replied. “Sleeping with a teenage boy half her age isn’t on her mind. She never had a son, only two daughters. You are the son she never had. Unlikely as it seems, she sees you as the perfect teenage boy, as if her son would have grown up just like you, not that you are grown up at all yet.”
Unexpectedly, Darren felt relieved. If Star was correct, and she was correct about most things, then the situation with Mrs. Levy was nothing to worry about.
“When?” Star asked. “This all has to go down really quickly for it to have a chance of working.”
“I didn’t ask her that,” Darren answered, “but from her conversation with me I think she got that.”
Jimmy got up suddenly.
“Where are you going?” Star and Darren both asked together.
“Surfing,” Jimmy answered, nothing else to do right now. Want to join us?”
“I don’t surf, at least I never have,” Star replied. “The guys at Queens always want to take me out but I’ve never gone.”
“I’ll get a big board and we’ll take some waves together,” Jimmy said as if tandem surfing was something he did all the time.
In fact, Darren knew that his friend had never done it before.
“Okay,” Star said, “you can drop me at home to get my suit on and then pick me up in a few.” She jumped down from her rock and walked with Jimmy toward the arch.
Darren got up and followed them, wondering how Star had somehow entered herself into their lives, and in such a way that she slipped neatly right between Darren and his best friend. They got to the car, with Darren trailing behind. When they got to the car Star didn’t hesitate, jumping over the passenger door and into the passenger seat. Darren was aghast. Star had ridden in the car with them before but had always been in the back seat. Now he was in the back seat and she was upfront.
Jimmy jumped in on the driver’s side, laughing when he did so before turning the ignition key and engaging the starter.
Darren didn’t think there was anything funny, as he dutifully got into the back seat of the car.
The turbo Corvair engine did not start. It turned over and over but would not fire, which is the way it acted upon occasion but usually only after sitting for a long time.
Darren smiled secretly behind Jimmy’s and Star’s backs. Maybe there was some justice in the universe, he thought.
Jimmy got out after pulling the lever to operate the release for the trunk, or in the Corvair’s case, the hood. Darren got out with him.
“Why now?” Jimmy breathed, as both boys bent to examine the flat engine.
Darren immediately understood that Jimmy was enjoying the attention Star was heaping on him, but could not contain himself enough not to show his happiness that the engine had not started.
“Sometimes fate works for the best,” Darren said, thinking the expression not quite right or accurate but expressing a bit of what he felt about Star seeming to put a bit of distance between him and his best friend.
“Not funny,” Jimmy hissed at him, trying to unscrew the dual air cleaners that sat atop the carburetors.
He succeeded, pulling the two cumbersome metal canisters from the car and placing them on the asphalt. “Do your thing,” he instructed, before walking back to the side of the car and jumping back into the driver’s seat.
Darren waited, placing a hand first on the left-most carburetor and then his other hand muffling the right. He and Jimmy had performed the operation before. According to Jimmy’s father, the carburetors would leak out their fuel supply, held in tiny tanks near their tops, and muffling the air coming in, when the starter was turning the engine over, would suck gas from the tank up to the carburetors and allow them to spray gasoline down into the cylinders.
“Okay,” Darren said, getting ready to pull his hands back as quickly as he could when the engine started. Several times he’d been burned when he wasn’t fast enough. It wasn’t uncommon for the engine to backfire up through one carburetor or both, and sometimes both.
The engine turned over, and Darren pulled his hands back. Both carburetors flared flames six inches, or so, high. As soon as the engine was running the flames disappeared. It had been close. Darren examined both hands to make sure part of his fingernails had not been melted, which had happened twice before, but he was okay.
Darren replaced the air filters, slammed the hood down, and climbed over it, and into the back seat.
“Don’t do that,” Jimmy yelled, as he usually did. Jimmy was always afraid the sheet metal would bend under Darren’s weight, not confident that Darren knew just where to put pressure down without anything bending. Nothing bent.
Jimmy pulled out of the parking spot and whirled the Spyder around, slamming Darren into the right side of the car, hurting his shoulder a bit.
Darren said nothing, unhappy with his reduced stature, even though he knew full well that Jimmy couldn’t have started the car alone or been able to pull off getting the Elvis party back into planning without him.
The rides to Star’s house, then Darren’s and Jimmy’s, and back to pick everyone up again took less than half an hour. Jimmy picked up Darren last, saying that Star was the closer of the two, no doubt trying to soften the blow that, once again, Darren was riding in the back seat.
“Judy breaking up with you is a good thing,” Star said, turning her head, as the Corvair raced down Monsarrat toward Waikiki.
“A lot you know,” Darren shot back, more perturbed by losing his ‘shotgun’ seat than anything else.
“I know about women,” Star replied. “You have never even liked her, and, in fact, you’re afraid of her. You can’t be a boyfriend to a girl that you’re afraid of. It’s simple logic. Plus, when you go away to college, you’ll have a whole new collection of women wanting you even more than Mrs. Levy.”
Darren had no reply. He was stung. First Star had relieved him from his thoughts about Mrs. Levy seemingly making advances on him and now she was bringing that scary fact back to the forefront of his thinking.
“You have to be careful when you approach here again, about the date and everything else, or your fear of her daughter could be replaced by a much greater fear of Mrs. Levy.” Star laughed. “You sure have a way of digging holes for yourself you find almost impossible to get out of.”
“Oh, like I don’t have help in digging those holes,” Darren replied, his anger rising to the surface.
“Don’t be so sensitive,” Jimmy said, entering the conversation while turning so hard onto Ala Wai boulevard that Jimmy was thrown all the way across to the left side of the car. “Your ability to dig holes makes life out here a whole lot more interesting for all of us, so keep digging.”
They arrived on Kalakaua and Jimmy, once again, to Darren’s disappointment, was able to park right in front of the hair salon. They got out, Jimmy popping the front trunk hood and pulling out beach towels, something they never carried when surfing alone. Air drying as they made it back to the Corvair was usually the only drying they got.
Darren wondered what other surprises Jimmy had packed into the car for Star. Deep down, he also knew that he resented the easy-going nature of the strange relationship between Jimmy and Star. His own with Judy, and Gail before her, had been stiff and formal, even though he did not see himself as that kind of guy.
Star jumped out of the car and raced into the salon.
Darren got out and stood at the curb but didn’t move after that.
“What’s she doing?” he whispered to himself in wonder, more than to Jimmy.
“She’s saying hi to your mom, of course,” Jimmy replied. “She’s really good with adults, if you haven’t noticed, unlike us.”
“Right,” Darren breathed, still not moving.
He knew in his heart of hearts that Star’s visit would not play well over dinner when he got home later. The family dinner every night was among the things Darren dreaded worst, other than working with his father on the Ford. His memory of the mechanics of the Ford and all of its parts bothered his father so much that such work ended up being an attack session from beginning to end. Dinner with the family was worse because the interrogations began when the first food was delivered. Everything was on the table, from Darren’s schooling, coming college, money, job, Judy, Jimmy, and more. All of the material was ripe for biting criticism and advice. Much of it was alcohol-induced, as ‘happy hour’ at home was four o’clock to the second, and dinner wasn’t served until five. The dinner subject for this night would be all around Star and what she’d done or said while in the salon.
Star came out with a big smile on her face. “Your mom was out somewhere but the rest of the staff was great. I may get my hair cut there one day if I ever have that kind of money.”
“Oh great,” Darren could not help saying.
They moved toward the beach, passing through the grand opening to the Moana lobby, also grand in every way. The beach was half-filled with tourists, most of them in the warm lapping water and low breaking waves.
Darren surfed alone, although Jimmy and Star were close by. Queens was running low at high tide, so the big boards did their jobs just fine. Darren caught wave after wave, while Jimmy and Star spent most of the time falling off their board and getting back on. Jimmy was discovering that tandem surfing was nothing like surfing alone.
When they were finally done, Jimmy and Star were so exhausted that they simply could not go on, they gathered on the beach to tow their boards back to the rent concession at the hotel.
The car was where they’d left it. Darren was tempted to enter the salon just to see what damage had been done but didn’t go in. It didn’t matter. Star’s appearance there alone would be enough to create havoc at dinner.
“Hey,” Jimmy exclaimed when he went to clamber over the car door. “We’ve got a note or ticket.”
He pulled a small slip of white paper from under the driver-side windshield wiper. He read it to himself before handing it to Star.
“It’s for you, Darren,” she said but didn’t hand the note over.
“Seems that Mrs. Levy is working fast, all right. “She wants you to come over right away to discuss the plan.”
“Oh, okay,” Darren replied, relieved that it wasn’t a note from his mom or something worse.
“She did sign it, though,” Star went on, finally handing the note to Darren, “and she signed it ‘love, Mrs. Levy.”
Darren turned white, climbing into the Corvair’s back seat, his strength drained. He didn’t even bother to try to claim the front seat. His top worry had been about dinner at home, but that had instantly been replaced by the coming meeting with Mrs. Levy.