3 Ekolu ~ Paradise Regained

Landing on the Big Island for the first time is surprising.  Most visitors to Hawaii expect to see lush greenery and cascades of flowers.  Instead, they land on a runway that sits on moon-like bare rock.  Nothing but black a’a lava fields surround the airport.

Kumai could still remember her first visit here at eight years old.  She was fully prepared to hate Hawaii.

Her dad moved back to Hawaii, his place of origin, from Idaho, the only home Kumai had known.  The islands’ siren song had lured her father away from her mother.  Hawaii was a symbol for everything that went wrong in her life.  Flying over the black folds of lava when she was a kid confirmed for her that this supposed paradise was the spawn of darkness.

Auntie Ulu, her dad’s sister, convinced Kumai without using words to think differently about Hawaii.  With simple aloha and by giving new experiences to Kumai, open access to the ocean from the family’s home in Puako, and hugs, her auntie invited Kumai to see why her dad loved Hawaii.  Kumai cried when she left to go back to Idaho.  She was less sad about leaving her dad than leaving the aina, the land of their ancestors.

queenKhiwayNear to Kona town, traffic thickened.  For safety, Kumai increased her following distance from the vehicle in front of her.  A guy in a black Hummer started tailgating her.  As she made a gap in traffic for merging cars, the guy behind her followed even closer.  She flashed her brakes to invite him to back off.  Either he didn’t understand brake lights or the driver’s manual he was supposed to have read two hundred years ago.  Kumai enjoyed hurling insults in her head about how he had learned to chisel out a flat to fix his stone wheels.  When she looked again, he backed off enough for her to see his face above the chrome grill. He wasn’t old.  He probably wasn’t twelve yet.  The poor kid was suffering from premature access to moving equipment.

She grinned and flipped up her mirror to reflect blue sky.  Even though she couldn’t see it anymore, she could still feel the driver behind her as if he were rolling along her spine.  Thankful that she was taking the next exit for the airport, she continued to ignore the hurry-lasers being telepathically seared into the back of her head.  She tried to focus instead on the blaze of fuscia and bright orange blossoms shooting out of the bouganvilla lining the highway.  Maybe her Aloha shirts weren’t as loud as she thought.  Maybe in Hawaii those prints worked as camoflage.

KIAThe road to Keahole Airport was lined with palm trees.  A bank of vog obliterated the horizon and dirtied the skies to the South of Kona.  She crossed the first intersection of the airport loop and headed left to air cargo and charters.  Screeching tires and the flatulence of glass-packs roared to her right.  She glanced to see Keiki Tailgater swerve and race off to the right.  Kumai stopped at the next intersection and turned her mirror back down to reflect the road.  She was just in time to see Securitas lights fire-up in the other direction.  Justice.

Kumai shook off the bad mana from the driver of the tricked-out Hummer and continued on to the Kiwi Air Cargo hangar.  She didn’t know this crew as well as the guys from the larger airline companies.  She realized too late that maybe today would have been the day to wear her authorized personnel identification.

She parked her little blue car across the lot, out of the way and in some shade.  She walked through the open warehouse doors of the corrugated metal hangar.  A makeshift customer service counter stood to her right, with two workers discussing the computer in front of them.

After exchanging courtesies, Kumai explained to the woman with a name badge that said JENN that she would be meeting the charter shipment.  Jenn left her fingers on the keyboard and asked, “Don’t you have to wear a uniform if you’re a concierge?  Aloha wear or something, right?  Or badges?  I can’t release a shipment to you, sister, just because you say you’re here for it.  You know how it is.”

“Of course.”  Kumia conceded.  She pulled out her Hawaii driver’s license.  Maybe KEONI the young local guy who was observing all this would see her last name, Kaimana, and help her out.  “Here you go.”

“That’s a good photo!  Mine never come out.”  Jenn exclaimed.  “But I still can’t release the shipment to you.”

Kumai wanted to be upset but she had done this to herself.  She imagined that she might look like a local girl dressed to go on safari, deliberately plain so she wouldn’t draw attention.  In fact, being so nondescript could be the perfect cover for pulling a heist in plain sight.  She smiled and asked, “What would make it possible to get the shipment released to me?  I can go get my official ID from Puako if necessary but there’s a dog in the shipment.  I’d hate to leave you to watch over him like that.”

The fact that she knew there was a dog in the cargo seemed to help.  Or maybe it was the idea of dog-sitting all day.  Jenn suggested, “Is there anyone at the resort who can vouch for you?”

Kumai’s hands relaxed.  She felt sweat trickle down her sides from the Kona heat. “Yes, thank you.  Please speak with Annamae at the Four Seasons Resort.  She can confirm my authorization to receive the cargo.”

Jenn went into a glass office to make the call.  She talked for a while then nodded and hung up.  She came back out.  “Annamae says that if you are dressed like an unpainted canvas, have your hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, and could be gorgeous with even a hint of makeup, then you are cleared to have the shipment.”  She added, “Final confirmation of your identity is if you ‘forgot’ your TSA security card.” Complete with air quotes.

Kumai let out a short laugh from her held breath.  “Thank you.  Sorry about that.”  Note to self:  wear the stupid ID.  She added, “Gorgeous is a stretch, though.”

“The aircraft will be landing in fifteen minutes.”

“Great.   Thanks,”  Kumai answered, “I’ll just…” she pointed outside.

“Okay.  There will be some paperwork to sign after you’ve checked over the cargo.”

Kumai walked back out to the front of the warehouse and looked around for somewhere shady to wait.  The asphalt and black lava here at sea level turned the breezes into a convection oven.  She thought about waiting in her car.  There wasn’t enough time to go shopping for the dog’s food and a water bowl, that would have to wait until afterward.  As she walked along the building’s slender shade, a black Hummer pulled up in front of the carge bay for Fly HI between Fed Ex and UPS.  It stopped.  She ducked to the side of her warehouse and watched.  The driver stepped out, barely stepping down because he was so tall.  He glanced around, pausing to look at Inigo parked in the shade.

Kumai hid. She held her breath. She slowly peeked around but he was gone. The chrome spokes on his wheels were the only movement shimmering in the white heat.  She let out her breath and considered the guy she had managed to infuriate.  Now that was the definition of gorgeous.

She considered all the lies she could tell him about her car on the highway, how her evil twin stole her car, or her cousin maybe.  Then, letting go of the idea of their ever being friends, Kumai did what she always did:  focused on work.  What was next?  She dialed Susan and got the exact number of trunks to expect in the shipment.

“Will you be flying here today?”  Kumai asked.

“It doesn’t look like it.”  Susan said. She sounded disappointed but not particularly apologetic.

Kumai wondered if Susan had forgotten about the dog again.  “Would you like me to find a kennel for the dog?”

“Oh the dog.” Susan groaned.  “I guess so.  I don’t suppose… I mean… I would be glad to pay you well if you could care for him until I get there?”

Kumai hesitated.  Taking the dog with her could have legal repercussions.  Besides which, if she’d wanted a dog, she’d have gotten a dog.  On the other hand, the extra income would help her save for a dive boat.

“Right, no,” Susan interjected.  “That’s too much to ask.”

“No, no,” Kumai said, “It’s not.  I’m simply thinking through the logistics.  Would you need me to stay at your ranch with the dog?”

“Oh, well, you could do that.  If it didn’t work to take him home with you…  Either way is just fine.”  Susan enthused.

“Alright.”  Kumai confirmed.  “I’ll touch base with you tomorrow to give you a status report.”

“Great.  Thanks.”  Susan said and hung up.

Yup, Kumai thought.  Great.

The rest of the shipping process went quickly.  The mattress was massive, so Kumai called her friends at Holoholo Ohana moving company for transport. The empty dog crate went with the five trunks into the truck as well.

Jenn produced receipts for Kumai to sign along with a release certifying that nothing contained explosives or hazardous materials.  The dog played in the small grass pen outside.  It was black, white, and big.

The young man spoke up, “He’s just a pup.”

Kumai nodded and added dog toys to her mental list.  And a harness.  And a leash.  She got out her notepad and started writing, including any ideas that came to her for possible names.  Jenn saw the list and volunteered, “He should be named Kiwi.”  Then she got back to business, “That’s it.  Everything is done except to sign the release for the dossier.”

“What dossier?”  Kumai asked.

“This one.”  Jenn patted a black vinyl portfolio resting on the counter beside the keyboard.

“No one mentioned a dossier.  Did that come with this shipment?”  Kumai asked, not signing the release yet.  “May I see it?”

Jenn stared at the release then set the folder up on the higher counter for Kumai to look at it. The folder was sealed with a scored and perforated sticker.  Handwritten in the recipient space was “Kumai Kaimana c/o Four Seasons.”  Below in red in was written, “PRIVATE” and “URGENT: deliver by 17:00 PST” followed by today’s date.

“Okay…”  Kumai signed the release.  “Looks like I’m stopping by the office.”  She smiled and handed Jenn the release.

papayas“Ready for the dog?”  Keoni asked as he squeezed lime over a strawberry papaya he seeded.  The lush fragrance of fruits made Kumai’s stomach churn with hunger.  She thought of this morning and the smell of cooking bacon.  She hadn’t stopped to eat yet today.  The man held the papaya toward Kumai to offer some, making her realize she had been staring.

“Oh,  no thanks.” She said with reluctance.  “I’ll pull up my car and we can load the dog.  Thanks for all your help.”

Jenn smiled, “It was a pleasure, Ms. Kaimana.  I hope to see you again.”

Kumai returned the smile and gave a shaka.  She stepped outside but stayed in the shadows long enough to establish that the Hummer was still parked in the next lot.  The guy wasn’t around.  She trotted to Inigo and found the car’s interior hot even parked in the shade.  Maybe it was time to put up the top.  She didn’t want to keep the air cargo crew waiting any longer, so she pulled up to the side of the hangar, out of sight of the Hummer.

Keoni came out carrying the dog and gently lowered him into the passenger seat.

“Want me to buckle him in?”  He quipped and patted the dog on his head.  “He’s a keeper.”

“Yup.”  Kumai answered, while thinking Nope.  The dog was dribbling drool down the interior of her passenger door.  Susan would be billed for auto detailing as well.  Kumai waved to Keoni and pulled away.  As she reached the stop sign at the airport loop, the dog ejected himself from the car.  “Stop!”  Kumai yelled, “Wait!  Halt!  Heel?”

She turned the car around to follow the dog back to Kiwi Air Cargo’s bay.  The dog was running into the hangar as she screeched to a stop and jumped out to chase him.  By the time she reached the warehouse doors, the dog had reached the other side of the hangar and was heading for the runway.

Her shriek alerted the crew and all of them pursued the dog out to the tarmac.  An ultralight trike had to swerve during its taxi.  The pilot must have called the tower to let them know there was a dog on the runway because TSA descended on the dog and his pursuers.

Alerts sounded from poles along the runway.  An airplane accelerating for takeoff in the distance closed down its jets.  A strange silence fell on everything except for screaming air raid sirens.  Kumai swept the area searching for the dog and saw him trotting toward another hangar just as she was tackled from behind and flattened face down on the scorching pavement.  Somehow, all she could process was how good the heat felt on her shoulder muscles that were sore from this morning’s swim.  Was that only this morning?

If the dog survived this, she would take him swimming over the eel’s cave.  Then she wondered if a dog could eat an eel. She really didn’t know much about dogs.

Security zip-tied Kumai’s hands behind her before escorting her to the hangar where she last saw the dog.  Her shoulders were really hurting now.  She tried to think of this handcuffing as a prolonged yoga pose.  Her hair tickled her face as tendrils escaped the ponytail.  She could just imagine how her hair looked right now, pulled partially out of the elastic band in wild loops.  But she couldn’t reach up to fix it or to get it out of her face.  She looked down to see black smears across the front of her tan top and shorts.  And knees.  She blew strands of hair back from her eyes.

“You will need to stay at the airport for a full background screening.”  The TSA agent advised her.

TSA_Badge__11496_zoom

“Oh, come on.”  She protested.

“Ma’am.  You have no ID that says you are authorized to be anywhere near this area. You and the canine are now considered a security threat and have caused the closure of the airport. Until cleared, and the incident reported, you are under my custody.”

“The dog?   Custody?  Really?”

But Kumai was cut short by the dog running toward them, this time tethered by a long nylon strap cleverly knotted into a harness and leash.  On the other end of the leash strode Mr. Hummer.

Kumai felt her face flush and she looked away.

“Can I help?” The man offered. He pulled out a pocket knife and cut Kumai’s hands free of the zip tie.

“Hey, Kane.”  The security guard greeted him.  “I got it.  Thanks for catching the dog.”

“No problem.”  Kane answered, offering the makeshift leash to Kumai.  She saw that his hands were attached to well-defined arms which led to a magnificent smile.  His smile seemed friendly and familiar.

“Thank you”  She reached for the leash.  He brushed her hand as he released the dog to her.

The dog sat down at her feet and panted.

konaairport“Come this way, please.”  The TSA agent told her.  Then he said into the radio, “Stand down.  Team, I repeat, the lockdown is over.”

Kumai sucked in a big breath.

“If I may?”  Kane looked at her.

She shrugged.

“Buckley, listen, this lady is just doing her job picking up someone’s dog.  She can’t help how they train him.  Or don’t.  We both can see she’s not a danger.”  Kane looked at her and Buckley followed.  Kumai didn’t want to know what she looked like any more.  She just tried not to grimace so she didn’t look insane.  “Maybe dust them for powder residue and call it done?”

The TSA guy seemed to consider.

Kane added, “The dog’s no Remington.”

The agent laughed and nodded at the private joke.  Kumai waited.  After a moment, the agent radioed for a swab team to Hangar Four.  In less than twenty minutes, Kumai and the dog had been wiped down and declared safe.

“I don’t know how to thank you.”  She said to Kane as the security team walked away.

“How about by letting me walk you to your car?”

“Okay.  Uh… Oh, no. Thanks, no.  I have to finish the, uh, the paperwork.  You know?  Speaking of which, how did you know he wasn’t my dog?”  She stammered.  She also wondered how quickly she could sell Inigo.

“Just a guess.” Kane laughed.  “Maybe dinner sometime then?”

“Maybe.”  She agreed.

“You should name the dog Rumor, the way he gets around.”

She chuckled.  She caught herself hoping that he would offer his telephone number.

“I have a feeling we will see each other again. It’s a small island.”  Kane said and reached out to shake her hand.  “Until then.”

Kumai reached out to shake his hand while her hopes took a hard landing and rolled to a short stop.  “Sure.” she said, careful to cover her disappointment.

“Let’s say Friday?  How about Chef Choo’s on the beach?  Around 8?”

“Eight?”  Kumai repeated.  That was her usual bedtime.  Then she realized that she was about to decline a date with the finest craftsmanship that skin could cover because of a curfew by habit.  “Sounds perfect.  See you then.”

“A hui hou.”  He turned and went back into the hangar, presenting her with yet another reason to sell Inigo.

And then…

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