“I think we took a wrong turn.” Kirby bounced uphill in his truck for several more minutes. “Much farther and we’ll hit the upper road to Kohala.”
“We could go visit Susan’s new ranch, Kealoha.” Kumai suggested.
“There’s no guarantee this road isn’t just a dead end. I don’t know any turn-off from the upper road that goes down through here.”
“I’ll check GPS and see if I can pull up a map.” Kumai dug her phone out of her bag. A rumpled paper fell out beside it. “Dang, only three bars of service. Maybe that’s enough.” She tapped the screen and muttered whenever they passed over a particularly rough patch in the road. “I’m down to two bars.”
“Is it time to turn around?” Kirby asked.
“Maybe just stop for a moment.” Kumai suggested. When he pulled over she handed him her phone. “Mind messing with this? I need to rest my carsick eyes.”
“Oh sorry, sure.” He worked her screen.
“What’s this?” Kumai asked about the folded paper next to her.
“Not mine.” Kirby said, preoccupied with Kumai’s phone.
“Trade ya.” Kirby said, extending her phone.
“It’s rubbish, I think.” Kumai handed him the paper and took the phone. “Kirby, you have it set on topo maps.”
“Ah, that’s why it had weird brown and green colors. “ He studied the markings on Kumai’s paper. “You know, your neighbors had a floating cooler.”
“No, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Hey here are some of the same marks on the topo map, just a little ahead of us on this road.”
“And there’s the symbol for caves.” Kirby sighed as he leaned in to look. “Just ahead.” He handed her the paper and put his truck into drive, then shifted into four wheel drive as the road entered bouldered terrain.
“So why did you mention the cooler?” Kumai asked.
“Just one of the puzzling things about that scene.”
“Yeah, the cooler had little piles of dirt in it, like they were transporting plants. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.”
“And now you’re thinking…”
“Artifacts. What if they were grave robbing like that Waimea antiques dealer?”
“What? Wait, do you mean Bradon McCandless? Or somebody else?” Kumai asked.
Kirby bit his lip. “I thought you knew. I mean, he did time for it.”
“Holy crap. What?” Kumai stared out the windshield, her eyebrows knitted as she rehearsed scenes this past year that would indicate her ex-boyfriend was still dabbling in illegal antiquities. “I saw him near my house at another site. It was marked on a map with these symbols.” She poked the rumpled paper and it tore.
“I’ll be quiet.” Kirby said.
“No, no please don’t. I’m just putting it together.” Kumai kneaded his leg.
“Ouch.” Kirby said. “Do you need to get out for a minute?”
“No, I need you to tell me what else was puzzling at the scene.” She waited. He drove. “Kirby, please.”
“Your neighbors had weird injuries.” Kirby said.
“Besides the fatal ones?” Kumai asked.
“They had old scars in places that people shouldn’t have injuries and in ways that I’ve seen before, in severe cases.”
“Could they have, you know, injured each other?”
“I have no way to know. Their scarring wasn’t in matching sets, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Do you have any theories?” Kumai asked.
“Some, but nothing makes sense yet. Except that cooler. They may have had a collection that they were killed for.”
“Or they were killed for the information of their treasure’s whereabouts. Especially if they hid it. Stop for a minute so I can use my phone, please.” Kumai bent down and started texting Peter.
“Where would they hide it?” Kirby asked.
“Somewhere with markings.” Kumai pointed to her note paper.
She texted Peter, “Search under boardwalk.”
“Do you want to go back home?” Kirby asked.
“Nah, I told Peter. He’ll send divers to search there. Let’s just stay away from Puako for a while. And let the pros take it.” She tucked her phone and the paper back into her purse. She heard a mechanical clunk that didn’t come from Kirby’s truck. “Shut off your engine.” She whispered.
“Huh?” Kirby asked.
Kumai reached over and killed the engine. The distinctive rumble and growl of another gear box rolled behind them. “There’s no way around them if we turn back.” Kirby said. “The caves are our only cover here.”
“How fast can you climb this rock pile?” Kumai asked.
“Surprisingly fast when I’m motivated.” Kirby confessed, started the truck, and spun all four wheels. “I just don’t want to break anything.”
Kumai hung on and checked behind them for a view of their pursuer. After all, it could simply be other adventurers.
Kumai looked back from their vantage point. “Gun it, Kirby. I see black too.”
A strange reverberation and metallic whistle erupted from the lava in front of them. “They’re shooting at us.” Kirby yelled. “Get down.” He raced to the flattened gravel area at the end of the road and they jumped out of his truck.
Kirby’s truck was no match for a Hummer in an off-road rally. Kane caught up to them by the time they had taken cover in a nearby ravine. They lay on their bellies between the hillocks of lava flows. They watched Kane get out of his vehicle. Other men stepped out from the three passenger doors. One slung a rifle over his shoulder and another drew out a machete from the floor.
The third man flipped open a switch blade, walked over to Kirby’s truck and smashed in the driver window. Kirby lurched to get up but Kumai restrained him. The knife guy popped open Kirby’s engine hood, grabbed a skein of wiring and sliced out a section with his blade. Kumai kept Kirby pressed down. Kirby squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his forehead onto his hand. “Breathe.” Kumai whispered. Kirby drew in a strained breath.
Kane and his men hiked toward the caves. As soon as she could no longer hear the crunch of their boots on lava, Kumai rose, crouched to check that it was clear, and extended a hand to Kirby. She whispered, “Do you know how to hot wire a vehicle?”
“Thing about hot wiring is you need wire.” Kirby griped.
“Not your truck, Kirby. You have the key to that. I mean Kane’s Hummer. They didn’t lock it.”
“Oh yeah, I know how. But late model vehicles have protections against ‘jacking. And knowing Kane, his vehicle would text him while it shot tranquilizer darts up through the seats.”
“Good point.” Kumai reflexively covered her bottom. “Let’s see if they have anything useful inside.”
“I’ll just break a few windows while we’re at it.” Kirby hunted for the perfect rock.
“Sorry Kirby, not right now. The sound of breaking glass would bring them back.”
“Fine.” Kirby clenched his teeth. “I’ll just slash a few tires.” But he looked at Kumai who shook her head no. “Right, cuz then they would be stuck here with us. So what’s our plan?” He asked.
“Open the doors quietly, search for anything useful. Don’t close the door or make any noises, just push the door to latch it.”
They searched in silence. Kumai gleaned two hydroflasks, a solar flashlight and two long-sleeved T-shirts. Kirby held up a phone charging cord, a notepad, and a transformer figurine. Kumai nodded yes. Kirby shrugged. They opened the back hatch and searched the cargo area where they gathered a small fleece blanket, a strange piece of lava rock, and a can of WD40.
“Put this on.” Kumai told Kirby, extending the long sleeved shirt to him.
“It’s a million degrees already.” He protested.
“Sunscreen.” She pulled the other shirt over her head.
“In caves?” He asked.
“Kirby, they went to the caves. We’re going to have to wait them out.”
“In that case, you need to take off the shirt under that one to protect your head.” He pulled off his T-shirt and in that one motion, sent her memories spiraling around sensations from last night. She would definitely prefer to be doing something else with Kirby instead of hiking in the full sun. He was oblivious to her admiration. After slipping on the long sleeved shirt, he tied his T-shirt onto his head with its tail covering his neck. He gestured for her to do the same. “With our dark hair, our heads would overheat within the hour. There’s no shade anywhere around this lavafield.”
Kumai pulled off her shirt and it was Kirby’s turn to travel memory lane. She tried not to check if he was wishing for what she wished, but they locked eyes for a flash of dry lightening. She smelled the hot sun on the minerals around them. The metal in the engines clinked as they cooled. Time hiccuped and all there was for that moment were a man and a woman standing in a grey-black expanse of lava.
Kumai caught her breath and pulled on the long sleeves. Kirby sighed and turned to pack their findings into a KTA reusable shopping bag covered in pidgin. He helped her to tie her shirt over her head and neck, she pointed uphill to the left of the caves, and they set out. They crunched along, slowly picking their way over the sharp and treacherous terrain.
“What’s that buzzing?” Kumai asked.
“Be careful!” Kirby held her shoulder and steered her to the right. “It sounds like a ground hive over there.”
“Bees?” She asked.
“Yeah. When there are no trees they nest in the ground. Where are we going?” He asked.
“I’d like to get to a vantage point where we can watch the cave mouths, preferably somewhere safely out of rifle range. They’ll come out at some point and we can go in for the night.”
“There really are no trees out here, are there? Just a few grasses and ferns in the low spots. We should sip water to stay hydrated.” He dug in the shopping bag for the aluminum canteens. He handed Kumai the blue one printed with Malie Spa in wavy letters. “Don’t down a lot, conserve it.”
Kumai sipped, then spat out the liquid. She started coughing. “What is this? It tastes like gasoline.”
“Go to the hive, Kirby.” Kumai whispered.
“And toss a rock at it. Then run back here.”
“What are you talking about?” Kirby looked up to see Kane walking toward them, holding a hand gun pointed at Kumai.