“You’re right.” Kumai said. “Whoever took her dog is very seriously stupid and will be easy to catch.”
Lani stopped, turned toward Kumai, and took her by the shoulders, ”You don’t realize how dangerous people can be, especially if they feel desperate. I keep telling you but you seem to think you’re immortal.”
“Lani, it’s okay.” Kumai took Lani’s hands and gently removed them, ”I don’t share your concern. I’m okay. And I can be careful.”
Lani stepped away and turned her back on Kumai. When she turned around again her face was a mask of deep calm.
“You may think you have seen danger. But it is nothing compared to what could happen.”
“I have seen danger, Lani. That’s what I’m telling you. I can handle whatever comes up.”
“No, you cannot.”
Lani’s sudden composure was unnerving. Kumai scrambled to think what could end this conversation. “Just a couple of nights ago I was diving south of Two Step and fought off attackers. I am fine!”
“Oh, my dive master, well, the tourist wanted… it doesn’t matter. The point is that I can handle whatever comes.”
“Kumai, stay on the land.”
Kumai looked out across the neat rows of the garden. She remembered Manya’s request to observe Lani. The aina provided her with an alternative conversation.
“The garden is looking good.”
Lani sighed. Kumai’s text alert went off.
“Take it.” Lani said with impatience and flung one hand toward Kumai. ”I’ll be back.” She walked away and went into her house.
The text was from Tom. “R U in the big barn?”
“Gah!” Kumai said and dialed Tom.
“Kumaister!” Tom answered.
“Tom, there is no barn here.”
“Well that’s weird cuz that plant-stomping guy that Bonnie hates just walked out of a barn.”
“Yeah. The menehune.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he is Lani’s neighbor. You might be close.” Kumai paused to think. A rooster crowed. In the phone, Kumai heard the rooster crow in stereo. “Okay, you’re close. Describe what you see.”
“Are there any signs, names, numbers that you can see?”
“Here’s one. It says Round.”
“‘Wait, let me turn the drum, there’s more. Up. Oh, this must be a cowboy shed, Round Up. Hey, they probably really do make cans of whupass if they can bottle a round-up.”
“Just tell me what else you see.”
“Huh? Oh, sorry. I found a Girls of Hawaii calendar. Do you really want me to tell you what I see?”
“Nope. Not that. Look around some more, please.”
“Here are barrels of something for sewage, I guess. Urea, Ur, Ureabor.”
“Never mind. Can you see where John went?”
“Well, there’s a path here. Lemme see. Oh! It goes to a greenhouse. Oh holy motherlode.” Tom’s voice changed to a whisper.
“What? What is it?”
“You know all that ‘diving equipment’ we help people get when they visit?”
“I found the factory. There are workers sitting at a table outside. The menehune is with them.”
“Ok, Tom. Sit tight. You might want to get the car parked out of sight. Observe whatever you can. I will text you when I’m ready to leave and we can meet out at the main road.”
Kumai didn’t know if her visit was completed, so she decided to stroll Lani’s garden and look at it with new eyes. Nothing seemed amiss. In fact, it was picture perfect. Tomatoes coming off the vines and piled in pint boxes looked like a painting. The ground around the plants was free of any other life. The soil looked a bit grey, so maybe it was time to water.
Kumai decided that she didn’t know enough to perceive what Manya thought she should see. So, she let her mind drift to what she did know, the ocean.
Dark blue of the deep sea sat on the tree tops and stretched out to the horizon. From Lani’s elevation Kumai couldn’t see close to the Kona coastline. The sun was just beginning to crest Hualalai and the air held a morning chill. She had enough time today to visit the ocean.
Kumai had heard that people who were raised in the shadow of mountains cannot live where the land is flat. The same goes for growing up beside a river, a lake, the desert, or the ocean. If Kumai had not been raised in Idaho, she would believe this theory of early environmental imprinting. In her teens she first visited the sea and knew it would always be what she called home. Returning to landlocked Idaho was painful like a reverse homesickness. She was feeling it again today.
She pulled out her phone and dialed Bradon.
“Give me a sec,” He said,” I’m stepping out where I can talk.”
Kumai waited. She heard Japanese being spoken in the background, dishes clinking, and waves rushing on rocks.
“Okay, all clear.”
“Hi.” Kumiai said, “Sounds like I’m interrupting a breakfast.”
“Don the Beachcombers has their buffet again in the Tiki Lounge.”
“Sounds perfect about now.”
“Uh, you could join us, if you’re close?”
“Oh thanks, but no.” Us? “I’m up Kaloko and wondered if you had any interest in going for a sail today. But if you’re already in Kona, you probably have plans.”
“Well, I like the idea.” Bradon covered his phone. He came back on a moment later and asked, “Could we make it closer to sunset?”
“Ooh. That would be romantic. I can kill some time. Could you drop me at Puako when we’re done?” She asked.
“From the boat?” He asked.
“Unless you want help swabbing the boat after the sail. Then I would need a ride home on your way back to Waimea.”
“Actually, if you want to sail up the coast, I can go earlier. That would fit perfectly with my plans. Do you mind if a friend joins us?” He asked.
Kumai knew she had no right to be surprised. She was the one who made this last-minute plan. “Of course not. Do I bring anything?”
“Just yourself. See you at the marina. Say two o’clock?”
“Perfect. Thanks, Bradon. Two o’clock.”
“See you soon.”
Kumai’s desire to visit Lani was dwindling. Now that she wasn’t a student, she perceived herself as an intruder and their interactions were awkward. She debated whether to bother Lani with a farewell.
She walked to the house and was surprised to hear Lani talking to someone. “It isn’t going to work. We’ll try something else.”
There was a pause but Kumai didn’t hear another voice.
Lani sounded frustrated, “Just put it back.”
Kumai would have thought she was overhearing a telephone conversation, but her Kumu didn’t use a phone. John walked out of the forest periphery into the open field. He headed toward the house. Instead of interacting with him, she retreated and circled around to go find Tommy.
As soon as John entered Lani’s house, Kumai dashed for the tree-fern border and entered where John had come out. A clear trail was packed through the woods, leading to a huge greenhouse just as Tommy had said. A five-gallon drum stood smoking to her left with trash smoldering inside. Plastic bottles littered the ground around it. She used her foot to turn one over and read the label “malathion.”
She could hear voices. The workers Tom had seen may have gone inside. Skirting the periphery of the greenhouse, she searched until she found the trail to the barn.
“Kumai.” Tom whispered. He had ferns stuck in the band of his hat. He waved her over to his hiding spot.
“‘How’s reconn going?” She asked in a whisper.
“Super info loaded site.” Tom answered.
“I’m thinking we might want to hele-on.”
“Let’s get the hele outta here.” Tom agreed, leading the way to the Miata.
Kumai cringed when she saw the mangled trunk lid. Some things she would like to forget. Tom had backed into the thick of the plants, and some were caught in the torn metal.
“It looks like Inigo is growing something.”
“Huh? Oh. Ha.” Tom laughed nervously. “Ha ha.”
Since Kumai had never seen Tom nervous, this made her even more concerned about leaving there safely. In the interest of time, she let Tom drive rather than bother with adjusting seats and mirrors. Once they were safely coasting down Kaloko Drive, the transmission whining in third to prevent brake fatigue, Tommy seemed to relax.
Kumai looked at the speedometer. “We’re barely going 30. It’s 45 in this section.”
“We do not want to get pulled over.” Tom said.
“Yeah? Did you know they ticket for going too far under the speed limit too?”
“Shit. They do?” He asked and sped up to 40.
“So what’d you see at the barn and greenhouse?”
“That is Some Operation. They have plant varieties that I’ve never seen before. I’m hoping that they are breeding a super-weed.”
“I don’t suppose you mean something in the dandelion family?”
“No, just the Dandy family.” Tom giggled.
“You didn’t try any, right?”
“Oh no, heck no. Not yet.”
“Oh well. What are your plans for today?”
“Cuz I kinda need to take a load of stuff home before you need your car back.”
“You did not put a load of weed in my car. I have told you: no weed, no drinks, no smoking. Tommy! How could you? Please tell me you did not.”
“I did not.”
“What? What are you saying then?”
“Whatever you needed me to tell you.”
“Gah, you are such an addict.” She blurted out.
Tom looked at her for a moment, a perfect reflection of the sentiment, then returned his eyes to the road.
“In a State where it’s contraband, you fill my car with drugs and include me in the ride? Did you even think about what this might do to me?” She drew in a deep breath, closed her eyes, and slowly exhaled. It had been a while since she had felt this angry. She needed to get away from Tom before she said anything more.
“I can be dropped at the consignment shop.” Kumai said. “Then you go straight home, empty my car, take it straight back to my place, give Sage the keys, and do not use it again. Got it?”
“Loud’n’clear.” Tom said.
They rode the rest of the way down the hill in silence.
“You can drop me here.” Kumai pointed to the Tesoro station in the new industrial section of Kona. “I’ll grab a snack and then head to the store.”
“I can wait for you.” Tom offered.
Kumai gave Tom a warning look.
“Sheesh.” He said and pulled over.
Kumai stepped out. She got out her phone and one credit card, tossing her purse back into the car with all her other items.
She didn’t want to admit how angry she was feeling. Even more than that, she didn’t want Tommy to know about her Snoball habit after calling him an addict. Reports were circulating with claims that sugar was eight times more addictive than cocaine. She kept telling herself that sugar was less deadly, but her denial was wearing thin.
“It’s just a short walk to HICO. They don’t open for half an hour.” She dismissed Tommy with the car.
The layout of the convenience store was changed from the last time she had been in and she couldn’t find the snack cakes. Without her asking, Clive up at the counter pointed to the aisle she needed.
Most of the warehouses in this area had stacked rock borders. She found a low rock wall to sit on outside of Aloha Woods and began her ritual.
Sage would kill Tommy if she knew how he had disrespected Kumai’s wishes. To Tom, it seemed like a double standard for Kumai to point people where they could buy the stuff but for her to refuse to touch it. In her thinking, it was like a priest who does pre-marital counseling. He’ll help as far as he can, but it’s still not for him.
Kumai opened her phone to text Sage. “I’ll be home tonight. Anything I need to know?” She wanted Sage to tell her what Bonnie had done to her home. She hated surprises.
There was no news from Susan. She dialed the ranch. Susan answered.
“Hey, it’s Kumai. Have you heard anything more from the dognappers?”
“Kumai! He’s back. I was just grabbing my cell to call you.”
“The dog is back?” Kumai asked.
“Yes! He’s hungry, but not hurt.”
“No note, nothing? Did anyone see who brought him back?”
“Nothing. Jorge was working outside when Mana came running down the road to his house.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know. But any concern I might feel is tiny compared to my relief. Jorge and Elena are delighted.”
“That is good news. I guess we could file a police report in Kona when you’re ready and maybe it would take less time?” Kumai paused. She hated the idea of more police time and really hoped that Susan would skip it. Maybe she shouldn’t have said anything. “Do you think you would still like to shore dive tomorrow?”
“Shore dive? Oh, I feel like its been a week since we talked about it this morning. Tomorrow….”
Kumai felt like a teen being rejected for a dance date. The fact that she had recently revealed her worst shame didn’t help. It was clear that Susan was ambivalent about doing anything with Kumai. She tried to provide an exit, “I totally understand if you need to stick around the ranch, attend to the dog or business or whatever.”
“Jorge and Elena want to look after Mana, be sure he is okay. They feel so responsible even though they don’t need to…” Susan drifted off.
“Yeah, yeah.” Kumai said.
“But I understand. So, yes, I’m still free to go.”
“Yeah. I understand. That’s okay. Wait, what? Oh okay, you still want to go. Great. That’s great.”
“Everything going well for you this morning?” Susan asked.
”A bit surreal, but just fine. Thanks. I’m glad to hear your dog is okay and home safely. Talk to you tomorrow.”
As Susan said goodbye a text alert beeped.
Sage had replied, “About time! I miss you. All is well here.”
So Sage was not going to tell what Bonnie had done to her home. All that Kumai knew was some flowers had been planted. And stomped on.
The Snoball package in her hand was empty but she had no memory of eating the two spongey mounds. A brief look at her behavior: anticipation and planning, sneaking and hiding, a ritual, and a blackout led her to think she might have to admit that she had a problem. In which case, going back for another package would be her ticket for admission to the Clinic for Carbohydrate Corrections. Hi, my name is Kumai and I’m a Carbohydrate Kid.
A walk would help her to feel better about having vaporized two small cakes. She went the long way around to the shop. At Home Depot, two homeless men sat on the curb in front of the Pro parking on either side of an outdoor power outlet, charging their devices. One paged through his tablet, the other watched a video she could hear from the street.
She found herself wondering if Chaz had any electronics in his possession. These guys needed solar chargers. They were houseless in the best decade and location for it.
Friends complained about seeing the homeless men at the change machines, dropping in pounds of coins. For all the comments about how much money people make by panhandling, Kumai had seen how they aged over this past year more than a year’s worth of living. Living rough must be pretty rough indeed.
She reminded herself to write her Auntie in Vegas to thank her again for the house in Puako. Which also reminded her she was going to call her mom. But she couldn’t remember why. Something at the White Benefit had planted the idea. Then she remembered, it was to learn about her family heritage.
She walked up to the Hawaii Consignment warehouse just as Charlie rolled up the cargo door. The layout of the place lured her in with visual stories of exotic tribes, stencil-like all-white decor, the celebrations of crystal ware, and a collection of kitchen whatsits that would leave any chef guessing as to each tool’s purpose.
Fun as it was to look around, Kumai was here with a purpose. “I need a swimming suit.”
“They’ve moved to the back and center.” Charlie pointed to where she had moved the rack and Kumai went hunting.
She returned to the front with three hangers. “You’re always so fast.” Charlie said. “Do you want to try them on?”
“No thanks. I’ll take my chances.” She saw a sealed plastic case for swimming that she could wear around her neck and added it to her pile. It would protect her phone and credit card from getting dropped while she was on land since she had no pockets.
Charlie set out a skeleton key for Kumai to look at. “Only one today. We showed you all the others that have come in. This one is just for fun, but I thought I’d show it to you.” The key was forged with the words WINE CELLAR on the head.
“It’s perfect for a gift!” Kumai laughed. ”If it were for myself, it would need an H in there.”
“Whine? You?! Not likely,” Charlie laughed, “You’re one of the most flexible and complaint-free people that I know.”
“Thanks, Charlie. It’s good to hear that today.”
“Rough start to the day already?”
“Confusion, betrayal of trust, and self doubt.”
“Okay, today I’ll give you an H.”
Kumai removed the hangers from her items. “I like the board shorts, but I was hoping for a more modest bikini.”
“You can wear the shorts over the bottoms.”
“And the cover up will help with the top.”
”You could try the Marts for a swim suit.”
“I’d rather make do. Maybe even do without.”
“Then you have two outta three qualifications to live in Hilo.”
“Oh?” Kumai asked.
“Yeah. To live on that side of the island, you gotta make do, do over, or do without.” Charlie said.
“Sounds very conservative.”
“Hard years in sugar cane fields define a place long after it gets easier.”
“I wonder how this recession will define us.” Kumai said.
“I know. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother looking back at me.”
Kumai nodded understanding. “I know what you mean. It’s been tough for everyone. But you’re not even close to looking stressed. However, you earned your H back. Oh, and I have a balance due to you. Hele sent me some things, so please add that to the total.”
Charlie looked through her messages and found Kumai’s bill for the White Benefit items: $33.33.
“Such a great deal!” Kumai paid with her credit card and held her breath. If it went through, that meant her Four Seasons pay had made it into her account.
Charlie handed back the card and held out a phone while she said, “Just scribble on the screen for your signature.”
Since she was walking, Kumai went as the Pueo flies. She headed toward the marina by cutting through the gravel quarry just above the boat harbor. In the cover of Kiawe brush, Kumai saw a lava tube with a thatched covering. It was in a low spot on the landscape, so it wasn’t visible from anywhere around. Strung on a line to dry were some tattered shorts, one pair of which looked like those worn by Chaz down at the pier the other evening.
“Hello?” She called out. No one answered. She got close enough to look at a waistband and read the size. She went back to the consignment shop.
With a solar lamp, le creuset dutch oven, polar fleece vest, three pairs of shorts, an umbrella, and two towels in doubled plastic bags, she retraced her steps to the small cave. Again she called out a greeting and received no response.
She set the bag just inside the entrance to the lava tube. Darkness prevented her from seeing much other than a two-by-twelve resting across two cement blocks. There may have been a fire pit beyond that.
She set out the lamp to charge in the sun. Next time she was in Waimea Hardware, she would stock up on Strike Anywhere matches.
Hunger pressed her to walk on to the Marina where she knew she could get an iced schooner of beer and fish and chips so fresh they were still flapping. Lunch overlooking the parallel masts and fishing poles, with the clanking of ropes and pulleys in the background wiped out any weirdness from her morning of telling her sins and being bewildered at Lani’s. She was closer now to her real home than she had been in days, and everything felt okay.
Until she saw Bradon.
She checked her phone. She was an hour early for meeting at Bradon’s slip.
He had a young woman with him. He sent her into the tack shop. Maybe she was a niece? A student, friend, daughter? Kumai’s heart dropped and she decided to watch them while they geared up for the sail.
The young woman came back out with a styrofoam cooler. Bradon gave her a friendly swat on her bikini’d bum.