Punatic  -- One Wild Hawaiian Night

 

by Michael Lee Smith

 

 

 

Prologue

 

Lani shook her head.  “Look, you can cool it with the therapy, or whatever it is you doing.  I’m not going to throw da keys unless you get weird.  I’m not a lunatic or anything.”

Billy didn’t know he was performing therapy, but he did suspect he was dealing with a lunatic.  Later he would discover that he was actually dealing with a Punatic, that being a happy harmless lunatic residing in the Puna district, on the island of Hawaii. 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

The man in the moon was laughing at her.  Lani sensed that even though the moon’s cheezy face was totally obscured behind black clouds, black clouds from which rain was pouring like small liquid demons—Hilo rain, the rainiest city in the United States—rain that teaches rain what rain is all about.  Seattle?  Forget about it.

Halfway to the rear of the car she stopped, realizing she’d made a mistake. Uncertain of the exact nature of the mistake—feeling a faint shiver, like the ones that announce the onset of a fever, pass through her.  “Yikes,” she said, hoping the shiver’s source was the weather & not some sort of mutant flu virus that lately seemed to be making far too many public appearances.  “I’ll wait.’”

Lani had pulled off the highway, suspecting a flat tire, and gotten out to check it; now she retreated toward the car door, holding one arm above her head in an attempt to create an umbrella.  “Damn.”

As she grasped the door handle, Don Ho, her over-weight Boston Terrier, jumped up on the window and barked.

She watched, first in amazement, then in horror, paralyzed, as his front paws slid down the glass and his left paw came to rest on the lock/unlock button.  The mechanical click of the door locking was barely audible over the sound of the rain. 

“No.”  Lani groaned.  Don Ho barked again.  His breath created a spot of fog on the window that obscured his face. 

“No, no, no.” She tugged the handle violently, uselessly.  “You little jerk!”  Pushed a wet strand of hair away and fled around the car.  On the way she noted the rear tire was indeed as flat as . . . Don Ho’s obnoxious little face.  Don Ho lurched into the back seat, barking excitedly, his goofy, pugged mug appearing, in turn, at the back window, the rear passenger window, then, finally, his bugged, desperate eyes met hers at the front passenger window.  He repeated his previous maneuver but this time his paw didn’t slide down and land on the button. It didn’t have to.  The door was already locked.  

Lani stomped her foot into the soaked grass.  Splattered water onto her other leg, then, with the determination of one who has been totally defeated but has yet to comprehend that fact, she marched back to the driver’s side of the car.  Threw a wistful glance through the window at Don Ho, and in defiance, cast her face heavenward, toward where she guessed the moon might be. 

She screamed!

 

!!!

 

Billy was killing time as he drove.  Mutilating it in two-four time with what he imagined was vastly superior singing skills than the singers he was hearing.  He’d inadvertently tuned to a Hawaiian station, and now, turning the car radio up, he fell into sync with the windshield wipers and repeated a lyric from the chorus:

“I remember days when we were wiser,

And the world was small enough for dreams . . . “

Grimaced.  Through the grimace, he made this observation regarding his voice:  “Sounds like a surprise birthday party.”

Then, up ahead he saw her, dressed in a long white sarong-like thing, waving her arms, her blurred, ghostly image caught in the headlight’s beam beyond the rhythm of the wiper blades.

“A damsel in distress,” he whispered.  Squinted.  Eased his foot off the accelerator.  Then noted she was motioning down toward the one of her tires. 

A flat tire?  “I don’t know.”  Shaking his head slowly, he previewed a soggy scene starring him changing the tire.  Swallowed a lump of southern chivalry.  “I don’t believe I’ll indulge.”

He’d slowed considerably, and as he passed, staring straight ahead (with just a hint of guilt) a motion from the corner of his eye made him flinch.  Then something hit the windshield.  The wiper caught and held it, swishing back and forth. Something white.  With a bit of  lace.  Lace?

Billy focused on it.  Couldn’t be.  Slowed even more before he realized that his eyes weren’t deceiving him.  It was panties.  A pair of white panties. 

Billy pulled to the shoulder.

 

!!!

 

Operating under the theory that when one dispatches one’s undergarments in the path of oncoming vehicles, it’s wise to proceed aggressively, Lani pounded on the driver’s side window.

The guy in the car, an obvious tourist in an obvious rental, was absolutely attentive—a face full of mild surprise and innocence.  Black hair, blue eyes.  Blue eyes whose color was the envy of tropical skies; she remembered that description, she’d made it up after all, writing a poem—eyes whose color was the envy of tropical skies.  Maybe it was the wire-rimmed glasses that exuded the innocence.  Inwardly, Lani heaved a small sigh of relief.   Shouted: “Bra, roll down the goddamned window!”

The driver’s face showed more surprise.  The window hummed down its track & stopped.

“Don’t get any X-rated ideas!” Lani shouted, reaching in, grabbing a handful of collar.  “None of you chicken shits’ll stop unless you think there’s something nasty in it for you.”

“I —“  He sputtered what sounded like a protest but was drowned out by the rain.

When a truck passed, Lani jerked the shirt again.  “Whatsa madder wi you? You gone get yo ass out . . . I mean, are you going to get out here and help me, or you going to sit there looking stupid?”  Gripped the collar tighter and twisted it.

He shifted the car into park, turned off the lights and the ignition, and dropped his hands into his lap.  Looked up and offered an even more innocent grin.   

Returning his smile, mockingly, she released her grip on his shirt, and with a deft motion, snatched the car keys from the steering column and stepped away. 

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said, getting out.

“If you touch me, I’ll throw dem out dere,” she said, motioning toward the jungle beyond.  “I got a good arm, too.  My fadda taught me to pitch good.”

“That’s not necessary” he said, getting out, alarm in his voice.  Lani noticed, even in this light, how soft and uniform his complexion was -- the skin on his face appeared the approximate texture of an inflated pink balloon.

School teacher, Lani ventured.  Maybe some sort of scientist, or computer freak. No, too cute. To oblige her active imagination, Lani made him a scientist, more romantic than a computer freak. 

“Okay bra, I mean, Professor, I just want to get a few things straight from the get go.  No touchy-feely.”

“All right, okay.  Just don’t throw the keys.  Ah . . .”  He smiled again, this smile he appeared to have been saving in case he ever encountered a lunatic clutching a live hand grenade.  He moved slowly, closing the door and turning around, all for her benefit, Lani imagined.  “Your name, ah . . . I didn’t get your name. Why are you calling me bra?”

The rain had eased up, but she realized she was drenched to the bone.  Lani debated whether to give him her real name, in case she had missed her hunch and he turned out to be a cop or an attorney or something.

“Lani,” she said, not as aggressively as she would have liked.  “Bra?  That’s like brother.  Bro. That’s what we call our . . . never mind.”

“I’m Billy,” he said.

She anticipated him offering his hand, but thankfully, he didn’t.  He looked as if he had thought about it, then reconsidered.

“Sounds like a little kid’s name,” she said, unsure why.

“Billy The Kid?” Billy asked, confusing her for a moment.

She shook her head.  “Look, you can cool it with the therapy, or whatever it is you’re doing.  I’m not going to throw the keys unless you get weird.  I’m not a lunatic or anything.”

 

!!!

 

Billy didn’t know he was performing therapy, but he did suspect he was dealing with a lunatic.  The worst kind of lunatic, the absolute worst—a beautiful one.  Take off your pants but hold onto your wallet. 

Her eyes were enormous, as brown as polished stone, and made him look into them longer than . . .   She was nearly as tall as he, and her wet, clinging sarong didn’t leave much to the imagination.

“I’ll help you fix your flat.  Just don’t throw my keys.” He cursed himself for his curiosity.  This wasn’t the first time it had caused him trouble.

“You’re a true gentleman,” she said, in a sarcastic tone. 

“What would really be gentlemanly,” Lani said after a moment, “would be if you give me your jacket.  I’m freezing.”  She made the keys jingle in her partially clenched fist.

“Of course,” Billy said, extricating himself from the jacket, mindful of the key jingling. 

Before he could get his arm fully extended toward her, she snatched the jacket away, stepped back and put it on.  Billy thought he heard a dog barking in the direction of her car, which was parked about a hundred yards down the road.  The headlights were on, but appeared to be dimming.

“Can you pick a lock?” she asked.

When he didn’t answer, she continued, “My dog’s locked in the car.  He lock himself in.”  She pulled the sleeves of his jacket up to her elbows.

That seemed a sufficient explanation to her; she spun around and started in that direction.

“I’ve never tried,” he said, hurrying to catch up.  He thought about flagging down another car, telling them that this raving maniac had stolen his keys, then he thought about fighting his way into the dense green/black jungle and searching for the keys.  “Why did your dog lock himself in?” he asked, catching up. 

She turned her head, and pulled the hand with the keys closer to her body.  “Cause he’s a dipshit,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “Cause his brain’s about the size of a doorknob.”

“You mean he locked the door by accident?”

She cast another look his direction. “You’re not a scientist, are you?  No, don’t tell me.  I’ll  use my imagination.  It’s much betta.”

“I model clothes,” he said, then cursing himself silently for not saying FBI agent, CIA Operative, or better yet, escaped-mental-patient bounty hunter.  “Business suits, shirts, things like that.  In catalogs. I’m here for a swimsuit shoot”

“You look like a cop,” Lani said, off-handedly.  “Cops are always perverts.  But don’t get your hopes up.”

Not many of Billy’s hopes were up, and the few that were were quickly losing their buoyancy.  A few minutes ago he had been nestled in the soft lap of harmony cruising toward a black-sand beach he’d heard about to maybe catch the moon or some star gazing.  Now, abruptly, he was no longer among the possessors of car keys; he was now damp and getting damper; beginning to get chilled; and that mildly euphoric tingle that had begun when the panties splattered against the window was now hardly euphoric --  just that same dumb-shit-sucker feeling he’d experienced more than a few times.  

Suddenly, he found himself standing in front of her beat-up car.  The dog inside flung itself at the window and barked in shrill tones.  Billy looked at it, and found himself shrugging his shoulders. He really did feel like a dumb tourist.

“If you can’t do nothing but stand there, I’m going to throw da keys and flag down somebody else.”

Enough of this game. Billy lunged at her, wishing immediately that he hadn’t.  His lunge was neither quick enough, nor accurate.  Her arm moved.  Without even a windup, she got off a good heave. Billy’s grasping hand came up with air. 

She glided away a few feet and now stood considering him pitifully.  “Guess you’ll have to help me now, Mr. Catalog Model.”

Billy pulled himself upright. “No.  I guess I’ll have to choke you till you do the funky chicken on the pavement.”

“I saw where the keys went,” she said. “Unless you unlock my car you’ll be doing the funky chicken all the way down to the penitentiary. That where they put people who assault other people.”

“You stole my keys, you . . . lunatic!”

She placed a hand on her hip and sighed.  “We gonna to stand her all night and yak?”

He still had no idea what to do.  The locked car presented a challenging puzzle.  “I don’t know how to pick a lock,” he admitted guiltily, this feeling of helplessness making him even more helpless.  Some kind of spiraling vortex.

Lani walked casually to the car, pulled his jacket tighter to her bosom and looked away.  Billy hesitated, cast an exasperated glance at the car and the dog inside. The dog was one of those  horrid little pug-nosed things that slobbered profusely and snorted like swine.

As if it had telepathically received his thoughts, the dog threw its squat body at the window again and resumed barking.

Billy took a step backward and, at the same time, but too late, heard the approaching car.

That was the last thing he remembered . . . for awhile.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

The dream, as dreams often do, took Billy to places he had never been before.  But, since this was a prolonged dream, as opposed to those experienced during sleep, those which occupy mere wisps of elapsed time . . .” 

And since this dream’s lineage emanated from a tangible source: the smooth, hard, dispassionate fender of a 1969 Toyota Corolla, and resulted in Billy’s brains being somewhat scrambled from the violent meeting of mostly-stationary brain neurons: his, and swiftly moving sheet-metal molecules: the car’s—his dream was of a more detailed, artistic, protracted adventure into the subconscious than your basic nocturnal variety.

 Billy descended into the dream a somnambulist, a sleepwalker within his own dream.  Very convenient.  But convenience ground to a halt there.   What came next disoriented him and caused him distraction—he experienced a strong sense of being jostled, moved hither and yon, up and down, bumped, nudged, poked and more-or-less violated in a vague, perplexing manner.  And each sensation opened a new chapter in his ‘dreams.’  The jostling initiated a mini-dream (within a dream) in which he was simply being carried through an enchanted forest in a remote era of vague antiquity—a place and time he could only equate with the fairy tales of his youth.”

 Moving gently, Billy dreamed along through a mist of soft green light, then absently, he realized, he found himself squinting, searching through the trees and underbrush for characters from the stories: Little Red Riding Hood; he imagined she would surely appear in the next clearing.  Or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum might pop out onto the path and supply impromptu entertainment. 

But the jostling agitated him, and as if he had been asleep, and now awakened, or so he imagined, he became aware of a different physical movement to which he was being subjected.  He looked down, and to either side.  In front of him, he saw two men hefting poles which, upon closer inspection, were attached to the chair he was riding in.  The men’s backs were to him; they wore long dark hooded robes, a pole apiece on each of their shoulders.  He turned around and observed two more robed figures manning poles behind him.  Closed hoods obscured their faces. 

Billy turned back around and found himself pulled into contemplation.  He had seen vehicles similar to the one on which he was riding, although he couldn’t attach a name to it.  A connection to royalty presented itself in his mind. He accepted that connection readily, believing that whatever adventure was transpiring, he was being given a favorable role.  Life, in contrast, had not offered such auspicious opportunity to Billy.”

 

 

!!!

 

Lani followed the ambulance in Billy’s car.  It had all happened so fast.  The sound of  the ambulance’s siren blaring ahead was nerve wracking.   “No damn way!” she said, speaking to the other occupant in the car: Don Ho.  “You think a grown man have enough sense to stay out the street.”  Then as an afterthought, she added, “I hope he not broke up too bad.”

Don Ho snorted a reply which Lani interpreted as an agreement.

One of the cops who’d arrived on the scene had opened her car door with a long thin piece of metal and freed Don Ho.  In the interest of time, since her car still wore the distorted doughnut of a flattened tire, and since she still held Billy’s car keys, keys Billy had thought were in the jungle, she had opted, reluctantly, to use them.  “I’m sure it okay,” she said to Don Ho, referring to the keys.  A touch of uncertainty inflected her voice.  “I mean, I’m sure he would have stopped and helped . . . and I’m sure whatever he did to get hit by that car, he would have done anyway.  Even if I hadn’t taken his ol’ keys.”

Lani glanced sideways at Don Ho.  She sensed a tone of distress in his last snort.  He turned his head toward her. A line of drool escaped from his underbite and took refuge on the little rental car’s seat. 

“Damn it, Don Ho,” she said.  “Don’t mess up his car, too.”

 

!!!

 

Meanwhile, Billy’s dream had begun to lose its fairy tale aspects.  As a result, Billy, experiencing a mounting case of the heebie-jeebies, had transcended fairy tale characters, had surpassed comic-book-fairytale characters and was now searching for anything even remotely in the realm of familiarity that might connect him to this Fantasyland through which he was being shouldered.  The robed guys weren’t any help; they were as silent as . . . stones.

Besides that, seeking a more rational grasp of his environment, searching for symbols of logic (even dream logic) surmounted the alternative: speaking with his bearers. Something . . . vibrations perhaps, emitted from the four robed figures made a cold shiver, like a nocturnal reptile, crawl up his spine.  Once, while Billy was looking sideways, a wisp of a breeze blew open one of the bearer’s hoods just a fraction.  From the periphery of his vision Billy saw something old within . . . old, unspeakably old, dry, faded and ghastly.  Like really ancient.  He had cringed and turned away quickly.

How he would like to know his destination.  How he dared not ask. 

 

!!!

 

The ambulance pulled into the circular drive and up to the doors leading into the emergency room.  Lani pulled into an empty parking place.  She failed to notice the new, black Corvette parked two spaces away.  “I’ll be back in a minute,” she said to Don Ho.  “I want to make sure he not hurt too bad.”

“Grrrrrr,” Don Ho said.

Lani looked down at him. “I know, honey.  I hate lock you in the car again . . . but you’re a doggie, and doggies can’t go in.”

 

!!!

 

Billy’s bearers stopped with a sudden jolt.  “Here we are,” Billy said, cheerfully, automatically, moronically.  He had no more awareness of “where he was” than say, a shrimp has, lying peeled and pink in a salad on a picnic table on a Sunday afternoon in . . . say, Des Moines, Iowa. 

Then, as if he were still asleep (even though he remembered already waking up once) he found himself ascending into another awareness.  It was as if he were rising through increments of realization, each with a new perception.  A decrepit, splintered, arched doorway stood in front of him. In fact, the doorway rushed toward him at great speed, and before he could protest, with his hands thrown over his face for protection, he sensed it gulping him up; he imagined: like Jonah, of Jonah and the Whale fame.  Then . . . it spit him out.

Squinting, he shouted, “Get that light out of my face!” His voice sounded like he had been breathing helium.  What a voice for issuing an order! 

Billy felt himself squirming on the ground, grasping it, then realized it was sand he was clutching.  Opening his eyes in small increments until he was somewhat used to the glaring brightness, he saw that he was on a beach—a beach of coal-black sand.  An ocean lapped the sand nearby.  Yeah!  He was back in Hawaii.  But the water as black as obsidian.  The dark sea merged with a black sky, obliterating the horizon that should have been visible in the distance.  A white-hot sun hung in the cloudless sky like the eye of the Almighty.

More of his surroundings pierced Billy’s consciousness. The air smelled electric.  A distance away, near the shore, a large yellow umbrella stood with its pole poked into the sand, its edges flapping gently in the breeze.  Three beach chairs sat in a line beneath it, and Billy could see the backs of three figures, each occupying a chair. 

He turned his head.  In the other direction lay only sand and sky, not a twig or leaf, or grass, or a structure of any kind.  It wasn’t a pleasant scene, nor was it unpleasant. One word came to Billy’s mind to describe it: uniform.  Even the small waves of black sand appeared uniform as they faded into the distance. 

He stood up slowly, a slight feeling of embarrassment and curiosity inspiring him.  He scratched his head.  That’s when he realized it hurt; he had a headache.  Intending to rub his temple, his hand stopped in mid-journey.  He forgot what he was doing.

With that realization (or lack of), he shrugged, took two steps and felt the warm sand between his toes.  Only then did he look down and see that he was barefoot, and that he was attired in a suit.  He couldn’t be sure, but the suit resembled any one of the thousands he modeled.  Nothing special. He lifted each foot, one at a time, repulsed by the fact that his bare feet were actually embracing . . . naked earth.  He lifted and shook them, resigned himself to the fact that his feet would be soiled, then stepped lightly to avoid any sand-insects, reptiles, land mines, time warps, or other unimaginable “dream” hazards.  Carefully, he swung into a wide half-circle so as not to surprise the occupants of the three chairs.  For some reason that seemed mannerly.  And important.

 

!!!

 

Billy was out of sight when Lani reached the interior of the emergency room.  A set of double doors separated the waiting room from . . . for lack of a better word, operating room.  That’s what she imagined behind the doors: a large operating room, filled with medical equipment, with doctors and nurses rushing about frantically, shouting orders and the like.

There were two other people in the waiting room watching a sit-com on a TV set mounted high on one wall.  A computer keyboard responded with almost silent spastic rhythms to its operator somewhere beyond a set of sliding glass windows set in the wall.

It was with mixed emotions that Lani followed that noise and stepped to the glass windows.  Her involvement in this accident had been more than simple happenstance; after all, who was it that flung her little white undies into his path? (To avoid embarrassing questions she had run to Billy’s car before the police arrived and removed the incriminating evidence.  Now they were back in their warm, little snugly place (and just slightly damp from the rain).  “Where God intend them to have stayed,” Lani said guiltily. 

And who was it that snatched his keys from the steering column?

“You be quiet,” she whispered to herself.  She leaned on the counter and looked up at the clock on the wall.  She would be late for her shift tonight; by the look of things, quite late.

The cop who had escorted them here to the hospital strolled in and presented her a large grin.  Lani turned back around to the receptionist, or whatever she was.  “The guy in the accident, the one that just came in, I’m with him.”  She didn’t want the cop to get the impression that she needed him for anything.

The big, blonde haole had been generous with the grin, and the grin itself was a thing of versatility, radiating all kinds of signals, some pleasant but most slimy.

The receptionist looked up from her typing and spoke to the officer, “Are you here about the cocaine guy?”

“No,” the policeman said, suddenly seeming interested.

The receptionist said: Came in that little black sports car outside.”  The after a moment, “He died.”  Then she turned to Lani.  “Can you give me any information?” 

Lani took a breath and spoke quickly.  “I’m afraid I might not be able to help much.  You see, he just stopped to help me fix my flat.  I don’t know him.”

“The cocaine guy?,” the cop asked.

“No,” the receptionist said. “The guy that was with her.”  She nodded toward Lani.

The cop kinda shook his head.  Too many “guys.”  Then: “William Jones,” he said with professional crispness, moving closer and holding what Lani guessed was Billy’s wallet.  He presented a version of the grin to the receptionist that had already worn thin with Lani, the one that stated: “I’m six-foot-two and I’m a stud.”

He glanced down at the open wallet and spoke, “William Jones, white Caucasian, age: thirty-eight.”

“He likes to be called Billy,” Lani added, “and he’s a model.”

That brought the cop’s grin to full bloom.  He looked up, scrutinized Lani briefly, then back down to the wallet.  It seemed to have gained weight in his hand, or radiated a glow (only visible to him), or sang a song (that only he could hear), or . . . did whatever inanimate objects do to gain interest.

She saw in the policeman’s eyes a new reverence, then as if to gain fresh insight into its secrets, Officer C. J. Wallace, (Lani had read the name tag pinned below his badge) set the wallet on the counter and began searching through it more thoroughly.

Lani watched for a moment then turned to the receptionist.  “Is he going to be all right?”

“Don’t know yet,” she said.  “He’s got a head injury.  They’re examining him now.”

 

!!!

 

Billy felt as if he were being examined, but not by emergency room staff.  He was still on the beach walking parallel to the black ocean toward the three umbrella-shaded chairs.  The sun blazed relentlessly into his eyes and he wished he had remembered his sunglasses.  The breeze brought the sound of disjointed conversation from the figures ahead under the umbrella.  He squinted into the brightness and saw that they were observing his approach.  They were his examiners.

Billy tried to appear casual, like a man strolling the beach on a warm summer’s day.  But in his mind he entertained significant questions he might put to these strangers.  Where was he?  And, who were those scary guys in the black robes who carried him here?  Those two inquiries came easily, but somehow he knew there were more, much more.  That realization troubled him.

 

!!!

 

“I want to help,” Lani said.  “I mean, he did stop to help me fix my tire.”

The receptionist nodded.  Officer Wallace was still going through Billy’s wallet, a determined set to his jaw .  Lani continued, “But I really don’t know what I can tell you.” 

The receptionist nodded again.  “For now, why don’t you just sit down over there and when I get through here, I’ll have some questions for you.”  She motioned toward one of the chairs behind Lani.

“My dog’s outside in the car,” Lani said. “and I have to call work.”  She suddenly realized her cell phone was left in her car.  “I left my cell phone in the car,” she said.

“There’s a phone over there,” the receptionist said jabbing a pencil toward a pay phone on the wall near the doorway.  

 

!!!

 

Billy thought he heard one of them speak his name as he got closer.  Then he realized what he heard was more like a low chant from some vague, distant source, repeated over and over—a chant that’s tone caused him to think of things demonic—voodooed, and hoo-dooded, skull-&- cross-boned, heebie-jeebied: “Billy. Billy. Billy.”

He wondered again what questions to ask three men dressed in aloha shirts on a black beach next to a black ocean with the eye of God breathing hot fire onto the surreal landscape.

As he drew near he saw a spectacle that caused him to stop dead in his tracks.  The three figures seated under the umbrella were him!  Three Billys wearing gaudy flowered shirts!  Three Billys who shared his exact likeness; who stared back at him with eyes that betrayed both innocence and insolence and every nuance between.  He saw himself more completely than any mirror he had ever gazed into, although that’s the only way he could describe it: as if he were looking into a triple, three-dimensional mirror.  Billy jumped!

The Billy in the middle shouted, in a loud, intimidating tone: “What’s your biggest secret, boy?”

Billy jumped again!

 

!!!

 

From the pay phone, Lani dialed the club where she worked: “Tahiti Joes.”  It was a club down on Banyan Drive that catered to the tourist set & those who profited from them, complete with lots of bamboo, wicker, palm trees, & other tourist crap .

Tina answered.  Somehow, even with the roar of mayhem and confusion that occurred inside the club, Tina managed to be in close proximity to the phone nearly every time it rang.  “What?” she shouted above the background roar.

“Tina!” Lani found herself shouting. 

“What?” Tina shouted back.

Lani lowered her voice, realizing that shouting wasn’t necessary.  “It’s me, Lani.”

“I know it you.  Where are you?  You supposed to be here . . . “  There was an urgency in her voice. “We were going to ‘The Rainbow Room.’”  Tina always spoke pidgin, Lani guessed it was all she knew.

After a moment Lani said, “Yeah, I know, but something happened.”

After a pause, “Yeah, what?”

Another moment flew by, a tense one, like after a gun shot.  Lani gripped the phone tighter and, with as much assurance as she could muster, replied, “I had a flat tire . . . “

“Again?” Tina interrupted.

“No girl, I really did.”  Quickly, she added, feeling her credibility slipping, “And this scientist stopped to help me and he got run over, and I’m at the emergency room and . . . “

“You really got a imagination on you,” Tina said.  “You ought to write a book or someting.”

Lani entertained that crazy thought for a mili-second.

Tina resumed the interrogation, poking into the sordid shadows of Lani’s social life.  “This isn’t that guy say work at Mauna Kea, in the observatory?  Dat one hustling you last Friday night, is it? The one saying he a scientist?  He one dick, Lani.  Maybe a janitor up there.  That’s all.”

“No,” Lani said.  It irritated her that Tina, that she allowed Tina to question her private affairs.  Besides, to Tina, every man was a dick.  “This haole is a scientist.  He’s okay, real . . .”  She reviewed her impression of Billy so far.   Mostly he’d seemed . . . confused.  “Well, he’s not one hustler.”

Tina sighed, and Lani detected a large measure of impatience in the sigh’s inflection.  Why had she allowed Tina so much control over her? 

“So, you going to be here or not?” Tina asked.  “I guess you want me to work your station, too?” 

“Tina girl, you a sweetheart.  Just till I find out if he okay.  He doesn’t look too hurt.  He’s unconscious, but he’s not banged up too bad.  It was a little sardine can that ran into him; that’s probably all that saved him.”  She paused.  “I’ll get there fast as I can, Tina.”

“You’d betta.  My feet killing me.  My toes look like something don’t belong on feet.”

Lani waited for the lewd suggestion that she was sure would follow, something to do with feet, and massaging, or kissing or . . .  When it didn’t come she sighed inwardly, and at the same time experienced a stab of wounded feelings. “Okay, I will.”

Tina hung up.  Lani hung up, stared at the phone for a moment, then turned around.  Officer Wallace was studying a piece of paper that he had extracted from Billy’s wallet. The other two occupants of the Emergency Room were still watching television.

She had to go check on Don Ho.  And she needed to get him some water.     

Unable to locate a water fountain, or a container in which to carry the water in, Lani bought Don Ho a diet soda from the machine out in the hallway.  She carried it outside.

 

!!!

 

Billy had forgotten all of the questions he had earlier entertained: serious ones, not-so-serious ones, any ones.  He stood in front of the three Billys who each stared back at him intensely.  His biggest secret? 

He wanted to tell them to fuck off, he wanted to ask them their biggest secret, but as if some repenting convict en route to his execution had commandeered Billy’s vocal chords, he blurted out urgently, almost, it seemed, joyous to divulge the information: “One time when I was fourteen I played hooky from church, and when my family was gone . . . I masturbated!”

A moment of silence followed.  Silence can be a lot of things: the song of death, or it can be ‘golden,’ as another song says.  It can be terrifying or satisfying or . . . silence can be the sound that causes one to hear the rhythm of one’s own heart—the most important rhythm of all, hands down.  This silence, like a jazz musician, hit all the notes.  The three Billys stared back at him with pensive concentration knitting their brows.  Then, in unison, they broke-up laughing.

Billy staggered backward a step or two, reeling from the humiliation of the words he had just spit out. 

The Billy closest to him fell from the beach chair onto the sand in a laughing fit.  The other two thrashed about in various stages of comic-induced contortions, until, when the laughter lingered far past a polite interval, Billy felt anger bubbling up from somewhere inside.  “What’s so darned funny?” he demanded. 

All three Billy’s stopped laughing for a moment and looked up at him.  Then they resumed their hysteric contortions.

 

!!!

 

“I don’t know what’s so darned funny,” the young intern said, answering Billy.  He looked across the examination table at the nurse.  She looked up from sorting some instruments and shrugged.

Their patient, Billy, had just opened his eyes and spoken to them.  Now his eyes were closed again.  He was still.  Earlier he had shouted about the light being in his eyes.

The young intern and nurse were waiting on the resident intern to show up.  They had determined that Billy was in a coma.  The intern leaned over Billy, gently pried open the left eyelid, and again shined a small flashlight into Billy’s eye.  As he did so, he mumbled nearly inaudibly one of the most famous phrases, a well-worn phrase, an “old saw,” so to speak of medical jargon—the ever-popular: “Hmmmmmm.”

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Death didn’t present itself to Lani as a skeleton enshrouded in a black robe, carrying a sickle.  Alas, no traditionally-depicted, cliched’ image-of-departure introduced itself unto her consciousness. 

Instead, Lani saw a trim, middle-aged Asian of indiscriminate gender, dressed in an impeccable linen suit, sitting on the fender of a black Corvette, staring off into the distant night, with its leg swinging in a lazy rhythm, shoeless.

At first, of course, the car caught her attention, then the person, then lastly, the person’s lack of footwear.

Obviously he/she’s wealthy, Lani thought as she unlocked the car door and let Don Ho out.  Famous too, perhaps.  Corvette convertibles accompanied by barefoot individuals in expensive suits were as rare as . . . well, he/she might as well have been here in Hilo lounging on the hood of a snow-mobile.  The person’s image hinted of Hong Kong, or Las Vegas, or somewhere equally exotic.

Don Ho snorted a relieved snort (Lani had them catalogued), then ran to the nearest light-pole, hiked his leg and urinated.  Lani looked over the roof of Billy’s rental car at the barefooted person, studied it in the three-quarter’s profile offered, then suddenly looked away.  For some reason looking at it created a sense of discomfort, like looking at a bright light, accompanied by a feeling of dizziness, and even stranger, an urge to continue looking.

She discovered that when she looked away at Don Ho for a moment.  In the time lapse of that moment a sense of uncertainty enveloped her, and despite the discomfort and her accompanying resistance, she once again found herself staring at the person seated on the car’s fender.  The muscles of her neck were in mutiny.  Some sort of grinding heavy-metal music seemed to be coming from the car, also.

The thumping music faded.  Either his, or her, hair appeared silver in the parking lot’s illumination—almost glowing, but too, it seemed somehow youthful—a contradiction, she realized, but a contradiction just the same.  As Lani dabbled with that theory she realized he, or she, was whistling a little tune. The tune caused her to think of Waikiki.

It turned its head and looked at her.

Its face caught her breath.  The face of such beauty, but as androgynous as an exquisite gemstone.  Its skin captured moonlight and amplified it; the lines and angles appeared carved from dense stone, but again, contradictorily, it was equally soft and feminine.  Its eyes gleamed with a cold light, like lightning in a black winter sky.  Its expression, in contrast, was fixed and made her imagine that life under-whelmed it, that life offered such bland and trivial excitements as to sadden it—but too, compel something inside it to scheme toward some satisfactory excitement just the same.  No one she had ever seen caused her to conjure such strange, contradictory & unsettling observations. 

He, (or was it she?) considered her, appraised her coolly, Lani felt, and its scrutiny, brief and distracted as it was caused her to take a step back. 

Then he/she, smiled.  The smile caused its face to transform into something with an un-godly magnetism.  Something you want to run from, but can’t.  Lani shook her head.  The night’s light seemed to soften and dim, then brighten, as if the figure were stealing it, playing with it, playing some sort of scary magic with it.

It slid from the sculptured fender, straightened the crease in its pants and stepped toward Lani.

Lani’s heart beat very quickly.  She turned and walked to a concrete retaining wall that ran in front of the parked cars.  She leaned against it and pretended that the lights of Hilo in the distance, and the bay beyond held great interest.

 

!!!

 

A new radiance shined into Billy’s consciousness.  The light penetrated his skin and radiated into his soul.  He covered his face with his hands to shield himself.  So intense was the light that he caught himself dancing on the sand in anticipation of its heat.  But there was no accompanying heat.  Only light. 

He thought of his previous confession, how unacceptable it had seemed to them.  “I’m not as kind as I could be!” he shouted, frantically, filled with fear, hoping that was the kind of confession they were requesting.  Where had that come from?

The light began to diminish.  Brilliance faded into a vague glow and he removed his hands and dared open his eyes.  The three Billys sat in their chairs looking up at him, composed and serious.

“That’s more like it,” the Billy in the middle said. “Boy, nobody gives a damn if and when you masturbate—it’s meaninglessness.  We might make you do it now, right here, just to demonstrate.”

Billy thought it wise to attach some sort of distinction on the three Billys.  To keep his confusion at a minimum; he gave the Billys names: William, Alan, and . . . Jones—his first, middle, & last name.

The Billy closest to him, William, looked at Alan and shook his head.  Then turning to Billy, he said, in a tone as dramatic and grave as a divorce attorney’s, “It’s a biological need, and we’re not interested in that sort of thing.”

After a moment, Billy protested, “Then why did you find it so funny?”

Alan spoke, grinning, “Like, you presented the satisfying of a biological need as your biggest ‘sin,’ man.  That’s why.”

Whew! was what Billy wanted to say.  Although still a bit skeptical of their judgment, and skeptical that playing with one’s genitals was not somehow sinful, he felt relieved.  He decided against uttering whew! though, he felt it best to let this whole subject slide and not let them know the significance with which he still held it.

Jones, smiling still, looking like a clown or someone zonked on drugs, “Like, the fact that you think yourself not as kind as you could be is a good start, but we want to delve into some deeper issues here.”

William, the somber, reflective-looking one said, “We know at this point that what’s being discussed is your life up to the present, or at least, if you didn’t know, you do now . . .”

Billy couldn’t help but look for, and find small dissimilarities in these three.  They were subtle differences, but contrasts just the same: Jones, on the left, appeared a bit frivolous, an amused glint radiated from his eyes at times.  His smile seemed a fraction more gaudy than the other two, as if he were permanently bent on some sort of drug.

The one in the middle, Alan, compared to William, seemed more intense, and rancorous perhaps, although rancorous might be a little strong—just the way Alan’s jaw jutted almost imperceptibly when he concluded his sentence and his point.  William, on the other hand, looked sadder, more deliberate and distant—an author of serious books, perhaps.

William said, “Methods vary, but we would like to see you examine your life and perhaps,” He paused.  “Illuminate some of the patterns that you’ve adjusted yourself to.”

That sounded very logical, Billy thought.  “Patterns,” he said aloud, thinking of the connotations soothingly analytical:

1.Step-by-step procedures.

2.Categories.

3.Systematic theories leading to rational conclusions. 

 It all had a pleasing, deductive ring to it.  “That’s what I’m here for?” he asked, his enthusiasm rising.

“Boy, you’re here because you were stupid enough to step out into the street and get run over by a car,” Alan said, his jaw jutting with distinction.

“What?” Billy said.  Is that what happened?” 

After a solemn moment, William said: “Physics offers neither punishments or rewards, only consequences.”

“Of course,” Billy said quickly, then blinked.  Jazz music started from somewhere in the distance, its tone and quality suggesting it emanated from some low-quality source—a small radio of Third-World manufacture perhaps, but very loud and distorted (and one would imagine that in this bizarre-o dream the music would be broadcast in the highest fidelity.)  The static-filled jazz had a frenzied rhythm, as if the drummer had electrodes attached to his genitals.  The accompanying piano player kept pace, racing up & down keys like a lunatic who was only allowed to play during a full moon.

The volume increased into white noise until Billy grasped his ears in pain, fell onto the sand, and, unable to help himself, wallowed and rubbed himself across the ground like a dog after a bath.

When the music died Billy heard laughter again, looked up and found that his act had an immensely entertaining effect on his audience of three.  He shook his head.  “I’m sorry,” he said.

Alan said,  “Quit being so agreeable.”  The music blared again.  This time it was Country and Western; a whiny voice with a sharp nasal-inflection screamed into his ears and a steel guitar rang into feedback that rose, inflicting spasms of pain that . . .  “Stop!  Damn it!”

The music stopped.  But the echo seemed to last hours. Billy realized he had cursed.  He hadn’t cursed in a long time.  Boy, was he in trouble.

Finally, William grinned and spoke to him, “You’re not going to apologize?”

“I’m sorry I cursed,” Billy said.

Alan raised his head almost imperceptibly and Billy sensed he had again said something wrong and that Alan was preparing to inflict another blare of music . . . maybe Heavy Metal this time.  He winced and prepared himself for the first riff!

Jones touched William’s shoulder, frowning, then shook his head. To Billy, he said, “When something pisses you off, man, say it.”  Then he smiled at Billy and performed some magic.  

 

!!!

 

Not only was Lani’s heart beating swiftly, a fire had ignited within its walls.  The barefoot man, or woman’s presence inspired much feeling but little knowledge; it weighed her feet to the pavement.  And she sensed it was approaching even though she was still looking off into the distance; its footsteps, light as they were, were still as audible as the approach of a parade.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw it lean against the wall a few feet away.

Don Ho came galloping back, sniffed the wall, hiked his leg, marked it, then sat down.  He looked up at her. 

Go bark at it, or something.  Lani sent that telepathic message to Don Ho.  She felt defenseless, and although Don Ho presented a minimum threat to any molester who might have molestation on his mind, a minimum threat was better than none.  Don Ho wagged his tail.  It was as if he didn’t even sense the stranger’s presence. 

Lani opened the soda and set it on the pavement. Don Ho hovered over the can, licking its top, tipped it over and began slurping the pop as it poured out.  After another moment he looked up at her again, belched, and walked away, his pugged nose close to the ground, sniffing loudly.

“He will expire of kidney failure,” the man/woman said.

Its voice, just the tone startled Lani, the fact that it was neither male or female, but both, added as much significance as if it were broadcast through a huge loudspeaker, large enough to vibrate her bones, & directed by none other than the oh-so-subtle Mr. Cecil D. DeMille.

“Dat’s absolutely the worst pick-up line I ever heard!” she said bravely, venturing a guess at what it was after.  She took a deep breath.  “I know Pepsi probably isn’t good for him, but I doubt dat he’s going to croak from it!”  She stared at him, or her.  “Who asked for your stupid opinion anyway?”

As if it had never been spoken to in that manner, never questioned or doubted, its beautiful eyes widened.  It started to say something, its lips moved, stopped, then started again.  “I simply know . . . “

Lani interrupted, “Unless you got a Veterinarian’s license hanging in dat fancy car of yours, you don’t know nothing.”

Again its lips moved, then it smiled, as if it had just made a big decision.  “Refreshing,” it said, its smile widened as it continued staring at her. 

The smile tweaked itself into a condescending smile.  Lani narrowed her eyes at the smiler.  “What’s dat supposed to mean?”

“If I were you, young lady, I wouldn’t question Death.” It bowed expansively.  With that concluded, it looked at her again.  The smile was gone.

“A rock-and-roll star,” Lani said.  “I should have known.”

Its eyebrows arched.  “I beg your pardon.”

Lani waved toward the Corvette.  “That car, your clothes, your nick-name.  Like ‘Sting’, or ‘Prince’, only you call yourself ‘Death.’  I think it’s kind of childish.”  She proudly displayed her version of  her own condescending smile.

“I don’t call myself anything.  I . . . “

Its uncertainty made her braver.  “Well, Mr. or Ms. Smarty pants, Rock-star, who-fancies-itself-a-Veterinarian, I might feed my dog a Pepsi now and then, but at least I’m intelligent enough not to walk around on wet pavement without my shoes.  You’re going to catch cold.”

Death looked down at its feet.  Its toes wriggled, or, rather, it wriggled them, then looked back up.  It looked confused.

Lani smiled inwardly.  She decided right then and there that she would be the one doing the seducing, if that was what was occurring.


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Michael@punatic.com


Remember, this ebook can be purchased at a very reasonable price from the iTunes store (ibooks), Barnes & Noble, Amazon & other fine ebook sellers.  And, if enough ebooks are purchased I won’t have to kill this little helpless dog.   Itsy Bitsy