A knock on the front door pulled Kumai from her lanai. It was Susan.
The dog dashed in. He licked Kumai’s face when she bent down to greet him. “Mana! I heard you had an adventure. How could anyone take you hostage? I’ll find ’em for you. Did they at least feed you good stuff?”
“I’m wondering if they fed him at all. He’s acting weird about meals.” Susan said.
“That’s terrible. Please,” Kumai said, realizing that she was the hostess here, “Come in. We can go out on the lanai.” She felt grateful for Bonnie’s cleaning. It made her look like she could manage her life.
“Your home is lovely.” Susan looked around.
Even though only a few elements in her living room were shifted, the entire experience of the space was improved. Regret whispered something. Kumai wondered what Bonnie was doing now. She also wondered if Susan had actually come to dive after hearing her dark story, or if this was a personal visit to break some bad news.
Like, “You’re fired.”
They stood on the lanai in a dizzying silence. Nothing was stirring. Kumai pointed to one of the teak chairs at her table, “Have a seat. What can I get you to drink?”
“Nothing, thanks.” Susan sat down and looked at Kumai. “Listen, about Florida. It took great courage to tell me about your experience. You could have just stayed silent about it.”
Kumai fought a sudden need to cry. This was not the time. She sat down and listened for the ‘but’ as Susan continued.
“I’ve had my own struggle with substance use crossing into abuse. It sounds like you’re actively dealing with the problem.” Susan paused.
“I attend twelve-step meetings. I haven’t used in a year.”
“Still tempted?” Susan asked.
“Every day. I feel the pull of habit less often now. The night of the Benefit was difficult.”
“Lots of access. I know. Me too.”
More silence. Kumai leaned forward, rested her chin on her hand, and covered her mouth with curled fingers to keep silent. She chewed her lip.
“I’m thinking that you are healthier than you may realize. You passed on an offer of that champagne.”
“True. But my problem is with stimulants.” Kumai said.
“Good point. Still, you clearly have self-control. And regarding your friend’s death, I’m sorry for your loss. That must have been terrible. I’m glad you told me about it. I already had researched your employment history and heard about it. You telling me directly has helped me to feel that I can trust you. As far as I can tell, you weren’t at fault for her accident.”
“Thank you, but I’m not looking for acquittal.”
“That’s good, ’cause you didn’t make safe choices for yourself. I want you to be more careful than that if I employ you.”
Kumai looked up. Employ me? “I can be more responsible. In fact, I have been for the past year.” For the most part. Well, there was that Japanese-Italian guy with the lava-lava and the veganaise…
“I know. Listen, I have a lot to deal with right now. My board is in a kerfuffle about finding a convention facility. Elena and Jorge are at an impasse with me. And there is something I have to conclude in California.”
“How can I help?” Kumai asked.
“Right now I just need to know that I’ve got somebody in my camp. I have to leave for a few days. I don’t know how long.”
“I can be in your camp. But that isn’t going to mean much to you if you’re paying me for loyalty.”
“Uh huh. My thoughts too.” Susan muttered.
“So how about we officially end my concierge contract as of today? We can go diving as friends.” And I can never buy my own dive boat.
Susan looked up and waited a moment to speak. Her voice was rough. “That would mean a lot to me. When I come back, we can talk about full time employment. However, can you go to twelve-step meetings anywhere? I mean, like if we end up traveling?”
“Yes. My meetings are on line.” Let’s just go to New Zealand today. I’ll send Bradon a postcard with Taka and me on the beach.
“Great. That could just work.” Susan sighed. “What do we do with the dog if we go diving today?”
“He should be fine here in the house.”
“Okay. And then,” Susan cleared her throat, “I can leave Mana with Elena and Jorge when I fly out on Wednesday.”
“So you’re leaving day after tomorrow?” Kumai asked.
“Uh, this is Monday? Yeah.”
“I don’t have anything going.” Big time. “If you want to leave him with me.”
“I mean, as a friend,” Kumai blurted out, “I don’t want to be paid for that.”
“It would give us all some peace of mind if you wanted to do that. But for dogsitting, I am paying you.” Susan said. “Besides, you’re keeping him safe in case the dog-nappers try again at the ranch.”
“You can leave him here with me today if you want.”
“Thanks, but I would like to get to know him a little. I would take him with me to California if I could swing it. I’ll be needing him. But even with my own jet, I can’t get around that quarantine time. Can you imagine that I got him for a companion? I kept forgetting my companion.”
“I’m sorry I said that the other day.” Kumai apologized. “It sounds like you have a lot on your mind.”
“Too much.” Susan’s voice broke.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Kumai asked.
Susan shook her head no.
“So how about that dive?” Kumai asked.
Susan nodded yes.
They gathered diving gear from Kumai’s shed and headed for the water. Bradon had pulled anchor and moved closer to shore. The little visiting boat was gone. Kumai didn’t like the idea of meeting up with any of them in the water. But even if it meant being too close, she would start out this time by swimming against the current.
The chilly water soon grew comfortable and supported them to float and pull on their fins. Kumai sighed. Sage was right that the sea settled her nerves. Being in the water was nurturing for her. She put on her mask and did a quick dive, then surfaced and checked on Susan. After a thumbs up, they both descended with Kumai in the lead.
Her ears weren’t equalizing properly, so she had to rise again to relieve them. After a few tries at clearing the pressure, she realized that she was clenching her jaw with stress. She relaxed, yawned with the regulator in her mouth, and her ears popped. The rest of the descent went beautifully, with the deepening pressure of water unwinding her tight springs. She got into a cadence with her breathing and became meditative. She stopped and floated above the coral. Her body became part of the life forms moving back and forth with the surge.
Susan floated like a natural. No buoyancy issues were causing her to rise and fall like a new diver and she was breathing calmly. This could be a good dive.
They explored along the coral formations, diving below the parasol surfaces to see what was hiding below. Schools of silvery Opelu darted in formation, catching the light like sideways tinsel. Black tang, rainbow wrasse, and trigger fish docked and then launched from pukas on the mineral forms.
They were directly below Bradon’s boat. No sound came from engines or pumps above, no clatter or clunk. Kumai wondered if they had left the vessel unmanned.
She caught Susan’s eye and pointed to ascend. They floated fifteen feet below the hull and Kumai listened. Nothing. She must have looked concerned because Susan signaled for them to surface. Kumai nodded no. Susan signaled again and began her ascent. Dive Buddy or Dive Boss?
Kumai followed, trying to break the surface as quietly as possible. The sun was blissfully warm on her cool hands as she treaded water. They rested their masks on their heads.
Kumai whispered, “What?”
“You think something’s wrong.”
“After what we saw at the Blue Dragon? One of us needs to check that boat.” Susan hissed.
Kumai could guess who was going to be It. She already expected that at least one thing was wrong on that boat: Kaandi and Bradon alone together. She didn’t relish intruding, but couldn’t risk her potential employment by defying a logical request. She really hoped that no one was hurt on board.
She inflated her BCD, removed it with the tank attached, and floated it to Susan. She clipped her fins and mask to the vest. Then she climbed the boat ladder.
As she came up to view the deck, she considered the possibility of danger. Hadn’t a small boat visited and left? What if they had attacked Bradon and Kaandi below? Since Kumai hadn’t seen when they left, she didn’t know if any attacker would still be on board. She froze in place on the deck and listened.
It was dead quiet on the boat.
The velcro strap tethering her dive knife to her calf sounded loud as a strip of lit fireworks in the silence as she lifted it slowly. Water slapped the hull. She reverse-gripped the knife in her left fist, blade down along her forearm and moved forward with her knees slightly bent.
She found nothing amiss on the upper decks. Standing at the ladder, she listened. A radio below was playing KAPA. Kumai wondered whether to simply leave now and spare everyone embarrassment or to find out facts. Viewing a train wreck ruled the day, so she descended the steps quickly to be a moving target.
She found herself alone.
The overflow of ship’s stores had been shoved to the perimeter of the hold and the table cleared except for a map. Kumai stepped closer. It was one of the maps from the dossier.
Now she worried that someone would come back, or happen on to Susan. She hastily folded the map, put it in one of the zipper sandwich bags on the counter, and pressed out the air to seal it as she leapt back up to topside. She sheathed her knife and slipped quietly back into the water, finger to lips toward Susan.
Near the shore she spotted where foliage grew close to the water and they might be hidden. She donned her gear and pointed in the direction to go. They both submerged quietly and kicked away from the waters below the sailboat.
They approached the protected spot near the shore. Kumai stayed submerged and led Susan to circle the far side for extra coverage. It was tricky managing the dive this close in. The pull of the surf could draw them into the rocks at any moment and then drag them back out to sea over razor-sharp lava and urchins.
Susan kept up. Kumai had to remind herself not to take risks with Susan following her. She increased their perimeter from the foaming rocks by a few feet. The difficulty involved to move away from the water’s pull alarmed her. These currents were strong.
At last they rounded a small point and Kumai could see cleared rock surfaces under the water where surfers gain access. She climbed one rock, then hefted her backside and gear up to the next higher rock when the surf rose again. Susan followed. They moved up one more level on the next surge, then sat in the water up to their legs and rested.
Leaning back onto her tank, Kumai stretched her spine. From behind and around the bend she heard voices approaching. Susan slowly turned to look in that direction. It was Susan’s turn to signal to stay quiet.
The first voice that Kumai recognized was Bradon’s, then Kaandi’s. She almost turned to look as she heard Kumu Lani’s voice cut in. The fourth voice sounded like an unhappy Manfred Tokushima, the FBI guy. Not that she would have known his happy voice.
In their year together, Bradon never mentioned to Kumai that he knew Kaandi or Lani. She tried to remember if she talked about her gardening class much. Maybe the women never came up. It was disturbing that she couldn’t remember any of the things that she and Bradon had ever talked about. They had conversed for a year and she had not one memorable chat to recall.
So far, conversing with Kirby had been highly memorable. The opportunity to make more memories with him was a comforting prospect.
Kumai strained to hear any snippets of the discussion. The wind kept changing directions, making words disappear as if on a bad cellular connection. She indicated to Susan that she was ready to go. Susan signaled to wait, that they could be seen if they moved right now.
Kumai stretched out her fins in the water and let the sun work on her leg tan. A needlefish bobbed by, studying her. The sets of waves rolled in and gently lifted and lowered her on her rock seat. She noticed that her breathing was deep and full. No more tension strained her body. Until she thought about that map in her mesh pocket. It looked like a photocopy, not the original. So, where was the original? And why did Bradon have a copy? She clenched her jaw. Some of the voices moved away.
Susan made a small gasp, glanced at Kumai, and signaled to dive. Kumai moved into the water without looking back to see although she wondered what had startled Susan. Instead, she focused on safely reentering the water. If her tank banged against any rocks, it would ring like a temple bell and make their presence known.
Afloat and mostly submerged, she rotated in place with her mask half in the water. She continued to sink as she looked. Back on the land where the trees gave way to rocks stood Bradon and Kaandi. His hands were full of her bum and her arms wrapped his shoulders as they kissed forever.