Passing the entrance to the Four Seasons Resort reminded Kumai that she was to receive a call today from Ben Jenkins. The stretch of white sandy beach at Hualalai was inviting, but she didn’t want to run into anyone and somehow jinx her job prospect. So she drove up Kohala Coast past the Mauna Lani, Hapuna Beach, and the Hapuna Prince Hotel. Several places along the coast here were approachable, but driving to a tucked-away beach seemed the best way to track if she was being followed.
An old grande dame, the Mauna Kea Resort, was accessed by a long curving drive guarded at the mouth by a lava rock and glass gatehouse. The security guard stepped out of his stone bunker and jotted down her license number. He raised his brows without saying a word to her.
“Aloha.” Kumai smiled. Maybe he was reacting to the van. Good thing she didn’t have the animals with her or she would have been making a U turn. “Do you have any passes for Mau’u Mae?”
“Um…” He took her seriously when she pronounced the cove’s name correctly as ‘m ow my’. He stepped back into the hut, looked at the wall, and pulled down a clipboard. It appeared that someone had returned their pass so she could still go in today. The resort allotted only 15 passes per day for this beach, and if a visitor didn’t return a pass when they left, no one else could gain access. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” Kumai put the pass on the dashboard as instructed. She didn’t need to follow the map printed on the back. She knew where to turn past the physical plant and base yard. It was always interesting to pass the chain link compounds of detritus from the resorts. Today, piles of chairs were stacked upside-down with fingers stretched toward heaven in supplication for a chance at auction and a second home in a rental property.
The van wobbled over the two railroad-tie bridges, rattling wood and chains like an Old West wagon. The heat was intense out here. It used to be a pleasant hike in to the beach, with kiawe trees covering the path in a shadowy tunnel. But since wild fires had passed through a few years ago, it had become a tropical desert. Even the beach itself had scarce shade.
A mesh hemp bag held all of her beach stuff. She checked her phone for a signal. Three bars. She had forgotten water and was already feeling the lack of it. But she promised not to be hard on herself about being scattered, considering the circumstances she left at home. She also tried not to worry that she hadn’t heard back yet from Peter Yelley about the bomb in her garage. It was a good sign that the coastline to the South didn’t show any pillar of black smoke pouring up from Puako Road.
In the dry heat, the short hike down to the beach was grueling. Dust hovered after each footfall, powdering her feet in an iron red. The smell of hot minerals was as electric as a lightning strike. She licked her lips and swallowed, looked out at the glimmering sea ahead of her, and muttered to herself, “Water water everywhere, but nary a drop to drink.”
Two young women were coming up the path, a cooler between them. They must have heard Kumai. They set down the cooler and opened it. One handed Kumai an ice-cold bottle of water. The other put on her bikini top and grabbed a bottle for herself. “Want one more for the beach?” She asked, holding out another bottle to Kumai.
“Thanks, yes. Good timing.” Kumai tried not to stare at the perfectly formed bare breasts on the first woman who was fishing in her bag for something then pulled out a bunch of strings. It turned out to be her bikini top. “Is it crowded today?” Kumai asked, nodding ahead to the beach.
“Nobody there right now.” The woman laughed, “So you’re safe if you wanna go starkers.” She pointed to her friend who was getting clothed.
“Ah, nice.” Kumai said, then raised the bottles. “Thanks for the jugs.”
The women burst out laughing. One said, “A hui hou!” as they picked up the cooler between them and walked toward the parked cars up at the roadside.
Kumai shook her head and walked down to the beach. Their idea came to mind when she pulled off her cover-up. But she didn’t have anyone with her to be vigilant. It would probably be one of those things where she was enjoying going commando in the ocean and someone would come to the beach. She would never be able to get out of the water, and it would end up all around bad. She sighed and left her bikini top on. She did let herself go out in bikini bottoms instead of covering up with board shorts.
Once her towel was stretched on the sand and she had her sunglasses set out for easy retrieval with wet hands, she took a run for the water. Mau’u Mae was the perfect blue lagoon. Hawaii’s water temperatures fluctuated between 75 and 80 degrees, except where the ground water fed into the sea, like at Mau’u Mae. The spring water was icy. When the water came above her waist, she did a little leap and dove under.
Coolness fingered through her hair. Her muscles tightened at the cold touch on hot skin. She opened her eyes and looked at the blurry blue ombre of underwater. A little bend sent her diving to the sandy bottom where she put down her feet and pushed up with delight. Back at the surface, the water temperature was several degrees warmer. She burst out of the water, laughing.
As she floated face-up for a while, she watched the beach access trail and surrounding rocky edge. No one was in sight, no movement. She sat up and did a lazy floating kick underwater, her feet in the colder water below the surface. She untied her top. She slipped the straps over her head and tied the top to her bikini bottoms. Then she dove again.
Feeling the water stroke her bare skin was exhilarating. Below the level of consciousness, she wondered about Kirby, or maybe Taka. She knew she didn’t have anyone to enjoy her body with her, but that didn’t keep her from imagining it. Before she started to enjoy his, whoever’s, body, she stopped herself. Something about not knowing who he was bothered her. Sensuality involved more than visual attraction for her. Full enjoyment required a connection. Kumai surfaced, her lungs screaming for air, and her body screaming for intimacy.
Giggles erupted from the trail. A couple came hiking down toward the beach, kicking up red dust and chatting. Kumai continued her slow kicks and untied the suit top from the bottoms. But it turned out she untied the bottoms. All the pieces of her swimming suit slid off like lead weights and sank to the sandy floor.
Kumai gasped and choked on salty water. She forced herself to calm down, but she couldn’t help feeling like she needed to use her hands to cover her body rather than for swimming. The people were still too far away to see anything more of her than a dark head floating on the water. Even so, she felt embarrassed at being naked. The water touching her without any barrier felt exotic. Kumai was both thrilled and horrified. She did not want to have to come out of the water naked.
She dove, making sure not to let her bare bottom surface in the process. The suit was drifting gently back and forth in the surge, stirring up sand. Retrieving it turned out to be the easy part.
She surfaced and pedaled. Putting her suit back on by feel underwater was almost more than she knew how to manage. That and keeping an eye on the couple who looked intent on getting in the water first thing. Her gaze locked on them, she felt for the tie to secure her bottoms, then realized she had them on sideways and had to start over.
The couple was walking toward the water’s edge, picking up their pace as the heated sand caught up with their feet. She started to panic, but kept going with her efforts. In a quick movement, she put the straps of the top over her head. Her breathing slowed as she tied the top in the back. Made it.
Another dive and swim underwater worked out the cramps in her shoulders brought on by her hurry. The couple floated out together on a body board. They were oblivious of anyone or anything else in the world.
Kumai drifted then decided that more of that drinking water would be good while it was cold. She meandered out of the water, dried her hands and checked her phone. No messages. Two bars. She texted Sage just to be sure she could get messages. Then she put on her sunglasses and laid down to sunbathe. The water lapped at the shore. It produced longer swishes when a surge carried the waves further up. Happy distant voices and the cool off-shore breeze mixed into the heated air. Kumai sighed. A francolin called out in its metallic voice.
An ukulele chord alerted her to a text. It was Sage confirming that she got Kumai’s note. And it was 45 minutes after Kumai had sent her question. Kumai realized she must have fallen asleep. Checking for any sunburn and relieved that her sunscreen had worked, she rolled over onto her stomach and set a timer on the phone for 15 minutes. Then she drifted off again. This time she dreamed of Kirby. He was working, but he was a nurse in an ambulance, from which he was delivering mail. The timer beeped.
Kumai sat up and considered going for another dip. She was hot and sandy. The water sparkled in the setting sun. The ocean reflected a trail of light from the horizon to her and illuminated the path into the chilly brine. It would be a shock to her system to get in the cold water again. She decided instead to get freshened up for the evening ahead. Then she changed her mind and ran for another last swim, leaping into the water with abandon.
By the time that she drove to the public showers, she was encrusted in salt crystals, sand, and rusty dust. She felt like she should crunch when she walked, especially her overly-sunned backside which had started to itch. The sweet clear water rinsed away all her mineral coatings. She shampooed and then stood there letting the water pour on her head, eyes closed. The air felt cool on her bare belly. The cascade traveled in French curves over her shoulders, down her back and bottom, and in eddies along her sides. Her entire body got goosebumps.
When she opened her eyes, there was a very handsome man standing in wait for the shower, watching her. He was transfixed, oblivious to the woman standing next to him with her hand on her hip, brows furrowed, and mouth agape.
“Excuse me.” Kumai said to the couple. The woman returned a glare. “It’s all yours.” Kumai shut off the water and stepped out of the way.
“Thank you.” The man said and smiled at Kumai, still staring.
Kumai looked away and blushed. His was a delicious smile. And voice. And he had a striking new wedding band that matched the angry woman’s.
Her bag of evening attire was on the cement bench outside the restroom. As she toweled off, she looked down to see that her bikini top was inside-out. Her first reflex was to cover her chest and race to the changing rooms. She fought the instinct and made herself do like a cat does when it runs into a glass door: act like she meant to do that. She lifted her chest, sucked in her stomach and sauntered with her towel swinging until she disappeared into the cool cement-block cave of changing rooms.
When she emerged from the cave mouth, she was transformed from beach babe to elegant Hawaiian woman. Her hair was up in a gentle French twist, secured by chopsticks. The creamy plumeria was tucked in the soft folds of her hair, its five petals sharply defined against the silky black.
She had wrapped the drapey fabric as a dress, pareo-style. Over that she wore a shell lei and cinched her small waist with a wide leather belt. Her usual makeup, a swish of lipstick, was sufficient enhancement along with the growing rosy color on her cheeks from being in the sun today. And the fancy shoes made the ensemble into evening attire, even though it was simple everyday wear in Polynesia. Kumai felt like a million.
The showers were empty. She looked around to see if there were any snipers or other distant observers of her movements. She detected nothing.
Near the mail truck, she paused again, sat at a picnic bench, and looked around. None of the other parked cars had anyone sitting in them. There was no one on the walls watching her vehicle.
She went to the van, unlatched the hood, raised it, and found nothing unusual. All the dirt was undisturbed. Same with the steps to the interior and the red dust on the back cargo door. No one had touched it. Kumai had never been thankful for the staining red dirt before.
Distracted by devising plans to protect herself, she drove to Choo’s and parked. She sprinkled lines of dirt across each step of the van, over the hood, and just inside the cargo door. She rolled down the door and turned to see three young women watching her with curiosity.
Kumai shrugged, smiled, and waved. They smiled and turned to walk to the bar. As a last defense, Kumai unlocked the cargo door, thinking that if someone were hoping to break in, they would assume it was locked. When they went to unlock it, they would actually lock it. She chuckled to herself.
Digging for wipes to clean her hands, Kumai also got out a nail file and cleaned the dirt from her nails. Seeing those girls reminded her that glamour was more than lipstick. She sighed, checked her phone, sighed again to find no calls from Jenkins at the resort and no messages from Peter about her home.
She texted Peter, “Status?” then put her phone on vibrate.
Choo’s bar had the typical bamboo and tiki entrance covered with thatching. Promising herself an umbrella drink, Kumai took a deep diver’s breath and walked in. Gorgeous young women milled around in the open-air venue.
Kumai felt her portfolio plummet. Her million was now worth less than two cents.