The Queen’s Highway, so called because few people have either the skill or time to say Queen Kaahumanu Highway, was a two-lane strip of asphalt chiseled over frothy black mounds of lava. It looked like a road somewhere in outer space, except for tiny tufts of grass, heat waves, and random feral goats, donkeys, or cyclists. And the presence of an atmosphere.
For shoulders on the highway, a bike lane sporting bikers year-round provided an emergency route, if you were willing to take a few athletes with you. Between the narrow shoulders and oncoming traffic, it was not a road for multitasking. So Kumai felt grateful that her lunch of a simple sandwich required only one hand, keeping the other free to push her telephone Bluetooth buttons on the steering wheel.
The call to her dad went smoothly. To voicemail.
She told him about Susan’s arrival on his island tonight and asked for a returned call. It reminded her of college days when dorm mates would ask about Hawaii for their Spring Break. Kumai usually ended up hosting a handful of friends at her dad’s. He encouraged the visits, mostly because he wanted to see his daughter but also because he seemed to enjoy younger visitors in general.
Booking Susan’s flight proved trickier since First Class always sold out early. Now with that task managed, she needed only to call the Four Seasons about regaining her work there. Again the front desk put her through to guest services, and again she got their voicemail. As she drove past that resort’s entrance, she checked the dashboard clock for time enough to stop. But no. She tried not to take this telephone tag personally, hung up, and focused on following a slow-moving rental vehicle.
Tourists apparently thought they needed to drive the speed limit. Everywhere else on island, folks would drive under the limit. Safety signs often flashed their warning messages, “your SPEED is 33 MPH! SLOW DOWN!!” in a 35 zone. But on the Queen’s Highway, you couldn’t drive fast enough for the locals. Kumai had tried. No matter how fast she went, someone always wanted to pass her. Today she wanted to pass these tourists, but oncoming traffic would not relent.
She rested her sandwich on the dashboard and tried to relax. Instead, she realized that Susan would need alternative accommodations in case Kumai’s dad didn’t get back to her. She dialed her way through several old contacts via Bluetooth. Eventually, she lined up a suite at the Halekulani, next door to the iconic pink Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Waikiki.
She thought about calling Annamae again. Something about that woman’s airhead act was a tell. Whenever Annamae acted ditzy, Kumai had discovered that there was more to be discovered.
Traffic slowed to a stop at the new industrial area. Bicycles whizzed by on her right. Kumai cursed, looked at the time, and wished she was on a bicycle for the first time since childhood.
She dialed the dive boat captain instead of Annamae. The boat phone rang. Kumai hung up without leaving a message. Then her phone rang, showing it was the boat, “Hello?” she answered on Bluetooth.
The substitute captain’s voice filled her vehicle, “Please tell me you are not canceling for this dive…”
“Oh, hi, no sir. I’m stuck in traffic and wanted to ask you to wait for me. I probably won’t be late, but just in case…”
The captain released his held breath. “Good. Yes. ETA?”
“Not more than fifteen minutes. Where’s Captain Yelley?” She never asked his whereabouts when absent before, but now knowing that her usual dive captain was also a government agent made her curious. And she wanted to get a feel if this captain was in the same boat professionally.
“I’m told he is on a prolonged research dive. Won’t be back for at least a week.”
“Okay. I look forward to working with you again, sir. Be there ASAP.” She felt unsure of whether this guy was also an agent, which made her think he might not be, but that is also just how secret agents worked…
They disconnected and Kumai wondered if Peter’s research dive involved a manhunt for Kane. She hoped so.
Next, she wracked her brain for an alternate route. She tried Siri, “Give me an another way to reach the Kailua Pier from my location.”
Siri responded in his calm voice, “Make a U-turn when the roadway is clear.”
Kumai let out a primal yell.
Siri responded, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that request. Would you like an estimated travel time for your alternate route?”
“Yes, sure,” Kumai said.
“Four hours and fifty-three minutes, depending on traffic.”
Siri wanted her to go around the island the other way for the better half of a day. That was her only alternative route.
There was nothing left for her to do but turn on the radio. Music from 102.7 Da Bomb traveled without static from Honolulu on Oahu to her radio on the Big Island. She scanned the horizon for the floating peak of Haleakala on Maui, but she was too far South into Kona to be able to see it.
Traffic crawled forward. Kumai wasn’t in the mood for hits radio, so she let it scan again. Maoli was singing Is This Love on Island 98.5. Kumai sang along, “If it’s love we got, don’t ever let it stop.” Then she punched the off button and dialed Kirby.
“Kumai, I’m sorry I can’t talk right now.” Kirby’s voice was a surprise.
She waited to be sure it wasn’t a recording and then realized that was stupid. “Okay, call me when you can.” She hovered her thumb over the disconnect button on her steering wheel. The car in front of her stopped suddenly and she looked up just in time. “Ho shit!”
“I know. I’m so sorry.” Kirby sounded distressed.
“Are you okay?” Kumai asked.
Kumai’s phone speaker went dead. She punched her thumb onto the red button just in case she decided to say her thoughts aloud.
By the time she carried her gear onto the dive boat, her mood had darkened into a squall. She had been looking forward to the distraction of the dive. As it turned out, however, the dive was too distracting to be enjoyable. The clients were the sort of travelers that concierges warn businesses about. Kumai sat on deck and tried to stay quiet.
“And then I rode the sea turtle!” The boy exclaimed as he retold a story about the beach yesterday.
“Geoffrey.” His mother scolded with a smile. “You know they are a protected species. What does that mean, sweetie, ‘protected’?”
“I wasn’t hurting it. I was just hanging onto its shell.” The boy continued the story by turning his back to Kumai.
“What are the fines for that?” Kumai asked the dive captain a little too loudly.
He rolled his eyes at Kumai.
“I’m trying to remember. For touching a sea turtle,” She prompted. The captain went back under the cover of shade. Kumai mused aloud. “Up to $25,000, I believe, with the possibility of a year in prison.”
“Not for children!” The woman gasped and raced over to hold her squirming son.
“We are required to abide by wildlife laws in our business.” Kumai smiled at the woman. “Just wanted little Geoffrey to be forewarned. I will now keep a six- to ten-foot buffer from Geoffrey so that you all know what that distance looks like.”
She went out of earshot and stood beside the captain. He stared ahead. She huffed.
“I take it you came up here for the kid’s own protection. Wanna talk about it?” He asked.
“Not really.” She said. “I just need to be in the water.”
“Getting there as fast as I can.” He assured her.
Kumai snorted and smiled at him, “Thanks.”
“Do keep an eye on them down there. I’m not sure they did the introductory dive correctly.”
“Great.” Kumai sat down and got a Coke out of the cooler. She never drank Coke. Which made her think about the coke she used to consume. Today would have been a perfect snow day. Good thing she was out on a boat. Maybe it was time to join her online meetings again. And again she thought of Kirby. She wondered how he was doing with his AA meetings.
“Gah.” Kumai huffed and put the unopened can back into the cooler.
“Coke is so stupid.” The captain scoffed.
Kumai laughed. Then she leaned forward and put her head into her hands, rubbed her eyes, and pulled her hair back into a ponytail that she held with one hand while she tilted her head to look up at the captain. “You got a sweetheart?”
“Uh. um.” He said.
“Right. Private, sorry.” She let the ponytail loose and her hair sprang free into its full dark waves. “I’m having boyfriend troubles.”
“Ah, I see.” He sat down and relaxed his shoulders. “I didn’t know if it was these people or something else.”
“Mostly something else. These people aren’t helping any. Is the one in the black socks gonna dive with us?”
“I believe he is the go-pro observer today.”
“For which I am most grateful. Anyone dresses like that wouldn’t survive a dive.”
“You’ve never been very interested in fashion.” The captain observed.
“Hey.” Kumai protested.
“Well, have you?”
“I am …conservative. But not blind.” She laughed again.
“Conservative!” He laughed. He slowed the boat and stood up. “We’re almost there.”
“What would you call it?” She asked.
“Our dive spot.” He chuckled and walked away to loosen their tie-off.
During the dive, Kumai eventually had to tether Geoffrey to her BCD in order to prevent him from bashing the coral on the descent, flying out of control up to the surface and then returning to drop below their dive mark. The good news was that by bobbing up and down so many depths, he was now on his fifth dive in fifteen minutes, meaning he was off the dive charts and done for today. She held his buoyancy valve in her right hand and towed him behind her.
His mother wasn’t much better. She was presently below Kumai at 85 feet. They had charted this dive for 50. Mother and son would be sitting out their next dive spot. Kumai smiled and salt water leaked around her mouthpiece. She tapped her tank to get the mother’s attention and gestured for her to come up to the maximum depth for this dive. The woman looked at her gauge and feigned surprise, but winked at her son.
By the evening dive, Kumai was taking only one couple down to see the garden eels. The rest of the Blacksocks family had been restricted to deck. It was a restful way to close the day. The three divers settled onto their knees at the 60-foot mark and waited. Like time-lapse spring plants, finger-sized eels wriggled up from holes in the sand bed and swayed in the surge. The woman next to Kumai raised her camera for a picture and the eels disappeared. Kumai smiled at her surprise and gestured for them to surface.
Their meditative mood slipped away just as the videographer father finished up his documentary. He turned his camera on Kumai and said, “Tell us about the dive today.”
She looked sideways at the others watching the process, started to say something noncommittal, and he interrupted with, “In Hawaiian.”
His camera stayed focused on her. She shook her head no.
He narrated, “This is Kamelia K. Mana our dive guide to tell about today’s diving in Hawaii. Take it away Kamelia.”
The captain coughed behind her.
Kumai bit her lip, raised her hand over the camera lens and shut off the device. “No. Thank you.” She said.
“She’s stupid.” Geoffrey said, “Doesn’t even know Hawaiian. I bet she’s not even Hawaiian.”
Kumai stood silently beside the captain. He said, “If you wait until they’re on shore, I’ll help you. But don’t get any blood on my deck.”
She reached into one of the captain’s cubbies and pulled out her cell phone to turn it back on. There was a missed call. From Kirby. She asked the captain if she could listen to her voicemail and he nodded.
“Kumai, I’m sorry about earlier. I am having a hard time getting away. Please be patient with this process. I want to explain but that’s always better to do in person. I’ll explain when we can talk.”
No goodbye. No niceties. Kumai felt her heart sink. It seemed pretty clear that whatever they had was over. Kirby was probably just waiting to tell her to her face.