“Well, what did you expect?” Lilio asked. “Besides, I had good material to work with.”
Kumai rotated and saw that her new shoes elevated the back hem from touching the floor. Cut on the bias, the dress curved over Kumai’s muscular build. Constellations of tiny white kukui blossoms dotted a loose braid of her dark hair down one shoulder. Around her forehead rested a haku lei of pale green ferns, miniature white rosebuds, and baby’s breath. She felt magnificent.
Kumai didn’t want to flatten anyone’s Prosecco by observing that Hawaii was on its own time zone, especially around fashion. Maybe the sponsors who supported this gathering dressed in haute couture more than her group of islanders.
Susan took her turn at the mirror and her expression brightened. In fact, her enthusiasm about the evening muted Kumai’s need to forecast possible arrests. Yelley was probably just flexing his muscles.
“Rats.” Susan said. “The necklace I hunted down isn’t going to work with this outfit.” She opened a padded roll of jewelry and held up an antique-looking pendant and silver chain. “With all this lace, I would look Roccoco.”
“Yup.” Lilio agreed. “D’ya have any pearls?”
“Yes.” Susan reeled out a skein of white pearls with two large drops at the ends.
Lilio draped the folded length on Susan, then made a loose weave of the ends through the loop, just above her waist. “Very 1930’s.”
Kumai admired Susan’s outfit. Her stylish pants hallowed to what Daisy Buchanan would wear. Susan looked at Kumai and tilted her head. “Try this.” She held out the silver necklace.
Kumai skirted costume jewelry but this piece had a sweet innocence to it. The glistening metal with tiny touches of pale green perfected her otherwise plain dress. The necklace felt warm and cool both at the same time and sent a chill over Kumai. The mirror reflected that she needed either a strapless bra for the dress or a dimmer switch for her chest.
“I need to do something about this.” Kumai said, pointing to herself with both index fingers.
“I have just the thing!” Lilio produced two hibiscus-shaped bandaids with the name Pretty Petals on their wrapper.
“That necklace is suited to your outfit. Can you believe I found it on eBay?” Susan asked.
“It’s quite a find.”
“Besides, it’s safer on you than in some bag.” Susan produced matching drop earrings and announced, “We’re ready.”
Kumai swallowed. If she could she would have begged off, her partnership in the fun concluded. If ever Kumai yearned to blend in, this was the time. One last glimpse in the mirror confirmed that there would be no hiding tonight.
They had arrived. Valets were running to and from the porte cochere at the Manoa Lodge. Kumai pulled up Lightning behind a Jaguar XF10 and stepped out when the valet opened her driver’s door. If he was surprised by the old truck, he didn’t show it, a true professional. Kumai accepted a carved coral tiki for reclaiming their keys and caught up with Susan at the entry.
European small-pane windows grinned over lava half-walls like a colonial mixed metaphor. More windows looked out from the floor above through kiawe-branch railings on the upper lanais. Kumai had heard about the Manoa Lodge, but thought of it more like a unicorn, a fantastic illusion.
The entry was pillared with thick ohia timbers which swirled skyward to reach for the uplit koa ceilings. Ten-foot tall double entry doors bore Mucha-esque carvings of Hawaiians harvesting kalo. To either side of the doors, clear beveled glass was leaded in a repeating pattern of taro leaves. The effect was of a freshly watered kalo patch reflecting sunlight.
The doormen wore long lava-lava made of white barkcloth, which might have looked to mainlanders like skirts on men. Because of the cool Waimea nights, they wore white long-sleeve tunics over the wraps. The tunics buttoned up one side with shell coins. Each of the two men wore a tiny white pikake blossom tucked above his ear.
Susan thanked the men for opening the doors.
As Kumai passed them she said, “Howzit?”
One said, “Sista.”
The other said, “Aloha kakou.”
Kumai replied, “Mahalo.” and passed through.
Inside, barefoot young men in kapa loincloths were directing guests to their assigned banquet tables. The guides wore ti leaf haku leis on their heads, with matching wrist and ankle circlets of leaves. Susan handed her invitation to a guide who led them to a table near the heart of the great room. Above them, open-beam wood ceilings vented into concentric rises of clerestory windows to let out tropical heat. The cross-beams were strung with fishing line on which hung cut glass jars filled with tiny firefly lights. On the walls and for table centerpieces, antlers had been painted bright white and illuminated with frosted globes. Sprays of white orchids separated the musicians from the dance floor.
Seated at their table, Kumai observed other guests as they arrived. She told Susan when anyone notable came in. An older man was shown to the seat next to Kumai and he introduced himself as “Dr. Ching from NELHA.”
Kumai introduced herself, then Susan as a newcomer to the Big Island, then asked, “Would you mind telling Ms. Winters about NELHA?”
“Of course.” Dr. Ching cleared his throat. “NELHA is an acronym which stands for Natural Energy Lab Hawaii Authority…”
As Dr. Ching talked, Kumai watched the entrance. She sat up straighter when she saw Kane enter with three equally well-dressed men in white tuxes. As she tried to remember when she was supposed to meet Kane, it slowly sank in that he had said Friday night, tonight. Which of them was standing up the other, she wondered.
“The NELHA administers the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park (HOST Park). Some local people still call our location OTEC.”
Kumai’s next entry surprise was a handful of young men in white EMT uniforms. Kirby was in the center, making his uniform look good. Kumai sighed loudly which caused Susan to turn and look. She glanced back to Kumai and raised her eyebrows, then returned her attention to Dr. Ching.
“NELHA was founded in 1974. At 870 acres, HOST Park is perhaps the largest development project in the world solely devoted to growing a green economy. The original mission was for research into the uses of deep ocean water in ocean thermal energy conversion. That’s where the name OTEC started. That deep water is now being bottled for its many healthful properties. We later added research into sustainable uses of natural energy sources such as solar energy.”
Kumai studied Kirby. He laughed with his companions in his ready way. Kumai felt melty. Then he looked across the room and met her eyes. His smile changed from laughing to delighted and Kumai got goosebumps. Her pretty petals tugged as her hibiscus grew stamens. She fidgeted in her seat while her brain tried to argue with her attraction to this man and called up images of their awkward date.
In a trick of the light she even saw the over-friendly waitress walk up beside Kirby. Only, she wasn’t a phantom image. The young woman wore a wrist corsage with one white orchid.
Kumai looked away and pretended to listen to Dr. Ching, “NELHA has a visitation center that is open to the public, as well as shoreline access points.”
Susan responded, “I would like to see this place.”
“It’s open to the public.” Dr. Ching opened a small silk envelope and produced his business card. “One of our more popular places to visit is the seahorse farm, at only $42 for an entrance fee. Look me up.”
“We will.” Susan smiled.
She asked their server. “What’s this?”
“Volcano Wineries White Champagne. Seventh Edition.” The young waitress gave them a beautiful smile and added, “In vintage hobnail milkglass, a memento of your evening.”
“Thank you.” Susan said as the woman moved to serve the next table.
“She’s wearing a pareo made of fabric custom designed and printed by Sig Zane of Hilo.”
“I didn’t see any print.” Susan said.
“It’s white on white. See if you can notice it when one of them comes by again. Very subtle and elegant. I think it’s a design based on Ulu, breadfruit and its leaves.”
Kumai raised her glass to toast and Susan joined her, “To…” both women waited for the other.
“To adventure.” Susan said.
“To staying out of trouble.” Kumai said, then cringed.
Susan laughed and sipped. “What is this? It’s divine.”
Kumai thought of this beverage as another unicorn, the stuff of legends. She sipped. It was much lighter than she had imagined it would be, with no hint of coconut flavor. At first she was almost disappointed. On second sip, she understood what the fuss was about.
“This quaf is so exclusive that most of Volcano Winery’s staff don’t know that it exists.” Kumai said. “I had a client ask to acquire a case. He gave me instructions to stop bidding at $7900.00. I found myself outbid within three minutes.”
“I’ll bid on some.” Susan said. “Where do I find it?”
“The case that I was bidding on was at an estate sale. They’ll silent auction some tonight.” Kumai pointed to an anteroom where koa tables lined the walls and held oil paintings, Niihau shell leis, Sandalwood sculptures, a kapa cloth skirt, artists’ ipu, and other items up for bid on clipboards resting in front of each item.
“How did you come to be a concierge, Kumai?”
“I had customer service experience on dive boats in Florida. So when I moved to Hawaii I put in applications everywhere related to that. Two jobs came along at the same time and I took them both.”
“I also guide on a dive boat.”
“I enjoy diving. Could we do that at some point?”
“Sure.” Kumai said, but wondered where since she was probably no longer working on the Kona Investigator. Maybe Susan was wanting to buy a boat for them to dive from. Or maybe it was time to come clean about what happened in Florida.
“Susan. I wonder if I could tell you about something?”
“I used to dive in Florida.”
“You just said that.”
“Kumai, you look stunning. By the aina, if my son sees you tonight, there will be no stopping him.”
Susan furrowed her brow.
Kumai introduced the two women. She explained, “Kumu Lani teaches organic gardening. I was a student of hers. She wanted me to meet her son.”
“Oh so much more than gardening, Kumai.” Kumu Lani scolded. “Malama aina. Do you know what that means, Susan? To tend to the land. Be responsible. Make it your kuleana.”
As she was speaking, Kumai saw the Maori diver walk by. What was his name? Taka? Susan turned to follow Kumai’s gaze and ended up staring at both Taka and his exotic companion, a stunning woman with dark tattoos spreading from her lower lip down her chin.