Kumai stood in her driveway holding the dog, debating. The Range Rover didn’t explode. It had started without a bang and stopped when it should. Maybe she should still warn her neighbor to take cover, even so.
Her arms were getting tired from holding the dog. She was hot. And her brain was tired of threats. If someone wanted her gone, the Miata would be the more likely target. She put the dog back in the passenger seat of the Rover, waved to her neighbor, got behind the wheel, cranked up the air conditioning, and drove away.
It wasn’t until she tried to turn her head to check for oncoming traffic at the highway that she felt how far her shoulders were pulled up beside her ears, waiting for an explosion. She stretched her arm wide across the console, opening up her chest and rolling her neck. Mana curled up and rested his head on her forearm, watching her with his lava-dark eyes. She assured him, “It’s okay, boy. The dealership isn’t far. We’ll get our old ride back.” Mana yawned and closed his eyes. He started snoring softly.
The dog sat up when she signaled for their exit and turned into the dealer’s parking lot. “I dunno their rules, but under these circumstances, you’re coming in.” Mana’s tail thunked against the passenger door.
After half an hour of the same non-information she had received on the telephone, Kumai gave up trying to learn who had bought the vehicle. She chose a new tack. “What do you have available if I don’t want to use this vehicle?” She asked.
“I’m sorry?” The salesman asked.
“Yeah, I want it thoroughly checked. Every nut and bolt tightened. All the fluids and lines and connections triple-checked.” She waved her hands in the air like a conductor.
“A thorough going-over on a brand new vehicle that has, how many miles on it?” He asked.
“182 miles on the odometer. Go over it as if the President were going to use it.”
To his credit, he didn’t roll his eyes. He looked at his computer, “We’re booked in the service department until next Monday.”
“Does the contract on the Rover cover a loan vehicle while it’s in for servicing?” She asked.
“Well, yes. It does.”
“It’s just that our loan vehicles are all in use. Our fleet is depleted.”
Kumai sighed and looked out the darkened windows of the showroom. The grey glass made it look like a storm was brewing outside when actually it was another sunny day on the Big Island.
She looked at the new Range Rover out in the parking lot, the grill grinning. Next to it was parked a retired mail van. It took her a minute to process what looked wrong. The van had the steering wheel on the right side. She wondered how hard that would be to drive.
“What about that? Is it available?” She asked, pointing.
“What?” He looked sideways at Kumai. “The mail van?”
“It’s going to the used vehicle lot after we detail it.”
“The decals are already off of it. Could I use that van until the Rover gets inspected?”
“I, suppose so? We haven’t detailed it. That’ll take a couple of hours.”
“No need. Keys are in it?”
Mana loved the low cargo step where he could climb straight into the van. Once on the highway, however, he hid from the flashing road reflectors and striping, as they whipped along.
The fresh air felt good blowing in where she left the entire door open. But when they stopped, the tin can became an Easy Bake Oven. It never had air conditioning as evidenced by the lack of buttons for it. Nor were there buttons for a seat warmer.
“We’re gonna need to name this van.” she told the dog. “How about Wanda?” Mana’s tail patted the metal floor like a poorly tuned steel drum.
While Kumai waited at a red light, she observed as a pickup truck pulled beside her in the next lane. Less than two feet away because of her right-side steering wheel was a driver who had a bright pink scar on his cheek. He stared straight ahead.
Kumai reached for her phone to call Peter, and realized she had no door to hide behind. She kept her face averted, punched in a text, and waited for the light to change.
She texted Peter, “Scarface in white Ford pickup corner of Palani and Anekeohokalole headed toward town.” It took forever to type out the street names then auto correct wrote “Plans” and “Amberley.”
“Crap.” she said as his truck drove away at the green light and went straight on to Henry Street. “Oh, of course.”
She noted his plate number and tapped send. The car behind her quietly waited for her to go through the light.
Kumai gassed the mail van to pursue her attacker. By the time she had cleared the intersection she had given up that ambition. Instead of going straight to follow him into the Kailua-Kona labyrinth of streets, she took a left toward Kealakekua and the coffee farm.
She put in her bluetooth, dialed Tom, and left him a message at the tone, “Tom, I got a loaner vehicle from the dealer so you don’t need to bring me Inigo. If you use the car, be sure to check it over, including the under carriage, every time you get in. Please pay attention and do this. It’s important. Thanks. See you Friday or thereabouts.”
The air swirled alternately cool and warm around Kumai’s body as she drove. She considered the possibility that this was better than a convertible. Wanda provided shade plus a full-body breeze. She was like a metal hammock on a moving tarmac lanai. Sleepiness washed over her. Rest at the farm couldn’t come at a better time.
The bamboo gate swung open and she rolled Wanda through the oleander arch. Mana asked for permission to get out. “Got for it.” Kumai said, pointing to the open area on what would normally have been the driver’s side.
“What’s this?” Her Uncle Leo asked, greeting her.
“Well, isn’t it just. What happened to Jose Gonzalez?”
“Inigo Montoya,” she corrected and hugged her uncle. “Don’t ask.”
“Well, this is one fine ride.”
“I’m liking it.” She nodded in agreement. “It’s a bit gutless, but that’s got advantages.”
Leo took her overnight bag and a bottle of the White Champagne that she handed to him. “Oh ho!” he chirped. “You brought a partee.”
“Yup. What’s Auntie doing for supper? Can I help?” she asked.
“Heavy pupus. They’re all done. Go ahead and settle in. I’ll let the champagne breathe.”
Kumai laughed. “Maybe keep it corked and put it to chill?”
“Is that how they do it?” He laughed.
The little ohana room where Kumai stayed was more like a screened treehouse overlooking the jungle. Mana asked to come in and she had to show him how to push through the magnetic screen door.
The cheerful pop of a cork called her upstairs to the kitchen. She hugged her Auntie Helen. “It smells delicious up here.”
“Bacon-wrapped dates.” Helen said. “Have some artichoke dip then carry it out to the lanai for us.”
“Ready for bubbly the price of diamonds?” Leo asked.
“Ready.” Kumai said from the lanai.
Her aunt opened the kitchen window screen and handed through some plates, utensils, napkins, and platters of small foods.
“Who’s joining us?” Kumai asked as she carried each delivery to the tile counter where they would eat overlooking Captain Cook Bay.
“Just us.” Helen answered. “I wanted you to have plenty leftovers so you don’t have to cook.”
“I don’t cook, remember?”
“You see my reasons, then.”
“Ah.” Kumai said, “Thank you.”
Leo handed her a flute of champagne. Helen came out with hers and toasted, “To Ohana.”
“Kompai.” Leo said.
“To your health.” Kumai said.
“Another beautiful sunset in paradise.” Leo gestured with his glass toward the apricot horizon.
“As always.” Helen agreed.
“Except for the times you’re out of town.” Leo murmured.
Helen blushed and looked at her champagne with a shy smile.
“Aw.” Kumai said. “That’s sweet. Get a room.”
Leo and Helen laughed, reached for the foods to pass around, and loaded their plates.
“Dig in.” Helen said, “Tomorrow we’re leaving around 3:00 a.m. for the airport. So we’ll head to bed early tonight.”
Kumai sighed with relief. “Perfect.” She studied the minuscule bubbles rising in the liquid and pictured tiny divers at the bottom of her glass. She took a sip, but didn’t like it as she had at the Benefit. She asked, “How’s the champagne?”
“Nice.” Helen said.
“Very nice.” Leo said. “You?”
“Kinda like any other champagne I’ve ever had.” Kumai admitted. “Fun but not entirely a pleasant experience.”
Leo laughed. Helen looked both surprised and relieved.
“Got any beer?” Kumai asked.
“Choke.” Leo said as she got up, chuckling, “Bring three.”
She returned with Kona Brewing’s seasonal Aina brew. They ate in silence as the setting sun reflected in rain drops across the lettuce green banana leaves like orange fairy lights. The hillside went from lush green to dusk blue to deep purple. The lights from one car down near Manini Beach marked the edge of land. Waves washed the shore miles below and sent their gentle shushing into the warm night air.
“I agree.” Leo said.
They cleared away the food and washed up, gave each other a goodnight hug, and went to their beds. Mana curled up at the back of Kumai’s knees. She was glad for his warmth and protection.
Leaving her door open would allow the cool breeze to flow through her room. Auntie had put a down comforter on her bed. She snuggled in and fell asleep before she could turn off the light.
When she awoke to Mana growling, she couldn’t decide whether to leave the light on and be more visible herself, or to turn it off and wonder what was making the gravel outside her door crunch. Mana let out a sharp bark, setting Kumai’s heart racing. Many rapid footfalls pattered through the gravel and scrambled away with grunts and squeals.
“Pigs.” Kumai said. She patted Mana, “Good boy.” She clicked off the light. As she drifted back to sleep the sound of tiny clawed feet scurried over the tin roof. “Rats.” she told Mana. He yawned loudly in protest.
She was diving and had found a case of White Champagne on the ocean floor. She was surprised when she opened the crate lid because she would have thought the ocean pressures would make the corks burst. As she watched, the metal wraps on the corks unwrinkled. She told Mana who was diving with her, “Run!” But it was too late.
Kumai levitated from her bed. The dog was gone. She couldn’t remember where she was. Was she home? No, there were coqui frogs chirping in a distant valley. Was she at Susan’s? No, it was too warm. She woke up more and looked out through the screen walls to the moonlit banana leaves and lace of oleander. The coffee farm.
She grabbed her flashlight and called, “Mana? Where are you?” He was nowhere in sight. A whimper came from under the bed. She leaned over and looked down to see him beside a small puddle.
“It’s okay buddy. I almost did that myself.”
He untucked his tail and moved the tip in an embarrassed wag. As he moved, so did a centipede the size of her middle finger. It approached the puppy from under the other side of the bed. Mana was watching Kumai and hadn’t noticed the threat. She tried to coax the pup out, but he just tapped his tail, making the centipede more curious.
Kumai dashed to get scissors from the pen pot. She went around the bed, struck out quickly, and pinched the insect in the blades without fully closing them and cutting it. Its fangs hit the metal blades with metallic tapping.
She carried the writhing contortionist, a hard-shelled snake covered in legs, and walked carefully to the toilet. Over the bowl, she closed the blades and flushed away the two lively halves from hell.
With a handful of paper towels, she returned to the dog. “Let’s get this mopped up. Then we’ll go see what made that noise, hm?” She reached under the bed and he belly-crawled out, following close on her heels.
They took a flashlight and carried the paper towels to the outside rubbish bin. On the walk in front of her door sat a freshly-fallen coconut. Mana growled at it and circled, sniffing.
“Ain’t that the truth.” Kumai said. She shone the flashlight up into the looming palm tree to see several more ripe fruits. “Great.”
A pueo screeched out in the dark, hunting. Kumai turned off the flashlight and let her eyes adjust. When she looked up again, she saw the palm branches splayed black in front of a velvet sky, with sprinkles of starlight dripping from the many-leaved fingers.
The air moved as slowly as a sleeping baby’s breath. A cricket sang in the grass. A rooster crowed, starting an answering chorus in the distance.
A mango fell. Mana jumped. In the kitchen above them a light went on and the coffee grinder whirred.
“Let’s try again.” Kumai told the dog and led him back to bed. The warm covers enveloped her. She sighed. She could still get a good sleep if she drifted off now. Rats rattled in the dry banana leaves hanging outside her screened windows, chirruping and chatting.
“Gah!” she said and pulled the covers up over her head.