Peter Yelley could not have dispatched the Maori diver to oversee Kumai. Tickets to the White Benefit, Hawaii’s most exclusive event, were impossible to buy for any price at the eleventh hour. Kumai hoped to ask Taka why he wasn’t on the supposedly urgent dive tonight.
A guide pointed the newcomers to their table. Taka held out the chair next to Susan.
“I’m Kumai.” She offered as the woman sat down. “This is Susan.”
“Manya.” She said.
“Taka.” He said.
Kumu Lani jumped in, “Do you know what those symbols on your tattoos mean?”
Manya said nothing but glared at Kumai.
“Okay. It’s important that you’re not just wearing them for decoration. That’s good.” Lani said. Then, “Kumai, do you have a minute?”
“Sure. Please excuse me.” They walked to the silent auction room.
Lani turned to face Kumai, noticed the necklace, and gasped, “That is stunning!”
“Oh thanks.” Kumai said, “Some sort of silver plated costume thing.”
“Can I buy it from you?”
“What? Uh, no. You can get it on eBay. I read the hallmark stamp and it says ‘PLT’ something.”
“I’d pay choke for it.”
“Lani, it’s not mine, I’m borrowing it.”
“Can you ask the owner? Call or text right now. I’ll wait.”
“You know that we all have our phones turned off tonight. I said I will ask for you. But it will have to wait.”
“I’m offering five thousand dollars. You can text without anyone knowing, maybe from the lua? If I can buy it tonight, there’s another five hundred in it for you.”
“I will communicate your offer. It’s not going to be tonight. But, you didn’t ask me aside to buy this necklace. What’s up?”
“I’m afraid for you, Kumai. Strange things are happening over the land.”
“You are in danger. Do you have somewhere to lay low for a while?”
“Aw Kumu. No one is interested in plain ole me.”
“Being false doesn’t suit you Kumai. You need to stop this self-defecation.”
Kumai coughed and held her breath.
“You could go camping, or visit your father. You could even fly to Mexico and see your mother. It’s time for a retreat.
“That’s not how I approach threats.”
“Yeah. I’m not running or hiding. I’m pushing back.”
“I’m not sure that’s wise. This isn’t just some what-what fight. There are forces here greater than either of us.”
What Lani wasn’t saying absorbed Kumai more than what she said. The dossier that had previously interested her went unmentioned. Manfred could have reported back to Lani that Kumai no longer had the folder. Why else would her former-Kumu not ask?
Then Kumai remembered that Manfred hadn’t asked about a portfolio or papers. He had asked specifically about maps. Kumai tried to remember what she had said to Lani about the dossier. She recalled Lani’s shock that Kumai had seen what was inside. She remembered now, Kumai had told her teacher that the folder contained some land documents. Not maps.
Kumu Lani was right. There were forces that Kumai had not been aware of. It remained to be seen about the ‘greater’ part of those forces.
“Kumu, I appreciate the aloha you carry in your heart for me. I can see that you are concerned. I will devise my plans to avoid mishap.” Kumai held her gaze.
Kumu Lani said, “Yes, please be wise. Consider what I have said. You know I care about you and don’t want to see you hurt.” She gave an imploring look and ducked out of the room.
The silent auction items drew Kumai’s attention. Each bidding sheet bore dollar amounts that looked like car and house payments, or purchases. A Niihau shell necklace was already commanding two thousand dollars over her annual income last year. Maybe the restrooms would be more entertaining than watching the fiscal chasm widen.
The Manoa Lodge had marble restrooms. White ginger blossoms in sculpted urns broadcast a melody line for the aria of soap, lotion, and perfume notes worn by women not found at a Macy’s counter. Kumai went into the handicap stall since she planned on hiding out there for a while. With room enough for a twin bed and a chair, she could live here. If a friend visited, she would double the lou as her chair. The chamber already had its own sink, so she only needed a hot plate and dorm fridge. She looked for outlets.
Her phone seemed to take forever to boot up. Instagram had nothing new since yesterday. Wasn’t anybody doing anything interesting? Then she pulled up her new facebook account and wrote, “White Benefit = Niveous Nirvannha.” She googled how to spell nirvana, corrected it, and posted. While on google she looked up PLT and almost deprecated herself.
PLT was the hallmark for pure platinum. She sat still, afraid to move with the necklace on for fear it might fall off into the commode. She stayed vigilant as she pulled up eBay and searched for the necklace. It displayed:
Final Bid: $45,000.00 by private buyer #258
The gimcrack now felt like a horse collar. The metal seemed thicker, colder. She wanted to remove it for safekeeping, but where? She fingered the clasp to be sure it was secure as was the safety chain. Her breathing felt constricted.
Her phone buzzed and she jumped. Susan texted, “Where RU?”
“In the lua.”
“Where’s a luau?!”
“Lua = Bathroom.” Not a cookout, unless I move in here. Hey, a grill would fit, she realized. Without lanai furniture, though, unless she skipped having a bed and strung up a hammock for sleeping.
No, I need a guard dog for my collar. “Be right out.”
Two women entered the lounge area and were setting up a couple of white lines to inspire. Kumai couldn’t help but think that this was her idea of a white benefit. One of the women offered. Kumai was frightened by how long it took her to answer.
“Thanks, no, I’m doing okay.” But apparently she wasn’t. Maybe she would get online for an SOS meeting on her next skip to the lou. Without stopping to check her lipstick, she scrambled away to rejoin the banquet.
She anchored herself back at her seat. Salads were served. Wedges of red, pink, and yellow beets drew the eye like splatters of blood on a snowbank.
“They should give us bibs,” Susan said, “Knowing we’re all going to be wearing white. Twenty bucks says the main course has a red sauce.”
“I’ll wager fifty cents.” Kumai offered.
“Not very confident, are ya?”
Just not very affluent, actually. “Mostly sure that you called it right. But I don’t mind betting against the odds. I like to live dangerously.” Kumu Lani’s warnings echoed in her mind.
“You missed Dr. Ching telling me all about the Challenge of Corrosion while working beside the ocean shore. He has an astounding head for figures.” Susan talked like Dr. Ching was remarkably potty trained. Kumai could only imagine how that conversation felt. No wonder Susan violated the no phone code to retrieve Kumai.
“I’ll bet twenty dollars that he wouldn’t mind repeating the information for me.” Kumai said.
“Not at all!” Dr. Ching enthused.
Susan glared at Kumai, a reminder that perhaps she would do well not to provoke a client. The only client. Perhaps the Last Client.
“Hey!” Kumai said, “Dr. Ching, do you have any information on underwater decay rates?”
“Yes, but I already told that other diver about those properties tonight. It’s rather boring data. Why don’t you ask him for a copy of the notes he took?”
“Other diver?” Kumai asked. Taka also perked up. “Where?”
“Yes, a gentleman with a bad limp. Said he had a diving accident so he took notes for his buddies who would have to complete his research for him.”
“Do you see him now? Did he say what he was researching? How long ago did you speak to him?”
Susan rested a hand on Kumai’s arm to decelerate her.
“No, no. I don’t know where he went.” Dr. Ching scanned the room. “I don’t know. It was before I sat down, I think.”
“Oh, well, I’ll just ask him. Will you be sure to point him out to me if you see him again, please?” Kumai tried not to let her voice squeak. It was one thing to talk brave to Lani, but the idea that her attacker was in the Lodge somewhere freaked her out. Her eyes locked with Taka’s. His understanding gaze fortified her aims and her fear shifted. She lured her emotions out from hiding in a mindset of prey and into the open plains of predator.
Salad plates were cleared and more champagne arrived in white fused-glass ice buckets for the tables. Dr. Ching poured, generously. Just as Susan set down her goblet, Kane stepped up with his back to Kumai.
“May I ask you to dance?” He asked Susan.
Kumai tried not to look like anything in particular, which apparently ends up looking like something.
“Would it be rude for me to leave the table for a dance?” Susan asked, her eyes asking if Kumai was warning her away from this guy. Kane looked to Kumai and waited for her answer.
“Not at all!”
Kumai wondered, did she look different enough that he didn’t recognize her? Or maybe the invitation to meet at Choo’s was Kane’s way of being polite to just anybody. It appeared that Kumai had been stood up. And overlooked. And forgotten.
She thought about returning to the restroom for a cheering up. Those women would be gone but others would be celebrating too. She felt the foot of her champagne glass, turning it with her fingers on the seams.
“Dance?” Kirby asked.
Kumai turned and smiled. “You’ve already got a date.”
“Not the one I was gonna ask. That one kinda walked out on me.”
“Was she rude?” Kumai asked, feeling concerned.
“Not at all. In fact, if you will dance with me, I’ll tell you a secret about her and how she was right about something.” Kirby widened his eyes.
Kumai laughed and extended her hand to his. When their hands touched, her whole body got happy. “This sounds like my kind of story.”
They stepped in with the other dancers during a slow song. Kirby conducted them into sync and drew Kumai close enough to almost embrace. He smelled of Hawaiian sandalwood, shoyu, and coriander from his IPA. He spoke quietly, “I did some follow-up on that homeless man in Kona, Charles. I can’t give you details because of privacy laws but you were right, he wasn’t on anything when we brought him to the hospital. I was wrong.”
“Is he very sick?”
“I can’t really go into it.” Kirby apologized, “But he’s not sick.”
Kumai smiled. “Thank you for telling me. Thank you for researching about him. I also learned that he likes to be called Chaz.”
“Kumai…” Kirby paused. She felt dizzy from his saying her name. Then she thought about how stupid that was. It had to be the champagne. Heady stuff.
Nope, this intoxication wasn’t the drink.
“I had hoped to ask you to this event, not anyone else.”
“S’alright. We’re here now.” She leaned forward to rest her head on his shoulder but forgot to account for heel height. Tonight his shoulder was too low to reach comfortably. She pulled her head back up and hoped maybe it looked like a dance move.
Kirby pulled her closer. What would it be like to be with someone like Kirby, she wondered. She didn’t have to give up the ocean just because it wasn’t his favorite. Lots of couples had differing interests. Couples? Kumai’s imagination formed a series of water-free scenes with them together, going out for mix plates, shopping the freshest Ahi for dinner, attending seasonal festivals for Kona coffee, chocolate, coconut, mango, beers. Sampling at the microbreweries. Driving the new Saddle Road to Hilo and stopping for a hike or spielunking. Dancing.
She rested her head against the top of his and closed her eyes to feel the music. Warm tropical air swirled with the dancers. Night’s cool edge wafted in from the entry. The bulk of Kirby felt like the ocean swaying in time with her, holding her in gentle surges…
When she opened her eyes, she was facing the entrance. And Bradon.