LIFE DURING WARTIME
BAD BOY BOOGIE
I. That Sonofabitch Van Owen
Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana:
—Traditional Hawaiian legends begin, "and so the story is told:"
He was sitting in the Gun Room Cocktail Lounge of the Maui Hana hotel, watching the sun glare across the peak of Haleakalā as the ice cubes calved in his empty glass of gin, when he heard the report of small arms in the distance. Muffled as it was by the drumbeats of the Polynesian band warming up for the nightly luau, the tourists did not recognize the distinct patter of the Thompson M1928A1 submachine gun, but he did. Its music had been a leitmotif during the most formative era of his life.
The lounge reminded Van Owen of his salad days as a mercenary in Africa, with its ceiling racks of colonial-era rifles and moldy taxidermy boar head decor. It was open to the elements, with a view of the island of Hawaiʻi in the endless ocean to his left, and the lush jungle hanging over the dormant volcano of Haleakalā like a cape to his right.
Not a terrible a place to die.
He had hopped a ride to Maui on a rickety seaplane running heroin from the Philippines and paid his way with a brick of China White he'd lifted off dealers in Manila after splattering them against the wall with the tool of his trade, the weapon he'd mastered alongside his fellow Thompson gunners in the Congo War. The tommy gun was heavy and unwieldy, the brutal and blustery weapon of a more civilized age. Ten pounds of iron and wood—twelve with two magazines jungle-taped top to bottom like French prostitutes on a naughty postcard—it was only accurate to fifty yards, and required a steel nerve to get in range and beat its tattoo of slaughter upon the enemy.
Van Owen and his comrades were such men.
And he had betrayed the best of them. Now, the song of their beloved weapon haunted him as he fled the globe in search of peace. He thought the remote Pacific isles would be far enough to keep the curse at bay, and it had for a long time—long enough to tan his milky Danish hide into worn, ruddy leather—but the familiar rat-a-tat-tat between the rhythmic crashes of the never-ending surf meant his idyll had come to an end.
His pursuer was blind, but relentless. Van Owen had bested him once, but he knew if they met again that he would be slain.
There was no reasoning with the dead.
II. The Hula Hula Boys
Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana …
—Traditional Hawaiian folk songs: "and so the story goes …"
"I'm sorry, sir." The bellboy smirked. "Got no idea where your wife is."
Cyril Smollen sniffed and peeled a twenty from his money clip.
The bellboy's eyes rolled towards the beach with all the subtlety of a vaudeville pantomime. He snatched the bill from Cyril's hand and strutted away in his monkey suit before he could be harangued further.
Cyril walked down to the beach, squirming as sand filled his loafers. He had tried to wear the sandals Jeannie bought him at the surf shop, but the grotesque way the thong squeezed between his big and second toes felt like a molestation with every step.
As was knowing his betrothed-to-be cavorted with Samoans every evening once he passed out in their beachfront suite, drained from the stress of receiving hourly communiques from his mother on the hotel's Teletype, demanding that he return home with the six-carat sapphire ring that he'd slipped off his sleeping great-gran-mama's arthritic claw.
Jeannie had left the engagement ring on the pillow with a note on the hotel stationery:
Trade this in for a pair of balls.
Cyril walked along the strand, pausing to shake the sand out of his shoes and peer at the couples dallying in the surf, hunting for the raven-haired factory girl who had stolen his heart. His father bought a plant that converted Chrysler LeBarons into convertibles as a favor to Lee Iacocca. He installed Cyril as executive manager, which involved playing golf and drinking with other execs while the plant managers and foremen kept things running smoothly
Smoother than the cubist rattletraps they mangled at the factory. Cyril had to trade in his BMW for one, and it was the most horrid pleather-clad box he'd ever been in since he accidentally locked himself in his mother's hope chest full of vinyl fetish gear.
Jeannie made him forget the nightmare of driving a K-Car. Her dusky kohl-rimmed eyes and towering cheekbones screamed to him from the factory floor. Even in the shapeless worksuit with her hair chopped like a defector from the Russian lady wrestling team, she stirred passions—and worse, sympathies—deep inside him. Cyril owned several Patrick Nagel paintings, and she looked like she strutted out of one.
Cyril would rescue her from this life of drudgery, and she would show him endless gratitude.
He called her up to the executive board room for some invented infraction of the rules, but before he could recite his practiced line, she launched into a tirade.
"Just because my old man's a jailbird, management thinks they can fuck with me? I'll file a grievance with the ombudsman, you cake-eating ratfuckers!"
Like all the Smollen women, she was a fiery broodmare who would not be tamed. It was meant to be.
He poured her a glass of vodka from his hidden bottle. After two shots, she told him a tawdry tale.
Apparently her father, the former sheriff, languished in federal prison for the murder of a former co-worker who would not leave her alone. Or something like that. Cyril had braced himself for the moment with several fingers of vodka, and had trouble concentrating.
He signed her time card and asked if she'd like to go for whatever they did on dates in this industrial hellhole of a town, but they only made it to his Chrysler Park Avenue before she peeled off her jumper and pounced on him with the ferocity of a starved leopardess.
Women generally did not do that to Cyril, even when he paid them. They said he looked fragile, which he did, and was.
The column shifter did something to his scapula that would require a session with the masseuse to iron out, but as he looked up at Jeannie as he convulsed in spasms of ecstasy, the puzzled look on her face as she slapped his cheeks and asked if he was 'dead or something' was the kindest gaze he'd ever had cast upon him in his life.
All he could respond with was, "Have you ever been to Hawaiʻi?"
On the Hawaiian beach, Cyril spied Jeannie between the bromeliad fronds as she scaled a mountainous ukulele player's bulk to straddle his shoulders. The fat one strummed along, and the skinny valet writhed for them in some sort of dance, smoking what looked like a marijuana cigarette.
The Maui Wowie.
Cyril was overcome with pique. He didn't have to fly to Maui to be treated like a jerk. Women had treated him like a jerk in Paris, Martinique, Venice, Monaco, Gstaad, San Tropez, St. Moritz, and even in his hometown of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. He was done stewing in his hotel room while these ingrates gallivanted with their ski instructors, mountain climbers, croupiers, gondoliers, aerobics instructors, oyster shuckers, or in one case, the male contingent of an entire gypsy caravan.
No, those days were done. Cyril required satisfaction.
He shook the sand out of his shoes and tripped his way back to the hotel bar.
IIb. The Deal Was Made in Maui, on a Bright and Sunny Day
Linna filled Van Owen's highball glass from a bottle of Bombay gin that she kept on ice for him. He tipped well with the scant remains of the cash he'd taken off the dope runners, after he'd painted the cockpit of the seaplane with their innards and parachuted out over the black sand beach north of Hana.
"You see dat one? That's the haole whose lady my cousins 're pookin'!" She snickered from her little bamboo fortress, resplendent in the lei, floral print blouse, and tiny grass skirt the hoteliers made her wear. She relished sharing the sexual entanglements of the hotel guests and staff. Her cousins parked cars and played ukuleles, and eagerly bedded the frustrated wives and unsatisfied mistresses enraptured by the paradisiacal island milieu.
The Jerk she identified wore a crisp new aloha shirt open to reveal an undergrowth of chest bracken, and baggy linen trousers, from which tasseled oxblood loafers nosed out like little rabbits. He wore steel-framed sunglasses and checked his sandy blond hair in the mirror behind the bar.
"You ever see a haole so haole, brudda?" Linna said. She used the Hawaiian word for non-natives freely with Van Owen. She liked him because he'd kicked a drunk over the railing for getting handsy with her. He fed the body to the sharks, and split the contents of his wallet with her. He even slept in his lava tube through a cyclone, so she granted him kamaʻaina status: a resident, not a tourist. But he'd always be a haole, a white man, just like she'd always be a kanaka, a native.
Van Owen grunted and drank his gin.
Linna also liked that unlike most haoles, he never had much to say.
The Jerk's little bloodied bunny feet hopped their way.
Linna put on a smile for him. "Aloha, what—"
"A mai tai and some privacy, please." He waved a ten dollar bill. Cheap-ass.
"Mahalo." She went to the far end of the bamboo-sided bar and found the grungiest coconut shell to make his drink in.
The Jerk took off a pair of Porsche sunglasses and folded them in half, tucking them in a little leather case. "I hear you're the man to talk to about my problem."
Van Owen drank his cold gin and stared out at the sea. The Thompson gun patter had come between waves, from the north. Deep in the jungle. The revenant had defeated death, but could not walk on water or through mountains. And couldn't ask directions, not without a mouth. So Van Owen had a little time.
The Jerk took a thin fold of bills from his pocket, pinched by a gold money clip. "Arma virumque cano," he said, and removed the crisp hundreds from the pile, sliding them beneath the damp hotel napkin pinned down by Van Owen's gin. "I sing of arms and the man."
The Aeneid. Van Owen had been a classics professor before he'd become a Thompson gunner, until the dean denied him tenure. But that was another story.
"You bought yourself an audience. Talk."
Linna said ʻokole maluna as she handed the Jerk his mai tai, which meant she'd muddled the cocktail with whatever her fingernails scratched up from her dainty little ass crack. Bottoms up, indeed.
Cyril sucked deeply from his straw, then launched into a diatribe about how his betrothed-to-be had betrayed him with two feckless island goons. He would love to teach them a lesson himself, but he had been kicked off the fencing team for yelping. "It's a congenital birth defect, mother says. Rather like how some otherwise strapping men faint at the sight of blood? I yelp at the prospect of violence. And so I require your services, and will pay handsomely for them."
Cyril leaned in to whisper what he wanted. He'd lain in bed all evening dreaming it up.
Van Owen grunted. Five hundred bucks wasn't exactly handsome, but it would buy a plane ticket off the islands. "Five now, five more when it's done."
Cyril's cheeks pinched as he sucked his coconut dry. The bellboy said this man was a cold-blooded killer. It was unwise to haggle with such people.
"Consider it done, old chap," Cyril said, and tipped back his coconut to drink the fruity dregs. He coughed as something caught in the back of his throat. He plucked it out and wrinkled his nose.
"Coconut hair," Van Owen said. "Happens all the time." He drank his gin and stared until The Jerk shrank away and left.
Linna laughed. "He got da special! Should charge him extra."
III. Jeannie Needs a Shooter
Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana.
—Traditional Hawaiian family stories: "this is my story, and I'm stickin' to it."
Jeannie sat enrobed in Kainalu's massive cushy embrace as he plucked the ukulele in her lap, playing along to the songs the hotel piped out the speakers by the beach where the nightly luaus were held. Hani toked deeply from a tightly wrapped joint, then held it to her lips. They'd met during surf lessons while Cyril spent an hour on long-distance, assuring his mother they had not eloped.
What was it with this guy? One bunny fuck in his car and he thinks she wants wedlock, if only to flee her sleazy factory town. Now that Dad was in prison, she could leave whenever she wanted. He'd shot the last man she'd tried to escape with.
Hanged the one prior. Immolated the one before that.
She felt bad about ratting Pop to the FBI, but it had gotten to the point where if she winked at a guy, they hopped the next freight train out of town. They'd gladly embrace the hobo life if it meant they wouldn't get thrown alive into a junkyard car crusher by the local sheriff.
So when rich boy Cyril drooled over her factory-enforced lesbo haircut, she took her shot and jumped him in the parking lot. She was out of options, at least ones that didn't involve living in Squalor the rest of her days.
Squalor, Ohio, was a hard town to escape.
Kainalu strummed hard for the finale, which made his beefy forearm rub her breasts. She permitted this because he was gentle and sweet, and let her sleep on him like a cat curled up on a very large basket of warm laundry after they were zonked out on his cousin's weed. He wasn't squishy like she'd imagined, but firm and cushy like an inner tube, or a human water bed.
Speaking of bed, she knew Cyril thought the three of them were humping like mad, but the closest they'd come was the skinny dip last night, when Kainalu had backstroked out into the surf with her straddling his humpback of a belly, and sang about how the moonlight made her Midwestern skin glow like phosphorescent waves lapping the white sandy beach. That plus Hani's primo weed was enough to make her strip out of her bikini to moon-bathe during his serenade. She dived in and swam to shore while Hani paddled like mad to get a peek before she wriggled back into her suit.
They weren't grabby jerks, but they were still both barely out of high school and a hot haole chick was a hot haole chick. Hani had tried to bullshit her with a line that sex was no big thing on the islands, and that a bikini bottom and a lei was acceptable beach dress, but she wasn't falling for it. She hadn't seen any Hawaiian girls with their tits out, not even at the adults-only luau dance the hotel held for guests after the kiddies were asleep.
"You hear they found a tiger shark machine-gunned full of holes up in Waiʻānapanapa? Who the hell shoots a shark?" Hani toked deeply and passed to her.
"Kauhuhu gonna be pissed," Kainalu said, and placed Jeannie's hands on the ukulele, showing her how to strum a chord. She wriggled into his cushy lap and held the joint to his lips.
Jeannie pinched the joint and faked it for her own toke. She noticed they always passed to her, never each other, to double her intake. She had fallen for it and got silly last night, that wouldn't happen again.
She liked it here. They said haole girls could make a decent living waiting tables at the big hotels, and spend days working on their tans and smoking weed. That was a damn sight better than tacking fake wood panel decals onto Chrysler K-Cars all day back in Squalor.
To stay here she'd need to ditch Cyril. Which meant she needed a favor from the boys. And from her experience, boys were inclined to do exactly jack shit for you after they'd shot their rancid loads, so they weren't even getting a peek, if that, until the deed was done.
Sex with Cyril was like mating with a rare breed of ticklish, clumsy, featherless stork. There was a lot of squawking and flailing of limbs. She had to push his glasses off his face and ride it like the mechanical bull at the roadhouse to get her pleasure, which left him in a glaze-cheeked stupor that had lasted until they'd landed in Maui. Then before they even hit the beach, he'd found the messages from home waiting at the hotel desk and became a mama's boy, tearing up the rolls of fax paper on the king-size bed and whining like a titty-baby.
That sent her to the beach, where Hani felt her up during her surf lessons while Kainalu strutted around singing traditional songs, followed by a train of children and saggy old bats who were in awe of his dulcet voice and mountainous magnitude. Children tripped in his footprints, and lotion-slathered wrinkle-bags hung from his arms in heat stroke, but he just smiled and sang, picking up children to sit on his shoulders like monkeys in a tree, and dragging the passed-out hags into his shade.
It felt wrong asking such a sweet man to kill someone, but her daddy was unavailable for the next thirty years to life.
"Who would have a machine gun in paradise?" she asked. That would scare off Cyril.
Hani shrugged and sat on his cousin's massive thigh. Kainalu set the ukulele in her lap and hugged them both to his chest like a mama nursing children. "I love you guys."
"Aw, someone too high," Hani laughed. "Gonna cry-cry next."
"Shu'up, brudda," Kainalu said. "I got the soul of a troubadour. We sensitive."
"He is," Jeannie said, and reached up to pat his cheek.
"He ain't Iz," Hani said. "He wanna be Iz. Only Iz is Iz."
They'd had this weed-infused narrative before. Iz was Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, a Hawaiian singer Kainalu idolized, a member of the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau, who could sing tears out of a lawyer and the granny panties off a convent full of nuns, in Jeannie's opinion. Kainalu was no slouch, but he was no Iz.
"I don't know," she said, and wriggled her butt in his boundless lap. "You sing real sweet. And even Iz started somewhere. Probably on a beach like this."
"Don't give him a big head," Hani said, and elbowed his cousin in the belly. "He already think he better than me 'cause I park cars, and he can't fit in them little new ones."
"That's cruel, brudda, real cruel."
"But sometimes you need a big man." She shrugged off their arms and stretched like a cat, hips nudging the stiffies they politely bent to hide deep in their groins.
"I told you about Cyril. He wants to take me away from here, and I don't want to go."
"You don't got to go," Hani said. "Pretty girl like you, they wait tables at the fancy hotels all the time."
Jeannie didn't know shit about waiting tables, but she could fix any American engine except that piece of shit in the Chevy Corvair, and they had to need mechanics on these islands. The first thing Cyril had her do when they landed in L.A. for their layover was get a manicure, where a horrified woman dug the grease from under her nails and and filed down the calluses so her fingertips throbbed like little pink baby toes. They looked nice, but she wasn't gonna serve rich buttholes mai tais and pu-pu platters while they grabbed her ass and circled room numbers on their cheques hoping she'd show up to give them dessert. She'd lasted exactly one shift at Fat Annie's Truck Stop before her daddy squashed a grabby trucker under his own rig. No, she would make her living with a wrench in her hand.
"He'll make me go, unless a certain pair of studs tell him to leave me alone."
The boys looked at each other. "Uh, I don't know about that. We're men of peace."
"Yeah, troubadours gotta stay chill, sista."
The only reason she wasn't clocking Cyril upside the head with a coconut or a Crescent wrench is she didn't want to join daddy in prison, but spooking Cyril wouldn't take much. The boys would feel like hula heroes and once they were stoned to the bejeezus belt, she would reward them as she saw fit.
"I don't want to leave you boys. And I'd be real grateful. Don't you want me to skinny dip on the black sand beach, where I'd glow like a goddess, Kainalu?" She wriggled her back up his chest and hooked an arm around his neck, and gave Hani's muscled thigh a firm squeeze. "You boys put on a show every night for the tourists, acting all different than you are. This is the same thing. Just play tough. Tell him you shot up that shark, and that if he don't fly home, he'll be next. I guarantee he'll run away pissing and farting."
Cyril had reacted in this manner to the gecko that had crawled on his foot, so two husky Hawaiians were likely to have him prairie-dogging a hot turd all the way home to Ho-Ho-Kus.
IV. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana!
—Traditional Hawaiian listeners: "get to the chorus! get to the point already!"
Roland had been walking as long as he could remember. Which was not very far, because he had no head.
Where a head would be, he had the ache for an icy glass of aquavit and a gelatinous mouthful of lutefisk—two glorious, revolting things this Norwegian boy would never taste again—and the relentless desire to avenge his death. When he rose from the lye-dusted shallow grave where his headless body had been tossed atop a stack of Bantu corpses, the scavengers who had been trying to loop a rope around his Thompson gun froze in horror.
The ones who survived the burst of bullets acted as harbingers, telling tales of a six-foot white corpse in shorts and combat boots lurching headless in the night, silhouetted by the muzzle flash of his weapon.
Roland knew who had done this to him, and the blued barrel of his Thompson gun led him toward the target of his vengeance like iron to a lodestone. Across all of Africa, from Kisangani to the Tunisian desert and into the Mediterranean, up the Italian alps and Black Forest of Germany, all the way to the fried eel house outside Copenhagen where the deal had been made. He fired into the rafters and families scattered, leaving only the bartender, who cowered and pissed himself as the towering headless hulk stepped behind the bar and tapped the bottle of Bombay gin with the smoking barrel of his weapon.
When the man didn't understand, Roland tore back his ragged sleeve to reveal the tattoo his regiment shared, a skull wearing glasses and smoking a cigarette. They had all gotten them that day, and celebrated with eel and aquavit, all except gin-drinking Van Owen.
The barman sputtered Saigon.
Roland took the man's trench coat and stalked a beeline to the subcontinent, through the deserts of Mongolia and into the jungles of Southeast Asia, following Van Owen's trail and gunning for whoever was brave enough to slap coins into his palm like a payment to Charon to cross the River Styx. He fought alongside the Bangladeshi rebels as they liberated their people from Pakistan, joined the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and slaughtered Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, but Van Owen always managed to escape.
Roland's speech impediment made garnering passage difficult, but his weapon spoke eloquently. He boarded a tramp steamer in Manila headed for Honolulu, but a rogue wave sent the ship into the deepest trenches of the Pacific, where glowing sea creatures nipped at his undead flesh and the massive, bullet-pocked heads of sperm whales fled the blast of his Thompson gun and its bottomless magazines as he stalked the black depths and scaled the volcanic islands of paradise from the ocean floor, seeking his prey.
Van Owen took the cash to the hotel concierge and bought a ticket on a Learjet to Sydney. He knew a real bastard that ran an opal mine near Adelaide who always needed muscle. From there he could hop his way back to Mombasa or Johannesburg. But he'd need walking money, and that meant completing the mission for the Jerk. He sighed and walked back toward his lava tube, which had been used as shelter since before the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani and the annexation of Hawaiʻi by the United States. He took an oilskin from a crevice and unwrapped his Thompson, cleared the breech, and loaded a stick. Time to earn his pay.
Cyril preened in the mirror, waiting for his cunning plan to unfold. He'd told the bellboy to inform Jeannie that he was getting a special massage from a local girl known for running off with rich tourists, leaving their dates penniless and stranded. She'd stolen his cash but it wouldn't last a week on the island.
He had to call home and beg for a cash transfer to pay the beach bum to humiliate his romantic rivals, which meant listening to an hour of his mother's mockery crackling over long distance. It would work, it had to work! Jeannie was a rough maiden of the underclass. She would appreciate the bravado it took to disarm a killer like the mustachioed mercenary from the tiki bar, and fall for him again.
He decorated the room with leis from the gift shop and dressed in a luau native loincloth he bought off one of the native performers. That was what his Jeannie liked, it seemed. A flowery butt bandanna. It was airy and liberating, but it did not become him. He climbed on the bed and examined his pasty legs. His untanned bottom was constellated with a starry night of pimples, thanks to the long flight.
He wrinkled his nose and squeezed a painful red giant, hoping to make it supernova.
"No one's gonna believe we shot no shark, brudda." Kainalu moseyed three steps behind his cousin, who had donned his jacket and popped his shirt collar, which in his mind gave him a Remington Steele look. "You know who you look like? The little guy from that Filipino spy movie."
Hani steamed silently. Kainalu was over six feet tall, while Hani was only five-five. Ever since they saw For Y'ur Height Only at the revival theater, a spy movie spoof starring a kung fu dwarf, his cousin called him "Weng Weng" after the diminutive star of the film. "Listen brah, put the ukulele away and pretend this dude called you fat. All you gotta do is stand behind me and look mean."
Jeannie left the boys at the beach to think up their plan, or more likely, bail on her. She had her own plan, but either way, she needed her bag. Which was packed and ready under the bed, with all the cash she'd scrounged from Cyril's pockets. She had tied her room key to her bikini string, and jangled as her hips switched up the hallway past the elevator room's mirrors. She might be white as a cow's butt on a full moon night, but she knew she looked good.
She hipped to the doorknob and unlocked it, but the key became stuck. She turned to check the hall and found a wrinkled old duffer grinning beneath a pair of enormous sunglasses. He wagged a flabby tongue across his snowy mustache. She could untie her bikini bottom and give him a coronary, but why should he die happy? She tiptoed inside the room and closed the lock bar in case the old pervert turned the key. Then she untied her bikini bottom and slammed the door shut.
And saw a deranged pelican in a sheer skirt pressing its ass to the dresser mirror.
Jeannie barked and covered her bush.
Cyril leaped onto the bed with a shriek. "How did you get in?"
"I uh, have a key?" She squinted. He wore the loincloth that the fire-breathing studs wore at the luaus, and nothing else. It amplified his flabby physique, and made him look vulnerable and in need of protection.
"You came back." He smirked and smoothed down his man-skirt.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were getting a happy hula-hula ending." She made a fist of the nacho chip's worth of fabric of her bikini bottom and held it over her crotch. It was kind of funny and sweet that he'd tried to dress like a Hawaiian to woo her. He was a doofus, but a loyal one.
He stepped down off the bed. "I was stressed! My family's a nightmare. That's why I ran off with you. I'm sorry I kept answering their messages. It was foolish of me to forget that I'm lost in paradise with a raven-haired moon goddess."
She blushed and looked down. Dad would totally kill this guy. He might even break out of prison to strangle him with one of Cyril's skinny silk ties. She felt a swell in her heart. "So they hate me? How's that gonna work."
"It's perfect," Cyril said. "I inherit a trust fund from great-gran-mama. She'll have a coronary the moment you open your mouth. And you'll drive mother absolutely mad! We'll never have to see them again."
A tapping on the door. Cyril's eyes bulged. Was Van Owen too early?
Jeannie cracked open the door and growled, "Piss off or I'll set your twat-tickler on fire, you old fuck!" In the hallway, the old codger clutched his chest and scrabbled for his nitroglycerine.
Cyril fell to his knees and buried his face in her thighs. "You are my filth queen! How could I stay angry at you? Make my face into your bicycle seat!"
Dad would definitely try to bust out of prison and chainsaw Cyril to pieces. That sent a shiver down her thighs. She pounced.
Van Owen strolled the beach looking for these particular hula hula boys. There were a dozen fat guys with ukuleles courting tourists for a buck, but these were Linna's cousins. She would get a kick out hearing how me made them shit themselves, and might give him a little goodbye nookie. Van Owen was supposed to threaten them into going to the Jerk's hotel room, where he would spare their lives and earn his beloved's eternal gratitude. The American truly was an idiot.
But five hundred was five hundred.
He recognized the pair disappearing into the lobby. The valet was short for a Hawaiian. He looked like a Filipino dwarf that Van Owen had seen in a Manila brothel, delivering a flying kick to a bouncer's balls. They took the elevator.
He took the stairs.
Roland had the scent of his prey. He had no nose, but something of Van Owen's gin-stink tickled his gaping trachea and led him to the Gun Lounge of the Maui Hana Hotel, where the polished wood and gun oil cologne of his target was strongest. Linna dived under the bar as the headless giant barreled through the tables and sprayed the ceiling gun racks with bullets, scattering shell casings across the bamboo floor. He followed the trail into the hotel, cutting his way through the walls with bursts of fire.
Van Owen watched the boys burst into the room. He'd give them a minute to rough the Jerk up a bit. He deserved it. He should have asked for two thousand for this bullshit.
A rattle of machine-gun fire pattered from the bar area. A panic of distant screams. Then the entire hotel shuddered, as if by a minor earthquake.
Roland. The name that shivered Van Owen to his bowels.
He jumped in a taxi at the hotel cab stand and directed the driver to the private airstrip, and never looked back. The thing about money was you had to live to spend it.
The Hula Hula Boys found the key in the door of Jeannie's room. Hani puffed up and yanked the handle. The door bounced in the frame.
"It's jammed or something."
A muffled, smothering noise came from beyond the cracked door. Then a scream.
"Jeannie's in trouble, brudda! Move out the way!"
Hani leapt aside as Kainalu burst through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, knocking the door, frame and all, to the carpet. He landed on the bed and the legs buckled, sending the mattress to the floor.
Hani scrambled in after him. "Where are they?"
The last thing Jeannie saw was an airborne Kainalu incoming like a muu-muu clad meteor. Now she felt as if she'd returned to the womb. It was dark and warm and all she could hear was the soothing rhythm of pounding heartbeats.
Then the sun seemed to rise, and Kainalu's sweet face looked down on her. Hani was shouting but she couldn't hear. He threw his valet jacket over her shoulders and hustled her off the bed. Cyril windmilled his limbs helplessly, his face buried beneath Kainalu's mountains of callipygian majesty.
The roar of the Thompson echoed through their heads.
The wall splintered and a towering figure in a flowing, raggedy trench coat strode through bullet-ridden wallpaper, peppering the floor with lead. Kainalu rolled off the bed and Cyril sprang to his feet, his face flattened and his hair mussed by multiple groins, but otherwise unfazed.
Cyril didn't know where Van Owen found a ridiculous costume that made him look like '40s gangster version of the Headless Horseman, but damn was it effective! He would save his bride to-be from this interloping hoodlum, emasculate the Hawaiian humpers, and be the hero of her day. He leapt into the fray with a barbaric yelp.
Roland's Thompson gun beat a thunderous tattoo.
Cyril's rented BMW squealed away from the hotel with Hani and Jeannie in front and Kainalu clutching the roof like a turtle.
The Eternal Thompson Gunner stalked through the shivering palms as panicked crowds scattered before him. His trench coat slick with gore, his smoking weapon festooned with bloody strands of loincloth. He held a begrudging respect for the pimply man who had charged to his death. No one had dared face Roland, armed or not, since he'd risen from the Bantu death pit.
Something in the air—jet fuel, gin, and the mustache wax Van Owen applied even in the miasmic depths of the jungle—touched his lungs, and Roland turned to march into the sea, toward the airport.
Someday his war would end.
But today he had Van Owen on the run, and Roland had to get ahead.
Copyright © 2020 Thomas Pluck.
Thomas Pluck has slung hash, worked on the docks, trained in martial arts in Japan, and even swept the Guggenheim museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He is the author of the Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller Bad Boy Boogie, which was nominated for an Anthony award, and Blade of Dishonor, which MysteryPeople called "The Raiders of the Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks." His latest book is the story collection Life During Wartime, which includes "Deadbeat," chosen for a Distinguished Mystery Story of 2017, and "The Big Snip," chosen for inclusion in The Year's Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016.
He lives in New Jersey with a Louisiana spitfire and an enormous cat loaf.