THE DUKE

Part XXII

 

The single thought that pervaded Darren's mind, and kept him from worrying about what Sergeant Cross might say to his request to get confirmation and a date and time for the Elvis dinner, was about the weekend and what Jimmy had said.

“Sunday, we go up to the tip with the radio and get away from the rest of this dreary island habitat,” Jimmy had said, out of nowhere, when Darren had asked him about how to approach Sergeant Cross.

Diamond Head would be there once again and, since absolutely nobody made the climb up to the top of the governmental posted (Do Not Enter Under Any Circumstance) crater walls except them, they would have plenty of time to simply relax and talk. Both boys knew, of course, that their fathers would, with their current active positions and ranks in the military, be able to save them if they were ever caught for trespassing on governmental property. Jimmy was the single person on earth who was never, in Darren’s opinion, boring when talking about almost anything or nothing at all.

“What about Cross?” Darren had asked and then had to repeat when Jimmy had offered no resolution to Darren’s problem or some script to follow in dealing with the sergeant.

“Easy,” Jimmy finally said. “Tell him to book it, get ready for it, make sure that Wu is there to cook for it, and then take leave for the time it is going on.”

“Take leave?” Darren asked, in shock.

“Yes, the Sergeant goes on emergency leave to visit some sick relative back on the mainland. He works all the time, probably never takes leave because he’s worried that someone will replace him in this cushy job where he can take food home, probably skim a few bucks from the nightly take, and then be the big honcho in charge when he feels like it.”

“He never acts like the big honcho in charge,” Darren murmured, thinking about the rest.

“No, you got me on that one,” Jimmy replied, “he’s about as low profile at doing his job as anyone I’ve ever seen, and that fact that the place runs like a well-oiled watch is kinda beyond belief.”

“What do I say?” Darren asked, getting back to the subject at hand.

“You tell him that nothing can go wrong, and if it does he’ll be able to blame it on whoever he leaves in charge for the event,” Jimmy said, exasperation in his voice.

“But he has nobody to leave in charge,” Darren replied, a bit perplexed. He has Wu, but Wu barely speaks English and he’s a civilian, anyway. The waitresses, even the old senior ones, are all government contractors. He can’t have any of them being in charge, considering that there’s a lot of money coming in every night."

“The sergeant,” Jimmy said as if his conclusion was blatantly obvious, and the man’s identity known to all.

“What sergeant?” Darren asked, this time in dismay. “There’s no other sergeant working at the club.”

“Special Services,” Jimmy said, walking with Darren as he headed for work.

“Special Services what?” Darren asked, again in dismay.

“The man in charge has to be of sufficient NCO rank and in Special Services,” Jimmy said. “That’s the only rule.

“My God,” Darren breathed out, physically stopping to stand and stare at his friend, who simply ambled on, like what he’d said wasn’t something astounding.

“You mean the Master Sergeant running the recreation center, don’t you?”

“You got it,” Jimmy replied.

Darren ran to catch up with the other boy.

“But he’s as dumb as an ox,” Darren said. “No, he’s dumber than an ox.”

“So, what,” Jimmy replied, laughing, and he’s not that dumb. He just doesn’t talk almost at all, which is very protective when serving in a plush do-nothing job in a place like Hawaii. He’s even married to a local girl. And he’s a Haole on top of it. Perfect.”

“I still say he’s too dumb to do anything,” Darren replied, glumly.

“Really? Let’s see, he leaves the brushes out for us to clean the sidewalks,” Jimmy went on. “He doesn’t even leave a note. He assumes we know what he wants and then he assumes that we’ll do it without complaint.”

“That’s being smart?” Darren asked.

“No, what’s smart is that he plans things like that and then executes them without anybody seeming to know, understand, or question it. He’ll do the club and keep his mouth shut, and probably not steal any food or anything else either.”

What if Cross doesn't to go on leave or doesn’t want to tell lies to get the emergency thing down?”

“Trust me on this one,” Jimmy answered. “Cross is secretive about everything. He hasn’t forgotten Wu and the hole, or any of that. He’s well aware that your dad runs Pearl Harbor and my dad runs some exotic bunch of wild men training to do strange things in God knows where. You’ve got to be like our recreation sergeant. It’s what you don’t say that’s really important. Cross will go along just like we brush the sidewalks all the time.

“You think the Master Sergeant knows he’s smart,” Darren said, as they walked along, picking up small stones and tossing them at nearby trees.

“He doesn’t think that way, most likely,” Jimmy replied. “He’s what my dad would say is ‘mission-oriented.’ He moves from one thing to another, one step at a time, never talking about any of it. Don’t forget that neither he nor Cross ever wear their uniforms, not that we see, anyway. Cross is a Staff Sergeant, while our recreation sergeant is a Chief Master Sergeant. Way higher in NCO rank. He didn’t get those extra stripes because he’s dumb. He’s just very quiet.”

“I’m only just 18,” Darren replied.

“So, I’m just a few months older,” Jimmy said. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“You went to Punahou, the best high school on the planet,” Darren said. “I went to Maryknoll Military Academy.”

“So, what, you had the cool uniforms and all those military balls to take girls to. What bearing does any of this have on any of this.”

“I don’t know,” Darren said, as they walked up the hill up toward the entrance to the still closed club. “I’m just eighteen, coming out of a second-tier catholic high school where my grades weren’t that great. You’re coming out of Punahou with straight ‘A’ grades.   How did I get in all this stuff, with the Duke, with Elvis, with any of it? Without you, I wouldn't be able to do any of it.”

“I can’t recite the alphabet backward in less than ten seconds, play chess worth a damn, or even predict what flight surfaces will do in the violently changing trade winds when we fly our planes. And you soloed in a glider with the Civil Air Patrol at Bellows as a Freshman. Do I have to go on building you up in your own mind? I’m not smarter than you. I just have a different father and I’m better than you at making it seem like I’m smarter than you.”

Darren was taken aback. Everything Jimmy said was true, although he couldn’t understand, and knew he probably never would, Jimmy’s comment about their fathers. Jimmy was a musical prodigy, gifted at paying attention in class to get great grades and able to come up with plans like the Elvis dinner at a whim. He thought of his own talents as much more mundane and less interesting.

“Sister Michael Marie said I wasn’t that smart,” Darren replied, as they stood together looking out over the Waikiki complex of hotels growing larger on almost a daily basis. “She also said, however, that I had the best memory of any student she’d ever had. Okay, I have a good memory, but I’m not like you.”

“There’s no answer to the question you didn’t really ask,” Jimmy explained. “That’s the part I meant about our dads. Your dad will never allow you to have or use any of your talents if he has his way. That’s how bad he feels because he was not given those talents. That he’s a Warrant Officer One, the lowest-ranked officer in the military, and running one of the nation’s most important naval harbors escapes him completely. There’s nothing you can do about any of that, and knowing, even if you believe me, what I just told you about that, you can’t do anything about it. Maybe until you’re older.”

With that conclusion, Jimmy loped off back toward the central area of the base, saying nothing about what the remainder of his day and evening would hold.

He threw one comment over his shoulder that Darren barely caught.

“Talk to Star about Diamond Head,” he said, and then was gone down the driveway, seeming to accelerate to get away from hearing what Darren might say, or so it seemed to Darren.

“God, can it only get worse with her?” He breathed in and out deeply before he could work up the courage to disengage the chain and then enter the back door of the unlocked club. Sometimes Darren wondered, as he stepped inside, how the club avoided ever having any theft or at least any reports of theft.

He walked all the way to the ocean side of the main floor dining room and looked out and down from the wall of near floor to ceiling glass windows. Star sat alone at the pool, this time wearing her signature black one-piece swimsuit, which looked more attractive on her than most women wearing bikinis that Darren witnessed on a near-daily basis down on the Waikiki beaches. The trade winds blew her hair, adding to the near movie conceived scene. She suddenly looked up at the windows he was looking down from. He instantly pulled back, even though he knew that the plastic sun covers on the windows would keep anyone from seeing into the club from the outside. It was like she knew he was there and she was waiting to encounter him. The girl who’d seen him naked. Maybe if he just made believe that occurrence had never happened then she would make-believe the same thing too.

“Fat chance of that,” he said, but only to himself. There was no getting around the fact that he would have to talk to her, otherwise, Jimmy would not only accuse him of cowardice but laugh at him until he cried. He also knew that Jimmy was a bit smitten by the woman or he’d never ever have allowed her to go with them anywhere. How could Darren go against that? He was stuck with Judy, which wasn’t all bad, he had to admit, while Darren had the same thing, kind of, going with Star. Maybe it was that they’d both gone to Punahou, although Jimmy claimed he’d never seen her there, which simply wasn’t possible.

There was nobody at the club. Darren could prepare tables, sweep, wipe the windows, or a variety of other things that had to be done before customers could be admitted. The waitresses all loved having a busboy, because without one, then all those pre-dinner chores fell on them. If they just acted as they loved him he might have felt different. Instead, they loved him like a slave. He had to bow his head, shut up and get the work done before disappearing. They also complained about splitting tips with him but paid properly, regularly, and always in exactly the right amount.

Darren went down the stairs, grudgingly trying to figure out what to say to Star Black that might make her not want to climb the mountain on the weekend. If she went along, then the many things he and Jimmy usually discussed in that ‘free time’ would be all different.

He walked up to where she sat, making believe she was reading some magazine or other she’d likely brought with her. She’d put on a big floppy hat, that just about completed her look of being near Hollywood in appearance.

Darren sat on the edge of the chaise lounge right next to her, getting ready to make his presentation.

“I saw you naked,” Star said, “we might just as well get that right out in the open.”

Darren swallowed, then choked and coughed. He couldn’t believe she’d said what she’d said out loud. He looked rapidly around to make sure there was nobody else around the pool and then was relieved to find one.

“I’m coming on Sunday,” Star went on. “Jimmy didn’t invite me. He said you would have to approve, and you approve, of course.”

Darren breathed deeply in and out, but could not talk, his mind still racing over the few seconds when he’d been visibly naked the day before. What else might Star say, and to whom?”

And then he got it. He suddenly wasn’t paralyzed anymore. Star was doing what the Master Sergeant had done, what he himself was doing to Sergeant Cross. She was playing him. If he allowed her to come along and approved of her being part of the climb, then she wouldn’t talk. But she wouldn’t say that directly. She was smart. Judy, his own girlfriend, wasn’t that smart, and in that way, he envied Jimmy in the sort of having Star as his distant girlfriend.

Darren still said nothing, although he was no longer frozen into silence. There was really nothing to be said.

“See you on Sunday,” Star finally said, before slowly getting up, tucking her magazines under her arm, and holding down her big hat from swipes made by the diving and whirling trade winds trying to dislodge it from her head.

Darren sat on the chaise lounge for a while longer, after Star left. He promised himself that he’d never swim nude again. His mind raced to thoughts of simply not approving of Star’s intrusion and putting up with his being described naked to anyone she might care to tell but then retreated from such thinking. He was leaving Hawaii for college, to arrive at a small town in Northern Wisconsin where nobody knew anything about him. It was best to do anything he could that nobody did, indeed, know anything about him before he departed.

As he walked back into the club, slowly climbing the stairs, he realized that Star, and the encounter with her, had helped him prepare for his discussion with Sergeant Cross. That discussion would be much less filled with fear and trepidation. Sergeant Cross was nothing compared to the inherent power and presence of Star Black.

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