THE DUKE

Part XX

Jimmy blasted the Spyder up the flank of Diamond Head, the Corvair’s turbocharger emitting a pleasing jet engine whine until taking the corner onto 16th Avenue.  Seconds later Darren was home and Jimmy took off again. With its strange rear suspension and engine geometry, the Corvair, even under full turbo power, would not “peal out” and screech its rear tires at all.  The rear end just got lower to the pavement until it almost dragged.  Darren stared after his friend, wondering what the following day was going to bring.  Confronting the locals at Queens Beach, once more, seemed like a recipe for potential disaster.  What could come of it, other than he himself ending up at Tripler the military hospital, but without out Jimmy’s dad’s horsepower to get him treated as well, and out again?

Darren got out of his unused swim gear, jammed his suit and “t”-shirt into a cloth bag, and then showered, dressed for work and was off, loping the half-mile to the back wall surrounding the fort. The climb up and over was like nothing, even though the very top of the lava rock structure was threaded through with barb wire.  Carrying the bag was easy during the run since it was so light.  Before he climbed the rockface he simply threw the bag up and over with all his might.

When he reached the Cannon Club and went in the back-way, it was obvious that the night was going to anything but normal.  The whispers, and even open talk by everyone working to get the place ready for first dinner service, was all about the coming visit by Elvis Presley.

He was early for work so he rushed through the alley, went in through the back door, and proceeded straight down the side stairs and out into the pool area.  He didn’t bother to use the restroom inside the club to change, instead quickly shedding his work clothes behind some nearby bushes.  He put on his swimsuit, hung his clothes on the bush, and then ran the short distance to the edge of the waiting pool.  The water lapped gently, the fading sun sending sparkle through the air above and around it.

“You could use the washroom like everyone else,” a female voice said, from somewhere nearby.

Darren froze in place, unable to either back up or dive into the inviting water in front of his feet.  He didn’t need to see the woman.  It could only be one person, the person who inhabited the pool area more hours than anyone else allowed to use it.  Star Black.

Darren breathed in and out with light breaths more like tiny gasps than breaths at all. What had Star seen and what would she report to everyone he knew at the base and around it?

“I wanted to swim before work,” Darren finally got out, his eyes darting around until he found the young woman sitting under a bush on the far side of the pool.

“That doesn’t answer the question,” Star replied but failing to add anything further.

“There was no question,” Darren said, before diving into the cool water and going to the bottom of the deep end.  He wanted to stay down in the silence for as long as he could but knew it would not be nearly long enough.  The woman would be there when he surfaced, no matter how long he stayed under, he knew.

Darren held his breath at the bottom of the pool for as long as he could before surfacing.  Slowly and carefully he made his way to the side of the pool near where the short but very supple one-meter diving board stuck out over the water.  The Kiefer board was one of the Olympic, and very expensive, boards that only the military, outside of some major school or sports pool, might invest in.

“Star?” Darren called out, softly.

There was no answer.  He tried again, and a few more times.  It seemed so unlikely that the meddlesome girl would simply leave while he was underwater, but finally, stroking across the length of the pool, he felt a sense of great relief.  The beautiful girl wasn’t the least bit interested in him, and Darren understood why.  She was a college girl and college girls, once in the first year of that advanced education system, found high school boys, even those graduating and going to college themselves, as somehow beneath notice, if not downright contempt.  Jimmy was the exception, although he was already enrolled in the University of Hawaii, so maybe that made things different, but there was no way for Darren to know.

Darren self-dried himself in the sun and by moving to the end of the pool area to stand where the trade winds swept up the curving face of the nearby crater wall.  In minutes he was dressed and ready to work.

Work was normal, with the club filled throughout the afternoon and evening, although the edge of excitement that the expected coming Elvis dinner was palpably sharp and tinged with great good nature and humor.  The rumors flew among all the staff.  Elvis would perform.  Elvis would introduce himself to each member of the staff.  It was endless.  The harder and longer Darren worked the more he became convinced that Jimmy would likely forget all about any confrontation at Queens Beach the following day.  He’d been hit in the head, after all.  A good night’s sleep might change everything.

After work he went immediately to bed, putting the day behind him and hoping for a better one on the morrow. The surfboard rental shop on the beach in front of the Moana Hotel was open at seven a.m. every morning. Most beach businesses and there were plenty of them, were active, if not already open as the sun arose behind Diamond Head. Seven to seven was the general rule for dawn and dusk, although in reality, the sun usually came up before six. Jimmy paid the two dollars for their boards, the smallest they could rent but still a good nine feet in length. The rental surfer guys made no mention of the boy’s previous problem with the Duke’s board.

Darren moved carefully down the beach, dragging the tail of his board since his small size prevented him from gripping one edge, like Jimmy could, and then lifting the board over the sand. Darren’s board left a trail behind them, like a bedraggled snake of some large size. For that reason, Darren walked on the wet sand, so the waves coming in would wash away the trail.

They stood in front of the seventh layer, or tier, of the series of reefs that extended down, all the way from the very tip of Diamond Head’s out-thrust front edge, past Queens and ending at Kuhio Beach pier, to check out the surf. It was important to view the breaking surf for many minutes, even if it made little difference about when and where you would go in. It was part of the culture, and appearance in surfing was becoming more and more important as the art of surfing grew dramatically in size. Ever since the Beach Boys release of Surfin’ Safari the summer before everything had changed, most notably; surfboards that had rented for twenty-five cents a day had gone to a buck for half a day.

“You can’t surf, they said,” Darren murmured over to Jimmy, for the tenth time, knowing that saying it again would make no difference to his stubborn friend.

“We didn’t come here to surf,” Jimmy replied. “I’ll just go out and sit on my board until the natives get restless.”

Darren’s heart sank. Instinctively, he looked behind him at the edge of Kapiolani Park, over at the picnic tables where the prior confrontation had ended in Jimmy’s hospitalization, but there was nobody there. He breathed in and out again, deeply but smoothly. Maybe everything would be all right. Maybe the locals wouldn’t show up at all.

“We’re not going to surf?” Darren asked, relief in his voice since surfing when it was low tide at Queens had given him more small scars on his lower legs and knees than he’d ever been able to explain later in life.  When the tide was low the waves broke right on the sharp unforgiving coral, which meant that no wave could be ‘wiped out’ on or in without real pain and some potential serious injury.

Darren looked up the beach, toward where the big concrete Natatorium sat, sticking out into the ocean in its imposing artificial way.  Two locals were walking toward them from that direction, both carrying surfboards, both big enough to carry them under their arms, even though the boards they carried were obviously larger than what either Jimmy or he had rented. One of the Kanaka locals was the big Hawaiian who’d hurt Jimmy with his single giant punch to the side of his head.

“We may not even have to get in the water,” Jimmy said, letting Darren know he’d seen the locals himself.

There was no point in entering the water until the confrontation was either avoided or over, Darren knew, although all he wanted to do really was throw his board into the surf, jump onto it and paddle away all around the island of Oahu if necessary to get away from the situation.

The Hawaiians approached near soundlessly, their bare feet on the sand not making enough noise to overpower the sound of the incoming waves constant splash. Jimmy and Darren continued to examine the incoming surf, as if waiting for just the right moment to enter the water and paddle out, ignoring the approach of the locals completely.

“Small board, big wave,” the giant Hawaiian said after both men had approached within a few feet and stopped, each setting his large heavy surfboard down flat on the dry sand just a few feet from the incoming and outgoing sea.

“What?” Jimmy asked, turning his head as if noticing the man for the first time.

“Big board, small wave,” the Hawaiian went on, pointing at his own board laying nearby. “You ride with control over the reef and not fall off.”

“Ah, okay,” Jimmy replied, glancing quickly over at Darren before turning back to face the man who’d hit him.

“You use our boards to surf, you not get hurt anymore,” the Hawaiian said.

“We guard your boards while you surf and give back when you done.”

Darren was so surprised by the exchange it took him a few minutes to process what the Hawaiian said, but all of a sudden, he got it. The big boards would glide straight, true, and with a whole lot more stability at slow speed. The bigger waves would allow the smaller boards to be much more reactive and race down the face of steeper water for control.

Darren waited for Jimmy to say something negative or aggressive, given the reason they’d come to Queens Beach in the first place, but Jimmy didn’t respond as expected at all.

“What do you want for that favor?” he asked, instead.

“You get us in to see Elvis at the big party,” the Hawaiian said.

“You hit me in the head, and I had to be taken to Tripler,” Jimmy said, pointing at the side of his head where the big Hawaiian had struck him. “What about that?”

“All forgiven,” the Hawaiian said. “You local boys now.”

Darren could only stare back and forth at the Hawaiian and then Jimmy. It was the strangest conversation he’d ever heard. It was like both were speaking English but neither was understanding what the other one said.

“Well,” Jimmy said, seeming to lose his train of thought, but then he recovered. “Darren works at the Cannon Club so he’s the only one that gets you in if he wants to get you in, but he also wants to kick your butt for what you did to me. I’m his best friend.”

Darren wasn’t shocked. He’d been expecting something like what had come out of Jimmy’s mouth. He stared up into the Hawaiian’s eyes, his mouth dry and fear making him want to throw up on the spot. But he held himself together but could say nothing. He was only slightly capable of breathing at all.

“You kick my ass anytime,” the Hawaiian said, his voice serious. “I am always here. But you can use the boards to surf right way and maybe you invite us to the club with Elvis.” The big man held out the end of his board for Darren to grasp.

“Okay,” Darren croaked out, taking the board as best he could.

Jimmy and Darren paddled out beyond the reef, the big board’s cutting through the shallow breaking surf smoothly as if skating across a surface of melted butter. Once outside the surf line, and out of all hearing from shore, they stopped and sat, legs dangling over the sides of the boards, and staring out to sea.

“I can’t believe you’re inviting those creeps to the club,” Jimmy said, keeping his voice near that of a whisper.

Darren didn't reply. There was nothing to be said. Some things Jimmy didn’t understand at all. Darren would have said anything to the Hawaiians in order to survive. That he couldn’t very well invite anyone to the coming party at the club would only come out later, which was fine. He breathed in and out, feeling the thick sea air re-invigorate him, the swells making him rise on the water and then fall gently back. Somehow, he’d gotten through the day, Sandy Beach, Star seeing him naked at the club, and finally, the confrontation at Queens. Tomorrow would have to take care of itself.

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