THE DUKE

Part XXIII

 Darren went back inside and began the real work of getting the place ready, the kind he made himself do well but didn’t like at all. The work he loved was with the people, not doing the scut work before anyone arrived, although nothing would be able to function in the club without that same scut work being done, and done well. His mind worked as his body worked, quickly, methodically, and with practiced skill, at least the skill that might be brought to bear by an eighteen-year-old boy. How would Sergeant Cross react when he was informed that the club was not only going to host Elvis, the Duke and a few more, including the Air Force commanding general at Hickam, but that he, the NCO in charge, was also going to take leave while it all went down? There would be no point in trying to work any local attendance into the mix because the sergeant at the recreational center would have no clue about what was going on unless Cross told him, and that wasn’t likely to happen. No doubt Judy would insert herself, and maybe even her parents, through her sister’s relationship with Elvis. The only person who didn’t seem to have an interest in coming was the only real musician, who wasn’t the least bit interested in any of it. That person was Jimmy Dorrenbacher.

Sergeant Cross showed up just before the club opened for the evening. The sun was still up so he was easy to spot motoring up the drive and parking in his usual reserved spot. There were only three special spaces for parking in the lot. General/Admiral Officer Parking, Handicapped Parking, and then one more for the Club Commander. The commander’s spot was the least choice but it was also closer to the rear entrance to the club that Cross always used. Cross had created the commander sign himself, letting a few members of the staff know that he thought that that title was the best in the Navy since it was the only title that indicated real command. An admiral could be a paper pusher, as could about every other rank in the military.

Wu showed up late, at least for him, and went immediately into the back closet Sergeant Cross referred to as his office. He closed the door, which was saying something because of his thick girth.

Darren waited, making believe he was moving different items from the kitchen to the dining room, but, in reality only making believe, with empty trays and boxes. Wu came out of the office and made for the kitchen. Darren avoided him, knowing it was time to make his presentation of a list of requests to Cross, before nighttime at the club became the constant hive of activity it was about to turn into.

Darren waited until the waitresses were all busy deeper inside the dining area before approaching the open door. He tapped lightly with his right knucklers on the right jamb of the door frame.

“Enter,” Sergeant Cross said, not looking up from the tiny desk he was sitting behind, pouring over some papers.

Darren had never been inside the office before. He stood before the desk, his back end almost out the door. He wondered how Wu had fit inside the small space. He noted that even the sergeant’s typewriter was a tiny traveling model. Everything in the office was something one might find in an overly large dollhouse.  He smelled the alcohol immediately, and could even identify the booze because it was about all his own father drank. Bacardi. The sergeant and Wu had been drinking in the tiny office, probably to celebrate the potential success and advancement of their reputations and careers due to securing the Elvis party and all it entailed.

“What?” Sergeant Cross asked, seeming to be reading intently.

“Ah,” was all Darren could get out.

“You,” Cross said, finally jerking his head up.

“Yes, sir,” Darren automatically replied.

“I’m not a sir,” Cross said, “as I’ve told you before, so many times. What is it you want now?”

“It’s about the Elvis social gathering,” Darren got out.

“What about whatever the hell that thing is supposed to be, and what do you have to do with it?” Cross said, his tone revealing his interest, in spite of the words he used to minimize that fact.

“It’s not me, sir, it’s the Admiral, the base commander at Hickam,” Darren whispered across the small desk, glancing furtively behind him.”

“Close the door,” Cross hissed.

Darren pulled the door closed, as it was hinged from the outside since the office wasn’t big enough for the door to open inward.

“You…”Cross began, but couldn’t seem to go on for several seconds. “You, you, spoke to the Admiral? You yourself?”

Darren suddenly read not only anger but fear in the man’s expression.

“He wants to come and bring his wife,” Darren replied, avoiding any discussion about who he might have actually talked to personally.

“Oh, great,” Sergeant Cross replied, shaking his head, and looking down at the mess on top of his desk. “I’m supposed to meet the Admiral, Elvis Presley, the Duke and whoever else shows up, and then entertain them for the night and make certain nothing goes wrong, or my career is basically over.

“Ah, not exactly, sir,” Darren said, starting to feel sorry for the man who’d never done anything to hurt or abuse him in any way. “You set it all up because there’s nobody else capable of doing that. You then go on emergency leave and have the recreational sergeant take over while you’re gone. The only person, since the waitresses, myself, and Wu are all civilians, who could lose his job is the recreational sergeant.”

Darren had figure out that there was no point in going into any detail if Cross didn’t agree. What date, time, number of participants, and who those might be didn’t matter if the sergeant wasn’t going to be there. If he was going to be there and said no to the proposition, then the rest wouldn’t matter because the sergeant was never likely to take the risk of putting the whole thing on, which only Jimmy had figured out.

Sergeant Cross looked down at the surface of his desk, then turned sideways to contemplate first one wall, before turning to stare at the other. He rubbed his short-haired head with both hands before rotating back to look at Darren.

Darren pulled back a bit, at his expression. The sergeant was like a crazy man, his eyes round and ripples of frowns running up and down his forehead.

“I do this favor for the Admiral, so the Admiral gives me leave, off the books, of course,” Cross said, the first excitement Darren had ever heard come through from the man. If the party is a great success, then the Admiral will owe me more. If it is a great failure then the recreational sergeant gets passed over, not me.”

He stopped speaking at that point, again staring down at his desktop, but no longer rubbing his head.

“What’s ‘off the books’ mean,” Darren asked, feeling like he was stepping into ever-deepening water. or maybe even quicksand.

“You tell the admiral that I’ll do it,” Cross said, not answering Darren’s question.

“Does he have a date in mind and how many will be in his group,” the sergeant went on. “Maybe we have to close the club for that night if there is going to be a raft of guests. Make sure that’s okay too when you talk to him.”

Darren couldn't speak. He had no relationship with the Admiral. He knew he was so out of my depth he couldn’t even contemplate there being a bottom somewhere under him. What had Jimmy gotten him into, and how was he ever going to get out of it. Suddenly, Star Black, probably another unwanted guest to the party, telling everyone that he was swimming naked in the pool didn’t seem like anything major at all. He wasn’t likely going to go off to college. He was likely going off to prison.

“Get me the date and the okay,” Cross repeated, before waving Darren out. “You’ve got work to do.”

 Darren presumed the sergeant was talking about his work at the club, so he stepped outside, turned, and then asked Cross if he wanted his door closed.  The sergeant simply looked at him, like he was a bug on a wall display with a pin through his center.  Darren left and went back to being a busboy for the night, his thoughts consumed by what he would discuss with Jimmy, and how Jimmy had gotten him in so deep he might never get out.  Only Jimmy could think his way through the Elvis maze both of them had constructed for themselves, and almost everyone around them.

The next day, Diamond Head day, Darren was up before six and out of the house in less than half an hour, even after following all his father’s rules that had to be followed before he could exit. He’d showered, brushed his teeth, found clean underwear, shorts and “T” shirt, and then checked the garbage can to make sure no animals had tossed everything all over the side yard.  Breakfast was not required to be made or eaten, so he skipped that.  The trip to Fort Ruger took only minutes at a full run.  Even though he was outside Jimmy’s house in record time, he knew better than to approach the residence until he could lurk around and observe signs of life.  Darren’s father was a man to be feared, especially if you were Darren, but Jimmy’s father, in the non-expression of his quiet and totally withheld emotions, was terrifying, although he’d never said or done anything threatening toward Darren.  The morning was young, the temperature perfect and the trade winds blowing gently through the palms nearby.  He could wait.

The wait was about half an hour.  Darren spent the time tossing small stones up into a Plumeria tree, trying, usually unsuccessfully, to hit a single flower and knock the easily detachable thing from its quaking wind-driven branch.  In half an hour only six flowers had fallen victim to his rock attacks.

Jimmy came out without warning, gently closing the screen door behind him, before walking over to where Darren sat atop the low lava rock wall that ran the entire distance along the front of the house.  Jimmy carefully set his prized Zenith Transoceanic 3000 transistor radio between them.  The radio had been his Christmas present months earlier.  Jimmy proudly claimed that it was the only short and long wave transistor radio that pulled in FM stations, and they’d proved that fact on many Diamond Head climb occasions.

“We need to meet Star behind the commissary in twenty minutes, so there’s no rush,” Jimmy said, not looking Darren in the eyes.

Although there had never been any agreement about having anyone else along on their climbing adventures, and Star had already been up there once with them, it still seemed like a violation to have her along.  Jimmy could not have said no to any suggestion that she might accompany them, although Jimmy could not know that. Still, it seemed a violation of some sort that Jimmy hadn’t told him.

There was really nothing to be said, so Darren remained quiet, both of them getting up at the same time to head toward the commissary building located only a few hundred yards past the park, and then up the main road that ran back down to intersect with Diamond Head Road.

Time went by as they sat on the commissary steps.  The commissary wouldn’t open until mid-day so there was nobody around.  Jimmy didn’t turn on the radio because the unwritten and unspoken rule was that the radio was to be listened to only upon the very peak of the mountain.  Finally, many minutes after Star should have shown, there was no avoiding the fact that they were climbing alone.

Darren followed his friend around the building and up the path that led to the side of the backside of the crater that would take them to the top edge. Darren moved with an enthusiastic spring to his step.  Star was not coming, so he would have the time in the world to come up with a plan to save himself by following Jimmy’s wise advice and counsel.

The climb was uneventful.  It was a warm Hawaiian morning with a bright, but not burning, the sun rising on the other side of the mountain, only directly visible when they were moving along the very top apex of the ridge.  The wind was nothing more than a series of soft caressing wafts of fresh ocean air.  They took turns carrying the small but heavy radio.  Only upon approaching the very tip of the peak, where the flat concrete slab had been poured down during the war, to become the very top of the peak, did things change.  They changed because Star Black sat on top of the slab, in its exact center, leaning back on her arms, and staring out over the amazing scenery all of Waikiki displayed below.

“Oh, she’s here,” Jimmy exclaimed, increasing his pace while, at the same time, Darren decreased his own.

“What a shock,” Darren said, but the words not traveling far enough to reach Jimmy or Star.

Jimmy and Darren sat down next to her, or just below her feet, which made Darren frown.  Jimmy turned the radio on and the music began to play, occasionally broken into by the German-accented, but brilliant, guy who introduced, and then commented on each piece.  Star snaked a fairly sizeable cloth bag from behind her, pulled out a tablecloth and spread it out.  Then she unloaded the remains of the bag down upon it.  Three bottles of Bubble Up soda, and half a dozen Musabi rolls, made of spam covered in sushi rice, held together with a fish skin wrap, all scattered around on the cloth until the boys scrambled and caught it all.

Suddenly, Darren realized that there might be certain positives in having Star along. He grabbed a Bubble Up and opened it with the opener she’d thought to bring.

“How did you haul all this up along the ridge?” Darren asked, wonder in his voice.

“Oh, I’d have never have made that climb with the bag,” Star replied.  “I came through the tunnel, and then up the path that winds up from the inside of the crater.  It’s not a climb, just a pretty steep and long hike.”

“You can’t have gone through the tunnel,” Jimmy said, offhandedly, securing one of the soda bottles for himself.  “There’s an Air Force guard stationed at the locked gate at all times, day or night.”

“He’s a man, like the rest of them,” Star shot back, holding her Bubble Up out so Jimmy could pry the top off.

“Like we’re men?” Darren asked, shocked by the exchange.  Star had used her feminine wiles to get past the guards, and Darren believed every word of what she had to say.

“You’re not men, your boys,” Star said, taking a swig from the soda bottle, swallowing, and then smiling one of her rare but radiant smiles.  “That’s why I’m up here with you and not down there with them.”

Suddenly, Darren realized that he could lay out his misgivings and troubles to Jimmy without regard to Star being there.  Jimmy would advise him, and likely Star might be of some help too, and, coming to understand here better every time they met, she also very likely had little or no interest in telling anyone about his skinny dipping in the club pool.

<<<<<< The Beginning | Next Part >>>>>>